When looking for the best running headphones or for the gym, priorities are slightly different to when you're searching out the best headphones for casual listening.
Headphones for exercise need to be comfortable and secure fitting as well as being sweat resistant. This is important as sweat is really bad for electronics.
With that said, that means the best sports earphones are the ones that will stay in your ears, are lightweight and are comfortable to wear when you're a sweaty mess pounding your feet against tarmac.
It also helps a lot if there's plenty of bass pumping to keep you driving on. So without further ado, let's check out the best headphones for running, the gym and general exercise.
Our top recommendation
Beats Powerbeats Pro
The previous generation Powerbeats earphones were one of our top recommendations and now Beats have reinvented the earphone and got rid of the wire, resulting in an even better pair of workout earphones.
It starts with the new, refined shape. The curves and angles are a lot softer and more ergonomic than the Powerbeats 3 Wireless, everything from the over-ear hook through the ear tips and the angle of the casing has been adjusted to ensure that they fit as comfortably as is possible. They're light too, so when they're in your ears, not only do they fit very securely, but you can barely tell that they're there.
Obviously, the lack of a cable or tether between the two earbuds also means there's a much better sense of freedom, and no annoying cable tapping on the back of your neck during runs.
With the seal combined with a bass reflex hole, it ensures you get really great sound across the highs, mids and bass, but also the airflow means you don't ever get that pressurised feel that is often so prominent while wearing in-ears. The only disadvantage to the bass reflex vent is that it means you don't get complete isolation from the noise around you.
Battery life is, quite frankly, insane for a pair of wire-frees, with the Powerbeats Pro capable of lasting up to 9 hours of constant music listening outside the case, and then having two further full charges from being docked.
You also get the Apple H1 chip, which means extra convenience for iPhone, Apple Watch and Mac users. It's really easy to pair, and then automatically paired across any other Apple device logged in with the same iCloud account.
All things considered, right now, these certainly seem like the best workout headphones you can get.
Read the full review: Beats Powerbeats Pro
The best of the rest
Apple's new kids on the block are, quite simply, the best AirPods yet. We were some of the many people who would occasionally use previous AirPods models in the gym guiltily, knowing that their lack of waterproofing made it a real risk. No more — AirPods Pro bring water and sweat-proofing to let you go hard, and that in-ear design makes for a way more secure fit, too.
Plus, the addition of active noise cancellation means that you won't have to crank the volume too crazily to drown out the playlist your gym chooses, or the honking and sirens of your outdoor environment. They don't have many dedicated fitness functions, and while the fit is secure and comfortable, the hooks from the Powerbeats Pro do make those earbuds even safer.
Read the full review: AirPods Pro
These are superb running headphone, and are extremely reasonably priced given the features on offer. They don't boast a huge range of controls, but they're comfortable, lightweight and sweatproof. The security of the fit on offer is best-in-class, too, which matters a lot when you're working out vigorously.
With a good charging case into the mix, taking the earbuds' six-hour battery life up to 16 hours without needing main power, and really decent sound, too, the Vista marks a genuinely impressive effort from the ever-improving Jaybird.
Read the full review: Jaybird Vista
Bose SoundSport Free
These fantastic true wireless headphones are some of our favourite fitness earphones out there, even a few years after release — they just sound great. The disadvantage is that they don't have some of the smart fitness features you get in the likes of the Lifebeam Vi or Jabra Elite Sport we've talked about below; there's no heart-rate or cadence measure for example. They are comfortable though and crucially don't fall out.
You get a battery life of around five hours per charge although naturally there's extra power in the case - enough to charge the earphones twice over again. So that's around 15 hours in total. Because they're black, they're also a lot more subtle than many of the other choices out there.
Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Free
Libratone Track Air+
These rather well-designed headphones are a great alternative to AirPods Pro, undercutting their price too. You can adjust the sound profile to suit your preferences and also fine-tune the noise-cancellation so you can hear others and, rather importantly, traffic at the level that you wish. The Track Air+ also don't come out of your ears and are comfortable, too, so you can wear them for long periods.
We really don't have much bad to say about them at all — though the lack of Apple's H1 chip does make for slightly slower pairing. However, it's a small quibble; there's a lot to commend the Track Air+.
Read the full review: Libratone Track Air+
Beats Powerbeats 3 Wireless
Despite being usurped by the completely wire-free Powerbeats Pro, the Powerbeats 3 Wireless are still a very sensible option for anyone looking for a pair of in-ears to get them through rigorous, sweaty workout sessions. They use the same chip as the first generation AirPods, to ensure easy connection and pairing with iOS devices, and they sound good too.
The earhooks help them fit comfortably, and ensure they won't fall out of your ears whether you're circuit training or running. What's more, they're water, sweat and weather resistant and have great bassy sound. Add all that to the fact that they can last up to 12 hours of use before needing to charge, and it's a great all-round pair of sports headphones.
Read the full review: Powerbeats 3 Wireless review
The Jaybird X3 is one of the easiest pairs of earphones to recommend for sports use. There's no ear hook, but the in-ear fins come in different sizes, and offer a much less cumbersome fit that's just as secure. What's more, they ship with multiple different size/material tips and are very lightweight and durable. As a bonus, you can attach the fins in two ways to allow you to wear them with the cable feeding over or under your ear, with an adjuster to make it as snug as you like.
As for audio, this again is versatile thanks to the superb bespoke app which lets you create your own sound profiles or use those shared by other users in the Jaybird community. It lacks some of the clarity and ring of higher-end earphones, but they're bassy, loud and great fun. They're not too pricey at all and offer eight hours of battery life too, which is a major plus point.
Read the full review: Jaybird X3 review
Bose SoundSport Pulse
Bose is - first and foremost - known for its quality audio. It's a brand synonymous with amazing sound. It just so happens, however, that it also knows how to make a decent pair of sports headphones. The Soundsport Pulse don't just sound great, they fit nicely and stay securely in your ears.
As the name suggests, they can also measure your pulse thanks to a built in heart rate monitor. This can be used with apps like Strava, MapMyRun, Runkeeper and others to log your heart rate as you run you best 10k. Thanks to their wide, tapered cone-shaped eartip, they don't feel like they're invading your ear canals either. They form a seal without squeezing all the air from your head.
Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Pulse review
Jabra Elite Sport (2017)
While they're perhaps not as small or comfortable to wear as some of the others, the Jabra Elite Sport are very secure and fit very snugly. Perhaps too snug for some. Still, the connection didn't drop once in our testing and the sound was powerful and immersive. What's more, the battery lasts much longer than the first generation.
They've also come down considerably from their initial price point, although still among the most expensive on this list and that's purely because the technology is classy. Not only are they completely wire-free, they feature a heart rate sensor, motion sensors and connect to your phone's GPS to measure your performance and distances as you run.
All your distances and performance stats are stored within the Jabra smartphone app, and more vitally, the app uses these stats to inform you how long you need to rest before you attempt your next session.
Read the full review: Jabra Elite Sport review
Anyone who's tried to get fit in the modern era has probably used an app of some kind, with pre-recorded audio or video tips built in. The problem with those, however, is that they don't really know you or your fitness level. With Lifebeam Vi you get a pair of headphones full of the necessary sensors to measure your performance, and then uses that information to get to know you, then build coaching tips specifically for you.
They're comfortable to wear, sound loud and bassy, and stay securely, snugly inside your ears. What's more, during your running sessions you can ask for updates at any time by tapping the right ear bud and asking "how am I doing?". If you want a smart earphone, the Vi is an ideal running coach.
Read the full review: Lifebeam Vi review
Sony XB80BS Extra Bass
The earhooks might be a little chunky, but the XB80BS from Sony are among the best sports earphones we've tested so far. Using the adjuster on the cable, the fit can be really snug and secure, meaning they stay in your ears really well during all kinds of workouts.
As the name suggests, there's lots of bass to go around, Sony's usual attention to good overall quality on show. As you'd expect, they're also resistant to sweat and rain. In fact, they're designed to be rinsed off after every use to keep them clean. What's more, they're pretty cheap and can last seven hours on a full charge.
JBL Reflect Aware
As a sort-of wildcard: if you don't want Bluetooth and would rather stick with a wired connection, JBL make a great pair of sports earphones. They're equipped with a Lightning connector for iPhones and deliver great audio.
What we loved most about the JBL earphones is just how comfortable they were to wear. Like the Jaybirds, they have in-ear fins to keep them in your ears. These ones happen to be really soft and easy to wear, while the tips are wide cone-shaped ones, similar to the Bose.
You never have to worry about battery life, because it doesn't have a built-in battery, and they even feature some active noise cancelling technology (although it doesn't work that well). They are pretty expensive, but they are very good wired sports earphones for iPhone users.
Read the full review: JBL Reflect Aware review