AMR GEARS UP: HEADPHONES
By Sarah Bowen Shea
We admire the fortitude of athletes who can run without any audio distraction…but we’re not those folks! And from what we hear from most runners, we’re not the only ones who groove to tunes (or podcasts and audiobooks) while we run, cycle, walk, lift, or even swim.
To meet the demands of audiophiles, there are many Bluetooth (read: cordless) earbuds and headphones to choose from. We ask our cadre of brand ambassadors to give us feedback on the ones they use to help you find the ideal pair.
Here are honest reviews of eight headphones and earbuds for runners. Happy reading—and listening!
These Bluetooth headphones are the in-motion, hook-over-the-ear version of Beats by Dre: They have innovative optical sensors and motion accelerometers (!) that tag-team to detect when the earbuds are in your ear to jumpstart your audio selection as soon as you’re G2G.
Pros: Our tester raves about the sound quality and ease of use of these headphones. Each earbud has full volume (and track) controls, so you can adjust your music for each ear, perhaps turning one a lot lower to hear approaching traffic or people. And how fun is this: You can pair two sets of Beats headphones (or AirPods) to one iPhone and enjoy the same song or podcast. Bring it on, BRF [Best Running Friend]!
Cons: They cancel outside sound so take care using them while running on roads or trails.
Take it from a mother runner: “They’re an investment, but they definitely worth it: I loved mine so much I gifted a pair to my husband and he uses them all the time.”
These earbuds are basically the “fast fashion” of the bunch: Our tester got them specifically because they were affordable, and she “wouldn’t cry” if she lost them—yet it turns out, “they’re phenomenal. They charge in minutes, and the battery lasts up to 10 hours!”
Pros: They connect to a phone the moment they are removed from their charger. They’re so comfortable, our tester often forgets she’s wearing them. The T6 has a touch-control function so the wearer can pause, skip ahead, or replay what she’s listening to with a gentle tap (or two).
Cons: “I do not use these for phone calls. They supposedly have a microphone, but I don’t rely on it.”
Take it from a mother runner: “These earbuds have been one of the best purchases I’ve ever made: Two years in, and they’re still going strong and hold a charge as well as they did on day one.”
JBL 200TWS Vibe
Our tester dubs these her “go-to lifestyle earbuds,” wearing them for conference calls, listening (and noise-canceling!) on plane rides, and while riding her studio bike indoors. (She opts for Shokz—below—when running outside.) They are available in a range of fun colors.
Pros: They offer “clear sound,” according to our tester. With JBL’s “dual-connect technology,” you can take calls or listen to music with either bud (or both). They’re affordable: Our tester keeps one pair in her bag and another set in her office. Each set comes with three sets of covers so that you can find your ideal fit. “The battery seems to last forever,” wrote our tester (while JBL tells us it’s 5 hours of charge in the buds with 15 more from the case).
Cons: On calls, wearing both earbuds made our tester’s voice sound hollow. (Wearing only one bud solves this issue.)
Take it from a mother runner: “Everything is easy with these buds: Nothing extra, but they handle all parts of a busy life.”
The genius of these innovative headphones is they don’t sit in your ear canal. Wait, what?! Yes, these “open-ear” headphones work by bone conduction by sitting on your cheekbone right in front of your ear. This means you have the unfettered ability to hear everything around you—cars, animals, approaching pedestrians or cyclists, or your running buddy—while still enjoying tunes.
Pros: Remarkably long battery life. “They don’t die on my long runs!” Despite hooking over the ear, it was easy for testers to wear Shokz with hats, headbands, and sunglasses. Sound quality is good during phone calls. A long-time user reports customer service is amazing (just be sure to register your purchase!). Available in two sizes.
Cons: The volume button is mighty tiny, and it can be tough to fumble with while on the move.
Take it from a mother runner: “Being able to hear what’s happening around me is huge, as I run alone most of the time. If I can hear the birds chirping, I’m able to be aware of my surroundings.”
Apple AirPods Pro
The earbuds all the cool kids sport! These little, white pups sit discreetly in your ear canal. This 2nd generation version offers what’s called Active Noise Cancellation: In this mode, “you really don’t hear anything else except for what is coming through your headphones, which I don’t recommend on a run, obviously.” Need to silence that boisterous colleague (or your loud-chewing/slurping/whistling spouse!)? These are the “headphones” you’ve been dreaming of!
Pros: A tester appreciated being able to connect these to her Apple watch, so she could leave her phone at home on a run. Even on a 14-mile run, her AirPod Pros stayed comfortably in place the entire way. Enjoy up to six hours of battery life on a single charge. And, come on: They do look mighty cool!
Cons: So small, so easy to misplace.
Take it from a mother runner: “I use them all of the time for phone calls, and I’ve never had a complaint about background noise.”
Bring on the elements: Jaybird boasts about its “#EARTHPROOF design,” which is waterproof, dustproof, sweatproof, shock- and drop-resistant. This construction gets all sorts of high ratings.
Pros: Our tester with “smaller ears” kept coming back to how comfortable these earbuds are, and how well they stayed in place, partly due to a little exterior “fin.” They also come with three sizes of ear tips for a customizable fit. Our tester loves that she “can wear only one earbud when I run so I have the other ear free to hear sounds in my surroundings.”
Cons: They don’t cancel out noise very well (or block wind noise when outside) during phone calls.
Take it from a mother runner: “I used them so much, I loved the life out of them in just under a year! Not sure what happened, but thankfully I had purchased the warranty, so Jaybird replaced them for free.”
PLT Backbeat Fit
These headphones both wrap over your ears and have a “neckband” that wraps behind your head. (The belts-and-suspenders of headphones!) The Backbeat Fit has “Always Aware eartips” that don’t fully block your ear canal, allowing you to listen to tunes while still hearing sounds around you.
Pros: These headphones are very reasonably priced, yet durable: One devotee got hers at Costco for under $50 five years ago! This Midwestern user loves how versatile they are in all weather conditions: They’ve withstood rain, snow, wind, and buckets of sweat. And, “the battery life has been reliable, with a charge lasting five hours.”
Cons: Some newer customers rant about the newer versions being not as reliable as older iterations.
Take it from a mother runner: “The ear loops and ear tips fit comfortably and securely during my runs regardless of the weather. They’ve never fallen out during any of my adventures!”
The priciest headphones in our review, these are also the only ones that allow swimmers to listen while plying the pool. The Solo is the sole headset on the market that pairs directly to your phone via a transmitter that looks like a walkie-talkie (other swimmer-headphones require you to download mp3s—remember those?!—to the headset itself).
Pros: In addition to ease of use thanks to the transmitter, our tester’s favorite aspect is Zygo’s subscription-based app that provides coached workouts. These bone-conduction headphones fit well and don’t require mid-swim adjustments. However, you do have to pull your ears out of your swim cap to give them a perch to sit on. They are available in size regular and large (our petite-headed tester finds the regular size “fine”). The sound quality “does the trick,” although it “isn’t quite as great as regular headphones.”
Cons: You can’t run with these headphones because you need the transmitter to pair them with your phone. Plus, the sticker-shock.
Take it from a mother runner: “The coached workouts in the Zygo app are exactly what I need to push myself and make the time in the pool go by faster.”
Did we miss your favorite headphones?
Let us know in the comments below!