Various studies have proven the benefits of running to music over the years. Findings show doing so can help with your pacing, make exercise feel easier and reduce mental fatigue. But picking the right pair of running headphones is important.
When running, you need headphones that’ll stay put, feel comfortable and deliver a good enough sound that you can hear and appreciate your music over other noises. That said, it’s also vital for safety that you can still hear other sounds over the music, such as approaching cars, cyclists or other hazards. Incidentally, you’ll want to steer clear of earphones that only offer music in a noise-cancellation mode.
Earphones also need to be resistant to weather and sweat, connect to your phone easily, fit well and offer sufficient charge to get you through your sessions. With all this in mind, we’ve put seven pairs of earphones through their paces to see which ones hit the mark.
Best running headphones
The Shokz (previously known as Aftershokz) Aeropex uses bone-conduction technology and focusses heavily on providing situational awareness when running outside for the safest user experience. At first, we were sceptical that these headphones would feel secure when in motion, but the weight distribution (26g in total) of the headphones helps them sit snug over and around the ear, so you don’t have to worry about them falling out.
Specifically primed for exercise, the Aeropex has a waterproof rating of IP67, meaning they’ll work even in heavy downpours. In terms of sound quality, they’re not far behind the Bose, JLabs and RHA options, and are far superior to similar designs on test.
Volume controls also work well once you’re used to them, though bone conducting is never going to be as loud as in-ear buds. The Aeropex’s claimed eight hours of battery should prove useful for endurance athletes.
Verdict: Safest on test, with great audio and waterproof construction.
JLab Epic Air Sport
These great-value earphones are lightweight (21g per pair), sweatproof and stay put throughout sessions. They also come with six different earbud tips, allowing you to choose a shape that’ll suit your ears best. There are three noise cancellation modes, including on, off and ‘be aware’, which allows external noises in, and all three modes work as intended.
The earphones also come with three pre-set sound settings and one customisable setting, which allows you to adjust levels in the app. These work well and we were impressed with the sound quality on the pre-set modes, with strong bass and good clarity.
You can also control the music and settings by tapping the earphones themselves, with different combinations achieving different functions. They can be frustrating at times, but vitally you can customise these (or turn them off) using the app. Battery life’s a claimed 15hrs, while the charging case is said to provide an additional 55hrs.
Verdict: Brilliant battery, impressive sound and top value.
Bose Sports Earbuds
We’re not sure what ‘lifelike sound’ is supposed to sound like, but the Bose Sport Earbuds have some of the best audio quality on test, up there with the JLab and RHA. Yes, they’re a little bit tricky to secure in the ear at first, but they feel comfortable once you get used to the wing design, which aims to spread out pressure points evenly, coming with three different earbud sizes for good adjustability.
Though the buds come in at just under 7g each, they’re bulkier than many of the others here, which can take a bit of time to get used to. On the go, it’s easy to switch tracks, alter volume and take calls with a tap.
Like the ONESONIC, these have an IPX4 waterproof rating, which means that they’re resistant to water splashes but not sustained downpours. We like the noise-isolating audio and how quick these are to connect via Bluetooth. Battery life is up to 5hrs, with the case said to add a further 10.
Verdict: Epic sound and functionality but battery life lets it down.
RHA TrueConnect 2
The TrueConnect2 is a ‘noise-isolating’ earbud with one of the best audio qualities on test. It has a lovely depth to the bass and extremely clear vocals. Vitally, they allow you to safely enjoy music while remaining aware of environmental sounds while running.
Coming in at only 6g each, the lightweight buds have different-sized tips for adjustability, though we still had trouble keeping them in our ears at times; in fact, we had to push them quite far into the ear canal so they didn’t fall out, which can cause a fair bit of discomfort.
An upgrade from the previous model sees touch control on the buds, which works well and makes them highly functional. A claimed 9hr single-charge battery life is better than many on test, with the slim charging case said to provide a further 35hrs. Meanwhile, an IP55 rating means they can withstand light showers and aren’t damaged by dirt/dust.
Verdict: Crisp audio with great battery, but lacking in comfort.
The Ring headphones may look like something out of Star Trek, but they fit securely and proved comfortable in testing, weighing just 34g. Having said that, the band itself has no adjustment, so it may not suit all head shapes and sizes.
Meanwhile, the speakers can be rotated up to 120 degrees, allowing you to position them as you like. The headphones connect to your phone easily and use air conduction rather than bone conduction. The sound is clear and allows you to hear what’s going on around you, but the quality and depth isn’t on the same level as others on test, especially when it comes to bass.
There’s just one button to control the headphones, with simple controls available such as play, pause, volume control and skipping songs. MU6 says they’re waterproof, too, and we’ve seen nothing to suggest otherwise yet. A claimed battery life of 10hrs at 70% volume is more than reasonable.
Verdict: Comfortable, reasonable sound and safe for urban runs.
Compact is the word for these earbuds. From the slim case to the slender buds, the ONESONICs are super portable and light. They connect to your phone without fuss and, like the Bose, claim a playing time of up to 5hrs, with a further 20hrs of portable charging available from the case.
Audio quality is decent, but not with quite the same depth and range as the RHA, JLabs and Bose. They’re also only splash resistant, so we wouldn’t reach for these in a heavy downpour. In terms of safety, they’re noise cancelling with ‘environmental noise suppression’, which can be hazardous as you can’t hear approaching cars when outside.
Though there’s an ‘ambient sound mode’, we find this doesn’t make much difference. These buds come with three silicon tip sizes to choose from, which we find fit securely in our ears. With just a double or single tap, play/pause and volume can be controlled on the go.
Verdict: Compact and useful, but audio and safety not at the same level as others on test.
Naenka Runner Pro
The Runner Pro earphones are similar in design to the Aftershokz but are a little bulkier (36g). They’re comfortable, light and fit well, hanging over the ears with the band at the back hanging down onto the neck. They use bone-conduction technology, which means you’ll always be able to hear ambient noise around you.
However, we felt the maximum volume just didn’t go high enough, particularly in noisier surroundings. Sound quality is reasonable, with a good balance to the music, but the bass lacked depth and vocals weren’t as clear as they could be.
Battery life also isn’t the best with a claimed 6hrs at 65% volume (which is pretty quiet). Meanwhile, the charging cable is fiddly and the connection is weak, which can get annoying.
Redeeming features include a waterproof construction, easy connection and an 8GB memory, allowing you to load your music onto the earphones and run without a phone.
Verdict: Waterproof and good memory but poor battery and sound.
Top image credit: Getty Images