Wireless earbuds are now smaller and more affordable than ever, yet it’s tough to know what kind of sound you can expect from these tiny devices before you buy.
For the sake of making useful comparisons, we segmented our test pool into three categories: Truly wireless, truly wireless with ear hooks, and neckband earbuds. Neckband means that while there’s no wire to plug the earbuds into your cellphone, there is a wire or band that joins the two earbuds to each other.
TREVOR RAABThese buds have neither connecting wires nor hooks that extend around your ear; you just push them in and go. This design tends to fit snug in the ear canal to stop it from loosening midrun. The compact style makes them lightweight, and their small batteries can mean shorter runtimes. However, all of our test models came with charging cases that allow you to juice them up on the go. Truly wireless earbuds also tend to be the most expensive.
Truly Wireless With Ear Hooks
TREVOR RAABOver-ear hooks take some pressure off the ear canal to hold these buds steady. Adding a hook can improve an earbud’s fit, too, since there’s a second point of contact to hold it in place. The hook can also store antennae or a battery, helping these buds play longer than their truly wireless counterparts. They’re generally marginally cheaper than truly wireless models, but some will cost more than $200 anyway.
TREVOR RAABThese earbuds are still untethered from your phone, but they use a wire or band to connect the buds and store batteries, microphones, or an antenna. If you can get past the connecting wire, you’ll enjoy better battery life (eight or more hours, compared to four from some truly wireless models) and a significantly lower price. These buds are typically smaller (because the connecting wires house some of their electronics), and less weight can mean less fiddling with the fit.
How We Tested
To keep the playing field level, we asked for feedback in the same categories from all of our testers. Their testing and impressions focused on the qualities of wireless earphones that are especially important to runners. Here’s what we considered:
Fit and Ambient Sound
How an earbud fits affects how much outside sound it lets in, and there’s no ideal balance for everyone. Some runners like buds that fit deep in their ears and block all outside noise, allowing them to focus on the tunes, while others prefer lots of environmental sound from a looser fit. (The latter fit is safer for running outside and among other people.) So although we didn’t rank the earbuds by ambient sound, we did rank them based on whether they stayed in our testers’ ears.
Sound Quality: Our staffers aren’t audiophiles, so evaluating sound quality is largely subjective. Testers compared their test buds to other headphones they’ve tried and provided specific feedback on the depth and clarity of their favorite songs and podcasts.
Because isolating you from the outside world should lend a clearer sound, we expected better sound quality from earbuds that fit snug in the ear than we did from earbuds that let in a lot of noise. For the best of both worlds, some of the pricier models offer an ambient sound mode, which uses the device’s microphone to bring in outside noise while maintaining a tight fit.
In two weeks of testing, we encountered few quality issues, but we also asked our testers to discuss how the earbuds felt—you’d expect a $200 set of buds to feel premium compared to a $40 pair. For long-term quality assessment, we checked user reviews from Amazon and other retailers to identify any persistent issues. We’ll update our findings if any issues crop up as we continue to run with these models.
Water- and Sweat-Resistance
None of our testers had issues with water or sweat ruining their buds, but in a longer test scenario, moisture can and will destroy earbuds that aren’t capable of repelling it. So, we factored in each device’s IP, or Ingress Protection, rating. The rating consists of two numbers.
- The first indicates dust protection. The second is for water protection, ( or liquid ingress) which matter most to runners.
- “X” in place of either number means there’s no data (so an “IPX” rating means dust protection wasn’t evaluated).
- A score of one or two means an earbud can withstand dripping water.
- Scores of three to six mean it will survive increasing amounts of rainfall for longer periods of time.
- The gold standard is a score of seven to nine, meaning the earbud can be submerged in varying depths of water without failing.
Connectivity and Battery Life
We also asked testers to evaluate how quickly and easily the buds connected to their phones, and how far they were able to get from their phones before the signal cut out. In addition, we recorded any mid-run connectivity issues. To assess battery life, we checked manufacturers’ claims against our testers’ experiences and noted discrepancies where they occurred.
We’ll continually update this roundup with our test impressions of the latest wireless earbuds for running. Tell us what you think about your buds in the comments.
—Best All-Day Headphones—
Jabra Elite Active 75t Earbuds
All the features for a bargain price
- IP57 full waterproof and sweatproof
- 7.5-hour battery life
- Excellent sound quality
- HearThrough mode allows you to adjust ambient sound
- HearThrough ineffective in high wind
Jabra nailed the shape on the Elite Active 75t. Credit that to the angular build that nests snugly in the outer ear canal, without giving you that tightly sealed, high-pressure “thud” with each foot strike. The sound quality is crisp, dynamic, and full—rivaling Apple’s AirPods Pro—but these Jabras will cost you less and offer about 90 more minutes of battery on a single charge. (However, the hear-through mode isn’t quite as impressive.) For dust and water protection, they’re rated IP57, meaning they should withstand a sandstorm or a monsoon. Competing earbuds from Apple, Bose, Jaybird, and others may offer even better sound, superior comfort, or exceptional ambient-awareness modes; but, no brand does all of those things better than the 75t.
Jaybird Vista 2 Bluetooth Headphones
These compact buds are more durable than ever
- 8 hours single charge; 24 hours with case
- IP68 waterproof
- Better sound compared to previous model
- Lots of wind noise with pass thru
The Vista 2 lasts eight hours on a single charge—long enough to get you to the finish line of your next 26.2—and two hours longer than the original Vista. Plus, you’ll get an additional 16 hours with the charging case. This update preserved the same earbud shape, with a secure fit that seals out dust and moisture. Speaking of moisture, the sweat- and waterproof 2 improves to a rating of IP68 from the first version’s IP67. Double-tap (don’t press) to change between Active Noise Canceling (ANC) and SurroundSense (ambient noise pass-through) modes.
Bose Sport Earbuds
Sleeker design with best-in-class audio
- Sleek design
- Button-free design
- Don’t entirely seal out external noise
These true wireless earbuds are a leap forward from the first generation SoundSport Free. Those older buds were enormous—sticking out of your head like the neck bolts on Frankenstein’s monster. The new buds, however, barely protrude from your ears and are completely button-free (touch gestures play/pause and skip tracks, while tapping and holding activates a phone’s voice assistant). And, they still have the great design that doesn’t completely seal your ear, blending excellent audio quality with a comfortable fit. In our testing, we found the Bose Sport virtually eliminates the dreaded “thump” you get with each stride when wearing typical earbuds.
—Best Noise-Canceling Buds—
Beats Studio Buds Wireless Earbuds
Tiny noise-canceling buds
- 8 hours single charge; 24 with case
- IPX4 water-resistant
- Tactile buttons
- No in-ear detection
The Studio Buds are insanely small. “Each bud has a flat profile that you can grab, kinda like the tip of a Phillips head screwdriver,” said deputy test editor Jeff Dengate. This makes them slightly difficult to handle if your hands are greasy with sunscreen or drenched with sweat. Fortunately, moisture won’t affect sound quality, function, or fit. “No slipping during a sweaty 5-miler on an 85-degree day,” Dengate added. The tactile buttons require a one light press to play/pause, two presses to skip, three to go back, and a long press to activate ANC/transparency mode or Siri. You’ll save a $100 opting for these instead of the brand’s Powerbeats Pro. But, the latter Pro model’s sound is “punchier and richer” and all-around better for running, according to Dengate.
—Best for iPhone Users—
Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)
The omnipresent earbuds get a big refresh
- Richer sound
- Smaller stems that control audio
- Open construction allows in a lot of street noise
Apple overhauled its open-ear design to be a version that sits between its existing base model and the noise-canceling Pro. The third generation has a shorter stem and smaller case, like the Pro, but keeps that open-ear design (the Pro has sound-isolating ear tips). It’s been a love-hate feature of the original AirPods for many runners—they just don’t stay put for some people. The housing has been redesigned here and is a little more rounded. “To me, it feels like they almost don’t fit as well as the originals when I first insert them, but then they feel more secure as I start running,” Dengate said.
The sound has improved thanks to a new driver. It’s not on par with the Pros, because you’re still getting external sounds and street noise, but the bass is deep. The inclusion of spatial audio is a cool feature that makes you feel like you’re in a room with a band—turn your head and the focus automatically shifts to your forward-facing ear. We also like that you can click the stem once to play/pause, twice to skip, and three times to go back.
Sound customized for what you’re actually able to hear
- Personalized sound
- Lots of controls within the Nura app
- Bulky design
NuraTrue is a new set of totally wireless buds that attempts to bring hi-fi sound to small in-ear buds. Their trick is to personalize the audio for what you’re actually able to hear. As the sound bounces around in your ear, the buds detect what you’re hearing and make adjustments to improve the quality just for you. The effect is neat and, in our tests, we found it makes music sound a bit more present and energetic. Do you need that in a pair of running buds, though? Not really. We found the effect is not nearly as pronounced or desired when we just want to crank some AC/DC on a tempo run.
The buds themselves also look a bit ridiculous, with the big flat disc and white logo sticking out of your head. Then again, Bose launched massive buds in their first generation and we got over that issue pretty quickly because the sound quality justified the design. The Nura does, too, plus it’s sweatproof, so it could be that single pair of headphones that gets you through your entire day.
—Best Ambient Mode—
JBL Under Armour True Wireless Flash
Ergonomically secure ear tips
- IPX7 waterproof
- 5 hours battery life
- Sport Flex Fit ear tips
- No ANC mode
This collab with Under Armour has a comfy, secure fit thanks to Sport Flex Fit tips that curve into your ear. The tips stay put, but still do a stellar job at letting you hear your surroundings. (The AmbientAware mode, accessible by pressing the button on the right bud, keeps honks from cars and “on your left!” shouts from fellow runners audible.) On a single charge, the buds last for five hours. However, our tester found she didn’t have to plug in the charger for two weeks at a time, despite running for over an hour per day, six days a week. Plus, you can leave your phone at home if you have a smartwatch with music storage. Our tester didn’t miss a beat running with the Flash and her Garmin Forerunner 245 Music GPS watch.
—Best for Podcasts—
Sony WF SP800N Truly Wireless In-Ear Headphones
Best for podcasts and audiobook listening
- IP55 water-resistant
- 9 hours battery life
- Wind noise interrupts listening with ambient sound on
A Jaybird Vista tester (see above) praised the sound quality of these Sony buds, after putting them to the test on a run through Queens, NY. “Best sound quality of any earbuds I’ve tried,” he said. “I didn’t have to turn up the volume as loud to hear my audiobook.” The sweat-resistant buds have a three-dimensional curved design for a fit that won’t slip or fall out. Pressed for time? A quick 10-minute charge gives you a full hour of listening.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds
Deep sound with customized audio, via app
- IPX42 water-resistance
- 8 hours single charge
- Connection sometimes spotty
The WF-1000XM4 has foam tips that stay secure and sound that pumps in deep and clear. There’s also automatic mode detection (the sound automatically switches to transparency mode when you speak with someone) and you can tweak the audio settings using the app. Because these buds are quite sensitive, there were rare occasions when the buds switched to “noise-canceling off” mode, due to a sudden downpour of rain. (The IP rating translates to “water-resistant,” not fully “waterproof.”) We found the connection was also sometimes spotty, requiring a quick touch on the right bud to turn-off/turn-on for a sound reset.
Jabra Elite Active 65t Earbuds
High-end sound in a small package that stays put
- Secure fit
- Balanced, dynamic sound
- 5-hour battery life
- HearThrough mode is mostly wind noise
The Elite Active 65t is no longer Jabra’s top sport earbud, but it’s almost as good as its successor. (The 75t has slightly better battery life, fit, and sound, and a much better HearThrough mode.) Both of our testers found a secure fit with the three included sizes of silicone inserts, and a regular AirPods user said the Jabras had the best sound quality of any wireless headphones he’d tried. The bass isn’t as impressive as offerings from Bose and Sennheiser, but the buds still thump when you’ve established a tight seal and deliver a balanced sound across hip-hop, rock, folk, and podcasts . The lightweight buds didn’t move once our runs began, and the HearThrough mode brings in ambient sound when necessary. However, the ambient sound quality still isn’t great when they’re sealed properly in your ears. Our second tester said he went down an insert size, losing some of the in-ear sound quality to gain ambient noise for outdoor running. The five-hour battery life is enough for most runs, and the small charging case packs an additional 10 hours. Sound investment: Jabra’s warranty covers the earbuds for two years of dust and sweat damage.
—Best Budget Buds—
JLab Go Air Wireless Earbuds
The best truly wireless buds you’ll find for $30
- Fast and easy pairing
- IPX4 water-resistance rating
- 5-hour battery life (fully charged)
- No noise-canceling mode
- Lower sound quality
Associate test director Will Egensteiner said these buds’ lack of ear wings initially made them feel insecure, but they stayed put nicely during runs without generating a noticeable “thud” at each foot strike. (Our other tester with very petite ears had to swap out the medium-sized silicone tips for the smallest option—JLab includes three different size—to keep the buds from falling out.) However, working up a sweat caused a slight rubbing noise where the silicone tip sealed in the ear. That seal wasn’t so tight as to prevent Egensteiner from hearing his surroundings—a plus for outdoor running. But because of that, the sound wasn’t as immersive, and the battery life wasn’t on par with the other models. But, it’s tough to argue with $30 truly wireless earbuds that offer modest water-resistance, quick and easy pairing, a charging case, a built-in microphone to take phone calls—and a full two-year warranty.
Truly Wireless With Hooks
—Best With Ear Hooks—
Skullcandy Push Ultra Wireless Earbuds
Flexible hooks and terrific ambient sound
- 6 hours single charge; 40 with case
- Moldable, flexible hooks
- IP67 sweat and waterproof
- Tile feature helps locate buds
- Large case
Skullcandy can even make hook earbuds look trendy. The hooks are a little big and can interfere with sunglasses if you wear shades on your run, but they’re flexible and moldable around the ear to ensure a snug fit during a workout. It helps that the buds have an IP67 rating, too. There are a few small compromises that are run-of-mill with hook earbuds. For example, one drawback is the Push Ultra’s massive case, which was a pain for ultrarunners on the trail for over six hours who needed to pocket the charging case for extra juice. Another is that the hook-style doesn’t seal out external sound. “You can actually hear birds chirp,” said Dengate. “But the sound quality is fine for running. Even podcasts are fully audible.”
—Best for Long Runs—
Beats Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earbuds
Big battery, expansive sound, stays put—near perfect
- 9-hour single-charge battery life
- Expansive sound
- Ear hooks ensure secure fit
The Powerbeats Pro is the complete package: both well-rounded as wireless sport headphones and literally a large box that contains the earbuds and an additional 15 hours of juice. Not that you’re likely to need it; the buds last for nine hours on a single charge. “The sound you get from the Powerbeats Pro is really expansive,” said Dengate in his full review. “Every song sounds like you’re listening in a larger room, with speakers positioned away from you.” Ambient noise starts out minimal but increases as sweat causes the earbuds to lose some of their seal. The music gets a little hollower, but the awareness means you’ll pick up loud environmental noises like sirens and horns. Bluetooth pairing is immediate with an iPhone, and a five-minute quick charge delivers 90 minutes of playback. The Powerbeats are rated IPX4 so they’ll withstand a rainstorm (but not submersion), and despite their large size, the buds keep a low enough profile to be comfortable with a hat and sunglasses.
Treblab X3-Pro Wireless Earbuds
Rests comfortably over the ear
- 9 hours music single charge; 45 hours with case
- Curved shape may not fit/hold secure over some ears
The X3-Pro has ergonomic over-the-ear hooks, which initially seemed loose during the first few wears, but we felt more confident with them after a couple runs. We experienced no bounce and there was no friction against our skin after long stretches listening to tunes. The sound quality is clear and consistent—not too harsh or muddled at higher volumes—and you can answer calls hands-free, thanks to the built-in microphone. You also can’t beat the low price. For an even cheaper option with the same nine hours of playtime (on one single charge without the case), opt for the brand’s wire-connected XR700 Pro model.
—Most Secure Fit—
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC Earbuds
Superb fit and comfort, but subpar noise-canceling
- Good fit, sound quality, and durability for under $100
- Fits comfortably with sunglasses
- Poor noise-canceling mode
“The rubbery sport hooks give the most secure fit I’ve had of any wireless buds, without any uncomfortable suction causing that annoying high-pressure thump with each footstrike,” said test editor Morgan Petruny. “Plus, when my ears need a breather after a run, I’ll use those support wings to let the buds dangle off the top of my ear while my sweat dries, until I’m ready to switch to noise-cancelling mode for writing back at my desk.” The battery life holds more than enough juice for marathon distance—even if you were to walk it. (If you’re logging about three miles a day for a Run Streak, you’ll be able to go almost a month before reaching for the wireless charging case.) We were also impressed with the sound quality; the bass comes in full and robust—not weak or tinny—and you can tune it to your specific preferences in JLab’s companion mobile app. Just switch off the hear-through mode while running, since it does amplify wind noise.
—Long Battery Life—
Back Bay Audio Runner 60
Budget buds that are comfortable and long-lasting
- Comfortable earhooks
- Long battery life
- Thin sound
Who doesn’t love a budget pair of buds? As truly wireless tech proliferated throughout the industry, a lot of new affordable options appeared, like these from Boston-based Back Bay Audio. They’ve garnered hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon and, in our real-world testing, earned their place on this list. Though they look like Powerbeats Pro, you won’t confuse the two when you have them in hand. Then again, they’re a third of the price. We like that the Runner 60 comes with four tips to help improve the fit, but the seal isn’t completely airtight. That allows a little ambient noise in, which we appreciate when running on open roads.
The “bass mode” makes the sound just passable for running, and the earhooks are comfortable and secure while you’re on the move. Still, the audio is far thinner and tinnier than the more expensive options you’ll find on this list, so reserve these for hard workouts when you’ll be prioritizing a reliable fit over superb sound. We love the battery life—eight hours for the buds and 72 more from the charging case. Minor gripes: The buds show up as “Headset” in your Bluetooth list on an iPhone and the buds fit into the case on the opposite side—that is, the left bud inserts into the right side of the charging case. That’s a small annoyance and you quickly learn to reach across the case to grab the correct bud.
—Best for City Runners—
Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 Wireless Earbuds
A safe balance of ambient noise and great sound
- Enough ambient sound for urban running
- 5-hour battery life
- Bluetooth interference
Features director Matt Allyn used the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100 in midtown Manhattan traffic and on a serene Pennsylvania rail trail. He found that the 3100’s overall sound quality and ambient-noise awareness feature performed well in both environments. “On the rail trail, I could still make out the sounds of birds flapping nearby,” he said. Allyn also felt aware enough to Citi Bike around New York City wearing these buds, although they struggled with some interference from other electronic devices. (Many wireless models we’ve tested can have this problem.) The buds hover over the ear canal, rather than fitting within it, and use the hooks to stay in place. While the hooks didn’t require any adjustments once running, they did feel less comfortable if worn with sunglasses.
—Best for Safety—
Shokz OpenRun Pro Bone Conduction Headphones
The ultimate headphones for urban running awareness
- Most ambient sound of any workout headphones
- 10-hour battery life
- Spoken words can be hard to hear over passing cars
For road runners who aren’t comfortable jamming an earbud in as cars whiz past, there’s Shokz (the company changed names from AfterShokz at the end of 2021). These headphones use bone conduction technology to transfer sound through your cheekbones, leaving your ears open to hear potential hazards before they sneak up on you. The first new pair of headphones from Shokz is the OpenRun Pro, which features richer sound with better bass. You still won’t mistake the audio quality for a decent pair of ear buds, but it’s a fair compromise we’re willing to make for the added safety we get from running with our ears uncovered. Battery life has been extended to an impressive 10 hours—up from 8 hours on the OpenRun, which previously was known as Aeropex. The OpenRun Pro also features a quick charge mode, which gives you 1.5 hours of playback after just five minutes on the charging cable. Runner-in-Chief Jeff Dengate was a religious wearer of the Aeropex, but has cast those aside for the improved OpenRun Pro and wears them on almost every run. His lone complaint: Spoken word, like podcasts, can be a bit hard to decipher over the noise of passing cars.
—Strongest Bluetooth Connection—
JBL Reflect Mini 2 Sport Headphones
Clear sound and a secure fit for less than competitors’ buds
- Snug, secure in-ear fit
- 10-hour battery life
- Very little ambient sound
The JBL Reflect Mini 2 isn’t the newest pair of headphones, but a price drop to $40 (down from $100) makes them an attractive value proposition. The buds form a tight seal in your ears and don’t move after you’ve started to trot. The downside for outdoor runners is the lack of ambient sound, which also isolates your tunes from the outside world. Video production manager Jimmy Cavalieri also used them while mowing his lawn. “Although I could still hear my lawnmower, the earbuds blocked out enough engine noise that the quality of the audio still sounded clear without having to max out the volume,” he said. “When I concentrated on my music, I could still identify each instrument.” The connecting wire between the buds is lightweight and hardly noticeable midrun, and the Reflect Mini 2 quickly paired with Bluetooth and stayed connected up to 100 feet away. The earbuds also sport reflective cables for nighttime visibility, an IPX5 water-resistant rating, and an impressive 10 hours of battery life.
—Best Wired Buds—
Bose SoundSport Wireless Earbuds
A comfortable, in-ear fit with excellent sound
- Excellent sound quality
- Secure, comfortable fit
- 6-hour battery life
- Little ambient sound
The Bose SoundSport is among the best in this test because of its superior fit and impressive sound quality. Test editor Bobby Lea quickly dialed in the comfort so the buds didn’t pop out mid-workout, despite the big speaker housing. And the sound quality was as crisp and dynamic as you’d expect from Bose. The earbuds quickly connected to Lea’s iPhone 7 and stayed tethered more than 100 feet away from it. Alas, the buds don’t let in much ambient sound. “They make you largely oblivious to the world around you, even at half volume,” Lea said. The SoundSport will give you a quality audio experience—just don’t let it impede your awareness in high-traffic areas.