We live in an era prone to stress and anxiety. Therapy and medication can be effective, but according to the National Institute of Health: “Evidence has suggested that exercise may be an often-neglected intervention in mental health care. Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression.” Each of these activities is a perfect opportunity to listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks to help keep up momentum, and that’s where a good set of sports headphones can make a big difference. According to NPD’s U.S. Retail Tracking service: “unit sales of fitness headphones (defined as those that are water resistant) are up 25 percent year-to-date versus the same timeframe last year (January though May). In 2021, unit sales were up 41 percent vs. 2020.”
The biggest trend among mid-range and high-end fitness headphones is the ability to control how much of your environment you hear via active noise cancellation and transparency mode. These features are often customizable using an app, and our favorite models let you change modes with a button press or a touch on an earphone. After all, who wants to fumble around with their phone to block out the guy on the next treadmill gabbing loudly on a work call?
Basic sports headphones ($99 and under) should have at a minimum Bluetooth 5.0 or later, water/sweat resistance and a secure fit. You can expect sound that is good enough to be heard over your environment, but maybe not for listening to your favorite classic jazz or orchestral recordings. Many – but not all – step-up models ($100-$199) offer extras like on-earphone controls, richer sound (possibly app-customizable), better waterproofing, active noise cancellation and transparency modes. At the high end ($200+), you should expect lots of bells and whistles like multi-point Bluetooth pairing, adjustable or adaptive noise cancellation and transparency and audiophile(ish)-grade sound.
Basic Sports Headphones
Cleer Audio Goal ($99)
These lightweight earbuds with soft C-shaped fins twist to fit securely in your ears. Water resistance is only basic (IPX4), and the sound won’t impress audiophiles, but that’s to be expected at this price. The battery lasts for 6 hours of playtime, and the charging case gets you 14 more hours. The on-board touch pad controls playback and can access your phone’s digital assistant.
Skullcandy Push Active ($79.99)
With IP55 water/dust resistance and a very secure earhook design, the noise-isolating Push Active is a good budget choice for hikers. The Skull-iQ Voice control gives you access to Siri and Google Assistant, and you get handy extras like the included Tile device-finding technology and a transparency mode for hearing your surroundings. The 10-hour battery life (44 with case) is better than other models in this price range.
JLab Go Air Sport ($30)
For the money, you almost can’t go wrong. The secure Earhook design and IP55 water/dust resistance are great for most workouts, and the touch-sensitive earbuds let you adjust the sound as well as access your digital assistant and control playback/calls. The 8-hour battery life (32 with case) is fantastic at this price point.
Middle of the Road
Beats Fit Pro ($199)
These sport Apple’s powerful H1 chip, which gives you access to processing-intensive features like Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking and one-touch iOS device pairing, but they are also Android-compatible. The built-in fins are extremely secure, and the icon B button lets you control playback/calls and much more. The active noise cancellation and sound quality are above average, but the IPX4 rating may disappoint true outdoor adventurers. You also get a transparency mode as well as fast charging (five minutes for one hour of playback) for the 6-hour battery (24 with case).
Jabra Elite 7 Active ($179)
The eartips’ ShakeGrip coating keeps them from falling out without the need for fins or wings, and the earbuds are very small and light. An IP57 rating makes these an excellent choice for getting down and dirty (or wet) during your workout. The Jabra Sound+ app lets you adjust the ANC and cycle through multiple transparency (HearThrough) modes as well as assign controls to the on-board buttons. You get a solid eight hours of battery life (30 hours with case) as well as a fast charge mode.
Bose Sport ($149)
Bose’s StayHear Max soft eartips provide a stable fit with class-leading comfort, and the volume-optimized active EQ keeps sounds balanced at any level. The IPX4 rating and lack of active noise cancellation or transparency mode may be dealbreakers for some, but the signature Bose sound and comfort will mitigate this for many. The 5-hour battery life (15 hours with case) and fast charge modes should be enough for most workouts.
B&O Beoplay EX ($399)
B&O’s slick design with glass touch surfaces on each earbud look luxe, but they’re durable too, with an excellent IP57 rating. The adaptive noise cancellation, transparency mode and EQ are all adjustable within the companion app, and the earbuds support both aptX Adaptive and AAC for great sound on any smartphone. Unlike most sport models, these don’t have any fins or wingtips, but the silicone ear tips should stay put in most ears. You get six hours of playtime and 20 hours with the case, which supports wireless charging.
Master & Dynamic MW08 Sport ($349)
The MW08’s shatter-resistant sapphire glass and wireless-compatible Kevlar fiber charging case gives them a very high-end feel. There’s no wings or fins; the company opted for memory foam eartips to keep the headphones in place during workouts. Hybrid active noise cancellation with two transparency modes, multipoint Bluetooth connections, and AAC as well as aptX Adaptive support mean these can be used for listening well beyond your workout. The 12-hour (42 with case) battery life is the best we’ve seen.
Shure Aonic 215 Gen 2 ($229)
These are basically Shure’s SE215 earbuds with wireless earhooks that snap on. That means you can swap out any similar Shure earbuds including their top-end SE846. Despite lacking active noise cancellation, these earbuds block an impressive 37dB passively and offer a transparency mode. You get 8 hours of playtime (32 hours with case) as well as on-board button controls and a companion app for adjusting EQ and transparency. aptX and AAC codec support gives you compatibility with Android and iOS phones.