Are Wireless Earbuds Good for Running?
It’s easy to see the allure of completely cable-free earphones for runners—it’s one less thing in the way, and especially on runs in hot weather, the absence of a neckband can be a blessing. But not all true wireless earbuds are made for running, and among the ones that are, some are better than others.
In such a young product category, it’s important to remember that the designs are improving at a rapid pace, but you’re still getting in early enough that some kinks are not yet totally ironed out. That said, there are already plenty of solid options we feel comfortable recommending.
We’ll walk through the various features and factors to consider when picking a truly wireless in-ear pair for running, and discuss some of our favorites here.
Withstanding Water and Sweat
If you’re going to wear true wireless in-ears for running or other exercise, some level of water resistance is crucial. IP ratings are becoming a more common inclusion on product spec pages and on the outside of boxes for headphones, so it’s important to understand what they actually mean.
Often, a product is listed as having a rating of, say, IPX7. That X is a placeholder, not something that stands for “extreme” or any other rugged superlatives. IP ratings follow a simple structure: The first number denotes the dust ingress rating on a scale of 0-6, and the second number denotes water protection on a scale of 0-8 (there are some higher degrees of IP protection for liquids, but they are rarely seen on consumer-level products).
So if a product is listed as IP56, it means that the dust ingress protection is rated at 5, and the water ingress protection is rated at 6. The X is a placeholder because, often, companies will simply not thoroughly test for dust ingress, but they know they’ve built a product sturdy enough to provide some basic level of protection from it. So rather than put a zero there, which would look bad, the X means the product likely has a degree of dust protection, but it wasn’t measured.
Furthermore, the numbers don’t necessarily correspond to some obvious system—a higher number does mean a higher level of protection, but each number is a new, very specific degree of protection. IPX5, for instance, means the product is protected from water projected from a certain-sized nozzle. IPX7 means the product can withstand being submerged up to a meter—this is typically the highest IP rating you’ll see.
Most runners—except you ultra-marathoners doing desert runs—needn’t worry too much about dust protection ratings, but water and sweat resistance is crucial, so make sure you know the IP rating beforehand. Plenty of manufactures claim a product is “waterproof” when it actually has a low IP rating and can’t withstand any real water pressure.
Battery Life and Charging Cases
Battery life is definitely the glaring weakness of the true wireless category thus far. The best pairs can carry on for perhaps five to six hours on a full charge, and the worst last only three or even two hours. This is why charging cases, with docking areas and an internal battery that can carry several more full charges, is a critical part of true wireless design.
That said, I don’t see many runners carrying a charging case and docking earpieces for extra battery life on a long run. But this is also because—again, ultra-marathoners, this excludes you—most of these battery life ratings will be fine for runs. If you run a full marathon, there’s a chance your true wireless in-ears will last most of, if not the entire, race. If you run a half marathon, you almost certainly don’t need to worry about running out of juice. Of course, battery life relies heavily on volume levels, so one way to get a longer result is by listening at lower levels.
Let’s move on to something nearly all true wireless headphones are good at: staying in place. It’s critical that the earpieces are both lightweight and notably larger than earpieces for wired earphones. This larger contour will typically rest against various areas of the ear for added stability. Eartips that seal off the canal are also crucial for keeping the earpieces in place, and ensuring solid ear-to-ear audio balance and bass depth. That’s why models like Apple’s AirPods don’t make the cut for this list: They lack a secure in-ear fit.
Many sports-focused models include extra fit accessories like earfins, or even bands that wrap around the earpiece to increase its width slightly. Nearly all the materials involved are some form of rubber or silicone, which aids the secure fit.
Apps and Extra Features
This is the real wild card in this category. Some companion apps merely help you pair your earbuds with your phone, and some are loaded with extra features. The best app for our money is Jabra’s, which has excellent EQ and a host of features like an ambient Hear-Through mode, a pink noise option for concentration (which is perhaps less likely to be used while running, but still useful), and a motion sensor. The JayBird app also has a user-adjustable EQ, making its sound signature easy to take from bass-heavy to nearly flat response. It also features playlists from athletes, though the EQ is arguably the primary selling point.
There are also third party tie-ins in the app realm—the JBL UA True Wireless Flash earphones come with a year’s premium membership to MapMyRun, for instance. It’s also worth noting that this model has an ambient aware listening mode that is activated by tapping one of the on-ear controls, no app required. The Jabra Elite Sport, meanwhile, offer a built-in heart rate sensor and accelerometer to track fitness stats, which we found to be generally reliable in testing.
How Much Should You Pay?
Quality true wireless earphones aren’t cheap. While a solid pair of neckband-style Bluetooth headphones can be found for around $75 or so, the better true wireless options tend to cost anywhere from $125 to $250, with few pairs dipping below $100. We’ve tried to make this list as diverse as possible, so you can find a pair with a price and feature set that work for you.
Once you’ve found that perfect pair, make sure to check out our tips for taking care of your headphones.
Pros: Affordable. Excellent, bass-forward audio. Water-resistant design.
Cons: So-so battery life.
Bottom Line: There’s nothing flashy about Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air true wireless earphones, but they deliver very strong audio performance, especially for the price.
Pros: Powerful audio performance with boosted bass response. Exceptionally secure fit. Water-resistant design. Simple, easy-to-use on-ear controls. App simplifies pairing process.
Cons: Expensive. Very sculpted sound signature.
Bottom Line: The bass-forward Bose SoundSport Free earphones are expensive, but nail the design and operational details better than any other pair in the growing wire-free category.
Pros: Powerful audio with thunderous bass and bright high. Excellent in-app EQ. Waterproof, dust-resistant design. Super-secure in-ear fit.
Cons: Expensive. Sculpted sound signature might be too much for some.
Bottom Line: Jabra’s Elite Active 75t earphones improve upon the original pair with a more secure fit and a waterproof design for a real true wireless winner.
Pros: Powerful bass-forward but balanced audio performance. Solid mic clarity. Strong battery life. Waterproof. Includes one year premium membership to MapMyRun.
Cons: Cuts off beginnings of newly navigated-to tracks and phone prompts. Minor hiss at low volumes.
Bottom Line: The JBL UA True Wireless Flash earbuds deliver strong audio performance and excellent exercise-focused features.
Pros: Excellent audio performance with rich bass and detailed, clear highs. Handsome, spare design. Sweat-resistant.
Cons: Controls can be hard to memorize at first. Battery life remains a weakness for all true wireless models.
Bottom Line: The secure-fitting, well-designed RHA TrueConnect earphones deliver excellent true wireless audio.
Pros: Hands-free Alexa voice control. Good active noise reduction. Clear, balanced sound. Comfortable fit.
Cons: Somewhat weak lows and highs. Limited controls. Not waterproof.
Bottom Line: Amazon’s Echo Buds are wire-free earphones with a lot of functionality for $130, including hands-free Alexa voice control and Bose-tuned active noise reduction.
Pros: Powerful audio performance with intense bass depth and bright highs. Strong battery life. Exceptionally secure in-ear fit.
Cons: Expensive. Wildly sculpted sound signature. Auto-play feature isn’t for everyone.
Bottom Line: A secure fit, easy operation, and a bass-forward sound signature make the Powerbeats Pro ideal true wireless earphones for Beats fans.
Pros: Inexpensive. Solid audio performance with rich bass depth and clear highs. Waterproof. Can charge wirelessly with a Qi pad.
Cons: Could use more high-mid presence. On-ear controls lack volume, could be more graceful.
Bottom Line: The EarFun Free true wireless earphones combine quality audio performance with a waterproof design for an impressively low price.
Pros: Strong audio performance with boosted bass and crisp highs. App features user-adjustable EQ. IPX7 waterproof. Secure fit for exercise.
Cons: Limited on-ear controls.
Bottom Line: The Jaybird Vista true wireless earphones deliver powerful audio performance in a waterproof, gym-friendly build with EQ you can adjust to taste.
Pros: Powerful, bass-heavy sound signature. Excellent fit stability. Waterproof, dust-resistant build.
Cons: On-ear controls are divided up oddly. No user-adjustable EQ, only presets.
Bottom Line: While they face no shortage of competition, the true wireless Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3200 earphones offer an exercise-friendly, waterproof design and lots of bass for a relatively good price.