There is a time and a place for exquisitely crafted, perfectly tuned luxury headphones and, for the most part, that place is at home, on a comfy chair, enjoying a concerto or two. They’re not for running with, hitting the gym or even walking the dog – what you need in these instances is a pair of sport-specific headphones that don’t mind a bit of abuse and will remain securely in your ears no matter how active you get.


And despite energetic advertising campaigns, you don’t have to be running a marathon to benefit from sports headphones. The best are lightweight, comfortable and impervious to sweat and water, fit securely and sound great. Admittedly, many still shout ‘sporty’ with bold branding, but shop carefully and you’ll discover those that perform whether you’re running or sitting.

Active headphones have benefitted from improvements in wireless technology, and unless your budget is less than £30, I would keep clear of wired designs purely for convenience. True wireless earbuds are now the popular option, but fit can be an issue – there’s nothing more annoying than a single earbud flying out into the road as you run. If you struggle to find true wireless designs that fit, ear hook and neckband options will be a good compromise. Over-ear sport headphones are available, but they’ll get sweaty quickly.

The key differentiator between standard and sports headphones is their ability to withstand electronic-corroding moisture. To check your headphone’s durability, look for the IP rating (eg ‘IP67’). The first digit shows how well they keep out dust and dirt, the second shows protection from liquid. The higher the number, the better, with 3 being splashproof and 7 being fully submersible to 1m depth for up to half an hour.

If you’re sold on true wireless earbuds but struggle to find pairs that fit, look for designs with silicone wing tips that nestle neatly in the cartilage in your ear, like the Jaybird Vista 2 ( Multiple size options are also important to achieve a good fit.

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Noise-cancelling tech is great for the office or gym, but for sport you often need the opposite. ‘Transparency’ and ‘ambient’ features let more outside noise in, keeping you aware of your surroundings – and you can turn this feature off.

Bone conduction technology also allows you to listen to music without having anything in your ears. These neckband designs vibrate your ear canal, transmitting the sound. What they lack in quality they make up for in fit, you can hear the outside world and even swim in them.

Enjoy swimming? our sister title 220 Triathlon reviews the best waterproof headphones for swimming: 8 fully submergible options

Best running headphones

Adidas FWD-02

Adidas FWD-02 headphones

Small, stylish and packed with features, these earbuds are IPX5 rated and totally sweatproof, and have a generous range of earbuds and wingtips included to help you find a perfect fit. At 5.25g each they’re impressively light, and the inclusion of a ‘transparency’ mode helps you stay alert when running near roads.

Features include Sweat and water-resistant, a microphone on each earbud so you can take calls with just one bud in your ears and 25 hours of playtime

They are available in light and dark grey

Jlab Go Air Sport Headphones

Jlab Go Air Sport headphones

For the price, these sport headphones are hard to fault. The ear-hook design is ideal for keeping earbuds in place, the 8hr battery life is superb and they have decent microphones for making calls. The 6mm drivers won’t give you goosebumps, but will enhance a workout.

Shokz OpenRun Bone Conduction Headphones

Shokz OpenRun Bone Conduction Headphones

These are brilliantly light and weigh 26g. The neckband design means they can’t fall off, they’re impervious to sweat and clever bone conduction technology allows you to listen to your music without blocking out the rest of the world. A truly fantastic innovation.

Features include quick charge and long endurance that provides music even during full marathons, and dual noise-cancelling mics with Bluetooth V5.1.

As well as black they are also available in red, blue and grey and re the only headphones recommended by England Athletics.


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Chris HaslamAudio and Tech Specialist, BBC Music Magazine

Chris Haslam is a freelance consumer technology journalist, specialising in tech, audio, lifestyle, health and interiors. He is the monthly audio columnist for BBC Music Magazine, rounding up the best audio equipment on the market for classical music lovers. He is also a contributing editor for Wired UK.