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Ask a Gear Guru: What Are the Best (New) Headphones for Working Out?

Learn more about the best workout headphones for smashing the indoor cone of silence this winter season.

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The only thing more horrifying than having to train indoors during the winter season—or when time/space/safety dictates—is having to train inside with nothing to listen to but a super loud fan or the sound of your tsunami of sweat gaining momentum on the floor. Music helps. Bingeing on guilty-pleasure TV helps. But unless you live on a farm, chances are your music or Game of Thrones wailing, turned up to where you can hear it, will make your loved ones/neighbors want to put you outside in the cold like a bad dog. Avoiding banishment is exactly why you need to find the best headphones for working out when inside.

To be clear, I definitely don’t condone wearing headphones while running or riding on the open roads, but most of the recommendations below can apply to both indoor and outdoor training. The best headphones for working out outdoors are ones that you don’t wear: There is a lot to be said for hearing and being aware of the dangers around you, particularly as drivers become less and less attentive and pedestrian/cyclist encounters with cars become more commonplace. With that said, I will go over a few types of headphones that are better than most for training outside—we are of our own free will, last time I checked, but please do the right thing and try to save the music for the safety of the indoors.

Before we get into a few picks, let’s learn a little bit more about what features make the best headphones for working out:

The (Water)proof is in the pudding

Unless you are some kind of superhero with the special power to not sweat or sweat only out of your feet or something, chances are you’ll be dumped in sweat after 15 minutes of training inside—hence the best headphones for working out are going to have some level of wetness protection. Leave those old-school DJ earmuffs in the drawer and get something with an IP rating of at least IP62 for running or riding. (IPX2 means basically the same thing as IP62 for our purposes if you ever see it written that way.) For swimming, you’ll need IP68 (or IPX8) with a submergence time (from the manufacturer) that lasts at least as long as you swim. Wondering exactly what those completely nondescript numbers mean? (Briefly) nerd out on this:

“IP” stands for Ingress Protocol, which is a fancy way of saying “How much stuff gets in.” The first digit after the “IP” is the level of solids protection. Six is basically the max for solid protection and means that the device is “dust tight”—anything less than that would be basically useless for sports. The second digit uses the following scale to measure how much liquid the device can be protected from:

IP Number Waterproofing
2 Dripping water when tilted at 15°
3 Spraying water
4 Water splashing
5 Light water jets
6 Powerful water jets
6K Powerful water jets with increased pressure
7 Immersion, up to 1m depth (30min. or less)
8 Immersion, 1m or more depth (length of time specified by manufacturer)
9K Powerful, high-temperature water jets (Ed. note: You don't need this, trust me)

Cut The Cord?

This is a big one. While most computers, tablets, and smartphones have built-in Bluetooth, lots of TVs don’t. If you happen to be riding or running outside with music, obviously wireless is the way to go; if you’re watching TV, you might need a Bluetooth transmitter to plug into your TV, which requires a little bit of work, an extra device, and a power source.

If you want to listen to music sans-smartphone or tablet, your best headphones for working out will have built-in music storage that requires files to be transferred and then played. This is also pretty much essential for swimming as Bluetooth doesn’t transmit super well over pool distances or through water.

Mic Drop

Some of the best headphones for working out also have microphones for making and taking calls or for voice commands with Siri or other voice-activated software—ideal for the quintessential multisport multitasker. Just know that the only thing more dangerous than riding or running outside with music is being distracted by taking a call. Hands-free in a car is one thing, but riding and talking is another. Mixing business with “pleasure” while working out indoors should really be the only time you use that mic.

Got it all? Let’s look at a few of the best headphones for working out based on features:

Best Headphones for Working Out Outside (if you must…)

Shokz Openrun Pro

$180, 10hrs. runtime, shokz.com

The latest iteration of bone-conduction headphones from the newly renamed Shokz (used to be Aftershokz) has longer battery life, better sound, and two bass modes on what used to be a pretty tinny sounding pair of headphones. What still remains is the bone conduction tech that transmits sound directly into you head (yes, that’s right) while leaving your ears completely open. This is literally the only pair of headphones I ever use when I’m out running or riding because you can still easily hear all traffic around you at the same time as your music. The Openrun Pros also have a built-in mic to use for making calls and stream music directly from your phone or music-capable smartwatch—no onboard storage.

Best Headphones for Working Out with An iPhone

Apple AirPods Gen3

$180, 6hrs. runtime, apple.com

The latest version of Apple’s ubiquitous AirPods are the workout headphones you hate to love. Yes, they’re everywhere, but they’re actually pretty darn good. The latest version is IPX4—including the case—which is something you used to have to pay a premium for with the Pro version. The new ones also have a longer batter life, a quick charge function that gets you an hour of sound with a five-minute plug in, and enhanced sound over the previous version. Finally, the little “stem” on this pair is getting shorter and less irritating.

Best (Little) Headphones for Working Out

Jaybird Vista 2

$150, 8hrs. runtime + 16hrs. in case, jaybird.com

Vistas are the tiny little earbuds that don’t necessarily make a fashion (or tech-lifestyle) statement but do their job well, and for a very (very) long time. Taking waterproofness up to the next level, these are rated IPX8, so you could conceivably take them swimming, but we haven’t tried yet. Just like the new AirPods above, the Vista 2s have a five-minute quick charge for an hour of runtime and GPS location-finding through the app. Of course the Vista 2s have excellent sound quality, a built-in mic, and wind-guarded mics that will actually elevate outside sound for better awareness if you’re outside.

Best Headphones for Working Out While Swimming

Shokz Openswim

$150, 8hrs. runtime, shokz.com

Even though we typically don’t include two pieces of gear from the same brand in this column, this is a rare exception. We love Shokz’ Openrun Pro for running (again, it’s the only pair I actually endorse for use out on the road, due to its open-ear construction), and there haven’t been any pairs our testers love as much as the Openswims. The biggest difference between the Openswim and the Openrun Pro is the Openswim is IPX8 rated (the Openrun is only IPX5) and the Openswim does not stream from a device but rather store mp3s locally. This is good/bad because Bluetooth doesn’t stream very well through water while you’re swimming, but it also means you need to have actual mp3s and upload them to the headphones via your computer. So if you only listen to music via a streaming service like Spotify, you’ll be out of luck.

Best Headphones for Working Out (with Versatility)

Trelab Z2

$90, 35hrs. runtime (Bluetooth), trelab.com

These lesser-known headphones are a great choice if you prefer over-the-ear headphones that are somewhat sweat resistant (IPX4) and still have a wired option via USB. Not only do these have a monstrous battery life, but you can plug them in to have wired sound if Bluetooth isn’t a good option. Like the others, they have a built-in mic for calls, and noise cancelation (which is less necessary given the design, but still can’t hurt). If you don’t like putting in ear buds or the open ear design of the Shokz don’t appeal to you, this is a budget-friendly solution.