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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:
|2||Dripping water when tilted at 15°|
|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.
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…)
$130, 8hrs. runtime, shokz.com
While we love the premium sound of the Openrun’s more premium brother, the aptly named Openrun Pro, this slightly more budget-friendly pair still does the job and actually has slightly better waterproofing (IP67). Though it’s unlikely you’ll come up against any “powerful water jets,” there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself accidentally immersing these, and they won’t be ruined. The best feature on the Shockz’ design is the bone-conduction audio that allows you to hear the music without covering your ears—hence our top pick for running outside. While bone conduction doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the highest audio quality, if you’re out on a run, it’s not like you’re in audiophile mode, and safety is far more paramount. Bonus: a noise-canceling mic helps you place calls if you really feel the need to multitask.
Best Headphones for Working Out with An iPhone
Apple AirPods Pro Gen2
$250, 6hrs. runtime, apple.com
While some may roll their eyes at the inclusion of the ubiquitous AirPods in our list, the sad truth is that pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar nothing beats this pair of headphones when it comes to audio quality and noise cancelation/transparency. The pro version Apple’s latest AirPods has incredible noise canceling capabilities—better than almost anything out there—so earmark that for your indoor trainer rides. Almost more impressively, the easy toggling transparency mode allows for outside sound to enter your listening experience—almost (almost) making them a fine choice for outdoor training. Beyond that, the sound quality on this pair is ridiculous, and if you have Amazon, Tidal, or Apple Music streaming services you can take full advantage of Dolby Atmos and spatial audio that makes specifically mastered tracks sound like the music is surrounding you, left, right, up, and down. Better yet: When you turn your head while using compatible Apple products, the music stays in place for a very unique listening experience.
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
$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’ 4GB of storage via your computer. So if you only listen to music via a streaming service like Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal you’ll be out of luck.
Best Headphones for Working Out (with Versatility)
$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.