How to Find the Best Earbuds for Running

Every morning I wake up and throw on my running tights. I grab my sneakers, smartphone, and earbuds to go for a meditative and energizing run. Just me and the track as the sun peaks above the horizon reminding me that I can conquer anything today.

Just as I begin to hit my stride my favorite song comes on and motivates me to press through and endure. My endorphins are pumping and I can feel my body secret greatness.

All of the sudden my arm tugs on my earbuds and rips them violently out of my ears. Moment ruined. This also causes me stumble and lose momentum as I try and readjust the buds back into my ear and get back to my stride.

Finding the right pair of headphones is so imperative for any active lifestyle, but it can also be a frustrating process. For runners, it is the lifeblood of a perfectly paced run mile after mile. Especially for those of us that curate playlist that not only pumps us up, but can also help achieve those important running goals.

Although quality is one of the more important aspects of a great set of earbuds, there are many things to consider when looking for a durable pair that will help you through that last mile. Below are some things to think about before snatching up your next set.

Things to Know

When specifically finding earbuds that are ideal for running conditions, there are many aspects from wire type to sound quality that it is important to understand.

Here is a brief overview of what to look for as you hunt for the perfect earbuds.

  • Wired vs wireless
  • Waterproof and sweat resistant
  • Cost and budget
  • Earbud tech specifications and what they mean for you
  • Battery life

wireless earbuds

To Wire or Not to Wire?

There is some debate in the running community if it is better to have a great pair of wired earbuds or a wireless option. Since most smartphones have an accessory to strap your music to your arm or even inside a smart watch, the need for wireless headphones is growing rapidly. However, many runners prefer the sound quality and comfortability of sports-style wired headphones.

Remember the story of me ripping earphones straight out of my ear? That absolutely goes on the con list, but don’t discount wired headsets just yet. Here’s a quick look at both.

Wired Pros:

  • Infinite battery life and durably built to last
  • Great quality wired headphones can be less expensive than mediocre wired headphones.
  • Compatible with any device that has a headphone jack. From iPods to smartphones to older MP3 players.

Wired Cons:

  • Can easily be ripped or pulled out of ear.
  • Wire can cause chaffing during run.
  • Less portable and convenient when traveling.

Wireless Pros:

  • Less risk of hindering running performance.
  • Can use with a Bluetooth device.
  • Newer versions have great range and long battery life.

Wireless Cons:

  • Have to remember to keep them charged at all times.
  • Cannot use on older devices.
  • Loop in the back of most wireless headphones can cause neck chaffing.

Waterproof and Sweat Resistant

This decision really is more about your lifestyle and the amount of sweat you produce during a run. Earbuds actually have a rating that determines their resistance to water and moisture developed by the ISO. Their standards provide a rating from 0, meaning absolute no protection against water, to 8, meaning immersion over 1m. To be resistant to sweat you will need something that is a level 4 or higher to ensure protection. I would also like to mention if you run outside and get caught in the rain, you will be able to keep listening to waterproof headphones.

Bluetooth Headphones

Cost and Budget

The Cost will vary depending on what suits your needs as a runner. If you are looking the best earbuds for running that will last years to come the price is a bit higher than something that may have issues with durability and a lower sound quality.

Beware that many brands are able to sell their earbuds for a higher price just because they are adorned with the company’s logo or whichever celebrity is endorsing them this month. Be sure to check the specs and compare them before going with a well known brand. Most quality earbuds range from $39.95 to $89.95, but often go on sale during holiday seasons.

Earbud Tech Specs

Now let’s take a look at exactly what specifications consumers should know about before purchasing. A few aspects to pay attention to are the headphone’s drivers, sensitivity, and noise cancellation. Driver is the term used to describe the diameter of the diaphragm measured in millimeters. Since smaller earbud headphones cannot house a large driver, you should look for one with a dual driver. One that supplies the bass and another for higher frequencies.

Sensitivity in tech terms for headphones describe how loudly the earbuds will play. This is measured in SPL, sound pressure level, and is listed on spec sheets in decibels. You want headphones that range between 85-120 dB SPL/mW.

I also wanted to include noise cancellation because It is an important part of sports headphones. I run for the meditative quality and chance to escape the pressures life decides to throw at me. It has proven hard to do with sounds of loud sirens, crowds chatting, and car horns blasting. Though you will probably still hear some of these things through noise cancellation earbuds, the ambient sound is increased and is more pleasing to the ear.

headphones for jogging

Battery Life and Range

I added this consideration specifically for those looking to purchase wireless headsets. Generally, you will want to look for battery life 20+ hours. Especially if you are as forgetful as me to keep devices charged. If you are running outdoors you will probably not benefit from earbuds with a long range, but if you like to run on treadmills it would impact which earbuds you decide to purchase. Typical ranges go from 30ft to 90ft.

The positive boost music, audio books, and podcasts can give while running is invaluable. It is imperative that runners take time to find the perfect set of earbuds to provide sound clearly and are incredibly portable. A great pair of headphones can last for years to come and you can obtain them by researching and understanding basic benefits of wired vs wireless, waterproof and sweat resistant, cost, tech specifications, and battery life. With this knowledge, you are now armed to find earbuds that won’t hinder your running performance.

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