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Sports and running headphones: do you need to spend more than £8?

Looking to get fit this summer? Our expert lab tests top pairs including the new Beats Fit Pro, Bose Sport Earbuds and wired Beats Flex

Music can be the perfect companion to your running or exercise routine, but you need to take care when choosing a pair of sports headphones. We explain what to look for, highlight some of the most popular pairs and reveal how to find out whether they're worth buying.

Dedicated sports and running headphones are less likely to fall out during exercise, but they often don’t come cheap and you might not like the thought of wearing an expensive set that may get lost or damaged on a long, muddy run.

So are dedicated sports headphones best, or are you better off saving money and going for a cheap set of basic headphones? Read on to find out.

Best headphones for 2022 - from the for best noise-cancelling to those with thumping bass, discover the headphones that aced our tests.

What to look for in sports and running headphones

In-ear headphones are usually best for sports, and there are three main styles:

  1. Truly wireless sports headphones: These take an Apple AirPods-style design, adding in sports features such as earfins (extra bits of flexible plastic that hook on to your ears to help keep the earbuds in position). Being free from wires makes these great for some forms of fitness, but you may find this style of headphones slowly work their way loose with vigorous exercise, such as intensive running.
  2. Corded wireless headphones: There's still no cable to your audio device with this style, but unlike truly wireless headphones they have a cable between the two earpieces. This often means the earpieces themselves are lighter and therefore less likely to fall out. 
  3. Traditional wired headphones: These are cheapest and least likely to fall out thanks to the earpieces being smaller and, since they don’t contain batteries, lighter. But wires tangle easily, can snag when you're running and will get damaged over time. And if your device lacks a headphone socket, you’ll need an adapter. Depending on your device, this’ll be a USB-C, micro-USB or Lightning adaptor for the 3.5mm plug on your headphones, and typically cost around £9. 

Track your workouts, listen to music and keep your phone secure - see our pick of the best running armbands and phone holders

To find the perfect style of headphones for you, first consider what’s most important for the exercise you’ll be performing:

  • Price: Do you need a feature-rich premium pair, or can you cope with a cheap pair that you won’t be as worried about damaging? 
  • Water and sweat resistance: This is a must for expensive pairs, for added confidence they’ll last. Note that even for many water-resistant pairs, the charging case is not water resistant. 
  • Dedicated sports pairs: If you’re considering truly wireless earbuds in particular, you’ll need to get a good dedicated sports pair - these tend to have more secure fits (often slightly at the expense of comfort) and sometimes offer extra features such as earfins or earhooks; the latter are less common and go right round the outside of your outer ear. These added features are designed to make them stay in position and less likely to fall out. 
  • Sound quality: It’s unlikely you’ll need hi-fi sound quality for exercise, but a motivation-sapping weedy pair with weak bass won’t do either. You might find the stronger beat from enhanced bass pairs, like Beats or Sony Extra Bass, help with motivation. 
  • Features: Don’t pay for features you don’t need. For example, it’s unlikely you’ll need noise-cancelling for running. And unless you’re planning to run a marathon, long battery life is unlikely to be a priority either. A secure fit, as well as comfort and durability, are what’s most important for sports. 

Remember, the headphones below are just examples of the most popular models on the market and those we've most recently tested. Be sure to click through to the reviews to find out whether they're worth buying.

If you're a Which? member, you can jump straight to our listing of the highest-rated sports headphones.

Truly wireless sports headphones

Free from wires, these headphones are great for some sports and exercise routines. But they're expensive, and with vigorous exercise such as running, the risk rises that they’ll fall out.

Here are some of the most popular models.

Beats Fit Pro, £199

Beats say the Fit Pro offer ‘secure-fit’ wingtips to keep them firmly in position and ‘comfortably lock in place’ during your routine.

While expensive, they’re also designed for more casual use and come with active noise-cancelling. Beats also claims ‘high-quality’ phone call performance.

Find out whether they live up to expectations in our expert Beats Fit Pro review.

Be sure to also check out a key rival in our Shure Aonic Free review (£179).

Bose Sport Earbuds, £149

Bose has long been a well-respected audio brand, and enticingly its Sport Earbuds are £50 cheaper than Beats’ pair.

They come with three sizes of Bose’s ‘StayHear Max’ eartips, which are designed to give you a highly secure fit for sports and exercise.

They’re also IPX4 water resistant, so they’re not bothered by sweat or if you get caught out in a shower.

See if they’re the real deal in our comprehensive Bose Sport Earbuds review.

Jabra Elite 4 Active, £120

Jabra offers this cheaper pair than top-brand rivals, which claims to have a ‘secure active fit designed to stay in while you work out’.

Jabra also says they’re ‘water and sweat proof’, ‘incredibly durable’ and are comfortable to wear.

Our expert Jabra Elite 4 Active review reveals whether Jabra's claims are fact or fiction.

And find out whether the Elite 7 headphones are worth the extra money in our Jabra Elite 7 Active review.

Skullcandy Push Active True Wireless, £69

Skullcandy is well known for its attractively-priced headphones that undercut the competition, and for sports headphones are no exception. This set has full earhooks, which gives the buds added security from them falling out while running.

They’re IP55 rated, meaning they even offer protection from jets of water and dust – great if you like to work out on the beach. Skullcandy also claims an impressive 44 hours’ battery life from the earbuds and case.

See if this is the ideal pair for you in our Skullcandy Push Active True Wireless review.

Wired sports headphones

These are typically cheaper than wireless, and can be fully wired to your device, or wired only between the earpieces; the latter minimises the amount of daily untangling and snagging during exercise such as running.

Most wired pairs aren’t dedicated for sports and aren’t water resistant, so we’d recommend going for cheaper models in case they get damaged.

Beats Flex, £45

With these wireless headphones, the two earpieces are connected by a wire and semi-flexible collar that you wear round the back of your neck.

This means the earpieces are lighter since the battery is integrated in the collar, and you don’t need to worry about the earpieces getting lost if they fall out of your ears. Like most wired pairs, they’re not specifically designed for exercise, but the signature Beats bass should help keep you motivated during your routine.

Our experts give their verdict on if these headphones are a winner in our Beats Flex review.

Sony WI-C310, £29

These headphones might not be new, but they’re still incredibly popular.

The WI-C310 is similar to the Beats Flex, except that there’s no neckband, meaning the wire between the earbuds is flexible.

They’re also £16 cheaper than the Beats Flex. At the price, you don’t get any dedicated sports features (such as earhooks), but it’ll be less of a worry if they get damaged while out on a run.

So are they up to the task? Find out if their popularity is deserved in our Sony WI-C310 review.

Looking for a pair slightly cheaper? Check out our Sony WI-C200 review (£25).

Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic (Lightning or 3.5mm socket), £20

Apple’s classic EarPods continue to be a favourite for budding runners and while they don’t offer any specific running headphones credentials, their attractive price and solid construction continue their long-running popularity.

But are there better alternatives available? We give the lowdown in our Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic (Lightning) review.

For non-Apple device owners and those with a standard headphones socket, check our Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic (3.5mm) review.

Sony MDR-EX15AP, £8

Sports and running headphones will take quite a beating, and looking after your headphones probably isn’t high on the priority list. So you may simply want an inexpensive pair, even if they don’t provide top-notch audio.

Few headphones cost less than the MDR-EX15AP, and especially if you’re looking for a well-known brand. Of course, at this price you can expect significant compromises on features and audio quality.

Are these cheap good enough for exercise? Find out in our definitive Sony MDR-EX15AP review.

Betron might note be a particularly well-known brand, but its B25 set on Amazon has over 18,000 five-star reviews. See if it’s a worthy alternative in our Betron B25 (without microphone and remote) review (£10).