We’ve tested over 260 headphones for this guide, which is a lot to digest, so we’re sticking with the most notable competitors here. However, if you’re curious about a specific model, reach out to our team via Twitter (@wirecutter) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we’ll be happy to help.
Adidas FWD-01: These headphones are like leggings made with thin material: They look sporty and are fine for walking around, but at the gym they can become downright uncomfortable. The fabric-covered cable holds sweat but isn’t washable, and because it’s heavy, it tugged at our ears and thumped loudly during high-impact activities.
Adidas RPT-01: This on-ear pair was so close to being fantastic. The sound was quite good in our tests, coming across as fun and bass-forward without being muddy. The washable earcups and headband cover are a great idea for hygiene. The build quality feels durable, and the design looks sportily reminiscent of Adidas Primeknit sneakers. But the clamping force of the headband squeezes too tightly to be comfortable, especially on medium- to large-size heads. In our tests, that clamping pressure combined with the textured weave of the earpad fabric and left our ears aching after 20 to 30 minutes of use.
Aftershokz Aeropex: Bone-conduction headphones are an option for a very specific subset of folks who can’t handle having headphones on or in their ears. Of this kind of headphones, the Aeropex is the best set we’ve come across. These headphones are light and comfy, and they have easy-to-use controls. The problem is that sending sound waves through your skull to your inner ear isn’t the best way to get quality sound, and most people will find the tinny, muffled audio to be inadequate for their needs.
Anker SoundBuds Curve: Although we found the shape of the earbuds themselves to be comfortable, the cable that connected them was far too long and quickly became annoying. The sound quality didn’t add to the appeal, with a blurry, muddy bass.
Anker SoundBuds Slim: These earbuds initially performed well enough to reach our endurance tests. When we ran the water test, their volume dropped drastically, to the point that even at full volume they sounded as if they were at 40 or 50 percent max.
Anker SoundBuds Sport NB10: The excess cable clanged around behind our testers’ heads, and the highs were uncomfortably sibilant. You can find better options even for this low price.
Anker Soundcore Spirit Dot 2: Overall, these are okay earbuds. Included wings in three sizes help to keep the Dot 2 in your ears securely. The bass can muffle male voices somewhat, and the mildly coarse higher-frequency range can make cymbals have a shushing quality. Though the tap-based controls aren’t as prone to misfire as touch-based controls, we missed having volume controls and track reverse options, which the Dot 2 lacks. Additionally, the thin material of the eartips can crinkle up in your ear and cause them to get stuck when you pull the earbuds out, as it did with one of our panelists. None of these flaws are massive dealbreakers, but with so many great options, these missed out on being a pick.
Anker Soundcore Spirit X2: Overall, the fit and water resistance are the best things about the X2. They look a little weird, but winglets combined with a hook-over-the-ear design keeps the X2 securely in place. However, the controls aren’t intuitive and take a little getting used to. The sound has a hissing quality that makes cymbals sound tinny and adds a tape-hiss noise to everything, and the bass is a bit blobby, too. If you need affordable true wireless earbuds with extra stability and aren’t too picky about sound, these are a decent option, but not a challenger to our top picks.
Apple AirPods Pro: Although the IPX4 rating of the AirPods Pro means they’re protected from some mild sweat damage, these earbuds aren’t our first choice for regular gym use. The vented design allows in external noise, and the noise cancellation won’t reduce the sound of weights clanking or the lyrics of the pop music piped onto the gym floor. They will stay in place for moderate movement, but people who do very high-impact workouts (such as burpee tuck jumps) may find that the Pro earbuds can slip out of place. Additionally, the controls are fiddly and can be tricky to activate while you’re on the move. For more information on how the AirPods Pro set stacks up against other earbuds, check out our wireless earbuds guide.
Aukey EP-B56: These are listed on Amazon as the updated version of our budget pick, the EP-B40. However, the only improvement is the battery life. Unless you have extremely petite ears, the wings are too small to actually anchor the earbuds in place. The bass is forward and blurry, which we’d forgive at this price if the earbuds fit well. However, except for all but the smallest of ears, we don’t trust the B56 to stay in place for a single jumping jack.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E6: In our tests, the cable was heavy and tugged like crazy. The stabilizer wings weren’t especially comfortable, and the cord was short, so it wasn’t comfortable on thicker necks. Plus, this pair had sizzly, sibilant highs that made harpsichord and piano sound tinny.
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay E8 Sport: We like the fit, the durable IP57 rating, and the easy-to-use controls on this pair. The sound quality is somewhat over-boosted in the bass and highs, which means cymbal and snare hits can become fatiguing for sensitive listeners and the bass will seem louder than usual. The hear-through feature sounds sibilant and distractingly unnatural, so it wasn’t something we’d leave on for situational awareness—but for a brief conversation, it’s fine. Over phone calls, voices can sound a bit tinny to callers, and the mic picks up sounds around you, so you won’t want to take calls on the gym floor (not that you’d ever do that). Overall the flaws aren’t massive, and we’d likely put these in our Other workout headphones we like section if not for the $350 price tag. For that price, we expect better performance than our top pick, which costs half as much. Additionally, if you lose an earbud the stakes are higher; a replacement will set you back $125 per earbud.
Beats Powerbeats3: These headphones have a tricky fit that drastically affects the sound quality and prompts lots of reports of shorting out. When they do fit properly, they offer a fun, bass-heavy sound, but half of our panel couldn’t get them to seal effectively.
Bose SoundSport Free: These true wireless earphones don’t seal out external noise, and they sounded a bit dull in our tests. They’re also about as large as a dollar coin; they look a bit like ear gauges.
Jaybird Tarah: The less-expensive version of the Tarah Pro, this pair has the same flaws but lacks the bonus features that make the Tarah Pro desirable. You can’t wear the Tarah over your ears as you can the Tarah Pro. Overall, although these headphones are fine for walking around, the Tarah Pro is better for serious gym folks.
Jaybird X4: This pair was tricky to set up, even for our experts. Plus, the cable hanging in the back bounced when we did jumping jacks, did burpees, or jogged, even when we wore the pair over our ears. We think the Tarah Pro is a better choice.
JBL Endurance Sprint: We loved the hook-over-the-ear design, the IPX7 rating, and the stable, comfortable fit of this pair and the similarly designed JBL Endurance Jump. However, the material on the cable could start to grip and snag on the neck when we got sweaty, and the touch controls went haywire if we got them too wet.
JBL Free X: Although this pair was pretty comfy for us, it doesn’t have volume controls, and the sound wasn’t as pleasant as that of the Jabra Elite Active 75t with EQ—the bass had a reverby quality, and acoustic guitars had a metallic twang.
JBL Reflect Mini 2: If the cable were shorter or had a better harness system, we’d be all in. The fit was comfortable, and the sound—with loud bass and boosted treble—was hyped yet fun for the kind of upbeat music that’s great for the gym. But the cable dragged and snagged and made noise when we bounced.
JLab Epic Air Sport: Although the earbud design is comfortable and the charge case has a clever built-in USB cable, the Air Sport earbuds have too many downsides to be a pick. In our tests, the sound quality ranged from blurry to sibilant to overpowering bass-in-your-face, depending on the EQ setting. The awareness mode was so tinny and odd-sounding that it was unusable. With phone calls, the audio was equally jarring to our call recipients.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC: The overall design felt comfortable to wear, and we like the case with a built-in USB cable. The active noise cancellation is mild, but it takes the edge off low hums like that of an air conditioner. The sound quality on the primary EQ setting is bass-heavy, but not terribly so. On bass-intense songs, you can still hear male vocals clearly enough. The app has EQ that can balance out the lows if you spend the time to adjust. The claimed 11-15 hours of battery life is quite impressive. The only real issue we had was the tap-based controls, which are rather fussy. For example, when we meant to adjust the volume, we instead paused the music. In the middle of a workout, this type of thing could be very frustrating. But if you don’t plan on using the controls frequently, this pair is otherwise a decent option.
JLab JBuds Air Sport: This pair is a decent affordable true wireless alternative for the gym. The over-ear hooks keep the buds secure, the six-hour battery life is good, and the IP66 rating and two-year warranty are impressive. But the semi-flexible hooks can rub larger ears and aren’t quite as comfortable for longer wearing sessions, while the tap controls can be a bit fiddly especially when you’re in motion. In our tests, the sound options were at best super boomy with sibilant highs.
Kygo Xelerate: Producer DJ Kygo’s workout earbuds sounded a little bass-forward to our panel, but overall the sound was fine. The linguine-like cable clunks annoyingly and is made of a grippy material that snags on everything when you turn your head, causing it to tug at the earbuds constantly.
LifeBeam Vi Sense and Vi React: The Vi sets are part fitness tracker, part subscription-based virtual running coach, part headphones. Both earbud designs had issues in our tests. The collar design slipped around on some of our testers’ necks, and the stems on the earbuds bent at an angle that made the remote bump into testers’ faces when they were in full-gallop mode.
Linearflux Hypersonic: This small pair of earbuds feels secure thanks to the rubberized fins. The sound is average, with a somewhat overzealous amount of bass and highs that sound mildly undefined and scratchy. The control buttons take a good amount of force to activate and can mash into your ears uncomfortably, and the case clamps shut in a way that is challenging to pry open. Though great phone performance isn’t a necessity for the gym, we expect the mic quality to be passably clear for phone calls, which is not the case here. Our callers said we sounded quiet and distant, as though we were talking through a speakerphone across the room.
Optoma BE Sport4: The long, thick cable on this pair tugged and transferred a lot of noise. Additionally, in our experience the material that the stabilizing wings are made of was a little too stiff and made the inner edge of the antihelix (the inner cup of the outer ears) ache after 20 minutes of use.
Poly (formerly Plantronics) BackBeat Fit 300: The ear-tip-and-wing system is comfortable, and the build quality feels sturdy. The sound in our tests was a little icy on the highs with a lot of bass, but the bass didn’t blur the male vocal range. Unfortunately, the cable is noisy and just a little too long, and the remote is huge and heavy.
Poly (formerly Plantronics) BackBeat Fit 350: Great fit, bad cable, “meh” sound. The fit was comfy, but the cable was especially noisy. Plus, the sibilant highs caused “s” sounds to be piercing when the volume was above moderate levels.
Poly (formerly Plantronics) BackBeat Fit 3200: The 3200 earbuds are a sealed version of the BackBeat Fit 3150, our running headphones pick. Unfortunately, the 3200 set isn’t as good for the gym as the 3150 pair is for outdoor jogs. The tips aren’t very isolating, so you need to compensate with higher volumes to block out gym noises. The awareness mode seems to consist of only higher frequencies, so the world around you sounds as if you are in a metal tunnel. Even though the music quality had a pleasant bass-forward profile and the controls were easy to use in our tests, we were too bummed by the flaws to make these headphones a pick.
Poly (formerly Plantronics) BackBeat Fit 6100: We so badly wanted to love these. The design felt sturdy and was comfortable on the head, and the adjustable headband tension is a nifty idea. Unfortunately, the features that would make this pair special didn’t deliver. The lacing that pulled the headband inward also drew the earcups away from one’s face at the bottom, causing sound and noise leakage. The hear-through situational awareness was so tinny and hissy-sounding that it was painful to use, especially when a barbell clanged down on a metal bench. Worse, the sound quality was not great, with the best of the three EQ profiles described by a panelist as “bloated in the bass with muffled male vocals.”
Sennheiser CX Sport: Although the earbuds themselves are small and comfortable, the remote and Bluetooth transmitter are massive. Make any large movement, and they clang into your face. The cable is also long and prone to snagging. A sibilant, piercing treble sound profile doesn’t help matters.
Skullcandy Push Ultra: This pair’s unsealed earbud design lets all the bass frequencies out of the ear and isn’t tuned to compensate. Even bass-heavy hip-hop tracks sound very unsupported. Plus the rather large design feels unwieldy to wear. Unless you only listen to spoken-word podcasts, the Push Ultra is sadly a miss.
Skullcandy Sesh: If you want true wireless earbuds for the gym that are under $50, these are a great choice. The battery life is only three hours per charge, but the Sesh earbuds are easy to use and good sounding; they also have IP55 water and dust protection and offer track, volume, music, and call controls. These earbuds come with Skullcandy’s “fearless use guarantee,” which means that if you lose or break an earbud after the warranty, you pay only for the replacement part rather than for a whole new set.
Sony WF-SP800N: The 9-hour battery life is impressive, but the earbud size is large and can feel a bit unstable on high-impact workouts. Though the controls are customizable, you can only have two button actions activated at one time. So you’re forced to choose between volume, track controls, digital assistant activation, or ANC on/off. Though the sound out of the box is quite good, and the noise cancelling useful for loud fan-like noises, the SP800N isn’t a top choice for use at the gym.
Soul Electronics Run Free Pro Bio: This pair analyzes your running gait and makes coaching suggestions. If we otherwise loved the Pro Bio, we’d test the software with a trainer and see how accurate the results were. But we were not thrilled with the experience of using these headphones. We didn’t like the sealed design for running outside, and the remote bounced on the right side and added a loud thump-thump noise to our gait. Plus, the cable tugged a little as it bounced.
Soul Electronics Run Free Pro HD: If the Run Free Pro HD didn’t have a super-long cable that slapped my back when I bounced, it would have been a contender. This pair fit our panel really well and sounded nice, too. If your gym routine consists entirely of stable movements (cycling, weights, and the like), these headphones could be an option.
Soul Electronics X-tra: The around-ear design didn’t breathe as much as we hoped, and with those fabric earpads sucking up sweat, you’ll want to wash them after every workout. Unfortunately, the removable earpads are particularly difficult to put back on. Lackluster sound quality and control buttons that clicked loudly in our ears rounded out our reasons to dismiss this pair.
Soul S-FIT: We love the fit of the S-FIT. The earbuds themselves are small, and the rubbery stabilizer wings grip your ears and feel very secure. The IP67 rating is a great insurance policy against sweat and dirt. However, the S-FIT lacks controls for volume and track-reverse. This wouldn’t be a dealbreaker alone, but unfortunately the sound is also lacking—it’s dull and muffled in a way that makes you turn the volume up to hear better, but instead of clarity and detail, you just get more boomy, blurry bass. Plus the hear-though feature has a small but perceptible delay, which feels odd during conversations. These flaws sadly overshadow a fantastic earbud design.
Soundcore by Anker Spirit: For someone who wants durable headphones for walking around, these are fine. The ear tips fit us securely and comfortably, and the sound was decent for the price. But the long cable tugged, snagged, and made noise during higher-impact movement.
UA Sport Wireless Pivot: A massive remote and a cable that transfers a great deal of noise were enough to make the Pivot less than ideal for workouts.
UA Sport Wireless React: This pair is almost great, with a few key flaws. The React feels notably sturdy and comfortable, but the remote is massive and on high-impact movements will swing about, smacking your face. And the hear-through feature, which is handy for conversations, made our music so quiet that it may as well have been paused.
UA True Wireless Flash: This pair is lightweight, and the wings make the earbuds especially stable in the ears, but the metal case is heavy. Also, this pair lacks a volume control, so you’ll need to keep your phone or smartwatch handy. The “bionic hearing” (ambient-awareness mode) is great for chats between sets, but it dips the music volume so much that you can’t leave it on all the time for outdoor-running awareness. If the shape of the Jabra Elite Active 75t pair tends to cause those earbuds to pop out for you, these earbuds might be a decent alternative.
Underwater Audio Swimbuds Sport: These headphones are our previous swim pick, and they still hold up. They sound great, have an adjustable cable length, and stay in place well. They’re just a little trickier to use than the traditional Swimbuds: The Swimbuds Sport pair offers an astounding amount of ways to seal water out of your ear, but with a little trial and error and some patience, even the most unusually shaped ears will find a watertight seal.