Best running headphones 2018: The best wired and wireless headphones for running from £19 to £170


Latest Technology and Gadgets / Post 684 Views

Whether you’re looking for a steady stream of bangers to power you around your park run, or a funny podcast to keep you entertained over long distances, the right soundtrack can make all the difference when you’re out pounding the pavements.

This means, pretty much unavoidably, that you need a suitable pair of sports headphones. And it’s important to pick your running cans carefully, because the wrong pair will distract and annoy you, rather than keeping you focused and entertained through your runs.

Here’s our guide to the best running headphones on the market, to suit every type of runner, and every budget – along with the key questions you need to ask when picking a pair.

How to buy the best running headphones for you

What type of sports headphones should I get?

When you picture running headphones, you probably think of a compact in-ear design. On-ear models do exist and can have advantages in terms of sound quality and battery life. However, they’re liable to get hot and sweaty once you start pushing yourself, which is why earbuads are by far the most popular choice.

Once you’ve decided on a general style, the next question is whether you want wired or wireless headphones. The big advantage of wired models is that they never need charging – but the wires can get in your way, and if you accidentally catch the cable while running it can infuriatingly tug the earbuds out of your ears. What’s more, some modern smartphones lack a 3.5mm jack socket, so you might need to use an adaptor to connect your wired headphones. That’s not a big problem, but it’s another accessory to deal with.

When it comes to wireless headphones, there are two designs to choose from: you can get a pair where the left and right units are cabled together, or you can go for completely wireless buds. The latter is more convenient for running, but they usually have shorter battery life compared to their “slightly wired” counterparts.

One final design factor you should consider is ambient noise. Some earphones sit deep in your ear canal, with a rubber plug that excludes almost all external sound. This is great for zoning out and losing yourself in the music – but if you’re running on busy streets, consider a more open design that lets a certain amount of noise in, to keep you in touch with the potential hazards of the outside world.

How much do I need to spend?

You can pay as little as £5 for a basic pair of wired headphones – but the sound quality will probably be pretty ropey, and there’s a good chance they’ll fall apart before long. You’ll find vastly better audio, and more dependable build quality, from a pair of wired headphones in the £20 to £50 range.

Similarly, you can pick up a functional pair of wireless headphones for under £20 – but high-quality models tend to be found in the £70-£100 bracket. When it comes to truly wireless earbuds, the best sets for running cost £150 and upward.

What are the key features to look for?

First of all, make sure the headphones you’re looking at are sweat- and water-resistant; there are plenty of trendy earphones out there that don’t pass this test.

The next thing to consider is fit. It doesn’t matter how good a pair of sports headphones sound if they’re constantly falling out of your ears, or require continual adjusting. Running can involve lots of jolts and jars, so it’s vital that your sports headphones fit your ears snugly and securely.

Then there’s battery life. Obviously, this isn’t an issue for wired sports headphones; for regular wireless units you can typically expect around eight to ten hours of music per charge. Truly wireless buds are often rated for only three to five hours of playback per charge, but this isn’t as limiting as it sounds: many models come with a carry case that doubles as a charger, which tops them up between uses. In practice, you can probably go a week or two without having to plug them in.

Of course, you don’t want to neglect sound quality. As a very general rule, wired headphones give the best sound reproduction (especially over-ear designs), while wireless technologies can degrade the sound very slightly. Don’t be put off, though – just do a little research before buying, to ensure your chosen earbuds sound as good as they should.

Finally, if you’re shopping for wireless headphones it’s worth checking the reviews to see how quickly and reliably they connect to your phone or MP3 player – there are few things more annoying than earbuds that won’t pair, or randomly cut out while you’re in the middle of a run. Many cheap headphones have more difficulty with this than you might expect, but rest assured that the models we’ve picked out below won’t let you down.

READ NEXT: The best headphones and earphones you can buy

The best running headphones to buy from £19

1. SOL Republic Relays Sport In-Ear Headphones: Best-value wired running headphones

Price: £19 | Buy now from Amazon

These lightweight wired headphones feature a clever “FreeFlex” wheel, which lets you adjust their shape to ensure a secure fit – although once we’d attached the right-sized earbuds we found they stayed in place perfectly well without any need for tweaking. The plug-type design blocks out outside noise and helps the Relays deliver a full and rich sound that belies their low price. There’s a mic and a single-button control on the cord of the headphones, which allows you to take calls and play, pause and skip tracks, though there’s no inline volume control. If you fancy upgrading to a wireless set, Sol Republic’s Relays Sport Wireless can be had for £30-£60 and offer an eight-hour battery life.

Key specs – Style: Wired; Type: In-ear; Battery life: N/A

2. Sennheiser PMX 686G Sports Headphones: Best running headphones under £50

Price: £35 | Buy now from Amazon

These wired in-ear headphones have an open design, so ambient noise isn’t blocked out – a good thing if you’re a city runner who needs to remain aware of the world around you. The sound quality is excellent, and the lightweight neckband helps to hold them in place no matter how vigorous your running style is. There’s also a three-button in-line control with a microphone, which allows you to control your music and take calls; just make sure you buy the right model, as there are different variants for Android and Apple phones.

Key specs – Style: Wired; Type: In-ear; Battery life: N/A

3. Bose SoundSport In-Ear Earphones: Best wired running headphones

Price: £79.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Bose’s flexible “Stay Hear” tips are just about the best on the market, delivering a secure yet comfortable fit for their headphones. They’re available on a variety of headphones, including wireless and truly wireless models – but it’s the wired version of the SoundSport that really stands out from the crowd. The sound quality is excellent, the headphones are as comfortable as they come, and the water-resistant design is untroubled by sweat or showers. They come in both Android and Apple versions, with in-line remotes designed to work with those respective devices.

Key specs – Style: Wired; Type: In-ear; Battery life: N/A

4. Plantronics BackBeat FIT: Best wireless headphones under £100

Price: £79.99| Buy now from Amazon

No matter how much you spend, you’ll struggle to find a set of headphones that can handle the ups and downs of running better than the Plantronics BackBeat FIT. Once you’ve hooked them over your ears, you could jog through a carwash and they’d still be in place on the other side. The sound quality might not quite match up to pricier wireless headphones, but battery life is rock-solid at eight hours. What’s more, to ensure you don’t get caught out, each time you turn it on you get a voice notification of how many hours of juice remain – an incredibly handy feature that every set of wireless headphones should have. It takes around two-and-a-half hours to fully charge the BackBeat FIT from empty, but if you can’t wait that long, a 15-minute charge gives you a full hour of playback.

Key specs – Style: Wireless; Type: In-ear; Battery life: 8 hours 

5. Beats by Dr Dre Powerbeats3 Wireless Earphones: Best running headphones under £150

Price: £125 | Buy now from Amazon

When it comes to wireless headphones for running the Powerbeats3 tick every box. The ear hook fit is comfortable and secure, the sound quality is superb, and the 12-hour battery life is the best in its class. Even better, if the battery runs completely flat you can get an extra hour of playback from just five minutes of charging – perfect for when you’re about to head out the door and realise, horror of horrors, you’ve neglected to charge your headphones. Beats is owned by Apple, so as you’d expect, they work seamlessly with iPhones and other Apple devices – but we’ve found they’re perfectly fast and reliable in connecting to Android devices as well.

Key specs – Style: Wireless; Type: In-ear; Battery life: 12 hours

6. Aftershokz Trekz Air Bone Conduction Sports Headphones: Best running headphones for racing

Price: £79.99 | Buy now from Costco

These innovative headphones are completely different to anything else on this list: rather than playing music directly into your ears, they deliver their sound through bone-conducting pads that sit on your cheekbones. This leaves your ears completely clear, so you can hear everything that’s going on around you in busy areas. And it’s perfect for track races, where in-ear headphones are often banned to ensure everyone can hear marshals’ instructions. Battery life is a bit of a compromise at six hours, and the price is high – Aftershokz’s Trekz Titanium bone-conducting headphones are a cheaper alternative, at £100. If you can stretch to the Air headphones, though, you’ll find them lighter and more comfortable.

Buy now from Costco

Key specs – Style: Wireless; Type: Bone conduction; Battery life: 6 hours

7. Apple AirPods: Best running headphones for battery life

Price: £139.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Completely wireless headphones tend to suffer from limited battery life, and Apple’s AirPods officially only hold five hours of juice. However, the included carry case will recharge them from empty four times over before it needs topping up itself, so you can get through a lot of running before you need to head back to the power socket. They’re very quick to charge, too: 15 minutes in the case provides three hours of playback.

The design of the AirPods doesn’t block out ambient noise, and the fit might feel slightly loose, but the lightweight design ensures they won’t fall out of your ears on runs. Sound quality is very good, and as you’d expect, the AirPods are unrivalled in how quickly and easily they connect to Apple devices. You can also easily switch the sound source between your iPhone and your Mac or Apple Watch.

Key specs – Style: Truly wireless; Type: In-ear; Battery life: 5 hours (24 total with case)

8. Jaybird Run: Best truly wireless running headphones

Price: £143 | Buy now from Amazon

The Jaybird Runs reign supreme in the world of running headphones. Once you’ve picked the silicone attachments that best fit your ears, these lightweight buds won’t fall out no matter what. And the sound is fantastic – not to mention customisable via a companion app.

The battery life is a little disappointing, and the charging case only provides two full charges, but the fantastic fit and sound quality of the Jaybird Run headphones make them hard to resist.

Key specs – Style: Truly wireless; Type: In-ear; Battery life: 4 hours (12 total with case)

9. Monster iSport Freedom 2: Best on-ear running headphones

Price: £170 | Buy now from Amazon

On-ear running headphones give a more expansive sound than earbuds, and their larger bodies can accommodate a bigger battery. The Monster iSport Freedom 2 headphones deliver 24 hours of playback on a single charge, and offer two sound profiles – normal and “turbo”, which pumps up the bass to give you a motivation boost. There’s also an elegant touch-control surface on the sides, which allows you to control playback with a swipe. They’re nowhere near as light and breezy as in-ear designs, of course, but their sweatproof, wipe-clean covering ensures that they’ll survive even the longest runs.

Key specs – Style: Wireless; Type: On-ear; Battery life: 24 hours