Want to run faster, stronger and longer this year? Then you’ll need a solid pair of headphones to get you through the pain cave.
If you’ve decided that 2022 is going to be the year that you finally get into running, there are a few things you need to get cracking. The right pair of trainers, a decent route and, of course, a pair of solid headphones that’ll keep playing your playlists and podcasts come rain, shine or snow.
However, despite trying to find long-lasting, durable pairs, however, I seem to have added more than my share of headphones to landfill, which pains my eco conscience. So, I’ve decided that it’s time to give wireless headphones another try because, let’s be real, a wire hitting your chest when running is more than a little annoying.
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Key points to consider when shopping for new running earphones are:
- Waterproof rating (for all that sweat/getting caught in the rain)
- Comfortable/secure fit
- Sound quality
- Noise cancelling option
- Battery life (nobody wants to lose their music halfway through a long run).
If headphones claim to be water-resistant or waterproof, they should come with a certified IP rating (IP stands for ‘ingress protection’). There will be two numbers in an IP rating: the first indicates protection against solid particles like dust/dirt, and has a maximum rating of six (six being the best).
The second digit indicates water resistance, with eight being the highest rating. A minimum waterproof rating of four is best for workouts, as this protects against sweat, but you’ll want five and higher if you’re likely to get caught out running in the rain.
If you see an ‘X’ in the IP rating, it means it hasn’t been tested for that feature. ‘IPX4’, for example, means that the earphones can withstand sweat, but haven’t been tested against dirt.
When it comes to noise cancellation, if you’re running on the road, it’s best to have headphones that give you the option to turn the feature off when you need it to hear traffic/people around you.
With all those points in mind, we put six pairs of headphones to the running test.
Jaybird Vista 2 wireless Bluetooth earbuds
These are kind of ugly and bulky (my friend made fun of me when he saw me wearing them), but they’re actually really comfy, despite the size. Crucially, for a running earbud, they stay put even when you’re sprinting your hardest – thanks to the little ear hooks – and they require minimal adjusting when on the move.
What they lack in looks, they make up for with just about everything else: the sound quality’s great (as it should be for the price) and the battery’s long-lasting, offering up to eight hours play from one charge (plus an extra 16 hours with the charging case). Forgetful folk can get an extra hour of juice just by popping them in the case for five minutes.
These earbuds are incredibly sturdy, with IP68 protection against dust and water (the highest possible ratings), meaning you can drop them in sand and submerge them in water, without breaking them. Even the case is IP54-rated. They’ll also withstand being dropped – perfect for sporty klutzes.
Downloading the app gives you a plethora of handy tools at your fingertips, like locating the case and even each individual earbud should you misplace them, seeing how much charge the case/earbuds have and the ability to fiddle around with the sound equaliser. You can even change what the earbud touch controls do, eg adjust volume, change track and activate noise cancellation. Overall, a fantastic pair of earbuds that should stand the test of time – so far so good with my pair.
Shop Jaybird Vista 2, £189.99
Shokz Openmove bone conduction Bluetooth headphones
Openmove are Shokz’ (formerly Aftershokz) entry-level bone conduction headphones, designed for sport. They sit in front of your ears, hooking over them with a band that sits at the back of your head. Instead of delivering music to your eardrums, sound vibrations are transmitted through your cheekbones, so your ears are free to listen out for traffic/other dangers. Pretty cool. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s wild how you can hear your playlist through your skull.
The band isn’t adjustable, which I thought would be a problem, but it’s so lightweight that it doesn’t cause issues and it sits pretty well.
These have an IP55 rating, meaning they can withstand everyday dust and dirt, and sweat/light rain won’t cause them to short circuit. They come with a carry bag that doesn’t offer much protection so you have to be quite careful about storing them in your bag. The earphones give you up to six hours playback off one charge, so they can take you through marathons and beyond.
If you’re worried about hearing damage from earbud overuse, these are definitely worth checking out. I wouldn’t use them instead of earbuds on the train, for example, but they’re perfect for running.
Shop Shokz Openmove, £79.95
JBL UA Project Rock over-ear wireless Bluetooth headphones
Sometimes, you need a pair of obnoxiously big headphones to give everyone the message: “I’m working”. That might be fine in the gym where sound-cancelling can help with focus and you’re not moving at speed, but out running in the good old English winter is another matter. Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi took these out on a series of runs and cycles and said that while the sound quality is great, the wind gets caught in the headphones.
However, if you get frustrated with having to take headphones off to hear what people are saying – only to have to rewind the podcast you were listening to – then this set is for you. Every time you take the headphones off or let them rest on your neck, they pause whatever it was they were playing.
Oh, and they have a ridiculously good battery life; just five minutes of charging buys you two hours of workout time. They’re fully charged (and last 45 hours) in just two hours. Perfect for windless marathons.
Shop JBL Project Rock, £279.99
Groove-e Sport Buds wireless Bluetooth earphones
I wasn’t expecting much from this pair due to the price point, but it turns out they’re a great budget set. The sound isn’t as good as more expensive offerings, but it’s great for the price. Initial connectivity was super easy, although I sometimes have to fiddle with one of the earphones to get it to work. You can skip tracks, play/pause, adjust the volume and take calls using the ear bud touch controls, though they have a one-second delay, which makes things confusing as you don’t know if it’s responded to your touch or not.
The ear hooks on these fit over the back of the ear, and they’re great except for when I’m wearing my glasses, and while they feel like they’re not going to be that secure when on the move, they always stay put. I tested these in the tropics so can confirm the IPX4 sweat-resistance works a treat.
The charging case is much bulkier than others but it also doubles up as an 1800mAh power bank for your phone, which is pretty nifty. The case shows the charge level using LED lights. You can get up to four hours’ playback with these from one charge, and an additional 24 hours using the charging case.
A little bugbear is that the right earbud is on the left side of the case and vice versa, so I always end up trying to put them in the wrong ears.
Shop Groove-e Sport Buds, £39.99
Urbanista Boston Bluetooth headphones
While these are Bluetooth, they do have a wire connecting the earbuds together (that goes around the back of the neck), which may be a preference for those worried about losing stray buds. The earbuds clip together magnetically when not in use, which is a handy feature, so you can wear them as a sort of musical necklace. There’s also a clip to attach the wire to the back of your T-shirt, but it’s a bit flimsy (and obviously doesn’t work if you’re wearing a low-back garment).
These buds are rated IPX5, so can withstand being used briefly in the rain, but they haven’t been tested for dust/dirt. The sound quality isn’t great, to be honest, but they’re really secure and stay put during rigorous workouts, and you can play/pause/skip tracks with the inline remote.
You’ll get up to six hours of music playback with these. There’s no charging case for easy on-the-go battery top-ups, but that’s to be expected with wired buds. They do, however, come with a handy cloth storage bag, to stop them getting tangled in your bag.
Shop Urbanista Boston, £49.99
AU Sounds AU-Frequency ANC wireless Bluetooth earbuds
This pair’s waterproof rating is IPX4 and they’ve worked perfectly during sweaty sessions.
The case fully charges in up to two hours and shows the charge level using LED lights. The earbuds give you about five hours of playback, and if they run out, you can get a 1.5 hour top-up by popping them in the case for just 15 minutes.
The sound is rich and bass-heavy, with great noise-cancelling. However, the touch controls on the ear buds get some taking used to – I often get frustrated when I accidentally pause my music while adjusting the fit while running. You can skip back and forth on tracks using the ear buds, as well as activate the noise-cancelling, but a major drawback is the fact that you can’t control the volume with the touch controls.
I also didn’t like that if you only want to wear one ear bud (I prefer to have one ear out for safety if running on quiet trails or on the street at night), it has to be the right-ear one. The left one won’t work unless the right one is out of the carry case also, which is pretty annoying.
While they do feel secure when running, they’re not as secure as others I’ve tested (I think because of my tricky daith piercing), so these are now my go-to everyday – rather than running – earbuds.
Shop AU Sounds AU-Frequency ANC, £129.95
For more running tips, check out the rest of the Strong Women Training Club.
Images: retailers’ own
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