Nothing motivates a workout quite like the right music. And whether you’re hitting the gym or running a marathon, if you want to take your tunes along you’ll need some headphones. But with all the available options, how do you find the right sport headphones for you? We’ve got a few simple (but important!) factors to consider that will ensure your newest piece of equipment will fit seamlessly into your routine.
1. Fit, Fit, Fit.
While any headphone will come with a certain amount of sizing variability, sport headphones come with all sorts of options that might work for one person, but not for another. Nothing will derail your momentum faster than an earbud that won’t stay put, so be prepared to swap out tips, wings, hooks, and cables until you get the perfect setup for your body and ears. In other words, get the sizing right before you head out on a long run. Put them on, hop around, turn your head quickly: If anything feels off that you can’t adjust with included accessories, return the headphones. No matter how good they sound, if they aren’t comfortable and don’t stay in place, you’ll never use them long term.
2. Cater to Your Workout.
Every fitness plan is different and, as such, demands different headphone features. Think of this part of the process as akin to choosing the correct shoes. Runners need different shoes than walkers, dancers, or bikers.
- Some features to consider:
- Will a cord get in the way or become dangerous if tangled? If so, the extra money spent on Bluetooth to be wireless is worth it.
- Will quick or vigorous movements be part of your plan? Then look for an in-ear model with hooks over the ears or wings to enhance stability and, if corded, a shirt clip to tuck cables safely out of the way. These features may make the earbuds tougher to pop out of your ears for conversation, so walkers might find them annoying, but if you’re doing something very active like CrossFit, they’re a must.
- Are you looking to drown out gym noise? Then go for a tight isolating in-ear seal. Poor isolation will require extra volume to drown out the unwanted grunts of the dude over on the free weights, which can damage your hearing.
- Do you plan on wearing glasses, sunglasses, or other gear? Try the headphones on with your eye-wear, hats, helmets, sweatbands, and other equipment. This is especially true for styles with hooks over the ear. What fits fine alone might not integrate with other gear quite as well.
3. IPX Rating: aka Sweat Resistance.
Here is the bottom line: Don’t expect for headphones that aren’t sweat resistant to last very long. Water is the natural nemesis of electronics. Taking headphones, which were designed for a studio situation, for a jog in the park is just asking for them to short out, which, by the way, also voids any non-water resistant headphone’s warranty. Fortunately, there is a scale that describes just how much water your headphones can handle. From splash-proof for hard-core sweat (IPX 4), to completely watertight for swimmers (IPX 7), knowing what your headphones can handle before you get moving will save you heartache in the end. If you want to know more about IPX ratings, you can read more here.
4. How Much Do You Really Need to Spend?
- When to save money:
- You lose or leave your headphones at the gym often. You can get some great inexpensive headphones for under $20. If you know you’ll lose them, save the cash.
- You mostly work out without headphones (classes, with a trainer, etc.) and will only need a pair of headphones for occasional solo training sessions.
- You tend to hit shuffle on a device and not toggle songs much. Going without a remote and mic can save you an average of $20 to $30.
- Cords don’t get in the way or bother you. Avoiding Bluetooth will save you a lot of money and you’ll also get better sound for the dollar.
- These aren’t your primary headphones. Say you already have amazing day-to-day cans, and you just need something that can make a solid beat reach your eardrums while you do push-ups. Buy cheap gym phones, and put your money into the headphones you’ll use when truly focusing on music.
- When to invest:
- You work out regularly, and music is essential to your routine, or you use a recorded training program daily. If you’re going to use them four to five days a week, you’ll want headphones that are durable enough to take a regular beating. Look for brands that have a lifetime sweat-resistance or breakage warranty, and an IPX rating of at least 4. The extra money now will save you the hassle of purchasing a new cheap pair every few months.
- You use Bluetooth-enabled devices (iWatch, iPod, mobile device) and cords will get in the way. If headphones become a nuisance, you won’t use them. Spend the extra on Bluetooth to cut the cord, and you’ll be happier in the long run.
- You toggle songs or change volume regularly. Make sure you have a device-specific (Apple, Android, Samsung, etc.) 3-button remote and a mic that’s easily accessible on your selection.
- Your gym headphones are your primary headphones. There are some sport headphones available that can compete sonically with non-sport headphones. If you want something that will work on your commute and on the gym floor, be willing to spend a little more, and you’ll be happier working out as well as chilling out.
Choosing the perfect sport headphones can seem like a daunting task, but if you make a checklist of features to look for when you shop, you’ll find that the right fit will emerge pretty quickly. Purchase them from a retailer that allows returns so you can try the fit before you’re forced to commit. If you find you forget that you’re wearing headphones during your workout, you’ll know you’ve made the right choice. Check out the slideshow below for some good sport headphones to check out.EH
LAUREN DRAGAN is an audio tech writer and voice actor who has been published in the Wirecutter, HE Mag, Home Theater, Sound +Vision, and Time, among others. Since 2012, she’s tested over 250 headphones.