Working out can feel like a chore. Pounding the pavement or pumping iron can get repetitive, especially after a long day of work. Your favorite music, podcasts and audiobooks can keep you motivated and make time exercising a lot more enjoyable. But not all wireless earbuds and noise-canceling headphones are well-suited to an intense workout.
To find the best headphones for fitness pursuits, we tried dozens of earbuds and headphones while running, biking, planking, stretching, weightlifting and more, at home, in the gym and outside.
How we picked the best workout headphones
The NBC Select team tried dozens of top-rated wireless headphones while working out. To pick our favorites, we placed special emphasis on the following qualities:
- Comfort: We highlighted headphones that were comfortable to wear for hours at a time, did not fall out while exercising and included different sized eartips for a more customized fit.
- Usability: Controlling your audio while exercising is a little trickier compared to the moments while you are working or commuting. As you’re running it can be hard to change audio levels, skip a song or select a new podcast. We paid special attention to on-ear controls, trying out button and touch controls with dry, sweaty and gloved hands.
- Battery life: We picked earbuds that lasted well beyond our workout and could charge quickly.
- Water-resistance: Working out can be messier than normal everyday activities — we paid close attention to the headphones’ IP rating, or how much it is protected against dust and water.
The best workout headphones in 2024
After a lot of sweat, our top picks came from a mix of larger and smaller brands like Apple, Jabra, Shokz and more. We list specs like battery life, water resistance and more below each recommendation.
Editor’s Pick: Beats Fit Pro
The Beats Fit Pro has been my go-to workout earbud for years, even after trying out dozens of competitors. The fit is a big reason why — the small, built-in wing-tips create a secure fit without making the earbuds feel too hefty. Both earbuds have a physical button you can press to stop, start and skip songs, you can also hold down that button to change between noise cancellation and transparency mode. They are easy to control, even when I am wearing thick gloves in cold weather. In my experience, the earbuds pair easily with iOS devices and offer a similar experience on Android using the Beats mobile app.
Unlike many competitors around this price point, the case does not charge wirelessly.
Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 6 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android, iPhone | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L)
Best for iPhone: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen, USB-C)
The NBC Select team loves AirPods Pro for working out and everyday life — they won our 2023 Giftable Tech Awards. Despite their unique shape, they are comfortable and secure in our ears during workouts, including outdoor runs and indoor gym routines.
The earbuds have excellent sound quality and noise canceling. With noise cancellation turned on, chatter and music at the gym fade instantly. When I switch on transparency mode, I can hear my surroundings very clearly, which can be helpful while running outside — I can easily listen out for traffic and other runners. These second generation models include multiple ear tips in the box — essential for getting a comfortable fit.
Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 6 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: Yes | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: iPhone | Ear tips: Silicone (XS, S, M, L)
Best budget earbuds: JLab Go Air Sport
For $30, I was surprised by the quality of these earbuds, especially for running outdoors. They have a large ear hook design that wraps around the back of your ears, which has a very secure fit, in my experience. I found the fit to be tight and comfortable, but not so snug that I couldn’t hear traffic noise and other runners around me.
Like most other earbuds at this price point, they do not have noise cancellation, transparency, or wireless charging.
Noise cancellation: No | Transparency: No | Battery life: Rated up to 8 hours | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IP55 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android, iPhone | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L)
Best open ear headphones: Shokz Open Run
These headphones rest on the outside of your ear instead of inside your ear canal. They use vibrations to transmit sound through the bones on your cheeks and jaw into your inner ear, according to the brand.
NBC Select editorial director Lauren Swanson used these headphones to run the New York City Marathon. She feels safer running with them because they leave her ears open, allowing her to hear nearby cars, bikes and pedestrians more clearly. I’ve used these Shokz while cycling to better hear cars on the road and other cyclists on bike paths, compared to wearing traditional in-ear earbuds.
These headphones feel very different to wear than traditional earbuds — Swanson does not find them comfortable for activities outside of running.
Noise cancellation: No | Transparency: No | Battery life: Rated up to 8 hours | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IP67 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android, iPhone | Ear tips: N/A
Best battery life: Beats Flex
These headphones have a wire connecting the two earbuds and connect to your device wirelessly via Bluetooth. NBC Select SEO editor Nikki Brown uses them on walks and while riding her stationary bike. They sit comfortably in her ears and don’t fall out, even while she is sweating. The buds snap together magnetically, which automatically pauses any audio playing. They also have up to 12 hours of battery life on a single charge, the most of any headphones on our list.
They are water and sweat resistant, according to the brand, but do not have an IP rating like our other recommendations.
Noise cancellation: No | Transparency: No | Battery life: Rated up to 12 hours | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: Unlisted | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android, iPhone | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L, XL)
Most durable: Jabra Elite 8 Active
These Jabra earbuds are some of the most durable we’ve tried — I dropped them into a jug of water for over a minute and used them right afterward with no issue. The earbuds are IP68 dust-tight and waterproof (up to a depth of about 5 feet), according to the brand. They sit still and comfortably in my ears during indoor and outdoor runs as well as floor stretches.
Between the case and the buds, they have a combined battery life of up to 32 hours. At my loud gym, with noise-canceling turned on, I could hear metal bars clanging and music blasting slightly more than other similarly-priced earbuds I’ve tried.
Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 8 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: Yes | Water resistance: IP68 | Bluetooth Multipoint: Yes | Works best with: Android, iPhone | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L)
Most secure fit: JBL Endurance Peak 3
These headphones have the most secure fit of any we tried, well-suited to high-intensity activity. They have a large ear hook design so each bud loops around the back of your ear. This design means each earbud is large, with the charging case in particular much larger than other options on our list.
They are IP68 dust resistant and waterproof up to a depth of about 5 feet. You can wear them while swimming and surfing, according to the brand. While we didn’t get a chance to use these earbuds on a beach, we did submerge them in water, and they worked as normal afterwards.
Noise cancellation: No | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 10 hours | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IP68 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android, iPhone | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L)
How to shop for workout headphones
We’ve tried dozens of excellent headphones fit for everyday use, but not all of them make for ideal workout headphones. Keep the following in mind as you shop for your next fitness headphones:
Your earbuds need to fit your ears well, or else they will fall out during intense exercise, in our experience. All of our earbud recommendations come with multiple sized ear tips. Try a few different ear tip sizes and feel out which one fits best for you. If you want to avoid worrying about a loose fit all together, look into headphones that fit more securely via wingtip or ear hook.
Water and dust resistance
Water and dust resistance is denoted by an earbuds IP (ingress protection) rating. IP ratings contain two numbers. The first digit represents intrusion protection against dust and debris. The second digit denotes water resistance.
Many workout headphones have an IP rating of IPX4, which indicates protection against splashing water. Earbuds meant for swimming or water sports should be fully waterproof, with a rating of at least IPX8.
Automated noise canceling and transparency
Noise cancelation and transparency are both very useful features to have in any kind of headphones. Noise canceling can block outside noise like chatter or music at the gym. Transparency lets in sound and is useful for outdoor activities like running, when you may want to hear nearby traffic or pedestrian noise more clearly.
Headphones with noise canceling and transparency modes are typically more expensive than models without those features.
Why trust NBC Select?
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter at NBC Select who covers technology and fitness including recent stories on fitness trackers, tablets and running shoes. For this piece, he tried over a dozen headphones and earbuds while doing different fitness activities. He spoke with other members of the NBC Select team about their experiences with headphones they use and have used previously for fitness.