When you're working out solo, good music is the perfect partner. It can motivate you, inspire you, and carry you through pain to new personal bests. But it's hard to find headphones that can stay on through—or survive—a solid sweat session. After all, sweat can ruin more delicate headphones (not to mention your workout, when you can't rock your favorite pump-up playlist). Not to worry, though. Several companies are taking note, making water-resistant, sweatproof headphones that can handle a marathon or a brutal CrossFit regimen, and even rinse clean when the work is done.
There are a few important considerations when choosing fitness headphones, namely fit, sound quality and where you'll use them. For indoor workouts, like the gym, in-ear headphones are the best. You want them to block out all the ambient noise—grunting, weights clanking, the incessant whir of stationary bikes and treadmills—to focus on the task at hand. In-ear headphones fit snugly into the ear canal, like earplugs, preventing those outside noises from interrupting your flow. Because they better seal off the ear, you can keep the volume lower on your mp3, iPod or smartphone, allowing you richer sound without blasting your tunes.
If you’re running or cycling outside, open-back earphones—especially earbuds, clip-ons and some neckband designs—that sit just outside the ear canal allow you to hear some ambient sounds, like traffic and other potential hazards (a bear on the trail, perhaps) to keep you out of harm’s way.
For workout headphones to be good, they need to sound great—deep and clear bass notes, tonal clarity and rich, sharp highs—and be stable during exercise, otherwise you’re wasting time fiddling with gear, the workout suffers, and you’re frustrated. Almost all headphones are sold with several pairs of ear tips—many with antimicrobial treatments to reduce the buildup of bacteria—that allow the user to dial in the best fit, no matter the activity. Add the structural back up of an ear clip, hook or neckband, and those personal speakers aren’t going anywhere.
These are 12 of the best workout headphones available. We ranked them based on sound quality, apparent durability, online consumer reviews and price. When you add it all up, it comes down to value. Where two different headphones had comparably good sound and one cost twice as much, we ruled in favor of the cheaper pair. Where the price was in the same range, the better-performing pair takes the cake. It's that simple. We believe that all 12 will stand up to sweat, stay in your ears and deliver top-notch sound through workout after workout. So queue up your playlist, and get ready to rock out on your workout.