Wireless earbuds are smaller and cheaper than ever, yet it’s tough to know what you’ll get from these tiny devices before you buy. To help you make the right choice, our editors tested 35 pairs for at least two weeks of running, cross-training, and commuting. These 20 models passed our tests, but some rose above the rest. Here’s what we looked for in excellent wireless earbuds for runners.
Three Types of Buds
For the sake of making useful comparisons, we segmented our test pool into three categories: truly wireless; truly wireless with a hook over the ear; and wire-connected, which means there’s a wire or band connecting the two earbuds to each other. We also added a fourth category of cheap earbuds—under $50. Here’s what to expect from each type.
These buds have neither connecting wires nor hooks that extend around your ear; you just push them in and go. Being compact makes them lightweight, but their small batteries means shorter runtimes, although all of our test models came with charging cases that allow you to juice them up on-the-go. They also tend to be the most expensive. Examples include the Bose Soundsport Free and Jabra Elite Active 65t.
Adding a hook can improve an earbud’s fit, since there’s a second point of contact to hold the bud in place. The hook can also store antennae or a battery, helping these buds play longer than their truly wireless counterparts. They’re generally marginally cheaper than truly wireless models, but some cost more than $200 anyway. Examples include the Beats Powerbeats Pro, JBL Endurance Peak, and Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100.
These earbuds are still untethered from your phone, but they use a connecting wire or band to connect the buds and store batteries, microphones, or an antenna. If you can get past the connecting wire, you’ll enjoy better battery life (8 or more hours, compared to 4 hours from truly wireless) and a significantly lower price.
How We Chose
To keep the playing field level, we asked for the same feedback from all of our testers, thinking about which qualities were important to us as runners who use these devices. Here’s how we evaluated:
Our staffers are not audiophiles, so evaluating sound quality is largely subjective. Still, we’ve all used earbuds before, so we asked our testers to compare to other earbuds they’ve tried and provide specific feedback on the way their test ’buds made their favorite songs and podcasts sound.