Beats vs JBL vs Bose running headphones: which should you choose?

Beats vs Bose vs JBL running headphones: which should you choose?
(Image credit: Bose)

Like so many things in life, running goes better with music. Whether it's pounding beats to get your blood pumping, or something a bit calmer as you take in a sunset, soundtracking your sessions can make them more intense, memorable and just plain fun.

That's why every runner needs a decent pair of headphones. We've already pinned down the best running headphones available at a range of prices, but if your search is getting a bit more specific, you've come to the right place.

Here we look at three brands who make some of the best running headphones around – Bose, Beats and JBL – and round up their best offerings. We've even found you the best deals on each pair, so you can make a saving at the same time. 

As for doing the actual running? Well, that's up to you...

Best Bose running headphones

Bose is best known for its noise-cancelling over-ear headphones, like the QuietComfort 35 II, QuietComfort 25 and Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 – and quite rightly so. The US brand actually invented the first commercially available noise-cancelling headphone, so it's hardly surprising the product is synonymous with the brand.

But it also offers a killer range of in-ear designs, some of which are made specifically for exercising. So, let's take a look at the best Bose running headphones.

Beats vs Bose vs JBL running headphones: which should you choose?

Bose SoundSport Wireless (Image credit: Bose)

Top of the list are the Bose SoundSport Wireless. Their neckband design might split opinion, but they're feather-light and – crucially – wireless, so there's no cable connecting them to your phone or music player. Which means you won't get tangled up while your arms are pumping along with your legs.

They're IPX4 sweat- and splash-resistant, so you can wear them out in the rain without worrying, and the silicone ear hooks keep them in place nicely, making them more secure and hence more comfortable.

Six hours of battery is more than enough for a workout. And the sound? Surprisingly rich, with a punchy bass that'll help get you through that fifth mile.

Last but not least, they've been around long enough to attract a discount, like the one below.

Beats vs Bose vs JBL running headphones: which should you choose?

Bose SoundSport Free (Image credit: Bose)

Next up are the Bose SoundSport Free. As the name suggests, these are part of the same sporty range as the pair above, but there's one crucial difference: they're true wireless earbuds (like the AirPods), rather than 'just' wireless.

That means there are no cables whatsoever – not between the earbuds and your device, nor between the earbuds themselves. Just two diddy devices you pop in your ears, not a million miles away from ear plugs. Earbuds like these are the ultimate in convenience, very handy when you're working up a sweat.

Rugged, sporty and water-resistant, they deliver superb audio performance. Rich, expansive bass marries with sparkling vocals for a brilliant workout soundtrack. Battery life is a respectable five hours but slot the buds into the carry case/charger, and you can inject them with an extra ten hours of power. Which should be long enough for even the most long-lasting of marathon men and women.

They're packed with useful features, too. The five LEDs on the outside of the case indicate how much charge is left, while forgetful types will appreciate the ‘Find My Buds’ feature, which shows their location on your phone.

Beats vs Bose vs JBL running headphones: which should you choose?

Bose SoundSport Pulse (Image credit: Bose)

More serious runners might want to check out the Bose SoundSport Pulse. They feature a heart rate monitor, so you can keep tabs on your pulse as you go. That way, you can see whether you're working hard or taking it easy.

There's no noise-cancelling tech onboard, but they sound great: the hugely impressive acoustics balance smooth, seamless bass with soaring treble.

The neckband design is very comfortable, and there's a shirt clip for stopping them slapping against the back of your neck. They pair over NFC (so with a single tap against your device) and they're so light you could forget you're wearing them.

A five-hour battery life is decent enough for a workout, but if you're factoring in commuting time too and a bit of leisure activity you will have to charge them most days.

UK: Bose SoundSport Pulse £180 at Bose

UK: Bose SoundSport Pulse £180 at Bose
These are now out of stock at most places, so you might have to resort to a refurbished pair direct from Bose. Or you could turn to secondhand sites like eBay or Amazon Marketplace.

Beats vs Bose vs JBL running headphones: which should you choose?

Bose Sport Earbuds (Image credit: Bose)

Bose recently announced a new pair of running headphones – the Bose Sport Earbuds. Like the SoundSport Frees, they're another true wireless pair. 

While they lack noise-cancellation, they share many of the same features as the also-new, pricier Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. That means IPX4 water resistance, Volume-optimized Active EQ technology, on-bud touch controls, Bose Music app compatibility, and support for both quick and wireless charging.

Battery life stands at a very impressive 15 hours – five in the buds plus 10 in the case – and they pair using Bluetooth 5.0.

They're essentially a smaller, sleeker and improved version of the SoundSport Frees, and cost £180 ($180) with an October on-sale date. We can't wait to get our hands on a review pair to see how they fare against the competition, but if track record is anything to go by we should find ourselves suitably impressed.

Best Beats running headphones

Beats by Dre. Beats was the brainchild of hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre and super producer Jimmy Iovine. Initially, it specialised in bass-heavy over-ear headphones beloved by athletes and pop stars alike. (We've lost count of how many music videos in which they've made an appearance.) But since its takeover by Apple, the company has branched out into earbuds too, some of which have very good running chops. 

Beats vs Bose vs JBL running headphones: which should you choose?

Beats Powerbeats 3 Wireless (Image credit: Beats)

For our money, the best running headphones Beats makes are the Beats Powerbeats 3 Wireless. They're not truly wireless – there's that cable connecting the earbuds again – but they do connect to your device wirelessly over Bluetooth, and they provide fantastic value for money.

Apple's W1 chip inside them provides a seamless connection to iOS devices, and you get a good fit and similarly good noise isolation – albeit there's no noise-cancellation. Battery life is 12 hours, while a five-minute charge will get you one hour of use – long enough for a decent trot.

The bass can be a bit overbearing, but it'll certainly get you going. And it's useful if you're using them in noisy environments, like running by the side of a busy road. Just remember: bass = fun.

Beats vs Bose vs JBL running headphones: which should you choose?

Beats Powerbeats Pro (Image credit: Beats)

Prefer a pair of true wireless earbuds? The Beats Powerbeats Pro are the Beats for you. They tick all the boxes for runners, including great build quality (with sweat- and water-resistance as standard), a snug fit thanks to those ear hooks, and a superb feature set.

Nine hours of battery life will outlast all but the most nipple-chafed of runners, and the carry case provides another two charges. Apple's newer H1 chip means glitch-free wireless performance, and they're a doddle to use.

Musically they're nice and bassy without scrimping on detail, though we find the sound could be a little livelier.

Best JBL running headphones

JBL may be less well known than Bose and Beats worldwide, but it certainly has a rich audio heritage. Its founder James B. Lansing started out innovating cinema audio in the early 1900s before the company started making speakers for the home. Its portable speakers and headphones are always among the best-rated in our reviews.

Beats vs Bose vs JBL running headphones: which should you choose?

JBL Reflect Flow (Image credit: JBL)

The JBL Reflect Flows are JBL's sporty true wireless earbuds and probably your best bet. They deliver a fun, detailed and bass-heavy sound that will keep your energy levels high throughout your run. And with 10 hours of juice in the buds themselves (a further 20 hours are supplied in the charging case), they'll last as long as you need them.

With three sizes of ear tips and fins in the box, you should find a good fit that stays put. A waterproof rating of IPX7 means you can wear them in the most torrential of downpours, too... although whether you will want to or not is another matter.

So what else does JBL have to offer? The Reflect Mini BT 2s are pretty decent, though the sound is somewhat lacking. They're a few years old now, too, so it might be hard to track down.

JBL also has an Endurance range of sporty headphones – the Endurance Sprint, Endurance Run and Endurance RunBT – and the Reflect Contour 2, a tie-up with Under Armour that's endorsed by wrestler-turned-actor The Rock and has produced an over-ear pair of wireless headphones that are perhaps more suited to the gym than running.

As we haven't reviewed any of these, however, we can't recommend them. But if you like their look and their price, they might be worth investigating based on JBL's solid reputation.

The best running headphones of the lot?

If we had to pick one pair, as no doubt you will have to do, our money would go on the true wireless Bose SoundSport Frees, which are, as we called them in our review, "pretty much the perfect package". The new Bose Sport Buds are, of course, the tempting pricier option, although we haven't run the rule over them yet. Soon!

The true wireless JBL Reflect Flows are among the best options for those whose budgets can't quite stretch to the Boses, although the vote for budget, best-value is also shared with the cheaper still, wireless but not true wireless, Beats Powerbeats 3 Wireless.


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