If you're looking to up your fitness levels – especially as summer turns to autumn – a new pair of sports headphones is a great way to give yourself a boost.
You can't beat your favourite tunes when it comes to finding that extra motivation to finish your run, ride or gym workout routine – and a good pair of headphones is critical. (Of course a best running songs playlist will help too.)
The best sports headphones will deliver great sound while offering sweat-resistant designs that stay in place. All of the below are four- or five-star pairs, so are guaranteed to perform brilliantly, and we've tried them all out ourselves to test if they perform on tough runs and hardcore(ish) workouts rather than simply as a pair of office noise-blockers that never see a day's work in their lives.
How to choose the best sports headphones for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
The first thing to consider is battery life. Longer is better, as you're less likely to run out of juice mid-run and be stranded in silence for the next 10km.
If you're exercising in the great outdoors, you'll want some kind of waterproofing in case of a downpour. IPX4 is the minimum you should demand (all of the below have at least this rating), as that means they'll withstand water splashing without risking damage. Some models can be fully submerged for swimming or just a post-workout shower.
Noise-cancelling will neutralise background noise and help you focus, and be better for your hearing as you can hear the detail of your music without cranking up the volume. But it could be a hazard if you're out exercising as it makes you less aware of approaching cars, so buds that serve up more sophisticated noise cancelling profiles, such as Transparency Mode, can be a really smart choice.
Until they were discontinued, the original Reflect Flow were a mainstay on this list, but now it's the turn of their successors to replicate that success.
The new buds add active noise cancellation to the mix, along with ambient and TalkThru modes that make you more aware of your surroundings (handy while you're out running). They're dust-tight and can be fully immersed in water thanks to an ironclad IP68 rating, so won't be troubled by even the heaviest of downpours. A really strong total battery life of 28hrs (buds: 8hrs; case: 20hrs) only adds to the JBL's appeal.
They sound pretty great too, with plenty of bounce to power you through that fifth mile. They're not quite as refined as a dedicated music pair, but for sports-focused buds, they tick all the right boxes.
Read the full JBL Reflect Flow Pro review
Say hello to the 'Best wireless earbuds over £200' at the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022. As the title of the award suggests, these premium Bluetooth in-ears sound amazing and set a new benchmark for wireless earbuds at this level.
They're not a sports pair, but they are rated IPX4 water resistant, which is good enough for most activities on dry land.
Smaller and lighter than the original QC Earbuds, the Earbuds II provide a comfortable fit and a host of features. Bluetooth 5.3 is a big bonus, and the Bose app allows you to alter the amount of noise-cancelling on offer via a number of customisable presets.
Speaking of noise-cancelling, the Bose are at the top of their game. They can automatically adjust the amount of ANC on offer so your music isn’t drowned out by particularly loud noises, and the effect is deeply impressive. As for sound, it's balanced and neutral and overflowing with fine detail.
It's a shame there's no support for high-quality wireless audio codecs such as LDAC or aptX HD, nor is there wireless charging or Bluetooth multipoint. But we don't think this is the end of the world when you consider that these classy buds ooze such sophistication.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review
When it comes to wireless earbuds, Sony has sewn up the high end with the WF-1000XM4 and the new WF-1000XM5, yet the Japanese powerhouse is doing similarly impressive work at the opposite end of the market with the WF-C500.
Sony, of course, has it all covered, and last year the C500 picked up a 2022 What Hi-Fi? Award in their price category. They handle the basics very well, with Bluetooth 5.0, and compatibility with SBC and AAC codecs, while battery life is a healthy 10 hours from the earbuds themselves and another 10 from the charging case. That's a very respectable 20 total hours of playtime for Sony's cheapest in-ears.
The C500 pair with Sony's consummate Headphones Connect app for sublime controls, and offer numerous extra features (like the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, which upscales audio files to something approaching ‘hi-res’ quality). Voice controls come via Google Assistant and Siri, and while they're not a dedicated sports model, the IPX4 rating means they're resistant to water splashes.
Sonically, they're even-handed and nicely balanced, with well-shaped bass notes that don't become lost in a sea of flabbiness or poor definition. In short, they offer a lot of what makes Sony's high-end buds so compelling without cutting too many corners. Definitely one for the shortlist, especially if cash is a little tight.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of sports headphones, but perhaps it should be.
These 2021 Award winners are its first true wireless models, and they're a very impressive debut. Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls and a battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case), as well as a 15-minute USB-C quick-charge that can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss.
You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit-and-miss, so we would definitely experiment and consider mixing sizes, or else try the buds out first before committing to a purchase.
Both noise cancelling and sound quality are excellent. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, while bass is deep and detailed. To sum up, these Panasonic sports headphones are superb for the money, and a great buy on a budget.
Read the full Panasonic RZ-S500W review
Sony's C700N wireless earbuds slot neatly between the budget WF-C500 and premium WF-1000XM4, and while there might have been concerns that they filled an odd niche, these have ended up as arguably the best value in-ears anywhere on the market. They are, quite simply, superb.
The buds themselves are impressively small, and it's this lightweight design that helps make them even more comfortable than Sony's XM4 or XM5 in-ears. Battery life is competitive at seven and a half hours, all of which ensures these are a really strong choice for sporty and athletic endeavours.
They lack aptX HD and LDAC, but you do get noise-cancelling tech, something the WF-C500 lack. Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches listening modes depending on your location, and Sony's DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) upscales low-res digital audio files to higher quality.
The sound quality is superbly balanced too, with deep, detailed bass, expressive mids and engaging highs. For the money, the C700N are a stunningly musical listen.
Downsides? That lack of support for aptX HD and LDAC is disappointing, while the charging case only provides one extra charge which seems a little mean. But the superb sound and great feature set make these easy to recommend as some of the best sports headphones available.
Read the full Sony WF-C700N review
If you've got a decent-sized budget to play with but can't stretch to more premium options like the Sony WF-1000XM5 or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Ultra, then these JBL earbuds could be right up your street.
For the money, you get all the features you could wish for, including ANC, IPX5 water resistance, a thorough control app which offers some customisation, a good user experience and a comfortable enough design. A few more ear tip options to help get the perfect fit wouldn't go amiss, though, so check to ensure you've got a decent fit.
Battery life is a solid eight hours with Bluetooth and noise cancelling on, while the wireless charging case will top the total combined time to 30 hours. Touch controls are included at the top of each stem and you also have Multipoint Bluetooth so you can connect two sources simultaneously and switch between them.
The excellent sound quality is the icing on this cake, with the JBLs favouring a lively and entertaining sound. Bass weight is nicely judged and there's good extension too. Detail levels are excellent, as are the dynamics on offer. If you're looking to make the step up from a cheap pair of earbuds to a slightly more premium pair for sports, these JBLs have to be on your list.
Read the full JBL Live Pro 2 TWS review
If you want cheap and cheerful wireless sports headphones, you need to give the Earfun Air a try.
For such an inexpensive pair, the EarFun Air are positively packed with features. You don't get noise-cancelling at this price (you need the Earfun Air Pro for that), but the Earfun Air do provide excellent noise isolation while feeling comfortable at the same time. They're also waterproof to IPX7 standards (submersible in one metre of water for up to 30 mins), support virtual assistants and include Qi wireless charging.
Battery life is seven hours from the buds and a further 28 hours from the charging case, a really decent showing for the outlay. Amazingly, they even feel fairly premium in terms of build, whereas the Bluetooth 5.0 connection is solid and stable.
Calls sound clear and for the money, while the cheap and cheerful headphones offer an energetic and spacious sound that really surprises you when you consider the price.
If you’re after a pair of affordable and entertaining sports headphones, the Earfun Air are definitely worth investigating. As the cheapest item on this list, they're ideal if you need features and sound quickly and inexpensively.
Read the full Earfun Air review
Momentum isn't Sennehiser's sporty range of earbuds, but the IPX4 rating does make them suitable for sports – they'll withstand water splashing, so you can run in the rain and sweat profusely without worrying about breaking them.
They're a step up from the True Wireless 2, with support for the aptX Adaptive codec (up from standard aptX on their predecessors). That means (compressed) transmission of up to 24-bit music files, lower latency, and more robustness to eliminate drop-outs when you're taking your phone out of your pocket or bag. Sound Zones and profiles also help create a more bespoke sonic performance.
The noise-cancellation is effective, rendering background sounds a dull murmur, while sonically they're some of the most sophisticated earbuds we've heard. Clarity, refinement and spaciousness are the order of the day here, and it's all taken to new heights while boosting detail resolution levels. All of which makes for a stunning pair of earbuds.
Read the full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 review
How we choose the best sports headphones
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year – and that includes plenty of headphones. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them?
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Reading where our team of expert reviewers do all our testing. This gives us complete control over the testing process, ensuring consistency and impartiality across the board.
Of course headphones – especially sporty ones like the above – are tested out in the field, how we would use them as if we had bought them ourselves. That gives us a chance to test the wireless performance, noise-cancelling, fit, water-resistance and more, as well as a good excuse to get out there and set some new PBs.
All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same price category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than an individual reviewer, again helping to ensure consistency and avoid any personal preference.
The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years' experience of reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics.
From all of our reviews, we choose the best products to feature in our Best Buys. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended above, or on any other Best Buy page, you can be assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi? approved product.
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