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Head-Fi Buying Guide (Exercise Headphones)

Exercise Headphones Also featuring...

One of the questions I'm most frequently asked by non-Head-Fi'ers is, "What headphones do you recommend for exercising?" As often as I'm asked this, you'd think I looked like a world-class athlete. (I don't.)


All of the following recommendations sound surprisingly good, given that they're purpose-built for getting sweat on, rained on, or snowed on. One of them is even machine washable.



Type: Closed, in-ear, wireless Bluetooth headphones


Price:   $199.95 USD


URL:   http://www.beatsbydre.com

Sorry, this product is no longer available.

Written by Jude Mansilla


If you insist on going wireless, but you want to go dongle-free (ruling out the Noble Audio BTS or Astell&Kern AK XB10) or collar-free (ruling out the Phiaton BT 100 NC or Bose QuietControl 30), then you're probably looking for something like the Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless. The Powerbeats3 Wireless is dongle-free and collar-free, with just the two earpieces joined together by a short wire, and otherwise completely wireless. I dig this form factor.

The Powerbeats3 Wireless replaces the Powerbeats2 Wireless, and, at first blush, looks virtually identical to its predecessor, but there have been some significant changes. For one, its design has been tweaked to improve ease of fit, and the changes worked, as I was able to get a quicker, more comfortable, more secure fit. The over-ear hooks have also been improved, go on quickly, and help guide the earphones to the right position over my ears every time.

Also, the Powerbeats3 significantly steps up sound quality versus the Powerbeats2. Whether due to acoustic tuning adjustments, or maybe just better fit--I suspect both--the sound has cleared up substantially. The Powerbeats2 was murky, congested. The Powerbeats 3 is much cleaner, much clearer, and I'm able to get good bass response without the need for an isolating seal. That last point is important, as, for any outdoor activity, I stay away from isolating headphones, for safety's sake. Is it hi-fi? No. Is it good enough for me for an exercise headphone? Yes, definitely. Its tendency toward bass heft is the kind of signature I prefer when I'm exercising, and I like that I can get it without a super-tight seal. To be clear, ear tip fit is still very important with the Powerbeats3 Wireless--for me, the largest of the included ear tips works best, the medium is thinner sounding, and the smaller ones make for thin, downright reedy sound, so take the time to pick the right tips.

I’ve found Powerbeats3 competitors from Jaybird and Sennheiser can provide better fidelity, but their tradeoffs are what put this newest Powerbeats3 at the top of the category. The Jaybird Freedom is not nearly as easy to get a good fit with (see more details below). The Sennheisers are not wireless, which is a product type (wireless exercise headphones) they’re sorely in need of.

If you're an Apple ecosystem user (I very much am), the Powerbeats3's use of the new Apple W1 wireless chip is a huge value-add. W1 allows for quick connection to one's iPhone--just hold the Powerbeats3 near your iPhone, and a connection dialog pops up, confirm it with a click, and you're paired. Very cool. If you're an iCloud / Mac user, it gets even better. The Powerbeats3, once paired to your iPhone, sends that connection information to iCloud, making the Powerbeats3 available as an audio device to all of your other Apple devices connected to that iCloud account. Today, I was listening to music on my iPhone, but then wanted to watch a YouTube video on my MacBook. Going to my list of audio devices on my MacBook, I saw the Powerbeats3 an available device, selected it, and I was good to go on the Mac--all without ever having gone through a pairing dialog with the Mac. This makes device switching (between my Apple devices) very quick, very easy.

While I’m not sure if it’s attributable to the W1 chip, the Powerbeats3 also has phenomenal wireless range not just with my iPhone, but also with the LG V20 (Android). While my house is on the small side, I can’t remember any similar small form factor wireless earphones that would allow me to maintain a connection from my subterranean home office to the complete opposite side of the house on the ground level.

Also, the Powerbeats3’s battery life is easily at the top of class, with up to 12 hours from a full charge. Should you happen to run the battery down, the Powerbeats3 has a “Fast Fuel” feature, which gives you one hour of playback with only a five-minute charge. Another area the Powerbeats3 is top of the class in is outgoing voice quality when used as a Bluetooth handset for phone calls. Like its predecessor, the Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless has outstandingly clear, direct-to-handset-type outgoing voice quality. I'd actually use the Beats for an important teleconference, which I wouldn't say for any other wireless exercise headphones I've used.

One of the basic requirements to make it into this Buying Guide in the Exercise Headphones category means having to be water- and sweat-resistant, which the Powerbeats3 is. I haven’t had this long enough to make a call on its durability, so we may have to update this entry with that later.

Of the current crop of exercise headphones we’ve used, the Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless is our top choice in this category.

Type:   Closed, fully wireless (each earpiece is wireless), in-ear monitor/hearable


Price:   $299 USD


URL:   http://www.bragi.com

Written by Jude Mansilla


32-bit ARM processor; digital signal processor; multi-color LED light system; 4GB of internal storage; digital MEMS microphones with custom mechanical tuning; external auditory microphones; EarBone microphone; high-resolution optical touch sensor; two 3-axis accelerometers; two 3-axis gyroscopes; a 3-axis magnetometer; dual pulse oximeter sensors; and more... In short, it’s a powerful microcomputer with more than 150 micro components and 27 sensors. If you think of what might contain all of that, you might envision some toaster-oven-sized device in a hospital or lab. What I’m talking about, however, are two pods, each smaller than a walnut, that fit securely in your ears. I’m talking about the Bragi Dash.

Here’s the long story short: The Bragi Dash is a pair of fully untethered, wireless earphones. They passively isolate, and quite well, but you can also activate its external microphones to better hear the world around you. With its plethora of sensors, the Bragi Dash can tell you quite a lot about you and how you’re doing while you’re exercising. And the Dash actually sounds quite good with music, too, especially considering its earpieces are so small and tech-packed, fully wireless, and so waterproof that you can literally swim with them on, whereupon it’ll also tell you with voice prompts how many laps you’ve done, your breaths, and heart rate. (For terrestrial activities, it’ll tell you similarly pertinent contextual information.) In terms of musicality and resolution, you won't mistake it for your kilobuck custom-fit IEMs, but in consideration of its form factor and functionality, I find the Dash's sound very satisfactory, and do often keep it in my backpack and use it.

You can copy up to 4GB of music to it (AAC and MP3) and play music with the Dash without the need for a phone or player. That said, it does have Bluetooth, so you can also pair it with your Bluetooth-equipped phone or player. You control it with swipe and tap gestures on both earpieces, to control its features, control your calls, control your music--and, after a little getting use to, it all works very intuitively. 

The earpieces are not wired together--they're completely untethered--so the Dash is as wireless as wireless can be. You can even use just the right earpiece alone as a Bluetooth headset--by the way, its outgoing voice quality is good (not Sennheiser Presence outstanding, but good). It has a companion smartphone app, that is very well-designed, and through which you can do many things, including OTA firmware updates. There’s literally too much stuff in and about the Bragi Dash to cover in a Buying Guide entry, but, suffice it to say, the Bragi dash is an amazing piece of kit.

Why isn’t it our top pick for a fitness headphone? Well, it does come with some tradeoffs. First of all, its wireless range is very limited--you can’t stray too far from your phone before the signal starts breaking up. Within range, though, I’ve found the connection to be very stable. Battery life is also quite short, at only three to four hours--however, the Dash does come with a compact metal storage case that can recharge the earpieces a few times over. 

Still, despite these tradeoffs, the Bragi Dash is extremely impressive, and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how well the team at Bragi was able to pull together so much technology, and so many features, into something so useable. As far as exercise headphones go, I’d give the Bragi Dash a strong recommendation, and choose it as the runner-up best pick in this category.

NOTE: If you search for online reviews of the Dash, you may notice something: the reviews from early in the Dash’s release painted a very different (and a lot less rosy) picture than the more recent reviews do. The reason for this is because at the outset the Dash was indeed rougher around the edges. However, Bragi has been quite diligent about developing and releasing OTA firmware updates that have continually improved the Dash. It’s a lot more solid a product today than it was many months ago.


Details on the V-MODA Forza Metallo can be found in the In-Ear headphones section of the guide.


Click here to read our feature on the V-MODA Forza Metallo.


Type:   Closed, on-ear headphone


Price:  Sennheiser PMX 686 SPORTS and MX 686G SPORTS

Non-isolating, in-ear exercise headphones
$109.95 and $69.95, respectively

Sennheiser OCX 686 SPORTS and CX 686G SPORTS 
Isolating, in-ear exercise headphones
$109.95 and $69.95, respectively


URL:   http://www.sennheiser.com

Written by Jude Mansilla


Dear Sennheiser,

Why don't you make a wireless exercise headphone? I'm not sure if you've noticed, but everyone else is doing it, and while that's often not a good reason to do something, it actually is in this case.

The only reason I'm asking you, Sennheiser, to make a wireless exercise headphone is because your line of wired sports headphones has been among the very best sounding--and the very best fitting--in the entire industry.

As you've proven with products like the Sennheiser RS220, RS185, PXC 550, MOMENTUM Wireless, and the Presence--not to mention the ubiquity of your wireless technologies in pro audio--you definitely know wireless.

This year, for the first time ever, wireless headphones have eclipsed wired headphones in terms of dollar sales. The sport/exercise headphone market is one of the most popular categories and wireless ones especially. I've been waiting for years for a move from you here. Don't get me wrong, though, your wired exercise headphones are, again, superb:

Your behind-the-neck sports headphones like the Sennheiser PMX 686 SPORTS have been my absolute favorite type of wired exercise headphones, providing minimal isolation (which is a must for me, when I want to do outdoor activities, and still be able to hear approaching people, animals, and vehicles). I've always found your behind-the-neck bands to be secure, light, and comfortable.

Over the years, your other non-isolating earbud models--like the current Sennheiser MX 686G SPORTS model--have been paragons of secure, comfortable-fitting non-headband earbuds that can withstand sweat and gym bag abuse. I love its Slide-to-Fit mechanism, which I find far more convenient than swapping out easy-to-lose fins and flaps. Don't you think a model like this that's wireless would be a strong competitor to the likes of Jaybird, Bose, and Beats? I do.

Your sealed, isolating models are fantastic for indoor gym rats. The Sennheiser OXC 686 SPORTS with their over-ear hook design are among your most secure fitting exercise pieces in my experience. And your Sennheiser CX 686G SPORTS--the sound-isolating counterpart to the aforementioned (and outstanding) MX 686G SPORTS--is another indoor health club headphone winner.

Fantastic exercise headphones, all of these. However, it's time now to free them with your vast experience with wireless technologies. Pretty please?






































































































































Type:   Closed, in-ear, wireless Bluetooth headphones


Price:   $169.95, and $189 USD, respectively


URL:   http://www.jaybird.com and http://www.beatsbydre.com

Written by Jude Mansilla


If you insist on going wireless, but you want to go dongle-free (ruling out the Noble Audio BTS)--and if even the likes of the Phiaton BT 100 NC is bulkier than what you were looking for--then you're obviously looking for the lightest, simplest form factor, and your choices then get slimmer. Two of the most popular wireless fitness in-ears are the Jaybird BlueBuds X and the Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless.


I picked them both up, used them (mostly indoors, as I don't like to wear headphones while riding or running outdoors, so that I can hear approaching cars and creatures), and found that I feel comfortable recommending them both.


Both are dongle-free Bluetooth earphones, consisting of two earpieces that are essentially joined by a thin wire. The Jaybird BlueBuds X's earpieces are held in place by silicone fins that lock to the inside of your earlobes. The BlueBuds X can be worn with either the wire over the ear, or the wire-down--wearing the wire over the ears, however, has two disadvantages: It eliminates the BlueBuds X's phone call functionality, as it places the microphone behind the ear; and it also means listening to the channels reversed (left in right, and right in left), which I've found isn't a big deal for me when I'm running. The Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless' earpieces are held on with over-ear hooks, which (especially for higher-impact activities) I slightly prefer to the silicone fins. In terms of comfort, it's going to largely come down to which style of earpiece retention you prefer, but I've found both to stay in securely and comfortably.


Some amount of resistance to sweat and water is a prerequisite to making it into this section of the Guide. The Beats Powerbeats2 is rated IPX4 sweat and water resistant. The Jaybird BlueBuds X has no specific IPX rating--however, it does have a lifetime warranty against sweat, and (in a move I think is very cool) includes Liquipel protection. (Look up "Liquipel," as you've probably seen viral videos about it before--it's trick stuff.) Though I haven't specifically torture-tested their levels of water resistance (beyond sweating a lot in them), I'm going to give the edge to Jaybird on this, for their guarantee, and, most of all, for including the Liquipel treatment (which Jaybird values at $59.99, and, from what I know of the Liquipel treatment, is probably a fair assessment).


Jaybird rates the battery life of the BlueBuds X at up to eight hours; Beats rates the battery life of the Powerbeats2 Wireless at up to six hours. I haven't specifically tested either of their batteries to exhaustion, but I can say both have gotten me through a handful of running sessions each, without running either of the batteries down completely.


Both the Jaybird and the Beats can be used as headsets, which, for me, is an important function. When I'm exercising, I'm more apt to take or make personal phone calls--since my close friends don't mind me huffing and puffing a bit. Neither of these models seems to have trick multi-mic circuits to cancel ambient noise on outgoing voice, but both do a nice job of keeping quiet the impacts from the footfalls of running while talking. In terms of outgoing voice quality and clarity, there's a clear winner between these two, and it's the Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless. The Jaybird BlueBuds X is perfectly acceptable in this regard, with decent voice clarity, but also conveying more room-echo than the Beats. The Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless has outstandingly clear, direct-to-handset-type outgoing voice quality. I'd use the Beats for an important teleconference, but not the Jaybird.


In terms of music playback sound quality, the Jaybird BlueBuds X is my clear choice between the two. Whereas I find the substantially thicker bass-heavy presentation of the Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless acceptable for running and other exercise--providing a rhythm-heavy, pace-setting drive--it's simply far too thick down low and into the mids for me to use it for listening to music anytime other than during exercise. That thickness also masks the Powerbeats2 Wireless' higher registers, so from bass to treble, detail retrieval suffers as a result.


The Jaybird BlueBuds X, in contrast, actually has a surprisingly audiophile-friendly sound signature, with bass that is meaty, but most certainly not overwrought to my ears; midrange with a surprising amount of resolution for this class of headphones, and with body; and treble that actually glistens with more detail than than I'd ever expect from Bluetooth earphones that can be sweat on (for a lifetime, no less). Quite honestly, this is like a wireless fitness headphone I've been hoping Sennheiser would make--only it's not by Sennheiser. While I set aside a lot of my discerning, picky audiophile tendencies while running, it is nice to have something that can serve as a good, super-compact, super-lightweight wireless headphone on and off the treadmill, and the Jaybird BlueBuds X fits that bill.








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