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.
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.
Denon Exercise Freak
Written by Jude Mansilla
One closed, in-ear fitness headphone--and one that can eliminate the dreaded headphone wire-yank problem--is the Denon Exercise Freak, which is a Bluetooth wireless fitness headphone. (There is a wire that ties the two earpieces together that goes behind your head.) An earhook design assures a snug fit. (Though it's a bit tricky at first to get the fit right, you'll get used to it in no time). The Denon Exercise Freak is designed to be sweat proof and has air cushions on their inside surface to soften its touch against the side of your head (behind your ear).
There's also a companion Denon Sport App (available for iOS and Android) that allows you to log your workouts, map your routes with your phone's GPS, track your pace, calorie consumption, elevation, and also has a built in music player.
The Denon Exercise Freak is also a pretty good wireless Bluetooth headset, which is also a great convenience while exercising (if you don't want to miss any calls).
The Exercise Freak's sound signature is a decidedly bass-heavy one, the mids are recessed, mid-treble has mild emphasis, and there's some high-treble roll-off--remember, though, this is a Bluetooth wireless exercise headphone. For its tangle-free convenience while exercising, good enough sound for wireless exercise listening, and its Bluetooth wireless headset functionality, the Exercise Freak is a great fitness companion.
Denon's Exercise Freak comes in blue, black, and yellow.
The most comprehensive, most impressive fitness headphone line I've seen comes from the combined minds of Sennheiser and adidas. One thing I love about the most current Sennheiser/adidas fitness earbuds line is the combination of both open and closed models, in several different form factors. Most of the new models are also second or third evolutions of model types that have existed for years, so Sennheiser and adidas have had time to evolve these by now into some of the very best fitness headphones I've worn and heard. I think I've now used every model in the current line, and there are just too many to list them all here, so let's cover some of my favorites.
I tend to prefer open headphones when I'm exercising--especially if I'm exercising outdoors--as I like to be aware of what's going on around me outside. Sennheiser/adidas has several fitness models designed for "situational awareness," including the Sennheiser/adidas PX685i. The PX685i is an over-head model, but it's so light you can barely feel its headband on your head. As with the other Sennheiser/adidas "situational awareness" models, the PX685i's earpieces are earbud-type, and the PX685i's earpieces are held in snugly (but comfortably) by the headband. One benefit I've found of this type of earpiece is the ability to adjust bass level by adjusting how far in my ear I push the earpiece--I can vary bass response from mildly heavy to something more flat.
The PX685i comes in with an in-line three-button remote/mic designed for iDevices.
Sennheiser/adidas MX 685 SPORTS
Written by Jude Mansilla
Another "situational awareness" Sennheiser/adidas model is the Sennheiser/adidas MX 685 SPORTS. The MX 685 SPORTS is a more conventional earbud form factor (no headband), but each earpiece is held snugly in the ear by a flexible slide-to-fit piece (that they call an "EarFin") that softly wedges into your outer ear's concha. The MX 685 SPORTS is among my favorite standard earbud type headphone, whether for fitness or general listening. The sound is very balanced and detailed for an earbud, and the EarFin's make for a nice secure fit, which I simply cannot get with standard earbuds. (There is also a closed in-ear version of this model called the CX 685 SPORTS that is priced around $70.)
My very favorite of the Sennheiser/adidas line is the Sennheiser/adidas PMX 685i SPORTS, which is one of the "situational awareness" models, with earbud-type earpieces that are held in by a neckband. I started several years ago with the PMX 70, then moved to the PMX 680 a couple years back, and now the PMX 685i SPORTS. This latest neckband fitness model from Sennheiser/adidas is super light weight, is one-size-fits-all, so requires essentially no adjustments, and is super-snug yet extremely comfortable. I've used no headphone that works better with my mountain biking helmet, and the snug fit (and ultra light weight) keeps the PMX 685i SPORTS perfectly in place, no matter how hard I'm riding or running.
In terms of sound, the PMX 685i SPORTS is the best sounding fitness headphone I've yet used. The sound signature is on the more balanced side, and the neckband makes for very consistent fit and very consistent sound. The PMX 685i SPORTS sees a lot more use from me than just for exercise, because it's so light, portable, tough, and sounds so good for its form factor.
The PMX 685i SPORTS comes with an in-line three-button remote/mic designed to work with iDevices. As far as I'm concerned, for its purpose, the PMX 685i is essentially perfect.
All of the Sennheiser/adidas models above are ruggedly built, and sweat- and water-resistant.