Complete Buying Guide: Find the Best Headphone for Workout

Are you looking forward to buying a headphone for workout? I know it can be tedious. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of good options to buy from.

More to that, good is a confusing word. What is good for one person might not be good for everyone.

To streamline the process and to help you find the best one for working out, we have brought everything down to five simple steps.

1. Pick One Property From Each Section Below

1.1 Form Factor

1.1.1 Over-Ear

Over-ear has earcups encompassing the ears and an over-head band connecting them. They are also known as circum-aural headphones.

1.1.2 On-Ear

Identical to over-ear, on-ear sits against the ear – not around it. They are also known as supra-aural headphones.

1.1.3 Earbud

Earbuds have cushion-less heads which sit where your ear canal starts, more precisely, on the ridge of your ears.  

1.1.4 In-Ear

In-ear has narrow cushioned heads which penetrate and sit inside the ear canal. They are also known as in-ear monitors and ear canal headphones.

1.1.5 Neckband

Neckband or behind-the-neck can have any previous form factor, but the band always goes behind the head.

1.1.6 Bone-Conduction

Bone-conduction transmits sound through cheekbones and jawbones. The form factor is mostly neckband.

Here is a table that highlights the difference between four popular form factors:

Comfort LevelPortabilityNoise IsolationSound Insulation
Over-earGreatPoorGoodPoor
On-earGoodMediocreMediocreMediocre
EarbudMediocreGreatPoorGood
In-earPoorGreatGreatGreat

1.2 Earcup Construction

1.2.1 Open-Back

The back has an open-construction so there is no sound insulation whatsoever. A person sitting next to you will be able to hear it.

1.2.2 Closed-Back

The back has a closed-construction so there is usually very good sound insulation. A person sitting next to you might not be able to hear it.

1.2.3 Semi-Open

The back has semi-open construction so there is a moderate amount of sound insulation. A person sitting next to you may or may not be able to hear it depending on the built quality.

1.3 Microphone Type

1.3.1 No Mic

Microphone is not present in this headphone and does not support voice input.

1.3.2 Built-In Mic

Microphone is built-in so it supports voice input. It could have a single jack (audio and mic combined in one wire) or a dual jack configuration (separate wires for audio and mic).

1.3.3 Headset

Refers to over-ear and on-ear headphones that have a dedicated mouth piece for voice input. In general, it comes with a dual jack configuration (separate wires for audio and mic).

1.4 Connectivity Type

1.4.1 Wired

The classic type of headphone with wire that connects directly into a device.

1.4.2 Bluetooth

Majority of the wireless headphones use Bluetooth connectivity. Bluetooth 5 is the latest version of it.

1.4.3 NFC

NFC or Near Field Connectivity sits on top of Bluetooth and makes Bluetooth pairing easier.

1.4.4 RF

RF headphones use radio frequency to transmit the audio. In this type of headphone, the connectivity range can be as long as 90 meters.

1.4.5 Infrared

Infrared based headphones use invisible LED light technology to connect between transmitter and receiver. A clear line of sight (no obstruction) is required for it to work.

1.4.6 KLEER

KLEER is mostly used among audiophiles who want to have low bandwidth consumption, low latency and CD/DVD quality audio.

1.5 Sound Signature

Headphones usually have a sound signature. Some of them optimize the lower frequencies and some of them optimize the higher frequencies. There are also neutral headphones without any artificial optimization.

Improved lower frequency delivers more punch to the music, while improved higher frequency delivers clearer sound.

If you have a preference, you can always go for that. If not, it is recommended to get one without any enhancement.

Here is a table that highlights the difference between sound signatures:

Lower FrequenciesMid FrequenciesHigher Frequencies
Extra BassEnhancedRecessedRecessed
V-ShapeEnhancedRecessedEnhanced
Flat/BalancedNeutralNeutralNeutral
BrightRecessedNeutralEnhanced
WarmEnhancedNeutralRecessed

1.6 Key Features

1.6.1 Noise-Cancellation

Noise-Cancellation is the technology that can recognize noise through the microphone and remove it before transmitting sound to the ear.

1.6.2 Noise-Isolation

Noise-Isolation is the mechanical process of blocking surrounding noise from entering the ear.

1.6.3 Foldable

Some headphones are foldable so that it can slid into the pocket or a bag easily.

1.6.4 Tangle-Free Cord

Some wired headphones come with a technology that the wire will not get tangled because of its unique material.

1.6.5 Volume Control

Usually headphones keep a volume control so that the volume can be controlled without reaching for the sourcing device.

1.6.6 Phone Control

Many headphones now allow you to control calls, voice assistance and other quick features from the headphone.

1.6.7 Voice Assistant

Some headphones have native support for voice assistants (e.g. Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa) and commands can be given through the headphone.

1.6.8 Water Resistant

Sporty headphones usually feature water resistance so that it can be used in different kinds of activities.

1.6.9 Activity Tracking

Some headphones went up a level and started offering activity tracking features.

1.6.10 DJ

DJ headphones are more flexible and often offer the functionality to play two different tracks in each ear.

1.7 Other Technical Terms

1.7.1 Sensitivity

Sensitivity tells you how loud a headphone can go when it has the recommended amount of power supply.

1.7.2 Impedance

Impedance is the electrical resistance that says how much power a pair of headphone will need to deliver the maximum volume.

1.7.3 Response Time

Response time is basically the time a headphone takes to convert the current into an actual sound.

1.7.4 Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)

THD is the rate of sound distortion when it comes of the speaker. Most headphones have a THD of 1% which means that sound can change or distort up to 1%.

1.7.5 Codec

Codec is the program that compresses data for transmission. While SBC and AAC are the most common ones, aptX and aptX HD are the best in terms of compression.

1.7.6 Driver

The main component of a headphone which produces the sound. Size of a driver can range between 10mm to 40mm, but it can go much higher or lower in certain headphones.

Orthodynamics and Electrostatic are the most expensive and efficient drivers for headphones.  

1.7.7 Number of Channels

In general, headphones are either mono and stereo. In mono, the same sound is transmitted into two earpieces. In stereo, the sound is divided into left and right segments.

2. Perform a Filtered Search

On markets like Amazon or Best Buy, you can select the properties mentioned above and search for one specific type of headphones.

Let’s take Amazon as an example. Go to Amazon search page for the keyword “headphones” and check the sidebar on the left.

Amazon Headphones Search

From there, you can select which features you want to have, which wireless connectivity, what type of earcup, and of course, the search bar for using more specific keywords.

3. Make a Shortlist

Once you have performed a search like mentioned in the previous step, it is time to pick some headphones and make a list.

As the name suggests, your shortlist should be short, perhaps around 4-5 items. The key consideration for making the shortlist should the number of reviews a product has and the brand it is from.

Amazon has quite an overwhelming number of headphone brands. So the more you can incline towards a good brand, the safer you are.

4. Compare Your Shortlisted Headphones

A good place to compare headphones side by side is RTINGS. Go to their website and select the headphones that you want to compare.

RTINGS Headphone Comparison

In addition to that, here are a few other things you can look for in a headphone:

4.1 What Makes a Headphone Comfortable

4.1.1 Clamping Force

Clamping force is important for over-ear and on-ear headphones. Too high and it will fatigue your ears. Too low and it will not stay on the right wearing position.

4.1.2 Earcup Size & Depth

The size of earcups can surely define the comfort level. Over-ear headphones do not put pressure on the ear because they sit around it. Where on-ear headphones sit directly on the ears. Also, if the padding of an earcup is not good enough, it could hurt your ears.

4.1.3 Headband Flexibility

Headphones are generally on-size-fit-all except the earbuds and in-ear headphones. Some headphones support earcup rotation which can be useful in many cases.

4.1.4 Weight

For over-ear and on-ear headphones, weight matters the least because it is supported by the head. But weight can cause earbud and in-ear headphones to fall out all the time.

4.1.5 Wire Length

Before you buy a wired headphone, you should estimate which length of a wire you need. Taking one that is unnecessary long can feel like a burden.

4.2 Practical vs On-Paper Performance

This is really common. You read a product description and you like it so much that you buy it. But once you start using it, you see things are not exactly as it was described.

Practical performance and on-page performance vary big time. So even if something says this on paper that the max volume will be 140dB, it might not feel like 140dB.

For that reason, no matter how appealing a product sounds, we should resist the temptation and do the research. The review section of each product is probably the best place to start with.

According to what we have seen for headphones, the chances to go wrong are pretty slim if you choose a good brand (e.g. Sony, Bose, etc.).

5. Get Your Best Workout Headphone

If you have gone through the process, you should kind of already know which headphone will fit you the most and where to get it from. I recommend that you get a good one because music can hugely improve your workout performance.

I know some of you could still end up being confused because of the overload of information here. Therefore, I have some personal recommendations for you.

5.1 Personal Recommendations

5.1.1 Sony WF-SP800N

Sony WF-SP800N is an in-ear sporty headphone with active noise cancellation. It has an IP55 water rating making it sweat and splash proof.

In addition to that, it has active noise cancellation which will let you focus when you are working out in a crowded place. If there is a downside, it is that it does not support audio codecs like aptX or LDAC.

This headphone offers a battery life of 9 hours with noise cancellation turned on. With the help of the charging case, it can be extended up to 18 hours.

Pros
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Secure fit for workout
  • IP55 water resistant
  • Wear detection
  • 9 hours battery life with quick charging (18 hours with case)
Cons
  • Large charging case
  • Does not support aptX or LDAC

5.1.2 Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 is the newest product in Sony’s WH-1000 series. This product line has been ruling the active noise cancellation industry for a very long time.

Why am I recommending this headphone? This is probably an ideal pair of headphones that you can use for any occasion. The sound quality is better than most headphones in its price range and the noise cancellation technology in it is amazing. The only drawback is that it does not have any water protection.

I personally use Sony WH-1000XM3 and it has been my go-to headphone for a year now. Although it does not have any water resistance, it held up pretty good against sweat and some light rains. The XM4 is basically the same but packs a few modern upgrades to the XM3.

Pros
  • Best active noise cancelling headphone on the market
  • Wearing detection
  • 30 hours battery life with quick charging
  • Quick attention mode for conversation
Cons
  • No water resistance

5.1.3 Jabra Elite 75t

Jabra Elite 75t another good headphone especially for working out at the gym. It is quite lightweight and has a secure fit design.

The water rating is IP57 which means it will stand against dust, sweat, and water very comfortably.

The missing feature in it is the noise cancellation and also the other fact that it does not have any support for aptX.

Pros
  • Compact and secure design
  • Perfect weight distribution
  • IP57 water resistant
  • 7.5 hours battery life with fast charging (28 hours with case)
Cons
  • Does not support aptX
  • No noise cancellation
Curious to Know Which Products I Use Personally?
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