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As new runners take to the streets with their iPod nanos and their Nike+iPod Sport Kits, one thing may become quickly apparent: Apple’s white ear buds, which have always been fine for listening on the go, may not be the best choice for such vigorous outdoor activity. As I experienced my own set of problems during my first run with an iPod, I set off on a mission to find the perfect running headphones and I think I’ve come pretty close.

I’m no audiophile. I had always been perfectly happy with my white iPod earbuds. They fit comfortably, produced reasonably nice sound, and they were convenient to wrap up and stick in my pocket. I had tried a few other brands over the years, including Apple’s own in-ear model, but always returned to my buds. So it never really occurred to me to use anything else when I suited up for my first run with an iPod.

The first ting I noticed on that first run, was that my normal mode of wearing the earbuds was not quite as secure as I had thought. After only a few minutes, I was aware of them shifting in my ears, with one even falling out. Re-inserting the earbuds a little more firmly than normal solved this problem, but after fifteen minutes or so, I began to notice a dull throbbing in my ear from the pressure of the plastic, which was firmly wedged in. I was also noticing that the wind noise was now so much louder, that I had to increase the volume of my music to higher levels than I would like. After thirty minutes, the throbbing had become a dull pain and was completely distracting me from everything else. I pulled out the buds and finished my run in silence.

When I returned home, I did what any reasonable person would do these days: I went to Google to find out if others were experiencing the same difficulties, and what they did about it. I found that I wasn’t alone. In addition to the issues that I was experiencing, there were repots of sweat getting into the earbuds and causing them to die. One runner said he was on his fifth set. What wasn’t easy to find, however, was a consensus on what the best alternative is. It was time to do a little research.

My first step toward finding the perfect running headphones was to make a list of the qualities I was looking for:

1) Comfortable

2) Stable and secure

3) Sweat resistant

4) Wind resistant

5) Pocket-able

6) Good sound quality.

Next, I read practically every headphone and earbud review I could find. I ended up ruling out standard earbuds, due to the sweat and wind issues, and also because it’s harder to find a perfect fit than with a traditional over-the-ear model. I also ruled out the in-ear type of earbuds, as they tend to block outside noise (Safety Tip: Be sure you can hear traffic and pedestrians around you) and amplify any friction against the cord, which can’t really be avoided when running.

Traditional headphones are somewhat out of style these days, with most manufacturers focusing on the in-ear styles. Of the brands I could find, many featured a full ear cup, or padded vinyl doughnut, which doesn’t seem like it would be too comfortable on a hot, sweaty day. They also tended to be bulkier and heavier than I had wanted. When all was said and done, I ended up with only two models to test on the road: The Koss KSC75, and the Sennheiser PX-100. Both models have small round foam pads that lay over the ear.

Koss KSC75

My first test was the Koss KSC75 ($20). This model features a “Sportclip” design that eliminates the need for a headband. Each pad is attached to a glasses-like earpiece that fits over the ear, holding the pad in place. This set also includes a small volume control midway down the cord, which I thought would be more convenient than fiddling with the iPod. But as soon as I put these on, I knew there would be trouble. The ear pieces are very loose fitting. They may be comfortable when sitting still, but even walking with these on produced a noticeable bounce. Another problem is that the weight of the volume control is noticeable. It pulls down slightly on the phones and increases their bouncing. It also tends to swing and bounce itself while you’re running. There’s no clip attached to the volume control, so it’s not convenient to clip it to your sleeve or collar. I ended up using a binder clip, which helped ease the volume control issues, but raised my dork level by a factor of ten. Also, the plastic surrounding the plug is quite thick, and may not fit through the hole of many iPod cases. One last issue (and I haven’t even run yet) was that if you wear glasses or sunglasses, you will have two earpieces over each ear, which is awkward.

During my run, the sound quality from the phones was actually quite good, rich and full without being boomy, but the constant bouncing and jiggling of the phones on my ears was distracting and ultimately intolerable. After fifteen minutes, I gave up. I’m not sure what type of sport Koss expects you to do with their Sportclip headphones, and I’m guessing that no one at the company ever bothered to figure that out.

Sennheiser PX-100

Next up was the Sennheiser PX-100 ($37). These phones feature a more traditional headband, which is foldable, and has padding of the top of the head. Unlike the Koss, the PX-100s fit was comfortable and secure. The headband is adjustable and fit easily over my Nike running hat. They seem especially solid for being as lightweight as they are. The casing around the plug is smaller than the Koss, but still larger than the standard iPod earbuds plug. It would not fit through the hole in my iPod shuffle hard case, but I had no trouble with my iSkins and armbands. And, though the PX-100s come with a hard plastic case, trying to fit them back in the case may be more trouble than it’s worth.

Running with The PX-100s was a joy. The sound quality is very good, with possibly a little more emphasis on the bass than I would normally like, but overall clean and warm. The phones didn’t bounce or shift while running, yet never felt tight on my head. The foam pads didn’t create wind noise in my ears, and actually helped to protect my ears from the wind blowing off of the San Francisco Bay. I was able to keep my music at a comfortable volume, while still being able to hear traffic sounds and pedestrians around me. The only problem that you might experience with the Sennheisers is that under very hot conditions, your ears can get quite warm under the pads. On hot days, I just take them off for a few minutes during my run to let my ears breathe. The PX-100s come in white as well as black, but to my eyes, rather than matching the iPod’s styling, the white version just looks strange.

That’s really all of the testing I needed to do. I found my perfect running headphones and have been using them happily ever since.

Before the comments start rolling in, I realize that many people have no problems running with the standard iPod earbuds — I see them out on the street every day. I also realize that headphones can be a very personal choice, and what’s perfect for one person may not be acceptable to someone else. And lastly, I realize that there are hundreds of other headphones and earphones that I didn’t test. ‘ve only described my process of finding the perfect headphones with the hope that it might save others the time and money of unnecessary trial-and-error during their own searches. If you’re currently happy with another model of headphones, feel free to post it in the comments and let us know what about them works so well for you.

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28 Responses to “The Best Headphones For Running?”

  1. Scott says:

    i’ve had the px100s for a year and agree with everything above….for 35 bux—a pretty awesome value…

  2. Jeffrey says:

    I actually use Logitech Curve Headphones. They work well and sound good for less than $15 dollars. They have not gotten good ratings on Amazon, but they work well for me.

  3. teemi says:

    I love my ksc75s.

    It doesn’t always fix the problem (some people just can’t stand earclips) but the ksc75s are adjustable. The clip pops off the headphone and you can bend it to make it tighter or looser. I was somewhat concerned about the glasses issue as well, but I tried them anyway and it isn’t a problem for me because they’re so light and they’re not trying to squeeze together or pull apart the way “streetstyle” headphones with the band around the back of the neck do.

  4. james says:

    I was just thinking about this whilst out running! It’s a shame that earbud’s don’t work for me as they fall out too easily, especially when pounding the streets with sweat trickling into your ears.
    Therefore I use Sony MDR-W08′s. Again they have a band, but are quite inconspicuous, whilst achieving the “in-ear” sound too.

  5. Mark says:

    I’ve got a pair of Koss KSC75s as well, and I love them, but I don’t run with them. They sound fabulous (especially for 20 bucks) and I can wear them comfortably with glasses through an entire work day. I have run with them, but I prefer not to. they bounce, though tolerably, and I tended to knock them when I tried to wipe sweat off my cheek with my shoulder. Mine don’t have the volume control.

    For running, I use a pair of Koss Plugs, squishy-coned earbuds that block sound. I worry very little about traffic and other audible threats because of the times and places I run, so that works for me. These have been great because they sound awesome, if a little bass heavy; they fit comfortably for the duration of a run; they don’t work themselves loose; the foam has not gotten funky (pads do — especially when exercising!); and they were only $15.

    I’m pretty sure I’d hate the over-the-head style. I’ve been uncomfortable with those since the 80s.

  6. Mark says:

    By the way, Mr. Lunch Takes a Plane Ride? That’s curious.

  7. Podophile says:

    J. Otto Seibold is a most awesome graphic artist. He gives a great interview at:

    http://www.digital-illustration.com.au/culturezone/jotto-fr.html

  8. Steve says:

    About thse Sony MDR-W08′s, that’s what I’ve been using too.

    Pros: I find them light, almost unnoticably so. Being in-ear, I can leave the volume low enough to be able to hear traffic (which , by the way, also includes the other runners’ footsteps near me in crowded race situations). They fold down to nearly nothing.

    Cons: One major problem: the band seems to funnel sweat down from my head into the speakers, which lowers the volume considerably. They have not died from this, though. I just have to shake them out and everything’s back to normal.

  9. Kevin says:

    I like the Sony earclips. I forget the model, but they have the curved plastic pieces that go over your ears, and these are the “sports” style that have a clip to clip the cord to your shirt. They stay put, don’t hurt, aren’t distracting, and they’re less than $15 at Target, so if anything happens to them it’s no big loss. I HATE the Apple earbuds, I can’t wear them even when I’m sitting at my desk, so they’re out of the question for running.

  10. jones says:

    great site by the way

    a LOT of people recommended me these and in the end i went out and bought em

    the best head/earphones i have ever used for running, and would recommend

    Sennheiser PMX70 Sport in ear headphones

  11. Beth says:

    The perfect headphones for me while running are Sony MDR-J11G.

    They have a vertical in-ear design and clip over your ears, so you don’t have to push them in like ear buds.

    They are water-resistent — no foam or fabric to soak up sweat.

    They are very secure.

    And the best thing for me at the gym is that, since there is no headband of any kind, I can towel the sweat off my head as roughly as I want and not disturb them.

    Also, they are extremely light-weight.

    They are very easy to put on and take off, and the earclip does not get in the way of my glasses.

    There are only 2 minor drawbacks to them:

    1) Before use, I often have to untangle the cord. They are advertised as having a tangle-free adjustable cord. Maybe I just haven’t figured out how to adjust mine. Anyway, it takes a few seconds to untangle, so it’s not a huge problem for me.

    2) If I want to take them off temporarily, I can’t just hang them around my neck like I could with regular headband-type headphone. But it’s not hard to drape the cord around my neck. Again, this is a minor inconvenience.

    Beth

  12. David says:

    Here’s a tip for people who like earbuds but have problems with them falling off. Bring them up from behind you, with the cord going down your back. Route the buds over your ears and put them in your ears (upside down or normal way).

    If you’ve ever used or seen the Shure in-ear monitors, its the same thing, but you can really do it with any buds. Most of the weight and bounce of the cord is held by the top of your ears instead of the buds. You can also route the headphone cable under your outer layer of clothes to hold it down too. Give it a try! it could be a free solution.

  13. Matthew says:

    i’ve got a pair of px100′s but i prefer the Koss Porta pro headphones for running. but there again i only run for the bus if i’m late.

  14. Ash Majumdar says:

    I have tried Bose, Sony, Apple, Koss, Phillips headphones, and must say that they all fall shy of even the cheapest Shure E-series headsets. I have 2 primary requirements and one minor requirement

    1) The sound quality has to be exceptional, not to bright, tight base and accurate reproduction
    2) Has to stay in ear while running long distances

    The minor requirement is (since my Gym has the tv stations on FM) have good FM reception.

    I purchased the Shure E2C and it is just exceptionally well designed for an entry level headset. It comes with a whole bunch of different kinds and sizes of ear buds which gives you enough choices to find the right fit. After all, each of us have a unique fit. That is why all the rest fall off within the first quarter mile. Lastly, the Shure unlike my apple headsets does gets clear FM reception due to better shielding on the cable, thus eliminating noise.

    Now if you really want spectacular sound get an Shure E3c or E4c

    (Disclaimer: I am not on Shure’s payroll or sell shure products. Just a consumer looking for the best value)

  15. Claire says:

    I found these weird headphones for sleep that are in the shape of a sweatband. My friend suggested me trying them after she got them for sleep. The speakers are all inside. The sound is actually quite good and it’s convenient for me, since it just fits over my ears and doesn’t move or fall out. It doubles as a sweatband. Their website suggests to pin it back with a hairpin, which is what I do. They even sent me a hairpin as part of the package! Oh, and I can carry it in my pocket all scrunched up. I’ve washed mine once and it’s turned out fine.

    Heres the page my friend sent me.
    http://www.sleepphones.com/wash

  16. Taz says:

    David: your suggestion about routing the normal apple headphone cables from behind and then up the ear works like a charm! THANK YOU!
    Disclaimer: I have not experimented running with this setup. But I have ear-lobes that are probably considered statistical outliers by the Apple design team!

  17. Kukodesign says:

    Hello there, if you are in U.S then I would recommend to try the Koss Porta Pro headphones.Was the best portable headphones for 4-5 years, similar than Sennheiser but you can release the pressure with a switch from your ears.
    Around 35-45$, and easy to exchange the covers if they wear out.

  18. Raechel says:

    Thank you guys so much for all the helpful information. I currently run with the Sony MDR-J11G and I HATE THEM! They do not fit tightly inside my ear and, since I run inside, I love to hear my music well. With the Sonys I find myself turning my iPod almost all the way up. I’ve just been searching and searching for the perfect set, so..guess I’ll give a few of these a try.

  19. Tim McNicoll says:

    Regarding DAVID’s suggestion above:
    I’ve been doing this for about a year now with complete success. Everyone having trouble with earbuds owes it to themselves to try it.

  20. Barry says:

    Just another idea for routing earbud cables. Might not look so cool, but I run mine under my chin, pull the rubber holder snug, then use electrical tape to keep the holder in place. The tension seems to keep the plugs firmly in my ears, which was a problem for me after a mile or two. I’ve had to replace the tape after about 25 runs, but it’s been worth it for the comfort.
    I will try the behind-the-head approach though – sounds interesting.

  21. Janey says:

    Woohoo! I must see if I can get those here. I’ve actually been using masking tape to tape my earbuds in place for running after going through 3 increasingly rubbish sets of ‘sportsbuds’ from various manufacturers. Dweeb factor is through the roof with the tape so I had to put a hat on over that as well. I was coming to the conclusion that I must have really odd ears that all these running earplugs keep popping out after about 2 minutes!

  22. michele says:

    I have been really happy with “skullcandy” earbuds ($14.99). These are very small and they come with silicone tips in three sizes. I was never able to keep the standard earphones in while running, but these have stayed in place for me for 20+ miles. The package says nothing about water resistance but I have accidentally tossed them in with my laundry twice and they still work. Sooo, my new wish list is: headphones with a really short cord. I like to wear my shuffle clipped to the back (I think this also helps the earpiece stay in place) of my hat and only need enough cord to reach my ears.

  23. Alison says:

    Thank you so much for the tip! I’ve never found earphones that fit well in my ears, which made running with them even more impossible. I look forward to trying the headphones you suggested =D

  24. Jay Thames says:

    I’ve got the Shure 530s and the Ultimate Ears triple.fi. Both are silicone earbuds that make them almost entirely water resistant. They both sound great, the Shures are a little cooler looking and sound a little better, but they’re also $100 more. The UEs are more comfortable with the stock buds.

  25. Thomas says:

    I have used them all to varying degrees of success. When Bose finally put a clip on their in ear headphones it solved all the falling out issues…they also send three sizes of earbuds which helps, since all ears are not created equally, in fact mine are two different sizes! Alas, the Bose do not let me crank the sound up as loud as I would like!

  26. Harvey says:

    Hello,

    I am looking to buy some running headphones and have browsed MANY designs, I have managed to reduce the possibilities to a smalll selection, Sennheiser PX-100 being such a candidate. Could you please confirm for me just how secure they are on your head? I think I have a medium-large size head and I really need some that wont budge.

    Thanks in advance

  27. Dan says:

    Hiya
    Thanks for the great review, it was both informative, and interesting. The px100s are a great choice, although costly in my part of the world..

    Cheers

  28. Jerry says:

    Hello –
    Thanks for your review…very helpful. And I wanted to add that I found your books just as interesting (I actually googled each of the titles)!

    Cheers!