5 things to consider when buying sports headphones

By Mike Atherton 07 Jan 2018
Sports headphones guide

When you're looking for a new pair of headphones with sport in mind, there are a few things to consider that you wouldn't normally think of when buying headphones for use around the house or in the office.  

Here are five things to keep in mind.

Where will you be using the headphones most?


This is a really important consideration if you do a lot of exercise outdoors. Some headphones have noise-cancelling technology which can be great for helping you focus on your workout in the gym, but it isn’t a great idea to block out the world if you're running next to a busy road. So some headphones are actually designed to let in a little bit of ambient noise to help you stay aware of what's going on around you. 

Another thing to consider when you do a lot of outdoor exercise is that some headphones can generate a lot of wind noise which can really affect your listening experience. The level of noise is usually down to the shape and size of the earbuds, generally speaking, the bigger and more complex the shape of the earbuds, the more wind noise they're likely to generate. 

Do you need them to be waterproof?

Most headphones designed specifically for sport come with a certain level of water resistance, but the level of resistance you'll need depends largely on what you'll be using the headphones for. If you'll mostly be using them outdoors, you'll probably want them to be able to cope with a heavy shower, but not necessarily able to cope with being submerged for any significant length of time.  

How is water resistance measured?

The classification used for measuring the level of water resistance for a product is called the IP rating and it stands for 'Ingress Protection'. Click the link below to find out more about IP ratings.

Comfort and stability


Sports headphones come in a few different designs, and the type of design you choose depends on the fit that works for you. The three main designs are: 

  • In-ear headphones – these are often the cheaper option because they simply push into the ear canal and are held in place by friction. You'll usually get a set of rubber tips of varying sizes so it's worth trying them out to make sure you get the best fit. While the absence of any clips or hooks can make this type of in-ear headphone very comfortable, it also means they can be prone to falling out during exercise. 

  • In-ear clip-on headphones – these are an evolution of the basic in-ear headphones and come with a clip that holds on to the inside of your ear, just above the ear canal. They usually come with different attachments so you can find the right fit for your ear making them far less likely to fall out while you're running on the treadmill. 

  • Ear-hook headphones – like all in-ear headphones, these are pushed into the ear canal but they also have an arm that wraps around the ear making them the favoured design for many runners, because they tend to stay firmly in place. It's worth noting though, that depending on the fit, they can sometimes get a little uncomfortable if you're wearing them for a long time - because of the way they wrap around the ear. These types of earphones can also be a problem when wearing glasses. 

There are a few variations on these main designs depending on the manufacturer and whether they use wireless, or wired technology. Most wireless sports headphones have a single wire connecting the two ear-buds that sits behind your neck, and some are completely wireless, with no cables at all. 

Wired or Wireless?

There are pros and cons for both options but the main problem people encounter with wired headphones is that sometimes the wires just get in the way. It can be annoying if you're enjoying a run, lost in the music when the cable gets caught in your zip and the headphones are pulled out of your ears. On the other hand, wired headphones tend to be less expensive with better sound quality than you'll get through Bluetooth. 

Wireless headphones are great for sport because they give you that extra freedom of movement without having to worry about that pesky cable. With Bluetooth connections, you do lose a little bit of quality compared to wired headphones, but it's almost impossible to tell the difference – especially when you're pushing yourself to the limit on the treadmill. 

Sound quality


While sound quality is important, there's a reason why it’s the last thing on our list when you're buying a pair of sports headphones. You should certainly consider it, but like all other considerations, it really depends on what you're planning on using them for.  

Most gym goers just want to block out some of the noise and get some tunes on that are going to motivate them, or get lost in an audio book if they're sat on the exercise bike for half an hour. In either case, you're not necessarily looking for the beautifully balanced range of mids and bass notes that you'd get with a pair of £300 Sennheisers. So while sound quality should certainly be on your checklist, there are a few other things you should consider first. 

With all that in mind, take a look at 7 of our favoutite headphones for sport.

Hopefully we've given you a bit more insight into buying a pair of sports headphones. If you'd like any more help, you can contact one of our Team Knowhow experts here.

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