Whenever I use my headphones, I’m typically weight lifting or trying to drown out the sound of my neighbors, who furiously slam every door in their apartment. Because I use my headphones to cancel out noise, even when I’m working out, I tend to prefer over-the-ear style versus in-ear headphones.
Unfortunately, I’m a very sweaty person, and as much as I love my pair of headphones, they’re woefully inadequate for any type of vigorous exercise. When I got my current pair a few years ago, I went running with them a couple times and discovered two super important things.
First, the soft padding encasing the speakers is the most sweat-absorbent material on the planet! Second, the headphones have to be wiped off with an alcohol wipe and towel after exercising or they will stink. Bad. Like “I left a package of raw chicken in the car during the hottest week of summer” kind of bad.
I don’t think I’m the only one to experience the “constantly needing adjustment, rancid-meat smelling headphone” dilemma (or maybe I am. After all, I am really sweaty). Even though I’m not a huge fan of running, I am a huge fan of exercising, so I looked at some Bluetooth in-ear headphone reviews and decided to experiment with a few pairs of earbud-style ones to see which could withstand my sweaty head and neck.
Let’s take a look at my review of four earbuds good for runners and fitness buffs – the LG Tone Ultra HBS-810, Phaiser Bluetooth Runner Earbuds, Plantronics® BackBeat Fit Bluetooth Headphones and Bose QuietComfort 20 Headphones.
LG Tone Ultra HBS-810
I tried these LG earbuds first because my boyfriend owns a pair, and he frequently uses them during exercise. These earbuds fit over the neck, and the earpieces themselves are actually retractable, which keeps the short cords from getting caught on anything. I’ve broken several pairs of headphones by accidentally snagging the cord and yanking it, so retractable-style is probably a good option for me.
For skateboarding and lifting weights, these worked pretty well. They don’t profess to be noise cancelling, but they do a fairly good job of eliminating the sound of gym guys grunting forcefully as they squat enough weight to cause permanent colonic damage. That being said, even at full volume, these couldn’t totally drown out the sound of my skateboard on asphalt.
For running, I loved that these earbuds had buttons on them so you could pause or play music, skip or go back to parts of a song, adjust the volume, and answer phone calls. However, the actual body of the earbuds kept hitting my collar bone as I ran and that quickly became uncomfortable. My boyfriend doesn’t have this problem, so maybe his thick horse neck stretched the headphones out. I’m not sure, but, either way, it may not be a problem for you. I have a friend who is a “fitness walker” and she swears by them both for exercise, and work (plus she loves the fact that the neck piece vibrates if she ever leaves her phone behind).
As far as sweat resistance goes, they’re better than over-the-ear headphones, but I wouldn’t call them waterproof or even water-resistant. You definitely need to wipe them off with a towel if you’re really sweaty after exercising. They aren’t listed as being sweat- or waterproof, but I can assure anyone reading that you can run with these in 90-degree heat and sweat like crazy without damaging them… as long as you wipe them off after.
Phaiser Bluetooth Runner Earbuds
Because Phaiser calls these “runner earbuds,” I knew I had to try them out. I was initially concerned because they’re basically two earpieces on a cord, and I don’t get along with cords. However, the two ends of the earpieces are magnetic, so you can clip them together and wear the headphones around your neck (which eliminates the collarbone issue I had with the LG ones).
I also found that this style of earpiece fit better in my ear. The ends are sort of wide at one end and then they taper, so there’s not a big piece of rubber stretching your ear canal open for hours. They also have a little rubbery piece that fits into the contours of your ears, which actually keeps them in place really well (and, again, without stretching the ear canal).
The tapered tip is supposed to also help with noise cancellation, but you have to really get these things just right in your ear to create a seal. Once they’re basically suctioned into your ear, they do a great job of isolating noise. The sound quality also seems to improve once the earpieces are suctioned in just right.
The most important question is “are they sweatproof?” Of course! Any pair of headphones that claims to be for runners must be sweatproof, and these truly are. I ran outside when the heat index was around 102 degrees, and I was absolutely drenched in sweat. I decided not to wipe these down and, after a few days of sweating on them and leaving them to air dry, they didn’t have an odor and still worked great.
These earbuds do come with a lifetime warranty that protects them against sweat damage, which is another reason to try them out if you, like me, are a very sweaty person. However, I don’t think the warranty covers normal water damage, so don’t get caught in a rainstorm. You can supposedly drop the headphones in water and they’ll be okay (as long as you fish them out), but it seemed too risky to just throw these into a pool or bathtub and hope for the best.
Plantronics® BackBeat Fit Bluetooth Headphones
When I saw this pair of earbuds, my first thought was that they wouldn’t be good to wear during exercise because of their design. They’re shaped sort of like the LG headphones, but instead of being rigid and resting on the neck, these are lightweight, highly flexible, and they “float” around the head.
The only things really holding the earbuds to your head are the earpieces themselves, which are sort of oval shaped and have an elongated tip that “anchors” them to the inside of the ear. You might be thinking, “Wow, these sound super uncomfortable,” but that’s actually not the case! The “floating” body moves with you, so if you’re running, for example, it’ll flap up and down.
Outside of jumping rope or doing jumping jacks, these aren’t going to slap you in the neck or be cumbersome every time you exercise. I ran with them a few times—both outdoor and on a treadmill—and I don’t think they ever hit my neck. Even with something like bench press, these headphones were never in my way or annoying to wear.
As far as sweat-resistance goes, these are 100% sweatproof! They’re actually covered in nano-coating, which is kind of rubbery and repels water. That doesn’t make them waterproof, but they are water-resistant, so they’ll survive if you get caught in a rainstorm when you’re running. I think I still prefer Phaiser’s earbuds, but that has more to do with the design (the elongated tip bothers the inside of my ear).
One thing to note about these headphones is the little rubbery tab that sits on top of each earpiece. I wasn’t sure what these were for, other than to maybe further anchor the earpieces to your ears, but they’re actually to prevent the earpieces from creating a “seal.” Unlike the other earbuds on this list, these aren’t meant to block out any noise, so you can listen to your music and, for example, hear the instructor of your fitness class.
I personally didn’t like this feature because I’m a noise-cancelling-headphone lover, but I can see why it’d appeal to someone who exercises frequently with a partner or someone who enjoys fitness classes.
Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones
I have a lot of suspicion when it comes to earbuds that claim to be noise cancelling, but it’s Bose, and Bose makes a really great headphone.
These particular earbuds are optimized for iPhone, which is what I have, so I can’t say how well they work with other phones or devices. I can say that they’re very similar to the Phaiser earbuds in terms of earpiece design—you’ve got a small rubbery part that’s tapered, and a plastic piece that fits into the contoured section of the ear—but these are far better at cancelling out noise.
With these earbuds, you won’t hear anything except your music. I tend to get a little nervous whenever I have to cross the street in headphones, so I thought I’d need to remove them in order to safely cross. However, the geniuses at Bose built their earbuds with a super awesome ‘Aware’ mode, which “deactivates” any noise cancellation. When I wanted to cross, I turned on ‘Aware’ mode, and was able to hear all the street noise plus my music. I imagine this feature would be great for catching people who’re talking about you because they think you can’t hear them.
As amazing as these headphones are in terms of noise cancellation, sound quality, durability, and comfort, there are two downsides. First, they are not, by any means, sweatproof. You can get them a little sweaty, but they need to be wiped off right after, and I wouldn’t run outside with these unless it was very cool out, and there was no chance of rain.
The second issue is the design of the actual headphone body. I didn’t look closely enough before buying, but these are not Bluetooth/wireless, so the earpieces are connected to super long cords. I haven’t yet snagged these on anything, so I don’t know how durable they are, but I did accidentally karate chop the cord while running and there was no damage. However, be aware that the earpieces fit tightly, so when I hit the cord, my head was jerked as opposed to the earbuds flying out. Personally, I’ll take neck damage over stuff being ripped out of my ear.
Although this post was focused on sweat-related problems associated with running or working out, Underwater Audio makes a pair of earbuds that are 100% waterproof. They’re called HydroActive, and you can actually wear these to swim laps! I highly recommend them for folks who cross train and for all the fans of water aerobics.
If you, like me, aren’t a huge fan of earbud-style ones for your non-vigorous exercising activities, check out TopProducts.com! You can find tons of headphone reviews in the electronics category, including over-the-ear, gaming sets, and glorious wireless ones (which means no more ripping your headphones off by accident).
August Wright, TopProducts Staff Writer