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Best Headphones for Running - Over-Ear, On-Ear, Off-Ear?

I'm more of a cyclist myself, but regardless of your preferred way of getting around (or working out) there's no denying a sense of rhythm and a pulsing beat makes the hours fly by.

When it comes to achieving that idyllic dream of running with your own personal audio bubble of immersion, the dream starts to have some real challenges. From not wanting to blare your audio out to everyone else to needing to stay aware of your surroundings, there's a lot more to consider than first glance.

Having stocked headphones of all breeds for years, we think we can nail-down the key considerations and help you make a more informed decision the next time you're gearing up for a run.

We divide the best headphones for running not just based on sound, but also weight, fit, adaptability and headphones type. there's no point having a virtual 5.1 surround sound 4k audio master headset if it's uncomfortable to run in or breaks at the first drop of sweat. You need headphones that tough it out with you!

Over-Ear, On-Ear, Off-Ear

The first consideration is the broadest way of differentiating headphones and headsets: the ear style.

An On-Ear Set of Headphones. A curved band rests on the head leading to two flat speaker units each side

Are On-Ear Headphones Good for Running?

On Ear Headphones rest on top of your ears and don't feature over-ear padding or in-ear buds. This makes them more minimal, not really made to be specialised in any one area.

In terms of running, this can actually have some benefits but also some drawbacks...

Pros:

  • More awareness of other sounds, vital when commuting or in public areas
  • Lighter weight due to lack of padding or attached microphones etc
  • Very easy to thwip on and off at a moment's notice

Cons:

  • No over-ear padding and light weight can make them hard to keep in place during a run, causing disruption and wasting time fixing them
  • Audio can be lost to the wind or background noises at lower volumes
A pair of over-ear headphones. A band rests across the top of the head, leading to two speaker units enclosed in cushioned padding each side

    Are Over-Ear Headphones Safe for Running?

    Over-Ear Headphones use thickly padded earpads to completely envelop the ear, both reducing outside interreference but also adding weight. They tend to be focused on audio quality and comfort.

    In terms of running, it's clear this design might stay on more easily and will clearly provide better audio, but there are some key concerns...

    Pros:

    • Secure fitted earpads that hold themselves in place around your ears
    • Comfort over the long-term due to the padding
    • Better audio quality

    Cons:

    • Limited-to-no awareness of outside audio, which is dangerous on commutes or any public areas
    • Weight can make even a padded pair uncomfortable, not always on the ears but often across the top of your head
    • More components = More chance of the motion of running to dislodge or shake components loose
    A beanie hat with a control panel on one side, on the exterior rim. Speaker units are hidden inside the wool, underneath.

      Can Off-Ear Headphones be used for Running?

      Off-Ear Headphones are a wider range of products than the previous types. Off-ear headphones include things like Bluetooth beanies, which use the wool to hold a speaker unit near each ear but is incorporated into the hat. Bone conduction is also an example of off-ear headphones, but have their own category below.

      Pros:

      • Incorporating the speakers into a hat is efficient for colder days, without the need to awkwardly stack a headset on or under a beanie
      • Spatial and sound awareness is improved compared to on-ear or over-ear types
      • While there's no over-ear padding, the hat housing the speakers is inherently designed to be soft and comfortable

      Cons:

      • Audio bleed can be higher, as the speaker units are resting inside the hat and have to play through the fabric, resulting in higher volumes needed
      • Dependent on you fancying the hat that day, which may not always align with when you want audio for your running
      • Audio quality is generally put the wayside in favour of light weight and comfort
      A bone conduction headset. A very thin band rests around the bac of the head / neck, with two small contact points that rest near the ear.

        Are Bone Conduction Headphones Good for Running?

        Bone Conduction Headphones are their own breed of tech, not reliant on traditional speakers or over-ear design. Indeed, they don't need to rest on-ear either! Instead, bone conduction uses direct vibrations from the unit which rests closer to your cheek, in front of your ear but not over or inside it.

        If you're out routinely at work but want to squeeze in some jogging or running immediately after without having to return home first, then you'll want a pair of headphones that can adapt to both.

        For a work environment and a running environment back-to-back, Bone Conduction are your best bet. These allow you the freedom to hear co-workers and spatial awareness for a commute while also being light and comfortable enough for a full cardio session if that's what you get straight into after work!

        Save time by using an all-in one pair with built-in MP3 player, so you don't have to get home and change gears before going out again.

        Pros:

        • Complete spatial sound awareness
        • Minimal-to-no audio bleed due to different sound delivery
        • No padding or speaker drivers means less weight
        • Easy to waterproof, with many models being IP67 rated

        Cons:

        • Audio quality varies drastically with placement, with proper contact vital to hearing your audio clearly
        • People may not see you have a headset on, although this extends to any in-ear buds too and isn't always crucial
        • Most suited to running and sports, but not a first choice for home or PC audio where over-ear stereo headsets will excel, so bone conduction units aren't as versatile for multipurpose use

        Choosing Your Running Headphones

        With the different ways of getting your favourite audio on-the-go, the considerations will hit different depending on what you personally prioritise. For example, putting up with some audio bleed for the sake of increased awareness of your surroundings when running. I would always take that deal (Again, cyclist) because audio awareness is so pivotal to a good cycle.

        However, someone jogging in a quiet local park might not need such a strict view on audio awareness, and actually wants to close-off that audio bleed by using an over-ear padded headset.

        Someone else might follow that same exact logic, but they want to jog for a good few hours not just 30 minutes and so a pair of over-ear headphones are too heavy over that time.

        To help weigh up these conditions we've put together a table below, with each type of headphone above ranked from best to worst in each category

        Short Term Comfort Long Term Comfort Music Quality Weight Sound Bleed Spatial Awareness Multipurpose
        On-Ear 4 4 3 3 3 2 2
        Over-Ear 1 3 1 4 2 4 4
        Off-Ear 2 1 4 2 4 3 3
        Bone Conduction 3 2 2 1 1 1 1

        1 = Best in Category

        4 = Worst in Category

        As you can see, factors such as sound quality and weight don't always align, so you'll have to decide what you value most for your pair of running headphones using the information you can access.

        Browse All Headphones

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