The Best Sport Headphone Review

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The best part of wearing headphones during outdoor workouts? Music makes working hard fun! Here the Klipsch X7i provides a clear and crisp, multi-layered sound, free of muddy white noise.
Credit: McKenzie Long
We tested ten of the best available sport headphones, evaluating fit, features, and sound quality to help determine what will best meet an athlete's needs. What style of tunes fill your workout playlist? Do you like sparkly, happy pop music or profanity-laced rap with a thumping rhythm? Do you prefer twangy bluegrass or fast, intense rock music? Everyone has a style of music that motivates them to get moving and breathing hard. Many people can't stand the idea of exercising without music. So what makes the experience even better than simply working up a sweat and getting the endorphins flowing? Having the perfect set headphones that produce beautiful sound while staying securely in place with no fuss. Read on to learn our findings.

See our Buying Advice to learn more about the factors we think are important when selecting a set of headphones for active use.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Lauren Jimison

Top Ranked Sport Headphones Displaying 1 - 5 of 10 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Bose SIE2
Bose SIE2
Read the Review
Klipsch X7i
Klipsch X7i
Read the Review
YurBuds Inspire Duro
YurBuds Inspire Duro
Read the Review
Monster iSport Intensity
Monster iSport Intensity
Read the Review
Sennheiser CX 685
Sennheiser CX 685
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Top Pick Award   
Street Price $120$199.99Varies $22 - $40
Compare at 2 sellers
$100$32
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Excellent sound quality, tangle-free swivel cord, extremely comfortable, stays in ears, sweat and water resistant.Ceramic oval eartips, high quality sound.Comfortable lock-in fit, durable, great sound, cloth cord, sweat and waterproof.Durable, tangle-free cord, sweat-proof and washable, high-frequency sound quality, convenient controller and inline mic.Superior sound quality, sweat/water resistant, multiple size ear pieces, included cleaning tool, stays in ears.
Cons Armband too big.Completely noise isolating.Cord makes noise.Uncomfortable, lacking in bass, controller hard to activate during use.Uncomfortable after 30 minutes, noise-isolating.
Best Uses Running, cycling, indoors or outdoors workouts, hiking.Exercising indoors, working in busy environments, airplane travel, hands-free phone calls.Running, hiking, walking, gym, office, outdoors.Short activities, gym workouts, outdoor activities.Any indoor or outdoor athletic activity.
Date Reviewed Feb 18, 2014Feb 17, 2014Feb 18, 2014Feb 18, 2014Feb 18, 2014
Weighted Scores Bose SIE2 Klipsch X7i YurBuds Inspire Duro Monster iSport Intensity Sennheiser CX 685
Sound Quality - 35%
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Ear Comfort - 35%
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Features - 15%
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Durability - 15%
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Product Specs Bose SIE2 Klipsch X7i YurBuds Inspire Duro Monster iSport Intensity Sennheiser CX 685
Weight 16.0 grams 18.2 grams 13.5 grams 22.5 grams 13.5 grams
Style in-ear in-ear in-ear, lock fit in-ear in-ear, slide to fit
Frequency Response (info not published) 10Hz - 19kHz +/- 3dB 15.4mm speaker, 20-25Hz response extended frequency 18-20 Hz
Cord Details shortened swivel cable with extension flat cord cloth cord flat cord wire cable
Noise-Isolating? allows ambient noise noise-isolations allows ambient noise semi noise-isolating noise-isolating
Sweat-proof or waterproof? Sweat and weather resistant No sweat and water resistant sweat/waterproof sweat and water resistant
Mic? no mic, has option mic and controller no mic mic and controller no mic
Carrying Case? no yes yes yes yes
Accessories 3 pairs ear tips, armband 5 pairs eartips, shirt clip, plug adapter 2 pairs ear tips, shirt clip 3 pairs ear tips, shirt clip 3 pairs ear tips, cleaning tool

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Bose SIE2
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ME Electronics Sport-Fi M6
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Klipsch X7i
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Monster iSport Intensity
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YurBuds Inspire Duro
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Sennheiser CX 685
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Skullcandy Chops In-Ear Buds
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ME Electronics Sport-Fi S6P
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Sony MDR-AS200
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Beats by Dre PowerBeats
$150
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Selecting the Right Product
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All sport headphones in our test group: (L to R) Sony MDR-AS200, Monster iSport Intensity, Sennheiser CX 685, YurBuds Inspire Duro, Bose SIE2, ME Electronics Sport-Fi M6 and S6P, Beats by Dre Powerbeats, Skullcandy Chops In-Ear Bud.
Credit: McKenzie Long
Sport headphones are designed to meet the specific needs of an athlete. In regular headphones, people look for crisp sound with deep bass, complete noise isolation, and comfort. But models designed for athletic use have even more requirements, the most important being that they securely stay in place during vigorous activity and they remain comfortable for a long period of time while being small and unobtrusive. They need to be sweat and water resistant and they should also let in ambient noise so the runner or biker can hear cars on roads or others coming up behind them on multi-use trails. This is a safety feature that many athletes find necessary.

Another feature that is typically reconsidered is the cord. Sometimes a shorter cord provides less hassle or chance of it getting tangled and in the way during exercise. These styles usually also come with an extension cord. The addition of a swivel can prevent tangles, or sometimes the shape and material are altered to prevent tangling, like on flat cords or cloth cords.

Types of Sport Headphones
We discuss types of headphones in further detail in our Buying Advice, but here are some of the big picture categories and features to consider when selecting a pair of head phones for athletic use:

Noise-Isolating, Semi Noise-Isolating, or Ambient Noise Allowed:
Most models make a point of allowing for ambient noise to be heard, but there are a few products that are completely noise-isolating. This affects sound quality and how well you can hear what is going on around you. Noise-isolating are best for a loud, busy gym, while semi-noise isolating models are the safest for outdoor athletes.

The only complete noise-isolating models we tested were both versions from ME Electronics, the Klipsch X7i, and the Sennheiser CX 685. All the rest allow ambient noise to be heard to varying degrees.

In-Ear or Ear Hanger:
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There are two primary styles of athletic headphone fit: in-ear or ear hanger. Ear hanger models have a stiff part that wraps around the outside of the ear to stabilize and secure the pieces into the ear. Sometimes the hard plastic of this style can be uncomfortable over long periods of time. In-ear styles vary wildy in design, but usually involve ergonomically shaped soft silicone ear pieces that fit inside the ear and lock in for a stable fit.
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Most come with several different sized ear pieces so that the user can customize them to get the most comfortable and secure fit.

Tangle-Free or Tangle-Resistant Cords:
Cables, memory wires, swivels, flattened, shortened, or cloth covered cords are all different methods used to prevent cord tangles. In our experience, the shortened cords and flat cords are the best at resisting frustrating tangles.
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The most unique cords from this review: (L to R) the flat cord of the Monster iSport Intensity, the cloth cord of the YurBuds Inspire Duro, and the shortened cord of the Bose SIE2.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Inline Microphone and Controller or None:
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Do you typically record your workouts on an app like Strava, Fitocracy, or Runkeeper? Do you listen to podcasts and internet radio while you run, walk, or ride? Are you always exercising with your smart phone close by? If so, you may like the added benefit of being able to answer an incoming call with a click of a button on your cord, eliminating the need to dig it out of your pocket. Models with inline mics also have controllers that can change the volume, skip, pause, and play music on your device. Some testers found this feature annoying because some of the remotes on our testers could be triggered by the jostling motion of running, but other people find inline mics and remotes to be mandatory on their headphones.

The versions with microphones that we tested are the Monster iSport Intensity, ME Electronics Sport-Fi S6P, Skullcandy Chops In-Ear Buds, Klipsch X7i, and the Beats by Dre Powerbeats.

Criteria for Evaluation

Sound Quality
Sound quality is crucial: no one wants their workout accompanied by tinny, unbalanced music. We found that often the companies regarded as heavy hitters in the electronics industry also make sport headphones with the highest quality sound. Our top scorer was far and away the Klipsch X7i with a multi-layered and clear sound. The runners up were the Sennheiser CX 685 and the YurBuds Inspire Duro. Both of these carry deep, reverberating bass and crisp high tones. Out of these sound quality winners, only the Yurbuds let in ambient noise. The Beats by Dre Powerbeats are unique in that each ear piece has two speakers, theoretically allowing for high definition sound, but we found it to sound muddy and flat.

Keep in mind that if you spend a lot of your exercise time on busy roads or crowded trails, you will most likely want an option that allows ambient noise for your own safety. It's important to to hear cars coming up behind your road bike a little too fast or a mountain biker mobbing down the trail towards you when you're on a leisurely trail run. If you only work out in gyms, you may prefer the completely noise-isolating models.

Ear Comfort
Ear comfort and a secure fit are the main factors that distinguish sport models from other ear buds, and we think this is one of the most important considerations. Models with soft ear pieces or tips are usually more comfortable than ones that use hard plastic pieces. Hard parts push agains the flexible tissue of the outer ear and make them achy after time.

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Bose SIE2, one of the most comfortable headphones we tested.
Credit: McKenzie Long

The Bose SIE2 have soft ear tips that fit with a feature that actually hooks into your ear, making them secure and by far the most comfortable for a long period of time. They almost disappear inside your ears. The Yurbuds Inspire Duro, with their unique twistlock fit and silicone ear pieces, also score high for ear comfort and stability. Out of the models with ear hangers, the most comfortable are the Skullcandy Chops In-Ear Buds. They have the same kind of soft and comfortable ear tips a well as soft, adjustable ear hangers to secure them on the outside and prevent them from falling out.

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The Skullcandy Chops In-Ear Buds have soft ear pieces coupled with ear hangers. They are comfortable and stay in your ears well.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Both the Sony MDR-AS200 and Powerbeats by Dr. Dre scored low for comfort. The main reason? Hard plastic on the ear hangers. While ear hangers can help keep the headphones on one's ears, if the ear hangers are made of hard plastic, they become very uncomfortable after hours of use. The Sennheiser CX 685 actually have hard plastic that slides into your ears, which we also found very uncomfortable after time, though they are stable. The ME Electronics M6 and S6P, with adjustable memory wire ear hangers, scored right in the middle. They are not the most comfortable, but they can definitely still be worn for many hours and they stay in place in the ear.

Features & Accessories
Sport headphones can come with a long list of features to make life easier for the active individual. Often they come with included accessories such as armbands, carrying cases, shirt clips, different sized ear pieces, extension cables and, in the case of the Sennhiser CX 685, even a cleaning tool. When it comes to having the most features, the ME Electronics Sport-Fi S6P scores really high. They come with six different sets of ear pieces, an armband, an inline mic and controller, two shirt clips, and a hard case for carrying.

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The ME Electronics Sport-Fi SP6 comes with tons of accessories: a hard carrying case, six sets of different sized earpieces, a Reebok armband, an extension cord, shirt clip, and headphones with an inline mic.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Other features found specifically on sport headphones are tangle-resistant cords and water resistance or waterproofness. The only pairs we reviewed that did not offer some type of sweat and weather resistance are the Skullcany Chops and the Klipsch X7i. Some like the Monster iSport Intensity advertise that they are washable and have UV protection, making them ideal for extended outdoor use. In addition, the Intensity offers remote and hands-free phone answering through Apple ControlTalk. The cord on the Intensity is flat, a shape prevents it from tangling during exercise. The Klipsch X7i also has this same cord design.

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The YurBuds Inspire Duro with replacement ear pieces, a shirt clip, and a cloth cord.
Credit: Lauren Jimison

Other unique cord configurations are the cloth cord on the YurBuds Inspire Duro, which doesn't do much to prevent tangles and is also loud when moving, and the shortened swivel cord on the Bose SIE2. The Bose SIE2 has one of the best feature combinations of any of the models we tested, though they do not have a mic and controller. (But the SIE2i version does!) They come with different sized, replaceable ear pieces, an armband with a slot for a key, a shirt clip, and an extension cable in case you find you need a longer cord.

The most basic and least featured set is also the least expensive: the Sony MDR-AS200. If you are looking for a budget pair and value simplicity over flair, try these.

Durability
Weatherproof models are usually more durable since they can withstand a wider varitety of conditions and a full sweat-drenching from those mid-summer workouts. Most of the competitors scored close to one another on durability since almost all have some type of water resistance. We also found that higher quality speakers or sound quality means they are more likely to last a long time. The lowest score goes to the Sony MDR-AS200, which lacks quality construction. The weakest part of many headphones is the mic and controller, which is usually the first thing to break, and we already had some issues with the Powerbeats by Dre controller. The only set that we actually broke during our tests was the Bose SIE2 we snapped off the little plastic piece that holds the silicone ear tip in place. This was admittedly user carelessness and not necessarily the fault of the product design. (Having a carrying case would have prevented this and the SIE2 is one of only two sets that did not come with a case.) To Bose's credit, they replaced the broken pair with little hassle since they had been owned less than a year.

Editor's Choice award: Bose SIE2
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The Editor's Choice winning Bose SIE2 sport headphones have the most comfortable in-ear fit of any of the ear pieces we tested, and they stay securely in place for hours.
Credit: Lauren Jimison
The Bose SIE2 easily win the Editors' Choice award for high scores in most all categories. They have have outstandingly comfortable soft ear pieces, stay securely in your ears, and are sweat and water resistant. They come with added convenience features such as a short cord with a tangle-preventing swivel plus an extension cord, different sized ear pieces, and a Reebok armband to hold your iPod and keys. While these are a bit more expensive than their competitors, they are worth it if you value comfort and don't like ear pieces that fall out during rowdy movement. Athletes love these because they let in a small amount of ambient noise for safety when running on roads or single-track trails. The only downside to the SIE2 is that they don't offer the best sound quality available. The sound is flatter and less dynamic than in other models we tested. However, the rest of the features add up to a sport headphone that you won't even notice that you're wearing, and, you won't ever want to take out.

Top Pick award for Best Sound Quality: Klipsch X7i
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The earpieces of the Klipsch X7i are ceramic, which glides smoothly into your ear. This makes them durable and makes them seem more luxurious than the others in this review.
Credit: McKenzie Long
If having a true surround-sound experience while working out is more important than being able to hear approaching cars or needing a waterproof pair, then this is the set of ear phones for you. The Klipsch X7i blow the rest of the field away with their sound quality. With a crisp, complex sound that blocks all outside noise, these luxury headphones are for the true music lovers. Ceramic, oval earpieces sit comfortably and securely in the ears, and the flat cord resists tangles with elegance. These are the most expensive pair we reviewed, but for the geeky audiophile, the price is justifiable for the sound quality. While these were the most expensive models tested, in some ways they are a budget version of the Bose QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling headphones. Because they fit so snugly in ear, even when you are not listening to music, they are probably about 70-80% as effective as the $300 Bose headphones. They are also much more compact and have a microphone. We use them on airplanes without music to block out the cabin noise.

Top Pick award for Model with a Microphone: Monster iSport Intensity
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The Monster iSport Intensity earpieces, which comes with three different sized soft earpieces to allow for the most comfortable fit.
Credit: McKenzie Long
The Monster iSport Intensity takes our Top Pick award for being an outstanding option for techy athletes that love recording workouts and activities with smart phone apps such as Strava and want to control their device with their headphones. The Intensity allows for ambient noise to filter in around the music as a safety feature, and comes with ear pieces in multiple sizes that do not fall out of your ears, even with the repetitive jostling motions from running or snowboarding. In addition to these all important features, the Intensity includes an inline mic and controller so you can crank up the volume on your sending tunes or answer the important call you have been waiting on all day without taking your phone out of your pocket. These hold up to any type of weather, they come waterproof and with UV protection so the sassy color won't fade. If you want ear buds that can do it all, these are our recommendation.

Best Buy award: ME Electronics Sport-Fi M6
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The ear hanger on the ME electronics headphones is more comfortable than any of the other ear hangers we tried. The memory wire bends well to fit around different sized ears.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
At $29.99, the Me Electronics Sport-Fi M6 are one of the least expensive options, and they still earned decently high scores. They have moldable ear hangers to keep them in place during motion, and they have useful features, such as decent sound quality and different sized and shaped ear pieces for the perfect fit. And, these are compatible with pretty much any device. These are noise-isolating, so they block outside sound completely, making them perfect for use in noisy gyms or busy coffee shops, but we suggest exercising caution on busy trails and roads. At an affordable price, these deserve the award for the Best Buy.

McKenzie Long and Lauren Jimison
Buying Advice
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How to Choose Sport Headphones - Click for details
 How to Choose Sport Headphones

by McKenzie Long and Lauren Jimison
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