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CNET: Best workout headphones in 2021: Apple, Bose, Pixel Buds and more compared

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Published in Science & Technology News

After trying out plenty of wireless sports headphones and earbuds over the years, we've found that some models are better suited for workouts than others. The best workout headphones or earbuds should be wireless — and ideally, true-wireless earbuds — so there's no cable to restrict your movement in any way.

More importantly, they should give you a secure and comfortable fit, whether they're over-ear headphones with a plush earcup or in-ear earbuds. Needless to say, losing an earbud during a run or bike ride is a serious bummer. Decent sound quality is also essential, as are durability, reliable performance (with minimal dropouts), battery life and noise cancellation (as well as hear-through or transparency modes). And lastly, they need to be sweat-resistant, if not fully waterproof, for obvious reasons.

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Good sound, secure fit

Bose Sport Earbuds

CNET TAKE: Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating: splash-proof)

Both Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds and Sport Earbuds make good workout headphones, thanks to their StayHear Max tips and secure fit, but the Sport Earbuds are more compact and lighter and also more affordable (the QuietComfort Earbuds do have excellent active noise-canceling, however).

They have the same IPX4 splash-resistant rating as the QuietComfort Earbuds, are equipped with Bluetooth 5.1 (our connection was rock-solid) and share a similar design aesthetic, with three color options available. Unlike their step-up sibling, they have no active noise-canceling and an hour less of battery life — five hours instead of six — and they don't have wireless charging. While they do stick out from your ears, they're noticeably smaller and lighter than the QuietComfort Earbuds and their case is about 30% to 40% smaller. The case still isn't as small as the cases for such competitors as the AirPods Pro, Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, Galaxy Buds Live and Jabra Elite 75t, but it feels reasonably compact.

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Lightweight, noise-canceling

Apple AirPods Pro

 

CNET TAKE: Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating: splash-proof)

While they're not advertised as sports earbuds, the AirPods Pro are very good true-wireless headphones for running. That's largely due to their winning lightweight design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise cancellation and excellent call quality. While I can't run with the standard AirPods because they don't fit my ears securely, I had no trouble running with the AirPods Pro, which have a noise-isolating design with a silicone tip that sits snugly in your ear. That said, I got an even more secure fit by using a pair of Comply foam ear tips ($25).

For runners, it's worth noting that there's a transparency mode that allows sound to leak in. You'll still have to lower the volume of your music to hear the sound of traffic noise. The AirPods Pro are also officially rated sweat-resistant.

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Good for Android users

Google Pixel Buds A-Series

CNET TAKE: Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating: splash-proof)

Google's Pixel Buds A-Series are kind of unusual, in that they're new but not exactly an upgrade. They look and sound very similar to last year's Pixel Buds 2, which debuted at $179 but are now selling for less. However, instead of getting new features — like active noise-canceling — they've actually lost a few. Why? The "A" stands for affordability: They only cost $100. That new lower price is the real story here, making these a bona fide true-wireless value, particularly for Android users. And the integrated stabilizer arcs (aka sport fins) help keep the buds securely in your ears during sporting activities.

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The following CNET staff contributed to this story: Executive Editor David Carnoy and Copy Editor Jim Hoffman. For more reviews of personal technology products, please visit www.cnet.com.

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