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The fitness fanatic's guide to earbuds: Everything you should consider before you shop

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal | March 19, 2015
Headphones can make or break a workout. Music is a fantastic motivator, and being able to hear your music (while also being able to hear what's going on around you) is incredibly important. And there's nothing more annoying than having your earbuds fall out during an intense cardio session, when all you needed was that little extra kick from Taylor Swift (or whoever you work out to).

If you're a lifter or a gym rat, wireless headphones are convenient because they won't get caught on equipment. With Bluetooth radios offering range of about 30 feet, you can leave your phone in your bag instead of carrying it around with you.

What's new in fitness earbuds

Fitness-specific headphones have been around for a few years now, which means companies have had time to perfect the style and functionality. The two newest innovations you'll see in the latest crop of fitness headphones are wireless connectivity and audio/fitness-tracker hybrids.

Most wireless headphones claim battery life of 12 to 20 hours (Plantronics' BackBeat Pro reportedly lasts for 24 hours of continuous use), in reality, many deliver less than half that much. Yurbuds' Leap wireless earbuds get about six hours of battery life, while Monster's iSport Super Slim wireless earbuds get just under five hours. It's just too difficult to fit a large battery in such a small and lightweight form factor.

On the other hand, you probably don't need all day battery life in earbuds you'll use to work out with, because it's unlikely you'll be working out for that long anyway. As long as you charge the battery when you're not using them, you should be golden.

Freedom from wires while you're working with weights is a big deal. I can't tell you how many times I've had my headphone cable get caught on a bar as I moved, pulling my smartphone out of my pocket, and dropping it on the floor. You should be aware, however, that "wireless" isn't the same thing as "wire free." Wireless earbuds still have a wire connecting the two pieces, and that wire goes around the back of your neck.

The first pair of truly wire-free earbuds, HearNotes, debuted at CES 2015 and will be available this year. Unlike most wireless headphones, HearNotes uses Kleer technology instead of Bluetooth, and will reportedly boast 12 to 20 hours of battery life.

If you'd like to limit the number of high-tech gadgets adorning your body during your workouts, you might consider earbuds that include some of the features of a fitness tracker. SMS Audio's BioSport earbuds have a built-in heart rate monitor that monitors your heart rate by way of your ear. While not yet on the market, the Bragi Dash wireless earbuds will perform as a smart pedometer and performance tracker in addition to playing your favorite tunes.

Which ones should you buy?

Unfortunately, I can't name any particular pair of fitness earbuds as the "best." I can tell you which of these four sets delivered great and fit my anatomy particularly well, but the best product for you will depend on what you consider comfortable and the types of workouts you engage in.

But I will say this: If you find a pair of wireless earbuds that are reasonably comfortable and don't fall out of your ears, there is nothing more freeing than working out without wires.


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