When it comes to buying the perfect pair of Bluetooth headphones for running, things just got a lot smarter. The latest models can check heart rate from the ear and monitor a host of other fitness metrics, making them powerful training tools.
The focus has very much been on wrist-based heart rate monitors, such as the Garmin Forerunner 35, Fitbit Charge 2, and, of course, Apple Watch Series 2.
However, our testing of the latest biometric headphones has shown them to be incredibly accurate. The thin skin in the ear makes readings easier to take, and we’ve found headphones can be more responsive to changes in heart rate than wrist-based counterparts.
It’s not all plain-sailing. You’ll pretty much need to use a phone to track your workout if you opt for headphones, which is great for music listening, but less comfortable if you need to strap a phablet to your arm. And obviously watches are much more adept at displaying your heart rate in real time, making them more useful, if less accurate, for training.
Whether you’re training for a marathon or just picking up the running shoes for the first time, here’s our pick of the best smart Bluetooth headphones for running.
Wareable’s top pick – Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition
The Jabra Sport Pulse are great all-round sports headphones that track your activity as well as supplying your ears with block rocking beats. The solid sound and range of data that’s collected is impressive, although they’re likely to be used as well as a dedicated sports watch, rather than as an alternative.
We found the response of the optical heart rate tech to be spot on, even matching a chest strap for accuracy. The app is also brilliant, with guided workouts and a focus on VO2 Max, as well as standard running and fitness metrics. It’s not perfect however, as you’ll have to reconcile running with your smartphone.
$159.99, jabra.com | Amazon
Best for running without wires – Jabra Sport Elite
If you prefer the features mentioned above crammed inside a pair of wireless buds, then the Elite are a good fit. You’ll get the same great sound quality, secure fit and access to Jabra’s great companion app. While the Bragi Dash opts for touch sensitive controls, we much prefer the physical buttons to control music playback when you’re getting sweaty.
While we did have a few issues with the optical heart monitor, it’s still an all round great pair of sporty in-ears. There’s even automatic rep counting, which comes in handy when you’re giving the running shoes a rest and heading to the gym instead.
$249.99, jabra.com | Amazon
Best for sound – Bose SoundSport Pulse
Bose’s first optical heart rate headphones play nicely with RunKeeper and Endomondo, although the company is vague on other fitness apps. Designed for a tight fit to reduce that irritating feeling of wireless headphones falling out, Bose has also released its own Bose Connect app, which will show heart rate data in real time. While we can’t vouch for accuracy, sound quality is assured and it’s great to see a big player like Bose getting into the game.
$199.99, bose.com | Amazon
Best for multi-sport tracking – Bragi Dash headphones
Bragi Dash headphones are a pair of super-connected buds that can track your pace, heart rate and distance right from your ears. On the music front there’s even 4GB of storage for tunes, which means you can leave your running watch and smartphone at home. Dash is waterproof up to a metre and will track running, cycling and swimming, making them a good fit for budding triathletes.
$249.99, bragi.com | Amazon
Best for Samsung users – Samsung Gear Icon X
More day-to-day headphones than a pure sports offering, Samsung’s Icon X boast 4GB for your running beats and a charging case to keep them powered up when you’re about and about.
When it comes to sports the IconX has a built-in accelerometer plus optical HR to track movement, bpm and distance travelled, spitting out a calorie burn at the end of the workout. Obviously it works with Samsung’s S Health app but also Endomondo, MapMyRun, Runkeeper and Strava, too. The big downside, however, is the complex set up process with the Android companion app – and the lack of iOS support.
$169.99, samsung.com | Amazon
Best for leaving your phone at home – Sony Smart B-Trainer
The Smart B-Trainer packs GPS, an accelerometer and heart rate monitoring in the right earpiece. There’s also audio fitness coaching and it suggests what music tracks to play to match your heart rate. They’re also fully waterproof but there’s no specific pool based workouts. There’s 16GB of storage for your music and the compatible runs on iPhone and Android.
$199.99, smartsports.sony.net |Amazon
Best for budget – SMS Audio BioSport
Developed in an unlikely partnership between PC chip-making behemoth Intel and rapper 50cent, the SMS Audio Biosport headphones track your heart rate, sync with running app Runkeeper and are completely waterproof. The most incredible part, however, is that they can harvest energy from the sound jack itself, so you don’t have to charge them to keep tabs on your ticker. Downside, slightly uncomfortable for some and limited compatible apps. They’re going crazy cheap right now, however.
$19.99, intel.com | Amazon
Best for cutting edge tech – Vi fitness coach
Vi’s headphones – made by LifeBEAM – feature bpm and heart rate variability sensors and capture data on motion, elevation for serious sports stats. The idea is to deliver actionable insights on weight loss optimisation, injury prevention, running technique and provide adaptive training plans live to your ears. It’s fully backed on Kickstarter, but won’t deliver until early 2017.