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Choosing the right sports headphones

source: [CNET]

Music can be a huge motivation when you’re out trying to beat a personal record, whether it’s working out at the gym or breaking a sweat outdoors. A fast-paced song about beating the odds–Kanye West’s Stronger, for instance–can make all the difference. However, the problem with sweat and vigorous exercise is that regular headphones may not stay put 

Yes, it is possible to go for a run with a large pair of over-the-ear headphones on your noggin, but the weight and bulk of these types of cans will reduce your performance and possibly annoy you to no end. Lighter in-ear varieties are the preferred choice here, with sound quality taking a bit of a backseat, too. Although some audiophiles may scoff at this, we assure you that when you’re pounding the pavement or panting, you’ll barely notice the lack of detail or a recessed midrange.

So what are “sports” headphones really?

In our earlier guides, we covered the two major headphone categories, in-ears and over-the-ears, both providing their fair share of benefits. Sports headphones–sometimes marketed as rugged headphones–tend to be more hardy versions of in-ear headphones, typically featuring some water resistance (so they don’t break when you sweat), a more rugged build, durable cords and some sort of attachment to ensure they stay on your head or in your ears. Some headphones that are good for exercising with may not even be called “sports” headphones at all. These can be designed to lock firmly in your ear, around the earlobes or behind the neck, but may not be water resistant.

Types of sports headphones

Headphones with ear hooks

If you’re on a budget, earbud-type headphones with ear hooks can be quite affordable. These are no different from those stock earbuds you get with most smartphones and MP3 players, but come with a curved plastic or rubber attachment that hooks around your ear. There are also some in-ear-monitors (IEMs) out there that come with ear hooks to help them stay firmly in place in your ears.

Pros: Stays firmly in your ears; many affordable models out there; provides adequate sound quality; generally comfortable.

Cons: Ear hooks tend to be inflexible and can provide a poor fit; tends to come in one size which are only good for average ear sizes.

Best suited for: Those who want the most secure fit.

Headphones with in-ear attachments

Similar to headphones with ear hooks, earbuds with in-ear attachments made of rubber or silicone are another popular choice for those on a budget. Available in a variety of designs, these earbuds and IEMs are the most minimal sports headphones around, and typically cost about the same as their ear hook counterparts, or just a little cheaper. The benefit with these headphones is that they only make contact with the insides of your ears and can be positioned freely for better sound quality. There are generally two types of ear attachments available: Silicone earbud sleeves and fins. The former, used mainly in earbuds, provides additional grip to your inner ear, while the latter is meant to “lock” in place within your earlobe.

Pros: Provides a firm fit with minimal skin contact; can be positioned freely for better sound; most models are affordable.

Cons: Less secure than ear hook varieties; attachments can sometimes be dislodged when removing headphones.

Best suited for: Those who prefer headphones with the least skin contact; fussier listeners who prefer more precise adjustment of their earbuds.

Neckband style in-ear headphones

The final category of headphones to consider would be those with a neckband. While there are on-ear headphones with neckbands (popularized by Sony as “street style” headphones), the ones we’re referring to are those made for sports. These headphones provide the same snug fit your get with ear hook headphones, with the added convenience of a one piece design that’s easier to wear. These headphones tend to have just a single cord leading out from one side of the neck band which reduces the chances of snagging them somewhere. They also tend to use the flexibility of the neckband to hold the earbuds firmly in place.

Pros: Provides a firmer fit than ear-attachment models; single cord and elastic neckband can be more durable in the long run.

Cons: Comfort will depend on how well the neckband fits you; like ear hook varieties, the fixed position of earbuds may not appeal to fussier listeners; you may need to wear your music player on the same side as the cord.

Best suited for: Those looking for more durability and an easy-to-wear design.

Of course, those three types of headphones aren’t your only choices. There are some other types of headphones that may be suitable for you that aren’t quite made for sports. Some alternatives include regular balanced armature IEMs, regular stock earbuds, bone-conduction headphones and even Bluetooth headsets (which we’ll be covering next week).

Some useful tips

  • Make sure you can hear your surroundings: We really can’t stress this enough. If you’re exercising outdoors, choose regular earbuds and play them at a reasonable volume to hear what’s going on around you.
  • Water resistant headphones are recommended: While many “sports” headphones are designed to not fall off your ears, not all of them are water resistant. Look out for earbuds or IEMs that are at least sweat resistant or even washable.
  • Headset versions are available: There are many popular sports headphones that come with built in microphones and remotes for smartphones. They usually cost just a bit more.
  • Clean them regularly: If you want them to last longer. Sweat can and will get into the speaker drivers so you’ll need to air them in a dry environment after every workout. If you have waterproof models, be sure to wash them every once in a while to keep them sanitized.

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