We've tested the best cheap running headphones for exercise on a budget

Best cheap running headphones quick menu

The best cheap running headphones are the perfect way to soundtrack your runs without breaking the bank. These affordable earbuds are long-lasting, can withstand sweat and light rain, and help you stay aware of your surroundings. 

But if you're working on a budget, you want to be sure that the pair you choose is actually worth your money, which is why we put these low cost running headphones to the test to see how they actually fare when out on a run. 

Our top choice are the JLab Go Air Pop, as they're excellent value, sound good, and stay in place during exercise. But they're not your only option, as we've also picked out our favorite cheap running headphones across a range of styles and designs. 

The quick list

The best cheap running headphones you can buy right now

Why you can trust Tom's Guide Our writers and editors spend hours analyzing and reviewing products, services, and apps to help find what's best for you. Find out more about how we test, analyze, and rate.

Best cheap running headphones overall

The JLab Go Air Pop held in hand

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)
The best cheap running headphones overall

Specifications

Battery life: 8 hours, 32 hours with case
Weight: 0.1 ounces (per bud)
Water resistance: IPX4

Reasons to buy

+
Decent sound quality
+
Good battery life
+
Compact, sleek, and durable design

Reasons to avoid

-
Weak call quality

If you want the best cheap running headphones, more importantly, a pair that comes in true wireless form, seek out the JLab Go Air Pop. Our favorite pair can be had for just $20 and has strong audio, steady battery life, and durable design, which is IPX4-certified for sweat and water resistance.

The lightweight, compact form of these buds allows them to rest pleasantly on the ears during long workouts. We've worn them for a full marathon and the fit was secure throughout. Music is well handled, and JLab’s three well-engineered EQs (JLab Signature, Balanced, and Bass Boost) present a decent sound.

Battery life is just as impressive with 8 hours of listening time, plus you receive a tiny charging case that has an integrated USB cable for charging on the go. Obviously, a price this low presents compromises, which, in the Go Air Pop’s case, are weak call quality and no extra features. 

Best cheap open running headphones

1MORE Fit SE S30 Headphones

(Image credit: Future)

2. 1MORE Fit SE S30 Open Headphones

Best cheap open running headphones

Specifications

Battery life: 10 hours, 30 hours with case
Weight: 0.35 ounces (per bud)
Water resistance: IPX5

Reasons to buy

+
Open design for awareness
+
Good sound quality
+
Secure fit

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as comfortable as others
-
Unreliable controls

Open headphones are becoming more and more popular with runners because they offer greater awareness of what's around you, which is helpful when running in busy environments. The 1MORE Fit SE S30 headphones are best value open headphones we've tested, offering great sound quality and a secure fit thanks to the earhook design.

They're a bargain at their $70 MRSP, but are also regular in sales for less than that and can usually be found for under $50. That's a lot cheaper than most open headphones, which are usually well over $100, and the 1MORE Fit SE S30 mostly match the performance of those pricier buds.

As with all open headphones you don't get any passive noise cancellation and the sound quality is not quite as good as with in-ear buds, but we found the 1MORE headphones still packed enough of a punch to motivate us during workouts, and their long battery life is another plus point.

Best for cheap running headphones for calls

Skullcandy Dime 3 in charging case

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
Best for cheap running headphones for calls

Specifications

Battery life: 8 hours, 20 hours with charging
Weight: 0.14 ounces (per bud)
Water resistance: IPX4

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive sound with well-engineered EQs
+
Durable design
+
Multipoint connectivity
+
Effective transparency and call quality

Reasons to avoid

-
No wear detection
-
No companion app support

While the Skullcandy Dime 3 aren't aimed specifically at active lifestyle users, we found that they offered acceptable awareness mode and strong call quality for taking calls while on the move.

The buds secure and comfortable to wear, too. The small-stem design doesn’t stick out awkwardly and durability is rated at IPX4, so they'll survive some splashes and a bit of sweat, making them the ideal companion for summer runs or indoor sessions. 

Sound quality was strong while listening to these buds, and they come with three built-in EQs, and boom-filled bangers handle monstrous lows like a pro. The buds lasted around 7.5 hours in our tests, and a 10-minute quick charge gives up to 2 hours of playback. 

Not everything hits the mark though. There’s no way to assign and personalize the controls, and we're also surprised by the absence of wear detection to auto-pause content when removing the buds. The charging case is nicely compact though and small enough to be a neat key-fob addition.

Best cheap running headphones for fit

The JLab Go Air Sport wireless earbuds being held above a pool

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)
Best cheap running headphones for fit

Specifications

Battery life: 8 hours, 32 hours with case
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud)
Water resistance: IP55

Reasons to buy

+
Punchy sound
+
Sturdy and secure
+
Great battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Finicky controls
-
Poor-sounding highs
-
Inconvenient charging system

The JLab Go Air Sport earbuds are a little more expensive than the Go Air Pop buds, but still great value and they have an earhook design that creates a more secure fit for running. If you find in-ear buds often squirm loose during sweaty workouts, them it'll be worth the upgrade to the Go Air Sport.

The bass-forward sound profile will stimulate energy levels, plus the long battery life make these buds an ideal pitch for exercise enthusiasts who want acceptable performance on a budget. 

The $30 MSRP means you’ll have to deal with compromises including dull-sounding highs, tricky controls, and awkward charging system. But the Go Air Sport accomplish what they need to for the price: a secure fit, long playtimes and reasonably good sound.

How to choose the best cheap running headphones

Although none of these cheap running headphones will break the bank, it's still worth thinking about the features you value the most before opening your wallet. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind. 

Water resistance

Even if you don't plan on being caught in the rain, there's always a chance of a downpour when you're training. Plus, if you exercise in summer or hot environments, then you'll need a set that's sweat-proof. 

Noise cancellation

Many sets of headphones now come with active noise cancellation (ANC), where microphones pick up the sounds around you and block them before they reach your ears. However, some cheap sets keep the price down by excluding ANC, or offering passive noise cancellation instead (where the in-ear design muffles noise). 

Battery life

If you're into short distance runs, then you'll want a set that comes with a charging case, so you don't have to remember to charge the buds that often. However, battery life is a bigger concern if you run longer distances, or are training for a marathon. 

Comfort

When you're exercising, you want to focus on your running, not fiddle with annoying or uncomfortable earbuds. Ideally, what you're after is a set that you can pop in and forget about. But if you plan to wear them for long periods, make comfort a priority. 

How we test the best cheap running headphones

We test the best cheap running headphones by listening to a wide range of music genres — including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, and electronic — and will use them for at least one 2-hour session over the course of a week. This lets us both give a fair appraisal of how they sound, and how comfortable they are when worn for long periods.

All the models in this buying guide have good sound, but the best cheap running headphones do a whole lot more than simply play music to help you push yourself through a tough run. If you're after more top-end performance, it's worth considering a pair of the best running headphones instead. 

In determining the best cheap running headphones and earbuds, we consider fit, battery life, sound quality, design, and value (are they worth the price?). We also factor in features like how well the controls work and how easily the earbuds pair with phones. 

Of course, we also take them running, to see how well they stay in our ears when moving. This gives us a chance to test their sweat resistance, as well as any other fitness-related features they may have. On special occasions, we’ll perform further testing when comparing top-rated and popular models for our face-off features. 

Nick Harris-fry
Senior Writer

Nick Harris-fry is an experienced health and fitness journalist, writing professionally since 2012. He spent nine years working on the Coach magazine and website before moving to the fitness team at Tom’s Guide in 2024. Nick is a keen runner and also the founder of YouTube channel The Run Testers, which specialises in reviewing running shoes, watches, headphones and other gear.

Nick ran his first marathon in 2016 after six weeks of training for a magazine feature and subsequently became obsessed with the sport. He now has PBs of 2hr 27min for the marathon and 15min 30sec for 5K, and has run 13 marathons in total, as well as a 50-mile ultramarathon.

He runs 50-80 miles a week and races regularly with his club, which gives him a lot of opportunity to test out running gear: he has tested and reviewed hundreds of pairs of running shoes, as well as fitness trackers, running watches, sports headphones, treadmills, and all manner of other kit. Nick is also a qualified Run Leader in the UK.

With contributions from