The best cheap running headphones are usually the ones that offer a great fitness experience at an unbeatable price. Affordable Bluetooth options abound, and wired earbuds are still available if you still own a smartphone that has a headphone jack (we don't discriminate at Tom’s Guide). But which ones are actually worth more than what their markdown price suggests?
After many months of testing, we’ve discovered some awesome headphones and earbuds from a variety of manufacturers, including Jabra, Plantronics, Anker, JLAB, Sol Republic, and heritage brands like Koss. From everlasting danglers to waterproof IEMs, if you’re looking for a reliable audio workout companion at a bargain price, we advise you to start here. Let’s get you warmed up with a quick look at the best cheap running headphones.
What are the best cheap running headphones?
For every Beats Powerbeats Pro, there is a JLab JBuds Air True Wireless, superb true wireless sport buds that squeeze lots of functionality and warm sound into a tiny, sporty package. They also happen to sit atop our best cheap running headphones list. We love the fast setup process and how quick they automatically pair when enabling Bluetooth mode, and the cleverly designed charging case with an integrated USB cable, which spares you from having to carry around any extra wires.
Our runner-up is the Jaybird Tarah, great running headphones that are currently on clearance at Best Buy for $39.99. They maintain the traditional behind-the-neck design and incorporate a unique cinch system that allows for a more secure fit. Jaybird has also made the design fully sweat- and waterproof to reassure long-term protection. The headphones support the Jaybird MySound app as well for customized sound.
The Anker Soundcore Spirit Pro remains a go-to for budget runners who still prefer wired Bluetooth earbuds, thanks to their superb audio and noise isolation. A full charge gets you 10 hours of use at the gym or on the go. It doesn’t hurt that Anker wrapped the buds in water-, sweat-, and dust-resistant protection either. For standard wired running headphones, we’re fond of the Koss FitClips KSC32i, a super-affordable choice that is priced under $20 and delivers solid overall performance.
The best cheap running headphones under $50 now
If you want the best cheap running headphones, and in true wireless form, then seek out the JLAB JBuds Air. These buds promise the same reliable connectivity and sound as the AirPods and at a much lower price point. They have an Auto Connect feature that instantly re-pairs the buds to an audio source just as fast as Apple's buds do with iOS devices; the feature works exceptionally well on Android phones. It’s also great to see buds this cheap offer IP55 certification for dust- and water-resistant protection, meaning they’ll survive excessive sweat and any built-up moisture.
While there are three different EQ settings engineered to elevate sonics – Balanced, Bass Boost, and Signature – you may want to refrain from enabling them since they muffle the soundstage. The good news is that the default profile is all you’ll need, and it pumps out strong lows just as well as any premium truly wireless earbuds
The standard Tarah offers many of the same features and at an unbeatable price. You get access to the Jaybird app to personalize sound and enable sleep mode for battery preservation; the earbuds can be set to turn off after 15 or 60 minutes of inactivity. Hardcore exercisers will love the sweat- and waterproof aesthetics, which protect the internals from any water damage, along with the innovative cord management system that makes it easy to adjust the cord length before heading out on runs.
Battery life is maxed out at 6 hours, which isn’t as lengthy as other models, but good enough for a few days of use. You can also pick up the Tarah Pro if you’re willing to spend a little extra on more playtime. The lack of an ambient mode also restricts the amount of sound you can hear around you, something that many runners value when jogging outdoors, though in-door exercisers will find the Tarah does a decent job of blocking noise from entering the soundstage.
The Anker Soundcore Spirit Pro currently ranks third on our best cheap running headphones list. These Bluetooth earphones deliver solid audio, noise isolation, and an estimated 10 hours of battery life at a seriously affordable price. Thanks to their IP68 rating, the device is heavily protected from water, sweat, and dust. On-ear stability is another highlight on these earphones, as the tips create a tight and secure seal that keeps them on your ears during intense runs.
Despite the lack of EQ options, you get some solid audio to enjoy a number of music genres; the low end really shows out when listening to hip-hop and rock songs. It being an older model, you do lose out on modern features like Bluetooth 5.0 and the Soundcore app with numerous music presets. But even without these perks, the Spirit Pro hits every other mark to achieve top-notch results.
Koss' FitClips are stylish and sporty sweat-resistant wired headphones that nail the trifecta of comfort, great sound, and price. While Koss' packaging describes the FitClips as designed for women by women, these headphones fit just about everyone. Their flexible hooks can be adjusted to fit over any ears — even when the user is wearing glasses — and they come with three tip cushion sizes to make them fit more comfortably.
Where cheap headphones usually fall short in sound, the FitClips KSC32i excels, blocking out most street noise to enjoy full, rich sonics. In fact, the audio quality is way better than that from the Apple EarPods (the ones that come free with an iPhone) that many people wear when working out. The FitClips KSC32i’s only two downsides are that it doesn't come water-resistant and requires a headphone dongle to use on modern smartphones.
Even though the EarFun Free is marketed more for casual listening, the model has sporty qualities and features that allow them to double as workout buds. The buds are waterproof (IPX7), offer a secure fit, can be used in mono or stereo mode, and produce deep bass. If you’re the type who often forgets to charge their buds (or case) before tossing them in the gym bag, EarFun’s quick-charging technology has you covered, generating 2 hours of playtime on a 10-minute charge. Even better is that the pill-shaped charging case supports wireless charging and holds 30 hours total, two things that most sub-luxury models in the category barely provide.
You will want to refrain from using the controls during workouts because the buttons aren’t the most practical. Basically, they’re stiff, meaning you’ll have to press hard to execute commands, which can also jam the buds deeper into your ears and create slight discomfort.
One of the biggest problems with low-cost Bluetooth earphones is subpar sound quality. Sol Republic's Relays Sport is a solid pair of sweat-resistant buds that successfully manage audio output with two modes: Indoor and Outdoor. You can switch between the modes by pressing the middle button and the volume-up button on the inline control at the same time. There is a noticeable boost in bass when enabling Outdoor, which you should also switch to before hitting the ground running; pressing those buttons at the same time while pounding the pavement isn't exactly easy.
Outside of their audio performance, the Relays Sport offers a comfortable, super-lightweight fit with an adjustable cord for a custom experience. Battery life is on point too, generating 8 hours of playtime on a full charge and supporting a quick-charge feature to juice up the earphones quickly.
Just when you thought JLAB couldn’t get any more generous with its inexpensive audio offering, the company launched the Go Air, a tinier (and more affordable) version of our favorite cheap running earbuds. For $30, you’re getting sweatproof wireless in-ears with rich, warm sound, which can be customized by picking from three programmed EQs (Signature, Balanced, and Bass Boost) that have finally been improved. If you’re someone with little patience for pairing, then the Go Air will have you jumping with joy, as the buds support what the company calls quick auto-connect to immediately re-pair with devices; the moniker is well suited.
While the tiny charging case is practical in certain ways (the integrated USB cable is genius), it’s impractical in others. There is no top cover, so both the buds and charging mechanism are exposed to excessive moisture and other hazardous elements like dirt and dust particles. JLAB will want to consider improving the touch controls on the next version as well, especially since the ones here struggle to recognize tap gestures.
The Treblab XFit is ultra-ambitious for the price, which is part of what makes the product so appealing. For starters, the ultra-tiny design looks fresh and is so light that you won’t even feel the buds in your ears during runs. The 6mm drivers aren’t anything to rave about, but they’re good enough to produce clear sound and deep bass. However, the XFit’s best feature is the compact charging case that can be carried around effortlessly and holds 25 extra hours of playtime. We also appreciate the intelligible battery management, as the buds automatically power off when not in use to preserve battery life.
Working with such a small design presents challenges, especially for those who value comfort and ease of use. I had no issues establishing a tight, secure seal, but those with large ear canals will experience slippage often. Accessing the controls is another hassle since the flush exterior makes the buttons difficult to locate, and pressing them jams the buds into your ears for unwanted discomfort.
At the height of Monster’s popularity, the headphone manufacturer welcomed some solid additions to the wireless audio space that didn’t feature the Beats logo on it. The iSport Victory Wireless was one of them. These wireless sports earphones were built for longevity, boasting a sweat-resistant design that can even be washed, should you want to save your skin from any lingering bacteria. The neckband-style cable combined with flexible fins and tightly sealed ear tips help optimize fit as well. Audio is another strong point, primarily the low end, which is sculpted well to enjoy bass-heavy tracks.
However, the iSport Victory Wireless does have its fair share of performance drawbacks. The control module is stiff and requires pressing buttons with extra force to enable commands, while Bluetooth 4.0 limits your wireless range to about 20 feet before dropout occurs
The Jabra Sport Coach is more than just one of best cheap running headphones out there – it also doubles as a personal trainer. Thanks to the Jabra Sport Life app, these smart sports earphones send audible workout tips to your ears and help you get through a variety of demanding CrossFit activities. If that isn’t enough, they have a built-in fitness tracker to monitor your exercise stats (e.g. distance, pace, steps).
On top of its useful coaching features, the Sport Coach offers comfortable ear inserts and enough booming sound to keep you pumped up during any workout. The buds also do a solid job of blocking ambient sound from entering your ears, so you can enjoy full, boomy sound during workouts. If only the battery life was longer; while rated at 8 hours, it’s really about 5.5 when factoring in guided workouts and volume.
How to choose the best cheap running headphones for you
When shopping for the best cheap running headphones, make sweat and water resistance your priority. This is practically your insurance policy and prevents the headphones or earbuds from suffering any damage caused by excessive moisture . The specialized coating can also fend off scratches and scuffs, depending on the IPX rating (aim for IPX4 or higher). There are a handful of extremely durable models out there that are not sweat- or water-resistant, which are still serviceable for long-term use, granted they run a higher risk of breaking sooner than later. That all depends on how much you abuse them.
Audio is what fuels your workouts, so make sure whatever pair you settle on has some sonic kick to it. Bass plays a pivotal role in how you want these headphones to sound, and you want a model that can handle it well and not distort your music. If you can find headphones that offer a little of everything on the frequency spectrum – lows, mids, and highs – more props to you.
Those in the market for wireless sports headphones need to consider battery life. Look for Bluetooth models with 6 hours (or more) of playtime on a single charge. Should you go the truly wireless route, be certain that your wireless earbuds come with a charging case that can hold multiple charges to juice the buds on the go. If you want to stick with the more traditional wired setup, get something that has an in-line remote and mic, and remember to have a dongle on hand in case your smartphone doesn’t have a headphone jack.
Accessories should be the last box you check off. You’ll want extra ear tips, fins, and a carrying case, if available.
How we test the best cheap running headphones
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 the headphones' 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.
In terms of audio, we listen to many sample tracks that span a number of genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, while evaluating volume, clarity and fullness. We also make phone calls to assess both call quality and microphone performance. If the earbuds can also be paired with a voice assistant such as Siri or Google Assistant, we evaluate how well that interaction works.
During the testing phase, our reviewers wear each pair of headphones for hours at a time throughout the course of a week. Reviewers will make note of battery life and how well it matches the rated battery life provided by earbud makers.