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 Plantronics BackBeat Fit 2100 is a pair of fitness-centric Bluetooth earphones praised for their practicality and sturdiness. We consider them the best cheap wireless running headphones for their dependable battery life (7 hours on a single charge), customization via BackBeat smartphone app, and the level of ambient noise they allow in during outdoor runs. 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
The JBuds Air are the best cheap running headphones on the market, no matter what sub-category it falls under. It won’t be mentioned in the same conversation as in-class leaders like the Jabra Elite Active 75t or Beats Powerbeats Pro, but it’s no pushover, offering impressive bass and sporty features at a killer price point.
Powerful lows dominate the soundscape, making Spotify workout playlists sound livelier. The buds are a bit on the chunky side, but light and very durable with IP55 sweat resistance to ensure long-lasting performance. Bluetooth 5.0 also maintains strong connectivity between devices. Its 5 hours of use is standard for what most other models offer and having two extra charges available via charging case is huge when you’ve forgotten to recharge overnight. Aesthetics alone make this a worthy purchase for runners who don’t want to be tethered to their devices.
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.
A remaster of the original BackBeat Fit, the Fit 2100 welcomes a number of improvements, from advanced features to a more relaxed, sturdier design. The BackBeat app grants users access to customize the controls, instantly select their favorite Spotify playlist, and locate their misplaced earphones via FindMyHeadset setting. Playtime is advertised at 7 hours, though several factors like high volume and wireless streaming bring it down to about 6.5 hours, which is still solid for a good week’s worth of exercising. Quick charging is also clutch, giving you an hour of playtime in 15 minutes. The IP57 rating ensures the earphones are resistant to wear and tear caused by sweat, water, and other perspiring hazards.
There is a touch-sensitive button on the left bud to control volume, while the right bud has a multifunctional button to enable several functions (e.g. playback, power on/off), though intended commands often experience a two-second delay. We also felt the accentuated bass muddies up the soundstage; listening at moderate volume scales it down to make the vocals and ambient noise more audible.
The Anker Soundcore Spirit Pro currently ranks second 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.
Aukey's Latitude EP-B40 isn't the flashiest set of Bluetooth earbuds. In a sea of cheap Amazon listings, you'd be forgiven for skipping over them. However, this pair of sweat-resistant headphones is worth buying. The Latitude EP-B40 is ultra-affordable, easy to set up, extremely low maintenance, and sound really good. You get 8 hours of playtime as well on a full charge. There are no bells and whistles, but who needs them?
Aukey includes three additional sizes of silicone ear tips and three fins to ensure a comfortable fit. I used the default options that shipped with the headset, which stayed put through a windy 3-mile run. The sound is well-balanced for low-priced Bluetooth buds, if a little heavy on bass. Most budget models don't handle bass well, but these exceeded expectations. For the price, you really can't ask for much more.
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.
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.
Budget hounds who want great audio in a damage-proof package will want these sporty earbuds in their gym bag. Wearability is the Flye Sport’s best feature, as the tangle-free cord stays out of the way to give exercisers more range of motion. The battery pack also aids with weight distribution and keeps the buds balanced on each side. Braven designed its headphones with a waterproof shell to ensure they are fully protected from heavy splashing or submersion in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.
Mids and highs have a presence on the soundstage, but it’s the heavy bass response that steals the sonic spotlight. You can expect punchy resonance when zoning out to EDM and hip-hop tracks, but beware that listening at high volume causes distortion. There are more attractive options out there, but many of them won’t match the Flye Sport Fit’s battery life or durability.
The size and color options might have you confusing the S-Gear wireless earbuds for jellybeans, but their compact size and bundled accessories are what that make them unique. Soul managed to squeeze 6 hours of playtime into a durably tiny design that is sweat- and water-resistant. More impressive is the micro-charging case that not only holds up to 24 hours of additional playtime, but also fits in any pocket and even comes with a carabiner to easily attach onto clothing or backpacks for seamless portability.
No touch controls means you’ll have to use the buttons on the front, which is a problematic control scheme since it means pressing the buds into your ears. As much as this bothers us, we find the soundstage to be the S-Gear’s biggest flaw. Music sounds bloated, vocals lack clarity, and the accentuated bass makes workout songs unpleasant to hear since it harshens mids and highs.
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.