With an endless sea of headphones out there boasting incredible sound quality, it’s like a maze trying to figure out which pair is your workout soulmate. On-ear, over-ear, or earbuds—what will be your jam at the gym?
But hey, I’ve been there, done that. I’ve sweat-tested all these types of headphones over the years, from the treadmill to the weight bench and even the yoga mat. So when I talk about the pros and cons, trust me, I’m speaking from a ton of personal experience.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of workout headphones. We’ll break down the benefits and drawbacks of each type and even chat about which headphones are best for different kinds of exercise. Because, let’s face it, what works for a sprint might not be ideal for a downward dog, am I right?
So, whether you’re a gym veteran or just lacing up your sneakers for the first time, I’ve covered your back (and ears). Let’s explore your options together, shall we?
On-Ear vs. Over-Ear vs. Earbuds: What’s the Difference?
When it comes to workout headphones, there are three main types to consider: on-ear, over-ear, and earbuds. Each type has its own set of features and benefits, so let’s take a closer look at what sets them apart.
If you’re looking for a way to wear headphones and jam out on the go without feeling like you have a giant spaceship surrounding your ears, or something in your ears, on-ear headphones might be for you.
These sleek and often colorful headphones sit snugly on top of your ears, held in place by a usually pretty comfortable headband that lightly grips your temple. They’re light and compact, so you can easily toss them in your bag or purse and go about your day. Plus, they’re super breathable, so you don’t have to worry about them getting all nasty when you work up a sweat on your morning run.
Remember, though, that you might not be able to fully tune out ambient noise from the outside world with these bad boys, and they might get a little uncomfortable if you’re rocking them for extended listening sessions (something we will discuss later in the article).
Introducing over-ear headphones, the on-ear headphones’ slightly bigger (and usually heavier) brother.
These headphones offer some serious sound quality and noise isolation compared to their on-ear counterparts thanks to completely covering your ears (hence the name), so you can really immerse yourself in the audio world of whatever you’re listening to. Plus, they tend to be more comfortable for more extended periods of use – which is important if you’re going to be wearing them for hours on end.
The downside? They can be a little bulky and less portable than on-ear headphones, but if you don’t mind carrying them around, they can be a great investment in your listening pleasure. Just remember there are plenty of styles of over-ear models to choose from, whether you want something classic and understated or bold and flashy.
Wired or Wireless Earbuds
These pint-sized headphones pack a punch, sliding effortlessly into your ear canal and easily offering up all your favorite jams. Whether you prefer to keep things tethered with a trusty wire or go wireless for true freedom, an earbud option is right for you.
Slip them in your pocket or slip them on for your morning jog – either way, earbuds are the perfect companion for any active lifestyle. Just be warned: while they may be compact and comfy, they may not deliver the same audiophile experience as their larger counterparts.
And if you’re not a fan of the in-ear sensation, you might want to look for something a little roomier. All in all, though, earbuds are a great choice for anyone who’s always on the go – so why not try a pair today?
Comparing the Features of Each Type of Headphone
When it comes to the best headphone features, many of these questions will be answered by a person’s specific needs, personal preferences, requirements, and personal goals. But, we still want to discuss how the main features of each of the three types of headphones compare to each other.
So, let’s answer a few basic questions so that you can more easily figure out which is the right type of workout headphones for you.
Which Sound Better?
So many headphones are now equipped with great features such as active noise cancellation, which helps to eliminate background noise, unwanted sound, and outside noise. These noise-canceling features, combined with the ever-increasing levels of bass response and EQ, make all three of these types of headphones formidable opponents to each other.
However, the design of each type actually plays a very important part in which sounds better. For example, because the on-ear models don’t seal the ear completely, it’s possible that outside noise can be heard easier than over-the-ear headphones, which completely and oversized ear cups cover the entire ear, or earbuds, which fit directly into the ear canal and reduces unnecessary ambient noise.
Which is More Comfortable?
These three types of headphones offer specific pros and cons when discussing comfort.
Starting with the over-ear headphones, they are usually quite a bit bulkier AND heavier than other options. I love the slight extra weight on my head, and I don’t mind the size, but others might not agree.
Earbuds, on the other hand, can be an excellent option IF you are able to get a great pair that fits snugly into your inner ear. However, some find that when these are too snug, they can rub the inside of the ear a bit raw. But if they are a good fit, they are extremely light, so much to the point you may forget you have them in your ear.
I think the on-ear headphones will be the easiest to declare as generally the most comfortable. This is because they are usually lighter and more compact than over-ear headphones and don’t risk rubbing your ear skin raw like inner ear headphones. So, even though I do not think they have the best sound quality compared to the other two types of headphones, I think they get that award from a comfort standpoint.
Which is More Portable?
Portability is a no-brainer as to which set of headphones gets the nod: the in-ear headphones. First, most earbuds come with a carrying case that also doubles as a portable charger, so in case you run out of battery life while on the go, you have a quick way to recharge.
But, they are also quite small and light, easy to throw in your pants or jacket pocket and carry around. Of course, losing small headphones is more dangerous, but that’s for a different article.
Which Has a Longer Battery Life?
Hours of battery life is a bit harder to judge “which is the best” because battery life tends to have more to do with how much a person uses the headphones rather than the battery itself.
Most of the new headphones have excellent battery life with plenty of hours of listening available, and having used all three types of headphones, I can tell you that they will be quite similar in this regard.
Which Headphones Look the Coolest?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so this is tough to answer.
For those who are really into their appearance at the gym (I’m raising my hand over here, too), then the style of the headphones, along with the colors, might be something you want to learn about.
All I can say is this: no one will see your earbuds and on-ear headphones look almost the exact same as over-ear headphones.
Remember, some over-ear and on-ear headphones don’t come in various color options, so you may need to shop around a bit for the color you want if black isn’t in the cards for you.
What Are the Price Differences?
This might surprise many people, but when it comes to pricing between the headphone models, there isn’t any specific leaning one way or another towards any specific design.
You can find all three types priced at all sorts of different price points. So when doing your shopping on Amazon (don’t forget about their free shipping with Amazon Prime) or whoever you shop, specifically targeting a design because you think it will be easier on the pocketbook won’t work. There are pricey brands and options for each and budget headphones for each.
Features to Consider In Your Workout Headphones
Wireless Headphones vs. Wired Headphones
When it comes to workout headphones, wireless options have become increasingly popular in recent years. While wired headphones have their advantages, there are several benefits to using wireless headphones during a workout.
One of the primary benefits of wireless headphones is comfort. You can move around without the fear of getting tangled up without a cord connecting your headphones to your device. This can make your workout much more enjoyable and help you focus on your exercises. Additionally, many wireless headphones are designed to fit securely in your ears or over your head, reducing the risk of them falling out during high-intensity workouts.
Another benefit of using wireless headphones during a workout is safety. With wired headphones, the cord can sometimes get caught on equipment or even on your own body, causing you to lose your balance or fall. Wireless headphones eliminate this risk, allowing you to focus on your workout without worrying about getting tripped up.
Wireless headphones also offer a level of convenience that wired headphones can’t match. With no cord to worry about, you can easily switch between exercises without worrying about repositioning your headphones. Additionally, many wireless headphones come with built-in controls that allow you to adjust the volume, skip tracks, and even take calls without reaching for your device.
How Does Active Noise Cancellation Work?
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is a technology found in modern headphones that cancels out ambient noise by using microphones to pick up the surrounding sound and create opposite sound waves.
It’s helpful in noisy environments, such as a gym, to block out distractions and allow you to focus on your music. ANC also reduces the need to reduce the volume to drown out background noise, potentially protecting your hearing. However, ANC is imperfect, and some noise may still leak in. But trust me, exercising is much better with it.
Overall, ANC can provide a more immersive listening experience and help reduce distractions during workouts.
Bass Booster for Those Who Love More Bass Sound
I don’t know about you, but I love having extra bass pumping in my headphones during an intense workout. Some models, such as the Beats Studio3 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones, have bass-boosting options for exactly that purpose.
So, if you want a thump in your ears, go for headphones with a bass boost.
Different Exercises Might Fit Different Headphones
When looking to make a headphones purchase, what types of exercise or working out do you do? And, based on what we discussed above concerning the features of each, what kind of headphones would work best for you?
For example, the over-ear headphones are heavier and bigger than other options, so they might not be a good option for you when going for a run (even though I use them for that, some might not want that weight).
If you are doing CrossFit or HIIT cardio with a lot of quick movements, over-ear headphones or on-ear headphones might not be what you want for the risk they could fly off your head.
So when it comes time to figure out which pair of headphones is right for you, consider the pros and cons of each and what you want to use them for.
Why Headphones Are So Important to Gym Goers
When it comes to working out, many exercise enthusiasts and gym-goers consider a good pair of headphones more than just a luxury; they are an absolute necessity.
But why are headphones so important when exercising? There are three main reasons for this. Those reasons are
Motivation: Music isn’t just good for your ears; it’s good for your body too. Listening to your favorite tunes or motivational speeches allows you to easily push through the toughest of workouts, increase your endurance, and even boost your mood. Athletes have been relying on music for ages to get into the zone and perform at their best. So throw on some high-energy pop or pump-up hip-hop, and let the music push you to the next level.
Focus: Are you tired of feeling like you’re in the middle of a circus while working out? Don’t let the clanking of weights, horrible house music, and the chit-chat of fellow gym rats derail your fitness goals. By blocking out external noise with some headphones, you’ll be able to fully engage with your workout routine, crush your personal records, and come out feeling like a boss.
Looks: While the functionality of headphones is important, many people also consider their appearance when choosing a pair. For some, a good-looking set of headphones is a practical accessory and a fashion statement. Whether you prefer sleek and minimalistic earbuds or bold and colorful over-ear headphones, there’s no shortage of stylish options on the market.
Whether you’re motivated by music, need to stay focused, or want to look good while working out, the right pair of headphones can make all the difference. In the following sections, we’ll explore the pros and cons of different types of headphones to help you find the perfect fit for your workout routine.
Final Thoughts on Over-Ear vs. On-Ear vs. Earbuds
There are various options for finding the best headphones for working out. Each type of headphone offers its benefits and drawbacks, from the compact and comfortable on-ear headphones to the immersive sound of over-ear headphones and earbuds’ portability.
However, the right pair of headphones should ultimately be chosen based on the individual’s needs, preferences, and budget. Whether you’re motivated by music, must stay focused, or want to look good while working out, the right pair of headphones can make all the difference.
So, before making your purchase, consider your specific workout needs and preferences to ensure that you choose the right headphones for you.
Rob is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. For the past 10 years, Rob has been navigating the health and fitness landscape to better himself and those around him, focusing on tools such as calorie and macro counting, intermittent fasting, and HIIT training techniques.