I am a sweaty, sweaty man. Many people say this (not about me, luckily, but about themselves), but in my case it is almost unbearably true, whether I’m at the gym or on my couch. As I’ve learned over the years, my sweat is as destructive as it is consistent — capable of degrading and eventually ruining almost any pair of headphones after several months, especially if those months have included intense runs. With many gyms still closed due to the coronavirus, I’ve been running more than ever lately — along with what feels like quite a bit of the rest of the world. It’s not even the hottest part of summer, and I’ve already destroyed two pairs of headphones.
What finally broke the cycle was my discovering certified water-resistant headphones. They use something called the IPX rating system, which works on a scale from 1 to 8. IPX 1 devices can survive light rain, while anything marked IPX 8 would survive being submerged in nearly ten feet of water. And either would certainly make it through whatever my body could produce. Over a period of six weeks, I tested the newest and most popular water-resistant headphones by running at least three miles wearing each. Here are my favorites.
Best Overall Headphones for Heavy Sweaters
IPX rating: 4
For decades, Bose has consistently gotten high marks for its audio equipment for a reason: You know you’ll get good to great sound. SoundSport wireless headphones (they’re not truly wireless, as there’s a cord connecting the two earbuds, if that kind of thing matters to you) are no different. They deliver stunningly rich, full sound at a delightfully affordable price point. Bass comes out in deep rumbles, while high treble notes are still bright and clear — a dynamic range that’s exceedingly difficult to find among even pricey competitors in the wireless-headphone category. The IPX 4 water-resistant rating means they can handle more than a small cardio-related splash. If making out the booming, so-low-they’re-barely-audible 808 drum machines in Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” is as important to you as appreciating Neil Young’s ringing harmonica — and you want to do both 30 minutes into a jump-rope session — these are the headphones for you. I actually find the connecting wire to be an asset since I’m clumsy and constantly paranoid that I’m about to drop an earbud into the abyss. My only complaint is a minor one: The battery gives out after six hours (at best) of constant listening, and there’s no charged case to save you.
Best True Wireless Headphones for Heavy Sweaters
IPX rating: 4
If you already love Apple, there’s no way you don’t love AirPods Pro. If you have an iPhone, the earbuds seamlessly connect as soon as you pop them in your ears, and audio pauses when you take them out. (This is especially helpful if someone stops you for a chat in the middle of your meticulously playlist-coordinated run.) The IPX rating of 4 gives peace of mind to those of us with dewy pores, especially since these earbuds are far from most people’s idea of affordable. The active noise cancellation provides immersive sound — great for getting locked into an engrossing episode of the Reply All podcast. The only issue is with actual sound quality, which can be disappointingly small and tinny, especially compared to the much cheaper SoundSports. You just have to choose which you love more: Apple or high-quality sound.
Best True Wireless Headphones for Heavy Sweaters (Who Also Want to Swim)
IPX rating: 7
An IPX 7 rating means Jaybird’s Vista headphones are genuinely waterproof. You can wear them in shallow water (think pool swims, not scuba diving) for 30 minutes without lasting damage. I luxuriated in a post-run shower listening to Sade on them without a problem. Even if you get nowhere near water, Vistas make for a solid everyday set of earbuds: The sleek case is thinner than that of the AirPods Pro, making it fit more comfortably in your pocket, and when it’s fully charged, the case gives you an extra ten hours of battery life on top of the six hours the headphones can hold. (AirPods Pro advertise around 4.5 hours plus 24 hours with the case.) The buds were comfortable and fit snugly, and I found the audio quality comparable to that of the AirPods Pro, though without the added benefits of noise cancellation.
Best (Less Expensive) True Wireless Headphones for Heavy Sweaters (Who Also Want to Swim)
JBL’s Reflect Flow delivers decent if not outstanding sound. The battery life is impressive (a reported 10 hours of playtime plus 20 more in the case), and while the case is a bit chunky, the earbuds come in colors like blue (above), teal, and lime green, if that’s your look. A plain black pair will run you $50 more.
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