Running with Headphones vs Earbuds – Which is Better?

Music is often the soundtrack of many an exercise – including running. But which is better, running with headphones vs earbuds?

There are a few things in life that go quite well with each other, and one of these things is exercise and music. Of course, the same applies to running. After all, how many runners do you run into who have some sort of music playing in their ears (one way or another)? Going for a jog or a run is simply so much more fun when you have a soundtrack in the background. It helps to motivate you, and it can even help you to focus. Plus having music playing is a great way to somewhat help you get lost in your thoughts as you run on a treadmill. Music is simply a fantastic companion to working out, which is exactly why gyms always have music playing in the background.

But if you’re going out for a run yourself, or if you are working out in the comfort of your own home, it might be better to have a way to play music only for yourself. A speaker isn’t always viable, so your options then fall to choosing headphones or earbuds. But running with headphones vs earbuds… which is actually better?

In today’s article, we will be exploring the options and the differences between them. We aim to be able to show you the differences, the advantages, and the disadvantages between all of them. That way, you’ll be able to have an easier time choosing the right one for you. Once you have, you can start shopping for a pair. Choosing the right headphones or earbuds is a different story altogether, one which we will discuss at another time.

For now, let’s answer the question of whether it’s better to run with headphones, or with earbuds! With all of that said, let’s get right to it, shall we?

Your Options When Running

Being alone in your own head isn’t always ideal when you’re going for a run, for numerous reasons. One, you can get bored easily, causing you to more readily notice the strain you are putting yourself under. This can result in quick demotivation, which then quickly translates to giving up on your run far sooner than you normally would. If you want to lessen the possibility of you talking yourself out of the rest of your run, music is really helpful. It allows you to focus on the music, maybe even time your pace to it. It’s easy to distract yourself and push yourself further this way. Just imagine running and being able to say “I’ll stop after this song”, but then finding yourself catching a second wind. The next thing you know, you’ve said “I’ll stop after this song” five, six, even ten times!

As you run, there are a few different things that you can use to play your music. The actual device that plays your music, such as a cell phone or other music player, won’t be discussed here today. Rather, we’ll talk about what kind of options you have in terms of what you can put in your ear. Well, or on your ear.

You essentially have a few options. First, you have your usual headphones. Then, you have traditional or simple earbuds. And then you have the in-ear or the around-ear type of earphones. A fourth option, using a more recent technology, has started becoming more popular. This fourth option is the bone conduction headphones.

Here’s how headphones, earbuds, and bone conduction headphones are different.


By now, most people know exactly what headphones are. In essence, they are a pair of speakers or earphones joined together by a headband that is placed over the head. They’re used for listening to audio (any kind of audio). Headphones have the earphone or speaker parts in “cups” that either go on your ears or over/around them. These days, headphones have a ton of different features. Some of them are unnecessary and are simply there to offer more convenience at a premium. But most headphones perform the same basic functionality – they play audio so you can hear them.

There are a lot of types of headphones, and a ton of features that go along with them. Knowing what they are will make it easier for you to tell the differences between each. The end result is that you’ll be able to tell which kind suits you most more easily. Well, it’s either that or it’ll point you in the direction of earphones and earbuds.

Let’s take a quick look at them, shall we?


The first kind of headphone is also the most common: the closed-back. Closed-backs basically block out noises that come from the periphery, which means you get a sort of limited noise cancellation of the outside world. This type of headphone is perfect if you want to listen to your music without many outside distractions. Therefore, if you want a truly immersive experience, a pair of closed-back headphones would probably be best for you. In fact, it’s this type of headphone that is preferred by musicians, and is worn by many of them. Indeed, most studio headphones are of the closed-back variety.

It’s worth noting that closed-back headphones are best if you want to listen to something privately without sound seeping out around you. This type comes in either on-ear style or over-ear style (more on this later). Also, because of the nature of closed-backs, they do tend to be a bit bulkier in comparison to other headphone types.

We do have to mention that although we would 100% recommend a pair of these for simple music listening, we do have a caveat. Please don’t choose a pair of closed-back headphones if you intend to be out running or jogging on the streat or along the side of the road. Although the outside noise suppression is limited, it’s not a good idea to use these in situations where you have to be alert to the dangers around you (such as cars passing by).


As the name might suggest, open-back headphones are basically the opposite of closed-backs. These cans have ear cups that are “open”, which means that some sound from your headphones will escape and might be heard by those around you. Likewise, outside noise will permeate, which means your listening experience will be affected.

The thing that makes open-backs different is the fact that the sound they produce are more open and airy. If you can’t imagine what we mean, it’s basically comparable to the sound of listening to a pair of speakers, inside of a room. It won’t sound isolated, and it won’t block out outside noise. So why would anyone choose a pair of these, right?

Well, the fact is, some people prefer these headphones because they do offer some benefits. For example, audio professionals that mix and master inside studios prefer these because the mix will remain accurate. This is due to the reason that frequencies won’t build up or “echo” in open-backs like they would in closed-backs. Plus, open backs offer a flatter sound that is more accurate. Audiophiles then argue that open-backs are best to hear music the way that the artists intended them to be heard.

Open-backs might be a good idea if you’re running, though that all still falls on your personal preferences.

Earcup Type

Next thing to consider is the type of earcup that the pair of headphones has. There are basically two kinds – the open ear, and the on-ear. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, which we will now all list here today.

On-Ear headphones make use of smaller cups, which will rest ON TOP of your ears. Hence, “on-ear”. If you are wondering what size the earcups are, well they’re usually about the size of an ear. That way, the cup can rest on the ear comfortably. Here are some reasons why people choose on-ear headphones:

  • These offer comfort for those whose ears tend to get too hot and sweat if wearing over-ears.
  • On-ears are also known by the name “supra-aural”, which means that they function a bit like open-backs would. Some sound from outside can get in, and some sound from inside can get out.
  • They are smaller and lighter than the alternative, which makes them a bit more portable.

A drawback, of course, is that sometimes if the band of your headphones is too small or tight, your ears can start getting sore. Therefore, when shopping for on-ears, it’s important to check that the band is comfy to wear for longer periods of time. Also, on-ear headphones tend to have audio quality that varies pretty wildly. Choose a pair that works well for you.

Over-Ear headphones have larger earcups that go OVER your ear, covering all of them (so your ear is technically inside of the cup). They’re what most headphones look like, and we’re sure that by now you’re also pretty familiar with them. Here’s why people tend to choose these:

  • Better sound isolation means more fun leisure listening.
  • More comfy for many, since the cups go around the ear instead of resting on top and potentially pinching.
  • Sound quality is more consistent and usually tends to be better.

Of course, there are drawbacks too. Such as the fact that this type of headphones tends to be a bit heavier than the other kind mentioned above. Also, your ears may start to sweat (that is if your ears get hot in headphones). Furthermore, they tend to be bulkier too. But all in all, it’s worth its price to pay if you want to just be in a room by yourself surrounding yourself with music.

Again, we want to note that if you are going to be running with headphones, it’s not optimal to choose over-ears. They might block the noises of danger around you, which puts your life at risk.

Simple Earphones

We’re sure that by now, everyone knows what a pair of simple earphones looks like. They’re usually the cheapest kind available. They look like Apple’s Airpods, but with wires – and a less sophisticated earbud design. These are made to fit into your ear and sit there without forming a tight seal. As a result, sound leakage does occur around you. Also, you’ll find that this type of earphone tends to have a lower sound quality. In noisy conditions, it can be hard to hear your music because of the fact that sound escapes, as well. This results in you putting the volume up even higher, which can potentially cause damage to your ears.

Running with Headphones
Photo by Alphacolor

Earphones are no longer that popular, and for good reason. These days most people who prefer earbuds go for in-ears, and for good reason. Still, earphones will do in a pinch. Plus many Bluetooth headsets (the kind that you answer calls from) still do make use of earphones – so they’re not obsolete just yet.

In-Ear Earphones

In-ear earphones are actually one of the most popular types of headphones. The fact is, a lot of people prefer the in-ear earphones over any other type we’ve mentioned here. This is because of its many benefits such as:

  • Portability – in-ear earphones are small and can fit into your pockets easily. These days, they are even more portable owing to the fact that more and more companies are starting to come out with wireless Bluetooth options.
  • Versatility – a pair of in-ears will work great no matter the situation. You can use them in bed, while on your commute, at the gym, while running, and more. In fact, the earphones are properly rated for it, you can even use them in the rain or in a pool (double-check first that they’re properly waterproof rated to be sure)! Plus, wireless options these days mean that you can pretty much use them freely, without worries about the constriction of movement that wires tend to cause.
  • Convenience – Because of the above-aforementioned reasons, in-ear headphones are often the choice of many. They’re versatile and portable, without sacrificing quality!

Because in-ears go into your ear and form a sort of seal, that means you get better sound isolation. Sound accuracy also improves.

However, do make sure that you listen to your music at a decent volume when using in-ears, as they can damage your eardrums more quickly than other types might. Plus, beware of blocking out outside noise when using these!


Earbuds? Wait, aren’t earbuds basically the same thing as in-ear earphones? Well… yes, and no. In-ears have a part of the earphone or the speaker actually sitting in your ear canal. Earbuds, on the other hand, have the speakers sit outside of the ear, with silicone or rubber “earplugs” fitting into your ears to make a seal. Basically, earbuds are simple earphones with a part that goes in your ear to create a better seal. They’re not as sound-isolating as in-ears, but they still provide a pretty good experience compared to just plain simple earphones.

Also, earbuds are more of a one-size-fits-all type of thing, which means that they’re not going to be as secure. This results in the buds sometimes falling out of your ear. Not ideal if you’re going for a run!

If you choose a pair of earbuds, remember to make sure that the buds will fit well into your ears. That way, you won’t have them constantly falling out as you run. After all, that would be such a huge pain!

Running with Headphones vs Earbuds: Which is Better?

Now that we’ve gone in-depth, and now that we have talked about all kinds of earphones and headphones, it’s time for us to talk about whether headphones or earbuds are better. So running with headphones vs earbuds – what makes more sense?

If you ask us for our opinion, here’s what we think: objectively, earphones are just better to use when running than headphones are. There are a number of reasons for this, and we’ll go through each of them here today. To be honest, not everyone agrees about this – and of course, we understand since this is always a matter of personal preference. There has always been a healthy debate about which is better when you run.

We’re not here to swing you to either side – rather, we’re here to tell you about both sides. In fact, we are just here to give you the arguments for both sides. You decide which one’s better for you.

For clarity’s sake, from here on out, we will be talking about in-ear earphones instead of simple earphones or earbuds. So, when we mention earbuds, we actually mean in-ears! With all of that said, let’s get to the discussion, shall we?

Why are Earbuds Better to Use When Running?

We can’t help but be a tiny bit biased when it comes to this discussion. After all, we would suggest earphones for running! But regardless of our opinion, the fact is that earbuds offer numerous benefits over headphones when it comes to running. Here are only some of the reasons why:

  • Earbuds are simply more convenient. They’re quite handy because you can stash them pretty much anywhere. They’re lightweight, and you’ll barely be able to feel them as you run. Choose a wireless pair and you’ll have even greater freedom of movement!
  • In terms of sound quality, earbuds don’t really lag behind. The fact is, many earbud choices out there offer stellar quality – and at a decent price, too.
  • Sound isolation is possible, but please do be careful with this as you run. To compensate, lower the volume of your music enough so that you can still hear outside noise, even if it’s muffled.
  • Our favorite part about making use of earbuds for running is the fact that you can barely feel them as you go. They sit in your ears, and if they fit you properly they’ll never fall out. So you can jog or even sprint, and you won’t at all have to worry about losing them.
  • Oh, and did we mention that when using earbuds, your ears won’t sweat?

Why are Headphones Better to Use When Running?

We’ve made our case about earphones, and now it’s time to talk about headphones. Don’t get us wrong. Headphones aren’t at all a bad choice either if you choose them for running. After all, they do also offer quite a bunch of benefits:

  • Not everyone likes the feeling of having earbuds in their ears, as it can get quite uncomfortable. Headphones are better in this situation.
  • Headphones don’t tend to cause damage to the ears as quickly as earbuds might.
  • Sound quality and isolation tends to be better, though sound isolation may vary depending on the type of headphones you choose.

Of course, there are drawbacks to using headphones:

  • They’re bulky, so they’re not as convenient.
  • Make a wrong move and they might fall off your head.
  • Your ears might sweat… and sweat from your hair will gather on the band and the cups. Wear the headphones often enough and you’ll get a pretty stinky pair!
  • Earcups and headbands tend to deteriorate later on, causing peeling of the synthetic (or real) leather used. Some headphones have replacements available to purchase, so this might not be such a big deal for some people!
  • They tend to be heavier on the head, so as you’re running you’re likely to notice them more than you would earphones. Plus if the band isn’t secured well, they might bounce on your head as you run. Not ideal!

Final Thoughts

So, what’s your opinion on running with headphones vs earbuds? We still stand with earphones, at least for running – and the reasons why are noted above. These aren’t the only reasons, of course. There are still some other reasons why they are better than headphones – but that’s up for you to decide.

We hope that this article has been enlightening and helpful. And, of course, we hope that no matter which type you choose, you enjoy your runs better!

2 thoughts on “Running with Headphones vs Earbuds – Which is Better?”

  1. What is missing in this discussion is the ability of units to stay in place. Many IEM units have clips to tie into structure of outer ear, or over ear. I tried Koss model that did the latter, but seal at Canal was not consistent so bass would fall off. My go to for over a decade are the Koss Ksc 75’s. Clip on ear, speakers rest on top of ear. Not cool looking but cool feeling, stay in place, and great transparent sound and separation. I keep looking to improve on these but research suggest these are still the best for the money. These are often considered the best sounding on ears under 100 bucks and can be had for under $20.

    • Hi Scott, many thanks for your inputs. Really appreciate that. We will update the article according to your recommendations. Thanks again.


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