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Why I Run with Cheap Wired Headphones

Bluetooth running headphones aren’t perfect.


Running came to me in college, in the form of a Baltimore running loop, a cheap pair of earbuds and an obsession with screamo music. It was the first time in my life I was without sport, not counting FIFA, and I wanted to stay active. Maybe staving off the Freshman 15 had something to do with it. Anyway, I started running and almost a decade later I’m still at it. Not as frequently, admittedly, but I continue to lace up my running shoes two or three times a week. And, as always, music is essential.

In the beginning, I didn’t own sweat-proof headphones, and wireless headphones weren’t a thing. I simply ran with the EarPods that came stock with my iPhone. The problems I encountered were predictable. After a few months, one earbud would die. Damn sweat. Or, mid-run, my arm would snag a wire, ripping the buds out of my ears and ruining my workout momentum. Stripped wires were an issue, too.

I rattled through copious cheap wired headphones. I stole the other EarPods that came with my parents’ iPhones. I ordered a few online. And occasionally I bought the sub-$25 non-Apple earbuds that you can find at any Best Buy or in every airport corner store. Even today, and maybe it’s nostalgia, I just enjoy running with cheap wired earphones better.

The biggest reason why I often fall back to wired headphones is volume. I need it loud.

As a tech writer and avid runner, I test a lot of wireless sport headphones. Currently in my possession are the Jaybird X3 ($130), Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition ($160), Bose SoundSport Wireless ($150), Samsung Gear IconX ($200) and Decibullz Custom-Fit earphones ($120). But none are perfect — Bluetooth sport headphones pose several problems. Many of them fall out mid-run and need to be charged frequently; plus the signal can cut in and out, or just drop completely. But the biggest reason why I often fall back to wired headphones is volume. I need it loud.

I don’t care about sound fidelity when running, admittedly; Linkin Park, Rage Against the Machine and Rise Against just need to be screaming at tens to keep me moving.
And despite what their respective websites’ say, none of the aforementioned wireless sport headphones were loud enough for me. Both wired EarPods and Jabra’s Sport Pulse wireless earphones, for instance, can reach near 100 decibels — very loud. (Unsafely loud, according to The New York Times.) But the EarPods simply sound significantly louder to me, so that’s what I run with. Period.

There are several factors that could inhibit Bluetooth volume, of course. Some phones limit it; you might see a message warning you against listening to high volumes when you try to crank it. It could be a streaming service issue as well; if you listen to Spotify, you can adjust the max volume by going into settings and adjust the equalizer (Settings > Playback > Equalizer > Loudness). It could also be the fit or build quality of the earphones; the farther into your inner ear canal the driver is, the louder the headphone should sound. If you’ve been frustrated with these problems, I’d suggest wired sports headphones like the Bose SoundSport headphones ($99).

For me, there’s also the money argument. I can spend less than $30 on EarPods and go through maybe two or three pairs in a year — $90 total, max — or I could spend almost twice that much on the latest-and-greatest offerings by Jabra or Jaybird or Bose. It just makes sense, for what I need, to go cheap, go wired, and go big on volume.

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