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Forgetting my headphones for a workout is like forgetting my sneakers — what’s the point? You probably don’t need research to tell you this, but music increases the benefits of exercise and decreases how hard it feels, according to a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychology. Plus, people reported enjoying their workout more when they listened to music versus when they didn’t, a 2019 study published in the journal Psychology of Sport & Exercise found.

Outside, though, blasting your music through headphones can drown out important cues from the world around you, leaving you at the mercy of inattentive drivers, oblivious cyclists or distracted walkers on their phones (it’s wild out there). So where’s the happy medium?

The Shokz OpenRun Pro open-ear headphones use bone conduction technology to deliver sound not through the air but through your cheekbone. Yes, your cheekbone. In standard over- or in-ear headphones, sound vibrations travel through the air down the ear canal to the eardrum where your brain processes these vibrations and interprets them as sounds. Bone conduction technology bypasses the eardrum and sends those sound waves directly to your cochlea, or inner ear, via the bones located in your upper cheek and jaw.

These headphones allow you to clearly hear ambient noise, whether that’s nearby traffic or comments from your workout buddies. And while many popular headphones (including the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro) now offer a “transparency mode” that uses a microphone to transmit external sound to your ear, that’s not nearly as clear as keeping your ear canal wide open to your surroundings.

For the ultimate outdoor athlete

The Shokz OpenRun Pro are a great fit for those who want to clearly hear their surroundings while working out or running outdoors. You'll get better sound quality from traditional workout-focused earbuds like the Beats Fit Pro, but Shokz's headphones are the better option for those who prioritize safety and comfort.

What we liked

Headphones you don’t have to think about

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To me, the most important feature of any workout tech is that it enhances the workout, not distracts from it. And I hardly remembered I was wearing these, often leaving them on long after I came home. At 29 grams, they’re super lightweight (about 3 grams more than my go-to distance running headphones, the Beats Powerbeats).

The springy titanium band, which hooks over your ears, didn’t pinch, even with oversized sunglasses, a hat or both layered on top. Despite the barely there feel, they didn’t budge during any workout, not even during high-intensity interval training when I was bouncing all over my roof deck with dumbbells.

I typically run on the streets versus a running path or track, so when I wear traditional headphones like my Beats, I have to be hyperaware of my surroundings visually since I can’t always hear what’s happening around me. With the OpenRun Pro headphones, I was not only able to hear cars coming up behind me, but I could also hear the whoosh of bike tires and conversations of people I passed. I was even able to hold full conversations with my running partners without having to turn the volume down, something I can only do in my Beats if I unhook one headphone and tuck it in my sports bra. The ambient noise was crystal clear, unlike when I’ve tried using the transparency mode on my AirPods Pro, which made my ears feel plugged up like I was still detached from my surroundings.

Excellent battery life

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Another helpful feature is the Quick Charge, which gives you an hour and half of juice after just five minutes of charging — ideal for someone who forgets to charge them ahead of time but can’t fathom breaking a sweat without a soundtrack. By the end of a 6-mile run, my headphones were still “medium” charged, but I managed to squeeze in two strength workouts, a 7-mile run and a final 12-mile run before I got a warning that the battery was “low.”

On a single charge, the OpenRun Pro last up to 10 hours — longer than any single effort even the most enthusiastic amateur exercisers will undertake — so you never have to stress about losing your sound mid-workout.

Improved, bass-heavy sound

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To improve the sound quality over previous iterations, Shokz added two bass enhancers to the OpenRun Pro’s cheekbone pads, which adds more depth to your listening experience. I listen to very bass-heavy music while working out, and nothing about the sound detracted from my workout. However, I did notice that the louder I turned up the volume (the right pad features controls for power and volume, while a button on the left allows you to switch tracks, play/pause music, engage a voice assistant and receive calls), the more likely I was to feel vibrations against my cheek. It didn’t bother me, but it can tickle a bit if you’re not used to it.

What we didn’t like

The sound can be a little tinny

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The sound is definitely tinnier that what comes out of more traditional headphone speakers (kind of like blasting music from your phone or computer rather than a stereo system), which is to be expected when you’re not delivering sound directly into your eardrum. When I run in my Beats or AirPods, for example, the sound feels fuller and richer, as if I’m fully immersed in it.

FYI: That doesn’t mean these protect your hearing; hearing loss comes from potential damage to the inner ear, so you still shouldn’t make a habit of blasting your volume at 100%.

Bottom line

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If you’re looking for a safer way to listen to music while working out outdoors, the Shokz OpenRun Pro headphones raise the bar for open-ear technology with better-than-ever sound quality. When it comes to ambient noise, they even trump more expensive traditional headphones with transparency features, such as my current favorite workout earbuds, the Beats Fit Pro.

A comfortable fit and lightweight design make these headphones barely noticeable, the highest compliment for anyone who wants to stay focused on their workout. And even though the battery life will likely outlast any sweat session you have planned, the Quick Charge feature is genius for those who don’t make a habit of juicing up to a full charge after every single workout.

If you’re someone who likes to take your workouts outside, these can be a lifesaver — literally. Staying clued in to your surroundings can help you avoid accidents and stay alert to any danger, and the OpenRun Pro offer a way to stay plugged in without plugging up your ears. And although they will never sound as good as what you’ll get from our best wireless earbuds picks like the Beats Fit Pro and Jabra Elite 7 Active, you won’t have to completely sacrifice audio quality. They’re a perfect choice for anyone who’s looking for safety and comfort over the very best sound.

How the OpenRun Pro compare to other workout earbuds we’ve tested

Weight

1.02 ounces

0.18 ounces per bud

0.49 ounces per bud

Ambient noise

Yes (via open design)

Yes (via Transparency Mode)

Yes (via open design)

Active noise cancellation

No

Yes

No

Battery life (rated)

Up to 10 hours

Up to 6 hours

Up to 8 hours

Quick charging

1.5 hours from a 10-minute charge

1 hour from a 5-minute charge

3 hours from a 30-minute charge

Water resistance

IP55

IPX4

IPX4

Colors

Pink, Black, Blue, Beige

Black, White, Sage Grey, Stone Purple

Black

Price $179 $199 $199