Today's portable music players are nearly as powerful as your old laptop, and ear buds now feature designs more in tune with runners' demands. After run-testing all of the newest equipment, we like the sound and fit of these eight the best.
sandisk.com (4GB $50; 8GB $70)
Searching for a simple music player that won't break the bank? The third-generation Clip player offers excellent sound and expandable storage in a device as tiny as a mini Hershey's candy bar--so small you'll forget it's clipped to your shirt.
Runners will like: While a color screen lets you browse through songs and playlists, the Zip's physical buttons mean you won't have to take your eyes off the road to advance to the next song. Most file types are supported, including those from iTunes. The memory card slot accepts microSD cards (up to 32 GB) so you can take more music on the go. And, if you tire of the songs on your playlist, the built-in FM tuner has 40 preset channels.
Watch for: Scrap the included headphones. And the FM reception is hit or miss.
sony.com (2GB $70)
Break free of dangling wires with the W Series. Featuring an audio player built into headphones, the latest Walkman offers enough music storage to help you get through any long run.
Runners will like: Have you ever wanted to run with an Olympian? Now you can. When in shuffle mode, Meb, who won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January, will randomly provide training tips between your songs. The entire headset is waterproof and can be rinsed under the kitchen faucet after a run--just be sure the USB-connector door is closed securely. In a pinch, a three-minute charge provides enough juice to get through a 60-minute run.
Watch for: Included music management software only works on PCs; Mac users can drag-and-drop music files as you would to any external drive.
apple.com (16 GB $199; 32 GB $299; 64 GB $399; requires service contract)
A smart phone is the best option if you need to remain connected at all times. Featuring 3G Internet, built-in GPS, a hi-resolution camera that shoots HD video, and more than 12,000 apps in the health & fitness category alone, the iPhone 4S is the runner's Swiss Army knife.
Runners will like: While the audio player functions like an iPod, connect with music services such as Pandora, 8tracks Radio, and Spotify to go beyond your iTunes library. Fitness apps like RunKeeper use GPS to track your distance, time, and location.
Watch for: Heavy usage of streaming music apps can quickly exceed data caps set by most carriers.
Finally, runners have headphones that won't fall out of their ears--even when sweaty. Invented in 2009 by a 24-time marathoner and an Ironman triathlete, Yurbuds have quickly earned a reputation as a serious audio option for endurance athletes.
Runners will like: Sticky medical-grade silicone provides a firm grip and, equally important to our testers, remains comfortable for miles on end. The colorful caps come in six sizes and don't require pressure in the ear canal to stay in place. This design also adds water-resistance and allows in ambient noise, so you can remain more aware of your surroundings. The Inspire series features a tangle-free Kevlar cable.
Watch for: The same design strengths above come at a cost--sound quality. While the overall sound is good, it won't be quite as full and deep as other options that completely seal off your ear.
roadnoise.com (S-XL $80)
The RoadNoise vest was born out of a rule change at the Hood to Coast Relay in 2010. Banned from wearing headphones, a team of runners rigged up speakers in a reflective vest--a race requirement for overnight legs.
Runners will like: Fear not, this vest is no modern-day boom box; Even at full volume, training partners and passing runners will barely hear the audio--and probably will not be able to discern any lyrics. Our testers noted that they did feel safer by not having headphones covering their ears. A pocket just below your sternum securely holds your music player or smart phone. The speakers are water-resistant, but should be removed when washing the vest.
Watch for: Opt for a snug fit so the speakers don't bounce and strike your collarbones.
For techies, Jabra Sport Bluetooth wireless headphones allow you to listen to music or take phone calls without getting tangled in cables.
Runners will like: The Jabra Sport was the most comfortable set of Bluetooth headphones we ran in, thanks to a slim and flexible design that hooks behind your ears. The speakers are positioned over, not in, your ear canal, to provide great-sounding audio while still allowing you to hear traffic. We found the built-in FM tuner to offer remarkably clear reception. The Jabra Sport connects with the Endomondo fitness app, so you can get spoken speed and distance updates at the push of a button on the earpiece.
Watch for: Bluetooth wireless range can be limited outdoors. For the best reception, wear your music player on an armband; the signal breaks up when worn at waist level.
motorola.com (8 GB $250; 16 GB $300)
Feeling weighed down by gadgets? The Motoactv is a music player, FM receiver, and GPS watch combined in a single device only slightly larger than Apple's iPod Nano.
Runners will like: The Motoactv tracks distance and speed to find out which songs motivate you best, and generates a "performance playlist" to keep you going. You can connect headphones via a standard 3.5 mm jack or by pairing over a Bluetooth wireless connection. The touch screen display remained responsive even when covered in sweat and rain.
Watch for: Increase time between charges by setting the battery-saving mode to "marathon" and shortening the "screen timeout" duration to 15 or 30 seconds.
If safety is no concern and you want to rock out, Monster's new iSport in-ear headphones completely seal off any outside noise and produce incredible audio.
Runners will like: These noise-isolating headphones offer deeper bass and a fuller sound than we found on other sport-specific headphones. Five different sizes of silicone tips ensure a tight seal in your ear canal, aided by an in-ear clip (five sizes, XS--XL) that applies pressure to the ridge in your outer ear. The speaker's tip rotates to offer a more flexible fit. Able to withstand being submerged in water for 30 minutes, the iSport will hold up for a session at the pool and can be rinsed clean after a run.
Watch for: Like any sound-isolating headphone, run the cable under your shirt to prevent a loud thumping noise.