Headphones That Work On Motorcycles

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Headphones That Work On Motorcycles

Want to listen to music or directions while riding? The best option is an in-helmet communication system like those made by Sena and Cardo, which feature external controls and Bluetooth syncing. But, if your helmet isn’t communicator compatible or you prefer a simpler option, these are the best headphones that work on motorcycles.

A Note On Noise

Loud noises make you deaf. Anyone who’s tried to have a conversation with me in the last five years or so can attest to that. And, motorcycles are loud. Wind noise at highway speeds can exceed 115 dB, even in a full-face helmet. Not only will that undeniably create hearing loss (which, once lost, you never get back), but it elevates your stress level and wears you out. Earplugs fix all that, wear them each and every time you ride.

So, just turning up the volume of music so you can hear it over the roar is a terrible idea. If you want to listen to music while riding, you need to do something about the noise level first, so you can play it at a reasonable volume.

Earplugs and noise-cancellation technology (which does help prevent hearing loss, too) work best at cancelling out low-frequency “droning” noises. Think engines and wind noise. By doing so, they leave you better able to hear high frequency stuff like voices, most music and sirens or horns. If you’re using an in-helmet communicator, you can wear earplugs.


Budget Gear

Plugfones ($15-20)

Available with either silicone or foam earplugs/speakers, the Plugfones are wondrously simple. The speakers are integrated into the plug, blocking external noise and allowing you to better hear the music. As the price would suggest, these aren’t high quality headphones, so don’t expect them to last forever or reproduce sound with minute accuracy, but they do get the job done. You may have limited success with these depending on how you want to use them; a very loud bike, a noisy helmet or high-speed wind noise may overwhelm them.

Sony MDR NC13
Sony MDR NC13

Mid-Range Gear

Sony MDR NC13 ($45)

Our friends at The Wirecutter report that these noise-cancelling Sonys reduce ambient noise at 160 Hz by an impressive 27 dB. The in-ear design should be helmet-compatible depending on the shape of your ears and helmet. They’re also said to reproduce sound reasonably well, especially considering the price. We’d suggest trying these on with your bike helmet before buying, or order using Amazon Prime, which makes returning stuff easy and hassle-free.

Bose QuietComfort 20
Bose QuietComfort 20

The Best Gear

Bose QuietComfort 20 ($300)

Noise cancelling headphones work by emitting a sound wave opposite to that of ambient noise, thus cancelling it out. These Bose ‘phones were the most effective at doing so in The Wirecutter’s test, cutting an amazing 45 dB at 160 Hz. That’s more effective than most over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. Sound reproduction is excellent and, like the Sonys, they should fit under your helmet, again personally dependent on how big your ears are and how tight your helmet is in that area.

Do you listen to music while riding? Which products and methods work for you?

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    I’ve been a headphone audiophile since I was in highschool. I’ve gone through an insane number of earbuds, as i’m sure a lot of people have. There’s no way I’m buying another $200 set of earbuds that’ll last me a year at most before something happens to them. Right now I really like my sol earbuds. They have a much better bass and overall range compared to, say skull candy 50/50, which you can find for $24 and are totally reasonable sounding.

    My advice for anyone looking at earbuds is to buy ones that are SHORT and go straight into your ear. I worry about those BOSS ones because they enter in at an angle. Long or angled ear buds tend to get pushed around by your helmet more so you’re getting uncomfortably jammed by your earbud or the earbud tip is no longer sealing your earhole and letting air in, causing more wind noise.

    I’ve discovered also that wind tends to woosh around the dish of the ear causing wind noise. custom molded ear monitors solve that problem by filling up the space. What i’ve done in the past is used SUGRU to create my own. It’s not easy to do on your own, so ask your girlfriend or boyfriend to play with your ear for you.

    • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

      Oh and if you can, stay away from bluetooth. Ive tried a few bt devices and what ive found is that battery life, max volume, and signal strength are always inadequate on a motorcycle. I like to keep my iphone in a breast pocket, so wired buds arent a problem. I always am able to reach the in-cable controls too. I tend to tuck them into the chin of the helmet so i know where they are. And they almost work as a microphone on the bike at low speeds. Though if youre going to answer a phone just pull over.

    • Dubknot

      I’m curious about those sol earbuds. I checked out their website, and it looks like they’re really pushing a new model right now(Relays). Which type do you use?

      • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

        i have the jax earbuds with the iPhone controls. Relays do look interesting but I personally am not spending that much on earbuds again..

        • Dubknot

          Thanks! Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I go through so many cheap headphones though, either one would be a step up for me.

          • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

            I hear ya. You can find the jax for thirty bucks. Nowadays you go cheaper than that and things can break on day 1. The jax is a good solid design. You’re not going to break them, rip a wire out, plug them up with earwax (gross but happens), or feel like you need something better.

    • Steve

      Sena SMHR10 here with some foam ear plugs. Comfortable and clear audio. Good battery life and audio quality is good too.

      • it_weenie

        I use the Sena SMH10 with the earphone base and use some cheap JVC earbuds that I’ve managed to keep for 2 years. A BT headset is a must for me now that I’ve had one that works well.

    • david forsythe

      I followed the design idea behind this MAKE video for some custom IEMs

      It’s been pretty great, but I might do it again with a nicer pair of buds. It was kind of an experiment when I did it so I didn’t want to ruin a nice pair of buds.


  • TheUst

    I will occasionally listen to music with ear buds while commuting on the back roads. I don’t really like to do it in town though. It always ends up making for awkward red light stops next to another rider trying to make friendly small talk.

    • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

      That’s why i wear them, or pretend to.

  • gleite311

    I use a Sena SMH10 bluetooth system now, but prior to that I used Klipsch S4 headphones with foam tips from Comply Foam. The foam tips worked great at blocking out the wind noise, much like the howard leight earplugs that I wear. Comply Foam makes tips for a large assortment of headphones – I’d highly recommend checking them out if you want better fitting, noise isolating earbuds.

    • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

      I had a pair of the comply foam tips on my previous set of earbuds. They come in various sizes and I’d say, even if you usually use the small ones like me, I really liked the way the largest fit. They compress a lot, which is good, because when they expand they really seal in the ear very well. Too well, almost. Many times the foam tips didnt want to come out of my ear with the earbud, which is annoying if you have a helmet on.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Big fan of the SENA systems. For music as well as rider-to-rider communication.

  • Paul Balcombe

    Wearing ear buds (in ear type) with your helmet….

    Put the left in your right ear and right in your left ear,
    then route the cord over the top of your ear and behind so the cord sits under
    your chin.

    This keeps them in place while wearing your helmet.

    • wjung88

      Oh man that’s smart. My problem is them falling out when I pull my helmet on. I’m guessing this fixes that problem too.

      • Paul Balcombe

        Yeah give it a try

  • Strafer

    i’ve got a simple pair of koss headphones KSC75
    i think many people use them in helmets
    you have to take off the plastic ear bit and then velcro them into your helmet
    not all helmets have a space for them but now more and more helmets have a space by the ear
    these work ok for now – in the future i’m interested to try bluetooth and noise cancelling
    Also would prefer one wire only – some places only allow one headphone

  • NOCHnoch

    Shure SE-215 all the way. Not only does it sound excellent and block noise very well, the cord loops over your ear and the ‘bud sits flush against your head, ensuring that your helmet won’t knock it out of place. They’re pricey ($100) but well worth it, especially considering the warranty.


    • John Tiedjens

      Good info thanks!

    • Scott Otte

      I’ve said it here before and I’ll say again, I’ve been using pair of these or an earlier version for 5 years. I love em.

    • Tupack Shackur

      Planning on getting those next. Being able to replace the cord is awesome! All my IEMs die because the cord next to the bud frays, and that only happens because they have to be looped over ear to stay in!

    • Joel Furfari

      I’ve been using these for years as well. They are fantastic. I love that you can just replace the cable if needed without having to buy all new earphones. Plus the foam tips are fantastic. I wear mine every single day.

  • Dan Vendt

    I love the fit that comes with the FUSE EARphones custom fit kits. They are down a bit on fidelity but when I think about it, it probably prevents me from cranking it up to the point where I hear nothing around me. These are used by many racing groups out there. Very helmet friendly won’t fall out during ANY activity.

  • Grimbo

    I gave up earbuds since I was never able to find a pair that did not fall out of my ears when riding. Instead I am using Xpro helmet speakers from Tork. Quite happy with this solution, and I can even wear hearing protection and the sound is still loud enough up to 60-65 mph. (Actually the sound is better with the hearing protection as wind noise drowns the music.)

  • Doug Herbert

    I wear Etymotic MC5s. They are designed for musicians to wear on stage, so they have fantastic isolation. They come with 3 different types of plug, I use the silicone ones, They are very low profile, so no problems fitting a helmet over top of them. Sound is very flat, with very clear mids and highs. Low end is tight and not over-accentuated like many ear buds. They cost about $80 a pair and include a storage pouch to protect them when not in use. I think you can buy a set that costs a bit more, which adds iPhone controls.

  • Mike Morrill

    Best thing I ever did was get a custom set made for me a couple years back. A little company running a booth at the AMA superbike races in Sonoma. I think it was about $250 total. They pour some goo in your ears to make a mold, and send you the finished product a couple weeks later. Sound quality is great, nearly all of the road noise gone…Totally awesome!

    • KeithB

      This is THE way to go!
      Had some made for me and they work very well and are comfortable.

  • Mike

    I’ve been riding with a set of Philips SHE3575 (same as 3570/3580/3590 but with mic) and they’ve done an admiral job. They’re small enough that they don’t snag on my helmet, and they’re cheap enough that I don’t care if they get lost. Audio quality is much better than it should be for a set of ~$10 headphones. They don’t reduce noise as well as a pair of Howard Leights, but they block enough noise that I can listen to music/podcasts without cranking the volume to unsafe levels.

  • ticticticboom

    Challenger custom molded earphones available from earplug superstore. Yeah, they cost $198 plus extras, but they’re worth every penny. I’ve had mine for 10 years and still going. If you buy them you’ll never go back to foam earplugs or “low cost” solutions.

  • James Jamerson

    I tend not to go for noise-canceling. I still want to hear what’s out there, I just don’t want to hear it as much. After a lot of research and trying a couple of different options, SkullCandy Asyms seem to be the best budget choice. They sit flush with your ear so the helmet will knock them out. Also, a small rubber band to hold the wires together under your chin after it splits left-right helps keep the wire from snagging/dislodging.

    Another tip: If you lose the tip you can cut up a regular foam earplug to recreate something workable. Maybe not great, but it’ll do just fine for a week or two until you get replacements.

  • Donnie Byers

    I use Etymotic earplugs, similar in design to the plugphones above. They STAY in and cancel out almost all the DIN from my motorcycle. They’re kinda pricey depending on which model you buy, but they’re sound is great compared to entry-level brands.

    • Donnie Byers

      BTW, I use the kids model that limits how loud they can play. No sense in drowning out motorcycle engine noise with something even louder…


    • Piglet2010

      Great sound and noise isolation, but if the wires break, they are nearly impossible to splice.

      • Dave P

        Etymotics for sure. Noise reduction in the 40db range with audiophile grade sound reproduction is the bomb. I have the HF5′s and they work great in conjunction with a separate mic and my Shark bt communicator. I can use my phone, navigation, ipod and direct talk to other riders with the volume on minimum. Having it hooked to the communicator gives me 12 hours of use and all wires are under the padding in my helmet. Woohoo!

  • Tall Jones

    The Plugfones, which were previously mentioned in a recent commuter gear article, have some terrible reviews on Amazon. I immediately thought…”oh great, RideApart endorsement”, but decided to read some comments first. Seems like a large majority of the people who buy them say they break within 2 weeks of normal use. Sounds to me like inherently bad design. I would say RideApart shouldn’t be recommending these, even as the “budget item”, even with the caveats mentioned in the article. It’s plain and simple just a waste of $20 from what the reviews say. Better to wear foam plugs for a while longer while you save a bit more for any of the other items here.

  • Alex DeSantiago

    I don’t have experience with these, but the guys I ride with swear by them. I’ll be trying them this spring.


  • John Tiedjens

    I have a pair of bose but they still aren’t that good on my bike. Also there is the putting on your helmet and falling out factor…or just falling out while you’re riding. I wish there was a GOOD set of speakers you could easily retrofit in a helmet. The ones I’ve seen have NO power to punch through wind noise at all. It’s like such a simple design task yet it seems no one has bothered to do it well or properly.

    • John Tiedjens

      And as for the bose ear retainer….. OMG those are so lame.. they even fall out when I run with them…. I was really annoyed at spending 130 on earbud and having that all happen. The sound quality was good however.

  • w0lfatncsu

    I use Klipsch S4a earbuds. The biggest difference maker I’ve seen personally was getting comply foam tips. Cuts down on the wind noise and makes the ride that much more comfortable.

  • Ryan

    Does anyone have any experience using these?


    I’m worried they might protrude too far for use in a helmet. Real world price is about $90 despite what the site says.

  • skeelo221

    These are my favorites!

    • ismail tasdelen

      Few years later skeelo :
      -Were these your favorites skeelo ?
      - WHAT?

  • Bryan Sherman

    Bought a pair of Klipsch S4a headphones about a month ago to ride in & they work great for me. Fit perfect in my ears & see small enough they don’t hurt my head after extended rides. I would definitely recommend & they sound great too.

  • Piglet2010

    “…but it {noise] elevates your stress level and wears you out….”

    Shhhh – don’t let the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” crowd know this. :D

  • Mariofz1

    Sorry to be the luddite here….Florida traffic requires 100% of your attention, so no music for me till i take my helmet off

  • IRS4

    I’ve found the JVC marshmallows to be a good low cost under helmet option, at only $11. Decent noise isolation, decent sound, and low enough profile to be quite comfortable.


  • UnicornMaster

    I got these AKG XS323s yesterday and they’re fantastic! There’s a place in Vancouver that sterilizes demo models, so was able to try on a bunch (Shure, Yurbuds, and more). My problem has been finding ones that don’t get pulled out and hurt my ears when I take my helmet off, but these ones have nothing to catch on it, they’re so tiny! $50, full sound, single button remote, and isolate sound very well (I’ve found the best is to ride with both in but my player set to mono and hard
    -panned, allowing the other to just be a de facto earplug). Highly recommended.


    • UnicornMaster

      And how they sit…

  • charlie

    The S Plugs get good reviews. They’re basically a better fitting and more expensive pair of Plugfones. They seem to last a lot longer though.