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Smartwatches continue to improve, and many of the newest models can play music, podcasts, and audiobooks without any help from a connected smartphone. That means you can easily leave your phone behind for a morning jog or afternoon gym session.
You do, however, need a way to listen to this audio, which is where—you guessed it—a pair of headphones come in. Connecting headphones to your smartwatch will only take a few minutes, too—just about any Bluetooth-enabled pair should do.
If you’ve previously set up a pair of AirPods to work with your iPhone—which is as easy as opening the AirPods case near your smartphone—they will automatically work with an Apple Watch connected to the same phone. Just load up the app you want to listen to on your wrist and press play.
You can also connect any pair of Bluetooth headphones to your Apple Watch from the smartwatch itself. First, check the instructions that came with your headphones (or run a quick web search) to find out how to put them in pairing mode. Typically, you’ll have to press and hold a particular button.
Next, open the Settings app on watchOS, tap Bluetooth, and wait for your headphones to appear. Select the headphones when they show up on the Watch’s screen, and they’ll connect. To choose between different pairs of headphones while listening to audio, touch and hold the bottom of the watch screen, swipe up to open the Control Center, and tap the small audio output icon (an arrow pointing up into concentric rings).
You can manage which music tracks and other audio files are stored on your Apple Watch through the equivalent apps on your iPhone. With Spotify for iOS, for example, if an Apple Watch is connected, you’ll see a Download to Apple Watch option when you tap the three dots on an individual playlist screen.
Wear OS device
The process of connecting headphones to Wear OS smartwatches can vary slightly depending on the watch manufacturer, but it’s broadly similar across devices. We’ll describe the process for the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, but you shouldn’t see too many differences if you’re using a different Wear OS watch.
You’ll need a pair of Bluetooth headphones, and you’ll also need to get them into pairing mode—check the instructions that came with them or look online if you’re unsure how to do this. Then, open the Settings app on your watch and choose Connections, followed by Bluetooth. Tap the headphones you want to connect to when they appear on the screen.
You can get to the same connection menu by swiping down from the top of the screen and then swiping left to get to the quick settings panel. Once there, tap the headphone icon to make the connection. After the headphones connect, you can tap the cog icon next to them on the Bluetooth screen to select them for Media audio (or to Unpair them).
To specify which songs and other audio files are actually stored on your wrist, head to the app you want to use for playback. If you’re using YouTube Music for Wear OS, for example, select any song or playlist to see the little download icon (a downward arrow). Tap this to save the song or playlist to your smartwatch.
Every Fitbit Sense or Fitbit Versa smartwatch (except for the Fitbit Versa Lite) can pipe audio through Bluetooth headphones, but you can’t link up any of the Fitbit fitness trackers. The connection process varies depending on which watch you’re using, although it always starts by getting your headphones into pairing mode (you’ll find instructions on the web or bundled with your headphones).
If you’re using an older Fitbit Ionic, Fitbit Versa 1, or Fitbit Versa 2 smartwatch, open the Settings app. Select Bluetooth, then Audio Device to start searching for nearby devices. Once your Fitbit discovers your headphones, select them from the list, and you’ll see a check mark next to them when they link up.
On the newer Fitbit Versa 2 and Fitbit Versa 3 devices, you’ll need to open the Settings app and then pick Vibration & audio, Bluetooth, and Manage devices. Next, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to start a search for new devices. Again, your headphones should show up so you can select them, and a check mark will appear by their name when they’ve linked to your watch.
Your Fitbit smartwatch can play audio through the Spotify, Deezer, and Pandora apps, and you can manage these from your connected smartphone. You can also add music and podcast files to your watch to play through Fitbit’s own Music app on your wrist—download the Fitbit Connect app for Windows or macOS and follow the instructions to do so.
Garmin makes plenty of smartwatches with different designs and interfaces, so we can’t cover every variation here, but you should still be able to find the necessary settings without too much trouble if we don’t cover your particular watch here. First, get your Bluetooth headphones powered on and in pairing mode: typically by pressing a button, but if you’re unsure check the web (or in the headphones box) for instructions.
If you’re using a Garmin Vivoactive smartwatch, press and hold the B button (lower right), then tap the settings cog icon and choose Music, Headphones, and Add New. For a Forerunner smartwatch, press and hold the Up button (on the left), then select Music, Headphones, and Add New.
[Related: The best Garmin smartwatch]
For Gamin Fenix and Garmin Epix smartwatches, the instructions you’ll need to follow are the same: press and hold the Menu button (on the left), then pick Music, Headphones, and Add New. Whichever watch you’re working with, your headphones should appear on screen where you can then select them.
The way you load up and listen to audio on Garmin smartwatches varies between devices too, but it’s fairly straightforward on all of them. Depending on the watch model you’ve got, you can set up connections to the Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, and iHeartRadio apps on your phone, and you can also add your own audio files from a computer via the Garmin Express app for Windows or macOS.