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Beats alternatives under $100
Beats products are everywhere, and a pair of Beats headphones can be pretty expensive relative to the competition. But you’re in luck: you can get better sound than Beats for under $100.
We’ll kick this party off with an oldie but a goodie: the Sony MDR-7506 headphones. Although the Beats Studio3 has the name “studio” in their name, you won’t find any audio engineers wearing them. The Sony MDR-7506, however, is an industry-standard.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 18, 2022, to include a Notable mentions section, FAQ section, frequency response and isolation charts for the Sony MDR-7506, Anker Soundcore Life A1, Sennheiser HD 350BT, a contents menu, and to add the Monoprice BT-600ANC to the Best list.
If you really want studio headphones, get the Sony MDR-7506
One of the main reasons people enjoy Beats headphones is the emphasized bass response. While that’s fine for some people, that’s not ideal when you’re actually working with audio whether that means producing or mixing. You don’t want a pair of headphones that will color your music in any way, and this is where the Sony MDR-7506 headphones shine. It reproduces accurate audio and has remained an industry standard for decades. It has frequency range that people have relied on for decades.
These closed-back over-ear headphones have okay isolation compared to the on-ear Solo Pro. The MDR-7506 includes a cumbersome, coiled audio cable which is good for studio work, but not great for commuting. Plus, it folds at the hinges for easy storage, so you can easily stuff them in a bag when you’re not using them.
For the best wireless sound quality, get the Sennheiser HD 350BT
Sennheiser headphones always sound great, and the Sennheiser HD 350BT is one way for you to get accurate, high-quality wireless audio on a budget. This headset supports a host of Bluetooth codecs (aptX, aptX Low Latency, AAC, and SBC), so you can enjoy optimal audio quality no matter your smartphone.
The ear cups are comfortable for those with fairly small-t0-average-sized ears. If you have larger ears, you might find that these fit more like on-ear headphones than over-ear headphones. If you can look past that, you’ll be able to enjoy all that these headphones have to offer: onboard controls, Bluetooth multipoint, and efficient fast charging.
The microphone quality is pretty good for an embedded system, and you can definitely skate by using this headset for your next conference call. You can contact the headset by folding the hinges up toward the headband, which is great for commuters.
Hold up! Something’s different:
This article’s frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements, isolation performance plots, and standardized microphone demos. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white). Each new mic sample begins with the phrase, “This is a SoundGuys standardized microphone demonstration …”
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
If you want a pair of true wireless buds, go with the Anker Soundcore Life A1
True wireless earbuds are all the rage these days, and Beats actually has a really great pair of them: the Powerbeats Pro, the adequate, Beats Studio Buds, and the frustrating, Beats Fit Pro. However, those come in at at eye-watering prices. If you want to save some cash and get something that will keep you happy until you can save up: get the Anker Soundcore Life A1 instead.
The Anker Soundcore Life A1 has an IPX7 rating, making it nearly impervious to water damage. The onboard touch controls are comprehensive, so you rarely have to pull out your phone to control anything. If you have an iPhone you’re in luck: the A1 supports AAC—ideal for iPhone—and SBC with a reliable connection.
You get above average battery life of 8 hours and 23 minutes on a single charge, which ought to last any commute, plus a workout or a few. The fit is comfortable with included different sized ear tips and wings. For well under $100 the A1 the sound is bass-heavy which most Beats fans will probably like.
The 1MORE Triple-Driver in-ears plug in and sound good
It’s not a secret that Beats has basically abandoned wired earbuds, but you needn’t make the same error. If you’re going to get a pair of wired earbuds, just get the 1MORE Triple-Driver In-Ear: it sounds good and includes a wide variety of ear tips for proper isolation. Each earbud houses three drivers and this yields clear, enjoyable audio.
1MORE’s build quality is excellent. Instead of cheap plastic housing your average Beats that’s prone to breakage, the Triple-Driver In-Ear has a fabric-wrapped cable for durability. The earbud cases are a strong metal and the nozzles angle inward for a more ergonomic fit.
The Monoprice BT-600ANC gives the Beats Solo3 a run for its money
The Beats Solo3 Wireless, isn’t cheap. Fortunately, the Monoprice BT-600ANC is pretty cheap. Ducking in just under $100 it has impressive ANC capabilities, even when compared to flagships. For iPhone users it supports AAC, and for Android users aptX HD is onboard to get you better audio quality.
The BT-600ANC folds down for easy travel. In our tests the battery lasts 36 hours 20 minutes, though it has no quick charge, but you can listen with a hardwired connection too. Monoprice gave the headset a somewhat cartoonish consumer oriented frequency response, with under-emphasized mids. You might want to try to EQ it, but for casual pop and hip-hop listening it’ll do. It might be a little hard to track down, which is a downside.
The Anker Soundcore Life Q30 gives the Beats Solo3 a run for its money
Check out the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 headphones at under $100, these headphones boast a 40-hour battery life and comfortable design, thanks to the plush ear pads. Bass notes are emphasized which means Beats fans will be right at home with the Life Q30 frequency response. The headphones use active noise cancelling to shut out the world around you. Its ANC can’t compete with the likes of Sony and Bose, but it’s good for coffee shops and libraries.
Notable mentions for the best Beats alternatives under $100
- Jabra Elite 3: For the Android user looking for a solid set of earbuds this pair has IP55, a favorable sounding curve, and good mics. It only uses SBC, so it’s not ideal for iOS.
- JBL Quantum 50: This very inexpensive set of wired earbuds sounds great. It also can double for gamers as a solid set of buds.
- JBL Tune 510BT: For ardent fans of on-ears headphones this bass laden Bluetooth set uses AAC and SBC codecs, and where it lacks frills, it saves you from overspending on Beats, and has a battery life exceeding 40 hours.
- JLab Go Air Pop: For about $20 you can grab this nice sounding set by JLab. Boasting over 11 hours of battery life, a good frequency response, and IPX4 rating, you’re not missing much except the mic isn’t great.
- Nothing Ear 1: Lightweight, comfortable, IPX4 certified, and skating in just under $100, this set of buds sports fashionable looks, a good sound, app support, and some ANC to boot. Say goodbye to Beats Studio Buds.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro: This wired headset simply put sounds good. It’s a bit studio style, but with slightly more emphasized low end. It might not look especially cool, but Beats are basically all plastic, as is this one.
- Skullcandy Dime 2: If you really just want cheap wireless buds with bass on tap, this set is a no brainer. It has IPX4 certification and a light, comfortable fit. The case charges via microUSB and it has a short battery life, which is not ideal.
- Sony WH-CH710N: Occasionally you can find this set of Bluetooth headphones hovering just over $100. It has ANC (though not flagship quality) with a 41 hours 35 minutes of playtime, and quick charge. Optional wired connecting is a plus. The sound leans towards bassy.
What you should know about Beats alternatives under $100
What’s up with the Beats frequency response?
One of the things you’ll hear people talk about all the time when it comes to audio is frequency response. This is especially true with Beats products as they have a characteristically unique frequency response. But what is frequency response and why is it so important? We’re only going to scratch the surface here, but if you want to dig in deeper you can read this full explainer.
If you look in the specs of a pair of headphones you’ll probably see something that looks like this: Frequency Response 20Hz – 20,000Hz. That’s also the range of human hearing. Basically, the frequency response of any audio product refers to the ability of the components of those headphones to receive an input signal and output that same exact signal. But if you’ve ever played a game of telephone as a kid, you know that a message can get confused and garbled by the time it reaches the end of the line.
The same is true of audio. Depending on the components of the headphones, that initial signal can change slightly by the time it reaches the drivers and your ears. Furthermore, human hearing is wildly different from person to person. So even if you made the perfect pair of headphones that could reproduce a signal perfectly, it will still sound different to some people.
This leads manufacturers to do tons of research so that their products sound good to most people. Incidentally, we did the same thing for our target curve. This includes tweaking certain components, and thus the frequency response, to what they hope people will like. In the case of Beats headphones, they tend to emphasize lower notes. So the sound of a bass kick coming through their product will be more powerful than the sound of a cymbal. It isn’t better or worse, just different. It’s what Beats thinks most people will like, and whether it’s because of marketing or because of the exaggerated low end, the company clearly on to something considering how many they’ve sold. Still, most audio circles frown upon that characteristic sound, which is why this list exists.
AAC, Bluetooth, and you
All but two products in the Beats line-up are wireless, which means that you should know a thing or two about Bluetooth before you invest your money. We have a whole series breaking down every aspect of Bluetooth, but here we’re going to focus on something called a codec. A Bluetooth codec can be thought of as a common language between two devices. If two products speaker the same language (or have the same codec), they can transfer more data between the two.
This is important because there are a number of different codecs that all work slightly differently. Luckily, all products speak the same basic codec called SBC, so you’ll never be stuck not being able to connect. This is important with Beats products because the only codec Beats headphones and speakers are compatible with is AAC. Now AAC isn’t the best codec available, but it isn’t the worst. The problem with it is that it works best when you use an iOS device as your source device. If you have an Android phone, your performance can vary based on which model you have.
Why is isolation so important?
When it comes to headphones, isolation is arguably the most important factor you should consider. It’s the enemy of good sound, which is why active noise cancelling headphones have risen in popularity over the years. If you commute or flying, there’s always a lot of outside noise around you. And if your headphones don’t block those noises, or in the case of ANC headphones actively work to negate them, it could make for an unpleasant listening experience.
Human hearing is great, but it isn’t perfect. And one area of life where this is apparent is when we’re trying to listen to our favorite tunes. For evolutionary reasons, when two sounds of similar frequencies occur simultaneously your brain ignores whichever one is of lower volume. This is called auditory masking, and the ability to focus on what’s louder and most important helped our ancestors survive in the wild. Unfortunately, we don’t live in the wild anymore and our brain prefers to focus on the sounds of a passing bus instead of the delicate bassline of your favorite tune. Isolation can fix this by not allowing those outside noises to even reach your ears in the first place.
For headphones, closed-back over-ears do this best which is another reason why the Solo3 headphones as on-ears, have such a strong low end. It’s to help you hear the bass when it otherwise might be lost due to auditory masking. In-ears are a little trickier because they physically can’t form a seal around your ears because, by definition, they go in your ears. In those cases, it’s good to look into a solid pair of memory foam ear tips to complement your favorite pair of buds as they do a great job of isolating outside noise. Plus, it’s a great way to ignore the holiday music.
The history of Beats
This entire article might seem like we’re berating the Beats brand, but that isn’t the case. Beats products have their place in the world and I usually recommend a product or two depending on the use case and who is asking. They also have a really interesting backstory that’s worth checking out if you want to know how they came to be. While it’s true that we’re not entirely sure what’s going on with the brand now, there’s no doubt that the company is going to sell tons of headphones. Especially since Apple, its parent company, removed the headphone jack and added the H1 chip.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
As a team, the Sound Guys crew has years of testing experience behind them. Not to mention that we’re all nerds and care deeply about anything audio. Lily spent much of her time before joining Sound Guys in and out of radio stations, Adam has listened to hundreds of audio products in the six years he’s been here, and Chris spent years testing products for the likes of USA Today and Reviewed.com, so yeah, we’re pretty confident in what we say here. If you want some fun reading also make sure to check out our ethics policy so you can be as confident in our picks as we are.
Frequently asked questions about the best Beats alternatives under $100
Some of our picks are pretty heavy handed with the bass, like the Anker Soundcore Life A1. Our list is intended to provide you with good sounding options that have reasonable amounts of bass for most music, and work well. Definitely check out the frequency responses of our picks to get an idea of how each sounds, as well as this selection of headphones for bassheads.
Basically, Beats does nothing that other headphones can’t also do. Because Apple owns Beats there’s some exclusive exchange of technology, such as the H1 chip only found in Apple and select Beats products, but that’s more of a perk than a truly essential feature.