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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. Although devices like the Beats Studio3 have the name “studio” in their name, you won’t find any audio engineers wearing them. But you’re in luck: you can get better sound than Beats for not too much money. Here are the best Beats alternatives for less than $100.
- This list of the best Beats alternatives for under $100 was updated on September 13, 2023, to adjust the formatting to our current style and answer more frequently asked questions.
If you really want studio headphones, get the Sony MDR-7506
We’ll kick this party off with an oldie but a goodie: the Sony MDR-7506 headphones, which are regarded as industry standard. 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. Where the Sony MDR-7506 headphones shine is they reproduce accurate audio and have remained an industry standard for decades. It has a frequency range that people have relied on since it was first released.
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.
Understandably, you may want to ditch the headphone jack and opt for wireless options. You may also seek out that amplified bass sound, in which case some of our other choices can supply you with that too.
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.
The Sennheiser HD 350BT works okay for phone calls, with a sidetone feature. This reduces some disorientation that can occur with isolating headphones by piping in a bit of your voice while you’re using the mic. All in all, it’s not the best or worst mic. Let us know what you think below.
Sennheiser HD 350BT microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
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.
Cut the cord with the Anker Soundcore Space A40
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 good (with caveats) Beats Fit Pro. However, those come in 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 Space A40.
Sporting an IPX4 rating, it’s perfectly adequate for most workouts. By default, the Anker Soundcore Space A40 has a pleasant frequency response, with not terribly much exaggeration in any frequency. The included app supplies an unheard-of 22 EQ preset, so you’ll be sure to find one to suit you if the from-the-box sound is too tame.
Rounding out the package, the A40 has very good noise canceling capabilities, particularly with low-pitched noises. It also has an impressive 7 hours and 55 minutes of battery life on a single charge with the ANC on. In picking out weak points, be aware that the A40 battery case lid is not very secure. So, if you tend to chuck your earbud case into a bag to roam loosely amongst your belongings, it might open up. Besides that, if you don’t mind taking extra care with the case, the Anker Soundcore Life A40 delivers with Bluetooth 5.2 and multipoint.
The onboard mics on the Anker Soundcore Space A40 sound about average, with some difficulty with sibilant sounds. Otherwise, the mic does not suffer from issues like clarity. In terms of rejecting environmental sounds, the A40 handles street noise well but doesn’t cut out wind well. Have a listen.
Anker Soundcore Space A40 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Anker Soundcore Space A40 microphone demo (Street conditions):
Anker Soundcore Space A40 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Run towards the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
You don’t need to spend the big bucks on the Beats Powerbeats Pro; just get the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC. Stack the two beside each other and see that the JLab over-ear-hooked true wireless earbuds offer a surprisingly good sound and 15 hours, 31 minutes of battery life. You won’t miss out on much by going with the JLab buds.
For under $100 the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC offers some excellent noise canceling—better than some buds costing quite a bit more. Like all wireless Beats, it uses just AAC and SBC codecs. Unlike the Powerbeats Pro, JLab includes an app that works well with any phone OS and includes some useful EQ options too. With an impressive IP66 rating against dust and water (compared to just IPX4 on the Powerbeats Pro), you don’t have to worry about dunking your buds in the rain or sweating at the gym. The touch controls might not be the most accurate, but otherwise, JLab has done a good job of stuffing a lot in for a little bit of money.
Mics on the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC handle phone calls perfectly fine. In more noisy environments, it won’t cut out sounds like alarms, but droning wind noises are more effectively filtered. Let us know what you think.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC microphone demo (Ideal):
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC microphone demo (Street):
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
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 Monoprice BT-600ANC’s onboard mic works fine for handling calls. Onboard the Qualcomm cVc 8.0 technology pretty effectively cancels out background noise on busy streets. You may prefer a dedicated headset, but for most calls it’ll do the job.
Monoprice BT-600ANC microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Anker Soundcore Life Q35 does a lot for a little
Check out the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 headphones and save some coins. These headphones boast more than 52 hours of battery life and a comfortable design, thanks to the plush ear pads. Bass notes are emphasized which means Beats fans will feel right at home with the Life Q35 frequency response. Plus the Q35 uses active noise canceling to shut out the world around you. Its ANC can’t compete with the likes of Sony and Bose, but it’s still rather good for the price.
Compared to our ideal, the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 tends to exaggerate most frequencies above 1500Hz, and below 200Hz, whether plugged in or playing over Bluetooth. For fans of the Beats sound, you’ll probably enjoy this frequency response, for the same reasons that some people don’t like studio headphones.
The KZ ZSN Pro X is a great Beats alternative if you want to get wired up
Just because Beats has abandoned the headphone jack doesn’t mean you need to as well. The KZ ZSN Pro X is a cheap set of earbuds with translucent over-ear wires (which you can replace), and it comes in gold. The earphones get very close to our ideal sound and sit securely in-ears. You can get it with or without a remote and in-line mic. For music fans who want an inexpensive set of earbuds that outperforms the price, the ZSN Pro X deserves consideration.
Basically, the KZ ZSN Pro X sounds good. It exaggerates some treble notes, but on the whole, it outputs a likable sound for most listeners.
Anker Soundcore Life A1 is great Beats alternative for bass
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 sound is bass-heavy, which most Beats fans will probably like.
People who prefer the bass emphasis typically found on Beats will enjoy the EQ presets on the Anker Soundcore Life A1. You need to blindly cycle through them by using the onboard controls, which is where you’ll notice the budget nature of the buds.
Notable mentions for the best Beats alternatives under $100
- Anker Soundcore Life Q20: This one is basically the cheapest ($59 at Amazon) you’ll find effective noise canceling on over-ear headphones. While it lacks extras, it nails the basics.
- 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 aptX and SBC, so it’s not ideal for iOS. Pick it up for $59 at Amazon.
- JBL Quantum 50: This very inexpensive ($34 at Amazon) 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-ear 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. It sells for $27.99 at Walmart.
- JLab Go Air Pop: For about $24 at Amazon, you can grab this nice-sounding set by JLab. Boasting over 11 hours of battery life, a good frequency response, and an IPX4 rating, you’re not missing much except the mic isn’t great.
- Pioneer HDJ-CUE1BT: This headset aims to double as on-the-go DJ headphones, as demonstrated with the bassy tuning, and as your everyday listening set. With a few caveats, like the lack of app support, it’s a decent substitute for folks looking to satisfy the Beats niche. Pick up a pair for $99 at Amazon.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: If you have an Android device, these Samsung Buds sound good and work effortlessly with your device. The IPX2 rating isn’t ideal, but the functionality is great. The Galaxy Buds 2 fluctuate in price, but you can find them for $99 at Amazon.
- Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless: These true wireless earbuds offer great connectivity, good noise canceling, and sound solid out of the box for $89 at Amazon.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro: This wired headset, simply put, sounds good and sells for $87 at Amazon. It’s a bit studio style but with slightly more emphasized low end. The HD 280 Pro 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 ($24 at Amazon) with bass on tap, this set is a no-brainer. It has IPX4 certification and a light, comfortable fit. The case charges via micro-USB, and it has a short battery life, which is not ideal, but again, it is cheap.
- Skullcandy Hesh ANC: As a straightforward headset with optional Bluetooth or wired connectivity, you get some onboard bass and a hint of noise canceling to boot. Get a pair for $85.99 at Amazon.
- Skullcandy Mod XT: These IP55 true wireless earbuds are affordable ($48 at Amazon) with Bluetooth multipoint and good isolation.
- Sony WH-CH710N: You can find this headset for $748 at Amazon. It has ANC (though not flagship quality) with 41 hours, 35 minutes of playtime, and a quick charge. Optional wired connecting is a plus. The sound leans towards bassy.
What you should know about Beats alternatives under $100
So 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 the frequency response, and why is it so important? We’re only going to scratch the surface here.
If you look at 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 is 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 codecs, and you
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 speak 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 canceling headphones have risen in popularity over the years. If you commute or fly, 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 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 our 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 and H2 chip.
How we choose the best Beats alternatives under $100
At SoundGuys, we look at our collected knowledge based on our decades of combined experience and objective measurements when picking the best Beats alternatives. Combining real-world tests with data, and our expertise, we can speak directly and candidly about our picks. Whenever possible, we try to test and review our recommendations.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
As a team, the SoundGuys crew has years of testing experience behind them. We use objective testing and real-world use when reviewing products, so we can confidently recommend products. In addition, no individual benefits financially from suggesting any product, and it makes no difference to our writers what you buy, except that we hope to direct you to something you’ll like. While we use affiliate links that go towards funding the organization, our editorial and marketing staff are completely separate from one another. 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 bass heads.
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.
Both Beats and Bose offer distinct sound profiles. While Beats emphasizes bass and is often favored by younger audiences for its style, Bose leans towards clarity and is often chosen for its noise canceling capabilities. The preference depends on individual taste.
SkullCandy and Beats both have an extensive product lineup, but on average, Skullcandy tends to be a little better than Beats, but not by much, and neither is considered top-tier headphones or earbuds. Both are below average on the sound and comfort scale of headphones and are both heavy on the bass and can sound distorted.
Beats continues to be a popular choice for many, especially those who prioritize bass and style. Its worth depends on what you’re looking for in headphones.