If you’re a frequent visitor, then you already know that headphones come in a wide range of prices. Even headphones that are considered “cheap” can range from $20 to $200. But what are the very best cheap headphones? As you might imagine, our picks for the best cheap headphones tend to offer more and better features as we go higher in price, but you might be surprised at the quality of the audio you get even at lower prices. In this article we take a look at our picks for the best headphones, across a variety price points. Without further ado, here’s our look at the best cheap headphones that are currently available.
The best cheap headphones under $50 are the Monoprice 8323
Have you been following SoundGuys for a while? Then it should come as no surprise that we featured the Monoprice 8323 headphones. The company has a reputation for bringing more than is expected to affordable audio equipment, and the Mnoprice 8323 headphones are a prime example of the bang-for-your-buck philosophy.
Monoprice 8323Full Review
The build quality isn’t the greatest and they’re lacking a comprehensive feature-set, but those things can be forgiven when sound and comfort are taken into account. Monoprice makes the most of what it has with massive 50mm drivers for added bass. Speaking of which, the low-end isn’t grossly forward but won’t be mistaken for neutral either. Vocals are audible over the repetitive bass bumps in Good God Damn by Arcade Fire. What’s more, the dynamic response made songs with nuanced vocals a pleasure and give other headphones in the $100 bracket to a run for their money.
Monoprice has a reputation for bringing more than is expected to affordable audio equipment.
Like the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, these are collapsible and great for transport—thanks to their half-pound weight. That said, we wouldn’t classify these as durable. Sure, these are technically DJ headphones, but the ear cup yolks are dubiously built at best. However, they do flip up 90 degrees and are comfortable when hanging from the neck. Want to add some of your own personal flair? The ear pads pop right off and you can buy replacements in red, white or gray for only $5. Altogether, you can purchase the 8323s and every alternate earpad while staying under $50. Keep in mind, though, that removing them feels like lifting bare legs off a synthetic seat cushion on a southern summer day if you’re even remotely sweaty. Complaints aside, they’re still the some of the most comfortable headphones at a sub-$50 price.
If you want to take a look at some other options in this price range, be sure to check out our extensive article for the best cheap headphones under $50.
What you should know about the best cheap headphones
As with anything in life, there are pros and cons. Since you’re looking into purchasing some affordable headphones, your first sacrifice is going to be build quality. That doesn’t mean that all or any of these products are particularly prone to breakage, but it does mean that they’re going to lack premium materials like the sheepskin leather found on the Master & Dynamic MW50 wireless headphones. Additionally, you may be disheartened to realize that in most cases when perusing cheap headphones, what you buy is what you get. And by that I mean that there aren’t any frivolities that accompany your purchase. For instance, the Sony WF-SP700N are compatible with a free app to control the headphones. Well, you won’t find anything like that here. But on the flip side, that means that your purchase doesn’t rely on gimmicks. What you see is what you get.
OK, so you may expect that software to be lacking or completely nonexistent, but you may want to be reminded that hardware features aren’t going to be especially apparent either. For instance, some headphones receive water-resistant treatment, but none of these do. That’s fine, since we’ve gone decades without it, but it does mean that you’ll have to be more careful with your cheap headphones, especially around water. What’s more, the passive isolation will be less effective with these picks than with something like the Focal Listen Wireless, which are outfitted with top-end dampening materials. Aside from that though, if you want the best bang for your buck, whatever your budget may be, you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re working with $100, get the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x
The ATH-M50x are the top pick for many but their little brother, the ATH-M40x, easily keep pace. Like the M50x, the M40x are designed with functionality in mind. From the enthusiast to the professional, the 40x will satiate any hi-fi appetite.
Audio-Technica ATH-M40XFull Review
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x are comfortable, durable, and reproduce only a slightly skewed sound signature.
The rotating ear cups allow these to lay flat against the chest when inactive, which is always handy. Generally speaking, the headband is comfortable with just enough padding. However, if you aren’t into the pleather feel, you may have a differing opinion. As far as sound is concerned, the ATH-M40x provides more subtle bass reproduction than the ATH-M50x. This is ideal for mixing, making it easier for sound engineers to register and remedy overemphasized treble, which could result in a fatiguing final product. Not only that, but the circumaural design is great for long studio sessions, and if you happen to venture outside with these, you’ll be able to attenuate plenty of ambient noise due to the over-ear fit.
Audio-Technica designed these with one purpose in mind: listening to music. Overall, if you prefer an ever-so-slight emphasis in the mids and vocals, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the ATH-M40x as our pick for the best cheap headphones under $100. You can take a look at our feature that offers even more choices for great headphones priced under $100.
Did you find extra change in the couch? In that case, pickup the Monoprice Monolith M565 for $200
The Monoprice Monolith M565 are priced a hair under $200 and still manage to implement planar magnetic drivers. As a disclaimer, these aren’t the best sounding headphones under $200 because they’re the most neutral; they’re not. Rather, they’re the best because they transition listeners from the world of consumer audio to hi-fi audio. Some may balk at the overemphasized bass, but the Monoprice Monolith cast a wide net, pleasing a majority of listeners.
Monoprice Monolith M565Full Review
The planar magnetic drivers make each bass note easy to differentiate, without resulting in receded midrange frequencies, unless the volume is cranked up all the way. In that case, you may notice that the vocals are slightly more difficult to hear over the emphasized low-end but it’s easy to overlook. As far as the treble is concerned, this too receives a dash of overemphasis. Contrary to most exaggerated treble reproduction, the Monoprice Monolith M565 don’t fatigue the ear and will please consumers by adding a touch of perceived clarity to a given song.
What’s more, the soundstage benefits from the open-back design. Black metal grills and wood-finished ear cups give the Monolith M565 a premium look and feel, but this design comes at the expense of isolation. For listeners looking to get the most out of these headphones, stick to quiet, indoor environments. Otherwise, the audio quality will suffer and your neighbors will hear exactly what you’re listening to—no winners in that situation if you ask us.
If you want to see some more products at this price level, head on over to our feature to see our selections for the best cheap headphones under $200.
If you need something wireless, the best cheap headphones are the CB3 Hush
The CB3 Hush feature plush padding and are comfortable to use, but all the perks still come with a few downsides. The biggest con to these is the sound leakage, which can be an issue if you’re going to be using them in a quiet environment like in a library or at the office. Though they won’t emit as much unwanted sound as the previously mentioned Monolith M565 headphones, it’s quite a bit of leakage for closed-back, active noise-cancelling cans. But for such a reasonable price, it’s expected that there’s quite a bit of give with this take.
Also, they’re not made of premium materials. This is understandably the first thing to go when trying to make an affordable product. Granted, these aren’t feeble by any means, just don’t expect the premium metal build that you’ll find on some other options listed. However, these do cost less than $90, making them the cheapest of the best wireless headphones. And even with all of the drawbacks, they’re still an excellent pair of cans for anyone who’s in the market for active noise-cancelling headphones.
Next up: Best wireless headphones
- Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2: These headphones are slightly bulkier and more expensive than the highlighted CB3 Hush, but they’re great active noise-cancelling headphones nonetheless.
- Grado SR80e: If you want a smaller set of open-back cans, these are a legendary pair of headphones. The soundstage is phenomenal for such a compact pair of cans, and you can’t beat that sub-$100 price tag.
- Koss Porta Pro: The nostalgic crowd loves these headphones. If you don’t want to overspend, these are a great option that retails for under $50. They’re semi-open headphones though, so despite the portable build, they won’t sound the best in commuting environments. Make sure to checkout our full review here.
- Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit: Athletes on a budget should keep these on their watch lists. These are just over $80 and maintain a stable connection no matter the environment, so long as you’re within the 10-meter Bluetooth range. And though they haven’t been given an official IP rating, they do have a P2i nano-coating to prevent water damage. Our review unit was able to withstand a full deluge. See our full review here.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro: Maybe you really liked our description of the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x but didn’t like the look of the headphones. Well, the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro are the answer to your sleek studio headphone desires. They’re comparable to the ATH-M40x in nearly every way, price included, but are a slimmed down, on-ear version. See our full review here.
Why you should trust us
Not only is this site our nine-to-five, but Adam, Chris, and Lily each have multiple years of reviewing consumer audio products. We’ve kept tabs on the ever-changing world of audio, giving us the ability to parse apart the gimmicks from the gems.
Adam, a SoundGuy for nearly three years, has heard everything from pristine highs to vacant lows. Then there’s Lily with countless hours clocked in at a radio station working in a professional studio environment and reviewing audio products on her own time prior to joining SoundGuys.
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How we chose the best cheap headphones
Although we’ve reviewed a vast array of products here at SoundGuys, we haven’t gotten round to all of them in the category of headphones under $100. Since we’re only human and are inherently subjective no matter how hard we try, each review may be a smidge biased. To counteract that, we do quite a bit of research like reading others’ reviews, visiting discussion forums, carrying on internal debates and–admittedly–plenty of Googling. If a product made one of our best lists, you know it’s good. This list is a living document, and we add to it periodically as we gain more experience with the headphones in this category.
If a product is on this list, it’s because we feel that it’s among the best options you can find in this category. That can mean that we’ve used it extensively, or that it’s an unquestioned industry leader with years of a proven track record. We do not recommend products that we have no experience with, or “paid placements” however.
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