Sound Guys

Best Headphones under $50

The Monoprice can be worn for hours and with glasses without irritating head pain.

If you want good sound, you’d better be prepared to shell out a ton of cash, right? Well, not necessarily. Sure, there are amazing high end headphones out there, but that doesn’t mean all good headphones are expensive. One of my favorite aspects of audio is finding products that sound great for their price. Nowadays there are a ton of options to choose from. In this list, we’ve compiled the best headphones under $50.

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Whether this is your first toe-dip into “real” headphones, a gift or just a supplement to your favorite audiophile cans, buying inexpensive headphones is a great. Plus, you don’t have to worry about spending too much when replacing them should they break or get lost.

The best headphones under $50 are the Monoprice 8323

Been following Sound Guys for a while now? Then it should come as no surprise that we featured the Monoprice 8323 headphones. Monoprice has a reputation for bringing more than is expected to affordable audio equipment.

Monoprice 8323

Though the build quality isn’t the greatest and they’re lacking a comprehensive feature-set, that can be forgiven when sound and comfort are taken into account. Monoprice makes the most of what they’ve got with massive 50mm drivers that produce a full range of sound (20Hz to 20kHz). The bass isn’t grossly forward but won’t be mistaken for neutral. Vocals sounded solid on “Good God Damn” by Arcade Fire. The dynamic response made songs with nuanced vocals a pleasure and give 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.

What’s more, they’re collapsible and great for transport thanks to their half-pound weight. That said, I wouldn’t classify these as durable even though these are technically DJ headphones. The ear cups flip up 90 degrees and are quite comfortable when hanging from the neck. However, removing them felt like lifting bare legs off a synthetic seat cushion on a southern summer day. That said, they were still the most comfortable headphones to wear at a sub-$50 price.

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.

If you’re always on the go, pick up the Koss PortaPro.

The only thing more classic than the Koss PortaPro is rock ‘n’ roll. Released in 1984, these epitomize retro design and appear to be straight out of Back to the Future. The charming bare bones build is comprised of a layered strip of metal connecting hinged ear cups. They also clip at the bottom to maintain a condensed form factor, saving you precious real-estate.

Koss PortaPro

Full Review

Plastic, swiveling ear cups make for a comfortable fit (which can be adjusted via sliders that migrate pressure to the temples) but are also points of weakness. Even light use made me nervous. I was sure to toss them into the included carrying pouch to avoid catching on other objects in my backpack. Surprisingly, the headphones played quite nicely with my unfortunately thick-rimmed glasses.

Although the design says, “I’m travel friendly,” the semi-open style isn’t conducive for commuters, unless you don’t mind that your neighbors can hear your music. That said, I used these on the train daily (as well as silent spaces) for a week and happened to avoid verbal fisticuffs and hard side-eyes. Your mileage may vary.

There are some universal truths in audio, and the Koss PortaPros uphold many of those truths.

As much as I enjoy quantifying x,y and z, “pleasing sound” varies from person to person. Though–there are some universal truths in audio, and the Koss PortaPros uphold many of those truths. The soundstage was impressive for such a slim pair of cans. I thoroughly enjoyed the reproduction of the mids and highs. Fatigue was rare as the highs were easy-breezy, occasionally too subtle, unlike the Monoprice 8323s, where at times high notes were a bit to jarring. To read our full review, click here.

Look stylish while reducing your carbon footprint with the House of Marley Positive Vibration II.

The company plants a tree for each product sold, including the Positive Vibration II. The signature favors mids before lows and highs. The former come off as distant and flat while the latter leans toward the tinny end of the spectrum. Like merlot and gouda, the Vibration II pairs best with a library of acoustics.

House of Marley Positive Vibration II

A tangle free, braided cable extends from the base of the left ear cup to connect via L-plug into the media player of your choice. Inside the anodized aluminum ear cups (black, copper, silver or denim) are 50mm drivers. On the anterior, you’ll find Forest Stewardship Council certified wood accents sporting the earthy House of Marley logo. The the fit is a bit tight according to multiple Amazon reviews, but it does help to increase passive noise isolation. They also fold for easy storage.

Need active better isolation?

Seeing as headphone jacks are going the way of bellbottoms and Silly Bandz, it seems fitting to throw a second pair of Bluetooth headphones into the ring. The Photive BTH3 have a 12-hour battery life and include a hard traveling case. Noise isolating ability and superior comfort make these one of the best. They gave the Sony MDRZX110NC the boot due to their Bluetooth 4.0 capabilities; oh, and because I can say “BTH3” in one breath rather than “MDRZX110NC” in seven.

Photive BTH3

Full Review

Functional design keeps costs down resulting in a classy pair of cans. A plethora of controls to adjust volume and skip/play/pause tracks can be found on both ear cups. And the Photive’s housing sheaths 40mm drivers that reproduce a rich, balanced sound. If you miss that tethered feeling, there’s an included 3.5mm stereo cord.Bass-heads be warned, these aren’t going to rattle your bones, since the low-end response is a little sloppy. They will, however, give you clean, crisp highs accompanied by clear mids that are hard to beat at such an economical price. If you’re interested in learning more about the BTH3, glean over our full review here.

Related: Best Noise Cancelling Headphones under $100

If the Photive isn’t your style…

Today, more people may be familiar with the company Polk Audio, producer of the Polk Audio Hinge headphones, than former U.S. President James K. Polk. Either way, back in 2014, the Hinge cost well over $100 and can be picked up today for just $48.99.

Polk Audio Hinge

Full Review

Pivoting ear cups, adjustable headband, dense ear pads and Polk Optomized Electro-acoustic Tuning (POET™) mean that these guys can really isolate you from your surroundings. Polk assertts that POET helps to refine the drivers to improve dynamic response and provide a more natural sound. This isn’t exceptionally accurate as lows have ample boom behind them while mids also experience exaggeration. The highs will treat you to the greatest refinement of sound.

Examining the build of the headphone reveals the effort that Polk put into the Hinge headphones. The stitched leather headband is a nice contrast to the brushed metal hinges and extenders. For a comfortable fit, the ear cups pivot without any frustrating creaks. Unfortunately the three-button remote is only compatible with iOS devices, but you can still pause/play tracks and answer calls on an Android device.

What you should know

Shopping for headphones can be a daunting task. It’s easy to fall deep down the rabbit hole learning about the intricacies of sound reproduction or understanding unique sound signatures. You’ll often hear people say, “just try them for yourself!” But if you don’t have the time to pick up a new hobby or just aren’t looking to invest the energy, we’ve put together a cheat sheet for you.

How we picked

We’ve reviewed a ton of products here at Sound Guys, but not all of them. Naturally, it’s hard to make lists based solely on products we’ve reviewed. Besides, every review can be a little biased, we’re only human (for now). Aside from products that we test directly, we do tons of research like read other reviews and visit forums before including a product on a list. If it made it here, it has to be good.

While testing, I took the Koss PortaPro and Monoprice 8323 into as many diverse environments as possible. From Chicago cafes, bookstores, libraries, offices and plazas, you name it and I went there. Specifically with the PortaPro, I tried to get as much time in quiet environments as noisy ones to test the versatility of the half open-back design. With the 8323 model, I did some audio and video editing on DaVinci Resolve along with regular listening sessions to see how far I could push them.

In short, we put every candidate set of headphones through the wringer, and only models that were able to keep up even got a shot at this list. While the list itself may not be a complete cross-section of all good sub-$50 headphones, it is a compilation of what we feel to be the best. We put lots and lots of hours into this one.

Why you should trust me

Hey, I’m Lily. For three years in college, I worked for the radio station and racked up countless hours with studio-level microphones, headphones, speakers and recording software. All the while, deepening my understanding of the technical side of audio. Prior to that, my audio journey began in 2015 with skeletal YouTube reviews.

The Koss PortaPro lived up to their name. The compact form factor made traveling with these a delight.

Of course, like anybody, my curiosity guided learning beyond work. I continued to self-produce YouTube videos, reviewing headphones from the Skullcandy 50/50s to the original Sennheiser Momentum. Hi-Fi Heaven reached out for my first collaborative project, and I got down to business. We teamed up to review Bluetooth, exercise and consumer headphones.

Naturally, being the child of two lawyers–and with a brother finishing up his third-year in law school–I’ve learned the importance of seeking outside counsel and studying potential rebuttals. Often, I reach out directly to the manufacturer to clarify technical details. General research consisted of straining my eyes to read as many articles as possible from relevant sources such as Forbes, PC Mag, HeadFi, Innerfidelity, and CNET.

Who should buy these?

Listeners who are on a budget: I get it, life is expensive. Who wants to run about spending $100+ on headphones? One of my favorite things about shopping—and there are few things I enjoy about shopping—is finding a high-quality product for a low price. No matter what headphone you pick from this list, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better product in each category for under $50, and if you do, please share with us.

No matter what headphone you pick from this list, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better product in each category for under $50, and if you do, please share with us.

Maybe you’re not on a budget but are just looking for a secondary pair of headphones. Frequent travelers know all too well the woes of inadvertently leaving something behind. It’s frustrating at best and week-ruining at worst. At least, that’s my sliding scale. By placing a minimal financial investment into something that still sounds good, it will hopefully lessen the hurt if you end up losing them.

Fallible but not a failure

Since we’re talking about headphones under $50, there are bound to be some cut corners. Although I enjoy the nuanced flair that each set of cans brings to the table, it’s hard may be difficult to find a true aesthete who is completely moved by the listed products. That said, the Vibration II do bring a unique eco-conscious design. Other than that though, form follows function with the headphones listed. However, this is only a slight issue. At the crux of it all, we want our headphones to sound good, not look good; if they do both, all the better.

If you’re sensitive to having a few hairs ripped out at random, the Koss Porta Pro may be too metal for you.

 

Another minor problem mentioned was the Monoprice’s synthetic material which gripped at my skin during removal. In all fairness, my annoyance was likely compounded by the fact that once I get focused on a physical frustration, it’s hard for me to forget about it.

Also, the Koss PortaPro pinched my hair and occasionally tore strands out. Consequently, I learned that by extending the headband to its full length prior to placing it on my head reduced the likelihood of this happening. Still, if you’re sensitive to having a few hairs ripped out at random, the Koss PortaPro may be too metal for you.

Didn’t find any options that tickle your fancy?

The Samson SR850 Studios may be right up your alley. Like the Monoprice 8323, the SR850 sport bumpin’ 50mm drivers and a frequency range from 10 Hz-30 kHz. Samson has been in the audio game since 1980 and is respected among professionals. Sound is reproduced more accurately than the Monoprice headphones which means slightly less bass because of the semi-open design. Although I have mixed feelings about semi-open headphones, they can be great for someone who wants a more spacious sound and lively imaging without having to worry about leakage that open-back headphones emit. At one pound, the heavyweight headphones may be a concern regarding comfort, but the self-adjusting headband alleviates and evenly distributes pressure.

However, Mpow’s favorable foldable design still make for an excellent pair of headphones at just $33.99.

Another pair worth a gander are the Mpow Hi-Fi Stereo Wireless Headset. These have racked up 5,700 Amazon reviews and are outfitted with 40mm drivers. So why didn’t they make the cut? Well, here at Sound Guys, we value sound quality above all else. However, Mpow’s favorable folding design still make for an good pair of headphones at just $33.99.

 

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