When it comes to earbuds you can use every day on your commute or at work, the sweet spot seems to be around $100, and earbuds under $100 strike a balance between sound and build quality. Whether you’re looking for a go-to pair of ‘buds for the daily grind or something to keep in your bag as a backup, you can’t go wrong with any of these.
Editor’s note: this list of the best earbuds under $100 was updated on June 22, 2020, to clarify information about drivers and address active noise cancellation.
The best earbuds under $100 are the 1More Triple-Driver In-Ear
1More isn’t a legacy audio maker like some of the other companies listed, but the company made a splash in the in-ear market with the Triple-Driver In-Ear and Triple-Driver Over-Ear models. As the name implies, these have three drivers, the objects that actually project sound, inside each tiny housing—two of which are tiny balanced armature drivers that act as tweeters, highlighting high frequencies. Then, there’s the third dynamic driver which takes care of bass reproduction.
1More Triple-Driver In-EarFull Review
They come with a small mic and remote, so you can control your music and answer phone calls. Besides the headphones, you get six sets of silicone ear tips and three sets of foam tips, so chances are you’re going to find a good fit to help with noise isolation. The buttons on the control module aren’t the best and might take some getting used to, but if you can get past that, this really will serve as the best earbuds under $100.
If you want good isolation, check out the Shure SE-215
Many musicians have heard of Shure. After all, the company has been in the audio game since 1925 and has had a lot of practice when it comes to what makes great sound. The Shure SE215 is a prime example of that. Their pedigree can be traced back to professional-grade in-ear monitors that are used for live performances. Naturally, you can expect them to sound great, hence why they’re some of the best earbuds under $100.
They feature an enhanced bass dynamic micro driver that provides a full sound with a more detailed low-end. This makes sense if you consider the fact that musicians performing live have a tougher time hearing the lows while on stage. Logically, the in-ear monitors they use have to make up for that. It’s also a good thing if you enjoy bass-heavy music or are looking for an affordable Beats alternative.
As far as build goes, the cable is Kevlar-reinforced, so even if they do get snagged on something they won’t rip. On the off-chance it does, it takes just 30 minutes to repair it. If you’re the unlucky person that they do break on (or if you just wear them down), you can always replace the wires as they are completely detachable. Shure included a gold-plated MMCX connector with a lock-snap mechanism so that you can disconnect them from the ‘buds if they ever need replacement. This saves you $65 since the replacement cable is only $35.
If you want a wireless pair of earbuds with excellent isolation properties, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 may be more your speed.
Get the best sound quality with the Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd
The Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd earbuds retail for less than $100 and offer little in the way of features. That’s not a knock on the Soul Byrd, however, as it outperforms the competition when it comes to sound quality and clarity. While bass frequencies are emphasized they don’t mask vocals. In the same breath, the treble response is also a tad exaggerated but never sounds too harsh.
Beyerdyanic Soul ByrdFull Review
What’s more, when it comes to comfortable in-ears, these are nearly impossible to beat. The flat panels sit below the outer ear, making these a great option for late-night audiobook fans who listen from bed. That said, removing the earbuds takes a bit of effort. To remedy this, just grab the wire descending from either earbud rather than the housing itself. For earbuds under $100, the Soul Byrd provides excellent sound quality and a functional tangle-resistant cable.
For the best true wireless earbuds under $100, get the Creative Outlier Gold
The Creative Outlier Gold is the best pair of true wireless earbuds: it has killer battery life, a secure fit, and comprehensive playback controls all for $99. Sure, the design is fairly uninspiring and isolation could be more effective, but again, we’re in the sub-$100 category here. Corners have been cut.
Creative Outlier GoldFull Review
Both aptX and AAC high-quality Bluetooth codecs are supported, which results in perceptibly lag-free streaming at higher qualities than is afforded by SBC. You get the standard 10-meter wireless range before connectivity begins to drop out. The sound signature is less bass-heavy than the original Creative Outlier Air, which means auditory masking is less of an issue.
All right, so battery life is outstanding but how outstanding? You get 10.3 hours of playback from a single charge, beating out both the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Skullcandy Push. The Apple AirPods (2019) and new Apple AirPods Pro? Yeah, they’re not even close. There are some drawbacks to the Outlier Gold too, though: Super X-Fi processing is severely limited. You can only benefit from the software if you listen to native audio files directly through the SXFI app. Seeing how many of us use streaming services to enjoy our music, getting use out of SXFI processing seems a hassle. Limited functionality aside, sound quality and battery life make these the best true wireless earbuds under $100.
Related: Best true wireless earbuds
On a budget? Go with the RHA MA390
These aren’t just one of the best earbuds under $100 you can find, they’re also one of the best under $50. For a pair of ‘buds that are stylish, sound good, and won’t break the bank go with the RHA MA390 Universal.
RHA MA390 UniversalFull Review
If you missed the full review, the “Universal” in its name means that whether you’re on an iOS device or an Android phone, you’ll be able to control music playback with the built-in mic and remote. Though it’s worth mentioning that you won’t get volume controls and the microphone quality isn’t great. That said, these headphones only cost about $30, so if corners had to be cut somewhere, we’re glad it was there.
If you’re a fan of a strong low-end you’ll like these. The bass emphasis is good while commuting as lower notes tend to be easily masked by outside noises, so having a little extra oomph will help you hear your favorite bass lines better. Build quality is also impressive as the earbuds are made of aluminum, making them difficult to break. If you’re on a budget but still want a quality pair of earbuds in your back pocket, these are worth checking out.
Why should you get earbuds under $100 and what you should know
There’s really only one area where earbuds excel over any other kind of headphones, and that’s portability. Thanks to streaming services, music is more portable now than it has ever been, and the headphones you use should be just as easy to bring with you wherever you go. With the advent of true wireless earbuds, standard wireless and wired earbuds are becoming less prevalent but they still have their respective use cases. For one, wired earbuds remain more affordable than wireless ones, they’re also easier to repair if the cable is damaged (as opposed to an internal component breaking).
If you want something reliable and easy to use, you can’t get more straightforward than something that requires a headphone jack. Of course, if your smartphone doesn’t contain a 3.5mm input, you’ll need to get a dongle or surrender to the wireless future. If, however, you’re trying to get the best bang-for-your-buck, wired earbuds are the best option.
Isolation improves frequency reproduction by creating a cogent seal between the earbud and your ear canal. If you’ve ever tried to listen to music in a crowded area with cheap earbuds that don’t fit properly, you know why this is important. Outside noise makes it hard to hear your music because of something called auditory masking. This happens when your brain hears two sounds of similar frequencies. It will acknowledge whichever one is loudest because it perceives that sound as more important. And if your brain has to choose between your song or a roaring bus going by, it’s going to focus on the bus. Getting a good pair of ear tips to help isolate those outside noises can dramatically improve your experience.
Isolation is different from active noise cancellation, which uses electronic signals to cancel out unwanted noise rather than physical blockage. It is more powerful at isolating sound and can help prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
Related: Where do sounds live?
Do you need a DAC or amp?
Consumers often worry that their phones aren’t enough to power their earbuds or headphones. While that might be the case if you’re spending hundreds of dollars on specialized in-ears and plan on plugging them into a computer form 1997, it isn’t necessary for anyone listening to music on a modern smartphone or somewhat recent computer. Especially with these earbuds under $100 that we chose. They were designed to be powered by the average electronic, assuming of course that your phone still has a headphone jack. You still won’t have any issues with power if you’re using a dongle, but it’s definitely annoying.
If you keep seeing the words frequency response everywhere and don’t know what it refers to, don’t worry you’re not alone. Frequency response denotes how well a pair of earbuds can reproduce audible frequencies; in the case of human hearing, this ranges somewhere between 20Hz-20kHz, assuming you haven’t damaged your stereocilia too much. Basically, it refers to the ability of each component in your headphones or speakers to accurately reproduce the signal that’s being fed into it.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect so getting a perfect in and out signal isn’t yet possible, and it might not even be ideal considering our ears aren’t perfect either. This is why some manufacturers adjust the frequency response of their products to help compensate for our lack of hearing, or in the case of a company like Beats, to add some emphasis to lower notes.
- Amazon Echo Buds: Amazon’s debut true wireless earbuds have seen a marked price cut, making them a viable option for anyone interested in true wireless technology, smart home control, or both.
- BeatsX: These are a great wireless option for iPhone users. They support AAC for high-quality wireless streaming from your favorite music services. What’s more, it uses Apple’s W1 chip. While this isn’t the latest and greatest, it still allows for seamless autoconnecting.
- Bose SoundSport In-Ear: If you’re an athlete who prefers wired listening while working out, these sub-$100 earbuds provide a secure and comfortable fit. Plus it includes an in-line mic and remote for playback and call controls.
- Creative Outlier Air: These are nearly identical to the Creative Outlier Gold with a matte-black exterior instead of the gold accents. The aluminum charging case also remains identical, but battery life and sound quality aren’t quite as impressive.
- HiFiMan RE-400: These earbuds cost less than $50 and house 8.5mm titanium drivers.
- JLab JBuds Air Executive: These true wireless earbuds are very similar to the Soundcore Liberty Air. They allow access to volume controls directly from the earbuds and are a smart option for athletes who want a versatile pair of earbuds.
- OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2: These wireless earbuds operate on Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and support aptX HD for high-quality wireless streaming. They isolate the listener incredibly well. The main downside to these earbuds is their lack of water-resistance.
- Razer Hammerhead Duo: Gaming earbuds are difficult to come by, but these are a great option for gamers who want the option to use their earbuds outside of a console setting.
- RHA TrueConnect: These true wireless earbuds initially retailed for just shy of $200 and have since dropped to a reasonable $79. They support AAC, have excellent isolation properties, and charge via USB-C. Fashionable listeners who don’t need aptX support will love the TrueConnect.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds: These first-generation totally wireless earbuds were great when they hit the scene and remain so in 2020, even compared to the new Galaxy Buds Plus. If you don’t need Spotify integration and feel ~6.5 hours of playtime is enough, then save $50 and snag these.
- Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear: These earbuds include a two-year warranty, stainless steel housings, and an in-line mic and remote. The earbuds feature a similar design to the company’s HD1 In-Ear Wireless.
- Thinksound ts03+mic: Thinksound ethically sources its materials and the ts03+mic. Despite its natural, laid back design, these earbuds produce plenty of low-end.
If you have a bit more cash to play with, check these out
- Sennheiser Ambeo Headset: Whether you’re an indie film director or horror film aficionado, the Sennheiser Ambeo Headset has something to offer. Each earbud is decked out with a microphone for 3D recording and they create a more realistic sense of spatial awareness when playing regular media.
- Etymotic Research ER2SE: These earbuds use an MMCX connector cable, meaning that if you buy the proper MMCX to USB-C cable, you can listen to them through a device that lacks a headphone jack. Generally speaking, sound isolation and quality are excellent, but they can get uncomfortable after a while.
- 1More Quad-Driver In-Ear: If you liked what you read about the Triple-Driver earbuds and don’t mind shelling out a bit more cash, then you’ll enjoy these ‘buds.
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We understand that this best list may not be a complete reflection of your experiences, but it’s our concerted attempt to make your search for the best earbuds under $100 as painless as possible. We want you to be happy with what you invest your time and money in and none of our writers benefit from selecting one pair of earbuds over another. In fact, our ethics policy is available for you to read at your leisure.