There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to spend too much on a pair of earbuds, especially if your phone manufacturer omitted the headphone jack this time around. Regardless of what brought you here, we’re going to ease your decision-making process and present to you the best earbuds under $20.
Editor’s note: This list was updated on November 1, 2019, to add the RHA S500 in the notable mentions section and include information regarding isolation and USB-C audio.
The best earbuds under $20 are the 1More Piston Fit
Each earbud houses a dynamic titanium driver and the nozzles extend at a 45° angle for a comfortable fit. The four colorways are iPhone-matched to fit with your iOS device, but they look just as chic with Android devices too. Partway down the right earbud rests an in-line mic and remote, which allows for basic playback control and taking calls.
1More Piston Fit
The aluminum housings aid in mitigating internal vibration and sound distortion. Aside from that, the Piston Fit is outfitted with a tensile-resistant cable that’s wrapped around Kevlar fiber. If you’re familiar with the 1More Triple-Driver In-Ear, then you know that this Kevlar fiber design is durable. For around $15, you’re going to have a hard time finding a better all-around pair of earbuds.
If you’re all about that bass, get the Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi
The Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi earbuds are a recurring conversation piece when it comes to affordable IEMs. These ‘buds are bulky and are outfitted with an ear-hook design, much like various RHA earbuds. The low-end signature is emphasized but won’t repeatedly punch you in the eardrums. Rather, it’s just easier to perceive than vocals and the treble.
Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi
Extras are hit or miss with earbuds under $20, and the Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi doesn’t include an in-line mic and remote. If you’re constantly making calls, you may find that the 1More Piston Fit better suit your purposes. Additionally, if you’re one for tossing earbuds into a bag with reckless abandon, these aren’t your friend. They tangle easily, but for being the price of a Taco Bell dinner date, these IEMs are pretty special.
What you should know about earbuds under $20
Expect many cut corners
If you’re in the market for earbuds under $20, there are bound to be some significantly cut corners. Unfortunately, the sound quality isn’t going to blow anyone’s socks off. Now, relative to what you’re paying, all of these options are impressive but none of them can hold a candle to something like the RHA MA650, which will run you more than double our $20 limit.
One of the first things to go is build quality. Materials are predominantly plastic. You certainly won’t find any sort of Kevlar-reinforced braided cable like you will with pricier 1More products. Additionally, few research and development resources are allocated to cheaper products. This means that ergonomics and sound quality fall to the wayside. Things are passable, and may be good for the price. However, they won’t outperform professional IEMs.
Take the time to find a good fit
One of the most important factors when it comes to earbuds is seal and fit. A cogent seal will vastly improve sound quality because it isolates you from ambient noise. Bass reproduction is the first to go when a seal isn’t formed to the ear. By allowing external noise in, you’re degrading the overall sound quality of your earbuds, because of auditory masking. Investing in third-party ear tips will vastly improve sound quality.
What if your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack?
If your phone manufacturer nixed the headphone jack, you can always pick up a USB-C adapter. It’s a bit cumbersome but does the trick. Otherwise, you can always look into cheap true wireless earbuds or USB-C headphones. Regarding the latter, though, the technology has yet to impress us. In fact, it seems a dead market at this point.
Listen comfortably with the AKG Stereo Headphones
These stereo earbuds may be cheap but for less than $8, sound quality is stellar. Much like their older brother, these earbuds boast an ergonomic design. The nozzles are gently angled, and the cables extend from the housings at an angle so as not to rub against the ear.
AKG Stereo Headphones
Sound clarity isn’t the best but isolation
A bass-heavy sound signature defines the AKG earbuds. While this can be ok for commuting, it’s not great for audio appreciation. Oftentimes, vocals are masked by bass thumps. Generally speaking, though, they’re sound great for a pair of cheap earbuds because they effectively isolate the listener from her surroundings.
Aside from that, there’s not much in the way of features. It has a three-button integrated mic and remote for playback controls and phone calls. If you’re looking for a comfortable pair of cheap earbuds, these are a solid choice.
Make gains with the MEE Audio M6P
Whether you sweat profusely on the daily is neither here nor there, but the MEE Audio M6P is a great option for exercise enthusiasts on a budget. These are IPX5-certified, meaning that they can withstand all the sweat your glands can spill onto them.
MEE Audio M6
These are yet another ear-hook style earbud, but it’s truly functional with the MEE Audio M6P. It provides a more secure fit while isolating noise, so you don’t have to worry about them falling out while you complete your circuit training. Need more? These include an in-line mic and remote, come with six pairs of ear tips, and a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. Overall, these are a steal for workout earbuds under $20.
|IPX1||✓||Dripping water (1 mm/min)
Limit: vertical drips only
|IPX2||✓||Dripping water (3 mm/min)
Limit: Device max tilt of 15° from drips
Limit: Device max tilt of 60° from sprays
|IPX5||✓||Water jets (12.5 L/min)
Example: Squirt guns
|IPX6||✓||Strong water jets (100 L/min)
Example: Powerful water guns
Limit: 1 m. for 30 min
Limit: 3 m. for 30 min
Get the best bang for your buck with the Panasonic ErgoFit
The Panasonic Ergo Fit is legendary. It’s accrued ~54,000 Amazon reviews, proving that we consumers love these $9 earbuds. As you may expect, it doesn’t afford a lot. However, included are three pairs of ear tips: small, medium, and large. Lacking all else, the Ergo Fit is still an outstanding deal.
Panasonic Ergo Fit
Audio quality is fabulous for this price point; the operative phrase being “for this price point.” The ErgoFit come in a wide array of colorways, which also happen to dictate the price. Fun fact: they were designed to pair with the iPod Nano 5th generation colors, hence the whimsy.
Just because you’re paying bottom dollar doesn’t mean that you’re buying bottom shelf.
As far as fit is concerned, well, they’re ergonomic. Now, what does that actually mean? They’ll stay in your ears without causing unbearable hot spots. They stay in fairly well but vigorous movement may be enough to cause them to fall out. For earbuds under $20, these are hands-down the best bang for your buck.
- RHA S500: If you’re willing to splurge an additional few dollars, RHA’s affordable earbuds are a great pair of budget drivers. Aluminum housings make the earbuds look more grand than the ~$20 price tag implies, and the one-button remote works with both iOS and Android devices.
- OnePlus Type-C Bullets: Unfortunately, not all smartphones come with a headphone jack anymore. Even though we’ll never be okay with that, we can’t ignore the people who are ready to join that USB-C future, so if that sounds like you then definitely check out these quality ‘buds from OnePlus.
- Sony MDR EX15AP: These earbuds include an in-line, one-button mic and remote. You can download the Sony Smart Key app to customize control over your Android phone all for less than $15.
- KZ ATE HiFi: These were formerly the best cheap earbuds, and the ear hook design mitigates microphonics. This results in greater clarity and less external noise masking your music.
- MEE Audio RX18: This is the same company that manufactures the Sport-Fi M6P. If you’re constantly struggling to find cheap earbuds that fit well, your search ends here.
- Creative EP-630: This pair of earbuds provides listeners with an emphasized low-end and comfortable fit due to the interchangeable ear tips.
How we chose the best earbuds under $20
Being that we’ve been covering the audio industry for some time, we’re acutely aware of what the top of the market is. It’s not exactly a huge mystery which companies are great at this sort of thing, and which ones aren’t as much. However, we give everyone their fair shot because there are always some surprises out there. That said, we’ve culled through countless earbuds under $20 to find the best possible options for you.
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