There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to spend too much on a pair of earbuds. Maybe you lose/break things easily and don’t want to spend money on something that you know won’t last. Or maybe you don’t use headphones often enough to invest in a quality pair. The most compelling use case is if you already have a pair of headphones and just want a back-up pair of earbuds under $20.
Just because you’re paying bottom dollar doesn’t mean that you’re buying bottom shelf.
There have been numerous occasions where I find myself without my favorite pair of headphones. Having a spare in your backpack or back pocket can really come in handy. There’s a time and a place for everything, including budget earbuds. If you’re looking for some of the best earbuds under $20, keep reading.
Who should buy these?
Listeners who just want a pair of earbuds that work and not much else. Investing $20 or less into a pair of earbuds is reasonable—expected, even—when shopping around. That said, we’ve culled through countless earbuds under $20 to find the best possible options for you.
The best earbuds under $20 are the KZ ATE HiFi
The company, formerly known as Knowledge Zenith, has rebranded to KZ. The ATE HiFi earbuds, however, remain the same. For under $14, you get copper drivers that reproduce emphasized treble and bass. The design of these IEMs echos the appearance of professional IEMs used by musicians. They hook around the ear, so if that type of fit doesn’t appeal to you, no worries, keep scrolling.
KZ ATE HiFi
Now again, these aren’t going to be able to compete with more expensive models but for earbuds under $20, the KZ ATE HiFi are excellent, if the housing isn’t too bulky for your ears. One of the benefits of the polarizing ear-hook fit is that it mitigates microphonics—the traveling of extraneous cable-originating vibrations into the ear. Features are limited, as with all of the options listed, but you’ll find in-line mic/remote that interrupts the oxygen-free copper cable.
If you’re all about that bass, the Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi will rattle your skull
The Monoprice Ehnaced Bass Hi-Fi earbuds are a recurring conversation piece when it comes to affordable IEMs. These are truly a diamond in the rough. Just like the KZ ATE HiFi, the Monoprice ‘buds are bulky and are outfitted with an ear-hook design. The low-end signature is emphasized but it 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 omit an in-line mic and remote. If you’re constantly making calls, you may find that the KZ or MEE Audio earbuds will 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. That said, for being the price of a Taco Bell dinner date, these IEMs are pretty special.
What you should know about earbuds under $20
If you’re in the market for earbuds under $20, there are bound to be some significantly cut corners. Unfortunately, sound quality isn’t going to blow anyone’s socks off here. 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.
However, 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. Investing in Comply memory foam ear tips will make any of these earbuds sound much, much better. Yes, you’re right, these nearly double your $20 investment, but the company provides three pairs of ear tips, so if you lose the ‘buds you can just plop another pair of tips onto your next pair of burner ‘buds.
Standout with the Betron YSM1000
The gold accents on the Betron YSM1000 are eye-catching enough to give Flavor Flav’s grills a run for their money. A cross-hatched texture encases the earbuds’ metal housing, while the form factor retains a generally traditional aesthetic. The coated 1.2-meter cable helps to resist tangling when the ‘buds are mindlessly thrown into a coat pocket or bottomless bag.
A bass-heavy sound signature defines the YSM1000 which is helpful when on public transit and you need to hear the beat above the morning grumble surrounding commuters. As far as fit goes, YSM1000 include the typical small, medium, and large ear tips. There aren’t many features here, but Betron does provide a PU leather carrying pouch to protect the headphones, pretty nice for earbuds under $20.
Make gains with the IPX5-rated MEE Audio Sport-Fi M6P
MEE Audio Sport-Fi M6P
Whether you sweat profusely on the daily is neither here nor there, but the MEE Audio Sport-Fi M6P are 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. As of publishing, the only model that falls within the sub-$20 category are the pink pair, but, hey, they still sound the same. Plus, they’ll be that much easier to find in an overcrowded gym bag.
These are yet another ear-hook style earbud, but it’s truly functional with the Sport-Fi 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 are legendary. They’ve accrued ~54,000 Amazon reviews, are a best seller, and have maintained a 4.2 out of 5 rating. We the people love these $8 earbuds. As you may expect, they don’t afford a lot. However, included are three pairs of ear tips: small, medium, and large. Lacking all else, the Ergo Fit are still an outstanding deal.
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.
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.
Want a sleeker alternative? The Urophylla earbuds should do the trick
These guys are sleek-looking, all black earbuds that come with an in-line mic and remote. Though the verbiage on their Amazon description is a bit misleading, as they’re not active noise-cancelling, but they do a decent job passively attenuating ambient noise. They come with the standard small, medium, and large ear tip sizes. However, by far, the best feature of these earbuds are their lifetime warranty. Invest $10 once and have them for life.
We’ll be sure to keep this list updated as new products become available. What do you consider to be the best earbuds under $20? Let us know!
Next: Best earbuds under $50
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