This list was updated September 5th, 2018 to include the Anker Soundcore Vortex
Why bend to the will of that pesky fork in the road when you can safely walk down the middle? If you’re a frequent visitor, then you already know that the price of headphones can range from a mere $20 to “surmountable college debt” level. Today, we’re talking about what lies between the two extremes by looking at the best headphones under $100.
Yes, we understand that you may be thinking, “No headphone—no matter how good—is worth a large sum of my cash,” and you’re certainly not going to be hung out to dry for that. However, there are still plenty of impressive, affordable options. In no particular order, we give to you the best headphones under $100.
Related: Best headphones under $50
Over-ear headphones offer the best sound quality and soundstage, how headphones reproduce spatial cues, due to mammoth drivers.
Who should buy these?
- Anyone who’s interested in delving deeper into the world of audio for cheap. We’ve listed everything from studio headphones to workout headphones in order to account for anyone who may be interested in upgrading their current setup. Making the switch to headphones under $100, rather than $50, opens up a world of possibilities that cater to nearly every audio preference imaginable.
- People who enjoy audio, but can’t have nice things. Listen, we get it. You’re not great with things that break. And although it might be easier to replace cheaper headphones, we think $100 gives you a nice upgrade a build quality without eating up your wallet.
- Gift givers. If you want to give the gift of music, this is a pretty decent price range to get a little something for someone you care about. Now if you really, truly love this person then you might want to check out this list.
Hearing a song that you’ve heard your whole life in a brand new light can be a truly moving experience and I encourage everyone to give it a try.
The best headphones under $100 are the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x
The ATH-M50x are the top pick for many but their little brother, the ATH-M40x, easily keep up. Like the 50x, the 40x 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.
Thanks to the rotating ear cups, the headphones 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 synthetic 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.
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 headphones under $100.
Still want studio-worthy headphones under $100?
In this corner, weighing in at 8.1 ounces, are the Sony MDR-7506. The 1985 inception of these classic headphones came out under the model number MDR-V6. Six years later the world was met with the MDR-7506, which take on slight aesthetic and functional changes from the V6. The MDR-7506 have proven that they can keep up with modern standards while maintaining a retro, professional look.
Sony MDR7506Full Review
Although they can technically be used in any context, the Sony MDR-7506 are intended for studio monitoring. Fortunately if you do expose them to natural light, folding hinges make transport a breeze. In general, these are a reliable and legendary pair of headphones under $100 that have the “it” factor. The long 9.8-foot cable is great for studio use but may need tying up to avoid comical unwieldiness while out and about.
If it seems like these headphones are a bit out of place, it’s probably due to the fact that our staff has decades of experience with them, and they still hold up today. They can be found in classrooms, studios, and even some speech labs. If you’re looking for headphones under $100 that have proven many times over that they last for years on end, these are the headphones to buy.
Workout with the Plantronics BackBeat 500 FIT
The Plantronics BackBeat 500 FIT take everything that was great about the BackBeat 500 and improve upon it. The headphones are given a P2i water-repellent nano-coating that survived a Midwest spring deluge with ease. Plus, the headphones are lightweight and easy to forget about while working out. Granted, after wearing them for an hour, the pressure is felt on the ears, so a brief recess may be required.
Plantronics BackBeat 500 FITFull Review
Aside from being a workout-friendly pair of headphones under $100, the BackBeat 500 FIT are quick to pair and connect instantaneously to the designated source device. Connection is seldom interrupted, so long as listeners stay within the 10-meter Bluetooth range. Not to mention the insane battery life of 18 hours. These headphones can last for multiple weeks-worth of workouts without needing a recharge.
Go from studio to café with the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro
The Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro are a versatile set of supra aural cans that are comfortable and ready to go where and when you are. Despite the on-ear design, the DT 240 Pro manage to provide a spacious and lightweight fit because of the intelligently designed headband architecture that evenly distributes weight. Leatherette ear pads look and feel great; plus, they feel more like the real thing than our best pair of headphones under $100, the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x.
Beyerdynamic DT 240 ProFull Review
If product longevity is important to you, which it should be since $100 is a substantial lump of cash, then the replaceable design of the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro will be of interest. The removable cable and ear pads are all replaceable through the Beyerdynamic website. Though the cable is reinforced well with substantial stress relievers, accidents happen, and it’s comforting to know that a replacement cable is just a few clicks away.
As far as sound is concerned, the DT 240 are similar to the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x; however, the former receive greater low-end emphasis as a result of their intended versatility. Though more emphasized, bass isn’t as clear as the ATH-M40x. Overall, if you like the idea of the ATH-M40x but want a pair of headphones that are more portable, the DT240 are your best bet.
The Anker Soundcore Vortex give you a little bit of everything for under $100
Anker is no stranger to making products that many can recommend without destroying your bank account. The company usually never has the best products, but they’re consistently solid all-around. When you pair that with a price that has us wondering how they’re still in business, you usually get a product that is easy to give our stamp of approval. That remains true with the Anker Soundcore Vortex. These headphones won’t cost you more than $100, yet they offer some features that will give more premium headphones a run for the money.
But first, let’s get some of the negatives out of the way. When you’re trying to cut down the price, the first thing that usually goes is the build quality and that is true here as well. Though we don’t see these breaking on you anytime soon, they’re not exactly durable with an all-plastic design and synthetic leather. These also won’t give you the same clarity as some of the other headphones on this list, but if you’re willing to trade some sound quality you’ll get some great specs in return.
Anker Soundcore Vortex
These headphones are aptX compatible, so you can connect over Bluetooth for higher quality streaming and low latency audio if your device allows it. If you’re using an iOS device you’ll be bumped down to the standard SBC codec as iPhones, unfortunately, don’t support aptX. But if you’d rather connect an audio cable don’t worry, because these also have a 3.5mm input on the right ear cup. The Soundcore Vortex also has folding hinges so you can fold them up and toss them in your bag to save space. They also have a ridiculously good battery life at around 20 hours of constant playback, so if you hate plugging in your gear every night these might be for you.
What you should know
Just like us, headphones come in all shapes and sizes. That said, an uncompromising seal is what facilitates proper bass. We’ve laid out the most important points covering the differences between on-ear and over-ear headphones. For more in-depth information, make sure to head over to our headphone buying guide.
- On-ear headphones sit directly on your ears. They negotiate a healthy balance between portability and quality sound. As is implied, they rest neither around nor within the ear, so the seal isn’t the greatest… as with comfort.
- Over-ear headphones offer the best sound quality and soundstage—how headphones reproduce spatial cues—due to mammoth drivers. They also use the ears’ anatomy by sitting around them and using the entire pinna to funnel sound. Consequently, a better seal is created, and the sound is able to properly resonate within the space between our ears and the drivers.
- Closed-back headphones isolate fairly well, but can sometimes cause tiny echoes in your music. These are primarily used for commuting, travel, and use where outside noise would ruin your music.
- Open-back headphones do not isolate at all, which is find if you’re listening in a quiet room, but will sound terrible when traveling or commuting. Quiet environments are where this breed shine.
Related: Why you don’t want studio headphones
How we choose the best headphones under $100
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.
I was fortunate enough to directly test the products listed here, like the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, Plantronics BackBeat 500 FIT, the Anker Soundcore Vortex, and the Grado SR60e (which we moved to our notable mentions down below) . But I’m not the only one who decides what products make it to our list: It’s a team effort. 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.
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. As frequent visitors of SoundGuys already know, Chris wears his hatred for all things Bluetooth like a lovesick teenager wears his heart on his sleeve. The Bluetooth products listed? They’re damned special. 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.
We want you to be happy with your purchase—none of our writers see a dime from partnership deals or referral purchases—and nobody here is allowed to benefit from steering you towards one product or another. While this site does make money from referrals, the individual writers are paid based on their work, regardless of whether or not people clicked that “buy” icon. They will never even know if anyone did, though the site going under might be a good hint.
- Sennheiser HD 280 PRO: these are a dynamic closed-back pair of headphones that will run $99.95 on Amazon. They have a fairly neutral sound signature with slight bass emphasis. They also passively attenuate a decent amount of noise, though their bulk and tight band are a bit too much for some.
- Grado SR60e: You can’t go wrong with a pair of Grado’s, and the SR60e are one of their least expensive products. For a great soundstage and premium, retro design these are worth checking out. Full review
Next: Best headphones of 2018
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