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.
Editors note: this article was updated on November 7, 2018, to reflect new products and updated prices.
Related: Best headphones under $50
Who should buy these?
- Anyone interested in delving deeper into the world of audio for less. 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 a world of possibilities that cater to a variety of audio preferences.
- 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 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.
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 pace. 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. If you’re interested in either model but want a wireless version, well Audio-Technica offers that too.
Audio-Technica ATH-M40XFull Review
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.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x are comfortable, durable, and reproduce only a slightly skewed sound signature.
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.
If you’re in the studio, grab the Sony MDR-7506
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 MDR-7506Full 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 has 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.
Over-ear headphones offer the best sound quality and soundstage, how headphones reproduce spatial cues, due to mammoth drivers.
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.
What you should know about headphones under $100
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.
- Bluetooth codec support matters, and if you have an iPhone you’re going to want to look out for AAC. If you’re rocking Android, though, aptX and its many variants are your best bet. LDAC, on the other hand, is fine but certainly not hi-res, and if all of this alphabet soup is overwhelming, well chances are your ears are too old to differentiate between the codecs anyway, so no sweat.
- 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 large drivers. They also use the ear’s 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 fine 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
Workout with the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit
The Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit takes everything that was great about the BackBeat 500 and improves upon it. The headphones are given a P2i water-repellent nano-coating that survived a Midwest spring deluge with ease. Plus, they’re 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 connect instantaneously to the designated source device. Connectivity 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.
For the best sound quality get the Grado SR60e
Ask anyone about open-back headphones and they’ll likely utter the dual-syllabic company’s name: Grado. This is no coincidence; the Brooklyn-based company has been making open-back cans since 1953. In fact, it just released a wireless version of its beloved open-back cans. The headphones in question, the SR60e, is a sub-$80 entry-level set of headphones that sounds fantastic for the price. In
Grado SR60eFull Review
The open-back design promotes a wider soundstage, or perception of 3-D sound, and makes for a notably more engaging experience. It includes a one-year warranty and a seemingly indestructible cable with a substantial Y-splitter. Be warned, though, the on-ear design isn’t comfortable for listeners wearing glasses; I had to take breaks at 30-minute intervals to sidestep behind-the-ear pain.
If you’re interested in open-back cans and want to experience your music in a completely new light, the Grado SR60e is a low-risk fan-favorite that’s sure to be in your audio arsenal for years to come.
Related: Grado GW100 review
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 it’s consistent. When you pair that with a price, it has us wondering how Anker is still in business. The Anker Soundcore Vortex can be had for less than $60, yet offers features that give more premium headphones a run for their 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. 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.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro: These headphones attenuate external noise effectively, but the bulk and tight headband are too much for some.
- Grado SR60e: You can’t go wrong with a pair of Grados, and the SR60e is one of its least expensive products. For a great soundstage and premium, retro design these are worth checking out.
- Aftershokz Trekz Titanium: If the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit resonated with you but you’re not one for running with traditional headphones, these bone conductive headphones allow listeners to remain fully aware of their surroundings while exercising. This awareness, however, is at the expense of sound quality.
- Jabra Move Wireless: This set of headphones features an eight-hour battery life with a 12-day standby time. Although sound quality isn’t the best, these Jabra cans are a solid value.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro: These supra aural cans, like the ATH-M40x, are meant for the studio but don’t need to be confined there. The earcups are small and light enough to take with you, too.
Next: Best headphones of 2018
How we choose the best headphones under $100
We do our best here at SoundGuys to directly test as many audio products as possible, but alas, we too are only human. While testing every audio product in the world is nearly impossible, we research as many candidates as we can if we’re unable to directly test something. Fortunately, with this “best headphones under $100 list,” we were able to directly test each of the top picks, allowing us to speak candidly about our experiences here and in the in-depth reviews.
If a product made it to be one of the best headphones under $100, it’s because we earnestly feel it’s one of the best in its class.
Why you should trust us
We work day and night here at SoundGuys, well the night part mainly because we work remotely, but that ensures that we’re able to keep tabs on the ever-changing world of audio. What’s in today, may not be in tomorrow, and our collective years of experience empower us to easily distinguish the diamonds in the rough from, well, the rough.
It’s not just about the subjective experience here, though; we respect that audio is both a subjective but also objective and quantifiable phenomenon. In recognizing that, we also perform objective, in-house testing on an array of audio products.
All we want is for you to enjoy what you’re listening with and none of us see a penny, nickel, or dime from partnerships or referral purchases. What’s more, no writer at SoundGuys may benefit from guiding readers toward one product or another. If you’re interested, feel free to read up on our ethics policy.
Still looking? Read up on these best lists.
- Best noise canceling headphones
- Best Beats headphones
- Best studio headphones
- Best wireless headphones
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