Okay, so you’re in the market for a solid pair of headphones, but don’t want to spend your grocery allowance for the month. Fortunately, there are plenty of sub-$200 cans out there. Initially, the investment may be difficult to justify, but doing so will keep you satisfied for years to come. Rather than sending you off on a wild goose chase, we’ve saved you from the grunt work and put together a list of the best headphones under $200.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on October 19, 2020, to address information regarding the Monoprice Monolith M565C, and closed-back vs. open-backed headphones.
For the best sound, listen with the Monoprice Monolith M565
The Monoprice Monolith M565 is priced a hair under $200 and still manage to implement planar magnetic drivers. As a disclaimer, these aren’t the best sounding headphones under $200 because they have the most neutral frequency response; they don’t. Rather, they’re the best because they transition listeners from the world of consumer audio to hi-fi audio. Some may balk at the overemphasized bass, but the Monoprice Monolith cast a wide net, pleasing a majority of listeners.
Monoprice Monolith M565Full Review
The planar magnetic drivers make each bass note easy to differentiate, without resulting in receded midrange frequencies, unless the volume is cranked up all the way. As far as the treble is concerned, this too receives a dash of overemphasis. Contrary to most exaggerated treble reproduction, the Monoprice Monolith M565 don’t fatigue the ear and will please consumers by adding a touch of perceived clarity to a given song.
What’s more, the soundstage benefits from the open-back design. Black metal grills and wood-finished earcups give the Monolith M565 a premium look and feel, but this design comes at the expense of isolation. For listeners looking to get the most out of these headphones, stick to quiet, indoor environments.
It is worth nothing that Monoprice also sells a closed-back variant of these headphones: the Monolith M565C. While the closed back can help block out ambient noise when mixing, it will also narrow down your stereo image, which sound engineering purists will abhor. That being said, closed-back headphones are best suited for recording and tracking, rather than for mixing and mastering.
Who should buy $200 headphones?
Anyone who’s interested in upgrading their current headphones without having it cost an arm and a leg. The headphones that appear are all the valedictorians of their class. If you find yourself thinking that you want to further explore and experience what the audio world has to offer, any of these will be an excellent starting point depending on your needs.
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What’s cool about this class of headphone is that they represent the next significant step into learning what you favor in a product. From soundstage, active noise cancelling, comfort, or whatever else, investing in headphones under $200 weeds out generalities that accompany lower-caliber products.
Need something tough? Get the V-Moda XS
The V-Moda XS take note from the field of military design, and like the company’s other offerings, are built like a tank. The exterior is decked out with aircraft-grade aluminum, and due to V-Moda’s Cliqfold design, they quickly become compact.
Speaking of which, for such a small pair of headphones, these are equipped with sizeable 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers. The metal plates are removable for easy replacement. Moving down, where the cable is usually the most fragile part of headphones, the V-Moda XS has a removable cord protected by a Kevlar weave for ultimate durability.
V-Moda XSFull Review
The fit is snug but that can be good at times and help with isolation. V-MODA claims that reducing the distance between the drivers and your ear will improve sound quality. Overall, the signature is heavily altered with emphasized bass. In sum, if you’re looking for a rough-n-tough pair of headphones that sound good and stand out, the V-Moda XS will last a lifetime.
For the best portable headphones under $200, carry the Jabra Elite 45h
Typically, on-ear headphones are the least comfortable variety of headphones, but the Jabra Elite 45h are actually quite comfortable, as long as you don’t wear glasses. All-plastic, featherweight construction allows listeners to wear them all day long. The ear cups rotate to lie flat, making them easy to store in a bag or around your neck.
Jabra Elite 45h
Bluetooth multipoint is supported, though its implementation is just okay. You can connect to two devices at a time with the headset, but notifications may not always come through one device or the other. The headphones use Bluetooth 5.0 technology, and support just one high-quality codec: AAC. This means iPhone users will experience consistent high-quality audio but Android devices aren’t so lucky.
Jabra Elite 45h microphone demo:
Bluetooth codec support is only a part of the story, though, because sound quality is much more dependent on the headset’s frequency response. The Jabra Elite 45h sound signature is surprisingly neutral-leaning, which is great for all genres of music. You can always EQ it in the Jabra Sound+ app. Microphone quality is very good, too, and certainly fine for conference calls. Listeners who want a headset that does it all for just $99 should really get the Elite 45h.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II quiets your surroundings
Finding good, reasonably priced noise cancelling headphones is a challenge. Fortunately, Sennheiser knows a thing or two about active noise cancelling, and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a steal at this price. The lightweight build and design is great for commuters, frequent flyers, and even remote workers who rely on their headsets to quiet batty roommates.
Sennheiser PXC 550-IIFull Review
Noise cancelling performance is great, and low-frequency sounds are heavily attenuated. This means that predictable sounds like a humming refrigerator or wonky A/C unit will be hushed to sould half as loud when noise cancelling is enabled. Listeners can choose from two ANC settings: II, which is the most intense; and I, which can be customized in the Sennheiser app.
Sound quality is absolutely stellar for the price, if you like to hear your music as the sound engineers intended. The neutral-leaning sound signature reproduces bass and midrange notes accurately with negligible deviations in loudness. You can listen to all of your favorite songs, and even pick up new detail that you might not have registered when using bass-heavy headsets.
Sennheiser PXC 550-II microphone demo:
Two Bluetooth codecs are supported for high-quality audio streaming, namely aptX and AAC. The former is great for Android users and was included in the first-generation Sennheiser PXC 550 while the latter is the new codec in town. AAC support makes the headset iPhone-friendly because it’s the only high-quality Bluetooth codec supported by iOS. The main sacrifice of the headset is its microUSB charging input, but otherwise it’s a stellar option for listeners with a hard budget cap of $200.
Pick up the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO for a comfortable headset
Okay, they’re not actually a pillow, but these are the most comfortable headphones under $200. As if that isn’t convincing enough, the DT 990 PRO is beloved by enthusiasts and producers, alike. Concerning low-end reproduction, the DT 990 PRO keep it clean without entering eardrum-shaking territory. Some may consider the bass to be lacking, but it benefits audio engineers when it comes to hearing and remedying overemphasized vocals and sibilant treble reproduction.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PROFull Review
Keeping the headphones comfortable is an (almost) entirely plastic build and velour-wrapped, memory foam ear pads. Adding to the comfort is the coiled cable (1m) that allows for travel within a studio space without having to do the constant on again, off again headphone tango. Of course, all this plastic compromises durability. They aren’t going to be able to take being shoved into a bag like the V-Moda XS, and the steel-reinforced headband is flimsier than others. Also, remember that cable? It’s not removable if it breaks you’re S.O.L..
All that said, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO aren’t travel cans, and Beyerdynamic doesn’t advertise them as military-grade anything. Instead, these are for long listening and editing sessions, which they excel at, making them some of the best headphones under $200.
Best headphones under $200: notable mentions
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40x: These are the unsung hero of the budget studio category, and the M40x are featured on our list of the best headphones under $100. The design isn’t going to garner any compliments, but if you put function before form, you’ll want to pick these up.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT: Renowned for their flat sound signature and portable design, these low-budget studio headphones are popular amongst all musicians—from bedroom producers to professional artists alike. These headphones have been updated by Audio-Technica to include Bluetooth for convenient listening on-the-go.
- Beyerdynamic Custom Game: If you’re a gamer and want a personalized headset that doubles as a great pair of around-the-house headphones, these are an excellent choice. The bass reflex vents offer flexibility with bass emphasis and isolation. No matter the situation, you can bet that the Custom Game can handle it, so long as you don’t mind the bulkiness.
- Beyerdynamic DT 770: A well-constructed pair of cans that cater to the casual listener, or a studio musician looking for an inexpensive set of mixing headphones.
- JBL Everest 710: The Everest 710 is a comfortable pair of circumaural headphones that provide 25 hours of playback on a single charge. Though at first glance they’re rather large, the headphones fold up and can lay flat for convenience.
- JBL Live 650BTNC: Passive isolation is ok, but switching on the ANC toggle makes a world of difference. What’s more, the Bluetooth connectivity is reliable and supports multipoint connectivity. This means you can connect to two devices simultaneously and switch between them.
- Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2: For under $200, these are one of the best wireless over-ear headphones you can buy with decent sound quality, a long-lasting battery and plenty of on-device controls.
- Sennheiser HD 450BT: Though their active noise cancelling isn’t quite as good as that of the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, they have excellent passive isolation, long battery life, and a consumer-friendly sound. And they’re cheaper than the PXC 550-II.
- Sennheiser HD 598 CS: When it comes to comfort, things are neck-in-neck between the HD 598 CS and the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro. If you want the benefits of closed-back isolation and a soundstage that resembles open-back headphones, the 598 CS are a great, affordable pair of headphones. Though, they do suffer from a lack of clarity, especially with midrange frequencies.
- Sony MDR-7506: This is another great pair of studio cans; the MDR-7506 are arguably one of the most prolific pairs of mixing cans to rest on the heads of audio engineers everywhere.
- Sony WH-CH710N: For less than $200, there are few options better than Sony’s ANC headphones. These aren’t as comfortable as the Edifier headset, nor do the ear cups rotate up (only flat), but the microphone is great for telecommuters.
What you should know about the best headphones under $200
Bluetooth headphones are increasingly salient while their wired counterparts are getting passed over by many consumers. Bluetooth is convenient, ideal for commuters, and headphones are often used as a buffer from the world.
That said, there’s no denying that sound quality caps off much quicker with Bluetooth headphones than wired ones. We at SoundGuys understand that there are reasons to buy Bluetooth headphones and reasons to avoid them. Here’s a quick guide on what you need to know.
For headphones under $200, wired provides a greater bang-for-your-buck than Bluetooth.
Generally speaking, wired headphones outperform their Bluetooth brethren. It all comes down to bandwidth. Bluetooth doesn’t have the necessary bandwidth to keep pace with wired headphones, especially when you bring amps into the conversation.
Learn more: Ultimate guide to Bluetooth headphones
That said, unless you’re in a private, quiet environment you probably can’t hear it the differences between Bluetooth and wired quality. Additionally, depending on your age and how long you’ve been exposed to loud noises (like how many concerts you’ve gone to), you might not be able to hear the upper limits of the frequency range anyway. If you want to test your ears, check out our simple but effective hearing test.
If convenience is your biggest need, you may choose to forgo the best sound quality and invest in a Bluetooth model instead. There are even true wireless earbuds now that completely ditch the wire like the AirPods. We recognize that different SoundGuys readers prioritize different things when looking for headphones, and that’s why some of our picks for the best headphones under $200 are wired and some are Bluetooth.
How we picked the best headphones under $200
Although we’ve directly reviewed a vast array of products here at SoundGuys, we haven’t gotten around to all of them. After all, we’re only human and are inherently subjective. To counteract our unavoidable bias, we do quite a bit of research by perusing online forums, reading other reviews, conducting our own Twitter polls and more.
Unlike some of our more niche best lists, we’re able to draw upon the full experiences of our entire staff—including some who have moved on—for input in populating our list of candidates. This list isn’t simply what one of us likes, it’s an accurate representation of our experiences as an entire staff. This is a very crowded segment of headphones, with countless models that are really, really good. However, this is what we feel are the best when you consider the diverse needs of many listeners.
In short, this list is the running conclusions of thousands of hours of use from a growing list of contributors over many years. This is a living document, and it’s updated every time a new model knocks an existing one off their pedestal.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
Not only is this site our nine-to-five, but each of us has 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.
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.
Next: Best aptX headphones
Frequently Asked Questions
Some people prefer to workout with over-ear headphones because of its improved isolation over a pair of earbuds. For intense training sessions, however, you'd be better served by IP-rated workout earbuds guaranteed to last. Although if you're adamant about working out with over-ears, there are a variety of headphones that are perfect for the gym.