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 affordable headphones out there. Investing $200 in a pair of headphones 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.
You might also like: Best headphones under $100
To get the best sound under $200, get the AKG K7XX or Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO
AKG is known for their monitoring headphones, and the K7XX model has repeatedly shown up on Massdrop for $199.99. Their open-back reference build makes them a behemoth that are able to mimic the studio monitoring experience. The uncolored sound signature of the K7XX make these a winner in our book. According to Scott Gordon, cymbals have plenty of depth and don’t overdo sibilance. Since there is no overshadowing of highs over mids, you’ll be able to pick out subtle details in your music that may have been unidentifiable before. At first, bass will be lacking for anyone used to typical consumer headphones. But once you become accustomed to the vibrant detail rather than pure volume, you’ll come to appreciate these headphones.
Physically, these are a little to bold, too brash for me. Unfortunately, the plastic construction is a weak point of these headphones. Seeing as they’ll likely be used in a designated area of your home or studio that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Also, plastic means less weight and less distribution to worry about. Plus, the cushions buoy gently on your head making these extraordinarily comfortable. For under $200, the AKG are their own Black Friday bargain.
These only just barely beat out our runner-up, so if you wear glasses or already own an amp, you may want to consider our main alternative. Really, you can’t go wrong with either set of cans, but the AKG K7XX holds the edge for critical listening.
The Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO are the runner-up for best headphones under $200.
Beyerdynamic has been in the audio game for decades and is both respected and completely underrated. Case in point: the DT 990 Pro headphones. As Adam experienced, these open-back headphones are just as comfortable, if not more so, as headphones many times their price. The ear cups are covered in velour which, besides feeling baller as hell, are also super comfortable and let you listen to music for hours with minimal ear fatigue. Of course, as great as that is, it’s not the reason these headphones are so good. It’s because of their sound quality.
To say these sound good is an understatement. There’s a reason that when asked what one of the best inexpensive headphones were, our colleague Chris Thomas (with many years of experience in audio) pointed to these without hesitation. The open-back design means you’re getting a much better soundstage than similarly priced closed-back headphones. Since they were meant for mixing and mastering, these boast an accurate sound—though there is a peak in emphasis around 8-10kHz. You will need an amp for this model, but you don’t need to go crazy with it—a cheap one should do.
Best of all, they only cost $200. See what happens when companies focus on sound instead of special features? As great as these are it’s not all peaches and cream. Though Adam wouldn’t say these feel cheap, they don’t exactly inspire confidence in their durability.* If you want to spend a couple extra bucks for a more durable pair, the DT 990 Premium version is also under $200. These weren’t meant to be thrown in a bag on your commute to work (especially since they’re open-back), but for lounging around the house and listening to your favorite tunes? The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros are a great option.
Editor’s note: Nothing a little soldering skills can’t fix, anyway —Chris
What you should know
Bluetooth headphones are increasingly salient while their wired counterparts are getting passed over by many consumers. Me? I’m all for the convenience of Bluetooth. As far as commuting is concerned, I’d take a pair of Bluetooth headphones over wired any day. Mainly because, while on the train or at work, I’m not trying to appreciate the music, rather the headphones are intended as a buffer from the world. Not to mention, it’s a pain to walk around the Windy City bundled up in at least seven layers only to deal with a three-foot cable on top of that.
For headphones under $200, you’re going to go a lot farther in terms of sound quality with a wired pair than a Bluetooth pair.
That said, there’s no denying that sound quality caps off much quicker with Bluetooth headphones than wired ones. We at Sound Guys 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.
- 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.
- For headphones under $200, you’re going to go a lot farther in terms of sound quality with a wired pair than a Bluetooth pair. That said, if convenience is your biggest need, you may choose to forgo the best sound quality and invest in a Bluetooth model instead.
Why you should trust me
Hey, I’m Lily. In college, I worked for the radio station and racked up countless hours with studio-level microphones, headphones, speakers and recording software. All the while, deepening my understanding of the technical side of audio.
Of course, like anybody, my curiosity guided learning beyond work. I continued to self-produce YouTube videos, reviewing headphones from the Skullcandy 50/50s to the original Sennheiser Momentum. Hi-Fi Heaven reached out for my first collaborative project, and I got down to business. We teamed up to review Bluetooth, exercise and consumer headphones.
Naturally, being the child of two lawyers–and with a brother finishing up his third-year in law school–I’ve learned the importance of seeking outside counsel and studying potential rebuttals. Often, I reach out directly to the manufacturer to clarify technical details. General research consisted of straining my eyes to read as many articles as possible, and reach out to colleagues in the know. We don’t merely rely on our own experiences, but that of a huge list of knowledgeable experts.
These experts include our entire staff, and some others on our sister site, Android Authority. All of us are here because we love what we do, and want you to be happy with the headphones you purchase. It can be a drag to sift through all sorts of reviews (and figure out just what the heck they’re saying), so we try to make the decision as easy as possible for you.
Who should buy these?
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.
What’s really cool about this class of headphones is that they represent the next significant step into learning what you favor in a product. From soundstage, ANC, comfort, or whatever else, investing in the $200-range weeds out generalities that accompany lower caliber products. When I made my first investment into headphones in this price range, I realized that soundstage and mids were my top priorities and have since adjusted my spending habits accordingly.
What’s really cool about this class of headphones is that they represent the next significant step into learning what you favor in a product.
Need something tougher than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson?
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 barely take up any room in your backpack. This can be attributed to V-MODA’s Cliqfold, which indicates that they’re securely folded up via a click.
V-MODA XSFull Review
For such a compact pair of headphones, these are equipped with sizeable 40mm dual-diaphragm drivers. The metal plates dubbed, “On-Ear Shields,” are removable for easy replacement. However, with the XS, the removable plates are strictly aesthetic and will not alter the sound signature, unlike the HiFiMan Edition S (below). You can also get the plates engraved if you’d like. Who needs a tattoo when you can permanently etch your love of headphones onto the headphones themselves?
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. Should you somehow ever break the cable, you can always get another one on Amazon for about $15. Makes no sense to toss the baby out with the bathwater, right?
The fit is snug, but that’s good. V-MODA claims that reducing the distance between the drivers and your ear will improve sound quality. Overall, the signature is quite dynamic, but that’s pretty fun for most music. In sum, if you’re looking for a rough and tough pair of headphones that sound good and stand out, the V-MODA XS will last a lifetime.
Can’t decide between open or closed-back headphones? Now you don’t have to.
HiFiMan produces quality headphones but they’re normally a name encountered at a significantly higher price point. Fortunately, HiFiMan poured decades of audio production experience into a $149 pair of headphones. If you ask us, it’s one hell of a deal. With the Edition S, you’re not forced to conduct a rigorous internal debate over whether you should invest in open or closed-back headphones. Instead, HiFiMan asks: ¿por que no los dos?
The Edition S has open-back DNA with a closed-back variation. You can easily remove the ear cup plates to switch between the two. Full disclosure, even with the plates attached, you’ll leak more sound than traditional closed-back headphones, but it’s substantially lessened. While testing, I loved having the option and felt the versatility is more than just a gimmick.
HiFiMan Edition SFull Review
The supple plush ear pads make the HiFiMan Edition S insanely cushy. As someone with a lens prescription in the -6 range, I’m always pleased when I can bum around in my glasses and listen without temple pain. The Edition S may well be the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever experienced. The balanced weight distribution across the headband and asymmetrical ear cup shape are ergonomic. I was able to wear these through multiple eight-hour workdays, no problem. They also come with a removable cable so if it becomes damaged, you can just buy a new one without having to shell out for a new pair of headphones.
The Edition S has open-back DNA with a closed-back variation. You can easily remove the ear cup plates to switch between the two depending on the situation.
Although I could go on about how much I love wearing these, HiFiMan is respected because of their top-notch sound quality and the Edition S fall in line with their reputation. These aren’t even comparable to more popular brands like Beats or Bose. It’s just not worth the effort. In fact, it’s like comparing apples to hiking boots; why are we making this comparison? How did we get here? Yeah. The Edition S truly sound that much better, comparatively. In lieu of offering pure audiophile-grade quality, HiFiMan deliberately chose to craft a more consumer-oriented pair of cans. That doesn’t mean the sound quality will be an abomination to audiophiles. Rather, the sound signature is colored to please the average consumer.
As a unique pair of headphones with good sound quality, these were worth the $250 price tag. And now that you can get them for $100 less, they’re practically a steal.
Forget about your surroundings with successfully implemented ANC.
The Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 are the dark horse of this list. Originally, the first model was good but left a lot to be desired. The PRO 2 is sturdy, more modern and comes with an attractive lowered price tag. It should be noted that these are intended for Bluetooth use, but the option to use a standard 3.5mm audio cable is there.
Plantronics Backbeat PRO 2Full Review
Of course, these are Active Noise Cancelling headphones but that’s not what earned Plantronics a spot on the list. Insane stamina (24 hours playback time), a 100-foot connectivity range and the intuitive mix of playback controls are all contributing factors. Sure, there’s a minor learning curve when building a mental map of all the controls. Though, once you do, you’ll reap the benefits. There are the basic options of play/pause/skip tracks and answering a call. On top of that, you can access Siri or Google Now, toggle ANC and enter the “Open-Listening mode.” For those unfamiliar with Plantronics’ OpenMic™ technology, it allows you to hear your surroundings without removing the headphones. It’s pretty neat as the microphones are activated to relay ambient noise into your ears, think reverse ANC.
(Sound) Mix it up with the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
Founded in 1924, the family-owned Beyerdynamic is the oldest audio company still in existence. With almost 100 years of manufacturing experience under their belt, it’s no wonder that the DT 770 PRO have made the cut. Yes, the 770 PRO fall on the lavish end of the spectrum with a $169.99 price tag but for good reason.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO - 80 ohm
For starters, the circumaural design means the velour ear pads tenderly encompass your ears. Sure, the components are predominantly plastic, but a spring-steel headband means the German engineered ‘cans will provide substantial clamping force. No more worrying about your headphones slip-sliding around during long mixing sessions. Sidebar: If your noggin errs on the side of large, you’ll benefit from manually stretching them out or by seeking out a more relaxed fit.
Okay, but how do they sound? The closed-back exhibit a V-shaped sound signature. The deep bass and slightly emphasized highs make for an enjoyable listening experience. Astonishingly, these emphases don’t impress upon the listener a feeling of comical exaggeration. Rather, they provide a more engaging sound. (At times, however, this energetic signature can be a bit jarring.) According to Head-Fi and Amazon, a handful of consumers found an amp to be helpful, though it’s only necessary with the 250Ω model, not the 80Ω version. At the end of the day, the Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO are a standout option for both music maker and music listener.
Save some cash and spend some time with the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x.
Often left cold in the shadow of the M50x, the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x are an unsung hero. With the price drop in the M40x, they’re a fabulous deal and can also be found on our Best Headphones Under $100 list. It’s no secret that the slightly smaller drivers don’t produce bass as powerful as their big brother. But if you’re like me and enjoy a more balanced sound, you’ll prefer this. I did notice during testing, and from previously owning them for personal use, that the soundstage on the M40x is limited. It’s not like the instruments are tripping over one another, but things are crowded.
The design? Plain and simple. Proudly adorned on each ear cup is the Audio-Technica logo. The headband brazenly displays the brand name too. A synthetic material makes up the earphones and get pretty hot if you’re walking about. I’ll take the heat though given how darn comfy they are. Additionally, the ATH-M40x are acrobatic; both ear cups flip, fold and rotate. The ability to take on a more compact form factor is much appreciated as well as having them lie flat on your chest when inactive.
These headphones are incredibly versatile and can be used for professionals on a budget. Whether you spend a lot of time in the studio or want a quality pair of closed cans while walking around, the M40x are an outstanding bang for your buck option.
On the whole, I found it to be cushy and comfortable. Additionally, the ATH-M40x are acrobatic; both ear cups flip, fold and rotate.
If you’ve made it to this part of the article and haven’t found a headphones that suits your needs, here are a couple that may attract your eye. The Beyerdynamic DT880 are outrageously comfortable and provide a semi-open, analytical listening experience. They also require 250 ohms, meaning you’re going to need an amp. This would technically bring the headphones significantly above $200 so we chose not to include them. If you already have an amp and are drawn in by the comfort of these over the Grado SR225e, more power to you.
Another excellent option are the Sony MDR7506. Featured in our Best Headphones Under $100 list, these are a staple to the audio world. They cost far less than $200 at $79.95 and are a great pair of entry-level monitoring headphones. They’re comfortable and well designed. So well designed, in fact, that they’re remained virtually unchanged since the initial inception of the V6 in 1981. As the saying goes, “why fix what ain’t broke?”
Fallible but not a failure
Okay, so here’s where we talk about flaws and why they can easily be overlooked. For starters, the AKG K7XX leak like a boat with a screen door on the bottom. That’s not necessarily a dark mark against AKG though. Instead, it’s an unavoidable consequence of open-back headphones. The trade off is that the open-back nature allows for a greater depth of sound and more accurate spatial representation of the music you’re listening to. Thus, quiet environments will allow for the sound engineering and design of the K7XX to be properly appreciated.
Also worth mentioning is that the HiFiMan Edition S tend to make highs sound a bit rattled, sibilant, instead of truly replicating a closed-back experience. This is okay. It still does lend itself quite well to the closed-back form factor, but the listening experience won’t be a complete facsimile. I took this in stride when testing. The plates were only engaged during commutes and in other public spaces where I don’t much care for pristine hi-fi sound. Then, when I got to my office or back home, I’d remove the plates and fully enjoy the music.
How we picked
Although we’ve directly reviewed a vast array of products here at Sound Guys, 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 (PCMag, CNET, etc), conducting 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.
When testing, we made sure to really flex the headphones in several different environments and situations. I was able to use them while commuting to work, in the office, at home and at cafes. Since, both of these can be used for studio monitoring, I used each while editing dummy videos on DaVinci Resolve and Screenflow. Specifically with the HiFiMan Edition S, my time was split between using them with the panels on and off. This lead me to conclude that they are more accurately considered open-back cans versus closed-back ones.
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