This list was updated on November 7th, 2018 to include changes in pricing and information
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.
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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’re the most neutral; they’re not. 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.
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 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 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 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. 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?
V-Moda XSFull Review
The fit is snug but can be good. 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 Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless
Typically, on-ear headphones are the least comfortable variety of headphones, but consumers who are well-acquainted with Bose know that the SoundLink On-Ear Wireless is an exception. All-plastic, featherweight construction keeps the weight at 161 grams; that combined with pressure-relieving padding makes these some incredibly comfortable headphones under $200 that are perfect for travel.
Improving upon the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless’ already minuscule footprint is the ability for them to fold up at the hinges, halving their size. For consumers who have an aversion to precariously placing headphones into bags, Bose provides a zippered carrying case, reminiscent of the CD cases of yesteryear. Another great feature that’s conducive to portability and transient lifestyles is the well-implemented Bluetooth and multipoint technology. The headphones pair quickly, connect quickly and can stay connected to two devices simultaneously.
Bose SoundLink On-Ear WirelessFull Review
For commuters who favor passing the time with TV and movies, the SoundLink On-Ear Wireless relay video without any audio-visual lag. Also, Bluetooth means that users won’t find themselves tangled in a web of wires and don’t have to worry about cables catching on door handles or strangers. As if that weren’t enough, Bose’s dual-microphone system in tandem with Active EQ effectively mitigates ambient noise while placing emphasis on clear voice transmission. All of this makes for a compelling pair of headphones under $200.
Block out the world with Plantronics’ BackBeat Pro 2, the best bang-for-your-buck headphones under $200
The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 is the dark horse of the listed headphones under $200. Originally, the first model was good but left a lot to be desired. The Pro 2 is sturdy, more modern, and come with an attractive lowered price tag. It should be noted that these are intended for Bluetooth use, but the optional 3.5mm cable is provided.
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-hour playback time), a 100-foot Bluetooth 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, but it’s well worth the effort. Additionally, for those unfamiliar with Plantronics’ OpenMic™ technology, it allows surrounding noise to permeate the headphones without removal.
Need a pillow? Pick up the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
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 DT990 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.
- 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. Full review
- 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. Full review
- 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. Full review
- 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. Full review
- 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.
How we picked
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.
What you should know about 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.
- 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.
- Bluetooth isn’t great, but you probably can’t hear it anyway. 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.
Why you should trust us
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. 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.
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