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Best on-ear headphones under $100
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Read full review...
Read full review...
Read full review...
The good thing about headphones is there are plenty of styles and options to choose from. Earbuds are the most portable, while over-ears usually offer a few more features (and better battery life if they’re wireless). However, if you want the best of both worlds, go for a pair of on-ears. Usually, the best headphones are going to cost you a fortune, but that isn’t the case. These are some of the best on-ear headphones you can get for under $100.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on May 3, 2022, to add the JBL Tune 510BT, Sennheiser HD 250BT, and Pioneer HDJ-CUE1BT among the top five picks. We also added a disclosure box regarding old test data and expanded the Buying guide.
Why is the Jabra Elite 45h the best on-ear headphones under $100?
The Jabra Elite 45h rocks an attractive minimalist design. The buttons can be a bit difficult to differentiate, but you can always activate the Google Assistant button to make basic voice-directed playback controls and perform simple tasks.
The Elite 45h has one of the best battery capacities in the business, permitting an insane 54 hours of constant playback before requiring a recharge via the included USB-C cable. It supports AAC and Bluetooth multipoint, but the multipoint connection is a little dubious.
Assuming you’re able to get a proper fit with the on-ears, the neutral leaning frequency response adapts well to a variety of music types. Unfortunately, external noise attenuation isn’t great, but that’s the case for nearly all on-ear headphones. The mic quality is good on the Jabra Elite 45h, and Jabra offers a nifty two-year dust and water damage warranty.
The Koss Porta Pro is a solid set of portable on-ear headphones
Looking for the best on-ear headphones with the most portability? The Koss Porta Pro is a classic pair of headphones, and the limited edition variants add important features along with new color options. The retro design hasn’t changed since its first release, and it’s just as practical now as it was then.
The headphones have a thin, lightweight frame and plastic ear cups that fold down to a more compact size for travel. It has a switch on the side that adjusts the firmness of the ear cups for a more comfortable fit. The unique adjustable design with ear pads and then a space with another set of padding on the side of the wearer’s head makes it one of the best on-ear headsets for individuals who wear glasses. Unfortunately, it isn’t the most durable pair of headphones but it comes with a hardshell case for protection during transport. What’s more, the limited edition models have a small mic and remote for use with mobile devices.
One thing to note is that the Porta Pro is an open-back headset, so you’re probably not going to want to use it during your commute unless you want everyone to hear what you’re listening to.
The Pioneer HDJ-CUE1BT is a solid choice for DJs
The Pioneer HDJ-CUE1BT is a great headset for casual music listeners and DJs alike. While there’s nothing completely remarkable about it, it’s on of the few on-ear headsets with Bluetooth and analog connection options. You get Bluetooth 5.0 and support for the SBC and AAC codecs, providing reliable high-quality audio to iPhone owners. Unfortunately, there’s no aptX support which would be better for Android phone owners but again, you can always revert to lossless streaming via cable.
It’s fairly heavy at 246g but you get a durable build that comes with the heft along with ear cups that swivel so you can rest the HDJ-CUE1BT against your chest when not in use. The ear cups are easy to remove and wash should you gunk them up with sweat. You can even customize the look of your headset and buy different colored ear pads.
Battery life is what really makes this headset stand out as it lasts more than 47 hours before you need to recharge it. The sound is pretty bass-heavy with sub-bass coming through almost twice as loud as mids. While this is typical for DJ headphones, it may not be your cup of tea and you, unfortunately, can’t EQ it in a mobile app. There is no mobile app for the HDJ-CUE1BT. Still, we think this is a solid headset for the price and one that will withstand regular use.
Cut the cord with the JBL Tune 510BT wireless headphones
The JBL Tune 510BT is a solid set of on-ear headphones with very little flare to it. There’s no headphone jack, and instead, the Tune 510BT connects to your phone via Bluetooth 5.0. You have your choice between the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs—no aptX here.
JBL’s onboard controls allow you to control playback, field calls, and access your preferred voice assistant. There’s no mobile app for this set of JBL headphones, so what you see is what you get. If you want to lessen the bass response, you’ll need to download a third-party EQ app or use the EQ in your streaming service.
The battery life is very good at 40 hours and you can recharge the headset with the included USB-C cable. Just five minutes of charging provides 120 minutes of playtime from the headset which is quite good. You get a microphone built into the Tune 510BT too, and while it’s not professional quality, it gets the job done. For less than $50 USD, you can’t go too wrong here.
The Sennheiser HD 250BT is one of few options with the aptX Bluetooth codec
For around $50 you get a wealth of codec options from the Sennheiser HD 250BT, including AAC and the even less common, aptX Low Latency, which is great for Android phone owners who stream video. It is pretty utilitarian, however, without any padding on the crown so it may not feel super comfortable over long periods.
The HD 250BT silhouette is very similar to the famed Sennheiser HD 25 headset for DJs, though the Bluetooth version doesn’t have the split headband design of the wired option. We like the HD 250BT for its 25-hour battery life and USB-C charging port (no, you can’t use it for passthrough USB-C audio).
In the Smart Control app (iOS/Android), you can customize the EQ, check the battery, and update the headset’s firmware. This is common with most wireless Sennheiser headphones but a nice feature nonetheless. You also get an integrated omnidirectional microphone for phone calls.
The best cheap on-ear headphones: Notable mentions
- Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT: This does not have the newest technology, as evidenced by the microUSB port, but it does have a decent neutral leaning sound from the 40mm drivers. The headset folds flat, which is nice when you leave it around your neck but doesn’t have articulating arms to make it more portable.
- Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear: Headphones for $15? Heck yes. Build quality may leave something to be desired, however, the sound surprisingly delivers.
- Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet: Whether you want headphones for your kid or you just have a smaller head, this is a great-fitting pair of cans. It also has active noise cancelling and a volume limiter to help protect those precious ears.
- Sennheiser HD 350BT: This may technically be a set of over-ears but it fits most of the population like on-ear headphones. If you can accept the fit, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck here.
- Sennheiser HD 25 Light: Sennheiser is known for its top-tier audio quality, and that reputation holds true with the HD 25 Light. The cord is detachable so you can easily replace it rather than buy a new headset.
- JBL TUNE 500: For around $30, fanciness probably isn’t as important. The TUNE 500 brings that pedigree to a bargain-level price.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and isolation performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What you should know about the best on-ear headphones under $100
How should on-ear headphones fit?
Getting the proper fit is just as important for on-ear headphones as in-ear or over-ear models. Unfortunately, since on-ears sit, well, on the ear, it’s more difficult to achieve this. Often, we consumers run into one of two issues: either the headset is so tight that it hurts to wear for longer than 20 minutes, or it’s so loose that it falls forward when we go to tie our shoes. Bespectacled listeners should jump ahead to over-ear headsets like the Shure AONIC 50 or even the AKG K371, or stick to the Koss Porta Pro. Once you get it right, the benefits of proper isolation will allow for optimal bass response and clarity.
Do on-ear headphones block out background noise?
Unfortunately, the fact is that most on-ear headphones do very little to block out background noise because they sit on your ears, rather than encompass them. This means that the barrier between your ear canals and the outside world is very tenuous and subject to “break” with a slight ear wiggle. All this is to say that on-ear headphones have poor isolation and if you want to really block out the world around you, you need to check out the best noise cancelling headphones or the best noise cancelling headphones under $100 USD.
Bluetooth audio or wired audio?
If you’re looking at any of the wireless models, bear in mind that wired still trumps Bluetooth with regards to audio quality. Of course, sometimes you just can’t put a price on the convenience of cutting the cord. If you’re a die-hard Bluetooth fan, keep an eye out for high-quality codec support. Android users should look out for aptX or LDAC headphones, while iPhone users will benefit most from AAC headsets. See, Android doesn’t play well with AAC across devices and iOS doesn’t support aptX or LDAC.
If you’re streaming from a basic music service like YouTube Music or Spotify, high-quality codec support is still important for connection quality and reduced latency, but it won’t turn crappy headphones that happen to support aptX into an audio miracle. You still want to make sure you’re using a well-engineered headset to get the most out of your music.
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Frequently asked questions about the best on-ear headphones under $100
Open-back headphones aren’t meant for travel since they leak noise like crazy, and allow external noise in. That said, it’s really more of a feature than a drawback since it facilitates a more realistic perception of sound. Sure, it’s not quite 3D sound, but it’s better than traditionally closed cans. We recommend relegating your Grado headset to the home and picking up something more sealed off for travel.