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Best wired earbuds under $100
When it comes to earbuds you can use every day on your commute or at work, the sweet spot seems to be around $100 USD. Today we look at the best wired earbuds under $100 that strike a good balance between sound and build quality. Whether you’re looking for a go-to pair of buds for the daily grind or something to keep in your bag as a backup, you can’t go wrong with any of these.
Editor’s note: this list of the best wired earbuds under $100 was updated on April 14, 2022, to include the Etymotic Research ER2SE.
Why is the KZ ZSN Pro X the best wired earbuds under $100?
The KZ ZSN Pro X is the best wired earbuds under $100 USD for most listeners because it comes in at just $26 USD and sounds very good. Times are tough and budgets are tight, so why spend more when you don’t have to?
These earbuds use a 2-pin connection to attach to the over-the-ear cables, which extends the life of the ZSN Pro X because you can just buy a third-party cable if the included one breaks. This is more eco-friendly than buying a whole new headset after the cable frays, and lets you customize the ZSN Pro X a bit more. The cable also has a built-in remote for call and playback controls, though we can’t get the “previous track” operation to work.
KZ includes four pairs of silicone ear tips that go from 10-14mm in diameter, so it should work with most ear shapes. Our reviewer combines two different sized ear tips to get the best fit, so you may find the need to do the same.
What we love most about the ZSN Pro X is its frequency response. This is a consumer-friendly sound that adds just enough bass and treble to your music to sound good with almost any genre. In order to get a frequency response as good as the chart suggests (at the end of the gallery above), you should really take the time to experiment with those ear tips for the best isolation. When you get a good fit, the buds will render bass and midrange frequencies to half their loudness and treble frequencies will sound about one-eighth as they would without the buds in.
If you only have $30 USD to spend, this is a great do-it-all headset.
If you want good isolation, check out the Shure SE-215
Most musicians have heard of Shure. After all, the company has been in the audio game since 1925, and has a lot of practice when it comes to what makes great sound. The Shure SE215 is a prime example of that. Its pedigree can be traced back to professional-grade in-ear monitors used for live performances. With the foam ear tips, it has excellent isolation, meaning you can keep volume down and still hear everything. Naturally, you can expect them to sound great, hence why it’s among the best wired earbuds under $100.
The buds feature an enhanced bass dynamic micro driver that provides a full sound and a detailed low end. This makes sense if you consider the fact that performing musicians have a tougher time hearing the lows while on stage. Logically, the in-ear monitors they use have to make up for that. It’s also a good thing if you enjoy bass-heavy music or are looking for an affordable Beats alternative.
As far as build goes, the cable is Kevlar-reinforced, so even if the cable snags on something it won’t rip. Plus, you can always replace the wires as they are completely detachable thanks to the MMCX cable. This saves you $65 since the replacement cable is only $35. We reviewed the true wireless, Shure AONIC 215 (Gen 2) which uses the same SE-215 drivers and it sounds great.
Get the best sound quality with the Beyerdynamic Soul BYRD
The Beyerdynamic Soul BYRD retails for less than $70 and offers little in the way of features. That’s not a knock on the Soul BYRD, however, as it outperforms the competition when it comes to sound quality and clarity. While bass frequencies are lightly boosted they don’t make it hard to hear vocals.
What’s more, when it comes to comfortable in-ears, these are nearly impossible to beat. The flat panels sit below the outer ear, making these a great option for late-night audiobook fans who listen from bed. That said, removing the earbuds takes a bit of effort. To remedy this, just grab the wire descending from either earbud rather than the housing itself. For earbuds under $100 USD, the Soul BYRD provides excellent sound quality and a functional tangle-resistant cable.
The Linsoul TIN HiFi T2 is a great set of wired earbuds for a good price
Popular among budget audiophiles, the TIN HiFi T2 offers a dual-driver system for less than $50 USD. This is just about unheard of at this price range, and you get a detachable MMCX cable that extends the longevity of the headset. Cables are typically the first thing to go, particularly in cheap wired earbuds.
You get a pretty solid studio-like response from this too, with bass notes that are slightly under-emphasized relative to our studio curve. If you want, you can always equalize the sound within your streaming service or from a third-party app too.
The main downside to the earbuds is that users have reported issues with the cable’s durability after just a few weeks or months of use. We found that it’s very difficult to maneuver the cable around the ear for a comfortable fit. While this is a valid reason to dissuade you from buying the TIN HiFi T2, you can always purchase replacement MMCX cables that will last longer. (Just don’t fall for the snake oil trap.)
Seeing how you get seven sets of ear tips, a dual driver system, and MMCX connected earphones all for just $50 USD, we feel the Linsoul TIN HiFi T2 is a pretty good buy.
The Etymotic ER2SE blocks out everything
If you don’t mind the fit, you’ll find that the ER2SE melts background noise away, akin to the Shure AONIC Free. This excellent isolation performance is due to the narrow-diameter nozzles and multi-flange ear tips. Once you get a good seal, you’ll be able to observe new musical detail from your favorite tunes.
Etymotic includes an array of ear tips that you can play around with and a carrying case for transport. For the price, you’ll have a hard time finding a pair of buds that does a better job of blocking out background noise.
The best wired earbuds under $100: Notable mentions
- Bose SoundSport In-Ear: If you’re an athlete who prefers wired listening while working out, this set of sub-$100 earbuds provide a secure and comfortable fit. Plus it includes an in-line mic and remote for playback and call controls. For a totally wireless variant, check out the Bose Sport Earbuds.
- HiFiMan RE-400: These earbuds cost less than $50 and house 8.5mm titanium drivers.
- Razer Hammerhead Duo: Gaming earbuds are difficult to come by, but this is a great option for gamers who want the option to use their earbuds outside of a console setting.
- RHA S500: This sits among the best wired earbuds under $100 for its style and sound quality.
- 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear: These earbuds have three drivers, the objects that actually project sound, inside each tiny housing—two of which are tiny balanced armature drivers that act as tweeters. YOu get an in-line mic and control module here along with nine sets of ear tips that vary in size and material.
If you have a bit more cash to play with, check these out
- Sennheiser IE 100 PRO Wireless: Hovering around the $100 to $150 range, you get the flexibility of a wired option, or a (somewhat awkward) wireless option. The buds sound good, stay put, and isolate well to boot.
- 1MORE Quad Driver In-Ear: If you liked what you read about the Triple Driver In-Ear and don’t mind shelling out a bit more cash, then you’ll enjoy these buds.
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 should you know before buying the best wired earbuds under $100
There’s really only one area where earbuds excel over any other kind of headphones, and that’s portability. Thanks to streaming services, music is more portable now than it has ever been, and the headphones you use should be just as easy to bring with you wherever you go. With the advent of true wireless earbuds, standard wireless and wired earbuds are becoming less prevalent but they still have their respective use cases. For one, wired earbuds remain more affordable than wireless ones, they’re also easier to repair if the cable is damaged (as opposed to an internal component breaking).
If you want something reliable and easy to use, you can’t get more straightforward than something that requires a headphone jack. Of course, if your smartphone doesn’t feature a 3.5mm output, you’ll need to get a dongle or surrender to the wireless future. If, however, you’re trying to get the best bang-for-your-buck, wired earbuds are the best option.
Consumers often worry that their phones aren’t enough to power their earbuds or headphones. While that might be the case if you’re spending hundreds of dollars on specialized in-ears and plan on plugging them into a computer from 1997, it isn’t necessary for anyone listening to music on a modern smartphone or somewhat recent computer. Especially with these earbuds under $100 that we chose. They were designed to be powered by typical electronics, assuming of course that your phone still has a headphone jack. You still shouldn’t have any issues with power if you’re using a dongle, but it’s definitely annoying.
(Click the image to expand.)
A proper fit optimizes sound quality
Isolation improves frequency reproduction by creating a cogent seal between the earbud and your ear canal. If you’ve ever tried to listen to music in a crowded area with cheap earbuds that don’t fit properly, you know why this is important. Outside noise makes it hard to hear your music because of something called auditory masking. This happens when your brain hears two sounds of similar frequencies. It will acknowledge whichever one is loudest because it perceives that sound as more important. And if your brain has to choose between your song or a roaring bus going by, it’s going to focus on the bus. Getting a good pair of ear tips to help isolate those outside noises can dramatically improve your experience.
Isolation is different from active noise cancellation, which uses electronic signals to cancel out unwanted noise rather than a physical blockage. It is more powerful at isolating sound and can help prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
What frequency response is good for wired earbuds?
If you keep seeing the words frequency response everywhere and don’t know what it refers to, don’t worry you’re not alone. Frequency response denotes how well a pair of earbuds can reproduce the range of frequencies of sound; in the case of human hearing, this ranges between 20Hz-20kHz, assuming you haven’t damaged your stereocilia too much. Basically, it refers to the ability of each component in your playback chain to accurately reproduce the signal that’s being fed to it.
In our reviews, to help you interpret the product’s measured frequency response, we also display a reference curve (colored pink) on the same chart, that represents what we consider to be the ideal frequency response shape for the kind of product you’re looking at. You might see this referred to as the SoundGuys “House Curve” or “Target Curve.” You can learn more about it here. Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and it’s further confounded by the fact that our ears aren’t perfect either. This is why some manufacturers allow you to modify the frequency response of their products to help compensate for variations in our hearing, or in the case of a brand like Beats, to add some emphasis to lower notes.
At SoundGuys, we perform objective tests to measure things like frequency response, isolation, microphone quality, and more. In order to do so, we use a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 head with an anatomically realistic ear canals and outer ears. We also use a standardized setup to test the microphone quality of products with pre-recorded phrases from a calibrated artificial mouth in our test chamber. This allows us to present microphone samples so you can judge the quality of products and compare them across the board. After we collect all of this data, we then score each product through a variety of objective and subjective measures.
Our team then confers with one another regarding the best products for a given category and we present our list to you. It’s not over after we hit “publish,” though. Instead, we treat every article as a living document that we update as new and worthy products come out.
Each of us is dedicated to making SoundGuys the best possible audio resource for consumers, enthusiasts, and professionals alike. Individually we have multiple years keeping tabs on the audio world, allowing us to separate the wheat from the chaff.
We understand that this best list may not be a complete reflection of your experiences, but it’s our concerted attempt to make your search for the best wired earbuds under $100 USD as painless as possible. We want you to be happy with what you invest your time and money in and none of our writers benefit from selecting one pair of earbuds over another. In fact, our ethics policy is available for you to read at your leisure.
Frequently asked questions about wired earbuds
The Beyerdynamic Soul BYRD might be a good bet considering they sit flush with most peoples’ ears and come with five different ear tip sizes.