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Best headphones under $100
If you’re a frequent visitor, you already know headphone prices can range from a mere $20 to “insurmountable college debt” level. Today, we’re talking about what lies between the two extremes — the best wired headphones under $100. Whether you’re looking to get some work done in a studio or just enjoy good sound quality for less, we have you covered with some of our favorite headphones.
Editor’s note: this list of the best headphones under $100 was updated on May 28, 2023 to add the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT and JBL Tune 660NC to the top picks, to highlight the Koss Porta Pro Limited Edition and Monoprice BT-600ANC, to add the Grado SR60x, JBL Live 660NC, and Sennheiser HD 350BT to the Notable mentions, to add a section on Bluetooth and the headphone jack, and to update formatting.
For our top five picks that we’ve reviewed on SoundGuys, you can find the isolation and frequency response charts at the end of each image gallery. You can learn more about how to read our charts here.
Anyone interested in delving deeper into the world of audio for less money, or anyone prone to breaking nice things should check out these headphones for under $100. We’ve listed everything from studio headphones to wireless/wired headphones to account for anyone interested in upgrading their current setup.
Making the switch to headphones under $100 USD, rather than $50 and other cheap headphones opens a world of possibilities for a variety of audio preferences.
Why are the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x the best wired headphones under $100?
The ATH-M50x are the top pick for many but the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x doesn’t fall too far behind. From the enthusiast to the professional, the ATH-M30x will sate most hi-fi appetites. If you’re interested but want the option of a wireless version, Audio-Technica offers that too.
Thanks to the rotating ear cups, the headphones lay flat against the chest when inactive which is always handy. Generally speaking, the headband is comfortable with just enough padding. However, if you aren’t into the synthetic feel, you may have a differing opinion. The ATH-M30x provides more subtle bass reproduction than the ATH-M50x. This strikes a balance between a more sound engineer oriented frequency response, and a consumer headset.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M30x feel comfortable, durable, and no nonsense.
Audio-Technica designed these headphones with one purpose in mind: listening to music. Anyone needing headphones with a built in mic, will want to check other picks, or gaming headsets. Overall, if you prefer an ever-so-slight emphasis in the mids and vocals, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the ATH-M30x as our pick for the best headphones under $100. Listeners wanting something similar with more low end, should try the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro.
The JBL Tune 660NC are small enough to fit in your bag and gets the job done
Look, the JBL Tune 660NC won’t win awards for original design; they look pretty much like every other JBL on-ears with different colorways. However, the headphones do most tasks reasonably well, including the essentials like a decent frequency response curve.
Oversized buttons make up the majority of the controls on each earcup housing. The Tune 660NC headphones don’t offer anything in the way of an app, so that means you’re getting the finished product, but that you can’t adjust anything beyond what your phone can do. Besides the basic AAC and SBC codecs, you also get a 3.5mm wired connection.
One of the main selling points of the Tune 660NC is that you have the portable advantage of on-ears paired with active noise canceling (ANC) capabilities. Rather surprisingly, the ANC attenuates more noise than you’d expect out of on-ear headphones. The battery lasts 37 hours and 9 minutes, which is pretty good for headphones that only weigh 166g including the battery.
The JBL Tune 660NC’s mic sound just fine. You can easily use it for a quick phone call.
JBL Tune 660NC microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
JBL Tune 660NC microphone demo (Office conditions):
JBL Tune 660NC microphone demo (Street conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Go wired or wireless with the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT
While the headphone jack remains the gold standard for audio quality, the truth is you’ll get more opportunities to use your headphones if you can go wireless too. Enter the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT, which essentially upgrades the standard Audio-Technica ATH-M20x studio style headphones and adds Bluetooth and a mic.
For the extra bucks the ATH-M20xBT not only adds Bluetooth, but also you can remove the headphone cable and replace it if it busts, which the standard version doesn’t allow. You can replace the ear pads too, which is unusual these days. Plus you gain button controls to control playback.
The headphones roll off bass and dip in volume around middle C more than we’d like, but you can EQ this somewhat with a third party app or a basic equalizer in Spotify, otherwise they sound pretty good. Unsurprisingly, these make our list for best over-ear headphones in the same price range too.
The mic on the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT sounds perfectly average in controlled circumstances. You won’t achieve amazing noise filtering here, but it’s by no means bad, and you can use the ATH-M20xBT in a meeting if needed.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT microphone demo (Office conditions):
Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
If you’re in the studio, grab the Sony MDR-7506
In this corner, weighing in at 8.1 ounces, is the Sony MDR-7506. The 1985 inception of these classic headphones came out under the model number MDR-V6. Six years later the world met the MDR-7506, which had slight aesthetic and functional changes from the V6. The MDR-7506 has proven it can keep up with modern standards while maintaining a retro, professional look. These are classic, which is why you’ll find them on many lists such as best over-ear headphones.
Although it’ll work in any context, the Sony MDR-7506 is intended for studio monitoring and audio mixing. Fortunately, if you want to expose it to natural light, folding hinges make transport a breeze. In general, it’s a reliable and legendary pair of headphones under $100 with that “it” factor. The long 9.8-foot cable is great for studio use but may need tying up to avoid comical unwieldiness while out and about.
Over-ear headphones offer the best sound quality and soundstage, which is how headphones reproduce spatial cues, due to mammoth drivers.
If it seems like this pair of headphones is a bit out of place, it’s probably due to the fact that our staff has decades of experience with it, and it still holds up today. It can be found in classrooms, studios, and even some speech labs. If you’re looking for headphones under $100 that have proven many times over that it lasts for years on end, this is the pair of headphones to buy.
The Anker Soundcore Life Q35 will give you a little bit of everything
Anker is no stranger to making easy-to-recommend, budget-friendly products, so it’s no wonder the company made it onto our list of the best wired headphones under $100. The Anker Soundcore Life Q35 is a pair of inexpensive headphones, yet they offer features that give more premium headphones a run for their money, including active noise cancelling (ANC).
With an ergonomic design, comfortable ear pads, and lightweight construction, the Q35 are perfect for any casual listener—from the daily commuter to the couch potato. With 52 hours and 21 minutes of battery life (with ANC enabled) ensuring that even if you forget to charge your headphones overnight, you’ll have enough battery to enjoy your tunes for the day. By the way, these headphones work wired or wireless (AAC, LDAC, and SBC Bluetooth codecs), so you don’t have to worry about any audio device.
While the noise cancelling technology may not be on par with higher-end headphones, the Q35 do a relatively good job attenuating low-frequency rumbles and general ambient noise. Sound wise, EDM fans (and folks who like extra bass) will appreciate the low-frequency emphasis on this headset. Interestingly, the default frequency response differs slightly depending whether it’s running over Bluetooth or plugged in. Still, for less than $100, you’re getting premium features at a price that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
One thing to keep in mind is that the mic on the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 is built into the ear cups, rather than in the cable, as with passive wired headphones. Take a listen.
Anker Soundcore Life Q35 microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Wired doesn’t mean cumbersome with the Koss Porta Pro Limited Edition
Introduced in the 1980s, the Koss Porta Pro Limited Edition have a few unique features which determine a good deal of its retro stylings. As a pair of on-ear headphones, it has the distinction of feeling rather lightweight and comfortable thanks to the adjustable clamping force, and the extra padding for resting against the side of your head. This means they’re a great candidate for folks with glasses, and they stay put.
The Porta Pro easily folds down, and due to a mixture of metal and plastic parts, it’s fairly sturdy considering its slight form. While they sport open backs, which are not ideal for wearing out of the house, they leak less sound than most open back headphones. You can get away with them on your commute if you don’t blast your music. With that said, having little isolation doesn’t make it ideal for a commute, but they keep you aware when out for a walk.
Depending on which version you choose, you can find the Koss Porta Pro with an in-line mic and remote, which comes in handy for phone calls. On the whole, it’s an unusual headset that wears easily and has decent functionality.
Silence your environment with the Monoprice BT-600ANC
So if what you really need is inexpensive headphones with ANC the Monoprice BT-600ANC might be your best bet. Unlike the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 you don’t get an app to dial in your EQ, and honestly, the Monoprice BT-600ANC could use some EQ. However, they have some truly excellent ANC even compared to some of the best out there.
They also boast Bluetooth codecs aptX HD (alongside AAC and SBC) for better quality audio and reduced video latency if you’re using Android. There’s also a wired option too. Touch controls are the name of the game here as well.
The best headphones under $100: Notable mentions
- AKG K240 Studio: These are a great option for anyone working on a shoestring budget ($69.99 at Amazon) who can’t afford to compromise sound quality. The semi-open design promotes accurate sound reproduction. Low bass response is lacking, so if you want a more neutral response across the frequency spectrum, keep looking.
- AKG K371: Costing just a bit more than the budget’s threshold ($157.97 at Amazon), these are an excellent sounding closed back headphones.
- Audio Technica ATH-M20x: These are Audio-Technica’s entry-level studio headphones — ideal for people who prefer a neutral sound without breaking the bank ($49 at Amazon).
- Audio Technica ATH-M40x: For those looking to get the upgrade, this pair of headphones are the step up from the ATH-M30x, featuring a balanced sound signature for accurate sound reproduction for $119 at Amazon.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro: This pair of supra-aural cans is meant for the studio but doesn’t need to be confined there. The ear cups are small and light enough to take with you too. Find a set for $52.38 at Amazon.
- Grado SR60x: These headphones are still made in Brooklyn and yet sell for only $99 at Amazon. With a surprisingly comfortable on-ear fit, the lightweight headphones relay your audio on a nice wide soundstage. However, bass isn’t a major feature here, and the open backs limit case use. Still, these are worth a look.
- JBL Live 660NC: Usually these sell for a few bucks above the $100 threshold ($169.95 at Amazon), but they offer some added active noise canceling alongside Bluetooth capabilities, which might be what you’re looking for.
- Pioneer HDJ-CUE1BT: With the flexibility of wired or wireless connectivity, this no frills set of headphones is oriented towards DJs with articulating ear cups, and onboard mics. It sells for $99 at Amazon.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro: This pair of headphones attenuates external noise effectively and has a very neutral-leaning frequency response perfect for mixing. Though some people find the clamping force of the headband a bit intense. Find it for $79.95 at Amazon.
- Sennheiser HD 350BT: Not the newest kid on the block, the HD 350BT still offers some ANC and a solid selection of codecs. Some folks find the ears cups don’t have enough room to fit properly as over-ears. Still, for Sennheiser quality sound check it out for $69.95 at Amazon.
- Sennheiser HD 559: These open back headphones have Sennheiser’s signature good sound and comfortable fit, selling for $79.16 at Amazon.
- Sennheiser HD 569: Sporting closed backs, you can take the HD 569 out of the house without disturbing others. They do not fold down, but the price is reasonable ($92.29 at Amazon).
- Skullcandy Hesh ANC: For the bass fans out there, these offer exaggerated bass frequencies, noise cancelling, and wired or Bluetooth connectivity for a low price of $85.99 at Amazon.
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 headphones under $100 USD
Headphones come in all shapes and sizes, but an uncompromising seal is necessary for proper bass. We’ve laid out the most important points covering the differences between on-ear and over-ear headphones. For more in-depth information, make sure to head over to our headphone buying guide.
What’s the difference between on-ear and over-ear headphones?
On-ear headphones sit directly on your ears. They negotiate a healthy balance between portability and quality sound. As the name implies, they rest neither around nor within the ear, so they’re not as comfortable and the seal isn’t the greatest. If you wear glasses, on-ears typically aren’t your friend. However, some do a better job than others, like the Koss Porta Pro Limited Edition.
Over-ears generally offer the best sound quality, thanks to larger drivers and a consistently good seal to your head. They also do the best job of reproducing spatial cues by using our ear anatomy in a natural way, by sitting around them and exposing the entire pinna to soundwaves.
Should you get closed-back or open-back headphones under $100?
Closed-back headphones isolate well and are primarily used for commuting and travel, or where outside noise would ruin your music. The closed rear chambers can cause unwanted resonances which cloud the midrange details. Cans like the Sony WH-1000XM5 do a great job combatting this. Conversely, open-back headphones do not isolate at all. This is fine if you’re listening in a quiet room but will sound terrible when traveling or commuting. Quiet environments are where this breed shine.
Take the necessary steps to prevent hearing loss
Hearing loss comes in all varieties and can negatively impact an individual’s emotional wellbeing. In order to prevent this altogether, we suggest finding a proper fit with your headphones. Doing so will keep external noise out, making you feel less inclined to turn up the volume to dangerous levels. If you have a few more dollars to spare, you may want to consider premium active noise cancelling headphones as they further protect you from the chances of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
Do you need Bluetooth or a headphone jack?
Let’s face it, Bluetooth is where the market has headed and increasingly we see headphones full of batteries, which isn’t great for the planet. At least those batteries can power helpful inventions like ANC. However, all that tech doesn’t change the truth that your headphone jack still relays the best audio quality. Granted, we know that cutting the cords feels liberating, and it’s useful since our phones generally don’t have any other particularly convenient means of connecting to headphones. Fortunately, every pick on our list that is Bluetooth capable can also plug in.
The myriad of Bluetooth codecs can be confusing, but the basic things you need to know go like this: if you have an iPhone you want the AAC codec, and if you have Android you ideally want aptX (or similar) or LDAC. Android devices still work with AAC, so don’t worry, but it’s just not always the best for sound quality and latency with Android. There’s more to it, and some exclusive codecs work best with specific devices, but that’s the short version.
How we choose the best headphones under $100
We do our best at SoundGuys to directly test as many audio products as possible, but alas, we too are only human. While testing every audio product in the world is nearly impossible, we research as many candidates as we can if we’re unable to directly test something. Fortunately, with this “best headphones under $100 list,” we were able to directly test each of the top picks, allowing us to speak candidly about our experiences here and in the in-depth reviews.
If a product made it as one of the best wired headphones under $100, it’s because we earnestly feel it’s one of the best in its class.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We work day and night (well the night part mainly because we work remotely), to ensure we’re able to keep tabs on the ever-changing world of audio. What’s in today may not be in tomorrow, and our collective years of experience empower us to easily distinguish the diamonds in the rough from, well, the rough.
It’s not just about the subjective experience here, though. Audio is both a subjective but also objective and quantifiable phenomenon. In recognizing that, we also perform objective, in-house testing on an array of audio products.
All we want is for you to enjoy what you’re listening with and none of us see a penny, nickel, or dime from partnerships or referral purchases. What’s more, no writer at SoundGuys may benefit from guiding readers toward one product or another. If you’re interested, feel free to read up on our ethics policy.
Frequently asked questions about the best headphones under $100 USD
Yes, DVD and CD players usually have a 3.5mm port. So long as your headphones have a 3.5mm cable, as most headphones do, you should be able to use them just fine.
The Audio Technica ATH-M40x offers several improvements over the ATH-M30x. For starters, the M40x features a detachable cable for easy headphone storage and transport—a well-loved feature by musicians who are constantly traveling. The M40x also features a greater frequency response range for improved treble clarity, allowing for a better audio mixing experience.
Closed-back headphones are characterized by its ability to isolate noise, allowing users to focus on their content—though at the expense of sound quality. Meanwhile, open-back headphones can reproduce sounds more accurately, with a stereo image that is comparable to studio monitors. However, open-back headphones don’t isolate any noise, which may be annoying for other people in the same room as you. For a more comprehensive explanation, check out Chris’ article explaining the difference between open-back and closed-back headphones.
The size of a headphone’s driver is only part of the equation. The reason larger drivers are generally believed to be better is because bass response is easier to reproduce, something that is welcomed by the general consumer market. The drawback to larger diaphragms is that the flexibility and rigidity become more variable the bigger the driver gets. Consequently, treble reproduction becomes an issue (in terms of accuracy). This is why it’s important to have good audio engineers who can account for this, or completely different setups (e.g. balanced armature) altogether.