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Best wired headphones under $50
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Read full review...
If you’re looking for decent sound and some good isolation, you shouldn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a new pair of headphones. Whether you’re looking for the headphones you can carry around every day without breaking the bank or shopping for a gift, these are the best wired headphones under $50 worth considering.
Editor’s note: this post was updated on May 9, 2022, to include the Audio-Technia ATH-M20x and JBL Tune 500 to the list. We also updated the Buying guide, included a disclosure box regarding old test data, and added in-line FAQs.
- Listeners on a budget. No matter what headphone you pick from this list, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better product in each category for headphones under $50, and if you do, please share with us.
- Anyone looking for backup cans. Frequent travelers may just want a cheap pair of headphones they can knock around in their bags. If that’s the case, this list is great for you.
- General consumers. Look, we get it, not everyone is as headphone-obsessed as we are: most people would only buy headphones under $50, hence why this list is so important.
Why is the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x the best wired headphones under $50 USD?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x is a great set of wired headphones under $50 because it has a decent frequency response for editing projects like podcasts and even some music. Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the creative industry or want a headset that you can enjoy a wide variety of music genres with the ATH-M20x is a fine headset.
Unlike the famed Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, the ATH-M20x only comes in black and the cable is not removable. While it’s understandable that the company had to take cost-saving measures, the inability to easily replace the cable is a bummer and shortens the life of the headset. The frequency response (last image in the gallery above), is very good for this price point though, with bass notes that still allow mids to remain audible.
The over-ear design is nice and the ear pads, while not the most comfortable, should accommodate most ear sizes. For less than $50 USD, you’ll have a hard time finding a better headset for semi-professional and hobbyist work. Once you gain confidence, and perhaps a bit of cash, you can then upgrade to the ATH-M40x.
If you’re always on the go, pick up the Koss Porta Pro
The only thing more classic than the Koss Porta Pro is rock ‘n’ roll. Released in 1984, it epitomizes retro design and appears to be straight out of Back to the Future. The charming bare-bones build features a layered strip of metal connecting hinged ear cups. It also clips at the bottom to maintain a condensed form factor, saving you precious real estate.
Plastic, swiveling ear cups make for a comfortable fit (which can be adjusted via sliders that migrate pressure to the temples), but are also points of weakness. Even light use makes me nervous. Surprisingly, the headphones play quite nicely with my unfortunately thick-rimmed glasses. Although the design nearly shouts “travel-friendly,” the semi-open style isn’t conducive to commuting, unless you don’t mind your neighbors hearing your music.
Even with what some may consider a list of drawbacks, the Porta Pro is a favorite among audio enthusiasts for its unique sound and funky design. If you want something with a good bit of charm and unique features, go with the Porta Pro.
Bass heads should go with the JBL Tune 500
The JBL Tune 500 is the wired version of the Tune 510BT, which we’ve already reviewed. Like the JBL Tune 510BT, we find the Tune 500 appealing for its reasonable price point and generally useful features like an integrated microphone/control module. You get JBL’s “Pure Bass” sound profile here, which amplifies bass above other frequencies.
The Tune 500 comes in four colors: black, white, blue, and pink with ear pads to match. While the headset isn’t technically for exercise, some user reviewers have shared that it stays on during activities like basketball. As long as you wipe the ear pads down after each workout, you should be fine to do some light exercises with this headset. You can field calls, access your phone’s smart assistant, and control music playback all without the need to reach for your phone.
Each headphone rotates toward the headband, making it easy to slide the Tune 500 into a bag for transport. Be aware, however, that the plastic is a bit creaky and may not withstand being tossed on the ground in a crowded bag. Still, for just shy of $30, you can always buy another pair should this one break.
Gamers on a budget should get the Razer Kraken X
The Razer Kraken X is a functional, attractive gaming headset with looks that punch above its price bracket. The integrated boom mic is forgiving with regards to placement, and the headset works with PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices.
Razer provides a handful of accessories to pair with the Kraken X, among which is an audio splitter. If your desktop has separate audio and mic inputs, you’ll want to use this dedicated cable for the microphone to function properly.
For any vision-impaired gamers, the Kraken X is a miracle: its eyewear channels reduce pressure on the temple and ears. Wearing these with my glasses was actually enjoyable and, at worst, not painful. Of course, there are other useful features for all listeners like the onboard volume dial and mute button, both located on the left ear cup.
Sound quality and isolation are about what you’d expect for a pair of $50 gaming headphones. Bass frequencies receive a strong boost, which is typical for economical gaming headsets. This makes explosions more impactful but can also make it difficult to hear incoming footsteps.
If you want to save around $10, the Razer Kraken X Lite is available. It features a lighter build and lacks the onboard controls of the Kraken X. Conversely if you’re willing to stretch your wallet a little thinner, an extra $9 USD gets you the Razer BlackShark V2 X. It features significantly better isolation and sound quality than the Razer Kraken X, and offers an extremely comfortable design for extended gaming periods.
The Sony MDRZX110 will give you the best bang for your buck
For $20 USD, this headset has decent audio quality. Its 3omm drivers produce a sound signature that should please the casual listener. The Sony MDRZX110 is very lightweight and has a gentle clamping force, so you can wear it for hours at a time. Even someone with lots of ear piercings shouldn’t find this on-ear headset to be too uncomfortable. You can rotate the ear cups rotate to lay flat on your chest but the headband is not collapsable.
The Sony MDRZX110 doesn’t have a microphone or any volume controls, and this no-frills design is what makes it so cheap. It would also be nice if the 3.5mm cable was replaceable as it isn’t the most durable and may break after several months of use. But the headset is only $20 USD, so you may as well replace the whole thing if this happens.
The best wired headphones under $50: Notable mentions
- Edifier H840: Edifier is known for its high-end audio equipment, but the H840 closed-back headphones takes some of that knowledge and puts it into a friendly price point.
- Monoprice 8323: Monoprice has a reputation for bringing more than expected to affordable audio equipment and this is another great value. Each headphone houses a 50mm dynamic driver, and it’s comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
- Samson SR850: The Samson SR850 is a strong contender because of its semi-open design, which gives it a pretty good soundstage.
- Sennheiser HD 300: This lightweight, around-ear pair of cans delivers a smooth frequency response for casual listening on a low budget.
- Skullcandy Riff: This budget on-ear headset offers a colorful design, comfortable ear pads, and a sound signature geared towards bass enthusiasts—all for less than $40.
- Sony MDRZX110NC: With basic noise cancelling functionality, coupled with a clean sound signature, this pair of headphones is cheap, capable, and portable.
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 review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and ANC 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 before you buy any of the best wired headphones under $50
While we enjoy all of the headphones recommended above, it’s important to remember that they’re still pretty cheap headsets. Corners have been cut with each product since $50 USD can only take you so far. Still, there are some important fundamentals to understand before you spend your hard-earned cash on any of the headphones we recommend.
What is isolation?
The more sound that your headset is able to passively block out, the better your music will sound. Good isolation creates a solid barrier between the outside world and your ear canals, that way, you’re less likely to encounter a phenomenon called auditory masking. When headphones don’t form a good seal over your ears, then you may hear more of your environment and reflexively increase the volume. We don’t recommend you increase the volume too much since prolonged exposure to loud outputs can actually damage your hearing in the long run.
How should cheap headphones sound?
The sound quality of your headphones depends on what you’re shopping around for. Take the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x. This headset hardly boosts the bass relative to mids, which makes it a great option for listeners with eclectic tastes. It also happens to be one of the best pairs of super-cheap studio headphones you can buy. Now, if you want something marketed more toward the average consumer, you may find that a headset’s frequency response closely follows our consumer curve, which recommends a boost to bass and treble notes to varying degrees.
Ultimately, it depends on what you want to use your headset for. Fortunately, we live in a time with EQ apps abound and most streaming services have basic EQs integrated into them, so you can adjust the sound of your wired headphones accordingly.
How we pick the best headphones under $50
We’ve reviewed a ton of products here at SoundGuys, but not all of them. Naturally, it’s hard to make lists based solely on the products we’ve reviewed. Aside from products that we test directly, we do tons of research like reading other reviews and visiting forums before including a product on a list. If it made it here, it has to be good.
In short, we put every candidate set of headphones through the wringer, and only models that we’re able to keep up even got a shot at this list. While the list itself may not be a complete cross-section of all good headphones under $50, it represents the best of our knowledge and experience. Be sure to take a look at type-specific lists if you didn’t see a type of headphones you like represented here. For true wireless earphones, be sure to check out our list of best wireless earphones under $100.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
Working at SoundGuys is each of our respective nine-to-fives and this job has allowed each of us to get exclusive hands-on time with a wide array of audio products. When it comes down to it, we can quickly discern the gold from the gimmicks, but we don’t just rely on our ears. No, we have objective testing that we subject review units to.
All we want is for each reader to exit out of the SoundGuys page feeling confident in her future purchase decision, or at least more educated about audio in general. None of our writers benefit from advocating for one product over another, and if you feel so compelled, please read our ethics policy.
Frequently asked questions about headphones under $50
In short, no. Studio headphones are designed to deliver the most accurate frequency response possible, and achieving this while also maintaining the overall quality of the sound costs manufacturers a bit of money. The cheapest studio headphones that we’ll recommend are about $100: the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro or the Sony MDR-7506. These cheap studio headphones are actually quite good, too.
While wireless headphones are the best when it comes to convenience, wired headphones deliver overall better sound quality. This is because at the moment, wireless audio connections are incapable of transmitting large amounts of data, such as lossless FLAC audio files.