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Best cheap headphones you can buy
If you’re a frequent visitor, then you already know that headphones come in a wide range of prices. Even headphones that are considered “cheap” can range from $20 to a few hundred. But what are the very best cheap headphones? As you might imagine, our picks for the best cheap headphones tend to offer more and better features as we go higher in price, but you might be surprised at the quality of the audio you get even at lower prices.
Editor’s note: this post was updated on July 28, 2022, to address an FAQ about microphone quality.
Why is the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x the best pair of cheap headphones?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x is the overlooked little sibling of the ATH-M50x but don’t knock the ATH-M40x out of the running. The ATH-M40x is designed with functionality in mind and costs less than $100 USD. From the enthusiast to the professional, this pair of Audio-Technica headphones will satiate any hi-fi appetite.
The headband is comfortable enough for most people, though those with larger heads may have to manually stretch it out a bit first. There’s enough padding on the band and ear cups to make for comfortable, hours-long listening sessions. That said, you will notice some heat build-up after an hour or so, and some people prefer to air their ears out at that point.
As far as sound is concerned, the ATH-M40x has a less obvious difference between bass and midrange frequencies compared to the more expensive ATH-M50x. This kind of sound profile is good for all kinds of music and mixing alike. The treble response is more emphasized on the ATH-M40x than the ATH-M50x, but you can pretty easily EQ this from a desktop or mobile app.
The JBL Tune 510BT covers the basics for less than $50 USD
Compact and lightweight is the name of the game when it comes to the JBL Tune 510BT. While this pair of Bluetooth on-ear headphones isn’t perfect it’s a simple pair of cheap headphones that does its job reliably. Most people who want something cheap and easy to operate will appreciate the simplicity of these headphones.
Similar to other portable wireless headphones, the Tune 510BT collapses into itself for transport. If it weren’t for the brazen JBL logo on each ear cup, this headset would have an anonymous design with basic onboard controls and thin padding. It may not be the most comfortable design, but it does the trick for shorter listening stints.
Sound quality and isolation aren’t great, the latter of which is a deficiency of the on-ear fit. Sub-bass notes are emphasized to sound twice as loud as mids, and you also get a strange boost from 2-8kHz that comes through much louder than our house curve suggests. Bluetooth 5.0 powers this wireless-only headset and you can choose between SBC and AAC codecs.
The Tune 510BT is one of the more basic JBL headphones but you do get two premium features: Bluetooth multipoint and long battery life. The former works reliably, which can’t be said of all products. Battery life is impressive and lasts nearly 41 hours, plus you get fast charging (five minutes yields 120 minutes of playtime). If you don’t need anything fancy but want something reliable, get this.
Microphone quality is actually pretty good given the price of this headset. Even in environments with a lot of background noise, the Tune 510BT manages to isolate the speaker’s voice from the environmental din.
JBL Tune 510BT microphone demo (Ideal):
JBL Tune 510BT microphone demo (Street):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Get the AKG K371 for studio and everyday listening
The AKG K371 originally retailed for $179 USD but can be found as low as $109 USD. While this is still pricy, you get plenty of sonic bang for your buck. Sound quality is excellent and closely follows our house curve for consumer audio products. As a disclaimer, the reason this is one of the best sounding headphones under $200 USD isn’t that it has the most neutral frequency response. Rather, it’s the best because it transitions listeners from the world of consumer audio to hi-fi audio. Some may balk at the bass and treble emphasis, but AKG casts a wide net, pleasing a majority of listeners.
With a slightly under-emphasized midrange, the K371 follows the sound of most modern headphones. You may be skeptical of the rolling peaks and valleys charted in the treble range, but this is also typical of more premium consumer headsets. We’ve observed a similar response with Sennheiser headphones, too.
You can flip either headphone up while wearing the headset, to hear your surroundings and pump up the crowd while DJing. This is also a great feature to carry a quick conversation with anyone nearby. AKG doesn’t provide a ton of accessories, but you do get a straight and coiled cable along with a 1/4-inch adapter and carrying pouch.
If you want to see some more products at this price level, head on over to our feature to see our selections for the best headphones under $200.
If you need something wireless, go with the Jabra Elite 45h
If you’re just looking for a set of wireless cans that won’t break the bank, you might want to check out the Jabra Elite 45h. This pair of bassy headphones has a fairly premium design that might surprise you considering its reasonable sub-$100 USD price. The ear pads are also made of synthetic leather, and they swivel flat. It’s worth mentioning that the Elite 45h doesn’t provide much isolation and isn’t the most comfortable over long periods of time if you wear glasses.
This shouldn’t be your first choice if you plan on using it at the gym, just because it’s clearly more oriented towards productivity and commuting. Even though the headset doesn’t have an official IP rating it comes with a two-year warranty protecting against rain and dust. For workouts, check out something like the upgraded Jabra Elite 85t true wireless noise cancelling earphones.
It charges using USB-C and you’ll get an impressive 54 hours of constant playback (in our tests anyway) before needing to throw these back on the charger. The Elite 45h may not have everyone’s favorite sound signature, but you get an app to make custom EQs. Meanwhile, the mics are excellent if you’re seeking a conference call headset, and the dedicated buttons make that easier. While a headphone jack is absent, you might not miss it with the battery’s longevity.
Microphone quality is quite good, even in sub-optimal environments. No, it’s not on the same level as the coveted Sony WH-1000XM5 but it will outperform most headset mics in this price range.
Jabra Elite 45h microphone demo (Ideal):
Jabra Elite 45h microphone demo (Street):
Jabra Elite 45h microphone demo (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Monoprice BT-600ANC has great noise cancelling
The Monoprice BT-600ANC costs far less than $100 USD and manages to punch significantly above its weight class. Obviously, it isn’t going to blow you away with premium metal and faux fur on every surface. No, this is exactly what it looks like. A set of plastic Bluetooth headphones that doesn’t leave much to the imagination, but you’ll get some impressive specs in the place of premium materials.
Probably the most useful spec we should discuss is the 36-hour battery life, which exceeds most wireless headphones. Besides that, it also supports aptX HD and AAC for high-quality streaming from any operating system.
The noise cancellation is excellent, especially for the price. Low-frequency noises are quieted to sound anywhere from one-quarter to one-eighth as loud as they’d sound without the headset on. This is insane, especially given the low price tag. Unfortunately, not all is mind-blowing with this headset: sound quality is strange in that bass and treble notes are heavily amplified, leaving plenty of opportunity for auditory masking.
Sure, this mic system isn’t anything exceptional but it is good enough for most conference calls and any personal calls. Ideally, however, you’ll want to speak from a quiet setting.
Monoprice BT-600ANC microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The best cheap headphones: Notable mentions
- Anker Soundcore Life Q35: This pair of noise cancelling headphones supports aptX HD and AAC. It isn’t quite as good as the Monoprice BT-600NC but it has great battery life and compacts easily.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 PRO: Maybe you really liked our description of the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x but didn’t like the look of the headphones. Well, the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro is the answer to your sleek studio headphone desires. It’s comparable to the ATH-M40x in nearly every way, price included, but this is a slimmed down, on-ear version.
- Grado SR80x: If you want a smaller set of open-back cans, this builds off the back of a legendary pair of headphones.
- Koss Porta Pro: The nostalgic crowd loves this portable pair of headphones. If you don’t want to overspend, this is a great option that retails for under $50 USD. The headphones are semi-open though, so despite the portable build, they won’t sound the best in commuting environments.
- Sennheiser HD58X Jubilee x Massdrop: This would have easily taken a spot on our list if it wasn’t for the sporadic availability via the website Drop. But if your main concern is sound quality, this is worth picking up.
- Sony MDR-ZX110: For $20, this has surprisingly decent audio quality—there is no microphone or volume controls, and that’s what makes it so affordable.
- V-MODA Crossfade XS: If you want something that will last you a lifetime and meets military-grade standards, this set of headphones is well worth the investment.
On paper, the Sony WH-CH510 reads as a great bargain headset with plenty to offer for those who want something simple and capable. Unfortunately, the sidetone effect hinders this headset and makes it intelligible for a spot on our best list.
You can read more about this issue in our Sony WH-CH510 review, and if you don’t think it will bother you, perhaps you’ll like everything else it offers.
What you should know about the best cheap headphones
Build quality is the first thing you’re going to sacrifice with cheap headphones. That doesn’t mean that all or any of these products are particularly prone to breakage, but it does mean that they’re going to lack premium materials like the sheepskin leather found on the Master & Dynamic MW50.
Additionally, with most cheap headphones, what you buy is what you get but this can be a good thing. There aren’t any frivolities accompanying your purchase. You’re not getting any celebrity endorsement marketing or especially fancy carrying cases. Your purchase doesn’t rely on gimmicks. The Jabra Elite 45h has custom EQ capabilities, a premium feature unavailable on some of the priciest headphones out there, so you do get something, but you’re not getting everything in one package.
Hardware features aren’t going to be especially apparent either. For instance, some headphones receive water-resistant treatment, but cheap ones rarely do. That’s fine since we’ve gone decades without it, but it does mean that you’ll have to be more careful with your cheap headphones, especially around water. What’s more, the passive isolation will be less effective with these picks than with something like the Shure AONIC 50, which is outfitted with top-end dampening materials.
If you like the idea of cheap headphones but want something a little more compact and portable, check out our list of the best true wireless earbuds under $50.
What does frequency response even mean?
Another thing you should know is what we mean when we say frequency response: it just refers to which audible sounds the headphones emphasize. Some brands, like Beats, are known for heavy bass emphasis while others go for a more accurate frequency response.
Are wired headphones really better than Bluetooth ones?
Yes, wired headphones transmit lossless audio, something that Bluetooth can’t yet do. While Bluetooth has come a long way since its inception, using it for audio data transfers thanks to Bluetooth codecs, it still isn’t up to snuff with a good old-fashioned pair of wired headphones.
Bluetooth data transfer is capped off, and while that cap is sure to increase in the future as the tech gets better wired headphones are just able to handle more. Of course, this is all technically speaking because chances are you wouldn’t be able to hear the difference in sound quality anyway unless you have perfectly trained youthful ears.
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How we choose the best cheap headphones
We’ve spent plenty of time with plenty of headphones but haven’t yet gotten around to all of them. However, we made sure that each item on this list was directly tested and reviewed by at least one member of our staff.
If a product made it on this list, well, it’s because we all feel that it’s the best in its class per category. We acknowledge that this list is an ever-changing document, so if you don’t see your favorite pair of headphones get at us on Twitter and let us know what you think should make the list!
Frequently asked questions about the cheap headphones
For optimal microphone quality here, we recommend the Jabra Elite 45h, our “wireless pick.” Microphone quality isn’t perfect, but it does well even in noisy environments.