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 January 14, 2021, to include the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 as a notable mention.
The best cheap headphones under $50 are the Monoprice 8323
If you’ve been following SoundGuys for a while then it should come as no surprise that we’re featuring the Monoprice 8323 headphones here as one of the best you can get. The company has a reputation for bringing more than is expected for affordable audio equipment, and the Monoprice 8323 headphones are a prime example of the bang-for-your-buck philosophy.
Monoprice 8323Full Review
The build quality isn’t the greatest and they’re lacking a comprehensive feature-set, but those things can be forgiven when sound and comfort are taken into account. Monoprice makes the most of what it has with massive 50mm drivers for added bass. Speaking of which, the low-end isn’t grossly forward but won’t be mistaken for neutral either. Vocals are audible over the repetitive bass bumps in Good God Damn by Arcade Fire. What’s more, the dynamic response made songs with nuanced vocals a pleasure and give other headphones in the $100 bracket to a run for their money.
Monoprice has a reputation for bringing more than is expected to affordable audio equipment.
Like the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, these closed back headphones are collapsible and great for transport—thanks to their half-pound weight. That said, we wouldn’t classify these as durable. Sure, these are technically DJ headphones, but the earcup yokes, the piece that holds the earcups in place, are dubiously built at best. However, they do flip up 90 degrees and are comfortable when hanging from the neck. Want to add some of your own personal flair? The earpads pop right off and you can buy replacements in red, white or gray for only $5. Altogether, you can purchase the 8323s and every alternate earpad while staying under $50.
If you want to take a look at some other options in this price range, be sure to check out our extensive article for the best headphones under $50.
What you should know about the best cheap headphones
As with anything in life, there are pros and cons. Since you’re looking into purchasing some affordable headphones, your first sacrifice is going to be build quality. 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 wireless headphones.
Additionally, with most cheap headphones, what you buy is what you get. There aren’t any frivolities accompanying your purchase. For instance, the Sony WF-SP700N are compatible with a free app to control the headphones. Well, you won’t find anything like that here. But on the flip side, that means that your purchase doesn’t rely on gimmicks. On this list of the best cheap headphones, only the Anker Soundcore Vortex offers high-quality codec support, which is fine since said codecs aren’t as great as we’ve been told anyway.
All right, so you may expect that software to be lacking or completely nonexistent, but you may want to be reminded that 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 Focal Listen Wireless, which are 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”. If you’ve never encountered this before, it can sound a bit technical, but it’s actually pretty easy to understand. we have a entire deep dive on this topic, but it just refers to which audible sounds the headphones emphasize. For example, Beats is famous for their bass-heavy sound signature. That’s because the headphones are tuned to make lower notes sound louder. You can see that when you look at the graph above, which just shows that the lower frequencies (pink) are given a little extra power so that they appear above the red dotted line (neutral, or flat response).
Are wired headphones really better than Bluetooth ones?
For now the answer here is yes. While Bluetooth has come a long way since the inception of using it for audio data transfers thanks to Bluetooth codecs, it still isn’t up to snuff with a good ‘ol fashioned pair of wired headphones. The amount of data that can be transferred wirelessly has a cap, 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. Bluetooth cans are what we’d recommend if you’re going to be on the go or moving around while listening to music, but if you’re just going to be sitting at your desk and want great sound then wired is the way to go.
If you’re working with $100, get the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x
The ATH-M50x are the top pick for many, but their little brother, the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, easily keep pace. Like the M50x, the M40x are designed with functionality in mind. From the enthusiast to the professional, the 40x will satiate any hi-fi appetite.
Audio-Technica ATH-M40XFull Review
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x are comfortable, durable, and reproduce only a slightly skewed sound signature.
The rotating earcups allow these to 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 pleather feel, you may have a differing opinion. As far as sound is concerned, the ATH-M40x provides more subtle bass reproduction than the ATH-M50x. This is ideal for mixing, making it easier for sound engineers to register and remedy overemphasized treble, which could result in a fatiguing final product. Not only that, but the circumaural design is great for long studio sessions, and if you happen to venture outside with these, you’ll be able to attenuate plenty of ambient noise due to the over-ear fit.
Audio-Technica designed these with one purpose in mind: listening to music. Overall, if you prefer an ever-so-slight emphasis in the mids and vocals, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the ATH-M40x as our pick for the best cheap headphones under $100. You can take a look at our feature that offers even more choices for great headphones priced under $100.
Related: Best Audio-Technica headphones
Did you find extra change on the couch? In that case, pick up the Monoprice Monolith M565 for less than $200
The Monoprice Monolith M565 costs a hair under $200 and still manages to implement planar magnetic drivers, which mitigate distortion. As a disclaimer, the reason these are the best sounding headphones under $200 isn’t because they have the most neutral frequency response. Rather, they’re the best because they transition listeners from the world of consumer audio to hi-fi audio. Some may balk at the overemphasized bass, but the Monoprice Monolith cast a wide net, pleasing a majority of listeners.
Monoprice Monolith M565Full Review
The planar magnetic drivers make each bass note easy to differentiate, without resulting in receded midrange frequencies, unless the volume is cranked up all the way. In that case, you may notice that the vocals are slightly more difficult to hear over the emphasized low-end but it’s easy to overlook. As far as the treble is concerned, this too receives a dash of overemphasis. Contrary to most exaggerated treble reproduction, the Monoprice Monolith M565 don’t fatigue the ear and will please consumers by adding a touch of perceived clarity to a given song.
What’s more, the soundstage benefits from the open back design. Black metal grills and wood-finished earcups give the Monolith M565 a premium look and feel, but this design comes at the expense of isolation. For listeners looking to get the most out of these headphones, stick to quiet, indoor environments. Otherwise, the audio quality will suffer and your neighbors will hear exactly what you’re listening to—no winners in that situation if you ask us.
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 Move Style Edition
If you’re just looking for a pair of wireless cans that won’t break the bank, you might want to check out the Jabra Move Style edition. Despite the plastic build, these headphones have a fairly premium design that might surprise you considering their low price point. The stainless steel headband might be missing some hinges for folding, but it is wrapped in a nice padded fabric. The earcups are also made of plush leather, though it’s worth mentioning that they don’t provide much isolation and isn’t the most comfortable over long periods of time if you wear glasses.
Jabra Move Style EditionFull Review
While we’re on the topic of build quality, it’s also worth mentioning that these shouldn’t be your first choice if you plan on using them at the gym. While they’re inexpensive and lightweight, they don’t have any water or sweat resistance and the clamping force isn’t strong enough to keep these on your head during movement. For that, check out something like the Plantronics Backbeat 500 Fit headphones in the notable mentions section down below.
These also charge via the older micro USB port instead of the new USB-C that comes on basically all newer devices, but at least you’ll get a solid 12 hours of constant playback before needing to throw these back on the charger. While these aren’t great at any one thing, they’re good enough at just about everything and won’t break the bank either.
For the best you can get at the lowest price, check out the Anker Soundcore Vortex
An Anker product as a bang for your buck pick?! Shocker (sarcasm). Anyone who has been reading us for a long enough time knows that Anker is one of the best when it comes to making good products for cheap. That is apparent with the Anker Soundcore Vortex headphones, which cost less than $100 and manages to punch significantly above its weight class. Obviously, these aren’t going to blow you away with premium metal and faux fur on every surface. No, these are exactly what they look like. A pair of plastic headphones that don’t leave much to the imagination, but you’ll get some impressive specs in the place of premium materials.
Anker Soundcore VortexFull Review
Probably the most useful spec we should discuss is the 20+ hour battery life, which is on-par with wireless headphones that are many times more expensive. Besides that, these are also aptX compatible to stream over Bluetooth at higher bit rates. While this does depend on what codec your phone supports, it’s good to see this at such a low price point. But it’s not all peaches and cream. Unfortunately, these are lacking a strong seal because of the build materials so the low end suffers accordingly. So if you’re a bass-head these might not be for you, but commuters will like the folding hinge design which allows you to stash them in a bag for safekeeping.
Next up: Best wireless headphones
- Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2: If you consider $79 to be cheap, these true wireless earbuds are going to be your best friend. They have great isolation, sound quality, and mic quality, and they support aptX and AAC along with quick charging.
- 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.
- COWIN E7: These sub $50 headphones have active noise cancellation and up to 30 hours of battery life, making them great for long commutes. Unfortunately, the heavy bass and decreased mids create a slightly muddy sound signature.
- Edifier TWS1: These sub-$50 true wireless earbuds cover all the important things, though they don’t have many extra features. They do, however, support the aptX codec, have an IPX5 rating, and pretty decent sound quality.
- Grado SR80e: If you want a smaller set of open-back cans, these are a legendary pair of headphones. The soundstage is phenomenal for such a compact pair of cans, and you can’t beat that sub-$100 price tag.
- JBL Tune 500BT: These wireless headphones have multipoint connectivity. The sound signature is a bit bass-heavy, but many consumers prefer this. Alternatively, you could go with the JBL Tune 500 wired version, but there have been some customer reports of the wire breaking after a short time.
- Koss Porta Pro: The nostalgic crowd loves these headphones. If you don’t want to overspend, these are a great option that retails for under $50. They’re semi-open headphones though, so despite the portable build, they won’t sound the best in commuting environments.
- Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2: These cheap headphones are slightly bulkier and less sleek than some other options on the market, but they get the job done and they do it well.
- Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit: Athletes in need of cheap headphones should keep these on their watch lists. These maintain a stable connection no matter the environment. And though they haven’t been given an official IP rating, they do have a P2i nano-coating to prevent water damage.
- Sennheiser HD58X Jubilee x Massdrop: These would have easily taken a spot on our list if it wasn’t for them only being available randomly via the website Massdrop. But if your main concern is sound quality, these are worth picking up if you can get your hands on them.
- Sony MDR-ZX110: For $20, these have surprisingly decent audio quality. These budget headphones are no frills—there is no microphone or volume controls on them, and that’s what makes them so cheap.
- Sony WH-CH700N: These typically retail around $200 or less. While they’re a bit expensive for the best cheap headphones list, they provide top-notch noise-cancelling and support both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
- 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.
Why you should trust us
This site is each of our day jobs, and collectively we have years of experience in the audio industry. None of our writers benefit from pushing readers in one direction or the other; all we want is to arm you with as much knowledge about a potential purchase. Ultimately, we want you to be happy.
Granted, our site does make money from referrals, we writers are paid for our research and writing, not if someone did or didn’t click a “buy button.” In fact, we’ll never know if anyone did or not. If you want to learn more about our ethics policy, click here. The only way we know we’re doing a good job is because..well, we still have jobs.
How we chose the best cheap headphones
We’ve spent plenty of time with plenty of headphones but haven’t yet gotten around to all of them. We did, however, make 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!
Next: Best headphones of 2021