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Best cheap headphones
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 USD 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.
- This article was updated on September 12, 2023, to answer more frequently asked questions and update formatting to our current style.
- Looking for something more compact? Check out our list of the best cheap noise canceling earbuds.
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 conditions):
JBL Tune 510BT microphone demo (Street conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Get the AKG K371 for studio and daily 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 for having 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 USD.
The Jabra Elite 45h is a great pair of cheap wireless on-ear headphones with extra bass
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 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 canceling 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 conditions):
Jabra Elite 45h microphone demo (Street conditions):
Jabra Elite 45h microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
For great battery life, grab the Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Folks looking to get a smattering of ANC and an alright sound can check out the Anker Soundcore Life Q20. Certainly, it’s cheap, but it still feels comfortable for long listening sessions. The noise canceling isn’t the greatest. However, for under $60, it’s still quite good in combination with how basically everything works well. The Soundcore Life Q20 is an all-around budget winner.
Additionally, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 has a long battery life of 51 hours and 50 minutes (with ANC on), as well as an optional wired connection. That’s pretty epic. Unfortunately, it charges via micro-USB, which isn’t so common nowadays with the burgeoning ubiquity of USB-C. If you manage to exhaust the battery, 5 minutes of charge yields 4 hours of playback. It transmits via AAC and SBC, which is standard.
In ideal circumstances, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 mic works perfectly fine. Because it does little to filter noise, particularly in a loud office, it’s probably best not to use it in noisy places. Still, it’s okay.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 microphone demo (Office conditions):
Anker Soundcore Life Q20 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Monoprice BT-600ANC has great noise canceling
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 leather accents. 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 with support for aptX HD and AAC for high-quality streaming from any operating system. In particular, the noise cancelation 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. Unfortunately, the frequency response is a bit wonky. You’ll want a third-party EQ app.
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 ($99 at Amazon): This pair of noise canceling headphones supports aptX HD and AAC. Its ANC isn’t quite as good as the Monoprice BT-600NC, but it has great battery life and compacts easily.
- Anker Soundcore Space Q45 ($149 at Amazon): Stretching the limits of what you might call “cheap,” this headset feels pretty premium with LDAC codec support, Bluetooth 5.3, and a long battery life with okay ANC. Its sound hampers the Q45 from the Best list.
- Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT ($79 at Amazon): For the person who favors a less overly hyped sound but also wants the flexibility of Bluetooth or wired listening, you’d be hard-pressed to find another to fit this niche.
- Beyerdynamic DT 240 PRO ($67 at Amazon): 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, but this is a slimmed-down, on-ear version.
- Grado SR60x ($99 at Amazon): If you want a smaller set of open-back cans, this builds off the back of a legendary pair of headphones at an entry-level price.
- JBL Tune 500 ($29 at Amazon): It’s a bit light on bass, but it has enough at 100Hz that you’ll still hear the kick drum. For just listening around the house, it’s not bad at all for the price.
- Koss Porta Pro ($59 at Amazon): The nostalgic crowd loves this portable pair of headphones. If you don’t want to overspend, this is a great option that goes on sale. The headphones are semi-open, though, so despite the portable build, they won’t sound the best in commuting environments.
- Marshall Major IV ($116 at Amazon): As both a wired and wireless on-ear headphones solution, it’s unique with a somewhat hyped bass and treble sound. It’s surprisingly comfortable for on-ear headphones. Don’t expect much isolation, though.
- Sennheiser x Drop HD 58X Jubilee ($149 at Drop): This could have taken a spot on our list if it wasn’t for the sporadic availability. But if your main concern is sound quality, this is worth picking up.
- Sennheiser HD 280 Pro ($87 at Amazon): Marketed as a studio headphones solution, the HD 280 Pro sounds pretty good with a little more bass than most studio headphones. It’s pretty plasticky but gets the job done.
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, there are a few caveats with the product’s performance that cross the line from “mildly inconvenient” to “actively annoying.”
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
Something to ask when looking for cheap headphones: What can you do without? Most folks are in the habit of looking for “the best” — heck, we have a scoring system and many articles outlining the very best — but you’re not going to get flagship headphones cheaply. So, begin by whittling down your options and compromising on the luxuries you don’t necessarily need. For example, if you mainly listen to podcasts, you probably don’t need the most accurate sounding frequency response, but if you listen to those podcasts on a train, you probably do want some noise canceling.
Build quality is one of the first things 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.
Look for headphones that satisfy the essential qualities that make sense for your needs, rather than chasing features you don't need.
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. Moreover, the passive isolation will be less effective with these picks than with something like the Sony WH-1000XM5, which is outfitted with top-end dampening materials.
Have fun with your cheap headphones
It may sound like we’re saying you can’t get good headphones for cheap, and it’s going to be all about compromise, but there are upsides. Getting cheap headphones means you don’t have to necessarily break the bank to try a new-to-you brand or a type of headphones you’ve not had before. Maybe you want a pair of super bassy headphones to compliment your collection, then pick something cheap and full of low-end emphasis.
You can take these headphones on your travels and not concern yourself with pampering them as you might with pricey headphones. Not to suggest your headphones are meant to be disposable, but whatever you choose does not have to be the last set of headphones you ever try, so don’t fret and just have fun with it.
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 wireless headphones?
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. If you stream from Spotify or YouTube Music, you might not notice a huge difference.
The simple thing to remember if you operate in the iOS universe is that you want the AAC Bluetooth codec. Every iPhone plays best with it and defaults to it when available. Android users can gain the most from higher-quality codecs like aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC. Lastly, SBC is the lowest common denominator. The trouble for Android users is that cheap headphones are more likely to have AAC and SBC codecs and not anything else. Occasionally, this means Android users will probably encounter latency, whereas iPhone users don’t.
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.
Should you get on-ear or over-ear headphones?
While it’s true that on-ear headphones typically are easier to stow away and portable thanks to their smaller size, they come with some concessions. For instance, while not universally true, as in the case of the nice fitting Grado SR60x and the Marshall Major IV, typically, on-ear headphones are less comfortable and exert greater clamping force than over-ear headphones. People with glasses will especially notice that when the on-ear headphones’ pressure pushes their ears against the arms of their glasses. Still, if comfort is important and so is portability, Koss figured that out with the Koss Porta Pro and its adjustable clamping force.
Additionally, by virtue of the on-ear headphones creating a seal by pressing the ear padding against your ear rather than around the ear, on-ear headphones provide worse isolation than their over-ear counterparts. Sure, some on-ear headphones have ANC, but you’re not going to get great overall noise canceling with on-ear headphones compared to over-ear headphones.
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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 staff member.
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 (now X) and let us know what you think should make the list!
Frequently asked questions about cheap headphones
It’s true sometimes you want something physically smaller like earbuds, so here are our picks for cheap noise canceling earbuds. Some of our headphone picks include noise canceling, like the Monoprice BT-600ANC and Anker Soundcore Life Q20. If noise canceling is your main criterion, we have some selections. That should get you started.
While headphones can range from as low as $20 to several hundred, $200 is considered a mid-range price. You can find some of the best-sounding headphones under $200, like the AKG K371, which offers a transition from consumer audio to hi-fi audio.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x is a standout choice for under $100. Designed with functionality in mind, it offers a sound profile suitable for various music genres and mixing, making it a favorite for both enthusiasts and professionals.
The Anker Soundcore Life Q20 stands out in this category. Priced under $60 USD, it offers decent active noise canceling, comfortable wear for extended listening, and an impressive battery life of over 51 hours with ANC on.
Yes, even budget noise canceling headphones can be effective. For instance, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20, priced under $60 USD, offers commendable noise canceling, especially considering its price point. However, while they can reduce low-frequency noises, they might not be as effective as their pricier counterparts.