Updated on October 4th, 2018, to address price changes and add the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit
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 $200. 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.
The best cheap headphones under $50 are the Monoprice 8323
Have you been following SoundGuys for a while? Then it should come as no surprise that we featured the Monoprice 8323 headphones. 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 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 ear cup yolks 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 ear pads 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. Keep in mind, though, that removing them feels like lifting bare legs off a synthetic seat cushion on a southern summer day if you’re even remotely sweaty. Complaints aside, they’re still the some of the most comfortable headphones at a sub-$50 price.
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 cheap 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, you may be disheartened to realize that in most cases when perusing cheap headphones, what you buy is what you get. And by that, I mean that there aren’t any frivolities that accompany 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.
OK, 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 only one of these 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. Aside from that though, if you want the best bang for your buck, whatever your budget may be, you’ve come to the right place.
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 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 ear cups 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.
Did you find extra change on the couch? In that case, pick up the Monoprice Monolith M565 for $200
The Monoprice Monolith M565 costs a hair under $200 and still manages to implement planar magnetic drivers. As a disclaimer, these aren’t the best sounding headphones under $200 because they’re the most neutral; they’re not. 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 ear cups 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 cheap headphones under $200.
If you need something wireless, go with the Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit
The Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit is one of a handful of headphones in the company’s BackBeat line. The headphones are treated with a P2i water-resistant nano-coating, which effectively protects the components from water damage.
Plantronics BackBeat 500 FitFull Review
It’s obvious that the headphones aren’t constructed from premium materials and the fit is uncomfortable for casual listening, but these are sport headphones so we’ll let the discomfort slide. Aside from the affordable price, the best thing about these headphones is the reliable connectivity. Plantronics, a company recognized for its office communications products, delivered a stable set of headphones with the BackBeat 500 Fit.
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 safe keeping.
Next up: Best wireless headphones
- Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2: These headphones are slightly bulkier and more expensive than the highlighted CB3 Hush, but they’re great active noise-cancelling headphones nonetheless.
- 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.
- 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. Make sure to checkout our full review here.
- Plantronics BackBeat 500 Fit: Athletes on a budget should keep these on their watch lists. These are just over $80 and maintain a stable connection no matter the environment, so long as you’re within the 10-meter Bluetooth range. And though they haven’t been given an official IP rating, they do have a P2i nano-coating to prevent water damage. Our review unit was able to withstand a full deluge. See our full review here.
- 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. See our full review here.
Why you should trust us
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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 let us know in the comments.
Disclosure: We may receive affiliate compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. Even though we may receive compensation, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on each product. See our ethics policy for more details.