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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 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 November 10, 2023, to add the 1MORE SonoFlow to our Top Picks.
- Looking for something more compact? Check out our list of the best cheap noise canceling earbuds.
The 1MORE SonoFlow is all about value
Coming in at under $100 with a feature-rich and stylish design, the 1MORE SonoFlow headphones are a top contender in the over-ear active noise canceling (ANC) headphone market. The plush padding makes these very comfortable and lightweight to listen with throughout its 50 hours plus battery life.
The ANC is adequate to dull down any distracting noises in your environment, and the sound quality out of the box doesn’t;t deviate too far from our headphone preference curve. The EQ section in the 1MORE app is the key to unlocking the true performance of the SonoFlow headphones with 12 “studio grade” presets or make your own with the limited graphic EQ.
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Although it boasts 5x ENC (environmental noise canceling) microphones, in our calibrated test recordings, you can still hear keyboard clicks and other movements in our simulated office. A quick chat with a friend will be fine, but it’s not ideal if you’re hopping on and off conference calls all day at work. Take a listen to our samples below.
1MORE SonoFlow microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
1MORE SonoFlow microphone demo (Office conditions):
1MORE SonoFlow microphone demo (Street conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Sony WH-CH520 covers the basics for less than $60
The Sony WH-CH520 headphones may not be the flashiest on the market, but they certainly carry their weight in terms of functionality. At an entry-level price point, they boast a robust wireless connection through Bluetooth 5.2. While they may lack premium codecs, the connectivity is enhanced with features like Fast Pair and Multipoint. This means you can quickly connect these headphones to a range of devices without fussing over settings.
Comfort is another noteworthy aspect. Made predominantly of lightweight plastic, they’re designed for extended listening sessions. The soft ear pads are coated with a leather-like material, ensuring a snug fit without exerting too much pressure. While they might warm up after prolonged use, their comfort level is commendable, especially given their on-ear design.
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However, when it comes to sound, they’re somewhat of a mixed bag. Assuming a proper fit, the audio quality is decent, with some emphasis on bass and mids. But be wary: any compromise in fit can affect the audio profile significantly, making some frequencies sound off-kilter. Still, for their price bracket, the WH-CH520 offers an acceptable sound experience for casual listeners.
In essence, if you’re in the market for straightforward, reliable headphones without the bells and whistles, the Sony WH-CH520 might just be the right fit. They’re the audio equivalent of a dependable commuter car — not necessarily exciting, but they get the job done.
If you were looking at the Sony WH-CH520 to handle phone calls, it’s capable enough. Below are standardized samples collected in simulated conditions so you can hear for yourself how they perform in these common scenarios.
Sony WH-CH520 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sony WH-CH520 microphone demo (Office conditions):
Sony WH-CH520 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
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. 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.
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. 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.
Enjoy good active noise canceling with the JBL Tune 660NC
The JBL Tune 660NC is a great pair of high-value headphones despite bumping up against the upper limit of this list’s budget. In our review, we were pleasantly surprised to see how well the Tune 660NC blocked out low frequencies like a noisy dishwasher or car engine.
There’s no mobile app where you can equalize the sound, but luckily, they sound pretty good out of the box. Generally, the headphones’ frequency response closely follows our Target Curve, with a treble boost from 5-10kHz.
The headphones don’t support aptX, but you can stream over SBC or AAC. There’s also a headphone jack for wired playback. Battery life is impeccable: these headphones last 37 hours with ANC and up to 44 hours without. Fast charging is efficient, too — just five minutes of charging provides two hours of playtime. We think you’ll love the Tune 660NC.
For great app features, grab the Anker Soundcore Life Q30
Sound-wise, these headphones are okay, equipped with drivers that emphasize bass and treble frequencies. This is great for fans of bass-heavy electronic music, though the sound of guitars and other acoustic instruments may lack clarity. Unlike other headsets on this list, you can EQ the sound of the Life Q30 and create a custom sound profile or choose from plenty of presets.
Spend a bit more with the Anker Soundcore Life Q35
Budget shoppers laud Anker for its reliable, low-cost products that give more expensive alternatives a run for their money. The Anker Soundcore Life Q35 is a gem as it features active noise canceling, grants over 52 hours of listening on a single charge, and has a comfortable design.
The price often dips below $100 for the Q35, but its standard price is $129, which is a bit more than our budget here. If you have a bit more to spend, we recommend learning about the best Bluetooth headphones for under $200.
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 510BT ($27.99 at Walmart): These are one of the more compact and lightweight 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.
- 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.
- Monoprice BT-600ANC ($84.99 at Amazon): If noise cancelation is the priority, these are 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, so you’ll want a third-party EQ app.
- 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. Still, 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.