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 October 5, 2021, to add the AKG K371 and to include the Jabra Elite 45h on the Best list and the Monoprice BT-600ANC in Notable mentions.
The best cheap headphones under $50 is 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 here as one of the best cheap headsets you can get. The company has a reputation for bringing more than is expected for affordable audio equipment, and the Monoprice 8323 is a prime example of the bang-for-your-buck philosophy.
Monoprice 8323Full Review
The build quality isn’t the greatest and it’s 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. Vocals are audible over the repetitive bass bumps in Good God Damn by Arcade Fire.
Like the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, Monoprice’s closed-back headset is collapsible and great for transport—thanks to its half-pound weight. That said, we wouldn’t classify it as durable. Sure, this is technically for DJs, but the ear cup yokes feel flimsy. However, each headphone flips up 90 degrees, and this is comfortable to hang from the neck.
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
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. There aren’t any frivolities accompanying your purchase. You’re not getting any celebrity endorsement marketing or especially fancy carrying cases. But on the flip side, that means that 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 the inception of 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.
If you’re working with $100, get the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x
The ATH-M50x is the top pick for many, but its little brother, the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, easily keeps pace. Like the M50x, the M40x is designed with functionality in mind. From the enthusiast to the professional, the 40x will satiate any hi-fi appetite.
Audio-Technica ATH-M40XFull Review
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 block plenty of ambient noise due to the over-ear fit.
Related: Best Audio-Technica headphones
Audio-Technica designed it 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.
Spend a bit more on the AKG K371
The AKG K371 costs $149 USD, and while 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 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.
AKG K371Full Review
The dynamic magnetic drivers give a gentle bump to bass notes, and you may notice that the vocals are slightly more difficult to hear over the emphasized low-end (due to auditory masking) 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 AKG K371 doesn’t fatigue the ear and will please consumers by adding a touch of perceived clarity to a given song.
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 headphones has a fairly premium design that might surprise you considering its reasonable sub-$100 price. The ear cups 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.
Jabra Elite 45hFull Review
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.
For a cheap versatile headset, check out the Monoprice BT-600ANC
Another Monorpice product as a bang for your buck pick?! Shocker (sarcasm). The Monoprice BT-600ANC costs far less than $100 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 headphones that doesn’t leave much to the imagination, but you’ll get some impressive specs in the place of premium materials.
Monoprice BT-600ANCFull Review
Probably the most useful spec we should discuss is the 36-hour battery life, which exceeds most wireless headphones. that are many times more expensive. Besides that, it also supports aptX HD and AAC for high-quality streaming from any operating system.
Next up: The best wireless headphones
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.
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 SR80e: If you want a smaller set of open-back cans, this is 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, if you can find it in stock.
- JBL Tune 500BT: This wireless headset has 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.
- JLab Rewind Wireless Retro: This pair of cheap headphones may not have great sound quality, but it’s super lightweight and is compatible with smart assistants.
- 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.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
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
Frequently Asked Questions
Both the Monoprice 8323 and Anker Soundcore Vortex have inline mics on their cables, and they work alright but won't be winning any awards anytime soon. The Jabra Move Style has an internal microphone that picks up voices clearly, but does also pick up a bit of background noise.