Summary List Placement
- Flagship headphones are pricey, but you can still find some excellent headphones on a budget.
- Audio-Technica’s ATH-M20x are the best cheap headphones you can buy thanks to their impressive sound.
- For more headphone recommendations, check out our roundup of the best headphone deals.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
If you spend a lot of time listening to music, watching shows and movies, and playing video games, then a good set of headphones is one of the quickest ways to get the most out of your media. A good set of cans creates an immersive experience by letting you hear all the detailed highs and lows.
Audiophiles will happily spend a ton of money on high-end headphones, but since you’re reading this, you’re probably like most people and you’re not looking to drop several hundreds on a pair. Even audio enthusiasts will admit that you don’t have to spend hundreds, and that inexpensive headphones have come a long way in recent years.
In the budget-friendly range, you shouldn’t get into the weeds regarding technical specifications like equalization, frequency response, impedance/resistance, and so on — these are more of a concern with high-end gear. At lower price points, your primary considerations are durability and sound quality: Your headphones should be well-built enough to withstand regular use without cracking or falling apart, and should offer good sound for casual listening.
With these criteria in mind, we’ve selected the best affordable headphones that you can get right now. Our top picks include standard over-ear headphones as well as some more specialized models that offer additional portability, wireless functionality, or other features built for specific tasks.
Here are the best cheap headphones you can buy:
- Best cheap headphones overall: Audio-Technica ATH-M20x
- Best cheap over-ear headphones: Tascam TH-02
- Best cheap portable headphones: Koss PortaPro
- Best cheap wireless Bluetooth: Mpow 059
- Best cheap gaming headphones: HyperX Cloud Stinger
- Best cheap wireless earbuds: iFrogz Impulse Duo Wireless Earbuds
- Best cheap true wireless earbuds: JLab Audio JBuds Air
- Best cheap wired earbuds: Panasonic ErgoFit
The best cheap headphones overall
If you’re looking for a well-made pair of entry-level headphones that sound great and won’t cost you an arm and a leg, the Audio-Technical ATH-M20x are more than up to the task.
Pros: Well-made and comfortable, great sound for the price, sturdy 3.5mm cable comes with a 6.3mm adapter
Cons: Bass response is lacking compared to its beefier (and much more expensive) cousins
Audio-Technica, along with other brands like Sony and Sennheiser, is one of the biggest names in the world of studio-quality headphones. The company offers a wide lineup of professional-grade cans that will set you back hundreds of dollars, but it also makes a variety of more affordable and highly rated alternatives, including our top pick: The ATH-M20x over-ear headphones.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x are designed to be an entry-level pair of studio headphones, and as such, they feature a full-sized over-ear design with 40mm drivers. This means that they are best suited for use with your laptop or desktop computer. Smaller devices like smartphones, tablets, or handheld gaming systems won’t have enough power to get the most out of these headphones, but you’re probably already using earbuds with those.
When hooked up to a PC or TV, however, the ATH-M20x headphones really shine. They deliver excellent sound quality in the high and mid ranges, with sufficient impedance to eliminate annoying interference (like faint buzzing) when hooked up to your electronics. The sound is clear, crisp, and accurate, but don’t expect super-deep bass with these. Still, the ATH-M20x are more than good enough for everyday music listening, movie-watching, and gaming.
The build quality and comfort are also as good as you’d expect from an established name like Audio-Technica. The cushioned headband and leatherette-covered padded ear cups are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and the cups also provide good noise isolation that filters out the majority of ambient sounds and won’t bother others around you unless you’re really cranking the volume up.
The ATH-M20x could be considered the little sibling of Audio-Technica’s ATH series, as these are essentially a budget-friendly alternative to the M40x and M50x — two highly rated and very popular headphones, but ones that will set you back quite a bit more. But for about half the price of the M40x, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x is an incredible value.
The best cheap over-ear headphones
The Tascam TH-02 are an unbeatable value for a pair of solidly built over-ear headphones that sound great and isolate noise well with a closed-back design.
Pros: Solid construction, good sound quality, comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, the closed-back design isolates sound well
Cons: The pleather ear cups aren’t that breathable, the vinyl covering on the padded headband is prone to peeling after a while
Most pairs of budget-friendly headphones feature an open-back or semi-open-back design, meaning that they aren’t made to isolate sound. Open-back headphones leak sound out as well as let ambient noise in, making them less than ideal if you’re using them in a busier environment with other people around (think co-workers or roommates). The closed-back over-ear Tascam TH-02 headphones stand out as a clear exception to this rule, and are a shining example of the value that headphone makers are offering today.
I’ve been personally using a pair of Tascam TH-02 for about three years now. I initially intended to use them as “beater” headphones that I wouldn’t have to be too fussy about, but I found the sound quality more than good enough for music and gaming (bass, mids, and highs all come through smoothly and cleanly), and they quickly became one of my workhorses, especially when I’m traveling and don’t want to risk losing or breaking a more expensive set.
They’ve proven to be very durable as well, although the vinyl covering of the padded headband eventually started to peel after a couple years. The peeling proved to be no big deal, as I simply pulled it all off to reveal the soft cloth pad underneath and it’s held up perfectly fine. More importantly, the pleather ear cup covers have remained intact with minimal wear despite years of regular use for hours at a time.
They’re also very comfortable. The rotating cups don’t make my ears ache after a few hours of wear like other headphones I’ve used. They don’t get sweaty considering I use them inside my air-conditioned home, but if you run hot or you’re in a stuffy room, this might become a problem after a while. This is going to be the case with the vast majority of over-ear headphones, however, given that they’re designed to completely surround your ears.
If all you need is a no-frills, no-nonsense set of over-ear closed-back headphones that are comfortable, well-made, and sound nice, then the Tascam TH-02 has you covered at roughly half the price of other cans on our roundup.
The best cheap portable headphones
If you’re looking to ditch your earbuds for something that’s still compact but a bit beefier, then look no further than the highly portable and surprisingly big-sounding Koss PortaPro.
Pros: Impressive sound quality for size, very lightweight and comfortable for on-ear headphones, folding design is super-portable yet surprisingly durable
Cons: The on-ear design doesn’t isolate noise
For listening to music and enjoying other entertainment on the go, the portability of earbuds are hard to beat. Owing to their small size and tiny drivers, however, earbuds aren’t particularly capable of delivering deep or detailed sound. There are a number of portable on-ear and even over-ear headphone designs out there today, but even those can be somewhat clunky to carry around all day.
But one pair still stands above the rest: The famous Koss PortaPro. The PortaPro has been around for decades and has earned something of a legendary status among the head-fi crowd. This fame is owed to its impressive output relative to its small size, portability, light weight, and low cost. It’s not going to put out the same deep sound as a pair of over-ear studio headphones, but the PortaPro nonetheless punches well above its weight in the audio department.
The decades-old design of the PortaPro harks back to the days of the Sony Walkman. The simple-looking on-ear pads are connected to a slim, flexible metal headband. This headband features a simple slide adjustment for resizing, and the plastic ear pieces fold inwards for portability. The simple, lightweight construction might take some getting used to if you’re accustomed to the feel of sturdier over-ear headphones, but the PortaPros are surprisingly durable.
Along with its unrivaled portability, the PortaPro shines when it comes to sound quality. The lows, mids, and highs are all punchy and responsive. It’s not going to blow your mind or anything, but considering how small they are, the clarity and detail is great. Just bear in mind that the on-ear design naturally won’t isolate noise as well as over-ear headphones. If you like to crank the volume, others are going to hear it.
The Koss PortaPro might just be the perfect pair of travel headphones and they’re a solid value even if you discount their compact form factor. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair of on-ear headphones at this price, and you almost certainly won’t find one that’s just as portable while sounding this good. If you’re willing to pay a bit more, you can even buy a version with Bluetooth support for wireless listening.
The best cheap wireless Bluetooth headphones
Bluetooth headphones can be hit or miss, but the wireless Mpow 059 offer a surprising level of comfort, sound quality, and durability at an incredible price point.
Pros: Solid construction, convenient folding design, the sound is surprisingly good for a pair wireless headphones, it comes with a cable for wired use, strong value
Cons: The wireless sound signal won’t be as deep or detailed as a wired connection, the mic is only usable in Bluetooth mode
As we rely more and more on mobile devices, wireless accessories that can connect to our phones, tablets, and laptops via Bluetooth are becoming ever more popular. Certain companies, like Apple, have gone all-in on Bluetooth, even going so far as to remove the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack from the newest iPhones.
Wireless tech is quickly becoming the new standard, and one of the most popular applications for Bluetooth connectivity is headphones. In the past, wireless headphones have been rather hit or miss, but today’s Bluetooth headphones, like the top-rated Mpow 059, are head and shoulders above those of yesteryear.
In terms of its design, the Mpow 059 doesn’t re-invent the wheel and is pretty similar to what you’d find in comparable pairs of headphones in this price bracket. It runs on two 40mm neodymium magnet drivers and features a full-size over-ear design with rotating padded ear cups and an adjustable cushioned headband. The 059 also contains a convenient built-in mic for hands-free calling when synced to your phone, and the earpieces fold inwards for some added portability.
What sets the Mpow 059 apart from other inexpensive headphones is that what they do, they do quite well, delivering good wireless sound along with a sleek design and solid build quality. One really nice design touch is that you can actually use the Mpow 059 as wired headphones with the included cable, which delivers a wired audio signal while also powering the headphones (although the mic, unfortunately, works only while in Bluetooth mode).
Speaking of power, wireless headphones naturally use internal batteries for wireless use. In the case of the Mpow 059, you’ve got a 420mAh power supply that provides around 15-20 hours of juice at normal volume levels before needing a charge. For the price range (depending on your color choice), the Mpow 059 headphones also represent an excellent value given their sound quality, great design, and wireless convenience.
The best cheap gaming headphones
When it’s time to get your game on, you need a proper headset for the job, and Kingston’s excellent HyperX Cloud Stinger offers everything you need for intense gaming sessions without cutting corners.
Pros: Out-performs similar headsets in its price range, an attractive and comfortable design, good audio and microphone quality, compatible with all modern gaming platforms
Cons: The microphone folds up but cannot be removed
As with Bluetooth headphones, gaming headsets have something of a bad rap among the audiophile community when compared to traditional over-ear cans. Yet, also as with wireless headphones, these headsets have improved considerably in recent years, with brands like Kingston releasing some really impressive models, like the excellent HyperX Cloud series.
Our pick, the Cloud Stinger, is Kingston’s budget-focused member of the HyperX family, coming in at less than half the price of the highly rated Cloud Revolver. One of the reasons gaming headsets get the side-eye from people who know headphones is because the built-in mics mean that makers have to pack more electronics into the housing, potentially causing audio quality to suffer. The Cloud Stinger doesn’t skimp on hardware, however, with beefy 50mm directional drivers that deliver big sound.
The drivers are contained in large rotating memory foam ear cups that are comfortable enough for hours of gaming. The padded headband is adjustable via a steel slider, and while the rest of the headphone housing is polymer (which is going to be the norm with headphones at this price), it feels durable without being too heavy and the nice matte finish wards off fingerprints — no annoying glossy plastic here.
Although the drivers are large, they’re fairly basic, and the sound quality is very good but not mind-blowing. You’re simply going to have to spend several times more than the price of these if you want super-detailed studio-quality sound at the high and low ends. It’s more than sufficient for gaming and casual music listening, however, and the directional drivers make it easy to pick up in-game environmental details. They isolate noise very well, too.
The microphone feels very sturdy and solid as well. Sadly, you can’t remove it when you’re just using the Stinger as normal headphones. It simply folds up out of the way. This is hardly a huge problem, but a removable mic would still be a welcome convenience. For the price, however, it’s very hard to find fault with the HyperX Cloud Stinger given its solid build and sound quality, beefy drivers, and compatibility across gaming platforms.
The best cheap wireless earbuds
The iFrogz Impulse Duo headphones deliver good sound quality for the price, with a design that’s yet to be outmatched by other Bluetooth earbuds I’ve tried.
Pros: Excellent design, good sound, affordable, Bluetooth connection
Cons: The sound quality isn’t as good as other options on this list
Besides sounding pretty good for the price, the reason iFrogz Impulse Duo earbuds made the cut over all the other budget models I’ve tried is their design.
The dual driver construction is what gives these earbuds an audio-edge over the competition. But mostly, these earbuds succeed where most Bluetooth models fail: Instead of having all of their technology built into an unwieldy dongle that hangs off the cable connecting both buds, iFrogz built it all into a magnetic clip.
Clip the dongle onto your clothes, pop in the earbuds, and you’re ready to listen to music. In terms of audio quality, you shouldn’t expect a truly audiophile experience at this price point, but don’t expect a bad one, either. These are actually the upgraded version of the earbuds iFrogz previously released, and while the design is the same, time was spent in improving the sound quality.
I’ll put it to you this way. These headphones are so easy to use and sound good enough, that they’re my go-to pair between reviews. It’s just so convenient to coil them up and pop them in my pocket after a commute, or once my friends finally make it to our meeting place. — Brandt Ranj
The best cheap true wireless earbuds
The JLab Audio JBuds Air offer a truly wireless design, are relatively comfortable, and sound pretty good too.
Pros: Well designed, great sound, very inexpensive
Cons: Buttons can be tricky, some connectivity issues
True wireless headphones have become increasingly popular over the past few years, and thankfully, there are some great options out there on a budget. Perhaps the best budget true wireless headphones are the JLab Audio JBuds Air, because they offer a comfortable, secure fit, a great sound, and a very reasonable price tag.
JLab Audio builds some of the better true wireless headphones, period. Perhaps the best thing about them is how great they sound. The headphones have plenty of bass response, a decently tuned midrange, and solid clarity in the high end, especially for a pair of headphones in this price range.
The headphones are pretty comfortable too. While they’re not as reliable at staying in your ears as the company’s more expensive headphones, which come with ear hooks, they’re still good at remaining in the ears during day-to-day use. And, you’ll get a battery life of six hours on a single charge, and the battery case will get you an extra 34 hours, bringing the total to 40 hours.
Of course, the JLab Audio JBuds Air aren’t perfect. Some reviewers found that the buttons were a little tricky to use, and that they sometimes remained connected to your phone even in the battery case. Still, considering the price, those issues are relatively minor. — Christian de Looper
The best cheap wired earbuds
The Panasonic ErgoFit earbuds are about as basic as a pair of wired in-ear headphones can be, but they feature surprisingly good sound quality for a very affordable price.
Pros: Very affordable, impressive value, comfortable fit, integrated microphone and call remote
Cons: Some build quality issues, audio performance is good for the price but not on par with more expensive earbuds
If you don’t mind a fully wired design, it’s hard to ignore the value that Panasonic’s ErgoFit earbuds provide. Sure, you don’t get Bluetooth playback and you do have to deal with wires running down your ears, but when it comes to in-ear headphones in this price range, few can compete with the overall quality of the ErgoFit.
Each earbuds uses a 9mm neodymium magnet driver, and the resulting sound is very solid for the price. To be clear, you won’t get anything near audiophile-quality, but reviews from Tom’s Guide and Reviewed both note the ErgoFit’s deep bass performance. That said, overall clarity is only decent. Considering the low cost, however, the earbuds offer a lot for very little.
Though the ErgoFit earbuds don’t provide much in the way of extra features, the headphones do actually include an integrated microphone and call remote for easy use with smartphones. You still won’t get the convenience of a Bluetooth wireless connection, but the mic is a nice inclusion for a pair of earbuds in this price range.
Of course, overall build quality is nothing to get excited about, but that’s to be expected for such a budget-friendly headphone model. If you want to save even more, Panasonic also has a version of the ErgoFit without the microphone and remote for an even lower price. — Steven Cohen
How to choose the right type of headphone for your needs
Headphones are available in a variety of styles and sizes specifically designed to suit different needs. A large pair of over-ear headphones, for instance, can offer impressive sound quality for listening at home, but they’re not ideal for portability.
Below, we’ve detailed some common headphone types, explaining the basic advantages and disadvantages of each style so you can choose the right kind of headphone for your needs. Wired and wireless options are available for all of the headphone types we’ve listed.
Over-ear headphones: This style of headphone features large ear cups that are designed to rest over your ears to create a seal around them. Over-ear headphones are typically capable of offering better sound performance and noise isolation than other headphone types. On the downside, they tend to be larger and less portable than other styles.
On-ear headphones: Like over-ear headphones, on-ear models also feature ear cups, but instead of completely covering your ear with a seal, they simply rest on top your ears. Though they can still provide good audio performance, this design makes them less suitable for isolating outside noise. However, on-ear models can be more compact than most over-ear models.
Earbuds: Unlike on-ear and over-ear models, earbuds are compact headphones with separate left and right buds that can be designed to either rest just outside your ear canal or be inserted inside. In-ear buds can feature different size tips to better fit different ear shapes, allowing them to create a tight in-ear seal for better sound performance and noise isolation. Some earbuds feature a wire to connect the left and right buds together, while true wireless models are completely free of cables. This design makes earbuds great for portability and use with smartphones.
Gaming headset: Designed for use with video game consoles and computers, gaming headsets usually include an integrated microphone for online multiplayer chat, allowing you to communicate with other players. Headsets can be on-ear or over-ear, and certain models feature support for advanced surround sound processing and 3D audio formats. Some gaming headsets are built for specific platforms while others feature universal compatibility with multiple systems.
Check out our other headphone buying guides
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