Century Club: The 13 Best Headphones Under $100

Spending a Benjamin won’t get you too much these days. A nice dinner for two, a set of passable steak knives, or a couple of mixed drinks at the hot new club is about all you can expect if you leave the house with nothing but a hundred in your pocket. However, we believe that you should be able to get a little bit more. Such as a pair of baller headphones that can go the distance, make your music bump and pop, and don’t cause migraines to set in when you wear them.

Combing through the vast wasteland of affordable options was a tough job, but it’s worth it. We tried Bluetooth wireless heaphones, earbuds, workout sets, DJ cans, and everything that fits on, over, under, around, or in your ear. We looked for clean sound, durability, power, and comfort all wrapped up in a single package that also made some effort to look decent. Big names were sometimes burned and underdogs told their Cinderella tale in crisp high, mid, and low ranges. When the dust cleared and the ringing in our ears stopped, we were left with the 13 best headphones under $100.

Symphonized NRG

Symphonized NRG

Pro: Wood backing
Con: Tend to have a short life-span

Wild Wood: We could have gone with just about any decent budget earbuds, but we wanted something that really put us back on our heels when we cranked it up. That was the NRG from Symphonized. They’re made with a natural wood housing that gives extra reverberation for more acoustically accurate highs and lows. The connector is true gold which carries sound more accurately than the standard jacks used by most earbud makers. Neodymium magnets back up each driver for equally good response no matter what kind of music you enjoy. While they are great while they last, beware poor construction since the company recently moved their operation and numerous failures have been reported. [Purchase: $25]

Koss PortaPro

Koss PortaPro

Pro: Incredible sound at a low price point
Con: Just look at them

Ground Floor: 80’s survivors will probably recognize these since Koss hasn’t updated the design of the frame since we all put down the cocaine and burned our parachute pants. Instead, they’ve been working tirelessly to make these sound incredible. The frequency response runs from 15-25,000 Hz but sounds much richer than that. A 60 ohm impedance and 101 dB SPL completes the package, but these go way beyond their specs. The sound is balanced so you can swap from jazz trumpet to Jay-Z to EDM without sacrificing quality. Highs are clean and the bass doesn’t feel overstated. You’re going to look like Lobot wearing these, but thems the breaks when you want great sound at an unbeatable price. [Purchase: $39]

SOL Republic Relays

SOL Republic Relays

Pro: Most comfortable during movement
Con: Highs and lows aren’t very clean

Work It Out: For wired workout headphones, our heart belongs to Sol Republic’s Relays. These stay in place, feel great, and shrug off sweat like a champ. Their mic and simple remote is easy to use, even when you’re getting tunnel vision on the 25th mile of your marathon. The cable is well insulated to reduce noise during movement and it even has a modest shirt clip to keep the cord from swinging to and fro. The sound range is fine, with some muddy lows and biting highs, but anything that outshines the Relay’s audio is also pure torture to wear during activity. We chose comfort and ease of use over supreme sound. Lifetime tip replacements are included with purchase and Sol has a very generous warranty. [Purchase: $55]

JVC HARX900

JVC HARX900

Pro: Large drivers
Con: Requires burn-in for best sound quality

Big & Bad: One of the first things that manufacturers cut when they’re making a headphone that sells for less than $100 is size. If you’re lucky you get a 40mm driver that actually pushes. That is, unless you grab the HARX900. They have dueling 50mm neodymium drivers that create a big, rich sound stage for anyone who likes their music to sound proper and immersive. Inside is an acoustic lens structure and ring port array that classical music fans will adore. A 65 ohm impedance along with broad spectrum frequency response that runs from 7 to 26,000 Hz makes these a true broke audiophile’s dream. A huge headband and wide earcups fit comfortably on any head and spread weight around perfectly. [Purchase: $63]

AKG K 240

AKG K 240

Pro: Detailed variation at any volume
Con: Certain parts are cheaply made

Open Season: Most of our budget headphones on this list try to block sound out, but not everyone wants the world to just fade away. For those who are seeking a semi open-backed, over-ear model that allows sound in and out, the 240 from AKG is the move to make. Kicking off with 55 ohms of impedance you’re going to need a little more juice, even though the drivers are only 30mm. The semi-open style gives you more detailed highs and lows without losing your sound isolation. The self-adjusting strap partnered with the padded earcups made these one of the most comfortable headphones we’ve ever tried at any price point and are especially nice if you’ve got a head like a Mardi Gras float. These are amazing for sound mixing since you can hear variations without needing to crank the gain. 15 Hz to 25,000 kHz is your frequency range. [Purchase: $72]

Sennheiser HD-280 PRO

Sennheiser HD-280 PRO

Pro: Wide frequency response range
Con: Heavy

Overkiller: You probably won’t want to take these out on the road, since they are beefcakes that will wear on your neck, but for at-home listening then these are the over-ear headphones that you should get. They play great with excellent bass response even at high volume and can really immerse you in movies or television shows as well as your favorite music. You’ll find a broad 8 to 25,000 Hz response that is compounded thanks to the 32 dB attenuation that prevents noise from bleeding either in or out. Swivel mounts on the earcups and fairly plush padding allow for a more comfortable fit, though the seal will give you a bit of ear sweat if you don’t take a break. [Purchase: $75]

BlueAnt Pump

BlueAnt Pump

Pro: Multiple anchor system
Con: Large back

Wireless Workout: Wires are always difficult to deal with when it comes to working out. The wrong move and you yank out your headphones along with the stirrup and any other little ear bones it feels like dragging along. Conversely, wireless workout headphones are typically either expensive or nearly useless. Finding a balance and adding a little utility, the BlueAnt Pump will give you more than you need on the track or at the gym. First off, the controls sit big as life on the weighted ear cup for quick, easy access that is intuitive. Secondly, they employ both an ear-wrapping back to hold them in place as well as an anchor that fits snugly into the interior of your ear so it would take an act of congress to get them loose as you Zumba away those love handles. Covered in teflon and kevlar they can take sweat, rain, snow, and just about anything else in nature without flinching. [Purchase: $80]

Solitude XCS

Solitude XCS

Pro: Highly durable
Con: Uninspiring sound

Quiet Riot: Noise canceling headphones normally don’t get out of bed for less than $200 bucks, and when they do, you can bet your bleeding ears that they don’t do the job. Among the sub-$100 category, the XCS is a marvel that uses active noise cancellation to dump out 18 dB worth of chatter, plane engines, or traffic, if you feel like getting mowed down by a bus. The cancellation lasts for 40 to 60 hours on a single pair of batteries and when you switch it off, you get an amped bass boost for a little extra thump. Sadly, the sound is a little flat overall and the staging isn’t amazing, so what you gain in noise blocking, you lose in noise production. The shiny silver body will give you flashbacks to 70’s science fiction movies, so expect some snickers. [Purchase: $81]

Sony MDR 7506

Sony MDR 7506

Pro: Light and easy to travel with
Con: Sound isolation can sound dissonant

Turntable Hero: When cutting together our best DJ headphones, we left this diamond in the rough off because it belongs among in this group. The 40mm drivers backed by neodymium magnets kick out between 10 and 20,000 Hz for a solid range with a slightly extended bass line that is ideal for guys spinning in da club. Heavy padding on the earcups makes these comfortable and gives a good seal for blocking out ambient sounds and all the ladies hollerin’ at ya. The oxygen free copper cord is just shy of 10 feet and terminates in a gold-plated plug for ultimate sound transmission. A folding design and soft case allow you to lug these around wherever the gigs take you. These won’t turn any heads in the club, be that a good thing or bad is up to you. [Purchase: $85]

Jabra Move

Jabra Move

Pro: Reception reaches many feet
Con: Do not fold

Unchained Melody: There are bigger Bluetooth wireless headphones and there are smaller ones, but not a single one of them can touch the Move for audio quality, comfort, range, and overall listening enjoyment. Cushioning on the earcups and a fully flexible headband make these on-ear headphones that you can wear for hours without them causing aches. A single charge gives you 8 hours of run time, blasting away at 20 to 20,000 Hz. Ready to jack into the grid? You can run these with a cord as well. We couldn’t find a Bluetooth device that didn’t love these, and their reception was remarkable with limited skips, jumps, or drops. 40mm drivers and a dirt resistant cloth headband complete the package for all you wire-free music lovers. [Purchase: $94]

Grado Prestige SR80e 0

Grado Prestige SR80e

Pro: Tremendous sound
Con: Truly open-backed

On Top: On-ear headphones are hard to do right and too many companies scrimp in the wrong areas when they try to lower the price tag. Well, Goldilocks, forget what you know and get ready for the SR80e. They are just right in every way. Using an open-backed design with a retro state of mind, these have vintage class and give you more accurate sound than you’ll find from many competitors. The trade off is that you also end up with sound bleeding in and out, so using these on the street or the subway is asking for trouble. The pads distribute weight across the entire ear, rather than pressing down the edges which limits fatigue to the bare minimum. If you use a nice smartphone case, expect the weird plug to anger you immensely. [Purchase: $99]

Klipsch R6i

Klipsch R6i

Pro: Hard bass
Con: Reduced treble accuracy

In-Ear Peace: This was the toughest category because so many in-ear headphones are under $100. Ultimately we found the most range coupled with comfortable wearability came out of the R6i. Bass lovers will adore these because they hit damn hard for a pair of earbuds. Each tip is an oval that more accurately fits in your ear for a tighter seal while using the 10 to 19,000 Hz range to maximum effect. Some of the highs are a little shrouded, but that can actually cut down on the sometimes grating world of electronica. Even if you have special little ear canals these fit great over time and won’t give you any aches. Bass lovers who like their headphones small will certainly be in an embarrassment of riches with the R6i. [Purchase: $99]

Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional

Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional

Pro: Rotating earcups
Con: Bass is good, not great

Beast of the Booth: The big brother of the ATH-M40x is the lovable ATH-M50x, which is a beloved DJ headphone. The M40x doesn’t have quite the same chops, which makes it a better studio headphone for the garage band recorder on a shoestring budget. Each earcup swivels a full 90 degrees for single ear listening or mixing while each 40mm driver throws down sounds that are never distorted or muggy. You’ll get a frequency response that drifts in the 15-24,000 Hz range which will give you better highs, but combine the lower range with the smaller driver and you won’t have bass that rattles your teeth. Besides not hitting like a mack truck, there isn’t much to complain about on these solidly built, high-output beauties. [Purchase: $99]

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