Sound Investment: The 8 Best Headphones Under $50

It seems simple. You aren’t a studio professional who needs $400 DJ headphones. You’re just a person who wants a sturdy pair of private speakers that don’t make your music sound like it’s being played at the bottom of an aluminum well. Why is that so hard to find? Well, we hear you. That’s why we wandered into the audio wasteland that is budget headphones to come back with the most amazing, affordable headphones we could find.

Too many manufacturers think that just because a headphone doesn’t cost a lot, they can be complete garbage that won’t reproduce sound correctly, is painful to wear, and looks atrocious. Even the big names often focus just on their higher end. They assume that if you can’t spend a C-Note, you should live in a silent world or be condemned to disposable budget earbuds that you have to throw away every couple of months. To show that their arrogance is folly, we’re giving you the 8 best headphones under $50, each of which sits right at the intersection of strong, impressive, and affordable.

Koss KSC32M Fitclips

Koss KSC32M Fitclips

Pro: Comfortably stay in place during exercise.
Con: No in-line mic or volume control

Run Time: Runners tend to get shafted when it comes to affordable workout headphones that can stay in place comfortably when they’re hitting the road or the trail. Oddly, despite looking over many options that were more than twice the price, Koss came through with these beauties. They stick comfortably around the ear and hold tight through miles of motion, though the sound quality is only good, not astounding. If you need ear-shattering audio with crisp isolation and high response at both ends, look elsewhere. For some reason these are listed as a “women’s” product, but they feel so good and fit so well that guys should just ignore that. However, they mostly come in some rather feminine colors. [Purchase: $14]

MEElectronics M6

MEElectronics M6 In-Ear Headphones

Pro: Very comfortable earpieces
Con: Long cord

Stick and Move: MEElectronics is a name to watch in the personal audio industry. As a rising star they’re able to give high quality at a low price point. While their Atlas on-ear headphones are good and inexpensive, the M6 is our favorite for versatility. A soft, adjustable ear curl keeps these in place as you twirl around the house or hold tight while you hit the gym. They tend to be a little tough on your ears during heavy activity, and the cord is a bit excessive, but for semi-active or casual listening they’re a steal. The cord cinch and wide array of tips make these very rich in accessories to give you the right fit. [Purchase: $18]

Brainwavz Alpha

Brainwavz Alpha In-Ear Headphones

Pro: Excellent bass response
Con: Earbuds feel cheap

Most for the Money: With only an 8mm driver it’s hard to understand how these can hit as hard as they do. We advise you don’t question it, but rather just enjoy the 15-28,000 Hz frequency response and 20 ohm impedance. As far as your standard in-ear headphones go, everything about these seems perfectly balanced. The bass is rich and full without simply being loud and thumping. The highs and mids come through loud and clean. On the end is a gold-plated L-shaped jack that carries plenty of power while also feeling solid. Our main issue is the earbuds themselves are light and feel cheap with limited durability. [Purchase: $20]

Koss SportaPro

Koss SportaPro

Pro: Lightweight
Con: Cheap plastic construction

Collapse and Carry: These are built along the same lines as the Koss PortaPro that found their way onto our list of best headphones under $100. They use much of the same audio technology as the PortaPro, thus they have much of the same high-quality sound. What these do slightly differently is offering a more sport-oriented look with the adjustable headband that can go over the top or around your neck. They’re incredibly easy to travel with since they fold up and crush down to a tight package for hiking backpacks and laptop bags alike. The 5-25,000 Hz response range is plenty broad. Sadly, the artisanal craftsmanship that is used to produce tight, acoustically stunning sound didn’t extend to the shoddy plastic body. [Purchase: $24]

RHA MA350 In-Ear Headphones

RHA MA350 In-Ear Headphones

Pro: Rich, resonant sound in a small package
Con: Cord noise can be annoying

Best Buds: There are literally hundred dollar headphones that don’t feel as staid as these. The body is aluminum while the cable is woven fabric that reeks of professionalism and durability. These have won awards for their sound production and when you pop them in, you’ll see why. Dynamic 10mm mylar drivers make every segment of the frequency range pop and sizzle which is especially useful for anyone who enjoys instrumental music that needs precision over raw power. Aerophonic construction helps better move sound directly into your ears with less loss and better staging thanks to the aluminum acoustic chamber. Sadly, that strong, gorgeous cord can bring a lot of noise into your mix during movement. [Purchase: $40]

Superlux HD 681

Superlux HD 681

Pro: Ventilation for your ears
Con: Some sound bleed in and out

Open Option: Able to capture some of the noise reduction of closed-back earphones with the better sound of an open-backed design, the semi-open construction is a comfortable, pleasant change of pace. Big 50mm drivers backed with neodymium magnets bear out the 10-30,000 Hz response incredibly well. A slightly higher 32 ohm impedance requires that they use more power, but the resultant sound quality is noticeable. You can kiss ear sweat goodbye and even those with Obama’s jug-handles will find the body comfortable. These will last long after you’ve saved enough for an upgrade. [Purchase: $45]

LG Tone Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset

LG Tone Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset

Pro: Syncs with almost any Bluetooth device
Con: Limited range

Freedom: Bluetooth Wireless headphones are not just for the elite living in a manor on the hill, they can easily be yours for a pittance. Implementing a necklace design with magnetic holsters for the earbuds, these can go anywhere you can without weighing down your head or taking up space. Outside of about 10-15 feet, the reception gets spotty, but for syncing with your phone or mp3 player these are excellent. Included in the neckband is a mic and the software will read your text messages for seamless movement between phone operation and music playback. [Purchase: $45+]

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x

Pro: Mild noise cancellation
Con: Bulky

Studio Session: The M-Series line from Audio-Technica is a juggernaut in the over-ear headphone market. Though the M20x doesn’t bear the same sound reproduction of its more expensive cousins, it still has a set of 40mm drivers with rare earth metal magnets and interior aluminum wires that are copper coated for better sound transmission. At 15-20,000 Hz you’ll get a nice mix of treble and bass with excellent sound isolation that doesn’t overwhelm you even at high volume. [Purchase: $49]

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