No other style of headphones lend themselves to EDC quite like earbuds. Super compact, lightweight, and ultra-pocketable, earbuds allow you to never be without your tunes. Whether you’re looking to drown out annoying background sounds, liven up your morning, or bestow your workout or commute with a soundtrack, earbuds provide a convenient means of mobile listening.
But, with the market containing literally thousands of different earbud models, it can be difficult finding the legitimately worthwhile items. With this in mind, we’ve scoured the product space, searching high and low to bring you this condensed, straightforward guide to the best earbuds for under $50. And, while half-a-bill may seem like a fairly limiting price point, the reality is there’re several incredibly competent earbuds that come in at under the $50, including audiophile-grade studio pairs and cutting-edge true wireless sets.
Balancing Price & Quality
How To Make The Most Of A Limited Budget
While $50 might not seem like a lot to spend on a pair of modern earbuds, the truth of the matter is that if you know what to look for, there are a variety of excellent options. Below, we’ll be walking you through what to consider when buying a new set of earbuds, and more importantly, how to get the most bang for your buck.
Respect The Wires: While most people admittedly prefer wireless headphones that aren’t attached to cables, one huge benefit of wired headphones is that they often aren’t attached to a steep price. Relaying high-quality sound through wires can be accomplished for a fraction of what it would cost to transmit the same sound quality via Bluetooth. Consequently, there are some seriously fantastic, genuinely studio-quality earbuds that are available at an immensely accessible price point. Cabled headphones have existed for over a century now, and their prolonged existence has allowed prices to steadily decline over the years as overall quality and value have simultaneously increased — both symptoms of an increasingly competitive (and custom-friendly) market.
As a result, some features on wired headphones that were once reserved for top-shelf studio-focused models, are now available on more accessibly-priced pairs. Oxygen-free copper and silver-plated wires, dynamic drivers, composite and premium metal housing, and even (locking and 360-degree rotating) MMCX connectors can all be found on headphones that come in at under the $50 mark — something you couldn’t say even a decade ago.
The Fruits Of Sacrifice: There are a lot of factors that go into how earbuds are priced. Obviously the raw materials and audio components play a substantial role, as do supplementary amenities such as Bluetooth connectivity or active noise cancellation. In an effort to distinguish their products from other offerings on the market, electronics manufacturers will routinely bestow gadgets with a host of supplementary selling points to help tip the scales in their favor, with features like built-in tracking devices, internal gyroscopes and accelerometers, integrated microphones, and so on.
And while we’ll be the first to admit that we’re suckers for all the latest bells and whistles when it comes to electronics, the vast majority of them are fairly superfluous. Not only are these extras totally unnecessary for headphones to perform their basic sound playback duties, but they also result in higher price tags. If you’re in the market for a pair of earbuds, and you don’t want to spend a lot, consider the features that you can go without. By eliminating the elements that you don’t want (or can live without), you’ll open the door up to a slew of more reasonably priced pairs that should still be more than sufficient for your needs.
Smaller Brand, Bigger Value: Though there are outliers, buying from a respected and reputable usually does come with at least some added assurance of quality. And while buying from a big name brand has this clear benefit, it also comes at a premium in terms of cost — not unlike when buying a car. Frequently you’ll find that by forgoing items from big-name brands, you can save a significant amount of cash. If you’re willing to do your homework however, you’ll often find that lesser-known companies will often offer products that are comparable to that of the industry leaders, at a markedly lower price. Checking the specs of models from the industry’s major players should help to give you a sense of a baseline, or at least a general barometer to judge other models against.
Armed with these facts, figures, and specs, you can then begin exploring some of the alternatives to popular products, while having a decent sense of what to look for. It’s probably also worth noting that when shopping in the entry-level electronics space, it’s not uncommon to see fairly-legitimate-looking knockoffs of products from major brands (think Beats, Sony, Bose, etc). If you come across a pair of headphones that are priced significantly lower on a particular site or retailer, you should be extremely suspicious, especially if you aren’t buying straight from the manufacturer.
Putting Knowledge To Use
Our Choices For Today’s Best Sub-$50 Earbuds
Using this criteria and selection process, we’ve scoured the marketplace to bring you our choices for the best in-ear options that come in below the $50 mark. So, without further adieu, let’s get into it.
1MORE Piston Fit
1MORE’s Piston Fit headphones manage to offer remarkable quality at an exceptional price. Set inside aluminum composite housing, the Piston Fit packs a 10mm dynamic driver that benefits from diaphragm composed of a titanium composite. And while they admittedly make for an excellent pair of daily-use headphones for commuting or studying, the Piston Fit also lends itself particularly well to running and workout applications, with an IPX4-rating for sweat and water resistance, and an eight-hour battery life that ensures you’ll run out of steam before your earbuds do. Utilizing Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, the Piston Fit’s more than 30’ wireless range lets you freely move around the gym or studio during workouts without your soundtrack cutting in and out. Magnets on the back of the earbuds also let you wear the headphones like a necklace when it isn’t in use.
RAA MA390 Universal
Built around a set of 6061 aluminum housings with a spiral brushed finish and adorned in laser-etched RHA branding, the MA390 earbuds feature a pair of custom-engineered and tuned model 130.8 drivers that deliver sound quality and clarity that legitimately rivals that of headphones five-times its price. These universal earbuds come paired with a cable that boasts an integrated remote for music playback and volume control, as well as an integrated microphone for taking calls. And, though the MA390 doesn’t actually contain any active noise cancelation technology, it does call on RHA’s signature Aerophonic earbud design, which manages to block out a surprising amount of ambient and external background noise. In addition to multiple dual-density silicone ear tip sizes, the MA390 is also sold with an included clothing clip and a mesh travel pouch. It also may be worth pointing out that this model is equipped with a 1/8” jack, and will require an adapter or dongle to work with some of the latest smartphones.
Sennheiser CX 300S
Sennheiser typically trades in the more high-end audio arena and isn’t a name you’d typically expect to see on budget-friendly lists like this, however, the brand’s CX 300S model is very much deserving of a place on this list. Sennheiser has taken various pieces of its German-engineered technology and componentry from some of its more elite existing models and repurposing it into the accessibly-priced and thoroughly competent CX 300S. Packing transducers with an impedance rated at 18 and omnidirectional pickup patterns, this model’s drivers are capable of delivering a not insignificant frequency range of 17 all the way up to 21,000Hz, and a (maximum) sound pressure level of 118dB. The cable’s integrated microphone has also received similar benefits, with a frequency response landing between 100 and 10,000Hz. And, like the previous entry, the CX 300S forgoes active noise canceling in favor of a more economical — yet still effective — passive noise-canceling arrangement that’s owed to the earbud’s in-ear and tip shapes/designs.
JBL Live 100
Another example of premium-levels of sound quality being made possible by higher-end existing technology trickling down to more accessibly-priced offerings, JBL’s Live 100 sees the American company’s hallmark JBL Signature Sound made available in a bare-bones earbuds model. No active noise canceling or Bluetooth connectivity, just pure, rich sound, sold at a fair MSRP. Available in blue, green, red, black, or white — each with color-matched, tangle-free, braided fabric cable sheaths — the Live 100 consists of 8mm drivers held inside durable aluminum housings. And while it is admittedly a pretty spartan set of earbuds in terms of amenities, the Live 100 does come equipped with a cable-integrated control pad and microphone which is compatible with Siri and Google Now. Weighing in at only 3.17oz (or 0.19lbs), the Live 100 is a stellar choice for general day-to-day use — an area further by the model’s inclusion of a nylon carrying pouch.
MEE audio M6 PRO
MEE audio’s M6 PRO is another example of an ultra-minimalistic set of earbuds that strays from modern amenities in favor of pure unadulterated, crisp and clear sound — the reason the M6 PRO has become a popular choice amongst studios and amateur recording artists. Currently in its second generation, this earbud model now sports the company’s T-Series noise-isolating foam ear-tips — seven sizes of which are included with each pair, along with a carrying case and a 1/4” adapter piece. Resistant to sweat, the individual components that constitute the M6 PRO can be replaced a la carte, should any piece be damaged or compromised. The audiophile-grade set of earbuds is upgradable too, with the manufacturer also selling a Qualcomm aptX-enabled Bluetooth adapter that converts the M6 PRO into an IPX5-rated wireless set of studio earbuds with an 8.5-hour battery life. Regardless as to whether or not you opt for the wireless upgrade, the M6 PRO is offered through the manufacturer with optional custom-engraved metal faceplates
Zero Audio Carbo Tenore
While Zero Audio might not have the most mainstream name recognition, the Japanese brand’s Carbo Tenore earbuds nonetheless very well may be the best entry-level high-fidelity headphones in existence. As this trick model’s monicker denotes, these earbud’s housings are made from genuine carbon fiber and a machined aluminum composite that adds durability and dampens vibrations. Ultra-compact 5.78mm micro-drivers conduct frequencies via oxygen-free copper cables and gold-plated jack that together afford true high-fidelity sound. In addition to adding a thoroughly high-performance aesthetic, this item’s carbon and composite construction allows the Carbo Tenore to tips the scales at an absolutely insane 0.11oz (0.0068lbs). This takes the form of an 8 to 24,000Hz frequency response range, an impedance rating of 16, and a (maximum) sound pressure level of 102dB. And, should you somehow manage to damage these earbuds, Zero Audio stands behind the product with a manufacturer’s warranty over the first year.
LINSOUL TIN HiFi T2
If you’re in the market for the best-possible studio-quality earbuds without exceeding the $50 mark, you’d seriously be hard-pressed to do better than LINSOUL’s Tin HiFI T2. Rather than relying on a single dynamic transducer to cover the entire frequency range, the TH2 gets dedicated 10mm woofers supplemented by 6mm tweeters. Linked via top-shelf MMCX connectors and oxygen-free copper cables with silver plating, this audiophile-grade offering affords an absolutely unreal response range from 12, up to a mind-blowing 40,000Hz. All of this thoroughly high-end hardware is stored inside attractive brushed-metal housings with color-coded rings. Also backed by a one year manufacturer’s warranty, these high-fidelity headphones also feature 3.9’ braided cable and foam earpads that deliver optimal comfort, while also mitigating outside noise. And, because this model is compatible with MMCX connectors, it can be upgraded and outfitted with Bluetooth connectivity, or a cable with an integrated microphone.
Skullcandy Push True Wireless Earbuds
The rise in popularity of true wireless headphones over the last few years has given way to an increasingly competitive market, which in turn has given us some recent models with shockingly accessible MSRPs. One such example is Skullcandy’s Push true wireless model. The earbuds themselves each contain a six-hour charge, while the case allows for a collective 12 hours before needing to be returned to a power source. Another thoroughly impressive feature on the Push considering its price is its earbuds’ physical controls, which can be swiped or tapped to adjust volume, handle music playback, or accept or decline incoming calls. Also compatible with handsfree smart assistants, the Push true wireless earbuds are securely kept in place thanks to the Utah-based brand’s FitFin gels. This along with their being water and sweat resistant, also makes these a solid choice for use at the gym or while pounding the pavement.
The 9 Best Noise-Canceling Wireless Earbuds
If cancelling out background noise is the objective (and you’re willing to invest a few more dollars), then be sure to check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling wireless earbuds for nine additional pairs that’ll keep you in the zone.
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