As utterly simple and uncomplicated as earbuds are supposed to be, they’ve become about as costly as the largest, densest set of studio-grade headphones you can buy. The further you travel down the price list, the worse the options become, and when you get below the $50 mark, a lot of what you purchase is going to be utter garbage that isn’t even worth the 45 minutes a day you have to spend untangling them. Well, we don’t think it should be that way and want everyone to experience quality sound at a reasonable price.
The key to finding high-quality, low-cost in-ear headphones is to seek out brands that either put quality into everything they do, or young and hungry manufacturers trying to make a name for themselves in the marketplace. It’s about finding innovators who have managed to use inexpensive materials to new effect in order to produce above average sound and lifetime durability. We didn’t want the pro-only crew this time; we were hunting for headphones for the everyman. With quality our first concern and price a close second, we dug deep to find the 9 best earbuds under $50 for every small spender.
Pro: Remarkably comfortable even when moving
Con: Unattractive plastic body
Cash In: Ordinarily the small size of earbuds and resulting tiny speaker will make cheaper models either completely muddy or unbearably grating. Despite not being anywhere close to our price ceiling, the RPTCM125A are neither, but instead they’re a simplistic creation that sound mellow, yet can capture the noises at either end of the bell curve without issue. If only the 9mm driver had a prettier house in which to make its beautiful music.
Sennheiser MX 365
Pro: Limited sound isolation
Con: Large end is tough for petite ears
Open Season: Not everyone wants their earbuds to be jammed deep into their auditory canals giving the ol’ brain a tickle. For those who like to get quality sound without the invasive feeling, the MX 365 is an excellent choice. Using the design popularized by Apple, these sound better than the current EarPods at a fraction of the price and manage to avoid bleeding sound or dropping out the second you turn your head. On the flipside, they look like a 90’s throwback.
Pro: You literally have to spend 3x more to get comparable sound quality
Con: Tiniest sizzle in the treble
Balancing Act: Able to handle everything from the low, dark, deep recesses of Kahn’s “Abbatoir” to the shiny peak of Mariah Carey’s “Emotions” the Delta is closer to the Alpha when it comes to quality on a budget. Not only is the sound great, but the foam tips by Comply make for a nice fit that’s a little more forgiving than the silicone that is normally used. They bump right about the 60 Hz area and add a boost around 2,000 Hz for just a little extra bass and treble right where you need it without detracting from the experience.
Pro: Wide, varied mid-range
Con: Tendency to breakdown
Nature Boy: The inclusion of the wooden chamber on earbuds was a stroke of genius, but it usually costs at least a C-note just to join the wood grain club. Those who charge less often skimp horrifically and the sound suffers. Not so in this case. The NRG uses neodymium magnets to give quality musical reproduction and uses the natural resonance of the wood to produce a smooth, organic sound that doesn’t jostle or jar. Our sole trouble is with the barely passable durability.
Razer Hammerhead Pro
Pro: Unique, stylish appearance
Con: Not refined enough for playing music
Game On: Maybe you’re still lugging your gaming rig to LAN parties, don’t want a cumbersome headset during marathon frag sessions, or just prefer your gaming mobile. Whatever it is, if you’re a gamer looking for a set of earbuds designed for you, the Hammerhead Pro should be on your list to Santa. An omnidirectional mic makes shouting squad commands easy, the heavy bass response gives you lots of boom for their size, and game input is never drowned out by ambient noise.
Sony MDRXB50AP Extra Bass
Pro: Highly durable
Con: Mic is substandard
Boom Town: Bass lovers will want these in their quiver. They have gold-plated plugs, which is a rarity at this cost level and does much to improve the electrical responsiveness of these headphones which translates into cleaner sound. As the name suggests, what the MDRXB50AP does with that added power is bring a lot of bass to bear. They’re a little big, but they’re the bumping earbuds of note for anyone trying to save a few bucks. A wide frequency response of 4 to 24,000 Hz gives you plenty of range for more than just thumping sound.
MEE Audio M7P
Pro: Can literally be worn all day
Con: Undetermined longevity
Trim and Fit: Beginning with a pivoting bud, the M7P expands on the foundation of the M6 by offering a set of ergonomics thus far unseen in the earbud world, and practically unheard of in anything below $100. The padded over-ear hooks slip right behind the cartilage of the ear forgettably while the head moves with you during even the most brutal crossfit routine. Strong 8mm drivers deliver clean sound with that little extra bass that all workout headphones should have. IPX5 water-resistance keeps sweat and wet workouts from breaking these down, while sturdy, replaceable cables give you resiliency, longevity, and a classy, easy-to-use, low tangle design.
LG Electronics Tone Pro
Pro: Easy, rapid syncing
Con: Cords tend to be excessively long
Freedom: Whenever it comes to affordable Bluetooth earbuds, LG has managed to keep the market cornered with their little neckband line of headphones. The connectivity is excellent, the price is nice and low, the controls are intuitive, and the comfort is passable, though you may need to get your own silicone tips. We wish the sound quality had a little more of a Wow! factor, but it’s more than good enough for casual listening while wireless.
Pro: Specialized warranty against breaks due to clumsiness
Con: Odd jack angle
Easy Street: First off, these solve the problem of tangled earbuds, which is, let’s face it, what is destroying America today. That alone is worth the $50 entrance fee. Besides that wonderful fact, these are reinforced at all the key points, namely down near the jack and at the buds themselves, which keeps these from taking on the damage that so often ruins headphones of this kind. While the sound is just about what you’d expect for the price – not amazing, but certainly good enough to bob your head to – the convenience and longevity are really what you’re buying.