Though headphones have traditionally been more associated with commuting, travel, and other on-the-go applications, more and more people are discovering the benefits of a quality pair of earbuds or headshells for at-home use. From drowning out annoying backgrounds noises and other distractions to affording superior call quality, a solid set of headphones can hugely elevate the overall work-from-home experience. And with the majority of us now thoroughly hunkered down in our respective residences, now is a pretty ideal time to pull the trigger on a new pair. So, with this in mind, we’ve pored over the last few years of releases to bring you this guide to the best headphones for under $150.
While ultra-top-shelf items are out of the question, the $150 price point opens the door to an enormous number of thoroughly great options, whether you’re interested in a pair of workout headphones, are in the market for a high-fidelity studio set, or want a set of cutting-edge true wireless headphones. The immense popularity within the product space, however, has resulted in a fairly saturated market that’s constantly being treated to new releases. And while this makes for a buyer’s market, it can also make it difficult to hone in on the pair that’s best for your particular wants and needs.
JBL LIVE 500BT
First released in early 2019, JBL’s Live 500BT (or 500 Bluetooth) is a thoroughly modern set of over-ear headphones that boasts just about every feature one could want. It’s large shells feature plush, comfortable leather earpads while inside are generously-sized 50mm drivers that deliver booming audio and JBL’s “signature sound.” Built-in microphones not only allow for hands-free use of smart assistants like Siri and Alexa but also pack Ambient Aware and TalkThru technology, the first of which provides stellar noise-cancellation yet still allows the listener to remain aware of their surroundings, while the latter automatically lowers music playback volume and activates speech-optimized noise-cancellation, letting the user freely converse without taking off their headphones. The 500BT’s battery allows for a full 30-hours of music playback time on a single charge, plus its battery can be completely replenished in as little as two-hours time. Sold with a MicroUSB charger and a braided 1/8” auxiliary cord for analog listening, the 500BT offers a consistent and reliable connection thanks to the use of Bluetooth 4.2. The headphone’s fabric-adorned band affords a bit of extra durability, while also adding a few style points, and, on top of being sold in five different color options, the 500BT can also be customized on the JBL website using an online configurator.
Master & Dynamic ME05
Borrowing high-end components from the brand’s existing wireless offerings, Master & Dynamic’s ME05 earphones deliver incredible audio quality in a package that forgoes wireless connectivity in favor of a surprisingly accessible MSRP. Retaining the top-shelf level of quality that M&D is known for, the ME05’s sound comes from 8mm high-performance drivers that have been custom designed and tuned, before being made from titanium. The premium titanium drivers are fortified inside of a set of housings that are precision-machined from solid brass, affording not only immense durability but also superior acoustic properties. Decorated in laser-etched branding and sporting a heavily-polished finish, the housings are linked to a 5’ (1.5m) tangle-resistant fat-lace-style cable with oxygen-free copper wiring and separate remote and omnidirectional microphones. Despite the solid brass construction, the ME05 manages to weigh in at only 21 grams (or just under 0.05lbs). This, coupled with the ME05’s included canvas earphone case, makes this particular model incredibly conducive to both travel, and everyday use alike. On top of the silver, gold, and black-on-black color options, there’s also a special, limited edition version of the ME05 from the New York-based audio outfit’s recent 0.95 collaboration with German camera brand, Leica, albeit they cost an extra $40 over the regular version.
Though bone conduction items for been around for quite a while now, a surprising number of people still aren’t privy to this unique style of headphones. Rather than transmitting sound to your eardrums via air, bone conduction headphones rest directly against your cheek and jawbones and send sounds via vibration directly to your ear’s cochlea. AfterShokz is one of the leading players in this space, with the Chinese company originally getting its start in producing headphones for military outfits, before turning to civilian items. The brand’s Xtreme model offers six hours of continuous music playback, or 480 hours in standby mode and does a phenomenal job of keeping firmly in place even during vigorous workouts, all while tipping the scales at a featherlight 1oz (or 0.0625lbs). IP68-rated, these headphones are legitimately fully-waterproof and can withstand being submerged in water as deep as two meters. Because there aren’t ear-cups or earbuds to form a seal around or in your ear, these bone conduction headphones still allow vital situational awareness sounds to clearly come through. It is worth noting that, while these are wireless headphones, they aren’t Bluetooth-connected and instead pack a 4GB library of internal music storage (MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, and/or FLAC) that can store around 1,200 songs.
AKG K240 MKII
In October of 2001, German brand, AKG released its K240 headphones, which went on to become a bonafide industry standard, with the black and gold model being the over-ear headshells of choice for monitoring and playback at countless professional recording studios the world over. So in early 2014 when AKG revealed the new and improved followup MKII model, needless to say, it was a pretty big deal. The MKII-spec maintains the elements that made its predecessor so popular while improving in minor areas to bolster the overall listening experience. The MKII gets the same highly-celebrated drivers and frequency response — with AKG’s patented Varimotion 30mm XXL transducers packing a 15Hz-40kHz FR — though is sold with a studio-style coiled cable. The self-adjuring headband also remains in the mix while the ear pads themselves have been replaced with softer, plusher units that are more conducive to all-day listening. The original K240’s slightly-flashy gold accent pieces now consist of more subtle silver and dark blue items, too. If you’re looking for headphones with ultra-boosted bass or custom EQs, then maybe continue reading, but if you’re in the market for a quality pair of studio headphones that afford pure, crisp, unadulterated sound, then it really is hard to do better than the K240 MKII, especially at the sub-$100 price point.
Active noise cancelation has increasingly become one of the most sought-after amenities in today’s headphone market, and though there are generic versions available to manufacturers, they can seldom compete with the performance of proprietary tech, like that of Audio-Technica’s QuitePoint. The ATH-ANC500BT’s sound comes from a pair of high-fidelity reproduction 40mm drivers that offer rich sound, that can be appreciated all the more thanks to A-T’s stellar active noise-cancelation. Memory foam earpads also provide immense comfort, while at the same time furthering mitigating external ambient noise. An internal battery yields around 20 hours of music playback time while utilizing the Bluetooth and ANC features. These Bluetooth-connected headphones can also be used with an included 3.9” analog cable, should you burn through the lithium polymer battery’s charge. A built-in microphone allows for taking calls and hands-free control, though there’s also control buttons on the outside of the left ear cup. And, while the Japanese brand’s headphones normally boast a distinctive, DJ-esque style, the ATH-ANC500BT sports a modern take on the classic headshell design that still allows the ear cups to pivot 90-degrees so they can safely be packed flat for travel.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8 (1st Gen)
Getting your hands on the latest and greatest headphones from elite audio companies like Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen doesn’t come cheap, though one more accessibly-priced alternative is to opt for an older generation model. B&O’s first-generation Beoplay E8 true wireless headphones were initially released in 2017 (with an MSRP of $300), and have since been proceeded by two newer generation models, though that’s not to say the original E8 doesn’t still have a lot going for it in 2020. Made from a rugged amalgamation of anodized aluminum and polymer, these true wireless earbuds offer a total of 24 hours of battery life (with the earbuds themselves packing a four-hour charge). On top of offering Bang & Olufsen’s world-class sound quality, a big part of what makes these headphones shine is how incredibly they fit, and how insanely low-profile they are when in your ear. They also feature voice recognition support, ANC with Transparency mode, and a special built-in digital signal processor that custom tunes the EQ (and gain) based on the listener’s surroundings. And, though the Scandinavian company doesn’t cite an Ingress Protection Code, B&O does say the Beoplay E8 is “splash and dust-proof.” It’s also worth mentioning that upon their release, these headphones had some connectivity issues, though firmware updates have since rectified this problem.
JBL LIVE 300TWS
Similarly to the brand’s Live 500BT, JBL’s Live 300TWS is a modern set of headphones brimming with modern features, albeit in a highly-pocketable true wireless package. This means 5.6mm drivers delivering JBL signature sound, backed by both the previously-mentioned Ambient Aware and TalkThru active noise cancelation. These true wireless headphones also come with integrated microphones that enable its user to field calls or to call on a virtual assistant like Alexa. The outside of these compact earbuds — which are sold in four different colors — sport an intuitive swipe and tap-style external control setup, as well. The use of the latest Bluetooth technology also allows for super-low latency playback. The 300TWS offers a total of 20 hours of battery life thanks to a 450mAh charging case, with the earbuds’ 55mAh battery affording six hours of playback alone. And, while a full recharge does require two hours of being plugged in, JBL’s Live 300TWS can gain an hour of music playback through only a ten-minute charge. A small supplementary ear hook also ensures a snug fit, making these wireless earbuds fairly conducive to exercise duties and everyday use alike — the former area of which is helped along by this model’s being entirely sweatproof.
Linsoul Shuoer Tape
Linsoul’s Shuoer Tape is another pair of headphones that forgoes today’s host of modern amenities in favor of ultra-crisp, super-clear high-fidelity sound. This wired pair of earphones is able to deliver a faster frequency response with less distortion thanks to the use of low-voltage electrostatic 10mm drivers. This ultimately translates to headphones that offer a 20Hz- 30KHz frequency response, 104dB sensitivity, and an impedance of 18ohm at 1KHz. The low-voltage electrostatic drivers are stored inside of high-quality aluminum housings that have been precision-machined via a five-axis CNC process, ensuring immense durability. Should you manage to somehow damage this Linsoul product, the company stands behind the headphones with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. The shape of the housing and cavity was also optimized for better sound, though comfort was also taken into account. This model’s HiFi sound is transmitted through a top-shelf high-purity 6N single crystal copper cable – an element that by itself accounts for a significant portion of this earphone’s price. Sold with a 2.5mm balanced jack and 2.5-3.5 adapter, the Shuoer Tape sports high-end MMCX connectors, which is a feature typically reserved for high-dollar, elite models. Also included is a gift box and a small circular carrying case.
Marshall Mid Bluetooth
Marshall Amplification is a renowned British audio outfit that’s been producing iconic sound equipment for well over half a century with a distinctive live sound and an unmistakable signature aesthetic. And though this appearance started with Marshall’s amplifiers, it has since bestowed its hallmark look onto a slew of modern offerings such as the brand’s Mid Bluetooth headphones. This Bluetooth aptX-enabled model boasts a 30’ range and a battery life that exceeds the 30-hour mark while only requiring one-tenth that time to fully recharge. Sound comes from a pair of 40mm dynamic drivers that have been custom-tuned for rich audio, delivering a 10 Hz-20kHz frequency response with a 95Db sensitivity. On top of the cutting-edge Bluetooth connection, these headphones are also equipped with a standard headphone jack that a third party can plug into so you can share music. Sporting Marshall’s classic vintage-inspired look, the outside of the headphones have ultra-plush, ergonomically-designed ear cushions mated to solid metal 3D hinges that enable the Mid Bluetooth to collapse for easy travel. These over-ear headphones can also pair with a Marshall smartphone app, which can be used to control music playback, though there’s also an external brass control knob that can be called on to adjust volume or music playback, as well.
The 15 Best Headphones Under $200
Interested in checking out a few more selections with a slightly less-restrictive budget? Then be sure to delve into our guide to the best headphones under $200 for more than a dozen of today’s latest and greatest personal audio wearables.
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