Whether buying groceries, traveling, or just killing time in public, headphones have the ability to enriched our lives, adding entertainment to commutes, our workouts, and workdays. And while pretty much anyone can benefit from a solid pair of headphones, not everyone is in the position to shell out a grand for the latest and greatest in personal on-head audio. Fortunately, as headphones have evolved over the last few decades, advancements in technology and production have enabled electronics and audio outfits to deliver increasingly impressive models at increasingly competitive prices.
Unfortunately, the process of shopping for an economical set of headphones is made incredibly difficult by the enormous slew of cheap knockoffs and lookalikes, making it exceedingly difficult for the average joe to distinguish the legitimately worthwhile budget-friendly models from dated run-of-the-mill junk. So, to help get you equipped with a proper set of headphones — without breaking the bank — we’ve assembled this straightforward guide to the best headphones under $50.
The Finer Points Of Budget Shopping
Tips And Tricks To Use When Buying A Sub-$50 Pair Of Headphones
At the price point of $50 or less, you aren’t going to have a crazy amount of high-end components or specs to pick from like you would if you were spending five-to-ten-times that amount. Having said that, there are still a few tricks that are incredibly helpful to be armed with when shopping around for budget-friendly headphones.
Consider Your Use: Just like with buying a sleeping bag or a motorcycle jacket, your hunt for new headphones should start with your intended application. Reflect on how you plan on utilizing your new headphones and use that as a jumping-off point to narrow down your search.
Pick Your Style: Just because you aren’t dropping a few hundred bones on a pair of headphones doesn’t mean your choices are going to be limited to a few cheap wired earbuds. Whether you’re looking for wired or wireless, in or over-ear, or casual or workout headphones, you can find pretty much any style — including true wireless items and studio monitor units — for under the $50 mark.
Prioritize Your Needs: The less expensive headphones that are on the market are typically priced the way they are based on their respective specs and features. If you want super high-fidelity audio, a built-in microphone, noise-canceling, or an enormously-long battery life, you’ll have to pay a premium for any of said features. Knowing this, you can use it to your advantage when buying sub-$50 headphones by considering which of these kinds of features you can go without. Obviously this requires some sacrifice, but you should be able to find a balance or at least better hone in on a pair that’s right for you.
Embrace The Wires: Over the last couple of years wireless headphones have become the standard in the industry, and as a result, manufacturers have increasingly invested enormous amounts in developing these Bluetooth-enabled offerings. On the flip-side of the coin, wired headphones are now seen as less attractive, leading to lower prices. Without having to wirelessly transmit high-quality audio, headphones are markedly less expensive to manufacture, meaning you can snag a fantastic pair of wired headphones for a lot less than you might think.
Buy From A Known Brand: While buying from no-name or lesser-known brands is typically a good way of ensuring you save a buck or two, you’re typically better off avoiding these unknown manufacturers when shopping for headphones at this price point. The larger, more established and reputable headphone purveyors have a wealth of decades of research and development to draw from, allowing this technology to trickle-down to more affordable offerings a few years after a new technology or feature’s release.
Do Your Research: One of the best ways to learn about the overall quality of a sub-$50 pair of headphones is to read reviews on online shops from real users that have long-term ownership experience with whatever headphone model is in question. And one of the most common areas to hone in on is wear and tear from flexions (aka cord shorting). How a pair of headphones is constructed (i.e. what type of core, cable jacket, wire(s), and the exterior cover is being used) will determine if they will last a long time, or short out and stop working after only brief use.
Check For A Warranty: The reality is that cheap products are more prone to breaking or failing than their more expensive counterparts, and this is no less true when it comes to economical headphones. And while you are taking some small risk by not opting for a more high-end pair, one stellar way to protect your investment is to go with a pair that’s backed by a warranty. Warranties are seldom advertised on models at this price (in an attempt for the manufacture to save money), but if you do a little digging you’ll find most reputable brands do indeed offer factory warranties.
Beware Of Imitators: Everybody loves to save money, and electronics counterfeiters are well aware of this and for years have been producing knockoff versions of popular products. And while it was once just handbags, Jordans, and Rolex watches, the counterfeiting world is now fully tapped into the electronics market. These can be ordered in bulk from places like China and then are often resold on sites like eBay and Craigslist to unsuspecting buyers who are trying to save a few bucks.
While these may look like the real deal (and even have legit-looking packaging at times), these products always hugely fail to measure up to the real thing in terms of performance and quality. And, on top of straight-up counterfeit knockoffs, there are also brands that intentionally ripoff the branding and industrial design of leading electronics manufacturers (such as “Sonia” or “Coby” with Sony). In short: if a deal seems like it’s too good to be true, it likely is.
Samsung EO-IG955 Tuned by AKG In-Ear Earphones
Samsung’s EO-IG955 earphones are a wonderful example of a product that’s hugely benefitted from previous tech trickling down and being made available on an exceedingly affordable pair of headphones. Considering the price point, Samsung’s EO-IG955 boasts phenomenal sound. This is owed to the fact that Samsung called on the audio experts at AKG Acoustics to tune the EO-IG955’s dual 8mm and 11mm drivers and optimize its sound quality. The actual earphones themselves also feature metal housing and the cables are of the tangle-free variety.
Anker Soundbuds Curve Wireless Headphones
Offering phenomenal bang for your buck, Anker’s Soundbuds Curve Wireless Headphones are light on price and heavy on features. A fully waterproof encasing — reportedly modeled after the structures utilized in submarine construction — earns this item an IPX7 water and sweat-resistant rating, while its battery — which can receive three hours of life via only a ten-minute charge — affords up to 18 hours of playback time. Designed to stay in place while running or working out, these wireless headphones also sport removable ear hooks and are sold with a plethora of different sized wings and tips, as well as a carabiner-equipped zippered storage case.
1MORE Piston Fit Wireless Headphones
If you aren’t looking for a pair of gym-friendly headphones and just need a set for casual everyday use, the 1MORE Piston Fit is a stellar choice. Offering eight hours of battery life, these wireless Bluetooth earphones boast all-aluminum alloy housing, titanium composite diaphragms, 10mm dynamic drivers, and can be fully recharged in only one hour’s time. And though not quite as waterproof as the previous entry, this 1MORE offering nonetheless is equipped with an IPX4 rating, so it’ll have no problem standing up to sweat or a little precipitation. Weighing just 18 grams (or 0.39lbs), these headphones sport a more than 30 foot wireless Bluetooth range, too.
Sony MDR ZX110NC Headphones
Another fantastic headphone model that takes much of its technology and hardware from previous cutting-edge Sony gadgets, the MDR-ZX110NC is a thoroughly modern set of noise-canceling headphones that forgoes the wireless element (though with an almost 4’ cord, you’ve got plenty of length to move around, too). The over-ear design, paired with its 30mm neodymium driver allows for sound quality that’s usually reserved for headphones priced at at least five times this amount. The battery on these headphones also affords an enormous 80 hours of playback with active noise-canceling, though should the battery die, the headphones still work, albeit without the noise-canceling or boosted sound.
Motorola Escape 800 Wireless Headphones
Motorola’s Escape 800 is a bit of an anomaly, managing to cram just about every feature you’d find on top-dollar leading headphone models into a package that comes in at under $50. Active noise-canceling, wireless Bluetooth connectivity, 12-hour battery life, and hands-free smart assistant controllability/compatibility: you name it, the Escape 800 has it. IPX4-rated, this item is admittedly on the heavier said, weighing in at 1lb, though it’s not hefty enough to become bothersome even after being worn for decently-long periods — an area helped along by this over-ear item’s generally plush fit and well-cushioned ear-pads.
Skullcandy Sesh True Wireless Earbuds
True wireless headphones have become increasingly popular in recent times, though they typically cost at least a few hundred dollars. Skullcandy’s Sesh True wireless earbuds affords the majority of the amenities found in models like Apple’s Airpods Pro, while costing a fraction of the price. These headphones come with a mobile charging case with a built-in LED battery display and a total of ten hours of battery life. An integrated microphone allows this gadget to be controlled via the user’s voice, or be used to call on a smart assistant. Offered in multiple colors, they’re also IP55-rated for sweat, dust, and water-resistance.
AKG Pro Audio K245 Studio Headphones
If you visit a professional recording studio, there’s a good chance you’ll find AKG studio monitor headphones, thanks to the Austrian outfit’s superb audio quality and clarity. Using best-in-class 50mm drivers and boasting best-in-class frequency response, AKG’s K45 folding over-ear headphones deliver on the brand’s usual strong suits in spades. Equipped with AKG’s signature self-adjusting headband, the K245s are also surprisingly durable, having been extensively drop-tested throughout development, leading to the use of all-metal components in key areas such as the hinges, and paired with cables that are reportedly rated to withstand more than 80,000 flexions.
Shure SE112-GR Earphones
If studio monitor audio-quality is at the top of your list of priorities, but you’d prefer a more travel-friendly pair of earbud-style headphones, then Shure’s SE112-GR is the way to go. Offering an expansive frequency range, this audiophile-oriented offering packs a dynamic MicroDriver that delivers crisp sound and deep bass while backed by an acoustic seal that bolsters audio performance while affording the MicroDriver additional shock protection. Rather than standard earbuds, the SE112-GR uses a “Sound Isolating Sleeve” that creates a precise and snug (yet comfortable) fit that does an incredible job at blocking out external background noise — resulting in something of a non-digital form of noise-canceling that can drown out up to 37dB of ambient sound.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Studio Monitor Headphones
Even if you weren’t at all concerned with price, there’s a very decent likelihood that we’d recommend checking out the headphone line offered by Audio-Technica, as the Japanese brand truly does make some of the finest personal audio gear in existence. And though they’ve existed for a few years, we continue to be blown away by the fact that you can snag a new pair of A-T’s ATH-M20x for under $50. Punching well above its weight (and not just relative to its MSRP), the ATH-M20x features an ergonomically-designed ear-cup that provides stellar comfort and sound isolation. Inside, these DJ-grade headphones pack 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets and copper-plated aluminum voice coils. In laymen’s terms: these sound fantastic.
Urbeats3 Wired Earphones
Though Beats By Dr. Dre Headphones were originally lauded for their ample bass and overall comfort, the brand has since proven that it can do more than just provide low-end-rich audio — case in point: Beats’ Urbeats3. Using a tangle-free flat cable setup, these earbuds utilize axial-aligned drivers and dual-chamber acoustics, as well as laser-precision venting that allows for micro pressure-balanced bass. A built-in remote also lets you take calls or use Siri, while the earbuds themselves feature magnetic backs so they can be linked together and neatly stowed away when not in use.
JBL Tune 500BT On-Ear Headphones
Alongside those from Bose, JBL’s wireless Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones have been some of the most sought-after items in the product space over the last decade, though their stellar quality and high-fidelity sound has traditionally come at a fairly steep price. In March of 2019, this changed, however, when the American brand rolled out the Tune 500BT. They feature a built-in microphone with voice-assistant compatibility, folding design, soft leather ear-pads, and the rich bass that JBL is known for. The battery also allows for 16 hours of use, plus a quick five-minute charge will afford a full hour of music playback time.
Sennheiser HD 300 Around-Ear Headphones
The HD 300 is a pair of around-ear headphones born out of some 70 years of development and experience. Rather than using off-the-shelf transducers and components, this German0engineered pair of studio-quality headphones use Sennheiser’s proprietary 32mm drivers to deliver crisp and clear sound — an area that’s helped along by this model’s closed-back design which bolsters comfort while mitigating ambient noise. The folding, collapsible frame and overall durable construction also make the HD 300 particularly conducive to travel. And, while this is admittedly a great pair of headphones for under $50, if you can afford it, we’d recommend shelling out the extra $20 dollars and opting for Sennheiser’s HD 400 S, as it really is a significant step up for only a small added cost.
The 15 Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Looking for a more premium model of headphones that isn’t confined to the $50 mark? Then be sure to check out our guide to the best noise-canceling headphones for a look at the latest and greatest in wearable personal audio.
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