Whether buying groceries, traveling, or just killing time in public, headphones have the ability to enrich our lives, adding entertainment to commutes, 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 headphones 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 for under $50.
Best Budget Headphones Breakdown
Best Budget Headphones
Best Over-Ear Headphones
Skullcandy Hesh 2
Best Studio Headphones
Best On-Ear Headphones
JBL Tune 510BT
Soundcore by Anker Life A1
What to expect from Budget 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. In this range, you shouldn’t expect noise cancellation (unless it’s passive), but there are still plenty of options (both wired and wireless) that have solid sound quality and battery life. Having said that, there are a few tricks that are incredibly helpful to be armed with when shopping around for budget-friendly headphones.
What to look for
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.
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.
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 hone in on a pair that’s right for you.
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.
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.
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 who 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 exterior cover is being used) will determine if they will last a long time, or short out and stop working after only brief use.
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 manufacturer to save money), but if you do a little digging you’ll find most reputable brands do indeed offer factory warranties.
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 rip off 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.
- Classic style
- Apple build and audio quality
- Very reasonable price
- Controller with mic
- Not wireless
Best Budget Headphones: When it comes to budget basics, Apple may not have been the first name you thought of. Thankfully, the label’s EarPods are still as reliable as ever and have been getting more popular over the last few years, with newfound nostalgia for these simple buds. While you can get a pair made for the iPhone’s Lightning connector, Apple offers one with a 3.5mm jack and one with a USC-C connector for the same price, so you can use it with more devices.
Unlike the very first earbuds from Apple (which were a little uncomfortable for extended use), these wired earbuds have an ergonomic bud design that makes them comfortable to wear for long durations. Not only that, but it comes with a small controller with a built-in mic (that has surprisingly good voice quality), that allows you to answer calls, change volume, and adjust audio settings. These headphones may not come with noise cancellation or water resistance, but you’re getting a reliable pair for a decent price, with Apple’s best-in-class design and build quality.
Style: Wired earbuds
Connectivity: Lightening connector, 3.5mm, USC-C
Skullcandy Hesh 2
- Wired and wireless
- 1-year warranty
- Flexible headband and soft ear pads
- Great battery life and sound quality for the price
- Wireless connection could be better
Best Over-Ear Headphones: Look, we know what you’re thinking; you see the Skullcandy logo, and you’re immediately transported back to the days of dodgy wires and MySpace. But fear not, Skullcandy has been steadily improving its audio tech over the years, and is honestly a very underrated label in the industry.
True wireless headphones have become increasingly popular in recent times, though they typically cost at least a few hundred dollars. Skullcandy’s Hesh 2 wireless headphones afford the majority of the amenities found in many modern models while costing a fraction of the price. These headphones come with a total of twenty hours of battery life, with 10 minutes of charging providing 2 more hours. An integrated microphone allows you to take calls, and the 50mm drivers give you impressive sound quality for the price. As for the design, you get a lightweight adjustable headband, and soft ear pads for a comfortable feel.
Style: Wireless over-ear headphones
Battery: ~20 hours
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, aux
- Solid passive noise cancellation
- Tuned for low frequency performance
- Made by a trusted audio brand
- Best for professional settings
Best Studio 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 layman’s terms: these sound fantastic. Do keep in mind that you’ll be getting a pretty flat sound with these, as they’re meant for studio recording and audio playback, but you can tweak the EQ settings on your device to use them as you would regular headphones.
Style: Wired over-ear headphones
JBL Tune 510BT
- 40 hours of listening time
- Portable design
- Works with Siri and Hey Google
- No EQ settings
Best On-Ear Headphones: JBL’s wireless Bluetooth 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 have traditionally come at a fairly steep price. And although this particular pair doesn’t come with noise-cancellation, they’re still a capable pair of on-ear headphones with exceptional battery life and solid sound quality.
The Tune 510BT features a built-in microphone with voice-assistant compatibility, a folding design, soft leather earpads, and the rich bass that JBL is known for. The battery also allows for a considerable 40 hours of use, plus a quick five-minute charge will afford a full two hours of music playback time. You get convenient button controls around the ear pad, and the headphones are compatible with both Siri and Google voice assistance. These are a great pick for traveling on a budget because of the collapsable design and long battery life, even without noise cancellation.
Style: Wireless on-ear headphones
Battery: 40 hours
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, HDMI
Soundcore by Anker Life A1
- IPX7 resistance rating
- Great for working out
- Wireless charging
- Can be hard to put back in the case sometimes
Best Earbuds: Offering phenomenal bang for your buck, Soundcore by Anker Life A1 is light on price and heavy on features. A fully waterproof encasing earns this item an IPX7 water and sweat-resistant rating, while its battery (which can receive 1.5 hours of life via only a ten-minute charge) affords up to 35 hours of playback time with the case and 9 hours on a full charge.
Designed to stay in place while running, working out, or commuting, these wireless headphones also come with three custom sound modes to enhance your music, podcasts, and everything in between. For added convenience, these headphones offer two ways to charge via USB-C or wireless connectivity if you have access to a charging pad. Besides noise cancellation, these earbuds are packed with most of the features you’d expect from a high-end pair and are just as comfortable as comparable buds.
Style: Wireless earbuds
Battery: 9 hours (35 hours with case)
The Best Wireless Earbuds Under $100
Have a little more room in your budget? Our best wireless earbuds under $100 guide has some more wallet-friendly picks.