2016’s 21 best earbuds and headphones for those on a budget

Brittany A. Roston - Nov 5, 2016, 11:00 am CST
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2016’s 21 best earbuds and headphones for those on a budget

A good pair of headphones doesn’t have to be an expensive pair of headphones. In the same way an expensive model may have subpar quality for the price, it’s possible to find inexpensive offerings with quality far above what you paid. Knowing where to look is half the battle, but we’ve done the hard work for you: here are a variety of inexpensive headphones to satisfy every user type, including athletes, children, and the frequent commuter.

The headphones below are listed in order of price. Of course, quality is going to vary between these models, and the price is more or less the best indicator of where each model lies on the quality spectrum, but shouldn’t be viewed as the sole indicator. It’s important to remember that audio quality may be the same between two models, but different in style — one pair may be bass-heavy, for example, while another pair may be very even-handed. Keep that in mind when choosing the model best for your needs.

Here’s the TL;DR list:

On/Over-Ear

1. Amazon Basics Headphones ($15 USD)
2. Sound Intone I65 ($20 USD)
3. Sennheiser HD 202 II ($25 USD)
4. Sentey Thorx ($28 USD)
5. Edifier H840 ($40 USD)
6. Symphonized Wraith 2.0 ($60 USD)
7. Skullcandy Crusher ($65 USD)

Earbuds

1. AmazonBasics Earbuds ($7 USD)
2. Panasonic ErgoFit ($10 USD)
3. Symphonized NRG 3.0 ($20 USD)
4. Sennheiser CX 300 II ($25 USD)
5. JBL E10 ($32 USD)
6. Zero Audio Carbo Basso ($44 USD)
7. Audiofly AF45 ($50 USD)

Sports

1. 1byone sports earbuds ($13 USD)
2. J&L-200 Swan ($24 USD)
3. Phaiser BHS-530 ($26 USD)
4. TaoTronics TT-BH07U ($31 USD)
5. SENSO ActivBuds ($34 USD)
6. iblast audio running earbuds ($45 USD)
7. Treblab XR500 ($50 USD)

AmazonBasics Earbuds ($7 USD)

The AmazonBasics product line is Amazon’s own-branded inexpensive gear spanning all types of gadgets and items. Counted among them are some earbuds and headphones, including these ultra-cheap $7 in-ear headphones. Of course, $7 earbuds aren’t going to last a long time and they aren’t going to give the best audio quality. However, dozens of Amazon reviews consistently rate the earbuds as having above-average quality, and at only $7 they’re definitely worth giving a look.

Panasonic ErgoFit ($10 USD):

Just a few dollars more expensive than Amazon’s own model is the Panasonic ErgoFit. While you’re not going to get the best quality from such an inexpensive model, more than 37,000 reviews on Amazon has culminated in a 4.5+ star rating, indicating these are a great option for those who need good audio quality and a cheap price tag. Note these earbuds do not feature an in-line microphone or volume control.

Symphonized NRG 3.0 ($20 USD)

Symphonized made a name for itself with its beautiful, inexpensive wood-based headphones, earbuds, and speakers. Counted amongst the company’s most popular model is the NRG, of which they’re now up to version 3.0. Some users still prefer the 1.0 and 2.0, which supposedly have their own audio flavors.

The 3.0, though, eliminated the most common issue (noise transfer from cable rubbing), resulting in one of the highest rated $20 earbuds on Amazon. This model is excellent for those who want a pair of earbuds that look elegant, sound even-handed but robust, and don’t break the bank. Check out our review here.

Sennheiser CX 300 II ($25 USD)

Ask audiophiles to name a good pair of cheaper earbuds, and there’s a good chance they’ll point you toward Sennheiser’s CX 300 II. This model enjoys a collective 4-star rating on Amazon from more than 3,700 reviewers, and is known for its “bass-driven” audio flavor. Check out the CX 300 II high-precision earbuds if you’re in the market for a pair of budget in-ear headphones that can really pump out the bass.

JBL E10 ($32 USD)

JBL is a well-regarded audio company perhaps best known for its array of portable speakers. The company’s product line extends beyond them, however, to include headphones and earbuds, the latter of which includes the JBL E10. This model features a stylish round metallic design and an in-line microphone with control. While they’re not the cheapest earbuds out there, the E10 feature JBL’s PureBass and, says the company, ‘full-spectrum’ audio.

Zero Audio Carbo Basso ($44 USD)

Zero Audio enjoys a healthy fan base amongst budget-centric music lovers, and its Carbo Basso earbuds model is perhaps its most popular offering. These earbuds are unique due to their bullet-like earbud design, and are also noteworthy as a noise-cancelling product that still fall within the budget range. According to Zero Audio, these headphones offer a ‘clear mid-high range’ and ‘rich bass.’

Audiofly AF45 ($50 USD)

One of the most visually attractive earbuds on this list is Audiofly’s AF45, a pair of well-rated earbuds that include a fabric-covered cable, noise-isolating ear tips, machined anodized alloy outer housing, and design elements that make the cord durable over the long haul. Audiofly says its AF45 earbuds feature ‘crisp, clear highs, natural midtones, and rich bass,’ with the audio overall being ‘balanced’ and ‘well-rounded.’

AmazonBasics On-Ear Headphones ($15 USD)

In addition to its basic earbuds, Amazon has a pair of inexpensive on-ear headphones simply called “AmazonBasics On-Ear Headphones.” The model’s most attractive point is its very low price tag, but more than 1900 reviewers on Amazon have also collectively given it a 4.5 star rating. The headphones have an appreciable 12Hz to 22kHz frequency range, as well as a 1000mW max input and 101dB with ear cups that can be rotated to lie flat. White, blue and black color options are available.

Sound Intone I65 ($20 USD)

Sound Intone’s I65 headphones are only a few dollars more expensive than AmazonBasics’ model, but they represent a big jump in design quality. The headphones are offered in attractive black/gold and white/gold color schemes, and include a cable with an inline control, microphone, and on-ear design.

Sennheiser HD 202 II ($25 USD)

Sennheiser’s HD 202 II are merely the most modern version of a long-favorite Sennheiser offering, one that has enjoyed a solid fanbase for many years. Though the cost is minimal, these headphones do offer robust and powerful audio with an even-handedness that can be hard to find at such low price points. Just a warning from someone who owns these models, though, the headband is a touch tight and your ears, like mine, may get sore after a couple hours of usage. Features include detachable ear cups and an 18Hz to 18kHz frequency range.

Sentey Thorx ($28 USD)

Sentey has a winner with its over-ears Thorx headphones, a pair of highly rated but inexpensive cans that feature a high-end brushed metal look, stainless steel components, an in-line microphone with controls, 40mm drivers, and a foldable, highly portable design. Features include noise isolation, a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range, and the promise of ‘clear, well-balanced’ audio.

Edifier H840 ($40 USD)

The Edifier H840 are a touch pricey (compared to the previous headphones), but they’re worth the price if a consistent 4.5 star rating on Amazon is anything to judge by. Unlike some other headphones, the H840 look grownup — the design will no doubt appeal to professionals and others who simply care about audio quality, not flashiness. Features include a 1-year warranty, a 3.5mm gold-plated connector, 40mm drivers, leather around the steel-reinforced headband, and noise isolation.

Symphonized Wraith 2.0 ($60 USD)

If you love Symphonized’s various wood earbuds, you’ll love its Wraith 2.0 over-ear headphones. Though this model may be a bit beyond the budget-friendly range for some buyers, they’re worth saving up for. This model is made from metal and real wood, and include a detachable audio cable with an in-line microphone (as well as one without it), voice control, compatibility with both Android and iOS devices, noise isolation, and large padded ear cups. The headphones have a 4.5 star rating from more than 800 reviews on Amazon.

Skullcandy Crusher ($65 USD)

Finally, at least as far as on/over-ears headphones are concerned, we have the Skullcandy Crusher. Yes, some music lovers really hate Skullcandy. Whether you’ll feel the same way probably depends on how far down the audiophile spectrum you fall, but many people love the Crusher model, and it enjoys a health 4.5 star rating from nearly a thousand Amazon reviews.

This model is available in nine different color schemes, and includes a single-cable design with a microphone, built-in amplifier in the ear cup, dedicated bass control, acoustic porting, the REX40 driver, and Skullcandy’s Sensation55 bass extension driver. That’s a lot to pack into a single model, and makes the Crusher worth its relatively inexpensive $65 price tag.

1byone sports earbuds ($13 USD)

Sports earbuds differ from regular earbuds in a couple ways: they usually feature hooks or other design elements that keep them fixed in place, and they are water-resistant or waterproof for use when sweating or jogging in the rain.

1byone’s Sports Earbuds meet both these needs, boasting ear hooks to keep the earbuds in place, as well as an IPX5 waterproof rating and noise-cancellation. This combination of features coupled with a low price tag and, per reviews, good audio quality has made 1byone’s offering a suitable option for budget-conscious athletes.

J&L-200 Swan ($24 USD)

The J&L-200 are a pair of attractive Bluetooth earbuds with a sporty red-and-black high-contrast design, noise isolation, a sweat-proof rating, Bluetooth 4.1, built-in microphone and controls, and the promise of enhanced audio for ‘crisp highs and rich bass.’ According to J&L, its 200 model earbuds offer between 6 and 8 hours of playback on a charge, as well as 175 hours of standby.

Phaiser BHS-530 ($26 USD)

Phaiser’s BHS-530 earbuds are only two dollars more expensive than J&L’s offering, and they bring largely the same features to the table plus the flexible ‘Memory-Wire’ cable tethering the two ear pieces together. The wire can adapt to the wearer’s head to help keep the earbuds in place and isolate unwanted noises. This feature is joined by Bluetooth 4.1, a Liquipel nano coating to keep water and sweat out, and an integrated microphone.

TaoTronics TT-BH07U ($31 USD)

The TaoTronics TT-BH07U are a bit pricier than many headphones on this list, but they come with a nearly 5-star rating on Amazon from more than 1800 reviews, and they combine an attractive design with a bunch of features. These earbuds are wireless (Bluetooth 4.1) and designed specifically for athletes. Each ear piece features a small hook that helps keep the buds in place without being cumbersome or unattractive. These are coupled with a brushed metal design, CVC noise isolation, up to 5 hours of playback per charge, and an integrated microphone with control.

SENSO ActivBuds ($34 USD)

Senso’s ActivBuds are another highly-rated budget sports offering with features seen in competing models. These earbuds are wireless with an IPX7 waterproof rating, an integrated microphone, CVC 6.0 noise suppression, and up to 9 hours of playback per charge (240 hours standby). Even better, the maker includes a 30-day ‘whatever reason’ return policy and a 1 year warranty.

iblast audio running earbuds ($45 USD)

Though iblast’s sports earbuds are treading toward the not-quite-budget-friendly territory, they are a great option if you’re looking for something that’ll last a while, and that cover all the bases as far as features go. This model boasts up to 9 hours of talk time, an IPX7 waterproof rating, an extra long warranty, and full-sized silicone ear hooks. The earbuds are also shipped with a round carrying case for storing the earbuds, as well as a clip for keeping the cable in place.

Treblab XR500 ($50 USD)

Last but not least on our list is the Treblab XR500, a pair of $50 Bluetooth sports earbuds that feature noise cancellation, 9 hours of playback per charge, ear hooks, Bluetooth connectivity, and a ‘whatever reason’ 30-day return window. The XR500 include an IPX7 waterproof rating, compatibility with mobile devices including ‘full call control,’ and a sporty red-on-black design. As of the time of publication, more than 600 reviews have collectively given the XR500 a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.

Wrap-Up

Earbuds and headphones come in all shapes and sizes. Some pump out the bass, others are as neutral as possible. Some headphones are flashy, others are simple and practical. Regardless of type, you can find whatever you need at a low price point and without sacrificing in audio quality.

That won’t always be easy — there are certainly many poor-quality budget models — but online reviews take a lot of the guess work out of choosing a pair. Be mindful about what you’re looking for and whether any given model meets those needs.

Again, while two models may have the same level of audio quality, the style in which the audio is presented can vary, with, for example, one pair really driving the bass home and another focusing on clear mid- and high-tones. Do you have a favorite pair of inexpensive headphones? Drop us a comment!


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