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The best cheap earbuds in 2021

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Best cheap earbuds
(Image credit: Dilvpoetry)

Good in-ear headphones don’t come more affordable than the best cheap earbuds. Granted, there’s an awful lot of half-baked, breakage-prone buds when you’re looking around the sub-$35 bracket, but just because you want to spend less doesn’t mean you need to put up with bad sound quality or shoddy craftsmanship.

Simply scroll down and you’ll find a selection of agreeable low-cost earbuds, even including some of the true wireless persuasion. And we’re not saying that on an educated guess, as we’ve tested all of them ourselves. So, if you don't have a few hundred to spare on the AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM4, you can be sure these really are the best cheap earbuds you can buy, and not just more disposable dross.

What are the best cheap earbuds?

Based on our testing, the JLab Go Air Pop is the top pick for the best cheap earbuds overall. Strong audio performance, lengthy playtimes, and sturdy aesthetics are major selling points for these buds. Cool features, like an integrated USB case on the charging case, add to the Go Air Pop’s appeal. Not to mention the bargain price of $20.

The Sol Republic Jax is a close second and currently stands as the best cheap earbuds with wires. Its mixture of powerful audio and practicality via tangle-free cable with inline remote makes them an undeniably smart purchase. The numerous color options and modest price tag are also extra incentives to buy in bulk.

In third place is the Skullcandy Dime, something of a trend-setter: it's a pair of truly wireless earbuds at a truly rock-bottom price. Some corners have been cut to get it this cheap, but with good sound quality and even water resistance, the Dime is a fine bargain indeed.

We've also added an oldie, but goodie, in the Panasonic ErgoFit RP-HJE120-K. You’ve likely seen these wired buds on the ears of several commuters or perhaps even owned a pair yourself when working with a limited budget. One thing is for sure, the sound and comfort you get out of them more than justify their generous price point.

The best cheap earbuds you can buy today

The JLab Go Air Pop displayed on a MacBook Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

1. JLab Go Air Pop

The best cheap earbuds overall

Specifications
Size: 0.9 x 1 x 0.9 inches
Weight: 0.1 ounces (per bud)
Control Module: Touch controls on earbuds
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Versatile audio+Ample battery life+Compact, sleek, and durable design+Unbeatable price
Reasons to avoid
-Unimpressive call quality

Number one on our list of the best cheap earbuds is a recently launched true wireless model: the JLab Go Air Pop. Serviceable in numerous ways, these buds are some of the smallest and most durable in the category, covered in solid plastic with IPX4 sweat and water resistance. Music sounds lively, thanks to three built-in EQs that JLab fine-tuned to give listeners a more personalized listening experience. Balance keeps audio neutral, while Bass Boost is self-explanatory and JLab Signature emphasizes bass and vocals. The most surprising hallmark on these buds must be battery life; a full charge generates 8 hours of playtime. Toss in a super-compact charging case with an integrated USB cable and you have a sweet package at an unbeatable price.

Though the Go Air Pop ranks No. 1, that doesn’t make it perfect. Those who want a more reliable calling headset or extra features to play with will want to spend extra on any one of the market’s best wireless earbuds.

Read our full JLab Go Air Pop review.

A listener playing music on the Sol Republic Jax

(Image credit: Sol Republic)

2. Sol Republic Jax

The best cheap earbuds with wires

Specifications
Size: 5 x 1.5 x 0.5 inches
Weight: 0.64 ounces
Control Module: Yes
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: No
Reasons to buy
+Powerful sonics+The best in-line remote in the category+Minimal leakage+Fun, vibrant colors
Reasons to avoid
-Certain songs can sound too bass-heavy

Budget earbuds with prominent bass are a rare find, and Sol Republic has you covered with what we consider the best cheap earbuds for wired enthusiasts: the Jax. These minimalist buds are powered by the company’s i2 Sound Engine, which feeds your eardrums with lots of boom and doesn’t distort sound, though the low end can become a bit overzealous on boomy hip-hop tracks.  You’ll also get some great noise isolation out of these buds as the tips create a tight seal to block out external sounds.

Sol Republic’s plastic design may feel flimsy, and the cable has a tendency of getting in the way when walking, but those are minor complaints in the grander scheme of things. The Jax’s sound, style, and serviceability are enough to win you over. Trust us, you’ll want to add two pairs to your shopping cart ASAP.

The Skullcandy Dime displayed on the ground

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

3. Skullcandy Dime

Great cheap earbuds with strong sound

Specifications
Size: 1 x 1 x 0.4 inches (per bud)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud)
Control Module: Touch controls on earbuds
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Superb sound for the price+Water resistance+Compact, trendy charging case+Secure fit
Reasons to avoid
-No app-Impractical controls-Short battery life

True wireless earbuds for less than $30? And good ones at that? Yes, the Skullcandy Dime is one of the most pleasant surprises around for earbud shoppers on tight budgets. Coming tucked into a charging case that's small enough to pass for a car key fob, the Dime quickly earned a place on this list with its impressive sound quality and robust build.

Thanks to IPX4-rated water resistance and a secure fit, it's even a respectable pick for running and workouts. Beware the low battery life, however: you'll struggle to get even four hours of playback per charge, though you can extend this on the go with that compact charging case.

Read our full Skullcandy Dime review.

Fit demonstrated on the Panasonic ErgoFit RP-HJE120-K

(Image credit: Panasonic)

4. Panasonic ErgoFit RP-HJE120-K

The best cheap earbuds for value

Specifications
Size: 1.9 x 1.8 x 1.9 inches
Weight: 0.1 ounces
Control Module: Yes (optional)
Microphone: Yes (optional)
Water Resistant: No
Reasons to buy
+Dynamic sound+Outstanding comfort and fit+Available in multiple colors+Unbeatable price
Reasons to avoid
-Wires are fragile

They might look like something that you would find behind the glass countertop at your local grocery store, but Panasonic’s tiny in-ears have been considered the best bang-for-the-buck deal for the past several years. The ErgoFit earbuds deliver crisp highs, warm mids, and deep lows despite their low price. Compared to other earbuds in their price range, the ErgoFit produces cleaner audio; the soundstage lends itself well to modern music genres like alternative rock, EDM, and hip hop.

Even better, they conform to the shape of your ear canal, creating a snug, but comfortable fit for those long jam sessions. Those who love to accessorize their headphones with their outfits will find a variety of colors, which should appeal to the fashion-conscious. You’re looking at 15 bold shades in total. Panasonic also sells the ErgoFit with or without a built-in mic, though the latter is preferable since it grants you the ability to answer calls.

The QCY T5S taken out of their charging case

(Image credit: QCY)

5. QCY T5S

Great sound and long battery life for a low price

Specifications
Size: 1.6 x 0.3 x 0.2 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.1 ounces
Control Module: Touch controls on earbuds
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Surprisingly good sound+Accompanying app+Comfy and snug Strong+Strong Bluetooth connection
Reasons to avoid
-Sensitive touch controls-Bass could be better

The Best Fake AirPods overall also make for some of the best cheap earbuds on the market. You’re asking what $25 gets you when investing in the QCY T5S? Let’s start with impressive sound quality, which is crisp and can be personalized via EQ or by selecting from a handful of presets. A Game Mode is available that lowers latency on audio when playing games and watching videos. On-ear detection is programmed into the buds for auto-off/on functionality. A popup pairing feature makes it easy to connect with compatible devices. Then there's the 6 hours of playback per charge, along with the charging case that holds an additional 29 hours

Bass isn’t as punchy as it is on other models, and the touch controls have a tendency of being overly sensitive at times. Should these flaws persuade you to look elsewhere? No, especially when accounting for the performance these buds offer at such a low price point.

Read our full QCY T5S review.

The 1More Piston Fit worn for audio testing

(Image credit: 1More)

6. 1More Piston Fit

The best-sounding cheap earbuds

Specifications
Size: 1 x 1 x 1 inches
Weight: 0.48 ounces
Control Module: Yes
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: No
Reasons to buy
+Sturdy, upscale design+Wide range of sound+Noteworthy fit+Decent call quality
Reasons to avoid
-Subpar noise isolation

The Piston Fit is the perfect example of how to create premium-looking earbuds for dirt cheap. 1More kitted these in-ear monitors with an aluminum alloy body and “Kevlar core cable” that’s designed to withstand the daily abuse you’ll put it through for months to come. As attractive as they look, the buds’ greatest attribute is its sound quality, which is remarkable for the price. You’ll enjoy clear, spacious audio that lets lows, mids, and highs breathe over orchestral recordings. Stereo separation is also impressive, making these buds ideal for mobile gaming and YouTube binging. 

The earphones come with three sets of extra tips to establish a customized fit. 1More sells the Piston Fit in four striking colors, too: Pink, Space Gray, Steel, and Teal. We do wish the buds came with volume controls and had more modern features, but even with these shortcomings, they stand out as one of the best cheap earbuds that chump change can buy.

Touch controls being demonstrated on the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air

(Image credit: Anker)

7. Anker Soundcore Liberty Air

Better sound than the AirPods at a fraction of the cost

Specifications
Size: 2.76 x 1.57 x 0.79 inches
Weight: 2.08 ounces (buds and charging case)
Control Module: Touch controls on earbuds
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Surprisingly good sound+Great comfort and fit+Passive noise isolation
Reasons to avoid
-Poor touch controls-No companion app support

Even though it has been on the market for more than two years, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air continues to age well and performs better than most sub-luxury wireless earbuds in some categories. These were some of the first buds to feature integrated ear tips on a long-stem design, something the original AirPods were hammered for, resulting in pleasant comfort and in-ear stability. But it’s the audio quality that will draw your attention, reproducing music and low-frequency sounds more clearly than Apple’s original wireless earbuds. We also found isolation adequate for minimizing ambient noises, giving you fuller sound.

The controls can act up at times and no Anker Soundcore app support is a bummer, but these shouldn’t be considered deal-breakers. To see them priced as low as $25 on Amazon (at the time of publishing) is shocking.

Read our full Anker Liberty Air review.

The Brainwavz Delta plugged to a smartphone

(Image credit: Brainwavz)

8. Brainwavz Delta

Awesome sound for the price

Specifications
Size: 6.50 x 2.56 x 1.38 inches
Weight: 0.49 ounces
Control Module: Yes
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: No
Reasons to buy
+Boisterous sound+Secure ear inserts+Tangle-free cords
Reasons to avoid
-Not universally compatible with iOS and Android-Lows can be muddy

We reviewed the Brainwavz Delta back in 2015 and found it to be one of the best $20 deals at the time. Five years later, we’re still singing its praises, especially now it's only $15. Inside the package comes five pairs of ear inserts to accommodate different ear canal shapes. We also love the comfort and fit these buds provide when on the move. Brainwavz’s simple, yet sleek design is fine for what it is (you shouldn’t expect premium quality at $15), and the inline remote grants you the basics for playback management: a pause/play button and a volume rocker. The cord doesn’t tangle so easily either.

Sound quality is impressive for the price point, with many songs offering up crisp vocals and mids, though bass does muddy up on songs with boomy beats. You should also know that Brainwavz sells two different versions (Android and iOS), so make sure you purchase the model that is most compatible with your smartphone before checking out.

Read our full Brainwavz Delta review.

A profile shot of the LifeBeam Vi being worn

(Image credit: Future)

9. LifeBeam Vi

Cheap running earbuds with a built-in virtual trainer

Specifications
Size: 7.5 x 6.5 x 3.25 inches
Weight: 1.3 ounces (buds and charging case)
Control Module: Multifunctional and volume buttons
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Insightful training tips+Very encouraging advice+Comfortable fit+Supports voice commands
Reasons to avoid
-Limited coaching-Could benefit from stronger bass

To score fitness earbuds with an AI personal trainer for just $20 sounds unbelievable, but you can thank Walmart for making this a reality. The LifeBeam Vi comes with a companion app that is limited to four options (free run, distance run, time run, cycling), but also provides expert tips to improve performance and set fitness goals. Some recommendations include trying new breathing patterns and swinging your arms. The wrap-around-the-neck design is comfortable to wear, and the multiple sets of tips and wings are great for achieving optimal fit. It’s also cool that the earbuds work with Siri or Google Assistant.

Not everything operates smoothly on the Vi. Bass doesn’t have as much oomph to it like other sports models and you can only ask the virtual coach a handful of questions.

Read our full LifeBeam Vi review.

Our reviewer testing call quality on the Apple EarPods

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

10. Apple EarPods (Lightning Version)

Cheap earbuds with iOS smarts

Specifications
Size: 2.68 x 1.1 x 3.46 inches
Weight: 0.4 ounces
Control Module: Yes
Microphone: Yes
Water Resistant: No
Reasons to buy
+iOS integration+Great in-line mic+Easy-to-use controls
Reasons to avoid
-Requires headphone jack-Sound isn’t great

The original wired EarPods have received a bad rap for being the giveaway accessory that Apple bundles with every iPhone, but no one wants. But for $30, it’s one of the cheapest and most effective replacements for your go-to (and damaged) iPhone headphones. Apple makes using the earbuds simple with a three-button module that produces great tactility and responds instantly to commands. Most importantly, they function very well with iOS devices, allowing for seamless playback, volume, and call management, along with instant access to Siri. The built-in mic also does a great job with speech recognition, making your voice sound clear and crisp on calls or when calling on Apple’s virtual assistant to perform its endless list of tricks.

We’re also aware the EarPods have their own set of issues that can’t be hidden behind their convenient use such as their cheap build quality and weak sound performance. Using the Lightning version also limits use to Apple products, though the company still sells its 3.5 connector version to use with all other audio devices.

How to choose the best cheap earbuds for you

When shopping for the best cheap earbuds, you’re looking for models that can offer the most performance and usage at the lowest cost possible. Sure, that might be asking a lot from any pair of earbuds or headphones priced under $50, but it’s not unrealistic.

Clearly, you want earbuds that sound good. Some companies have a great track record with audio, so seek out options with reputable namesakes. You’ll also discover some hidden gems from lesser known brands, though you’ll want to do your due diligence and research their credibility (e.g. consumer feedback, expert reviews). In any case, pick a pair that matches your sound preference.

Features are another priority. The limited hardware of cheap earbuds won’t allow them to offer the advanced feature sets of premium true wireless models, but you can still get practical use out of them. You’ll want a pair with a built-in controls for playback, call management, and volume; these controls may also support modern features like Google Assistant or Siri. A microphone is also important to answer calls on the go.

Accessories like extra ear tips are a huge bonus. These factor into comfort and fit, which is essential to enjoy music when commuting or listening at home for long stretches. 

Lastly, you need to decide what media device you’ll be using these earbuds with. Those who still own an MP3 player (e.g. iPod Classic, Zune) or use an older smartphone with a headphone jack are fine. However, others with a modern Apple or Android smartphone will need to use the headphone adapter that comes bundled with their device or purchase one online that is compatible with their device.

How we test the best cheap earbuds

When creating our list of the best cheap earbuds, Tom’s Guide looks not only at price, but also design, sound quality, and ease of use. Our reviewers also test available features such as controls, mics, and digital assistant support (if applicable).

During the testing phase, each pair of headphones are worn for 2 hours at a time throughout the course of a week. We evaluate how securely they fit and noise isolation.

In terms of sound quality, we listen to many tracks across multiple music genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical, and electronic, while evaluating volume, clarity and fullness. Movies, podcasts, and video games are considered, when necessary. We also make phone calls to assess both call quality and microphone performance.

Once we complete our testing, we rate the best cheap earbuds based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). Products that hit nearly every mark are awarded an Editors' Choice badge.