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The best cheap earbuds in 2020

Best cheap earbuds
(Image credit: Dilvpoetry)

Shopping for the best cheap earbuds is a lot more difficult than you might think. We’re not talking noise-cancelling headphones or wireless earbuds loaded with high-powered specs and special features here. That all comes at a premium. Those who are working with a super-tight budget (in this case, $35 and under), and just want something to accompany them daily and fill their ears with engaging sound have to look even harder through the bargain bin for quality selections.

Having tested out numerous models, we’ve evaluated and ranked 10 of the best cheap earbuds based on sound quality, design, comfort, and purpose. There are also some cheap sports earbuds that we’ve tested to see how they stand up to our everyday routines. Let’s go into our favorite pickups.

What are the best cheap earbuds?

Based on our testing, we rate the Sol Republic Jax as the best cheap earbuds available right now. 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.

Second on our list is the RHA MA390 Universal, one of the most critically praised models in the category over the past three years. You’ll enjoy deep bass, which complements contemporary music genres. The earbuds are also capable of handling mids and highs well on orchestral recordings. Design-wise, it’s a beauty with aluminum driver housings and a braided wire to prevent the cables from easily ripping.

A classic that has been featured in many of our roundups, the Panasonic ErgoFit RP-HJE120-K remains a trusty option for its amazing comfort and surprisingly good sound reproduction. There isn’t a better pair of earbuds out there priced under $10. Another favorite of ours is the 1More Piston Fit, which blends warm sound into a striking translucent design. Let’s not forget the Apple EarPods either, a go-to for many budget iPhone owners over the years that deserve inclusion based on its convenient iOS functionality.

The best cheap earbuds you can buy today

Best cheap earbuds: Sol Republic Jax

(Image credit: Sol Republic)

1. Sol Republic Jax

The best cheap earbuds overall

Size: 5 x 1.5 x 0.5 inches | Weight: 0.64 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

Powerful sonics
The best in-line remote in the category
Minimal leakage
Fun, vibrant colors
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 in general: the Jax. These minimalist buds are powered by the company’s i2 Sound Engine, which feeds your ear drums 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.

best cheap earbuds: RHA MA390 Universal

(Image credit: RHA)

2. RHA MA390 Universal

Budget earbuds with premium performance

Size: 0.47 x 0.59 x 53.15 inches | Weight: 0.53 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

Powerful bass
Amazing build quality for the price
Plenty of accessories
Three-year warranty
Microphone quality could be better

At $30, the RHA MA390 Universal is a wired in-ear stunner that boasts a bass-forward and wide soundstage in a beautifully crafted design. Lows are emphasized and blend nicely with mids and highs, producing clear, warm audio on most recordings. The earpieces are covered in durable aluminum casing, while the universal remote module is housed in a solid plastic mold and the wire is wrapped in braided fabric to ensure the protection of cable components. You also get a bunch of accessories (ear tips, shirt clip, mesh carrying pouch) and a three-year warranty as part of the purchase.

The inline mic is disappointing, as it struggles to pick up vocals during phone calls and when using Siri. Then again, it’s a small complaint when compared to the overall value these buds offer at such a low price.

Best cheap earbuds: Panasonic ErgoFit RP-HJE120-K

(Image credit: Panasonic)

3. Panasonic ErgoFit RP-HJE120-K

The best cheap earbuds value

Size: 1.9 x 1.8 x 1.9 inches | Weight: 0.1 ounces | Control Module: Yes (optional) | Microphone: Yes (optional) | Water Resistant: No

Dynamic sound
Outstanding comfort and fit
Available in multiple colors
Unbeatable price
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.

Best cheap earbuds: 1More Piston Fit

(Image credit: 1More)

4. 1More Piston Fit

The best-sounding cheap earbuds

Size: 1 x 1 x 1 inches | Weight: 0.48 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

Sturdy, upscale design
Wide range of sound
Noteworthy fit
Decent call quality
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.

Best cheap earbuds: Dilvpoetry KZ ZST Dynamic Hybrid Dual Driver In-Ear Earphones

(Image credit: Dilvpoetry)

5. Dilvpoetry KZ ZST Dynamic Hybrid Dual Driver In-Ear Earphones

Boom-filled sound in a brawny design

Size: 4 x 2.9 x 1.3 inches | Weight: 0.68 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

Dominant bass-forward profile
Attractive, ergonomic design
Detachable cable system
Very sturdy
Vocals are masked over boomy productions

Dilvpoetry is mostly known for their headphone amps, but it turns out the company also creates some great-sounding IEMs. The KZ ZST is exemplary of this, offering listeners quality comfort and sound reproduction. Lows have a nice boomy presence, while still allowing mids to shine on melodic recordings (e.g. jazz music). On the other hand, bass-heavy content will eclipse distinct vocals and instruments, so be mindful of this when selecting your Spotify playlists.

The buds’ ergonomic design is another bonus; it fits most ear sizes and is housed in lightweight plastic that provides great protection. Would it have been great if the casing around the buds was a bit smaller? Sure. Is it a deal-breaker? Not at all. Even though color options are limited to black and what I would describe as cosmic purple, the latter looks so fresh that you’ll consider purchasing these based on appearance alone.

Best cheap earbuds: House of Marley Smile Jamaica

(Image credit: House of Marley)

6. House of Marley Smile Jamaica

Big bass in an eco-friendly package

Size: 2.76 x 1.57 x 0.79 inches | Weight: 0.63 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

Full bass response
Beautiful craftsmanship for the price
Adequate in-line controls
Tangle-resistant braided cable
Mids and highs get lost on bass-heavy records

Functional, well-constructed, and capable of producing loud sonics, House of Marley’s budget earphones check off several boxes on our best cheap earbuds must-have list. Staying true to the brand’s mission statement of creating quality audio products from sustainable materials, the Smile Jamaica is made from solid African wood, which comes in different shades and gives the buds a refined look. Adding to its stout feel is a fabric cable that won’t break so easily when caught on other objects. 

HoM does a praiseworthy job with programming multiple commands (e.g. play/pause music, answer/end call, skip/forward track) into the one-button remote control. It’s just unfortunate that there is no option to manage volume. While the Smile Jamaica comes with two sets of ear tips, we would have appreciated a carrying pouch for portable convenience, especially after seeing how attractive the earbuds look in person.

Best cheap earbuds: JBL Tune 210

(Image credit: JBL)

7. JBL Tune 210

Affordable earphones with JBL sound

Size: 2.4 x 1.6 x 6.9 inches | Weight: 2.82 | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

JBL’s patented Pure Bass Sound technology
Exceptional comfort
Fair noise isolation
Slip out often
Awkward headphone jack

Brand recognition plays a pivotal role when spending your money wisely, so when you find a pair of great-sounding JBL earbuds for under $25, don’t hesitate to purchase them. The Tune 210 stands out for having an accentuated low end that doesn’t come on too strong and gives the midrange room to breathe over bass-heavy recordings.

What’s more impressive is the build quality, an area where JBL hasn’t always garnered critical praise. The earbuds feature a sturdy two-piece plastic design made to endure constant use, which is accompanied by a flat, thin wire that is flexible and prevents knots. They provided pleasant comfort when slipping them into my ears, though I noticed the tips didn’t hold up well against sweat, resulting in some slippage. The angled headphone jack can also suffer from wear and tear quickly since it sticks out, making it more difficult to store connected audio devices in denim pockets.

best cheap earbuds: Apple EarPods

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

8. Apple EarPods (Lightning Version)

Cheap earbuds with iOS smarts

Size: 2.68 x 1.1 x 3.46 inches | Weight: 0.4 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

iOS integration
Great in-line mic
Easy-to-use controls
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.

best cheap earbuds: JBL Endurance Run

(Image credit: JBL)

9. JBL Endurance Run

The best cheap sport earbuds

Size: 3.75 x 1.37 x 6.30 inches | Weight: 0.64 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: Yes

Energetic sound
Secure-fitting design
Can be worn two ways
No volume controls
No carrying case

Great fitness headphones for under $20 may seem far-fetched, but JBL has made it a reality with these sporty wired in-ears. The Endurance Run has a driving low-end signature that feeds your ear drums loud, precise bass and doesn’t distort sound. Highs have presence (a rare trait for earbuds in this price range) with crisp delivery to hear effects and instruments clearer in recordings. Gym rats will appreciate the two-way design that allows the buds to be worn traditionally with the cable dropped down or by looping it over the ear, while enjoying the secure fit JBL’s TwistLock pieces provide. You also get five colors to choose from: Black, Blue, Red, Teal, and Yellow.

While the Endurance Run is sweatproof and won’t break if dropped onto the concreate, a storage pouch would have been appreciated to store them on the go. Also, having one button on the inline remote means JBL had to compromise on certain functions, which in this case is volume adjustment.

Best cheap earbuds: Sony MDR-XB50AP Extra Bass Headphones

(Image credit: Sony)

10. Sony MDR-XB50AP Extra Bass Headphones

Sony sound at an unbeatable value

Size: 2.63 x 1.50 x 6.75 inches | Weight: 0.28 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

Extra Bass technology
Premium construction
Minimal leakage
Can produce too much bass on certain tracks
Stick out unflatteringly

Some of the Best Sony headphones come at a premium, but in certain cases, you’ll find a pair buried in the bargain bin that delivers far more value than the price suggests. That’s our introduction to the Sony MDRXB50AP. These solidly built in-ears don’t skimp on the low end, blasting deep, sometimes excessively loud bass, which you’ll enjoy most at a mid-level volume. The ear tips create a nice seal that keeps the earphones stabilized and minimizes sound bleeding. Most impressive is the build quality, which is made up of metal and quality plastics.

As much as we enjoy Sony’s Extra Bass technology running the audio point, it also muddies the soundstage when indulging in boom-centric songs; 90’s hip hop can be a rough listen at max volume. In addition, the earpiece design sticks out, and not in the most flattering way.

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 take on the same advanced feature set as a pair of true wireless earbuds, but you can still get practical use out of them. You’ll want a model with a built-in remote 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.