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The best cheap headphones in 2022: Big sound for $50 or less

Hero image for best cheap headphones buying guide showing our reviewer with the Beats Flex
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The best cheap headphones are all about getting maximum quality for the smallest possible investment. That’s not to say that these are just the cheapest working headphones and earbuds we can find; we’ve tested them all to make sure that despite their low prices, they really can deliver on sound quality, comfort and practicality.

The models selected here aren’t the best headphones overall, but they're reliable and serve up decent sound quality with music and podcasts for a fraction of the cost of some models from more established brands. Read on to find out our pick of the best cheap headphones that won't stretch your wallet. 

If your budget can run a little further, then don't forget to check out our best wireless earbuds for under $100.   

Top 3 of the best cheap headphones

Best cheap headphones for value: JLab Go Air Pop
Our top pick of the best cheap headphones is the JLab Go Air Pop. This is something very rare indeed: a pair of true wireless earbuds, and pretty good ones too, for $20. It even comes IPX4-rated, so it could act as a budget alternative to the best sports earbuds (opens in new tab) if you want something that can resist rain and sweat.

Best cheap headphones for fake AirPods: EarFun Air
The EarFun Air ranks top on our best fake AirPods (opens in new tab) for its Apple inspired design with bright and crisp sound. Its noise-canceling mics do a fantastic job of limiting ambient noise from entering phone or video calls. Then there’s the IPX7 certification for waterproofing, which all adds up to a great budget choice.

Best cheap headphones for performance: Beats Flex
The Beats Flex deliver a balanced performance in almost every category. The wired link style may not be for everyone but the inline mic is effective for call quality and Siri use. With lengthy battery life and exceptional connectivity on both iOS and Android, the Beats Flex continues to be an attraction option at the price.  

The best cheap headphones you can buy today

The JLab Go Air Pop held in handbest value awards badge

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)
The best cheap headphones for true wireless fans

Specifications

Size: 0.9 x 1 x 0.9 inches
Weight: 0.1 ounces (per bud)
Battery life (rated): 8 hours, 32 hours (with charging case)
Bluetooth range: 35 feet
Digital assistant support: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Versatile audio
+
Good battery life
+
Sweat and water-resistant

Reasons to avoid

-
Unimpressive call quality
-
No companion app or extra features

It turns out you don’t have to spend more than $20 to purchase a top-notch AirPods alternative. The JLab Go Air Pro is proof, housing a dynamic soundstage and 32-hour battery inside a sturdy, IPX4-protected design for sweat and water resistance. Three EQs are programmed into the buds, each one capable of enhancing sound quality based on your preference. Bass Boost is self-explanatory, while Balanced gives audio a neutral presence and JLab Signature offers a bit of both; we recommend sticking with the latter.

Up to 8 hours per charge is generous for buds this inexpensive, so is bundling the buds with a compact charging case that holds 4 extra charges and comes with an integrated USB cable for charging on the go. The different color options are enticing too: Black, Lilac, Rose, Slate, Teal.                                                                                                                                

Read our full JLab Go Air Pop review.

The EarFun Air connected to a smartphone

(Image credit: EarFun)
The best AirPods alternative

Specifications

Size: 2.1 inches x 2 inches x 1.3 inches (charging case)
Weight: 1.8 ounces (charging case)
Battery life (rated): 7 hours, 35 hours (with charging case)
Bluetooth range: 50 feet
Digital assistant support: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Good sound quality
+
Waterproof
+
Noise-cancelling mics
+
Lengthy wireless range

Reasons to avoid

-
Unreliable fit
-
Tricky touch controls

The EarFun Air ranks at No. 1 on our list of the best fake AirPods for many reasons. Let’s start with audio, which is bright and crisp to hear vocals and instruments more distinctly. This level of sound translates well to videos and podcasts as well. Second, the noise-cancelling mics do a fantastic job of limiting the number of ambient noises that enter phone or video calls. Bluetooth 5.0 functions well, providing strong connectivity and up to 50 feet of wireless listening. Then there’s the design, which is clearly inspired by the original AirPods, but sleeker and sturdier with IPX7 certification, making these buds waterproof.

Fit is often loose, though you can customize it by swapping out the installed tips for any of the three different size pairs in the box; the AirPods doesn’t even come with ear tips. The touch controls could also use some work, but with some patience, you’ll have a full suite of functions that can be enabled through basic tap gestures.

Read our full EarFun Air review.

The Beats Flex wireless earbuds and packaging

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)
Great value wireless flex headphones

Specifications

Size: 4 x 0.6 x 34 inches
Weight: 0.66 ounces
Battery life (rated): Up to 12 hours
Bluetooth range: 30 feet
Digital assistant support: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Stable battery life
+
Intuitive, responsive controls
+
Ideal for movies and podcasts
+
Strong mics for calls and digital assistant use

Reasons to avoid

-
Sound could be better for music
-
No IP rating

Did you ever think Beats would release $50 wireless earbuds? Neither did we, but fortunately for budget shoppers, the Flex is a no-brainer purchase if you want many of Beats’ hallmarks (e.g. flashy design, long playtimes, acceptable call quality) in a super-affordable package. Even with Apple’s older W1 processor at the helm, you’re given plenty of useful features to work with, including easy pairing with iDevices, Fast-Fuel technology to speed up charging, and audio sharing. We’re also surprised by how good the audio quality is on these buds, particularly with movies and podcasts.

It is disappointing to see that there is no water or sweat resistance, plus the bass levels don’t knock as hard as they should for a device bearing the Beats logo. However, performance is equally balanced in almost every category.

See our full Beats Flex review.

The Skullcandy Dime displayed on a brick floor

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)
The best cheap wireless earbuds below $30

Specifications

Size: 1 x 1 x 0.4 inches
Weight: Not stated
Battery life (rated): Up to 12 hours
Bluetooth range: Not specified
Digital assistant support: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
True wireless design
+
High sound quality
+
Full waterproofing

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited battery life
-
Fiddly controls

We suspect that for most people, "cheap" wireless earbuds would cost somewhere in the $100 dollar range, but the Skullcandy Dime delivers surprising quality for a fraction of that. Besides sounding better than we would ever have expected, their compact design is fully waterproof to the IPX7 standard: something even a lot of top-tier buds don't bother with.

Is there a catch? Battery life could be a lot better — you only get about 3.5 hours of playback per charge — and the touch controls aren't as reliable as we'd like. But hey, they let you ditch wires completely and only cost $25. That's worth some misfiring sensors.

Read our full Skullcandy Dime review

PR shot of Jabra Move in red cut out on a white background

(Image credit: Jabra)
Jabra sound with some smart capabilities

Specifications

Size: 7.09 x 7.56 x 1.25 inches
Weight: 5.64 ounces
Battery life: 8 hours
Bluetooth range: 30 feet
Digital assistant support: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight, durable design
+
Loud, balanced audio
+
Comfortable fit

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively short battery life
-
Controls can be finicky

Some wireless headphones age well, and the Jabra Move Wireless is one of them. Nearly six years old, these colorful cordless cans still deliver clear, balanced sound, courtesy of Jabra’s proprietary Digital Signal Processor (DSP). You’ll get a nice blend of lows, mids, and highs that not many models can match at this price point. The lightweight design is comfortable on the head and when worn around the neck. Build quality is decent with a pliable frame and dirt-resistant headband. We’re also attracted to the stylish colors: Coal (Black), Cayenne (Red), and Cobalt (Blue). 

Battery life will seem super short compared to modern standards: 8 hours on a single charge doesn’t seem like a lot. The control scheme could have also been programmed better, as the touch sensors often confuse tap gestures.

Read our full Jabra Move Wireless review.

How to choose the best cheap headphones for you

Just because you’re spending less doesn’t mean you’re settling for less. You want to get the most bang for your buck when shopping for the best cheap headphones, and the one way to ensure this is by checking off a few essentials from the list.

Audio takes precedence over all other features. You want headphones that produce clean, balanced sound and solid bass. Some models might even offer built-in equalizer options (e.g. JLab) to personalize the soundstage based on your hearing.

Design comes second, which includes build quality, along with comfort and fit. Look for headphones that are durable and pliable; you want to know these things can survive whatever daily abuse you put them through. They should also feel cozy and pleasant on the skull when worn for long stretches, while creating a seal around the ears to keep out external noises.

Keep in mind that cheaper headphones are often wired, though if you’re looking for a cord-free experience, there are plenty of wireless headphones available as well. Just make sure they come with at least 15 hours of playtime on a full charge and Bluetooth 4.0.

How we test the best cheap headphones

As with most of our headphone roundups, we based our list of the best cheap headphones not only on price, but also design, sound, and ease of use. Available features such as controls, mics, and digital assistant support are tested as well.

Our reviewers wear each pair of headphones for 2 hours at a time throughout the testing phase. From there, they evaluate how comfy and securely they fit, along with how well they isolate noise. 

For sound quality, we evaluate volume, clarity, and fullness by listening to many songs across different music genres. This includes hip hop, rock, jazz, classical, and electronica just to name a few. Movies, podcasts, and video games are considered, when necessary. Our reviewers make phone calls to assess call quality and microphone performance too.

Find out what we listen for during our testing process and how to get the best headphone sound for you.

After testing is completed, our reviewers rate the best cheap headphones on Tom’s Guide five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). Products that hit nearly every mark receive an Editor's Choice badge.  

As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.

With contributions from