I tested 15 of Amazon’s cheapest headphones — here are the best and worst

Cheap headphones on Amazon
(Image credit: Future)

Our picks of the best cheap headphones and the best cheap earbuds showcase the quality you can get on a budget, even a relatively tight one. These days it’s even possible to get a fully-featured set of noise-cancelling headphones for less than $150, like the Cleer Enduro ANC.

But what if you want to go even cheaper? Amazon is stuffed with headphones and earbuds that don’t even break $25. And, while a lot of these are inevitably going to disappoint, it’s an area worth investigating to see if there are any pleasant surprises to be found.

To that end, I ordered 15 pairs of dirt-cheap headphones from Amazon and got to work testing them. These all ranked highly on Amazon’s “Featured” filter at the time of purchase, but it’s time to find out which of these low-cost headphones are actually good.

Amazon's cheapest headphones: Best to worst

Mpow 059 Lite

(Image credit: Future)

1. Mpow 059 Lite

Unlike the on-ear headphones below, this is a pair of over-ear headphones that gives your ears some precious breathing room. With bigger earcups and more than a modicum of soft padding in the headband, the Mpow 059 Lite is easily the most comfortable of the bunch. Like the 6S Wireless Headphones and iJoy Logo, this model is wireless with a 3.5mm port on hand for optional cabled use, and unlike the Lorelei X6, there are some handy onboard playback controls. These are smartly positioning towards the rear of the right earcup, so they’re easy to reach with a thumb.

The packaging’s promise of “Hi-Fi” sound is, to put it politely, over-ambitious. But generally, audio quality is good even on Bluetooth, with the 059 Lite delivering growling bass and high volume without distortion. Treble lacks a certain sparkle but the higher frequencies can cut through where it counts, like on Muse’s prog-tinged “Citizen Erased.”

Annoyingly, between ordering the Mpow 059 Lite and writing this, it’s vanished from Amazon. Luckily, you can get it from Walmart for the same low price.

Sony MDR-ZX110

(Image credit: Future)

2. Sony MDR-ZX110

Initially, the wired, on-ear Sony MDR-ZX110 looks like it could be a case of audio’s big players disappointing: there’s no padding whatsoever on the headband, and the ear cushions have the same trash bag texture as the Panasonic RP-HT161-K.

Mercifully, Sony’s effort is a million miles ahead of Panasonic’s on sound quality. In fact it’s the best-sounding pair of over- or on-ear headphones in this list, demonstrating a firm grasp on a multitude of genres. Biffy Clyro’s punchy, rocky “Tiny Indoor Fireworks” showed the MDR-ZX110 can avoid the boominess and muddiness of lesser entry-level headphones, while the Billie Holiday classic “Solitude” beautifully showcased her vocals.

There is a flimsiness to the design, and the dinky earcups don’t provide much of an effective seal against outside noise. It’s not exactly a wired version of the Sony WH-1000XM4, then, but if you only care about audio quality, the MDR-ZX110 has its dirt-cheap competition beat.

PowerLocus P2

(Image credit: Future)

3. PowerLocus P2

The PowerLocus P2 makes a good first impression, coming in a hard carry case and unfolding to show a clean-looking matte finish with subtle but handsome patterns around the headband and earcups. This set of wireless headphones also comes loaded with a commendable assortment of extras: like the 6S Wireless Headphones and iJoy Logo, you can play MP3s directly from a microSD card, or listen to FM radio. I found it much easier to get a strong signal than those other two headphones, as well.

The P2 does have the same trouble with uncontrolled bass that a lot of these cheap headphones share, resulting in a somewhat boomy soundstage, but it’s not too off-putting. The P2 is also comfortable by on-ear standards, though I’d still prefer the Mpow 059 Lite for longer listening sessions.

6S Wireless Headphones

(Image credit: Future)

4. 6S Wireless Headphones

Compared to over-ear designs, on-ear headphones are naturally at a comfort disadvantage. The 6S Wireless Headphones doesn’t do much to compensate for this, with its barely-there padding, but it’s light enough to remain comfier than the similar iJoy Logo below.

Otherwise, this is a pretty respectable pair of sub-$20 headphones. There’s a choice of Bluetooth and 3.5mm modes, as well as 6 different EQ profiles to select with the nicely tactile controls on the left earcup. Most of these are too bassy or too recessed, but a couple offer a listenable sonic balance. The 6S even has a  microSD card slot, so you can listen without a source device, and a built-in FM radio receiver. The latter is quite weak, though. I live in London, which isn't exactly out in the sticks, and couldn’t find a station without at least some fuzzy crackling.

iJoy Logo

(Image credit: Future)

As another pair of cheap on-ear headphones, the iJoy Logo has similar comfort issues to the 6S Wireless Headphones. Except this time it’s compounded by a tighter fit and the plastic-like texture of its faux leather ear cushions, which made it particularly unpleasant to wear.

The two pairs have a lot more in common, too. The Logo can also swap between Bluetooth and wired connections, play from an inserted microSD card, has six EQ presets to choose from, and is capable of at least decent sound quality if you select the right profile. There’s a lot of bass on offer, and most presets fail to keep it under control.

There’s even FM radio capability, again, and the Logo actually could tune me in to a station without any static. Even so, it’s only really good for outdoor listening: even when I’d simply come inside from my balcony, stations that came through clear outdoors would turn fuzzy.

Lorelei X6

(Image credit: Future)

6. Lorelei X6

Headphones don’t come more straightforward than the Lorelei X6. You put it on, you plug in the non-detachable 3.5mm cable and you listen. There are no surprise features or even any volume controls; there’s an inline mic module with a tiny pause/play button, but for volume or skipping, you’ll need to use the source device.

There’s an impressive amount of bulk and force to the sound signature, which definitely helps upbeat tracks like La Roux’s “Bulletproof” and Clutch’s “In Walks Barbarella,” though the most complex songs could do with better detail reproduction. The on-ear design, too, is agreeably secure but not comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time. The sole accessory you get is a carrying pouch, to stash the X6 when your ears inevitably get tired of it.

PeohZarr On-Ear Headphones (New Version)

(Image credit: Future)

7. PeohZarr On-Ear Headphones (New Version)

The tiny earcups of PeohZarr’s generically-named headphones made me worry if I’d accidentally purchased a child’s set, but nope: after some trial and error with headband placement I did eventually find a way to make it sit, somewhat comfortably, on my adult-sized head.

This is a wired-only design that’s seriously lacking in controls and bonus features, though the braided cable is thankfully resistant to rustling noises, and there’s an inline module with a mic and pause/play button. I also appreciated the fine balance between rich bass and more delicate detail in the sound signature, which gave a genre-benders like Jamie Berry’s “Lost in the Rhythm” the dynamism they needed.

Still, I can’t rightly recommend this pair of headphones, for one specific reason: the headband adjustment. Each earcup holds its position only very loosely, so they’re infuriatingly prone to sliding up and down whenever you’d handling them. Take the whole thing off and you’ll almost definitely need to re-adjust, probably while quietly swearing, before putting it back on.

Panasonic RP-HT161-K

(Image credit: Future)

8. Panasonic RP-HT161-K

Surely a big brand like Panasonic can put these no-name headphones in their place? Not so fast — the RP-HT161-K is attractively cheap and almost unbelievably light, but also a convincing argument in favor of more obscure alternatives.

First, there’s build quality. The RP-HT161-K’s lightness is seemingly only achieved by using the flimsiest headband and scratchiest plastic possible, while the thin earcup padding is covered is a material that both looks and feels and scrunched-up garbage bags. There are no controls, either onboard or inline (this is an exclusively wired set of over-ear headphones), and the audio is painfully lacking in low-end punch.

At well over 6 feet long, the 3.5mm cable also might suit a computer or stereo system, but is far too long to practically use with a phone when out and about.

Amazon's cheapest earbuds: Best to worst

1. Rienok True Wireless Earbuds

Rienok True Wireless Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)

At last, a pair of bonafide true wireless earbuds. And it’s a pretty good one too, at least for the money. Other than a relatively narrow soundstage and the occasional spot of unrefined bass, Rienok’s buds sound a lot better than I expected. And, despite lacking much in the way of ergonomic sculpting, the earpieces sit securely and comfortably. Fitting the correct size tips is important, as the bass disappears if they’re not fully pushed into you ear canals, though you get three different sizes in the box to help with this.

Even the touch controls work well, something that isn’t always a given on true wireless earbuds that cost ten times as much. Single and double taps play, pause or skip tracks, while long-pressing either bud adjusts volume: a function not even the AirPods Pro possesses with its fancy Force Sensors. You can even summon your phone’s digital assistant with a triple-tap.

Apple EarPods

(Image credit: Future)

2. Apple EarPods

 Although the EarPods doesn’t use snug, fully in-ear tips, limiting its usefulness when exercising, it’s a comfortable and uncharacteristically inexpensive pair of wired earbuds that you can get in either 3.5.mm or Apple Lightning flavors.

For a scant few dollars more, this is more finely crafted than the Amazon Basics earbuds — with a much less noisy cable ­ — and sounds vastly superior. Not that you should expect a like-for-like budget version of the AirPods Pro, but there’s a perfectly listenable balance of firm bass and sharp treble on offer. A quick play of Royal Blood’s live hit “Boilermaker” showcased the difference: weak and scratchy on the Amazon Basics headphones, lively and punchy on the EarPods.

Panasonic RP-TCM125-K

(Image credit: Future)

3. Panasonic RP-TCM125-K

Congratulations, Panasonic, you’ve redeemed yourself for the RP-HT161-K. Not only is the RP-TCM125-K comfortable and secure in the ear, with three sets of ear tips on hand for swapping, but it has the most powerful bass rumble of any of the cheap earbuds tested so far.

If anything, the low-end of these earbuds might be too much for some songs to handle. Energetic tracks like The Stroke’s “Reptilia” benefit from the extra kick, but in more delicate tracks could use a finer balance. Julien Baker’s “Souvenir,” for instance, lost a little of its ethereal quality.

Even so, occasional boominess is preferable to the emptiness of the Amazon Basics buds. The RP-TCM125-K has a wider choice of colors, too, and comes even cheaper if you buy the no-mic version.

Mpow Flame

(Image credit: Future)

4. Mpow Flame

Even if you discount the fact that so few fitness-focused headphones are available at this price level, the Mpow Flame still makes an impressive first impression. You get a mostly wireless design — a cable connects the two earpieces, running behind your neck — a cute, circular carry case and no fewer than five sets of replaceable ear tips.

The fit could stand to be firmer, even with the ear loops, though an IPX7 rating gives the Flame more than enough credentials in the sweatproofing department. Sound quality is decent, too: instrument separation is clean, and a wide soundstage further helps you appreciate all of a song’s components.

The Flame’s soft-touch cable also avoids a problem I have with this kind of half-wired, half-wireless headphones: the cable bouncing on your neck when running. Instead, it pretty much stays resting in place.

Vogek Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)

5. Vogek Earbuds

While I don’t care for the Vogek Earbuds’ chunky cabling, it’s a very serviceable pair of in-ear headphones. The dinky earpieces sit comfortably, especially if you’ve taken advantage of the removable tips and choice of three included sizes, and aren’t prone to falling out unless you pull on them.

The Vogek’s sound signature also strikes a spacious yet bass-rich balance, granting the percussion in Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” an appropriately heavy-hitting quality. These buds can also go seriously loud without distortion, so can suffice on subway trains and in other noisy environments.

The treble lacks sparkle, but generally this is a very decent alternative to the Apple EarPods if you’d prefer a fully in-ear design.

Amazon Basics In-Ear Wired Headphones

(Image credit: Future)

6. Amazon Basics In-Ear Wired Headphones

Amazon’s very own wired buds are not worth getting excited about. The build quality might just be the worst I’ve seen: the cable is noisy, there’s no stability to the in-ear fit, and the plastic used to make the earbud housing might as well be cut out from Coke bottle lids.

This pair is rock-bottom cheap, to be fair, but I’ve bought better-made buds at this price from supermarkets. It’s not rescued by audio quality, either: there are glimpses of decent detail reproduction, but the bass is barely there, so rock songs have an unsatisfying wiriness to them while pop songs don’t…well, pop.

Amazon has at least included an inline mic with a pause/play button, as well as three sizes of ear tips, but performance-wise the Amazon Basic In-Ear Wired Headphones is barely an upgrade on just imagining music in your head.

VPB Heavy Bass Earphone

(Image credit: Future)

7. VPB Heavy Bass Earphone

Despite the singular name, this is actually four pairs of wired earbuds for the price of one: you get white, black, pink and yellow models all in the same box. Unfortunately, if you buy the VPB Heavy Bass Earphone, all this means is that you’ll have four sets of awful headphones cluttering up a drawer instead of just one.

Sound quality is abysmal, exhibiting a lumpen mushiness that robs everything from synths to guitar solos of their sharpness and impact. It’s especially bad for vocals, with even star-led singles like The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” lacking any singalong excitement.

The build quality is marginally better than that of the Amazon Basics earbuds, but the fit is insecure and you can’t swap out the tips for more snugness. Only buy if you need a gift for a family of four that you don’t like very much.

Cheap Amazon headphones: Verdict

Yes, you can indeed find good-quality headphones and earbuds for under $25 — there just aren’t very many of them.

Of the over-ear and on-ear models, the Mpow 059 Lite is your best bet overall. It won’t crush your ears, can connect wirelessly and sounds reasonably good: a combination that’s common at higher prices but is far from a given in this bargain bucket territory. Alternatively, the Sony MDR-ZX110 will satisfy anyone primarily concerned with pure audio performance, even if it is a little flimsy.

There are a few in-ear diamonds in the rough too. The Apple EarPods, Panasonic RP-TCM125-K and Vogek Earbuds all provide satisfying music playback, but I was most impressed by the Rienok True Wireless Earbuds. The Skullcandy Dime recently proved that enjoyable true wireless buds can be had for under $30, but Rienok’s effort is even cheaper, without even making many serious compromises.

James Archer

James is currently Hardware Editor at Rock Paper Shotgun, but before that was Audio Editor at Tom’s Guide, where he covered headphones, speakers, soundbars and anything else that intentionally makes noise. A PC enthusiast, he also wrote computing and gaming news for TG, usually relating to how hard it is to find graphics card stock.