As our guide to the best cheap wireless earbuds demonstrates, there’s nothing wrong with wanting premium performance for the lowest price possible. While it’s great to own some of the best wireless earbuds money can buy, such as the $299 Sony WF-1000XM5 or $249 AirPods Pro 2, the splurge isn’t always justifiable. What happens if they break or need to be replaced? That’s another expense bleeding your wallet dry if your're not happy to wait for a bargain to come along in the holiday sales and bag one of the best headphone deals.
But being budget conscious doesn’t mean you’re settling for poor quality. Some of the best cheap wireless earbuds offer a nice balance of great battery life, features, sound, and even active noise cancellation. Plus, I’ve also found 5 wireless earbuds under $50 that beat the AirPods on sound.
Everyone has their go-to audio brands, be it an Amazon darling like Anker or luxury staples such as Sennheiser. The good news is that many of these big names sell wireless earbuds at relatively affordable prices. Some deliver the brand experience you’re accustomed to, but others... well, not so much.
Here, I grabbed every major audio brand’s most affordable wireless earbuds I could think of and tested them to determine whether they’re worth purchasing. See which ones stand out and which are best left on the shelf.
1.Apple AirPods 2
Nearly five years after their release and the AirPods 2 remain excellent entry-level buds. The older H1 chip is still a processing heavyweight that communicates with iOS/macOS for seamless integration with Apple devices. Common Apple features like audio sharing, automatic switching, “Hey Siri” voice activation, and wireless charging are accounted for. Touch controls and wear detection operate with precision. Call quality is also terrific for clear-sounding FaceTime chats.
The open-ear design provides zero noise isolation. Nonetheless, sound is adequate for enjoying music in quiet environments, plus you can customize the soundstage via the EQ setting in iOS or Apple Music. Battery life doesn’t last long at 5 hours per charge, but the 24-hour MagSafe charging case and quick charging (5 minutes = 1 hour) help soften the blow.
Certain omissions (e.g., adaptive EQ, ANC, spatial audio) might make the AirPods 2 feel obsolete compared to newer releases. However, Apple’s commitment to software updates keeps them fresh and functional for all Apple users.
Verdict: Highly recommended for iPhone and Mac owners on a budget, but Apple also has another cheap and platform-friendly model listed below.
Read our full AirPods 2 (2019) review.
2. Bose Sport Earbuds
The Sport Earbuds are satisfactory running headphones. Bose’s proprietary drivers and Active EQ technology produce dynamic sound to hear details and vocals clearly. Bass isn’t as powerful as what you’ll get from some of the best workout headphones, but it’s enough to increase adrenaline levels before an intense workout. Call quality is decent for making voice and video calls on the go. Build quality is also top tier with a solid plastic frame and IPX4 sweat and water resistance.
Unfortunately, the durable design makes for an uncomfortable wear after 45 minutes of use. You don’t gain access to popular app features like EQ or Self Voice for emphasizing vocals on calls. Then there’s the disappointing battery life: 5 hours per charge (buds) and 15 hours total from the charging case. Lastly, no ANC, which is the main reason to invest in the best Bose headphones and earbuds.
Verdict: Bose fans will appreciate the Sport Buds effective sound and call quality, though there are better-performing fitness options out there at lower prices.
Read our full Bose Sport Earbuds review.
3. Sony WF-C500
The WF-C500 are a top value choice that support several Sony sound technologies, including 360 Reality Audio, DSEE upscaling, and the customizable EQ with multiple presets. Each one complements the buds’ warm and energetic sound profile. Bluetooth 5.2 maintains strong connectivity and wireless range (up to 80 feet). Style isn’t a strength, but the translucent charging case is a nice touch that deserves as much attention as the Beats Studio Buds+ see-through design. Best of all, these buds play music longer than most upscale models: 10 hours per charge.
Call quality could be better, and the cool-looking charging case doesn’t hold much portable power (20 hours). Still, these are miniscule complaints when factoring in overall performance.
Verdict: The best true wireless Sony value you’ll find.
Read our full Sony WF-C500 review.
4. Sennheiser CX
While we gave the Sennheiser CX a favorable review at launch, they have proven to be less appealing over time. That’s mainly because their successor, the superb Sennheiser CX Plus, are such a significant upgrade.
These first-gen buds do have redeemable qualities such as bass-rich sound and lengthy playtimes (up to 9 hours per charge). A compact charging case, full EQ customization, and strong connectivity add to their value. At the same time, they’re missing popular features that other sub-$100 models offer such as ANC, Bluetooth multipoint, Google Fast Pair, and wear detection. The dull design and middling call quality don’t bring much to the table either.
Verdict: Decent for the price, but the CX Plus is the superior investment and currently discounted to $118 at Amazon.
Read our full Sennheiser CX review.
5. JBL Vibe Beam
JBL has released numerous low-priced earbuds over the past two years and the Vibe Beam are the best of the group. Although we haven't reviewed them at Tom's Guide, I've had some personal experience with them elsewhere. The sound is neutral out of the box and can be tweaked in the JBL Headphones app by swapping out the default EQ for one of four presets: Bass, Extreme Bass, Jazz, or Vocal. Bass offers the best listening experience by increasing the low end without compromising the midrange. The transparency modes (Ambient Aware, TalkThru) work surprisingly well for boosting environmental awareness and hearing vocals clearly when keeping the buds on.
Build quality is top notch with IP54 dust/water resistance protecting the buds and IPX2 water resistance covering the charging case. The sleek, muted design looks better in person. We’re also happy with the 8 hours of playtime (per charge) these buds provided, along with their highly responsive touch controls and strong connectivity.
Not all JBL signature features made the cut. Call quality is mediocre as well. Nonetheless, the Vibe Beam check off more boxes than the average set of luxury buds, which says a lot.
Verdict: Shockingly great with a host of features you won’t find on any other sub-$40 wireless earbuds. They are currently available to buy for $39 at Amazon.
6. Beats Studio Buds
The original Studio Buds are an outstanding pickup for those that want Apple’s popular feature set in Beats packaging. Where these buds differentiate from all AirPods is compatibility. A proprietary chipset was developed for optimal pairing with iOS and Android, giving you the best of both mobile worlds. You’re able to customize controls and instantly connect to your last recognized device, while enjoying flagship features like voice activation (“Hey Siri” or “Hey Google)” and spatial audio, which is satisfying, but much better on the AirPods. The combination of an 8.2mm dual-element diaphragm driver and custom designed transducer produces crisp hi-fi sound across all media formats and streaming services. ANC is also effective for silencing most incidental sounds.
Not all of Apple’s performance hallmarks are carried over. Some H1-powered features are missing, along with wireless charging. Call quality isn’t anything to brag about either. Despite these shortcomings, the Studio Buds are a must-own for any Android or iOS user at their current price.
Verdict: These are undeniably Apple’s best budget earbuds.
Read our full Beats Studio Buds review.
7. Jabra Elite 3
Another model I've reviewed elsewhere, Jabra's entry-level buds undercut the competition with great call quality, select features, and versatile audio for under $60. Sound is crisp and dynamic, and it can be tweaked by manually adjusting frequencies via customizable EQ or selecting from six well-engineered presets. Having the company’s patented HearThrough mode for ambient listening is beneficial, as well as the Call Experience setting for increasing voice quality on calls. The steady playtimes are also significant: 7 hours per charge and 28 hours with charging case.
The Elite 3 don’t look or feel as premium as other Elite models, nor do they have the same flagship specs as the Elite 7 Active. Even so, these grievances become afterthoughts the moment you hear these buds in action.
Verdict: In a true wireless series with several hits and misses, the Elite 3 are a home run.
8. Bowers & Wilkins Pi5
B&W’s most affordable buds are beautifully constructed from matte plastic and sturdy aluminum with IP54 water resistance. They also produce rich, spacious sound. Bass is strong and blends well with crisp mids and vibrant highs for full frequency representation. B&W’s noise-cancelling technology works to reduce high amounts of external sounds in loud settings. Responsive touch controls and voice assistance make for fuss-free usability.
Battery life is the big red flag on these buds, tapping out at 4.5 hours, which is lower than the basic AirPods. The wireless charging case doesn’t hold much either (24.5 hours). Not to mention it lacks the Pi7’s wireless adapter feature to retransmit and stream audio in aptX from any compatible analog audio output. These are flaws you’ll want to consider before purchasing.
Verdict: Top-tier audio at their current price point, though the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 are the better buy.
Read our full Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 review.
9. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Samsung gets credit for trying something new with the Galaxy Buds Live. These buds offer fantastic sound quality. The 12mm AKG-tuned speakers make music sound lively and more accurate. Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app hosts six different presets that represent their categories well and the Gaming Mode reduces latency when playing games and watching videos. Battery life holds up well with 6 to 8 hours of listening time available per charge.
Unfortunately, their bean-shaped design is a bust. The loose fit is problematic and the oversensitive touch controls are frustrating to deal with. ANC is also disappointing compared to Samsung’s other noise-cancelling entries.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.