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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.

Where exactly do you start? Should you go with a pair of fitness buds or something more fashion-forward? Does sound take precedence over features? Or do you want something that offers a little of everything? With so many different brands and styles to choose from, we wanted to help you make the right choice before spending your hard-earned cash. 

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 1More Piston Fit, one of the most underrated models in the category. Its midrange and sub-bass are on point, producing well-balanced sound that you would likely experience on headphones listed at triple the price of these buds. Build quality is another area where the Piston Fit surpasses its value, thanks to its aluminum casing and pliable cable. 

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 Dilvpoetry KZ ZST, which blends warm sound into a striking translucent design. 

Sporty types will be drawn to the MEE Audio Sport-Fi M6, one of the very few models in the category with great on-ear stability and water resistance. Music won’t sound as lively as it does on the Beats Powerbeats Pro or most other cheap running headphones, but its enjoyable enough to get through intense workouts.

There are many more options we have selected to represent our expert picks that are worth the look. Here is our full list of the best cheap earbuds right now.

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
Plastic design feels cheap

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: 1More Piston Fit

(Image credit: 1More)

2. 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
No volume controls

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: 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
Controls and microphone version costs extra

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

(Image credit: Dilvpoetry)

4. 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
Large housing

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)

5. 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
Very little accessories

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: Philips Pro Wired Earbuds

(Image credit: Philips)

6. Philips Pro Wired Earbuds

Great function and sound for the value

Size: 6.8 x 2 x 1 inches | Weight: 1.6 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

Broad frequency response
Sleek metallic design
Includes multiple ear tip sizes
Sounds low at max volume
Control module feels cheap

For $20, the Philips Pro is a reasonable pickup for anyone who wants fancy sound in a fancier package. The 8.6mm drivers stuffed underneath the hood pump out strong audio without compromising clarity or detail; you get some really great reproduction with well-controlled bass here. If only Philips didn’t hold back on the volume level, which is tame and hinders the loudness and sonic presence of certain tracks.

Construction-wise, these buds look and feel premium, as highlighted by the shiny aluminum housing that produces a nice shine when worn outside. The flimsy control module is the only design gripe I have, but it’s not so bad when taking into account the responsive the controls that execute intended commands with ease. It is also cool that Philips includes multiple soft ear tips (small, medium and large) for personalized fit.

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: Betron YSM 1000

(Image credit: Betron)

8. Betron YSM 1000

Well-built buds with impactful audio

Size: 3.62 x 3.54 x 3.54 inches | Weight: 1.48 ounces | Control Module: Yes (optional) | Microphone: Yes (optional) | Water Resistant: No

Stereo-like sound
Solid build quality
Lots of accessories
Heavier than other models
Microphone and remote version costs extra

The Betron YSM1000 earphones come out of the package ready to take on your favorite music selections with ease. They deliver a richer experience than most other low-cost earphones, including a punchy bass, noticeable midrange and clean high notes that can be heard across all music selections. It’s clear that the draw to these earphones is the construction, which includes metal buds and a no-tangle cord design. Details like the 24k gold plated 3.5 mm jack and red trimming around the casing are to be admired during unboxings.

These buds offer a comfortable fit, allowing for long periods of listening when indulging in music or podcasts. Though it must be said that I am slightly disappointed with the missing in-line mic and control button on the standard version, which meant I couldn't make calls or skip tracks without taking out the earphones. An extra few dollars afford you these features.

Best cheap earbuds: MEE Audio Sport-Fi M6

(Image credit: Mee Audio)

9. MEE Audio Sport-Fi M6

The best cheap sports earbuds

Size: 1 x 0.8 x 0.7 inches | Weight: 0.7 ounces | Control Module: Yes (optional) | Microphone: Yes (optional) | Water Resistant: Yes

Perfect for all sports
Sweat- and water-resistant
Spacious carrying case
Audio won’t win over music lovers
Mic version comes at extra cost

We took the MEE M6 earphones out mountain biking to test the reliability and comfort during an extended workout. Although the M6 buds are very comfortable and stay put when you're running and playing sports, the sound quality fell short of our expectations. Vocals came across harsh, the mids were weak and the lows made us upset even for trying. It’s tolerable should you require a soundtrack for your outdoor adventures. We do like the storage case they come with, which was wisely used to store some cash when out and about.

Should you have more money to part with and want a less sporty model, the MEE M6 Pro is a sweet upgrade that promises a better fit and more balanced sound. Granted, you can still get enough performance out of the Sport-Fi M6 for much less, this includes the wired version with mic as well, available for a little extra coin.

Best cheap earbuds: TCL Phantom SOCL300

(Image credit: TCL)

10. TCL Phantom SOCL300

Surprisingly good earphones from a TV maker

Size: 3.1 x 3.1 x 1.6 inches | Weight: 0.8 ounces | Control Module: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Water Resistant: No

Audio is better than you would expect
Superb noise isolation
Eye-catching faded colors
No carrying case/pouch
Mic isn’t great for phone calls

You probably know TCL best for dominating the super-cheap HDTV market, but did you know the television manufacturer has expanded its operations into the audio space? Facts. A CES 2019 darling, TCL’s $15 earbuds boast the soundstage of a mid-tier headphone. The warm profile does favor bass-heavy content, but also shows love to mids and highs, so the listener can enjoy the subtle nuances in recordings. Music and video content sound high quality too. We also like the oval acoustic tube design that rests on the ear without applying pressure to the concha.

Noise isolation is another standout, with the earbuds forming a gentle seal to keep music from escaping and environmental clatter from seeping in. My only complaints are the lack of carry case and poor mic, which holds the earbuds back from a higher ranking. The SOLC300 is available in four distinctive colors: Ocean Blue, Phantom Black, Sunrise Orange, and Sunrise Purple.

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.