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.
These aren’t the best headphones overall, and you won’t find advanced features like active noise cancellation here. But what you will find is a wide selection of reliable headphones and highly portable earbuds that will serve up music and podcasts for a fraction of the price — sometimes lower than a mere $20. Read on to find out our best cheap headphone picks and leave those purse strings unstretched.
- The best cheap earbuds you can buy right now
- Best cheap wireless earbuds: Check out our top picks
- The best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls
What are the best cheap headphones?
Our top pick of the best cheap headphones is the Plantronics BackBeat Go 600, a winning blend of wireless Bluetooth convenience and powerful, bass-heavy sound. This set of over-ear headphones comfortable, too, thanks to the lightweight build.
In second place is the Skullcandy Dime. This is something very rare indeed: a pair of true wireless earbuds, and pretty good one too, for less than $30. It even comes with full waterproofing, so could act as a budget alternative to the best sports earbuds if you want something that can resist rain and sweat.
We've also added the Mpow 059 Lite to the #3 spot. Like the BackBeat Go 600, this is a deceptively high-performing pair of over-ear headphones, complete with the convenience of Bluetooth connectivity. It's light and comfy, and is cheap even compared to most of the other headphones on this list.
The best cheap headphones you can buy today
It seems like Plantronics has been having a fire sale since being acquired by Poly. Fortunately, for budget shoppers, you can score many of the company’s top-performing headphones for dirt cheap. The BackBeat Go 600 is one of those models you’ll definitely want to keep at the top of the list, delivering strong audio performance, highlighted by powerful bass response and crisp highs. A bass mode is programmed into these cans that accentuates the low end, though the default soundstage is great on its own. You get a full suite of controls split between the two earcups that are easy to operate too.
Having up to 18 hours of playtime on a single charge is incredibly generous when factoring price into the equation. Also, Plantronics bundles an aux cable with the headphones, so you can continue listening in passive mode when the battery dies. Build quality isn’t much to brag about, but the light plastic frame makes these headphones comfortable and portable-friendly.
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.
It can be difficult to find a comfortable pair of over-ear headphones for less than $20, but the Mpow 059 Lite manages it. And with wireless connectivity, no less — Mpow promises up to 60 hours of music and talk time from a single charge, and there's a 3.5mm jack if you ever need to switch to wired mode.
Low weight and a decent amount of padding also means this pair of headphones isn't as fatiguing as a lot of cut-price cans, and although its promise of "Hi-Fi" audio proves too tricky to fulfil, the 059 Lite doesn't sound bad at all. The bass response is strong, and trebles can cut through when needed.
JBL is responsible for some of the best cheap headphones below the $100 mark and the Tune 500 is one of its finest options. Hidden underneath the flexible, sturdy plastic frame are JBL’s patented Pure Bass drivers that pump out serious lows; the bass response is thunderous at high volume. JBL’s profile leans towards the warm end, which is good news for music lovers who want more thump in their sound. The soft-padded ear cushions and headband add comfort to the equation, allowing users to enjoy music for long stretches.
Sadly, the headphones (like many wired models) don’t come with volume controls, so you’ll have to do so manually on your smartphone or MP3 player. Thankfully, the sound doesn’t distort or become unbearable when listening at high volumes, though others around you will notice sound bleeding from the cans.
Equipped with 30 hours of playtime, Bluetooth 5.0, and three built-in EQs that you can cycle through at will, the JLab Studio Wireless offers plenty of versatility at such a low cost. Audio isn’t anything to rave about, but each of the programmed modes –Signature, Balanced, and Bass Boost – slightly enhance sound quality when paired with the right music genre. Bass Boost will give EDM and hip-hop songs more oomph. Being able to use Google Assistant or Siri to perform voice commands is a cool feature to have as well.
As much as we would have loved USB-C charging here, micro-USB isn’t the end of the world, especially when a full charge gets you about a month of moderate playtime. The one concern we do have with these headphones is the exposed wires, which can rip if caught on something. You’ll want to be careful taking these out of your bag. When you do so, successfully, you’ll see why these are a worthy investment.
At 10.6 ounces, they aren’t light and clamp down on both the ears and skull to create some discomfort after an hour of listening. The plastic design also looks more appealing in the photos than in person. Nonetheless, these shortcomings take a backseat to the OneOdio Studio’s remarkable sonics, which solely keep this model ranked high on our best cheap headphones list.
Powered by 50mm neodymium drivers, the OneOdio Studio serves up hi-def audio at an unbeatable price. Lows, mids, and highs are well-balanced, offering controlled bass and precise sound reproduction. The headphones sound great by themselves, though you have the option of hooking them up to other audio devices like a portable amp to take in deeper, fuller sound. We also love how you can daisy-chain them to another set of headphones and share music with others. Noise isolation is another area of strength for these cans, as the over-ear design helps create a tight seal to block out high-frequency noises.
Battery life alone makes these headphones worth checking out. There are a handful of other models in this price range that advertise higher playtimes, but the XFree Go is the only one we’ve tested that has lived up to its claim of nearly 60 hours; it’s really 56 hours when factoring in high volume and music streaming. Still, it’s an abundant amount to have at your disposal. On top of that, the headphones are super-easy to set up, and produce punchy, loud sound that surpasses its MSRP. The design isn’t anything to rave about, but at least you’ll get quality comfort when worn for casual listening.
I’ll just warn you to expect some technical difficulties right out of the box. For instance, the controls were disabled when I paired the headphones to my MacBook Pro for the first time; it took charging the headphones for a few seconds to break the connection and repair for everything to work. Another disappointment is the aux cable, which only lets you hear audio from the left earcup.
Monster may be best remembered as the company that helped manufacture the first-ever Beats headphones, but let’s not forget that they put out some quality audio products during their prime. The NTune (aka the Nick Cannon headphones) carries over the heavy bass signature found on earlier Beats models, though Monster took more care balancing out the midrange on these on-ear cans. Its 40mm drivers deliver great instrument separation, though, depending on the song, lows can become a bit overzealous and produce distortion. That’s not always the case, but you’ll want to be aware of this when vibing out to hip-hop or EDM playlists.
The design is unique and replicates that shiny hubcap look very well, and the headband is sturdy. Even cooler is that Monster sells these bad boys in over 20 different colors. They could have added a few more accessories though.
The Plantronics BackBeat 500 is an excellent pickup for the price. Battery life is its biggest selling point, generating 18 hours of playtime on a single charge and featuring a Deep Sleep mode that can keep the headphones on standby for six months. You’re also getting some surprisingly good sound out of these on-ears that rivals models in the sub-luxury range ($150 and up). Bass is emphasized to give listeners a warm and energetic presence on hip-hop and rock tracks.
The athletic-inspired design is light and durable, but the headphones don’t provide the greatest comfort after 60 minutes of wear. It also lacks the sweatproof aesthetics of the BackBeat 500 Fit, which isn’t a huge deal unless you plan on working out with these on your head. They could also benefit from better isolation, as external sounds make their way into the ear canal.
The only time you don’t question a headphone’s craftsmanship and sound quality is when the name Sony is branded across it. Just look at the MDRZX1000 for instance. Not only are these tiny wired cans sturdy, but they don’t hold back on bass. They’re like having a little subwoofer for your head that produces rich, pulsating lows. We felt the headphones did best with genres that are heavy on the low end, such as hip hop, house, and EDM.
However, on country and rock tracks, some of the lows sounded artificial. Also, 15 minutes into wearing these headphones, I felt noticeable pressure around the tips of my ears. Sony sells two versions of MDRZX1000, with and without a mic, but the latter proves to be worth the extra $5 to answer phone calls on the go.
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.
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 Editors' Choice badge.