Finding the perfect set of inexpensive earphones can be a challenge. With so many different types and styles to choose from, we wanted to help you make the right choice. We bought the best-selling buds directly from Amazon under $20 and took them for a spin. We spent several days testing them, focusing on design, comfort, sound quality and any extra features.
And now that more streaming music services are offering high-resolution resolution audio, be sure to read our audio codec FAQ for everything you need to know about FLAC files, MP3s and everything in between.
Here are the earphones worth buying, and the ones you should avoid. And make sure you check out all of our favorite headphones.
Tom's Guide evaluated the earphones by wearing each set for 2 to 3 hours per day. We used the earphones during various types of daily activities, such as commuting and working out. We listened to different genres of music, including pop, rock, soul, hip-hop and new country, and we made phone calls if the units included in-line mics.
The HC-RETs deliver sound quality typically found in earphones that cost way more than the 13 bucks we dropped. These earphones reproduced thunderous bass, tight midranges and natural highs that made me feel bad for people who paid way more for their high-end buds. Thanks to the comfortable fit, I was motivated to go the extra mile at the gym. It even made my delayed commute to work a pleasure. Construction of the earbuds is sturdy and stylish, and the angled connector worked well with a number of smart devices. The built-in mic/control button was easy to use, allowing me to quickly take calls and skip songs. For the price, we would suggest picking up a couple of pairs for each device or travel bag you use.
The G-Cords delivered great sound quality at an incredible value. These earphones performed well during my daily activities, delivering deep, rich bass, a clean midrange and highs that allowed me to enjoy my favorite vocalists. The built-in mic/music control pod worked well and adapted to all my smart devices with ease. Earphone construction was solid and allowed me to throw them in my bag without worrying about everyday wear and tear. The earbuds also have a lightweight design, which let me wear them for longer periods of time. However, the jack input was a bit short, making it hard to use with some protective cases.
The ErgoFit earbuds come in a variety of colors, which should appeal to the fashion-conscious. They also deliver crisp highs, warm mids and deep lows despite their low price. Compared to other earbuds in their price range, the ErgoFit produced cleaner, clearer audio. Even better, they conform to the shape of your ear canal, creating a snug but comfortable fit for those long jam sessions.
The Betron YSM1000 earphones come out of the package ready to take on your favorite music selections with ease. They delivered 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. I think the draw to these earphones is the quality construction, which includes metal buds and no-tangle cord design. The buds offer a comfortable fit, allowing for long periods of listening to music or podcasts without breaking a sweat. I was disappointed that they lacked an in-line mic or control button, which meant I couldn't make calls or skip tracks without taking out the earphones.
The Ectreme performed better than a $15 set of earbuds had any right to. After finding a set of earcups that fit well, the lightweight earbuds stayed put during my long commutes and trips to the gym. I enjoyed deep, clean bass, acceptable midrange and responsive high sounds while listening to various genres of music. Other noteworthy items include a tangle-free cord, an in-line mic and different-size earcups for a snug fit, making for a noise-isolating experience.
The Ink'd S2IKDZ-010 earphones perform well enough for the low cost. The earbuds produce everything from the lows of Mos Def to the highs Taylor Swift well enough that we could enjoy our rush-hour commute. The ear cups seemed a bit on the cheap side, however, and felt like they might not stand up to the rigors of everyday use. Features such as an in-line mic, playback buttons and a flat cable design help keep the earphones on our list.
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. However, we did like the storage case they came in so much that we used it to store another pair of earphones that we liked more.
(Credit: MEE audio)