Not all cheap headphones are created equal. That's why we purchased 12 of Amazon's best-selling headphones under $30 and listened ... and listened ... and listened some more, all while testing for comfort and useful features. One thing we learned, cheap doesn't necessarily mean bad. Here are our rankings from best to worst.
The Behringer HPS3000 Studio Headphones deftly deliver light, airy vocals with sparkling strings, crisp percussion and booming lows, depending on the song. We found that on very-bass-heavy tracks, the low end could get a bit muddy, which overshadowed the rest of the instrumentals. Despite the bulky design, the headphones are surprisingly light and come with a 1/4-mm jack in case you want to plug them into a stereo system, mixing console or guitar amp.
The AmazonBasics Lightweight On-Ear Headphones are stylish yet functional. The ear cups swivel so that you can lay them flat, for easy storage. I just wish the fit were better, as the cups exerted uncomfortable pressure on the bottom of my earlobes. The audio's sharp percussion, clear details, and smooth highs and lows almost made the ear pinching forgivable. But there were some songs where the bass was so overwhelming, it muddied up the rest of the track.
Named for their ability to fold flat, the JVC HAS160B Flats are glossy and easy to stow in an awaiting bag. However, I worry about the skinny frame snapping. The cans still managed to produce sharp percussion and clear strings. However, on some songs, the vocals sounded distant, with boomy, diffused bass.
Made for fitness-focused listeners, the Jarv Joggerz Pro's band wraps around the back of your neck for comfortable, unobtrusive usage when you're exercising. To adjust the volume or pause or skip a track, you just press the controls built into the right ear cup. The headphones were no worse for wear after our workout, and delivered clean highs and mids throughout. However, the bass on some songs was a bit boomy, which overwhelmed the detail.
Bass junkies, these headphones are for you! The Sony MDRZX110AP Series headphones are like a little subwoofer for your head, offering rich, pulsating lows. These cans do best on genres that are heavy on the low end, like hip-hop, house and EDM. But on country and rock tracks, the artificial lows added to the bass guitar submerged the rest of the audio. Also, 15 minutes into wearing these headphones, I felt noticeable pressure centering around the tops of my ears.
Because they use an open-ear design, the Koss KTXPRO1 headphones should probably be reserved for listening at home or in a quiet area. Despite a cramped soundstage on certain tracks, the Koss consistently produced clear mids and highs with warm, full bass and solid detail. Despite their rather cheap-looking appearance, I found the headphones quite comfortable, especially the stretchy silicone headband.
Ecandy has the Midas touch with its foldable, soft-touch, gold-colored headphones. The Bluetooth cans were easy to pair and can switch between FM radio and MP3s with the flip of a switch. Want to ditch your smartphone altogether? Just load up your favorite tunes on a microSD card and place it in the awaiting slot. While I appreciate all the bells and whistles, a listen test revealed that the Ecandy headphones typically delivered weak mids and subdued bass, though with surprisingly clear highs.