The Best Cheap Headphones (Under $50)

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Less than ten years ago, a headline like the one above would've been hard to imagine—inexpensive headphones simply hadn't cracked the code. But times have changed, and headphone manufacturers have achieved something that was previously inconceivable: inexpensive headphones can now pump out booming, palpable bass without distorting, and deliver very solid sound quality in general. You're still going to need to spend a decent amount of money if it's studio-level clarity and balance you're looking for. But if you want to improve on the so-so audio performance inherent in the standard-issue earbuds bundled with mobile devices, and you want to do it without breaking the bank, it's possible. Read on for what to look for in a pair of budget headphones, along with our 10 top-rated picks under $50.


First, repeat after me: Earbuds are not our friends. We do not buy earbuds under any circumstances.

Okay, good. Now, let's quickly define the terms "earbuds" and "earphones" so we're on the same page. Earbuds—despite the marketing jargon of many a manufacturer—are not earphones, and the terms aren't interchangeable. Earbuds don't enter the ear canal; they are flat and sit just outside the canal, and can often sit fairly loosely in the ear, creating problems when it comes to accurate stereo images and bass response.

Earphones, on the other hand, do enter the ear canal, just slightly. Their silicone eartips safely seal off the canal, which accomplishes two things: a secure fit and an accurate stereo image (in which both ears get the same amount of audio). Sealing off the ear canal is also the easiest way to provide an enhanced sense of bass response.

So, one way to avoid subpar audio in the sub-$50 realm is to make sure you avoid earbuds and stick with earphones that seal off the canal. Even then, there's no guarantee that the audio will sound magnificent, but it's a step in the right direction—many of the earphones we've reviewed are sweat-proof, exercise-friendly pairs, and nearly all of them include useful inline mics and remote controls.

For more, see The Best Earphones and The Best Headphones for Running.

Headphones (On-Ear and Over-the-Ear)

We can divide headphones (which are not the same as in-ear earphones) into two categories. Circumaural, or over-the-ear headphones, create a seal by pressing the cushioned earpad against the area around the ear. Supra-aural, or on-ear headphones, typically use light pressure against the ear to stay in place. Both styles can offer a solid audio experience, so it's really about personal comfort and preference.

See How We Test Headphones

Budget headphones have really picked up their game in recent years, and not just in terms of bass response. There are more stylish designs, with better-feeling materials and more secure fits than there used to be. We're also seeing super-lightweight pairs that somehow manage to summon lots of power.

While budget headphones tend to place added emphasis on bass, one surprise is that, in addition to some very comfortable, stylish options, there are some more serious models aimed at recording studios or audiophiles on serious budgets; the Shure pair included here is one of the more impressive examples we've seen in this price range.

While there are gym-friendly headphones, most decent options are not priced to fit in the sub-$50 realm, so you may wish to either spend more or stick with exercise-friendly in-ear pairs.

If your budget is more flexible, take a look at our picks for The Best Headphones, regardless of price.


While Bluetooth connectivity has made some serious strides in recent years in terms of audio quality, there aren't many excellent sub-$50 Bluetooth earphones or headphones yet. There are a couple of good Bluetooth options on this list, but in general, this is a category that has yet to truly flourish in the budget price range. If you can lean more toward $100, Bluetooth options greatly open up.

For more, see The Best Wireless Headphones.

...And Noise-Canceling

Effective noise cancellation circuitry is expensive, and while you can certainly find brands trying to sell you active noise cancellation headphones for under $100 or even under $50, the circuitry won't work very well. They will likely mask the ambient sound they cannot eliminate by actually adding in hiss. That doesn't mean audio performance can't be decent, but there is a reason the QuietComfort series from Bose is not cheap—nothing about that noise cancellation technology is easy to reproduce in a budget model. In other words, don't look for any noise-canceling headphones in this price range.

That said, check out our list of The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for the top models we've tested.

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