They often say you get what you pay for. However, although premium offerings like Oppo’s PM-1 and Samsung’s Level-Over headphones offer excellent sound and comfort, they’re not always the easiest on your wallet. Thankfully, there’s a bevy of quality offerings from the likes of Panasonic and AudioFly for those of you looking for admirable sound, a suitable fit, and in-line controls, all on a shoestring budget.
They don’t rival the best of the best in terms of sound quality — again, these are the best headphones under $50 — but they will easily put the headphones that came with your smartphone to shame without the fear of loss, wash, or wear. Picking them up a second time is just as affordable, so consider yourself lucky should you have to.
Earphones from Sol Republic, Sennheiser, and more
SOL Republic is a little bit like Beats without the bass overshadowing everything else. The Relays Sport are an affordable pair of in-ear buds that are ideal for listening to music with some volume, particularly when breaking a sweat with hip-hop or electronica blaring in your ears. That’s not to say that all other genres be damned, but the spatial resonance isn’t going to be the same no matter what you turn up. The in-line mic and controls are situated further up than usual, and in what is a somewhat unusual move for a pair of sport buds, there’s no pouch or accompanying carrying case included.
Audiofly AF45 ($50)
We rarely give headphones under $50 a full review, but when we do, we praise products like the Audiofly AF45. These headphones produce smooth, powerful bass and clear top end thanks to the brand’s choice of 11mm drivers. The AF45 offer an attractive design currently available in a melange of different colors. The on-board microphone and tangle-free, braided cable are also a nice touch, as is the remarkable level of instrumental separation from the open sound signature. Now, just remember to pick up a clip to avoid listening to the cable wobble.
Who says strong, lightweight aluminum has to break the bank? First Harmonic has put together a classic and stylish pair of earbuds that offer solid bang for the buck. Five sets of ear tips ensure a snug fit for nearly any pair of ears, while a bright-yet-balanced sound signature further compliments the comfort and belies the price. The 5.5mm drivers power everything, and an in-line microphone with single-button control makes taking phone calls a breeze. The tangle-resistant cable helps keep it all under control, even without the included cord clip and carrying pouch.
Moshi Mythro ($30)
Moshi, as a company, has nearly become synonymous with the production of iPhone and iPad cases. Thankfully, the company also makes a line of affordable headphones for non-audiophiles with little cash to spare. The Moshi Mythro — named in homage to the silver-like metal from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy — is one such offering, providing decent sound via a pair of DR8 neodymium drivers. The earphones are also surprisingly attractive, adorned with color-coded eartips that visually separate left from right, and featuring a built-in microphone and single-button remote for controlling music playback. And again, mithril.
Sennheiser CX 300-II ($42)
Traditional canalphones aren’t the most comfortable. After all, few people like shoving earbuds deep into the recesses of their ear if they don’t have to. Sennheiser’s CX 300-II take a different approach, reducing noise isolation, but dramatically increasing their comfort level in the process. Most canalphones will likely outperform the CX 300-II in terms of sound quality, especially when it comes to treble response, but the sound is still remarkable considering the price and the fact Sennheiser is still just beginning to dip their toes into the realm of in-ear headphones with the 300-II.
Shure SE112 ($49)
We’ve gone on the record stating “Shure’s SE112 are some of the best budget buds on the market,” and we stand by that statement still. Their impressive sound quality rivals headphones costing twice as much, with rich textures and a clear level of separation rarely heard at such a price. The passive noise isolation is above-average whether wearing the ‘phones with the 50-inch cable wrapped behind the ear or coming straight down. Their robust housing is both durable and comfortable when used with the myriad of bundled silicon tips, and though they don’t offer an in-line microphone like several other products on our list, the feature is available for $10 more. And few budget-based offerings bring out the gritty guitar of the Black Keys with such crisp detail.