Whether you’re short on disposable income, in need of a quick fix for an upcoming trip, or just have a habit of losing things, there are times you just don’t want to spend a mint on a new pair of headphones.
Luckily, if you know where to look, you can still get decent sound without emptying your bank account. Cheap doesn’t always mean crummy, after all. Hint: Don’t go to 7-11, and definitely don’t go to an airport bookstore. Instead, stick with us. We’ve scoured the internet for the best headphones under $50, no matter your preferences.
Note: If you’re willing to shell out a few more bucks for some extra bang, check out our list of the best headphones under $100 too.
Why you should buy them: They offer a perfect blend of comfort, sound, and portable convenience.
Who they’re for: The active, everyday listener who wants great sound in a succinct and portable package.
How much they will cost: $49
Why we picked the Shure SE112:
The fact of the matter is that many headphone hunters want a pair that are simple and great-sounding, and can’t (or simply don’t want to) spend more than a moderate amount of cash to get them. We hear you. Though there are a few solid options under the $50 mark, Shure’s SE112 are the pair we find ourselves recommending over and over again.
A long-established pair of in-ears from one of the most reputable audio companies on the planet, the SE112 offers clean looks, a comfortable fit, and shockingly good sound for the money. With a pure, open sound signature that easily outclasses competitors, the SE112 are actually better than many headphones we test for twice the price.
Snappy high end and punchy — but not too rumbly — bass combine to provide clean detail throughout, accurately reproducing your favorite music, and powering you through commutes and long workouts with ease. Though fidelity doesn’t match up with premium headphones, the SE112 easily hold their own in the audio universe, allowing you to save your cash for a really special set of headphones down the road.
The best on-ears
Marshall Major II
Why you should buy them: They’re easily one of the best on-ear options below $50.
Who they’re for: Anyone who wants comfortable, solid-sounding on-ear headphones.
How much they will cost: $42
Why we picked the Marshall Major II:
Few audio manufacturers know style like Marshall Headphones. The swanky Major II headphones are evidence of this, boasting beautiful gold accenting and a neat coiled cable to go along with a classy, black-vinyl aesthetic.
They wouldn’t just make our list for good looks, of course. Re-voiced 40mm drivers equate to impressively powerful sound for the price, especially in the midrange and lower register. The Major II are also quite comfortable, thanks to a soft, malleable headband and earcups with 200-degree folding range.
If you want to splurge a bit more, there’s a wireless model available too, aptly named the Marshall Major II Bluetooth.
The best over-ears
Audio Technica ATH-M20X
Why you should buy them: The sound is nothing short of phenomenal for the money.
Who they’re for: Music lovers who want comfortable over-ear headphones, but are strapped for cash.
How much they will cost: $49
Why we picked the Audio Technica ATH-M20X:
Somehow, Audio Technica managed to make a pair of perfectly solid studio reference headphones — an over-ear pair, no less — and price them below $50.
The ATH-M20X are an evolution (or, really, a budget devolution) of the popular ATH-M series, comprising the M70X, M50X, M40X, M30X, and the headphones you see above. All of these headphones make for excellent DJ companions, as they’re shockingly good at reproducing accurate audio. Compared to most over-ear pairs, the M20X don’t have a ton of bass (and the high impedance means you’ll never clock them at “11” as far as volume), but they make up for their shortcomings with crisp treble and a smooth and detailed midrange.
These headphones won’t stand up against most over-ear headphones we review, but that’s because they’re 1/4 the price. When it comes to totally employable over-ears for the home studio or office, you won’t find a better option below the $50 line.
The best workout headphones
Why you should buy them: They’re cheap, comfortable, and great for the gym.
Who they’re for: Those who want affordable, sweat-proof buds to toss in their gym bag.
How much they will cost: $25 to $35
Why we picked the Advanced S2000:
If you’re in the market for a set of reliable, sweat-proof earbuds to breakout at the gym, the Advanced S2000 are a fantastic option.
A pair of wired in-ears that were designed for musicians (and even come with a quarter-inch adapter for use with audio interfaces and home stereos), the affordable S2000 punch well above their weight in terms of both durability and performance. Meaty bass will help propel you through even the toughest reps, and they even offer a fairly tight high-end response that matches well with the vocal performances of modern pop stars.
Throw in an extremely ergonomic fit and robust wires that run behind your ears to keep the headphones in place during exercise, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better workout companion for cash-strapped gym rats.
The best sub-$20 option
Panasonic ErgoFit RP-TCM125-K
Why you should buy them: They’re comfortable, dirt cheap, and they sound pretty decent.
Who they’re for: Those with a very low budget.
How much they will cost: $14
Why we picked the Panasonic ErgoFit RP-TCM125-K:
Let’s be real here: If your spending limit for headphones is $20, you’re not getting some fancy, reference-quality IEMs. At this price comfort, reliability, and usability reign supreme, and the Panasonic ErgoFit RP-TCM125-K (really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) fit the bill.
At less than $14, you’ll get a pair of ultra-light, ergonomic earbuds which actually come complete with an in-line microphone and remote (ditch the mic and the price plummets down to a crazy-low $8). The cable is long enough for comfort, and the silicone eartips are big enough to stay put without causing any irritation or discomfort for average-sized ears.
The kicker: They don’t even sound bad! They won’t blow you away, but we didn’t notice any distortion, and sound is relatively well-balanced. If you need to ditch uncomfortable, plastic-tipped earbuds for something better (and dirt cheap), snag a set of these.