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The best cheap headphones for 2020

These days, it seems like everyone is sporting a pair of AirPods or the latest headphone technology. As cool as some of these devices might be, not everyone has the budget to spend hundreds of dollars so that they can listen to music. 

If you fall into that category, the good news is that we’ve compiled a list of the most affordable headphones that can also provide great value and quality.

Further reading

Our team has tested hundreds of headphones, from the most expensive models, all the way down to the ones they give away on airplanes. So we know what good sound is, and we know it when a set of headphones delivers sound quality that’s better than its price suggests. If the Shure SE112 aren’t for you, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by these alternative picks. They each stand out for a specific strength, but they’re all budget-friendly, and we think they outperform other products in their price range.

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.

The best cheap headphones at a glance

The best cheap headphones: Shure SE112

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.

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 offer 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’ve tested that cost 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 their fidelity doesn’t match that of 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. 

Read our full Shure SE112 review

The best cheap on-ear headphones: JLab Studio Icon

Why you should buy them: The convenience of wireless makes these on-ear headphones a great choice for music on-the-go.

Who they’re for: Anyone who wants a set of wireless headphones at a great price.

Why we picked the JLab Studio Icon:

It’s hard to beat the value offered by the JLab Studio Icons. For less than the price of a basic set of wired headphones, you get the convenience of Bluetooth wireless in a very comfortable, lightweight design. The Studio Icons may not deliver audiophile sound, but they’re not short on features. With three levels of built-in EQ, there’s no need to fuss with in-app settings. The onboard microphone lets you handle voice calls, and the simple controls let you adjust volume and playback.

With 13 hours of playtime on a full charge, the Studio Icons can easily last a full day, but there is one drawback: With no analog line-in jack, these on-ear cans are wireless-only. If the battery dies, or you want to use them with an older device, you’re out of luck.

The JLab Studio Icons come with a two-year warranty, which is very generous for a category that typically only offers one year of protection.

The best cheap over-ear headphones: Audio Technica ATH-M20X

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.

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 — that are priced 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 a quarter of the price. When it comes to totally usable over-ears for the home studio or office, you won’t find a better option below the $50 line.

The best cheap workout headphones: Advanced S2000

Why you should buy them: They’re cheap, comfortable, and great for the gym.

Who they’re for: Those who want affordable, sweatproof buds to toss in their gym bag.

Why we picked the Advanced S2000:

If you’re in the market for a set of reliable, sweatproof earbuds to break out 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 cheap headphones for Android owners: Google Pixel USB-C earbuds

Why you should buy them: They’re cheap, sound great, and don’t require a USB-C dongle.

Who they’re for: Anyone who wants great sound on the cheap, and hates searching for adapters.

Why we picked the Google Pixel USB-C earbuds:

If you’re tired of searching for a dongle, but don’t want to shell out big bucks for a set of Bluetooth headphones, Google’s Pixel USB-C earbuds may just be the perfect option.

With no pairing or charging required, the Pixel earbuds deliver solid bass response and the ability to toggle your smart assistant at a very palatable price.

Comfortable, ergonomic design means that they’ll stay in your ears during workouts, and easy-to-adjust earloops mean that they’ll fit just about anyone. Of course, if your phone has an earphone jack, Micro USB, or anything else but USB-C, these are not the buds for you.

Read our full Google Pixel USB-C earbuds review

The best cheap headphones under $20: 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.

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 just $15, you’ll get a pair of ultralight, ergonomic earbuds that come with an inline 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 ear tips are big enough to stay put without causing any irritation or discomfort for average-sized ears. If the default medium-sized tips don’t fit, there are also small and large tips in the package too.

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.

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