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 Relays Sport ($27)
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.
First Harmonic IEB6 + Mic ($35)
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.
More earphones, and headsets on a budget
Zero Audio Carbo Basso ($40)
You can rarely go wrong with Japanese engineering, and the Zero Audio Carbo Basso are a reflection of how value can be had at any price point. The name “Basso” isn’t a misnomer either; it’s a clear reference to the sheer amount of bass the headphones are capable of putting out. Thankfully, the extra low end doesn’t come entirely at the expense of the mids and highs, allowing them to maintain enough balance to tackle most music genres. You may not get the same feel if you primarily listen to rock or acoustic tunes though, which may be better served by the Carbo Tenore. The Basso’s cable is also a little thinner than usual and void of an in-line mic, so these are purely reserved for kicking back and taking it all in.
Skullcandy Method ($24)
If you want bass at a price you can afford, this may be your ticket. The Method care little about fleshing out the mids and highs in the same way they pay attention to the low end of the spectrum. That’s not to say there’s a huge swing in balance, only that Skullcandy places more emphasis in the lows than just about any $30 pair of earphones we’ve tested thus far. Elsewhere, an in-line mic provides competent playback controls and an easy way to talk during calls, sans volume controls. Fit might be an issue given the Method only come with two bud sizes in the box, but they do sport a clip to keep the wires at bay and a small pouch to keep them clean. They also come in yellow, light blue, or gray — just in case you want something to match your wardrobe.
Koss PortaPro ($36)
The ’80s may have drawn to a close more than two decades ago, but Koss’ quirky PortaPro prove some people just can’t let go. The cans feature the same design as they did upon their initial debut in ’84, complete with the collapsible metal headband and a touch of blue, along with an unmistakable sound signature. Although the headphones feature no noise cancelling tech or DSP, they still produce accurate sound within a wide range and offer clear instrumental separation regardless of the volume. And who doesn’t like the ability to adjust the tension on the ears and a “no questions asked” lifetime warranty?
Creative Sound Blaster Jam ($37)
It’s not often that wireless, on-ear headphones hit this price point. The Sound Blaster Jam are the real deal, however, with Bluetooth 4.1 and NFC for quick pairing with most mobile devices. Playback controls are found on the right earcup, and a built-in mic comes into play for calls or accessing Siri and Google Now on the fly. The earcups can’t be adjusted for a better fit on your ears — likely a direct result of the rigid and lightweight design — but they’re comfortable enough, and their wireless functionality can last for an upwards of 10 hours on a single charge. A bundled cable also enables a wired connection if you want to plug the headphones into your Mac or PC.
Monoprice DJ Style Pro Headphone ($20)
It’s difficult to find natural sound with lower-tier headphones, especially natural sound that comes wrapped in a luxury package. The 50mm drivers on Monoprice’s flagship offering come close, though, producing a smooth balance between bass and treble that’s nothing like the hollowness that often accompanies similar closed-back offerings. The swivel design of the earcups also proves both comfortable and convenient when traveling — so long as you can overlook the 11.5-foot chord, which is there for … surprise, DJs!
Ausdom M06 ($43)
Generally, one expects a pair of headphones to have fewer features as the price goes down. You can have sound quality, or wireless capability, or a low price tag, but you wouldn’t expect to get all three; surprisingly enough, the Ausdom M06 headphones offer that exact package. Although not particularly stylish, the M06 have a solid build quality and are comfortable even after hours-long listening sessions. The sound quality is also commendable given the low price, as the treble is not overly bright nor the bass overwhelming. Of course, headphones this cheap cannot be without weaknesses, and the M06’s poor noise isolation and lackluster buttons are chief among them. Still, wireless headphones with decent sound quality are a unicorn in this price range.