Not everyone has the budget for $300 headphones. But believe it or not, they are a few truly outstanding headphones that can be head for under $50. Whether it’s because the company needs to price competitively (like Audio-Technica) or the models have been around a long time, there some headphones that truly disprove the adage that “you get what you pay for”. These are the best headphones and earphones available for under $50. The selections on this list are varied: from Sennheiser’s bass-head earbuds (that’s right, Sennheiser makes earbuds for bass-heads!) to the wildly successful Koss PortaPro headphones, which haven’t changed since the 1980’s!
1. Sony MDRZX110NC
These Sony MDRZX110NC noise cancelling headphones deliver surprising value at a price point well under $50. To be clear, the noise cancelling technology in these headphones is not going to win out over the best-in-class Bose or Sennheiser headphones, but the overall quality and reliability of these headphones is still impressive give the modest cost.
The 30mm drivers deliver good quality bass and rather clear highs, but the mids can sound a bit hollow depending on the music style and listener preferences. The compact folding design allows these headphones to be great for travel or portable use, and the 80-hour battery life provides great long-term noise cancelling functionality. Comfort level is good, but there is no padding on the headband, which may affect some users.
great value for a noise cancelling set of headphones
quality sound with good bass response using 30mm drivers
80-hour battery life for noise cancelling mode
mid tones can sound hollow
audio quality is better when noise cancelling feature is activated
RHA is new to the North American market, but the small British headphone maker has make some truly outstanding earphones with these MA-350’s. The large 10mm drivers reproduces sound with astonishing clarity, handling the highs of classical music while being able to rock out with energy. The braided cloth cable (a rarity in sub-$150 headphones) makes them incredibly durable as well. If you have diverse music tastes and want earphones that can handle them all, these are for you. If your music is mainly about bass, then check out our #7 picks, theSol Republic Relays Sport earbuds.
Ranking at a close #3, the Shure SRH145m+ headphones offer a closed-back headphone design with a compact folding headband. These headphones are lightweight, durable, and very comfortable, though they don’t necessarily win any points for style.
The 36mm headphone drivers produce good sound, but they are not exceptionally rich in tone or soundstage width. The in-line volume control and talkback microphone feature works reasonably well for Apple and Android mobile devices, and a 2-year warranty from Shure is always a good thing whether you need it or not. The compact, lightweight, and efficient performance of these headphones makes them a worthy consideration in the sub-$50 price range.
foldable and compact design
good sound for the price
in-line volume control and microphone
bass may be too prominent for some listeners
max volume is not very loud
overall style is fairly basic
open-back headphone design could provide better audio performance
The first over-ear headphones on our list come from a small Japanese headphones maker. The ATH-M30x’s are Audio Technica’s entry level headphones, and once you get these you may inevitably end up upgrading to their excellent M50x’s. The soft velour ear-cups are a pleasure to wrap around your ears, and there’s very little heat build up. The sound quality is outstanding for its price range, as these headphones handle both the highs and lows without sacrificing any detail in the mid-range. If I had one complaint, it would be that the M30’s highs are a little too bright. After a classical music session with trumpets you may need to take the headphones off to recover from the ‘treble fatigue’ as they call it.
The Monoprice 8323 headphones are designed towards the needs of DJs and live sound system operators. The large 50mm headphone drivers produce good quality bass, and the closed-back design provides good noise isolation when compared to other similar styles of headphones.
DJs will especially appreciate the ear cups that swivel up to 180˚, and the foldable headband design allows these otherwise bulky-looking headphones to be generally portable. The vinyl ear cushion material in not as plush as higher priced brands offer, but for the modest cost, the Monoprice 8323 provides really solid value and good sound.
This model of headphones has been around for over ten years, and as a result these headphones are almost criminally low-priced: $25. If you are a DJ or music producer these are the best headphones you can buy in this price range. The detachable ear-cups enable you to listen with one ear. When compared with the HD202, these headphones are a little darker, which means that they don’t have the M30’s ‘brightness’ that I talked about in the high end. These also have more of a boom on the low end (i.e. bass). In short they’re a fun set of headphones with lots of energy. They also work very well with portable devices so you can use them on the go.
The Sol Republic Relays Sport earbuds have an extremely low profile compared to most other earbuds. The level of bass from the I5 Sound Engines is remarkable, but unfortunately it tends to overpower the more delicate mid and high frequency ranges. The lightweight and low profile design allows these earbuds to fulfill the needs of a portable or workout headphones solution.
The Relays Sport is offered with the Free Flex earbud technology, but it is not the most universal-fitting captive earpiece solution for high-activity purposes. If you frequently wear a helmet or a hat, then the Relays Sport’s low profile design will certainly be worth trying out. Models are available in multiple colors and a 1-button or 3-button in-line remote control option.
angled audio connector
fits well under a hat or helmet
heavy on the bass frequencies
remote button reliability can be an issue
fit and stability in the ear can be an issue for some users
If unique style and color combinations were the only factors, the Urbanears Reimers active earphones would rank a little higher on this list. These earbuds are indeed colorful, and the unique ear wing style along with the reflective spiral cable design is visually intriguing. Unfortunately, overall sound quality and comfortability just don’t surpass the performance of other headphones and earbuds in their same price range and category.
The Ear Click fit technology delivers inconsistent performance, depending on the user. Sound quality is simply sub-par, with low frequencies needing some EQ to sound balanced. The Reimers are somewhat moisture resistant, so they will work in a pinch for working out, but long-term reliability could be a factor if subjected to high humidity and high sweat environments.
unique style and color options
3-button in-line remote
reflective spiral cable
earbud case is a little large and uncomfortable for some users
overall audio performance is lower than other headphones in this price range
It’s weird to think of Sennheiser as making ‘bass-head’ earbuds, but here we are. The original HD1 In-Ear earbuds were too bassy and were panned for being muddy. The result is these improved earbuds that will still blow you away with bass, but also has a more balanced and detailed sound.
Everything old is new again. Or, in the case of Koss’ PortaPro headphones, never change and what was once ‘outdated’ will become cool again. The PortaPro style headphones have never changed their design from the 1980’s. The same metal sliding headband that used to catch your hair? It’s still there. To be fair, the PortaPro sound is truly outstanding. Music sounds wonderful coming out of these headphones, and those who own the PortaPro’s will defend the design to the death. But I found that the headphones were seriously lacking in comfort, and that a little modern redesign could make these headphones into truly timeless classics.