Have you been looking for a pair of budget-friendly headphones? Here are some of the best budget models worth considering.
Updated Nov. 13, 2023 12:00 p.m. PT
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David CarnoyExecutive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
ExpertiseMobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakersCredentials
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Not all earbuds and headphones are priced to break the bank. There are many affordable sets on the market. Some aren't top-tier quality, but finding a decent pair for less than $100 is completely doable. CNET has multiple lists geared towards the best cheap earbuds and headphones, including a roundup solely focused on the best cheap wireless earbuds. For this list, you'll find a mix of the best budget wireless and wired earbuds and headphones available. The majority of the items listed below have a price tag under $50, with every model costing less than $100.
It's probably expected that, within this price range, you'll find a bunch of low-quality headphones in your search. With that in mind, I've highlighted the ones that surpassed expectations. These earbuds and headphones below all have a comfortable build quality, offer a good sound experience for the price and deliver a solid overall performance.
What makes these Soundpeats Air3 Deluxe HS buds special is that they sound surprisingly good for open earbuds -- they're pretty close to what you get from Apple's AirPods 3 for sound. On top of that, they support Sony's LDAC audio codec for devices that offer it. Not too many cheap open earbuds have good sound but these Soundpeats have good bass response and clarity. They're also good for making calls and have a low-latency gaming mode. Battery life is rated at 5 hours at moderate volume levels, and these are IPX4 splash-proof.
Apply the code DCCNETSP at checkout to bring the price down to $31 -- a very good deal if you're looking for open-style earbuds.
Sony released its new entry-level CH-720N noise-canceling headphones in 2023. They're quite good, but if you can't afford them (they list for $150), the company's new budget on-ear CH-520 headphones are an intriguing option for less than $60.
They lack noise canceling and are pretty no-frills, but they feature good sound for their price, are lightweight and pretty comfortable for on-ear headphones, and also have excellent battery life (they're rated for up to 50 hours at moderate volume levels. Additionally, they have multipoint Bluetooth pairing, so you can pair them with two devices simultaneously (such as a smartphone and computer) and switch audio. Voice-calling performance is decent, though not up to the level of what you get with the CH-720N.
Note that there's no wired option -- this is a wireless Bluetooth-only headphone. The CH-520 offers overall balanced sound with decent clarity. The bass has some punch to it but doesn't pack a wallop, and you're not going to get quite as wide a soundstage as you get from Sony's more expensive over-ear headphones. But these definitely sound better than Sony's previous entry-level on-ear headphones and sound better than I thought they would. I tried the white color but they also come in blue and black.
I was a fan of the original Earfun Free buds, and now there's an upgraded version called the Earfun Free 2 (which has been subsequently upgraded to the 2S). They're not a huge upgrade, but like the originals, they fit my ears well and deliver decent quality for the money with strong sound -- it has just a touch of treble and bass boost (there's plenty of bass) -- and extra features such as wireless charging.
Battery life is rated at up to seven hours at moderate volume levels, and these buds are fully waterproof with an IPX7 rating. These are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 and use Qualcomm's QCC3040 chip that includes support for the aptX audio codec if you're using a compatible device (certain Android smartphones support that protocol).
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Available in three color options, the JLab Studio Pros may not have active noise canceling but they're a lightweight, comfortable over-ear Bluetooth headphone that offers decent sound quality for around $40 (the step-up JLab Studio Pro ANC costs $100). The design has a bit of a retro vibe to it and the battery life is also very good at around $50.
As for sound quality, don't expect these to deliver the clarity and definition of higher-end headphones, but the bass has some punch to it and there's an acceptable amount of detail. You can choose between three sound modes -- JBL signature sound, balance and bass boost. There is no companion app so you can't update the firmware.
Anker's Soundcore Life Q20 is arguably the best value in noise-canceling headphones. Not only do these over-ear headphones sound decent for their regular list price of $60 (they often sell for $10 less), but they're also comfortable to wear thanks to the nicely padded, secure ear cups.
No, the Life Q20 doesn't sound as good as premium Bluetooth headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but the audio quality isn't bad, which is all you can ask for noise-canceling headphones at this price. This wireless headphone has fairly well balanced sound with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that's not bloated or muddy (there's a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass with your music). Also, the noise cancellation is acceptably effective and this earphone is a solid wireless headset for making calls. Battery life on this wireless earphone is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.
Available in three color options, there's nothing terribly fancy about the Edifier WH500 on-ear headphones. But they're lightweight and relatively comfortable for on-ear headphones and sound decent for the money. These do have a companion app, so you can upgrade the firmware and customize their sound (there are some EQ settings to play around with). Battery life is rated at up to 40 hours, and the headphones work just fine as a headset for making calls (they work well, just not exceptionally so).
The Soundcore by Anker Life P2 Mini earbuds have been out for some time but remain a good budget option. Available in several color options (navy is shown here), they're compact and lightweight and offer decent sound with three EQ modes to choose from. While these don't have active noise canceling, their battery life is very good at up to 8 hours at moderate volume levels. The P2 Minis are IPX5 splash-proof and perform well but not exceptionally well as a headset for making calls. Don't forget to activate the 10% off coupon available.
I also like Anker's Soundcore Life P3i buds, which retail for around $45 and do have active noise canceling. They are superior to these buds but cost about $10 to $15 more.
We gave the Koss Porta Pro an Editors' Choice back in 2008 with former CNET editor Justin Yu describing its quirky 1980s design as "the ultimate in retro chic." Even all these years later they still sound excellent. Koss also makes a wireless version that costs $72.
Edifier's makes some good-sounding PC speakers and true-wireless earbuds and it's done a nice job with its W820NB noise-canceling headphones. The first thing you'll notice about them when you put them on is that they're comfortable -- the earpads are nicely cushioned and the headphones fit snugly on your head. They also sound good for their price, offering just enough clarity and decent bass performance. Their sound didn't blow me away but I was fine listening to these headphones for a while; they sound pretty pleasant.
There's also an ambient mode that lets outside sound in and a low-latency gaming mode. They're decent enough for voice calling and battery life is pretty impressive with up to 49 hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels (and noise-canceling off).
A couple of things are missing. There's no carrying case or headphone jack -- they're Bluetooth only. But the 820NB headphones are still a good value.
While the JVC Flats may not be terribly durable, you'll be hard pressed to find a better sounding set of on-ear headphones at the price. They're available in multiple color options, but the blue version can be found for as low as $11. These also make for decent kids' headphones.
Panasonic's ErgoFit RP-HJE120 in-ear headphones, which come in multiple colors and retail for less than $10, sound remarkably good for the money. A version of these wired earbuds with an integrated microphone (the RP-TCM125) costs slightly more but doesn't sound quite as good for some reason.