It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the options when it comes to picking out a new pair of headphones. Once you figure out which type you want—over-ear, on-ear, or in-ear—you need to cross your fingers and hope your new 'phones sound as good as they look.
Luckily, we put every set of headphones we can get our hands on through a rigorous testing process to find the earbuds that give you the most bang for your buck when you're on a tight budget. Whether you're working out at the gym or just looking for something comfortable to listen to on your commute, we've got a list of great options for you to choose from. Right now, our favorite affordable earbuds are the Decibullz Contour(available at Amazon for $94.68) because of their customizable ear molds and great sound profile.
These are the best affordable in-ear headphones we tested:
Isolation, or the ability of a pair of headphones to block out the outside world in favor of the music coming through the headphones, is usually a hit or miss prospect with earbuds. Either the ear-tips fit perfectly, and you don't ear anything but your music, or they don't fit right, and the earbuds fall out when you so much as twitch your nose. Up until recently, the only guaranteed way to solve the fit problem, if you couldn't find ear-tips that worked for your ears, would be to spend upwards of $1,000 for custom earmolds. Not anymore!
Newcomer Decibullz has a much more affordable option in its debut headphones, the Contours. Instead of a visit to a professional, all you need is hot water and 15 minutes of your time. The result? Brightly-colored, custom-molded ear-tips that stops unwanted interference in its tracks, and can be re-molded multiple times. In addition to potentially being the solution to your earbud fitting woes, the Decibullz Contours have a neat carrying case, and provide a lot of bass for such a small pair of earbuds. Read the full review.
Headphone manufacturers are typically aiming for either a flat or a curved sound profile. A curved profile is most common, and most curved profiles are trying to replicate the Equal Loudness Curve (ELC). The human ear hears higher tones more easily than it hears the bass tones, so for a human to perceive highs and lows at a similar volume, the headphones boost the volume of the lows, and moderate the volume of the highs.
A flat profile is usually found in "studio" headphones; the highs, mids, and bass tones have the same volume. However, as I just mentioned, we don't hear all tones at the same volume, so the bass notes sound softer, and the highs sound louder. Some people prefer studio headphones because of their audio fidelity—they are hearing the music exactly as the producers intended them to hear it. Also, as implied by the name, studio headphones are used in studio recordings to help mixers figure out what, if any frequencies, they should boost or reduce.
In addition to the more scientific testing, we also wear each pair of headphones around town to get a sense for their features (like extra amps or noise cancellation) and short- and long-term comfort.
In-ear vs. On-ear vs. Over-ear
You've probably seen a bunch of different headphones in your everyday life, but what you may not realize is that headphones, while they have a number of different selling points, are primarily categorized into three types: in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear.
Other Affordable In-Ear Headphones We Tested
Jlab Audio Fit 2.0 Sport Earbuds
JLab Audio has made a splash in recent years with both their wireless and wired headphone options; the JLab Audio Fit 2.0 are a great, cheap way to be introduced to the brand. They have an IPX4 rating, which means that they are rated to survive being splashed with water (and presumably, sweat). In fact, the directions advice you to actually rinse the earbuds off after an intense workout.
Because these earbuds are meant to be used outside or in the midst of an intense workout, it's not surprising that they emphasize the bass notes much more than the high notes; those lower notes are much more difficult to hear when you're pounding pavement outside. Even better, these earbuds are great at both isolation (blocking out ambient noise) and leakage (preventing your music from disturbing your neighbors). For a pair of cheap headphones that can survive a tough session at the gym, look no further than the JLab Audio Fit 2.0.
If you just need a basic, bare-bones pair of earbuds, but still want them to be a step above the included Earpods that come with your new iPhone, the Final Audio E2000 earbuds are a good choice. They don't have a lot of the extra features we usually look for in earbuds, like in-ear controls, an inline microphone, a tangle-free cable, or ultra-durable connection points, but they do have arguably the best sound quality of any 'buds we've tested under $80.
The E2000 feature a generally clean sound profile, rich bass, and detailed highs that complements tons of music genres. If you're on a budget, and prefer crisp sound over other headphone features, these should be on your list. Read the full review.
Entry-level headphones typically leave you holding a broken tangle of junk if you buy cheap enough. The real tragedy is that it doesn't always take all that much more to get a set of headphones that will keep you satisfied—and the Sol Republic JAX in-ears are exemplary of this: they're great for the price.
They have a flat, tangle-free cord, an inline mic, and come in a satisfying array of colors. Even better, the JAX actually walk the walk and talk the talk with respect to their well-advertised isolation, or the ability to block out noise from the outside world. They do only come with three ear-tip sizes, though, so if you typically have trouble wearing in-ears, these may give you the same trouble other earbuds do. Read the full review.
The JLab Audio Diego earbuds are another great budget option if you're looking for headphones to keep up with you while you're on the go. With four ear-tip options, two cush fins, and an inline microphone, you're getting a lot of bang for your buck with these earbuds.
With the Diego earbuds, you should be able to hear both the highs and the lows with no trouble, whether you're on the train or in your room. There's only one caveat: JLab Audio says that the Diego earbuds are best for those with small- to medium-sized ears; if you have bigger ears, these headphones may be a poor fit for you, both physically and metaphorically.
The House of Marley Smile Jamaica is another pair of relatively cheap earbuds that are punching outside their weight class. At this price point, we weren't expecting much, but we were surprised by how comfortable they were and how good they sounded. Despite having only two ear-tip options, the normal eartips seemed to fit well without causing any inner ear pain.
For such a tiny pair of in-ear headphones, they have a big sound. The Smile Jamaica's sound profile selectively boosts certain frequencies in the high, mid, and low tones, so you should be able to drum strikes and flute melodies with equal ease. With their fun design, great sound performance, and low price tag, the Smile Jamaica earbuds will help you to, in the words of Bob Marley himself, feel alright. Read the full review.
Many online reviews rate the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore ZH-DX200 as a pair of earbuds that function beautifully as in-ear monitors that are a real bargain. "In-ear monitor" refers to the sound profile in the earbuds—that is, they do not emphasize any of the notes over one another, and instead transmit the sound into your ears in at the volumes the audio mixers recorded them in the studio. This translates into what is called a "flat" sound profile, since the dB level of each tone is relatively constant. Monitor headphones are usually the realm of expensive over-ear headphones, so for the audiophiles out there who prefer in-ear headphones, the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore ZH-DX200 are an exciting prospect.
While our data show that the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore ZH-DX200 don't have a truly flat sound profile, they are among the more neutral and well-balanced earbuds that we've heard at this price point. Beyond their brag-worthy sound, though, they're pretty bare-bones; there's no inline remote, and the wires are very thin and do not appear to be reinforced to increase their shelf life. As in-ear monitors, though, these Zero Audio earbuds mostly live up to the hype.
Some people would be extremely wary when faced with a pair of wireless earbuds with a price this low but these Panasonic earbuds are a good choice for the person who doesn't want to fully commit to more expensive wireless earbuds on the market.
We were pleasantly surprised by nearly every aspect of these earbuds: between the long-term comfort, the sound clarity, and the long battery life, the RP-HJE120 are really punching outside their weight class. The only major downside? The low build quality.
Durability is often the largest problem facing wireless earbuds, and these Panasonics are no different. With very thin wires and plastic earbuds, it's easy to imagine them breaking at the bottom of a purse or backpack. Be sure to find some safe storage options for these earbuds, as the skinny wires connecting the earbuds to the remote will probably not survive a lot of wear and tear.
While some users were very pleased with the long battery life, others found that the heavy remote on one side of the earbuds would hit people in the face, or the weight of the remote would cause the earbud on that side to fall out entirely. Another problem is that these earbuds turn off automatically after 5 minutes without use, and require re-pairing when they are once again being used.
If you like the price point, try checking out the wired version of these earbuds, the Panasonic RP-HJE120B. They are extremely well-reviewed, and appear to last much longer than their wireless counterparts.
Rounding out the relatively inexpensive JLab Audio earbuds is the Core in-ear headphones. These budget earbuds are among the most basic earbuds you can find, with a few extras. These headphones are designed to be worn during periods of high activity, since they come with two different sizes of cush fin that are meant to help the earbuds to stay in your ear.
Between the cush fins and the regular gel eartips, JLab Audio says that there are over 500 different ways to arrange the headphones, so chances are, you can find an arrangement that allows the earbuds to stay comfortably in your ears without falling out during your wind sprints.
Otherwise, though, these earbuds are decidedly no-frills. The remote has a pause/play button, but no volume controls, so it might be frustrating to have to fumble for your phone when you go into an area that's too quiet or too loud for your music. If you're looking for a pair of earbuds to use at the gym and then leave in your gym bag, the JLab Audio Core are a great option.
The Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi Noise Isolating Earphones are easily one of the best performing headphones in their price bracket. These earbuds subtly emphasize the lows, mids, and the highs without favoring one over the other. This results in a balanced sound that still allows you to discover new parts to your music you couldn't hear before.
While the sound profile is a pleasant surprise, the rest of the product is as stripped down as you'd expect at this price point. There's no inline remote, the isolation is fine but not superb, and the earbuds themselves can be uncomfortable if they rub against your ears. If your main priority is sound, though, it'll be tough to find a better sounding pair of earbuds at this price. Read the full review.
Brendan is originally from California. Prior to writing for Reviewed.com, he graduated from UC Santa Cruz and did IT support and wrote for a technology blog in the mythical Silicon Valley. Brendan enjoys history, Marx Brothers films, Vietnamese food, cars, and laughing loudly.
Michael Desjardin graduated from Emerson College after having studied media production and screenwriting. He specializes in tech for Reviewed, but also loves film criticism, weird ambient music, cooking, and food in general.
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.
Julia is the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversees (and continually updates) the testing of products in Reviewed's core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and more. She also determines the testing methods and standards for Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" articles.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.