Looking for good headphones can get expensive fast. With how manufacturers market their flagship models, it's easy to think that premium features like active noise cancellation (ANC), balanced sound, and all-day comfort can only come at a high cost. While you may be used to seeing barebones, no-frills products at this price tag, manufacturers have steadily raised the quality of their budget-friendly products. It's not uncommon to find solid-performing headphones without sacrificing an arm and a leg.
We've tested over 760 pairs of headphones, and below are our picks for the best budget and the best cheap headphones you can buy. For more recommendations, check out our picks for the best budget noise cancelling headphones, the best wireless Bluetooth headphones under $100, and the best wireless earbuds under $50.
The best budget headphones we've tested are the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 Wireless. They're the previous generation of the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 Wireless. As you might expect from budget headphones, they lack some of their successor's features, like support for high-res audio codecs. That said, you don't have to compromise too much. They have an ANC feature that does a fantastic job of blocking out a wide range of noise, including rumbling engines and background chit-chat. They also last for around 44 hours on a single charge and support multi-device pairing to keep you connected to your phone and computer simultaneously.
Out of the box, their sound delivers a lot of extra bass. There's extra thump and rumble in genres like EDM and hip-hop, but instruments and voices still sound clear and bright. If you prefer a different sound, you can use the in-app EQ and presets to customize it to your liking. While these headphones are lightweight and comfy, their earcup padding is a bit thin, which can get fatiguing during long listening sessions. Their plastic frame isn't particularly premium, but they feel decently sturdy.
Consider another pair of Anker headphones if you want something less expensive. The brand dominates the budget and mid-range over-ear space by offering reasonably-priced headphones with great sound performance. There aren't a lot of cheap over-ear headphones out there that outperform the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Wireless, especially regarding their powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) system.
They don't cut out as much noise as the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 Wireless', but they still do a good job of blocking out bassy background noise from commutes and excel at isolating your ears from close-by conversations. They have a comfortable fit and feel decently well-built, even if some parts, like their plastic hinges, feel flimsy. They have an excited sound profile out-of-the-box, with lots of bass and treble to complement pop, rock, and hip-hop.
Unlike our previous Anker pick, they don't have a companion app, and you can't change their sound via an EQ or presets. Fortunately, you're permitted some sound control via their built-in Bass Effect feature that adds more thump and boom to the mix. They'll also last several long workdays or listening sessions, thanks to their nearly 33-hour continuous battery life. They're missing a few extras, like an auto-off timer to help conserve battery life and multi-device pairing. However, they still offer great overall quality and some premium-level features at a reasonable price.
Wired headphones can be an advantage for listeners who want the best sound quality, no lag, and no possibility of connection issues. If you prefer this, consider the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x. They're less portable and limit your range of movement with them on, but they're still a worthwhile option to consider, depending on your needs. They reproduce bass frequencies well, thanks to their closed-back design, and their great mid-range accuracy ensures clarity and detail to vocals and lead instruments. While their build quality isn't quite up to the same standard as the manufacturer's best-known closed-back headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, they're still comfortable and well-built enough for casual use.
While their wired-only build removes the battery life problem, the cable isn't removable and is exposed at the headband's adjustment points. This gives them lots of points for potential damage, which requires replacing the entire unit to fix. Their lack of a mic means you can't use them for calls either, and they do a poor job of passively isolating you from background conversations at the office.
The Superlux HD 681 are a great entry point for users curious about audiophile headphones. These over-ears deliver neutral audio reproduction that caters to instruments and vocals. Plus, their semi-open design brings a wider and more open soundstage, creating a more immersive listening experience. They leak a fair amount of sound, so they aren't ideal for highly sensitive recording sessions or casual use around the office. You can't detach their audio cable either, so any damage to the wire will require you to replace the entire unit. On the upside, they come with a 1/8" to 1/4" adapter, so you can plug them into your audio interface.
The tradeoff at this price point is that these headphones are much less durable and well-made than pricier audiophile headphones like the Philips SHP9600. If you're willing to spend a little more for comfort, the Philips are worth a look since their well-padded design helps you avoid fatigue over time. They're the next generation of the Philips SHP9500, which are also a great pick if you can find them. However, the SHP9600's open-back design means that they lack a thumpy low-bass, and while they try to account for this with extra emphasis in the high-bass, this slightly muddies vocals and lead instruments.
The Sony WH-CH520 Wireless are the best budget on-ear headphones we've tested. On-ears offer a compromise between the two standard types of headphones. They do away with the bulkiness of over-ear headphones, like the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Wireless, while giving you a more immersive soundstage and a different fit than in-ears. This design struggles to isolate you from much background noise, like rumbly bus engines or ambient chatter, since they can't create a seal around your ears or inside your ear canal.
Fortunately, they're lightweight and comfortable for extended listening sessions, though their build quality is somewhat lacking. Their faux leather earpads feel prone to cracking, and their plastic headband can likely snap if it falls off your head. Out of the box, they have a warm sound profile that makes audio sound rich and full without overpowering the rest of the mix. Their companion app also features a graphic EQ and presets, allowing you to fine-tune the mix however you want.
Their nearly 53-hour continuous battery life is also quite good and will last a whole work week before needing a recharge. Don't opt for this design if you're looking for sports headphones, though, as on-ear headphones have one of the least stable designs across different models than any other headphone type we've tested. They'll likely slide around your head with moderate movement and fall off outright during more intense exercise.
The JBL Vibe Beam True Wireless are the best budget earbuds we've tested for users looking for a more lightweight and portable option. While earbuds can't deliver the same immersive soundstage as over and on-ear headphones, they're better suited for everyday use since most can fit neatly in your pocket or bag without taking up much space. The JBL are lightweight, fairly comfortable, and have an IP54 rating for protection against dust and water exposure, making them a good choice for sports and fitness. Their passive noise isolation performance can't block out the deep rumble of bus or plane engines but fares much better when isolating you from ambient chit-chat or high-pitched AC units.
These buds have a relatively neutral sound profile. The bass range has adequate thump and punch, while vocals and instruments sound clear and bright, if not a little harsh. For a different sound, their companion app features a parametric EQ and presets to help you customize the mix. They last around nine hours on a single charge, which isn't as much as bigger, more powerful over-ears, but it'll still get you through a standard workday.
Check out our article on the best budget and cheap wireless earbuds for more low-cost options.
Jul 11, 2023: Replaced the Logitech G435 LIGHTSPEED Wireless with the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Wireless as the 'Best Cheap Headphones'. Replaced the Q20 with the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 as the 'Best Budget Headphones'.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best budget and cheap headphones you can get. We factor in the price (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews for headphones and earbuds under $50. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. There are no perfect headphones. Personal taste, preference, and listening habits will matter more in your selection.