Whether you're looking for a pair of backup earbuds to keep in your gym bag or want something cheap that you don't have to worry about spending a fortune replacing if it breaks, you can still find something decent for less than $20. Keep in mind that you won't be getting audiophile-level sound or premium build quality at this price point.
We've tested over 540 pairs of headphones. Below, you'll find our recommendations for the best earbuds and headphones under $20 to buy. Also, make sure to check out our recommendations for the best cheap earbuds, the best budget wireless headphones, and the best wireless earbuds under $50.
The best earbuds under $20 that we've tested are the Skullcandy Jib Wireless. These in-ear buds are connected by a thin cable with an in-line remote that's very easy to use. They're portable and decently stable in your ear, so they should stay in your ear if you wear them to the gym or during a workout.
Overall, they have a bass-heavy sound profile that adds an extra boom and punch to the mix, making them suitable for listening to bass-heavy genres like hip-hop and EDM. They don't leak a lot of noise, so you can crank up the volume on your favorite tunes without bothering the people around you. Their continuous battery life lasts for almost six hours, too.
Unfortunately, they don't have the best build quality, so they feel a bit cheap and plasticky. Also, they don't isolate against a lot of background noises, so they may not be the best choice to wear during your commute or while working in a noisy office. That said, if you're shopping on a tight budget, these headphones offer reasonably versatile performance.
If you're looking for a pair of earbuds with a wired connection, consider the KZ ZST instead. While they aren't as versatile as the Skullcandy Jib Wireless and lack a microphone, their wired design means that you don't have to worry about latency or battery life. These headphones are well-built and have a stable in-ear fit, so they're suitable for low-intensity workouts. Their sound profile is slightly excited and v-shaped, with an extra punch in the bass range that's ideal for genres like EDM and hip-hop. Like the Skullcandy, they don't leak a lot of noise, either.
If you prefer the portability of a wireless design, check out the Skullcandy, but if you prefer a wired design, consider the KZ instead.
If you're looking for over-ears, the best headphones under $20 that we've tested are the Koss UR20. These lightweight headphones have a comfortable fit that makes them suitable for long listening sessions. Thanks to their wired design, you don't need to charge them in order to use them, and their low latency makes them suitable for wired gaming.
These headphones have a fairly balanced sound profile, though the overemphasis in the mid-range can make vocals and lead instruments forward and boxy in the mix. However, they should still be suitable for lots of audio content. They can also passively isolate against higher-frequency background noises, like the hum of a nearby AC unit.
Unfortunately, these headphones struggle to block out lower-frequency background noises, so you can still hear the low rumble of bus and plane engines or chatter from people nearby. They also leak a bit of noise, which can be distracting to those around you. However, if you want straightforward over-ears for less than $20, they're a solid choice.
If you're looking for cheap over-ear headphones that are easier to bring with you on-the-go, consider the Tascam TH-02 instead. While they aren't as comfortable and are usually more expensive than the Koss UR20, they fold into a more compact format, so you can fit them into your bag easier. Their sound profile is pretty neutral, and their bass packs a punch that can please fans of bass-heavy genres, though some listeners may find that they're too muddy or boxy. They don't leak a lot of noise, and escaping audio sounds pretty thin, so you can listen to music at loud volumes without bothering people around you in a noisy office or busy coffee shop. Unfortunately, they don't come with a microphone, so they aren't suitable for phone calls. They also have poor noise isolation.
If you're looking for comfortable over-ears under $20, check out the Koss. However, if you're willing to spend a little extra for more portable headphones, consider the Tascam instead.
The best headphones under $20 with an on-ear design that we've tested are the Koss KSC75. They have a unique clip-on design that's very lightweight and ensures a stable, secure fit without putting any pressure across the top of your head. It also makes them very portable and breathable, so they're not bad if you're looking for something affordable to wear while running but don't like earbuds.
These inexpensive on-ears have a similar sound profile to the popular, yet more expensive, Koss Porta Pro Wireless. The KSC75 have a bit less bass, but they share the same overall bright, yet still fairly neutral sound. This makes them very well-suited to podcasts or audiobooks. Since they have an open-back design, they also sound quite spacious.
Unfortunately, the ear-clip design isn't the most comfortable. Their ear-hooks stop feeling as intrusive once you've had them on for a while, but if you wear glasses, it doesn't get much better. They also don't isolate any ambient noise at all. While this can actually be a good thing if you're jogging around the neighborhood, they're not suitable for wearing on the bus, especially since they leak a lot of sound.
12/23/2020: Added the Samsung AKG Type-C to Notable Mentions. Minor updates to the text.
10/27/2020: Minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy.
08/28/2020: Added the Sony WI-C310 as a Notable Mention.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best earbuds and headphones under $20 for most people to buy. 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'd like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our reviews of earbuds and headphones under $20. 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.