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 570 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 Sony WI-C310 Wireless. While they're normally a bit more expensive, they can currently be found on sale at this price-point. They offer decent overall performance and have a battery life of over 17 hours, so you can wear them for long days at the office without a problem.
While they have a no-frills design, their stable and comfortable fit makes them well-suited for running or working out. Fans of EDM and hip-hop may especially enjoy their boomy sound profile. That said, their mid-range is still balanced and neutral so vocals and lead instruments sound present and detailed. They don't leak too much audio at high volumes, and they come in a few different colors to better suit your style.
Unfortunately, their in-line mic has a sub-par recording quality, and it struggles to separate speech from moderate ambient noise around you. Their rubberized audio cables also feel thin and as if prone to damage. That said, they're among the best cheap wireless earbuds that we've tested and are a suitable choice if you're looking to save some money on your headphones.
If you're making a lot of calls and need to be heard clearly, take a look at the Skullcandy Jib Wireless. While they're not as well-built as the Sony WI-C310 Wireless and they have a shorter continuous battery life, the Skullcandy's in-line microphone offers better overall performance. Your voice sounds a bit more natural, and the mic struggles less in moderately noisy environments. These headphones also have a comfortable fit and some users may especially enjoy their very bass-heavy sound profile, which delivers intense thump, boom, and punch that's suitable for genres like EDM. However, they lack volume controls, and their audio cables aren't rubberized, so they don't feel very sturdy.
Check out the Sony if you prefer a more neutral sound profile or longer battery life. However, consider the Skullcandy if you prioritize microphone performance or a bass-heavy sound profile.
The best truly wireless headphones under $20 that we've tested are the Skullcandy Spoke. These lightweight in-ears have a good build quality that feels durable and sturdy. They're even rated IPX4 for water resistance, although we don't currently test for this.
They have an excited, v-shaped sound profile that packs extra bass while making vocals and lead instruments bright and sparkling. If you prefer a different sound, they come with EQ presets that can be accessed via their controls. However, there's no way to know which EQ mode you're using. They leak almost no audio and can cut down some background noise like ambient chatter around you. Their integrated mic also does a decent job of recording your voice, so you sound natural and clear to whoever you're talking to.
Unfortunately, they're a bit bulky and have a deep fit, so it can put pressure on your ears when you're trying to register a command. Their 5.9-hour battery life also may not be enough to get you through your 9-5 workday. Luckily, their carrying case offers around 2.5 additional charges and you can even use one earbud while the other one charges, which is handy in a pinch.
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 to use them, and their low latency makes them suitable for wired gaming.
They 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, they 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. They 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.
Mar 23, 2021: Replaced the Skullcandy Jib Wireless with the Sony WI-C310 Wireless and replaced the KZ ZST with the Skullcandy Jib Wireless as they represent a better value to most users. Added the KZ ZST to Notable Mentions.
Dec 23, 2020: Added the Samsung AKG Type-C to Notable Mentions. Minor updates to the text.
Oct 27, 2020: Minor updates to the text and verification for accuracy.
Aug 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.