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 470 pairs of headphones so far. 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 to date are the Skullcandy Jib. These simple Bluetooth in-ears have a neckband design, and they're very portable. Overall, their performance should satisfy most casual listeners.
Thanks to their adequately neutral sound profile, these earbuds are suitable for listening to most types of music. They pack a good amount of bass, so they can sound a bit boomy, which is sure to please fans of bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop. Also, they don't leak a lot of noise, so you can enjoy your favorite songs without disturbing the people around you.
On the downside, they look a bit cheap, and they might fall out of your ears if you try to use them during your workouts. If you can stretch your budget by a few dollars more, the Anker SoundBuds Curve Upgraded 2019 have more features and a more versatile performance. That being said, if you can't spend more than $20, these earbuds are a reasonable pick.
If you prefer the reliability of a wired connection, then get the KZ ZST. They don't provide the same wireless freedom of the Skullcandy Jib Wireless, but there's no battery life to keep an eye on, and they feel a lot better-built. Thanks to their wired connection, you don't have to worry about your Bluetooth connection dropping out in the middle of your favorite song or about annoying audio lag when watching videos or playing mobile games. They have a rather excited and fairly well-balanced sound profile, so you get a boost of bass and extra clarity and definition. However, the extra treble can bring on some listener fatigue after a while, and their bass may sound muddy with some tracks. That said, they still provide very good value for the price, especially considering how durable their detachable cable feels.
Get the Skullcandy if you prefer not having any wires in your way, but if you don't want to worry about battery life or Bluetooth connectivity issues, go with the KZ.
The best headphones under $20 with an over-ear design that we've tested so far are the Koss UR20. These wired over-ears are very lightweight and comfortable, with large ear cups and soft, plush padding. They have a very long 8.3-foot wire and have a retro headband design that distributes pressure evenly across the top of your head.
Their sound profile is fairly well-balanced through the bass and mid-ranges, though unfortunately, some higher-frequencies sound dull and lifeless, while others are slightly piercing and harsh. That being said, due to their fairly loose fit, different people may not be able to achieve the same quality of seal and may experience their sound reproduction differently.
Unfortunately, they look and feel very cheap and plasticky, and their low price point is really reflected in their build quality. They're also quite bulky, lack a microphone, and block almost no background noise, making them less than ideal to use during your daily commute or at the office. Overall, while they aren't the most versatile pair of headphones, these are a decent option for people who want fairly neutral-sounding over-ears without breaking the bank.
If you're looking for more portable over-ears, then get the Tascam TH-02. Their sound profile is less well-balanced than that of the Koss UR20, but they can fold into a more compact format. They also feel quite a bit better-built, though they're much less comfortable. Their ear cups are quite small and don't fit around everyone's ears very well. Their sound profile is also very boxy, honky, and harsh, with a rather severe lack of clarity and articulation on vocals and instruments. Unfortunately, this makes them poorly-suited for most music genres, but if you need something portable under $20, they'll do.
If you want over-ears with a better-balanced and more versatile sound profile, go with the Koss. However, if you want something much more portable that also feels more durable and comfortable, get the Tascam.
The best headphones under $20 with an on-ear design that we've tested so far 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.
08/28/2020: Added the Sony WI-C310 as a Notable Mention. Updated text for clarity.
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 would like to choose for yourself, here is the list of all our reviews of earbuds and headphones. 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.