Whether you're looking for a pair of backup earbuds to keep your gym bag or just want something cheap that you don't have to worry about spending a fortune replacing if it breaks, you can still find something alright for less than $20. Keep in mind, though, that you won't be getting audiophile-level sound or premium build quality at this price point.
We've tested over 400 headphones so far. Below, you'll find our recommendations for the best earbuds and headphones under $20 to buy. See also our recommendations for the best cheap earbuds, the best budget wireless headphones, and the best wireless earbuds under $50.
The best earbuds under $20 we've tested so far are the Skullcandy Jib. These Bluetooth in-ears have a very compact earbud design which makes them fairly comfortable, even for longer listening sessions. Their simple in-line remote is easy-to-use and they're available in a variety of different color options.
These wireless earbuds have tons of bass, which makes them very well-suited to fans of bass-heavy EDM like dubstep or techno. While they can sound pretty boomy, they still reproduce vocals and instruments remarkably accurately, so they can still be a decent choice for pop or rock music. Their build quality is also pretty mediocre, but for cheap wireless earbuds, it's not bad.
Unfortunately, their battery life is pretty short, at just under 6 hours, and they take around 2 hours to charge. In addition, they only have call/music controls, so you need to adjust the volume directly on your phone. If you can afford just a few dollars more, the Anker SoundBuds Curve Upgraded 2019 are much better earbuds overall. However, if you need to stick under $20, then it's hard to beat the Jib.
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. 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 fairly well-balanced sound profile that's rather excited, so you not only get a boost of bass but also extra clarity and definition. However, the extra treble can bring on some listener fatigue after a while, and the bass can be quite muddy. 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're not a fan of Bluetooth connection, then the KZ are the way to go.
The best headphones under $20 we've tested so far are the Koss UR20. They have a comfortable, lightweight design and most people should find they have a decently well-balanced sound profile.
Their retro headband design distributes pressure well across the top of your head and they have large ear cups to fit around all different shapes and sizes of ears. They fit rather loosely, though, which can affect the way they sound. Some people find they get more, or less, bass with these headphones, but in general, they tend to sound mostly neutral overall.
These headphones do overemphasis the mid-range quite a bit, which can make them sound boxy, and they lack clarity and detail in the higher frequencies. That said, their sound isn't bad overall, especially for the price. They're not the most portable option, however, and their build quality is quite poor. If you're looking to stay under $20, though, they're a decent over-ear option for neutral listening.
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 up into a more compact format. They also feel quite a bit better-built, though they're much less comfortable. Their earcups 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 genres of music, but if you need something portable under $20, they'll do.
Get the Koss if your care more about sound quality, but if portability is your biggest concern, you'll want to get the Tascam.
The best on-ear headphones under $20 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 KTC. 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.
04/30/2020: No major changes; text refresh to keep things up-to-date.
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 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.