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 450 pairs of 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, though it's worth noting that different colors tend to cost different amounts.
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 these.
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 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 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, then 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 headphones are very lightweight and comfortable, with large ear cups and soft and 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.
The sound profile of these headphones 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 up 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 genres of music, 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 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.
06/29/2020: Updated text for clarity and accuracy; no changes to product picks.
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.