The 9 Best Headphones for Under $50 in 2021

Find the best wireless, sound quality and exercise headphones for less than $50

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While it’s true that some of the best headphones cost quite a bit of money, you can also find cheap headphones that are comfortable and produce high sound quality. Cheaper headphones are ideal for kids, those who put a lot of wear and tear on their devices, those who need multiple pairs, or those on a tight budget.

You can find wired and wireless options for under $50. Some wireless headphones can go 20 hours or longer on a single charge, while others will last less than half of that time before you need to find a charger. 

We’ve examined dozens of cheaper options, and our pick for the best pair of headphones under $50 is the Audio Technica ATH-M20x because they have great sound quality at an affordable price. If you’re looking for a wired option, something portable, or a lightweight pair of headphones, we’ve also included our picks for the best headphones under $50 in other categories.

The Rundown
Best Overall, Wired:
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x at Amazon
The ATH-M20x headphones let you enjoy your music at its best quality within this price range.
Runner-Up, Best Wired:
Shure SRH145m+ at Amazon
The mid- and high-tones are pleasantly accurate, forgoing the current trend of over-intensity.
Best Airpods Alternative:
Mpow MX1 Earbuds at Amazon
With two microphones for clear calls and touch stems for easy control, these earbuds perform like higher-end buds.
Best Aesthetics:
Skullcandy Uproar at Amazon
If you often feel that other headphones don’t have enough bass in the mix, the Uproars might be for you.
Best for Exercise:
Hussar Magicbuds at Amazon
For the increased IPX7 rating, sound quality, and noise reduction, the Hussar Magicbuds gives you the basics on a budget.
Best Sound Quality:
Edifier H840 at Amazon
The headphones are engineered to deliver lifelike audio quality at an entry-level price, and they do the job pretty well.
The headphones are comfortable, fold down to almost nothing, and the price is unbeatable.
Best for Gaming:
Razer Kraken X at Amazon
The headset delivers immersive, positional audio that makes you feel as if you’re truly in the game.
Best Lightweight:
Koss Porta Pro at Amazon
An adjustable headband attaches to comfort zone pads that help reduce pressure on the ears.

Best Overall, Wired: Audio-Technica ATH-M20x

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x
What We Like
  • Clear, detailed audio

  • Good sound isolation

  • Decent build quality

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks active noise cancellation

The ATH-M20x headphones let you enjoy your music at its best quality within this price range. They have a frequency response of 15Hz to 20KHz, and 40mm drivers with rare magnets and copper-clad aluminum voice coils. These headphones are wired and don’t have Bluetooth capabilities, but they have a single-side 3.0mm cable and come with a one-fourth-inch adapter for enhanced versatility.

The around-the-ear design provides a close seal for good sound isolation, even without active noise cancellation. The ATH-M20x does lose some points for comfort because they're not super adjustable. The earcups swivel 15 degrees and the headband can be resized, but some users say they’re a bit tight.

It seems as though Audio-Technica cut some corners on the adjustments to produce headphones that would still sound great in this price range. If you like to listen to a lot of music—and especially if you’re planning to do any studio monitoring or mixing—then great sound quality is worth the trade-off.

Type: Over-Ear | Connection Type: 3.0mm cable | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Runner-Up, Best Wired: Shure SRH145m+

Shure SRH145m+
What We Like
  • Powerful performance

  • Comfortable

  • Attractive aesthetics

What We Don't Like
  • Bass could be a bit stronger

Shure has made huge waves with its range of affordable headphones, and the SRH145m+ has better features (an inline remote and microphone) and better sound quality than its predecessor. Test the SRK145m+ headphones on a track with lots of sub-bass and you’ll get a reasonably powerful sound without audible distortion. The mid- and high-tones are pleasantly accurate, forgoing the current trend of over-intensity. 

The design is attractive—instead of an adjustable headband, the earcups can slide up and down the inside, and hinges allow them to be folded for easy storage. The headphones weigh less than 6 ounces, and the dual-side 5-foot cord gives you increased mobility. The cord has a 3.5mm jack on the end, however, so you may need to use an adapter when connecting to some mobile devices.

To keep the price down there are no other accessories supplied, but SRH145m+ headphones are a great budget choice. These headphones are discontinued by the manufacturer, but you can still find them for sale at some retailers.

Type: Over-Ear | Connection Type: 3.5mm cable | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Best Airpods Alternative: Mpow MX1 Earbuds

What We Like
  • Noise-canceling

  • IPX8 waterproof

  • USB-C and wireless charging

What We Don't Like
  • Four mic noise-canceling works only on calls

If you don’t want to shell out so much cash for Apple's Airpods, the MX1 Earbuds by Mpow have some pretty impressive features for their $40 price tag. They boast four-mic noise cancellation, hi-fi sound, IPX8 waterproofing, and up to 35 hours of playtime (five or more hours continuous play and five to six charges in the wireless charging case). The case only takes about 90 minutes to reach a full charge too, as it uses a fast charging USB-C cable. You can even charge the case on a wireless pad.

With two microphones for clear calls and touch stems for easy control, these earbuds perform like higher-end buds. You can use one or both buds at a time, or share an earbud and listen to music with a friend on the 10mm drivers. The MX1 Earbuds don’t look and feel exactly like Airpods, but they’re one of the best alternatives available in this price range.

Type: True wireless | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: Yes

Best Aesthetics: Skullcandy Uproar

Uproar
What We Like
  • Powerful bass

  • Lightweight

  • Inexpensive

What We Don't Like
  • No 3.5mm audio cable

Skullcandy is known for its budget headphones, and the brand offers one of the best sets under $50 in the Uproar. The battery life is 10 hours and they’re lightweight, coming in at just over 4 ounces. The headphones come in several different vibrant colors, so you can find the design that matches your other devices or your personality. The Bluetooth headphones will work with your phone, laptop, and other Bluetooth-enabled devices, and there’s a microphone for taking calls too.

The sound quality is pretty good, but there’s a slight amount of distortion on the loudest volume levels, especially when you travel any distance away from your device. The bass is boosted, so if you’re looking for reference sound then look elsewhere. This might be most noticeable in classical music. However, the bass doesn’t overpower the mids, and the highs are well balanced. If you often feel that other headphones don’t have enough bass in the mix, the Uproars might be for you.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Best for Exercise: Hussar Magicbuds

What We Like
  • Excellent sound quality

  • Built-in mic

  • Solid fit

What We Don't Like
  • Noise reduction could be better

Hussar’s Magicbuds are wireless, which makes them far more convenient for exercising and unrestricted movement. With silicone ear hooks and different-sized ear tips (including a memory foam option), you’ll get a comfortable fit. They will stay in your ears even during high-impact workouts and running.

These headphones are IPX7 rated, which means they can be immersed in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes and can withstand even the sweatiest of workouts. On a full charge, you can get up to nine hours of battery life, which is not bad for a set of wireless earbuds.

Sound-wise, Hussar says the earbuds will satisfy most bass-heads with deep bass and a clear treble. The earbuds come with the added perk of Qualcomm’s CVC 6.0 noise reduction, but they don’t have the active noise cancellation you’d get with some higher-end headphones. They have a pretty decent wireless range of up to 33 feet. For the increased IPX7 rating, sound quality, and noise reduction, the Hussar Magicbuds gives you the basics on a budget.

Type: Wireless | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: Yes

Best Sound Quality: Edifier H840

Edifier H840
What We Like
  • Low price

  • Lightweight

  • Solid bass

What We Don't Like
  • Feel a bit cheap

  • Not comfortable for long periods

These wired over-ear headphones from Edifier deliver high fidelity sound in a comfortable and classic design. The headphones are engineered to deliver lifelike audio quality at an entry-level price, and they do the job pretty well. 

They include a powerful 40mm driver and have a frequency response of 20Hz to 20Khz with an impedance of 32Ohm. The comfortable over-ear design provides a fair amount of noise isolation to support the sound. The volume could stand to be a bit louder, but the range and bass provides an impressive sound even at lower volumes. You can opt for the P841 model and get an in-line microphone.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: 3.5mm cable | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Best Portable: Sony MDRZX110 ZX Series Stereo Headphones

What We Like
  • Fold flat

  • Lightweight and comfortable

  • Very affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Average audio quality

The Sony MDRZX110 headphones are about as basic as can be in terms of functionality, but they do a few things very well. The headphones are comfortable, fold down to almost nothing, and the price is unbeatable. 

Maybe you find earbuds uncomfortable, maybe you don’t want to bring a pair of expensive headphones into work every day, or perhaps you just need something that fits in your bag without weighing you down. The Sony MDRZX110 check all the boxes, delivering decent but budget-quality sound in a compact and easy-to-wear package. For a sub-$10 pair of headphones, it has a surprisingly broad response range that’s suited to casual listening or video watching.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Y-type cable | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Best for Gaming: Razer Kraken X

Razer BlackShark V2 Pro
What We Like
  • Wide system compatibility

  • Comfortable

  • 7.1 surround sound (PC only)

What We Don't Like
  • So-so audio quality

Gaming headsets need to deliver immersive audio, include a decent microphone, wear comfortably, and work with your game system. In the sub-$50 price range, this is a tall order to fill. For the most part, the Razer Kraken X delivers on all fronts. It’s still a budget headset, but it does a lot for the price point. 

One of the main selling points is its 7.1 surround sound. This is a software-enabled feature, so it has to be activated and is available only for PC gaming. But the headset delivers immersive, positional audio that makes you feel as if you’re truly in the game. The Kraken X has a 3.5mm connection and is compatible with Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch. 

The all-plastic design looks somewhat flimsy but is otherwise neutral, and it makes for a super lightweight headset that’s comfortable to wear all day. The cardioid microphone is adjustable and “noise-canceling,” meaning it filters out background sound so your teammates can clearly hear your voice. Where the Kraken X falters is with audio quality—if you aren’t taking advantage of the surround sound feature, it sounds more like a budget pair of headphones.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: 3.5mm cable | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Best Lightweight: Koss Porta Pro

What We Like
  • Foldable and portable

  • Unique design

  • Includes carrying case

What We Don't Like
  • Connects with a 3.5mm plug

The Porta Pro by Koss are budget headphones, but they have some features in common with more expensive models. They have rigid mylar drivers and oxygen-free copper voice coils to help promote cleaner sound, along with NdFeB magnet structures to help get louder volume levels. The headphones have an impressive frequency response of 15Hz to 25 KHz, and a sensitivity of 101db. 

The design is really what makes these headphones stand out, though. There’s an adjustable headband, which attaches to comfort zone pads that help reduce pressure on the ears. You can adjust the pressure between firm and light to make the headphones the most comfortable for you, and the foam ear pads sit on the ears without pushing too hard.  

You connect the Porta Pro to your device via a 4-foot long 3.5mm audio jack, so you may need an adapter if you want to connect these headphones to your mobile device. But, when you’re not using the headphones, you can collapse them completely flat and store them in the included carrying case.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: 3.5mm cable | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Final Verdict

The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x headphones (view on Amazon) are our top choice for wired headphones because they sound fantastic and perform beyond their price range. For a wireless option under $50, look no further than the Mpow Flame headphones (view on Amazon), which provide good sound and a comfortable design.

About our Trusted Experts

Erika Rawes has been writing professionally for more than a decade, and she’s spent the last five years writing about consumer technology. Erika has reviewed roughly 125 gadgets, including computers, peripherals, games, A/V equipment, mobile devices, and smart home gadgets. 

Tobey Grumet has been a writer and editor for 25 years. She spent eight years as the first female Technology Editor at Popular Mechanics. These days, she works as a full-time freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Forbes, Family Circle, Business Insider, Men's Journal, Sports Illustrated, and more.

What to Look for in Headphones Under $50

Sound quality - In some ways, sound quality is a personal factor, but there are specifications that can help determine whether or not a pair of headphones will sound good. You can look at driver size to determine the sound quality. It’s widely believed that the larger the driver, the louder the sound it’s capable of producing. Also, look at specifications like what the driver is made of, what the voice coil is made of, frequency response, sensitivity, and impedance.

Design - Headphones come in all shapes and sizes: over-ear, on-ear, in-ear, or necklace style. They all serve different purposes, but over-ear models tend to deliver a better listening experience. If you want a pair for working out, on the other hand, earbuds or necklace style is probably the way to go. They won’t serve up the best sound, but they will be the most comfortable. Also, consider factors like water resistance ratings, especially if you plan on using the headphones outdoors or while exercising.

Battery life - When you’re listening to a wireless pair, a dead battery is a real bummer. A solid battery life will give you 10 to 20 hours of listening, but if you spring for a pair that has a wired option, you can simply plug in the cable to continue listening if the battery dies. Check the type of cable connection though, and make sure it will connect to your devices. A mismatched cable will require an adapter, and that can also affect your experience.

FAQ

Which brand headphone is best?

Several brands offer quality headphones, but for the under-$50 price range, you can find reliable headphones from brands such as Sony, Skullcandy, and Mpow. However, don’t rule out a pair of headphones simply because of their brand. Do your research and look at specs and components to determine if the product is worth the investment.


Which brand of headphones last the longest?

It depends. You may find that a certain model of headphones from a brand can last for years, yet another model from the same brand lasts only for a few months. Durability and longevity vary depending on the specific model, but generally speaking, cheap over-the-ear headphones tend to be more durable than cheap earphones.


Are cheap headphones worth it?

In many cases, yes. You don’t necessarily have to sacrifice on features when buying a budget pair of headphones. For under $50, you can find both wired and wireless headphones, some of which offer features such as wide compatibility across multiple devices, gaming features, and surround sound. Cheap headphones are especially useful as a temporary solution, or for situations where you need multiple pairs of headphones.

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