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Finding a decent pair of headphones doesn't mean you have to pair out the ear. We've collected our favorite headphones available for less than $50 to help you find the best pair for your needs.
While sound quality always comes first with headphones, an increasing concern with the advent of wireless headsets is battery life. While some headphones can go as long as 20 hours on a single, anything above 10 is a pretty solid bet.
If you're looking for something a bit fancier, make sure to check out our ultimate headphones buying guide for the best headphones for every listener.
Excellent battery life
Active noise cancellation
ANC can negatively affect audio quality
If you’re in the market for a pair of wallet-friendly wireless headphones, the TaoTronics TT-BH060 SoundSurge 60 is hard to beat. It outperforms its price tag with surprisingly advanced features and solid audio quality. With a whopping 30 hours of battery life and a “Hyper Speed Charge” feature that gives you two hours of play time in just five minutes of charging, you definitely won’t need to recharge these headphones every night. And that’s not to say you won’t wear them all day long — they’re comfortably lightweight, super adjustable for a customized fit, and have soft protein cushions on the ear cups. They also feature active noise cancellation (ANC) technology, which means the headphones emit their own soundwaves to “cancel” environmental sounds, creating a quieter environment inside the headphones and blocking out droning background sounds like plane engines or air conditioners. Some users have reported that having the ANC turned on has a negative effect on the audio quality, which may be the TT-BH060 showing its budget price tag.
Bluetooth 5.0 provides a long range and steady connection to your device, and it has a built-in microphone for phone calls. With fantastic battery life, high-end comfort, and solid audio quality, the TaoTronics TT-BH060 SoundSurge 60 is an all around great value.
Clear, detailed audio
Good sound isolation
No noise cancellation
May not be comfortable for everybody
If sound quality is your top priority, the ATH-M20x headphones from Audio-Technica will allow you to enjoy your music at its best quality in this price range. These headphones are wired and don’t have Bluetooth capabilities, but they have a single-side cable and come with a ¼-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 it’s not super adjustable. The headband can be resized, but the ear cups have limited rotation and some users say they’re a bit tight. It seems like Audio-Technica cut some corners on the build quality 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.
Comfortable and well-designed
Multiple eartips for customization
IPX7 waterproof certified
Short battery life
Slow to charge
Mpow brings athletes and exercise enthusiasts a functional and exciting pair of workout headphones on the cheap. The wireless headphones are powered by Bluetooth 4.1 and last for nine hours on just a 1.5-hour charge, meaning that they will never trip you up or run out of battery too soon, even if you are training for a marathon. Our testing revealed that they are IPX7 water-resistant with a nano-coating that blocks out sweat and rain, staying snugly in your ears whether you are out in the elements or in a yoga studio. The CSR chip and memory-foam ear tips deliver a rich bass experience that stays contained in your ears.
"The combination of the IPX7 water-resistant nano-coating and secure, ergonomic in-ear design makes the Mpow Flame a rare find for this price point." — Tobey Grumet, Product Tester
Bass could be a bit stronger
Shure has been making huge waves with its range of affordable headphones, and the SRH145m+ set is the cream of the crop. Plus, it has better features (an inline remote and microphone) and sound quality than its predecessor (SRH144).
Test the SRK145m+ headphones on a track with lots of sub-bass and you’ll get a reasonably powerful sound without distortion. The mid- and high- tones are pleasantly accurate, forgoing the current trend for over-intensity (read: Beats headphones). It has 100 dB SPL/mW with a frequency range of 25 Hz to 18 kHz, as well as an impedance of 34 Ohms.
The design is neat – instead of an adjustable headband, the earcups can slide up and down the inside of it, and hinges allow them to be folded for easy storage. The headphones are only .36 pounds and the dual-side five-foot cord gives you increased mobility.
To keep the price down there are no other accessories supplied, but SRH145m+ headphones are a great budget choice.
No 3.5mm audio cable
Skullcandy is known for its great budget headphones, and they offer the best set under $50. The battery life is 10 hours and at 10.6 oz., they’re pretty trim. And they come in seven different colors.
The sound quality is good, but not entirely accurate. The bass is boosted, so if you’re looking for reference sound then look elsewhere. This might be most noticeable on classical music. However, the bass doesn’t overpower the mids and the highs are well balanced. Basically, if you feel like other headphones often don’t have enough bass in the mix the Uproars are for you.
For just $35, you’ll get the wireless Creative Sound Blaster Jams, which are lighter at 8.8 oz. and will give you up to 12 hours of battery life. Sound quality can’t match the Skullcandy Uproars. If you don't switch on the bass boost, the bass is too weak, and with it engaged the sound can get distorted at higher volumes. The design, too, can’t match the Uproars; the earpads are not as comfortable and the headphones can’t be folded. However, overall they are a worthy choice if Skullcandy Uproars are too flashy for your taste.
Excellent sound quality
Noise-cancellation could be better
Hussar’s Magicbuds check all the right boxes for a solid pair of workout headphones. They’re wireless, which is 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 one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, meaning they can withstand even the sweatiest of workouts. On a full charge, you can get up to nine hours of battery life, which is pretty great for a set of wireless earbuds. Sound-wise, Hussar says the earbuds will satisfy most bass-heads with a deep bass and a clear treble. While they don’t have active noise cancelation, the earbuds come with the added perk of Qualcomm’s CVC 6.0 noise reduction. For the increased IPX7 rating, sound quality, and noise reduction, the Hussar Magicbuds gives you the basics on a budget.
Feels 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 life-like audio quality at an entry-level price and do their job well. They include a powerful 40mm driver and have a frequency response of 20Hz-20Khz with an impedance of 32Ohm. The comfortable over-ear design provides a fair amount of noise isolation to support the sound. Volume could stand to be a bit louder, but the range and bass provides an impressive sound even at lower volume sound.
Lightweight and comfortable
Average audio quality
The Sony MDRZX110 is the true commuter and traveler’s companion. It’s about as basic as can be in terms of functionality, but it does a few things very well: it’s comfortable, folds down to almost nothing, and costs even less. Maybe you find earbuds uncomfortable. Maybe you don’t want to bring a pair of expensive headphones into work every day. And maybe you just need something that fits in your bag without weighing you down. The Sony MDRZX110 checks all the boxes, delivering decent but budget-quality sound in a compact and easy-to-wear package. For a sub-$20 pair of headphones, it has a surprisingly broad response range that’s suited to casual listening or video-watching. These headphones are wired, come with or without an in-line microphone, and are available in black, white, and pink.
Wide system compatibility
7.1 surround sound (PC only)
So-so audio quality
Mostly plastic build
In the sub-$50 price range, gaming headsets have a tall order to fill. They need to deliver immersive audio, include a decent microphone, wear comfortably, and work with your game system. For the most part, the Razer Kraken X delivers on all fronts. It’s still a budget headset, but it does a lot for this 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 only available for PC gaming. But it delivers immersive, positional audio that makes you feel like you’re truly in the game. The Kraken X is also compatible with Xbox, PS4, 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 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 set of headphones.
The TaoTronics TT-BH060 are our favorite wireless headphones, featuring active noise cancelling, fantastic battery life, and a comfortable, high-end design. The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Studio Monitor Headphones are our top choice for wired headphones because they simply sound fantastic and perform beyond their price range.
Our expert testers and reviewers evaluate headphones under $50 the same way we evaluate most headphones, with a bigger focus on sound quality and the trade-off with price. We start by looking at the build material, fit, and comfort of the headphones, and try to judge their durability, waterproofing, and if they'd be comfortable to wear for hours at a time. In the case of Bluetooth headphones we also consider ease of pairing, range, and battery life as important factors.
The most important element we consider is sound quality. We look at frequency response, bass, and the overall audio profile by playing audiobooks, music, streaming shows, and playing games. Finally, we compare each headphone and its price to a similar competitor to help make a final judgement. All of the headphones we review are purchased by Lifewire; none are provided by the manufacturer.
Emmeline Kaser is a former editor of Lifewire’s product round-ups and reviews. She has several years of experience researching and writing about consumer tech.
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.
Sound quality - Sound quality is a pretty personal factor. Some headphones deliver heavier bass while others have a more balanced sound; some headphones even let you adjust the sound profile via an app. You can also 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. That’s not always true, but as a rule of thumb, go for earphone drivers that measure between 8mm and 15mm and headphone drivers fall between 20mm and 50mm.
Design - Headphones come in all shapes and sizes: over-ear, in-ear, necklace style and true wireless. 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 are probably the way to go. They won’t serve up the best sound, but they will be the most comfortable.
Battery life - When you’re listening to a wireless pair, a dead battery is really a buzzkill. 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.