Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Best Overall: Mpow Flame at Amazon
"Powered by Bluetooth 4.1 and able to last for nine hours on just a 1.5-hour charge."
Best Noise-Canceling: TaoTronics Headphones at Amazon
"Reducing background sounds up to 30dB."
Best Wireless: Skullcandy Uproar at Amazon
"Perfect if you feel like other headphones often don't have enough bass in the mix."
Runner-Up, Best Wireless: Creative Sound Blaster Jam at Amazon
"A light 8.8 ounces and capable of up to 12 hours of battery life."
Best for Sound Quality: Ausdom Wireless Headphones at Amazon
"Featuring 3D surround sound, powerful deep bass, incredibly clear treble, and a frequency response of 20Hz-20KHz."
Best for Exercise: Hussar Magicbuds at Amazon
"These will stay in your ears even during high-impact workouts and running."
Best Wired: Shure SRH145m+ at Amazon
"Featuring lots of sub-bass and reasonably powerful sound without distortion."
Runner-Up, Best for Sound Quality: Edifier H840 at Amazon
"Delivering high-fidelity sound in a comfortable and classic design."
Best for Kids: JLab JBuddies Studio Wired Headphones at Target
"With a max sound of 85db, loud enough to rock out but not so noisy that they risk damaging their hearing."
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.
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
Strong noise cancelation
Multiple eartips and earhooks for a personalized fit
Materials not as durable as more expensive earphones
Limited range and muddy highs
Noise canceling technology has come a long way since the first systems were created for pilots in the 1950s. Nowadays, anyone can buy a great pair of noise-canceling headphones, even on a tight budget. Our pick for noise-canceling earbuds under $50 are the TaoTronics Active Noise Cancelling Headphones. These headphones are crafted with an aluminum alloy that gives it a premium look, and they can reduce background sounds up to 30dB, which can make it much easier to listen to music or podcasts while you’re traveling or working. The 140 mAh battery onboard gives you 15 hours of continuous play on a single charge, so you’ll be fine if you charge them every few days. And for control, there’s a three-button in-line remote on the 55-inch-long cord that lets you select tracks and change the volume. Keep in mind that these aren’t going to cancel noise as well as high-end noise-canceling headphones, but they will do a better-than-average job and cost you a lot less dough.
"For less than $50, these small, lightweight earbuds are a tremendous value, offering high-end noise-canceling even on loud, crowded transportation." — Tobey Grumet, Product Tester
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.
Lightweight design and comfortable earcups
Long range and secure Bluetooth connectivity
Poor noise isolation
Name-brand audio companies like Bose and Sennheiser have spent a lot of marketing dollars to make sure consumers associate their brand with high fidelity sound quality. And while these companies do make impressive products, the price is usually passed on at checkout. But with imports available to U.S. consumers via online marketplaces, obscure companies like Ausdom are offering High Fidelity headphones for a fraction of the price of established competitors.
This over-ear headphone from Ausdom works either wireless with Bluetooth 4.0 technology or can be connected via 3.5mm audio cable. They have 3D surround sound, powerful deep bass, incredibly clear treble and a frequency response of 20Hz-20KHz. The volume will go as loud (and probably louder) than your ears can handle, all while maintaining clear and balanced sound quality.
In addition to the excellent sound quality, these headphones also have a battery life of over 20 hours, impressive long range in bluetooth mode, control for phone calls, and comfortable design with artificial protein leather that feels great on the ears. The Ausdom headphone proves you can get a top-shelf listening experience without paying name-brand price.
"The Bluetooth was solid, allowing me to stray about 30 feet from my phone and never disconnected when in range" — Tobey Grumet, Product Tester
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.
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.
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.
Effective volume limiter
No real bass response
Send your kids off to school with these stylish and durable headphones. Available in two-tone blue or purple, they add a dimension of style and flair without the big-name price tag. Whether they need quiet in the library or want to zone out during a long bus ride, they can expect comfort from the feather-light build and padded ear cups and band. The max sound is 85db, loud enough to rock out but not so noisy that they risk damaging their hearing. The durable product is a great introductory pair of headphones that ditches the blah look of other budget picks.
The combination of the IPX7 water-resistant nano-coating and a secure, ergonomic in-ear design make the Mpow Flame a rare find for this price point. Sound quality isn’t perfect and battery life is lackluster at approximately seven hours, but if all you need is a comfortable pair of wireless earphones to take to the gym, the Mpow Flame is hard to beat in terms of sheer value.
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.