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8 Best 'Cheap' Headphones

Updated on September 3, 2014

Quality for an Inexpensive Price

You want a set of earphones that are high quality, great sounding, and all for a great price. Great! The problem is, there are literally thousands of models and brands to choose from. How do you know which ones are the best? Do you go with a certain brand like Sony or Sennheiser? If they're highly rated, will they work with your type of music? In my time writing reviews for my blog Classical Music Headphones, I've come across earphones and earbuds from the same manufacturer that deliver stunningly different sounds.

There's no doubt that searching for good value can be a daunting task. People will tell you that "you get what you pay for..."

But you know what? I hate that phrase. I've encountered quite a few high quality headphones that are priced much lower than they should be. In fact, some of them are so good that I tend to use them more often than my $300 set. When new models come out, the older models tend to drop in price substantially. Except that audio devices don't age as fast as other electronics. The items on this list will get you the "best bang for your buck".

Image: Audio Technica ATH-M30 available on


I've added a "Great Deals" section that highlights some great sales going on right now. I'll keep updating the list as new deals come. The best ones (by far) on sale right now are the Audio Technica ATH-M50x's, which are currently over $50 off.

3 Things To Look For:

Tips to Help You Make the Right Purchase:

I've rated each (out of 5) based on these 3 criteria:

1. Comfort

People tend to wear them for hours on end, and so even the slightest differences in clamping pressure, the type of earcups material and headband can make a huge difference in your music enjoyment.

2. Sound Quality

Every manufacturer (and even different models of the same manufacturer) has a distinct sound that works better for some genres of music and worse for others. Some sound great (like the Sennheiser HD202 II's listed below) no matter the genre. I try to highlight which genres each headset will excel at and which ones they simply won't do justice to.

3. Build Quality

Will they survive multiple trips in your backpack? I have given all of them the rough treatment to see how they hold up over time.

1. Sennheiser HD202 II - Professional DJ Quality for Unbelievably Cheap

Ratings: (out of 5)

Comfort: 4.7

Sound Quality: 4.85

Build Quality: 4.65

Overall: 4.75

Sennheiser HD 202 II Professional Headphones (Black)
Sennheiser HD 202 II Professional Headphones (Black)
Usually the reason that a set of cans become so cheap is because they use inferior parts to manufacture them. In the case of the HD202 II's, however, the reason they are so inexpensive is because they've been around for almost ten years. Newer models meant to replace the HD202s have come and gone, but these resilient cans have managed to stay popular and in demand.They offer crisp, clear music in the mids and highs, faithfully reproducing acoustic rock and classical music with great detail. They also have deep, rich bass that doesn't overwhelm the other frequencies. The HD202s' detachable earcups make them the first choice of DJ's everywhere. In short, they are a resilient, fun set of cans that deliver $150 sound quality for (usually) under $25.

Sennheiser HD202 II Reviews:

Cnet User Review:

"This is an Absolutely Stunning Set of Headphones."

Head-Fi Review:

"Overall, they are fantastic for only 20 dollars."

2. Audio-Technica ATH-M30x - Warm Surround Sound and Deep Bass

Ratings: (out of 5)

Comfort: 4.8

Sound Quality: 4.75

Build Quality: 4.65

Overall: 4.7

Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black
Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black
The ATH-M30x's are another pair of Professional Cans that can operate in almost any environment. Where the ATH-M30x headphones differ is in the large circumaural pads that provide superior noise isolation and terrific surround sound. The adjustable cushioned headband is extremely felt like a Lazy-Boy on my head. The closed-back design isn't ideal for classical music or live acoustic recordings, but what it does offer is a chance to truly tune out the world. These are my favorite for movie-watching because they offer crisp detail, a bassy punch and an overall warm sound. They also come with a very long and rugged cord that's resistant to wear and tear. The Takeaway: You won't believe that you got these for under $200. They're ideal for project studio engineers, music producers, and quite simply anyone (like me) who enjoys rich, bassy surround sound when watching movies or playing video games. I can't recommend the ATH-M30s enough.

Audio Technica ATH-M30 Reviews:

Classical Music Headphones Review:

"The ATH-M30s have the uncanny ability to put you right there in the middle of the orchestra. You can hear the subtleties of the different instruments. This is a great listening experience."

Cnet Review:

"The Audio-Technica ATH-M30 offer good build quality and detailed, natural sound with good bass."

3. MEElectronics M31-BK In-Ear Buds - Earphones that Focus on the Fun.

Ratings: (out of 5)

Comfort: 4.7

Sound Quality: 4.5

Build Quality: 4.35

Overall: 4.55

MEElectronics M31-RD In-Ear Headphones for iPod, iPhone, MP3/CD/DVD Players (Red)
MEElectronics M31-RD In-Ear Headphones for iPod, iPhone, MP3/CD/DVD Players (Red)
MEElectronics' new earphones don't stand out in any particular way: their highs, mids and even bass is servicable, but doesn't jump out at you. Where these earbuds excel, however, is in the FUN. They have a way of capturing the energy of music and making you really feel it. I'm not a dancer, I'm a white Irishmen and my dancing skills are zilch-to-none, but I found myself dancing to the music. They also come with a very durable cord and carrying case. The stainless steel construction is stylish and fits comfortably in the ear.

MEElectronics M31-BK Reviews:

Anything But Ipod:

"They come across as lively and fun to use beating out many other contenders in the sub $50 dollar price range bringing out the miser in all bass lovers."

Head-fi Review:

"Bass is strong and boomy, more suitable for basshead quantity wise and may become slightly offensive to the non-basshead."

Sound Off! Poll

What Will You Use Your Headphones For?

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4. Koss Porta Pro - Excellent Sound Held Back by the Retro Design

Ratings: (out of 5)

Comfort: 3.9

Sound Quality: 5.0

Build Quality: 4.0

Overall: 4.3

Koss Porta Pro On Ear Headphones with Case, Black / Silver
Koss Porta Pro On Ear Headphones with Case, Black / Silver
Of all the items on this list, the Koss Porta Pros have the BEST sound quality. Koss makes great sounding headphones and these are no exception. Clear and crisp sound that rivals any other pair costing under $200. What holds them back is their retro design. PortaPros have not changed their design since the 1980s and the result is that the metal band has a tendency to catch my hair. It's an unpleasant experience that brings back memories of listening to music in..well...the 1980s. Why do they hold onto this design? I don't know... The Takeaway: Some people love the PortaPros and have no problem with the design (my friends loves them, but he's, and if you want absolutely amazing sounding music you can't go wrong with the Porta Pro's. They are on-ear style, so they don't offer any noise-isolation.Update: The Porta Pro's listed here are $79.99, but there are the less expensive $35 Koss Porta Pros available on Amazon right now. The pictures for that model wouldn't work on Squidoo, however, and so I switched it to the more expensive pair. Click through and Amazon will 'suggest' the cheaper models for you.

Koss Porta Pro Reviews:


"They handle deep, hip-hop bass lines beautifully, and pack a punch on thick, layered rock music."


"these cans continue offering worthy sonic competition to modern headphones, even after 28 years."

Current Deals on Now: - Where the Unattainable Becomes Attainable

Every once in a while things that were once out of your price range have sales that make them irresistible. They are hundreds of great sales on Amazon. Here we'll feature some truly high-quality models that we normally wouldn't recommend because they'd be out of our price range. Included are the ATH-M50's, which are frequently rated #1 by audiophiles. You can read a full ATH-M50 Review here.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black, Professional Grade, Critically Acclaimed, with Detachable Cable
Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black, Professional Grade, Critically Acclaimed, with Detachable Cable
If you ever seek advice from audiophiles (experts in sound), the model that come up most often is the ATH-M50x. They are the best sounding set of cans you can get for under $200, and are usually seen as the 'starting point' for beginner audiophiles (an expensive habit to start, I warn you). Like all Audio Technica products, they have a sturdy build, and are very comfortable to wear. The ear-cups have lots of padding so you can wear them for hours in total comfort. Sound wise it's very detailed, offering a good amount of bass and overall balance that make them ideal for producers. They also built to work with both portable devices, like the iPhone, iPod, etc. as well as professional home audio systems (it comes with a 1/4" adapter). These are by far the best in this price range.
Sony MDRV6 Studio Monitor Headphones with CCAW Voice Coil
Sony MDRV6 Studio Monitor Headphones with CCAW Voice Coil
There are reviews on Amazon from people who have owned the MDR-V6 for over 20 years and are still using them! Many music producers swear by the Sony MDR Monitor Series for music production. They are built with heat conduction in mind, so using them intensely won't degrade them over time. They have large circum-aural ear-cups with soft pads so you can work or watch movies in complete comfort. These, along the ATH-M50's, are the best you can get for under $200 during a normal day. Now, they're both steals!
Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional Studio Monitor Headphone, Black, with Cutting Edge Engineering, 90 Degree Swiveling Earcups, Pro-grade Earpads/Headband, Detachable Cables Included
Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional Studio Monitor Headphone, Black, with Cutting Edge Engineering, 90 Degree Swiveling Earcups, Pro-grade Earpads/Headband, Detachable Cables Included
If you want precision and detail to show up in your music then you'd be hard pressed to find better headphones than these. The ATH-M40X are designed for record producers and sound mixers in mind. The earcups swivel for easy one-ear listening. It's great for watching movies, as they pick up on the small, subtle details that immerse you in environments.

5. Sennheiser CX300B MK II Bass Earbuds - Ultra-Lightweight with a Bassy Punch

Ratings: (out of 5)

Comfort: 4.4

Sound Quality: 4.7

Build Quality: 4.2

Overall: 4.45

Sennheiser CX300B MKII Reviews:

Classical Music Headphones:

"An incredibly robust pair of earphones that can play pretty much anything you throw at them."


"If you're on a budget but want to ditch the crappy Apple buds, we can't say it loudly or plainly enough: buy a set of Sennheiser CX 300-II."

6. JVC HARX700 - Great Full-Size Studio Headphones that Can Compete with the Big Boys...

Ratings: (out of 5)

Comfort: 4.7

Sound Quality: 4.5

Build Quality: 4.5

Overall: 4.55

JVC HARX700 Precision Sound Full Size Headphones - Black
JVC HARX700 Precision Sound Full Size Headphones - Black
The JVC HARX700 Headphones are the heaviest headphones on this list at 11.64oz (compare with 0.1 oz for the Sennheiser CX300Bs). While they feel a bit heavy on the head they are also very comfortable to wear and offer a balanced sound. They aren't as noise-isolating as other headphones, with some sound bleed going both ways, but that opens up the soundstage a bit. One great feature is that the soft pleather earpads are removable, making them great headphones for DJs. They are big, which means that they aren't very portable. There's no carrying case that comes with them, and they don't fold into a smaller shape to fit into your backpack, unfortunately. But if you don't mind they're large size, they do offer a great option for budget headphones for producers.

JVC HARX700 Reviews

Notable Amazon Customer Review:

"Musician for 30+ years. Studio work for 20+.

There is no better set of headphones available in this price range."

7. Koss UR-20 - Great Noise-Isolation and a Long, Durable Cord.

Ratings: (out of 5)

Comfort: 4.6

Sound Quality: 4.45

Build Quality: 3.8

Overall: 4.28

Koss UR20 Over-Ear Headphones, Flexible Sling Headband, Black
Koss UR20 Over-Ear Headphones, Flexible Sling Headband, Black
Sometimes a price point can overwhelm any shortcomings a pair of headphones can have. Let's start with the good: the headphones are very comfortable and form a nice seal around your ears, which will block out almost all noise even if you don't have any music playing. The sound is balanced, with no particular area overwhelming the others (as is the case with overly bassy headphones). These headphones are ideal for watching movies or playing video games, especially if you live in an apartment where you want to really crank up the sound without getting complaints from neighbours. And now the bad: these aren't resilient headphones, and will likely break if you carry them back and forth in your backpack. I didn't have any problems when I tried them out for a few days, but several Amazon customer reviews mention this. I suspect this may be the reason Koss calls these "Home Headphones". They work great as long as you keep them at home next to your computer or TV. At $13.88 (the price as of publication), you really can't go wrong with these headphones if you want to watch movies or play video games at home. If you want something to carry around with you daily, you'd be better off going with the ATH-M30s above, which have slightly better sound quality and a much better build quality.

Koss UR-20 Video Review

8. Monoprice 8320 Earphones - The New Earphones on the Block are Causing a Stir

Ratings: (out of 5)

Comfort: 4.0

Sound Quality: 4.55

Build Quality: 4.0

Overall: 4.18

Monoprice 8320 Earphone Reviews:

"At less than $10, the Monoprice 8320s are one of the best deals in technology. If you want a sturdy pair of cheap headphones for enjoying music, these are the ones to get."


" Way above its price range in terms of Sound Quality. Great Price. Did i mention great sound quality with an unbeatable price"


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