15 Affordable In-Ear Headphones Under $100
With such an overwhelming amount of inexpensive in-ears on the market, it can be difficult to pick the best-sounding option — especially when they’re all promising‘enhanced bass’, ‘powerful audio’ and a ‘signature sound’. What’s more, it’s very easy to get caught in a brand loyalty cycle with the less-expensive tech items, as it’s in your nature to base your decision both off past experience as well as the weight the brand name holds when the monetary outlay isn’t as crushing. This could mean that you could carry on buying a brand without even realising they’ve been completely outdone in their field by something perhaps only costing a fraction more.
That’s why I’ve selected a bunch of headphones to test their audio mettle; whether they’re from a household name or a new brand on the block, we sift through the claims and see what sticks. Within the following price bracket, the included extras and special features of a pair of in-ears can often end up detracting from the attention a manufacturer would otherwise pay to the audio itself. As such, I’ve tried not to discredit headphones that weren’t too flash on their feature-list, as long as they had the musical muscle to justify the price and that any shortcuts they took weren’t crippling. This meant that it was often the simpler wired in-ears which stuck to the essentials that ended up scoring well, while the feature heavy and wireless contenders would tend to misplace their priorities.
For comparison, I’ve chosen 15 in-ears that best represent their respective brand’s budget range.
Buyer's Checklist For Headphones
SEAL AND FIT- With headphones that create a seal with your ear canal (aka canalphones), this seal is the most significant factor affecting sound quality. Much of the audio profile can be lost if the silicon or foam tips don’t sit snugly — the bass and sense of space suffer the most, so be sure to test out the different ear tip sizes to get the right fit.
FREQUENCY- Everyone has a different idea of what frequency profile sounds good and each ear creates a different soundstage so, naturally, you may disagree with these reviews. With that in mind, I’ve recommended each set for bass-heads or treble-lovers, for instance, rather than flat-out good or bad.
BELLS AND WHISTLES- While I focused on the performance of the ‘phones rather than the included extras, items like carry pouches can be a life-saver if you’re often on the move, and shirt clips can be great for keeping your buds in place. Most importantly is going to be the amount of fitting options — as I’ve mentioned, the seal is everything when it comes to sound.
WIRED OR WIRELESS- As phones continue to forego headphone jacks and as Bluetooth improves, wireless headphones are gaining traction fast. Unfortunately, they generally don’t perform as well in this price range, so if you’re set on sticking to this budget, it may be worth reassessing your desire to cut the cables.
House of Marley-Smile Jamaica
SPECS-9mm drivers; 2 x pairs of tips (silicon); 1-button remote and mic; braided cloth cable; wood.
House of Marley makes some of the most aesthetically interesting audio products on the market, largely thanks to its extensive use of materials such as wood, denim and cloth, all of which are sustainably sourced. As such it's nice to see that the quality of the Smile Jamaica in-ears manage to surpass the realm of novelty, even at a measly $35.
With wooden driver housings and colourful, braided cloth cabling, the aesthetic is one of the least sedate and most fun of the in-ears we sampled. There is no carry case, no clips and only two different sizes of ear tips (small and medium) included, but the single button remote and mic is a useful addition.
Rather fittingly, the Smile’s audio profile is best suited to organic music (rock and reggae, for instance) as there’s a bit more punch to the upper-mids and treble, but otherwise, their sound is well-rounded. If you listen to electronic and dance music exclusively, then you’ll want to look elsewhere, but for everyone else, these are a solid choice — granted one of the two sizes of ear tips fit you.
Sol Republic Jax
SPECS- 1-button remote and mic; 4x pairs of tips (silicon); plastic finish.
Somehow, the Sol Republic Jax manages to represent the direct opposite of the Marley Smile in-ears in every important way. With a futuristic and minimalist aesthetic combined with some gaudy, candy-esque colour options, the Jax will stand out for a very different reason to the Smiles. Instead of wood and cloth, the entirety of these in-ears are plastic, and while this is fine for most of the device, it doesn’t give the impression of durability, particularly in the remote.
Sol Republic includes four pairs of differently sized ear-tips to ensure right seal, and once they’re snug in your ears and you hit play, you’ll know why. Jax are all about that bass, and the lower frequencies rely on a good seal when they’re being pumped by such tiny drivers. Unfortunately, the low-end focus means there’s a distinct lack of treble, and the bass that is there is a little on the muddy side.
However, if you’re into listening to modern electronica and other heavily produced music, the separation inherent in the music itself actually marries well with these budget in-ears.
SPECS-10mm drivers; 20–20,000Hz; 16 ohm impedance; 1-button remote with mic; 3 x tips (silicon)
The Wraps Natural have no need for a carry case thanks to a unique design that allows them to be worn as a bracelet. This mechanism works reasonably well and is a neat storage solution, but even with their braided faux-leather or wooden-bead cabling, they don’t quite avoid the appearance of headphones wrapped around a wrist.
This distinguishing feature turns out to be their biggest flaw as well, as the braided cloth and faux-leather creates a disturbing amount of noise (aka microphonics) when the cable is brushed against clothing, or just moved in general. While this was present in varying degrees in the other in-ears I tried, none came close to being as loud as the Wraps.
This is a shame, because the audio quality is passable for the price otherwise, with strong and distinct lower frequencies rivalling some of the more expensive contenders. Unfortunately, the Wraps’ treble and upper mids is often obnoxious and presents a profile less balanced than that of the Marley Smile, which I’d strongly recommend if you’re looking in this price district.
Jam Transit Evo
SPECS-Bluetooth 4.0; 7-hour battery; 3-button remote with mic; 3 x tips (silicon).
As their name suggests, the Transit Evos from Jam are more aimed at casual listeners standing on a train rather than athletes in training. The included ear-hooks may offer some security for the more active user, but we found these quite unforgiving and painful to wear. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to get a good fit without them and even though the entirety of the units are situated at the ear, they aren’t too heavy as to pull out the earpieces.
The major drawback of this is that the remote is also on one of the earpieces, and with the rather firm buttons, is painful to operate while wearing.
The Transit Evo’s audio quality is nothing special, but with its squashed mids and lower bass and treble, it’s also far from offensive. This makes them fairly decent in-ears for the price, particularly considering they’re wireless, but we’d recommend you go the extra $10 for the Audiofly AF33w if you’re after inexpensive Bluetooth in-ears as it’ll be an improvement in every way bar battery life.
SPECS-9mm drivers; 10–23,000Hz; 23-ohm impedance; 3 x included tip sizes (silicon); in-line 3-button remote and microphone; soft case and shirt-clip.
Renowned for its audio engineering prowess, Beyerdynamic typically makes products that sit well and truly in the premium price range, but the Byron wired in-ears prove that the company’s still able to offer up this quality on a tight budget.
Of the headphones I tested, this pair comfortably dominated all but one pair (Marshall Mode) when it came to audio quality. The sound profile was forgiving across multiple genres thanks to its punchy bass, terrific clarity in the mids and treble, and a surprisingly large sense of space and separation considering their tiny size and price. These in-ears managed to avoid either a boomy, muddy bass or overcompensated and tinny treble, although a touch more volume in the higher frequencies would have rounded them out perfectly. Their aesthetic is understated, but the lack of frills makes for a compact and lightweight unit, even with the metal driver housings and remote.
My only real complaint with the Byrons is the occasionally flaky membrane buttons on the in-line remote but I’ll forgive this minor transgression in the face of stunning audio.
SPECS-9mm drivers; 20–20,000Hz; 16-ohm impedance; IPX4 sweat-resistant; 3.5-hour battery life; Bluetooth 4.2; 3-button remote and mic; 3 x tip sizes (silicon); soft case
It can be concerning to see a pair of wireless in-ears at such a low price, but the Audiofly AF33w pack an impressive and portable punch at a piddly price. These are the most affordable wireless offering from the Australian pro-audio company and some corners have been cut as a result, but thankfully, they don’t detract too heavily from the experience.
Battery life is only 3.5 hours and they feel rather plasticky, although both of these drawbacks help to keep the unit lightweight. With the large remote balancing out the battery pack, the symmetrical design helps in keeping them secured around your neck, and along with the IPX4 sweat-resistance, makes them an excellent in-ear for a jog or work out.
The AF33w offer a brighter profile overall with more heft given to the upper-mids and treble and very little in the lower-end. The units introduce their own noise as a result of being wireless, similar to the Jam Transit Evo but more pronounced as a result of their treble-skew. Despite this, the audio still maintains a surprising amount of distinction and is suitable for rock, pop and everyday listening.
SPECS-8mm driver; 18–20,000 Hz; 19-ohm impedance; 1-button remote with mic; 4 x tips (silicon); ear hooks; clip and hard case
Easily the most compact in-ears I tested, even when compared with the wireless options, the Fidue A31s pack a deceptive amount of oomph. The bass frequencies are so potent that they actually overpower the already-diminished treble, but for those looking for some low-end love, then these do it well. Part of the reason for this skew is that these tiny in-ears insert further into the ear canal than others and provide a tighter seal, particularly if you opt for the double-flanged silicon tips. This design may not be comfortable for all, especially those that are already somewhat irked by the notion of in-ears. If you don’t mind a deeper seal and a deeper sound, then the rest is all good news.
Despite being incredibly lightweight, the thin cabling still manages to feel sturdy, and the hard, compact carry case will keep the A31s safe without taking up too much pocket space.
The best alternative to these would be the Sol Republic Jax and would save you some dosh, although the Fidues do have a slight edge with their audio clarity
SPECS-4mm drivers; 32-ohm impedance; 3-button remote with mic; 3 x tips (variable wing size, silicon
The Reimers from Urbanears attempt something similar to the JBL Focus 500 with a fitness-focused pair of in-ears, but also avoid many of the pitfalls of their wireless competition.
They largely manage this by offering a comfortable fit with lightweight driver housing and included array of wings. The Reimers are the only in-ears I tested that don’t attempt to be canalphones (ie. the silicon tips don’t create a seal within your ear canal), instead relying on larger drivers to pump the audio through a funnel. This inherently results in a loss in some bass and treble, but the sacrifice is not as severe as with the JBL and makes for good ambient awareness when jogging.
The perks for joggers don’t stop there, with a pair of sturdy shirt clips, solid overall construction and reflective cabling for night runs. The Reimers also feature one of the best remotes we’ve used, with three sturdy and easily-locatable buttons.
Ultimately, these are the best wired in-ears for joggers that we tested, but the Audiofly AF33w are a good fitness-centric alternative if you’d prefer to go wireless.
SPECS-11mm drivers; 18–20,000 Hz; 16-ohm impedance; 4 x tips (silicon); 3-button remote with mic; soft case.
Considering Audiofly's heritage as a manufacturer of professional-grade in-ear monitors for musicians, it’s a little disappointing to find this pair falling short of the competition.
By no means a bad pair of in-ears, the AF45c just don’t possess the full-spectrum clarity and balance of rivals such as the Beyerdynamic Byron and Marshall Mode. Instead, the audio profile is somewhat squashed and mids-forward, which suits listeners who love their vocals to stand out, but doesn’t handle as wide a variety of genres as a more balanced profile.
Compared with the AF33w, these in-ears appear to have much more attention paid to construction, especially with its braided cloth cable and aluminium components, and thanks in part to a tiny pleather carry case, pack down to become the smallest wired in-ears we tested.
If you’re after a pair of Audiofly in-ears at this price, I’d recommend going for the wireless AF33w, but if you don’t mind your mids and are after superior construction and included extras, the AF45c will do nicely.
SPECS-9mm drivers; 5–24,000Hz; 16-ohm impedance; 4 x pairs of tips (silicon); 1-button remote with mic; cable shortener.
A lot of Sony’s audio range is reliant on the brand’s penchant for bass, often going as far as to include the word in the product’s title, so it’s a shame to see the result of this focus being lost.
The EX155s have reasonably treble-skewed profile, and while the bass and mids don’t suffer too much as a result, the upper frequencies often distort and end up sounding tinny and even painful. This is passable at lower volumes, but certainly doesn’t compete with other in-ears in the price range.
It would have been nice to see some kind of included case as the serrations on the ‘tangle-free’ cable don’t give the impression of durability, and they cause just as much tangling as the non-serrated cabling we tried.
These aren’t necessarily a terrible pair of in-ears overall, but there are convincing alternatives at half the price (the Marley Smile) that do the upper frequencies justice and offer a more balanced sound.
SPECS-9mm driver; 20–20,000Hz; 34-ohm impedance; 1-button remote with integrated clip and separate mic; 4 x tips (silicon).
Marshall may be known for its wall of amplifiers and stadium-scorching rock ‘n’ roll, but with the Mode in-ears, the classic UK brand has brought its world-class sound to your ear canals.
Despite its rock heritage, the audio profile works wonders across the full gamut of genres, with punchy and clean bass, focussed mids, and distinct treble. Compared to the Byron, the Marshal Modes are a little brighter overall, filling out those slightly absent upper frequencies, and simultaneously possess more punch and spatial clarity, but these differences are nuanced to say the least.
While these in-ears don’t come with a nifty carry-case, the construction feels sturdier to compensate. Alongside the four different tip-sizes included, the shape of the driver housing itself assists in providing a secure fit. The aesthetic is elegant and doesn’t bore, even though the in-line remote only has a single button, due to its simplicity and integrated shirt clip, it’s the most intelligently designed we’ve seen. While it may be sitting at the upper limit of our budget price range, the Marshall Mode is at the top for a reason.
Audio Technica CKR50iS
SPECS-12.5mm drivers; 5–25,000 Hz; 16-ohm impedance; 4 x tips (silicon); 1-button remote with mic; soft case.
Just like the Sennheiser CX 3.00, these Audio Technica in-ears are decent performers that are more a victim of strong competition than they are of their own shortcomings.
Their construction is premium, with a nice thick cable and brass driver housings, although the plastic remote is uncharacteristically flimsy and rattles. The extras you’d expect at this price-point are included — a carry case and four sizes of ear tips.
These are one of the very few in-ears I tried that housed drivers larger than 9mm, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to a massive sound. The bass is boosted but a little flabby rather than punchy, and the overall sound is skewed towards the higher frequencies.
The CKR50iS have a similar audio profile to the Marshall Mode except the scoop is more severe in the lower mids and the accentuation of the upper-mids and treble seems unbalanced. At this price, I’d recommend the Marshall’s for a more capable all-rounder, but these are perhaps the best option for the truly treble-obsessed.
Sennheiser CX 3.00
SPECS-17–21,000Hz; 18-ohm impedance; 4 x tips (silicon); Hard-shelled carry case.
The Sennheiser CX 3.00 is one of the most affordable in-ear headphones, particularly given the fierce competition in the field today.
However, The CX 3.00 ’s hard plastic case makes it tricky to quickly stash them away and retrieve them, forcing kinks into the cable when stored, and is unnecessarily bulky and heavy, even when empty. These headphones are the only ones I reviewed without an inline remote or microphone, which would be forgiven at the affordable price tag. The Sennheiser CX 3.00 is a fairly decent choice for those looking for a more trebleskewed profile, and they don’t distort at higher frequencies like the Sony’s EX-155 do.
At this price range, it's a steal.
JBL Focus 500
SPECS-15.4mm drivers; 20–20,000Hz; 32-ohm impedance Bluetooth 4.1; 8 hours battery; 2 x tips (silicon); 3-button remote with mic; soft case and clip.
There's a lot going on with the JBL Focus 500, and unfortunately, most of it isn’t good. The packaging says “guaranteed never to hurt or fall out” but neither of these promises hold true — the aggressive ear grips don’t allow the tips to form any semblance of seal and actually grow uncomfortable very quickly.
Despite the large 15.4mm drivers (the largest we tested), they are all but wasted as they’re funnelled into the bizarre swimmingcap-esque ear tips, which are incredibly frustrating to adjust and insert, and are only available in two sizes. I couldn’t get these tips to seal off the ear canal properly and the resulting audio is lacking, with shaved-off upper and lower frequencies.
They also claim to be “sweat proof” but don’t have any official certification, so I frankly don’t recommend testing that claim. The zippered soft case is one of the better solutions I saw, and the 8-hour battery life is decent for the price, but this isn’t enough to justify a purchase. JBL produces some truly excellent Bluetooth speakers, but its wireless sports in-ears game sadly isn’t as strong.