It's okay. You can admit it. You don't treat your headphones like you should. Sometimes they end up crumpled in the bottom of a bag, cords fraying, earbuds missing. We feel you. We know it can be hard to justify spending a lot of money on a new pair, especially considering how easy they are to break or lose. So we've rounded up the best in-ear headphones you can buy for less than $50!
When looking for a budget pair of headphones, I don't go in expecting to find incredible audio or durability. But I do want something that can provide value for money. You can't expect any of the headphones here to go the distance and last you well into old age, but what you can expect are headphones that you won't regret purchasing.
I didn’t expect to find a set of in-ear headphones with a soft bud at such a budget price (you can pick these up for as little as $15). These certainly aren’t something that I can go and recommend to audiophiles, but they are a decent pair of secondary headphones you can be content with because of how little you’ll be paying for them.
They feel pretty flimsy and the cord is prone to tangling, but I just drop these in my bag and use them when I forget to bring my more expensive headphones on a journey. They can take a bit of a beating and having an L-plug on one end holds up surprisingly well. They’re more than adept at blocking out external noises, like a peak hour train, when using them to play music but less so when I’m watching something on YouTube or playing Breath of the Wild on my Switch.
One of Sony’s simplest earphones and also one of their cheapest. Forget bells and whistles, because these are bell-less and whistle-free but they do give great sound reproduction compared to something like the Ergofit and, I’d even say, Apple’s EarPods.
They’re designed to slip into the ear canal nicely, but the earpiece tends to fall out with any rigorous movement. I like the clarity of sound for this price, but I feel like they’re a little tinny as you begin to crank the volume. Good quality build and sturdy for their price but definitely prone to damage if they get thrown around too much. The Y-type cabling does its best to prevent tangling but in a pocket they’ll end up spaghetti-fied in minutes.
The JAX is a little more expensive than some of the other earphones on this list and the extra dollars lands you a few neat features that provide a little more functionality. The first is the flat cabling from earpiece to plug that doesn’t quite prevent tangling but it does alleviate the issue. Second, they come with an in-line microphone which is not always present at this price range.
With 4 earbud sizes in the box, you should be able to find one that fits within your ears to create a perfect seal and prevent outside noise sneaking in. Sol Republic also boasts that the JAX provides powerful bass and vibrant vocals. Vibrant is marketing speak for sure, but the bass is definitely powerful – probably too powerful, if I’m being completely honest, and bass-heavy tracks aren’t really my thing. If they’re yours though, the JAX are sturdy earphones that’ll keep you happy.
Designed with the exercise enthusiast in mind, JBL’s GRIP has an almost-alien earpiece that sticks inside your ear canal like a parasite. JBL call this their ‘Twistlock’ design and claim, right on the front of the box, that these earphones never fall out. A clever design feature is the ability to snap one earpiece onto the cord if it’s not in use, which comes in handy for heavy exercise as you don’t have the other bud swinging around your face or tucked awkwardly into your exercise gear. Of course, as they’re designed for athletes, by athletes they are also sweatproof - something that isn't always a guarantee in this price range.
JBL do have a few offerings at this budget price point, such as the garish Inspire 300’s and the reliable-but-bass-intense E10 Synchros. If you’re looking for earphones that are a little more stylish than the GRIP, the E10 Synchros are a good buy – just be aware they’re not likely to stick in your ears if you’re partaking in any sort of exercise.
I’ve come around to the Smile Jamaica, though originally I thought there was something very cheap and nasty about their lo-fi packaging, wood finish and clashing colour scheme. The Smile Jamaica does come with an in-line microphone, 2 earbud sizes straight out of the box and a woven, tangle resistant cable.
Their audio output certainly doesn’t blow any of the other earphones in this list away – their also very bass-heavy – but they provide a powerful sound across the board. Unfortunately, the bass can really take away from high-end sound and leaves it all feeling too unbalanced. The 2 bud sizes don’t give you much leeway in terms of fit either, so you’ll likely find they either fit snug or you’ll hate ‘em.
Sennheiser’s CX range, which includes the CX 1.00, CX 2.00, CX 3.00 and CX 5.00, are slightly more expensive because they all provide excellent sound. The CX 1.00s are the only pair that you can routinely find below the $50 mark, though their RRP is usually around $70. The CX 1.00s are easily the simplest of the lot and also the smallest, so depending on your ears (mine are Dumbo-esque) these will either sit snugly or just fall out. You do get 4 different earbud sizes in the box but I found these just weren’t quite right for my ears.
Sound quality is what you’d expect from Sennheiser. The CX range was unveiled back in 2014 but still provides some of the most well-balanced sound you’ll get in a pair of budget headphones. It doesn’t come with an in-line mic, you’ll need to jump up to the CX 2.00s for that, and like others in this price range the cabling is prone to tangling, but these are niggling issues that don’t take away from Sennheiser’s dedication to crafting brilliant audio.
If you’re looking for in-ear headphones that are going to provide you with great sound and nothing more, than the CX 1.00s are ideal. Although they look a little flimsy, they do come with a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty, which is double that of the other headphones listed and should make you feel better about their longevity.
Are there any budget headphones that have treated you well? Let us know in the comments!