Best Cheap Headphones
Some people rip through headphones quickly -- probably because many cheap headphones, like the ones that come with phones, are not built for the long haul. Manufacturers such as JVC, Panasonic, Koss, and Sony cater to this noisy market with a wide array of options for a range of budgets and feature preferences. Our research found that low-cost headphones are a mixed bag of poorly constructed products and a few gems. We decoded the tech buzzwords and carefully combed through expert and user reviews to find solid pairs for $20 or less.
Our Top Pick
Koss UR20 Review
- Big, comfortable ear cushions keep external noise out.
- Thick cord and sturdy feel.
- Clear sound with solid bass and clean highs.
- Well-suited for TV and home audio, with a long 8-foot cord.
- Limited lifetime warranty.
- Some users are less than impressed with the output, saying the sound is a bit hollow.
- With sensitivity of 97 dB/mW, the volume isn't quite as loud as competitors drawing the same amount of power.
- Frequency range (30 Hz to 20 KHz) is slightly lacking on the low end of the spectrum -- human ears can hear 20 Hz and many headphones go as low as 10 Hz.
- Bulky design and long cord limit portability.
- Shipping and handling for a warranty claim costs almost as much as the headphones themselves.
Takeaway: Koss UR20 full-size headphones are popular because of their leatherette ear cushions, which are comfortable to wear for long periods without discomfort, and very good sound quality. They aren't blaringly loud but still have enough oomph to satisfy most users.
Koss KTXPRO1 Review
- Wide sound field, according to CNET, which is somewhat surprising for such a compact pair of headphones.
- Big, clear sound and deep bass.
- Comfortable and lightweight.
- At 4 feet, the cord is an optimal length for using with portable devices.
- In-line volume control.
- Adapter for 6.3 mm jacks.
- Frequency response of 15 Hz to 25 KHz spans the full range of human hearing.
- Limited lifetime warranty.
- Shipping and handling for a repair or replacement under the warranty runs almost as much as the headphones themselves.
- Cord is too short for convenient use with home stereos and TVs.
Takeaway: Koss KTXPRO1 on-ear headphones are a lightweight, portable alternative to earbuds and one of the few budget options available with in-line volume control. The audio is very clear, with good, solid bass.
JVC HA-RX500 Review
- Very good sound quality overall, with especially strong bass tones.
- Extra-long 3.5-meter cord (11.48 feet) ideal for plugging into a gaming laptop or TV.
- 6.3 mm plug adaptor provided.
- Long cord is too unwieldy for portable devices and liable to tangle or trip someone.
- Plastic headband may be uncomfortable after extended wear.
- Some say these headphones feel cheaply made, although we didn't see many reports of breakage.
Takeaway: JVC's full-size HA-RX500 headphones punch out bass and sound quite nice overall. While audiophiles might turn up their noses at the sound and build quality, consumers on a budget looking for headphones to use with a game system should be pleased -- and the long cord lends itself nicely to this sort of home usage.
Panasonic RP-HT21 Review
- Loud, clear audio with decent bass, according to CNET testing.
- Comfortable and lightweight (1.2 ounces), with just enough grip to stay put.
- Low enough price to excuse many shortcomings.
- Overall sound quality isn't the best.
- Design and construction resemble the disposable headphones offered on planes.
- Basic foam ear cushions can easily wear out, and many reviewers say it makes more sense to just toss them and get a new pair than to buy replacement pads.
- L-shaped plug doesn't fit smartphones with chunky cases and prevents portable devices from sliding neatly into a pocket but may be more durable.
Takeaway: Panasonic RP-HT21 headphones have pretty good bass and are so lightweight that users hardly notice them. But the sound quality is so-so, the design is rudimentary, and the durability is suspect.