So you are here because you are on a budget and want to know what the best cheap earphones and earbuds are. Well, you are in luck as over the past 5 years this has been the most aggressively competitive market in all of the audio. Buying cheap earphones used to mean severely compromising in quality (both in regards to sound and build) those days are gone and if you have anywhere between $10-$50 to spend then you can get some quality kit. The only issue is sifting through the bad earphones to find the good ones.
Each year we get sent and purchase hundreds of earphones and whilst not all will get a full review it really helps us get to know the market so we decided to do a top 15 best cheap earbuds as opposed to your traditional top 10 list. As always if you want more personalized recommendations then feel free to get in touch with us on our Facebook or email channels.
Why are cheap earphones so good in 2018?
There are 2 main reasons why cheap earbuds and earphones have gotten exponentially better over the past few years which we will list below. Of course, there are many other reasons on top of this such as emerging markets, lowest production, and manufacturing costs but I think that these 2 really stand out to why cheap earphones sound better than ever.
The Earbud Market Exploded
Firstly we have the true adoption of the mobile computing. Mobile computing? Yes, that smartphone in your pocket is way more than a phone today its an all-out functional computer with the ability to watch videos, play games and to listen to music and podcasts. The growth of the mobile phone industry is directly linked to the growth of the affordable earphone market. More demand for a product naturally means more companies will enter the market trying to grab a slice of the pie.
At one point it was a race to the bottom with price, basically what was acceptable for the lowest cost. However, now that we reached the bottom many companies now have to differentiate themselves from the competition by actually being better. Shocking isn't it that once companies are not trying to create the cheapest product possible that they will then try to make those products better.
Trickle Down Earphone Tech
The second reason is trickle-down technology from the audiophile headphone market. Portable audiophiles were always the nerdy bunch sitting in a small zone of the internet and obsessing about sound quality, comfort, functionality etc. Even just 10 years ago the community was very small but these people cared a lot about headphones and earphones. Soon many of these audiophiles went to work creating their own products and bigger companies also recognized that there was a seriously profitable market emerging.
Thus over the past decade, the headphone market has absolutely exploded and the boundaries of what was possible have really been pushed. Multi BA (Balanced armature) driver configurations, hybrid earphones, electrostatic earphones, and even planar magnetic earbuds have all changed the way high-end audio behaves. Then there is the attention to aesthetics, ergonomics and build on sometimes multi-thousand dollar earphones. What does this mean if you are on a budget? Well, many companies have absorbed those tech advancements and tried to implement them in even cheaper earphones.
This trickle-down technology has ultimately led to cheap earbuds with amazing sound. Something not possible just a little while ago.
How to chose the Best Cheap Earbuds / Earphones?
A lot of people come and ask us what are the best sounding budget earphones but truth be told sound is just one part of the equation. Below are the factors I think you should consider when buying cheap earphones.
You might be surprised to see sound come in at number 3 on our list of most important factors. Well, hear me out. You can find a lot of earphones under $50 that sounds great but unfortunately, some of these earphones completely disregard ergonomics.
Think about it for a second, this is something you are going to be wearing inside your ears, usually for hours at a time. There is no point in having the greatest sounding earbuds if you can't stand having them in your ears for more than 20 minutes.
The next most important factor has to be build quality. Even though your initial outlay is not much and theoretically you can more easily replace a broken set of $10 earphones than a $500 set this is important to consider. There are some cheap earphones that would have made this list on sound alone but then we just have absolutely no confidence in them lasting. Furthermore, this is one area where companies are going to try and save a few pennies in the design by using lower quality construction techniques and materials. Now that's not to say all earphones under $50 are junk, the majority yes but the ones we list here are pretty darn good for the price.
So sound comes in third and I think that is fair. Yes if you are on a budget you are not going to get the same sound quality as someone with unlimited funds have but the truth that nobody is telling you is that the differences in real-world performance (sonically) are far smaller than a price tag would suggest. Some of the earphones below sound better than in-ear headphones over $200 most of them sound better than their similarly priced competition.
The 15 Best Cheap Earbuds & Earphones 2018 List
So without further ado here is the Audiophile on best budget earphone list for 2018. Due to each person's needs and sound preferences, this list is only ordered in my own personal preference. What may be the best for you might not be the best for someone else. Just rest assured that all their earphones on this list perform incredibly well for their price points.
Final Audio E3000
Symphonized NRG 3.0
Venture Electronics VE Monk
Mee Audio M6 Pro
Monoprice Hifi Earbuds
Zero Audio Carbo Tenore
Advanced Sound M4
Final Audio E3000 - The best earphone under $50 by far
I have always loved Final Audio products but until listening to the E3000 earphones I would have a hard time using the FAD name and value for money in the same sentence. These earphones blew me away during testing for the Final Audio E3000 review. They sound better than a lot of earphones priced up to $200 with clear detail retrieval, excellent soundstage, and insanely good bass response. In my opinion, nothing under $50 even comes close to the performance of the E3000. Build quality is ok but comfort is excellent as the earbuds are super small and super light. I can wear these all day long and they are one of the best bargains in the audio world right now.
KZ earphones are good for 2 things. Firstly they make excellent cheap earphones at a price other companies can't even come close to and secondly, they blatantly rip off other companies designs like no other. Ethics aside its hard not to argue a case for the KZ ZS6 which at best is inspired by campfire audios expensive earphone lineup (In truth its a complete rip off of the design). Build quality is excellent and sound is also on point with good clarity and balance throughout the frequencies. Cables are user replaceable in case you want to upgrade or just repair the ZS6 and the metal construction of the earpieces inspire a lot of long-term confidence.
Read our full KZ ZS6 Review.
The second of three budget earphones on this list from KZ is the ZST. This is far cheaper than the ZS6 and represents outstanding value for money given you can pick them up for around $20 online. They are designed to be worn with the cable over the ear and have a very ergonomic friendly design that works well with a lot of ear shapes and sizes. The housing is formed from plastic and as such won't be as bombproof as the ZS6. You still get detachable cables though and a good selection of ear tips to ensure you get a good seal. The sound is clear and defined with a solid amount of low-end punch with little spill over into the midsection. Mids are warm and the treble sparkles with rare ventures towards sibilance.
Symphonized NRG 3.0
We reviewed the symphonized NRG headphones earlier this year and became big fans. In fact, I have bought these earphones for a lot of family members who were looking for something that performs well, looks good and doesn't break the bank. These are cable down earphones with a wood housing accentuated by metal accents. They have the excellent build quality and very good long-term comfort but it is the sound that stole the show. They are a warm and engaging sounding headphone that works well with pop and rock music but then you have that excellent low-end response. Many cheap earbuds have a tendency to have flabby or anemic bass but these have a solid weight to them and retain a punchiness of a far more expensive earphone. The overall sound and bass aren't as pleasurable as the Final Audio E3000 but they can be had for less than half the price.
Venture Electronics VE Monk
If you are after a set of traditional earbuds (the ones that don't go inside your ears) then there really is only one option under $50. The Venture Electronics VE Monk. These insanely cheap earbuds sound fantastic and the audio community took notice last year and heaped praise upon them. They are a traditional style earbud and very comfortable when used with the foam filters. The sound is very detail orientated and well-balanced right through the range. Build quality is nothing to shout about but they feel solidly put together considering how much you pay.
Meeaudio M6 Pro
The Mee Audio M6 design has been around for a long time but recently saw a refresh with the release of the Pro version. This took everything about them up a notch and turned them into solid contenders as one of the best cheap IEM (in-ear monitor) style earphones on the market in 2018. I have put them on the list for the design and comfort but I will admit that there are better sounding earphones on the list. There is nothing sonically bad about them though as but they could do with being more dynamic and engaging in their presentation. The detachable cable is a major bonus and the over the ear fit was found to be perfect for those who have an active lifestyle.
The Granvella X3 have basically the same design as the M6 Pro listed above but overall I find them to be a better buy. The cost half the price of the Mee Audio earphones actually feel a little bit better built and the sound has a much more aggressive stance. Speed makes the difference here and it's much more noticeable in the low end where they display a greater tightness and attack rate. Comfort wise I can wear these for hours due to the over-ear cable design and lightweight housing.
Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hifi Earbuds
I the lowest price is of utmost importance then there is simply no other earphone to recommend. Available most of the time for just over $5 on Monoprices website there is no other earphone that delivers so much clean sound for such a small investment. Its neutral, balanced clean and clear with the reasonably good soundstage. The build is also ok and our sets have held up well over the years. However, there is one drawback. These are definitely the least comfortable earphone on the list if you have small ears. The design of the housing is quite bulky and as such won't fit everyone. Price considered though these are absolutely mind-boggling.
These have just been replaced by the newly announced Soundmagic e11 earphones so you should be able to grab a bargain on the E10 models whilst stocks last. Even without the discount the remain excellent low price earbuds and have been a favorite of the audio community for many years. You get a excellent construction and materials throughout the build. All metal earpieces and a high-quality cable and jack points inspire confidence for long-term use. Comfort is good but not quite great as the earpieces are a touch heavy compared to other earphones on this list. The sound is very clear and there is a nice punchy low end complemented with top-end sparkle making them great for EDM music.
The Panasonic RP-HJE-120 is nothing fancy. They are an excellent all-rounder that can be found regularly under $10 online. They are extremely comfortable thanks to an ergonomic design that seems to work with everyone's ears and the sound is warm and bassy yet extends enough clarity that they deserve their spot on the list. Build quality is fine, the plastic housing and budget cable don't blow us away but they get the job done and hold up well over the long term. We also like that they come in many different colorways so are a good choice if you are looking for something inexpensive to match your personal style.
Probably the most famous budget earphone amongst the purveyors of cheap audio gear on Head-fi and Reddit. The KZ ATE essentially kickstarted the wave of CHI-FI (Chinese HiFi) earphones that are now hitting western shore. I still find it hard to believe how they manage to get so many high-end features into such a cheap package. The design is a rip off of Audio Technica but they look really good in person with their see-through shells giving you a glimpse of the internal workings of the earphones. The sound is neutral and balanced with a really good top end which is not often seen on headphones anywhere near this price.
Zero Audio Carbo Tenore
I called out the Verge's nonsense article about how these Carbo Tenore could go punch for punch with some of the best headphones in the world. However, that doesn't mean that these aren't incredibly good value for money. Sound wise these and the Final Audio E3000 stand significantly above the competition here and they also share a lot of the same properties in terms of design and comfort. I will say that the Carbo Tenore is a built a lot better than the E3000. The sound is fun, engaging and full of plenty of detail. The bass is excellent and they can rival earphones over $100 with ease.
Advanced Sound M4
The advanced sound M4 is one of the best sub $100 earphones we have ever tested. In fact, I like it so much I would put it right up there in terms of sound with the E3000. Build quality is simply brilliant and they actually have one of the best earphone cables I have ever seen (yes I include my $1000+ Campfire Audio and Westones in that assessment). Punchy and very detailed you will be surprised by the clarity and detail retrieval. Probably the best bass in test and they sound amazing with electronic music.
Good clean although not spectacular sound with a decent amount of low-end grunt gets paired with some great build quality in the Betron ELR50. Just like the Panasonics, they aren't great in any one area but the perform so well in every area and are one of the cheapest earphones we tested we had to include them. Betron is building a solid reputation for releasing excellent value audio products and the ELR50 are one of our favorites from their 2018 lineup.
Ok, so I thought I would throw this in there for those that are looking for audiophile grade headphone sound but in the smallest package possible. Ok, so they aren't the smallest and they aren't really earphones.. then again the also aren't really headphones either. The KSC75 share the internals of the legendary Koss Porta Pro headphones and these clip over the ear without the headband. The sound is downright incredible, open spacious and accurate. On sound quality, these are the best on the entire list and can also give many expensive full-size headphones a run for their money. They won't be for everyone but if the sound is a priority then these are impossible to beat for the money.