So you don’t want to spend a lot on a headphone? No problem, you can still get some excellent deals on a variety of headphone types. You can even find decent true wireless earbuds for less than $50 that rival thefor sound quality (and sometimes exceed it). If you want to go super cheap, we’ve even thrown in some inexpensive wired earbuds and on-ear headphones that costs less than $15. And for those looking for a good budget noise-canceling headphone (there aren’t many), we’ve even got one of those in the mix.
What’s most impressive about the EarFun Free earbuds is their collection of features: Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging and they’re fully waterproof (IPX7), according to their specs. Is the audio elite? No, but the earbuds sound decent — it’s not just noise coming out of the speaker. They don’t have the audio clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 a pair or more, but they do have plump bass and enough audio detail to make you think you got your money’s worth and then some. The earbuds are also solid for making calls. The battery lasts six hours at moderate volume levels and the case provides four charges on the go. An elite value at $45.
Anker’s Soundcore Life Q20 is arguably the best value in noise-canceling headphones. Not only do these over-ear headphones sound decent for their regular list price of $60 (they often sell for $10 less), but they’re also comfortable to wear thanks to the nicely padded, secure ear cups.
No, the Life Q20 doesn’t sound as good as premium Bluetooth headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but the audio quality isn’t bad, which is all you can ask for noise-canceling headphones at this price. It’s fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that’s not bloated or muddy (there’s a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass with your music). Also, the noise cancellation is acceptably effective and it’s solid as a headset for making calls. Battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.
Arguably the best value in the Anker true wireless line right now, the Soundcore Life P2 earbuds are half the price of Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 with similar features. They’re warm sounding with a little less clarity and they charge horizontally in their case rather than vertically (there’s a slightly cheaper feel to both the case and the buds compared with the Liberty Air 2).
Like the Liberty Air 2, they have four microphones, two of which are supposed to help with noise reduction when making calls in noisier environments. While there’s no wireless charging, you do get USB-C charging. Battery life is rated at seven hours and they have an IPX7 water-resistance rating, which means they can be fully submerged in water to a depth of three feet and survive. An almost identical version to these earbuds is sold at Target under the name Soundcore Life Note.
During the holidays last year, JLab had its JBuds Air true wireless buds on sale for $30 or $20 off their list price of $50. That was a decent deal. Now we get the Go Air, which is 20% smaller, lists for $30 and is otherwise similar to the Air. It’s available in four color options.
Like the Air, for the money ($30), the Go Air is pretty good. Battery life is rated at 5 hours (there’s an integrated USB cable on for charging), the sound better than you might expect and they’re sweatproof with an IP44 rating (meaning splashproof). While there’s no app for adjusting bass and treble, you can toggle through a few preset EQ settings — JLab Signature, Balanced and Bass Boost modes — by tapping either bud twice (yes, they have touch controls). I went with Bass Boost to take some of the edge off the treble and give them a slightly warmer sound.
There’s no top to the charging case, but the buds stay inside the case just fine thanks to magnets. To be clear, these aren’t fantastic — and they work only OK for making calls — but you’re not going to do much better for $30. And they did fit my ears well — I was able to get a tight seal from the largest of the three included ear tips.
TaoTronics’ SoundLiberty 79 list for $60 but sell for around $50. I don’t love their looks — the little chrome accent isn’t my thing — but they fit my ears well and sound decent for the money, with just enough definition and ample bass. All that said, they stand out most as a headset for making calls. They get five stars in that department thanks to their excellent noise reduction — people had no trouble hearing me on the noisy streets of New York. The company’s “Smart AI noise-reduction technology” does work.
They are fully waterproof (IPX7 certified) and you can get up to eight hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. The charging case, which provides an extra 32 hours of juice on the go, feels a little cheap, but it’s compact and has USB-C charging.
For $35, the Tribit XFree deliver excellent sound quality. They’re also well built and while they’re not super comfortable (don’t expect Bose-like comfort at this price), they do have nicely padded ear cups.
Koss Porta Pro
We gave the Koss Porta Pro an Editors’ Choice back in 2008 with former CNET editor Justin Yu describing its quirky 1980s design as “the ultimate in retro chic.” Even all these years later they still sound excellent. Koss also makes a wireless version that costs $80 (or $50 more than the wired model).
Sarah Tew CNET
While the JVC Flats may not be terribly durable, you’ll be hard pressed to find better sounding set of on-ear headphones at the price. They’re available in multiple color options, but the blue version can be found for as low as $11. These also make for decent kids’ headphones.
Panasonic’s ErgoFit RP-HJE120 in-ear headphones, which come in multiple colors and retail for less than $10, sound remarkably good for the money. A version with an integrated microphone (the RP-TCM125) costs slightly more but don’t sound quite as good for some reason.
Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air earbuds have a more comfortable fit, but the Soundcore Liberty Neo buds sound as good and cost less (the model lists for $60, but can be found on sale for $35). These earbuds are similar to the Tribit X1 but are a little heavier and seem a little sturdier. As with the Tribit, how good you find the audio is dependent on how good a seal you get from one of the included ear tips, which are meant to drown out ambient noise. The battery life is rated for 3.5 hours of listening time after charging (a little short) with an additional 8 hours or so of battery life from the charging case.
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