“how to find the best cheap products” — kiplinger
In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Headphones
  2. Headphone Reviews: Sound Quality
  3. In-Ear vs. On-Ear Headphones, Cords, and Reliability
  4. Discount Headphones Features Comparison Table

Cheap Headphones Buying Guide

Some people rip through headphones quickly -- probably because many cheap headphones, like those that come with MP3 players, are not built for the long haul. Manufacturers such as JVC and Sony have jumped into this noisy market with a wide range of options that cater to a range of budgets and feature preferences.

The best cheap headphones we found are a pair of earbuds from Skullcandy, the Ink'd 2 (starting at $11).

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The sound quality of these headphones is excellent across a full range of frequencies, according to reviews, with good-sounding lows, mids, and highs. JVC Gumy Plus earbuds may not sound quite as sharp, but they still sound good and will set you back only about $5, making them a real bargain. JVC Flats (starting at $12) are on-ear headphones for consumers who prefer larger, more traditional headphones to earbuds. The audio from these headphones sounds clean and has nice detail, though it's a little light on bass, reviewers say. Panasonic RP-HJE120 earbuds are similar to JVC's Gumy Plus and cost about the same (starting at $5), although they don't feel especially durable. They deliver pretty good bass, but high frequencies sound harsh, according to users. Overall we give these a qualified endorsement. Sony MDR-ZX100 headphones aren't bad, but they're more expensive than the other models we looked at (starting at $15) and lack bass.

The most important criterion when shopping for headphones is sound quality. Users don't expect budget headphones to deliver concert-quality sound, but the audio should still be clear and sharp. Relatively strong bass and clean highs are also appreciated. Distortion is unacceptable at lower volumes but will occur at higher volumes in some cheap models. Comfort, of course, is essential. Cheap headphones may sound great, but if they aren't comfortable to wear, what's the point? Many earbuds include silicon ear tips of different sizes to help buyers get just the right fit. Whether to buy earbuds or on-ear headphones is strictly the user's choice, although earbuds seem to be the most popular choice for MP3 players and phones.

Review continues below

Don't expect to find a lot of extra features,, such as noise cancellation or built-in volume control, in the budget price range. Such features are nice but confined to more expensive products. Some mid-range headphones, such as the iLuv HearSay iEP515 earbuds (starting at $21) and an upgraded version of the Skullcandy Ink'd 2 ($20), include a mic so you can take phone calls while wearing them.

Upmarket headphones also tend to be more durable than their budget counterparts. Cheap headphones are mostly plastic, while higher-end products incorporate sturdier materials, such as steel and specially formulated silicon. Although inexpensive headphones aren't as reliable as high-cost models because of the way they're built, reviews suggest that users understand that their cheap earbuds probably won't last all that long. Some models are so cheap that users simply don't care if they wear out in a few months. Our recommended models should last long enough to give you plenty of value for the dollar.

In general budget headphones are a mixed bag of poorly constructed products and a few gems. It seems that manufacturers can get away with making shoddy headphones because consumers keep buying them. But if you know what makes a good set of headphones and ignore catchy buzzwords, you can find a lot of decent headphones that won't set you back more than $15 or $20. Just make sure you know which features are essential and which models are durable so you don't wind up disappointed and looking, all too soon, for another set of cheap headphones.

Review continues below

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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Best Cheap Headphones

Skullcandy Ink'd 2
Gold Medal

Skullcandy Ink'd 2

These earbuds deliver the best audio you're going to find for less than $15. They do an excellent job reproducing a full range of sound, experts say. Just be aware that cheap earbuds aren't very durable, so you'll probably have to replace them occasionally.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
JVC Gumy Plus
Gold Medal

JVC Gumy Plus

These earbuds are incredibly cheap, yet they still dish up loud and clear sound. They're also comfortable to wear, according to reviewers, and seem to last longer than you might expect.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »

Good Cheap Headphones

Panasonic RP-HJE120
Gold Medal

Panasonic RP-HJE120

These earbuds are so cheap they're practically disposable. Experts declare they have decent bass, although the highs can sound a little harsh. Still, for the money the sound is quite good.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
JVC Flats
Gold Medal

JVC Flats

If you prefer on-ear headphones to earbuds, these are the way to go. Colorful and cheap, the JVC Flats have detailed, clean, well-balanced audio with enough bass to keep your feet tapping.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
 

Don't Bother

Sony MDR-ZX100

These on-ear headphones are comfortable to wear, but reviewers have found the bass lacking. Although the ZX Series headphones do have many fans, you can find better for less.

Read more »

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