We’ve written a lot about headphones over the years, looking at everything from top of the range models to seeing how cheap you can go without sacrificing too much in the way of quality. Today we’re looking at budget options for those who prefer earbuds to headphones, and you may be surprised by just how little you need to spend.
Before continuing, ask yourself a few questions. First, how much do you really care about audio quality? Do you work in sound design? Are you a self-professed audiophile who annoys roommates by constantly tinkering with the sound settings on your speakers, or regales strangers with the difference between lossy and lossless audio formats?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, or if you’re looking for great noise cancelation or something to make regular work calls with, head over to our piece covering some of the best earbuds and headphones on the market.
If you answered no, don’t worry—there’s no shame in that. You’ll save yourself plenty of money by buying at the lower end of the market, especially if you’re known to misplace or break your earbuds.
We’ve put together our list of the best cheap earbuds of 2021, so you don’t have to waste your money on high-end gear that you may not need. After all, we’re not all sound engineers.
- Weight: 1.4 ounces (40g)
- Connection: 3.5mm cable
- Type: Wired
- Battery life: n/a
- Weight: 6.4 ounces (181g)
- Connection: Bluetooth 5.0
- Type: True wireless
- Battery life: 10 hours
- Battery Life: Up to 4 hours
- Active Noise Cancellation: No
- Charging: USB C
- Connection: Bluetooth
- Weight: 3 ounces (84g)
- Connection: Bluetooth 5.0
- Type: Wireless
- Battery life: 15 hours
- Weight: 0.8 ounces (23g)
- Connection type: 3.5mm cable
- Type: Wired
- Battery life: n/a
Best Cheap Earbuds Under $15: Panasonic ErgoFit
If we can say one thing about the Panasonic ErgoFit earbuds, it’s that the price is right. You could easily spend more on a solo dining experience at McDonald’s—and these earbuds are going to stick with you for a lot longer than a double quarter pounder with cheese.
The buds come with three sets of silicone eartips in small, medium, or large to ensure they’ll easily fit inside your ear canals no matter what size they are. Getting the right fit helps the earbuds block out a little background noise, and makes them more comfortable as well.
The earbuds are available in 15 different colors and shades, including plain old black or white if you’re not a fan of bright colors. The extended 3.6-foot cord, while thin and prone to tangling, allows you to easily thread the earbuds through your bag or clothing.
The most impressive thing about these earbuds (beyond the price) is that the sound quality is actually decent, matching or bettering many models costing three or four times as much.
Now, we said decent, not perfect. The sound lacks detail when playing softer genres like acoustic guitar and solo piano, and, unfortunately, it’s not all about that bass either. Once again, though, you can’t beat the quality for the price.
If you frequently lose or break your buds, or if you’re looking for something inexpensive to leave in your gym bag or take on a trip, these are the best cheap earbuds available right now.Buy on Amazon
Best Cheap Wireless Earbuds: Zagzog True Wireless
If you’ve gone wireless before, then you know how hard it is to go back. That’s as true with earbuds as anything else, and just like the wired versions, there are cheap wireless earbuds out there that sound good and won’t break the bank.
The Zagzog True Wireless Earbuds are rated for 10 hours of play time per charge, and the case can charge the earbuds up to a remarkable 15 times, for a total of 150 hours of play time. The charging case has an LED display that lets you know how much battery is left, and is powerful enough to also charge your phone in a pinch.
The IPX7-rated earbuds are resistant to rain and sweat if you plan to use them for exercise, but the charging case isn’t, so don’t get too carried away. The buds are a bit on the bulky side compared to other models, but at least come with four different silicone caps to help them fit any ear size.
The sound quality is good for the price, although a good fit is vital to get strong bass. The noise reduction during calls is also pretty effective, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the voice quality and clarity, although echo and other problems can still be noticeable. The buds have buttons that let you easily control volume, pause, and skip tracks when you’re on the go.
The biggest draw with these buds is the battery life, which is very impressive. If you’ve struggled with previous wireless earbuds running out of juice, these will definitely impress.Buy on Amazon
Best Cheap Earbuds For Calls: TaoTronics SoundLiberty 80
Here’s the thing about using earbuds or headphones for calls: generally speaking, you’ve got to spend more for quality. That said, if you don’t want to pay through the nose for earbuds just so you can make calls that don’t sound terrible, the TaoTronics SoundLiberty 80 wireless earbuds are the way to go.
These earbuds fit differently to most others: instead of silicone eartips, there’s a vertical stalk and speaker housing made of molded plastic. This unfortunately lets some outside noise in, but the inbuilt mics have AI noise suppression technology to help counter that.
The AI effectively filters out background noise no matter your surroundings, optimizing the clarity of conversations for both yourself and the person you’re speaking to. For most wearers, the buds are comfortable and fit very well.
The earbuds are voice-controlled, so if you want to skip a track or adjust the volume, you can do so by voice command. You can also ask the earbuds directly how much battery life they have left.
Inbuilt motion sensors mean that as soon as you remove the earbuds, whatever you’re listening to will automatically pause. It’ll start up again once the earbuds are back in your ears.
The SoundLiberty 80’s crisp, clear sound is ideal for music as well as calls, with highs and lows nicely balanced, and strong bass. That said, getting truly powerful bass from a set of budget earbuds is a real challenge, and dance music enthusiasts may still feel the deep thump thump they’re accustomed to is lacking.
If these buds have one downside, it’s the battery life. Depending on how loud you listen to your music, they may only provide up to three hours of power before running flat, although at least the case provides up to five extra charges.
Best Cheap Earbuds For Running: Skullcandy Ink’d Plus
If you’re looking for earbuds that won’t fall out when you’re running, Skullcandy’s Ink'd Plus wireless earbuds ensure a secure fit with specially designed ear gels and a collar that hugs the neck. They’re sweat and water-resistant, so you don’t have to worry about soaking them on a particularly hot day or after a challenging workout.
They’ve got an impressive 15-hour battery life, so you can work out multiple times without worrying about the buds dying on you. If you do forget to charge them, they only need ten minutes on the charger to give two hours of play time.
Sound quality is acceptable, although the volume is a little low in general, and that includes the bass levels. Calls also sound a bit tinny, although you likely won’t be taking many work calls when you’re out for a jog anyway.
These buds will stay in your ears even during an intense workout, which is their biggest drawcard. They’ll also get rid of some surrounding noise due to that snug fit. If sound quality or call clarity are more important to you, however, the above options will better suit your needs.Buy on Amazon
Best Cheap Earbuds For Sleeping: MAXROCK Sleep Earplugs
If you like to listen to music or ambient noises before you sleep, the design of the MAXROCK Sleep Earplugs combines earplugs and earbuds for a snug, cozy fit that helps block surrounding noise like a busy street, blaring television, or your partner’s snoring.
They don’t have built-in noise cancelation; rather, they’re designed like an earplug, so the noise suppression will depend on how snugly they fit in your ears. The earbuds are made of squishy, flexible silicone to fit comfortably, even if you’re a side sleeper. An inline remote lets you answer calls and control playback as needed.
The sound quality isn’t anything to write home about, but keep in mind that they’re designed for helping you get to sleep. We wouldn’t recommend buying these primarily for listening to music or making calls, but they’re a comfortable and affordable solution for sleeping.Buy on Amazon
Brand name earbuds can get very expensive, with features and sound quality to match the high-end prices. That said, expensive earbuds may not be in your budget right now, or you may not even notice much of a difference between earbuds that cost hundreds of dollars and ones that are $50 or less.
If you frequently lose or break earbuds, just want a second set for the gym or outdoor exercise, or just don’t care all that much about having the best sound quality available, save your money and start out with a cheaper pair. Odds are you’ll be more than satisfied by their performance, and if not, you can always return them and invest in something better.
If, however, you need to make frequent work calls and will be using your earbuds as a headset, you should consider investing in more expensive models designed specifically for calls. Alternatively, stick with your reasonably-priced earbuds, disable the inbuilt mic entirely, and grab an external USB or Bluetooth microphone for making calls instead.
Main image via rupixen, product images via Amazon