Gold price

Best Headphones Under $100

Sep 23, 2022

Headphones under $100 offer top-quality sound for a price you can justify. These headphones balance lots of needs and wants into an affordable package. Some prioritize wireless in-ear sound and stay in place while you exercise. Others deliver flat sound signatures that are perfectly primed for the studio. Still others condense high-quality sound into an attractive set of headphones that aren’t so expensive that you’re afraid to carry them around town.

While audio equipment is notorious for quickly getting very expensive, you can still land a great pair of headphones for a good price. Read on for a look into some of the best headphones under $100 that will cater to your specific audio needs, and won’t crack the piggy bank. 

— Best Overall: GRADO SR60x Prestige Series — Best Budget: Sony ZX110 — Best Studio: Sony MDR7506 — Best for Working Out: Jabra Elite 3 — Best Bluetooth: Anker Soundcore

How We Picked the Best Headphones Under $100

If you’ve ever walked into an electronics store you know just how many varieties of headphones populate the world. To create this list, I researched a wide selection of headphone makes from many different manufacturers. I factored my own experience with headphones, from the studio set I use with Ableton Live to my cheaper daily-use pair that I take with me everywhere and ended up including on the list. Along the way I tested others and chatted about favorite headphones with a few audio-invested friends. The criteria I looked for in ranking headphone sets are below:

Sound quality is by and large the first factor most people look for in a headphone set.  While there is consensus about what makes for good sound quality, there’s little consensus on what a good EQ (equalization) sounds like. To be sure, studio headphones should have a highly balanced profile that renders nuance, depth, detail, and the whole sonic spectrum well, from accurate responsive bass to crisp highs. I (like most audiophiles) would stump that headphone sound quality is precisely thus, but there’s no denying that millions of people buy headphones for super bass boosts or shimmery high EQs that sound great on soprano voices like Taylor Swift’s. Headphones with good sound quality shouldn’t create gravelly bass, pops, fuzz, or muddy tones. For this list I prioritized headphones with generally neutral registers that don’t prioritize bass or highs too much (though some allow you to EQ them otherwise). At the under $100 price point, the best headphones for sound quality usually have a frequency response that covers most of the range between 10 to 24,000 hertz (Hz). However, few headphones deliver that whole spectrum without edging out of the price range. In practice, other factors such as sensitivity also contribute significantly.

Connectivity is the talk of the times. While wired connections deliver the best results for high-end studio sound, for most other situations Bluetooth does just as well. On this list I made sure to include some high-end studio headphones that come with long cord connections (one even has a screw-on ¼-inch line jack), as well as a couple options that are wireless.

Build, comfort, and in-ear stability are factors that can make or break headphones, especially for the ones meant to be taken around town. I weighed the headphones’ design, how good they feel on ears, and how well in-ear headphones stay in, which is especially important for sports headphones under $100. 

Special features can become the star of the show. Noise cancelling is an especially important feature, which many folks look for. An included microphone is also a boon for many. I gave special treatment to headphones that include attractive special features and made sure to highlight them in the review.

Best Headphones Under $100: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: GRADO SR60x Prestige Series

Brooklyn Born Audio. GRADO

Why They Made The Cut: An excellent choice for just about any audio activity, these over-ear headphones offer great frequency response and a comfortable build at an attractive price.

Specs: — Connection: Wired (5 feet, 6 inches) — Ear Placement: On ear, open back — Frequency Response: 18 Hz to 24,000 Hz 

Pros: — Excellent audio with great detail and a wider than average frequency response — Very comfortable foam pads — Made in USA with one-year warranty

Cons: — EQ prioritizes highs — No noise cancellation

When I first put on a pair of GRADO SR60x , I was struck by how the headphones have that specific audio gear feel that you catch rummaging through a guitarist’s gig bag. These aren’t your average consumer-grade headphones. They look timeless, like something you’d find in a synth studio from 1996. It turns out that specific audio-gear vibe isn’t spray-on. With a five-foot, six -inch braided cord that connects to both ears, these Brooklyn-made headphones are hand assembled. They’re designed with  two small metal posts that affix to a vegan-faux-leather top band. The earphones use a foam ear cover that I at first found texturally off-putting but came to love as I got lost in the music and forgot about the headphones entirely. They’re light, fit well, and the cord is a great length.

Overall, the GRADO SR60x are an amazing-sounding set of earphones. Their sound delivery is deeply nuanced, with lots of detail and richness. Their frequency response of 18 Hz to 24,000 Hz belies the one issue these earphones have. While they sound amazing, they do put more emphasis on high register sound such as soprano vocals or flute accompaniments . For reference, the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x (which is an easy competitor for best overall) delivers a frequency response of 15 Hz to 20,000 Hz, which emphasizes lower-end bass.

While GRADO is usually touted as a studio grade set of headphones, they also make a wonderful pick for those who value sound quality on the run. Compared to my Sony MDR7506 , they are noticeably lightweight with a cord that’s 3.5 feet shorter and far more manageable on the street. However, unlike the Audio-Technica’s , they don’t fold, which could be trouble for those looking to save space. All in all, GRADO is a wonderful choice for anyone looking for a great set of headphones for gaming, podcasting, or music, and they work pretty well as an about-town set for anyone looking for comfortable headphones under $100. 

Best Budget: Sony ZX110

Ready For Anywhere. Sony

Why It Made The Cut: These foldable light on-ear headphones are cheap enough to throw in a day bag but sound good enough to get you lost in the music.

Specs: — Connection: Wired (about 3.5 feet) — Ear Placement: On-ear — Frequency Response: 12 Hz to 22,000 Hz 

Pros: — Amazing sound for the price — Swivel headphones fold for storage and adjust for different head sizes — Very affordable

Cons: — Ear cushion covering flakes after a couple years of use

These black plastic earphones are little stunners. I have owned and loved a pair of Sony ZX110s for at least four, and possibly seven years — long enough to have forgotten when I got them. Made of plastic with comfy on-ear pads that do a good job of blocking external noise, these headphones use a swivel joint where the phones connect to the band, so that they’re easily packed in a hip pack. The sliding headband adjusts earphone placement, so that they fit comfortably no matter your head size. While they’re plastic, I’ve found them to be basically invulnerable (except for water). I’ve used mine on thousands of trips on the subway, as well as gaming, recording music, and camping. Only after three-plus years of use has the faux leather foam covering begun to flake and peel off and the bass gotten buzzy on the left side.

As far as sound, they are fantastically capable for the price. While they’re nowhere near as detailed as my Sony MDR7506 studio headphones, they still sound wonderful. Their frequency response is actually wider than the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x ’s (for about a fourth of the price), their bass coverage is appealing and groovy, while they also do a great job with soprano voices, radio, and mids. They might not have the perfect flat signature and wide detail of real studio headphones, but that doesn’t mean they don’t shine.

Fo r budget headphones under $100, it doesn’t get much better than the ZX110. If you want something that’s even cheaper, the Sony ZX Series could be worth a try, even if it won’t have quite as much longevity and quality.

Best Studio: Sony MDR7506

A Standard in Clarity. Sony

Why It Made The Cut: With a wide-ranging frequency response, crystal- clear audio, and an extra long cord with a gold plated ⅛-inch plug, this is a highly capable studio monitor that comes at an affordable price.

Specs: — Connection: Wired (9.8 feet) — Ear Placement: Over-ear, closed — Frequency Response: 10 Hz to 20,000 Hz 

Pros: — Amazing sound quality with flat signature — Over ear phones reduce outside sound and surround you — Plug converts for ¼-inch line connections as well as aux

Cons: — Bulky for trips around town

The Sony MDR7506 is a famous headphone, and that reputation is well deserved. These large diaphragm headphones are widely found in audio production houses, schools, and home studios. I bought a pair when I was getting serious about home recording, and I am still wowed by their sound quality. 

The MDR7506 is the type of headphone that swallows you in sound. With large over-ear cushions, this is a set that reduces background noise acoustically (without noise-cancelling tech). They fold up nicely, and the long 9.8-foot stretch-cord coils to stay out of your way — unwinding when you step away to grab a capo and re-coiling when you return to the desk. Because of this long cord and the headphone set’s rather heavy build, it’s a set that’s usually best left at home. While I have seen a friend wearing his band’s recording studio’s pair out to the park, I leave mine at home and use my Sony ZX110s when I’m out of the house. (I gave the GRADO s the best overall award because they’re more versatile, but I recommend getting the MDR7506 to leave at home and the ZX110 for out of the house). 

As far as sound, these headphones are about as close to immaculate as you’ll get at this price point. The sound is flat, detailed, and responsive — thick and rich in the bass, full bodied and spatial in the mids, and crisp and shimmery in the highs. The high- end frequency response isn’t as wide as the GRADO’s, but the delivery still sounds great. All in all, I think the MDR7506 are the best-sounding headphones under $100 , only missing the best overall spot because of their weight and unwieldiness for travel.

Best For Working Out: Jabra Elite 3

In-Ear Active. Jabra

Why It Made The Cut: Smart in-ear speakers that are highly customizable and loaded with all the connectivity you could want, that also stay in your ear in even the most active scenarios.

Specs: — Connection: Wireless — Ear Placement: In-ear — Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (music mode), 100 Hz to  8,000 Hz (speak mode) 

Pros: — Multiple audio modes, including hear through and single earbud mode — Controllable EQ modes with strong bass for an earbud — Can be used to take calls

Cons: — Not as feature rich as some pricier smart earbuds — App doesn’t save EQ adjustments

We live in an era of features and connectivity, and there’s little in the headphone game at the sub-$100 price point that does a better job here than the Jabra Elite 3 . These wireless in-ears are great exercise headphones that live firmly in the smart age. The Jabra’s fit snugly in your ears, and sit deep enough that you won’t lose them at the gym. They’re comfortable for hours of use, and have a long battery life that should last you anywhere between 6 to 10 hours per charge.

Controlled via a smartphone app, these earbuds are all about features. The app features a number of EQ modes that control bass, treble, and mids. These headphones have a bassy audio profile that’s noticeably clear and nice, even if the headphone’s overall frequency response is somewhat lower than the over-ears on this list. The app also allows you to cycle through some useful modes, including hear through mode and mono (single headphone). While the phones don’t incorporate active noise cancelling, they do a good job with isolation. Along the way, these phones allow you to answer phone calls, and interact with Alexa with voice, giving you vocal control over your digital ecosystem.

While the Elite 3 isn’t dedicated to fitness, they’re still the most comfortable headphones under $100 for mornings at the gym. In the end, it’s their innate versatility that makes them such a good buy.

Best Bluetooth: Anker Soundcore

Talk About Connectivity. Soundcore

Why It Made The Cut: Chocked full of features, this smart EQ headphone set includes noise canceling, Bluetooth, microphones, and multipoint connections, all while sounding great — with an extra wide frequency response and a battery that lasts up to 40 hours.

Specs: — Connection: Wireless or wired (Bluetooth 5, AUX, NFC) — Ear Placement: On-ear — Frequency Response: 16 Hz to 40,000 Hz 

Pros: — Customizable EQ gets the music sounding right for you — Folds up for storage in travel ready case — Very long battery life with fast charging — Strong noise cancelling with additional modes — Pairs to multiple devices

Cons: — Call function doesn’t work as well as advertised — The headphone’s tight fit can become uncomfortable — Cord connection mode ends EQ settings and noise cancellation

The Anker Soundcore is easily the most accomplished high-tech headphone set on this list and made a great case for being the best overall. If you’re looking for noise-cancelling headphones under $100, you can do no better than these. But that’s not to say great active noise-cancelling is their only selling point. These Soundcore’s are about as feature packed as a contemporary smartwatch

Connecting to up to two devices at a time on Bluetooth 5, auxiliary cord, and NFC (near field communication), the headphones deliver multiple sound modes, including hear through, indoor, and outdoor. The sound is further tuned with customizable EQs. With 40 hours of battery life for noise-cancelling playtime and up to 60 hours without noise cancelling, the battery is recharged fast, making these a great travel buddy. The headphones also do a wonderful job with reproducing sound quality, delivering a frequency response of 16 Hz to an amazing 40,000 Hz. While most humans can barely perceive anything above 20,000 Hz, these frequencies can occasionally create harmonics that add character.

While most users experience these headphones as magic flawless unicorns, they do come with a few issues that could matter to the minority. While they’re advertised as being an excellent choice for those looking to make calls on their headphones, the call function isn’t as strong as I hoped. The aux cord also presents some problems, as the headphones drop noise cancellation and EQ settings when plugged in. It’s an odd feature that can limit their usefulness for people looking to use them for gaming. Lastly, they’re somewhat tight and bulky. If you have a big head, these might not be comfortable for all day use. Still, these are incredible headphones that are very much babies of the age of connectivity. Pick up a pair, and you’ll be amazed you paid as little as you did.

Things To Consider Before Buying Headphones Under $100

Before you buy a new set of headphones make sure you’ve planned well.

Use Case

When you’re looking for some good headphones under $100, it’s important to establish what you want from them. Are you looking for around-town headphones you don’t have to worry about? If so, go for a budget pair. If you’re looking for studio-grade headphones to use when you’re making music or recording, look for pro headphones with a flat balanced signature and a wide frequency response. If you’re looking for headphones that link well to your phone and deliver what you need for exercising, then get some in-ears with solid Bluetooth.

Frequency Response

Every pair of headphones on this list has a different frequency response. That’s because frequency response isn’t the end all be all of good sound. Human hearing varies. Most humans can’t hear much below 20 Hz, and can’t hear much above 20,000 Hz. Many people actually can’t hear much above 18,000 Hz. While a wide frequency response can be important, headphones with less impressive numbers can still sound great. That’s why buying headphones because they go all the way up to 40,000 Hz might not make sense, as even the most perceptive ears will barely be able to discern any signal over 23,000 Hz. Still, this extra tweeter definition can create nuance, and harmonics.

Connectivity

Connectivity is more important than ever. As a bit of an audiophile myself, I tend to look for headphones and sound systems with line connections as these produce the most reliable sound quality. However, others will want wireless connections that connect to multiple sources and easily link to your smartphone and watch. This camp’s view is just as valid. Consider whether you’re looking for headphones that are meant for a wireless lifestyle, or if you’d rather buy a pair that’s meant for old-school audio fidelity. 

FAQs

Q: How much do headphones under $100 cost?

You can get cheap headphones under $100, you can get outstandingly durable headphones under $100, and you can also get incredible quality headphones under $100. While many of the best headphones in this price range approach the $100 mark, you can easily spend only $10 or around $20 and get an excellent pair.

Q: What is the lowest cost of headphones?

Headphones get cheap. It’s easy to find headphones for around $10. If you’re looking for truly cheap headphones under $100 , consider the Sony ZX Series , which still does an impressive job at not much over $10.

Q: Which headphone is best in-ear or over-ear?

In-ear headphones offer unobtrusive wear and easy portability, while over-ear or on-ear headphones usually deliver more immersive sound with better fidelity and a fuller spectrum. Whether in-ear or over-ear is best is entirely up to your preference. One thing to note is that, though all headphones can damage your hearing if worn too long or played too loud, in-ear headphones are more likely to damage your hearing than over-ear phones are.

Final Thoughts

The best headphones under $100 deliver stellar sound quality for a price that’s not too hard to stomach. These headphones come in lots of different styles and achieve different specializations. If you’re after the best studio-grade earphones, I recommend the Sony MDR7506 . Mine changed the way I listen to audio at home. If you’re looking to save some money but still score a great pair of headphones to take around town, the Sony ZX110 is an amazingly powerful set for a great price. Bluetooth connectivity lovers will adore the noise-cancelling, futuristic Anker Soundcore , which are packed with features. Finally, those who want an all around great pair of on-ears should check out the lightweight build and wonderful sound of the made-in-Brooklyn, GRADO SR60x

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.


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