Are you looking for the best affordable headphones? Not everyone wants to go through life with giant headsets on their heads, even though large earphones that cover the entire ear offer better sound quality. While headphones that completely surround the ear are not everyone’s preference, on-ear models – which fit over the ear – with smaller cups are more compact, better for traveling, and may even cost a little. less. They have also evolved with more models offering active noise cancellation and advanced features that were previously only found in over-ear models – which cover the entire ear.
Here you can take a look at our selection of the best affordable headphones in basic aspects such as noise cancellation and sound quality. All are wireless except the Prestige Series SR80e Grade and the Beats Ep.
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Best affordable headphones of 2020
Bowers & Wilkins PX5
In late 2019, Bowers & Wilkins launched their new noise-canceling headphones: the PX7 over-ear model ($400) and the on-ear PX5 model ($300). Both great headphones with sleek designs, loud sound, and decent noise cancellation (not as good as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but not too far away). The PX7s have bigger drivers and bolder overall sound, but the PX5 is more compact, easier to travel with (takes up less space in a bag), and fetches about $150 less than the PX7.
Beats Solo Pro
The Solo Pro is the first Beats on-ear headphones to offer active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats to be charged via the Lightning port. They feature the company’s Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling (Pure ANC), “derived from the Studio3 Wireless over-ear, with updated tuning to accommodate the on-ear form factor,” says Beats. At the touch of a button, you can disable that noise cancellation to save battery life or press the button a second time to enter an audio transparency mode that lets you hear the outside world, not just music.
Available in multiple color options, the noise-canceling headphones are equipped with six microphones, two of which are designed to perfect your voice when you make calls or speak with the virtual assistant (they have the integrated Apple H1 chip to have Siri always on ). The sound is smooth and well balanced, with powerful bass that doesn’t make the music bounce. They’re comfortable for an on-ear model and their more compact design is better for traveling than some full-size models on this list. I just wish they cost a little less and came with a cable to connect to the entertainment systems on the planes. Unfortunately, the Lightning-to-3.5mm cable is an optional accessory that costs $35 – which is ridiculous. Read more.
Skullcandy Riff Wireless
The Skullcandy Riff is the spiritual successors to the Grind Wireless, which I liked for the price. Available in a variety of colors, they retail for about $50 and have soft ear cups that make them comfortable for an on-ear model. They also deliver great sound for their price, with open, detailed sound quality and powerful bass that’s relatively well defined. My only but with its design is that the upper crown does not have a padded cover and feels a bit cheap with no metal parts. That said, they are pretty and lightweight, and have a double hinge that allows the headphones to fold inward and sideways. They do not include a bag to carry them from one side to the other. The battery life is just 12 hours,
Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500
Comfortable for being an on-ear model, the BackBeat 500 offers good sound. Its battery lasts 18 hours. And they come, too, in a more sporty, sweat-resistant version, the BackBeat Fit 500, which costs between $10 and $20 more, depending on color. Read more about the BackBeat 500.
AKG N60NC Wireless
AKG N60NC headphones have been on the market for a while, but they’re still good-sounding Bluetooth on-ear with active noise cancellation. Samsung now owns Harman, the company that owns AKG, and Samsung doesn’t really know how to market this venerable Austrian audio brand (AKG headphones have been included with Samsung phones). Originally they cost $300, but now you find them for much less (I bought them for less than $120). They are much more palatable at that price.
Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear
Once known as the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear, the company’s only remaining on-ear model is known simply as On-ear Wireless and they come in one color: “triple black.” Although they have received minor updates in recent years, they are still among the most comfortable wireless headphones you can buy, and they work well on smaller heads (for example, with children).
Given that the company is more focused on its noise-canceling and around-the-ear headphones and the true wireless ones, it is unclear if this model will receive an update soon or even if they will remain within the Bose offering. If you discontinue them, I will miss you.
Beats make many high-priced headphones, but its cheaper EP headphones are surprisingly well priced for what they offer. The list price is $100, but you can find them for about $80 or even less. EPs are a not-so-glamorous on-ear model with the forgotten Mixer. However, thanks to its metal frame, it reminds me of lower quality versions of other Beats models – for lower quality, I mean they are not as flashy or fold and lay flat because they have no hinges.
The bass is a little accentuated in sound — after all, it’s still a few Beats — but not too much. They have enough bass to satisfy those who like it, but not enough to discourage someone looking for a more balanced sound.
Prestige Series SR80e grade
Grado makes great-sounding wired on-ear headphones, including the cheapest SR60e ($80) and SR80e ($100), as well as the more expensive SR125e ($150) and 325e ($300). Like other Grade hearing aids, the SR80e has an open design that offers good, open, articulate sound quality. However, that sound is heard around, so that nearby people can hear what you hear and are not recommended for use, for example, in an open office.
These affordable headphones came on the market since 2014 and continue to sound great, with a good tonal balance, full of detail, and deep bass. These are the ideal wired on-ear headphones for anyone looking for great sound for the price. You need an adapter for use with phones that only have a Lightning port or a USB-C port without a traditional headphone jack.