Best Cheap Headphones Under $100

| June 10, 2012 | 7 Comments

There are a plethora of great headphones under $100 so most people shouldn’t need to spend more than this to find a headphone they love that fits their lifestyle.

The law of diminishing returns is in full force in the headphone world, so if you are looking to grab your first pair of nice headphones you should not need to venture outside this list. It is tempting to leap for the expensive models, but the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of high performance headphones south of $100.

Monoprice 8320 – “The Budget King”

My assumption is that people browsing this list are looking for an “everyday use” headphone, so the headphones on this list adhere to the following criteria:

  • Negligible sound leakage (appropriate in all environments)
  • Genre versatile (they will sound great with anything you throw at them)
  • Easily portable (some more than others due to folding features and cable lengths)

[Disclaimer: these recommendations are not comprehensive. Instead, we have tried to find something for everyone while keeping the lists short. At the same time, this is a living document so let us know what we’re missing!]

In order of increasing price:

Monoprice 8320 – $8 (In-ear)

The chromed-out 8320 is famous for one reason: it has amazing sound quality for the price. The sound is balanced with a slight boost on the low end and a very wide soundstage. It is also very smooth and detailed, but slightly thin-sounding compared to higher end sets. But this would be nitpicking – you couldn’t ask for better sound quality in a $10 headphone. Third-party ear tips are almost a necessity as the they only comes with one size; we recommend Sony Hybrids (remember, proper seal is crucial for in-ear headphones). Even with new ear tips comfort is hit-or-miss (the over-the-ear wear style is not for everyone), but we wouldn’t include the 8320 on this list if it wasn’t worth the risk. [Buy at Amazon]

 

Coby CV-185 – $10 (On-ear)

A sturdy, foldable, swiveling, decent-sounding headphone for $10? Yup! Coby doesn’t have very noteworthy headphone lineup but the CV-185 is the exception. Clarity is better than almost all headphones at this price point, which is one of the most important factors since cheap headphones have the tendency to sound muddy and unclear. Comfort is good out of the box, but gets even better if you invest in a pair of standard foam ear pads you can get from most electronics stores. [Buy from Amazon]

 

JVC Air Cushion – $20 (In-ear)

The Air Cushions are a great deal, if only for their incredible comfort. The sound is impressive for the price as well; those currently sporting stock earbuds will hear a world of improvements. The bass is strong and extends deep but can lack control at times. Compared to the popular JVC Marshmallows, the Air Cushions have a better soundstage and are less fatiguing despite the increased mid and treble presence. The Air Cushions are also genre versatile – the strong bass fares well with modern music, but the mids and treble can come forward and take on the main role if the song calls for it. They come in a variety of colors and versions, the latest being the HAFX67. The Air Cushions are at the top of the comfort food chain in the world of budget earphones. [Buy from Amazon]

MEElectronics M6 / M6p – $20/$25 (In-ear)

Don’t be fooled by MEElec’s naming conventions: despite the existence of the M9. M16, and others, the M6 is still one of the best models. They sound incredible with electronic music because of their crisp, energetic sound. The above average soundstage size and imaging capabilities are noteworthy as well. Bass and treble are given slightly more emphasis than the bass, which is a typical characteristic of “fun sounding” headphones. If you want to use them for working out (which they are great for), take a look at the Sport-Fi S6 which is the same earphone with a red/black color scheme and a few nice accessories/features for working out. Also available in white. [Full MEElectronics M6 Review] [Buy from Amazon]

MEElectronics HT-21 – $25 (On-ear)

MEElec is known for their bang-for-the-buck headphones that consistently score high in all major categories, and the HT-21 is no exception despite being their first non-earphone venture. These cans are tiny and define the term ultra-portable. They are extremely comfortable, have decent build quality, and sound amazing for the price. A slight emphasis is given to the bass and mids but overall they are nicely balanced. The presentation is of the “forward” nature, so they are engaging as opposed to laid back. [Full MEElec HT-21 Review] [Buy from Amazon]

 

Panasonic RP-HTF600-S – $30 (Over-ear)

The HTF600’s combination of comfort and sound quality is very hard to beat under the $50 mark. I classify it as a home listening or office headphone due to the long cord (10 ft) and semi-closed design which allows it to leak at high volumes. The construction is very lightweight and the clamping force is very low, making the HTF600 comfortable for hours on end. In terms of sound, it boasts excellent quality for the price and should appeal to mostly everyone: it is balanced in the mids and treble while the bass is given a significant boost. A very well-rounded headphone that should be a go-to choice among deal hunters. [Full Panasonic RP-HTF600-S Review] [Buy from Amazon]

Astrotec AM-90 – $45 (In-ear)

The AM-90 is a brand new earphone that delivers an absolutely stunning value. Comfort is top notch, the clear-sheathed low-noise cable is amazing, and the sound quality is exceptional for $40. I believe it is the cheapest balanced-armature headphone on the market and it is tuned masterfully, beating out the more expensive MEElectronics A151 which uses the same driver. As can be expected from a single-armature headphone, the bass is not very powerful but it has very good texture and enough impact to make its mark. Overall the sound is smooth and balanced with a hint of warmth, while steering clear of any harshness. To top it off, the AM-90 comes with a handful of nice accessories: a hard carrying case and three types of ear tips (single-flange, triple-flange, and foam). [Buy from Amazon]

VSonic GR06 – $60 (In-ear)

From its insane accessory pack (including 13 different ear tips) to its excellent build quality (including one of the best cables I have seen for an IEM), the GR06 is a total package earphone. The sound is balanced with strong low end (with a proper seal of course) and a very impressive soundstage. In terms of tonality it shares a lot with the Brainwavz M2: warm, smooth, and versatile. I have to admit the M2 is a bit smoother but the soundstage and instrument separation on the GR06 are noticeably better. There is a lack of sparkle (cymbals sound a bit dull) but I am okay with this because they rarely become sibilant. It sounds great with all genres and has enough bass (even without EQ) to satisfy mild bassheads. My biggest issue with the GR06 is fit and comfort. For me, the oddly-shaped housings caused discomfort over long listening sessions and I have a hard time keeping a good seal. Still, I don’t hesitate to recommend the GR06 – it just not very user friendly. It requires a lot of experimentation with ear tips, and the over-the-ear wear style is not for everyone. [Buy at eBay]

Sony MDR-V6 – $75 (Over-ear)

The V6 is arguably the most versatile headphone under $100. It can serve as a studio monitor, DJ headphone, or casual listening set – very few headphones besides the V6 excel in all three scenarios. The build quality (which utilizes tilting cups, a coiled cord, and foldable design) deserves first mention. The V6 can take a true beating and there are stories of them lasting 15 to 20 years and beyond. In terms of sound, the V6 is accurate throughout all frequencies without sounding boring. The bass is remarkably weighty, deep, and textured for a headphone that is close to neutral on the whole. The mids are smooth at the bottom but can sound grainy at the top. Treble is forward and slightly aggressive, balancing out the relatively strong bass and slightly recessed mids. The V6’s can pick out details as well as any headphone under $100 but placing them accurately in the soundstage is difficult when tracks get busy (not too surprising for a high-isolating closed headphone). Nothing about the V6 says “cheap” – they are built to last and sound great as well. [Full Sony MDR-V6 Review] [Buy from Amazon]

Ultrasone HFI-450 / Yamaha RH10MS – $80 (Over-ear)

The HFI-450 and the rebranded Yamaha version are essentially budget alternatives to the more expensive Audio Technica ATH-M50s. The DJ-style design is almost identical with its foldable design and tilting/swivel cups. The biggest difference is sound quality, but this can be expected at half the price. In comparison to the M50, the HFI-450 has a smoothed-over low end, a thicker midrange, and rolled-off treble which refrains from harshness after some burn-in. For the supreme functionality and versatility of the M50 at half the price, the HFI-450 is an excellent value choice. It has portable written all over it, but as with the M50 the long 11-foot cable is the main hindrance. [Buy from Amazon]

Velodyne vPulse – $90 (In-ear)

The vPulse is one for the bass lovers. It packs a huge punch on the low end, extends deep down to the lowest frequencies with ease, and offers up sub-bass rumble that few entry-level earphones are able to pull off. Surprisingly, the vPulse is able to maintain good clarity and accuracy in the mids and treble unlike many of the bass-head headphones floating around. They are definitely laid back, but I would hesitate to call them recessed; the bass takes the cake, but the mids and treble do their thing as well. Though they look cheap in terms of construction, they are actually nicely built in addition to delivering great comfort. Also available in blue. [Buy from Amazon]

Thinksound TS02+mic – $90 (In-ear)

The TS02+mic has a ton going for it: a smooth, relaxing sound, beautiful wooden housings (chocolate or cherry color), a built-in microphone, and it was made through an eco-friendly manufacturing process. The TS02 is not as bassy as the TS01 but is much more refined overall. It is very hard to dislike the TS02 – it is balanced, clear, detailed, and best of all flat-out fun to listen to. It also never sounds harsh while still exhibiting good treble sparkle. [Full Thinksound TS02+mic Review] [Buy from Amazon]

 

Sennheiser PX-200 II – $90 (Closed-back)

The PX-200 II is among the best “ultra-portables”. It is extremely lightweight, can fold up to about the size of a glasses case, and utilizes a closed-back design so you don’t have to worry about sound leakage or interruptions from your environment. While the similar PX-100 goes for the classic “Sennheiser sound” (warm and smooth), the PX-200 is much more balanced. The soundstage is very impressive for a closed headphone, and sound quality is good for the price. There are better bang/buck options, but taken as a total package the PX-200 II is a force to be reckoned with and is well worth the small premium. If you are looking for lots of bass, take a look at the PX-100 but take note that you will be sacrificing isolation because of the PX-100’s open-back design. The “i” version comes with an in-line microphone. [Buy from Amazon]

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Category: Best Headphones

Comments (7)

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  1. I had the MEElectronics on my list too. Great list.

  2. Mr. 1911 says:

    As of right now(9/2/12) Amazon has audio-technica ATH-AD700’s for $89! The phones are worth the MSRP and more but at $89 people should be buying 2 sets! You will not be disappointed! The fit is a little unusual in that there is no clamping pressure to speak of. This lack of clamping pressure in no way effects the sound but does cause the set to “disappear” after a few minutes of wearing! Amazon does have very good CS if by chance a return was needed! Thanks for the list

    • mark says:

      I agree that they are a great deal for $89. I included them on my gaming headphone recommendations, but there are a few reasons why I didn’t include them here…
      1) As I mention at the top, I tried to make this list “do it all” headphones, and the AD700 are really only good for desktop use.
      2) I find the fit almost TOO loose. You can’t move your head much without them sliding around.
      3) Many people find them bass-light
      4) The color scheme is bizarre! I ended up spray painting mine

  3. rudeboybass says:

    The sony MDR-V6’s are really nice – easily one of my favorite pairs of headphones that you can get at such a reasonable price!

  4. Mathews Joseph says:

    Where is Brainwavz M1?

    • mark says:

      I have it on my to-do list to add the M2 to this list. The M1 has a lot going for it, but I don’t find the synergy/balance to be there. It is almost as if the soundstage is TOO big for the definition/clarity of the M1. Just my opinion though!

  5. anh vu says:

    i vote for Sony MDR-V6, it’s a great headphone with affordable price

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