So you are here because you are on a budget and want to know what the best cheap earphones and earbuds are. Well, you are in luck as over the past 5 years, this has been the most aggressively competitive market in all of the audio. Buying cheap earphones used to mean severely compromising in quality (both sound and build). Those days are gone, and if you have anywhere between $10-$50 to spend, you can get some quality kit. The only issue is sifting through the bad earphones to find the good ones. If you don’t want to read this list of the best cheap earphones and want a quick suggestion, then check out the CCA C10 earphones with 5 drivers per side and a detachable braided cable. However, if you want to see the full range of options, then read on.
Each year we get sent and purchase hundreds of earphones, and whilst not all will get a full review, it really helps us get to know the market, so we decided to do a top 15 best cheap earbuds as opposed to your traditional top 10 list. As always, if you want more personalized recommendations, then feel free to get in touch with us on our Facebook or email channels.
Why are cheap earphones so good in 2021?
There are 2 main reasons why cheap earbuds and earphones have gotten exponentially better over the past few years, which we will list below. Of course, there are many other reasons on top of this, such as emerging markets, the lowest production, and manufacturing costs, but I think these 2 really stand out to why cheap earphones sound better than ever.
The Earbud Market Exploded
Firstly we have the true adoption of mobile computing. Mobile computing? Yes, that smartphone in your pocket is way more than a phone. Today it’s an all-out functional computer with the ability to watch videos, play games, and listen to music and podcasts. The growth of the mobile phone industry is directly linked to the growth of the affordable earphone market. More demand for a product naturally means more companies will enter the market trying to grab a slice of the pie.
At one point, it was a race to the bottom with price, basically what was acceptable for the lowest cost. However, now that we reached the bottom, many companies now have to differentiate themselves from the competition by being better. Shocking isn’t that once companies are not trying to create the cheapest product possible, they will try to make those products better.
Trickle Down Earphone Tech
The second reason is trickle-down technology from the audiophile headphone market. Portable audiophiles were always the nerdy bunch sitting in a small internet zone and obsessing about sound quality, comfort, functionality, etc. Even just 10 years ago, the community was tiny, but these people cared a lot about headphones and earphones. Soon many of these audiophiles went to work creating their own products, and bigger companies also recognized that there was a seriously profitable market emerging.
Thus over the past decade, the headphone market has absolutely exploded, and the boundaries of what was possible have really been pushed. Multi BA (Balanced armature) driver configurations, hybrid earphones, electrostatic earphones, and even planar magnetic earbuds have changed the way high-end audio behaves. Then there is the attention to aesthetics, ergonomics and build on sometimes multi-thousand dollar earphones. What does this mean if you are on a budget? Well, many companies have absorbed those tech advancements and tried to implement them in even cheaper earphones.
This trickle-down technology has ultimately led to cheap earbuds with amazing sound. Something not possible just a little while ago.
How to chose the Best Cheap Earbuds / Earphones?
Many people come and ask us what the best-sounding budget earphones are, but the truth is told, the sound is just one part of the equation. Below are the factors I think you should consider when buying cheap earphones.
- Build Quality
You might be surprised to see sound come in at number 3 on our list of most important factors. Well, hear me out. You can find many earphones under $50 that sounds great, but unfortunately, some of these earphones completely disregard ergonomics.
Think about it for a second; this is something you will be wearing inside your ears, usually for hours at a time. There is no point in having the greatest sounding earbuds if you can’t stand having them in your ears for more than 20 minutes.
The next most important factor has to be build quality. Even though your initial outlay is not much, and theoretically, you can more easily replace a broken set of $10 earphones than a $500 set, this is important to consider. Some cheap earphones would have made this list on sound alone, but then we have absolutely no confidence in them lasting. Furthermore, this is one area where companies will try and save a few pennies in the design by using lower-quality construction techniques and materials. Now that’s not to say all earphones under $50 are junk, the majority, yes, but the ones we list here are pretty darn good for the price.
So the sound comes in third, and I think that is fair. Yes, if you are on a budget, you will not get the same sound quality as someone with unlimited funds have. Still, the truth that nobody is telling you is that the differences in real-world performance (sonically) are far smaller than a price tag would suggest. Some of the earphones below sound better than in-ear headphones over $200. Most of them sound better than their similarly priced competition.
The 15 Best Cheap Earbuds & Earphones 2021 List
So without further ado, here is the Audiophile on the best budget earphone list for 2021. This list is only ordered in my own personal preference due to each person’s needs and sound preferences. What may be the best for you might not be the best for someone else. Just rest assured that all their earphones on this list perform incredibly well for their price points.
- Final Audio E3000
- KZ DQ6
- KZ ZST
- CCA C12
- Venture Electronics VE Monk
- Tin Audio T2
- Granville X3
- Monoprice Hifi Earbuds
- CCA C10
- Anker Soundcore Life P2
- KZ ATE
- Zero Audio Carbo Tenore
- Soundmagive E80C
- KZ ZSN
- Koss KSC75
1. Final Audio E3000 – Amazing sound!
I have always loved Final Audio products but until listening to the E3000 earphones I would have a hard time using the FAD name and value for money in the same sentence. These earphones blew me away during testing for the Final Audio E3000 review.
They sound better than a lot of earphones priced up to $200 with clear detail retrieval, excellent soundstage, and insanely good bass response. In my opinion, nothing under $50 even comes close to the performance of the E3000.
Build quality is ok but comfort is excellent as the earbuds are super small and super light. I can wear these all day long and they are one of the best bargains in the audio world right now.
2. KZ DQ6
KZ earphones are good for 2 things. Firstly they make excellent cheap earphones at a price other companies can’t even come close to, and secondly, they blatantly rip off other companies’ designs like no other.
Ethics aside, it’s hard not to argue a case for the KZ ZS6, which at best is inspired by campfire audios’ expensive earphone lineup (In truth, it’s a complete rip-off of the design). Build quality is excellent, and sound is also on point with good clarity and balance throughout the frequencies.
Cables are user-replaceable if you want to upgrade or repair the ZS6, and the metal construction of the earpieces inspires a lot of long-term confidence.
3. KZ ZST
The second of three budget earphones on this list from KZ is the ZST. This is far cheaper than the ZS6 and represents outstanding value for money, given you can pick them up for around $20 online.
They are designed to be worn with the cable over the ear and have a very ergonomic-friendly design that works well with many ear shapes and sizes. The housing is formed from plastic and, as such, won’t be as bombproof as the ZS6.
You still get detachable cables, though, and a good selection of ear tips to ensure you get a good seal. The sound is clear and defined with a solid amount of low-end punch with little spillover into the midsection. Mids are warm, and the treble sparkles with rare ventures towards sibilance.
4. CCA C12
We reviewed the CCA C12 headphones earlier this year and became big fans. In fact, I have bought these earphones for many family members who were looking for something that performs well, looks good, and doesn’t break the bank. These are cable-down earphones with gorgeous housing accentuated by metal accents.
They have the excellent build quality and excellent long-term comfort, but the sound stole the show. They are a warm and engaging sounding headphone that works well with pop and rock music, but then you have that excellent low-end response.
Many cheap earbuds have a tendency to have flabby or anemic bass, but these have a solid weight to them and retain a punchiness of a far more expensive earphone. The overall sound and bass aren’t as pleasurable as the Final Audio E3000, but they can be had for less than half the price.
5. Venture Electronics VE Monk
If you are after a set of traditional earbuds (the ones that don’t go inside your ears), then there really is only one option under $50.
The Venture Electronics VE Monk. These insanely cheap earbuds sound fantastic, and the audio community took notice last year and heaped praise upon them.
They are a traditional style earbud and very comfortable when used with foam filters. The sound is very detail orientated and well-balanced right through the range. Build quality is nothing to shout about, but they feel solidly put together considering how much you pay.
6. Tin Audio T2
The Tin Audio design has been around for a long time but recently saw a refresh with the release of the higher-end versions. That’s good news for the T2 because it comes down significantly in price and is the best all-around option on this list.
They are solid contenders as one of the best cheap IEM (in-ear monitor) style earphones on the market in 2021. I have put them on the list for the design and comfort, but I think the sound is just fantastically detailed and neutral. To me, they are one of the earphones on this list that will give newcomers to the audiophile world a taste of how good and refined audio products can be.
The build quality is superb with the all-metal body and detachable MMCX cables, which are a real treat when considering the price. The cable is also very high quality, and the earphones look and feel special. I really can’t understand how it is possible to sell these for under $50, but that will be a big win for you.
7. MPow MBits S
It’s hard to believe you can buy a good set of truly wireless earphones on a budget, but it’s true. The Mpow MBits S come in well under $50, and while they may lack the refinements you get on more expensive models from well-known brands, they do their job and do it well.
They come with Bluetooth 5.0, so they can handle modern high-end music codecs with greater range and fewer dropouts. They also have IPX8 water resistance that makes them great for working out. Finally, they have built touch controls that will let you control playback without having to access your phone.
Really there is a lot of value for money here, and they are one of the best wireless options we have ever tried.
8. Monoprice Enhanced – Extremely cheap but great sound
I the lowest price is of utmost importance, then there is simply no other earphone to recommend. Available most of the time for just over $5 on the Monoprices website, there is no other earphone that delivers so much clean sound for such a small investment. It’s neutral, balanced, clean, and clear with a reasonably good soundstage.
The build is also ok, and our sets have held up well over the years. However, there is one drawback. These are definitely the least comfortable earphone on the list if you have small ears. The design of the housing is quite bulky and, as such, won’t fit everyone. Price considered though these are absolutely mind-boggling.
9. CCA C10
These new earphones from Chinese brand C10 are gaining a huge following in the budget audiophile community, and it’s hard to understand how CCA can sell these earphones so cheap.
They are crammed full of tech that you would expect to see on earphones that cost over $300, but they come in well under $50 on Amazon and even cheaper from Chinese retailers like Aliexpress and Linsoul.
You get a set of very well-made monitor-style earphones with a gorgeous detachable braided cable and 5 drivers in each earpiece.
It’s a hybrid earphone with Balanced armature drivers handling the sound of the upper frequencies and a large dynamic driver to power in the bass and other low range frequencies.
The sound is dynamic and detailed with a slight hint of warmth. These are, by some margin, the best technical earphone on this list.
10. Anker Soundcore Life P2
If you are looking for a set of cheap but good quality truly wireless earbuds, you can’t do much wrong if you are considering the Anker Soundcore Life P2.
These are fully wireless earphones that offer a lot of bang for your buck. They come from Anker, who is well known and respected for their cell phone accessories and are available worldwide, mainly distributed through Amazon.
They have solid battery life, range, sound quality and they have a warranty that will actually be valid if something goes wrong.
11. KZ ATE
Probably the most famous budget earphone amongst the purveyors of cheap audio gear on Head-fi and Reddit. The KZ ATE essentially kickstarted the wave of CHI-FI (Chinese HiFi) earphones hitting the western shore.
I still find it hard to believe how they manage to get so many high-end features into such a cheap package. The design is a rip-off of Audio Technica, but they look perfect in person, with their see-through shells giving you a glimpse of the internal workings of the earphones.
The sound is neutral and balanced with a perfect top end which is not often seen on headphones anywhere near this price.
12. Zero Audio Carbo Tenore
I called out the Verge’s nonsense article about how these Carbo Tenore could punch for punch with some of the best headphones in the world. However, that doesn’t mean that these aren’t excellent value for money.
Sound-wise, these and the Final Audio E3000 stand significantly above the competition here, and they also share a lot of the same properties in terms of design and comfort.
I will say that the Carbo Tenore is a built a lot better than the E3000. The sound is fun, engaging, and full of plenty of detail. The bass is excellent, and they can rival earphones over $100 with ease.
13. Soundmagic E80c
The Soundmagic E80c is one of the best sub $50 earphones we have ever tested. In fact, I like it so much I would put it right up there in terms of sound with the E3000.
Build quality is simply brilliant, metal body good cable and readily available at most major online outlets.
Punchy and very detailed, you will be surprised by the clarity and detail retrieval. Probably the best bass in the test, and they sound amazing with electronic music.
14. KZ ZSN
Good clean, although not spectacular sound with a decent amount of low-end grunt gets paired with some great build quality in the KZ ZSN.
Just like the Panasonics, they aren’t great in any one area, but they perform so well in every area and are one of the cheapest earphones we tested we had to include them.
Betron is building a solid reputation for releasing excellent value audio products, and the ZSN is one of our favorites from their lineup.
15. Koss KSC75
Ok, so I thought I would throw this in there for those looking for audiophile-grade headphone sound but in the smallest package possible. Ok, so they aren’t the smallest, and they aren’t really earphones.. then again, they aren’t really headphones either.
The KSC75 share the internals of the legendary Koss Porta Pro headphones, and these clip over the ear without the headband. The sound is downright incredible, open space, and accurate.
On sound quality, these are the best on the entire list and can also give many expensive full-size headphones a run for their money. They won’t be for everyone, but if the sound is a priority, then these are impossible to beat for the money.