We’ve all been faced with a decision when buying a new pair of headphones: Do we go for the nice, expensive pair of headphones that we’ve been dreaming of, or do we shell out for first pair of $5/£3 headphones we see on the rack?
We get it. Headphones can be cheap. Like, dirt cheap. But as tempting as it is to shell out for something dirt cheap, don’t do it. The kind of headphones you find in discount bins around the world are there for a reason – they suck.
But here’s the good news: You don’t need to spend a ton to get the headphones of your dreams. Sure, you probably aren’t going to find a good pair of Sennheisers or Sonys for the cost of hamburger, but you can find a half-dozen great headphones for less than the cost of a dinner out with friends.
It’s with that in mind that we’ve narrowed down a list of headphones that not only sound good and feel good, but are priced appropriately for all you cost-conscious audioholics out there.
So what’s a good deal?
It’s hard to put a number on it, and the form factor of the headphone usually has a lot to do with its price. A good pair of cheap in-ear headphones are going to cost a lot less than a good pair of cheap over-ear headphones. That being said, I’ll highlight a few styles below so you can pick and choose which style – and price-point – works for you.
But don’t worry. As long as you’re cutting 30% off retail and staying away from some of the bigger headphone manufacturers who tend to inflate their prices (cough, Beats), you can hardly go wrong.
Without further ado, here are the best headphone deals we found this month.
We’ve made a number of favorable remarks about Sennheiser’s Momentum In-Ears in the past. We’ve called them “among the best deals in the headphones market as it stands today” and said that they “raise the bar for sound performance” in the budget headphone genre. All of that holds true. If you’re looking for a pair of wired in-ears, these are your guys. Specs-wise the Momentum In-Ears weigh about .3 lbs and have a 4.2-foot cable. The frequency response is about 15 to 22,000Hz, which means it can handle highs, mids and lows with relative ease. It has some problems with compatibility, however, so just make sure you check to make sure it’ll work with your handset before you push the ‘buy now’ button.
Read the review: Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear
Why should you pick the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3 instead of the Momentum In-Ear, because it’s one of the cheapest (and best-sounding) in-ear headphones we’ve ever found. And, good news, it’s usually on sale to boot. Not only are these earbuds IP55 rated, making them rain, dust and sweat resistant, but they also have really balanced sound that works well for every genre and incredible noise isolation. They’re perfect for the gym because they weigh just 18 grams and don’t need to connect to your phone via a dangling, easy-to-knock off cable. Optoma says the frequency response goes from 20 to 20,000Hz, and it has a sensitivity of 102dB +/-3dB at 1kHz. On the debit side, though, there are some horror stories out there of the BE Sport3’s batteries being a bit difficult to work with, so keep that in mind.
We’re not sure how Skullcandy crammed such excellent-sounding drivers into such a cheap headset, but somehow, some way, it absolutely did. The Skullcandy Grind is one of our favorite wired on-ear headphones – it’s cheap, sounds incredible and looks awesome. Also, while most headphones make a statement using a logo, branding on these headphones is subtle, with a small logo stamped onto each of the sidearms. While Skullcandy isn’t super transparent about the specs of its headsets, the Grind offers exquisite sound quality, complete with beefy bass response and articulate delivery of mids and highs. We tried a wide variety of music samples to see if we could find a weak point in these cans and, nope, we couldn’t. The only weak point here is that it doesn’t have volume controls built-in. But that’s not a huge bummer.
C’mon, you knew there’d be a Sennheiser pair of headphones somewhere on this list, right? While every pair of cans by the excellent audio manufacturer deserve a spot on this list, the Urbanite is the perfect blend of comfort, clarity and yes, sticker price. At one time the Urbanite was a costly pair of headphones, but these days you can snag a pair for substantially less than you’d expect. Speaking of what to expect, you can look forward to an exceptional audio response, clear playback and outstanding comfort. One downside worth mentioning here is that while the headband folds nicely in a pinch, you need to watch where your fingers are so they don’t get pinched. Ouch!
You may know Marshall for its guitar amplifiers, often used on stage by rock stars and amateurs alike, but the company does way more than just amps. In the past few years, Marshall’s produced several lines of headphones, a Bluetooth speaker or two and even a smartphone. Marshall’s headphones have been universally solid offerings that target the fashion-conscious more than the audiophile. Its latest offering, the Marshall Major II Bluetooth, is the company’s first wireless headphones and it continues Marshall’s trend for focusing on fashion and fun rather than pristine sound quality and a great build.
When it comes to headphones, the general consensus is that you very much get what you pay for. But with AKG’s K92, what you’re getting is so much more. These headphones offer a level of sound quality that far outstrip their budget price tag. That being said, these are some of the largest cans you might ever find, and therefore might not be the best choice for anyone out there who has a petite noggin. Specs-wise, however, it’s all good. The K92’s professional 40mm drivers offer an extended 16 – 20,000Hz frequency response with a 113 dB SPL/V sensitivity level. It has a cable length of about 9 feet (3 meters) and weighs around 200 grams.
When the BackBeat Sense first launched a few years ago, it was way too expensive for the everyday audio listener. Sure, these headphones are good, but were they $200/£150 good? Probably not. Thankfully, it’s possible to find them for a much more reasonable price if you shop around. The design yields comfort and appeal. Its sound performance, battery life and features all deliver without a hitch. There are one or two problems here, but for a sweet set of headphones at this low of a price point we can’t be harsh on ’em. These cans are worth every penny for someone looking to leap for a classy-looking set of wireless headphones.
For your money, you can’t do any better than Grado’s SR60e. The third-generation of the Brooklyn, NY-based company’s Prestige Series is its best and most refined yet. The SR60e in particular is a smart choice if you’re looking for an entry-level set of headphones that sounds like it should cost you way more than it does. Its open-backed ear cup design makes them a more breathable experience than what most on-ear headphones can deliver. In a few words, it’s our gold-standard when it comes to on-ears.
OK, one last option for you here: the SoundMagic E10C. If you want ultra-cheap in-ears that sound great, these are the ones to go with. Scientifically speaking, these guys sound so good because they have one of the widest frequency responses of any in-ear headphones from about 15-22,000Hz. Add to that a fair bit of impedance that makes them a bit harder to drive but sound way better when fed enough source, these are really solid-sounding.
The Beats Solo 3 Wireless ace their wireless tech, with very solid Bluetooth, good range and class-leading battery life. There’s a huge difference here compared with often-flaky cheap Bluetooth sets. Their bass response is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, too – it’s not meant to be neutral or accurate, but by providing meaty thuds without major boominess, the Solo 3 Wireless do what a Beats headphone should.
By Nick Pino
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