Update, December 9, 2020: This list was updated to include the Grado SR80e open-back headphones.
A good pair of headphones is a must for anyone who spends a significant amount of time listening to audio. Quality cans can get pricey, though, and with so many options out there, it’s hard to find affordable options that are still worth their salt.
In this list we have included the best headphones you can get under $100. This is an amount of cash that shouldn’t break the bank, but will still get you a very decent pair of cans.
Best headphones under $100:
- Audio-Technica ATH-M40X
- Grado Sr60e
- Jabra Elite Active 45e
- Sony MDR-7506
- Anker SoundCore Life Q20
- HyperX Cloud Alpha
Editor’s note: We will update this list of the best headphones under $100 as more models roll out onto the market.
1. Audio-Technica ATH-M40X
Audio-Technica designed these with one purpose in mind: listening to music. Thanks to the rotating ear cups, the headphones lay flat against the chest when inactive which is always handy. Generally speaking, the headband is comfortable with just enough padding. As far as sound is concerned, the ATH-M40x provides more subtle bass reproduction than the ATH-M50x. This is ideal for mixing, making it easier for sound engineers to register and remedy overemphasized treble, which could result in a fatiguing final product.
Overall, if you prefer an ever-so-slight emphasis in the mids and vocals, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the ATH-M40x.
2. Grado SR80e
If you’re interested in open-back cans and want to experience your music in a completely new light, the Grado SR80e is a low-risk fan-favorite that’s sure to be in your audio arsenal for years to come. The open-back design makes your music sound more immersive, and yields a more engaging experience. It includes a one-year warranty and a seemingly indestructible cable with a substantial Y-splitter.
The Grado SR80e reproduce more consistent, accurate treble response compared to the cheaper Grado SR60e headphones. Physically, the headsets are nearly identical, but you’ll hear a difference.
3. Jabra Elite Active 45e
Aside from being a workout-friendly pair of headphones under $100, the Jabra Elite Active 45e connect instantaneously to the designated source device. Connectivity is seldom interrupted, so long as listeners stay within the 10-meter Bluetooth range. Not to mention, battery is long enough to carry you through a week’s worth of workouts at nine hours on a single charge. If the headset does happen to completely drain, it takes just 15 minutes to quickly charge the ‘buds for one hour of listening.
The proprietary ear tips keep you aware of your surroundings at all time, a must-have for outdoor athletes. The downside to this safety feature is degraded audio quality, but most people aren’t critically listening to music during their workouts. Rather, athletes want strong bass and that’s something this headset delivers on.
4. Sony MDR-7506
Sony MDR-7506 headphones are intended for studio monitoring. In general, these are a reliable and legendary pair of headphones under $100 that has the “it” factor. The long 9.8-foot cable is great for studio use but may need tying up to avoid comical unwieldiness while out and about.
Read also: The best Sony headphones you can buy
Our friends at SoundGuys have decades of experience with them, and they still hold up today. They can be found in classrooms, studios, and even some speech labs. If you’re looking for headphones under $100 that have proven many times over that they last for years on end, these are the headphones to buy.
5. Anker SoundCore Life Q20
The Anker SoundCore Life Q20 are affordable noise-cancelling headphones that operate via Bluetooth 5.0 and are AAC-compatible, so iPhone users can enjoy high-quality Bluetooth streaming. Android users may find SBC codec provides more stable performance, as AAC is unpredictable across Android devices. You can always connect via the headphone jack, because these headphones feature a 3.5mm input on the right ear cup.
The headphones also have folding hinges so you can fold them up and toss them in your bag to save space. You can fast charge them: five minutes of charging provides four hours of listening. They also have a ridiculously good battery life at around 40 hours with noise-cancelling enabled, so if you hate plugging in your gear every night these might be for you.
6. HyperX Cloud Alpha
If you’re in the world of PC gaming, there’s a relatively high chance you’ve seen people talking about the HyperX Cloud Alpha on forums or other sites. That’s for good reason: it’s a rockstar of a headset under $100.
The HyperX Cloud Alpha is probably one of the most Platonically-ideal gaming headsets of late, as it offers a good mix of high durability, good sound quality, and extreme value. If you spend a lot of time with headphones on your skull — you can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars chasing quality. The HyperX Cloud Alpha offers quality above its price point, so it’ll be a trusty companion for a long time.
What you should know before buying the best headphones under $100
While the old adage is true: affordable doesn’t equate to cheap, companies have to make sacrifices to their products when they’re priced so affordably. You’re not going to find a pair of headphones on this list that can compete with the something like the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, but they’re not supposed to. This list, instead, is for the budget shopper among us who just wants a pair of headphones that work without all the bells and whistles.
Wired audio outperforms Bluetooth audio
If you value sound quality above all else, you should get a pair of wired headphones. Not only does wired audio support lossless playback, but you tend to get better build quality because analog tech is still more economical than wireless. That’s why many of our picks today are wired, which shouldn’t be a problem for those who listen to music from their laptops or PCs, but mobile listeners may have to pony up for a dongle.
Take the time to find a proper fit
Fit matters tremendously when using headphones or earbuds, because a proper fit effectively blocks out background noise. If gaps form between the ear pads and your ears, outside noise will creep down into your ear canals. You may reflexively increase the volume to combat this effect, known as auditory masking, but that’s a short term solution. Repeated exposure to loud volumes for extended periods of time can put your auditory health at risk, so you’re better off saving yourself the trouble and finding a pair of headphones that best fit your ears.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
SoundGuys is the sibling site to Android Authority, and the team there have made it their goal to bring objective reviews and information to help educate people before they make a purchase they may end up regretting. How you listen to music and enjoy sound is subjective, but the technical aspects of a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker can be measured objectively. That’s where we come in. Make sure to check it out if you have any interest in all things audio!