With Affordable/Budget Audiophile headphones, one usually can’t expect world-class sonics, but nowadays, you can get several models that get you pretty darn close. With the HD58X Jubilee, Sennheiser and Massdrop have changed the game, providing the best sound ever in a $150 headphone, and AKG has furthered their dominance of the budget headphone market with their K92 pro headphone, which gives you much of the sound you get from their higher end models for only $60. Koss continues their run of low cost, high-performance headphones with their KPH30i headphone which sells for about 30 bucks. There are also some good IEMs on the list including one of our favorites, the Final E3000 which is very sweet sounding for $55, and the Brainwavz B400, a four-driver IEM that sounds pretty darn close to a live performance for less than $200. Here is the list of my 10 favorite or best affordable/budget headphones.
1. AKG K92 ($60) – Great Dynamics, decent detail, and wide open sound make this an excellent budget headphone for home listening. It will work plugged directly into a phone or DAP, but it will really shine when used with a budget headphone amp/DAC like the Dragonfly Black.
2. Massdrop/Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee ($150) -These headphones, a collaboration between online retailer Massdrop and Sennheiser, probably the biggest player in the headphone market, are nothing short of remarkable for the money. These cans are derived from the legendary HD 580 Precision headphones, a model that launched several other models revered amongst audiophiles for their sound quality, like the HD 600 and HD 650.
However, unlike those older models, these have some really nice revisions geared towards the modern audiophile, like new 150 ohm drivers so they can be more easily driven by digital audio players or cellphones. They also have a more open sound with enhanced upper mids and deeper bass that makes them sound good with just about any genre. The best part? They only cost $150! Much less than their predecessors. The only downside is that you can only get them from Massdrop, which is notorious for long shipping times. But they are worth it, trust me.
3. AudioQuest Nighthawk Carbon Headphones ($300) – These headphones are somewhat an enigma in audiophile circles because they don’t sound like anything else out there. But what makes them great? They don’t sound like anything else out there! They came out a couple of years ago for $700, and they were actually worth it at that price, but now that they are selling for about $300, you can get a bonafide audiophile headphone for a steal.
Some people are down on them because they sound a little dark with low powered sources, but if you feed them some power from a good headphone amp, these bad boys will sing! To me, the laid back, smooth, non-fatiguing sound is excellent for long term listening sessions. They also have a very wide soundstage, along with beautiful detail, and they are about the most light, comfortable, headphones I have ever worn.
4. Grado SR80e ($100) – The Grado SR-80 has been the budget headphone king for many years now, offering great detail in the midrange and treble, along with a nice soundstage. They also have a decent amount of controlled, fast, low-end presence for those who like to rock out. The open nature of the headphones coupled with the long cord make this more suited for use at home, but if you want to get a taste of what a true hi-fi headphone sounds like for a beer budget, look no further.
5. Koss KPH30i ($30) – If you can’t afford the Grados, or you’re looking for a more portable option, then these Koss headphones should fit the bill. Their lightweight, comfortable form factor, along with the fun, open and engaging sound gives you a whole lot to listen to for not a whole lot of money. Check out our full review here.
6. 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Earphones ($80) – I can make a good case that these are the best earphones under $99, and I’m not the only one saying it. They are so smooth it’s hard to find music that they don’t sound good with. The highs are detailed but not harsh, mids are sweet, and the bass, even though slightly accentuated, is tight. They also have a tangle-resistant cable with a mic/remote. This is a great all-around earphone that will sound good with any music you throw at it.
7. Final Audio Design E3000 High-Resolution Earphone ($55) – This is one of my favorite earphones to use on the go, and they have a big following amongst headphone enthusiasts. They have a nice easy-going, spacious, mid-centric sound that is amazing with pop and singer/songwriter music and good with just about anything else. If you are like me, and like a headphone that handles vocals well, these will be right up your alley. They are really great to just pop in your ears and go. The $55 model has no inline remote/mic, but you can get the model with one for another $10 more.
8. Simgot EM1 In-Ear Monitor ($50) – If you are an audio purist that likes an earphone with a flat response, then you should check out the Simgot EM1. There treble is a little elevated, but for the most part, you get the music as recorded. The EM1 is one of the most refined, articulate earphones I have heard at this price point (alongside the E3000 above), presenting the music with a surprising amount of resolution for a $50 IEM. They really pulled me into the recording with their natural presentation of vocals and instruments. These are a good alternative to the E3000 if you like a little more treble sparkle. Great IEM for Jazz, Blues, and Folk music fans. Check out our full review here.
9. KZ ZSN In-Ear Monitor ($22) – KZ is popular (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for putting out decent sounding multi-driver IEMs at ridiculously low prices. Some have questioned the build quality and elevated treble on most of their earphones, but the ZSN, one of their latest models, is a step up in both build quality and sound. On this model, they have moved away from the exaggerated bass and treble on some of their earphones to a more balanced sound. The treble is still a little sibilant on certain tracks, but the mids and bass are smooth, and there is some decent instrument separation, especially for $20. If you don’t have a lot of money, or you are looking for a good starter IEM, check these out, very entertaining sound for the money.
10. Brainwavz B400 Quad Balanced Armature Earphones ($199) – If you want a step up in sound from the other earphones on this list, the Brainwavz B400 is for you. The four balanced armature drivers per side produce an amazing soundstage with nice width and depth, and the focused imaging is also awesome giving you a 3D type listening experience. The detail and realistic layering of instruments also add to the natural presentation. Its sound is hard to beat at the under $200 price point. Check out our full review here.