With the number of headphones on the market, it has become very easy to get a decent pair of headphones. For a few hundred dollars or less, you can get an excellent headphone of your choice. However, sometimes you might have to deal with a tight budget. Well, you do not need to break the bank to get a good headphone. Whether your budget is $500 or $100, we are going to present you the absolute picks of the best budget audiophile headphones.
We have tried a dozen headphones, and though most are audiophile quality, their prices are hefty for some of us to get them. Therefore, it would be so easy to populate this list with expensive headphones. But value is a critical factor on our list. We have tried to keep things sane with budget-friendly consumer headphone options.
We have also tried to break the list down into categories making it easy for you to choose a pair that correctly fits your preferences.
We have combined both closed and open headphones because we know there are great entries on both sides. Sound quality was paramount in this case because we know that’s what audiophiles will value most. Other factors considered in this list are the comfort and the ease of use.
If we have missed a great headphone you have enjoyed, or you disagree with our list, please leave a comment below.
Budget Audiophile Headphones Buying Advice
Most audiophiles prefer over-Ear headphones because compared to other headphone types they offer numerous advantages. First, over-the-ear headphones are more comfortable in the long run than on-ear or in-ear headphone models. However, an over-ear headphone will not automatically translate to it being comfortable. You should look out for the headphone’s build quality, construction materials, and the overall weight of the headphone.
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO – Sound Gear Lab
Apart from being comfortable, when it comes to pure sound quality, a high-end over-ear headphone is the best you could get. This is because a big size translates to a larger and powerful speaker, which equates to more sound with better audio reproduction. However, this will also depend on a closed or open type. But, all in all, if you want the very best sound in a headphone, an over headphone is the best choice.
On-ears are some of the most versatile headphones type in the market due to their size and capabilities. While they are not discreet like In-Ear headphones, the compact design of on-ear headphones plus their weight makes them very portable.
On-ear headphones will, however, differ drastically in their prices. You can get cheap on-ear headphones that are well built and sound okay, or you can spend more on a good pair that will blow you away.
1MORE Triple Driver in-Ear Headphone – Sound Gear Lab
Of all the three headphone types, In-ear headphones tend to be the cheapest on average. But, this is not to say you cannot find expensive models out there.
I prefer in-ear headphones because you can discreetly use them anywhere. These days’ cables are not a problem because you can get a true wireless earbud, which will even offer more discretion.
Because they are super light and very portable, in-ear headphones are perfect to use when working out or playing sports.
Read more about in-ear headphones vs. on-ear headphones vs. over-ear headphones
Over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear headphones, all have open-back and closed-back design variations. Open-back headphones have open backs usually mesh covered. Because of the openings in the headphone casing, open-backs deliver a more immersive and natural sound quality. However, though the open design makes them more deep and natural sounding, they are prone to sound leakages in and out of the headphone. See our best open-back headphones.
Meze 99 Classics closed-Back headphones – Sound Gear Lab
Closed-back headphones are headphones with a closed earcup design, which keeps sound from leaking from the environment into the headphone. Because of the closed back design, they offer good isolation for use in loud and noisy environments. Closed-back headphones are preferred because they tend to have a deeper and better bass response. See our best closed-back headphones.
Read more on closed-back vs. open-back headphones.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm and 250 Ohm
Measured in Ohms, the impedance of a headphone tells you how hard the headphone driver hinders the flow of electrical current. A low impedance headphone will be easier to drive and not require additional power from an amplifier. A low impedance headphone depending on their sensitivity will also deliver high audio levels with very little power. Low impedance headphones are also better suited for portability as they can work with weak amplification sources like phones, portable music players, and other portable devices.
A high impedance headphone on the other end will demand more power to deliver better audio levels. As a result, high impedance headphone models are more suited for a home setting than to use on the go. A high impedance headphone like the Sennheiser HD-600 or the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 Ohm on this list will require an amplifier to sound better.
The sensitivity of a headphone is the measure of how effectively a headphone will convert the supplied electrical signal into an audio signal. Measured in Decibels of sound pressure level per milliwatt abb. dB SPL/mW, sensitivity indicates how loud a headphone will be from a particular power source.
The higher a headphone’s sensitivity, the better the headphone performance will be without the use of a lot of power. On the other hand, the lower the headphone sensitivity value, the more power it will require reaching better performance.
Read more about headphone sensitivity.
In our list of the best budget audiophile headphones, there are three types of drivers mentioned. These are planar magnetic, dynamic and hybrid drivers. All of these drivers come with their advantages and disadvantages. Below I have discussed these drivers for a quick understanding.
Planar magnetic headphones are slowly becoming more popular because of their ability to reproduce better sounds, and their price is friendly. Take for example the HifiMan He400S; it is a cheap planar magnetic headphone and delivers better sounding audio quality.
Planar drivers have two magnets instead of one like in dynamic drivers and do not rely on a moving coil to displace air and create sound. Alternatively, a thin diaphragm with thin electrical wires is sandwiched between the two magnets, and when an electrical signal is introduced, they induce a magnetic field, which interacts with the electromagnetic field in the diaphragm causing the diaphragm to vibrate and the sound is reproduced. Read more about planar magnetic drivers or check out our best planar magnetic headphones.
Dynamic headphones are the most popular in the headphone drivers. You can find them in cheap in-ear headphones and even high-end headphones like the Focal Utopia.
Dynamic drivers use a voice coil in a magnetic field to move the diaphragm. When the coil receives current, it creates a magnetic field that attracts or repels it from the magnetic field. The movement of the coil moves the diaphragm, displaces air, and reproduces sound. If more air is displaced, a dynamic driver will sound louder.
Because the working principle of dynamic headphones is so simple, dynamic drivers will not require much power to reach reasonable volume.
Hybrid drivers are a new technology that combines dynamic drivers and balanced armature drivers. Because of this, hybrid drivers deliver a balance of good bass response associated with dynamic drivers and a good treble.
A hybrid driver is usually associated with in-ear headphones like in our case the 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Earphone.
Learn more about the six different headphone drivers.
A headphone amp increases the level of the signal from a playback device to improve both the details and volume of the audio.
There are various reasons why you may require a headphone amp to use with your headphones. Other times a headphone amp may not be required.
Below are some of the reasons you need an external headphone amp:
- If the existing inbuilt amp in your playback device is under-powered and not delivering enough power to the headphones.
- If a pair of headphone has a high impedance rating, e.g. like the Sennheiser HD-600 on our list.
- If a pair of headphones sounds very quiet when paired with your playback device, even at their full volume. This is normally associated with low sensitivity.
Reasons why you may not need a headphone amp:
- If a pair of headphone has the noise-canceling feature.
- If you use In-ear headphones.
Read our in-depth guide on headphone amplifiers to learn more. You can also check out our best headphone amps under 100 dollars.
The short answer would be No.
However, in reality, it is made to look that you always get more for a high price tag; better construction, better quality sound, or even luxurious and additional accessories. Though most of the times this is always true, it is not always the case. A good example would be the Beats by Dre headphones, which are overpriced. You can get the same or a better quality headphone for half the price or even less.