What to Look For in Headphones in 2022
One of the first and most important decisions you need to make for any pair of headphones is whether you want them to be wired or wireless. Wireless headphones give you more freedom of movement, but they also cost more and require frequent recharging. Wired headphones are less convenient but more affordable, and they offer better sound quality.
The second thing you’ll want to keep in mind is noise. Active noise cancellation can be essential if you work in a busy office or have a long public commute. On the other hand, it adds to the cost of the headphones, and depending on how it’s implemented, can have a negative effect on sound quality.
The majority of headphones we’re looking at use a closed-back design, which means anyone nearby won’t be able to hear what you’re listening to, at least at a reasonable volume. Open-back headphones are just that—the back of the headphone is exposed. This makes for a more expansive, wider sound, but anyone around you will faintly hear whatever you’re listening to.
Depending on the headphones you’re looking at, some may have larger and smaller drivers. Don’t let the name confuse you—most over-ear and on-ear headphones use dynamic drivers, which are just small speakers next to your ear. These are frequently 40mm or 50mm in size, but you may see larger or smaller numbers.
Larger drivers often deliver more bass thanks to the extra size, but this doesn’t mean larger drivers always have more bass. Studio headphones and headphones that strive for a more accurate frequency response frequently use larger drivers but don’t overemphasize bass.
Finally, if you’re looking for headphones for gaming, there are a few extra details to watch out for. Positional audio is important for gaming headphones, as is a mic to communicate with others when you’re playing online.
With all that in mind, here are the best budget headphones you can buy today.
Best Budget Headphones Overall: Philips SHP9600
- ✓ Open-back design makes for wide, spacious sound
- ✓ Solid build with a steel-reinforced headband
- ✓ Comfortable for hours at a time
- ✗ Others nearby will hear what you're listening to
Our overall pick focuses on sound quality and audio performance over fancy features. That’s why we chose the Philips SHP9600, a set of open-back, wired headphones that are going to do justice to your favorite music, regardless of what you listen to.
The Philips SHP9600 is built around 50mm drivers. These are 32 Ohm headphones, so even if you’re using them with your phone, you’ll have plenty of power and volume.
Philips tuned the drivers to be fairly neutral, so while the headphones offer plenty of bass, it doesn’t come at the expense of the treble or midrange frequencies. While this is great for music, it also means that they work well for movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos.
Unlike some affordable headphones, the Philips SHP9600 uses a steel-reinforced headband instead of plastic. This means these should hold up to repeated use without failing. Don’t worry about the metal being uncomfortable, though, as the headband features double-layered padding.
This is one of the most barebones headphones we’re looking at, but all the money Philips saved by not adding Bluetooth or noise cancellation goes directly to the audio performance. If that’s what you care most about in headphones, don’t miss the Philips SHP9000.
Best Budget Headphones Overall
The Philips SHP9600 match headphones twice the price sonically, and the sturdy build means they should last you a long time.
Best Headphones Under $75: Monoprice Modern Retro
- ✓ Great sound whether you're using your phone or a headphone amp
- ✓ Comfortable headband design
- ✓ Wide soundstage despite closed-back design
- ✗ Third-party ear pads are necessary for optimal comfort
- ✗ Long cable makes portable use difficult
In case you’re not familiar with the brand, Monoprice started out as a company selling cheap cables and other accessories. The company garnered such a good reputation and branched out, and now they’ve become a player in the headphone world as well.
The Monoprice Modern Retro headphones are some of the best you can get in their price range, and they even surpass some models three times their price or more.
As the name implies, the Monoprice Modern Retro has a throwback look, but the sound is anything but dated. Like the Philips SHP9600, these headphones feature 50mm drivers, with an impedance of 32 Ohms. While they’re not quite as sensitive as the Philips, Monoprice’s offering is still easy to drive with a phone.
These are a wired pair of budget headphones, and the one downside that comes from their budget build is that the cable is built-in and not replaceable. It’s also nearly 10 feet long, which is great if you’re listening at home, but this can be cumbersome if you’re using them with your phone.
Out of the box, the stock earpads aren’t the best. That said, the Brainwavz XL Large Replacement Memory Foam Earpads are a quality replacement that vastly improves these headphones. With a quick pad swap, the Monoprice Modern Retro easily rivals headphones costing much more.
If you prefer not to swap ear pads, the stock pads are fine, but not only are replacement ear pads a massive upgrade in comfort, they’re also available in a variety of colors to personalize your headphones.
Best Headphones Under $75
Monoprice Modern Retro
If you're willing to throw in a set of cheap third-party ear pads, the Monoprice Modern Retro easily rivals some headphones costing hundreds more.
Best Budget Noise Cancelling Headphones: Sennheiser HD 450BT
- ✓ Great sound for music, movies, podcasts, and more
- ✓ Excellent wireless performance
- ✓ 30 hours of battery life
- ✗ Noise cancellation isn't as effective when not playing music
Sennheiser is a well-known and well-regarded name in the headphone world, though the company’s budget offerings aren’t talked about as much as its higher-end headphones. That’s a shame, as the Sennheiser HD 450BT is a fantastic set of noise-canceling wireless headphones.
These headphones use Bluetooth 5.0 to connect, with both AAC and aptX codecs supported, which means that they’ll sound great, regardless of what type of device you’re listening from. They support aptX Low Latency, meaning you won’t have to worry about audio playing out of sync while watching videos.
While the noise cancellation may not be as effective as Sennheiser’s more expensive flagship wireless headphones, it’s using similar technology. The active noise cancellation works great when you’re listening to music, watching videos, or on a call. When you’re not playing any media, you’ll hear some sound around you.
The HD 450BT headphones sound great out of the box, but you may want more control over the sound. Fortunately, you can adjust the EQ and choose from various sound modes using the Sennheiser Smart Control App.
This app also makes it easy to keep an eye on the headphones’ battery life, but you may not need that feature. Sennheiser’s headphones feature up to 30 hours of playback time, so you won’t need to charge them up too often.
Best Budget Noise Cancelling Headphones
Sennheiser HD 450BT
The Sennheiser HD 450BT offer wireless performance that gets close to the company's more expensive offerings without bringing the same price tag.
Best Budget Wireless Headphones: Jabra Elite 45h
- ✓ Up to 50 hours of playback time
- ✓ Personalize your sound with the MySound app
- ✓ Available in multiple colors
- ✗ No noise cancellation
Jabra has been pumping out rock-solid wireless headphones and earbuds for longer than many of its competitors, and the company has only gotten better at it over time. Proof lies in the Jabra Elite 45h, a great sounding, portable set of budget Bluetooth headphones.
Due to the smaller build and on-ear design, the Jabra Elite 45h uses a 40 mm driver, but it sounds anything but small. Thanks to the smaller size, these are headphones you can take out on a walk, and you don’t need to worry about getting caught in the rain, since these are rain resistant.
The Jabra Elite 45h headphones don’t offer noise cancellation, but they do allow you to customize your listening experience. With the Jabra Sound+ App, you can use the MySound feature, which promises to tailor the sound to your individual hearing profile.
Battery life also won’t be a problem with the Jabra Elite 45h. The company claims playback time up to 50 hours, and if that’s not enough, a 15-minute charge will get you 10 more hours of listening.
Too many headphones only ship in a single color option, but that’s not the case with the Jabra Elite 45h. In addition to the standard black option, you can also choose between Gold Beige and Navy Blue if you prefer your headphones with a splash of color.
Best Budget Wireless/Bluetooth Headphones
Jabra Elite 45h
The Jabra Elite 45h offer impressive wireless performance, personalizable sound with the Jabra MySound app, and absolutely massive battery life, all on a budget.
Best Budget Gaming Headphones: Razer Kraken
- ✓ Comfortable for hours at a time
- ✓ Mic has built-in noise cancellation
- ✓ Great positional audio
- ✗ No THX Spatial Audio like pricier models
There are so many headphones out there that narrowing down the perfect budget option can be tough, at least for certain categories. When it comes to gaming headphones, that isn’t the case. The choice here is obvious—the Razer Kraken.
Many versions of the Kraken have come around following the release of the original, but if you’re looking for a basic gaming headset that will work anywhere, the original Kraken is hard to beat. This will work with newer systems like the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and PC, but it will also work with your older consoles.
Like the majority of gaming headsets, these are wired headphones, but they come with various adapters to make sure the Kraken works with your gaming gear. For kicking back and listening to music, they also have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
If you frequently find yourself in multi-hour gaming sessions, you’ll need a comfortable headset. The Kraken has you covered with gel-infused cushions in the ear pads that are not only soft but also cooling to avoid that heat build-up that can happen with some headphones.
Another fun aspect of the Razer Kraken is the various colors available. There’s the “classic” black, but then you also have bright colors like Green, Mercury White, and Quartz Pink.
Best Budget Gaming Headphones
The Razer Kraken are an oft-recommended set of gaming headphones, but even after all these years, they sound great and work with any console or PC you want to use them with.
Best Budget Studio Headphones: Sony MDR7506
- ✓ Mostly flat frequency range from 10 Hz to 20 kHz
- ✓ Neutral but still pleasing sound
- ✓ Good isolation from sound leakage
- ✗ Cable isn't replaceable
Studio headphones are tricky because you can easily spend thousands of dollars and still find someone recommending more expensive options. If you want accurate sound reproduction, but prefer prices somewhat lower than a modest townhouse, look no further than the Sony MDR7506.
These use smaller 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets, meaning they’re small, light, and comfortable enough to wear for hours of recording and mixing. The closed-back design means you won’t get any sound leakage from the headphones while recording vocals or voiceovers.
Despite the smaller drivers, the low-end extension on these headphones is impressive, reaching down to 10Hz. On the other end of the sound spectrum, the neodymium magnets in the drivers make for a strident, bright high-end, but it never gets shrill or fatiguing to your ears.
If our word isn’t good enough, Andrew Scheps has mixed records by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Rival Sons, and many others, and he has demonstrated his use of the Sony MDR7506 in a video on YouTube.
Assuming you’re serious about sound, you’ll want multiple monitoring options to switch between, but no matter what your budget may be, the Sony MDR7506s are a worthwhile addition to your audio arsenal.
Best Budget Studio Headphones
The Sony MDR7506 headphones might be a studio staple, but they're affordable for anyone, bringing reliable, accurate monitoring at a reasonable price.
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