Upon researching and comparing dozens of cheap in-ear headphones, we ultimately determined the best earbuds under $100 are Audio-Technica's ATH-CKS990iS. We chose this model due to the sleek design, excellent performance and multitude of features for the price.
Coming in a close second was Sony's H500A H.Ear in 2 headphones which tout similar features and slightly smaller drivers for around the same price. Lastly, for those looking to spend as little as possible while still in this budget, we believe Bose's SoundTrue Ultra model is best suited for you.
To learn more about each of these models as well as three alternate recommendations, you can continue reading below. We will do our best to educate you on the current market of cheap earbuds to help you determine which is the optimal choice for your needs.
Editor's Choice (Overall)
A sleek and affordable pair of in-ear headphones from one of the most reputable names in the professional audio accessories.
Audio-Technica is most known for their higher-end microphones and microphones, but their ATH-CKS990iS model shows they aren't afraid to enter the low-budget market. Sporting an ultra sleek look mixed with a great design, solid performance and full in-line support for taking calls or controlling a compatible mobile device.
*Pricing as of 2/26/18
A simple pair of earbuds from Sony offering high-resolution performance without breaking the bank.
Offering a more basic design Sony's H500A H.Ear in 2 are another model to consider if don't like the Audio-Technica's listed above. You will however have to settle for a single-button for in-line controls as well as slightly smaller drivers for supplying the audio performance.
*Pricing as of 2/26/18
Best On A Tight Budget
Originally $149.99 when they first launched in 2015, this model still offers excellent value at its discounted price.
Bose is one of the biggest names in consumer audio accessories and their SoundTrue Ultra headphones are loved by many. With a unique design that has extended inserts to hold onto your ears, you'll get reliable and consistent noise isolation regardless of any physical activity.
*Pricing as of 2/26/18
Our guides such as this one are written to help benefit and educate consumers like themselves who aren't quite sure which headphones to buy within their specific budgets.
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Since you are in the market for a decent pair of earbuds with a budget under 100 dollars, we know there are many questions or concerns you may have. We recommend that you take the time to read the remainder of this article to better understand the lower-end headphone market before making your decision.
Once you are finished consuming this guide, if you have any further questions, concerns, or input then you use the comments section below this article to get in touch with our staff. We will try to provide some advice or resolution as soon as we get a chance!
What To Expect When Owning Sub-$100 Earbuds
For many reading this guide, spending up to $100 on a pair of in-ear headphones might sound like substantial investment and I can understand why. However, in an industry that is focused on craftsmanship and sound quality, this type of budget won't get you that far so you'll have to approach the situation accordingly.
We are in no way trying to tell you NOT to buy a pair of cheap earbuds or feel upset about trying to save money but more trying to prepare yourself for what you can get in return for this price. We just warn you not to have too high of standards or expect the best of the best, but there are still some great models within your budget.
Design & Craftsmanship
For a manufacturer in this industry, a lower price-point means they will likely have to skimp on the quality of the build of their earbuds. That isn't to say that these pairs be overly cheap, but chances are you'd be able to tell the difference between in-ear headphones that run $100 when compared to a $200 model upon inspection without any prior knowledge.
Based on a lot of the reviews of these models, you will need to be careful with the cords as they seem to be the weakest link for low budget headphones. Proper care of the headphone will ultimately determine the lifespan of the product.
To get the best longevity of your earbuds, we recommend keeping them clean from dirt or grime by wiping them down with a cloth regularly (it can build up over time) as well as storing them properly in their included carrying cases when not in use.
You might not feel as though the fit is perfect for your ears, but all of these models will allow you to interchange the rubber or silicone tips of the earbuds which will help you to further compensate for the size difference you need to have a secure fit.
Features & Sound Performance
Similar to the previous section, you can't expect the highest-quality audio performance from a pair of budget earbuds. However, the performance from model to model will differ as some manufacturers would rather put their money into craftsmanship over performance and vice-versa.
If you are reading this article and fall within this budget, I'm guessing most of you won't consider yourselves audiophiles, so performance will be relative . At this price-point, the internal audio components will differ slightly yet, but the average user won't notice a massive difference in audio performance. This is the lower-end of the product spectrum so don't expect too much when it comes to the quality of the resulting sound.
Things To Consider Before Buying Cheap In-Ear Headphones
When it comes to buying a pair of affordable earbuds, not every consumer is looking for the same things.
For example, some users care more about look and durability than sound quality whereas others seek the best audio experience without any care for looks or feel.
Regarding audio quality, many users seek the most "realistic" sounds from their earbuds whereas others prefer unrealistic elements such as overbearing bass or uneven tonal ranges.
Below are some of the criteria we used to review the in-ear headphones mentioned in this review and a brief explanation so you can determine how relevant they are to your needs:
- Brand - there are a TON of cheap Chinese brands (or even name brand counterfeits) earbuds sold at this price-point, choosing a reputable manufacturer will ensure quality and longevity due to warranties
- Price - like any product or service, in-ear headphones often fall under the "you get what you pay for" mantra, don't expect the best quality on the market for under $100.
- Frequency response - the total range of bass, mids, and treble as a measure of equal frequency reproduction. A wider range is technically better, but the standard for most consumer-grade headphones is 20 to 20,000 Hz.
- Sensitivity - a measurement given in decibels which will indicate how loud the earphones will be in regards to a given level from the source (which is powering it). This attribute is based solely on the output capabilities of the source audio system and isn't a significant factor in this case.
- Impedance - the measurement in ohms which shows the opposition to the flow of the current. Lower levels require less power to deliver high audio levels. Again at this price-point and average use-case, this attribute won't make much of a difference.
- Open or closed - headphones generally follow two types of designs (both over-ear and in-ear). Closed headphones are designed to keeping your music or sound private as well as blocking out external noise. Open designs offer better sound quality while sacrificing the privacy of listening and lack of isolation towards outside noise.
- Waterproof - some users wish to utilize earbuds in very wet conditions such as in the rain or during watersports. Unfortunately, none of these models at this price-range offer waterproof designs although they should stand up to your standard sweaty conditions.
- Noise Isolation - with the closed concept, all of the models listed in this guide offer some sort of noise isolation to help you focus on your music or sounds while drowning out any outside distractions.
- In-line Controls - refers to the ability to use button(s) located on the microphone's cord to carry out actions like pausing or resuming the playback of your audio (with supported devices). Keep in mind, these controls may be specific to iOS or Android so make sure the model of earbuds you choose are compatible with your smartphone before buying if you plan to use this feature.
- Microphone - whether or not the earbuds offer an in-line microphone which when paired with the controls allow you to take phone calls without having to pull your phone out.
- Interchangeable tips - refers to the earbuds themselves which may come with replacement tips that are either identical (for replacing under heavy use) or multiple sizes to offer the ability to customize the sizing to fit your specific ears.
- Carrying case - unnecessary to some, this references whether or not the earbuds come with a carrying case for secure storage and safekeeping (often branded).
Comparing The Top In-Ear Headphones Under $100
H500A H.Ear in 2
Open Or Closed
Best Earbuds Under 100 Dollars (2018)
Coming in as our top pick for this guide is the CKS990iS in-ear headphones from Audio-Technica. Using machine aluminum housings paired with dual 13mm magnetic-field drivers, you get mid-high frequency response (5-28,000 Hz)and excellent bass reproduction via the venting system.
The cabling offers separate star-quad cables for improved isolation and the in-line controls are compatible with music and video playback and also have a microphone for taking calls. Keep in mind the 3.5mm stereo plug is L-shaped meaning that it won't protrude straight out from your device, but this may interfere with an oversize case on your smartphone.
Cosmetically, the look is desirable with availability in the brand's signature black/red finish as well as a black/gold option. There are four sizes of silicone tips included for matching different consumer's ears ranging from XS to L.
One of the most reputable brands in consumer electronics, Sony has released their H500A H.Ear in 2 model for providing high-resolution audio for consumers on a budget. Featuring 9mm high-sensitivity drivers, you can get some of the best frequency range of 5-34,000 Hz at this price-point.
However, the design is rather bland with a range of pastel finishes that some may love while others may hate. The build quality of this pair is cheaper than that of Audio-Technica's CKS990iS, and several reviews have mentioned that the cables are thin and fragile.
Beyond the potential cable woes, the in-line control is lacking compared to many of the other models with only a single button that can be used to take hands-free calls or pause your music. This means that there is no way to adjust the volume without reaching for your mobile device.
Bose is another big dog in the consumer headphone market, and their SoundTrue Ultra model has been a favorite for many in the past few years. Originally released back in 2015 with a price-point of $149, the pricing has dropped significantly with the current price coming in under half that MSRP at the time this guide was written.
From a design standpoint, this model has two unique attributes that make it stand out. First off, this version has been further improved to be "weatherproof" and sweat resistant. This doesn't mean that it is waterproof, but the manufacturer has stated that they designed these earbuds to handle small amounts of moisture during regular use.
Secondly, is the unique "fin" design that protrudes from behind each earbud. Not only does this offer increase comfort and a better overall fit, but it also helps to keep the tips directly into your ear thus allowing more consistent noise isolation.
You may not have heard of Shure before, but they are another notable brand in the audio products accessories market. This budget model focuses on providing optimal noise isolation and being accurate enough to monitor audio in addition to listening to it.
The design doesn't look all that appealing, but they do offer two unique attributes that are worth mentioning. First off, the angle of the nozzle for each earbud is unique and designed to keep a low profile and rest comfortably in your ears.
Secondly, each bud themselves can be detached from the cord for replacement or customization purposes. The stock cord at this price does NOT include any form of in-line mic or controls, but you can purchase one aftermarket as well as a Bluetooth-enabled cable down the road if you see the need.
Klipsch is a company based in the US (Indianapolis) which offers consumer audio products at all price-points. Their R6i II model is the same as their cheaper R6, but with iOS support for the in-line microphone and controls which were missing from the original model.
The design is rather basic with patented oval ear tips and options for both a black or white finish. With a three-button remote plus a mic, there is support for iOS devices with this model although you'll need to purchase the R6M if you want to use these features with an Android device.
The Momentum line from Sennheiser covers multiple variations of headphones, but we included the in-ear version in this guide. Designed for lower budgets, this model offers a wired construction with in-ear noise isolation and high-quality transducers which provide a high output level while maintaining low distortion.
Regarding the design, the cosmetic appeal is pleasing to the eye. Crafted out of custom machined, low resonance stainless steel with black and red finishes offered. There are dedicated options for both Android and iOS which will refer to the compatibility of the in-line controls and integrated microphone.
If you've made it this far then you should have a solid grasp on the budget-friendly market of in-ear headphones. We know all of this information can be a lot to take in, so we recommend bookmarking or saving this guide to revisit for future reference if you aren't ready to purchase any of these models today.
We hope we have already cleared up any areas of confusion for you regarding your future purchase, but if you have any further questions or concerns then you can use the comments section below to communicate with our staff on this topic.
From all of us at The Tech Reviewer, we hope you found this article valuable in our search for the best earbuds under $100 and believe that our top choice Audio-Technica's ATH-CKS990iS will be an excellent choice for the majority of our readers.