Best Budget Audiophile Headphones

There are so many top of the line headphones out on the market for audiophiles.  And I bet if money were no object you might already know which ones you want.  Sadly however, there’s no magic money tree (not that I’ve found anyway) and many of us face budget restraints.

That said though, you can get some really good audiophile headphones that won’t risk breaking the bank.  And we’ve found them!  Coming up shortly, we’re going to show you our favorite picks out on the market today, that offer real value for money.

And to help you discern which might be the best ones for you and your budget, we’ve also got a handy buying/information guide which covers what you should look out for when choosing your headphones, and also includes answers to your most frequently asked questions.

In the interest of brevity, we’re only showing reviews of headphones, and not earphones/earbuds.  Whilst earphones aren’t entirely without their advantages, headphones offer superior sound quality, and that’s ultimately what we’re looking for.

Best Budget Audiophile Headphones

OUR TOP PICK

Summary

Now this is the headphone of choice for audiophiles with their own home studio!  In fact many music enthusiasts feel it has set the benchmark for studio sound.  And it continues to  get a lot of attention across a range of music websites.

They are over the ear headphones which feature an open back style, so you get three-dimensional sound reproduction for excellent spaciousness and soundstage.  

And they’re wired which means you get an analog data signal, for a more accurate sound.  

The tonal depth is outstanding, featuring mild, precise bass, and a treble boost that’s unmistakable without being too sharp.  Perfect for mixing and editing.

As for comfort, a spring steel headband is used for a snug fit, and the soft ear cups are perfectly adjustable.  And the earpads are replaceable.  So wearing them for hours is no problem

It was no surprise to us to find it’s one of Amazon’s bestsellers for the category.  And it’s had great feedback on Amazon too.  After over 4000 individual customer ratings the average Amazon customer rating comes in at a very nice 4 and a half stars out of 5.

Pros:

  • A bestseller
  • Open backed for better soundstage
  • Wired for a precise analog signal
  • Fantastic tonal depth 
  • Perfect for mixing and mastering
  • Great customer feedback
  • Really comfortable and snug

Cons:

  • These are purpose built for studio use, and are not well suited for anywhere where noise cancellation is required.

EDITORS CHOICE

Summary

This is a great set of headphones for listening to music around the house.

They’re over the ear for better comfort and better immersion in the music.

They have that very precise sound reproduction that you only get with wired headphones.

The cable itself is a very lengthy 1.5m, so moving around a little isn’t a problem.

They’re open back which gives a superior soundstage.

With their large 50mm drivers you get a full spectrum of sound, with crisp bass, transparent mid-range and outstanding high frequencies.

It features a durable but cushioned headband and breathable ear cushions - super comfy for hours of dreamy listening.

We like that you can add a microphone, that’s a nice feature.

There’s a lot of tech that’s been designed for this model.  The drivers for example are precisely engineered to fit your ear's natural geometry.

The customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.  On the Amazon page for example, after well over 2000 individual customer ratings, the average Amazon customer rating comes in at a very nice 4 and a half stars out of 5.

Pros:

  • Over ear and comfy
  • Lengthy cable
  • Superior sound stage
  • Full spectrum of sound
  • Great customer feedback

Cons:

  • Some customers have found the bass to be weak

BEST VALUE

Summary

These are of professional quality from Audio-Technica, which come with much praise from audio engineers and pro audio reviewers alike.

And they’re really flying off the shelves.  Their Amazon page is showing well over 14,500 individual customer ratings, and yet the average customer rating is still coming out at a staggering 4 and a half stars out of 5.

They’re popular for their outstanding clarity through a really wide frequency range, and for their nice deep bass response.  With a performance good enough for even studio or live DJ use.

Being over the ear, you get superb noise isolation (but please note this is not the same thing as noise cancellation).

You can get them in either wired or wireless varieties.  The wired option offers the better sound quality, but wireless is good if you ever want to go hands free.

And they’ve got yet more going for them besides their sound performance.  For example, we like that the earcups swivel to fold a full 90 degrees - it makes for really easy portability.

They come complete with their own case, and if you go for the wired version, you get two cables, so you can keep one as a spare. 

Pros:

  • Highly praised by audio professionals
  • One of Amazon’s bestsellers for the category
  • Outstanding sound clarity
  • Deep bass response
  • Superb noise isolation
  • Go wired or wireless
  • And portable to boot

Cons:

  • There’s no active noise cancellation

RUNNER UP

Summary

These headphones from Mpow really have a lot going for them!

They are an over-the-ear design that you can either use with a wire for an analog signal at home, or you can use them wirelessly via Bluetooth when you’re out and about.

They’re particularly good for when you’re out and about because not only are they closed back, but they also feature active noise cancellation, ANC.  This reduces the background ambient noise surrounding you by up to a whopping 90%, cancelling out a wide range of low and mid-frequency noises such as cars engines, so you can feel fully totally immersed in your music wherever you happen to be.

And if you’ve given the headphones a full charge before you’ve set off, you don’t really have to worry about the battery dying on you, it lasts up to a staggering 30 hours.  If you ever wish to save the battery, you can switch the ANC off.

They’re compatible with Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, and also with PCs and TVs and other Bluetooth enabled devices.

The other thing that makes them good for travel is that they fold up.  There’s also a built in microphone so you can take calls completely hands free.

As for the sound, the 40mm large-aperture drivers deliver exceptional music clarity, with powerful deep bass and hi-fi stereo sound.

It also has nice ear pads and an adjustable headband, making them comfortable enough to wear for hours.

Pros:

  • Go wired or wireless

  • Great active noise cancellation

  • Compatible with many devices

  • Incredibly long battery life

  • Built in microphone for calls

  • Exceptional music clarity

  • Comfortable to wear

Cons:

  • Active noise cancellation is never perfect in any headphone, it can only reduce low and mid-frequency background noises, and the human voice cannot be eliminated.

RUNNER UP

Summary

These headphones from Mpow really have a lot going for them!

They are an over the ear design that you can either use with a wire for an analog signal at home, or you can use them wirelessly via Bluetooth when you’re out and about.

They’re particularly good for when you’re out and about because not only are they closed back, but they also feature active noise cancellation, ANC.  This reduces the background ambient noise surrounding you by up to a whopping 90%, cancelling out a wide range of low and mid-frequency noises such as cars engines, so you can feel fully totally immersed in your music wherever you happen to be.

And if you’ve given the headphones a full charge before you’ve set off, you don’t really have to worry about the battery dying on you, it lasts up to a staggering 30 hours.  If you ever wish to save the battery, you can switch the ANC off.

They’re compatible with Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, and also with PCs and TVs and other Bluetooth enabled devices.

The other thing that makes them good for travel is that they fold up.  There’s also a built in microphone so you can take calls completely hands free.

As for the sound, the 40mm large-aperture drivers deliver exceptional music clarity, with powerful deep bass and hi-fi stereo sound.

It also has nice ear pads and an adjustable headband, making them comfortable enough to wear for hours.

Pros:

  • Go wired or wireless
  • Great active noise cancellation
  • Compatible with many devices
  • Incredibly long battery life
  • Built in microphone for calls
  • Exceptional music clarity
  • Comfortable to wear

Cons:

  • Active noise cancellation is never perfect in any headphone, it can only reduce low and mid-frequency background noises, and the human voice cannot be eliminated.

Best Budget Audiophile Headphones - Buying Guide

In case we have a few newbies reading this post, we’re going to start with the basics.

What should I take into account when choosing my headphones?

If you’ve scrolled this far into the article, we can take it that budget is one of your considerations (or bargain hunting).  But you should also consider when and where you’re using them.

For example, if you’re listening to music/podcasts/radio/audiobooks on a crowded train early in the morning, then you don’t want sound leaking out and irritating your fellow travellers.  Similarly, you’ll want to be able to hear your own tunes above any cacophony on a busy train station.  In these sorts of situations, what you’re looking for noise cancellation.

Many models on the market offer noise isolation, but active noise cancellation (ANC) is another thing entirely.  Headphones with ANC are composed of materials designed not only to block out outside noise but they then go on to create their own sound waves, to literally cancel out the outside noise.

If you think an ANC headphone is what you’re looking for, we can recommend our Number 4 pick, the Mpow H12, or our Number 5 pick the COWIN E7 equipped with ANC technology.

Headphones can also be quite big and bulky, so the most convenient way to carry them is by wearing them, but if you’re outdoors at all, then this will also mean that you’ll need either a sufficiently big hood or a good umbrella (if you have to face weather like mine).  You don’t want your brand new headphones getting damaged by a bit of rain.

Some however feature ear cups that swivel to fold in, which makes them way more convenient to store in a bag while out and about.  If this option sounds like it's for you, check out our Number 3 pick, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x.

Over Ear Versus On Ear Headphones

So, you can get headphones where the ear pads rest on your outer ear, focusing sound directly into your ear canal.  Alternatively, an over the ear design encircle the entire ear.

As you can imagine then, on-ear are smaller than over-ear and are therefore more portable.  Some can even be folded up and come with a special case.

With regards to comfort, on-ear headphones don’t generally get as hot as the over-ear variety.  So they may make for a better choice for some for listening to tunes while you’re working out.

But to be honest most people find over-ear headphones far more comfortable overall.  With the pads surrounding your ears rather than being pressed against them, you won’t get sore ears.

But more to the point, you can’t beat over ear for their performance.  Over-ear can usually reproduce the widest range of frequencies, from smooth highs right the way through to deep bass.  This is because they have larger drivers than their on ear counterparts.

And by enclosing your ears completely they’re able to provide better noise isolation and cancellation.  Furthermore they also allow for a better soundstage.

For the various reasons outlined above, our Top 5 picks are all composed (pun intended!) entirely of over the ear headphones.

Wired Versus Wireless Headphones

Generally speaking, wired devices provide better sound quality than wireless.  This is because wired headphones receive an analog signal, which can handle more data than Bluetooth. Furthermore, wired headphones never need batteries. So this is the more favored type of headphone if you plan on doing all your listening indoors.

But that’s not always convenient is it.  When you’re outdoors or on the go, or even indoors, wireless offer much more freedom.  With no wire tethering you down, you can move from place to place or room to room without ever missing a beat.

If you decide to go for wireless, then we recommend prioritising a good battery life.  

For these reasons, in our Top 5 picks, we’ve deliberately included a mixture of both wired and wireless models, but mainly concentrated on wired ones.  Some are available in both wired or wireless.  For a wired headphone, you should check out our Number 1,2,3, and 4 picks, and for a wireless headphone, why not take a look at our Number 3,4, and 5 picks.

Open vs closed back

With closed back headphones, the sounds have nowhere to go but into your ear.  So this is a great choice when you’re in a crowded place and don’t want any music leakage and don’t want any outside noise coming in.

Some audiophiles prefer an open back design however.  Since they allow sound to enter the ear cups from the surroundings, the music has a much better soundstage.

How much cash do I part with?

Rather than tell you how much cash you should spend, we’ll just let you know what price range we concentrated on for our Top 5 picks.  Because it is possible to get some really good quality headphones without having to pay through the nose. 

Our Top 5 picks vary in price from about $40 to $200.  We’ll be the first to admit that there are many cheaper over ear headphones out on the market today, but to get a good quality sound and decent noise cancellation, a $19.99 headphone just isn’t going to cut it.

The most affordable in our Top 5 is our number 4 pick, the Mpow H12.

What else to look out for when buying over ear headphones

If you’re looking for bluetooth or active noise cancelling, then battery life becomes important too. With bluetooth, you may also want to look for a built in microphone so you can take calls.

If you're looking for headphones for podcasting, we created a list of the best podcasting headphones in our guide.