If you are on a tight budget but love listening to music on something that sounds better than a pair of tin cans, you should take a look at this list of the 7 best budget headphones. Just like in the list of the 3 best budget laptops of 2015, we are looking for the best price to quality ratio but below a certain amount. Given that a good pair of headphones can run into the hundreds with ease, we could easily set our threshold at a hundred dollars for an acceptable pair of HiFi or studio monitoring grade headphones (depending on what you intend to use them for). However, for this list, we will be looking at seven pairs of cans that will not put a hole in your pocket bigger than $50. I know many people out there imagine a good pair budget headphones as a twenty dollar pair that sounds like a two hundred dollar pair and lasts years and years of abuse. However, such mythical beast has not yet been discovered, although somewhere at a small factory in China someone may already be working on it. For now, if you want to experience a good level of sound clarity and not listen to your favorite songs like they are coming from underneath a swamp, you should be ready to sacrifice fifty dollars or less.
Let’s clear up one thing first, though. “Monitor” and “HiFi” are words you will see thrown around a lot when looking for a pair of headphones. You will see either on ten dollar pairs and a thousand dollar pairs and the difference is that the latter possibly mean what they say. Monitor speakers and headphones are designed to represent the sound that is being fed into them absolutely accurately. They will not be bass boosted and they will not have more expressed mids or highs, they will push to be as precise as possible. HiFi gear is usually “colored” to sound a lot more entertaining and beautiful to people. This means that the speaker and its enclosure (in loudspeakers as well as headphones) will be designed in such a way that whatever you play, they will emphasize certain frequencies that the majority of people like being more pronounced. The problem with both is that they were used as terms correctly many years ago. Unless you are buying the top of the line type of product or something with facts about it and a reputation that confirms the claims of its makers, you can’t trust these two words. Many lines will call their headphones “Monitor Headphones” just because they have a slightly flatter sound curve (a curve across the frequency spectrum of the headphones which shows which frequency groups are emphasized and which are more humbly represented). Others will slap “HiFi” on anything that is slightly more expensive than their other models.
There are many things to consider when choosing a pair of headphones. Let’s start with something as basic as their impedance. Think of impedance as electric resistance, only applied to magnets. Low impedance headphones require a less powerful source of sound to get loud, i.e. your phone, laptop or mp3 player. Higher impedance headphones will require an amplifier or just any boosting type of circuitry such as that found in external soundcards and mixers. Low impedance for headphones starts at 32 Ohms (the standard for consumer headphones and earphones) and high gets up to 600 Ohms and more. What is more to consider is their level of openness, being open, semi-open and closed, meaning how much noise insulation they provide and then whether they are on-ear or cover your ear. There is much more but let’s take a look at seven models which will leave you will little to consider, ranked by opinions on Amazon, the HeadFi forum and my own experience, having owned half of them.