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There’s a wide range of options when it comes to headphones, from $10 bargain earbuds to $450 audiophile cans. It can be hard to narrow down the choices, but if you’re able and willing to spend between about $100 and $200, you will be shopping in a sweet spot of performance and affordability.
The best headphones in some categories cost a bit more than the pairs on this list, but every model below performed well in our labs, and most are among the top-scoring models in Consumer Reports’ testing. (And if your budget is smaller, we’ve also identified some good performers for $50 or even less.)
As part of our commitment to independent testing, Consumer Reports doesn’t accept samples from manufacturers. Like everything we include in our ratings, we purchased these headphones at retail, meaning the models we tested are no different from the ones you might buy.
If you’re a Consumer Reports member, you can peruse the details on all the headphones we’ve tested in our ratings of more than 180 models.
The Ultimate Wired Earphones
1More has been making waves over the past few years by providing high-end performance at midrange prices. The 1More Quad Driver, whose cost recently dropped to $170, is one of the company’s most appealing models.
The in-ear Quad Driver is among the best earphones in CR’s ratings. Our testers say that the sound is very similar to what the company’s E1001 Triple Driver delivers but features a more even bass and treble. Both models are worthy options, but if you’re looking for the best, you may want to shell out the extra money for the slight boost in audio quality that the Quad Driver delivers.
The Quad Driver has an integrated microphone and volume, playback, and call controls. It comes with nine pairs of earpieces in various shapes and sizes to help you find a good fit, and other extras, such as a mini-plug-to-¼-inch-plug adapter, a mini-plug-to-airplane-jack adapter, a removable shirt clip, and a carrying case.
Over-Ear Bluetooth at a Bargain Price
These days, Marshall puts out more than iconic British guitar amps. The company makes some impressive headphones as well, starting with the over-ear Marshall Monitor Bluetooth headphones. They sound great, but what really sets them apart is the price.
At under $150, they’re among the best-performing wireless home/studio-style headphones in our tests, and they cost half of what you’d pay for some comparable models that get similar scores in our ratings. If you want over-ear headphones with the convenience of Bluetooth, this pair is a steal.
The Monitor Bluetooth headphones come with a detachable audio cable, so you can use the headphones without draining the rechargeable battery, and the ear cups fold in for easy storage and travel.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds are one of the best-scoring portable Bluetooth headphones Consumer Reports has ever tested, beating out more popular rivals like the Apple AirPods. That’s all the more impressive given their “true wireless” design, which means the model doesn’t have a cord connecting the left earbud to the right.
The Galaxy Buds produce exemplary audio quality packed into a pair of unobtrusive earpieces, complete with easy-to use touch controls for playback, volume, and skipping tracks. According to Samsung, they have a 6-hour battery life and come with a powered carrying case that will recharge the earphones for up to 7 additional hours of playback on the go. The case itself can be charged with a wireless charging mat, and it’s particularly small compared with the cases that come with many true wireless models.
Those perks combined with a price tag under $150 make the Samsung Galaxy Buds one of the best true wireless earphones on the market.
For the Audiophile
The Grado Prestige SR80e is a perennial favorite among music fans looking for a bargain on top-notch sound. For just $100, the SR80e’s outstanding audio quality is hard to beat.
These on-ear home/studio style headphones are built for the audio-focused listener, with a fairly large profile and a long, sturdy cable that limits their portability. Their open-back ear cups—a design choice intended to create an uncongested soundstage—aren’t meant to block sound from bleeding in and out, so they’re best for a quiet environment where you won’t bother any neighbors.
In addition to the SR80e, Grado could also make this list with its $200 SR225e, which scores slightly higher than the SR80e in our tests. Like Grado’s other products, both of these models are handmade in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Portable Noise Cancellation
This wireless, in-ear JBL Everest Elite 150NC has admirable audio quality and terrific noise-reduction abilities, according to our testers. The price is notable as well: If you shop around, you can pick up these earphones for as little as $200. That’s a steal for a model that performs so well, and they’re one of our top picks for noise-canceling headphones on a budget.
The earphones feature an integrated variable noise-canceling control that lets you choose between more or less ambient sound, and they have an advertised 14-hour battery life with the noise-canceling technology turned on. The free My JBL Headphones app provides additional functionality, such as a 10-band graphic equalizer.
The earphones clip together magnetically for easy storage, but one caveat our testers note is that the collar that connects them, while convenient, is a bit heavy.
Inside CR's Anechoic Chamber
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