It’s fair to say that the sub-$20 price point for audio equipment lies firmly within the category of ‘entry-level’. That’s a term that often comes loaded with fairly negative connotations about things like shoddy build quality, paltry feature lists, and a poor overall experience. But this is no longer the case, and many manufacturers have correctly identified (and subsequently addressed with targeted releases) the need for quality introductory products at the low-end to win people over to their brand.
That is not to say you won’t have to consider trade-offs: you absolutely will. But if what you’re looking for is a cheap and cheerful, moderately disposable pair of earbuds that you won’t have to worry about transporting inside some kind of bulletproof, diamond case, then this is absolutely the place to start.
Top 5 Best Earbuds Under $20
APIE Wood Earbuds
APIE Wood Earbuds are among the best looking earbuds you can get in this particular price range. On top of that, these pack the type of performance that sets them apart from the majority of their competition. All in all, those who need a stylish set of earbuds but also demand better than average performance, should really look into these.
G-Cord's ceramic earbuds offer a very decent performance for the money. Their low profile, lightweight design makes them comfortable to wear even during those longer listening sessions. On top of that, the rubber pieces you get in the package will create a proper seal. All things considered, these are about as good as it gets in this price range.
Panasonic Ergofit RP-TCM125-K
The Panasonic TP-TCM125-K Ergofit earbuds are a stalwart entry into the low-end earbud market. Available in a variety of colors, boasting an audio-quality beyond their price-point, and with the welcome addition of an inline remote and integrated microphone, it’s hard to find fault with a product that does exactly what it sets out to and then some.
Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi Noise Isolating Earbuds
The Monoprice Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi Noise Isolating earbuds are all function with little form and no extra features to speak of. At this price-range, you’ll struggle to find a better, more detailed sound quality, but if you’re looking for earbuds with added frills, you’ll almost certainly want to start looking elsewhere.
CB3 Metal Earbud Headphones
The CB3 Metal Earbuds are a triumph in merging form and function to create a decent middle ground. Inline remote and integrated microphone are always a welcome addition, the sound quality is as you would hope, and the addition of a premium-feel, metal finish adds a lot to the overall effect.
The main bit of good news is that the entry-level of the in-ear headphones market has moved on significantly in just a few short years. Acutely aware that they have to now compete with the ‘free’ (or rather ‘included in the box’) offerings which accompany the purchase of nearly any device you’d care to mention, many brands have begun to focus more time, money, and energy into bolstering their lower-end models.
You’ll often find a fairly robust feature set, with essential features like an inline remote included more often than not across the board. Portability is good, if only because you’re not going to find the kinds of high-quality building materials that add a lot of extra weight, and because you probably won’t mind these earbuds taking a knock as much as you would someone dropping your $500 pair of headphones.
Because it’s such a broad market, it’s hard to pinpoint a common theme in what in-ear headphones at this price range tend to do poorly. Certainly, sound quality is never going to compete with higher-end models, but that doesn’t mean you can’t end up with a device which more than does the job. At the very least, you should be able to find a stand-in (if not outright replacement) for your stock earbuds.
Visual design is a questionable proposition across the board in the earbud market, but nowhere is that more evident than in the sub-$20 sector where aesthetic is very much a luxury option. Expect a lot of cheap, fairly flimsy plastics which cost barely anything but often manage to look and feel like they cost even less. Expect garish color options as standard to appeal to a younger, pocket-money crowd. Expect, too, a fit that tends towards more of a ‘jam it in your ears and hope for the best’ vibe than the secure, self-assured comfort of, in particular, wireless models.
What to Look For
Having said all that, for under $20 the main thing you’re going to want to prioritize is likely to be the best possible audio quality for your money. While this, broadly, is the case when looking for the top earbuds at any price point, with such an affordable product you’ll want to make sure that the manufacturer isn’t trying to pass off a minimally developed listening experience by hiding it behind feature bloat or a surprisingly nice design for the price.
If these are going to be your primary listening device, you need to do yourself a favor and take a careful look at performance reviews. Of course, as you won’t be dropping several hundred dollars, it’s probably not the end of the world if they don’t work out in the long run, but it’s still good to ensure you’ve covered all bases before pressing Buy Now.
So there you have it. Your ideal purchase should, if you cross your fingers, perform well enough to replace your stock earbuds, but you’re not going to get a whole lot further than that without shelling out some more cash.
By no means, however, is this a doom and gloom affair. If you’ve decided, after careful consideration and research, to opt for an entry-level pair of earbuds, you probably already have a good understanding of how they will fit your particular use case. Sound quality can be awful, granted, but you can also find some picks which are certainly better than expected. Know your priorities, shop accordingly, and you can’t go too far wrong.