There is very little as thrilling as the sound of true high-end audiophile products. The stunning sound of an electrostatic speaker, the silence and musical warmth of a big, expensive belt-drive turntable, the absolute musicality of a top-level digital processor, or the amazing speed, clarity, and power of a class A amplifier.
But here at Speakergy we think it is almost as thrilling to find true audiophile bargains. And while we may regularly listen to and review audio equipment that costs more than some people spend on a house, we find it even more satisfying to recommend gear that might cost less than some people spend on a meal.
Can You Find True Audiophile Headphones for Under $200?
Even very inexpensive headphones can offer a clear and undistorted peek into the rarefied world of audiophilia, and that’s why we’ve put together this list of best headphones under $200, to prove that even those of us on a very tight budget can enjoy the kind of accuracy, power, and musicality of the very finest systems – surely not the very, very highest level of sound quality, but something so very close that you will be hard-pressed to understand why something only very slightly better can cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars more.
What to Look For in the Best Headphones for Under $200?
In this buyer’s guide for best headphones under $200, we will, as always, make sure that every headphone we recommend is excellent in every way – specifically in terms of:
- Quality of Sound
- Quality of Construction and Materials
- Comfort and Design
- Power Handling
- Compatibility with Other Equipment
- Manufacturer’s Reliability and Customer Service
But mostly it’s about the sound, with the ideal being neutrality, flat and wide frequency response, low distortion, transient speed, clarity and openness, and a wonderful musicality – basically, the clearest and most accurate window into the music you can possibly get for the money.
How Can You Find the Best Headphones for Under $200?
Here we will list our choices for the very best sounding ‘phones we have found, at three levels:
- Best Sounding Budget Headphones (Under $50)
- Best Sounding Mid-Priced Headphones (Approximately $50-$100)
- Best Sounding Premium Headphones (Approximately $100-$200)
At each level we will include:
- The Best Earbuds
- The Best Wireless Earbuds
- The Best Open-Back Headphones
- The Best Closed-back Headphones
- The Best Wireless / Noise Canceling Headphones
So your part is easy. Simply decide your budget and what type of headphones or earbuds you want, and then choose the corresponding model from our list and you can be certain you will end up with the best, and the very best sounding, headphones in your budget.
If you’ve never heard real, true audiophile gear before, it’s high time you did – you will not believe what you’ve been missing!
Best Earbuds under $50
With an unbelievably neutral and low distortion for this ridiculously low price, deep bass and extended highs, quick transients and a real sense of space and soundstage, the Panasonic ErgoFit earbuds are the best cheap buds we’ve ever used, and the most comfortable.
Please note that the 125K have a microphone built in, and the 120K do not, but other than that these two delightful Panasonic earbuds are identical.
Best Wireless Earbuds under $50
Another insanely cheap set of earbuds, this time the true wireless Bluetooth variety, the Kurdene wireless earbuds are notable for not just their clear and musical sound, but for their flawless wireless operation, sturdy and waterproof construction and overall premium look and feel. A great value!
Best Open Back Headphones under $50
A true legend, the Koss Porta-Pro headphones have remained essentially unchanged in design and performance for many decades, and offer a true example of why open-back headphone designs have always been the first choice of the most discerning audiophiles – neutral, fast and clear sound with no strain, distortion or coloration, and extended frequency response with no artificial equalization. The Koss Porta-Pro open back headphones sound better than ‘phones we’ve found costing many times more.
Best Closed Back Headphones under $50
One of the most popular, beloved and recommended truly affordable audiophile products on the market today, the Audio-Technica M20X headphones are famous for their exciting, dynamic sound, their awesomely fast, deep and solid bass and their absolute transparency. The ATH-M20X are also made to the same high standards as all AT products, regardless of price level, and have a premium look and feel and real durability. You’ll be amazed at the quality you can get for this low price!
Best Wireless Headphones under $50
Here we are offering not the most neutral sounding headphones, but something a little closer to the big trend in headphone sound today – that is, a more V-shaped sonic signature with strong bass and sparkling highs and a slightly darker sound to the midrange frequencies.
And while we do tend to prefer pure neutrality, we have to say that the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 wireless headphones have an energy and presence that is incredibly exciting – pounding deep bass, sweet highs, and liquid mids without a hint of harshness, and overall one of the most musical presentations we’ve heard anywhere near this price. Add advanced noise-canceling and 5.0 Bluetooth and the Q20s become an almost unbelievable value.
Best Ear Buds under $100
Shure was once one of the most recognizable and respected brands in audio, but these days there are even many true hi-fi enthusiasts who are unfamiliar with this company. On the professional level, however, Shure is one of the undisputed leaders, widely considered to be the best of the best, their products known for unmatched neutrality and musicality – traits as important to an audio engineer as to an audiophile.
It is just like Shure to offer the kind of absolute clarity and neutrality so beloved in their pro audio gear in their consumer products as well, but we still have to say we’re surprised that they can do it so very well in a pair of earbuds which retail at less than a hundred dollars. The Shure Aonic 215, though, not only offers the kind of performance even the most expensive Shure pro and consumer buds offer, but also the same level of material quality, reliability and durability. Incredibly accurate and musical, with amazing clarity and sweetness and awesome bass and overall dynamic impact, the Aonic is one of our favorite earbuds at any price!
Best Wireless Ear Buds under $100
Webster’s defines melomania as “an inordinate liking for music or melody,” and anybody afflicted with such a condition would be well-served with wireless buds like the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Bluetooth earbuds. Indeed, just like all Cambridge products, the Melomania 1s are known for their accurate view of the music itself, without imposing any of their own distortions or changes. Musical, engaging, dynamic and exciting with any type of music, the Melomania buds are also extremely well made and offer easy and reliably trouble-free operation in addition to their best-in-class audio performance.
Yes, we admit it – we’re cheating here a little since the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 wireless earbuds are a bit more than $100 – but when you consider their performance, their design, quality and overall faultless operation, and how nothing even close to this price can come close, you won’t hesitate to pay a little more, and you won’t regret the decision for a moment. If you want to pay less, consider the JBL Tune 225TWS true wireless earbuds, which work great and have a fun and exciting sound, but the Cambridge Audio buds really are better.
Best Open Back Headphones under $100
There may not be a better known or more respected company on the audiophile market today than Sennheiser, whose often quite affordable consumer and professional gear – and especially their headphones and microphones – are considered to be as good as, or better than, even the most expensive products from other high-end manufacturers.
And right now there may not be a better example of this than the amazingly powerful high fidelity HD 559 open-backed headphones, a true Sennheiser product in every way. With all of the advantages of open back designs, including breathtaking ease, timing, low distortion, speed and transparency, these Sennheisers sound like a true high end audio product, and will reveal detail, qualities and musical cues you have never before heard in even your favorite music. But, most of all, being Sennheiser headphones, the HD 559 have that amazing combination of unaffected transparency and sweet musicality that makes music listening such a joy.
Best Close Back Headphones under $100
A truly great all-around headphone, the AKG K92 has a sound that can only be described by describing the music you’re currently listening to. If you are listening to a full symphony, they have an epic scale and an amazing three-dimensional soundstage. If you are listening to small ensemble jazz or an unplugged singer-songwriter they are intimate and fully present, with modest but perfectly accurate portrayal of tonal qualities, space and time. And if you are listening to anything from Black Sabbath to The Strokes, A Tribe Called Quest to Naz, they absolutely rock, with a pounding excitement that can only come from the highest levels of accuracy and dynamic energy.
A truly amazing bargain that easily outperforms even the most beloved and respected competition in this still modest price range, and ‘phones that, for all their sonic honesty, will make any and all equipment sound better, the AKG K92 closed-back headphones get our highest recommendation.
Best Wireless Headphones under $100
With our mid-range best wireless headphones we are, like with the Anker Soundcore above, back to a more “popular” sound signature, with stronger bass and more prominent highs and a silky, dark midrange. Unlike other wireless headphones in this range, though, like the admittedly excellent and well made Beats wireless ‘phones, the Skullcandy is much more faithful to the source, still offering its own distinctive sound but nonetheless reproducing the sound of voices and instruments extremely honesty and portraying dynamics, soundstage, transients and phase information with uncanny accuracy – especially for a wireless, noise-canceling headphone just shy of a hundred dollars.
That said, the bass is thundering, one might even say “crushing,” and delivers its full power with no distortion, break-up or sacrifice in tonal accuracy. One of the most exciting headphones anywhere near this price, and highly recommended.
Best Earbuds under $200
At an amazing price – more than 50 bucks under our upper limit – the Sennheiser IE60 earbuds offer unprecedented levels of accuracy, with the same ideal you would find in any and all Sennheiser products (and in the minds of all the great recording and studio engineers): let the musicians do what they do, and don’t change a thing.
And really, when you get to the very best, and most expensive, of the truly high end audio components, that is exactly what they try to do. Whatever the source is – a CD, a high resolution digital master, an original studio tape, even a crappy YouTube video – the best gear just wants to pass it through, reproduce it with absolute accuracy and coherence and change as little as possible. The Sennheiser IE60 earbuds, which are an almost spiritual experience to hear with really well recorded music, do exactly that, and do it much better than even much more expensive buds. They also, somehow, make poor associated equipment (like music players, phones, computers, amplifiers or digital streamers) sound much better, and great gear really shine.
Best Wireless Earbuds under $200
Another recommendation from the astonishing Shure Aonic line of earbuds, the wireless Aonic 215 headphones come in at $50 less than out upper limit, and not only represent maybe the very best value on our whole list of best budget headphones, but also a level of performance – particularly neutrality, dynamic energy, sweet musicality and low, low distortion – that no other in-ear headphones under $200 can even come close to. Also first rate in these buds is the flat, wide frequency response, spatial and phase relationships, detail and micro-detail – with well engineered recordings the overall effect is absolutely uncanny!
Keep in mind that you can pay thousands of dollars for Shure professional in-ear monitors, and they sound amazingly similar to these affordable earbuds, which are not only have brilliantly accurate and engaging sound but flawless wireless operation, real material quality and durability and an overall premium feel. A great bargain, almost unbelievable, in fact, for such a true audiophile product!
Best Headphones under $200 – Open-Backed and Closed-Back
Our recommendations for both the best open-back and the best closed-back headphones under $200 come from the same company – the great Beyerdynamic, who has been making the best headphones, microphones and other consumer and professional electronics for almost one hundred years.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Beyerdynamics products is that the superb performance, design and engineering, premium materials and overall quality that is found in their most expensive equipment is just as evident in their affordable gear, and this is definitely the case with both the DT-990 open back and DT-770 closed back headphones.
The DT-990 phones, being an open back design, offer that extra level of ease, speed and transient response, transparency and effortless clarity that such a design allows, and are the very best sounding phones we have ever heard under $200. The DT-770, on the other hand, is not quite as purely transparent and neutral, but has a kind of dynamic impact and increased detail which, while perhaps not absolutely accurate, is nonetheless thrillingly musical and engaging, and we can say that the 770 are easily the best closed back headphones we’ve heard in the same price range.
They both offer a sonic signature great for popular music of all types, with strong, punchy and exciting, bass, extended and sparkling highs and a beautiful darkness and smoothness to the mid frequencies, and a clarity and accuracy – a true audiophile neutrality – which makes them equally good for classical, jazz and acoustic music.
Ultimately it might come down to your environment – if you are in a really quiet place and doing deep, undistracted listening, and the leakage of sound which inevitably comes from any open-backed design is not going to bother anybody, the Beyerdynamics DT-990 headphones are the best of the best, and you would have to spend way, way more to get appreciably better, more accurate headphones.
If, on the other hand, you are using these for work, on the train, in a busy and noisy house, and still want the best sound reproduction you can get, the closed DT-770 headphones will block out more ambient noise, keep your music in, and give you a sonic presentation that is nearly as perfect and, if possible, maybe even a bit more energetic and exciting. Either way, you are entering a whole new level with these amazing Beyerdynamics headphones.
Best Wireless Headphones under $200
In a world seemingly dominated by Bose, Sony, JVC, Philips and Beats ‘phones, you surely have noticed that we haven’t included any of those brands in our list of best sounding headphones under $200, and for our last recommendation we return – for the third time! – to a much less visible, and much more respected, audio company – Sennheiser. In case you’re keeping score, that’s Sennheiser 3, Beyerdynamics 2, Shure 2, Others 0.
Don’t get us wrong – we love Bose, Sony and the others, and their products, and they do make some of the finest wireless headphones of all times. But for much less money we like the Sennheiser 450BT headphones a lot more. With a much more musical and ultimately engaging sound, low distortion, wide frequency response – including shockingly fast and powerful deep bass – and sweet, transparent and incredibly accurate overall presentation, the 450BT are the lowest priced true high-end wireless noise canceling headphones on the market.
And at the end of the day, if we had the choice between a headphone with tons of bass and treble, which sounded really good and exciting with rock, pop, rap and hip hop, but didn’t really shine with other music genres, and was a little tiring overall, or a headphone that was flat-out neutral and made all kinds of music sound just like they originally did on the studio master tape, well there would be no contest.
The Sennheiser 450BT Bluetooth noise cancelers opt for the excitement of true high-fidelity music reproduction, and offer superb wireless performance, a brilliant design and an incredibly high quality feel overall. Anyway, if we want bass there’s plenty of it there, deep, fast and tight, and that’s what we have equalizers for.
Final Thoughts: What is the Best Value Today in Affordable Audiophile Headphones?
Well, I would have to say that any single pair of headphones or earbuds on this list of best headphones under $200 would certainly be in the running, but in closing I would like to draw your attention to a pair of headphones so incredible that I still can’t believe they cost so little.
For the sake of full disclosure I will say that the Hifiman HE400S headphones are a full $100 over the upper limit of today’s buyer’s guide, though at the time of this writing our Amazon link leads to a great discount price. Even at the full 300 dollar retail price, though, the Hifiman HE400S sounds like a thousand dollar set of phones – in fact, much better than some thousand dollar plus ‘phones I’ve heard. They are an open-backed design, so they are not ideal for commuting, use in the office or anyplace where your music may bother others, or where the background noise might bother you, but for focused listening in a quiet environment, this is pure audiophile heaven!
Absolutely transparent and neutral, with no coloration, equalization, phase distortion or other changes to the original musical signal, the HE400S open-backed headphones have a pure ease and freedom of sound which is beyond anything else on our list. Unprecedented realism in the sound comes from new levels of transient speed and accuracy, detail and micro-detail, phase correctness and spatial representation, extended deep bass and high frequencies, incredibly flat overall frequency response and much more.
Hifiman makes headphones that cost up to $6,000, and yet for 5 percent of that price you can get maybe 95 percent of the sweetness, musicality, and accuracy and a pair of headphones that are absolutely stunning in every way. A true legend in the making, and probably the best value in high-end audio currently on offer.