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Comparison of Headphones under $200 vs. Expensive & Cheaper Options

Last updated: 12 months ago
6 min read

Learn what you can expect from mid-priced headphones between $100-$200. In what areas are they better than headphones below $100 and worse than those above $200?

Find out if it’s worth buying mid-priced headphones or if should you raise/lower your budget.

Three headphones under or above $200
CONTENTS (show more)

    Headphones under $200 are a mid-tier option between higher-end or premium headphones ($200-$500) and affordable/budget headphones (under $100).

    If you’re coming from budget-tier options, mid-priced headphones are where you start noticing changes in sound, build quality, and extra features.

    However, this is also one of the most confusing price points since manufacturers can’t quite decide whether to focus on audio quality, premium materials, or the in-app experience.

    Comparison of Sound Quality: Headphones under $200 vs. Alternatives

    The sound quality in headphones under $200 starts revealing more details and refinement compared to headphones under $100.

    Better high frequencies (treble): Affordable headphones struggle to produce effortless, airy treble (a sore point of many budget options). Mid-tier headphones finally manage to play higher frequencies more clearly.

    Instruments don’t sound as good: On the other hand, mid-tier headphones still need to catch up to high-tier headphones. Premium headphones render instruments more realistically, like cymbals and acoustic guitars with lovely timbre.

    Better drivers but: Headphones and earbuds under $200 have better quality drivers than affordable ones but are rarely correctly tuned.

    Lots of wireless headphones at this price range promise high-res audio, but all they do is boost the treble to the brink of sibilance. We reviewed many products under $200 that did that.

    We advise you to do good research before buying any mid-priced headphones. That’s the only way to get the best sound quality.

    Related: Here’s more on comparison of headphones under $100 with expensive ones.

    ANC: How Good is Active Noise Cancelling in Headphones under $200?

    Active noise cancelling performance in headphones under $200 is on par with affordable headphones around $100. The same goes for ambient sound mode.

    Edifier NeoBuds Pro earbuds
    Edifier NeoBuds Pro are the best earbuds under $200 for ANC that we’ve currently reviewed.

    The tech in affordable headphones has improved tremendously and can already compete with the best ANC headphones on the market.

    In contrast, there aren’t as many new updated headphones under $200 compared to sub $100. So, as of right now, these price ranges offer similar performance.

    High-frequency ANC lacks compared to premium: Active noise cancellation improves in the premium territory, especially at higher frequencies. The latter is crucial for reducing human speech and high-pitch fan/wind noise.

    Related:

    Durability: Do Headphones under $200 Last Longer?

    Headphones under $200 can last longer than cheap headphones due to better materials and construction.

    Carrying case difference:

    In mid-tier headphones under $200, cheaper plastic gets replaced with sturdier, more durable plastic. It doesn’t sound much, but you can feel the difference in your hand.

    Furthermore, with mid-tier headphones, it’s more common to get a carrying case in the box. With budget headphones, you often get only a leather pouch.

    Different protective cases for headphones
    An example of a protective pouch, case, box, and Apple’s “sleeve” for headphones.

    More money, better build quality: The build quality gradually improves with price, so you can expect better materials and durability with expensive headphones.

    You see similar improvements in plastic quality and feel in true wireless earbuds. Some earbuds start using aluminum to reinforce their charging case (like 1MORE Evo, which have one of the best-feeling cases out there).

    Water protection is similar: On the other hand, the IP rating stays about the same between under $200 and under $100, ranging from IPX5 to IP68 for the best workout earbuds.

    Interestingly, if you want water resistance, you should stay under $200. You can find many premium workout earbuds with high IP ratings at this price range.

    In contrast, most of the expensive earbuds have an IPX4, like Sony WF-1000XM4 or Apple AirPods Pro, which is only good against sweat.

    Battery Life Comparison

    Based on our data from battery life tests, full-sized headphones under $200 last the longest (39 hours and 15 minutes on average), whereas true wireless options last the least (6 hours and 11 minutes on average).

    For the sake of this comparison and continuation, we only collected our battery life test data from active noise cancelling headphones.

    Price rangeAverage
    battery life for
    headphones
    Average
    battery life
    for earbuds
    Under $10034h 57min6h 33min
    $100-$20039h 15min6h 11min
    Above $20025h 58min5h 37min

    Of course, we have tested a limited number of big headphones above $100 and $200, so take these averages with a grain of salt.

    Both sides showed similar results when comparing only headphones under $100 and under $200. Therefore, you can conclude there are no apparent differences in battery life between price ranges.

    Find more pros and cons of headphones under $100.

    On the other hand, expensive headphones have almost 1/3 less battery life than cheaper options.

    Why is that?

    One explanation is that the sheer number of features inside premium headphones makes batteries drain sooner.

    For example, if you turn on Spatial Audio in AirPods, it drains the battery 1 hour sooner.

    Is fast charging faster in premium headphones?

    Fast charging specs don’t change much with a price:

    • Around 2 hours in a 10-minute charge on earbuds
    • 4 hours in a 10-minute charge on headphones.

    Here is a more detailed table showcasing differences in battery life between price ranges and how they differ from advertised numbers (all tests were performed at 50% volume and with ANC enabled):

    HeadphonesAdvertised battery lifeTested battery life
    Anker Soundcore
    Liberty 3 Pro
    ($170)
    8h (without ANC)5h 7min
    1MORE Evo
    ($170)
    5h 30min5h 48min
    Jaybird Vista 2
    ($150)
    6h5h 57min
    JBL Live Pro+
    ($150)
    6h7h 18min
    Jabra Elite 7 Pro
    ($150)
    8h (without ANC)8h 20min
    Anker Soundcore
    Life Q35
    ($130)
    40h (at 60% volume)35h 5min
    Treblab Z7 Pro
    ($160)
    20h39h 34min
    Sony WH-CH710N
    ($105)
    35h43h 6min
    Sony WF-1000XM4
    ($228)
    8h7h 25min
    Apple AirPods Pro
    ($250)
    4h 30min5h 10min
    Sony WH-1000XM4
    ($348)
    30h28h
    Apple AirPods Max
    ($549)
    20h23h 57min

    Features & Microphone Quality

    Microphone Quality

    Starting with microphone quality, mid-priced headphones under $200 perform slightly better than headphones under $100. Most importantly, they have:

    Better noise-suppression technology. It reduces more of the ambient sounds and only picks up your voice.

    However, the performance differs from model to model. Aggressive ANC can muffle your voice during a call, mistaking it for background noise.

    Nonetheless, if you want headphones for business or video calls, definitely reach for the ones above $100.

    Price doesn’t mean better call quality. Going up in price doesn’t improve the call quality that much. Except for Apple AirPods, most other expensive headphones perform equally as mid-priced ones.

    Features

    Once you go past $100, you start getting headphones with higher-quality Bluetooth codecs like LDAC and companion apps filled with extra features and customization like:

    • Personalized sound
    • ANC and/or ambient sound mode strength adjustment
    • Proper in-ear fit checker
    Jabra Elite 7 Pro starting app screen
    In-app features of Jabra Elite 7 Pro.

    On the other hand, expensive headphones will offer even more. Thanks to proprietary chips in premium headphones, you can expect more extra features.

    Expensive headphones add features like:

    • Spatial Audio (Apple’s version of virtual surround that either enlarges the soundstage or tracks your head movements and lets you follow the sound
    • 360 Reality Audio (Sony’s proprietary virtual surround format that is slowly dying out)
    • Adaptive EQ (using an internal microphone to make micro-adjustments to the sound you’re listening to)
    • Speak-to-Chat (Sony’s feature that pauses and resumes playback whether you speak or not)
    Sony WF-1000XM4 features
    Some additional features inside Sony’s app.

    Accessories: Do You Get More or Less?

    Getting more accessories with higher prices may be true for wired headphones and earbuds, but not wireless. Instead manufacturers focus on extra app features.

    That said, you can still expect a few more things inside the box of headphones under $200, like:

    • Carrying case for headphones instead of a pouch
    • A pair or two of extra ear tips, maybe some foam ones
    Treblab Z7 Pro accessories
    Accessories that come with Treblab Z7 Pro.

    It’s a similar story when going above $200. Expensive headphones might get you:

    • A fancier carrying case (with higher-quality materials or at least a nicer-feeling exterior)
    • Airplane adapter
    Sony WH-1000XM4 accessories
    Accessories that come with Sony WH-1000XM4.

    Carrying cases don’t change much up to $500, at least with modern Bluetooth headphones (except for Apple AirPods Max, which come with a terrible carrying “case”).

    Drop-resistant carrying cases: All cases have a hard shell with a fabric or leather exterior. Some expensive wired headphones come with a foam-padded box, which looks robust but is impractical for traveling.

    More accessories with premium headphones: You will see the most significant jump in added accessories in wired in-ear monitors. They usually come with 6 or more pairs of ear tips to ensure a spot-on fit.

    More expensive headphones even provide different cables for balanced and unbalanced connections.

    The number of accessories depends on the brand: Some offer a ton of extra ear tips and cleaning tools even under $100, whereas others provide only the basics for $200 or above.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    What to expect from mid-priced headphones under $200?

    You can expect mid-priced headphones under $200 to sound slightly more detailed, use better construction materials, and have more features than budget alternatives. But they lack sound refinement and even higher build quality compared to premium headphones above $200.

    Conclusion

    Hopefully, you have a better picture of what to expect from a pair of headphones under $200. To quickly summarize all the findings, mid-priced headphones will get you:

    • Slightly better sound quality, especially in the treble region
    • Better build quality due to better construction materials
    • More feature-rich companion apps with more in-depth customizations
    • Slightly better and more durable accessories
    • Improved noise reduction during voice calls
    • Equally as good active noise cancellation and ambient sound mode

    That said, most of these improvements are marginal, and it sometimes feels like manufacturers don’t know what to do with their mid-priced products, as they don’t excel in any area.

    From our experience, headphones under $200 are best suited for:

    • Beginner audiophiles or studio workers: you can find plenty of wired headphones with trustworthy sound under $200 from Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Beyerdynamic, etc.

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