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Pros & Cons of Headphones under $100 – Are They Worth It?

Last updated: 12 months ago
5 min read

On average, people spend $70 for a pair of headphones. But headphones can cost many times more. So, what are the compromises of paying less than $100?

In this article, you will learn:

  • What to expect from sound, build, and feature quality of headphones under $100
  • How do they compare to more expensive headphones in terms of value
Pros & cons of headphones under 100
CONTENTS (show more)

    The Pros of Buying Headphones or Earbuds under $100

    Usually, when you pay little, you get little. Thankfully, that rule doesn’t always apply when it comes to headphones.

    Nowadays, headphones under $100 offer fantastic value, with many features you can find in premium models.

    Affordability

    If you want to experience the taste of Hi-Fi audio, there’s no need to cash out on expensive gear immediately. Paying around $100 is a good start.

    With the arrival of chi-fi products (Chinese HiFi), you can get impressive performance for a fraction of the cost.

    We review many headphones. But it continuously surprises us how much some cans under the $100 offer.

    EarFun Air Pro 3 earbuds on stone
    EarFun Air Pro 3 are one of the chi-fi products below $100 that surprised us a lot.

    Here’s more on how much to pay for quality headphones.

    Wide range of options

    Headphones in this price range come in different types of connectivity and features.

    Consumer headphones have mostly lost the headphone jack. So most Bluetooth headphones under $100 come with plenty of extra features.

    More sub-$100 headphones now offer:

    • Active noise cancellation
    • Ambient sound mode
    • Companion app
    • Customizable features like controls and an equalizer
    • A quality microphone for calls and controls

    Variety

    You can get pretty much all types of headphones for under $100. No matter what kind of headphones you need, you’re bound to find them.

    In this price range, you can get:

    • Over-ear and on-ear headphones
    • In-ear headphones, earbuds, and earphones (non-in-ear)
    • Bone conduction headphones
    • Open-air headphones (like TrueFree F1)

    You can find headphones under $100 for different usage:

    High-tech features for less

    Active noise cancelling and ambient sound mode are great examples of previously premium tech that’s accessible and affordable today.

    Some features in Bluetooth headphones under $100 work almost as well as in more expensive products. But you have to pick the right ones.

    Edifier W240TN notifications and game mode
    All the features Edifier W240TN has to offer.

    The Cons of Buying Headphones under $100

    Affordable headphones can offer considerable value, but they still have to compromise to meet the lower price.

    Compromised sound quality

    Some headphones under $100 manage to reproduce audio in a faithful manner.

    However, because they use lower-quality drivers, they lack the technical capabilities of more expensive headphones. For example, the treble is the weakest point in most affordable headphones.

    Compared to premium headphones, the affordable ones sound less detailed in their presentation.

    The most expensive headphones often come with dedicated amplifiers for the extra power.

    1MORE PistonBuds Pro on a desk
    1MORE PistonBuds Pro.

    That said, only a trained ear will notice that something is missing. Therefore, this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.

    If you do some research before buying, you can get excellent sound performance even under $100.

    Shorter lifespan

    To reduce the price, affordable products will often use lower quality materials like lightweight, thin plastic, or non-removable earpads that quickly become dense and uncomfortable.

    Poor quality also applies to chips and batteries wireless headphones use to work. Such electronics have a greater chance of malfunctioning.

    Learn the average lifespan of headphones and how to extend it.

    Financial impact

    Is it worth buying cheap headphones if they might break soon? Or is it better to spend a bit more to get something of higher quality?

    Jaybird Vista waterproof case
    Jaybird Vista 2 are supposedly very rugged, with waterproof buds and a water-resistant case. However, the latter stopped working soon after we sprayed them.

    Truthfully, even though dirt-cheap products tend to malfunction sooner, this risk applies to all headphones. There are “bad apples” at all price ranges, so don’t let that scare you from buying cheap headphones.

    • Instead, pick your next headphones based on your usage. If you listen to music all the time and heavily rely on features like ANC, you’re better off with more expensive headphones.
    • On the other hand, casual users will be more than satisfied with most headphones under $100.

    Limited features

    Almost all wireless headphones come with a companion app, which isn’t true for many affordable, under $100 cans.

    Even the ones that do support an app often lack features of premium models.

    That said, many features exclusive to premium products are a gimmick and not crucial for user experience, like:

    • Spatial Audio: Apple’s take on virtual surround sound with pretty good results
    • 360 Reality Audio: Sony’s take on virtual surround that’s worse than Apple’s and requires a subscription to specific streaming services like Deezer (although they have recently suspended the feature)
    • Speak-to-Chat: Sony’s feature that pauses and resumes music playback when you start and finish speaking
    • Personalized Audio: some apps have the option to calibrate audio based on your hearing by playing you different tones and audio samples, and you pick which tone sounds the best (like SoundID from Sonarworks)
    • Multipoint: the ability to pair headphones with 2 devices simultaneously, with headphones automatically switching the audio source depending on which device you’re using

    Below is a screenshot from the 1MORE app connected to 1MORE SonoFlow, which cost around $100. As you can see, headphones support all of the most useful features. Even LDAC, which provides high-res audio.

    1MORE SonoFlow app
    Features for 1MORE SonoFlow in 1MORE app.

    Worse performing features

    While headphones advertise to have features, it doesn’t mean they work as you might think.

    Even the best ANC headphones under $100 produce a slight background hiss when the feature is enabled. While not a big deal, that hiss isn’t present in premium headphones.

    Read more on how headphones under $100 compare to more expensive alternatives.

    Compromises Between Cost and Quality

    When buying under a specific price point, you must accept compromises. Decide what matters to you the most and the least.

    Here’s what to look for in headphones depending on your personal needs:

    Commuter

    • Focus on good active noise canceling that will reduce engine noise and other people’s speech
    • Look for over-ear and in-ear headphones with a closed-back design and good ambient noise isolation
    • If your daily commutes are long, also consider headphones with good battery life
    Apple AirPods Max on the streets

    Student

    • Find headphones with good isolation and minimal sound leakage so you won’t disturb your roommate
    • Preferably opt for over-ear or in-ear headphones with a closed-back design
    • Seek the cans with a quality microphone so others will hear you clearly during video calls

    Music lover

    • Prioritize good sound quality and accurate sound reproduction
    • Pick between over-ear headphones with an open-back design or in-ear headphones
    EarFun Air Pro 3 earbuds
    EarFun Air Pro 3 are an excellent pick under $100 for music lovers.

    We lately reviewed EarFun Air Pro 3, true wireless earbuds costing $80 that work phenomenally well for their price. Check out the full review.

    Sportsperson

    • Look for headphones with a stable fit and IP rating (min. IPX4) to protect them from sweat
    • In-ear headphones work the best, especially the ones with ear wings or ear hooks
    • If possible, search for headphones with a punchy bass to motivate you during a workout

    Most importantly, there is one thing you should always pay attention to: comfort. No matter how excellent the sound and features are, you will hate using uncomfortable headphones.

    How compromises affect user experience

    If you ensure your new headphones are comfy and follow the tips mentioned above, your user experience shouldn’t be affected that much.

    That is especially true if it’s your first time buying headphones close to $100 since you don’t have prior experience with products that have it all. Meaning you don’t notice what features are lacking.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    What is a good price to pay for headphones?

    Up to $100 is a good price for headphones if you’re just starting your musical journey. But if you want a complete package, spending between $200 and $500 is a worthwhile investment.

    What are the main advantages of headphones under $100?

    Headphones under $100 can deliver great sound quality and well-performing features that aren’t much worse than premium models. They offer terrific value for money if you’re willing to compensate for lower build quality.

    Read more:

    Conclusion

    The best headphones under $100 can deliver natural sound tuning and almost top-notch features without breaking the bank. By saving you money, their price/performance ratio is off the charts.

    However, high sound fidelity, comfort, reliability, and durability are where these headphones usually cut some corners.

    Nonetheless, as long as you do some research before making a purchase, you can get yourself a fantastic pair of headphones that will make you fall in love with music.

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