Headphones are your smartphone’s best friend. They are the cheese to your phone’s wine, the glass of milk to your phone’s Oreo. They are nearly as ubiquitous as smartphones themselves and you see people wearing headphones almost everywhere you go.
A lot of smartphones come with a basic set of headphones right in the box. But most of these headphones are pretty terrible, with a poor fit, mediocre sound, and a cable that easily turns into knots in your pocket. They are designed to serve the lowest common denominator, while still being cheap enough for phone makers to include them at no extra charge.
Fortunately, there are countless replacement headphones available for not a lot of money, and you can even find really good options for under $50. (For this guide, we’re sticking to in-ear and earbud style headphones, since most over ear types in this price range are not worth your time or money.) Almost any replacement headphone you purchase will be better than the EarPods that came with your iPhone, but the best options have three things: great sound, a comfortable fit, and a microphone so you can still make phone calls while wearing them. Some models have volume controls too, but that’s not as common in this price range and volume control compatibility varies from smartphone to smartphone.
Best of all, these headphones are cheap and easily replaceable, so you don’t have to worry if you lose them, send them through the washing machine, or just plain wear them out over the course of a year or two. Consider them a small price to pay for getting a lot more out of your phone’s sound.
If you’re looking for the best cheap headphones to replace your EarPods or other included headphones, look no further than Panasonic’s TCM125. These cheap headphones have a simple design, are super lightweight, are comfortable to wear, and most importantly, sound fantastic. They have a microphone and a remote for controlling music playback and answering calls (but no volume control, unfortunately), and have three different-sized soft rubber tips to fit a variety of ears.
A lot of in-ear headphones fall out with just a little movement, but the TCM125’s have a rounded, extended speaker housing that locks into your ear, so they stayed put whether I was running to catch the next subway train or talking on a long conference call. They also stayed in place on the treadmill, though Panasonic doesn’t really bill them as workout headphones.
The TCM125’s have a balanced sound profile that works for a variety of music and audio sources. They sound great for rock, pop, dance, metal, classical, podcasts, and more. The sound quality is so good, I often forgot I was wearing cheap headphones and not more expensive models.
Remarkably, despite all of those great features and quality sound, the TCM125’s are really cheap. They are the second least expensive of all the models I tested and you can often find them for less than half the price of Apple’s $29 EarPods. That makes it easy to not worry about throwing them into a bag or forgetting them on a subway car. You can just buy another pair for the cost of a cheap lunch in Manhattan.
The one area where the TCM125’s don’t blow away the rest of the field is in bass response, and if you’re looking for something with a little more thump, you should check out our runner-up pick.
The Sony MDR-XB50 are a solid second choice to replace those terrible EarPods. They are a bit more expensive than our top pick (and more expensive than Apple’s option), but they have good sound quality with lots of bass response, a nice cord that resists getting tangled into knots, and a design that stays in your ear when moving.
The XB50s are a little bigger and heavier than the Panasonics, but they were still comfortable to wear for extended periods and did a better job of blocking out outside noises. If you are looking to isolate yourself from your environment, the Sonys are a better choice.
Sound quality on the XB50s isn’t as balanced as on the Panasonics, and they really sounded best with music that had a lot of bass, like hip-hop or EDM. The XB50s have a microphone with a basic playback remote, but also lack volume controls. If you’re looking for the Beats headphone sound, but not the Beats headphone price, try these. But overall, the Panasonics are both cheaper and better sounding than the Sonys.