Notice: Undefined variable: sidebar_pos in /home4/soundguy/public_html/wp-content/themes/jarida/header.php on line 94
Home / Guides / Buyer's Guides / 2013 Holiday Earphone Buyer’s Guide – the Best Earphones Under $50

2013 Holiday Earphone Buyer’s Guide – the Best Earphones Under $50

Earphones as gifts

An earphone can make for a great holiday gift for yourself or another. Ditching stock earbuds or upgrading from a lesser model can make a huge difference in musical enjoyment while additional features such as noise isolation or built-in headset functionality can make a commute much more comfortable and convenient. For many users it makes sense to own multiple sets of headphones for different purposes.

These days you really don’t have to spend a fortune to give the gift of great sound with an in-ear earphone –  in the past year or two there have been quite a few fantastic releases costing less than $50.

Great – which ones do I get?

There are thousands of earphones out there and choosing between them can be tough. That’s where The Headphone List comes in. As usual, we have simplified things with just a few top picks out of the 100s of earphones we have tested for each of five different criteria – sound quality, noise isolation, durability, fit appropriate for small ears, and sports use. If you need a recommendation with another purpose in mind, just let us know in the comments below.

Willing to spend more or looking for a particular sound? Check out our more expansive earphone buyer’s guide, which groups sets by sound signature and offers options across different budgets.

Lastly, keep in mind the importance of a good fit with your earphones. Most in-ears were designed to maintain a tight seal with the ear canal and their sound quality will suffer tremendously with a poor fit. Check out our earphone fit guide for tips on wearing your in-ear headphones properly.

Sound Quality

The most important selection criteria, and with good reason. Our picks here are earphones that blew us away with their sound and, at <$50, their value for money as well.

VSonic VSD1S

VSonic VSD1S

Top Pick: VSonic VSD1S

VSonic’s brand recognition stateside leaves a lot to be desired but the name is very familiar to audiophiles in Asia, and deservingly so.

Their newest earphone, the VSD1S, offers an accurate, yet energetic sound with good bass impact, fantastic clarity, and a spacious soundstage. It even incorporates an articulating nozzle feature never before seen on an earphone in this price range. I prefer the VSD1S to its sister earphone, the VSD1, for its smoother treble.

Overall, the VSD1S offers 90% of the performance of VSonic’s highly-regarded GR07 Bass Edition model at 1/4 the price. Enough said.

Read ljokerl’s full review on InnerFidelity here.

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

Best Earphones With Mic/Remote: SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

This in-ear earphone from gaming peripheral manufacturer SteelSeries took me by surprise with its audio quality, which easily puts it among the very best earphones in its class. It’s a great all-rounder with a warm tonal character, punchy and extended bass, good treble energy, and excellent clarity.

The small, comfortable form factor, good noise isolation, and an inline microphone and single-button remote for smartphones and other devices make these one of the best values in portable audio.

Read full review here.

Philips SHE3590

Philips SHE3590

Budget Option: Philips SHE3590 / SHE3580

Small and comfortable, these Philips earphones fit almost any ear size and cost less than a good lunch. They may look like dollar-store buds but the sound tells a completely different story, easily holding its own against earphones costing many times more with excellent presence across the frequency spectrum, enhanced bass, and crisp, clean treble. Sometimes called “Music Colors”, they come in several color combinations and are the perfect stocking stuffer for music fans of all ages.

JVC HA-FX101

JVC HA-FX101

Basshead Option: JVC HA-FX101

JVC’s “Xtreme Xplosives” earphones are a bargain find for the bass-obsessed, combining deep and powerful bass with prominent treble. The sound is competent on the whole, if slightly harsh compared to pricier sets, but one thing is certain – the bass is fantastic for the price.

The newer FX101 model uses a smaller driver than the original FX1X and fits more ears comfortably. It comes in several colors and a version with a built-in microphone and remote, the FR201, is also available.

Read full review here.

 

Noise Isolation

When using earphones outside, External noise is killer not only for listening enjoyment, but hearing safety as well. Hearing damage occurs due to a combination of volume and exposure, and noisy environments can encourage listening at dangerously high volumes. A well-isolating in-ear earphone can do a better job of blocking out noise than an Active Noise-Canceling headphone at a much lower price.

Etymotic Ety-Kids

Etymotic Ety-Kids 3

Etymotic Research ETY-Kids

This is a simple one – there’s nothing that isolates like an Etymotic, and in this price range that means the ETY-Kids. This particular model promotes hearing safety with a combination of immense noise isolation and volume-limiting impedance.

The earphones are also well-built and stay true to the Etymotic brand with sound that is clear, accurate, and neutral, though for some listeners perhaps lacking in desired bass presence.

The ETY-Kids name itself may be off-putting to some but there is nothing childish about the design – or sound – of these earphones. Volume-limiting aside, the ETY-Kids are simply a great option for keeping music in and noise out.

The ETY-Kids 5 is a stereo earphone while the ETY-Kids 3 is a headset model with microphone and 3-button remote.

Read full review here.

 

Durability

Admittedly, we are not always as careful with our electronics as we would like to be, and while it’s always a good idea to treat earphones with care, a little extra durability can be worth a premium to many listeners. Here are a few sets that we think will survive abuse better than the competition.

RHA MA-350

RHA MA-350

RHA MA350

Hailing from Scotland, the MA350 by RHA is built to take a beating. From the from aircraft grade aluminium housings to the fabric-sheathed cable, the MA350 is rock solid.

The earphone is no slouch in the sound department, either, delivering deep, impactful bass akin to that of the $100 Monster Turbines at a fraction of the price. Add to that RHA’s 3-year warranty and the MA350 is a winner all around.

The MA450i, a similar-sounding earphone with microphone and 3-button remote, is also available.

Read full review here.

Philips SHO2200

Philips SHO2200

Philips O’Neill SHO2200 Tread

The Philips O’Neill product line is designed for active use, and the SHO2200 Tread model was built from the ground up for the sole purpose of withstanding abuse.

The Tread delivers exactly what it promises – a bulletproof construction that puts most other earphones to shame. It may not sound as rich and full as the less expensive Philips SHE3590 or the RHA MA-350 mentioned above, but  the Tread is sure to be a hit with those who are fed up with replacing broken earphones.

Read full review here.

Dunu DN-22M Detonator

Dunu DN-22M Detonator

Dunu DN-22M Detonator

In the few years Dunu has been in business, their earphones have become synonymous with  great attention to detail – the packaging, accessories, and design consistently surpass expectations at every price point.

The Detonator model boasts the fantastic build quality Dunu has become known for while producing sound that is warm and smooth. Underpinned by appropriately explosive bass response, it is an easy sound to enjoy and a difficult one to dislike.

The Detonator also boasts an inline microphone and remote, and the packaging makes it an excellent $50 gift. As a bulletproof entry-level smartphone headset, it’s a tough one to beat.

For those who don’t need a microphone, the less expensive DN-12 Trident model is also worthy of recommendation.

Read full review here.

 

Small Ears

Perhaps a less well-defined category, but still a question that gets asked over and over – which in-ears best fit small ears? There are many that may work, but our picks in this category are especially tiny and should fit nearly all ear shapes and sizes.

Soundmagic PL50

Soundmagic PL50

Soundmagic PL50

Soundmagic has been in the earphone business for many years, consistently delivering products that offer solid performance for the price. The PL50 model in particular is notable for two things. First, it uses balanced armature drivers, which are pricier and rarely found at this price point. This gives the PL50 a balanced, smooth sound with a focus on the midrange in place of the more conventional bass focus of most other entry-level sets.

Second, the PL50 is tiny – the balanced armature drivers, originally developed for use in hearing aids, weigh very little and take up no room at all, permitting the ergonomic shape and low profile of the earphones. The PL50 is worn “over-the-ear” style, with the cable looped up over the ear, and is one of the most unobtrusive earphones we’ve tried.

Read full review here.

 

Spider TinyEar

Spider TinyEar

Spider TinyEar

Designed from the ground up for those with small ears, the TinyEar comes with a selection of smaller eartips and utilizes a smooth, tapered design. Tiny and lightweight, it will fit pretty much anyone comfortably.

With a bright tonal character, the TinyEar is not the best-sounding earphone in the price range, but clarity is good and the design simply works for smaller ears. After all, what good is a great-sounding earphone that doesn’t fit?

Read full review here.

 

 

Sports

In a sports earphone we look mostly for comfort and a secure fit. Sound that is not dull or boring is important as well – a bit of extra audio quality can go a long way towards making that last mile easier to push through.

MEElectronics M6

MEElectronics M6

MEElectronics M6

The MEElectronics M6 has undergone quite a few changes of the past several years but underneath it’s still the same earphone I fell in love with back in 2009.

The combination of an over-the-ear form factor and flexible memory wire keeps the earphones in place. It may take a day or two to get the hang of wearing the M6 but once fitted correctly it provides a comfortable, secure fit and robust sound with good bass punch and crisp treble. It’s not the most refined-sounding set, but it’s definitely the best sports earphone we’ve heard in this price range.

Available in seven colors, the M6 is sure to be a hit with joggers, gym-goers, and anyone else who values an earphone that stays in place. A headset version with microphone and remote, the M6P, is also available.

Read full review here.

 

 

That rounds out 11 of the best <$50 earphones for every need. For in-depth reviews and additional recommendations in other price ranges, check out our sortable review list and out our more expansive earphone buyer’s guide.

Questions or comments? Leave them below.

About ljokerl

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

69 comments

  1. Another great list! In your description of the VSD1S you mention that it has 90% of the performance of the GR07 Bass Edition. In your full review of the VSD1/VSD1S, though, you say that the VSD1 is like the GR07 Bass Edition and that the VSD1S is like the regular GR07. So in this list, shouldn’t it say that the VSD1S provides 90% of the performance of the regular GR07 and not the Bass Edition?

  2. hi joker if there is no VSD1S and only VSD1, will you consider VSD1 as a top pick for sound quality or another IEM?

    • Sure, VSD1 or SteelSeries Flux. All three of them are pretty close to each other. The Flux has smoother treble and a warmer tone but has slightly more recessed mids and a smaller soundstage compared to the VSD1/VSD1S.

  3. Hi joker I was wondering if the steelseries Flux would be a good pair of IEM’s to get? I listen to Alternative Rock and Rock If not what should i get I would like to keep my IEM’s under $40

  4. Great list.

    Your lists are been discussed a lot in brazilian forums. I thought you’d like to know that.

    :)

  5. Thanks ljokerl for your great work! I’ve just bought the Philips SHE3590 and SteelSeries Flux based on your recommendations!

  6. Is there a reason why the LG Queadbeat is not on here? (about $20 on Amazon)

    • Yeah – I like the VSD1 and Flux a little better and wanted to keep the overall number of recommendations down, plus the Quadbeat is technically discontinued now and I haven’t tried the Quadbeat 2.

      • How does the Flux compare to the LG Quadbeat and Vsonic GR02 BE in terms of sound quality, soundstage, and sound signature?

        • Of the three, the Quadbeat is the brightest with the least bass emphasis and widest presentation. The Flux is in the middle in terms of bass quantity, with a smoother, warmer, and punchier, albeit slightly less spacious, sound. The GR02 BE is the bassiest and has the deepest v-shaped signature (mids not as prominent as bass and treble). It’s also more prone to sibilance than the other two.

          • How do the mids and highs of each compare? Thanks.

          • That’s a very broad question. How about you just let me know the sound signature you’re looking for and I’ll see which fits that best.

          • I currently have the GR02 BE but recently I’ve found the sibilance in the highs to be quite annoying. Furthermore my taste in music has change a bit; although bass still plays a role in the music I listen to, there is much more emphasis in the mids and highs. So I guess I’m looking for IEMs (under $50) that best fit this emphasis in mids and highs, without the sibiliance of the Vsonics, while still managing to have a punchy bass (non-boosted/boosted doesn’t really matter as long as mids/highs are good).

          • The Flux mids are a little more recessed than those of the Quadbeat so I think the Quadbeat might be your best bet. Its treble is not as smooth as that of the Flux but still better compared to the GR02 BE. Bass quantity is similar to the Flux – pretty punchy, but not as powerful compared to the GR02 BE of course.

          • Thanks! Is there an alternative that would better fit my needs under $50 or would the Quadbeats be the best?

          • None that I’ve heard that’s also as good an overall performer as the Quadbeat. I’ve received lots of recommendations for the Quadbeat 2 but I haven’t tried it.

  7. Between the VC02, VSD1S, and R02 Silver, how would you compare them in terms of sound and which one would you recommend? Thanks!

    • The VC02 has the least bass of the VSonic sets. It is the flattest but also brightest overall. Good if you prioritize clarity and don’t want any bass enhancement but I wouldn’t recommend it over the VSD1S for the average listener.

      The R02 silver is pretty atypical for VSonic – it has some upper midrange emphasis and more rolled-off bass and treble than is usual for VSonic. Good if you like forward mids and are worried about the VC02 and VSD1S both being too bright, but not the most conventional sound and again not something I would recommend over the VSD1S in general.

      The VSD1S is in my opinion the best compromise among all of the budget VSonic sets and the highest performer overall. A little more forgiving of sibilance than the VC02 and has a healthy amount of bass without being “bassy” like the GR02 Bass Edition.

      • Thanks for the help, have you noticed any problems with the Flux depending on the source? I got it due to the $25 price you pointed out and have no problems enjoying on my phone but when I use it with my computer, only the treble comes through and it sounds like half the audio is missing. I was wondering if you have any experience with this issue, I’ve noticed the same thing with the Meelec A161P so maybe there is an issue with mobile-designed IEMs? I’ve also tried it on two different computers so I don’t think it is a computer issure. Thanks!

  8. Hey Joker..!

    Im planning to get a new earphone, and was confused to choose between JBL J33 / JBL J22 and VSonic VSD1S.
    [ # the J22 vs VSonic : tough to decide]
    Music is mostly pop & alternative rock for me..

    I have an android phone ( HTC – Wildfire S ). Any ideas whether the VSonic’s controls will support my device?

  9. Hi Joker, I’ve owned Xears N3i -> Xears XE200 Pro -> VSonic GR06 till now. And have listened to Brainwavz R1, M2, Thinksound TS02, Sony MH1C and Logitech UE600 till now.
    Among this I liked the sound signature of XE200 Pro and VSonic GR06 the most and then the UE600 later (loved the superb clarity but didn’t quite like the sibilance)

    I’m planning to buy one under $60 – which one should I go for? Does the VSD1S ($40) be better than GR06 ($48) in overall sound quality? On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate VSD1S

    Or shall I spend $59 more and get the RE-400. Is it worth that extra money?

    • Just so you know, I found TS02 to be too bassy, MH1C warm and sweet, but still, bassy and mid recessed. Right now I’m listening to R1 and I find it too bright for my liking. It sure as hell seems more detailed than GR06, but it either lacks the bass (or) notes are thin (or) highs are sibilant. I preferred XE200pro over N3i, as the N3i seemed to have mid bass bloat which i quite didn’t like.

      • The VSD1S is better than GR06 mostly in midrange clarity and overall resolution. On my scale it’s about an 8.2-8.3 (the GR06 is an 8.1 I believe). The VSD1S should be a good fit for you in terms of bass quantity since it’s around GR06 level and doesn’t have as much as the TS01 or MH1C.

        The benefit of upgrading to the RE-400 is mostly just smoother treble and more level bass compared to the VSD1S, as well as a bit more clarity and detail overall. It’s obviously not twice as good as the VSD1S despite being twice the price. Diminishing returns and all that…

        • Thanks for the comparison with GR06 and my dream IEM RE-400 joker. Any significant comparison between VSD1S with SteelSeries Flux ($50) and UE600 ($60)? In terms of Instrument Separation, Notes Presentation and Soundstage which among these three will be good?

          • The Flux has smoother treble and a warmer tone than the VSonics but has slightly more recessed mids and a smaller soundstage compared to the VSD1/VSD1S. They aren’t too different from each other, though.

            The UE600 is very different – more emphasis on the mids, less on the bass and treble. It’s a more balanced and resolving earphone, but sounds thinner and perhaps a bit more “analytical”. Soundstage size is about on-par with the VSD1S.

  10. Great job as usual Joker!

    BTW, how does the soundmagic E30, Brainwavz beta, and Brainwavz M1 fair against the VSD1S?

    • Thanks!

      The VSD1S is better than all three of those IMO. Signature-wise it’s closest to the Beta but with a warmer tone and sound that is fuller and more natural. Its treble also isn’t as harsh as that of the Beta.

  11. Joker, great list. I picked up a few ma450i’s for co-workers using Apple earbuds. I’m second guessing myself vs. the Steelseries Flux. I still have time to order them for the holiday and send back the RHA IEMs. Thoughts on any differences between those two pairs specifically? Am I overthinking it? (Don’t answer that.)

    • Ye… err… probably.

      While I like the sound of the Flux better due to its overall balance lack of any real sonic weaknesses, the MA450i may actually make a better gift – it has beefier build quality and “feels” more high-end, it has a 3-button remote with functionality that might otherwise be missed by Apple users, and it’s got bass response that – for the casual listener – is likely to be more impressive than the finesse and detail of the Flux. Long story short, I’m sure your co-workers will love the RHA buds.

  12. Bought VSD1S from lendmeurears.com for SGD 53 (2600 INR). Hope it is a bit more detailed and as comfortable as my GR06.

  13. hello joker,
    which one will you suggest between re400 and VSD1S for post rock/alternative rock/metal (progressive & melodic death)music? i’m not a basshead but i also don’t like v-shape and bass shy earphones. i don’t know how to describe my taste but i like forward mids.

    • Well, I would classify the VSD1S as having a slightly v-shaped signature so that may not be the best option for you. The RE-400 is not v-shaped, in fact it has pretty forward mids, but it also flat bass that’s not really enhanced. If you think you’ll want more bass than the RE-400 offers, you might want to consider (assuming your budget tops out at $100) the Shure SE215 or Philips Fidelio S1.

  14. Bought the RHA headphones from the biggest online retailer in the world. I only trust reviews from people who actually bought these headphones and this is how I got a great deal and free shipping: http://amzn.to/1cRf5fZ – Pretty hard to beat that.

  15. Hey |joker|, thank you very much for the guide! Out of the SteelSeries Flux and the RHA MA450i (MA350 with mic) how does their sound compare? I was looking for a headphone that looked good, was resonalbly priced, had a mic, and sounded good and these seem to be the two that I’ve picked out. Which do you suggest? Or do you have another pick? I mostly listen rap and rock/metal. Thanks again!

  16. Received my VSD1s yesterday. Was highly disappointed after seeing the cable thickness. I’m not sure whether I could keep it safe for even a couple of months, it’s that THIN !!
    Quick Review. Very powerful and considerably detailed. But sounds are not separated :(

    If possible, will tell in detail about my opinion abt this IEM in comparison to R1, TS02, M2, MH1C and UE600 later.

  17. What other IEM under $50 and $100 share the same sound sigs as the philips she3580/90 or soundmagic es18? Those are the sound sigs that I currently enjoy. Hope I can get ljokerl’s opinion as well :)

    • I haven’t tried the ES18 but the SHE3580 has a nice warm, somewhat v-shaped sound. Of the sets I’ve reviewed recently the RBH EP1 sounds similar, but it’s over $100. Under $100 there’s the ThinkSound earphones that tend to have a warm/v-shaped sound, the JVC FXT90 (which is more mid-bassy), and the HiSound Wooduo 2 if you want even more bass.

  18. Thanks joker. Btw, which of this IEMs do you think has the cleanest (non recessed) mids?

    soundmagic e30, brainwavz m2, brainwavz beta

  19. Greetings Mr. ljokerl.

    I have read your reviews several times, mostly at head-fi.org and I like them a lot.
    Only registered here to ask you something important to me.
    Here’s the thing. I have a hearing impairment in my right ear for over 20 years. My doctor said I can hear about 15% from it. So, I’m almost deaf from my right ear. Left ear is fine.
    I need to buy an under $35 in-ear headphones pair for regular use (smartphone for making calls and music, laptop for music and movies etc). I own MeeElectronics M9 but I am not fully satisfied with it. I feel the sound is much lower than expected. I mean from what I hear from my left good ear. Many reviews on the internet, including yours, highly recommend M9, but it seems my ears dont like it that much.:)
    Could you please suggest the best in-ear headphones for my situation? I would like something with sound as crispier as it gets and also with great bass.
    Please respond whenever you are free to do.

    Best regards,
    Mamoulinos

    • I guess it depends on what you mean by “the sound is much lower than expected”. If you mean that the volume is insufficient for your right ear (or both ears), then it’s just a matter of efficiency. Most of the time I don’t concern myself with efficiency too much because it is easy to compensate for, but there are definitely more efficient earphones out there than the M9 if that’s what you’re after. I think the JVC FX101 (FR201 if you want microphone) would work well for you – lots of bass, high sensitivity, and the mids are not so recessed that it’s hard to make out vocals.

      P.S. you may want to try compensating for your hearing using the Left/Right balance adjuster on your device if you have one. Modern Apple devices, for example, have one built in and you can vary channel balance by quite a lot (see here: http://www.the4cast.com/2011/06/how-to-adjust-sound-balance-on-iphoneipadipod-ios5/). On my Cowon J3 you can also adjust balance, by maybe 10-15dB. When you adjust balance you end up reducing the volume in one ear but if it ends up being too quiet for you, you can use a small amp like the Nuforce MMP (http://amzn.to/1aOM1FZ) to bring the total volume up.

  20. Hey Mr. ljokerl

    Yes, I mean the volume is insufficient. I usually max out the volume but it’s sounds significantly low.
    I didnt have to face that issue in the past 2 years when I was using Samsung’s headphones that came along with the Galaxy S3, my previous phone. My hearing loss remains at the same levels as described previously.
    You know, I am not expert on this but having to face with hearing loss issues the whole my life I can definitely comprehend minor fluctuations of sound when I’m hearing something or insufficient volume and stuff like high treble or lower bass because of my right impaired ear. I think it functions as an echo sometimes. I dont know how to describe this to you but it forces my brain to understand that the sound should go equally to both ears, even though it is impaired inside.
    This why I’m positive that I’m not satisfied with the M9 at all and I will definitely try the JVC’s you suggested.
    Thank you very much.

    Best regards,
    Mamoulinos

  21. I almost forgot!
    What do you think about JVC HAEBR80?

  22. One last thing, I promise.
    In your other article “earphones buyer’s guide” you categorize different earphones by sound signature which sounds good to me.
    However, it seems very uncomfortable to me -and costly- to have 3-4 pairs or earphones for listening different kinds of music.
    For instance, I like to listen to electronic music (progressive, house and trance but no psy) and from time to time acoustic and classical. Very rarely I might listen to some pop. Definitely not listening to metal and all its subgenres and rock.
    Having under consideration my hearing impairment and what I’m looking for, in addition to my music preferences, could you suggest the best budget in-ear headphones for me? Is it still the JVC FX101 (or FR201) ones?
    Sorry for the costant questions but I need some help because I’m about to replace my M9′s asap.
    That was my last question.
    Thank you for your time.

    Best regards,
    Mamoulinos

    • I’ve never tried the HA-EBR80 but from what I can see it’s an earbud and not an IEM.

      With a $35 budget and requirements for heavy bass and high sensitivity (volume) and a mic/remote I don’t think you’ll find anything better than the HA-FR201.

  23. i have a budget of 50$,i mainly listen to chillstep and some pop/bollywood style classical,
    i can extent the budget to 80$ not more than that
    which headphone will u recommend,i have vsd1s available in my country,but other options might not be,i am from india

    • VSD1S should be good, certainly one of the best options in the price range. It’s not bass-light so your pop and electronic music will still sound good but at the same time it’s pretty well-balanced for everything else.

Leave a Reply