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It’s easy to find a pair of in-ear headphones, but extremely difficult to find a quality pair. Increased only more in difficulty when a price cap is put on. For that reason, we hunted down the best in-ear headphones for under $100.
With that being said, there are a lot of headphones that fit into this category, many of them falling below par.
We looked for headphones that not only performed excellently but also provided maximum comfort and noise isolation. Bearing that in mind, we also looked for a few unique pairs, some being IEMs and others being wireless.
|Klipsch R6i||Shure SE215-K||Bose SoundSport||Plantronics BackBeat Go 2||Jabra ROX||Sony MDR-XB50AP/R|
|Frequency Response||10Hz-19kHz||22Hz – 17.5kHz||25Hz – 20kHz||20Hz – 20kHz||20Hz – 20kHz||4Hz–24kHz|
Klipsch comes out of the gate with a well-rounded pair of in-ear headphones. While not the most feature-rich, the Klipsch R6i carry the sound that should be expected with a Klipsch product.
The advertised 10Hz-19kHz frequency response is fully achieved, with lows reaching well down into the subs and highs being clear as day.
Unsurprisingly for a Klipsch product, the separation here is unmatched. Instruments all seem to have their spot in the sonic space, meshing together to sound cohesive, but clear enough that you can pick out which each is doing.
However, there are issues. The build ear tips feel like they were ripped from a pair of earbuds you’d find in the bottom of your dresser. They feel incredibly cheap in the hands and which is a shame to see.
Still, at around $60, they sound absolutely amazing, and, at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
Jumping to the IEM side of things, Shure offers up a pair of monitors that are excellent considering the cost. Of course, the design of these monitors leads to excellent sound quality and isolation.
Starting with sound, lows are rich and full, not becoming too overpowering, but still punching. The only complaint I can offer in terms of sound quality is in the high-end. For my tastes, the top sounds just a little tinny but thankfully isn’t too offensive.
Isolation-wise, the SE215-Ks are excellent considering the cost. Offering up to 37 dB of attenuation (the same as Shure’s $1000 SE846-CLs), these IEMs will keep most outside noise out with little trouble.
On top of that, the detachable driver units are convenient to replace a bad cable should yours break. However, that’s unlikely. The cable is expertly built, showcasing the quality that the Shure name is synonymous with.
While being one of the most expensive options on this list, these IEMs are excellent for both listening and monitoring, offering a fantastic value at the price.
Bose, unsurprisingly, offers the most expensive offering on this list. However, despite the price, these in-ear headphones are fantastic and offer great value.
Starting with the sound, these headphones sound excellent, coming just shy of the Shures. Lows are deep, the mids punch, and the highs are clear and present. Overall, the sound is balanced, lacking just a bit in the depth of the low-end found on the Shures.
The build follows suit, feeling worthy in most areas of the price tag. The only place that feels cheap is the cord. While not as cheap a feeling as the Klipsch’s, it doesn’t feel of the same quality as the Shures. Maybe Shure has just spoiled me, but nonetheless, the issue remains.
That trend can’t be said with the comfort of these headphones, however. The different-sized ear tips and wings mold to your ear perfectly and don’t put a strain on the inside of your ear like other winged designs. If, however, you find that they aren’t comfortable for you, they can always be removed.
Plantronics BackBeat Go 2
Plantronics may not be as well-known as the other brands on this list but still offer up a compelling option with the BackBeat Go 2s. The most attractive feature here is that these headphones are wireless.
While sacrificing some quality in terms of sound, these headphones are much more convenient than some of the other offerings on this list which may be important to you.
That isn’t to say they sound bad, though. In fact, they sound pretty good. The high-end is clear and detailed, and the midrange punches with ease. While the lows are powerful enough, they aren’t as full as the wired options on this list so bear that in mind. Still, these headphones sound fantastic, especially considering they’re wireless.
The included pouch makes them easy to charge and stow simultaneously, finished in a beautiful red plush that oozes quality. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to take advantage of that pouch more often than not. The headphones don’t hold a very long charge, only giving a few hours of listening time before needing a refresh.
Keeping with the wireless trend, the Jabra ROXs are solid competitors to Plantronics, coming in at a slightly high price point. The sound is rich overall, granting a little more separation than the Plantronics. Additionally, the low-end feel more full which, for my tastes, is a huge plus.
Another step up is battery life. These headphones are rated for up to five hours of playback before dying and achieve every second of that. When they do die out, they can be recharged via mini USB. While not as elegant as a charging case, it gets the job done.
In terms of build quality, these headphones win full points. The Kevlar reinforced cable is lightweight and durable, matching the quality of the metal housing of the drivers. Built-in magnets make stowing easy, and the cable length is long enough to reach around your neck without tangling.
However, not everything is perfect. While the construction is solid (pun intended), the weight is a trade-off that is expected, but not welcome. The drivers are very heavy, adding strain to the ears and contrasting with the feather-light weight of the cable.
Coming in as the most inexpensive option on this list, the Sony MDR-XB50AP/Rs offers up a great value at the price. Sound-wise, these headphones offer up the most powerful low-end on the list.
Powered by 12mm drivers, the low-end is huge, almost to a fault. While not my tastes personally, bass junkies will rejoice with these headphones.
Outside of that, not much is or should be expected of these earbuds. They offer competent build quality, comfort, and controls, granting the essentials, but not pushing the boundaries.
Still, if you’re looking for a solid pair of in-ear headphones for a relatively low cost, it’s hard to go wrong with these.
So, that’s our list! While none of these headphones are perfect, they all sound fantastic and grant a competent feature set.
Of course, the more expensive options offer a lot more in terms of build quality and features, but the cheaper offerings sound comparable, only missing out on a few premium design choices.
Still, much of the decision comes down to personal preference. Each of the offerings on this list has something different to offer, which may be better or worse for you depending on your needs.
Regardless, each one of the pairs of these headphones offers excellent noise isolation, comfort, and audio quality and you’d be hard-pressed to make a wrong decision with any of them.