There’s a stigma against cheap wireless earbuds. Anything less than AirPods is considered unreliable, inconvenient, and crappy. You don’t have to pay AirPod prices to get a decent pair of wireless earbuds, though. In fact, you only have to spend around $40!
Cheap Wireless Earbuds Are Fine for Most People
Despite what you might read when you’re knee-deep in a Reddit thread or YouTube comments, cheap wireless earbuds are fine. Most around the $40 mark sound surprisingly good and have clarity and bass response you couldn’t find in cheap wired earbuds about 10 years ago.
And no, there isn’t a catch! Battery life also isn’t an issue. Most cheap wireless earbuds have at least four hours of battery life (24 or more if you count the charging case). Most support the latest Bluetooth 5.0 protocol, so they automatically connect to your phone when you turn them on, and most also have built-in controls.
There’s also a lot of variety in the world of cheap wireless ‘buds. You’ve got sweatproof options you can wear while you work out, the kind designed to maintain a charge throughout your workday (or even your entire workweek), and those that effortlessly exceed expectations.
Those cheap AirPod-lookalikes are pretty cool, too. The Anker Soundcore Life P2s, for example, are comfortable, feature noise-reduction technology, and have a seven-hour battery life (AirPods only last four hours and cost twice as much).
Does that mean any of these earbuds outdo AirPods for less than $100? Of course not. AirPods are the industry standard. They sound great, the Bluetooth just works, and their touch controls (while flawed) are better than any we’ve seen in cheaper alternatives.
Premium wireless earbuds are in a class of their own, but not everyone needs them. Most people just need an affordable pair that fit well and work and sound good.
Even Nameless Brands Can Exceed Expectations
What if you don’t want to spend between $40 and $100 on wireless earbuds from an established brand, like Anker, TaoTronics, Skullcandy, or JLAB? Even for some music fans, that’s a lot of money to spend on headphones. There are cheaper alternatives, but you’ll have to go the “nameless” route.
The amount of unnamed wireless earbuds on Amazon is staggering. These products often boast the same battery life, quality, and features as competitors for nearly half the price. While it sounds too good to be true, some of these off-brand wireless earbuds are golden eggs.
This is due to a weird electronics trend that’s developed over the last decade. People start small businesses in Chinese industrial districts, where electronic parts and labor are incredibly cheap. These companies are so small, they can follow trends on a dime, and sell their products through marketplaces, like Amazon and Aliexpress at super-competitive prices. Some of this decade’s biggest electronics brands, like Anker and Fiio, started this way.
So, cheap, nameless wireless earbuds aren’t all bad. Sure, the quality control is inconsistent, customer service is usually nonexistent, and the company can pivot or disappear at any time. If your priority is saving $10 to $20 on earbuds, though, going the nameless route might be worth it.
We’ll cover how to shop for cheap wireless earbuds below.
They Aren’t Perfect
Many cheap wireless earbuds offer great battery life, decent sound quality, and the same reliability you’d expect from more expensive options. Among all the nameless brands on Amazon, it’s easy to find an outrageously cheap pair of wireless earbuds that punch above their weight.
However, they’re cheap for a reason. They certainly aren’t for audio snobs—after all, even expensive earbuds (like AirPods and Jabras) have a fairly unbalanced audio response.
They also aren’t ideal for people who like premium features, like noise cancellation or “transparency” modes. These features are more about listening quality—your ability to comfortably and confidently wear your earbuds in any situation.
Don’t care about sound quality or premium features? Well, there are still a few things to complain about when it comes to nameless ‘buds. First of all, they do look and feel cheap—especially their charging cases. Also, as you might expect, these cheap options fall apart faster than the more popular brands. They also have terrible push-button controls, which are uncomfortable to use. You have to push the earbud down into your ear every time you want to pause or skip a track (if this sounds awful to you, look for earbuds with touch controls).
However, you can’t really expect premium sound and build quality, or noise cancellation for under $100. If you know what to expect, though, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.
How to Shop for Cheap Wireless Earbuds
Shopping for a good pair of cheap wireless earbuds can be difficult. After all, there’s a lot to choose from. Every product has its pros and cons, and it isn’t always easy to differentiate between a great deal and a dud.
Here are a few tips to guide you to the best set of earbuds for you:
- Read the reviews: Before you buy, be sure to check the reviews. Look for notes on sound quality, bass response, build quality, and battery life. If you want a shortcut, just check out our favorite cheap wireless earbuds.
- Look for bass boost: Generally, you should avoid earbuds that don’t advertise a heavy bass response (check the reviews, too). Not all bass boost sounds amazing, but it balances out the “tin” sound on cheaper headphones.
- IPX water-resistance: Most wireless earbuds (even a lot of the dirt-cheap ones) have an IPX water-resistance rating. We recommend an IPX5 sweat- and splash-proof rating, so your earbuds will work at the gym and even survive a bit of rain. If you want a pair that can survive a quick dunk underwater, look for an IPX6 or IPX7 rating.
- Battery life: Most earbuds have a four-hour battery life, and most charging cases have a 20-hour battery life. If you want a pair that will cover a full-time work shift, the seven-hour FALWEDIs are a good budget option, and the 10-hour Creative Outlier Airs are a good mid-range option.
- Check the return policy: This is something to look at whenever you buy audio equipment. Most reputable websites offer a one-month return policy, which gives you enough time to test out your earbuds.
Off-brand earbuds do require a bit more research, but the effort can be worth it if you need to save that extra $10 or $20!