Finding the right headphones is like finding a hoodie that fits exactly right: You’ve got to try a bunch before you find the one, but when you do, you know it right away.
For most of my listening needs, I like the AKG N60s, a pair of wired, noise-canceling on-ear headphones that run for around $250. They sound great, they’re comfortable for hours of listening, and the noise cancellation drowns out my busy city commute. Thankfully for headphone jack-less iPhone 7 users, AKG recently announced a wireless pair is on the way, but I haven’t had the chance to try them yet.
But bigger headphones have their limits. You can’t shove them in a pants pocket, they’re not great for the gym, and the ones worth buying are typically on the expensive side. So if you’re not into headphones, you can’t go wrong with a solid pair of cheap-but-great earbuds. And yes, your phone probably came with a pair of buds. But if you’re a music fan, it’s worth spending a little bit of money on an upgrade—the difference will be night and day.
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So which cheap earbuds are actually worth buying? My favorites are these $26 Xiaomi buds. The sound is solid, if a little bass-heavy, they’re in-ear, meaning they block a good amount of outside sound, and for $26, it’s not the end of the world if I lose them or accidentally throw them in the wash, as I’ve done more than once. Given the price and performance, these are one of the best-bang-for-the-buck buys you can make.
(Update: Shortly after publication a fellow editor here chimed in to recommend these Koss Sparkplugs, which he says has a foam component that “actually contracts and expands within your ear.” Weird but maybe cool!)
One drawback here: Weirdly enough, the volume up/down buttons on the cord won’t work with an iPhone, but the play/pause button will. That’s never really bothered me, but it’s worth considering before you make a purchase.