When it comes to audio on a budget, earphones are my go-to recommendation. Thanks to a combination of low manufacturing costs and fierce competition, IEMs are by far the best way to get the best sound for the money.
However, sound quality isn’t all there is to the personal audio experience. A lot of the people I’ve talked to specifically seek out headphones because earphones are too uncomfortable — and whether it’s the air pressure inside the ear canal or just the sensation of having something in your ear, I can understand why.
And so I put together this list of some of the most comfortable budget headphones I’ve tried over the years — ones that may not be the best for sound but should be great to wear on most heads. While I can’t recommend headphones that cost as much as budget IEMs (they’re just generally bad), my picks sit under $100 and shouldn’t break the bank.
List of Comfortable Budget Headphones
- For the Audiophile: Philips SHP9500
- For the Traveler: Anker Soundcore Life Q20
- For the Gamer: EPOS Game One
Different Kinds of Comfort
As I’ve mentioned in other guides, the use case is and should be a major factor in the headphones you choose. While I haven’t found a truly excellent do-it-all headphone yet, I believe you should choose the right headphone for the job if you want to get the most out of your experience.
This is especially important when we talk about headphone comfort since headphones that are very comfortable for one situation won’t be the case in others. In other words, there are different kinds of comfort.
To give you an example, I own an AKG K701. These headphones sound amazing and are incredibly comfortable for long work sessions at home. However, there’s no way I’d be using these large, bulky, wired, open-back headphones outside.
Likewise, some headphones are great for use outside — they could be lightweight, have plush padding, and stay secure on the head so they don’t cause any problems while you’re out and about.
But more often than not these headphones may not sound all that good, especially when you compare them to headphones that are specifically designed to sound as good as possible at the expense of mobility.
So for this guide, I’ve picked out three comfortable budget headphones that fit three different use cases, and as we go along I’ll explain my criteria for what would make a comfortable headphone for each use case.
The Audiophile: Hi-Fi at Home
Every audiophile seeks out the best possible sound quality wherever they may be, but when it comes to audiophile setups, there’s just no place quite like home.
Now, the typical home audiophile setup will have you tethered to your gear while you’re at a desk or in a room where you don’t expect a lot of noise from other sources. As these things go, you can squeeze a bit more performance out of them with an amplifier and DAC (or an audio interface, if you also plan to record stuff).
But since this is a budget guide, I gave a few more points to the headphones that already sound close to their best out of a phone or laptop — and the pair that meets those criteria the best to me is the Philips SHP9500.
Still a budget beast of a headphone nearing 10 years on
Philips, the megacorp manufacturer of smart lights and home appliances, has been one of the most unlikely sources of great-sounding headphones and earphones.
From the tiny SHE3590 earphones to their Fidelio lineup, Philips has come out with some surprisingly good products in a field that’s normally dominated by either small niche brands or well-established names in the pro audio scene (although I would think part of that is affected by a decent dose of survivorship bias).
There’s no denying, however, that the SHP9500 is an excellent value-for-money choice when it comes to budget open-back headphones. It suffers from the lean and rolled-off bass response typical of most open backs, but it offers a surprisingly clear and well-balanced tone through the midrange and upper frequencies.
For a headphone that you can find at around $70, you can’t expect a premium build from the SHP9500. I feel that this works to its advantage, though, because the mostly plastic build makes it very light on the head. The SHP9500’s mesh fabric earpads also contribute a lot to keeping your ears cool, although the material choice may not be to everyone’s taste.
- Headphone Type: Open-back over-ear headphone
- Driver Type: Single 50mm dynamic
- Frequency Response: 12 – 35,000 Hz
- Max. Input Power: 200 mW
- Sensitivity: 101 dB
- Impedance: 32 Ohms
What’s in the Box?
- Philips SHP9500 headphones
- 3m cable (1/8″ TRS to 1/8″ TRS)
Stuff I like
- Great open soundstage
- Well-balanced sound signature
- Light on the head
Stuff I like less
- Fabric earpads may be itchy for some
- Lots of sound leakage
- Bass is a little soft
The Traveler: Comfort on Your Commute
Whether it’s your daily commute or the big vacation adventure you’ve long planned and prepared for, there is nothing quite like traveling with your favorite tunes backing you up.
When you’re out and about, your music will be fighting against all sorts of noise — traffic, human conversations, and the general cacophony of the outside world.
While you could technically bring your SHP9500 outside with you, good luck hearing your music on them; their open-back design means noise comes in freely from the outside, and your music leaks to the outside just as much.
To keep the tunes flowing clearly while still staying comfortable, we would want to look for headphones with active noise cancellation or ANC. Sure, ANC itself could cause some discomfort for some listeners, but the benefits of blocking out the world far outweigh the sometimes noticeable bass drone of ANC. And while we’re at it, might as well get wireless connectivity.
For sets under $100, there is only one choice — the Anker Soundcore Life Q20.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20
They may not be Anker’s latest and greatest, but the Q20s are still competent commuter cans in 2023
Anker’s Soundcore brand has been killing it lately with its recent wireless ANC headphones and earphones. The Q35 that I reviewed recently was an especially strong example, boasting incredible battery life and excellent comfort at a very competitive price point.
To get to that point, though, Anker had to start somewhere. and one of the steps they took along the way was the Q20, once their best wireless headphones now kept around as the budget benchmark with a compelling price of just $60.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Anker’s bass-first sound signature out of the box. The Q20 not having an app where you could change the onboard EQ certainly didn’t help that either. But in fairness to the Q20, they were a product of a different time.
Released in 2019, the Q20’s thundering bass wasn’t only the norm but was expected for headphones of its class.
And considering all of the other stuff it manages to do at this price point, it’s hard to find things to complain about.
- Headphone Type: Closed-back over-headphone
- Driver Type: Single 40mm dynamic drivers
- Frequency Response: 16 – 40,000 Hz
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
- Weight: ~270 grams
What’s in the Box?
- Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones
- 1.3m audio cable (1/8″ TRS to 1/8″ TRRS with remote)
- Charging cable (USB-A to Micro-USB)
- Soft carrying pouch
Stuff I like
- Plush earpads with excellent seal
- Excellent battery life with ANC on
- BassUp offers even more bass for those that want it
Stuff I like less
- Already very bassy out of the box
- No companion app to tweak the sound
- Outdated micro-USB charging
The Gamer: Min-Max Performance
Choosing a pair of comfortable headphones for gaming has gotten a lot easier nowadays since, for the most part, you could just pick your favorite headphones and go with them.
Of course, that would be way too simple.
To give you more choices you could look into, I’ve restricted my recommendation for gaming headphones to ones that specifically have boom mic arms. After all, both cooperative and competitive games alike benefit from good communication, so having a clear mic alongside your headphones is a plus.
With that extra rule, it’s a bit easier to settle on a recommendation, which is the EPOS Game One for me.
EPOS Game One
Not a Sennheiser in name, but a Sennheiser in spirit — and the EPOS Game One is all the better for it
EPOS may be a relatively unknown brand to most people, but the truth of it is that it used to be part of Sennheiser as its non-audiophile consumer audio division.
So if the EPOS Game One looks familiar, that’s because it is.
After EPOS broke away from the Sennheiser group, they kept the designs but dropped the brand; and the Game One is more or less the same as it used to be when it was initially released in 2014.
Inheriting the design of the HD 500 series, the EPOS Game One has the iconic large oval earcups and soft velour earpads that made their non-gaming counterparts some of the most comfortable headphones you could buy.
While they were quite expensive at launch, it’s easier to forgive the rather cheap-feeling but light plastic build now that the Game One often drops down to the $100 mark.
And that’s before we consider all of the other parts that make the Game One as impressive as it is. From the excellently balanced sound signature to the big boom mic, the EPOS Game One provides clear audio going both ways with excellent comfort over the longest gaming sessions.
- Headphone Type: Open-back over-ear headset
- Driver Type: Single 35mm dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 5 – 28,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 116 dB
- Weight: ~270 grams
What’s in the Box?
- EPOS Game One headphones
- 3m cable (2.5mm TRS to split headphone & mic 3.5mm TRS)
- 1.2m cable (2.5mm TRS to 3.5mm TRS)
Stuff I like
- Solid boom mic with flip-to-mute
- Crystal-clear and balanced sound
- Secure and comfortable fit
Stuff I like less
- Price can spike above $100 mark
- Velour may feel scratchy for some
- Build feels a bit cheap
While I’ve done my best to pick the budget headphones that would be the most comfortable for most people, my guide could only go so far.
Much like how it affects comfort with IEMs, one of the major factors that affect comfort with headphones is the size and shape of your head.
As someone with a fairly wide head, I often find myself wearing headphones at the maximum adjustment size. My AKG K701s, for instance, have to stretch out its headband to get the width right, which means I have to deal with more pressure coming down on the top of my head.
Ear shape can also be a deal-breaker for some headphones that are otherwise fairly comfortable. One of the reasons for Sennheiser’s success in making great-fitting headphones is the choice to use oval instead of round earcups.
The reason for this is fairly obvious — our earlobes are closer to an oval shape than a circle, so an oval earcup is more likely to fit a wider range of ears.
The operative term here is “more likely”. Humans are diverse enough that, even if you do design for the broadest fitting range, there are always outliers that won’t fit, intentionally or otherwise.
The bottom line here is to look for headphone stores and try the headphones on for yourself before committing to buying them.
As great as earphones often can be in the budget price bracket, they are not for everyone. Because of how our ears work, there are quite a lot of people who encounter problems when they wear IEMs, from issues with getting fit and sealing right to them simply being uncomfortable to wear.
In these situations, headphones are the best (and often the only) solution for these listeners.
While the headphone market doesn’t have quite as many standout pairs as that of IEMs, there are still enough of them around to make this budget headphone guide possible in the first place.
So whether you’re an at-home audiophile, an outdoorsy type, or focus mainly on games, we hope our list of the most comfortable budget headphones has helped guide you to the right one for your needs.
Tech enthusiast since childhood with a passion for finding the perfect gadget or accessory for the job. Always happy to share knowledge on electronics and digital trends. Music lover, 5K runner, instinctive optimizer. Impressed by fit and finish. Inspired by art and engineering.
This post was last updated on 2023-11-28 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.