No matter who you are, there is one quest that everyone goes on at one point or another, buying new earbuds, but perhaps you’re looking to do it on a budget. Whether it’s because your current pair broke, or you’re looking to upgrade from the free ones you got with your phone. Either way, it’s left you looking for a pair of the best earbuds under $100.
You don’t want to spend obscene amounts of money, even on the best earbuds, when they are mostly going to be used for casual listening, the occasional workout, or sitting on your desk as your daily driver. But at the same time, you want it to sound great.
Well, luckily we have you covered, as we’ll be covering our best earbuds under $100. We’re going to have both wired and wireless earbud options here so that you can pick the perfect earbuds for your needs. We will be detailing a few different criteria for each earbud: sound, comfort, features and price. And of course it goes without saying that this list isn’t exhaustive, but it is subjective, and these are our top picks. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the list!
1. Shure SE215
We’re going to kick off our list with a pair of wired IEMs that in our opinion are a gold standard for earbuds in this price range. They don’t necessarily excel at any one thing, but are incredibly solid all around. That is the Shure SE215. Shure has been a major player in the professional audio space, and has a few solid offerings for the consumer market.
The SE215s are a traditional in-ear monitor that has a very palatable sound signature. It’s slightly bass boosted, and offers a relatively clear sound that will serve anyone well in nearly all situations.
The SE215 has a detachable, rotating cable that goes over the top of your ears, allowing you to keep the cable out of the way. Additionally it comes with six total eartip sets, three foam and three rubber eartips of varying sizes. This gives you a plethora of options to find the perfect fit for you. We recommend the foam tips to get a great seal in your ear canal.
One of the great things about the SE215 is the price. Retailing for around $100 puts these right at the top of the range, but they can be found on sale on Amazon regularly. If you want a cable with an inline mic, you’d have to buy the version with that. While that version typically costs a little more than $100 it can be found on sale for the same price as the version with the normal cable. Additionally, Shure offers wireless connectors that can be paired with Bluetooth, but those are far outside the $100 price range, though the option is there.
2. Etymotic Research ER2SE Studio
Next up on our list is another in-ear monitor that’s a bit off the beaten path. The Etymotic Research ER2SE Studio is an in-ear monitor that definitely looks a bit unconventional. Rather than a circular disc, the ER2SE is more cylinder shaped.
In terms of sound quality, the ER2SE offers a neutral and detailed sound. This IEM is for those who want outstanding and neutral sound quality to build off with an EQ or just enjoy the pure tones that they can put out.
For features, these are wired earbuds, so they’re not going to offer the same set of features you’d see from a true wireless pair. That being said, the ER2SE Studio has a detachable rotating cable. This allows for the cable to lay as naturally as possible without sacrificing the fit of each bud. They come with a variety of ear tip options as well, giving you the choice of a perfect fit. Additionally, they have incredible noise isolation. But that comes with a bit of a price.
The comfort factor on these is definitely not going to be for everyone. Given the shape of the buds, you’re effectively shoving a tiny cylinder into your ear canal, which for some is very uncomfortable. Yes, you get unmatched noise isolation but potentially at the cost of some discomfort. These are definitely earbuds that are going to best serve you when you only need to put them in once, and you can stay with them for a while.
3. Sony WF-C500
Next up is the Sony WF-C500, our first wireless pair of earbuds. In the audio and headphone space, Sony is known for making quality products and the WF-C500 is no different.
The C500s come in a small discrete package, and are incredibly lightweight. The eartips are very comfortable, and ultimately lead to an earbud that’s going to be perfect for commuting or workouts.
The sound on these earbuds are widely liked by a lot of people, having a slight V shape. The bass and highs are emphasized while the mids are cut a tad, making for a generally palatable sound that will work with most types of music. Microphone quality for the C500 is fine, but it does pick up quite a bit of background noise. But if you’re in a quiet room and making a call, the sound quality on the microphone is solid.
Since these are wireless earbuds, there’s plenty of great features that come with these. Controls are handled on the earbuds themselves, with each bud having its own set of controls.
Battery life for the C500 comes in at around 10 hours of continuous playtime and five hours of constant communication. The charging case can fully charge the earbuds in around two and a half hours, but also has a 10 minute quick charge for an hour of battery life for those quick workouts. The case charges over USB going from empty to full in about three hours.
The Sony Headphones connect app has some solid features including a battery life indicator, music controls and a basic five-band EQ to customize your listening experience. The buds connect via Bluetooth 5.0 and support AAC and SBC codecs which is great for Apple users. Since these lack AptX support, Android users will have to make some sacrifices on either their quality or latency since AAC isn’t very stable on Android. Lastly, these buds sport an IPX4 rating, which makes them sweat and splash resistant, making them ideal for workouts.
4. Google Pixel Buds A-Series
In a very similar fashion to the WF-C500, the Google Pixel Buds are another very good wireless bud option for those looking for some casual listening or workouts. It is also a very lightweight and comfortable design.
There are two sound frequencies on Pixel Buds that you can choose from, one that has the bass pulled out and one that has a more typical v shape curve. The former is perfectly suited for podcasts, where the latter is that widely pleasing sound signature that a lot of listeners will love. The microphone is once again fine. They do a decent job at rejecting quieter noises, but in a louder space, you’ll have to speak up a bit.
The Pixel Buds offer Active Noise Canceling (ANC), which is a nice feature over the Sony’s but that does come at the cost of battery life, being half of the WF-C500s. Google uses a system called Adaptive Sound, which solely relies on adjusting the volume of your content to counteract the world around you. This can be annoying sometimes, as the constant barrage of sound can be fatiguing. Controls can be handled on either bud, but the Pixel Buds also have voice activated controls as well!
The Pixel Buds app is effectively a mandatory download when you pair these buds to your phone The app comes with settings for your Google assistant, EQ and touch control settings, and a handy find my device function in case you lose them. Once again, these pair over Bluetooth, with support for AAC and SBC codecs only. These also come with an IPX4 rating.
5. Truthear HEXA
This brings us to our final entry on our list, the Truthear HEXA. Another Chinese made IEM, the HEXA is somewhat of a marvel for its price.
The HEXA is constructed similarly to the HOLA, being a resin housing with a metal faceplate. These also have a single dynamic driver, and three balanced armature drivers, essentially allowing different frequency spectrums to be handled by the different drivers separately, giving you more clarity in your sound.
The sound signature of the HEXA is a slight V shape, with slightly raised mid-highs, and a slight bass rise to give a little more response in the low end, but that’s about it. They’re honestly quite neutral. The sound is inspired pretty heavily by a $300 IEM, the Moondrop Blessing 2, which is highly regarded as one of the best consumer IEM’s on the market. The HEXA is a bit less sparkly in the high end, which means that while it loses a little bit of technicality up there, it’s overall less fatiguing for longer listening sessions or daily driving.
The HEXA comes with a detachable cable, with a two pin connector, just like the HOLAs, as well as a few pairs of ear tips.
And that’s our list! Hopefully, you’ve found your new pair of earbuds and if you liked our list, or we left your favorite off the list, then let us know!