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5 great, cheap headphones for back to school

Don't get left back—graduate to better sound without spending a lot

Published: July 23, 2014 04:45 PM
Budget-friendly buds
It's amazing what just $10 can get you: Panasonic's RP-TCM125.

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You may not be able to do anything about the high cost of tuition, but you don't have to spend a bundle to get a great set of headphones. But with so many models out there, which one should you choose?

Relax—since school hasn't even started, we're going to do the homework. To make things easy, we've picked five satisfying headphones, the cheapest of which costs only $10. Here are our choices.

Nixon Microblaster, $50. These in-ear models have been around for a few years and they're getting a bit hard to find, unless you frequent skate and snowboard shops. But they're well worth the effort, as they're among the top-rated portable stereo headphones in our headphones Ratings, with very good sound and medium-high sensitivity, meaning they'll play well even with lower-powered portable devices.

JBL by Harman J22i, $50. Designed with Apple devices in mind—the earphones have a three-button in-line Apple-compatible remote control with an integrated mic—these earphones deliver very good overall sound that's warm in the bass but neutral otherwise. Their high sensitivity is a good match for almost any portable.

Sennheiser CX300-II Precision, $50. With its black-and-silver color scheme, this Sennheiser model is a bit more reserved-looking than its flashier sibling (below), but similarly delivers very good overall sound and high sensitivity. Like the CX215, it has a slightly warm character and good dynamics.

Find the right model for your needs and budgets with our headphones buying guide and Ratings.

Sennheiser CX215, $40. Offered in several colors, these in-ear earphones can be found for less than $30 online. Sonically they're very similar to the CX300-II (above), with very good overall sound and an open, slightly warm character with good dynamics.

Panasonic RP-TCM125, $10. Don't settle for bad sound from the cheapie earphones that came bundled with your phone or player. For about the price of two fancy iced coffee drinks at your local java emporium, you can get these in-ear earphones, which have very good sound and a one-button remote and mic. As a bonus, they're offered in a variety of colors—some striking—in case your back-to-schooler has a flair for fashion.

Monoprice Noise Canceling Headphones, $110. Active noise cancellation can be a godsend for a student trying to study, but most of the highest-ranked models in our Ratings are also higher priced. Not this over-ear headphone from Monoprice, which delivers very good sound and excellent noise reduction at about a third of the price of most other top-rated models. It's somewhat plain looking, but that's a small cross to bear for savings.

If you're looking for a new set of headphones, make sure you check out our full stereo and noise-canceling-headphones Ratings (available to subscribers), which now includes 160 fully tested models, including wireless headphones, at all prices.

—James K. Willcox

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