Let’s be honest: Most earbuds priced under $50 are junk. They’re uncomfortable, cheaply constructed, and terrible sounding. But the Skullcandy Sesh set defied our assumptions of what inexpensive Bluetooth earbuds could be. They’re the best cheap earbuds we’ve found. They’re comfortable and solidly built, they coil up for easy storage, and they sound fantastic. Buy them—and don’t tell 1More it could be charging more.
If you want completely wireless earbuds but are spooked by high price tags, the Sesh pair is an affordable option that sounds good and offers a lost-earbud exchange program.
If you have your heart set on true wireless earbuds and don’t want to pay more than $50, we recommend the Skullcandy Sesh pair. These earbuds have a fun, bass-forward sound, a comfortable fit, water resistance, and easy-to-use controls. We also love that the pair comes with a two-year warranty and Skullcandy’s Fearless Use Promise, which means if you lose or break one earbud, you pay to replace only that part, and the company will ship you a completely new pair. However, these earbuds don’t sound as good as the 1More Piston Fit BT set, and at just three hours per charge, their battery life is much lower—though the supplied charging case provides an additional seven hours.
If you want completely wireless earbuds with no connecting cable between them, the Skullcandy Sesh pair is the best option under $50. Originally priced around $60, the Sesh was previously the budget pick in our best wireless earbuds guide. Skullcandy recently introduced the Sesh Evo—which features longer battery life, Tile integration, and USB-C charging for $60—and lowered the price of the original Sesh to under $50, so it’s now a good fit for this guide. Although these earbuds don’t sound as good as the 1More Piston Fit BT, and their battery life isn’t as long, they do find the sweet spot between low price and solid performance in the true wireless category.
Most true wireless earbuds under $50 come saddled with a bunch of inconveniences—problems such as signal drop, interference, terrible sound quality, uncomfortable fit, wonky (or absent) controls, and shoddy craftsmanship, all of which tend to negate the feeling of freedom that completely wireless earbuds promise. But the Sesh won’t compromise your enjoyment, thanks to its simple controls, comfortable fit, reliable Bluetooth connection, decent sound, IP55 dust/sweat/water resistance, two-year warranty, and unique earbud-loss replacement program. The major downside is the battery life: The Sesh provides three hours per charge, less than half of the eight hours per charge provided by the collar-style Piston Fit BT. You’ll definitely have to bring the Sesh’s charge case when you leave the house; the case provides seven additional hours of battery life and is small enough to fit in most jeans pockets.
The Sesh earbuds aren’t the smallest true wireless earbuds we’ve tested, but they are minimal and lightweight enough that they won’t hang heavily in your ears—and they aren’t visually obtrusive, either. Skullcandy includes three sizes of silicone tips, and all of our panelists were able to get a secure fit. Both earbuds feature a single large button that takes up the entire surface of the earbud chassis, so it’s very easy to find by feel. The Sesh’s controls are sensitive enough to pressure that they don’t require you to jam the earbud into your ear canal to change tracks or adjust the volume. They also click softly, so there isn’t a loud, annoying “kuh-click” that hurts your ears. The Sesh’s controls handle all the basics: calls, tracks, volume, digital assistant, play, and pause.
As for sound quality, the Sesh’s sound is not as clear and balanced as that of the surprisingly good 1More Piston Fit BT, but it outperforms the vast majority of true wireless earbuds in its price range. In our tests, the bass was a bit intense and, especially with hip-hop, could sound a bit louder in the mix than you might expect, but this pair didn’t blur or muffle male voices like a lot of the competition did. The higher frequencies were a little rolled off, so “s” sounds were a bit softer and had an airier “sh” quality rather than a sharp “s” quality. But overall, for a true wireless pair that typically costs $40, the Sesh sounded fantastic.
The microphone also sounds better than you might expect for phone calls. Though these earbuds pick up more room noise than many higher-priced models, your voice will sound clear, not tinny or distant, to callers. Also, you can use just the left earbud independently for calls if you prefer to have one ear unobstructed.
The Bluetooth connection is solid; I got two walls away from my iPhone with no skipping or stuttering. Of course, pipes and metal beams can still cause issues because of the physics involved with Bluetooth, but when the Sesh is within line-of-sight of your device, it shouldn’t have signal dropout for at least 50 to 60 feet. It produces a very mild latency when you’re watching video, but not so much that dialogue looks dubbed. We like that, once paired with your device, the Sesh earbuds will automatically power on when you remove them from the case, and they will connect to the most recently used device. Pop them back into the case, and they power off and begin to charge.
The Sesh’s case is a little bigger than that of our top pick in our Bluetooth earbuds guide, but it fits easily in pants pockets that can hold a wallet. LED indicators on the outside of the case show how much charge is left. When fully powered, the case’s battery provides an additional seven hours of listening time.
One of the biggest concerns I hear from folks wanting to try true wireless earbuds is the fear of losing one bud. It’s a valid point: Most of the time, when you lose one earbud, you’re forced to buy an entirely new pair or pay a hefty-enough replacement fee that you may as well buy a new set. Skullcandy’s Fearless Use Promise addresses this concern by saying that, if you lose or break your earbuds or case, you can return what’s left, and the company will ship you a brand-new set for the price of the broken or missing part. For the Sesh, an earbud sets you back $15 and the case is $20. It’s not exactly free, but it does help to relieve the anxiety of possibly spending $40 several times a year if you’re prone to misplacing things.
All of that is in addition to the two-year warranty against manufacturing defects plus water, sweat, and dust damage. With its IP55 rating (for more, see our video on water-resistance ratings), the Sesh can take rain, sweat, and the dust kicked up from a desert-canyon hike. For occasional gym sessions, the Sesh will work just fine, especially if the earbuds fit your ears securely. That said, we worry that especially high-impact workouts will slowly cause the Sesh earbuds to begin to wiggle loose from your ear, and the sealed design isn’t ideal for outdoor running safety. For frequent exercising, we prefer the Aukey EP-T32 which has better water resistance and hooks over the ears to keep the earbuds in place during vigorous movements, or one of our running headphones picks.
The Sesh does a lot of great things for the price, but battery life isn’t one of them. Three hours per full charge is on the lower end for true wireless earbuds—and a lot lower than the battery life of our 1More and Aukey picks. In our tests, at 70% volume, the Sesh just barely squeaked out the claimed three hours. Of course, taking calls, pausing your music, and using different volume levels will affect the performance, and the charge case means you can always get more juice without plugging into the wall. But in a perfect world, we’d like our earbuds to last a little longer.
The JBL Live 100 earbuds deliver a more realistic sound and better build quality than other cheap wired choices; they also have a single-button remote and mic, and they come with a one-year warranty.
If you’re willing and able to skip the Bluetooth and go with a wired option, the JBL Live 100 earbuds make a great choice. Everything about them is a little better than what you can find among the vast majority of wired competitors in this price range: a little better sound quality, a little better design, a little better storage case, and a little better build quality. The JBL Live 100 earbuds delivered a more realistic, balanced sound than nearly any of the others we tested for this guide—and they were the absolute best of those featuring a remote and microphone. They produced more defined low notes and clearer, more detailed strings and consonants on vocals. And the fabric-wrapped cable and aluminum housing represent a step up in build quality.
We really don’t have much to complain about regarding the sound of the Live 100. In our tests, from low to high notes, every frequency range played well together, with no one pitch overpowering the others. The bass was slightly boosted, just enough to make the kick drum and bass guitar feel a tad louder in songs. We also heard some extra intensity on “t” and “s” sounds on vocals, guitar fret noises, and cymbal hits, but the added emphasis wasn’t fatiguing to listen to over time or at louder volumes. Overall, the Live 100 earbuds are balanced, clear, and well suited to any kind of music. They don’t provide the sense of space that more-expensive wired earbuds can deliver, but they do offer a bit more depth to the soundstage than the vast majority of the competition can produce.
The Live 100’s remote has one button to control play/pause, track forward/back, activating your device’s digital assistant, and call answer/end. The mic is nothing special; you’ll sound intelligible to your callers, but as with many microphones in this price range, it may pick up some wind and street noise when you’re outside.
You’ll see the most noticeable upgrade over similarly priced wired competitors in the Live 100’s design. The base of the cable is wrapped in fabric to reinforce its strength and help avoid tangles, while the upper parts that go to your ears are thinner, lighter, more flexible, and covered with a satiny rubber coating. This fabric-wrapped cable transfers more noise than those of some competitors, but not so much that we found it to be distracting when we were walking. This tin-can-telephone effect is common among wired earbuds.
We’d love a three-button remote and mic, but as more devices are being released without headphone jacks, fewer headphone companies are willing to put the money and effort into making earbuds with volume controls. Volume controls are device-specific, and making a different version of earbuds for every platform can get expensive. If you really need a three-button remote/mic, check out the Brainwavz Delta. It doesn’t sound as good and doesn’t feel as substantial, but it is still a viable option.
Whereas the single-button remote/mic is plastic, the earbuds themselves are made with more aesthetically pleasing aluminum. The ⅛-inch plug is relatively narrow and should fit easily through the headphone-jack opening in most phone cases. The Live 100’s selection of silicone ear tips includes three sizes, and they block out some external noise. JBL also tosses in a coin-purse-like carry pouch that will keep the Live 100 safe from pocket lint, and the company covers the Live 100 with a one-year warranty.
Other under-$50 earbuds we like
Aukey EP-T32: If you’re looking for inexpensive true wireless earbuds that can handle a workout or deluge, we really like the T32. These earbuds have an IPX8 rating, so you can literally drop them in a glass of water and they’ll survive. The sound is quite good for the price, with balanced lows and highs and only a little harshness to snare hits and consonant sounds. The tap-based controls are easy to use and don’t seem as prone to misfires as other touch-controlled earbuds we’ve tested. The hook-over-the-ear design means the T32 will stay in place during high-impact activities. However, they lack volume controls and the case is too big to fit in your pocket. Though the microphones can handle wind without too much distortion, their somewhat-quiet volume level will have your callers asking you to speak up. But if you’re looking for a decent true wireless pair to keep in a gym bag, the T32 is worth consideration.
Beats Flex: Folks looking for a more affordable way to get the Beats and Apple pairing experience will be pleased with this neckband-style pair of earbuds. The sound is quite good—the bass is forward, but not blurry or blobby. The fit is comfortable, and the controls are easy to use. We like the 12-hour battery life and the auto-pause function when the earbuds are joined around your neck via magnet. Folks with more than one Apple product will like the iCloud-based pairing, and if your friend has Beats or AirPods, the audio sharing feature is nifty. However, our top picks perform the basics just as well and cost less. Plus we wish the Flex earbuds were water resistant and came with optional wings to hold them in place more securely for a wider range of ear shapes.
Marshall Mode: This pair was a budget pick in our best earbuds guide. Originally priced closer to $100, these wired earbuds are now regularly sold for $50 or less, so we’ve moved them to this guide. In audio performance, the Mode is unmatched in this price range. During our tests, this set offered a nice oomph on the bass notes that didn’t smear the clarity of vocals or guitar, plus a greater sense of space than you can get from any other pair in this guide. The single-button universal remote lets you take calls, change tracks, and activate a digital assistant on most phones. The microphone is located higher on the cable near your face, which helps people hear you better when you take phone calls. We adore these earbuds, but we think most folks who are looking at this guide are seeking inexpensive earbuds that they can toss in a bag and forget about—and unfortunately, the Mode earbuds aren’t as rugged as the JBL Live 100 set. Although the slender cables can last you a long while with careful use, they are not designed to take abuse like the fabric-wrapped cables on the JBL earbuds. But if audio quality is your priority, and you treat the Mode earbuds well, they’ll treat your ears well, too.
Brainwavz Delta: If you need wired earbuds with a three-button remote/mic with volume control, these are your best option. This pair was once a favorite of ours, but over time its sound quality has fallen behind that of the competition. However, as more phones are designed without headphone jacks, fewer headphone companies continue to make inexpensive wired earbuds with three-button remotes. As a result, the Delta remains our three-button wired pick.
Panasonic RP-TCM125 ErgoFit: The RP-TCM125 was a top wired pick in the past, but sound quality in this category has improved since then. In our tests, this pair had a nice overall balance, with airy, mellow highs and a reasonable amount of bass. Nothing pierced, nothing muddied. In the end, this pair simply lacks the detail and the deep low notes that the JBL Live 100 achieves. But for $11 to $15, these earbuds are extremely affordable.