You don’t have to shell out hundreds of bucks to put quality earbuds in your arsenal. Read on to find out how five of the best wireless earbuds under $50 stacked up to rigorous testing.
I like to think I’m fairly easy on my electronics. But when it comes to reviews, there’s a certain perverse pleasure in seeing just how much abuse a piece of gear can take. Especially cheaper items, which can be pushed to the limits without sweating your wallet.
And speaking of sweat and punishment, perhaps no tool in my kit has a more thankless job than my earbuds.
Rather than suffering in silence, I expect my Bluetooth earbuds to constantly perform on command. Whether it’s phone calls and voice chats for work, a session on the bicycle, or a trip to the gym, I rely on these little marvels to keep the world out and my sanity in.
And with so many options available, I could think of no better way to honor these lifesavers than with an old-fashioned budget battle.
The Lineup and Testing
How did I choose?
Simple! I picked a few from popular brands, along with those boasting a high quantity and score in their Amazon reviews. There’s also one from several other budget comparisons I came across, as well as a wildcard brand that reached out to participate.
The tests were fairly straightforward. A drop from a second-story window, an extended shower, and several hours in the freezer. All of these have real-world applications, especially if you live in a harsher climate.
I was going to write more about the torture testing but, surprisingly, all of the contenders cleared the hurdles. Left without any complaints, I decided to focus on the audio and ergonomic quality of the contenders. Over several days’ worth of ear time and a gym session for each, I got a pretty clear idea of their various strengths and weaknesses.
I broke these down into three categories, with a winner and runner-up for each. Here’s how they stack up.
Sound can be a hard thing to rank, since everyone has a slightly different shape to their ears.
Still, I’ve used enough audio equipment to have a basic grasp of what makes things sound good. My testing playlist included songs like Spiritbox’s Yellowjacket and City State’s Haven, along with quieter tracks like Sleep Token’s Atlantic and Repine from Pianos Become the Teeth.
Let’s start with the “not bad” models. For $20, the JLAB GoAirs have respectable sound. They offer three Equalizer (EQ) modes, along with a nice little voice to let you know which one you’re switching to.
Slightly above these were the Skullcandy Jib Trues, with a decently rounded tone that seemed to play best with pop music.
Then there were the Tribit FlyBuds 3, which, while somewhat quieter than the others at first, really came to life once you pumped up the volume. There’s only one sound mode to be had on this model, but it’s a good one.
The worst sound quality, by far, came from the EarFuns. These were sibilant, tinny, and intrusively unpleasant to listen to. And they weren’t content to inflict pain on me alone, as people commented that my voice seemed loud when using them for phone calls.
On the other end of the spectrum were the SoundCore Life A1s. With three EQ modes and a rich depth of sound, these offer the most fully realized and cleanest experience of the bunch.
They’re a worthy upgrade from my old Liberty Neos, another excellent product from this subsidiary of Anker Electronics. Though your mileage may vary, these were the audio standout of the test for me.
Controls and Ergonomics
Despite having the most intuitive controls (one tap for volume adjust, two to pause, three for EQ changes, and hold to skip track), the JLAB’s finicky touch interface made them somewhat difficult to operate.
Still, they rode very comfortably in the ears. They’re light and smoothly designed, in spite of a somewhat cheap overall feel.
The Earfun’s touch interface was also fairly clunky, and the strings of taps and holds were more difficult to remember. Not only this, but each command (including volume adjustment) actually makes the sound drop for about a second. That’s pretty annoying to deal with.
Plus, these were the largest earbuds of the batch, and they were generally uncomfortable to wear.
But the worst of the bunch were Skullcandy’s Jib Trues. While the Earfuns are bulkier, Skullcandy’s offering sticks out farthest from the ear. And the force required to press the buttons drove these into my ears anytime I wanted to adjust the volume or skip a track. It bordered on painful, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Coming in second were the Flybuds 3. These were one of only two versions with swappable plastic wings, which are great for added security. They also boasted the most reliable tap-touch setup, as well as straightforward controls. They ride close in the ear and were almost effortless to wear.
But the best ergonomics for wireless earbuds under $50 came from Soundcore. The Life A1’s press-button interface was rock solid, requiring only light presses with zero discomfort. The interface was close to the JLAB’s, though there’s no way to skip backward through tracks. Still, the wings held these firmly in place, and the overall feel of the materials was top-notch.
It was close, but the A1s came out on top.
Best Wireless Earbuds Under $50: Soundcore Life A1 ($49)
I’ll admit, I was leaning this way before the test even began. But if I’m showing bias, it’s because of my previous history with Soundcore, and Anker products in general.
From their sound quality to their excellent comfort and construction, the Life A1s were every bit as good as I expected them to be. Their rich audio and secure fit were a perfect companion to the elliptical and squat rack. These are simply the best wireless earbuds under $50 right now.
Add in the wireless charging, the highest life battery per bud, and the second most powerful case, and these were just a pleasure to use.
- Runner Up: Tribit Flybuds 3
With good sound and quality construction, these came in just a tick behind the top pick. But, it’s not just my familiarity with the winner that put them off the pace.
The lack of volume control on the buds themselves hurt, especially since their excellent touch controls don’t feature a use for the single tap. Still, I’m genuinely intrigued by this company.
The FlyBuds 3’s comfort and audio (once it’s cranked up) is excellent, and they’re onto something with that battery life and charging potential. I’d love to check out some of their other options, and I’d recommend you do the same.
The Rest of the Bunch
Of the remaining three wireless earbuds under $50, two are actually decent. While the Skullcandy Jib Trues featured a loud, pop-oriented sound, their bulk, painful controls, and cheap feel were fairly off-putting. Still, they’re available in some nice colors and passed all of my various tests.
For $20, it’s hard to find fault with the JLABs. They were comfortable, not-bad sounding, and offered a smooth interface with three EQ modes. I’m not a big fan of the case but, again, we’re looking at a decidedly budget option here.
That brings us to the EarFun Free 2s, which were just the worst. Despite their impressive spec sheet (wireless charging, IPX7 water resistance, 30-hour playtime), these earbuds were a chore to review. Their bulky design and modem-hiss sound were an affront to my ears on more than one level.
And the audio drop when adjusting volume was strangely maddening, as was their winner-tying price point. These came with rave reviews from trustworthy media outlets, so I’m genuinely shocked at how bad they were.
It just goes to show that, like ear-prints, everyone’s audio experience can be a little different.