The Definitive Guide to the Best Earbuds Under 50
In this series, I’ll focus on the best earbuds under 50 dollars. As a bonus, three of these cost just under $10. You can’t get any cheaper than this if you’re looking for a pair of high fidelity earbuds.
Some of these earbuds have been around for awhile. The famous Yuin PK3—released in 2008—made waves in the audiophile community. The VE Monk launched in 2015 and received the same positive reaction too.
Focus of this Guide
In this review, we will look at five great-sounding Chinese Hi-Fi earbuds. Most of these have a standard and unassuming OEM look. This is deliberate; the manufacturers focused on audiophile sound quality while ignoring aesthetics to bring you the best earbuds under 50.
One last thing: these are earbuds, not in-ear monitors (I’ll do a separate review for that in future). So while these earbuds may not offer sound isolation, they have incredible soundstage that rivals full-sized headphones.
Let’s take a look at the first pair.
5 Best Earbuds Under 50
1. Venture Electronics VE Monk Plus
History of the VE Monk
We begin this review with one of the most exciting budget earbuds to appear on the scene since 2015. It all started when Venture Electronics—or VE as they are commonly known—released a pair of earbuds that cost $5. People started snapping up these low-cost earbuds. They came delivered in a simple ziplock bag. There was no box, and no product description. Just a simple OEM-looking earbud with a set of extra ear foams.
However, word quickly got around. The VE Monk, despite its $5 tag, sounded big. It had a natural, warm tone and a wide soundstage. No one had ever experienced such tone in a $5 earbud. Needless to say, the VE Monk took the earbud community by storm.
Enter the VE Monk Plus: The Upgraded Version
Fast forward to present day, the VE Monk has been upgraded to the VE Monk Plus. It now comes with a proper plastic packaging (still no box, but no one’s complaining) and four sets of ear foams. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill black foams. Apparently these were specially designed to be extra thin so that the sound signature is not excessively colored.
The VE Monk Plus features a smoky see-through shell on the earbuds. A nice touch, in my opinion.
The price for the new upgrade? A grand total of $9.90. Even for a pair of earbuds that cost $10, audiophiles and earbud enthusiasts continued to snap these up, sometimes handing them out as gifts to friends and colleagues.
For its price alone, the VE Monk Plus is one of the best earbuds under 50.
The VE Monk Plus sounds big, warm, organic and fun. It’s big because it evokes a full-sized headphones experience. The soundstage is wide without being over analytical.
The tone is warm without excessively rolled off highs. Treble cuts through the mix clearly, and I can tell that the Monk Plus was tuned with a warmer EQ signature. I’d say there is a slight midrange bump in the tone. It’s not a nasal or overly boxy midrange bump, but an attenuation that makes guitars or vocals come alive.
The VE Monk Plus can be put to work on many musical genres, but it really excels at organic tones. Vocals, guitars and keyboards really shine in this regard, and the Monk Plus sounds especially lively with rock or pop music.
The VE Monk Plus handles low-end well. There’s no excessive, earth shattering bass here, but it sounds big. If I had to describe the Monk Plus in two words, it’d be ‘big’ and ‘warm’.
2. Yuin PK3 Earbuds
History of the Yuin
Any audiophile or headphone enthusiast worth their salt has heard of HiFiMan – maker of high-end headphones, amplifiers and portable players. What many people don’t realize is that it all started with the Yuins for HiFiMan.
Back in 2008, Yuin rocked the audiophile earbud community with three products – the PK1, PK2 and PK3. Each was tuned and priced differently. The PK1 required a headphone amplifier to drive it for a proper tone, and was over $150. The PK3 on the other hand was designed with a low impedance and could be used with an iPhone. It was also priced below $50.
That’s not exactly VE Monk pricing, but back in the day, not many Chi-Fi manufacturers were selling $10 earbuds. In fact, earbuds like the Blox TM7 and the Sunrise Charm were retailing for $100+ and $70+ respectively.
Why would anyone pay such prices instead of getting a Sennheiser? The truth is big brands were no longer investing in earbud technology. As in-ear monitors became popular with consumers, earbuds fell out of favor. Audiophiles who still enjoyed earbuds suddenly found themselves with a lack of choice.
Anyway back to the Yuins. The PK3 offered earbud enthusiasts some glimmer of hope. At less than $50, it almost sounds like full-sized headphones. The soundstage is incredible and extremely wide. The EQ was tuned for rock and pop music, so it offered a good amount of bass and a lively midrange. It also had just the right amount of treble to provide a nice top-end sizzle.
If the VE Monk Plus sounds big and warm, then the Yuin PK3 sounds wide and balanced. If you’re not a fan of overly warm tones, then the PK3 strikes a fine balance between warmth and precision.
Upgrading to a Yuin PK2 gives the listener more treble and a more precise midrange, like a set of premium cans.
If you can afford it, then the best earbuds under 50 is still without a doubt the tried and tested Yuin PK3.
3. Mrice E100
History of the Mrice E100
I covered an in-depth review of the Baldoor E100 in this post. I encourage you to take a look at the review if you’re keen on finding out more about this quirky earbud.
To summarize, the Baldoor E100 was originally designed by a Chinese manufacturer called Chintek. Due to the E100’s sound quality and affordable price ($20+ during its launch), it became widely popular. Then came along another company—GranVela Mrice—who cloned the E100 and released a similar set of earbuds. The irony was the Mrice version seemed more well made.
The Mrice E100 is quirky because it features an earbell design, and a triangle-shaped cord that’s tangle-free. The design of the striking red cable seems inspired by Beats-era IEMs.
Due to its earbell design, the Mrice E100 needs a bit of experimenting when wearing. Once positioned properly, the listener is greeted with a wall of sound. I’m not kidding when I say it feels like you’re listening to a wall of speakers, without needing to dial the volume to eleven.
Having said that, the earbell design may not be for everyone. But if you have $10 to spare, you might want to check out the E100 just for fun.
The Mrice E100 also comes in either black or white colors, and an option to add a microphone and inline volume/pause control.
4. Edifier H180
The Edifier H180 picked up traction during 2012-2013 as an affordable pair of earbuds under 20. In terms of design, it’s got nothing much going for it. It looks ordinary, like something you’d get when you buy a portable music player, or maybe even a smartphone.
Looks aside, the Edifier H180 sounds big. I know so far I’ve been describing all the earbuds in this review as “large” or “big”. But hey, this isn’t truth in advertising. There’s a reason why these are the best earbuds under 50. They’ve been tried and tested and believe me when I say there are plenty of $10-$20 earbuds that sound thin and trashy.
Not so for the Edifier H180. The soundstage is well-designed and instruments seem to have their own space. Bass is huge, and the highs are fairly well represented. If you ask me, it could do with a bit more refined top-end. Midrange pairs well with the bass to provide a tone suitable for pop and rock. In my opinion, the Edifier H180 has a bit more low-end than the VE Monk Plus.
5. MrZ Tomahawk MusicMaker Z
If you absolutely need a pair of earbuds that looks as good as it sounds, then consider the MrZ Tomahawk MusicMaker Z.
One thing about $10 earbuds is we don’t expect them to last a long time. It’s great if they do, but even if they fail after two years, we’re not going to make a big fuss. With that in mind, most of my budget earbuds are still going strong after 3 to 5 years.
The Tomahawk MusicMaker Z debuted in 2015 and features an excellent build quality. It comes in a bespoke metal alloy shell, and you get a choice of either black or silver color. In terms of looks, the Tomahawk MusicMaker Z tops this list as the best earbuds under 50. It has a retro look, and in a way reminds me of classic headphones like the Grados SR80.
Similar to the VE Monk Plus, the Tomahawk MusicMaker Z also comes with multiple foam covers. The internally braided cable is a welcome design and prevents cable wear for a long time to come. The earbuds have an earbell design similar to the Mrice E100. In this case, the MusicMaker has a protruding stem so using it is not as tricky as wearing the Mrice.
Tone is where the MrZ Tomahawk MusicMaker Z shines at. It has an incredible soundstage and a well-balanced tone. Instrument separation is clear and defined, and the depth is almost 3D-like. Put on a track that’s well mixed and mastered and the music comes alive.
Unlike the Edifier H180 which has a heavy low end, the Tomahawk MusicMaker Z sounds even and clean. The sub-bass is controlled, never sounding too woolly, and never bleeding into the low-mids. There’s a slight boost to the midrange which enhances the overall mid-frequencies of vocals and guitars.
The top-end’s clarity complements the midrange well. It’s never too sibilant. You could listen to the MusicMaker Z for hours and not feel fatigued.
Overall, the MrZ Tomahawk MusicMaker Z is a masterpiece of an earbud, both in the looks and tone department. Of course, it also comes at a heftier price tag. You do get to choose between a classic black design or an industrial-looking silver earbud. If price is not a barrier, then the Tomahawk MusicMaker Z is the best earbuds under 50, period.
So you’ve made it to the end of the review. Still unsure about which earbud to get? Consider the following tips:
If you’re strictly on a budget and want to spend the least amount that you can, then go for one of the earbuds under 10. The fairly new VE Monk Plus is an extremely popular earbud.
If you can afford to spend more, than the Yuin PK3 or the MrZ Tomahawk MusicMaker Z is your best option for the best earbuds under 50. Personally I’d recommend the MusicMaker Z simply because it looks and sounds great, and is relatively newer. The Yuin PK3 has been around for quite some time.
If you prefer bassy earbuds, go with the Edifier H180.
If you enjoy a wall-of-sound type of tone, pick the Mrice E100.
If you prefer a warm and organic tone, stick with the VE Monk Plus.
If you listen to a lot of rock and pop, pick the Yuin PK3.
If you prefer an overall balanced tone and excellent soundstage, choose the MrZ Tomahawk MusicMaker Z.
Perhaps you’re keen on sampling the different types of tone that these earbuds have to offer. In that case, $30 could go a long way. You could pick up the VE Monk Plus, Mrice E100 and Edifier H180 for around $30. This is great if you’re just starting out and trying to find out a tone that suits your style.
Some people prefer a warmer tone, while others enjoy a more refined high-end and less bass. Others put soundstage as their highest priority. Think of it as education – grab a couple of these earbuds and spend some time with them to discover your own taste.
Why not leave a pair in the office and one in your briefcase or gym bag? That way, you’ll never find yourself without a pair of earbuds.
The Future of Budget Earbuds
We’ve gone through five of the best earbuds under 50. I’ll be updating this review when I sample the latest earbuds in future.
For now, this is an exciting time for earbud lovers. While big brands like Sennheiser or Audio-Technica are no longer focusing on earbuds, independent makers and Chi-Fi manufacturers are picking up where the former left off. Considering the cost of materials and manufacturing (most of these are made in China), anyone can spend $50 and get a pair of great sounding earbuds.
If you think about it, the VE Monk Plus is the price of two cups of coffee!