Not all audiophiles have the cash to stash for high-end headphones or systems. So we scoured the web and compiled a list of some of the best knock-off headphones and alternatives to their more pricey counterparts.
Wireless, Noise-Cancelling (Bose, Sony)
If you’re in search of a wireless, noise-cancelling headphone a-la Bose QC 35 or Sony WH-1000X but at a fraction of the $350 price tag, look no further than Anker Soundcore Space NC. This headphone is hands-down a cheap and impressive alternative for a mere $100. It’s built with a sturdy metal headband and ear cups covered in a plush synthetic leather. The noise-cancelling technology is stronger than expected and does a great job of lowering the volume on your surroundings. The ANC also one ups other ANC headphones in that the NC can be used when the headphone is wired or wireless. There are also touch controls to take calls and change your music. As for sound, it’s also impressive at the $100 price point. The low end is natural and energetic. The mids have a tiny bit of distortion but it’s nothing to cry over. Plus, there are headphones double the price that distort. As for the highs, I’ll quote my co-worker “buttery smooth vocals” and “pleasing instrumentation.” Yep, all that for $100. Read a review on Anker Soundcore Space NC headphones here and if interested, buy them on Amazon.
Truly Wireless (Apple AirPods)
If you’ve wanted Apple AirPods, there’s a rather popular knock-off that you can pick up for chump change – like $30 instead of $159. These truly wireless buds are called HBQ i7 Twins True Wireless Earphones. and they provide about 4-5 hours of run time over Bluetooth 4.2. The buds feature a multifunction button on the outer rim of the head. The buds charge using a unique dual USB cable which looks odd because you’ve probably never seen anything like it. However, the cable charges both earpieces at the same time, hence the funky set-up. Mashable (who is also selling these buds on their website) claims, “They’re perfect for your trip to the gym (with noise reduction and echo cancellation technology), your morning commute, or taking that call at work (yep, they include hands-free calling).” There are also other reviewers that say you get what you paid for. But $30 isn’t bad for a TWS starter pack. Grab HBQ i7 Twins True Wireless Earphones here.
If you’re willing to pay a bit more, a worthy choice is Padmate PaMu earphones. The earbuds aren’t white, but they are weirdly shaped and hang out of your ears. These earbuds rose to fame on Indiegogo. The campaign was successfully completed and orders fulfilled. Now you can grab the disc-shaped earbuds with secure sport fins for $79 off of Padmate’s website. The units are lightweight and the fins keep the buds locked in place. The surface of the discs are fixed with touch controls to pause, play, and skip back and forth between tracks. PaMu TWS buds support a 3.4 hour battery life and ship with a portable charging case that provides an additional 12 hours of playtime. As for sound, Padmate PaMu is heavier in the low end. The bass is also extended so you can really hear the sub-bass, though it covers some of the mids. The highs are present without being overly bright. It’s worth a $79 price tag, IMHO.
Triple Driver In-Ear Monitor (Westone W30)
Westone W30 is a three-way balanced armature dream. Though the price is more of a nightmare if you aren’t making the big bucks. At $399, it’s an IEM you’d definitely have to save for – or possibly make an impulse buy. A suitable substitute is FiiO F9 PRO. These affordable buds are built with 3 drivers: 2 balanced armatures and 1 dynamic driver. The result is crisp, clear, dry and well balanced sound. The lows are bumpin’ (but not overdone) while the mids have a nice equilibrium (though, they could have a bit more power behind them) and the highs are clear. The cable is also detachable with an MMCX connection so you have the option of making the entire unit wireless, as well. FiiO F9 Pro is $139 and available at Audio46 and Amazon.
Open-Back Planar Magnetic Earphones (Audeze iSine10)
There are very few open-back earphones on the market. A high-end introductory model coming from open-back experts Audeze will run you $349 (with a 3.5 mm jack). However, one retailer known for their generic-branded consumer electronics decided to make an affordable make of the same open-back planar magnetic earphone from Audeze. Monoprice Monolith M300 looks very, very similar, in that is it is a black conch-shaped housing with vents in the back. The M300 provides “a detailed aural landscape and will resolve all the sonic detail from the best recordings” while providing “spectacular imaging, low distortion, and perfectly balanced sound.” The unit ships along with a carry case, 3 sets of ear tips, 2 pairs of ear hooks, and 2 pairs of inner ear locks for extra security, and a detachable cable. Currently, interested buyers can nab Monoprice Monolith M300 at the lowest price on Amazon.
Wireless Sport/Fitness Earbuds (Bose Soundsport Wireless)
Bose Soundsport Wireless earbuds are a popular pair on the market, primarily for their bassy sound signature (cough… name). These buds run $200 and offer a sweat resistant frame with Bluetooth support and a sport fin to secure the buds in your ears, however a full battery provides a mere 6 hours of music playback. Bummer! A great option that skips the overly bassy lows, for a more balanced approach with a punchy low line is JBL Reflect Mini 2. It supports a whopping 10-hour battery life, a sweat resistant frame, and a sport fin to secure the buds in your ears. This option is $99. You can pick up JBL Reflect Wireless 2 at Audio46 or Amazon.