My best budget headphones and earphones of 2018
Excellent audio quality for incredible prices
After testing over 50 newly released budget earphones and more than 20 headphones in 2018, I’d like to make up a personal balance. These are the best budget headphones and earphones of 2018.
Ever since I discovered amazing new details in the music I’ve listened to for years, on a Chinese 10 dollar earphone the beginning of last year, I’ve started buying more and more cheap audio products to see if they can deliver the same sensation as the KZ ATE did back then. Two years onwards, I now have an extensive collection of affordable earphones, headphones and Bluetooth headphones. Also, I now have a deal with a Dutch online shop to test out headphones of well known brands such as JBL, Sony and Sennheiser, to write about them and also to compare them with the Chinese offerings.
After so much testing, and writing articles before on Best Cheap Earphones On AliExpress and Best Bluetooth Headphones Under 50 Dollar, I’ve decided to sum up my absolute favourite cheap portable audio of 2018.
Without further ado: these are my personal best earphones, headphones and Bluetooth headphones of 2018:
Best new Bluetooth headphone of 2018: Oneodio Elysium
20–25 dollar/ euros
Beats by Dre? Sony Extra Bass headphones? Philips, JBL, House of Marley? You can do better — for a lot less money.
First of all, the Oneodio Elysium offers all the practicality you want from a wearable, wireless on ear-headphone: the thick earpads and headband are top notch comfortable, Bluetooth pairing is a breeze and they last more than 20 hours on a single battery charge.
The true star is the sound of the Oneodio Elysium though. It isn't very detailed and it's downright bassy out of the box — however, by tuning up the highs in an equalizer just once (for example from your device or the built-in one from Spotify), higher tones instantly become more pronounced and vocals and instruments sound more clear and lively. Better than, for instance, my Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series II that cost 300 dollar just five years ago. The sound is just so warm and energetic.
At the same time, the bass delivers a huge amount of fun. It’s thick and quick. It delivers a fast slam, making dance, pop, electronic and hiphop as uplifting as they get. Way more so than other likewise priced Chinese headsets, and even more than many offerings of well known brands listed above. The Oneodio Elysium delivers a party on your head.
Best new earphone of 2018: KZ ZSN
15–20 dollar/ euros
The KZ ZSN costs just 15 dollar — and offers truly unbeaten value for its price.
The ZSN delivers audio quality with huge clarity. The bass is tight, detailed and powerful, without overpowering other aspects of the music. Vocals are brimful with life and feel close to you, instruments are brought with great amounts of detail — such as string pulling from guitars and slams on different drums. The ZSN has a sweet, wide ‘soundstage’, with musical nuances coming in from your left and right. The separation between instruments or electronic layers is excellent.
If you’re currently on your Samsung AKG earbuds or Apple Earpods, the ZSN will open up an entire new world of musical detail for you. Even if you already have great Chinese earphones for under 20 dollar, the ZSN will still be a big step up — that’s how quick the developments in Chinese hifi go. The bass, mids and highs: they’re all delightful here. Just like the build quality, looks and cables of the ZSN, by the way.
For just 15 dollar, you and everyone in the world can up their music game, hearing and discovering new details in the music you’ve listened to and loved for years. The KZ ZSN is a fantastic bargain.
Best new headphone of 2018: OKCSC ZX1
This one is incredible. Not only in its looks, which are… definitely something else, but also in how they sound. The ZX1 is the third product and first original headphone design from the Chinese company OKCSC. So far there have only been 27 sales outside of China, which is not really strange considering their looks. Connecting two gigantic foam over-your-ears-and-cheeks earpads with a bow that looks like something from indian tales and some faux-leather to rest upon your head. What were they thinking?
The OKCSC ZX1 is clearly made for indoor alone-time. It’s fully open back, meaning you will hear loud outside noises through your music and others will be able to sing along when you listen to these. Also: you need to amp them to get the most out of them. They need sufficient power. My iPhone X can amp them quite a bit, but my OnePlus One and Xiaomi Mi A1 fail to do so. Having an amp or a DAC definitely comes recommended for this one.
So lock yourself up: the OKCSC ZX1 is out of this world.
The sound that they produce is unearthly for this price. The soundstage around you is huge, providing you with a sense of being in a classical concert hall, a record studio (for example with Diana Krall’s Temptation) to an intimate pub (Nils Lofgren’s Bass & Drum intro). The instrument placement and amount of detail is brilliant. Listen to guitars or violins and you not only hear the slightest detail in the output, but also every pull of strings. Electronic pieces too, sound deeply layered and somehow, often more analogue. Vocals, male and female, are closeup and crystal clear. The sound is on the warmer side, yet the tonality, the timbre, is just so incredibly natural. It comes straight of the instruments next to you.
The bass, on top of that, is nothing short of sensational. It’s always dead tight and sounds incredibly textured. It comes without any bloat and overdrive, but rumbles extremely deep when called for.
The upper mid peak frequency does require getting used to. Cymbals can sound loud and piercing in the beginning. Either it has smoothed down, or I've grown to like it — it's not annoying anymore anyway.
And it's really just a sidenote. The OKCSC ZX1’s incredibly natural sound signature and astonishing level of detail should be illegal for the price they go for.
The OKCSC ZX1 are just as insane as they look. Put them on, lock yourself up — and never leave your room again.
Some things you may like to know about this article:
- I test my earphones and headphones extensively by listening to them for hours and hours, take them for spins in daily use, take them with me on bicycle rides, test them at the office and more. I also compare them face-to-face a lot, by switching from one piece to another. If you have questions about cheap hifi you’ve encountered, please feel free to ask me in the comments.
- I did not include a category of truly wireless earbuds or TWS. Up to this point, I haven’t found any pleasing TWS offerings under 50 dollar. If you happen to know one with great sound quality, I’d love to hear it from you.
- Unfortunately, I have no speciality in gaming headphones.
Disclaimer: affiliate links
Planning to buy one of the headphones or earphones listed? Please consider doing it via my buying links. These are affiliate links from AliExpress or Amazon, from which I’ll gain a little percentage of the price. I only put links on products I truly recommend. Buying a product via such a link won’t cost you extra, yet it will support me a bit in my research on affordable audio. ❤
I’d also love to hear from you what you’ve chosen. Please share in the comments!
See you in 2019!