This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology.
If you're looking for the best in-ear headphones on a budget, get the Brainwavz Delta With In-Line Microphone. After 32 hours of research on hundreds of in-ear headphones priced at $40 or under, seriously considering 179 models, and testing 68 with our panel of audio experts, we found the Brainwavz Deltas are the best for the money. Our panel unanimously voted them the best-sounding of all those tested in this category, plus they fit comfortably in most ears and are a steal at $22. They sound better than the Apple EarPods, so if you're looking to upgrade or replace those or want something decent and inexpensive, these are your best bet.
How did we choose what to test?
After researching existing professional reviews, we looked at user reviews online to see what real people had liked and what had come out since our last post.
We then brought in a panel of audio professionals and musicians who were asked to listen and give their top picks. From there we took into account price and features, and in the end, chose a winner.
What made the Brainwavz Delta so fantastic? One panelist summed it up best: "These are the only headphones under $25 that don't sound like cheap headphones." The highs are clear with good detail, the bass is well-formed (with a slight bump in just the right area to add a lively kick to the beat), and the mids have a richness or lush, non-tinny sound and a sense of depth of space that is uncommon in this price range. Translation: Every kind of music sounds good on them. They also have an optional one-button remote and mic, so you can take calls and pull up Siri, and they fit various ear sizes and shapes.
Runner-up (still fantastic though)
Our runner-up was our previous winner, the Panasonic RP-TCM 125 "Ergo Fit." They have a nice overall balance with airy, mellow highs and present-but-not-dominating bass. All of our panelists put them among their top picks. They sound just as good listening to acoustic guitar as they do hip-hop and rock. They don't have the detail and depth of the Brainwavz, but for $14, they're really great. The TCM-125 have a single-button remote and mic and come in a variety of colors, too.
Bass lovers should check out the Sol Republic Jax. While these headphones aren't for everyone (or every kind of music), they are great for rock, pop and hip-hop. Our resident bass-head adored them and said they were his personal favorite. The bass is intense and can verge on the edge of sloppy in music that requires detail (so jazz, classical and folk lovers will want to skip these), but if you like to rock, these are for you. They have single- and three-button remote headphone options as well.
Non sealed in-ears ("earbuds")
If you absolutely need non-sealed in-ears (i.e. "earbuds") for more situational awareness, the best we could find was the Sennheiser MX365. They sound better than the Apple EarPods, but they have scratchy foam pads and don't sound anywhere near as good as our top picks. However, if non-sealed is something you need, the MX365 is your best bet.
Wrapping it up
Just because you don't have a huge budget doesn't mean you have to be satisfied with poor sound. The Brainwavz Deltas are more affordable than a new pair of Apple EarPods, sound better than anything else in this price range (including the EarPods), and can take calls and skip songs with the optional mic. Plus, at less than $25, if they go missing, get chewed up by your dog or get run through the laundry, you won't cry yourself to sleep at night when you need to replace them.
This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com.