Cheap can be good and these earbuds prove it.
Update May 2017: We’ve added the excellent Monoprice Hi-Fi Reflective Sound Earbuds as our choice for best sound.
A headset — earphones or earbuds (or even a single earbud) with a microphone and controls — is a different beast than a set of earbuds or headphones without a mic. For starters, not every set works with every brand of phone once you add the third wire. You need to make sure what you’re buying is made specifically for one brand (Blackberry and Apple come to mind) and will work with Android when you need to answer calls and adjust the volume. And when products are cheap, there are literally thousands of choices to wade through.
We searched around the internet to see who was using what and why they liked or disliked them, then ordered a handful of headsets that seemed to be better than average. Here are your five best, including the overall winner.
The Aukey Arcs wired headphones with microphone are the best set of earbuds with a mic you can buy under $20.
They’re comfortable, and the over-the-ear design keeps them in place for extended periods or while you’re on the go. Aukey uses a silicon-coated cable with fairly large strain reliefs at the connections so you won’t get things tangled up and they won’t need to be replaced very often due to loose connections. The sound, while not “powerful” by any means, is bright and clear. It’s perfect for talking on the phone or watching a movie or a show, and good enough for listening to music — which is exactly what you want when you buy earbuds with a mic.
What puts them over the top and makes them the best is the fit. Over-the-ear buds can be a chore to wear, but we put up with it if that’s what it takes to keep them in place. Aukey’s silicon cable and soft tips mitigate this very well and you won’t mind it nearly as much as you would with other brands.
Aukey is well known for making products that deliver the same features as the expensive brands do, and their Arcs headset is no different.
The best for calls
The NoiseHush NX85 is the best headset we tested when it comes to talking on the phone. The microphone picks up your voice while you’re talking naturally and the result is surprisingly clear voice calls on both ends. The NoiseHush NX85 also checks most every box when looking for a great set of earbuds with a mic. They have a flat tangle-free cable, easy to use controls to answer calls or activate any voice assistant and deliver surprisingly good sound when listening to music or watching a video.
The one place they are lacking is when it comes to the fit. The NoiseHush set suffers from the common malady that many earbuds do — they pop out too often. These just aren’t going to stay in place for active users.
The best value
OnePlus makes its headphones just like its phones: solid, if unspectacular design mixed with good quality components and a great price. The Icons have compact solid metal enclosures, come with a variety of tips and have a solid cable with an in-line mic and remote. The sound is very average, but will easily be an upgrade from the headphones that came with your phone.
You would expect to pay much more for a product this well made, and the OnePlus Bullets live up to the OnePlus standard of offering more for less.
The most comfortable
You wouldn’t expect a pair of cheap earbuds to fit as well as the Panasonic ErgoFit earbuds do. The sound is average but more than good enough for your everyday commute, the design and construction are acceptable for a product you expect to replace at least every year and the call quality also comes in at average. But when it comes to how they fit and how they feel when you’re using them, these take things up a notch. We’re not sure what the ear tips are made of, but they mold to your ear canal much like a set of disposable ear plugs do, then they return to their original shape once you take them out.
These would be perfect for listening to an eBook while you’re relaxing or any other time when the fit in your ear matters more than anything else.
The best sound
Monoprice Hi-Fi Reflective Sound Earbuds
These earbuds will handle calls and voice commands without any issue, but the reason they’re on this list is the sound quality when listening to music or videos.
The “Reflective” design points the drivers away from the ears so the sound reflects back. This keeps your ears from ringing or hurting, even with the enhanced bass response these buds deliver.
Monoprice promises these will rival a good over the ear design, and while we won’t go that far they do sound excellent. Especially for earbuds.
We couldn’t test every headset. You might have a pair of earbuds with a mic that you think are better than our picks. We’d love to know about them so we can give them a look, too! Let us know what you’re using and what you think of them in the comments, and let us know what you think of any of these brands if you’ve tried them.