Great headphones don’t always come with a premium price tag, and cheaper headphones shouldn’t automatically go back in the box. Thankfully, there’s a middle ground to work with, where the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 stand out as a fine example of the best headphones under $200 because of their superb sound quality, long battery life, and comfortable fit over longer periods.
Best Overall: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 have been on the market for a few years now, but maintain pole position for the great value on hand. The onboard media controls are highly reliable, and battery life is still long by today’s standards at up to 30 hours on a single charge. Plus, it doesn’t hurt they’re comfortable to wear for longer periods. One thing Plantronics accomplished with the BackBeat Pro 2 is a significant size reduction compared to the previous model, ensuring they’re comfortable on more heads. One caveat is that bigger heads may find the fit to be a bit too snug over time, forcing short intermittent breaks during longer listening sessions.
Plantronics likes to use a neutral soundstage in its headphones, and the BackBeat Pro 2 is a standard-bearer for the company in that regard. The bass is modest, yet audible enough to make them suitable for genres demanding more from the low-end of the spectrum, like EDM and hip hop. Even better, they’re not overpowering to the point of alienating other musical tastes, showing that they truly shine in their versatility.
The battery life is excellent, considering how long these have been out. Unfortunately, their age means you have to keep an aging Micro-USB cable lying around. Plantronics never updated these with a USB-C port, nor with fast charging capability, so they can take a good three hours to fully charge from empty to full. If you need these in a pinch, you’ll need to make sure they’ve got some juice left.
- Great comfort
- Long battery life
- Excellent, bass-boosted sound
- Tactile and responsive media controls
- Micro-USB for charging
- No fast charging at all
Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
$153 at Amazon $133 at Walmart $291 at Newegg
Playing nice for everyone
The BackBeat Pro 2 have a solid sound signature that works with most musical genres and run for up to 30 hours on a charge.
Best True Wireless: Jabra Elite 75t
When it comes to true wireless earbuds, this pair from Jabra earns its namesake. The Elite 75t hold a few key advantages over others, and it starts with their outstanding comfort. The slimmer and lighter design ensures a lack of ear fatigue after wearing them for long periods. The variable ear tips in the box can help create the tighter seal necessary to get the most out of the audio quality.
The default sound profile is good, but you can always skew it to come off the way you’d like. Jabra’s Sound+ app has an equalizer for such a purpose. It’s limited in scope, but still reasonably effective if you tinker with it. Out of the box, the sound is slightly angled toward the low-end — likely to offset any loss from the fit in your ears. It’s not over the top, by any means, and many genres will sound good. Without active noise cancelation, passive noise isolation is the next best thing, and it’s quite good here.
Jabra’s improvements extended to keeping the Elite 75t running longer. You can get up to 7.5 hours of battery life on a single charge. The included charging case carries an additional 20.5 hours, for a total of 28 hours. It does charge over USB-C but doesn’t support wireless charging of any sort, which is one of the only drawbacks for these excellent headphones.
- Customizable sound
- Long battery life
- USB-C for charging
- Water and dust resistance
- Excellent comfort
- Lacks wireless charging case
- No active noise cancelation
Best True Wireless
Jabra Elite 75t
$150 at Amazon $150 at Best Buy $150 at Walmart
True wireless prowess
The Jabra Elite Active 75t are a total package of great sound, long battery life, and superb comfort for any listening taste.
Best Wired Buds: 1More Triple Driver
If wired earbuds are your preference, the 1More Triple Driver are an excellent choice at a great price. The sound quality is aimed at those who want bass but equally care about the detail that comes from the mids and highs. Naturally, you’re not getting audiophile-grade stuff here, but you are getting a real bang for your buck. What 1More tried to do with the Triple Driver is not overdo it from one part of the spectrum to the other. The balancing act pays off, though the highs are slightly dulled at the highest pitches.
As far as comfort, they’re excellent, and a big reason why is the cavalcade of ear tips that come in the box. There are no less than nine pairs to choose from in different sizes, but also made out of different materials. Aside from the six silicone tips, you also get a trio of foam tips that are excellent at conforming to the shape of your inner ear to create better passive noise isolation.
As for the cable itself, you get the standard in-line controls to control volume, play/pause, and wake up your digital assistant. Battery life isn’t a concern since they’re not wireless, and the cable itself is nicely built with a Kevlar material for added durability. The only catch is that you will need an adapter if your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack.
- Premium design
- Solid, warm sound signature
- Superb comfort and fit
- Nine different ear tips to choose from
- Nice tangle-free cable
- Treble is slightly dulled
- You may need a USB-C adapter
Best Wired Buds
1More Triple Driver
$60 at Amazon $80 at Best Buy $85 at Walmart
Laying down the cable
The 1More Triple Driver are wired earbuds that are super comfortable, sound great, and don’t require pairing.
Best On-Ear: Marshall Major IV
On-ear headphones don’t always get a lot of love, but they’re out there, and if that’s your preference, the Marshall Major IV may be worthy. They won’t give you the noise isolation of over-ear pairs, but they arguably win in comfort because your ears are still largely exposed, helping them get some relief from pressure. However, they may also allow some sound to leak out to the public.
The Major IV go with a sound signature that does a better job than their predecessor did in letting the bass stand out a little more. It turns out to be a nice complement to the bright and warm highs and mids, maintaining Marshall’s heritage for doing right by guitars and string instruments. Rock and other guitar-heavy tunes come alive with impressive detail, but so do hip hop and EDM tracks that rely more on some presence from the lows. It’s obvious that these headphones were made for music above all else, though audiophiles may find things to nitpick about.
They can go for up to 80 hours per charge, which is pretty insane for any pair of headphones these days. While your mileage will vary based on volume levels, you still won’t be charging these anywhere near as often as other cans. Unlike the previous Major III, these have USB-C and wireless charging capability, though the latter can be a little awkward as far as placement goes.
- Good sound quality
- Comfortable fit
- Ridiculous battery life
- Unique design
- Wired and wireless playback
- Wireless charging
- Awkward wireless charging placement
- Balanced sound may not be for purists
Marshall Major IV
$150 at Amazon $150 at Best Buy
On-ear comfort and style
There are no headphones that look quite like Marshall’s, and these on-ears always play as well as they look.
Best In-Ear: Jaybird Tarah Pro Wireless
The Jaybird Tarah Pro may not be truly wireless, but they succeed in covering two areas at once. They are still wireless with a cable connecting the two earpieces and have been built with durability in mind. In other words, you can use these while lounging around or while breaking a sweat. It helps that they’re comfortable to wear in either scenario.
Sound quality is mostly balanced with an onus on the bass at the slight expense of the treble, which comes off as a pretty solid, consumer-friendly default. Being sporty earbuds, it’s not surprising they sound like this out of the box, but Jaybird has a secret sauce that is worth exploring. The Jaybird app has an equalizer, as well as a community of users who created their own presets to enhance the sound further. It’s an excellent tool to use to get the right sound.
They last up to 13 hours on a single charge. It takes roughly two hours to fully charge them, and unfortunately, Jaybird uses a proprietary cable, so you’ll have to remember to bring it with you if you plan on taking them with you for an extended period.
- Superb sound quality
- Solid battery life
- Great comfort
- IPX7 water resistance
- Plenty of EQ options
- Proprietary charging cable
- No fast charging capability
Jaybird Tarah Pro
$130 at Best Buy $130 at Newegg $100 at B&H
Rugged style and sound
The Jaybird Tarah Pro are comfortably sporty and sound great, and benefit greatly from the supporting app for better audio.
Best Open-Back (Wired): Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
Want over-ear headphones with open-back? The Beyerdynamic DT 990 are the ticket in. Headphones like these are great for home usage because they don’t try to isolate sound. They actually leak considerably, and that’s one reason why they’re designed a little differently for comfort and fit. The ear cups are a very soft leather that breathes more than you might typically find in other over-ear headphones.
They also sound fantastic, thanks to a balanced sound driven by the solid bass response that suits an open-back pair, even if they won’t match a pair of closed-back cans. You get a balanced mid-range to complement either end of the spectrum, including the treble, which is warm and bright in a way that may see some sibilance creep in. It’s a rare occurrence, but it can happen. For open-back headphones, the soundstage here is superb and should deliver as promised.
Being wired headphones, you’ll need to make sure you can plug these into a device with a headphone jack. Don’t worry about an amp because you won’t need one. While some open-back headphones work best with one, that’s not the case here. Most phones and other playback devices should be able to drive them.
- Open-back, natural sound
- Comfortable for long-term use
- No amp required
- Treble can be too high sometimes
- You may need a USB-C adapter
- Wired headphones only
Best Open-Back (Wired)
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
$149 at Amazon $149 at Newegg
Open back goodness
Beyerdynamic gives the DT 990 Pro the goods with a great dynamic range and soundstage, even if you’re restricted to at-home use.
Best Over-Ear: Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC
The Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC have a few years on them, but they’re still available because they’ve proven to be so good. Now that they keep falling price, the excellent sound quality the brand is known for is also cheaper. With superbly balanced bass and mid-range, the treble only slightly lags. It gives the HD 4.50 BTNC a more bass-centric sound signature, which is great for anyone wanting that.
It’s great that ANC is included, except that it works a little too well on both sides. When on, the effect not only drowns out background noise but also messes with the audio profile, leaving a more muted and distant sound. It’s best to use it sparingly.
Doing that also helps with keeping them playing longer. With ANC on, battery life hits a high of 19 hours, whereas it’s up to 25 hours without it. Keep that Micro-USB cable handy because there’s no USB-C, nor is there any fast charging capability. It takes a good two hours to recharge them from empty to full.
- Great, balanced sound
- Low sound leakage
- Long battery life
- Comfortable fit
- ANC has a big sound effect
- Outdated Micro-USB charging
- No fast charging
- Might be bass-heavy for some
Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC
$146 at Amazon $180 at Best Buy
Excellent sound for less
The Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC don’t win points for ANC but do for sounding great and doing it with solid battery life.
Best Neckbuds: Jabra Elite 65e
Jabra makes great headphones, and the Elite 65e straddle the line between leisure and office use, depending on how you look at them. They are comfortable to wear for long periods because the neckbuds take so much of the weight off the earbuds themselves. It also enables them to have better components and leave the heavy lifting to the neckbuds, which is also where the battery resides.
You might expect a longer battery than the eight hours you’ll get here, but the sound makes up for that. The one downside is they use Micro-USB to charge. There is also no fast charging, though you can go from empty to full in two hours.
What also helps with comfort is that Jabra puts seven different pairs of ear tips in the box. That all but guarantees a great fit, and with the right size, the sound only gets better. The bass tips the scales a little, but the mids are standouts here, and instruments sound resonant because of it. The call quality is also excellent.
The IP54 rating means the Elite 65e have enough water resistance to handle basic workouts, but they aren’t sports earbuds. And with ANC support, you can tune out the outside world, too. It’s not amazing on these neckbuds, but efficient enough to keep most noise away.
- Great sound
- Long battery life
- Superb comfort
- IP54 dust and water-resistant
- Excellent call quality
- Aging Micro-USB for charging
- No fast charging
- ANC is just OK
Jabra Elite 65e
$200 at Amazon $200 at Walmart
Tuned around the neck
The Jabra Elite 65e should feel just right around your neck and sound great while sitting there comfortably.
The best headphones can sometimes come at a bargain price, and that doesn’t mean they have to feel cheap, either. Mid-range options often come with solid features and performance when the combination is done right. The Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 are a great pair of over-ear headphones that still maintain that very combination, making them worth a look among the best headphones under $200.
The battery life is great at up to 30 hours per charge, which can amount to days of intermittent listening before you need to plug them in. They’re comfortable enough to wear for that long, and the sound quality will keep your ears engaged at any time.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar.