Headphones and earphones come in all sizes, shapes and budgets. And while you can pick practically any amount of money to buy yourself a good pair of headphones, the choices get more difficult as the price goes lower. When you don't have the budget for things too fancy, you might feel like you need to compromise. However, there are some impressive options available at under Rs 1,000, making access to good sound on-the-go all the more accessible even when you don't have a lot of money to spend.
We've compiled a list of the best affordable headphones and earphones at under Rs 1,000, to help you pick the best sound on a budget. There are some reputed brands in this list, along with options from headphone makers that you may not necessarily have heard of before. But first, let's try to figure out if this is something that's right for you.
Why should you buy headphones under Rs 1,000?
While a limited budget is the most obvious reason to get affordable headphones, there are other use-cases that would similarly be well served by these products. One of these is rough usage; if you have a particularly brutal commute to work that could put strain on the headset, or tend to just toss them in your bag loosely when you aren't using them, you may not want to spend much.
Apart from that, it might also help to own a second pair of affordable headphones for use in certain environments, including at the office or while riding a two-wheeler, or for hands-free calls. While there are on-ear options available at this price, most of what you'll find will sport an in-ear design.
The best budget headphone: 1More Piston Fit
1More is a fairly new name in the personal audio space, but has made quite an impact thanks to offering features and styling that few others do in similar segments. The brand has been pushing the boundaries with design and quality without driving prices up to high, and it's worked for 1More.
In this case, the 1More Piston Fit is among the best affordable headphones you can buy. It's priced at Rs 699 online, making it well within reach for buyers on a budget. For that price, there's a lot on offer in terms of design, build quality, comfort and sound performance, which is why it's our pick.
During our review, we found the sound to be excellent for the price, delivering a balanced sonic signature with detail that exceeds what can typically be expected in this price range. It's closely comparable to the OnePlus Bullets V2 which costs a fair bit more, but delivers on a similar level when it comes to performance. There's plenty of bass on offer, which will appeal to most users. Additionally, the bass doesn't hamper other frequencies, which makes this a good pair of headphones for most popular genres.
There are a few flaws to the 1More Piston Fit, including poor eartips and a lack of volume controls on the in-line remote. While there is a microphone with a single button remote for play / pause / call answer, the lack of volume buttons means you'll have to pull out your phone every time there's a spike on volume or if you just want to turn it up or down. However, the aluminium build, capable sound and attractive price makes this our favourite pick under Rs 1,000.
Buy: 1More Piston Fit
Runner-up: Sennheiser CX180
A classic entry in the space, we had reviewed this way back in 2015. The Sennheiser CX180 remains relevant even today, and is among the most popular affordable aftermarket options today. While it doesn't quite have the same build quality and sound as the 1More Piston Fit, it does have the price advantage, the comfort and the solid reputation of being a Sennheiser product.
Furthermore, Sennheiser has a more reliable distribution and service network in India, making the CX180 an easier pair of headphones to buy. Over the years, the price has dropped on this, and it's available at under Rs 800 today. In terms of sound, while it isn't above average for the price, it does fit the bill for most buyers in the category. You get a sound that is inoffensive and works with most popular genres.
Although there is no microphone or remote, you do get capable enough sound and the ease of mind knowing you own headphones from one of the most reputed brands in the headphone industry. If for whatever reason you can't go with the 1More Piston Fit, the Sennheiser CX180 is a worthwhile pick purely for affordable in-ear listening and nothing else.
Also good: Sony MDR-ZX110
Our pick for on-ear headphones, the Sony MDR-ZX110 is a classic, similar to the Sennheiser CX180. It's an old model that continues to be on sale, but what makes it special is that it is one of few headphones that offer a proper on-ear fit. The advantage here is purely in its fit, which is worth looking at for users who don't like the in-ear fit.
When it comes to sound, it's full and exciting given the price. This is largely thanks to the advantage offered by the larger drivers, and the Sony is among a rare breed of products that feature full-size on-ear drivers at a very affordable price tag. While it was earlier available at Rs. 990, it's now possible to get this headset at under Rs 700.
How we picked the best budget headphones
Obviously, the biggest criteria here is the price. We've selected both in-ear and on-ear headphones in this price bracket, offering users a choice of fit. Apart from this, we've kept the criteria fairly open for this one. All products mentioned here are reputed, well received among headphone users, can be purchased online easily and connect into a 3.5mm socket for easy connectivity.
Although a microphone and in-line remote is a good addition at this price point, we haven't made this a key criteria while choosing options. Many users often only use budget headphones for listening to music or the sound in videos and movies that they watch on their smartphones, so this list includes headsets that come both with and without this feature.
Fit style: on-ear, in-ear, or earbuds?
The low price threshold means that most products in this guide will be in-ear headphones. However many users do prefer on-ear or over-ear designs, and it is possible to get these headphones in this price range.
If you need something a bit more inconspicuous and easier to store, in-ear headphones are ideal for you. The small size will make it easier to slip into your pocket or toss into your bag when not in use, and it's also easier to just have one earphone on at times when you need to keep a ear open for conversations or to listen to your surroundings. The small size also tends to make use in crowded spaces (such as mass transit or the office elevator) a bit easier.
However, if you don't like the somewhat intrusive fitting of in-ear headphones, you might prefer the on-ear fit. These sit atop your ears and use larger drivers to give you practically the same volume levels, ensuring better comfort. However, the larger size of these headphones make storage harder, and could hamper easy use in crowded environments.
The third option is one that few buyers opt for now, but may suit many people. Commonly referred to as ‘earbuds', this are a classic earphone style that isn't favoured much anymore, but will be comfortable for anyone that doesn't like the in-ear fit. Sitting just outside the ear canal, earbuds don't quite offer the same level of sound isolation, but do enable easier hearing of ambient sound, and retail at the lowest prices.
Panasonic ErgoFit: Yet another popular option that hasn't changed much over the last few years, the Panasonic ErgoFit's only real weakness is its dated design. However, it is affordable and has sound that is capable, clean and more than what you'd typically expect on headphones priced at under Rs 799.
Xiaomi Mi Earphones Basic: Among the cheapest options on this list, the Xiaomi Mi Earphones Basic currently retail at Rs 399. For the price, you get decent looks, good build quality, functional performance and a microphone for hands-free calls, along with the trust of a brand that has built quite a reputation for itself in the Indian market over the past few years.
SoundMagic ES18S: Priced at Rs 649 or less, the SoundMagic ES18S is another capable product from a brand that has gained some momentum with its decent range of products over the past few years. Although not quite as popular as some of the slightly higher-priced products from the company, the ES18S is among its most affordable options available and sports a microphone for hands-free use as well.
Focal Sense: Although typically priced at just over Rs. 1,000, the Focal Sense is often available for under the four-figure mark online with deals and discounts. What you get is impressive design and a quality brand name - Focal is well-known for its high-end speakers and sound systems - for a very attractive price. You also get a microphone and remote on this headset.
Panasonic RP-HX250: Availability on these on-ear headphones is usually a tricky affair and the price is just over Rs 1,000, but if you look around you can find the Panasonic RP-HX250 for under Rs. 1,000. However, as is the case with the ErgoFit, these Panasonic headphones are dated, not quite as well built as you'd like and worth considering only if you're a fan of Panasonic's audio products.
Pansonic RP-HV094GU-K: The most affordable option in our list, this earbud-style headset retails at under Rs 300 online. It's simple and sits just outside your ear canal, making its fit non-intrusive and allowing for the user to listen to some level of ambient sound as well.
Realme Buds: At Rs. 499, the Realme Buds are a well designed, solidly built option at under Rs. 500. While the sound is a bit bass-heavy, the magnetic clamping mechanism, three-button remote and microphone, along with a kevlar fibre cable for added durability. This should make it significantly more durable than competing products.
Realme Buds, Mi Earphones, or others: Which are the best headphones under Rs. 1,000 in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.