5 headphones better than beats for less money

5 Headphones better than Beats

Last Updated: January 8, 2024By

Headphones that are better than Beats for less money!

Let’s face it; we’re all suckers for a good marketing campaign. The Beats by Dre headphones are a great example of a mediocre product finding stratospheric success through marketing. When Beats by Dre headphones hit the market, they mounted a massive campaign that starred none other than Dr. Dre himself.

It didn’t take long for Beats Electronics, the company that produces the Beats by Dre headphones, to reach annual revenues of over $1.5 billion. In just a few short years, they have become so en vogue that the mighty Apple has agreed to purchase them for $3.2 billion—yes, billion dollars! Believe it or not, this purchase is Apple’s largest hardware acquisition to date.

Considering these headphones cost upward of $349.99, and with this level of popularity, they MUST be pretty good headphones right? WRONG! These are, by almost every measure, a terrible set of headphones. Truthfully, in the word of high-end headphones, $349 is not a lot of money.

The best headphones in the world can cost thousands of dollars and require specific headphone amplifiers to play. Beats Electronics must have done their homework to find the “sweet spot” where they sound expensive, leading the consumer to believe they are high quality, but not priced too high as not to sell. Bose has done a similar hat trick with their product line. 

But you didn’t click this article to hear about super-expensive headphones; you clicked it to know what set of “ear speakers” you can buy that will blow the earpads off Beats by Dre. These headphones are not in order of sound quality, which can be subjective, but based on our testing and experience, we are happy to say that any of these sets are far superior to what you get from those other headphones that are not much more than neck candy. 

You may notice that all of these headphones are wired and not Bluetooth. That is because (especially at this price range) wired headphones will simply sound better. Because we are not making any compromises in sound quality, we are sticking specifically with wired headphones.

The Grado SR-60s: $99.00

I wanted to start off with an example of a tried-and-true product that is crazy inexpensive and really demonstrates how silly the Beats By Dre headphones are. Grado has been in business since 1955, making only a few products including headphones and phono cartridges. The Grado SR-60s went into production in 1994 and has remained a well-respected product to this day.

These are not “over-the-ear” headphones, but give a balanced, clear, and accurate picture of how music is supposed to sound. Wait until you tell your 16-year-old that this $99 pair of headphones will make the Beats sound BROKEN.

One reviewer was quoted as saying:

“Everyone loves a thumping bass and kick-drum, but not at the expense of everything else. The Grado SR60e is your entry to the world of full-spectrum audio. You’ll actually hear notes you never knew were there.

Perhaps your audiophile friends have fueled a desire for the legendary Grado sound, but you thought it was out of reach. The Grado SR60e is your entry to the world of full-spectrum audio. You’ll actually hear notes you never knew were there. Perhaps your audiophile friends have fueled a desire for the legendary Grado sound, but you thought it was out of reach. Try a pair of Grado’s affordable open-back headphones and experience fuller, more realistic sound. Club-footed imports can’t match the sonic enlightenment from Brooklyn, USA.

Grado has taken one of the world’s most legendary headphones and made it even better. The SR60e has a new driver design, a new polymer to better damp resonant distortion in the plastic housing, and a new cable from the plug-to-driver connection. The way the SR60e’s new driver and plastic housing move air and react to sound vibrations virtually eliminate transient distortions. This allows the signal flow over the new cable to reproduce sound that has tight control of the upper and lower range of the frequency spectrum, while supporting Grado’s world renowned midrange. The SR60e will produce a sound that is pure Grado, with warm harmonic colors, rich full-bodied vocals, excellent dynamics, and an ultra-smooth top end.”

AKG K553 MKII: $239.00

The AKG K553 MKII Headphones are full “over-the-ear” or “closed” headphones. AKG K553 MKII combines the noise-isolating qualities of a closed-back headphone with the spacious, dimensional sound of an open-back design. They have a tremendous build quality with a full balance, but most of all they have tremendous BASS.

I thought they would be a good addition to this list because the marking of the Beats by Dre leads you to believe that you will have a thunderous bottom end—Dr. Dre jams to them, for Pete’s sake.

Once you put these on your head you better watch out. . . you’ll feel like you’re back in the 90s, in a Low Rider with ten 15’s, and having the police called on you for rattling the pictures off your neighbors’ walls.

Another reviewer was quoted as saying: “The AKG K553 MKII delivers excellent sound quality, with a two 50-mm drivers, the largest AKG offers in its headphone line. Thanks to their closed-back design, true AKG sound can be enjoyed without disturbing others.

The K 550’s large ear cups and newly designed headband offer an amazingly comfortable fit. 2D-axis folding mechanism for easy storage at home. “A reference class headphone at an attractive price.”


HIFIMAN is a relative newcomer to high quality headphones, but they sure do beat out the Beats by Dre! While all of the other headphones on our list use dynamic drivers, the HIFIMAN Sundara have planar magnetic drivers.

Planar Magnetic drivers, while not as widely found in everyday consumer items as dynamic drivers, are a key component in many top-tier headphones (costing thousands of dollars) and audiophile speakers such as Magnepan (known as Maggies). This type of driver feature a slim, flat membrane interwoven with a conducting wire. Adjacent to this membrane, a magnet is strategically placed. As the electromagnetic signal courses through the wire, it causes the membrane to move.

The HIFIMAN Sundara headphones have a very well balanced and neutral sound. Like most planar magnetic drivers, they are very fast, dynamic and detailed and produce an awesome soundstage across your brain. Although the bottom end is very accurate, the bass can seem a little light compared to the AKGs mentioned above.

Because of their accuracy, if you are not using high quality electronics to drive them, they can sound a little tinny in the upper midrange and lower treble. They are very comfortable and work well for longer listening sessions. If you have invested in a high quality headphone amplifier, these are are the headphones for you!

To that point, one guy that did a review on them connected them directly to his hi end tube amplifier at his home and had this to say about them.

Further, running the Sundara off the speaker taps of my Cary SLI-80 amplifier, the Sundara was taken even a step towards head-fi heaven. No lacking bass whatsoever. The mid-range was brought forward in an utterly delicate way. No more traces of slight edginess in the treble, just effortless-sounding detail.

The Headphoneer

Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X: $118.72

The Audio Technica ATH-AD700X is not only a great sounding set of cans for the price, they win the award for the longest model number. The ATH-AD700X are a lightweight and comfortable open back headphone. They seem to have a slight dip in the midrange which most people like. That slight tip down in the midrange makes them fantastic for vocals and acoustic instruments (this is where many headphones can sound grainy). The top end of the Audio Technica ATH-AD700X is very accurate and never sounds piercing, but could get a little harsh if pushed hard.

If there is a downfall to this otherwise very good headphones at under $120, its the bass. They seem a little bit rolled off in the deep bass and in the mid bass.

They are a little bulkier than some other headphones, about the size of the Beats by Dre, but these are somehow extremally light. The Audio Technica ATH-ADX700CXs are very comfortable with a ear cushion that just feels good.

Some guy from What HiFi was quoted as saying:

These Audio Technica ATH-AD700X headphones are well suited for home-listening. Their incredibly open and airy sound is the biggest attraction point – few other headphones at this price can match that scale of space.


The overall tonal balance of these headphones are a little different, they are what many consumers are looking for. If you are wanting more of a traditional “flat” headphone, you may want to try the Grados.

Grado SR-80X: $125.00

You may have noticed that I’m a huge Grado fan when competing at this price range. And at 1/3 of the cost of Beats by Dre, they should be on your shortlist for a great set of headphones for well under $150. The Grado SR80 was the very first headphones every made by Grado and stands as their longest production set of quality cans.

The Grado SR80X sound a lot like the SR60s mentioned at the top of the article, but these are a little bit more refined. The bass is better, the midrange is better and the top end just sings. The SR80X is the 4th generation of the SR80 and sports a more powerful magnetic circuit and a new diaphragm. But much like how Stratovarius could consistently produce a signature sound, these Grados just keep getting better and better.

The Grado SR80X have a very impressive soundstage and a great sense of air. They get the ever-so-critical midrange right so vocals sound marvoulous. As with most open back headphones, they do lack a tiny bit of deep bass but overcome that with a warm and lush midbass.

This chick from Tech Radar said they were “The best affordable on-ears we’ve tested”. She went on to say:

You’d usually have to pay much more for a pair of audiophile-grade headphones such as these. But Grado has made an excellent package that costs only $125. Sure, a fair bit is missing if you compare them to the best headphones money can buy (there’s no noise cancellation for a start), and you’ll have to accept a more traditional wired connection. But after spending a few weeks with them, they emphatically deserve a place in TechRadar’s best on-ear headphones guide and could even give some of the best over-ear headphones a run for their money.

Becca Caddy of Tech Radar

So when should you get the Grado SR80X and not the SR60X? Well, if you can spend the extra $25, its worth the money. I do understand that is a 25% increase, but they are better in every way for sure. As a matter of fact, if you want to take another jump, you may want to look at the next level up…the Grado SR 125X at $175 a pair. Like the 80s to the 60s, much of the same sound…just better in every area.


To sum up why the Beats by Dre headphones are so crappy, they seem to have focused entirely on digital marketing and not on what type of product they were producing. At the end of the day, I guess it worked: they sell like hotcakes.

As the best example of the polar opposite of the Beats by Dre headphones, take a look at what is widely considered the best headphones in the world, the Stax Earspeaker. These electrostatic headphones cost upward of $5000 and need additional hardware just to play. These headphones can produce the sound of hi-end speakers such as Sonus Fabers or Spendor. 

My guess is you’ve never heard of them, and that could be likely because they focused more on their product and less on marketing the product.

Reviews to your Inbox

Get the latest high end reviews directly in your Inbox

Leave A Comment