Audiophile gears are now more accessible more than ever. Thanks to Chi-Fi, budget options that punch way above their price point are now more accessible and more affordable. But with all the options in the market, things may get confusing for newbies.
If you are looking to take your first steps in the audiophile hobby or if you want to get something for your non-audiophile friends without breaking the bank, then we have the perfect guide for you.
Our top recommended picks include the VE Monk Plus, Philips SHP9500, KBear KS2, and ddHiFi TC35B. But of course, there are lots of items on this list. So make sure to keep on scrolling to find out more.
Budget Audiophile Gifts – Earbuds, Headphones, and IEMs
KBear Stellar, Vido Earbuds, VE Monk Plus – Best Budget Earbuds
If you are looking to introduce someone to the world of portable Hi-Fi or if you are looking for your first purchase and do not want to break the bank, then the KBear Stellar, Vido, and Monk Plus earbuds are quite possibly the best deals.They may look like the basic earbuds that come with your smartphone. However, their sound quality is guaranteed to surprise you with sound quality that is only usually seen in way more expensive models.
The Monk Plus, Stellar, and Vido earbuds look very similar on the outside. They use the same basic shell design that fits most ears. The real difference can be found in the sound signature of each earbud.
The KBear Stellar has a more laid back sound that is easy to listen to. The treble region isn’t as extended as the Monk Plus. But it still manages to pull enough detail for an enjoyable listening experience.
The Vido Earbuds, on the other hand, has a bassier sound signature with better extension on the high-end. The bass that’s coming out of these IEMs will surely surprise you since earbuds typically can’t produce great sub-bass. But it’s not all bass since the mids and highs are still fairly competent and will still give plenty of details for you to enjoy.
Lastly, the Monk Plus has a more analytical and open sound compared to the other two. It can still produce enjoyable bass, but it won’t be as aggressive as the Vido. Instead, it focuses more on the detail retrieval on the mids and highs.
Regardless of which earbuds you choose, you are guaranteed to have an enjoyable experience that is a lot better than your usual stock smartphone earbuds. And if you accidentally break or lose these, replacing them won’t be too difficult thanks to their low asking price.
You can also do some additional mods to improve the fit, comfort, and sound. The most common ones include adding/replacing the ear foams and modding the cable to MMCX or a fixed braided cable. And you do not need to worry about experimentation since the low price makes them easy to replace.
Overall, if you want the best sound experience for the lowest price, then these earbuds are hard to beat.
KBear KS2 – Best Budget IEM
If you want to step up from the entry-level earbuds we talked about, or if you just want to experience what IEMs have to offer, then the KBear KS2 is our top recommendation. The KS2 is KBear’s entry-level IEM featuring a dual hybrid driver configuration (1 BA + 1 DD).
It has a warm and fun-sounding signature. It has a V-Shaped signature where the bass and highs are boosted, and the mids are slightly recessed. This kind of sound signature works with a wide variety of genres.
Its bass response, in particular, is quite stellar. It is easily one of the best performing in its price range. It is punchy and detailed without bleeding into the midrange.
The mids are natural-sounding and are still quite detailed. This is despite the noticeable recession. The highs are smooth and are relaxing to listen to.
For an entry-level pair, it checks all of the right boxes. Of course, it won’t perform as well as higher-end models. But if you just want to upgrade from your stock earbuds, these should be an easy pickup. Head on to our full review to learn more.
Philips SHP 9500 – Best Budget Open-Back Headphones
If you are looking to experience what open-back headphones have to offer, then the best performing budget pair is the Philips SHP 9500. These headphones are well known in the audiophile community as one of the best bang for the buck open-back pairs.
Its sound quality alone already punches way above its price point. While it isn’t a Sennheiser HD600 killer, it still does a lot of things right and is a mainstay in a lot of enthusiasts’ headphone collection.
The build quality is excellent in this price category. Despite being predominantly built with plastic, the plastic used is high-quality and comparable with the build of other mid-tier headphones. It features a 3.5 mm detachable cable that can easily be replaced with other aftermarket cables. This also means that it is compatible with the popular V Moda Boom Pro microphone, which turns this headphone into a gaming headset.
Those features are great to have on a budget headphone, but the real star of the show here is the sound quality. The SHP 9500 has great clarity and detail retrieval. It has a smooth high-end that is well controlled and prevents sibilance. The bass is still present but isn’t as pronounced as closed-back headphones. The midrange is also a bit cessed for this pair.
Despite having an intimate soundstage, the imaging is excellent. Its ability to help discern the position of sounds has helped make this a popular pair for competitive gaming. The sound signature is very pleasing and would satisfy anyone who is limited to this price range.
Overall, the Philips SHP9500 is quite possibly the best sounding pair that you can get in the budget category. Its versatility is excellent since it performs well both in music listening and gaming. It has a few things that can be improved, but overall, this is a competent pair that could easily belong in the midrange price category. If you are interested in a budget open-back pair of headphones, this is the one that you should check out.
Takstar Pro 82 – Best Budget Closed-Back Headphones
If you are looking for a full-sized closed-back headphone, then one of the best deals that you can get is the Takstar Pro 82. This model is highly regarded as a great budget alternative to the ATH M40X and M50X. Audio Technica does offer a budget model. However, we think that the Pro 82 provides better value in terms of sound quality and accessories.
In terms of the build quality, the Takstar Pro 82 is well built for its price. It is utilizing a plastic construction with some metal reinforcement on the hinges. It is, of course, not as rugged as higher-end models, so do not just throw these around and expect them to survive.
The Takstar Pro 82 does come with a metal flight case, so transporting this should not be an issue. Headphones that are twice or thrice its price do not even come with a hard case, so this flight case alone already makes the Pro 82 a great product.
Additionally, the Takstar Pro 82 features a removable cable. This is a great feature since the cable is usually the first thing that breaks in most headphones. It also means that you can change the cable to a longer or shorter size, depending on your needs. This feature is not included with both of Audio Technica’s budget models, M30X and M20X.
In terms of the sound quality, the Takstar Pro 82 is mostly leaning on the flat and neutral side. It is more accurate than the similarly priced Audio Technica ATH M30X and is a lot more similar to the M40X. It does not extract as much detail as the higher-end models but is passable enough for monitoring.
The Pro 82 also features a bass dial that can color the sound for music listening. This may ruin the already great sound signature for some songs. But it is a great addition and is something that you can experiment with. Overall, if you are looking for a budget monitoring pair with lots of included accessories, then the Takstar Pro 82 is a great choice.
DAC/Amps and Bluetooth Receivers
If you want to improve your smartphone listening experience but do not want to spend too much with large portable DAC/Amps, then the next best budget purchase you can make is the ddHiFi TC25B and TC35B. These small dongles have a unique design that eliminates the extra cable found on most dongles. They are also quite possibly the smallest DAC/Amp on the market.
Both units don’t add too much bulk to your IEMs. You can even leave them plugged into your IEM, so you will never forget to bring it with you.
In terms of their build quality, the TC35B and TC25B have an all-metal build. Both units have a solid feel that truly inspires confidence in the products. You can use them without worrying about sudden failures in the circuit or in the build.
Both units look very similar. The only differences are the writing on the bottom, the slightly more compact design of the TC25B, and of course, the inputs. The TC25B accepts 2.5mm inputs while the TC35B accepts 3.5mm inputs. However, the TC25B does not have a truly balanced circuit, which we will be discussing.
In terms of sound quality, both dongles feature the ALC5686 DAC chip from the company Thitronix. This gives both devices ample amplification power and detail in its sound quality. This is quite interesting to see given how small the two devices are.
Both DAC/Amps are leaning close to neutral, with slight hints of warmth. This is most evident with its rolled off highs and emphasis on the lows and mids.
They can extract an impressive amount of detail, given its small size. The bass and mids have a transparent presentation. I never felt as if the lows were too thin or the mids were off. It always sounded good with the test IEMs that we used (KBear Diamond, BGVP VG4, and BQEYZ Spring 2.).
It does start rolling off in the upper treble. What this does is it helps reduce any harshness that you might encounter from bright sounding IEMs. This was evident in IEMs such as the Moondrop SSR, where the highly energetic upper mids and treble were kept under control.
As mentioned earlier, the TC25B does not have a fully balanced circuit. This means that it will not give the same benefits as the balanced outputs of DAPs. You won’t get a more detailed sound or more a more powerful output. However, this is still the most convenient way of using your 2.5mm IEMs since you don’t have to convert them first to 3.5mm.
Overall, if you want the smallest DAC/Amp in the market but still want good quality audio, then make sure to check out the ddHiFI Tc25B and TC35B. You can learn more about the TC35B and TC25B in our full review.
If you want a more resolving DAC/Amp that’s still on the budget side, then we recommend going for Bluetooth receivers. One of our top picks in this category is the Fiio BTR3. Its portability and versatile feature set make it hard to beat in its price range.
The BTR3 has a small form factor that is smaller than traditional portable DAC/Amps. The main appeal of these kinds of devices is that they connect to your smartphone, DAP, or any other device that supports Bluetooth and will essentially make any pair of IEMs or headphones wireless.
It can also connect to any device that supports USB and can be used as a desktop DAC/Amp.
The Bluetooth on the BTR3 is very well implemented. The latest Bluetooth 5.0 technology is used. It also supports a good amount of codecs, specifically LDAC and APTX HD. Both of these codecs allow minimal latency when watching movies or playing video games.
In terms of sound quality, the BTR3 is very impressive. The DAC chip used is the AK4376. The BTR3K has a respectable amount of power for a portable device. It is similar in the strengths and weaknesses of the other two budget DAC/Amps on this list. It is meant for portable devices, so it isn’t surprising if it can’t handle hard to drive headphones.
The sound signature is fairly neutral and competitive with the likes of the Radsone ES100. The ES100 includes a 2.55mm balanced output while the BTR3 does not. Fiio is rolling out the update to the BTR3, the BTR3K. It includes a 2.5mm balanced output and sports dual DACs. We will be updating this list once it is released.
Overall, for a device that is primarily built for convenience, the BTR3K packs a punch. If you are looking for a small and lightweight DAC/Amp that seamlessly connects to your smartphone, then the BTR3 is for you.
Fiio M3 Pro
Lastly, if you are looking for a DAP, then one of the best budget options is the Fiio M3 Pro. This model serves as the successor to the original Fiio M3K, which was widely regarded in the audiophile community. But unlike the M3K, the M3 Pro is way more competitive, boasting more features, better build quality, better sound quality, and better aesthetics.
The first major change in the M3 Pro is its new touch screen interface. This is a major leap in terms of convenience and functionality over the M3K’s button-based design. The other major change is the form factor.
Its new sleek design and black color scheme feel familiar as it closely resembles the more expensive Fiio M6. There is also an included glass screen protector on the front and back, which further adds to the premium feel of the M3 Pro.
The OS is well executed. It is fast and reliable and has a similar layout to the Fiio Music app that is found in most Fiio devices. The DAC has also been upgraded to the ESS 9218P, which is now more competitive with more expensive DAPs.
Another great addition is the USB Type-C connection. This not only adds to the convenience of the product, but it also adds more functionality. Digital audio output is now supported, making the Fiio M3 Pro more versatile since it can now connect to external DAC/Amps such as the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label.
The Fiio M3 Pro has features that were only available on more expensive DAPs. With its upgraded DAC, good file format support, and digital audio output support, it is arguably the best in the budget price range.
Azla SednaEarfit Xelastec
Getting a good fit for your IEMs is very crucial. If they don’t fit in your ears, then you won’t hear the IEM’s intended sound signature. The stock ear tips that come with IEMs do a great job. However, with how different each person’s ears are, these won’t always work.
However, if you want to achieve an alternate feel, better isolation, or if you want to experiment with slight sound alterations, then aftermarket ear tips are a great addition to your setup. One of our favorite ear tips is the Azla SednaEarfit Xelastec Eartips.
Unlike your usual silicone and foam ear tips, the Azla Xelastec Ear Tips uses a unique material. These ear tips utilize TPE plastic, which is more flexible than silicone but more durable than foam.
One great feature of these ear tips is that they slowly mold to the shape of your ears after wearing them for some time. And once you take them out, they slowly return to their original form,
These ear tips are also quite tacky, which makes them more secure inside the ear. However, the downside to this material is that they easily get dirty. We highly recommend cleaning them more often than silicone ear tips. Azla has specific instructions on how to clean these ear tips since isopropyl alcohol will destroy the coating.
Also, take note that these ear tips usually run one size larger than most ear tips. So if you usually get medium-sized ear tips, you will have to get medium-small (MS) Azla ear tips.
Overall, if you are looking to achieve a better fit and are tired of the usual silicone and foam ear tips, then we highly recommend giving these a try.
ddHiFi adapters and carrying case
DDHifi makes some of the best quality and most affordable cables in the market. They sport a unique design with a minimalistic form factor that helps make them both stylish and functional. They have a wide array of options, which include tiny USB Type-C DAC/Amps to balanced to unbalanced connectors. For a more in-depth look, you can check out our reviews.
Additionally, ddHiFi makes great quality cases that help fit all of your audiophile accessories. We have previously showcased them in our full review.
If you carry a lot of audiophile equipment while on the go, or if you need adapters and other accessories, then make sure to check out ddHiFi’s offerings.
Stephen is a musician, cinematographer, and headphone enthusiast who is passionate about reviewing audio equipment. He has been playing guitar for at least a decade, which introduced him to professional recording equipment such as headphones and in-ear monitors. With the help of reviews and online content, he was able to learn the ins and outs of the hobby. His goal is to give back to the community by providing quality content to help others enjoy the beautiful (and expensive) world of audio.
Favorite Headphones: Sennheiser HD660s