Ben Durham

Premium headphones for cheap (how to buy in 2020)

the text with $507 and $299 crossed out, and "2020 PRICE $??" along with images of Bose QC-15 headphones on the left with Ben pointing to them in amazement on the right

Why even bother with premium headphones?

Once you’ve worn “good headphones” for a while, you don’t ever want to go back to cheaper ones. Not only do they sound better, but they’re also more durable which, in the long run, saves you a lot of money! But that doesn’t mean you need to SPEND a lot of money upfront! You can easily buy premium headphones for cheap.

In this post, I’ll go through all the expenses of buying used headphones, some of which you might not have foreseen. And then I’ll show you how to get your own cheap pair of headphones without being screwed over. Keep in mind I’m Canadian and all dollar figures are therefore in Canadian Dollars.

If you like watching videos more than reading, check out this blog post’s associated video! 👇

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My own history with Bose headphones

I got my own premium headphones for cheap (Bose QC-15s) in 2012 when I started taking public transit every day for college. I got a refurbished pair for $125 (after shipping and taxes) on eBay. They stopped working in 2015 for some reason, so I called up Bose customer support and paid another $125 for a replacement pair. Cut to July 2020 and I’m still using that same pair.

Bright lime-green background with a pair of QC15 headphones and iPhone 4 in the background and three wires soldered together, holding two severed side of the headphone cable together
Me, attempting to solder my headphones’ cable back together. Worked for a day then broke again haha.

In those 8 years, I accidentally cut the headphone cable and spent $20 on two new cables (after trying to solder it back together haha) and associated shipping costs. Then the ear pads wore out from everyday use in 2019, so I ordered new ones for $4.06 on eBay.

That brings my 8-year total rolling average cost for 8 years of use to $‭274‬. Aka $‭34.25‬ per year!

Cheaping out in the wrong way

So why not just get cheap, off-brand headphones? Last year, my girlfriend Natalia wanted some good-quality noise-cancelling headphones, so she bought a pair of cheap ones on Amazon. $75 and 6-months later, she was left with a pair of bulky, broken, over-priced pieces of plastic. We honestly didn’t expect this because I thought they’d at least last a few years! We were wrong.

Screenshot of Amazon "Mighty Rock E7" headphones purchase history for $74.99 on June 16, 2018
Natalia paid $75 for the headphones which broke a few months later – don’t cheap out!

Their sound quality was “alright” but the completely plastic build quality was their greatest weakness. After bringing them with her to work only a few times, the headband cracked. She prolonged their lifespan by using paperclips to hold them together for a year. But one day, just like that, they stopped working and turned into e-waste.

Close up of the Mighty Rock headphones' torn cable between the headband and earpad
These Mighty Rock headphones (purchased on Amazon) broke so quickly.

Not only were they flimsy but both of us found those cheapo-headphones to be incredibly bulky. If you’re going to wear headphones for long periods of time, you want them to extraordinarily comfortable… like Bose headphones!

Since the breakage, we held off buying new headphones, but the time finally came for her to get a new pair.

Buying our premium headphones for cheap

Having our financial goals set and at top-of-mind, headphones weren’t something we wanted to spend a lot on. Being frugally minded and knowing that we don’t need to pay $507.37‬ for the latest and greatest Bose QC-35 headphones helped with this. So, we hit up Kijiji. Thirty seconds later, I found a post from one day ago offering a pair of QC-15’s for $65. We were quickly on the road to finding premium headphones for cheap. Very cheap.

Screenshot of a Kijiji listing for "Bose QC15 Noise Cancelling Headphones for $65" in Toronto. These are the premium headphones for cheap.
This Kijiji ad was literally posted only a few hours before we looked it up. Perfect timing on our part!

The headphones’ earpads were disgusting and 100% needed to be replaced. That’s fine because they’re the same model as mine and we already know to just re-order the same new ones that I got for $6.16 on eBay!

Close up photo of the horribly disguising-looking headphone earpads
Pretty gross earpads. That’s what replacement earpads are for!

I asked the seller if he could lower the price to $55, they said $60. Deal. That’s how we got Bose headphones for a total of $66.16. And obviously no taxes on this headphone purchase because it’s after-market.

The real cost of shipping or pick-up

Whether you’re picking up an item from a retail store or Kijiji/Craigslist, you’ve got to include your cost of travel. Even if you manage to find premium headphones for cheap on Amazon Prime and order, you have to price in the cost of your monthly or annual Prime membership to get an accurate end-cost.

In my case, I just charged up my e-bike’s batteries and made the 35km roundtrip for probably around $0.20. Add another $0.50 for food-energy — $0.70 for that. Let’s round up to $1 for the heck of it. Now we have a total cost of $67.16! Debatably, that 35km trek cost me my valuable time… but whenever I go for a bike ride, I see it as a great excuse to get fresh air and much-needed exercise! It’s like an almost free gym membership!

Other potential expenses

No headphone jack? No problem

What happens if there’s no headphone jack on your phone? There’s an adapter for that. In Natalia’s case, her phone still has an auxiliary headphone jack, so our quote for her pair of headphones stays the same. In my case, I just got a “new” used phone for $350 which lacks an aux port. So $12.42 later on Amazon, I adapted my headphones to the future.

An Amazon product page screenshot of "UGREEN USB C to 3.5mm Headphone Adapter"
this USB-C to AUX adapter was $12.42 after tax

And if ports get removed entirely in the future, there are Bluetooth adapters (this, this, or this) out there that will solve THAT problem, too! All while you have “old” headphones from almost a decade ago!

Rechargeable AAA batteries

The QC-15’s don’t come with rechargeable batteries… and that’s actually my preference! You see, proprietary rechargeable batteries are actually something I try to avoid because they often get discontinued. That means by the time your batteries start to die a few years from now, you won’t be able to get a hold of new replacement batteries. Then you have to throw out perfectly good headphones.

I have a pile of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries that I regularly cycle through in all of my technology. Whether it’s camera equipment, mice, flashlights, headphones, smoke detectors, etc., $16 on Amazon gets you 8 AAA batteries that will last you years! I donated two to Natalia which she can swap out. I’m not going to include these in the cost because this is more or a household item. But I will round up to $70 for the final cost of these headphones!

Is buying premium headphones for cheap worth it?

In my opinion, yes, for sure it’s worth it! For most people reading this, it’s worth the few hours of your time to save over $400 on premium headphones! Actual audio fidelity changes so little over time that it doesn’t really matter how old audio equipment is.


I hope you enjoyed this post and that it helps you save a bit of money in the future! If you enjoyed this and if you haven’t already, please head on over to this post’s associated video and give it a watch for the full experience! Oh, and Like and Subscribe, of course, 😜

In other news, if you want to do something different with your money, check out my recent post on Investing $50 every day for 365 days!

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments section below (on this blog post or YouTube). Cheers!

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Ben Durham

Professional storyteller

Just an average person on a bike who’s focused on getting more people out of their cars and on to bicycles or electric last-mile micro-mobility solutions!

That, and rooting for active transportation infrastructure upgrades in North America (we need to catch up)!

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