The best cheap headphones never fail to surprise us. We've been listening long enough to remember when cheap headphones really were nasty, but today's budget bargains are way beyond even the pricey headphones we used to save up for. The incredible audio advances in the best wireless headphones and the best wired headphones trickle down quickly to more affordable models, and you no longer need to spend big sums to get a big sound.
Maybe affordable is a better word than cheap, because the latter implies poor quality – and the best affordable headphones are anything but. We're talking high quality, high performance headphones from some of the biggest names in audio, and there are some absolutely brilliant options for noise cancelling headphones, headphones for listening to podcasts and headphones for the gym too.
Some of the best affordable headphones are so good that you'll find some of them in our other guides where price isn't a priority: guides to the best wireless earbuds, the best noise-cancelling headphones, and best noise-cancelling ear buds where sound and technology really matter.
We're not going to exaggerate, though. If you're looking for an audiophile experience that makes your ears tingle like they've never tingled before, you're unlikely to find that here: you'll usually find that the best wired headphones often but not always outperform their wireless and more affordable rivals. But they cost a lot more too.
We think you'll be surprised by how much musical bang for your buck you'll find here. Let's discover the best headphones for you.
How to choose the best cheap headphones for you
The first thing to think about is what you’re going to be listening to and where you’re going to be listening to it. A modest pair of in-ear headphones with noise cancelling may be better for listening to podcasts on the bus or tube than a giant pair of over-ear headphones, and in-ears are often better for the gym or a run than over-ear headphones. Wireless headphones are brilliant provided you’ll remember to charge them, and true wireless – where there’s no cable connecting left and right – are ideal unless like us, you’re prone to losing things.
In addition to comfort and cables or battery life, look at the frequency range. Headphones typically deliver frequencies from around 20Hz to 20KHz; the lower number is the lowest frequency, which is where the bass lives. Some headphones go lower than 20Hz, which can mean better bass – but quality counts too. Headphones that deliver too much bass without sufficient clarity can sound overly boomy and messy.
Let’s look at our current favourites.
The best cheap headphones today
Cambridge Audio is well known for its high-end audio kit, and its true wireless earbuds sound as good as you’d hope. In terms of sound quality they punch way above their price bracket thanks to excellent sound isolation, graphene drivers and high-quality Bluetooth aptX, and include great battery life.
Because of the unusual design, it's hard to tell which bud is left and which is right, and the fitting them securely takes a bit of practice. Once mastered, you're most unlikely to be disappointed, however, especially at this price – as our full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ review explains.
These are at the top of our limit for headphones we'd consider budget, but if you stretch to them, they're simply a fantastic buy. That's why they won Best Value Headphones at the T3 Awards 2021!
Unlike a lot of other cheap headphones, the Panasonic RZ-S500W true wireless earbuds have literally tonnes of extra features to play around with. Not only do they have both noise-cancelling and ambient sound modes but you’ll actually be able to choose how much noise you want to block out. You just need to slide up or down the scale on the Panasonic Audio Connect app.
The audio quality is impressive no matter what music you’re into - it’s punchy, balanced and precise. But what’s really good is that there are manual equaliser settings as well as two sound enhancement modes, those being Bass Boost and Clear Voice. In the Panasonic RZ-S500W review, we noted that ‘the touch sensors are far too sensitive, the app looks dated and connecting them to your phone can be a faff.’ But if you can get past those flaws then you’ll be impressed by everything else they have to offer.
While their design is rather rudimentary, JBL's on-ears are an incredible choice if you're looking for quality audio on a budget, and they're absolutely packed with features. JBL's Pure Bass tuning pushes a warm, rich sound from an audio stage that performs far above its price point, there's your choice of Bluetooth 5 or a 3.5mm jack – oh, and there's some very sharp, reactive noise cancelling.
If ANC is your goal, we can't think of a much better way to get it. In our full JBL Tune 660NC review, we say "you’ll be hard pushed to find a better pair of noise-cancelling headphones for this low of a price", and even though they're on-ears rather than the more all-encompassing design of over-ears they perform remarkably well when it comes to cutting out outside noise.
Before you buy, make sure you check our JBL discount codes to get the best price.
Best cheap headphones: best of the rest
If you already have Alexa speakers at home, you’ll love the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen). They give you all of the benefits of the Alexa voice assistant, packed into two tiny earbuds. Get the answers to your questions, turn on the lights or switch songs without touching anything.
When we tried them out, we thought the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) sound fine, especially for a pair of cheap headphones. They’re not as refined as a more pricey pair but the audio is still dynamic and clear whatever type of music you listen to. You’ll also get ANC here as well as a pass-through mode to hear your surroundings. Read more in the Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) review.
If you want control over the music then the Lypertek Pureplay Z5 are the best cheap headphones for you because you get a detailed 7-band equaliser in the smartphone app, as well as several preset sound modes and an LDX sound profile. Out of all of those options, you're sure to find the right settings for your music in the moment.
To go alongside that, these wireless earbuds sound great. Admittedly the noise-cancelling is less effective so you won't be able to block outside noise out completely. There is an Ambient Mode as well that automatically switches on when you pause the music, making it easier to hear what's going on around you. Find out more in the Lypertek Pureplay Z5 review.
If you want to spend as little as possible on your next pair of headphones, then the JLab Go Air Pop are your best bet. These wireless earbuds barely cost anything at all, in fact, they're about the same price as a takeaway pizza. You might be thinking, if they're that cheap, they must be very basic right? Wrong.
These still manage to pack in a total of 32 hours of battery life, 3 preset equaliser settings, relatively good sound quality and handy touch controls to adjust the volume and skip through tracks. You can't have it all because the call quality leaves a lot to be desired and there's no noise-cancelling but those are the only significant downsides. In the JLab Go Air Pop review, we thought they were excellent value for money.
OnePlus might not be the first company you think of when you’re looking to buy your next pair of cheap headphones, but maybe they should be because these offer excellent value for money, good sound quality and effective ANC.
Thanks to 38 hours of listening time provided by the case, you’ll rarely need to hunt for a cable. The earbuds themselves will be able to play music for 5 hours straight which will be long enough for most people. You can read more about what makes these so good in the OnePlus Buds Z2 review.
Not everyone wants that samey style of true wireless earbud, and these are far from that. The Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW come in a range of cool colours like Caramel, Cupcake and Blueberry, and the unique square shape is something just a little different to set them apart from the crowd.
The sound is a plus point too, it didn't blow us away but for day-to-day listening, it’ll definitely be good enough for most. Granted the battery life is just okay with a total of 19.5 hours, that’s not quite as much as some of the other options on this If you want to find out more about them, take a look at the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW review.
The most discreet true wireless earbuds on this list are the 1More Comfobuds Mini. So small that no one will even know you have them in, they only weigh 3.7g. Because of that, they feel comfortable to wear for a long time and thanks to the 3 sizes of silicone ear tips included in the box, they stayed securely in our ears.
As you’d expect from a pair of affordable headphones, the sound quality is solid but not completely faultless. You won’t get a manual equaliser to tweak it but the 1More Music smartphone app can create a personalised sound profile for you which does help a lot. Keeping distracting noises out, there are a few different levels of noise cancelling which meant we could use these for everything from commutes to workouts.
To read more about what makes these such good value for money, read the full 1More Comfobuds Mini review.
Trying to make more eco-conscious buying decisions? The House of Marley Rebel earbuds are made from sustainable materials like bamboo and recycled plastics. Despite being affordable and sustainable, they are actually very capable. Not only do they look good and do good but they sound quite good too. They’re hardly going to match up to the AirPods of this world but for this price, they’re definitely amongst the top dogs.
Naturally, it can’t all be good and there are certain aspects of these buds that just don’t work particularly well, like touch controls and ear detection both of which are a little hit and miss, and their shape makes them feel like they might fall out when you’re moving about. But despite that, they actually have some pretty nifty features that do work well. Find out what they are in the House of Marley Rebel review, they’re certainly worth considering!
The cheapest Beats headphones around, the neckband connected Flex don't necessarily follow the current Beats trend for refinement and subtlety: they have big ol' red logos on each ear and a distinctly old-Beats sound that emphasises the bass and treble while almost entirely forgetting about mids. Honestly, that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes bargain beefy buds are just the thing, and these are that.
In our full Beats Flex review, we call these "a great choice for those who don’t want to splash out on the Powerbeats Pro or Apple AirPods for their iPhone". The Beats Flex are best suited to Apple users since they feature Apple's last-gen W1 chip. you can use them with Android, but all the auto-connectivity, Find My, audio sharing and customisation functions won't work. Given the price that probably won't be such a disappointment, but it definitely adds a little extra value if you're an iPhone user.
You don't need to spend loads to get a decent pair of noise-cancelling headphones, just look at the Skullcandy Hesh ANC. They have noise-cancelling that is so effective it blocks out everything from engine noise to office chatter. You can also choose to turn on the Ambient mode which will block out some noise but not others.
Granted the sound quality isn't amazing, it just okay. In our Skullcandy Hesh ANC review, we found that the bass is a little overwhelming and could something distort the sound a little. But that's kind of expected when you get this many features for that little money.