The best cheap headphones deliver incredible sound for less money than you might expect. That's because the market has become so competitive in recent years that "good enough" simply isn't good enough: whether you're setting out to make the best wireless headphones or the best wired headphones, they need to be great to stand out from the increasingly impressive crowd.
Perhaps cheap is the wrong word. Affordable suits these headphones better: we're not talking about no-name cheapies from obscure online retailers but well engineered, high performance headphones from brands you know and trust. Whether you're looking for noise cancelling headphones, gym headphones or headphones for listening to podcasts, you'll find some excellent options here.
It's possible to spend a lot of money on headphones – we know that from personal experience – but as you read our guide to the best cheap headphones we think you'll agree with us that you don't have to hand over huge sums to get hugely impressive audio. In fact, some of the headphones you see here are also featured in our other guides where price isn't a priority: check out the best wireless earbuds, the best noise-cancelling headphones, and best noise-cancelling ear buds. and you'll see what we mean.
If you're more into the audiophile end of the market, though, this probably isn't the guide for you: check out our guide to the best wired headphones which typically (but not always) outperform their wireless and more affordable rivals.
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 – It's proper, serious audio quality for much less money than equivalent-quality headphones go for. 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. That’s a lot more control over the sound than you get elsewhere at this price.
Granted, these headphones aren’t perfect. 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.
You may look at these, and the Melomania 1+ which takes our top spot, and think there's no competition: there's a wire connecting the S20BT's buds, and that inherently makes them less good, right? Not so fast. There's not a huge difference in terms of freedom, since you'd need a pretty unusual head to test SoundMagic's neckband and wires, and the cost is less than half that of Cambridge Audio's already reasonable price tag.
The sound is pretty impressive for the cost too, either – in our full SoundMagic S20BT review we say they "combine a willingness to focus on the broad strokes of a digital audio file without losing sight of the finer details, and they’re not picky in the slightest about the quality of audio stream they’re asked to deal with." If you're really looking for cheap wireless earphones, with an emphasis on the financial side of the word 'cheap' rather than the physical one, these are an excellent option.
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 which performs far above its price point, there's your choice of Bluetooth 5 or a 3.5mm jack, there are actual physical buttons rather than the touch buttons which seem to be becoming trendy – 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.
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.
The OnePlus Buds Z2 come in glossy black or white with a similar danging stem design to Apple AirPods. In the box, there are three sizes of silicone ear tips to choose from. To be sure you’ve found the right fit for you, there’s an earbud fit test available in the app.
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.
They’re very easy to set up and use with reliable Bluetooth connectivity and simple touch controls. The sound is a plus point too, it won’t blow you 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 list yet it will be enough to get you through a day of using them on and off so it’s something casual listeners will be able to get past, I’m sure. If you want to find out more about them, take a look at the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW review.
Excellent battery life, a quality-looking design, a comfortable fit and sound quality that absolutely sits at the top of their price point. That's what the Soundfree S20s offer in a nutshell: these are true-wireless ear buds that do, admittedly, cost a little more than some of the more budget entries in the market, and don't feature ANC (though there is an ambiance mode) but sound far richer than they have any right to.
In our Lypertek Soundfree S20 review, we say "the combination of dynamic headroom and worthwhile poise is a rarity in more affordable earbuds such as these", and that's saying something. Lypertek took its time releasing the S20s, but when they did land it was in that graceful Iron Man pose rather than the Wile-E Coyote-style giant divot in the ground.
Size matters when it comes to the EarFun Free Pro 2. They’re the smallest and lightest true wireless earbuds on this list. Why is that a good thing I hear you ask? Well, it means they’re really comfortable.
You completely forget they’re even in your ears so you won’t get tired of wearing them after a couple of hours. That’s helped by the fact that they come with four sizes of ear tips and three sizes of ear hooks which will keep them secure. You can wear them for your commute, in the office or in the gym - they’re discreet, versatile and they look smart too.
What’s more, is that they have noise-cancelling built-in which does a good job at keeping your focus on the music. With it switched on the sound is great. It’s full, balanced and powerful. Truth be told the Normal mode is less impressive, although you could just keep ANC switched on to avoid that. All things considered, these headphones are excellent value for money. Read more about them in the Earfun Free Pro 2 review.
The Jabra Elite 3 are some of the very best affordable true wireless earbuds, not only do they deliver impressive sound but they pack in a few really handy features as well.
You get quick access to your phone's smart assistant, and there's even Amazon Alexa built-in so you can control your tech at home or ask for the answers to your questions. They also have quick access to Spotify, all you need to do is tap the outside of the bud and music will start playing.
The Jabra Sound+ app is really easy to use, you can switch between six different presets according to how you like to listen to your music. You’ll also be able to turn on the HearThrough mode which lets in important sounds like conversations or traffic noise when you’re out and about.
There's loads more to say about these earbuds, so take a look at the Jabra Elite 3 review to see what else they have to offer.
For anyone who is 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 the shape of them makes them feel like they might fall out when you’re moving about.
Despite that, they actually have some pretty nifty features that do work well - you can charge the case wirelessly, switch between equaliser settings and there’s Call Noise Cancellation to boost the quality of your calls. Find out more about them in the House of Marley Rebel review, they’re certainly worth considering!
At £60, even at £100, these would be very decent headphones. At £30, or perhaps even less if you shop around, they're uniquely credible. AKG's trimming has been done in the material department, meaning these are mostly plastic and fairly lightweight, though there's a metal headband and some very comfortable ear pads which contribute to a very secure fit. There's also no wireless here – these are wired-only.
And that's... fine? For the job they're asked to do, the AKG K52s sound wide and balanced, with a huge amount of detail. They can't really handle a heavy electronic push, and they're perhaps on the more cool side of sound, but for more moderate listening and natural instruments they're absolutely superb. And an absolute bargain, if that wasn't already clear.
Popping out of a case that looks like a space egg and themselves looking as much like AirPods Pro as it is possible to look without activating Apple's industrial lawyers, Huawei's true wireless buds don't mess around. And if you're looking for a set of stalk-packing true wireless headphones and don't fancy paying Cupertino prices, they're well worth a look.
They're certainly not lacking in features, with ANC on board, IP54 water resistance and a ten-hour battery which will grind through a good day's listening before having to resort to a case top-up. While this isn't a premium build as such, and you'll find better ANC elsewhere, the Freebuds 4i feel plenty robust and manage a bouncy, if not too detailed, sound. In our full Huawei Freebuds 4i review we say "these are a solid pair of Bluetooth-connected earbuds, especially for those who are mostly into pop music"; not world-beaters, but decent in their own right.
You don't needd 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.
With a 22 hour battery life, you'll rarely need to charge them up in between commutes or walks to the shop. If they do run out, they come with a 3.5mm audio cable so you can keep listening.
Granted the sound quality isn't amazing, it just okay. In our Skullcandy Hesh ANC review we found that the bass is a little overwhleming and could something disort the sound a little. But that's kind of expected when you get this many features for that little money.
These are the wireless versions of the excellent SoundMagic E11Cs, and like their siblings they’re great for active people thanks to splashproof, comfortable earbuds. The whopping 20-hour battery life is exceptional for headphones this compact, and while the sound isn’t quite as good as you’d get from over-ear headphones it’s still solid and impressive: when you’re pounding pavements or sat at home.
If you don’t mind the neckband style and don't desperately need aptX Bluetooth – these support AAC only – these are very, very good buys.
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 which 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", which just about sums it all up. The Beats Flex are absolutely 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.
Boy, do these on-ear wireless headphones feel cheap - the plastic makes them moreso, even, than the JBL Tune 660NC - but that's where the budget sensibilities end. They're light and comfortable, with an extensive battery that'll last 35 hours of listening or 30 hours of talking on the phone. They pack 30mm full-range dynamic drivers, giving Sony's sound a real chance to shine, and connect via Bluetooth 5.0 with assistant support.
But do they sound great? That's dependent on your outlook. These are not so much dynamic as assaulting. In our full Sony WH-CH510 review, we say "the WH-CH510 are an absolutely flat-out listen, all the time... [yet] despite all this bluster the Sonys are by no means an unengaging listen." If that sounds good to you and you have a paltry £30 hanging around, they're not to be sniffed at.
If you like the idea of eco-friendly over-ear headphones then the best you can buy are the House of Marley Positive Vibrations 2. They’re crafted using sustainable materials like wood and recyclable aluminium.
You can easily wear these for a long time because they feel so lightweight and comfortable, although admittedly the over-ear style means they don’t do a great job at blocking out noise from around you. Even so, the sound quality is pretty good for headphones that are this cheap.
One other downside is the battery life which is only 12 hours - but if they do run out of juice you can keep listening using the included 3.5mm audio cable which means that’s not such a big downside after all. You can find out more about what we thought in the House of Marley Positive Vibrations 2 review.
These are outliers in terms of their case design, with a slide-out form factor which wins points for originality, and they're also pretty unique as far as their battery life is concerned, pulling off a good 12 hours on a single charge. That's basically a whole transatlantic flight. Whether you can keep them in your ears for that long is another question, though: even with the smallest ear tips, they're fairly girthy buds, so the small-eared will need to look elsewhere.
They sound pretty decent - not a knockout, by any means, but far from a spaghetti punch. As per our full Creative Outlier Air V2 review, "the soundstage is wide enough to give you distinct highs, mids and lows... but there’s slightly too much emphasis on the treble so that sometimes took over a little". Give the Super X-Fi functionality a try, too, which maps your head to personalise the sound for more accuracy.