Best cheap wireless earbuds 2024: top budget pairs tested by our experts

Best cheap wireless earbuds: quick list
Best cheap wireless earbuds: quick list

So many wireless earbuds are unveiled each year that it can be hard for the humble consumer to keep track, and while there are plenty of premium performers out there, today's expanded market proves that "cheap" doesn't have to mean poor quality. Sound quality has come on leaps and bounds at both ends of the scale, although the worst models are still to be avoided like the plague.

If you can grab a fine pair, though, you'll get admirable sound quality, advanced features like active noise cancellation, a comfy fit and solid waterproofing, all for an attractive price. Provided, of course, you know just where to look.

To help you out, our in-house team of expert reviewers has thoroughly tested all of the cheap wireless earbuds below, meaning there will be a pair here to suit your particular needs. All of the models below are available for under £130 / $160 / AU$210, with most costing considerably less. The ones at the pricier end of "cheap" tend to be discounted fairly regularly, so keep an eye out for a deal using our handle price-tracking widgets.

Read more about our testing process here, or keep scrolling to view the best cheap wireless earbuds we highly recommend.

The quick list

Written by
Harry McKerrell headshot
Written by
Harry McKerrell

I'm a staff writer with a great deal of experience testing and listen to dozens of wireless earbuds during my time at What Hi-Fi?. I've had first-hand contact with all of the models tested below, all of which have left a lasting impression for the enjoyable sound, build quality and overall value they offer at this budget end of the spectrum. There are so many cheap buds around these days, including plenty of iffy models, so it can be tough to know which ones are a good deal and which are just a false economy. Below, I've broken down not only which models are the best options within an affordable price bracket, but also those that will suit your specific user wants and needs, such as long battery life, active noise-cancelling and long-lasting comfort.

Best cheap wireless earbuds overall

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. Excellent, affordable earbuds offer 10 hours of earbud battery life per charge.

Specifications

Noise-cancelling: No
Bluetooth: AAC, SBC
Battery life: 10hrs (+10hrs from charging case)
Wireless charging: No
Waterproof: Water resistant
Finishes: Black, White, Green, Orange

Reasons to buy

+
Compact, comfortable, lightweight design
+
Spirited, well-balanced sound
+
Decent control app

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly small-scale sound
-
No ANC

Think of Sony's WF-C500 as a no-frills version of the premium WF-1000XM5, in that they deliver a lot of what makes those superb true wireless earbuds a success without cutting too many corners. Anyone seeking a pair of basic but brilliant earbuds should start with the Award-winning C500 and work their way up from there.

Not only do the budget buds make for a great all-day pair, but they're good for running and sports thanks to their solid IPX4 rating. If you're not an iOS user, you'll also get ‘fast pair’ connectivity with Android devices and ‘swift pair’ with Windows 10 PCs, as well as 10 hours of battery life from the buds and a further 10 from the provided case.

Sonically, we're still so impressed with what the C500 can do. The sound is nicely balanced with plenty of mid-range detail on show, all presented in a cohesive and hugely enjoyable package. We claimed that the Sonys deliver "a well-defined and easy-to-follow presentation" in our original review, and we've seen no reason to change that view one bit.

If you're seeking the best Bluetooth earbuds and don't want to spend a fortune, the Sony WF-C500 are our recommended starting point.

Read our full Sony WF-C500 review 

Best cheap wireless earbuds for value

Fantastic, feature-packed and affordable earbuds that sound better than you'd expect.

Specifications

Bluetooth version: 5.0
Noise-cancelling: No
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Waterproofing: IPX7
Battery life: 35hrs (7hrs buds, 28hrs case)
Weight: 5.35g each

Reasons to buy

+
Punchy, expansive sound
+
Great feature set
+
Classy build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Treble needs more refinement
-
Newer rivals sound better 

The EarFun Air were some of the first cheap wireless earbuds to earn five stars – and that's despite us having tested models from all manner of well-known and better-established audio brands. There's a new iteration on the way in 2024, but for now, the current Air model remains superb value for money.

In 2020, little-known company EarFun created a well-built set of earbuds that were comfortable to wear and perform brilliantly, stunning everyone with their design, build quality and raft of high-performing features. They have wireless charging and a spacious soundstage, plus they're rated IPX7 so can be fully submerged in water, making them ideal for workouts in the rain or even the pool. 

Battery life is also impressive at 35 hours, and the EarFun Air even have features usually reserved for much pricier models, such as in-ear detection that pauses playback when you take them out of your lugs. Best of all, they sound far better than you'd expect, offering a profile that melds spaciousness and breadth with excitement and vivacious punch. At this price, only the Sony WF-C500 are recommendable over the Air in terms of sonic performance.

If you want some of the best cheap wireless earbuds – especially if you'll be wearing them while working out – the EarFun Air might be for you.

Read our full EarFun Air review

Best cheap noise-cancelling wireless earbuds

What Hi-Fi? Awards winner. Five-star wireless earbuds combine comfort, ANC and sensational sound quality.

Specifications

Bluetooth version: 5.2 (AAC, SBC)
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Waterproofing: IPX4
Battery life: 15 hrs (7.5hrs buds, 7.5hrs case)
Weight: 4.6g each

Reasons to buy

+
Very comfortable fit
+
Refined presentation for the money
+
Detailed, dynamic, musical sound

Reasons to avoid

-
Charging case lacks battery oomph
-
No aptX or LDAC support

Bar none, the Sony WF-C700N are the best value wireless earbuds on the market today. There, we said it. 

Sony's best-value buds slot neatly between the budget excellence of the WF-C500 and the premium delights of the WF-1000XM5, both of which are sitting pretty on our main list of the best wireless earbuds. The C700N may be small, but what's most impressive is how their lightweight design ends up helping to make them even more comfortable than the more premium XM5 buds. They might even be the most wearable buds that Sony makes, plus they're almost unbelievably well-made considering the price you'll pay. 

The excellent value C700N lack aptX HD and LDAC, but crucially they feature noise-cancelling tech, something you won't get with the WF-C500. Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches listening modes depending on your location, while Sony's DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) upscales low-res digital audio files to higher quality, a feature we find to be truly impressive at this level. There's even Bluetooth Multipoint so that you can be connected to two devices simultaneously and then switch easily on the fly between them.

Best of all, Sony's knack for a sound profile that feels energetic, nuanced and well-balanced is fully on display with the C700N, with deep, detailed bass, expressive mids and engaging highs. They're a very musical listen for the money and a clear step up from the cheaper WF-C500, so you're not just paying extra for ANC and a few added features.

Downsides? The lack of support for aptX HD and LDAC is disappointing, and the case only provides one extra charge, which seems a little mean. That said, the superb sound and great feature set make these easy to recommend as some of the best cheap wireless earbuds available.

Read our full Sony WF-C700N review

Top Tip
Harry McKerrell headshot
Top Tip
Harry McKerrell

If you're a sporty type with one eye on the road and the other on your wallet, the JBL Reflect Flow Pro are unquestionably my go-to pick as a pair of sturdy, ever-reliable and surprisingly musical running earbuds. Great running buds are hard to come by, so it's little wonder we've remained so keen on the Reflect Flow Pro after all this time. I've tried them, I've tested them and I know just how excellent they are as an erstwhile workout companion; they truly are worthy hall of famers.

Best cheap wireless earbuds for features

Great sound quality and packed with plenty of useful features.

Specifications

Bluetooth version: 5.2 (AAC, SBC)
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Waterproofing: IPX5
Battery life: 30hrs (8 hrs buds, 22hrs case)
Weight: 4.8g each

Reasons to buy

+
Punchy, lively sound
+
Solid, meaty bass
+
User-friendly app and set-up

Reasons to avoid

-
No aptX HD or LDAC
-
Control customisation could be better
-
Only three ear tip choices

If you've got a decent-sized budget to play with but can't stretch to more premium options like the Sony WF-1000XM5 or the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, then these JBL earbuds could be right up your street.

For the money, you get all the features you could wish for, including ANC, IPX5 water resistance, a comfortable design and a thorough control app which offers a good user experience and some customisation. A few more ear tip options to help get the perfect fit wouldn't go amiss, but you can't have everything at these prices.

The Live Pro 2 TWS' battery life clocks in at a respectable eight hours with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling turned on, while the wireless charging case will push that total up to a combined time of 30 hours. On-ear touch controls are included at the very top of each stem, and you also receive the handy bonus of Multipoint Bluetooth if you want to connect to two sources simultaneously.

The excellent sound quality offered by the JBLs is perhaps the icing on this cake, with a lively and entertaining sound that never seems to get dull or trying. The bass weight is expertly judged, too, while detail levels and a sense of contrasting dynamics are superb considering the level we're operating at. 

If you're seeking to make the step up from the cheapest earbuds on this list but still want an entertaining sound, these JBLs must be on your shortlist.

Read our full JBL Live Pro 2 TWS review

Best cheap wireless earbuds for Apple users

Impressive true wireless headphones for iPhone owners on a budget.

Specifications

Bluetooth version: 5.0
Noise-cancelling: No
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Waterproofing: No
Battery life: 24hrs (5hrs buds, 19hrs case)
Weight: 4g each

Reasons to buy

+
Tonally balanced 
+
Flawless wireless tech
+
Built for Apple users

Reasons to avoid

-
Won’t fit everyone
-
No on-ear buttons
-
Sound harsh when pushed

"Cheap" isn’t usually a word you associate with Apple, but thanks to a price drop since they were originally released in 2019, these second-gen AirPods just sneak into our list as the ideal affordable option for Apple fans. We've opined in the past of our desire to see a cheaper set of Apple in-ears hit the mainstream market, and while the much-rumoured AirPods Lite may arrive this year or next, the second-gen AirPods are still your best bet at this point on the price scale.

These are the older-style AirPods that don’t really live up to the one-size-fits-all mantra, locking into some ears perfectly and falling out of others with the slightest movement, but where they are universally successful is with the seamless way they work with iPhones, MacBooks and other Apple kit. Setup and connection are flawless, something that makes them so well-suited to those who are already committed to the Apple way of life. There are no on-ear touch controls, sadly, but the buds are feather-light at just 4g each.

That was also true of the original AirPods, but they didn’t exactly sound the best. These, however, have a nice tonal balance, with more detail, dynamism and space within the sonic presentation. In isolation, they’re not massive improvements, but in reality, the result is a noticeably more exciting and engaging listen. The AirPods Pro
2
or the AirPods Max are Apple's most sonically sophisticated headphones, but you'll have to spend a lot more to get them.

2019's AirPods still stray towards harshness at high volumes and can’t always untangle the more intricate aspects of certain compositions, plus the lack of noise-cancelling and limited physical controls might put them off the table for some, but for Apple acolytes who can’t stretch to a pair of AirPods Pro 2, they still tick a lot of boxes.

Read our full Apple AirPods (2019) review

Also consider

Jabra Elite 4 Active: If you're hunting for a hardwearing alternative to the JBL Flow Pro above, the Elite 4 Active make a strong case for themselves thanks to their energetic sound and rugged, go-anywhere construction. Plus, we tend to find a hefty discount is never far away from Jabra, if you're happy to be patient and pick your moment to pounce on a good deal.

Technics EAH-AZ40M2: Sometimes, a good pair of wireless buds is defined by the subjective vagueries of personal preference. We're keen on the JBL and the Sony sonic profile, but we know many people who admire and actively enjoy the space, clarity and sparkle of Technics' range of wireless earbuds. They're a little more costly than anything on this list (tested at  £129 / $170 / AU$259), but if those sound like the criteria you prioritise, it's well worth checking out the very attractive AZ40M2. 

How to choose the best cheap wireless earbuds for you

There are a few things to consider before you buy a pair of cheap wireless earbuds.

First, battery life. Wireless earbuds give you some juice from the buds themselves, plus more from the rechargeable carry case. It's important to look at both stats and consider how you'll use them. If you're only ever listening in short bursts, like a commute that's under an hour, the carry case stat will be more important to you. But if you want to use them on long-haul flights, look out for a pair with at least six hours from the buds.

And just because they're cheap doesn't mean battery life will automatically be worse than more expensive pairs. You'll be surprised what you can get for not a lot of money.

If you're a fitness fiend who wants a secure fit and waterproofing, look for a pair of sports headphones with sweat- and water resistance. You should seek out an IP rating of at least IPX4, meaning they'll survive basic splashing but not a dunk in the drink.

You also might want to consider which version of Bluetooth they're running. We're currently on Bluetooth 5 (5.3 to be precise). Newer versions can offer more range and more secure connections, so it might be worth digging into the specs.

If you think cheap wireless earbuds won't have extra features such as active noise-cancellation (ANC), then you might be surprised to learn that some of our picks do include this too. It might not be quite as advanced as the tech in more premium pairs but it should do a decent job of blocking some outside noise.

You'll also want to consider comfort, especially if they're going to be accompanying you on that aforementioned long-haul flight. Finally, you definitely want decent sound quality for the money – rest assured that all of the above have come out of our testing labs with flying colours.

How we test the best cheap wireless earbuds

In order to put the best cheap wireless earbuds through their paces, we use them as if we had bought them ourselves. That means we use them not just in our test rooms, but mostly wear them while going about our daily life, especially testing them outdoors in both built-up areas and open spaces to test the stability of the wireless connection.

This also lets us test their noise-isolating properties, and active noise-cancellation (ANC) if they have it. We try wireless earbuds with both a smartphone and computer, to see how well they stand up in different use cases and to test video call quality. And if they're a sporty pair, we'll take them out for a jog or to the gym to check how well they stay in our ears while exercising.

Each pair is compared to the best in its price bracket. We're all about comparative testing, with a stockroom full of class-leading products to compare against to ensure we give you the best advice.

Finally, our review verdicts are agreed upon by the whole team, not an individual reviewer. That means personal preference or bias doesn't come into it, while also ensuring we're being as thorough and as consistent as possible. What Hi-Fi? has been a trusted source for consumers since 1976, and we're proud of our reputation as the home of honest, unbiased reviews.

Read more about how we test and review products at What Hi-Fi?

FAQ

What's the difference between cheap and expensive earbuds?

This is actually a really interesting question, and one that doesn't have a completely definitive answer. We'll try, as ever, to be as comprehensive as we can, although it does involve a little bit of generalising on our part.

Firstly, "cheap" earbuds (we mainly use the terms "affordable" or "budget") tend to be lighter in terms of the features they pack in. Noise cancelling is usually reserved for more premium models, although you can get a nice middle-ground pair such as the Sony WF-C700N that offer noise cancelling at a step above the more basic WF-C500 pair. Really fancy features, such as spatial audio, head tracking, mega battery life numbers, on-ear touch controls and extensive codec support are usually reserved for higher-end models. 

Build quality tends to improve the more you pay, although the trend is a steady, uniformly upward gradient. The EarFun Air are certainly well made considering the price paid, while those Award-winning C700N feel far more premium and substantial than their reasonable outlay would suggest.

Sonically, though, you do tend to get what you pay for, and if you don't, that's when alarm bells start ringing and we start docking review marks. All other things being equal, the higher up the price scale you go, the better the sound is - Sony's C500 are a wonderful pair of budget buds, but their sound is nothing on the delightful musicality and detail offered by the awesome WF-1000XM5.

What about super-cheap earbuds? Are they worth it?

In a word, no. 

If what you're referring to is the multitude of obscure brands churning out all manner of wireless earbuds with eye-catching specs and hyperbolic sonic boasts at prices that have you frothing at the chops, we'd advise you to take a breath and just step back from the precipice for a moment. 

It's your money, you can do what you like with it, but take it from us, these sorts of anonymous knock-off brands aren't worth your time. On paper they're great, but get them home and you'll find them poorly made and sonically lacking, with features that don't quite work the way you'd like and the sort of longevity you'd usually associate with a particularly decrepit daddy-long legs. 

We tried the top-rated fake AirPods on Amazon and it should serve as a warning to anyone looking to go down that road. Without sounding arrogant, if it's not on this list, it's likely not worth the time or money. Spend a little bit more and get a pair that you're happy with rather than being enticed by the false economies offered by the many knock-off pretenders lurking online. 

Recent updates

  • May 2024: Added the Award-winning Sony WF-C500 wireless earbuds.
  • March 2024: Added FAQ and Also Consider sections to help with buying decisions and frequently asked questions.
  • November 2023What Hi-Fi? Award winners labelled after the 2023 Awards Best Buys and Product of the Year announcements.

MORE:

On a health kick? Here's our best running headphones rundown 

Want to block out the world? Here's our best noise-cancelling headphones 

Vinyl lover? Check out our best Bluetooth turntables list 

Money no object? Here's all of our favourite wireless headphones

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied law and history at university before working as a freelance journalist covering TV and gaming for numerous platforms both online and in print. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or forcing himself to go long-distance running.

With contributions from