Wireless earbuds have been a game-changer when it comes to personal audio in recent years. Freed from the shackles of your phone, you can hit the gym, go running or simply go about your daily life without risk of snagging an arm on a dangling cable.
True wireless earbuds – those without even a cable connecting the earpieces, like AirPods – began life some years ago at a premium price, but now that the technology and market has evolved you can find plenty of pairs for less than £50. An Amazon will show up results for pairs costing half as much...
But while quantity isn't an issue nowadays, quality can be. And you don't want to choose a musical dud! We review more than 100 pairs of headphones every year and know that many out there, unfortunately, don't deliver on their promise of good sound quality. That's why we've created this buying guide to point you in the direction of a handful of pairs that definitely do.
Tried and tested by yours truly, our pick of the best cheap wireless earbuds under £50 offer a great-value combination of sound, design and comfort to satisfy tighter budgets.
How to choose the best wireless earbuds under £50
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
So what should you look for in the best cheap wireless earbuds? Decent enough sound quality is obviously paramount – just don't expect them to rival the more premium pairs on this front, of course. A secure and comfortable fit is also vital, especially if you plan to wear them for prolonged periods, and there's no reason not to expect this even at this modest price level.
You probably shouldn't expect a battery life above 20 hours (in the earbuds and charging case combined for true wireless pairs), and active noise cancellation is pretty much unheard of at this price from respected brands. For the record, the most affordable pairs with ANC we can heartily recommend are the Sony WF-C700N and Earfun Air Pro.
There aren't many models to choose from below, which – trust us – is more indicative of the varying quality at this end of the market, but of the handful here at least one should tick your boxes and see you happily through your daily commute.
These true wireless earbuds might be cheap, but they're packed with features. You don't get noise cancelling (that's reserved for their more expensive siblings, the Earfun Air Pro), but the Earfun Air do provide excellent noise isolation and they feel comfy in your ears too.
They're also waterproof to IPX7 standards (submersible in one metre of water for up to 30 minutes), support virtual voice assistants and include Qi wireless charging if you've got a suitable charger to hand.
Battery life is seven hours from the buds and a further 28 hours from the charging case. Amazingly it all feels fairly premium too. The Bluetooth 5.0 connection is solid and stable, calls sound clear, and for the money, they produce an energetic and spacious sound.
If you’re after a pair of the best cheap wireless earbuds under £50, the Earfun Air are our number one recommendation.
Read the full Earfun Air review
hen it comes to wireless earbuds, Sony has sewn up the premium market with the WF-1000XM5. But could the electronics giant do the same at the budget end of the market with the cheap and cheerful WF-C500?
Considering these are current What Hi-Fi? Award winners, the answer is a resounding yes. The next step up from the Earfun Air above if you have an extra couple of tenners to throw at your next earbuds, the C500 fluctuate around and below the £50 mark (we've seen them drop as low as £32).
The C500 handle the basics very well, with Bluetooth 5.0, and compatibility with SBC and AAC codecs. Battery life is a healthy 10 hours from the headphones themselves, and another 10 from the charging case, making a total of 20. Voice controls come via Google Assistant and Siri, and the IPX4 rating means they're resistant to water splashes.
Sonically, they're even-handed and nicely balanced, with well-shaped bass notes. In short, they offer a lot of what makes Sony's high-end buds so compelling, without cutting too many corners. These are definitely the best cheap wireless headphones around for those on tight budgets, though note that the next-model-up WF-C700 (below, in spot 4) offer active noise cancelling functionality for not much more.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
If you don't mind a neckband connecting the earpieces, the Beats Flex are some of the best examples of this now-rare breed remaining.
The Beats Flex are a step up from Apple's bog-standard Lightning wired buds, that's for sure. They’re available in some fresh hues (including the Yuzu yellow sample you see here), they charge via USB-C, have a 12-hour battery life, and courtesy of one-tap audio share you can split sounds with nearby Beats or AirPod headphones (provided you have an iPhone 8 or later running at least iOS 14). They're very affordable, too.
Four ear tip options give a good chance of finding a decent fit, and the cable is flat, like a strand of tagliatelle. Magnets keep the earbuds together when not in use.
Pairing is a doddle (even more so using an Apple device). They don't support some more recent iOS features, including automatic switching to another device or hands-free Siri support. And there’s no noise cancelling either. But with the correct seal you’ll still enjoy good levels of passive noise isolation.
Audio quality is good and the Flex offer a considered, smooth sound profile that’s preferable to one that is harsh or bright through the upper frequencies. A solid bet at this end of the market.
Read the full Beats Flex review
Anyone looking for a sporty take on the best cheap wireless earbuds might be tempted by the Sony WF-XB700. Battery life is a reasonable 18 hours – nine hours from the buds, nine hours from the case – while their IPX4 water resistance rating provides the buds (but not the case) with protection against 'water splashing’.
It takes a few twists to get them securely into place, but once they're in you can almost forget about them, they're that comfy.
The WF-XB700 are part of the company’s Extra Bass range of audio products and are tuned to emphasise low-frequency response, rather than deliver a neutral sonic balance. And although there’s meat behind their low-end, it doesn't overshadow mid and high frequencies.
Their balance is actually complemented by decent punch and agility. Some rivals boast greater detail and subtlety, but at this price, you could do a lot worse.
Their original price was just over £50, but shop around and you might find them for a few quid less now that they have been around a while.
Read the full Sony WF-XB700 review
How we test wireless earbuds
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Reading, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.
Of course, testing wireless earbuds often doesn't require such facilities. What is important in our headphones reviewing process is that each pair is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour the highest among the 100+ pairs we listen to each year for reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can always compare new products to ones we know and love.
We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at their very best, so we'll try plenty of different types of music and give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in). It's not just about sound quality, of course. If a pair has active noise cancellation – increasingly the case these days – we'll ensure part of our testing involves using them in different environments.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.