In an ideal world, money would be no object, but as we all know, it doesn't quite work like that. With household budgets squeezed tighter than ever over the past couple of years thanks to soaring inflation, value for money is more important than ever, and that's equally true of wireless headphones.
Namely, how do you know if an affordable pair will give you plenty of bang for your buck?
We've tested hundreds of pairs of headphones over the years, and below are the best budget wireless models that are currently available. They all cost under or around £100 / $100, all pack plenty of features, and – crucially – they all sound very good for their price. In fact, they're all five-star products, and some are even What Hi-Fi? Award winners.
Want value for money? Look no further.
How to choose the best cheap wireless headphones
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi?
The best cheap wireless headphones come in all shapes and sizes. You can get some pretty decent wireless over-ears and in-ears for not much money at all. Some models also boast the added bonus of noise-cancelling, too.
Healthy battery life should be a priority for any of the best budget wireless headphones – anything around 20 hours and above for over-ear headphones and over six hours for earbuds (plus charging case battery life) is good.
If you're a fitness fiend who wants a secure fit and waterproofing, you're better off going for a pair of sport headphones with sweat/water resistance. Look out for 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 improvements in performance over older versions when it comes to things like wireless range, so it could pay to do a bit of extra digging through the specs of any pairs you're considering.
You'll also want to consider comfort, especially if they're going to be sat in or on your ears for any length of time. Finally, you definitely want decent sound quality for the money. As some of the best cheap headphones around, all of the below have come out of our testing labs with flying colours.
If you've read What Hi-Fi? over the last couple of years, you'll know that Sony's high-end wireless headphones (like the WF-1000XM5) are extremely good. But that doesn't mean it can necessarily make a great budget pair.
Though in this case, it can: the WF-C500 won a 2023 What Hi-Fi? Award. They 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.
They pair with Sony's consummate Headphones Connect app for sublime controls, and numerous extra features (like the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, which upscales audio files to something approaching ‘hi-res’ quality). 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. It's worth noting that Sony's next-model-up, the WF-C700 (further down this list), offer active noise cancelling for only a small price bump.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
If you're looking for wireless headphones with an in-ear fit that are cheaper than the Sonys above, your best option is the Earfun Air, which are the most affordable headphones of any style that we can heartily recommend.
Before the Earfun Air, we had never awarded five stars to a set of proper budget wireless headphones – despite testing models from well-known and highly respected audio brands.
In the Air, this little-known company has produced a comfortable, nicely built set of headphones that also boast excellent battery life, wireless charging support and a pleasant and spacious presentation. Fans of a grippy, energetic listen to get you through a workout will find much to enjoy here.
The Earfun Air buds have a waterproof IPX7 rating, so they can be submerged in up to a metre of water for up to 30 minutes, and an impressively long battery life of 35 hours. There are also touch controls and in-ear detection tech to pause playback when you remove them.
If you’re after dirt-cheap wireless headphones for casual listening, the Earfun Air could just be the ideal proposition.
Read the full Earfun Air review
They're brilliant options that more than justify their price tag. The buds are impressively small, and their lightweight design helps make them even more comfortable than Sony's XM4. Battery life is competitive at seven and a half hours.
They lack aptX HD and LDAC but do feature noise-cancelling tech, which the cheaper WF-C500 lack. Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches listening modes depending on your location, and Sony's DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) upscales low-res digital audio files to higher quality. A software update has seen Bluetooth Multipoint also added so you can connect to two devices simultaneously.
The Sony's sound quality is superbly balanced too, 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.
Downsides? The charging case only provides one extra charge which seems a little mean. But the superb sound and great feature for an affordable price set make these easy to recommend as some of the best cheap wireless earbuds available.
Read the full Sony WF-C700N review
The WH-CH720N were designed to be an affordable pair of over-ears with a heavy feature set and a particular focus on budget noise cancelling. In this sense, they've delivered exactly what Sony intended, and for a very reasonable price, they’re a dependably made, enthusiastic-sounding pair of headphones that, while occasionally straying into the realm of excessive bass, deliver strong ANC and a large feature set to the market's mid-to-low price bracket.
A big part of the CH720N’s appeal is to provide noise cancelling without a huge expenditure, and the novice cans don’t let themselves down. While more premium models such as the WH-1000XM5 over-ears or the Bose QuietComfort 45 will block out external noises more effectively, we find these affordable Sonys do a pleasing job of dampening, if not silencing completely, outside noises and distractions. Further features, including Bluetooth multipoint, voice calls, a hefty battery life and Sony DSEE sound upscaling, only sweeten the deal.
Sonically, the CH720N are great for the price, and while you'll certainly receive more refinement and balance the higher up the price ladder you go, the affordable cans feel like they're spoiling you for £100. Sony might have focused on features, but the sound these over-ears provide is detailed, robust and exciting, with decent texture and feeling across the board. Job done.
Read the full Sony WH-CH720N review
The Sony WH-CH520 on-ear headphones are without a doubt one of the less glamorous products in Sony’s seemingly endless catalogue of headphones. But it doesn’t automatically follow that they’re not worthy of attention.
You can’t really expect the Earth when you’re paying £49 / $59 / AU$79 for a pair of headphones, so keep your expectations realistic. If you do, there’s every chance you’ll be quite impressed with the feature set of the WH-CH520. Wireless connection is via Bluetooth 5.2 (with ‘Fast Pair’ for Android devices). The Sonys have multipoint connectivity, and there’s compatibility with SBC and AAC codecs. And they can run for as much as 50 hours between charges, which certainly exceeds our expectations at this price point.
The Sony WH-CH520 don’t take long to establish themselves as a nicely balanced, quite informative and enjoyable listen. They’re not the most expressive headphones you'll have ever heard, but they do well to dig up detail across the frequencies and present it clearly, even if we would like a little more dynamic variation.
Ultimately, what’s remarkable about these Sonys is how little compromise they demand of you, both in terms of audio performance and ergonomics. They’re a terrific bargain.
Read our full Sony WH-CH520 review
Panasonic isn't a brand that springs to mind when you think of the best cheap wireless headphones, but perhaps it should be. The former Award-winning RZ-S500W are the company's first foray into wireless noise-cancelling earbuds and they're sensational performers for their outlay.
Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and a battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5 hours from the buds and 13 hours from the charging case). A 15-minute USB-C quick-charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss.
You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit-and-miss, so we'd definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.
Both noise cancelling and sound quality are excellent. There's plenty of agility through the low end and loads of texture across frequencies. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, which is to be welcomed at this price level. To sum up, these Panasonic earbuds are superb for the money and great alternatives to the Sony WF-C700N.
Read the full Panasonic RZ-S500W review
If you want great sound and active noise-cancelling from your wireless headphones and prefer the AirPods-like 'stem' design as opposed to the rounder aesthetic of the Sony WF-C700 and Panasonic RZ-S500W above, 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 thorough control app which offers some customisation, a good user experience, and a comfortable enough design. A few more ear tip options to help get the perfect fit wouldn't go amiss, though.
Battery life is good at eight hours with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling on, while the wireless charging case will top the total combined time to 30 hours. Touch controls are included at the top of each stem and you also have Multipoint Bluetooth so you can connect two sources simultaneously.
The excellent sound quality is the icing on this cake, with the JBLs favouring a lively and entertaining sound. Bass weight is nicely judged and there's good extension there too. Detail levels are excellent at this level as are the dynamics on offer. If you're looking to make the step up from a cheap pair of earbuds and want an entertaining sound these JBLs have to be on your list.
Read the full JBL Live Pro 2 TWS review
How we test cheap wireless headphones
In order to put these headphones through their paces, we use them in real-world conditions. That means we run them down from full to empty to gauge battery life (multiple times) and use them outdoors in both built-up areas and open spaces to test how stable the wireless connection remains to the music source.
Using them outdoors also lets us check their noise-isolating properties, and active noise-cancellation (ANC) if they have it. We try them with both smartphones and computers to see how well they stand up in different use cases. 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 and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few that we favour the highest among the 100+ pairs we listen to each year. 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.
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.
These are the best wireless earbuds in town
Wondering why there's so much Sony on this list? Let us explain