Great headphones don't have to cost a fortune. While pricier models do generally sound and perform better, there are some brilliant cheap headphones under £100.
You don't have to sacrifice features, either. All styles of headphones (including wireless, noise-cancelling and over-ear) are all available for less than £100. Which is pretty amazing when you think about it.
Sure, even the best headphones under £100 won't challenge models higher up the product chain – in lesser pairs, the usual problems persist, including poor sound quality, an iffy wireless connection that drops out frequently, poor fit, and shoddy build quality. But the best of the bunch do exactly what they set out to: be excellent headphones for those on a budget. And we should know – we've tested all the headphones listed below, and were bowled over by them all. So what's on offer?
How to choose the best headphones under £100 for you
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.
True wireless buds are the ultimate in convenience – there are no wires whatsoever, they're literally two buds you pop in your ears. If you're looking for no tangles, or don't like the idea of a neckband slapping your nape while you run, you should consider a true wireless pair.
Wireless headphones come in on-ear and over-ear designs – the latter usually have a neckband or cable joining the two earbuds. Some people really don't mind this, so they're still worth considering. And they're usually cheaper than a true wireless pair. On-ear wireless headphones usually come with a cable so you can plug them in if you don't want to drain the battery (while listening at home, for example).
Noise-cancellers block out background noise, which is handy for getting some shut-eye on a long plane journey, or just drowning out the office hubbub. They come in both on-ear and in-ear versions. That's what to look out for. Now let's get to our pick of the best headphones under £100.
Sony's newest wireless earbuds sit between the brand's budget WF-C500 and high-end WF-1000XM4. Both of those models are Award winners, so the C700N have a lot to live up to. But we're happy to report they don't let the family down.
They're impressively small (thanks in part to their smaller driver), and their light weight helps make them even more comfortable than Sony's flagship WF-1000XM4. They feel more expensive than they are, thanks to little additions like magnets on the charging case that snap the buds into place. And they come in a range of finishes, including lavender and sage green, both of which are a bit more adventurous than the more staid colourways of the XM4.
They lack aptX HD and LDAC – the latter is reserved for Sony's higher-end buds – but still pack noise-cancelling tech, which is a step up from Sony's budget model. 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.
The sound quality is excellent across the frequency range, from rumbling bass to the soaring highs (and plenty in between).
Downsides? The lack of LDAC support is disappointing, while Multipoint – which lets you switch seamlessly between devices – won't arrive until later in the summer. But the superb sound and great feature set make these easy to recommend as the best headphones under £100.
Read the full Sony WF-C700N review
One listen to these wallet-friendly in-ears, and you'll struggle to believe that SoundMagic was only formed as recently as 2005. In that relatively short time, it's built a reputation for some of the best headphones under £100. And these are some of its best, notching up a What Hi-Fi? Award in both 2021 and 2022. No mean feat.
They launched all the way back in 2018 – an age in headphone terms – but faced with the best modern competition at the price, they still come out tops. Sound quality is excellent, with on-point timing, lovely depth and warmth and standout clarity.
They're wired, so of course you'll need an adapter to use with most modern smartphones and tablets. But they have an in-line remote and mic for taking hands-free calls. And all for around £50. Incredible.
Read the full SoundMagic E11C review
When it comes to wireless earbuds, Sony has sewn up the high end with the WF-1000XM4. But can it do the same at the budget end of the market with the WF-C500?
These won a 2022 What Hi-Fi? Award, so the answer is yes indeed. 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 earbuds 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. Definitely one for the shortlist.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
Austrian Audio, born out of ex-AKG employees, has hit the ground running with its first-ever range of wired headphones, Hi-X. The wallet-friendly Hi-X15 won a 2022 What Hi-Fi? Award.
We’d consider them analytical headphones, but they still manage to make music entertaining with it – they extract bags of detail but keep the soul of your music intact. Throughout the frequency range, these headphones deliver consistently high detail levels and fantastic dynamics. There isn’t an ounce of fat on any track played through the Austrian Audio Hi-X15 headphones. But at the same time there’s enough weight and substance to low frequencies that you don’t feel as though you’re missing out.
We wouldn't insist on you partnering them with a suitable DAC/headphone amplifier, but do so and you’ll be rewarded with a mature-sounding pair of headphones that go above and beyond at the money.
Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review
Sennheiser doesn't tend to release too many pairs of wireless headphones at this more affordable end of the market so we're happy to report that these Bluetooth headphones are excellent value for money. So excellent, we gave them a 2022 What Hi-Fi? Award.
The appearance might be functional, but these are far from basic. There's a Smart Control app for one, which brings with it an equaliser and EQ settings, plus battery life notifications and firmware updates.
Sonically, Sennheiser’s ultra-affordable and durable headphones do not disappoint for the price. The HD 250BT sound a good deal more musically detailed, agile and rhythmically gifted across the frequencies than you might expect.
Read the full Sennheiser HD 250BT review
If you've got under £100 to spend on headphones, these JBL earbuds could be right up your street – they launched at £130, but the price has since come down.
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 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
Panasonic doesn't immediately spring to mind when you think of the best headphones under £100. But perhaps it should. The 2021 Award-winning RZ-S500W are the company's first foray into wireless noise-cancelling earbuds and they're sensational performers for the price.
Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs 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. A great buy, even if you're not trying to keep the cost below £100.
Read the full Panasonic RZ-S500W review
This Pro variant takes the standard – and excellent – Earfun Air and adds active noise cancelling (ANC), more mics and larger drivers. That all adds up to a better sonic performance as well as clearer voice calls – very handy if you're out and about in noisy environments.
And considering the spec sheet, the price remains jaw-droppingly low – a staple of Earfun's approach.
The headphones pair easily, and they're comfortable enough for even the longest of conference calls. The controls are a doddle to use, too. Two taps on the right bud pauses or resumes playback; three skips to the next track. Double tapping the left earpiece accesses Siri on your iPhone and also answers or ends a call. The crucial function you’ll want to practise is a triple-tap of that left earpiece, as this scrolls between the Earfun’s noise-cancelling, ‘normal’ and ‘ambient sound’ modes.
They're built to survive a downpour, too. All in all, it’s a lot of tech and durability, especially for headphones under £100.
Read the full Earfun Air Pro review
The CX 400BT are more sonically gifted than most at this price (which fluctuates above and below £100, so do keep an eye out). They're not water- or sweat-resistant but they do boast Bluetooth 5.1 support and a mobile app, neither of which is a given at this level. The former promises high-quality, far-reaching Bluetooth transmission, while the latter opens doors to EQ adjustment and control customisation.
The controls are simple for voice calls, too. Just tap the right earbud once to activate your phone’s voice assistant or accept incoming calls, twice to jump forward a track or rejects calls, or hold it down to increase volume. Battery life is seven hours, which is decent but can be bettered in this company.
Sound quality is where the Sennheisers excel, though. They produce a detailed and lively sound with bags of energy and enthusiasm. For the money, it's hugely appealing – earbuds of this standard aren't to be sniffed at.
Read the full Sennheiser CX 400BT review
From the spec sheet, the Earfun Air seem too good to be true. They have voice assistance, with two mics per earpiece, a wireless charging case that supports Qi wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.0 support. They're waterproof IPX7 rated, so they can be submerged in up to 1m of water for up to 30 minutes, and battery life is an impressive 35 hours. There are also touch controls and in-ear detection tech to pause playback when you remove them.
That kind of feature set usually commands a three-figure sum, but these cost around half that.
And they deliver in terms of performance. They feel a lot more expensive than they are, they're a dream to use, and the Bluetooth connection remains stable. They even sound pretty great for the money, with a pleasant and spacious presentation and enthusiastic, energetic and accurate bass.
Until now, we’ve never awarded five stars to a true wireless model at this budget level – despite testing models from well-known and highly respected audio brands. This is the first. If you’re after something inexpensive that sound good without breaking the bank, the Earfun Air buds could just be the ideal proposition.
Read the full Earfun Air review
Home listening doesn't get more bargainous than this. The K72 offer an expansive soundscape, with plenty of width and scale, and enough bass to keep your head nodding without ever becoming overbearing. Altogether a more grown-up and detailed pair of headphones than most similarly-priced rivals.
Read the full AKG K72 review
Just having wireless and noise cancelling at this price is a massive bonus, so the fact they work well is even more welcome. Pairing is simple, while the noise cancelling blocks out the vast majority of unwanted noise. Some models around this price range are all bright treble or booming bass, but these deliver a balanced sound that's easy on the ear. And for £80, you can't really ask for more.
Want to step up without breaking the bank? Check out the slightly upgraded Lindy BNX-80, which cost about £90, so still under £100.
Read the full Lindy BNX-60 review
How we test headphones
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, 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 headphones don't often require such facilities (though we do often try audiophile headphones in our reference hi-fi system). 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), while the wired headphones that might warrant being used with a DAC are tested with a suitable one. 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.