You can spend hundreds (even thousands) on a new pair of headphones, and in some cases that's entirely justifiable. But you can still get great results from budget headphones. And sometimes, for quick commutes or for slinging into a bag or even as an ever-reliable back-up option, such pairs are just the ticket.
From in-ear to over-ear, Bluetooth and wireless headphones, the budget earphones we have below get our performance-per-pound alarms ringing. They're all What Hi-Fi? five-star products, delivering superb sound for not a lot of money.
So without further ado, here are a selection of the best cheap headphones that will do a fine job without breaking the bank.
The SoundMagic E11C headphones are the latest addition to a range that represents one of the more surprising success stories of recent years. The E10 set the marker for sub-£50 excellence for a number of years, and following an E10C in-line mic and remote control upgrade, the E11C equivalent is new for 2018. And we’re happy to report, they’re still pretty magic.
While not quite as special as the pricier Beyerdynamics that top this list, they're a steal at this price.
Read the full review: SoundMagic E11C
The fact that the AKG Y50s have been Award winners for five years on the trot tells you everything you need to know. They excel in sound and style, and can now be picked up for under £50.
These are exceptionally well made headphones. Their aluminium ear cups – which house 40mm drivers – have a smooth, glossy feel and feature fine cosmetic detail. And they're easy to fold up when not in use.
The Y50s don’t fall into the self-destructive trap of style over substance, sounding as cheery as they look with upbeat tunes and delivering scale and power when required. They can be a little on the quiet side, but otherwise we love everything about these stylish cans.
Read the full review: AKG Y50
Hammering 2018's Product of the Year into second place are these simple but stupendous buds, fresh from their success at the 2019 What Hi-Fi? Awards.
Klipsch's oval silicone tips are some of the most comfortable out there. Underneath them, the Klipsch's 5mm dynamic drivers kick out powerful and punchy bass with exquisite precision. They give a good sense of space no matter whether you're using them for streaming Spotify or watching Netflix and their dynamically quality reveals a host of sonic subtleties.
Anyone looking to upgrade their in-ear headphones need to give these great musical performers a try.
Read the full review: Klipsch T5 M Wired review
The Beyerdynamic Soul Byrds (no, that’s not a slip of the keyboard) are a talented pair of sub-£100 in-ear headphones. If you want an affordable upgrade for a pair of ageing Apple EarPods, these headphones deserve to be on your hitlist. They’re so good, we’ll even forgive the spelling.
This is a superb pair of in-ear headphones – such an easy listen, but interesting and captivating too. It’s a brilliant feat for a pair of in-ears at this price.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd
OK, we admit you are unlikely to wear these when you're out and about. They are quite large. But if you need a decent pair of over-ear headphones for home listening at a bargain price, look no further.
The AKG K72s are large circumaural headphones with pads large enough to engulf all but the most gigantic of ears. They help to make comfort among the best you’ll find at the price.
As for sound quality, it’s expansive, with width and scale just not heard in the kind of headphones found on the high street at £40. There’s enough bass to make them a fun listen and they’re an altogether more grown-up and detailed pair of headphones than most similarly-priced rivals. A great buy.
Read the full review: AKG K72
With the Melomania 1s, Cambridge Audio has made good on its promise to save us from bad sound experiences. These budget-conscious in-ears offer a cohesive, expansive and rhythmically driven sound, but also an intuitive, playful soundstage that few wireless earbuds can achieve at the price.
With nine hours battery life from the buds themselves, plus four additional charges from the case, that means an impressive 45 hours of continuous use from this little set-up, too.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1
These Sonys offer the added benefit of noise-cancellation, and are also one of the best-sounding pairs of true wireless buds we've tested. Now that their successors, the Sony WF-1000XM3s, have arrived, these old-timers are now welcomley discounted too.
You get truly great sound quality, with punchy drums and fantastic detail, both Google Assistant and Apple Siri voice assistants, and nine hours of battery. Aside from occasional dropouts, they come highly recommended.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000X
JBL is a heavy hitter when it comes to true wireless sports earphones – and with the Under Armour Flash as its predecessor, the JBL Reflect Flow is a hotly anticipated entrant to the flourishing, albeit rather niche, true-wireless-for-sports market.
In their niche category, though, the JBL Reflect Flow headphones are very good indeed, especially if you want a bass-heavy sound for the gym without resorting to cans – and the 10-hour battery (or 30 with the case) will outlast a seriously long run.
Read the full review: JBL Reflect Flow
Are you the sporty type, looking for a durable pair of in-ears that will survive the rough and tumble of a gym workout or outdoor run? Then these are for you.
No matter the price, sport headphones need to do two things: fit securely and comfortably, and sound decent. These JVCs get it in one. Despite being eminently affordable, they are the flagship model in the company’s new in-ear sport range, and fully committed to the fitness cause. They aren’t just water-resistant, but washable to IPX7 standards, so you can give them a thorough clean under the tap after use. Handy.
Cheap headphones often suffer from thinness and brightness. Not here. The JVCs have decent weight and are beautifully balanced. OK, they don’t have the full dose of insight or subtlety of pricier pairs, but their presentation is one you could happily listen to for hours on end without any discomfort.
Read the full review: JVC HA-ETR40
Kill two birds with one stone in fine style with these affordable, feature-packed headphones: they're wireless and noise-cancelling, all for less than £100.
Fit is comfortable and snug, and connecting to a phone or tablet over Bluetooth is simple; press and hold the power button to make the headphones visible and then select the headphones on your device.
Noise-cancelling can be turned on or off, and with it on these do a solid job of blocking out external noise. At this price we'd often expect bright treble or booming bass, but instead the Lindy BNX-60 headphones deliver a balanced sound that’s easy to listen to. The Lindy BNX-60s aren't for the discerning audiophile, but as a great value pair of noise-cancelling headphones with the added bonus of wireless Bluetooth, we can’t quibble with what’s on offer here.
Read the full review: Lindy BNX-60
Shure normally concerns itself with higher-end earphones and some of that premium technology has trickled down to these under £100 earphones. There's a reinforced Kevlar cable, a vast array of bundled buds and the standard carry case. Sonically, these sound warm and detailed. There’s a weight and richness to bass we didn't particularly expect from Shure, with vocals given a rich, full-bodied flavour. You sacrifice some detail and excitement but if it's a smooth, bassy delivery you're after, look no further.
Read the full review: Shure SE215