Your buying guide for the best cheap headphones in 2018
Mobile music lovers have never had it so good – although the iPhone 7 doesn’t have a headphone jack, the standard headphones you get with smartphones are at an all-time high in terms of quality.
This does tend to be flagship phones, though and cheaper ones might not even come with some in the box. Either way, spending a little to upgrade your earphones is one of the best ways to get the most from a smartphone, or any other portable music player. Here are the best cheap headphones under £100, with most under £50.
The instant lift in audio quality needs to be heard to be believed – better, more impactful bass, crisper, more detailed treble and better isolation from the outside world are all worth the investment.
Here, we’ve rounded up ten different pairs, from traditional studio-style cans to tiny in-ear offerings, and given them an extensive listen to see where your money is best spent. Also read: How to stop earphone cables getting tangled or twisted
Choosing headphones isn’t just about improved audio quality, though – there are plenty of things to consider to make sure you end up with something that suits you perfectly.
In-line remotes and microphones
Once you’ve had headphones with an inline remote and microphone you’ll never go back. These allow you to answer calls, shuffle tracks and change the volume on audio playback, while the integrated microphone means you can carry on a conversation – and use voice activated software – without pulling your phone from your pocket. It’s a very useful addition to look out for.
Circumaural is another way of saying that a pair of headphones totally enclose the ears they’re worn over – typically known as over-ear. The advantage to this is lots of bass and good isolation from outside noise. And, because the speakers are effectively sealed against the wearer’s head, there’s minimal sound leakage.
The drawback is always size: over-ear headsets are very big and very heavy, and are always worth trying on before committing to.
These are a different kind of headphones, although like circumaural headsets they still involve a headband. Supra-aural sets sit on the ears and press inwards to provide enough volume and to stop sound leaking out.
The benefit is size and weight: these can be smaller than studio-style headsets, but the trade-off is often comfort.
These are arguably the most common type you’ll see, and it’s obvious why. In-ear headphones are small, very portable, and don’t weigh very much.
Most of the in-ear headphones mentioned below are canal headphones, which means they have rubber grommets or tips on the end which are pushed slightly (and carefully) into the ear canal. This produces excellent audio quality, thumping bass and lots of noise isolation if you find the right size tips.
Blocking out the outside world is an important job of a decent pair of headphones. Cancelling a rowdy office or the hum of the engines on a long flight can make life much more pleasant. At its most basic, noise isolation simply forms a seal around or inside the ear, preventing unwanted sound waves entering.
In-ear headphones, particularly canal-style headphones, are excellent at this. Otherwise, over-ear headsets are the next best way to go. Pay more than £50 and you might find models with active noise cancellation, where headphones play an imperceptible sound that cancels out constant background thrums such as engine noise.
You don’t often find decent wireless headphones for under £50 but there are some to choose from in our list – handy for the likes of the iPhone 7. We also have a chart just for the best wireless headphones.
Often you have to shell out a good few notes in order to get decent sounding headphones. However, OnePlus has proved that cheap headphones can sound great, look good and include extra features. If you’re budget for in-ear headphones is £20 then look no further than the OnePlus Bullets V2.
Read our OnePlus Bullets V2 review.
4. RHA S500i
The RHA S500i earphones provide excellent value for money, and they’re affordable to most people. With its mid-centric sound and minimalist design we were impressed by the overall package. This small set of earphones easily make their way on our recommended budget headphone list.
Read our RHA S500i review.
5. Onkyo E700M
The Onkyo E700M in-ears are a highly recommendable pair of headphones. We like the stylish design with tangle-resistant cables. They’re super comfy with the foam tips which also aid sound quality, which is great even if you don’t make use of High-Res Audio files. All for an affordable price.
Read our Onkyo E700M review.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-AR3BT headphones deliver a balanced soundscape and solid build at a reasonable price. With a mid-range price and a jack-of-all-trades listening experience, these should be a good fit for anyone with a broad range of music in mind.
Read our Audio-Technica ATH-AR3BT review.
The Skullcandy Grind provide a fantastic value-for-money sound, which coupled with its removable cable design, one-button remote, comfortable pads and their funky looking design make them a good value buy at £28.
Read our Skullcandy Grind review.
While we find the design and build a bit too plasticky, the Yamaha EPH-M200 in-ear headphones are comfortable and offer impressive bass and mid-range. Not everyone will want to spend this much considering some of the options at around half the price, though.
Read our Yamaha EPH-M200 review.
The Urbanista Seattle headphones are hard to summarise. The design is simplistic and attractive and would be a hit with the fashion-conscious, but there are downsides too; namely comfort and temperamental touch-based media controls.
Luckily they perform much better in the audio department, providing pronounced bass without drowning out the mid-range, although the high-end could be a little clearer.
Read our Urbanista Seattle wireless review.
10. Denon AH-C621R
The Denon AH-C621R in-ears are good looking headphones, although there’s nothing outstanding about the design as such. We’d prefer a carry pouch to the basic holder provided but you get five sets of tips including memory foam ones. Sound quality isn’t outstanding but the unusual tuning means these headphones are a great choice for those with a broad taste in music.
Read our Denon AH-C621R review.