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Best bargain headphones and earbuds in 2021

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Last updated: 19 October 2021

Whether you want to listen to music or watch your favourite show, you’re going to need something to listen through (unless you want to annoy the people around you). You don’t have to spend a fortune to benefit from clear audio though. 
 
Out of all the budget headphones available, these are the best of the bunch right now. Don’t expect them to compare to more expensive headphones, but for something that’s easily replaceable, and good value for money, you can’t go wrong with any of these choices. 

SONY MDR-ZX310APR Headphones

This is our favourite pair of headphones on this list by far. As a general rule of thumb, headphones produce much better sound quality than earbud counterparts - and the ZX310s are no exception. Its 30mm drivers produce a rich and detailed sound that lets you fully enjoy the highs and lows of whatever you choose to listen to.

If you’re looking for headphones that combine excellent sound with comfort, then these are definitely a good choice. While they might be lacking any headband padding, they’re incredibly light. This also means that they don’t need to include dense earcup padding to create comfort, as they feel so light on your head it’s as if they aren’t even there.

The ZX310s are also incredibly stylish. If you’re like us, then how your headphones look is an important factor. Nobody wants to walk around with a pair of headphones that look like cheap pieces of plastic. Fortunately, the Sony ZX310s look lovely, in no small part due to the shiny metallic effect on the outer of their earcups. Available in a range of colours, you’re sure to find one that suits your style.

Of course, the materials used aren’t as high quality as other headphones in Sony’s range. The ‘pleater’ feels closer to plastic than genuine leather, but with budget headphones you can’t expect anything different. But these are still a good pair of headphones, and provided they’re looked after, they should last a long time without needing replacing.

Pros:

  • Comfortable: The combination of their lightweight build and cushioned padding means that these Sony headphones are extremely comfortable to wear, even for prolonged periods.
  • Stylish: Available in a variety of classy colours, they look great while you’re wearing them. The earcups are also decorated with a shiny metallic effect which makes them stand out.
  • Detailed sound: Thanks to their wide frequency range and powerful 30mm drivers, the MDR-ZX310’s can recreate a variety of sounds - from dubstep bass, to gentle acoustic, to a rock solo. Whatever your taste, the ZX310’s are capable of producing a great sound for budget headphones.
  • Folding earcups: If you’re packing the Sony ZX310’s away, you can easily rotate the earcups so that they take up a lot less space. It makes them perfect for popping in your bag while commuting, without needing a lot of room.
  • One button control: The inclusion of a single button means that you can easily pause and play your music. Plus, they’re compatible with both Apple and Android phones.

Cons:

  • Materials aren’t top quality: The ‘pleather’ used for the earcups feels closer to plastic than leather, but since these are a pair of budget headphones, you can’t expect the build quality to be that high.

RRP: £30

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HOUSE OF MARLEY Smile Jamaica Headphones

The production quality of these earbuds is one to be impressed with. From focusing on the build materials to the quality of the sound itself, House of Marley have clearly produced an excellent pair of budget-friendly headphones. It’s unusual to find such a good pair of headphones at such a relatively low price.  

One of the greatest issues surrounding any cable-connected headphones is the quality of the audio jack. If it’s weak, then you can expect the internal wiring to break relatively easily, and soon you’ll be left with a pair of unusable headphones.

But thankfully, this is not the case with House of Marley’s Smile Jamaicas. The connector is reinforced, meaning that it’s unlikely to bend in any repetitive action that could quickly cause serious damage with other headphones. If all goes well, these earbuds should last you for years to come.

Depending on the genre you listen to, the bass can come across a little heavy. For the most part this isn’t much of an issue, but if you’re a rock fan it can occasionally overwhelm some of the lighter musical notes. It shouldn’t damage your enjoyment of the song, but audiophiles may find it more jarring than your average listener.

Pros:

  • Tangle-free: Its woven cable not only adds an aesthetic quality to the Smile Jamaicas, but actually keeps them tangle-free too. This is a great feature as it combines style with functionality, and untangling wires is one of the largest inconveniences when using earbuds.
  • Production quality: Despite being a budget pair of earbuds, the production quality of the Smile Jamaicas is exceptional. It utilises wood, woven cord, and aluminium to create a pair that not only looks exquisite, but produces an incredible sound too.
  • Reinforced headphone jack: The headphone jack is cast at a strengthened 90-degree angle, which makes it more able to withstand frequent use and avoid any type of excessive strain that could lead to internal wiring breaking.
  • Sustainable: One extremely impressive feature of the Smile Jamaicas is that all the materials they use are sustainable. Also, for every pair that is sold, a tree is planted, which helps to offset the carbon footprint of manufacturing them.

Cons:

  • Bass-heavy: The music can sometimes be a little bass-heavy, which can periodically drown out some of the higher notes. This isn’t a major issue, and music can still be enjoyed, but audiophiles may be left feeling disgruntled.

RRP: £14.99

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SONY MDR-EX110APR Headphones - Red

While not able to perfectly recreate sound to the quality that audiophiles may demand, these headphones will easily keep casual listeners happy, regardless of your preferred genre. The inclusion of a high-density acoustic reactor means that bass tones are recreated in exceptional detail, and higher frequencies are supported accordingly. This creates a rich and full-bodied listening experience. An impressive feat for such small earbuds.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Sony EX110’s is their weight. Only weighing 3 grams, they are incredibly light. This means they are comfortable to wear for hours at a time, removing one of the greatest issues with using in-ear headphones.

The largest drawback of these earbuds has to be the build of the cable. The cable connecting the Sony EX110’s is extremely thin, meaning it’s susceptible to damage that could make your earbuds unusable. One solution is to simply take as good care of them as possible.

Sony also claims that the cord is designed to not get tangled between uses. This is great as tangled wires can be frustrating, but we do recommend that you take their claim with a pinch of salt.

Pros:

  • Incredible clarity: The Sony EX110’s use a high-density acoustic reactor, which enriches bass tones while supporting clear and high frequencies, to ensure you get the very best sound transferred into your ears.
  • Comfortable: Including multiple sized earpieces, the EX110’s can comfortably be used for hours at a time. They should also provide a snug fit to prevent any sound from either entering or escaping your ears. A massive plus when you’re trying to enjoy your music in peace.
  • Lightweight: At only 3 grams, these may be the lightest pair of headphones that you ever own. In real terms, this means that you don’t need to worry about any discomfort or having them fall out of your ears while they are in use.

Cons:

  • Thin cable: The main drawback of the Sony EX110’s is that the cable is relatively thin. This means that it may not be able to withstand much action, so if you do purchase this pair, make sure you store them safely to ensure longevity.

RRP: £20

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SKULLCANDY Jib Headphones - White & Black

Skullcandy continuously creates great sounding and stylish headphones, and the Jibs are no different. Available in a multitude of different colours, the Jib earbuds look brilliant. And since they’re earbuds, the added portability means you can easily carry them wherever you go.

The Skullcandy Jibs do possess one interesting feature - thanks to the fit of the actual earbud, they are able to limit the amount of external sound that enters your ear. While this isn’t the same as noise cancelling, this noise-isolating feature is a brilliant budget alternative.

The in-line music control button means that you can play, pause, or skip music as required. You can even answer calls with the same button and speak to your friends with its built-in microphone.

This removes the panic of scrambling to unplug your headphones and fish your phone out of your bag or pocket, by which time you might have missed the call. Instead, at the press of a button you can answer the call and begin speaking without any hassle.

However, just like most budget headphones, the Skullcandy Jibs can be temperamental. Don’t let that scare you off though, as they provide a brilliantly clear sound and are well worth the price. All in all, these earbuds are excellent value for money and should be able to provide hours upon hours of comfortable, quality listening.

Pros:

  • Noise-isolating: While not noise cancelling, the fit of the Skullcandy Jib earbuds helps to stop external noise from interrupting your music. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to enjoy your music in peace, they’re definitely worth a look.
  • Microphone included: Perfect for answering the phone mid-song, the built-in microphone make the Skullcandy Jibs an excellent budget option.
  • Music control: A button on the wire allows you to control your music with ease. It’s compatible with all phones, so whatever your device, you can play, pause, skip track, or even bring up your phone’s assistant.
  • Multiple stylistic options: The Skullcandy Jib earphones come in a range of colour schemes. Whatever your preferred style, you’ll certainly be able to find a Jib that suits you.

Cons:

  • Can be temperamental: As with most budget earbuds, their production quality isn’t the best, so they can be subject to issues after a while. Still, at such a low price, they’re easy enough to replace if something does go wrong.

RRP: £8.99

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SONY EX15APB Headphones - Black

These are currently the cheapest pair of Sony headphones you can buy, but just like any Sony product, the sound quality is still very impressive. They won’t compare to more expensive earbuds, but nevertheless, they produce an incredible sound for their cost. They’re incredibly comfortable too.

The earpieces are highly adaptable and should be able to fit your ear with ease. If necessary, you can always swap out the pre-applied earbuds for a different size, allowing you to find the perfect fit. The comfort provided by these earbuds means that you’ll be able to wear them for hours at a time without experiencing any sort of discomfort or earache that you may find with budget earbuds of a lower quality.

While the majority of EX15s may last you a long time, that might not be the case with all of them. The build quality does vary, and you could end up with a pair that hasn’t been manufactured as well, leading to quicker wear and tear damage and shorter lifespans. This shouldn’t be much of an issue if they are well looked after, but components can become loose and consequently, stop working.

There is a handy microphone and music control built into the wiring, which makes it easy to control your music and calls. This also makes them extremely useful for video-calling apps such as Zoom or Facetime.

Pros:

  • In-line control: All your music can be easily controlled from the single button built into the earbud’s wiring. It’s compatible with both Apple and Android, so you can rest easy regardless of your device.
  • Excellent sound: As is standard for Sony products, they produce an exceptional sound for their cost. Whereas other earbuds may sound tinny, the EX15’s are able to recreate a wide range of sounds with relative ease. They won’t sound as detailed as some more expensive earbuds, but that’s no real surprise at such a low price.
  • Built-in microphone: Just like the Skullcandy Jibs, the Sony EX15s include a microphone to allow you to use the call function of your phone - without needing to physically remove your phone from your bag or pocket.
  • Extremely comfortable: These earbuds are exceptionally comfortable, meaning that they can easily be worn for hours on end without causing any discomfort or in-ear pain.

Cons:

  • Inconsistent build quality: You may find that some of the EX15s break more easily than others. This is because the build quality isn’t 100% consistent and you may find that a pair can last either a couple of months or a couple of years.

RRP: £7.99

GOJI Berries 3.0 Headphones - Blueberry

It is unusual to find a pair of truly budget earbuds with a gold-plated jack. When the jack is plated in gold, it allows a much more authentic sound to be transmitted from the media player (in this case your phone) to the audio device (the Goji Berries 3.0). Don’t be completely swayed by this, however, as just because the audio signal is transmitted cleanly doesn’t mean that the headphones can produce it as well.

The greatest selling point of these headphones is their low price. Available for just £4.99 at the time of writing, they are one of the cheapest pairs of headphones on this list. It also helps that they recreate music quite well, producing a decent quality sound. They may not be the best sounding on this list, but at their price, you won’t find much better value for money.

Some customers have reported that the Goji Berries can stop working unexpectedly. This isn’t wholly surprising considering their low price, although it is a shame. If you do consider buying these earbuds, we would suggest buying two pairs. That way if one does end up failing on you, you’ll have another pair as a backup.

Pros:

  • Gold-plated jack: The Goji Berries come with a gold-plated jack, so you can be sure that the music is being transferred in the best possible quality. All decent audio equipment should be equipped with gold, to ensure the best music quality retention possible.
  • Convenient controls: Handy in-line controls mean that you can retain full control over your music, whether you’re commuting, studying, or simply relaxing at home.
  • Budget-friendly: At the time of writing, these headphones are currently on sale for just £4.99. This is an exceptional price for a pair of earbuds, so they’re excellent value for money. They make an excellent backup pair if you keep losing your earbuds due to their small size.

Cons:

  • Can be fragile: A common occurrence in budget accessories; since the build quality is lacking they can often be found to break - sometimes without reason.

RRP: £4.99

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GOJI Lites GLITOBT18 Headphones - Black

Like the Sony ZX310’, these are a strong pair of budget on-ear headphones - and consequently, produce a better sound than most earbuds. The Goji Lites use a 40mm driver which is able to reproduce a wide range of sounds, creating a good value listening experience. These are certainly a respectable choice for anyone looking for on-ear headphones on a budget.

The inclusion of a volume slider is incredibly useful, allowing you to easily change the volume without having to get your phone out and fiddle with the buttons. This feature is especially useful if you’re listening to something where the volume frequently changes, or you start talking to someone but don’t want to pause your music.

The drawback is that the slider can easily be adjusted accidentally, meaning that if you change position or move around, then you could find your music suddenly very quiet or very loud. This can be incredibly jarring when you’ve been listening comfortably for a while.

The fold-flat design of the Goji Lites is useful, as it means they can easily be folded away and taken with you wherever you go. It makes them perfect for commuting or taking on longer trips because they take up far less space in a bag. Their portability, combined with their low cost, make them an excellent pair of gym/workout headphones. While not waterproof, they are sturdy and cheap enough to warrant use during exercise.

Pros:

  • In-line volume controls: Music too loud? Turn it down from the volume control built into these headphones. While most budget headphones only let you control the music, the Goji GLITOBT18s let you adjust the volume without any difficulty.
  • 40mm drivers: These Goji Lites use a 40mm driver, which helps to recreate a full range of sound from your favourite songs.
  • Value for money: Considering the price of these headphones, they offer an excellent listening experience.
  • Fold-flat design: For extra portability, the Goji Lites allow the earcups to be folded in. This means they take up much less space, and are easier to pop in your bag when you need to take them with you.

Cons:

  • Volume slider can be fiddly: Since the volume is on a slider, it is very easy to accidentally adjust the volume and make it either too quiet or too loud. This can be extremely frustrating when you’re simply trying to listen to music, or watch a show without interruption.
  • Temperamental microphone: The microphone isn’t 100% clear and can create slight connectivity issues if attempting to use voice chat software (such as Discord or Zoom).

RRP: £20

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And there you have it, the best bargain headphones you can find. If you’re constantly losing or misplacing yours, it can be a great idea to buy multiple budget headphones and keep them separate. That way, you can ensure that you’ll never be without music when you need it the most.

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Fergus Cole

Author: Fergus Cole

Fergus is a journalist specialising in the personal finance, energy and broadband sectors. He also has a passion for travel and adventure so tries to make the most of this in any spare time he gets.