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Best budget headphones and earbuds to buy in 2021

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Last updated: 22 October 2021

Making sure you’re getting the right headphones can be a long and arduous ordeal. There are so many to choose from, and while some are absolutely brilliant, others can leave you feeling disheartened and like you’ve wasted your money. You shouldn’t have to deal with extra stress when all you want to do is relax.
 
That’s why we’ve curated this list of the best budget headphones you can buy right now, so you can rest assured that you’re getting the perfect headphones for you to enjoy your music in audio bliss. 

1. SENNHEISER HD 458BT Wireless Bluetooth Noise-Cancelling Headphones

From heavy rock to current pop, a podcast or even a gaming session - the Sennheiser 458BTs can easily provide a consistently clear and rich-sounding audio. A massive plus when looking for a jack of all trades option.

They include an Active Noise Cancelling function, which is very useful for cutting out excess background noise. However, the earcup controls are unnecessarily complicated, and the small buttons and various sliders make them tricky to use.

At the time of writing, the Sennheiser 458BT’s were £99, reduced from £169. If you do plan to buy these, we would suggest that you wait until they’re on sale before snatching them up.

Pros:

  • Exquisite sound: The sound produced by these Sennheisers is an entrancing compromise between Bose’s warm and accurate higher notes and the more bass-centric sound of Sony.
  • Perfect all-rounders: If you’re looking for a pair of headphones that can handle anything, the Sennheiser 458BTs could be for you.
  • Decent ANC: The Sennheiser 458BTs come equipped with a decent Active Noise Cancelling feature that can silence standard external sounds. It may struggle more with loud and deep rumbles (like a car engine), but on the whole, it’s a welcome addition.

Cons:

  • Expensive when not on sale: When they’re on sale, however, the Sennheiser 458BTs are an excellent pair of headphones at a good price.
  • Unintuitive UI: Getting used to the user interface of the Sennheiser 458BTs is more difficult than it needs to be.

RRP: £169

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2. SONY WH-CH510 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

The Sony WH-CH510’s are very simple headphones. They don’t claim to possess any incredible features that make them better than their competitors, but their modesty is exactly why they stand out.

While others try to add new and impressive features, the 510s have focused on sounding superb, an improved battery life, and user functionality. With a remarkable and deep sound, 35-hour battery life, and just 3 easy-to-use buttons, they have achieved their goal.

While the shell is made from an aesthetically pleasing textured design, it’s still made from a brittle-feeling plastic and doesn’t fold up or collapse. We would advise against ‘throwing’ them in your bag, but instead treat the 510s with care to ensure they don’t get damaged.

Pros:

  • Extensive battery life: The Sony 510s boast a whopping 35-hour battery life, which we’ve found to be accurate. This should provide you about a week of listening before needing to charge - an impressive feat
  • Easy to use: The 510s are amazingly easy to use, thanks to their chunky and discernible earcup buttons.
  • Focused: Sony hasn’t bothered themselves with trying to pack a dozen different features into these budget headphones. Instead, they’ve concentrated on doing the basics exceptionally well, and they’ve succeeded.

Cons:

  • Delicate: The build of the 510s is plastic, and while it may be textured and aesthetically pleasing, they should be treated with care to avoid causing any damage.

RRP: £50

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3. SAMSUNG Galaxy Buds

Samsung’s brilliant Galaxy Buds are an incredible alternative to Apple’s Airpods. Their battery life is nearly twice as strong, and they’re compatible with both Android and iPhones.

They are  sweat and water resistant, making them an excellent choice for gym headphones. And thanks to the moulding earpiece, they’ll stay both secure and comfortable in your ear throughout your session.

One minor gripe is the accuracy needed to use their touch controls, but this is simply a minor inconvenience.

Pros:

  • 9 hour battery life: The Samsung Galaxy Buds have a long battery life, nearly double of what the Apple Airpods offer.
  • Sweat and water resistant: Since the Galaxy Buds are totally undamaged by light sweat and water, they’re more than suitable to be worn in the gym or during a workout.
  • Comfortable and secure: You don’t have to worry that the Galaxy Buds will start to cause pain or fall out while you’re using them. The earpieces are able to form perfectly to the shape of your ear, ensuring both comfort and security.
  • Ambient mode: At a touch of the Buds, you can activate Ambient Mode, which allows you to hear everything going on in the wider world without needing to take out the earbuds.

Cons:

  • Touch controls require precision: There is little room for error when trying to use the Galaxy Buds’ Touch Controls. Not applying enough pressure, or tapping the wrong area, means that the Bud won’t register the touch and you’ll have to try again.

RRP: £139

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4. SONY MDR-XB550AP On-Ear Wired Headphones

Fans of bass-heavy music will simply adore these headphones. The ‘extra bass’ of the 550s does not only create an impressive sound, but stretches to the sub-bass too.

For the unaware, the sub-bass notes are the ones you don’t hear but feel. This is what sets these headphones apart from other ‘bass-heavy’ headphones, because you can actually feel your music.

You may be tempted to believe that the 550s only focus on bass, but that’s simply not true. They do a fantastic job at recreating the full range, delivering gorgeous vocals and crisp higher notes.

The only drawback we’ve found is if you don’t love the low notes, the bass can feel a little too much. We recommend them for specialised listening rather than casual.

Pros:

  • Quality noise isolation: While they don’t have an ANC feature, the earcups have been specially designed to prevent external sound overpowering your music.
  • Bass is exceptional: As you would expect from headphones called “Extra Bass”, the bass produced is impeccable. The higher notes aren’t impacted either, sounding both clean and clear.
  • Excellent build quality: Traditionally, headphones on the lower end of the budget spectrum sacrifice build-quality first. This is not the case with the XB550s. Strong and durable, they’re capable of withstanding more punishment than other models at this price.

Cons:

  • Can be too much: If you’re not a massive fan of bass, the 550s can feel slightly oppressive. If that’s the case, you’d probably be better off with another pair from this list.

RRP: £50

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5. AUDIO TECHNICA ATH-S200BT Bluetooth Headphones

A superb pair of headphones at an excellent price. Not many headphones can offer as long a battery life as the ATH-S200BTs, and Sony comes closest with 35 hours. This is easily the best battery life you’ll get on a budget.

These headphones also provide an incredible sound. You may find their depth lacking slightly, but the musical clarity produced is of a similar quality to more expensive headphones.

The fit of the S200BTs may feel tight, and this could cause very slight discomfort. This may also be due to the lesser materials used in production, such as foam in the earcup. Considering the relatively low and reasonable price, however, Audio Technica have managed to create a brilliant pair of headphones at excellent value.

Pros:

  • 40-Hour battery life: With a staggering 40 hours of battery life, you won’t need to worry about charging the S200BTs for days at a time.
  • Impressive sound: While they may be lacking in depth, the S200BTs do possess a certain clarity that is only typically found in more expensive headphones.

Cons:

  • Slightly tight grip: The S200BTs have a tight headband, which means they clamp your head and ears a little while in use. They’re not overly uncomfortable, but it can be an annoyance when wearing them for prolonged periods.

RRP: £59

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6. MARSHALL Major III Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

If you’re a fan of classic rock, you may find yourself instantly drawn to the gorgeous design of the Marshall Major IIIs. Using the same aesthetic as their signature amps, the Major IIIs are definitely a statement piece - with functionality to back them up.

If you do a lot of travelling and need a pair of headphones that match your lifestyle, these could be a very good investment for you thanks to their collapsible design.

They’re not perfect headphones, however, and can distort sound at higher volumes, but overall they’re a solid pair of on-ear headphones.

Pros:

  • Beautifully stylish: Following the typical Marshall design, the Marshall Major IIIs are a gorgeous pair of headphones that flaunt their classic rock heritage. They are clearly a statement piece that looks great and sound fantastic.
  • Completely compactible: The Marshall IIIs are capable of being folded up to a diminutive size, which makes them an excellent option for travellers.
  • Intuitive one-button control: The single button on the Major III headphones can control the power, play/pause songs or answer/end calls, skip tracks, change volume, and activate your phone’s virtual assistant. It all depends on how long you press, or which direction you slide it.

Cons:

  • Connecting cable doesn’t cut power: When you connect the audio cable for a wired listening experience, the power doesn’t automatically switch. This means if you’re not aware, you can drain the battery without realising.

RRP: £69.99

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7. SONY WH-CH710N Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Getting good ANC headphones on a budget can be a struggle, but that’s where the Sony WH-CH710s come in. Bear in mind that it won’t be as effective as the silent XM4s, but it’s still the best you’ll get on a budget. The noise-cancelling feature is able to easily adapt between sounds, and can keep a lid on unexpected noises too.

In terms of audio quality, they are extremely easy to listen to but they’re not perfect. While they may not be well suited to true audiophiles, they provide a great listening experience for the casual listener.

While these may still be ‘budget’ headphones, at £100 a pair they are starting to push the upper limit of the classification. This means they feel slightly overpriced, but ultimately they’re still a solid offering from Sony.

Pros:

  • Easy listening: Perfectly suited to casual listeners, who want to relax in relative peace and quiet.
  • 35-hour battery life: Just like the 510s, the 710s have a strong 35-hour battery life. Perfect for long audio sessions, multiple days in a row.
  • Decent ANC: While it doesn’t match up to the premium Sony XM4s, the noise cancelling on the 710s does a decent job at keeping unwanted noise out.

Cons:

  • Overpriced: Compared to other headphones at this price point, you’d expect better build materials and better features.

RRP: £130

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8. HOUSE OF MARLEY Positive Vibration 2 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

At the time of review, these were available for just £50. They are a perfectly decent pair of headphones, at an extremely affordable price.

However, the biggest area that the Vibration 2 fails in is its Bluetooth connection. It can be confusing to solve if an issue occurs, though it does come with a 3.5mm audio cable that can bypass this issue if you can’t find a solution.  

More expensive alternatives may offer better sound quality, but at this price the Vibration 2s are a brilliant option and one well worth considering. They may not be perfect, but they offer a lot without breaking the bank.

Pros:

  • Crafted from sustainable materials: The wood and aluminium used in the construction of the Positive Vibration 2s are both sustainably sourced and recyclable. Perfect for those worrying about their carbon footprint.
  • Well priced: The Positive Vibration 2 is perhaps one of the best low-budget pair of headphones you can buy.
  • Solid construction: Every part of this pair of headphones is solid, from the sound to the design. Everything holds up well, especially when compared to similarly priced alternatives.

Cons:

  • Bluetooth connectivity can be tricky to set up: Some customers have reported that they’ve experienced issues with connecting the Vibration 2 to their devices.

RRP: £49.99

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9. SONY WH-XB700 On-Ear Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

Sony’s Extra Bass series offers great sounding headphones, capable of handling the heaviest bass with ease, and the XB700s are no different. It’s not just bass-heavy songs that the XB700s are capable of recreating though - Sony have been able to create a balance between the notes so that you’re not left feeling overwhelmed. This is something they’ve previously struggled to do with older models.

The largest issue with the XB700s is that due to their design, they can cause discomfort when wearing them for prolonged periods. This is less than ideal for a pair of headphones, so we would suggest trying them out yourself before you commit to the purchase.

Pros:

  • Easy to use controls: As is the case with Sony headphones, the XB700s have clear and simple controls on the earcups. While this isn’t a defining feature, it’s nice to know that Sony cares about their customers ease of usage.
  • Extra bass: Sony’s XB700s are part of their Extra Bass range, and consequently produce some of the best bass on the market. They’ve also managed to reach some balance, so while the bass is heavy, it’s not overpowering.
  • Long-lasting battery life: The XB700s boast a battery life of up to 30 hours on a single charge.

Cons:

  • Supra design can be uncomfortable: The Supra-Aural design of the XB700s is one that may not be comfortable to everyone for long periods of time.

RRP: £130

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10. JBL TUNE 600BTNC Wireless Bluetooth Noise-Cancelling Headphones

A perfect pair of headphones to shut out the world and listen to your music in entrancing clarity, the JBL Tune 600BTNCs are a beefy set of cans that handle bass extremely well - but still insist on boosting the bass in gentler songs.

The biggest issue with the 600BTNCs is their appearance. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with how they look, it feels as if JBL haven’t put much effort into it.

All in all, the JBL Tune 600BTNC headphones are a very capable pair of headphones. They do produce a deeper sound with stronger bass, so if that’s how you like your music then you’re in luck.

Pros:

  • 22-hour battery life: A decent battery life, and while it doesn’t compare to the Sony WH-CH510s, it still lasts a healthy length of time.
  • Active noise cancelling: It is rare to find budget headphones with a good noise cancelling feature, but the JBL Tune seems to manage it quite well.
  • Powerful sound: The Tune 600BTNCs handle both the high and low frequencies extremely well. You can hear individual instruments played clearly, and the sound remains expressive throughout.

Cons:

  • Bland appearance, prone to scratches: The 600BTNCs have a wholly basic appearance. Whereas other headphones try to look more interesting and inviting, JBL has elected to go with as standard a design as possible. It’s also prone to scuffs and scratches, meaning you’ll have to take good care to keep them looking pristine.

RRP: £89.99

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11. SKULLCANDY Sesh Evo In-Ear Water Resistant Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

These are a great pair of true wireless headphones at even better value. They’re probably best used for workouts, where their IP55 rating will keep them in perfect condition no matter how hard you push yourself.

The Evo’s biggest failing is its microphone. If you try to use the Skullcandy Evos to call people, you’re going to experience difficulty with clarity as they struggle to hear you. On the flip side, you’ll be able to hear them perfectly, but half a conversation is not ideal.

Perhaps the best feature, and one that should be included in every pair of true wireless earbuds, is the inclusion of Tile compatibility. Tile is an app that allows you to use your phone to locate missing objects, and with earbuds as small as this, it’s a welcome addition.  

Pros:

  • 24-hour battery life: Better than some over-ear headphones, the Skullcandy Evos provide a combined 24 hours of listening on a single charge.
  • You won’t lose them: With the pairing between Skullcandy and Tile, you can use your phone to locate your earbuds when they get lost.
  • Quality EQ modes: Switch between several modes depending on the type of content you’re listening to, to ensure you have the best audio experience possible.
  • Gym-ready: Since they’re sweat, water, and dust resistant, the Skullcandy Evos are a perfect accompaniment to your workout. Whether it’s in the gym or an outdoors run, the Evos should hold up nicely and keep you entertained throughout.

Cons:

  • Microphone is lacking: If you try to use the Skullcandy Evos for phone calls, you may experience some issues with being heard. That’s because the microphone on the Evos is sub-par and doesn’t pick up your voice as clearly as other headphones do.

RRP: £59.99

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12. LG TONE Flex In-Ear Wireless Bluetooth Sports Headphones

As you may have figured out from the name, the neckband of the LG Tone ‘Flex’ is designed to be fully flexible. A rubberised connecting band means that these headphones are easily contorted into nearly any shape needed, providing amazing portability.

LG have also elected to use physical buttons on their headphones, rather than touch-controls, presumably due to the inaccuracies of taps while you’re constantly moving. It’s a welcome change, and one that ensures you won’t accidentally skip a track.

Also, thanks to LG’s partnership with Meridian Sound, the audible quality of the Flex is astonishing. Unfortunately, the silicone eartips may allow some sound to bleed out, reducing the quality somewhat. If that’s the case, you may need to purchase some additional earpieces to make sure the fit is perfect. We recommend getting some memory foam ear tips to help with this.

Pros:

  • Fully flexible: A flexible midsection of the neckband allows users to fold the band however they need to ensure that the Flex can accompany them anywhere.
  • Physical buttons: Whereas most headphones these days have touch controls, LG have diverted from the trend and chosen physical buttons to control the Flex. For a pair of sports headphones, this is great because it limits accidental command entries whilst on the move.

Cons:

  • Poor silicone earpieces: You may find that the earpieces provided don’t fit your ears very well, and allow sound to bleed out.  

RRP: £49.99

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13. Philips Performance PH805

The Philips PH805s are a very good looking and comfortable pair of headphones. Interestingly, they’re quite heavily inspired by the premium Sony XM3s, but there are some key differences.

The ANC found in the Philips PH805s may not match up to premium level noise cancelling, but compared to its ‘class competitors’  it’s easily one of the best on the market. Considering it’s also considerably cheaper than premium level headphones, it makes a great option for those looking for the best ANC without spending an arm and a leg.

Unfortunately, they aren’t so impressive at dealing with dynamic songs. Since this is the only area they really fall down though, they remain a good option if you predominantly listen to more even songs.

Pros:

  • Comfortable: With a design that’s ‘inspired’ by Sony’s XM3s, the PH805s both look great and feel comfortable around your ears for hours at a time.
  • Good ANC: The Active Noise Cancelling for the Philips PH805s is one of the best you can get at that price. It still doesn’t compare to Sony’s premium XM4s, but it's an excellent budget option.
  • Touch controls: Starting to move away from physical buttons, the PH805s have opted for physical controls for both its power and bluetooth connection. Changing volume and activating the ANC is done with the new touch controls on the right earcup.

Cons:

  • Sound isn’t perfect: With headphones that do so many things right, it’s a shame that it’s the audio where they’re found lacking. When asked to recreate dynamic songs, they don’t feel quite up to the task.

RRP: £159

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14. LG HBSFN6 TONE Free FN6

A decent pair of true wireless earbuds, the LG Tone FN6s have several interesting and unique features. The EQ customiser makes them a decent choice for those who like complete control over their music, while the UVnano charging case is a great alternative to regularly cleaning your earbuds.

The inclusion of an EQ customiser is very useful, because it can help recreate your music closer to its potential than the standard mode. But unfortunately this seems to be a necessary feature, because the standard mode makes some songs lose their impact and can completely change how they sound.

Available for £89 at time of writing, we wouldn’t advise paying much more for these. Don’t be afraid to wait until they go on sale in order to save yourself money.

Pros:

  • Bacteria-killing charging case: Integrated UV technology kills 99.9% of the bacteria that live on your earbuds while they’re charging, so you don’t have to clean them.
  • Customisable EQ presets: When you need to bring out the best in a certain song, you have the option to control the EQ to do just that.
  • Ambient mode: Want to hear the world around you? Simply long-press to enter or exit the mode. You can even use the app to customise the strength of Ambient Mode, and how much sound gets allowed through.

Cons:

  • Audio quality: The LG FN6s fail to produce sounds that feel wholly natural, and lack the impact of other earbuds.

RRP: £149.99

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15. AKG Y500 Over-Ear Headphones

The AKG Y500s are absolutely jam-packed full of features designed to enhance the listening experience. However, sometimes it feels as if too much attention was paid to the extras, and they forgot about the musical delivery.

AKG hasn’t produced a bad set of headphones, it’s just the Y500s are not as musically strong as some of its competitors. Casual listeners should have no trouble with them, however, and they do have some amazing features to improve the experience.

From their folding design to the AutoPause feature, the Y500s are designed to help you take your music wherever you need to go. They’re definitely a great option if you’re constantly on the move.

Pros:

  • Folding design: The earcups both pivot and fold up, allowing them to be neatly folded away if you need to pop them in your bag for a trip.
  • Ambient Aware: A brilliant feature, the Ambient Aware feature adjusts your music volume and plays external sounds through your headphones.
  • AutoPause: If the headphones come off your head, the music will automatically pause so you don't miss a thing.

Cons:

  • Lacks delivery: Unfortunately, the soundstage of the Y500s is lacking some clarity, although casual users should have no issues with the sound quality

RRP: £129

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And that’s our list. Each of the headphones we’ve chosen tries to target an area where another is weak, so it’s impossible to say which is definitively the best. But it’s not up to us, as everyone’s criteria is different. Hopefully, we’ve included enough information to help you decide which is the best for you.

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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.