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Top five best cheap headphones for 2017

By Lewis Skinner

We round up the best headphones to buy for less than £50 based on expert reviews with ratings for sound quality, comfort, durability and features.

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Top-end headphones can be very expensive, but there are plenty of pairs for less than £50 that do the job just as well. Below, we list the top-scoring headphones that are available for less than £50 - regardless of whether they are in-ear, on-ear or over-ear models. 

They may not all be Best Buys, but they certainly give some of the premium models a run for their money. Importantly, all these headphones deliver good sound quality - the cheaper cost usually reflects a lack of features, such as wireless Bluetooth connection, noise cancelling and microphones.

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Best headphones under £50

Sony MDR-ZX330BT
Today's best price £53.95
Which? score 82%
Reviewed Jul 2015
Best Buy
Performance:
5 out of 5
Features:
4 out of 5
Comfort:
3 out of 5
Durability:
5 out of 5
Style:
Member exclusive
Wireless:
Member exclusive

These Best Buy wireless headphones sound like a premium pair, but cost a fraction of the price. Sound is well balanced and full of detail, and the battery life is pretty impressive, too – it can last for up to 30 hours. An absolute snip.

Sennheiser PX 100-II
Today's best price £49.99
Which? score 80%
Reviewed Sep 2013
Best Buy
Performance:
5 out of 5
Features:
3 out of 5
Comfort:
4 out of 5
Durability:
4 out of 5
Style:
Member exclusive
Wireless:
Member exclusive

These headphones gain full marks in our sound quality test - considering their size they really pack a punch. A few features seen on top-end models are missing but that doesn't prevent these from being made a Best Buy.

Sony MDR-EX450
Today's best price £25.88
Which? score 72%
Reviewed Nov 2014
Best Buy
Performance:
4 out of 5
Features:
3 out of 5
Comfort:
3 out of 5
Durability:
4 out of 5
Style:
Member exclusive
Wireless:
Member exclusive

These in-ear headphones produce a smooth, big sound with a strong, clear bass, and they're well designed and built to boot. They're very small, very light and easy to use, with accessible controls for volume, playback and taking calls.

Kitsound Outrun
Today's best price £27.00
Which? score 71%
Reviewed Jul 2015
Best Buy
Performance:
4 out of 5
Features:
5 out of 5
Comfort:
3 out of 5
Durability:
5 out of 5
Style:
Member exclusive
Wireless:
Member exclusive

These headphones are designed for sport, with special wings to help keep them securely in your ears while you're running. Sound quality is pretty good too, and they have buttons for controlling your music without getting your phone out of your pocket. They're a smidgeon away from being Best Buys, but they're just as good as other wireless headphones that cost five times as much.

Not found the product for you? Browse all of our headphone reviews.

And are three cheap headphones to avoid

A bad pair of  headphones aren't really worth having at all. They'll be so uncomfortable for your ears that you won't want to listen for long and your music will sound terrible, with a lack of detail and boomy bass. To help you avoid making a costly mistake on your next purchase, we've rounded up three of the worst models we've seen in our testing.

Cheap headphones to avoid

Rock Jaw Alpha Genus V2
Today's best price £39.95
Which? score 24%
Reviewed Dec 2015
Don't buy
Performance:
1 out of 5
Features:
5 out of 5
Comfort:
2 out of 5
Durability:
4 out of 5
Style:
Member exclusive
Wireless:
Member exclusive

A choice of three different ear tips means that you can adjust the sound from these in-ear headphones to your liking. Unfortunately though, the choice is between bad, worse and 'all over the place'. Like the vast majority of headphones they have in-line remote controls built in to the cable, but these controls are more basic than most - you can't even adjust the volume without getting your phone out of your pocket.

Sony MDR-RF811RK
Today's best price £39.99
Which? score 24%
Reviewed Mar 2015
Don't buy
Performance:
1 out of 5
Features:
3 out of 5
Comfort:
3 out of 5
Durability:
4 out of 5
Style:
Member exclusive
Wireless:
Member exclusive

You'll want to steer well clear of these headphones. They're actually meant for use in the home, so you can listen to your hi-fi or TV late at night without disturbing others. Unfortunately though, you're the one that will end up being disturbed if you buy these headphones. The sound is rotten - a distracting hiss swamps everything you listen to.

Sony MDR-XB50BS
Today's best price £37.95
Which? score 28%
Reviewed Nov 2016
Don't buy
Performance:
1 out of 5
Features:
3 out of 5
Comfort:
2 out of 5
Durability:
5 out of 5
Style:
Member exclusive
Wireless:
Member exclusive

On paper these headphones look pretty decent. They’re wireless, and they have small hooks designed to keep them secure in your ears when you’re out for a jog. However, the bass is overpowering and the worst crime of all is that they’re uncomfortable, so you won’t be able to get the most out of your workout.

Pricing, test scores and recommendations correct as of June 2017. 

Cheap and cheerful

A low-cost pair of headphones doesn't have to be rubbish. In fact, while more money will get you fancy features, such as noise cancelling or wireless Bluetooth connection, it often won't get you better sound quality. The ingredients for a good-sounding pair of headphones are actually very simple. One of our Best Buy on-ear pairs uses a design that's essentially been unchanged for 50 years, but for around £30 you can get your hands on a product that will sound as good as many that cost hundreds. 

Having said that, there are some things that you should watch out for with cheaper pairs. The main thing is build quality. Flimsy plastic and thin cables will be more likely to break when you accidentally yank the cable out or drop your headphones. We rate the durability of all the headphones we test, so you can be sure you're getting a pair that are built to last, rather than a cheap rush job. 

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