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Budget vs premium headphones tested: should you spend more?

With headphones costing anything from around £5 to £350, how much should you expect to spend to get a great pair?

Budget vs premium headphones tested: should you spend more?

Many people are now choosing to spend more on headphones. Truly wireless pairs like the popular Apple AirPods cost well over £100. But is paying more really worth it? We’ve looked at our lab results from more than 200 headphones that are currently on sale to find out.

Our headphone reviews combine lab testing with the verdicts of a five-member professional listening panel, who have a range of musical tastes and decades of experience between them. This formula cuts through the marketing claims to reveal which pairs really are the best-sounding and most comfortable on the market. 

And because our tests never take price into account, we’ve unearthed some amazing cheap headphones and exposed some truly terrible expensive pairs.

Read on to see what happened when we crunched the scores for budget vs premium pairs. Or skip straight to the best headphones.

Price vs score: are premium headphones worth the money?

The graph below shows the price and test score of more than 200 pairs of headphones we’ve tested that are currently available to buy.

As you’d expect, the general trend is that paying more means you’re more likely to get a better pair. However, the graph above shows it’s far from a simple picture.

In fact, in our testing we’ve found both bargains and duds costing less than £50, with scores varying dramatically from a less-than-woeful 20% to Best Buys scoring above 70%.

Right at the top end, meanwhile, you’re highly unlikely to get a total disaster. But few would want to spend £350 on a mediocre pair with sound quality that’s outclassed by pairs a tiny fraction of their price. We’ve even found dreadful Don’t Buys – scoring 45% or less – with asking prices more than £200.

The only way to know for sure you’re getting your money’s worth is to check our expert headphone reviews.

Latest headphones on test

We’ve recently tested headphones at a wide range of price points, from £50 to £279, and our lab has uncovered plenty of surprises. One affordable pair beat most pairs well over twice their price.

Read the full reviews to find out whether the latest headphones coming to market are worth your money.

Beats Powerbeats, £130

The Beats Powerbeats Bluetooth headphones are the successors to the Powerbeats 3, now rebranded as the cheaper alternative to the ultra-premium-priced Beats Powerbeats Pro (£219).

While the Powerbeats Pro pair is truly wireless, the Powerbeats have a wire between the two earpieces that you wear behind your neck. They’re designed for sports and exercise, so they have ear-hooks for a secure fit, plus water and sweat resistance.

But are they really worth £130? Our experts have the answer in our Beats Powerbeats review.

JBL Live 300TWS, £130

JBL makes a whole range of similar-looking truly wireless headphones, starting from around £70 for the JBL Tune 120TWS to the higher-priced JBL Tune 220TWS. JBL hasn’t just added additional features as you go up the range – it’s upgraded the internals as well, which should improve the sound quality.

The JBL Live 300TWS are water resistant and have an ‘ambient aware’ mode so you can hear outside sounds, such as when crossing the road. They come with different sizes of both eartips and ear fins, the latter providing extra stability if you like to use them for exercise.

So do you get more for your money compared with the Beats Powerbeats, or is this just a run-of-the-mill pair? We provide all the answers in our full JBL Live 300TWS review.

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, £279

There’s premium and then there’s ultra-premium flagship headphones. Bose makes many popular headphones in this price range, including the Bose QuietComfort 35 II (£225) and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (£299), and Sony has had a hit in the last couple of years with the Sony WH-1000XM3 (£244).

Many of these top-of-the-range pairs feature active noise cancelling – and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 is no exception.

But being one of the most expensive truly wireless headphones on the market, can they possibly be worth the money? Our professional listening panel couldn’t had their say in our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

Anker Soundcore Life P2, £46

With an average of four and a half stars from more than 10,000 ratings on Amazon, the Anker Soundcore Life P2 certainly seem to please Amazon buyers – although it’s not quite so rosy if you dig deeper and see 7% of buyers (around 700) have given it a rock-bottom one star.

So how does this pair really compare with others on the market?

See whether these headphones excel or if your money could be better spent: read our Anker Soundcore Life P2 review.

Skullcandy Sesh, £49

Skullcandy is a long-time maker of headphones that aim to undercut the price of the big-brand competition. The Skullcandy Sesh promise a robust build, water and dust resistance and a 10-hour battery life.

Could this be the dark horse of budget truly wireless headphones? Our lab put them to the test in our Skullcandy Sesh review.

Sony WH-CH710N, £130

Many aren’t willing to spend £200+ on flagship noise-cancelling headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM3, so Sony also offers this mid-range noise cancelling pair. It promises an impressive 35-hour battery life, as well as features including support for Siri and Google Assistant voice control from a connected device.

Are these the well-priced noise cancelling headphones you’ve been waiting for? Our lab sees if they deliver in our Sony WH-CH710N review.

JBL CLUB 950NC, £220

It’s rare to see JBL headphones at such a high price. JBL says its new Club range is inspired by touring musicians and promises ‘stage-ready performance’ combined with advanced features for everyday use.

They certainly have plenty of features, including active noise cancelling, a hard carry case and a handy detachable cable you can plug in if you forget to charge them.

Could these be the ideal headphones for you? Our professional listening panel put them through their paces to find out whether they really do transport you to the live stage. See if they were a hit in our JBL CLUB 950NC review.

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