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17 Jun 2021

The best cheap headphones to rival Apple's AirPods

We review cheap Apple AirPods alternatives including the Skullcandy Sesh, Anker Soundcore Life P2 and Huawei Freebuds 4i - are they any good?
Huawei Freebuds 4i wireless earbuds

Dirt-cheap wireless earbuds are a dime a dozen from Amazon and other online retailers. Our independent tests show that, all too often, you get what you pay for - but we've found a few rare bargains that are the exception to this rule.

Wireless earbuds make music on the go a breeze - they free you from tangle-prone wires, and their cases are so compact you can routinely pop them in your pocket 'just in case'.

It's no surprise that the popularity of these truly wireless headphones is skyrocketing. But if you're used to paying £20 or less for wired headphones, paying £125 or more for a pair of Apple AirPods could be hard to stomach.

Fortunately, you don't have to cough up anywhere near that much for a great pair - that's where we come in. We've reviewed more than 70 pairs of truly wireless headphones, ranging in price from a wallet-friendly £18 to a cool £279, so you can find out exactly which ones are worth buying.

Discover the best sub-£50 headphones on the market in our best cheap headphones guide.

Are cheap wireless earbuds any good?

Skullcandy Sesh wireless earbuds

Sadly, our research shows that cheap truly wireless headphones are rarely up to snuff, but we've also identified a few gems that defy their low price to offer sensational sound quality and decent battery life.

Many cheap pairs are truly terrible, with thin tinny sound, flaky wireless connections and batteries that fade before you've listened to a couple of albums.

In fact, two thirds of the 70-plus truly wireless earbuds we've tested have scored a mediocre 55% or less in our tests, and a quarter are so bad our experts have badged them Don't Buys.

This includes lacklustre pairs from Beats, JBL, Samsung and Sony, proving you can't rely on big brands to avoid the duds.

Our chart, below, maps price against score for all the truly wireless earbuds we've tested. It reveals woeful pairs at every price point - with one disastrous pair even costing around £250. You can avoid buying a clanger by checking our list of Don't Buy headphones.

Truly wireless headphones price vs test score

Which? lab tests graph truly wireless headphones p

Fortunately, our analysis also shows that you don't need to cough up more than £100 to get decent wireless earbuds.

While you need to pay a premium to get your hands on a Best Buy pair, we've found rare bargains that fall just short of our Best Buy cut off for around £40. Some of these even offer more features than the AirPods.

Are you considering buying the Apple AirPods? Check our expert Apple AirPods review to see if they really are one of the best on the market, or if there's superior pairs to buy instead.

Cheap wireless earbuds reviewed

Huawei Freebuds 4i cheap headphones

Below, we've outlined the key features of three popular truly wireless sets from value-focused brands, costing between £39 and £80. All three seem to represent superb value for money - but do they deliver what they promise. Click through to our full reviews to see which are worth buying.

If none of these are quite right, you could also consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds (£79) or Sony WF-XB700 (£80).

Skullcandy Sesh, £39

Skullcandy Sesh cheap headphones
  • Compatibility: Suitable for Apple and Android devices
  • Claimed earpiece battery life: 3 hours
  • Total claimed battery life with top-ups from charging case: 10 hours
  • Noise cancelling: No

These are a near-£100 saving on the Apple AirPods, and claim full-bodied bass.

They even offer added features over the standard AirPods. The earpieces are water resistant (IP55) and they have flexible eartips for an acoustic seal to avoid being disturbed by sounds around you.

You'll need to be quick though, as they've now been discontinued - check out our Skullcandy Sesh review.

Anker Soundcore Life P2, £40

Anker Soundcore Life P2 wireless earbuds
  • Compatibility:Suitable for Apple and Android devices
  • Claimed earpiece battery life: 7 hours
  • Total claimed battery life with top-ups from charging case: 40 hours
  • Noise cancelling: No

These headphones are incredibly popular on Amazon, with more than 16,000 five-star ratings from buyers. They're fully waterproof (IPX7) so can even be fully submerged in water for a limited time, and five sizes of earpieces are supplied to fit your ears.

However, Which? investigations repeatedly show that product reviews on online marketplaces such as Amazon can't always be trusted, and a huge number of positive reviews for budget-priced products is something to be sceptical about.

So is this really one of the best pairs on the market? Our experts give the definitive verdict in our Anker Soundcore Life P2 review.

Huawei Freebuds 4i, £80

Huawei Freebuds 4i wireless headphones
  • Compatibility: Designed for Android devices, but core features work on Apple devices
  • Claimed earpiece battery life: 10 hours (without noise cancelling)
  • Total claimed battery life with top-ups from charging case: 22 hours (without noise cancelling)
  • Noise cancelling: Yes

At first glance these may seem pricey in comparison to the £40 pairs above, but these are pitched as rivals to the top-of-the-range AirPods Pro (£199). It's no accident they look almost identical to the AirPods Pro, too.

They have active noise cancelling, which is designed to block out unwanted background sounds such as traffic noise or your neighbour's lawn mower. If you have noise cancelling turned on, as you probably will, Huawei's high battery life claims will be reduced.

Huawei's app, which allows you to tweak settings at the tap of a finger, is only available for Android devices (with some less-important features exclusive to Huawei phones). They'll still operate perfectly well on their default settings using Apple devices, though.

Find out if these are the bargain of the century (and if the bold battery life claims are true) in our Huawei Freebuds 4i review. You could also try hunting down their now-discontinued, but cheaper, predecessor - the Huawei Freebuds 3i.

Pros and cons of truly wireless headphones

Apple AirPods wireless earbuds

Truly wireless headphones such as the Apple AirPods have completely separate earpieces; there are no wires connecting the earpieces to your music device or to each other. They connect to your device wirelessly, via Bluetooth.

Pros of truly wireless headphones

  • No daily untangling of wires
  • Many offer extra features, such as water resistance and noise cancelling
  • Cables in wired pairs are a common source of faults.

Cons of truly wireless headphones

  • Small batteries limit listening times (they come charging cases to boost battery life)
  • It's easy to lose the earpieces
  • The rechargeable batteries won't last forever and are usually not user-replaceable.

The principal benefit of wireless earbuds is convenience. They often offer more bells and whistles too, and their charging cases help make up for battery life deficiencies. However, you'll still want to choose a robust wired pair if you want your headphones to have a chance of lasting a decade, as batteries in wireless earbuds inevitably have a finite lifetime.

For the best wireless headphones overall, earbud-style or over-ear, see our best wireless headphone reviews.