Top five best cheap headphones for 2020
By Oliver Trebilcock
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.
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
These wired headphones prove it's possible to deliver superb sound at an affordable price. Music and speech sound great through these headphones, with punchy pop and clear vocals. They also keep sound leakage to a minimum, so you shouldn't get too many disapproving looks on your morning commute.
We’ve tested dozens of exceptionally poor-sounding budget truly wireless headphones, and finally we’ve found a remarkable budget pair pulls well above its weight. If you can’t stomach paying top dollar for the Apple AirPods, these come exceptionally close for a fraction of the price. The sound quality is far and away superior to many budget rivals – bass is strong, and our professional listening panel praised their ‘really well defined’, ‘rich and clear’ sound.
This style of headphones doesn't tend to do well in our testing, but this pair is an exception. They're comfortable and battery life is sufficient for this type of headphones. Sound quality isn't good enough to be a Best Buy, but it's reasonable. Many will like the small earpieces and lightweight design.
These headphones pull well above their weight – the sound quality is better than some pairs more than twice the price, and you get all the usual headphone controls too. If you don’t mind charging them often, they’re a great budget buy.
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And here 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
Don’t be tempted by these copycat headphones that look eerily similar to those of a leading brand – they don’t even come close to the real deal. In fact, they’re so truly awful Don't Buy headphones they’ve got the lowest-ever score in our lab tests. The sound quality is utterly dreadful and that’s just the start.
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.
These budget over-ear wireless Bluetooth headphones are a shining example of ‘too good to be true’. At a rock-bottom price, they’re barely more expensive that some of the cheapest in-ear wired headphones. They seem to have all the useful features, including a mic and controls to answer and control calls, as well as volume and music controls, and the earcups swivel flat for easy storage. However, sound quality is appalling. Bass is boomy, but also thick and dull; sound is muffled and lifeless, lacking articulation and excitement, and highs are tinny and harsh.
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.