Here’s the dilemma. You’re looking for a pair of cheap headphones, but you know you also need good sound quality, comfort and a bunch of features, like Bluetooth and noise cancellation. Is there hope for you? Yes, there is. And you’ve landed in the right place to find out.
We like to think of headphones like little pieces of art. The real connoisseurs might be able to spend a fortune on them and will prioritize high-end features and design over all else. But, for most people, budget models work just as well. Just like art, there’s a big difference between finger painting and Picasso – with a happy medium somewhere in between – and exactly the same principle applies to headphones.
Here at TechRadar, we’ve built a reputation for covering all of the latest, greatest and priciest technology in the world. But even after hours and hours testing all of that high-end equipment, we still have a huge passion for hunting down the great tech items that anyone can afford, and the best cheap headphones are a great place to start. Whether you can only afford a budget pair or want a second pair for the gym or work, we’ve got you covered.
Our enthusiasm for affordability inspired us to create the list below of the best cheap headphones on the market in 2021.
Best cheap headphones at a glance
Cheap earphones: 1More Triple Driver in-ear headphones
Cheap wireless earphones: Optoma NuForce BE Sport 4
Cheap true wireless earbuds: Lypertek PurePlay Z3 (Tevi)
Cheap on-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH510
Cheap over-ear headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M20x
Cheap noise-cancelling headphones: AKG N60NC
Cheap studio monitor headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro
Cheap open-back headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro
Our top picks
What are the best cheap headphones?
Not only are the 1More Triple Driver in-ear headphones the best cheap earbuds you can buy right now, they’re also our favorite earbuds of 2021 overall.
These wired headphones end in a 3.5mm jack, and for $100 / £100 / around AU$168 (and usually less now that they’re a little older), it’s hard to think of a better sounding and built headphone than the 1MORE Triple Driver. That said, if you want just that little extra refinement and luxury materials, the 1MORE Quad Drivers are still a bargain at twice the price.
There’s very little we can fault the Triple Drivers for. Their rubber cable is annoying and its remote control feels cheap but these are just nitpicks.For their price, it’s impossible to do better than 1MORE’s Triple Driver in-ear headphones.
Read more: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone review
The NuForce BE Sport4 wireless earbuds are that rare find: earbuds that are good for basically all situations. While they’re specifically designed for use in the gym and on the track, the BE Sport4 do an awesome job isolating audio in a crowded city environment and are even good enough for home listening.
The BE Sport4 earbuds have claimed 10-hour battery life, which we found to be pretty close to the mark in our time with them, and from empty you can get two hours of use from just a 15-minute charge – ideal for those needing a quick top-up while they put on their trainers and pack a gym kit.
Consider this a warning shot fellow audio manufacturers: build and audio quality do not need to be sacrificed in order to keep earbuds affordable, and with discounts common on the BE Sport4, you can really bag yourself a bargain.
Read more: Optoma NuForce BE Sport4 review
If you’re looking for budget-friendly true wireless earbuds, then the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 (formerly known as the Lypertek Tevi) are a great choice – they’re among the best earbuds we’ve tried, especially given their low price tag.
With USB-C charging, a well-balanced sound, lengthy battery life, and waterproofing, they tick every box you could ask for, from what are basically a pair of budget buds.
The Lypertek Tevi, surprisingly, might just blow you away, punching well above their weight and rivaling the best earbuds from some of the biggest audio brands on the planet.
If you’re looking for something audiophile-approved, you could also check out the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1. Need something even cheaper? The JLab Go Air cost just $29 / £29 – but they don’t sound great.
Read more: Lypertek Tevi true wireless earbuds review
Looking at the Sony WH-CH510, it’s mind-blowing that wireless on-ear headphones could cost this little, not to mention a pair that has decent sound, a USB-C port, and 35 hours of battery life.
If you’re looking for headphones at this price point, you’re likely already willing to make a few sacrifices. Thankfully, most of the compromises Sony has made with the WH-CH510 haven’t been too crucial – the lack of analog input mirrors the loss of the 3.5mm port on most modern smartphones while the lightweight, plastic construction improves their portability and comfort.
While they won’t have the superb clarity, balance, and sense of space that their WH-1000XM4 siblings boast, the sound these on-ear headphones produce definitely belies their size and price. You’ll find most genres perform well here, although tracks that already have low mids and bumped treble might get uncomfortably exaggerated.
It’s also worth checking out the Grado SR60e, which are a little pricier, but offer impressive audio accuracy.
Read more: Sony WH-CH510 review
It’s easy to spend an arm and a leg on good over-ear headphones. Barring the exception of noise-cancelling and planar magnetic cans, they are the top dogs of the audio world. Really good over-ears should be the most comfortable, most versatile headphones in your audio arsenal. They should be just as adept with Hi-Res Audio sources of 16-bit/44.1KHz as they are streaming from Spotify, and they should do so without sacrificing either end of the audio spectrum.
In our testing we found a half-dozen that can do the job (there are even a few uber-cheap ones from Monoprice that will get the job done) but, of them all, the original Audio-Technica ATH-M20x are the best of the best. For the price they sound outrageously clear, balanced and powerful, and give you best bang for your buck. There are other options, but pros will choose the M20x in a heartbeat.
These headphones are award-winners, with a coveted 5-star rating from TechRadar. Now the price has fallen considerably they’re an even better buy. The noise cancellation is very good indeed, and like other AKG headphones there’s good, solid bass without overpowering the midrange and treble. They’re comfortable, too, which is an important consideration if you’re using them on your travels.
The battery is decent for cheap noise canceling headphones, with 15 hours of playback over Bluetooth. If you just want full noise cancellation, you’re good for a whopping 30 hours of peace and relative quiet before you need to find a charger. Note: these headphones are available in wired or wireless versions.
Read more: AKG N60NC review
Beyerdynamic makes loads of equipment for both audiophiles and audio professionals, and some of it comes at a high price. But, the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro headphones find a sweet spot offering professional audio and a high standard in design for a lower price point.
The DT 240 Pro headphones cost $99 (£89, AU$139), making them more affordable than heaps of other studio monitor headphones. This price puts them in close competition with some of Audio-Technica’s cans, like the widely praised ATH-M40X or the wireless ATH-SR5BT, which can be found on sale in the same ballpark as the DT 240 Pro.
Beyerdynamic shines in performance with the DT 240 Pro. As studio monitor headphones, the sound produced is not very colorful, but that’s exactly as it should be. All the sound comes through clean and incredibly well balanced.
The bass is easy to pick up on without being thumpy, though with a subtle punch at higher volumes. From the bass on up to the high end, all the sounds mesh clearly, with the DT 240 Pros not boosting one register over the other.
They’re neutral, perfect for recording and best of all, cheap.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic DT 240 PRO review
Most musicians will certainly want to opt for the studio headphones up above, but if you’re just looking for the best possible critical-listening cans, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro are them.
At under $200/£200, the DT990 are almost peerless, offering exceptional sound quality for the price. With a 250-ohm impedance rating they’re not the easiest to drive and aren’t the kind of thing you’d want to hook up to your phone’s audio jack, but for folks with the equipment to drive them, the sound stage is great.
The sound quality is perfectly flat and a very wide frequency response (5 – 35.000 Hz) you’ll find that your music sounds clear and concise without feeling bloated and confined. It’s also worth mentioning that, because of their size, weight and sound leakage, these aren’t something you should be wearing outside the house and are best used when listening to the latest record in your home office.
What to look for
What to look for in cheap headphones
In order to create this guide, we’ve tested, listened to and compared lots of cheap headphones in every category, shape and size. When we found a great pair, we then put it against the rest back-to-back-to-back to make sure they still really deserved the title of ‘best cheap headphones’.
You might be wondering what we were looking for through all this expansive testing? Sound fidelity was clearly the most essential detail – but we also made sure to consider comfort, design and other features also.
Like most people, we prefer our music detail-rich and well-balanced. We can live with our music sounding a bit warm with an emphasis on the mids and highs, but we still like to be able to feel the bass. Also, it’s important to look for headphones with reasonable battery life if they’re wireless, a robust, durable build that will stand up to the trials of everyday commute and comfortable padding to help make longer listening sittings nice and comfortable.
Keep in mind though, that testing headphones will be, at least on some level, subjective, and our taste in tonal balance might not match yours (neither will the size of our head or the shape of our ears). Still, we’ve done our best to take subjectivity out of the equation and can present, through our expertise, the best cheap headphones that won’t hurt your wallet.
Which headphones style is best for you?
By their very nature, the headphones you prefer will ultimately boil down to your own personal taste. However, seeing as the headphone market is extremely saturated, it is genuinely hard to figure out what the best headphones for your tastes actually are. That’s where we come in.
Now, bear with us – it’s impossible to get our hands on every affordable pair of headphones, but we won’t recommend anything we haven’t used ourselves. So if we missed your favorite pair of Beats headphones, it wasn’t on purpose, we assure you.
With this guide, we went through a process – exhaustively testing a huge amount of cheap headphones from all over the internet in every style under the sun. In-ear, over-ear, wireless – everything you can think of.
We then took the results of all of this exhaustive testing, and measured each headphone against each other until we could confidently pick a few to proudly wear the ‘best cheap headphones’ badge. So rest assured, even if we didn’t pick your favorite headphones, there isn’t a single pair in this list that will disappoint.