Best cheap headphones 2021: High quality and affordable in-ear and over-ear options

By Tristan Kirk

Whether concentrating on a film, listening to music, gaming, or on an endless Zoom call, our headphones are less of an occasional accessory and more of an extension of our being.

We have departed from the usual requirements of just being able to listen through earphones.

Now we want people to hear us through phone or video calls, so crystal clear sound is vital, as is long battery life and connections to digital assistants such as Alexa and Google. Active Noise Cancelling, water-resistance, and smart ambient are some of the benefits of modern headphones, but top of the list is still the all-important comfort factor. Sleekness of design is certainly not everything but if the earphones don’t fit, there is a chance they could fall out and that is less than ideal.

For many, it’s vital to seek out an affordable set that still offer all the bells and whistles of something more expensive. Outstanding quality can naturally still be found through inexpensive headphones, especially as the most famous tech companies are now working hard to create affordable sets. The focus is still on excellent sound, but also includes helpful perks to enhance the listening experience.

With the incredible popularity of Apple AirPods, there came a genuine moment in earphone technology - when people wearing crisp, white earpieces seemed to be everywhere. It certainly helped to promote true wireless earbuds, but there is plenty out there for those who want their earpieces connected or have them snugly fitting over their ears.

Whatever your preference - over-ear, on-ear, wired or wireless – there is something in the affordable headphones market for everyone.

See the very best below.

Pioneer DJ CUE1

If you’re easing your way into the world of DJing or just enjoy listening to music in your own space, the Pioneer DJ CUE1 is a great low-cost option. The headset is lightweight at less than 250 grams and easily folds away, but it is also durable.

Sound quality is a priority for the engineers at Pioneer, with the CUE1 specially tuned to pick up low frequencies. The CUE1 easily shuts out the rest of the world to let you concentrate on the beats. You can get lost in your favourite tracks as they are comfortable to wear for hours on end, and you’ll look good too. There are interchangeable vibrant earpads and wire available in green, orange, yellow, blue, and pink. Battery life is also a competitive 30 hours.

£89 for wireless Bluetooth and £59 for wired.

Buy now £89.00, Selfridges

JBL Tune 230NC TWS

When searching for a pair of headphones that fits the bill for pretty much any activity, you would be hard pushed to find a better set than the JBL Tune 230NC TWS.

The true wireless earbuds have Active Noise Cancelling technology, something that’s usually found in more expensive headphones and allows listeners to minimise audio distractions to easily tune in and out of their surroundings.

The earbuds also boast four microphones for use during a hands-free call, with the chance to control the amount of mic input routed back into the earbuds.

With JBL Pure Bass Sound and up to 40 hours battery life, the earbuds pack a serious punch. Plus they’re ergonomic, water-resistant and sweatproof - making them ideal for a workout or run.

With three sizes of in-ear buds, the fit is comfortable so they are wearable for a long period of time, and the JBL Headphones App helpfully lets users personalise their listening experience.

Buy now £79.99, Amazon

Audio-Technica ATH-S220BT

With a battery life of up to 60 hours, you could easily forget the Audio-Technica ATH-S220BT needs charging up at all. And when it comes to it, just a ten-minute battery boost gives you another three and a half hours of listening time.

A great affordable option in the headphones market, this set is superbly comfortable and lightweight as well at just 180 grams. Despite being low-cost and nifty, the sound quality remains impressive while functionality including multi-point pairing and Bluetooth connectivity are simple and effective. This is a recommended choice for gamers, long journeys, and those never-ending zoom calls.

Buy now £60.00, Amazon

Beats Flex

The Beats Flex headphones are attuned to the person on the go, whether a fitness fanatic who likes their jogs to come with a soundtrack or the business leader with calls to take without time to spare.

This headset is a low-cost alternative to the BeatsX with a lot of the same benefits. The durable wire thankfully doesn’t become a tangled mess in your pocket, and the magnetic earbuds are a boon. Simply snap together to take a breather from your tunes or unsnap to automatically start the music or take a call.

This product is truly for iPhone users (unsurprisingly as an Apple owned brand), connecting via Bluetooth by simply waving them in the general area of your handset. But it can mix it up with Android too. With a battery life of up to 12 hours and sound quality which stands up to rivals, you get real bang for your buck with this low-cost price tag.

Buy now £49.99, John Lewis

Sennheiser CX True Wireless

The Sennheiser CX True Wireless earbuds exude quality from the moment you take them out of the box. The sleekly-designed case opens to reveal earbuds that leave a lasting impression of quality design, and a product that is made to last.

At just under a £100, the CX True Wireless is stretching the boundaries of affordable, but it carries the qualities of products further up the price range that would make the extra outlay worth your while; crystal-clear sound with a ‘bass boost’ feature, nine hours of uninterrupted playback and up to 27 hours of battery with the case, and an easy-to-use touch interface. The CX True Wireless earphones look good and sound great.

Buy now £90.00, John Lewis

Jabra Elite 3

Sound is certainly important to the makers of the Jabra Elite 3 headphones as they insist 62,000 “unique ears” were used to engineer them. They offer 6mm speakers making for audio sound quality and up to 28 hours of battery life.

The earphones have a smooth, Danish design, and are available in more than the usual variety of colours; including dark grey, navy, lilac and light beige. A comfortable fit, four-microphone call technology and rainproof durability make these true wireless earphones a must for those who want to rapidly switch from work to leisure or vice-versa.

The noise-isolating design is particularly wonderful, with a Hear Through mode allowing surrounding sounds to be picked up by the microphones. Helpfully able to link up to digital assistants, the earphones also offer the chance to use the Jabra Sound+ app to customise the audio with an in-app hearing test and on-device controls.

Buy now £79.99, Amazon

Sennheiser HD 250BT

Looking for a true bargain in headphones that offer a snug fit and a DJ-inspired audio experience? Sennheiser HD 250BT over-ear wireless headphones have the German firm’s well-known transducer technology that offers high-quality audio sound with dynamic bass, making listening to music a rather joyous experience.

The Sennheiser Smart Control App allows listeners to personalise their audio experience through an intuitive equaliser, and additional features such as soft noise-isolating ear pads make this an enjoyable piece of tech to use. The earphones are certainly just as effective for watching a film, as they are for taking a work call, which is helped by the up to 25-hour battery life ideal for busy days. Coming in as the cheapest on our list at just £38, the Sennheiser HD 250BT is an exceptionally comfortable bargain.

Buy now £38.00, Amazon

Mobvoi TicPods 2 Pro

When you read award-winning on the front of an earphones package, you expect something special from a product. With design awards under its belt for the TicPods 2 wireless earphones, tech company Mobvoi certainly puts forward a truly lightweight offering with a very comfortable fit. Qualcomm® aptX Audio provides an exceptional level of sound quality, and easy-access touch controls let the listener choose how to tune the audio to their personal preference.

A rapid five-minute charge gives the earbuds one hour of playback, and with up to 23 hours of battery life, they are great for all activities throughout the day. There are impressive smart features available including allowing listeners to activate a smartphone voice assistant with the words “Hey Tico”. A particularly fun aspect is the head gesture control where users nod their heads twice to pick up a call, or shake it twice to reject, which is certainly an advanced feature for earbuds priced in this range.

Buy now £47.99, Amazon

Verdict

The Pioneer DJ CUE1 combines comfort, style, sound quality, and affordability in a package that’s hard to overlook. It makes days of listening online so much easier to bear. For earbuds, we would seek out the JBL Tune 230NC as a class act and great-looking to boot.


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