Great headphones don’t have to cost a fortune. While pricier models do generally sound and perform better, there are some fantastic options for under £100.
You don’t have to sacrifice features, either. True wireless earbuds, standard wireless headphones and even noise-cancelling headphones are all available in this price bracket. Which is pretty amazing when you think about it.
Sure, even the best headphones under £100 won’t challenge the big boys sonically, but they will do what they set out to do: be an excellent pair of headphones for those on a budget. And we should know – we’ve tested the lot. So what’s on offer?
True wireless buds are the ultimate in convenience – there are no wires whatsoever, they’re literally two buds you pop in your ears. If you’re looking for no tangles, or don’t like the idea of a neckband slapping your nape while you run, you should consider a true wireless pair.
Wireless headphones come in on-ear and over-ear designs – the latter usually have a neckband or cable joining the two earbuds. Some people really don’t mind this, so they’re still worth considering. And they’re usually cheaper than a true wireless pair. On-ear wireless headphones usually come with a cable so you can plug them in if you don’t want to drain the battery (while listening at home, for example).
Noise-cancellers block out background noise, which is handy for getting some shut-eye on a long plane journey, or just drowning out the office hubbub. They come in both on-ear and in-ear versions. That’s what to look out for. Now let’s get to our pick of the best headphones under £100 – and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday on the horizon, we’d expect to see some headphone deals to bring these prices down even lower…
One listen to these wallet-friendly in-ears, and you’ll struggle to believe that SoundMagic was only formed as recently as 2005. In that short time it’s built a reputation as a maker of some of the best budget headphones around. And these are some of its best. An updated driver boosts sound quality, while there’s also an in-line remote and mic for taking handsfree calls. And all for under £50. Incredible.
Read the full review: SoundMagic E11C
To be honest, we’re getting a little tired of the Y50s. They’ve won a What Hi-Fi? Award five years in a row now, and we’re running out of ways to extol their virtues. So we’ll just say this: they’re extremely well made, fold up for easy portability, sound fantastic and now cost less than £50. Need we say more?
Read the full review: AKG Y50
Sporty? Like music? Don’t want to spend a fortune on headphones you’re going to sweat all over? The JBL Reflect Flows are for you. They’re truly wireless earbuds, so you won’t get tangled up in cables while you work out, and there’s plenty of bass to spur you on. The battery will last a healthy 10 hours too, or 30 with the carry case. That’s long enough to do an Ironman.
Read the full review: JBL Reflect Flow
These Byrds are cheep as anything (sorry), and a superb option if you’re looking to upgrade your in-ears. They’re easy to listen to, yet still manage to be captivating, which is quite something at this price. Highly recommended.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd
These sound almost as awesome as their wired counterparts, which should be enough of a recommendation for most. Vocals and instruments are nicely textured, and there’s a great sense of space and separation. Of course the wireless is a great addition, and it works well. They’re comfortable enough to wear all day too, which you’ll want to once you’ve heard them.
Read the full review: AKG Y50BT
These in-ears are made for sports, though they’re wired rather than wireless. They fit securely, stay put, and feel comfortable enough to forget about while you focus on your workout. They’re waterproof enough to rinse under a tap after you’re done exercising, and they sound good enough to listen to for hours.
Read the full review: JVC HA-ETR40
Home listening doesn’t get more bargainous than this. The K72s offer an expansive soundscape, with plenty of width and scale, and enough bass to keep your head nodding without ever becoming overbearing. Altogether a more grown-up and detailed pair of headphones than most similarly-priced rivals.
Read the full review: AKG K72
If you like going a long time between recharging, this is the pair for you. The 700Ns last a marathon 35 hours before needing juicing up, which should last most people a week of commuting and still leave plenty for the weekend. The noise-cancelling might not be as accomplished as in Sony’s more expensive cans, but it’s still a great addition at this price. And the Bluetooth connection is solid, providing a seamless wireless listening experience.
Read the full review: Sony WH-CH700N
Just having wireless and noise-cancelling at this price is a massive bonus, so the fact they work well is even more welcome. Pairing is simple, while the noise-cancelling blocks out the vast majority of unwanted noise. Some models around this price range are all bright treble or booming bass, but these deliver a balanced sound that’s easy on the ear. And for £80, you can’t really ask for more.
Read the full review: Lindy BNX-60
Their neon accents are certainly eye-catching, but these sporty Sennheisers don’t just look the part, they sound great too. Songs are clear with plenty of detail, while the bass is more full-bodied than Arnie in his prime. They fit snug in the ear canal, and stay locked in place thanks to the rubberised ear fins. They’re splash- and sweat-resistant, and the Bluetooth connection is solid. There’s not much cable noise either, which is very welcome for a pair with this design.
Read the full review: Sennheiser CX Sport
Skullcandy’s headphones can be a little… divisive, with their bass-heavy sound and brash branding. But this wireless take on its Smokin’ Buds 2 in-ears is a welcome change. The branding is nice and subtle, and the neckband is removable, so you can take it off if you don’t like it. As you would expect at this price, there’s little in the way of extras – no NFC, aptX Bluetooth or fast charging. A three-button remote and fastener for keeping the headphones together when not in use is about all you get. Still, they’re solid performers, and very attractively priced indeed. Well worth a look.
Read the full review: Skullcandy Smokin’ Buds 2 Wireless
Proof noise-cancelling headphones need not cost the earth. These are comfortable, have a long (22-hour) battery life, and built-in volume and playback controls. They sound powerful and punchy, with lashings of bass and exciting dynamics. Problems? The bass can be a little too much at times, drowning out some detail in the recording, and the plastic scratches too easily. But if you can live with these minor quibbles, these will serve you well.
Read the full review: JBL Tune600BTNC
Shure isn’t known for its sub-£100 headphones, which makes these all the more noteworthy. They borrow features from the firm’s pricier models, like a reinforced Kevlar cable, a vast array of bundled buds and the standard carry case. Sonically, they’re warm and detailed, with an unexpected – but not unwelcome – weight and richness to the bass. You sacrifice some detail and excitement, but if it’s a smooth, bassy delivery you’re after, look no further.
Read the full review: Shure SE215