10 of the best cheap headphones reviewed

Can't afford those super-trendy £300 headphones you've been lusting after? Don't worry - these 10 pairs all have great sound and a price tag to match

Forget about Dre - you can buy a cracking pair of cans these days for less than £100. Quality in-ear 'phones are even cheaper, with thumping bass and crystal-clear vocals available even below £50. 

The only trouble is, the number of headphones now in existence exceeds the number of atoms in every star in the known universe, making choosing between them a tricky task.

Fortunately we've got plenty of time on our hands, so we locked ourselves in a room with a bunch of in-ears, a bundle of on-ears and the new Metronomy album, then whittled the list down to the best 10. Here are our findings.

In-ear headphones

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SoundMagic ES20
£25
The baby brothers to the legendary E10s, the ES20s swap some of their aluminium for a plastic, half-in-ear shell. They're comfy and the high-quality braided cables makes them plenty durable. The sound is clean and crisp, and good tonal balance means they're happy to be subjected to any musical taste.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✭
Lovely all-rounders in sound, design and price: SoundMagic has pulled it off again

Buy the SoundMagic ES20

Sony XBA-C10
£50
An odd shape from Sony, designed to sit securely in even the fussiest of lugholes. It works: these are super-comfy and hard to dislodge. They aren't the loudest or bassiest earphones, but you get a wide soundstage and an agile performance that snaps to even the trickiest ryhthms you can Spotifynd.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✩
Typically well made and also comfy, agile and open-sounding, but not one for fans of dubstep

Buy the Sony XBA-C10

Sennheiser CX475
£20
Not the newest eaphones on the block, but no round-up of budget buds would be complete without their classic shape gracing the room. The sound could do with a little more punch and weight, but what you get is a lean, even-handed presentation and a comfy fit, too. Feeling a little cautious? These are a safe option.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✭
Not the most hard-hitting sound, but these consistently punch well above their price tag

Buy the Sennheiser CX475

Sol Republic Jax
£35
These are a bit plasticky, but you'll be able to overlook that if you're a bass-head. The mighty Jax deliver thunderous low-end exentension with good energy and barely any distortion. Surprisingly, midrange and trable frequencies don't get overpowered, although vocal reproduction could be a little fuller.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✩
Tight, energetic bass, but they do look like they've come out of a Christmas cracker

Buy the Sol Republic Jax

RHA MA600
£50
Designed in the UK, these are a tad more luxurious: reinforced cabling and metal bits whittled from aircraft-spec aluminium. You also get a case with a steel holder containing eight pairs of ear tips, of which one must surely be snug. They sound fine: lower frequencies are a little muddy but the treble is sparkly.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✩
Some of the shiniest budget buds around, and good if you like top-end detail

Buy the RHA MA600

More after the break...

On-ear / over-ear headphones

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Pioneer MJ532
£40
There's something comforting about having an old-school brand such as Pioneer on your bonce. These snazzy cans are available in four colours and have a really easy-to-like sound, coming into their own with simpler, vocal-led stuff. They don't pound your ears with relentless bass as many lesser rivals do either. They're nice on your head but over longer sessions the soft earpads can lead to lug-sweat.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✩
Great with vocals and guitars – good looking too

Buy the Pioneer MU532

Griffin Woodtones
£70
Slipping these on is like wearing a favourite old jumper. They're comfy (not to mention self-adjusting), and the real wood finish feels lovely to touch. They sound like they look, too: their balanced, laid-back and yet still reasonably dynamic approach doesn't try to shove your music inside your head. It politely presents it, and wonders if Sir might care to have a listen. And that, we like.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✩
Outstanding build and super-mellow sound

Buy the Griffin Woodtones

AKG K451
£50
When a pair of headphones recieves five stars at £130, then drops to £50, you know you're on to a good thing. The K451s are light on your head but sturdy enough to be stuffed in a bag. And they do a fantastic line in punchy, solid bass, rich and detailed vocals and clear, sweet-sounding treble. Want to know what they'd taste like if they were a pudding? Delicious raspberry chocolate fondant, that's what.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✭
Hi-fi for half a ton? A bit of a no-brainer

Buy the AKG K451

Aiaiai TMA-1X
£95
No-nonsense and rufty-tufty. That's a combination we can really get behind. The breathlessly named Aiaiais deliver a big, ballsy sound that's firmly in keeping with their military looks, but they can get a bit shouty and overly punchy when you dial up the action. Again, much like the military. They're comfy too – firm but nice on the noggin, and the one-button remote with microphone is a bonus for smartphone users.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✩
If you listen to your music on 11, these are for you

Buy the Aiaiai TMA-1X

SoundMagic P30
£70
We loved SoundMagic's E10s, and we're feeling the same way about the P30s: our toes went into tap-spasms from the get-go with them. Exciting and balanced, they deliver an easy-going yet dynamic sound. They aren't perfect, especially in the treble, but they'll do a great number on your low-res Spotify tracks. And while there's no built-in mic, you don't want calls interrupting your music anyway.

Stuff says ✭✭✭✭✭
Excitement and subtlety in equal measure

Buy the SoundMagic P30

Comments

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