If your budget falls some way under our £50 price cap, the Philips SHE9105 headphones are definitely worthy of consideration. They’re tiny little no-nonsense IEMs that will get you a big upgrade over most bundled buds for less than £17.
They’re pretty funky-looking too. While they’re not all-metal earphones, the shiny parts of the shell are real aluminium.
Right at the back there’s a weave-effect plastic end piece that hides a little bass port. It needs one of these because the Philips SHE9105’s drivers are tiddly little 8.6mm things.
Despite the port, bass is still the one main weakness of the Philips SHE9105. If you want your grime bass drops to shake your cranium, you won’t get that here. But you do get very clean and clear sound, with less audio clutter than bassier pairs.
They’re hard to beat if you’d like a lighter tone. They have more pronounced treble than the SoundMagic or Beyerdynamics in this round up and while there’s a hint of granularity, the SHR9105 are not harsh. They’re pretty smooth all-round, if anything. You get a one-button remote too, designed to work with just about any phone.
A top budget pick if you’d prefer a clean and clear sound over a bassy one
Rock Jaw Alfa Genus
Now here’s something a little different. These in-ears let you tune their sound. We’ve not seen that on a pair of budget in-ears before.
It works with a series of interchangeable filters. Take off the rubber ear tips and unscrew the bit behind them - there are two other sets in the box.
The changes are drastic. By default, there’s a lot of bass. It’s a little fat, but still holds decent punch. The next filter goes for the other extreme, cutting out nearly all the bass, which leads to a detailed but slightly harsh sound. The third filter strikes a nice balance - it still leans a little towards the treble but it's definitely the best sound in our book.
With all of the fittings, instrument separation is good, and there’s plenty of detail. Timing is strong, and the soundstage is spacious. Dynamics could be a bit more powerful, though - hard-hitting songs feel just a little too gentle.
Only the Rock Jaws let you tune the sound to suit your mood - an audio fusspot's delight
Sol Republic Relays Sport
The Sol Republic Relays Sport are sporty earphones good enough, and cheap enough, to be considered a decent buy even if you have no intention of going out for a run with them.
Their sporty angle stems from the bright colours they come soaked in — blue and a limey green — and the rubbery ‘wheel’ that sits around each earpiece. The idea is this adds a bit of friction, teaming-up with the silicone tips to stop the Relays Sport from jumping out of your ears. They won’t add that much stability for all ears, mind.
The Sol Republic Relays Sport are also water resistant, which is handy if you are going to use these for exercise rather than just listening to a few tunes on the way to work. Sol Republic makes versions of these earphones with a one-button remote for Androids, or a three-button remote for iOS devices. Sound quality is good, if not quite on the level of the best here. Bass is a little more reserved, giving you a leaner tone. It’s also a bit thinner as a result, and there’s a wee bit of hardness to the higher mids.
The Relays Sport could be a little smoother, a little more refined, but the impression they leave is still that of a clean and clear earphone. Take into account the £20 price they often sell for online and you have a versatile little pair of earphones for those who want to spend as little as possible.
Water resistant earphones with sporty features and, nowadays, a super-low price
Sennheiser CX 3.00
The Sennheiser CX 3.00 are the successors to the well-respected CX 300 II, and come with tweaks to their design and performance to fuel their comeback.
They're still plastic, but a new angled earbud design makes for a great seal and comfortable fit. The 90-degree headphone jack can prove challenging if you’re trying to plug it into a device with a case on though, and there’s no inline remote either, but these are one of the comfiest pairs of in-ears to wear for long periods.
The sound focus here seems to have been on boosting the low end to give a weightier performance compared to that of their predecessors.
Combine this with their good fit, and the result is a pretty hefty low-end response, throwing plenty of weight behind those all important bass drops. They can verge towards sounding overly warm on occasion though, and could be a little better controlled too.
Elsewhere, midrange is clear and direct, but lacks some detail, both here and in the treble, compared with the SoundMagic E10C. This means that while they can do punch with decent authority, they don’t always sound as dynamic and expressive as their competition, and can lack a touch of excitement too.
A bold, confident sound that will please plenty, but a touch more detail wouldn’t go amiss
Some wireless headphones cost £100 more than their wired brothers, so the fact that you can get a pair of wireless earphones this cheap is a bit of an eye-opener. The Urbanista Berlin are likely to be plenty of people’s first experience with wireless headphones - but will they put people off trying again?
Their design is a bit love-it-or-hate-it, in that they don’t use rubbery tips. Instead the earpiece itself rests against your ear, with a little rubbery skin to make sure the hard plastic doesn’t batter your ear cartilage too much.
It's still a harder feel though, and it also doesn’t block out as much sound. Wear them on the train and you’ll have to crank up the volume to muffle out your fellow commuters.
Still, they'll last a solid eight hours between charges and wireless reliability is surprisingly good for such a cheap set.
The big ‘but’ is that the Urbanista Berlin’s sound quality isn’t that hot, with a basic, unrefined treble and mids that are low on detail. The bass puts on a much better show, delivering a satisfying eardrum pound, but you'll need to expect some compromises for going wireless at this price.
Sound quality could be better, but they aren’t half cheap for a wireless earphone