The best cheap wireless earbuds have come a long way over the past few years. Technological advances have seen products that were once plagued by abject audio quality flourish into one of the most popular headphones subcategories.
Sound quality may still lag behind premium options, while advanced features such as active noise cancellation and in-ear detection are often omitted, but those are sacrifices worth making if you’re looking to save yourself some cash.
A pair of the best cheap wireless earbuds will typically cost you less than £50 and there are hundreds of attractive options out there to consider. That can make picking the right pair tricky, but we’ve listened to hundreds of hours of audio across a wide range of pairs to help make your life easier.
Below, you’ll find a buying guide that will arm you with all the information you need to make an informed purchase, followed by short reviews of what we deem the best cheap wireless earbuds of the countless products we’ve tested.
If you’re ready to embark on a new audio journey without breaking the bank, read on.
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How to choose the best cheap wireless earbuds for you
What kind of fit should I choose?
There are two popular styles of wireless earbuds and each has its own benefits. First is the one-size-fits-all model, as used by the Apple AirPods. Such earbuds rest just inside your ears and leave your ear canals open. They provide no flexibility when it comes to fit – either they’ll match the contours of your ears nicely and sit snugly in your lugholes or they’ll feel loose and be in danger of falling out.
Their design means a reasonable amount of sound from the outside world makes its way into your ears, which is great for situations where you need to be aware of your surroundings but can negatively impact audio quality. Many people find these types of earbuds more comfortable to wear for long periods as they don’t exert pressure on your ear canals.
The other style of earbuds use eartips (often made of silicone) to secure themselves in your ears. These tips seal off your ear canal, simultaneously offering a more secure fit and providing passive noise cancellation. You’ll find that most manufacturers include a range of different-sized tips to help ensure you get the best fit possible.
Can I use them for phone/video calls?
The best cheap wireless earbuds feature built-in microphones that allow you to make and receive phone/video calls via your Bluetooth connection. The number of microphones and their quality will vary depending on the earbuds’ cost, as will their ability to isolate your voice from ambient sounds.
Can I just wear one earbud on its own?
This depends on the earbuds in question, but most of the time, yes. Many wireless earbuds operate in a master-slave relationship, whereby the driver in one bud (the master) receives audio before relaying it to the slave. In cases such as this, you can only use the master earbud while the slave is in the charging case. Other earbuds are less fussy and allow both buds to be used independently at any time.
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Is the Bluetooth version important?
As with anything that is periodically updated, newer tends to mean better. The latest version of Bluetooth will offer the strongest, most stable connection possible, and have the furthest wireless range and widest bandwidth – the rate at which data is transferred over the connection. The latest iteration, Bluetooth 5.2, is therefore preferable, but earbuds that support it are still relatively scarce. For casual listening, anything from Bluetooth 4.2 and up should serve you just fine.
Does it matter which Bluetooth codecs are supported?
Codecs determine how Bluetooth transmits information to your device and play a crucial role when streaming audio via your wireless earbuds. The most commonly used codecs are SBC – which is pretty much universal – and AAC, which is Apple’s codec of choice. Both offer solid sound quality and a stable connection and will be the ones you typically find yourself using with a pair of cheap wireless earbuds.
Codecs such as Qualcomm’s aptX HD or aptX Adaptive and Sony’s LDAC support higher resolution audio streaming and offer improved sound quality. However, support for Hi-res Bluetooth codecs is rare at under £50.
It’s worth noting that both your earbuds and the device you intend to use them with need to support a specific codec to be able to make use of it.
How much should I spend on cheap wireless earbuds?
This of course depends on your budget, but like most tech products, you’ll generally find you get what you pay for. We recommend spending at least £20 if you want to avoid your buds sounding horrible and don’t want them giving up the ghost after a few months of use.
The closer you get to £50, the more features your earbuds are likely to offer and the better they’re likely to sound. This isn’t always the case though, which is why it’s important to check a headphones’ specs and read product reviews before making a purchase. If you’re unsure as to what specs and features to look out for, the section below will point you in the right direction.
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What other features should I look out for?
IP certification: This denotes the earbuds’ ability to resist the ingress of dust and sweat/water, with the two digits after ‘IP’ referring to each, respectively. IPX4, for example, means that the buds aren’t dust resistant, as shown by the ‘X’, but are resistant to splashing water, as shown by the ‘4’. These buds would therefore not be ideal for taking to the beach, where wayward sand is prone to get everywhere, but are fine for jogging, a trip to the gym and can withstand the UK’s wet weather.
Battery life: With most cheap wireless earbuds coming equipped with a charging case, this is measured on two fronts – how much play you get out of the buds themselves, and how much additional juice the case provides. The overall listening time typically clocks in somewhere in the region of 20 hours, but this is dependent on the volume at which you play your audio, how much time you spend on calls and whether you have power-hungry features like ANC activated.
Voice assistant support: This feature is pretty commonplace nowadays, even among the cheapest wireless earbuds. Still, if utilising Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri is particularly important to you, it’s best to double-check when making your purchase.
Touch controls: These allow you to perform a variety of actions, including skipping tracks, adjusting volume and hailing your voice assistant without having to dig your phone out of your pocket. Mileage may vary on the breadth of control that you get, with some of the cheaper options just offering play/pause, and others allowing for some of the above-mentioned commands but not others.
Companion app: Many wireless earbuds manufacturers have companion apps that you can download, giving you a range of customisation options to get the most out of your buds. Common offerings include remapping touch controls – perfect if you have a particular setup that you’re used to – and switching between different EQ presets.
The best cheap wireless earbuds to buy in 2021
1. 1More PistonBuds: The best cheap wireless earbuds overall
Price: £40 | Buy now from Amazon
While their Apple AirPods Pro-inspired design won’t win any awards for originality, the 1More PistonBuds are the most comfortable and best-sounding wireless earbuds under £50 we’ve tested.
Their low-end response is particularly weighty but doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the audio profile, with the buds delivering a respectable balance across a wide range of musical genres. With battery life of up to 20 hours (including the charging case), you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy all of your favourite tunes, and the IPX4 rating makes these perfectly suitable for a run or gym sessi