Whether you’re passionate about punk or prog or have a hankering for hard rock and metal, there’s no need to compromise on performance if you want the best budget headphones for music. We’ve found you some belting buys that won’t break the bank and for this rowdy roundup, we've put musical performance front and centre.
Our best-buy budget headphones come in various guises: in-ear wireless models or wired monitor style. Some have their design roots in professional audio, others call on decades of experience making high-end Hi-Fi equipment. But the one thing they all have in common is that they perform way beyond their price tags.
When musicality is a prerequisite for new headphones, other features should take a back seat. If you’re mainly planning to listen to vinyl or playlists at home, stuff like Active Noise Cancellation become less important.
Also, take a careful look at the specifications. If you’re shortlisting on-ear or over-ear headphones, consider the diameter of their drivers. As a rough rule of thumb, bigger is better. Also, do you think the style will sit comfortably on your head?
For the best possible audio quality, look to add a dedicated headphone amp to your setup at some point, something like a Chord Hugo 2 (opens in new tab) (if you can afford it) or maybe the cheaper iFi Audio Zen Can (opens in new tab). These take a line level output from your source and amplify it with classy components to better drive your headphones.
Best budget headphones for music: The Louder Choice
There are some cracking headphones in this guide, even if I say so myself, but a couple really stand out. They’re stupidly affordable but phenomenally impressive.
Taking top spot are the Meters Nuvo-1 from Ashdown Engineering. These wired over-ears are blissful, whether you’re taste is for the complex rhythms of Porcupine Tree or neo-punk from Wargasm.
My second pick come from one of the UK’s most awarded Hi-Fi brands, Cambridge Audio and their Melomania 1 Plus Bluetooth earbuds. These reflect decades of home Hi-Fi experience and they’re priced to shift. If you want a pair of low cost, True Wireless earbuds that sound ace, they’re the ones to beat right now.
Best budget headphones for music: Product guide
Ashdown Meters is best known as a purveyor of guitar amplifiers, and can call on a roster of bands who used them including Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. But the UK audio brand also offers an impressive range of headphones which reflect its pro audio DNA.
The Nuvo-1 are the cheapest in its current line-up. For 70 quid you get a pair of 235g wired over-ears that fit snugly with (replaceable) fabric ear cushions and nicely padded headband with Meters overprinted. Meters gear is easily identifiable by its characteristic use of VU meters. You’ll find them in use up the headphone range, but on this cheaper model we get a printed logo-style graphic instead.
Sonically, the Nuvo-1 are superb. Dubbed Pro-Reference, they feature large 50mm dynamic drivers capable of a wide 16Hz-20Khz dynamic range. Those big drivers are gloriously revealing, there’s a deep controlled bass extension, and they image beautifully. The supplied 3m 3.5mm jack cable comes with 6.35mm adapter.
We rate them as a proper musical bargain.
The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus may lack noise cancelling, but given their price tag and Hi-Fi lineage, it’s an omission we can live with.
An update on the original Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 earbuds, this new Plus iteration boast a pair of graphene-bolstered 5.8mm drivers, and the same formidable battery life: nine hours on a full charge, with 36 more hours held in the charging case.
Niceties include customisable EQ settings with a High-Performance Audio Mode. For such small buds they sound big and exciting, with a quite stunning level of detail. In addition to Bluetooth 5.0, there’s support for AAC and aptX, and they have an IPX5 rating for sweat and water resistance. When it comes to bangs for buck, these are difficult to beat.
Read the full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
If you're looking for a pair of cheap Bluetooth earbuds to rock when you're out and about, we can recommend the EarFun AIR. These are listed at around the £60 mark, but you'll often find them on offer for well below that. These in-ears are IPX7 rated for water resistance and feature Sweatshield, which is designed to prevent corrosion caused by sweat - ideal if you're working out or wandering about in the heat of the summer. We’re told the buds can be submerged in a metre of water for around 30 minutes - very handy if you’re recreating Nirvana's Nevermind album cover.
The EarFun AIR sport touch controls and will auto pause when you take them from your ear. Battery life is good too, playing for six hours on a full charge. The charging case has a 35 hour reserve, which is very good indeed.
Perfect for music lovers and music makers, these lightweight wired monitor-style AKG K72 headphones adopt a particularly exaggerated over-ear circumaural design and a self-adjusting fabric headband, easy to wear and great for sonic isolation.
Inside you’ll find 40mm drivers with a quoted 16Hz-20kHz frequency response, which should deliver plenty of hard-edged kick. Light at 200g, these headphones have been tuned for accuracy, which makes sense if you’re mixing music with them, and come with a 3m studio-friendly cable.
Not for everyone, perhaps, but very good value for money.
Read the full AKG K72 review
The best thing to come out of Austria is Kontrust, the lederhosen-sporting nu-metal folksters. The second best thing may be Vienna-based Austrian Audio, maker of studio mics and pro-style Hi-Fi headphones, like the Hi-X15.
Part of the brand’s wired Hi-X range, these cabled headphones are designed for your home listening pleasure (the supplied 1.4m lead is too long to take on the road, and there’s no in-line control), and offer a surgical approach to music reproduction that emphasises clarity and transient dynamics, courtesy of their impressive 44mm drivers.
Build quality is impressive. These 255g headphones offer comfy memory foam earcups and have a striking red and silver colour scheme. Worth partnering with an outboard DAC to maximise.
The latest update of a perennial budget favourite, the SoundMAGIC E11C are a solid option when it comes to low cost wired earbuds.
Build quality is good. The cylindrical housings are machined from aluminium rather than made from plastic, which implies a level of longevity you might not expect for the cash. They also boast a redesigned acoustic chamber which should add a little extra weight to your favourite metal.
The SoundMAGIC E11C come with a range of silicon ear tips (small, medium and large), all the better to maximise sonic isolation. There’s also an inline three-button remote and microphone to control your tracks and take calls.
Sound sensitivity is rated at 112dB, so the E11C should have no problem playing loud either.
Read the full SoundMAGIC E11C earbuds review
These over-ear studio style headphones are all about musical accuracy, as you might expect from AKG Harman. They sport large 50mm titanium-coated drivers, which have been tuned to the AKG Reference Response Curve, for an extended frequency response of 5 Hz to 40 kHz, and can be run either wireless or wired (nice to have the option). Two cable options are supplied in the box, 1.2m and 3m.
Comfort is aided by swivelling, non-leaky foam earpads, and the oval design looks sharp. But at 300g they’re heavier than many over-ear rivals. On the plus side, they feature an 8-position notched hinge, so they can collapse down to fit any bag.
Best budget headphones for music: Buying advice
What do you get for your money?
We all know that prices of headphones vary dramatically and you might think that headphones at the cheaper end of the market couldn't possibly compete with the big, bruising wallet-busters. But that's not necessarily true. Sure, some premium features such as ANC might be missing, but sound quality can still be excellent when exploring cheaper options.
Some of the headphones in our list are wired which may not be ideal - especially if your smartphone is missing an audio jack, but again, cutting out Bluetooth functionality can reduce cost making headphones much more affordable.
Check what features you simply can't live without and proceed from there. But prepare to be surprised when trying some of the best budget headphones for music. You will get great bang for your buck at a competitive price.
What do we look for when checking out cheap headphones?
While prices on many of the headphones on our list might be small, we take our music listening experience very seriously here at Louder. We compare and contrast our headphones across a variety of musical genres, from rock and metal, to punk and alternative - and via different music streaming services so we can get a better feel for what we're reviewing.
As mentioned previously, some of the cheaper headphones for music don't come with Active Noise Cancelling or Bluetooth capability, and while that may be a hinderance to some, we're really closing in on the audio output from the headphones in this price bracket. Features like the ones we mentioned are nice to have, but they also add to the overall cost, so we don't mind a few missing bells and whistles - especially if it means the headphones are more affordable while still sounding great.
Ultimately, it's all about the music and the budget headphones mentioned above, all come with our seal of approval. We don't think you'll be disappointed.
Why you can trust Louder Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
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