Who Makes The Best Budget Headphones? It Might Just Be Nokia

Nokia might not be the first company you think of when it comes to buying headphones, but if you’re in the market for a cheap pair of cans, it should be on your shortlist.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been testing Nokia’s Essential Wireless Headphones, a pair of foldable Bluetooth headphones that are being sold for the introductory price of £59.99 ($83) in the U.K. and other international markets. For that money, they are sensational value.

No sub-$100 headphones are going to be the last word in audio quality, but they’re a long way from unpleasant to listen to. They come with a bass boost mode that is a little too aggressive when enabled and leaves the audio sounding a little too weedy when switched off, but that’s my only significant complaint. The 40mm drivers are particularly strong for spoken-word podcasts, giving speakers real depth of voice.

Battery life is impressive. Nokia claims 40 hours and in the fortnight of near-daily testing I’ve put them through, they’ve not even come close to needing a recharge. The supplied Micro USB cable to charge the headphones is a bit old-school, with the entire industry shifting to USB-C, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker. There’s a 120cm audio cable supplied (3.5mm jack) if you don’t want to go wireless, too.

You wouldn’t expect much in the way of extra features on a budget set of headphones, but Nokia does offer support for Google Assistant/Siri, depending on which phone you’ve connected them to. For some odd reason, the Google Assistant voice comes through with all the clarity of Neil Armstrong’s radio comms from the moon, but you can just about understand the weather forecast, the sports scores or whatever information you want Google’s know-it-all to convey.

As for comfort, the Nokia Essential Wireless Headphones give no cause for complaint. My head is sufficiently sized to be a sniper’s dream, but the headphones don’t clamp too tightly and the faux leather earpads are softly cushioned. The headphones fold away neatly, although the supplied velvet bag will offer near-zero protection in your bag. A hard case would be a lot to ask for at this price.

The one surprising downside for a company that made its name in phones is that call quality on these things is awful, with callers complaining they could barely hear me unless I practically shouted.

All things considered, the Nokia Essential Wireless Headphones are tremendous value. Snap them up while the price is still keen if you need a pair of everyday cans to drown out distractions.

Nokia Power Earbuds

Alas, I can’t give such a warm endorsement to the Nokia Power Earbuds which they also sent me to test.

At £49.99 ($69), they’re also competitively priced, although there’s no shortage of rivals in this price bracket.

Sound quality is, at best, ordinary. No matter which of the supplied tips I used, I almost had to shove these buds into my ears to get any kind of bass. Otherwise, they sound tinny and lacking in depth, especially with music.

They’re not the smallest or most comfortable set of buds – at least double the size of the more expensive Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 buds that I use every day.

That naturally applies to the case they come in too, which is a weighty lozenge that won’t go unnoticed in your pocket. At least that helps deliver the one notable high point for the Power Earbuds – a claimed battery life of 150 hours. I can’t bring myself to keep these things in my ears for almost a solid week to test if that’s true, but if the LED battery indicator on the case isn’t fibbing, it would suggest battery life is in that ballpark.

Like their bigger siblings, they offer support for Google Assistant/Siri, and this time she doesn’t sound like she’s shouting instructions from the bottom of a well.

Stonking battery life aside, I can’t find much to recommend the Nokia Power Earbuds. Unless you’re heading off into the wilderness for a week, there are better sounding options out there.