Pocket Gamer headphone buyers' guide: Under £30

A buyers' guide to all the best headphones for your phone, iPhone, iPod touch, PSP, DS, MP3 player or gramophone

Pocket Gamer headphone buyers' guide: Under £30
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Sound and music are the forgotten casualties of handheld gaming. The problem is, it’s often inappropriate to have the sound up when you’re playing games on your phone, whether because you don’t want to annoy the other people on the bus or you don’t want your life partner to know what you’re doing on the toilet.

The solution to this problem, of course, lies in the humble headphone.

Welcome to the Pocket Gamer headphone buyers' guide. It comes in three tasty bites - one for those looking to buy entry level, sub-£30 'phones; one for anyone wanting a mid-range £30-£80 solution; and one for those lucky, or screw-loose, individuals willing to spend top whack for a pair of headphones.

We'll be bringing you bites two and three tomorrow. Today is for the thrifty, the stingy, and the financially challenged.

Since we're dealing with portable devices, we'll be looking predominantly at the in-ear 3.5mm jack type (don’t feel constrained by proprietary socket on your phone. 3.5mm adapters are easily available.)

Also, as just about everyone seems to be worried about money these days, we'll be telling you some of the places you can go to get the best deals on each pair.

To IEM or not to IEM?

The most common type of on-the-go headphone these days is the IEM (in-ear monitor). These are in-ear 'phones topped with a rubber or foam spoffle that blocks out external noise and, generally speaking, gives great bass response when compared with your standard bundled headphone.

Since some people can't get on with the feeling of having the things plunged half-way into their ear canal though, we'll also take a peek at some alternatives.

Headphones up to £30

If you're using bundled headphones with your walkman phone or iphone, ditch them now.

In this part of the headphone buyers' guide, we'll be looking at sonic solutions to help you get better sound from your portable device without risking divorce or penury, whether you're playing games or listening to music.

Sennheiser MX460
RRP £14.99
Try not to pay more than £9.99

Aimed squarely at those looking to replace bundled earphones with buds that look and feel the same as a bog-standard pair, these Sennheisers don't offer any noise reduction for those who often find themselves on planes and trains rather than in automobiles, but will offer some improvement over most bundled buds.

Buying Tips
The MX series has been a long-time favourite of high street hi-fi specialists Richer Sounds, so you won't even have to go online to find these babies at a good price. Here's hoping they still have those free lollies in-store. Surely that's one thing the credit crunch can't take from us.

Skullcandy Ink'd
RRP £17.99
Try not to pay more than £11.99

The Skullcandy brand may not be as well known as the rest of the brands on show here, being focused more towards DJs and dance fans, but these Ink'd 'phones, offering a lot of volume and bass for not much cash, are worth a look.

Featuring the basic noise reduction that the MX460s lack, thanks to the rubber earbuds, IEM headphones don't come much cheaper than this. They're available in a variety of colours too, for you kooky types.

Buying Tips
Play.com are one of the primary UK stockists of Skullcandy gear, and the Ink'd earphones are generally available there at a bargain basement price.

Sennheiser CX300
RRP £39.99
Try not to pay more than £17.99

One of the most popular pairs of earphones among MP3 freaks on a budget, the CX300s offer absolutely bags of bass. Sure, this bass is often criticised for being a tad on the muddy side by audiophiles, but the sound is exciting and the price is good. The CX300s are a real winning pair.

Buying Tips
Thanks to their popularity, these 'phones are generally available for way under the RRP from a number of stockists, including Play.com and Amazon. However, this popularity also means that there are tonnes of fake CX300 look-a-likes floating about. Be very careful when buying from Ebay or the Amazon Marketplace. If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Creative Labs EP630
RRP £29.99
Try not to pay more than £11.99

These may look identical to the Sennheiser CX300s, and there's a lot of headphone conspiracy theorists online who say they're little more than the same thing with a different logo, but they feature a different driver to the CX300s. The sound is similar, but the bass doesn't quite pump quite as much.

That said, they can often be found for significantly less money. Also, check out their newer big brothers, the EP830s, for a sonic upgrade.

Buying Tips
Although not always available for a price that makes them worth choosing over the CX300s, they're occasionally on sale for as little as £6.99 from top online retailers like Play.com and Amazon. Bargain-tastic!

Sennheiser PX100
RRP £29.99
Try not to pay more than £22.99

If you really can't handle in-ear 'phones, the PX100s are an excellent bet. They've been around for absolutely ages, but there are a few reasons why. They sound great and don't cost the earth. Due to their semi-open design, they're not that well suited to noisy public transport though. Being over-the-ear headphones, they're not quite as discreet as the others pairs here, either.

Buying Tips
A lot of places stock the PX100s and the price is often not much less than the RRP. However, they're occasionally on sale at place like Mymemory, Play.com and Amazon, and can sometimes be had for as little as £17.99.

They may be one of the most expensive pairs of earphones in the £30 or under price bracket, but the Sennheiser CX300s are hard to beat, especially if you manage to find them for the right price. They offer a strong, powerful sound whether you're at home, in the office or on the tube.

Tune in tomorrow for a guide to the finer things in life: headphones that cost between £30 and £80, and beyond.