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The best headphones to look forward to in 2024 and beyond
Several months into the new year, music fans are in the swing of 2024. As ever, our orbit around the sun breathes new life into the headphone and earbud market. It is true — 2023 was no exception. From the Beats Studio Pro over-ear headphones to the Nothing Ear 2 earbuds, we were spoiled for choice last year. But with high expectations, can big-dog headphone brands deliver the goods in the coming months? While there are no firm dates yet, we have gathered information on what we can look forward to this year and next. Here is our shortlist of the best headphones to expect in the rest of 2024 and beyond.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 are praised far and wide for their superior comfort, mainly thanks to their large and suitably cushioned ear cups. The isolation profited by the engulfing ear cups form a robust seal to protect your audio from distracting external noise. Combined with the headphones’ formidable ANC capabilities, users will find their listening experience pleasing. The vegan leatherette coating and adjustable cushioned headband also make wearing these headphones over long periods a breeze.
Sony will likely update its flagship WH line of over-ear headphones with the WH-1000XM6 sometime in the summer or fall of 2024.
We also expect the XM6 to keep the easy-to-use touch controls of their predecessor. With this, users can swipe the smooth, flat side of the earcup to skip songs forward and backward and to increase or decrease volume. This feature is more intuitive than button controls, given it is hard to differentiate between buttons while wearing headphones.
Another notable feature that is almost certain to come out of the box with the WH-1000XM6 is Speak to Chat. This automatically pauses your music when you begin talking. A few seconds after you finish speaking, the headphones automatically exit ambient mode and resume audio playback. We also expect the next-gen upgrade will boast more than 30 hours of battery life with ANC and up to 50 hours without ANC. The headphones should run Bluetooth 5.2 and support the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs. The company will likely retain wired connectivity and Bluetooth Multipoint for multiple device streaming. However, we want to see Sony’s flagship headphones host a foldable headband for smoother transport. An IP rating would also help to protect the headphones from sweat, water splashes, and dust.
Apple AirPods Max 2
Apple usually releases its AirPods alongside its iPhones and iPads at the end of each year. Considering it has been over three years since Apple dropped the original AirPods Max, it would make sense for the company to bring its next-gen upgrade to market. However, the flagship headphones avoided any mention at Apple’s “Wonderlust” event in September 2023 and CES 2024. Nevertheless, respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo remarked on X in early 2023 that the new AirPods Max could arrive alongside more affordable AirPods earbuds in the second half of 2024 or 2025.
Likewise, Mark Gurman of Bloomberg reported in October 2023 that Apple plans to overhaul its AirPods line this year. The company is expected to showcase its flagship headphones at the tail-end of 2024. This will follow shortly after the launch of two different AirPods (4th Generation) earbuds. No matter how you look at it, this is an unusually long release window for Apple and bucks all previous expectations and trends.
Apple's AirPods Max 2 may not release until the second half of 2024 or 2025.
This is a shame, given Apple’s AirPods Max are a welcome addition to the AirPods family. They boast excellent sound quality, superior active noise canceling (ANC), and transparency mode capabilities. They are also home to some of the most comfortable ear cups on the market. Their spatial audio feature immerses users in a satisfying 3D audio sphere. That’s perfect for watching films or losing yourself in a layered soundscape. The AirPods Max also boast 21 hours of battery life. Considering they technically don’t turn off, that’s pretty good going.
So where might the AirPods Max 2 improve upon their predecessor? Firstly, the carry case. When you spend large sums of money on premium headphones, you expect the case to protect them. We would also like to see these new headphones capable of streaming lossless music. However, the previous lack of aptX Bluetooth codec support across the AirPods brand suggests this isn’t a pressing issue for Apple. Lastly, L/R ear detection. While it’s understandable that Apple went with the Apple Watch-style Digital Crown, reversibility wouldn’t be a miss. If Apple can combine these improvements with its superior sound quality, the AirPods Max 2 could be some of the best headphones of 2024.
Apple AirPods (4th generation)
It is worth reiterating that alongside the anticipated release of the AirPods Max 2, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo also reported on X that Apple looks set to release a pair of affordable AirPods in the second half of 2024. Mark Gurman also points to Apple’s plan to bring two differently-priced AirPods to market sometime in 2024. While there has been no official announcement yet, there is little doubt the Apple AirPods (4th generation) will come to fruition. This is especially true given the company’s Wearables Home and Accessories category outpaced its Mac and iPad categories’ sales in Q4 of 2023.
Industry analyst Jeff Pu shared with 9to5Mac that the updated AirPods will be rebranded as AirPods Lite. This is presumably a nod to the widely expected deflation in price from previous AirPods models, something both Ming-Chi Kuo and Jeff Pu have already predicted. Based on these expectations, the Apple AirPods Lite will launch for $99 — substantially cheaper than previous Apple AirPods.
Industry analyst Jeff Pu reports that the AirPods (4th generation) may rebrand as AirPods Lite.
Kuo also reports that manufacturing of the AirPods Lite may be taken over by Hong Teng. This production shift means a release in the second half of 2024 seems likely. While this may still seem a fair way off, it’s worth noting that there were two years and three months between the release of the AirPods 1 and AirPods 2 and two years and seven months between the AirPods 2 and AirPods 3. If the company sticks with its previous release pattern, a late spring 2024 release makes sense.
Like their predecessors, the AirPods Lite will likely come in white and adorn the familiar open-fit design and contoured stems of previous models. These stems should also boast force-sensor controls for adjusting audio playback and receiving calls. We expect the buds will retain the IPX4 water resistance rating boasted by previous AirPods. The case will almost certainly support USB-C charging, as the EU declared all applicable electronic devices must adopt USB-C charging before December 28, 2024. Proprietary features, such as automatic device switching and Apple’s newer H2 chip for improved performance, will likely feature. However, the reduced price may force Apple to sub out more premium features such as automatic ear detection, spatial audio with head tracking, and wireless charging.
Bose QuietComfort 55
With Bose having released its latest QuietComfort Ultra headphones on October 3rd, 2023, it looks unlikely that we will see the QuietComfort 55 come to shelves soon. However, according to Bose, the QuietComfort Ultra headphones are replacing the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 as the company’s flagship. That means we could still see an update to the QuietComfort 45 brand in the medium term.
Bose's new immersive audio feature could come to the QuietComfort 55 headphones too.
The partnering of Bose and Qualcomm to secure the S5 chipset means that the QuietComfort 55 headphones will likely host the aptX lossless Bluetooth codec. That spells good news for audiophiles looking for a high-quality wireless connection. It also means Bluetooth low energy (LE Audio) may feature. With this, we could see improved battery life and adaptive ANC. Bose’s latest QuietComfort Ultra headphones host the company’s immersive audio feature, which, unlike other spatial audio technologies, does not require specialized content. This feature supports two modes: “Still” and “Motion.” The latter uses head tracking to keep music in front of you as you move, while “Still” is better suited for when you are sitting down. We expect the QuietComfort 55 will benefit from this feature too.
Battery life has always been a mainstay of QuietComfort headphones, with the QuietComfort 45 handling over 24 hours of music listening. The newest QuietComfort Ultra headphones provide up to 18 hours of playtime while running ANC and immersive audio simultaneously. With only ANC activated, the cans yield closer to 24 hours of playback time. The Bose Music app also introduced an EQ function in a later firmware update for the QC 45. This was a handy tool for adjusting the initial wobbliness of the headphones’ frequency response. Ideally, we’d like to see this included out of the box for the QC 55. That way, users can hit the ground running and hone in on their music from the word go.
Finally, we fully expect the updated QuietComfort 55 headphones to host a 2.5-to-3.5mm TRS cable slot for wired connectivity. This seems likely, given the company’s most recent QC Ultra headphones have retained this feature. Although smartphones with headphone ports are endangered, audiophiles would welcome the QC 55 sticking with tradition. Once these hit the shelves, they will be popular headphones in 2024.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 3
The Samsung Galaxy Buds series is confusing and difficult to parse apart, but one thing is clear: the Galaxy Buds 2 are great value for any Android phone owner. Given the popularity of the Buds 2, there’s plenty of anticipation surrounding the Samsung Galaxy Buds 3. However, with the company having already surpassed its typical August release window last year, a 2024 launch for the Galaxy Buds 3 is looking increasingly likely. While there was no mention of the company’s next-gen buds at CES 2024, Samsung did unveil a Galaxy Buds case with an OLED screen. If nothing else, this indicates the company remains interested in updating its earbuds catalog.
One glimmer of hope comes from Dutch Outlet Galaxy Club, which claims the company’s next set of earbuds will host the model number “SM-R400N.” This indicates that these buds won’t belong to the Galaxy Pro series, given that the line wears the model “SM-R5xxx.” Instead, this suggests the Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 could be in the making. However, there is also talk of this model number belonging to an intermediary line of buds — a stocking filler before a more substantial announcement.
To our dismay, Samsung seems adamant about keeping ear wings off its Galaxy Buds. The Galaxy Buds 3 will likely mirror the design of the Buds 2 and perhaps be more compact. The glossy plastic visually distinguishes the more pedestrian Buds 2 from the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. As much as we’d like to see a matte finish on the Buds 3, it seems unlikely.
The Galaxy Buds 2 have excellent active noise canceling that matches and outperforms last-generation’s flagship earbuds. Samsung seems determined to increase its ANC performance with each earbud release, so the Galaxy Buds 3 will assuredly have better noise canceling than the Buds 2. Improving the ANC means the next-gen buds will make for even better travel buddies than the Buds 2.
Like the Buds 2, the Galaxy Buds 3 are sure to be a hit among Android phone owners.
Like the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, the Galaxy Buds 3 should work with Samsung 360 Audio when paired to a device running One UI 3.1. We are unsure if the Galaxy Buds 3 will have head tracking like the flagship Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. However, we expect the Galaxy Buds 3 to embrace 24-bit audio when streaming over the Samsung Seamless Codec. The Buds 2 are currently capped at 16-bit audio with the Seamless Codec (formerly the Samsung Scalable Codec).
We’re crossing our fingers that the Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 share the same $149 price tag as the Buds 2, but we find that quite unlikely. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds have only increased in price with each release, so do not be surprised if the Buds 3 debut somewhere between $149 and $199.
What notable earbuds and headphones came out in 2023?
The Sony WF-1000XM5 launched on July 24, 2023, and are arguably the best earbuds on the market. For ($298 at Amazon,) users receive nearly 48dB of noise canceling, over nine hours of ANC-enabled playtime, and excellent sound quality. The earbuds also yield 60 minutes of charge from a three-minute top-up and support the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs. The Sony Headphones Connect is available on Android and iOS and is essential for installing the latest firmware updates. It is also an excellent companion for honing your sound with its native custom EQ, Sony 360 Reality Audio feature, and DSEE Extreme upscaling feature.
The Sony WF-1000XM5 are arguably the best earbuds on the market.
The Sony WF-1000XM5’s IPX4 water-resistant rating will bring comfort to workout enthusiasts. This should protect the buds from omnidirectional water splashes and a sweaty workout regimen at the gym. The earbuds are also extremely comfortable and come packed with three additional sizes of polyurethane foam ear tips. Those with smaller ear canals can use the included extra-small ear tips, something the WF-1000XM4 did not have.
The Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC came to market on June 20, 2023. For ($99.99 at Amazon,) these earbuds pack high-end features for a fraction of the competition. For example, these earbuds cancel noise by up to 39dB, last nearly 10 hours with ANC enabled, and run Bluetooth 5.3 with the LDAC, AAC, and SBC codecs. The buds also support Bluetooth Multipoint, and the Soundcore app features a Fit Test, 22 EQ presets, and an eight-band custom EQ. Like the Sony WF-1000XM5, the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC have an IPX4 water-resistance rating to protect from light rain and sweaty workouts.
We also really enjoyed the Jabra Elite 4. The earbuds prove an excellent set of sub-$100 buds. Jabra’s earbuds block out quite a bit of background noise with their snug fit and interchangeable ear tips. Listeners can switch active noise canceling on to block out a bit more background noise, though, like the Beats Studio Buds, the ANC does not make a huge difference.
By default, the Jabra Elite 4 sound very good, and most listeners won’t feel compelled to adjust the sound. You will, however, have the option to alter the sound in the Jabra Sound+ app. Here, users can easily tinker with the five-band equalizer on an iPhone or Android phone.
Jabra’s earbuds support the SBC and aptX Bluetooth codecs, making these excellent earbuds for Android. You will not notice any lag when streaming videos from an Android device, but you might perceive some latency with an iPhone. For ($79 at Amazon,) we recommend buying the Jabra Elite 4. These are brilliant earbuds at an affordable price.
There you have it; our key headphone 2024 releases to watch for this year and next. Is there anything you have your eye on that did not make the list? Let us know in the comments below.
While there are no official announcements yet, we expect the Sony WH-1000XM6, Apple AirPods Max 2, Apple AirPods (4th generation), Bose QuietComfort 55, and Samsung Galaxy Buds 3 will come to fruition in 2024.
The next couple of years are likely to be transformative for the headphones industry. For example, MEMS speakers will proliferate quickly. While speculated for many years, wirelessly transmitted lossless audio looks closer than ever. Hearable technology and the implementation of Auracast are also likely to become mainstream in the coming years. Most sci-fi of all, solar-powered headphones seem imminent. The next few years are going to be exciting… and expensive.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 ($387 at Amazon) are popular headphones thanks to their powerful noise canceling, excellent sound quality, and comfortable fit. Likewise, the Apple AirPods Max ($424.99 at Amazon) are favorable for those running iOS devices. However, we always recommend trying headphones and reading reviews before purchasing. Buying headphones is a bespoke experience that should be tailored to your specific needs and wants.
In some respects, yes. Most smartphone manufacturers have been phasing out the 3.5mm headphone port over the past few years. This makes it increasingly likely that we will see fewer wired headphones that are compatible with modern devices in the future. However, you can still purchase excellent wired headphones from most major retailers.