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The best headphones to look forward to in 2023
The new year is nearly upon us. As ever, our orbit around the sun breathes new life into the headphone market. It’s true — 2022 has been no exception to this rule. From Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM5 over-ear headphones to Apple’s AirPods Pro (2022), we’re spoiled for choice. But with expectations running high, can big-dog headphone brands deliver the goods in the coming twelve months?
While there aren’t any firm dates yet, we’ve gathered some information on what we can expect from the year ahead. Here’s our shortlist of the best headphones to look forward to in 2023.
Apple AirPods Max 2
Apple usually releases its Airpods alongside its iPhones and iPads at the end of each year. By autumn 2023, it will have been two years since Apple dropped the original Airpods Max. Seeing as Apple usually refreshes its Airpods brands biannually, an autumn 2023 release date for the Airpods Max 2 looks promising.
Apple's AirPods Max 2 could see a release sometime in the autumn of 2023.
Apple’s AirPods Max were a very welcome addition to the AirPods family. They boast excellent sound quality as well as superior ANC and transparency mode capabilities. They are also home to some of the most comfortable ear cups on the market. Their Spatial Audio feature allows users to immerse themselves in a 3D audio sphere. That’s perfect for watching films or submerging yourself into 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 keep them protected. We’d also like to see these new headphones capable of streaming lossless music. However, the exclusion of an aptX connection 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 go a miss. If Apple can combine these improvements with its superior sound quality, it could be on to a winner.
Bose Quietcomfort 55
At the IFA 2022 convention, Bose confirmed the development of its new hardware lineup, including soundbars, speakers, earbuds, and headphones. Seeing as Bose tends to refresh its QC line every two to three years, a 2023 release looks likely. After securing Qualcomm’s new S5 Audio-series chipsets, Bose’s next-gen products appear to be on the horizon.
Bose has partnered with Qualcomm to secure the new S5 Audio-series chipsets.
What this means, in practical terms, is that the Quietcomfort 55 headphones will likely host aptX lossless. That spells good news for audiophiles looking for a high-quality audio option. This is in addition to the latest in BLUetooth low energy (LE Audio) technology. That means we could see improved battery life to support features like adaptive ANC. That’s not to belittle the battery life already boasted by the Quietcomfort 45, either. They can handle over 24 hours of music listening with ease. Combined with their impressive noise cancellation and isolation, these make for an excellent pair of headphones.
The Bose Music app introduced an EQ function in a later firmware update for the QC 45. This was a useful 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, the inclusion of a 2.5-to-3.5mm TRS cable slot for wired headphones was an admirable feature of the QC 45. Although smartphones with headphone ports are an endangered species, audiophiles would welcome the QC 55 sticking with tradition.
As one of the only challengers to Apple’s AirPods Pro, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are some of the best headphones around. While there is no confirmed release date as of yet, the popularity of the WF-1000XM4 begs for a WF-1000XM5 update.
Sony is typically slow at refreshing its WF-XM line of earbuds. However, the rapidly evolving high-end audio market means a 2023 update is likely. With it, we can expect top-of-the-range ANC and isolation capabilities. This was a benchmark of Sony’s flagship WF-1000XM4, alongside their comfortable and secure fit. Connectivity was also a highlight of the WF-1000XM4, with SBC, AAC, and LDAC BLUetooth codecs, which we fully expect to remain as options next time around.
The rapidly evolving nature of the high-end audio market means a 2023 release for the WF-1000XM5 is likely.
Sony’s 360 Reality Audio feature is also a true competitor to Apple’s Spatial Audio and Samsung’s 360 Audio. Users can expect the WF-1000XM5 to boast this feature on release. We’d also like to see Bluetooth Multipoint out of the box, which feels likely after the WF-1000XM4 received it in a firmware update. That would allow for the simultaneous pairing of laptops and phones, which is incredibly useful if streaming music from one device while keeping an ear on incoming calls, for example.
Finally, we imagine Sony will adopt BLUetooth 5.3 into its ecosystem. Although it isn’t the be-all and end-all, it could mean better short-range, low-latency wireless connections. That’s always a welcome improvement.
OnePlus Buds Pro 2
Well-known tipster Steve Hemmerstoffer obtained exclusive details on the upcoming OnePlus Buds Pro 2 earphones. Set for release alongside the OnePlus 11 smartphone on February 7th 2023, these buds pack some exciting features.
The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 will debut alongside the OnePlus 11 on February 7th 2023.
According to the leaks, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 could come equipped with 11mm and 6mm dual audio drivers. They also look set to host the LHDC 4.0 BLUetooth codec. However, not every OnePlus phone supports the LHDC BLUetooth codec, let alone users of other smartphone brands. Hosting the aptX or LDAC BLUetooth codecs could help these earbuds excel.
The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 may also offer up to 45db of active and adaptive noise cancellation. With the addition of three onboard microphones, voice isolation for phone calls could promise superior quality. Battery life also looks good, with over six hours of playback with ANC turned on and 22 hours with the case. With ANC turned off, users could be looking at nine hours of playback and 38 hours with the case. Wireless charging may also play true, in addition to fast charging that provides 10 hours of playback from 10 minutes of charge. Google Fast Pair, BLUetooth 5.2 connectivity, and an IP55 rating also look likely to feature.
The original OnePlus Buds Pro excelled in comfort and durability, taking inspiration from the AirPod Pro-style shape. Hopefully, the updated design will stay true to this. In addition, we’d like to see the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 adopt an adjustable EQ for manual fine-tuning. Their Audio ID ear tune test didn’t play particularly nicely, so more bespoke customization would be welcome. Finally, some extra-small ear tips would be a useful inclusion, especially for those who commute often and enjoy exercise.
The in-demand wildcard: Beats Studio 4
In recent years, Apple has been focusing most of its attention on its own earbuds and Solo series. However, the semi-recent appointment of Scott Croyle, former head of hardware design at HTC, may change all that. In particular, it appears he’s been recruited to take care of Apple’s Beats division. A sign, perhaps, of audio hardware to come.
Beats Studio 4 should host USB-C charging and improved ANC.
It’s been over five years since the release of the Beats Studio 3 — a lifetime in the audio world. Best suited for bass heads, they offered solid noise cancellation, and were powered by Apple’s own W1 chip. For those already part of Apple’s ecosystem, connecting to these headphones is a breeze. Their battery life was excellent, too. Listening at a moderate volume with ANC turned on, these headphones could easily clear 20-22 hours.
These headphones boast a 3.5mm jack input for wired listening. The micro-USB charger, however, may be a thing of the past. Most notably, USB-C charging will become mandatory for devices across Europe by 2024, which could have worldwide implications for upcoming devices. Either way, the Beats Studio 4 should upgrade to a more modern connector. ANC capability also needs to compete with the likes of Sony and Bose if Beats wants to keep pace. This was a shortcoming of the Studio 3 headphones when compared to Sony’s WH-1000XM5, for example.
It’s also time Beats gave up the proprietary nonsense and embraced Android users with open arms. That means better BLUetooth connectivity options and perhaps even support for a wider array of codecs, including lossless audio over BLUetooth. We’d also like to see a comfier design, with a padded headband and larger ear cups. While we’re wishing, Qi wireless charging would also be a welcome feature for these new headphones, in addition to fast charging.
There you have it; five key headphone releases to keep an eye out for in 2023. Is there anything you have your eye on that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments below.