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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 and earbud 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 (2nd generation), we’re spoiled for choice. But with high expectations, can big-dog headphone brands deliver the goods in the coming twelve months? While there aren’t any firm dates yet, we’ve gathered information on what we can look forward to this year. Here’s our shortlist of the best headphones to expect 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. Because 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 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 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 protect them. We’d also like to see these new headphones capable of streaming lossless music. However, aptX Bluetooth codec support 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, the AirPods Max 2 could be some of the best headphones in 2023.
Beats Studio Buds Plus
We expect to see the Beats Studio Buds Plus make their way to our ears sometime between June and November this year. Apple owns Beats and submitted FCC filings for the Studio Buds Plus this past April with model numbers A2871 and A2872 for each earphone.
We expect the Studio Buds Plus will share all the same features as the original Studio Buds, including active noise canceling and one-step pairing on Android and iOS. We sincerely hope Beats improves its ANC on the next-gen Studio Buds Plus. Although it’s nice that the original Studio Buds have ANC, it does almost nothing to block out distracting noises.
While the Studio Buds work well on the Beats app for Android, the earbuds still work best with iPhones. When paired with an iPhone, the Studio Buds support “Hey, Siri.” We’ll see hands-free Siri access remain on the Studio Buds Plus.
The Beats Studio Buds Plus will share many of the Studio Buds' features, including noise cancelation.
It’s unlikely that Beats’ next-generation earbuds will support more codecs than the original earbuds. In other words, we’ll likely see just the SBC and AAC Bluetooth audio codecs, given how those are the only Bluetooth codecs that iPhones support. Of course, we’ll still dream and hope for expanded codec support.
When our sister site SoundGuys reviewed the Studio Buds, they praised Beats’ earphones for their compact, lightweight design. This, too, should stay the same with the newer earphones. Likewise, the Studio Buds Plus case will probably share the same USB-C charging input as before.
On the whole, wireless earbuds only seem to be getting more expensive, but Beats’ last two releases have stayed below $200. The Studio Buds came out in June 2021, with a $149 price tag. Meanwhile, the Beats Fit Pro debuted with a $199 price in November 2021. We expect the Studio Buds Plus will share the same $149 price, and find it highly unlikely they’d cross the dreaded $200 mark.
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 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 cancelation 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, including 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. Once these hit the shelves, they will be popular headphones in 2023.
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 a 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. We expect the Galaxy Buds 3 to come out sometime in August 2023, which tracks with Samsung’s typical August release schedule.
To our dismay, Samsung seems adamant about keeping ear wings off its Galaxy Buds. The Galaxy Buds 3 will likely mirror the Buds 2 design, and perhaps be smaller. 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 very good active noise canceling that matches and even 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’re not sure if the Galaxy Buds 3 will have head tracking like the flagship Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, though. That said, we expect the Galaxy Buds 3 to embrace 24-bit audio when streaming over the Samsung Seamless Codec. Currently, the Buds 2 are capped at 16-bit audio with the Seamless Codec (formerly named 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 fairly unlikely. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds have only increased in price with each release, so don’t be surprised if the Buds 3 debut somewhere between $149 and $199.
As one of the only challengers to Apple’s AirPods Pro, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are some of the best earbuds around. While there is currently no confirmed release date, 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.
We know the Sony WF-1000XM5 case will support Qi wireless charging just as the WF-1000XM4 case. The earbuds will also have a smoother design, potentially without the gold accents that decorate the XM4 earbuds. In the leaked image above, the WF-1000XM5 earbuds have a glossy finish, likely because they are pre-production units. Sony will probably add a premium finish to the XM5 earbuds to match the XM4.
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 competitor to Apple’s Spatial Audio and Samsung’s 360 Audio. Users can expect the WF-1000XM5 to boast this feature on release. At the end of February, Sony added multipoint connectivity to the WF-1000XM4 (firmware version 2.0.0), and we hope the WF-1000XM5 come with this out of the box. 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.
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.
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 — so it’s about time Beats released headphones in 2023. Best suited for bass heads, these headphones still offer solid noise cancelation and use Apple’s W1 chip. For those already part of Apple’s ecosystem, connecting to these headphones is a breeze. Their battery life is excellent, too. Listening at a moderate volume with ANC turned on grants 20-22 hours of music playback.
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 must also compete with Sony and Bose if Beats wants to keep pace. This was a shortcoming of the Studio 3 headphones compared to Sony’s WH-1000XM5.
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 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.
What notable earbuds and headphones have come out in 2023?
The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 debuted alongside the OnePlus 11 on February 16, 2023. In our OnePlus Buds Pro 2 review, the earbuds exceeded our expectations. For just $179.99 at Amazon, the Buds Pro 2 offered flagship features for far less than the competition. With the Buds Pro 2, you get very good noise canceling for the price and with multipoint connectivity.
The earbuds have an IP55 dust and water-resistant build, while the case has an IPX4 water-resistant rating. This degree of durability is unique, even for flagships. Broad Bluetooth codec support also makes the Buds Pro 2 stand out. You get SBC, AAC, LHDC, and LC3 to choose from.
The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 are $70 cheaper than the AirPods Pro 2, and support very similar features.
These earbuds work almost as well on Android phones as on iPhones. With the OS-agnostic HeyMelody app, anyone can create a custom EQ and take a hearing test to optimize how the earbuds sound. When paired with a OnePlus 11 smartphone, you get spatial audio support with head tracking. The effect is smooth and responsive, and movie buffs will want to play with this feature.
The Buds Pro 2 give the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) a run for their money and, again, cost $70 less than Apple’s buds. You get a very similar spec sheet as Apple’s AirPods, along with a similar design and interface. It’s hard to deny that the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 are some of the best buds to come out in 2023, so far.
We also really enjoyed the Jabra Elite 4. In our Elite 4 review, the earbuds proved an excellent set of sub-$100 buds. Jabra’s earbuds block out quite a bit of background noise with just their good 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 doesn’t 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 adjust the sound in the Jabra Sound+ app. Here, it’s easy to play with the five-band equalizer on an iPhone or Android phone.
Jabra’s earbuds support the SBC and aptX Bluetooth codecs, making these very good earbuds for Android. You won’t notice any lag when streaming videos from an Android device, but you might perceive some latency with an iPhone. For $99.99 at Amazon, we recommend buying the Jabra Elite 4. These are very good earbuds at an affordable price.
There you have it; our key headphone 2023 releases to keep an eye out for this year. Is there anything you have your eye on that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments below.