The world’s first-ever headphones were invented in the 1880s, weighed over 11 pounds, and had no padding. Needless to say – they didn’t make our list. But the ones that did are, by any standards, amazing. And to the question: are 2023’s best headphones really that much better than, say, the best from just 3 to 5 years ago? In almost every case, yes.
Two reasons why:
1) With a headphone market expected to top $15 billion by 2025, the world’s premier headphone makers are wrestling for dominance. Along the way, every incremental improvement, whether by giants like Sony and JBL – or audio purists like Focal Audio and Audeze– is a win/win for consumers.
2) A few years ago, wireless headphones were mostly a novelty with often spotty, subpar results. (If you're looking for wireless earbuds, our Best Wireless Earbuds of 2023 buying guide is a must-read.) Today, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference in sound quality between wired and wireless and even true wireless (for a list of headphone style variations, see our Headphone Buying Guide.), and hearing is believing.
So, with that in mind, we asked our World Wide Stereo audio experts to answer some of the most asked questions and apply their combined decades of experience with the goal of picking today’s best headphones, by category, no holds barred. And yes, it was hard work (no it wasn’t), but we stuck with it (more like “loved every second”) and now we’re proud to present (after some fairly spirited discussions) the “Best Headphones of 2023.”