Audio tech and headphones have had an exciting year. Not only have we seen the arrival of the AirPods Pro 2, a fantastic pair of noise-canceling earbuds, but the headphones market as a whole saw some innovative newcomers, making it possible to enjoy listening experiences anywhere no matter your needs.
Thanks to new soundbars, you can recreate the movie theater experience from the comfort of their living room. What’s more, fresh Bluetooth speakers and smart speakers extend audio all around your home.
There’s never been a better time to buy one of the best headphones, earbuds or soundbars of this year. The same can be said about some other product categories we cover, so be sure to check out all the winners of the Tom's Guide Awards 2023 after you see the list of the big audio winners below.
Best headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless are the best headphones we’ve tested this year, delivering the well-rounded performance we look for in this category. That said, it wins in one big way: the 60-hour battery life totally raises our standards and is now the stamina to beat. Add in the easy-going Sennheiser sound and effective noise cancellation, and the Momentum 4 are among the most practical wireless headphones we've ever seen. While the pair that won this category last year, the Sony WH-1000MX5, are still our favorite overall to buy, Sennheiser upped the ante this year by earning our coveted Editor’s Choice endorsement.
Best noise-cancelling headphones
Best noise-cancelling headphones: Apple AirPods Pro 2
When you think of noise-canceling technology, you might think of companies like Bose or Sony first. But the Apple AirPods Pro 2 earbuds rival over-ear headphones for its ability to keep things nice and quiet for extended periods of time — and, soon, will be able to adapt to your surroundings with a new ambient audio mode. Even without that extra feature, the AirPods Pro 2 proved to be the perfect partner for our long commutes, intense workout sessions at a loud gym and all the noisy places in between. To take things one step further, a clever Adaptive Transparency feature leverages ANC to automatically limit ambient noise that exceeds safe decibel readings.
Best wireless earbuds
Best wireless earbuds: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2
Adaptive sound, excellent ANC, and a modernized design make the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 the best wireless earbuds we reviewed this year. One-third smaller than the original QuietComfort Earbuds, the second-gen QC Earbuds elevate the wireless listening experience in practically every way. The refined and well-balanced sound seriously impressed, while the call quality is nothing short of top-tier. Proprietary technologies like ActiveSense and CustomTune balance sound and noise neutralization extremely well, helping Bose’s latest buds stand out in the saturated earbud space. If you find yourself in the market for a premium pair, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 are an easy recommendation.
Best value earbuds
Best value earbuds: JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen)
JLab has consistently delivered versatile earbuds with some of the strongest battery life of any set of earbuds, making them phenomenal value. We loved the original $79 Epic Air Sport ANC earbuds, but the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (2nd Gen) that launched last year are even better. Priced at $99, these fitness-friendly earbuds use a reliable earhook design for a secure fit, are IP66-rated for protection from dirt and moisture, and have active noise cancelation (ANC) on board too. They rank as one of the best cheap wireless earbuds we’ve tested thanks to their energizing and well-balanced sound delivery, and are exceptional value for regular listeners and active lifestyle users alike.
Best audiophile headphones
Best audiophile headphones: Bowers & Wilkins Px8
Balancing luxury design and high-end sound, Bowers & Wilkins continues to play to its strengths with its newest addition. Launched late last year, the flagship Bowers & Wilkins Px8 ANC over-ear headphones are some of the best audiophile headphones. They take everything we loved about last year’s award-winning Px7 S2 but add sumptuous luxury materials for even greater comfort levels and updated drivers to deliver optimal audio quality in the brand’s best-ever wireless over-ear headphones. No question about it, these are one of the most agile and engaging wireless headphones we’ve heard. They’re the company’s ultimate wireless headphones and perfect for audiophiles where sound quality is the goal.
Best sports headphones
Best sports headphones: Beats Studio Buds+
The Apple-owned Beats brand has been pumping out Bluetooth earbuds at a regular cadence for the last few years, but the new Beats Studio Buds+ are some of its best wireless earbuds yet. Despite missing a few of the features found on its more expensive siblings, the Studio Buds+ offer improved battery life and effective noise cancelation. Even better, though, is their refined fit that makes them the perfect workout partner. If you haven’t found a pair of earbuds that will fit your ears without falling out, you owe it to yourself to give the Beats Studio Buds+ a try.
Best soundbar: Samsung HW-Q990B
Although dedicated speaker systems offer more customizability, the best soundbars can give them a run for their money in the sound reproduction category. For a perfect example of this, look no further than the Samsung HW-Q990B that comes with a main ‘bar, two satellite speakers with upfiring drivers and a massive sub. The system is all wireless which means you don’t have to worry about stringing audio cables through the wall, and we really like that it comes with two HDMI inputs that can pass 4K HDR signal to the TV. Effectively, that gives your TV an extra HDMI port to work with, which is great if you want to connect all your consoles, a Blu-ray player and a streaming device all at the same time.
Best Bluetooth speaker
Best Bluetooth speaker: UE Wonderboom 3
Despite its portable size, the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 3 — or UE Wonderboom 3 — packs a serious punch. Among a surplus of average/affordable Bluetooth speakers, UE’s colorful, ball-shaped product stands out in the crowd. It proves a small package doesn’t mean a speaker needs to fall short on performance and features. Across most genres, the speaker sounds well-balanced with surprisingly strong bass. You could even pair two together for a stereo effect. We especially like the UE Wonderboom 3 for outdoor listening, since it’s waterproof and has a neat setting that makes music sound better in open spaces. Otherwise, 14 hours of playtime should keep the soundtrack running on all your daily adventures.
Best smart speaker
Best smart speaker: Sonos Era 300
Sonos has long been at the forefront of multiroom speakers with some of the best smart speakers and best soundbars on the market, but the company did something different earlier this year when it launched its new Era speaker series. The Sonos Era 300 is built to maximize spatial audio thanks to a speaker arrangement that fires sound in all directions. The eye-catching smart speaker has Alexa voice control and Dolby Atmos spatial audio support, and delivers an astonishingly immersive sound experience that defies belief with the right content. Being from Sonos we loved the smart speaker’s ease of use and its impressive sound quality. We also liked the fact that it’s both retro- and future-proof, offering Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. If that isn’t enough, it can also be connected to a turntable thanks to a USB-C port at the back and adapter. These astonishing credentials make the Era 300 an extremely versatile smart speaker and among the best available.
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