I test headphones for a living — these are my favorite of 2023

Listing image showing Sennheiser, Sony and B&W headphones on a wooden table
(Image credit: Future)
Recent updates

Update January 24, 2024: Since choosing my favorite headphones at the end of 2023, I have completed a full Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e review as well as a face-off with the Sony WH-1000XM5 to see how these two $399 noise-canceling headphones compare.  

My favorite wireless earbuds of the year have been great for everyday listening on work commutes and workouts at the gym. But the best over-ear headphones are my go-to when it comes to longer listening sessions while traveling or for serious listening at home, and I wanted to share my three favorite recommendations with you. 

All the models listed below are noise-canceling headphones, and as such they come stacked with the latest wireless audio tech to deliver the best listening experience possible. Although two of my three favorite headphone choices listed below are models that were actually released in 2022, they continued to make a big impression on me throughout 2023 and have been my go-to choices when benchmarking newer designs and are among my favorite headphones of the year. 

On the face of it, each of these over-ear headphones are similarly priced at their original MSRP. But with strong discounts regularly being offered on the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless — voted the best headphones in the Tom's Guide Awards 2023 — they can regularly be found for considerably less, making them the best value over-ear headphones around right now.

Read on to discover my favorite headphones of 2023.

Best overall for signature sound and long battery life

1. Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless headphones close up on white painted background

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Although Sennheiser launched the Accentum wireless headphone earlier this year at a price point to bridge the gap between its entry-level HD 450BT and flagship Momentum 4 Wireless model, the Momentum 4 are still the better value model and, at time of writing, can be found discounted to $244 at Amazon. In fact, the Momentum 4 Wireless 4 continue to rank as such in our best headphones roundup — if you're curious about how the two strikingly similar models compare, you can find out in my Sennheiser Accentum vs. Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless face-off.

What I like about the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless is the elite sound and balance of useful touch controls and effective noise canceling. They have aptX Adaptive support, which although not as strong as Sony's LDAC support offered by the WH-1000XM5 headphones (below), is on par with the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e (also listed below). 

At 60 hours with ANC enabled, these headphones have almost twice as much stamina of any other model I've tried.

The 42mm dynamic drivers in each earcup deliver Sennheiser's signature sound, with powerful bass levels with balanced mids and highs. They're equally capable of delivering big bass beats as they are with more melodic and mellow-sounding tunes by the likes of Gregory Porter. 

Battery life is the standout feature of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless though, and at 60 hours with ANC enabled has almost twice as much stamina of any other headphones I've tried, including as the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e headphones listed below.

Best for most people

2. Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony XM5 headphones in ecru (off white) placed outdoors on a garden table

The Sony WH-1000XM5 rank top in the best headphones you can buy, and are easily the most verstile model I've used this year. They're the whole package — delivering awesome sound quality, top-notch ANC and useful battery life.

The updated design uses eco-friendly materials, and although the slimmed-down chassis with narrow synthetic leather headband and simpler earcups may divide opinion over the foldable and travel friendly WH-1000XM4, they offer good comfort levels. I like the slightly larger earcups, which helped my ears feel more comfortable when wearing these Sonys.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are the complete package — delivering awesome sound quality, top-notch ANC and useful battery life.

In our Sony WH-1000XM5 review, we were impressed by these headphones' performance in almost every category. I have particularly been impressed by their strong, balanced sound with great levels of detail, and Sony's LDAC codec support when connected to compatible playback devices makes these among one of the best audiophile headphones with a big-brand experience.

ANC is strong although it doesn't beat the pool of silence offered by new Bose QuietComforte Ultra Headphones when we tested them side by side in our face-off, but they're close.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones last as much as 30 hours with ANC, or up to 40 hours with ANC off. While this smashes the battery life of the Bose headphones, it isn't as good as Sennheiser's Momentum 4 Wireless.

I'm not someone who takes a lot of voice or video calls, but when I do the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones work incredibly well and rank as one of the best headphones for voice calls. The controls also work like a charm. Just tap the earcups to control your music and use the button on the left earcup to cycle between levels of ANC.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are one of the best headphones on the market, and are pretty much a no-brainer purchase if you seek a versatile headphone design.

Best headphones for audiophiles

3. Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e

Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e in back on a cream background

(Image credit: Future)

We loved Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 for their sophisticated style and sound, and the updated Px7 S2e that arrived in September 2023 brings further enhancements in a premium package. In fact, the 'e' in the model name refers to them being an 'evolved' version. So just what are the evolvements that move the B&W Px7 S2e headphones on from their popular predecessor?

According to Bowers & Wilkins, the Px7 S2e takes inspiration and learnings from their flagship Px8 headphones, together with a re-tuned acoustic performance. Although I don't have the preceding Px7 S2 to compare them to directly and I haven't yet completed my full review for Tom's Guide, my time with the 'e' version has been immensely enjoyable and closer to the performance of the Editor's Choice awarded Px8 luxury headphones than I expected.

My time with the B&W Px7 S2e has been immensely enjoyable and closer to the performance of the Editor's Choice awarded Px8 luxury headphones than I expected.

Even though they're priced at $399, which is exactly the same as the Sony and only $20 more than the Sennheiser, the Px7 S2e are the more attractive model of my 3 favorite headphone designs here. By comparison, the others look rather dull. 

Build quality is exemplary, and the combination of fabric and metal fame makes these easily the most luxurious looking pair of headphones I've seen around this price point all year. Then there's the color choices that come in a modern range of options including anthracite black, cloud gray, ocean blue and forest green.

Unlike the Sony and Sennheiser headphones, the Bowers & Wilkins don't have touch controls to navigate playback but use physical controls instead. That might seem a bit old-school in today's modern touch sensitive controlled world, but they've been reassuringly tactile and surprisingly easy to use in my tests so far.

In terms of sound quality, the 40mm dynamic drivers achieve an open sound thanks to an upgraded DSP. The result is a performance that's both natural and engaging across the entire frequency range. Wireless connectivity runs to Bluetooth 5.2 and you get aptX Adaptive support with compatible playback devices. 

I'd say that noise canceling ranks as satisfactory compared to the best noise-canceling headphones models I've heard, but it's a useful addition and doesn't interfere with the audiophile sound that's on offer with every style of music I've played.

More from Tom's Guide

Lee Dunkley
Audio Editor

As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.

  • Mr_Build3r
    I love when articles start off with "I test headphones for a living", then says the momentums have elite sound (sure), then recommends the bassiest trash for audiophiles instead. The ANC headphone market is wasted potential for sound. 🙄