Picking out the best headphones in 2023 isn’t a simple task. Prices range from less than $50 all the way to the thousands, while the mid-range is incredibly competitive. You surely want to pair you new audio purchase alongside the best laptop or best MacBook possible, so with Apple, Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, and countless others fighting it out, it’s important to do some research before laying down the cash.
Well, that’s where Gear Nuke comes in. We’ve got years of experience with tech, plus some audio obsessives on the team who’ve spent hours testing out headphones just for the fun of it. So, we can help you make a decision.
Whether you want the best-of-the-best circumaurals for audio editing, or some cheap and cheerful cans for a quiet commute, we’ve got you covered. If you’re not a fan of the big over-ear style, we can help out there too with our guide to the best earbuds on the market right now, helping you keep things more discrete.
Here are the best headphones available today:
- Sony WH-1000XM5 – best headphones overall
- Sony WH-CH510 – best budget headphones
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 – best headphones for working out
- Apple AirPods Max – best headphones for iPhone users
- Sennheiser HD 820 – best audiophile headphones
- Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX – best battery life headphones
1. Sony WH-1000XM5
The Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best headphones for most people. Expect to pay around $399 (£349) for a pair.
- Crisp sound quality
- Excellent ANC
- Robust bass
- Competition is fierce
The Sony WH-1000XM5s offer the best all-round experience for the average user. With a clear, crisp sound for music, decent battery life for long journeys, and best-in-class active noise cancellation for loud commutes, they’re hard to beat in this price range.
With any pair of headphones, the focus is the sounds, the WH-1000XM5s knock it out of the park. There’s a great sense of dynamic range, with clear bass that never feels muddy. Meanwhile, the highs are crisp and easy to pick out. They are the perfect pairing with any song, enhancing it without interfering too much.
Meanwhile, eight microphones and Sony’s V1 processor work together to block out sounds with ease. Take this on any commute or walk through a busy street, and they’re up there with the best, letting you block out everything around you and focus on the music.
ANC really helps with podcasts too, where the range of frequencies is naturally smaller, meaning more outside noise can get in. Combine this with around 30 hours of battery life with ANC active and you’re looking at the best all-rounder at this price point.
The issue is, at this price point, competition is fierce. Sony’s 1000XM5s are pretty nice, but others like Sennheiser and B&O may appeal more aesthetically. Sony is still playing it pretty safe in terms of design, which may be good for most, but there are more exciting designs out there.
2. Sony WH-CH510
The Sony WH-CH510s are the best budget headphones, costing only $59.99 (£39).
- Battery life
- Bang for your buck
- Bluetooth only
- Cheap materials
- On-ears don’t block out much noise
Sony’s WH-CH510 are incredibly inexpensive for what they offer. With up to 35 hours of battery life, a lightweight and portable design, and decent sound quality for this price range, they’re a great option for anyone not too fussed about noise canceling and hi-fi audio.
There’s not much to say about the sound quality – it’s good enough. Meanwhile, the design may feel delicate, but it’s lightweight and portable which is likely a boon for many. Just don’t go chucking them in a packed gym bag unthinkingly.
There are, naturally, a few negatives at this low price point. Using these on a loud tube train is pretty impossible – you have to turn the music up loud to hear it properly, but then so does the rest of the carriage.
Meanwhile, they only offer a Bluetooth connection. This likely doesn’t matter to most people, but it’s important to know before you buy. Still, in spite of this, they’re such a bargain that the sacrifices are worth it.
3. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The best headphones for the gym are the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which cost around $379 (£349).
- Gorgeous design
- Easy-to-use controls
- Conversation mode is great for the road
- Less battery life than the competition
- Slightly pricier
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are the best you can get for exercise for one primary reason: the intuitive controls. If you’re out on a run or curling weights, you don’t want fiddly buttons that your fingers can’t find. Instead, the 700s offer gesture controls, with taps and swipes on the cups to pause and skip songs with ease. Of course, the Sony WH-1000XM5s offer similar functionality, even if the Bose pair is slightly slicker.
There’s also Bose’s conversation mode, which lets noise from outside in, so you can quickly switch from full immersion in your tunes to hearing all the traffic around if you need to cross the road. This is far better than pulling a cup off your ear, mid-run and slightly sweaty…
Combine this with Bose’s excellent sound quality and variable noise cancellation, and they’re the perfect pair. They’re great for even non-runners, of course, competing handily with Sony’s best pair, but the slick controls make it a standout in this category.
However, with only 20 hours of battery life – around half that of some of the competition – there are some drawbacks to consider. Plus, the price is a little higher than others. Only slightly mind you, but that could make all the difference for you.
4. Apple AirPods Max
The best headphones if you’re an iPhone user are Apple’s AirPods Max, which cost around $549 (£549).
- Top class ANC
- Excellent sound quality
- Not best if you wear glasses
- Terrible case included
The best headphones for any Apple device are, of course, Apple-made. While Beats headphones have the same processor as Apple-branded cans, nothing beats the AirPods Max in terms of quality.
The sound quality is pretty exceptional, beating a lot of others on this list, even if only slightly. Meanwhile, Apple’s active noise cancellation is as good as any others out there. Of course, it should be when it’s almost twice the price of the competition.
The standout features here are its integration with Apple devices. AirPods Max automatically pair with your phone, switch between different Apple devices depending on what you’re using, and pause and play music when you take them off your head.
The design may not be for everyone, but the top-quality stainless steel on the cups and mesh fabric on the headband are definitely luxurious. As with all Apple products, the premium price comes paired with a bit of extra attention to detail in the design.
The main drawback is obviously the price. AirPods Max may be slightly better than some cheaper models, but not $200 better. Meanwhile, the headband may be a little tight and uncomfortable for some, especially glasses wearers – that’s something I’ve personally had quite a bit of trouble with. Oh, and the case absolutely sucks. It doesn’t protect the headphones at all, and it’s baffling Apple made such a strange accessory.
5. Sennheiser HD 820
The best headphones for audiophiles are the Sennheiser HD 820s, though they come at a high price of around $1,799 (£1,799).
- Best-in-class sound quality
- Ideal for audiophiles
- High-quality design
Okay, Sennheiser HD 820 headphones are expensive, yes, but they’re also an incredible bit of tech. While not everyone has the money, any audiophile with the cash to spare would find sonic rewards from this that you just can’t find below $1000.
It’s hard to define the improvement in sound quality over lower-end headphones, but the simple way to put it is: they make everything sound great, pretty much. Combine this with a high-quality design that should mean this is a long-term investment, and it’s a treat.
Anyone spending this amount of money on a pair of headphones likely knows these aren’t for a commute. With three different connection options and extra-long cables in the box, Sennheiser sets you up for whatever you need.
The main issue beyond price is practicality. At the end of the day, very few people need a pair of headphones this expensive when they’re so big they might look like ear-defenders if you’re out and about. Oh, and did we mention they’re really, really expensive?
6. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX
The Bang & Olufsen HXs are up there with the best battery life headphones on the market and cost around $499 (£449).
- Excellent battery life
- Luxurious design
- Top class sound
- Pricier than competition
- There’s better ANC out there
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HXs are an excellent pair of headphones all around, with one standout feature: battery life. With around 40 hours on a full charge, these headphones can take a full day of travel without once making you worry about charging them up.
There are, of course, other benefits. B&O have a unique aesthetic, and it’s shown off here beautifully. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you like it, these headphones could turn a few heads for sure. And, as expected, B&O’s HXs have excellently balanced sound.
As always, the choice comes down to the busy competition in the market. If we hadn’t recommended the Sony WH-1000XM5s, they’d be the winner in this category. They have the same battery life with better ANC at $100 less. That’s a hard thing to argue with.
But if you can’t go for Sony for whatever reason, or just really love the design of the B&O HXs – and absolutely need almost two days of battery life in your headphones – then these are a great pair of cans to go for.
That’s all we’ve got for the best headphones on the market today. For even more advice on where to lay down your hard-earned cash, check out our guide to the best laptops you can buy for under $1,000.