In 2023, we saw affluence of abundant new wireless headphones and wireless earbuds emerge, like the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC, Sony WF-1000XM5, and the new USB-C alternative of the Apple AirPods Pro 2.
Each of these articles delivers bigger achievement than its predecessors in one or added categories like complete quality, breath babble abandoning (ANC), array life, or spatial audio. But for a artefact to be advised innovative, it can’t aloof action incremental improvements. It needs to breach new arena by alms us article new or by accepting us to anticipate about an absolute affection in an absolutely new way.
For 2023, that artefact is the Hed Unity Wi-Fi headphones.
Want to see the rest? Check out our abounding account of the most avant-garde tech articles of 2023!
Winner: Hed Unity Wi-Fi headphones
The accessibility of wireless Bluetooth headphones and earbuds can’t be overstated. Ever back Apple appear the aboriginal AirPods in 2016, music admirers accept angry these categories into multibillion dollar industries. But there’s one accumulation of music admirers that has consistently greeted Bluetooth with skepticism: audiophiles.
Audiophiles accurately affirmation that Bluetooth is no acting for a active affiliation because Bluetooth has commonly appropriate lossy compression of agenda music. In adjustment to clasp CD-quality stereo into a admeasurement that can fit central Bluetooth’s airy aqueduct from your buzz to your headphones, some advice charge be discarded. As for better-than-CD-quality hi-res audio? Fuggedaboudit.
On the added hand, if wireless audio articles like headphones and earbuds could use Wi-Fi instead of (or in accession to) Bluetooth, there would be added than abundant bandwidth for alike the highest-resolution lossless agenda audio. To some, that may seems like an accessible statement, but until the Hed Unity came along, no audio architect had anytime approved it.
By embedding Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the Hed Unity accept become the aboriginal wireless headphones to let association accept to CD-quality and college lossless audio after annoying about Bluetooth codec compatibility, or alike wireless range. As continued as the headphones are aural ambit of your Wi-Fi network, you can beck several sources of hi-res lossless music to them, including Tidal, Qobuz, and your claimed music accumulating if it’s stored on your network.
Audiophiles now accept the advantage of wireless alert after the compromises of Bluetooth, but it doesn’t appear after a few above caveats. The aboriginal is the price. At $2,199 the Hed Unity ability aloof be the best big-ticket wireless headphones you can buy that don’t accomplish use of alien abstracts like gold or diamonds.
Second, one of the affidavit Wi-Fi hasn’t apparent up on headphones afore now is it’s abundantly power-hungry back compared to Bluetooth. Unsurprisingly, the Hed Unity are alone acceptable for about six to eight hours of alert afore defective to be recharged, baronial them amid the affliction wireless headphones for array life.
Third, Hed is still authoritative appropriate with alive music companies, so for now, Tidal and Qobuz are the alone sources of lossless audio that are accordant with Wi-Fi on the Unity (you can beck any account via acceptable Bluetooth).
For Hed itself, there may additionally be a amount for actuality first. Apple appear that the H2 chips central the AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C are able to assignment with Wi-Fi on a bound basis — it’s how they can do lossless audio with the Apple Vision Pro. Separately, Qualcomm appear that its latest S7 Pro Sound Platform Gen 1 chips will abutment Wi-Fi streaming in a array of wireless audio products, and with about no hit to array performance.
These announcements could beggarly that the Hed Unity’s Wi-Fi audio pole position will face austere challenges from added Wi-Fi articles in the actual abreast future.
I afresh accustomed a brace of Hed Unity for appraisal — I’ll column my thoughts as a abounding analysis soon.
Runner-up: JBL Tour Pro 2
In some ways, JBL’s Tour Pro 2 wireless earbuds are no altered than countless added wireless earbuds you can buy. They’ve got solid complete quality, ANC that can absolutely cut bottomward on the aggregate of ambient noise, accomplished array life, and a ton of customization and accessibility features. What sets them afar from aloof about every added set of buds on the planet is their charging case.
It carries and recharges the Tour Pro 2, aloof like any added case, and it has wireless charging, but it’s the anchored touchscreen on the advanced that absolutely got our attention. There’s aloof article about accepting an alternate affectation on a artefact that ups its air-conditioned agency considerably.
Now, I’m not activity to acquaint you that accepting a charging case with its own complete touchscreen is a game-changer — it isn’t. At least, not on the JBL Tour Pro 2. Virtually every action the awning lets you do can additionally be done application the earbuds themselves or aural the JBL Headphones app.
Still, I accept to accord JBL backdrop for aggravating it out. The abstraction that you ability acquisition it added acceptable to acceptance settings and appearance from a charging case instead of your buzz was aces of exploration, and for that acumen alone, I’m animated JBL took a action on it. I’m alike happier that the aggregation was able to do it after charging a fortune. Poly’s Voyager Free 60+ also includes a touchscreen-enabled charging case in 2023, but it costs $350 — $100 added than the JBL Tour Pro 2.
Honorable mention: Oladance OWS Pro
The open-ear earbud apple exploded in 2023. After Bose bigger created (then abandoned) the category, and Sony again came up with its own different booty on the idea (which became our aces for the most avant-garde headphones of 2022) bags of audio brands accept jumped on axle the open-ear train.
But the ascendant champ in this amplitude is a aggregation you’ve apparently never heard of: Oladance. In 2022, the Oladance OWS accepted to be the best open-ear earbuds you could get, but it was a actual baby field. Still, in 2023, the aggregation managed to do it afresh with the OWS Pro. Though way added big-ticket than any added open-ear product, the OWS Pro accept done added to advance the chic advanced than any added model.
Not alone are they glassy and comfortable, but they additionally accept the best audio affection you can get in a set of open-ears. What absolutely makes them innovative, however, is their Focus Mode. Typically, ANC on a set of open-ear earbuds is a nonstarter. ANC needs to be able to actualize its own little balloon of anti-noise to abolish the babble about you — open-ear earbuds are the adverse of that. And yet, Focus Mode manages to abolish a actual specific ambit of annoying high-frequency sounds. It’s decidedly effective.
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