What's the most-asked question I get when I tell people I'm a senior audio writer at TechRadar? Easy: what are the best new earbuds with noise cancelling? Take note of the phrasing; not the best noise cancelling earbuds – no, the best new earbuds with noise cancelling. And that is a different thing.
I've also learned that people don't appreciate me going all T. S. Eliot and reciting something in the same vein as Naming of Cats but where the choosing of earbuds is the difficult matter ("and I tell you, a listener must have three different sets").
No, no, people want a definitive answer and hold the complicated reasoning, thank you very much. I'm flattered, because it means they trust my judgement (well done there. I do know my stuff).
So a solid answer is what I'm going to give you, because nobody wants to hear the ins and outs of my pick for the gym, my high-end option for listening at home and my shout for a cheap waterproof set to stuff in my rain jacket. After all, hopefully you live somewhere known for nicer weather than London, England.
For me, 'best' means flagship territory too: the finest tech and sound quality a brand can offer – ie. the top-tier, most expensive option. So all cheap $20 earbuds are out. Got it? Good.
And this leads me to a particular little word that's often overlooked in the question above: 'new'. As well as wanting the best earbuds, ideally we want the newest earbuds, rather than something we could have purchased last year and as such have been missing out on. Thus, even our best true wireless earbuds roundup, which features models launched as far back as 2021 (I know! Positively ancient) is not ideal, even though those products are there for one simple reason: they're still the best.
The results are in – 2023 belongs to Technics
The verdict I'm about to deliver concerns earbuds released over the past 12 months only. The contenders include the Sony WF-1000XM5 (July 24, 2023), the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II (September 2022), Apple AirPods Pro 2 (also September 2022) the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 (January 2023) and Nothing Ear (2), which landed in March 2023.
Remember, we're talking heavy-hitters and flagship products only here, so please don't write in saying it's a crime I haven't mentioned the J-Lab Go Air Pop, great though they are for $20. (While I'm here, we now run a regular feature entitled $20 challenge, which is well worth a look if you're into budget-friendly tech).
OK, the best wireless earbuds released in 2023 for most people are the Technics EAH-AZ80 and it feels so good to get that off my chest.
Anyone remotely interested in portable audio will know that the Sony WF-1000XM5 are the most hotly anticipated audio release of the year, because the Sony WF-1000XM4 upon which they are built were so good. When the XM4 landed in June 2021, they effectively blew everything else on the market away.
But Sony's claim to the throne has been under threat for a little while now and as far as I'm concerned, Technics has just snatched the crown.
It's not just because Technics has delivered triple device multipoint pairing where no other maker has either, including Sony – although this excellent perk is also a feature of the company's cheaper EAH-AZ60M2 and entry-level EAH-AZ40M2 too. Impressive.
Technics takes it all
Essentially, the Technics EAH-AZ80's novel concha design is beautifully secure and you get seven different sizes of silicone earbud in the packaging, versus four with the flagship Sony earbuds. The overall build quality of Technics' earbuds feels more premium; there are four mics per earbud (rather than three in the XM5); the Just My Voice tech beats Sony's "capture voice during a phone call" toggle and the noise cancellation, companion app and overall sound quality are just that bit better. It is a clean sweep for Technics – oh, apart from battery life, where you'll get eight hours from the Sony earbuds and seven from the Technics, although I found them a little better than that for stamina.
Pricing? Naturally. The Technics EAH-AZ80 cost $299 / £259 / AU$499 and the Sony WF-1000XM5 will set you back $299.99 / £259 / AU$499. Not much in it, is there?
And now that the biggest names in audio technology have all held their huge conferences for the time being, I truly believe the Technics EAH-AZ80 can relax for a while. After all, Apple's WWDC came and went in June without so much as a sniff of the AirPods Max 2 – and the AirPods Pro 2 are not yet one year old, so I highly doubt a new offering will land during Apple's traditional September event, which will likely center around the iPhone 15.
Bravo, Technics. I will admit I didn't see this coming (who did?) but life is full of surprises – and your earbuds are not just in my top 3 noise-cancelling earbuds to pack in hand-luggage this year, they're the best. Big difference. Big. Huge.
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Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.