When it comes to the best headphones of the year, you were expecting a big name from the likes of Sony, Sennheiser or Bose weren't you? Ah, the TechRadar Choice Awards 2023, sponsored by Norton, are rarely so predictable.
This year, a clear and undeniable winner revealed itself to us – a set of light, comfortable, foldable, stunningly clear wireless planar magnetic headphones from Edifier. The 'Wireless Headphones of the Year' award (which is partly decided by readers' votes) went to the classy Bowers & Wilkins PX8, but the overall 'Headphones of the Year' award (which is an Editor's Choice award chosen solely by our judges) went to the product you see above, the Edifier Stax Spirit S3.
So why did we choose the Edifier headphones over the aspirational B&W offering? Well, our best over-ear headphones guide sees them sitting pretty as our top pick for sound (no small statement – and that particular decision was not hard to make), thanks to their planar magnetic drivers and really, the Edifier Stax Spirit 3 showcase everything that makes planar magnetic designs that bit better than regular dynamic drivers. But that's only the beginning.
Often, this kind of decision isn't conscious, it simply makes itself during testing. The Edifier Stax Spirit S3 are the set I reach for over time – with no urgent reason to choose them.
As you'd expect, testing any set of headphones involves close listening against the class-leaders at the level (for build quality, battery life, sound quality, app support and so on) and since this process involves our commute, we line up the contenders ready to go – as one might a selection of coats depending on the weather.
It's simple: if you've got seven options ready to go, which do you pick? The Edifier Stax Spirit S3 are the cans I choose consistently, over six other propositions. Is there a more telling test in portable audio?
The 80-hour battery life is of course a big reason to reach for them. Other options will have tapped out 40 or 50 hours ago (or be right on the brink of that heart-sinking battery warning as you rush out the door), but the Edifiers have an indomitable stamina it's impossible to ignore. And even if you are caught short, a 10-minute charge while you enjoy your morning wake-up juice delivers a whopping 11 hours of playtime, so you're good for the day… unless you're doing some serious overtime.
But 89mm x 70mm planar magnetic closed-back over-ears with a Bluetooth 5.2 chipset must mean heavy and cumbersome, right? Not at all. At 329g they're super comfortable for all-day use – consider that Apple's AirPods Max weigh 55g more at 384g. And while some over-ear propositions come with hard-shell carry-cases that look like overnight bags, Edifier's design folds up into the headband, so the supplied transport case is refreshingly small and will slip happily into your work bag.
Aside from Edifier Stax Spirit S3's chic, classy and demure aesthetic, you're getting hi-res audio certification – and by hi-res, we mean Qualcomm's Snapdragon sound with aptX Adaptive, aptX HD and regular aptX, so they cover all of the current top-tier wireless audio coding.
You even get an additional set of cooling-mesh ear cushions for season-specific on-the-go use! OK, the the Edifier Connect app is acceptable rather than excellent, but as any audiophile will tell you, companion apps can largely be ignored if the design and sound quality is good enough from the box – and that is emphatically the case here.
Any notable omissions on the spec sheet? One: no active noise cancellation. Whether you really need it when the passive isolation and sonic chops are this good is up to you. If you prioritize an expansive soundfield and crisp detail with a more-than healthy bass extension, put these headphones at the top of your list – and remember to check for any Black Friday headphones deals, since this excellent set has seen a few reductions recently.
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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.