The 20th annual Pocket-lint Awards, sponsored by new EE, took place on the evening of 9 November, celebrating the best devices and products across a number of categories ranging from smartphones to cameras. Each of the categories has six nominations within them, all of which we’ve reviewed at some point during the last 12 months.
The Best In-Ear Headphones category is all about rewarding the best earbuds: whether it be for mind-blowing sound, great noise-cancelling or all-round convenience. In the end, there can only be one pair that wins the top prize. Drum roll, please…
In-Ear Headphones of the year: Sony WF-1000XM5
If you want the best musical performance from any in-ears, combined with fantastic noise-cancelling and lots of great, smart features look no further than the Sony flagship buds. They deliver all of that, and then some.
Sony’s flagship true wireless buds remain some of the most musical in-ears you can buy at this price, but the competitors have started to push them on noise-cancelling and call quality. They’re still a great buy, but its closest competitors are worthy of consideration too.
Noise cancellation is still very good – even if it’s no longer the absolute best – but its musical performance trumps its two biggest competitors at this price, and subtle tweaks to the EQ can – to our ears – get them sounding even better.
They’re as feature-packed as ever, and how much you’ll make use of all of that depends on how you like to use your headphones and listen to your music, but there are plenty of ways to customise these buds to make them truly your own.
While these aren’t the singular recommendation at this price anymore, for those that want authority, musicality and a confident, comfortable listen, the Sony WF-1000XM5 are still a class act that shouldn’t disappoint.
Highly commended: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
Considering the strong blueprint left for them by last year’s Earbuds II, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are every bit as excellent as we thought they’d be.
They bring everything that was great about last year’s buds but add in spatial audio, for those who like it, plus high-res audio support that has a superb impact on sound quality. With Sony snapping at its heels here, it’s not a moment too soon either.
They still lack a couple of things that you might expect at this price – namely Bluetooth multipoint and wireless charging – and call quality could be tad better too.
Any newcomers looking for confident, detailed sound alongside the best noise-cancelling performance that true wireless headphones can offer, will not be disappointed by the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds.
Best of the rest
Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Gen (USB-C)
The beauty of AirPods is their convenience, and the AirPods Pro 2nd Generation (USB-C) are no different. The upgrade to USB-C only adds to this, while the extra features and additional software enhancements make for an overall excellent experience.
Being able to find lost AirPods with Precision Finding is such a useful feature, the sound and noise-cancelling are both superb, plus, having the ability to automatically switch from iPhone to iPad to Mac is brilliant, and something a lot of other earbuds still can’t quite manage.
Beats Studio Buds+
In the Beats Studio Buds+, we have the headphones that the Beats Studio Buds arguably always should have been, with a honed experience that keeps them competitive.
Sound remains as full-bodied and energetic as we remember it, but we now have significantly improved noise cancelling, a more comfortable fit and better battery life, which all add to the experience considerably.
While we wouldn’t want to take away any of their enthusiasm, they could do with a touch more refinement through the treble for those longer listening sessions though, and we’d love a wear sensor for pausing our tracks when we take out a bud, too. Wireless charging wouldn’t go amiss either.
The Final ZE8000 provide an exceptional audio experience, possibly the best sound we’ve experienced with a pair of wireless bud so far.
However, there are some shortcomings: we really missed multipoint connectivity, and switching between our phone and PC always proved to be a pain. The earbuds could really benefit from wear sensors, too, removing an earbud doesn’t pause your playback, as it does on most products, and that’s hard to get used to.
Add to this a very middling battery life, and the high price tag starts to look quite unappealing. That is until you listen to them. With sound this good, we’re more than willing to live with these annoyances, and if you’ve got the itch for high-fidelity wireless sound, you might just feel the same way.
A confident and assured performance from these Technics buds, alongside decent noise cancelling, makes them a real contender at this price.
There’s no two ways about it – Technics has done a great job with the tuning of the EAH-AZ80, and they present themselves as a real contender in this busy part of the market.
They still can’t scare off the biggest contenders when it comes to noise cancellation, but from a music perspective, they are confident, detailed and expressive, and only the play-it-safe treble takes a bit of shine from an otherwise assured performance.
How the EE Pocket-lint Awards judging works
The winner for the Best Gaming Laptop category is decided by the Pocket-lint team, along with a panel of expert judges from publications across the industry. Following a rigorous scoring process, the Best Gaming Laptop winner for 2023 will be announced at an in-person event on 9 November 2023, along with the winners from the other 20 categories.
A Product of the Year winner will also be announced, chosen from the winners of the 21 categories. On the night, we will be announcing the results on the Pocket-lint Twitter handle as they unfold, and there will also be a feature detailing the winners once the Awards are over.