While the Bluetooth market is a little livelier at the moment thanks to the massive demand for wireless wearable audio, the best performance-per-pound (or dollar) pairs can actually be found within the realm of good old-fashioned wires. Returning for a back-to-back Awards grab are the excellent Austrian Audio Hi-X15 budget over-ears, the open-backed Grado SR325x over-ears (pictured below) and the supremely well-priced SoundMagic E11C in-ears. Also back for another win are the masterful Shure Aonic 3, a sensational pair of wired earbuds that showcase the company's pre-eminence in this particular field.
What we do have, though, is a new pretender to the throne, and it comes in the form of the rather wonderful Røde NTH-100 over-ear headphones (pictured top). We were dazzled by the NTH-100 when they arrived late last year. They demonstrated that you can get a pair of wired headphones that provide you with both eloquent, revealing and exciting sound without sacrificing genuine detail. For their launch price (£149 / $149 / AU$249), our minds were somewhat blown.
The pleasing thing about this particular category, however, is that there's something to suit all tastes and budgets (provided you haven't been conditioned to view wires with fear, loathing and contempt). They may not be glamorous, but the SoundMagic E11C are a sparklingly entertaining pair of earbuds that, for £50 / $50 / AU$100, represent astonishing value for money and a sensible upgrade on any phone/tablet bundled earbuds you might be using.
If you're willing to spend a bit more, the Shure Aonic 3 remain our favourite wired in-ears as you cross the three-figure mark, a position they've held courtesy of their unequalled vibrant, detailed and cohesive sound presentation.
If you're keen on over-ears instead, the talented and affordable Austrian Audio Hi-X15 continue to impress across the board; they sound sublime, they're a pleasure to use and, best of all, you could probably now pick them up for just shy of £100 / $100. Or if your budget can stretch and you don't mind some sound leakage during your at-home listening sessions, our veteran open-backed favourites, the Grado SR325x, continue to be the over-ears to beat at their particular price point.
It's a very, very strong list of Award winners in the wired headphones category this year, comprised mainly of returning models that, despite our thorough testing of dozens of worthwhile competitors, are still the finest examples of their type and price on the market this year. The only newbies are the Røde NTH-100, and while you might not have even heard of the Australian brand (who is better known as a manufacturer of microphones), you'll definitely want to hear its debut headphones.
Can the newbie NTH-100 go all the way to win the category's Product of the Year Award, or will it be an old dog that proves it still knows all the best tricks? You've only a handful of weeks before we reveal all, with every What Hi-Fi? Product of the Year gong in every category, plus some special 'extra' awards, set to be announced at the official ceremony on Wednesday 15th November. We can't wait.
See every What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner right here
See our complete list of the best wired headphones