Our 2023 Top Gear Awards featured image

Our 2023 Top Gear Awards

Our Top Gear Awards For 2023 is upon us again and represents the audio gear that we reviewed and gave the highest scores for this calendar year.

This is our 13th year for our Awards in one guise or another so if you want to go back in time and check out what we thought were the best from the last five years you can click below.

As with the conclusion of every successful year on Headfonics, we would like to thank all the readers who have visited our site, read what we had to say, and enjoyed our reviews. Your views and opinions matter to us and I do hope that you enjoyed what we had to offer for 2023.

Without you, the reader, we would cease to matter so thank you once again from James, Louis, Lynn, Rabi, Aldous, Cheryl, Josh, Meldrick, Kurt, Mike, and myself.

2023 Awards Process

Our Top Gear Awards is based on our scoring system throughout the calendar year so the gear with the highest overall score in 2023 wins. From Jan 1st, those Award scores will be deleted and the scores from Readers’ votes will take over in our Gear Ranking section on the home page from January 2024.

Where there is a tie for the top score, then all gear with that score are deemed winners, so some categories will have more than one winner.

As in previous years, we know our writers have their personal favorites so once again we have given them free rein to let us know what products float their boat for 2023, regardless of the score, in our “Editor’s ” and Writer’s Choice” 2023 awards.

Note, this is a 2-page feature with portable gear and headphones on page 1. Desktop amps, DACs, and integrated DAC/amps plus the Editor and Writers’ picks for the Top Gear 2023 Awards are on Page 2.

TOP GEAR BEST OPEN HEADPHONES 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Open Headphones

Dan Clark Audio CORINA Review feature image
The Dan Clark Audio CORINA has a very smooth tone and a surprisingly weighty sound signature for an electrostatic headphone. The resolution is there, and the detail is typically electrostatic in terms of articulation but this is a planted sound with more emphasis on the bass and mids rather than a heady sparkle or heavy treble overtones.
9
Reader's Score
Pros
Natural but highly resolving sound signature
Very comfortable fitting
Improved design over the VOCE
Cons
Not for e-stats trebleheads
Harder to drive than the competition

If you are coming over from the STEALTH or EXPANSE planar headphones then the CORINA feels like a natural fit with a sound signature not a million miles away either.

This is a very smooth tone and a surprisingly weighty sound signature for an electrostatic headphone. It could well be the perfect complement to any electrostatic collection already top-heavy with treble performers.

The resolution is there, and the detail is typically electrostatic in terms of articulation but this is a planted sound with more emphasis on the bass and mids rather than a heady sparkle or heavy treble overtones.

This is a beautifully embracing sound, forgiving, and very easy to listen to for hours. Which, coincidentally is exactly, what we ended up doing as soon as it was out of the box. Its versatility makes it ideal for a very wide range of modern genres.

Oh, the irony of a 2023 award going to a product with 2022 in the name. Still, it was reviewed this year so that is what counts. Even more so, the Focal Utopia 2022 is a magnificent-sounding dynamic driver headphone, one that is truly worthy of being called a high-end flagship regardless of year.

It looks beautiful, it sounds incredibly pleasing and has the resolution and required levels of transparency to allow it to be super-easy to find the right setup to hear it at its best.

We are kind of sad I do not have the original here to compare this with and see just how far Focal has progressed over the last few years as this iteration is just so damn good!

Focal Website | Dan Clark Audio Website | Zeppelin & Co Singapore

TOP GEAR BEST CLOSED HEADPHONES 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Closed Headphones

ZMF Headphones Atrium Closed Review
The ZMF Headphones Atrium Closed not only looks beautiful but has some excellent audio chops to back it up. It retains the hallmarks of the original Atrium's generally smooth and slightly euphonic overtone but adds power and body on the low end. Importantly, for a closed-back headphone, it sounds spacious with very little congestion throughout. 
9.2
Reader's Score
Pros
Very spacious sound for a closed-back
Beautiful Wood Cup design
Olivewood LTD delivers excellent power
Cons
A bit on the heavy side
High impedance requires careful matching

The ZMF Headphones Atrium Closed not only looks beautiful but also has some excellent audio chops to back it up.

It retains the hallmarks of the original Atrium’s generally smooth and slightly euphonic overtone but adds power and body on the low end. Importantly, for a closed-back headphone, it sounds spacious with very little congestion throughout.

But there is a bonus, the LTD or the Olivewood version, which for me really delivers on what we truly like to hear from a closed-back headphone and that is energy and power but at the same time remaining tight and controlled.

Of the two, the Olivewood hits our personal preferences whereas the stock Cherry Wood will appeal to those wanting a fatter sub-bass tuning but retaining that overall relaxed Atrium Open presentation.

Either way, choice is king here and both headphones deliver an impressive closed-back dynamic driver headphone presentation. Just ‘pick your poison’ so to speak.

ZMF Headphones Website

TOP GEAR BEST WIRELESS HEADPHONES 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Wireless Headphones

Audeze Maxwell Review featured image
The Audeze Maxell is the best gaming headphone I have heard to date, branded for gamers, by guys and gals who know gaming over at Audeze. This headphone made me want to actually go back and start playing online again but only because I have the Maxwell as a secret cheat hack, basically.
8.7
Reader's Score
Pros
Excellent fidelity
Spacious imaging and pinpoint accuracy
Cons
Heavy construction
$299

The Audeze Maxell is the best gaming headphone we have heard to date, branded for gamers, by people who know gaming over at Audeze.

In its stock tuning, it is bass-neutral, but that’s okay because this model is aimed toward online FPS players. If you want to enhance the bass performance, there are a wide range of options in the Audeze HQ app including a full custom EQ as well as a bass boost mode.

The Maxwell is heavy at 490g, but the comfort is still very nice. Fantastic build quality, spacious imaging for a closed back, and excellent pinpoint abilities make this model great for anyone into the CoD and Battlefield scene.

This headphone made us want to go back and start playing online again, but only because we have the Maxwell as our secret cheat code.

Audeze Website

TOP GEAR BEST CUSTOM IEM 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Custom IEM

Unique Melody Multiverse Mentor Review
If ever there is a BA custom monitor that will give die-hard high-end dynamic driver fans pause for thought then the Unique Melody Multiverse Mentor is likely the one that will come the closest to doing that.
9.2
Reader's Score
Pros
Unique bone conduction influence on the bass
Complex and highly engaging soundstage
One of the best customs fits in the business
Cons
Disparity between advertised and actual face plate design
Tuning might be too 'perfect' for some

If ever there is a BA custom monitor that will give die-hard high-end dynamic driver fans pause for thought then the Unique Melody Multiverse Mentor is likely the one that will come the closest to doing that.

It’s an absolute tour de force in delivering a darn near perfect tonal quality, an exemplary immersive holographic staging quality with pinpoint accurate imaging. The crazy thing is that it sounds so natural to the ear despite being so technically brilliant.

Quite often monitors that try to stretch everything out sound either too thin, bright, or bloated on the low end. You get nothing like that here. It sounds wonderfully coherent, almost too darn perfect dammit, we want flaws and I can find very little of that here, at least sonically.

The benchmark for 2023 for a multi-BA custom monitor performance? Yes, and beyond BA for that matter. This will be a tough one to beat for sure.

Unique Melody Website | Musicteck USA

TOP GEAR BEST UNIVERSAL IEM 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Universal IEM

FiR Audio Radon 6 Review featured image
The FIR Audio Radon 6 is the most complete and natural-sounding monitor I have heard from the company to date. It works wonderfully well with almost everything, especially if you want an open midrange with excellent levels of detail.
9.2
Reader's Score
Pros
Neutral tuning with excellent resolution
Flexible filter system
Durable compact design
Cons
Limited availability
Tiny ATOM XS filters could get lost easily

The FIR Audio Radon 6 is the most complete and natural-sounding monitor we have heard from the company to date.

We adore the explosiveness of the Krypton 5 bass and it has its place in our line-up for specific genres. However, the Radon 6 works wonderfully well with almost everything, especially if you want an open midrange with excellent levels of detail.

And it’s a flexible sound signature also. The combination of ATOM XS filters, tips, and source will emphasize or diminish both the bass weight and degree of timbral smoothness depending on your preferences.

It is a pity that this is a limited edition release for now because the Radon 6 is an excellent high-end monitor and one of our favorites since first hearing it at CanJam Singapore.

Noble Audio Ronin Review featured image
The Noble Audio Ronin is the company's most balanced and detailed-sounding monitor to date. It is also one of their most accessible tunings with a natural tuning that makes it a non-fatiguing pleasure to listen to.
9.1
Reader's Score
Pros
Beautiful vocal rendition
Spacious soundstage
Excellent passive isolation
Cons
Lacking a little sub-bass weight

The Noble Audio Ronin is the company’s most balanced and detailed-sounding monitor to date. It is also one of their most accessible tunings with a natural tuning that makes it a non-fatiguing pleasure to listen to.

Dynamic driver lovers might miss the slightly rolled-off sub-bass weight. If you need more rumble then there is always the Kublai Khan and the Ragnar if you need the complete arena experience.

For vocal lovers though the Ronin is a real treat. The magic here is in the mids with an abundance of detail delivered effortlessly.

FiR Audio Website | Noble Audio Website | Musicteck USA

TOP GEAR BEST DAP 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Digital Audio Player

iBasso DX320 MAX Ti Review featured image
The iBasso DX320 MAX is a stunning-sounding portable audio player with both IEM and headphones alike. There are very few competitors out there that can match its expansive staging capability or its almost perfect harmonic balance.
9.2
Reader's Score
Pros
Incredible soundstage and resolution
Long battery life
Sturdy build
Cons
Bulky for portability
Weak Bluetooth Signal
$3499

The iBasso DX320 MAX Ti is a stunning-sounding portable audio player with both IEM and headphones alike. There are very few competitors out there that can match its expansive staging capability or its almost perfect harmonic balance.

This is a high-fidelity monster and an all-in-one transportable player that could and should satisfy those who place a premium on clarity and resolution. And yet, it is also iBasso’s most natural-sounding MAX player to date compared to the previous 2 versions.

The inclusion of a battery-swappable system though should give those more hesitant buyers a bit of confidence in how long they can expect the player to last. It’s a durable design and only more so if you can quickly change the consumable aspects. 

It is just a pity there are only 888 of these in the wild. However, we do expect some to be sold many times over in the course of their shelf-life so if you do see one we would very much recommend you give this outstanding behemoth a demo.

iBasso Audio Website 

TOP GEAR BEST CABLE 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Cable

Effect Audio Cleopatra II-OCTA Review featured image
The Effect Audio Cleopatra II OCTA has excellent dynamics, more than what I was expecting, and meshes really well with monitors that have excellent bass capability. If you want your tone smooth and natural but with a bit of sparkle up top combined with excellent imaging capability then this is a good cable pairing. 
8.9
Reader's Score
Pros
Powerful natural sound quality with paired monitors
Robust and attractive design
ConX enhances IEM compatibility
Cons
Heavier than your average IEM cable
Cable Organizer strap too small

The Effect Audio Cleopatra II OCTA is an excellent and innovative IEM cable and is proof positive that silver does not have to mean lean and clean.

It also looks snazzy with a high level of durability in those attractively designed titanium barrels and is very flexible for connectivity with ConX and TermX.

It has excellent dynamics, more than what we were expecting, and meshes well with monitors that have excellent bass capability. If you want your tone smooth and natural but with a bit of sparkle up top combined with excellent imaging capability then this is a good pairing.

Effect Audio Website | Musicteck USA

TOP GEAR BEST TWS 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best True Wireless System

iFi Audio GO pod Review featured image
The iFi Audio Go pod certainly took pole position in the ear hook Bluetooth dongle segment. It has one of the best sonic performances, stability, and convenience I have heard and tested to date. You can consider the cavernous battery as the frosting on the cake.
8.7
Reader's Score
Pros
LDAC-level quality sound on an ear dongle
Excellent battery life
Removable/replaceable ear hooks
Cons
Large cradle size
Ear loops are not malleable
The Gaia app lacks features

The iFi Audio Go pod certainly took pole position in the TWS segment. It has one of the best sonic performances, stability, and convenience we have heard and tested to date. You can consider the cavernous battery as the frosting on the cake.

The only caveat is the large size of the cradle which makes it difficult, impractical, or almost impossible to pocket carry and some might cringe on initially viewing the price tag.

But trust us, they’re worth every penny. Not only for the convenience of going wireless or for the convenience of being able to use the GO pod with multiple IEMs simultaneously but for the sheer sound quality that almost rivals a wired solution, particularly on LDAC.

iFi Audio Website | iFi Audio Amazon USA

TOP GEAR BEST PORTABLE DAC AMP 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Portable DAC/Amp

Shanling H7 Review
The Shanling H7 is yet another excellent modern interpretation of the classic DAC/amp scene that has had a bit of a rebirth in recent years. This is a neutral sound signature but compared to the likes of the Mojo 2 and the Q7 it's a bit smoother and sweeter-toned and will gel beautifully with clean-sounding headgear.
8.7
Reader's Score
Pros
Detailed and balanced sound signature
Local playback capability
Lightweight design
Cons
Eddict App a bit limited
No 4.4mm line out

The Shanling H7 is yet another excellent modern interpretation of the classic DAC/amp, a niche that has had a bit of a rebirth in recent years.

Importantly, it sounds and looks very different from some of its closest rivals. You could argue it’s a neutral sound signature but compared to the likes of the Mojo 2 and the Q7 it’s a bit smoother and sweeter-toned and will gel beautifully with clean-sounding headgear.

It is also perhaps one of the most complete in terms of useful features with a wide range of I/O, LDAC BT, and that local playback feature which is a deal maker.

If some of the higher-end DAPs are out of your budget then the cheaper Shanling H7 makes a clever and at times compelling argument not to bother saving to get one.

Shanling Audio Website | Shanling Official Store

TOP GEAR BEST DONGLE DAC 2023

Top Gear 2023 Awards – Best Dongle DAC

Cayin RU7 Review featured image
I have heard quite a few dongles now in the last few years, and all at a roughly similar $200-300 price range. I have not heard all of them. However, from what I have reviewed to date, the RU7 is probably the best of the lot, both in terms of agreeable timbral coloration and technical prowess.
8.7
Reader's Score
Pros
Excellent output power
All-to-DSD modes that make a difference
Impressive Line out capability
Cons
No iOS lightning cable as standard in the box

We have heard quite a few dongles now in the last few years, and all at a roughly similar $200-300 price range. We have not heard all of them. However, from what we have reviewed to date, the RU7 is probably the best of the lot, both in terms of agreeable timbral coloration and technical prowess.

There can be arguments for the RU6’s different approach and we would say the RU7 should not be seen as a direct replacement or even an ‘upgrade’ such are the differences in their tonal emphasis. However, if you are aiming to buy just one of the Cayin dongles to do it all then the RU7 would get our vote.

The additional balanced output power, the technical capability, and several All-To-DSD modes are just some of the key features that elevate and differentiate the RU7 from its peers and the competition.

Cayin Website | Musicteck USA

Click on page 2 below for our Top Gear Desktop, Editor, and Writer’s Choice Awards.

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