HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Mar 21, 2012 0 comments

We haven't made any secret of our general disdain for headphones endorsed by hip-hop artists. Not that we have anything against hip-hop artists, nor is there any good reason why hip-hop 'phones should sound bad.  It's just that many of them do.

In last year's celebrity headphone test, we didn't dig the Soul by Ludacris SL300WB at all, and had a mixed reaction to the Beats Pro and Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviator. But our not-unpleasant experience with the Sync by 50 SMS-WS got us thinking that maybe someone in the hip-hop world was starting to understand that while crazy, bass-heavy tonal balances may be initially impressive, they're not something most of us want to live with on a day-to-day basis.

Next up in the battle of the rapperphones is the $275 WeSC Chambers by RZA.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Mar 09, 2012 0 comments

I love the form factor of on-ear, or "supra-aural" headphones — the kind where the ear pads press against your ears’ pinnae instead of surrounding them —  because they usually fit easily into my laptop computer case. But I’ve had a problem finding a model comfortable enough to wear for more than an hour. What’s more, I’ve found no on-ears whose performance compares to that of a good over-ear (or circumaural) headphone — until now.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 20, 2012 0 comments

Companies that sell in-ear monitors seldom talk much about the technologies inside their products. But they should, because there are big differences between the ~$20 Philips and Skullcandy IEMs you buy at Target and the ~$200 models you get from Etymotic or Shure.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 08, 2012 1 comments

Ask any group of audiophiles what kind of speakers they have, and I guarantee you at least one and probably several will answer “Magnepan.” Why do audiophiles so love this relatively obscure brand? No, not (just) because it’s obscure. They love Magnepans because of the incredible detail, soundstaging, and natural timbre of their planar magnetic drivers. For the same reason, headphone enthusiasts are embracing planar magnetic headphones.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 03, 2012 0 comments

At the CanJam section of last fall’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, a manufacturer said something that’s resonated with me ever since. “The fit is the sound,” he told me, referring to the fancy new tips included with his company’s in-ear monitors. With that simple statement he summed up the reason why different listeners can have such different opinions of headphones. With IEMs, unless the tips seal well and the sound tubes fit properly within your ear canal, you’ll get little or no bass, and your treble and midrange will be out of balance at best and grossly uneven at worst.

Perhaps 50 feet away in the same ballroom, Phonak — the world’s largest manufacturer of hearing aids — showed me a way they’d come up with to address the fit problem with IEMs. The company’s Perfect Fit system employs L-shaped earpieces designed to conform to the folds of your pinna, allowing the body of the earpiece to reach further and more consistently into your ear canal for a better fit.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 01, 2012 0 comments

When I first encountered the Exodus from House of Marley, during our test last fall of celebrity-branded headphones, I didn’t expect much. I assumed the company had put all its effort into the Exodus’ stunning styling, and little into sound quality.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 30, 2012 0 comments

EVERYWHERE YOU GO, it’s so easy to listen to music, thanks to smartphones, tablets, and MP3 players. But it’s kind of a bummer that millions of people now hear most of their music through earbuds with drivers smaller than a dime.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 27, 2012 0 comments

BEING THE ONLY CLOSED-BACK headphone pair in this bunch gave the Sony MDR-Z1000 a potential advantage and disadvantage. The advantage, we assumed, would be that the MDR-Z1000 would have more robust bass than the open-back models. The disadvantage, we assumed, would be that it wouldn’t sound as, well, open — i.e., spacious — as the open-back models.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 27, 2012 0 comments

WHEN I FIRST SAW the Sennheiser HD598’s beige-and-brown color scheme, woodgrain accents, and air-cushioned headband, images of all sorts of 1970s products fl ooded through my head: Kustom guitar amps with “tuck and roll” covering, lacquered driftwood furniture, waterbeds, Roger Dean posters.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 27, 2012 0 comments

IT MAY BE ONLY 4 YEARS OLD, but the HiFiMan brand has had a major impact on the growing world of portable audiophilia. The new HE-300, which uses conventional dynamic drivers, is the company’s most affordable over-ear headphone yet. With its solid, mostly metal construction and audiophile-grade detachable cables, it sure doesn’t look like it costs $249. You even get an elegant hardshell case in the deal.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 27, 2012 0 comments

ANY AUDIOPHILE CAN RECOGNIZE a pair of Grado headphones from 50 feet away. The distinctive, old-school leather band and earpieces mounted on sliding rods give them a World War II vibe. But audiophiles love them for their sound, not their looks.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 27, 2012 0 comments

THE ONLY MAJOR MANUFACTURER I know of that makes the same headphone in different impedances, Beyerdynamic offers the DT-990 in a 32-ohm version for use with portable devices, a 250-ohm version for average home gear, and a 600-ohm version for high-end headphone amps. We requested the 32-ohm version because the other headphones tested here run in that range and because we figured most S+V readers would at least occasionally want to plug straight into a smartphone or a computer.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 27, 2012 0 comments

YOU’LL NEVER BE TEMPTED to take this headphone on the bus. The earpieces of Audio-Technica’s ATH-AD900 are huge, measuring about 4.5 inches in diameter and concealing a big 53mm driver. Unlike almost all other headphones, the ATH-AD900 does not have an adjustable band. Instead, it features a pair of spring-loaded, padded “wings” that support it on your head. The soft padding and big earcups made the ATH-AD900 super-comfortable for Howard, Joe, and me. But it felt droopy to Will, and Geoff found the feel of the wings on his bald pate intolerable after a few minutes.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 04, 2012 0 comments

Mention noise-cancelling headphones and most people think of large, over-ear models like the Bose QC15. Comfy as those big cans can be, they’re waaaay too big to slip into a pocket or purse. But not all noise-cancelling headphones come in cases sized like jumbo donuts at the State Fair. In fact, a few manufacturers have added noise-cancelling technology to their in-ear monitors (IEMs), using a little “lump in the line” to house the needed electronics.

One might fairly ask, though: Do IEMs really need noise cancelling? After all, when used with tips that fit your ears properly, IEMs completely seal off your ear canals. However, IEMs do most of their noise-blocking at frequencies above 1 kHz. Below that, they’re not so effective at keeping the noise out.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Dec 23, 2011 0 comments

After trying several Bluetooth headphones, I’m surprised this category hasn’t taken off yet. With Bluetooth, you’re unencumbered by pesky cables. You can leave your cell phone in your pocket, on a table, etc., and control volume and track forward/reverse wherever you roam, as long as you don’t stray further than 30 feet. And unlike almost all mic-equipped headphones, Bluetooth headphones work as well with Androids as they do with iPhones.

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