HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 23, 2017 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Uber clarity
Titanium drivers
Made in Japan
Minus
Doesn’t fold for compact storage

THE VERDICT
The Final Sonorous III is in a class of its own because it doesn’t sound like anything else, and that’s a good thing.

The Final Audio Design Sonorous III showed up when I was in the midst of working on reviews of some very high-end, very expensive headphones. I usually try to avoid simultaneously working on reviews of products that would put one at a serious disadvantage. No problem this time: The Sonorous III held its own against the new HiFiMan HE1000 V2 ($2,999) and the AKG K872 ($1,495). I’m not saying the Sonorous III was in the same league as those two heavyweights, but I’ve never heard a mid-price dynamic driver headphone as transparent as the Sonorous III.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jan 12, 2017 5 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Hand-crafted in France
Remarkable resolution
Super-easy to drive
Minus
13-foot-long cable is unwieldy

THE VERDICT
The Focal Elear is a world-class design, right up with the best of Audeze, Beyerdynamic, Grado, Hifiman, and Sennheiser’s ’phones.

I’m a lucky guy; I’ve heard almost all of the best headphones currently on the market, but I wasn’t expecting something in that league from Focal. I’ve enjoyed their Spirit headphones for years, but Elear is radically different from what came before. The most remarkable thing about the sound is that it’s not so easy to get a handle on. I will say this, though: Elear is hypertransparent, so you feel like you’re hearing a direct feed from the recording session. Build quality, design, and comfort are fully commensurate with the $999 price. They’re beautifully crafted and a pleasure to use.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: May 18, 2015 2 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $249

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Smooth tonal balance
Euro design flair
Minus
High-ish head-clamping pressure

THE VERDICT
Focal’s latest-generation headphone strikes a keen balance of resolution and a sweet tonal balance.

Here we go again. That’s what I remember thinking when I heard that Focal, France’s largest speaker manufacturer, was going to start making headphones. After Beats by Dre opened the floodgates, a number of speaker and electronics companies that never made headphones started jumping into the market. We all know about Bower & Wilkins and Klipsch, but then there was KEF, NAD, Polk, PSB, RBH, and more—so when Focal joined the pack a few years ago, it wasn’t a shocker. Thing is, making great speakers is a completely different skill set than crafting headphones. After all, speakers “play” the room; headphones only have to make your ears happy. Apparently, that’s harder than it seems.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jun 25, 2012 0 comments

These days, the headphone biz is hot. The speaker biz? Not as hot. So it’s no surprise that every major speaker company is either launching a headphone line or thinking about it. And why not? They’re experts in developing, manufacturing, and marketing audio products. How hard could it be for them to launch a line of headphones?

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Sep 07, 2011 0 comments

When I got the press release for the new InTune in-ear headphones from Fuse, it made me think: How is any particular genre of music supposed to sound? And does it already sound that way, or do you have to do something to it to make it sound like it’s supposed to?

The InTune headphones inspired this question because they’re available in four varieties, each tuned for a certain type of music: red for rap and hip-hop, orange for rock, blues and country; blue for jazz and classical; and green for pop and easy listening.

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Michael Berk Posted: Nov 16, 2012 0 comments

Over the past few months, we've looked at a whole lot of gaming headsets, from affordable, entry-level models to the cream of the crop - and we've found worthwhile candidates for you at all price points. Even better, we've got three headsets to give away this week, from Skullcandy and Astro.

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Chris Chiarella Posted: May 01, 2015 0 comments
Doing its part to make sure you never have to be without object-based audio, Dolby is dropping its newest format, Dolby Atmos Mobile. Like Dolby Atmos for the home and for the cinema, this portable version aims to render a more detailed, more lifelike soundfield from specially mixed/encoded software. Unlike the previous versions, Dolby Atmos Mobile does not require a specially wired theater, or newfangled or additional loudspeakers. Instead, it’s designed to work with any headphones. The technology relies on Head-Related Transfer Functions, taking advantage of the fixed positions of the stereo drivers left and right as they expand the soundtrack’s spatial information. For this reason, a wired or Bluetooth speaker cannot reproduce the Atmos Mobile effect.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 04, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $695

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Hand-crafted in Brooklyn!
Lightweight design
Incredibly open soundstage
Minus
Cable isn’t user-replaceable

THE VERDICT
The Grado RS1e is lightweight and has a big-as-all-outdoors soundstage and clarity that are unbeatable in its price class.

Grado Labs is located in a nondescript four-story building in the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn, where Joe Grado started manufacturing phono cartridges in the early 1950s. John Grado (Joe’s nephew) took over day-to-day operations in 1978, and in 1989 Grado Labs jumped into the headphone market. John and Joe hand-built all of the company’s first-generation headphones—the HP-1, HP-2, and HP-3—and those ’phones now fetch anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 on eBay! Grado Labs is still a family-owned business, and John’s son Jonathan came aboard in 2014.

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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.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Feb 02, 2015 0 comments
It’s rare for a product to “wow” me right out of the box. So I surprised myself when I let out an audible “Ohh” as I opened the box containing the Harman/Kardon Soho Wireless headphones. They just oozed class and elegance—in fact, I’m reminded that I had a similar reaction to the Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini Bluetooth speaker. Black leather, stainless steel, and a hefty dose of panache. Could the Soho Wireless possibly sound as good as they look?

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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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Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Oct 05, 2011 0 comments

The success of Dr. Dre's Beats sent up a signal flare that alerted the rest of the celebrigentsia - who've realized that there's no safe money in music anymore - that there was cash to be had in them thar 'phones. They've since had at it in a big way, with everyone from Justin Bieber to Quincy Jones to the estates of Miles Davis and Bob Marley slapping their names on hardware.

But are any of these headphones any good? We set out to figure out which - if any - of these celebs deserve your hard-earned dollars. We called in a team of expert listeners to pick 'em apart, and then put each headphone through some rigorous lab testing to figure out what was really going on underneath those fancy designs.

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Mike Mettler Posted: Oct 19, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Lets you become an instant live mixmaster
Easy to mix in real time
Comfortable and nonintrusive over many hours of consecutive use/wear
Minus
Could use a few more genre- and venue-specific presets

THE VERDICT
The Here Active Listening System ensures you can control exactly what you hear in any performance venue so you’ll never be subjected to substandard live mixes again.

How many times have you attended a live concert and thought, “I could mix the show better than that”? Well, now you can, thanks to the Here Active Listening System in-ear monitors from Doppler Labs. For someone like me who attends upwards of 100 or more live events in any given year in venues of all shapes and sizes all across the continent, these Here in-ears could very well be an aural godsend—if they deliver as promised.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Feb 23, 2017 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $249

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Open- or closed-back design
Lightweight
Super easy to drive
Minus
A tad bright on some recordings

THE VERDICT
With its open- or closed-back design, the Edition S provides unusual flexibility at affordable cost.

HiFiMan is a hard one to pin down. True, they’re best known for their high-end, advanced-technology planar-magnetic headphones like the $2,999 HE1000 I reviewed in the November, 2015 issue of Sound & Vision. Most HiFiMan headphones are planar designs, but this new one, Edition S, is a more conventional dynamic headphone, albeit one with a rather unusual feature: It’s an open- or closed-back design. Say what? Let me explain.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 16, 2016 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,799

AT A GLANCE
Plus
High resolution and sensitivity
Ultra-thin planar diaphragms
Snazzy cosmetics
Minus
No friend to dirty amps
Can sometimes sound over-etched

THE VERDICT
The HiFiMan Edition X are high-resolution headphones that tell an emotionally fulfilling and balanced version of the truth about your music files.

Head-fi is somehow more personal than hi-fi or home theater. I may love my loudspeakers, but I don’t wear them on my head. Speakers bring music into my room; headphones bring music into my head, and voices in my head are the very definition of personal. So if the sound of my fairly stable main system is aesthetically consequential, the sound of my constantly rotating head-fi system is emotionally charged. That may explain the intensity of my bond with the HiFiMan Edition X headphones. The look pushes my bling buttons, and the sound brings me closer to music—close to what I love, to my original motive for getting into audiophilia in the first place.

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