HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 04, 2016 1 comments
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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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jul 28, 2016 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Rebooting a classic, making it better
Hand-crafted in Germany
Smoother sound than the original HD 800
Minus
Not as transparent as the very best planar headphones

THE VERDICT
The Sennheiser HD 800 S refines the original, hugely influential headphone, and makes it better than ever.

The hoopla surrounding the introduction of Sennheiser’s original HD 800 headphone in 2009 was monumental because it was such a radical upgrade over the HD 650, the previous Sennheiser flagship. So, we’re due for another flagship, but the HD 800 S is more like a reboot. What about a new flagship? As you’ll read below, it’s coming, too!

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Jul 25, 2016 1 comments
Music mogul Will.i.am has produced a new earphone, the "EPs.", inspired by the look of vinyl, launching exclusively online at Apple.com and in select Apple stores. At a time when “Made in China” might not seem all that cool, the EPs proudly boast that they were designed in Los Angeles, and produced in China, with glamour shots of the factory included. They also boast that they’re for the dope. We’ll see about that. With rumors swirling around that Apple might be eliminating the headphone port on the next gen of iPhones, is it any wonder they’re the exclusive retailers of these wireless earphones?

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jul 21, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $299

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Driver designed by George Cardas
Accommodates balanced cables
Extraordinary sound quality
Minus
Lacks mic or smartphone controls

THE VERDICT
The Cardas A8 is big on transparency and soundstage and delivers remarkably deep yet tuneful bass.

Cardas Audio is best known as a manufacturer of audiophile cables, but the Bandon, Oregon–based company jumped into headphones a few years ago with its EM 5813 Ear Speakers. Their sound was big and bold, but comfort issues limited my listening times to short bursts because the earpieces were heavy and the cables unwieldy. Now Cardas is back with new in-ears, the A8 Ear Speakers. I’ve known George Cardas for decades, and he’s normally a soft-spoken dude, but he’s really jazzed about what’s going on with headphones.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jun 28, 2016 1 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Two-way design with super tweeter
High sensitivity makes it ideal for use with portable hi-res music players
Handcrafted in Japan
Minus
No padded storage case

THE VERDICT
The Technics EAH-T 700 sounds sweet at home, and its high sensitivity makes it ideal with high-resolution portable players.

Remember Technics? They made turntables, right? Yes, they did, and now they’re making them again. The brand’s history dates back to 1965 when it debuted the Technics 1 monitor speaker. The brand went on to create a wide range of components, including a tube amplifier in 1966, and in 1970 the world’s first direct-drive turntable, the SP-10. Many other products followed, but the Technics name faded from view a few years ago and then roared back to life in 2015 with a couple of stellar speakers and a new line of electronics. This year, Technics showed an all-new SL-1200 Series turntable and these remarkable headphones, the EAH-T700.

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Lauren Dragan Posted: Jun 23, 2016 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $400

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent ANC
Decent Bluetooth sound (with ANC off)
Wireless charging
Minus
Inconsistent sound quality
App mandatory for major functions

THE VERDICT
While the Zik 3 has allure with fun features, it falls short on core functionality, especially against its price competition.

Since their first version, Parrot Zik headphones have been consistently beautiful to look at and have featured technology that is a nose ahead of the competition. It’s the combo of pretty and new that has made the Ziks the darlings of the tech-enthusiast set. Now in its third iteration, the new Zik 3 is packed with all sorts of bells and whistles. Some will be familiar to users of the Zik 2.0: touch-sensitive controls on a sleek-looking earcup, deeply customizable noise cancellation and EQ via an app, sensors that trigger a pause in the music when the headphones are removed. And some are new: wireless charging, USB audio, Apple Watch, and Android Wear compatibility.

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Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Jun 21, 2016 1 comments
Ever browse Amazon late at night? Like, really late at night? Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you need a new pair of socks, and you go down a rabbit hole. Maybe you’ve downed a fifth of Crown Royal Maple whisky because it’s Tuesday in the middle of February and you’ve broken your leg in two places and the Vicodin is finally kicking in, and OMG, I need a vacuum-tube headphone amp! Just an example. Whatever.
Leslie Shapiro Posted: Jun 20, 2016 4 comments
Every week a new pair of wireless Bluetooth earphones seem to appear on my doorstep. Usually, I have to take a long, hard look to find anything noteworthy to make one pair stand out from the others. The newly updated NuForce BE6i earphones feature aptX technology for better playback quality and that, my friends, is noteworthy enough.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 16, 2016 0 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.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jun 09, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,099

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Concise, clear sound
Five-year warranty
Minus
High-impedance design limits portable use

THE VERDICT
Beyerdynamic reboots and refines their flagship T1—and significantly improves its sound quality.

The Beyerdynamic T1 (2nd Generation) over-the-ear headphone may look nearly identical to the original T1 that debuted in 2009, but trust me on this: The two headphones sound very different. The first thing I noticed is that the new T1 has meatier, bigger, punchier bass, and the treble is sweeter, clearer, and more refined. It’s much more than a reboot.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: May 17, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $3,995

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Audeze ups their game, again!
Solid build quality
Made in Costa Mesa, California
Minus
They’re heavy!

THE VERDICT
You’ll know it when you hear it—there’s something very right, natural, and organic about the Audeze LCD-4’s sound.

The uber headphone field is getting mighty crowded—we have the Abyss AB-1266 ($5,495), Hifiman HE1000 ($2,999), Stax SR 009 ($3,999), Sennheiser Orpheus ($55,000!)—and now we have Audeze’s latest, the LCD-4 ($3,995). Talk about sticker shock! But let’s put those prices in perspective: All of them put together cost far less than a single Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF speaker, which sell for upwards of $200,000 per pair. So, as extreme as toptier headphone price tags have become, most are still within reach of a vastly larger group of enthusiasts than the very best high-end speakers. By that criterion, uber ’phones like the LCD-4 are comparatively affordable. Expensive, yes, but the best stuff always is.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: May 09, 2016 1 comments
Absolute power corrupts absolutely; lack of power is just freakin’ annoying. The new Plantronics BackBeat GO 3 is a wireless, sweatproof earbud that solves the lack of power problem in a unique and clever way. The carrying case has a built-in rechargeable battery that provides the power for up to two recharges, giving the Backbeat GO 3 an extra 13 hours of playback. That’s the kind of power a girl could get used to.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 03, 2016 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
384/32 and DSD256
Eight-stage power supply
Doubles as stereo preamp
Minus
Black, boxy styling
Tricky sampling-rate LEDs

THE VERDICT
The Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD is a state-of-the-art headphone amplifier/DAC that has a healthy, and sometimes transformative, effect on whatever headphones you plug into it.

Like the rest of us, headphones have dreams and aspirations. They know they have to start out small with whatever phone, computer, or AVR comes to hand. But they dream of something better—of an amp and DAC tailored just for their needs. In short, they long for their dream home. If you’ve invested in a good pair of headphones, wouldn’t it be cruel to make your cans sleep on a sofabed in a basement when they deserve more headroom, more purity, the freedom to be the best they can be? The Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD just might be the dream home they’re hoping for.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: May 03, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $250

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Smooth, highly detailed sound
Svelte good looks
User-replaceable cables
Minus
Headband padding is too thin

I really wasn’t expecting this. While I liked KEF’s original M500 headphone when it arrived in 2013, I can’t say I was ever smitten by the sound. But the new M400 was quite the opposite: I loved it from the get-go and immediately connected with it. The newer model is a smidgen less expensive, and it features a cleaner design and deftly executed, mostly aluminum construction, deliciously ample ear pads, and a rich tonal balance.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 26, 2016 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Planar diaphragms
Smooth, sweet, high-res sound
Long and short cables supplied
Minus
Not as airy as some competitive ’phones

THE VERDICT
Planar headphones don’t come cheap, but the Oppo PM-2 is a relatively affordable specimen that sounds beautiful with a variety of content and signal sources.

Planar magnetic headphones have potential advantages over conventional dynamic headphones. Their flat diaphragms have magnets evenly spread across them, driving the entire surface, as opposed to a single coil driving the center of a diaphragm. The result can be greater resolution and phase coherence. But that potential performance edge comes at a price. So headphone fans rejoiced when Oppo—which won positive reviews for its $1,099 PM-1—introduced the PM-2, with some of the same features, at a more affordable price of $699, followed by the even more affordable PM-3 ($399). I’ve been spending much of the past year or so listening to the PM-2.

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