HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: May 18, 2015 0 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.

Filed under
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.
Leslie Shapiro Posted: Apr 20, 2015 0 comments
Good news for audiophiles who like to take control of their music. A while back we reviewed a rather unique pair of in-ear monitors, the Torque t103z (MSRP $180). While they were a really good-sounding earphone, what made them stand out were the interchangeable passive filter valves—patented by Torque as PAVT, Passive Acoustic Valve Technology. When Sound&Vision initially reviewed the t103z, there were only three filter options. Now, we get a chance to listen to three new offerings from Torque Audio. For choosy music lovers (and who here isn’t?) this is great news.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Apr 08, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $180

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Bright and clear sound
All-new 9.2mm drivers
Bowers & Wilkins design flair
Minus
The C5 S2’s cable may rub against your ears

THE VERDICT
Bowers & Wilkins’ engineers revised and tweaked C5 Series 2 in-ear headphone sounds better than ever.

I doubt the original Bowers & Wilkins C5 that debuted in 2011 was ever confused for any other headphone. I loved its sharply angled, cylindrical aluminum earpieces and looped cables: They marked the C5 as a true original. The new C5 Series 2 doesn’t look much different. The biggest change is one you can’t see: The 9.2mm drivers are all new. The headphones’ silicone ear tips now provide a snugger fit, and the old silver/gray cable has been replaced with a black one. The new inline mic/remote has a better tactile feel. You can take calls on Androids and iPhones, but the remote only works with iPhones. Bowers & Wilkins’ headphone carry cases are classier than most, and the suede-like one that comes with the C5 S2 looks sharp.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 20, 2015 0 comments

Sony MDR-Z7
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value

PRICE $700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Yummy sound, nice bass, clear top end
Impeccable Japanese build quality
Huge soundstage for a closed-back design
Minus
Doesn’t fold for compact storage

THE VERDICT
Sony's back with a winner! The MDR-Z7 looks, feels, and sounds like a high-end headphone.


Sony PHA-3
Performance
Build Quality
Features
Value

PRICE $1,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Handles ultra-high-res 384kHz/32bit files
Does DSD at 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz
Single-ended and balanced headphone outputs
Minus
No indicator for remaining battery charge

THE VERDICT
The Sony PHA-3 has undeniable synergy with the MDR-Z7, but sounds terrific with other headphones.

Sony's hardly a newcomer to the upper echelons of the headphone scene. Some of you might recall the legendary MDR-R10 from 1989—at $2,500, it was the most expensive headphone in the world. The sleek Qualia 010 debuted in 2004, and that one bore a remarkable resemblance to Sennheiser's current flagship, the HD-800, but the Qualia 010 arrived five years before! Now, with the $700 MDR-Z7, Sony's back with a new, considerably more affordable flagship. For this review, we mated it up with the company’s also-new flagship portable DAC/headphone amplifier, the PHA-3.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 20, 2015 1 comments

Sony MDR-Z7
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value

PRICE $700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Yummy sound, nice bass, clear top end
Impeccable Japanese build quality
Huge soundstage for a closed-back design
Minus
Doesn’t fold for compact storage

THE VERDICT
Sony's back with a winner! The MDR-Z7 looks, feels, and sounds like a high-end headphone.


Sony PHA-3
Performance
Build Quality
Features
Value

PRICE $1,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Handles ultra-high-res 384-kHz/32-bit files
Does DSD at 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz
Single-ended and balanced headphone outputs
Minus
No indicator for remaining battery charge

THE VERDICT
The Sony PHA-3 has undeniable synergy with the MDR-Z7, but sounds terrific with other headphones as well.

Sony's hardly a newcomer to the upper echelons of the headphone scene. Some of you might recall the legendary MDR-R10 from 1989—at $2,500, it was the most expensive headphone in the world. The sleek Qualia 010 debuted in 2004, and that one bore a remarkable resemblance to Sennheiser's current flagship, the HD-800, but the Qualia 010 arrived five years before! Now, with the $700 MDR-Z7, Sony's back with a new, considerably more affordable flagship. For this review, we mated it up with the company’s also-new flagship portable DAC/headphone amplifier, the PHA-3.

Filed under
Lauren Dragan Posted: Mar 06, 2015 0 comments
There’s a new member of the Sennheiser Momentum family. The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless are Sennheiser’s answer to the Parrot Zik and Samsung Level Over; they’re Bluetooth, have active noise cancelling, and are looking to appeal to fans of higher-end audio. They also come with a higher-end price tag: nearly $500. So what, exactly, does your money get you?
Filed under
Fred Manteghian Posted: Feb 25, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very musical
Great resolution
Tank build quality
Minus
Needs more than an iPhone to drive good volume

THE VERDICT
The non-fatiguing sound of the HiFiMan HE-400i will have you falling in love with your music all over again.

Every time I visit my buddy Lou and listen to my old 6-foot-tall Magnepan MG IIIa speakers, I ask myself why I ever sold them to him. How excited am I that similar planar magnetic technology is now available in headphone form? Granted, higher-end Magnepans like my, I mean his, IIIa speakers use dedicated ribbon tweeters to help achieve their magical sound. And with dipole planar speakers like the Magnepans, proper positioning in the room can make the difference between no bass and some of the best bass you’ve ever heard. There’s only so much you can do when the room is effectively strapped to your head!

Filed under
Lauren Dragan Posted: Feb 16, 2015 Published: Feb 15, 2015 0 comments
Editor’s Note: This review was first published on 1/31/15, based on what proved to be a defective sample, and revised on 2/15/15.

Speaker company RBH has expanded their headphone lineup with new Bluetooth in-ears, the EP-SB. Lightweight and sweat resistant, RBH want the EP-SB to be your go-to headphones for on-the-go and at the gym. I got my hands on one of the first pairs available (literally!), and put them through their paces. How did they hold up? Lace up your sneaks and meet me after the jump.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Feb 09, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $300

AT A GLANCE
Plus
The best noise-canceler, period!
Headphones can play after batteries are drained
Light and very comfortable
Minus
Sound quality isn’t stellar

THE VERDICT
"The QC25 widens Bose's significant lead in noise-canceling technology, though it trails some other competitive 'phones on sound quality."

The QuietComfort 25 (QC25) is the latest model to join Bose’s massively popular noise-canceling headphone lineup; it replaces the QuietComfort 15, the best noise-canceling headphone I’ve heard, till now.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Feb 05, 2015 1 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $899

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Transparency to die for
Planar magnetic drivers
Lighter and more comfy than most planar headphones
Minus
A stay-at-home headphone

THE VERDICT
HiFiMan’s heavily revised planar magnetic headphones take the sound closer to the ever-elusive goal of reproducing reality.

The very first planar magnetic headphone I heard was a HiFiMan HE-5. That was five years ago. As luck would have it, I had just finished a series of flagship headphone reviews from nearly every major manufacturer, but it was the HE-5 that made a lasting impression. While it wasn’t the most transparent or dynamic, or best imaging, it was the one I kept returning to. The key was balance; it just sounded more “right” than the others. Oh, it was also significantly less expensive than any of the other top-of-the-line models. All of the brands have stepped up their game over the last few years, and now HiFiMan has completely redesigned its planars as well. If you haven’t heard a high-end headphone in years, this would be a great time to check out what’s going on.

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?

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Dec 16, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Professional monitor sound, par excellence!
Extended high-frequency response
User-replaceable cable
Minus
No-frills design
Not as open sounding as open-back headphones

THE VERDICT
Sony’s MDR 7520 is something of an “anti-Beats” headphone that fashionistas will shun, but its real strength is its neutrality.

Just as I started working on this review, I met with Naotaka Tsunoda, one of the designers of the Sony MDR 7520, in NYC. This soft-spoken man is responsible for a number of Sony’s very best headphones including the legendary Qualia 010 ($2,400), a model that dates from 2004. That one had extraordinary high-frequency response, all the way up to 120 kilohertz, making it a good match for high-resolution audio.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Dec 08, 2014 0 comments
Jabra has introduced a wireless Bluetooth headset designed to take workouts to a whole new level of efficiency. They’ve introduced the Jabra Sport Pulse, the world’s first Bluetooth earbuds with a built-in heart-rate monitor. Crazy? I think not. Anyone who’s at all interested in fitness knows that the most effective way to monitor your workout is to track your heart rate. Check out the Orange Theory craze if you don’t believe me, or just look at the treadmills and elliptical machines at most gyms. Heart rate monitoring is an essential part of a safe, effective workout, and Jabra has nailed it. The heart rate monitor is built right into the left earpiece of the Sport Pulse, so finally, you can toss that unsightly, sweaty, uncomfortable heart rate strap.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Nov 06, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Wowie-zowie style
Nearly indestructible
High-impact sound
Minus
Over-40 crowd might feel awkward wearing something as hip as the XS

THE VERDICT
With the XS, V-Moda somehow made a bassy headphone even an audiophile could love.

Val Kolton started V-Moda ten years ago, but I didn’t meet the man until 2011. I thought he was their sales guy; he definitely didn’t look like an owner of an audio company, at least not like any I’ve met before. He’s a young, skinny, rock-star type, decked out in black leather and long, jet-black hair. Get him started, and Kolton will talk a mile a minute about music and headphones, but then again, so do I.

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