HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Nov 06, 2014 0 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.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 31, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,099

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Planar technology
Rich sound
Understated good looks
Minus
Voicing too rich for some
Crosses the $1K barrier

THE VERDICT
Oppo’s first headphone, the PM-1, uses a planar diaphragm to produce a luxuriously warm sound that becomes addicting on its own terms.

There once was a piano tuner named Opporknockity. A customer asked him to re-tune a piano he’d done the week before. “Sorry,” he replied, “Opporknockity only tunes once.” Luckily for consumers, Oppo Digital isn’t as stingy as Opporknockity. You can buy all the Oppo products you want.
Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 24, 2014 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699 ($899 as reviewed)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Warm, tubey sound
Headphone impedance switch
New York born and bred
Minus
No DAC
Too polite for some headphones

THE VERDICT
Woo Audio’s WA6 is a Class A headphone amp whose glowing tubes are voiced to warm up any headphones.

The glow of vacuum tubes has fascinated me all my life. When I was a kid, my parents bought a Magnavox console TV with a built-in phonograph and AM/FM radio, the early-1960s equivalent of a home theater system with all the trimmings. It stood on 18-inch legs, and I loved to crawl under it, lying on my back to stare up into the orange glow of the tubes. My first few audio systems were solid state, but a cadre of die-hard audiophiliacs never really gave up on tubes. Now they’ve also wiggled back into my life and onto my desk, where the Woo Audio WA6 headphone amplifier sits, with three glowing obelisks keeping the retro audio flame alive.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Sep 17, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
3D-printed headphone
Big, highly dynamic sound
Dig those ear pads
Minus
Lacks mike and phone controls

THE VERDICT
MrSpeakers dared to go where no headphone manufacturer went before and used 3D printing technology to make a better-sounding headphone.

While MrSpeakers’ Alpha Dog may be the first high-end headphone to fully exploit 3D printing technology, the original intention was to speed the development process, and then make injection-molded plastic ear cups. But as MrSpeakers owner Dan Clark revised and refined the design, he realized it would be more cost effective to 3D-print his production headphones’ double-walled ear cups and added an intricate lattice to the printing process to increase the ear cups’ rigidity. He took the next step and bought enough 3D printers to keep quality control in-house. After the ear cups are printed, they’re chemically polished, hand sanded, sealed, primed, and finished with automotive-grade paint.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 29, 2014 Published: Aug 28, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $40

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Lotsa bass
Comfortable lightweight design
Low price
Minus
Maybe a little too much bass

THE VERDICT
The JVC HA-FR301 isn't an accurate-sounding headphone, and fashion conscious buyers may turn up their noses at the design, but these inexpensive in-ears are a lot of fun to listen to.

Emphasized, or should I say pronounced bass is a guilty pleasure a lot of headphone loving audiophiles rarely admit to indulging in. Funny, almost all headphones, including a fair share of high-end models, have elevated bass, so what we're talking about here is a matter of degree. JVC's HA-FR301 is designed for bass fanatics who can't get enough low-end punch. Indeed, JVC markets them as part of its Xtreme Xplosives headphone line up; that pretty much says it all. But while most bassy headphones suffer from muffled highs and a missing-in-action midrange, the HA-FR301 isn't lacking in detail, not by a long shot.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Aug 25, 2014 0 comments
Look around you - wires are so passé. If you’re in the gym and your earphones are connected to your phone or iPod, you might as well trade in your Crossfit membership for a circa-1989 Step aerobics class. How can you complete your WOD with a tangle of wires getting in the way? The new Powerbeats2 in-ear earphone from Beats By Dr. Dre is Bluetooth 4.0 compatible, and other than the snag-free wire connecting the left and right side, it’s completely wireless. You couldn’t connect it to your iPhone with a wire even if you wanted to - plus and negatives to that situation to follow.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jul 09, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Real carbon-fiber ear cups
Really hushes external noise
Really, really comfortable
Minus
Lacks mike and phone controls
Doesn't fold for compact storage

THE VERDICT
Shure's rich-sounding, full-size headphone flatters a wide range of music genres.

First impressions count for a lot. This is especially true for headphones, because, unlike other types of audio gear, you wear headphones. When you first try a pair on, do they feel good, or do they hurt? How do they feel in your hands? From the get-go, I knew Shure's engineers struck just the right balance of rugged build quality and elegant design with the new SRH1540 over-the-ear headphone. I could have written this review after just a few minutes into my first encounter, but I just kept listening to the SRH1540 and loved it more and more. It looks, feels, and sounds right.
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 02, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $189

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Compact
Inexpensive
Lively sound
Minus
Converts 192-kHz files to 96 kHz

THE VERDICT
The Audioengine D3 is a fine- sounding entry-level headphone amp as well as the best USB-stick DAC I’ve heard so far.

If you find the whole concept of a headphone amp scary, Audioengine’s D3 might be comforting. It takes the form of a USB stick with a USB plug at one end and a 1/8-inch minijack at the other. Mediating discreetly between your computer and headphones, it gets far better sound out of your computer than you’d get from the computer’s potentially messy analog output.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 02, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
HDMI input for high-res music on Blu-ray
Adjustable ’phone impedance and sampling rate
Sounds good with different ’phones
Minus
None to speak of...

THE VERDICT
Essence’s HDACC bridges the gap between Blu-ray music content and legacy audio systems with an extremely adjustable and great-sounding DAC.

The most unusual product in this roundup is the HDACC HD Audio Center from Essence Electrostatic, a company that also markets flat-diaphragm loudspeakers. Like the NAD, it qualifies as a headphone amp, DAC, and stereo preamp with TosLink, coax, and analog inputs. But its greater claim to fame is a pair of HDMI jacks, input and output, on the back panel.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 02, 2014 0 comments
Headphones aren’t just about mobile audio. They’re also a cost-effective way to get good sound into your ears even when you’re not on the go. If you have $400 to spend on a set of speakers, your options are of limited fidelity, but the same money will buy you the Sennheiser HD600, one of the most popular high-end headphone models of all time. Try getting a comparably great-sounding set of surround speakers for that price.
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 02, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Well-balanced sound
Space-saving footprint
XLR and RCA outputs
Minus
No data rate conversion
Incomplete sampling indicators

THE VERDICT
NAD’s D 1050 is a well-rounded DAC and headphone amp with outputs to feed a stereo preamp or receiver.

NAD’s D 1050 USB DAC, to use its official name, is one of a trio of products introduced at the same time. Like the D 7050 Direct Digital Network Amplifier ($999) and D 3020 Hybrid Digital Amplifier ($499), it includes a headphone amp and USB DAC. Unlike those two products, it doesn’t directly drive a pair of speakers—only your humble cans and the analog inputs of an audio system. However, its shape and design are similar to that of the other two products, building their digital-to-analog and preamp guts into a smaller package.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jun 27, 2014 1 comments
Your ears have never had it so good. From entry-level ‘buds to the state of the art, the sound quality of headphones has radically improved in recent years. Choices abound: in-, on-, or over-the-ear ’phones; open- or closed-back; noise-canceling or noise-isolating. And they all sound and feel very different from each other. Which one’s right for you? Unlike other types of audio gear, headphones are worn, so their comfort and build quality and durability are major considerations. Faced with so many options, picking the right model can be a little daunting, but I’m here to help clarify which one will best titillate your eardrums. Let’s get to it.
Leslie Shapiro Posted: Jun 23, 2014 0 comments
On the heels of Apple’s buyout of Beats, it’s unfair to expect Beats to suddenly stop production of anything that isn’t Apple white. The newly designed Beats by Dr. Dre Solo2 headphone actually comes in a rainbow of colors, including, umm, white. This is a revision of the original Solo headphone. While I was unboxing, I wondered, did Beats dial back the pounding bass that plagued the first generation of their headphone lineup?

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jun 20, 2014 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,799

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Bass to die for!
Rock-solid build quality
Advanced technology drivers
Minus
It’s crazy expensive!
They’re heavy!

THE VERDICT
Every now and then, a headphone comes along that truly advances the state of the art. Audeze LCD-XC is a game changer!

Even now, in the midst of an unprecedented boom market, American-made headphones are pretty rare. There’s Grado and Koss, but Audeze joined the fray just four years ago, when their LCD-2 debuted at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver. I was knocked out by its big and brawny sound; it was easily the most powerful headphone I’d ever heard.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jun 19, 2014 Published: Jun 18, 2014 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Super tiny and lightweight
Accurate and transparent
Wide-open soundstage
Minus
Lacks microphone and phone controls

THE VERDICT
Hifiman's uber-comfortable RE-600 offers superb transparency and accurate tonal balance.

Even when I heard one of Hifiman's very first headphones, I had no doubt it was fully competitive with the best AKG, Beyerdynamic, Grado, Koss, and Sennheiser had to offer. That was back in 2006, and the Tianjin, China-based company's headphones have only gotten better over the years. They're all proprietary designs, engineered and manufactured by Hifiman.

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