HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Lauren Dragan Posted: Jan 19, 2017 2 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent noise cancellation
Clever environmental awareness modes
Sony’s LDAC streams hi-res audio over Bluetooth with compatible source
Minus
Sound lacks sparkle in the highs and presence in low mids
Muddy sound in passive mode
Heavy build can get fatiguing over long periods

THE VERDICT
With some fancy new technology, the Sony MDR-100X are pretty fantastic at noise-cancelling, but the overall sound quality is disappointing.

For several years, Bose has reigned supreme in the world of active noise cancellation. Sony is hoping to change that with the MDR1000X, their most advanced active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones to date. If the quality of noise cancelling is all that matters to you, I’ll save you time skimming: The ANC on these is rather impressive. Looking to cancel frequencies above the low rumble of an airplane, say, office voices and traffic noise? The 1000X are one of your best bets. However, if you’re also concerned with audio performance and features that extend beyond the ability to block out the world around you, read on.

Filed under
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.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Jan 09, 2017 0 comments
While traversing the CES show floor, listening to products is usually an exercise in futility - nothing sounds good with so much chaos around you, and who has time to stop and really listen to anything? Amidst the noise of this CES, however, taking a moment to slip on a pair of the new MrSpeakers ETHER Flow headphones was an escape into musical paradise, and one of the best listening experiences I’ve had in Vegas in years.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Oct 25, 2016 0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $309

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Handsome design
Extraordinary build quality
Rich sound
Minus
Doesn’t fold for compact storage

THE VERDICT
It’s easy to be distracted by the Meze 99 Classics’ good looks, but they’re also great-sounding headphones.

Call me shallow, but I fell deeply in love with the Meze Classics 99 headphones even before I heard them. Those precision carved, hand-finished, solid wood earcups, stainless steel headband, self-adjusting headband strap, and sumptuous earpads all lend a luxury feel to the design, though the price is solidly affordable. No other headphones near the price look and feel like the 99 Classics.

Filed under
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.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Oct 04, 2016 0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $129

AT A GLANCE
Plus
So beautiful, it’s in the Museum of Modern Art!
Spacious sounding, especially for on-ear headphones
Ultra-light design
Minus
Doesn’t fold flat for storage

THE VERDICT
The Bang & Olufsen Form 2i may be pushing 30 something years old, but it’s stuck around because it still looks and feels great!

No doubt about it, the Bang & Olufsen Form 2i are remarkable headphones in a number of ways. Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen set up shop in 1925 in Struer, Denmark, and the company went on to make more than its share of iconic speakers, amplifiers, etc. But my interest in B&O first sparked in the late 1970s when B&O turntables and electronics were among the most astonishingly beautiful and technologically advanced products on the scene. The company has remained on the forefront of industrial design and technology.

Filed under
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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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jul 28, 2016 0 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?

Filed under
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.

Filed under
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.

Filed under
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 2 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 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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