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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 23, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $229

AT A GLANCE
Plus
A crisply styled, downright elegant design
Sweet balance takes edge off harsh recordings
Hinged headband allows for compact storage
Minus
Highish ear pad pressure, comfort issues

THE VERDICT
The NAD Viso HP30 on-ear headphone’s plush midrange and punchy bass supply a visceral kick beyond the reach of most on-ears.

NAD rocked the audiophile world in the late 1970s when it introduced its astonishing 3020 integrated amp. That amp eventually became one of the best-selling of all time and established NAD as the brand that prioritized performance over superfluous features and glitzy styling, at affordable prices. That “sound quality first” ethos continued over the decades, and NAD recently scored another direct hit with its Viso HP50 over-the-ear headphones. So, I was eager to check out their new Viso HP30 on-ear model.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jan 13, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
50mm biocellulose drivers
Liquid wood ear cups
Deliciously comfortable
Minus
Cable much too long for portable use

THE VERDICT
NightHawk’s use of sustainable materials, high comfort, and sweet sound bode well for AudioQuest’s debut headphone.

Everything about the AudioQuest NightHawk headphone, from its materials, design, and sound, differs from what came before. Take a gander at those ear cups: They’re made from something called Liquid Wood. Don’t worry, they’re not the least bit squishy or soft. The cups are crafted from sustainable plant fibers that are liquefied and precision injection-molded. Then their insides are elastomer-coated to minimize resonance. The ear cups also feature a 3D-printed grille, inspired by the underlying structure of butterfly wings, and the grilles are said to reduce the cups’ internal reflections.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Dec 31, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,190

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Hybrid dynamic/electrostatic design
Brilliant high-resolution sound!
Wide open imaging
Minus
The relatively stiff cable is kinky

THE VERDICT
The EnigmAcoustics Dharma D1000 seamlessly melds dynamic and electrostatic drivers to produce ultra high-resolution sound.

Even though I was hearing good reports from friends about the EnigmAcoustics Dharma D1000 hybrid electrostatic/dynamic headphone, I was still more than a bit skeptical about how successful the blending of its two drivers could be. AKG made hybrid dynamic/electrostatic headphones in the late 1970s. I auditioned a pair just a few years ago and heard the electrostatic tweeter and dynamic driver as two separate sound sources. Thankfully, the Dharma D1000 aced the blend—the two drivers sound like one.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Dec 22, 2015 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $400

AT A GLANCE
Plus
New lossless wireless audio technology
Two-year warranty
Lightweight design
Minus
Wireless ’phones can’t play loud

THE VERDICT
The Sennheiser RS 185 raises the bar on audiophile-grade wireless headphone sound quality.

I’ve auditioned a number of wireless Sennheiser models over the years and was always satisfied with the sound. Sennheiser claims their latest ’phones are better than ever, and the RS 185 is the best sounding of the twelve wireless models the company currently offers. No other brand has as broad a range of wireless headphones, starting with the $99 Sennheiser RS 120.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Dec 09, 2015 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $299

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Two-way hybrid dual-driver design
User-replaceable cables
Two-year warranty
Minus
Resolution no match for all-armature in-ear designs

THE VERDICT
The PSB Speakers M4U 4 blocks a good amount of external noise, feels comfy, and sounds sweet. What’s not to like?

PSB Speakers’ Paul Barton is a quick learner. After decades designing his company’s speakers, he jumped into headphones with the PSB M4U 2 full-size, noise-canceling ’phones. The M4U 2 was hailed by critics and consumers alike, and his next design for NAD, the Viso HP50, was even better, Barton was clearly on a roll. Now, with the M4U 4, Barton may be the first celebrated speaker designer to ever tackle crafting an in-ear headphone.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Sep 29, 2015 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $2,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Luxurious design
Extraordinarily spacious sound
Advanced nano-thin planar magnetic drivers
Minus
A big, definitely not-so-portable headphone
Crazy expensive

THE VERDICT
The HiFiman HE1000 is pricey, but it sounds so clear and open other headphones sound dull and drab by comparison.

What? $2,999 for headphones? Can they be worth it? Yes, and yes. It’s not just that the Hifiman HE1000 sounds more transparent, spacious, and dynamic than other headphones: With the HE1000, music arrives more intact—there’s more there there.

The Hifiman HE1000’s open quality makes you realize not all open-back headphones sound equally open. You don’t have to be an engineer to understand why: Just look at the HE1000 ear cups’ thin horizontal blades that minimize reflections to a remarkable degree and expose most of the back surface of the diaphragm to the air.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 18, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
High-resolution sound
Planar magnetic drivers
Made in the U.S.
Minus
Lacks mic and phone controls

THE VERDICT
The Audeze EL-8 may be the first planar magnetic headphone sensitive enough to come alive with portable music players.

I’ve reviewed a lot of headphones, but I’ve never encountered anything quite like the Audeze EL-8 before. It’s the first high-end planar magnetic headphone to come alive and sound fully transparent with portable music players. Now, sure, we’ve heard similar claims for other high-performance, full-size headphones; and yes, they play, but too much of the headphone’s potential is forfeited with portable devices. The EL-8 sounds scary good with my humble little iPod classic.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jul 08, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
UE’s tip-fitting system ensures a perfect fit
User-replaceable cables
Sweet, nicely detailed sound
Minus
Premium pricing

THE VERDICT
The Ultimate Ears UE900s look, feel, and sound right, they’re big on transparency, without shortchanging body and soul.

I was in for a big surprise when I opened the Ultimate Ears UE900s box. The headphone not only comes with a generous selection of sizes and types of ear tips, UE’s color-coded, systematic fitting process makes it easier than ever to achieve the perfect fit. This ensures maximum isolation from external noise and the full bass potential of the UE900s.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jun 26, 2015 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $150

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Big on comfort
Lifetime warranty
Timbrally rich
Minus
Lacks mic and phone controls

THE VERDICT
The Koss Pro4s doesn’t sound like your daddy’s Koss, not by a long shot. It’s the best new Koss in ages.

Koss was founded in 1958, so it’s as old-school American hi-fi as you can get, and I’d bet lots of older audiophiles have fond memories of their Pro4AA headphones from back in the day. Koss still makes that headphone, and sound-wise, it’s about as subtle as a 1970 Chevelle SS 396 muscle car. As for this new Pro4S, it’s closer to a new Camaro—the sound is far more refined. The sharply sculpted, cast-aluminum ear cups are the first clues; the handsome design has a contemporary look and feel.

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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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