HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Leslie Shapiro  |  Apr 03, 2017  |  0 comments
These days, it seems that listeners have no choice but to spend hundreds of dollars to get good quality Bluetooth headphones. The JBL E55BT (MSRP $150) has the sound of a $300+ headphone, with good performance and a wired option, all in a range of colors to suite any style.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Mar 28, 2017  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Designed in Germany
Titanium earpieces
Neutral sound balance
Minus
Wish they were a little cheaper

THE VERDICT
At first listen, the Beyerdynamic iDX 200 iE’s charms may not be immediately obvious, but over time you’ll start to realize how good they are.

When you listen to as many headphones as I do, you start to notice trends. The first and most obvious one is bass, and there’s usually too much of it. Next, headphones look and feel so similar, you start to think most of them, but especially in-ear headphones, are all made in the same factory in China. That may or may not be true, and yes, the Beyerdynamic iDX 200 iE is Chinese made, but it was designed by Beyerdynamic’s engineers in Germany.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Mar 23, 2017  |  2 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Uber clarity
Titanium drivers
Made in Japan
Minus
Doesn’t fold for compact storage

THE VERDICT
The Final Sonorous III is in a class of its own because it doesn’t sound like anything else, and that’s a good thing.

The Final Audio Design Sonorous III showed up when I was in the midst of working on reviews of some very high-end, very expensive headphones. I usually try to avoid simultaneously working on reviews of products that would put one at a serious disadvantage. No problem this time: The Sonorous III held its own against the new HiFiMan HE1000 V2 ($2,999) and the AKG K872 ($1,495). I’m not saying the Sonorous III was in the same league as those two heavyweights, but I’ve never heard a mid-price dynamic driver headphone as transparent as the Sonorous III.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Mar 17, 2017  |  2 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $899

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Sumptuous build quality
Best Bowers & Wilkins headphone yet
Comes with an Apple Lightning cable
Minus
Brown is the only color

THE VERDICT
With the P9 Signature, Bowers & Wilkins enters the higher echelons of the crowded audiophile headphone market with a real contender.

Unlike nearly every other speaker company that jumped into the headphone market with a complete line, Bowers & Wilkins has released just one (or two) headphones at a time. The P5 on-ear was first out of the gate in 2010; then the C5 in-ear and P3 on-ear; the Series 2 versions of those headphones followed; next came the over-the-ear P7; more recently the wireless P5 and P7; and now the all-new flagship P9 Signature. Thanks to the slow and steady approach, the sound for all of B&W’s headphones has been consistently chocolatey-rich. The P9 Signature is similar, but the sound is more evolved.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Mar 07, 2017  |  3 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $2,300

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Remarkably transparent
Fine, handmade build quality
Very, very comfortable
Minus
New-gen balanced cable may not fit current headphone amps/sources

THE VERDICT
$2,300

Sony has a long history of making reference-quality headphones, starting with the limited-edition MDR-R10. That was in 1989—and at $2,500, it was the most expensive headphone in the world. A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with an MDR-R10, and it was the most beautiful-sounding headphone I’d ever heard. No wonder the cognoscenti dubbed it the Stradivarius of headphones and scooped them all up years ago. MDR-R10s rarely come up for sale, but when they do, they go for at least $6,000!

Leslie Shapiro  |  Mar 06, 2017  |  0 comments
When Apple chose to remove the headphone jack from their latest iPhones, many people (myself included) freaked out. Would I forever be forced into listening to a downgraded Bluetooth signal? Luckily, BEEM United came quickly to the rescue with the BeMe D200 wired headphone with a Lightning jack.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Feb 23, 2017  |  0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $249

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Open- or closed-back design
Lightweight
Super easy to drive
Minus
A tad bright on some recordings

THE VERDICT
With its open- or closed-back design, the Edition S provides unusual flexibility at affordable cost.

HiFiMan is a hard one to pin down. True, they’re best known for their high-end, advanced-technology planar-magnetic headphones like the $2,999 HE1000 I reviewed in the November, 2015 issue of Sound & Vision. Most HiFiMan headphones are planar designs, but this new one, Edition S, is a more conventional dynamic headphone, albeit one with a rather unusual feature: It’s an open- or closed-back design. Say what? Let me explain.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Feb 06, 2017  |  0 comments
Nothing steps up your game like a pair of custom earphones. They’re usually priced so high that customs were reserved for only the most devoted audiophiles. Snugs, a company out of London, England is making them accessible to the masses by creating custom ear tips, and partnering with Echobox to match them to the Nomad Titanium Earphones(MSRP $399).

Lauren Dragan  |  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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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  |  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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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.

Mike Mettler  |  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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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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