HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Leslie Shapiro Posted: Dec 07, 2015 3 comments
V-MODA is forcing me back to high school chemistry and I don’t like it one bit. I guess most people probably know that Zn stands for zinc without having to break out a periodic table, and the properties of zinc are great for making acoustic devices. The new Zn in-ear monitors are the first in-ears released by V-MODA in four years, and they’re aiming for the modern audiophile with a blend of features that balance convenience and luxury.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Nov 16, 2015 0 comments
There’s no doubt that custom earphones are way more comfortable and fit better than off-the-shelf one-size-fits-all earphones—and that snug fit usually means better sound too. The problem is that customs take a long time from fitting to delivery and are usually quite expensive—around $1,000. Revols, a Kickstarter-funded company is changing that with a proprietary technology that turns soft Nano-composite gel earphones into permanently-molded custom fit wonders for much less than traditional customs and the magic happens in just 60 seconds.

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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.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Sep 07, 2015 0 comments
When Optoma, a home-theater projector company, and NuForce, an audio company joined forces, I’ll admit it I was initially confused. NuForce made nice, niche audio products, and Optoma is mainly only doing projectors. What would their combined efforts produce? Light-emitting earbuds? Projectors with built-in speakers? But it actually makes sense; Optoma purchased NuForce to be able to provide both excellent video and audio to consumers, and they’ve kept the high quality that you would expect from NuForce. How do two new pairs of earphones, the NE750M and the NE800M from Optoma NuForce sound? Let’s find out.

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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.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Aug 17, 2015 0 comments
Everything needs to be enhanced these days to stand out from the crowd—everyone needs a schtick. Potato chips need wacky truffle-oil flavoring, cars need a carbon fiber wrap, and well, most celebrities keep their plastic surgeons on speed-dial. Even headphones need a hook to make a splash in the over-saturated market. While the Plantronics BackBeat Sense wireless headphones look like ordinary headphones, they are packed with enhancements, including knowing when they’re on or off.
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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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Darren Ankosko Posted: Jun 30, 2015 0 comments
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $70

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Comfortable in and out of the water
Impressive sound while swimming (with some limitations)
1-year warranty
Minus
So-so sound above water

THE VERDICT
The Swimbuds Sport headphone gets the job done in the water but falls somewhat short in its quest to provide a high-quality, multi-sport solution.

I was pleasantly surprised when my audition of the Swimbuds Sport Waterproof headphone began with a familiar voice. After discarding multiple plastic baggies and opening the mesh pouch and zipper case, I was greeted by a card with an access code for a downloadable 30-minute swim workout guided by Rebecca Soni. Her staggering career accomplishments—including eight world records and, for Team U.S.A. at the Olympics, three gold medals and three silver—were severely understated here with a title that read: Olympic Medalist. I trained with Rebecca at the Scarlet Aquatics Club in New Jersey from the late 1990s through 2005, and so welcomed the excuse to pick up the phone and call an old friend.

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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.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Jun 15, 2015 0 comments
Choice is good. My laptop can convert to a tablet. My hiking pants convert to shorts. My car converts to a stargazing roadster. And my Torque t402v on-ear headphones convert to over-ear headphones. Even better than that—the sound converts from balanced headphones to bass-heavy beasts.
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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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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.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Apr 08, 2015 2 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.

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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.

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