Headphone Reviews

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Geoffrey Morrison  |  Jun 21, 2016  |  2 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  |  Jun 20, 2016  |  0 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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Jun 09, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,099

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Concise, clear sound
Five-year warranty
Minus
High-impedance design limits portable use

THE VERDICT
Beyerdynamic reboots and refines their flagship T1—and significantly improves its sound quality.

The Beyerdynamic T1 (2nd Generation) over-the-ear headphone may look nearly identical to the original T1 that debuted in 2009, but trust me on this: The two headphones sound very different. The first thing I noticed is that the new T1 has meatier, bigger, punchier bass, and the treble is sweeter, clearer, and more refined. It’s much more than a reboot.

Steve Guttenberg  |  May 17, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $3,995

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Audeze ups their game, again!
Solid build quality
Made in Costa Mesa, California
Minus
They’re heavy!

THE VERDICT
You’ll know it when you hear it—there’s something very right, natural, and organic about the Audeze LCD-4’s sound.

The uber headphone field is getting mighty crowded—we have the Abyss AB-1266 ($5,495), Hifiman HE1000 ($2,999), Stax SR 009 ($3,999), Sennheiser Orpheus ($55,000!)—and now we have Audeze’s latest, the LCD-4 ($3,995). Talk about sticker shock! But let’s put those prices in perspective: All of them put together cost far less than a single Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF speaker, which sell for upwards of $200,000 per pair. So, as extreme as toptier headphone price tags have become, most are still within reach of a vastly larger group of enthusiasts than the very best high-end speakers. By that criterion, uber ’phones like the LCD-4 are comparatively affordable. Expensive, yes, but the best stuff always is.

Leslie Shapiro  |  May 09, 2016  |  0 comments
Absolute power corrupts absolutely; lack of power is just freakin’ annoying. The new Plantronics BackBeat GO 3 is a wireless, sweatproof earbud that solves the lack of power problem in a unique and clever way. The carrying case has a built-in rechargeable battery that provides the power for up to two recharges, giving the Backbeat GO 3 an extra 13 hours of playback. That’s the kind of power a girl could get used to.

Steve Guttenberg  |  May 03, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $250

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Smooth, highly detailed sound
Svelte good looks
User-replaceable cables
Minus
Headband padding is too thin

I really wasn’t expecting this. While I liked KEF’s original M500 headphone when it arrived in 2013, I can’t say I was ever smitten by the sound. But the new M400 was quite the opposite: I loved it from the get-go and immediately connected with it. The newer model is a smidgen less expensive, and it features a cleaner design and deftly executed, mostly aluminum construction, deliciously ample ear pads, and a rich tonal balance.

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 03, 2016  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
384/32 and DSD256
Eight-stage power supply
Doubles as stereo preamp
Minus
Black, boxy styling
Tricky sampling-rate LEDs

THE VERDICT
The Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD is a state-of-the-art headphone amplifier/DAC that has a healthy, and sometimes transformative, effect on whatever headphones you plug into it.

Like the rest of us, headphones have dreams and aspirations. They know they have to start out small with whatever phone, computer, or AVR comes to hand. But they dream of something better—of an amp and DAC tailored just for their needs. In short, they long for their dream home. If you’ve invested in a good pair of headphones, wouldn’t it be cruel to make your cans sleep on a sofabed in a basement when they deserve more headroom, more purity, the freedom to be the best they can be? The Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD just might be the dream home they’re hoping for.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 26, 2016  |  1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Planar diaphragms
Smooth, sweet, high-res sound
Long and short cables supplied
Minus
Not as airy as some competitive ’phones

THE VERDICT
Planar headphones don’t come cheap, but the Oppo PM-2 is a relatively affordable specimen that sounds beautiful with a variety of content and signal sources.

Planar magnetic headphones have potential advantages over conventional dynamic headphones. Their flat diaphragms have magnets evenly spread across them, driving the entire surface, as opposed to a single coil driving the center of a diaphragm. The result can be greater resolution and phase coherence. But that potential performance edge comes at a price. So headphone fans rejoiced when Oppo—which won positive reviews for its $1,099 PM-1—introduced the PM-2, with some of the same features, at a more affordable price of $699, followed by the even more affordable PM-3 ($399). I’ve been spending much of the past year or so listening to the PM-2.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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.

Lauren Dragan  |  Mar 19, 2016  |  First Published: Mar 18, 2016  |  1 comments
Over the last few years, Audeze, known for their acclaimed LCD series headphones, have expanded their lineups of entry level enthusiast-grade headphones. In 2015, they released the EL-8, a line of portable planar-magnetic over-ear headphones. This year at CES, Audeze announced the launch of not only their most affordable, but most wearable offering yet: the Sine; lightweight, closed-backed, on-ear, planar magnetic headphones. Additionally, the Sine are available with Cipher: a lightning cable with remote, mic, and, oh yeah... an integrated amp, DSP and DAC. Needless to say, I needed to get these on my noggin as soon as possible.
Leslie Shapiro  |  Feb 29, 2016  |  1 comments
Bone conduction technology has been around for a while, even before Beethoven pressed his ear against a piano and clasped a rod in his teeth to hear his compositions. But AfterShokz is bringing it mainstream to the active community with the new Trekz Titanium (MSRP $130) wireless headset. While you might not think bone conduction is right for you, there are plenty of advantages of the technology, including situational awareness, that you might want to consider.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 04, 2016  |  1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $250

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Musically coherent sound
Comfortable velour earpads
Moving parts don’t creak
Minus
Not especially rugged
Limited low bass
No carry case

THE VERDICT
The affordable Sennheiser HD 598 is styled differently from its famous and more costly sibling, the HD 600, but is just as beautifully voiced and just as insanely comfortable.

The motley crew that lives in my headphone drawer was getting long in the tooth when I decided to add a widely acknowledged classic to the collection. The new acquisition was the Sennheiser HD 600, now more than 20 years and umpteen generations old, and he’s become my go-to guy when I want to spend an evening kicking back with headphones that guarantee total physical and listening comfort. Lately I’ve had a chance to try the HD 600’s little brother, the HD 598. At $250, it lists for $150 less than the HD 600, though as of mid-November it was widely available at major online e-tailers (Amazon, Best Buy, B&H) for $150 to $175.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Jan 25, 2016  |  1 comments
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, the giant behind the Fender Stratocaster, has just announced a new product line: in-ear monitors from the legendary guitar manufacturer. There will be five models when the products hit the shelves in March. However, it’s the history of these products that is the most interesting.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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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