Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $249 AT A GLANCE Plus Excellent isolation from external noise Lightweight yet rugged design Plentiful, but not overdone bass Minus Can sound too bright with harsh or overcompressed recordings THE VERDICT The Focal Listen delivers lots of detail and vitality, and the bass is to die for. Focal is best known as France&rsquo;s leading speaker manufacturer, but in 2016 they turned a corner and entered the fiercely competitive high-end headphone market with two extraordinary &rsquo;phones, the Elear and the deliriously great Utopia.
Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $2,695 AT A GLANCE Plus Designed and handcrafted in Brooklyn Best-ever sounding Grado Freewheeling dynamics Minus The non-removable and not very flexible cable THE VERDICT The Grado Labs PS2000e takes the classic Grado sound to new heights, but it won’t please everyone. Grado headphones all have a sound, and they sound like Grados. They’re some of the most viscerally dynamic and lively headphones I’ve heard, and they’re so open and spacious, you never feel like the sound is confined to the space between your ears. The new flagship, the PS2000e, takes the Grado sound to new heights.
Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $2,495 AT A GLANCE Plus Extraordinary sound quality Planar magnetic in-ear Open-back design Minus Doesn&rsquo;t block external noise THE VERDICT The Audeze LCDi4 sound like no other in-ear or full-size headphones. Audeze has once again radically changed the way we hear music. I&rsquo;m going to come right out and say it: The Audeze LCDi4 are hands down the best-sounding in-ear headphones I&rsquo;ve heard. They&rsquo;re the most transparent and open, have the flattest tonal balance, and the bass&mdash;OMG&mdash;is deeper and faster than any other in-ears on the planet...
Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $399 AT A GLANCE Plus Most affordable ever three-way from the designer Uber comfy Vivacious sound Minus The voluptuous bass might be too much of a good thing THE VERDICT The Astell & Kern Michelle brings JH Audio headphone sound down to a new, more affordable price. Sound &amp; Vision readers probably know about Astell&amp;Kern&rsquo;s portable high-resolution digital audio players. But I&rsquo;m guessing you&rsquo;re less aware of Jerry Harvey Audio&rsquo;s in-ear headphones, which have found favor not only with audiophiles, but also musicians and pro sound engineers who make up a sizeable percentage of Harvey&rsquo;s customer base. The Michelle Limited in-ear headphones from Astell&amp;Kern were designed by Jerry Harvey.
Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $599 AT A GLANCE Plus Oval planar magnetic design Easy to drive Nice and comfy Minus Cable lacks phone mic or inline controls THE VERDICT Acoustic Research knocked one out of the park with the AR-H1 &mdash; it’s a real contender. Acoustic Research has a long, proud history dating back to 1954 with the introduction of the AR1, the world’s first acoustic suspension speaker. But rather than run through a model-by-model inventory of their innovative speakers and the brilliant AR turntable, let’s fast-forward to 2018 where the AR's current owner is based in Hong Kong and they’re getting serious about making audiophile headphones. Witness the AR-H1, an ambitious reboot for the brand.
Ti In-Ear Headphones Performance Build Quality Comfort Value Be In-Ear Headphones Performance Build Quality Comfort Value Mg In-Ear Headphone Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $99, $199, $299 AT A GLANCE Plus Clear sound, great bass Five-year warranty Now made in the U.S. Minus Tangle-prone cable No phone controls THE VERDICT Periodic Audio&rsquo;s three in-ear headphones&mdash;the Mg, Ti, and Be&mdash;may only differ in the driver material but sound more different than you might expect. Periodic Audio is a brand-new company that launched with just three in-ear headphones, the Mg (Magnesium), the Ti (Titanium), and the Be (Beryllium), for $99, $199, and $299, respectively. The three headphones look nearly the same, differing only in the color of the earpiece end caps. The Mg and Ti are similar shades of silver, while the Be is gold. The three models&rsquo; 10mm drivers are all mechanically exactly the same but differ in their diaphragm materials&mdash;magnesium, titanium, and beryllium&mdash;so it made sense to look at all three models as a group.
Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $799 AT A GLANCE Plus Closed-back, planar magnetic design Made in San Diego, California Beautifully balanced sound Minus Non-standard connectors on the earcups THE VERDICT The Aeon are a game changer for MrSpeakers. Their least expensive headphones might be their most accomplished design. I meet a lot of audiophiles who flat out refuse to give headphones a chance. They go on about the headphones they bought in college when Michael Jackson released Thriller and won&rsquo;t even try the new breed of &rsquo;phones. This one here, the MrSpeakers Aeon, might be the headphones that turn them around. The complete package&mdash;the sound, the shape, the smooth feel of the carbon fiber earcups, the luxuriously thick earpads, and best of all, the price&mdash;might win over even the most curmudgeonly of resistors.
Performance Sound It was one of the most galvanizing live experiences of my life. The instant WNEW-FM announced Midnight Oil would be performing live on a flatbed truck on Sixth Avenue in the heart of New York City in front of the Exxon Building around noontime on May 30, 1990 to protest the mishandling of the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil-spill disaster in Prince William Sound, Alaska, three colleagues and I sprinted the entire length of the two long city blocks from the Stereo Review and Audio offices at 50th and Broadway to get as close as we could. Success! Each of us wound up standing no more than 10 people deep from the flatbed&rsquo;s perch upon our out-of-breath Sixth Avenue arrival.
Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $299 AT A GLANCE Plus Open-back, planar magnetic design Solid build quality Handsome look Minus Can sound bright THE VERDICT These Tidal Force headphones face stiff competition from other comparably priced planar magnetic designs. Tidal Force is a brand spanking new headphone company, and at the time I started working on this review, the Wave 5 was their one and only set of headphones. They&rsquo;re off to a good start; build quality is excellent, and the mostly metal design felt great in my hands.
Performance Build Quality Comfort Value PRICE $999 AT A GLANCE Plus Handmade in Germany Stunning good looks Best-in-class sound Minus Tangle-prone cable THE VERDICT The Beyerdynamic Xelento Remotes look, feel, and sound like a true luxury design. It&rsquo;s a stunningly beautiful design: The Beyerdynamic Xelento Remotes are most definitely a looker. Better yet, their ergonomically balanced design made for a perfect fit in the concha of my ears; these are some of the most comfortable in-ears I&rsquo;ve ever worn. As for the sound, it was spectacular!