HEADPHONE REVIEWS

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Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Oct 05, 2011 0 comments

The success of Dr. Dre's Beats sent up a signal flare that alerted the rest of the celebrigentsia - who've realized that there's no safe money in music anymore - that there was cash to be had in them thar 'phones. They've since had at it in a big way, with everyone from Justin Bieber to Quincy Jones to the estates of Miles Davis and Bob Marley slapping their names on hardware.

But are any of these headphones any good? We set out to figure out which - if any - of these celebs deserve your hard-earned dollars. We called in a team of expert listeners to pick 'em apart, and then put each headphone through some rigorous lab testing to figure out what was really going on underneath those fancy designs.

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Mike Mettler Posted: 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.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: 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.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: 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.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 27, 2012 0 comments

IT MAY BE ONLY 4 YEARS OLD, but the HiFiMan brand has had a major impact on the growing world of portable audiophilia. The new HE-300, which uses conventional dynamic drivers, is the company’s most affordable over-ear headphone yet. With its solid, mostly metal construction and audiophile-grade detachable cables, it sure doesn’t look like it costs $249. You even get an elegant hardshell case in the deal.

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Fred Manteghian Posted: Feb 25, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very musical
Great resolution
Tank build quality
Minus
Needs more than an iPhone to drive good volume

THE VERDICT
The non-fatiguing sound of the HiFiMan HE-400i will have you falling in love with your music all over again.

Every time I visit my buddy Lou and listen to my old 6-foot-tall Magnepan MG IIIa speakers, I ask myself why I ever sold them to him. How excited am I that similar planar magnetic technology is now available in headphone form? Granted, higher-end Magnepans like my, I mean his, IIIa speakers use dedicated ribbon tweeters to help achieve their magical sound. And with dipole planar speakers like the Magnepans, proper positioning in the room can make the difference between no bass and some of the best bass you’ve ever heard. There’s only so much you can do when the room is effectively strapped to your head!

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Feb 05, 2015 1 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $899

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Transparency to die for
Planar magnetic drivers
Lighter and more comfy than most planar headphones
Minus
A stay-at-home headphone

THE VERDICT
HiFiMan’s heavily revised planar magnetic headphones take the sound closer to the ever-elusive goal of reproducing reality.

The very first planar magnetic headphone I heard was a HiFiMan HE-5. That was five years ago. As luck would have it, I had just finished a series of flagship headphone reviews from nearly every major manufacturer, but it was the HE-5 that made a lasting impression. While it wasn’t the most transparent or dynamic, or best imaging, it was the one I kept returning to. The key was balance; it just sounded more “right” than the others. Oh, it was also significantly less expensive than any of the other top-of-the-line models. All of the brands have stepped up their game over the last few years, and now HiFiMan has completely redesigned its planars as well. If you haven’t heard a high-end headphone in years, this would be a great time to check out what’s going on.

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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: Jun 19, 2014 Published: Jun 18, 2014 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Super tiny and lightweight
Accurate and transparent
Wide-open soundstage
Minus
Lacks microphone and phone controls

THE VERDICT
Hifiman's uber-comfortable RE-600 offers superb transparency and accurate tonal balance.

Even when I heard one of Hifiman's very first headphones, I had no doubt it was fully competitive with the best AKG, Beyerdynamic, Grado, Koss, and Sennheiser had to offer. That was back in 2006, and the Tianjin, China-based company's headphones have only gotten better over the years. They're all proprietary designs, engineered and manufactured by Hifiman.
Leslie Shapiro Posted: Dec 08, 2014 0 comments
Jabra has introduced a wireless Bluetooth headset designed to take workouts to a whole new level of efficiency. They’ve introduced the Jabra Sport Pulse, the world’s first Bluetooth earbuds with a built-in heart-rate monitor. Crazy? I think not. Anyone who’s at all interested in fitness knows that the most effective way to monitor your workout is to track your heart rate. Check out the Orange Theory craze if you don’t believe me, or just look at the treadmills and elliptical machines at most gyms. Heart rate monitoring is an essential part of a safe, effective workout, and Jabra has nailed it. The heart rate monitor is built right into the left earpiece of the Sport Pulse, so finally, you can toss that unsightly, sweaty, uncomfortable heart rate strap.

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Lauren Dragan Posted: Mar 13, 2014 0 comments
Ah, Bluetooth. The desire to cut the cord has led to a market flooded with a dozen new wireless headphone options in the last few months. The latest to enter the fray is JBL, with their Synchros S400BT: a touch sensor controlling, LED glowing, aptX encoding, Bluetooth 3.0 stereo over-ear headphone. With all those bells and whistles, I just had to give them a try. How would they measure up?
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 29, 2014 Published: Aug 28, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $40

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Lotsa bass
Comfortable lightweight design
Low price
Minus
Maybe a little too much bass

THE VERDICT
The JVC HA-FR301 isn't an accurate-sounding headphone, and fashion conscious buyers may turn up their noses at the design, but these inexpensive in-ears are a lot of fun to listen to.

Emphasized, or should I say pronounced bass is a guilty pleasure a lot of headphone loving audiophiles rarely admit to indulging in. Funny, almost all headphones, including a fair share of high-end models, have elevated bass, so what we're talking about here is a matter of degree. JVC's HA-FR301 is designed for bass fanatics who can't get enough low-end punch. Indeed, JVC markets them as part of its Xtreme Xplosives headphone line up; that pretty much says it all. But while most bassy headphones suffer from muffled highs and a missing-in-action midrange, the HA-FR301 isn't lacking in detail, not by a long shot.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 23, 2006 0 comments
Flying is brutal. And the cramped seat and substandard food aren't the only things that do you in. Noise is the unseen enemy. You may think you can merely adjust to it and ignore it—but that is physically impossible. Jet-turbine noise gives your eardrums and the other delicate parts of your inner ear a beating, and that messes up both your hearing and your sense of balance. That's why you often feel disoriented after a long flight. The wise traveler is therefore one who carries a good set of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: 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.

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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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