Headphone Reviews

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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).

Steve Guttenberg  |  Jun 27, 2014  |  1 comments
Your ears have never had it so good. From entry-level ‘buds to the state of the art, the sound quality of headphones has radically improved in recent years. Choices abound: in-, on-, or over-the-ear ’phones; open- or closed-back; noise-canceling or noise-isolating. And they all sound and feel very different from each other. Which one’s right for you? Unlike other types of audio gear, headphones are worn, so their comfort and build quality and durability are major considerations. Faced with so many options, picking the right model can be a little daunting, but I’m here to help clarify which one will best titillate your eardrums. Let’s get to it.
Steve Guttenberg  |  Dec 31, 2015  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,190

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Hybrid dynamic/electrostatic design
Brilliant high-resolution sound!
Wide open imaging
Minus
The relatively stiff cable is kinky

THE VERDICT
The EnigmAcoustics Dharma D1000 seamlessly melds dynamic and electrostatic drivers to produce ultra high-resolution sound.

Even though I was hearing good reports from friends about the EnigmAcoustics Dharma D1000 hybrid electrostatic/dynamic headphone, I was still more than a bit skeptical about how successful the blending of its two drivers could be. AKG made hybrid dynamic/electrostatic headphones in the late 1970s. I auditioned a pair just a few years ago and heard the electrostatic tweeter and dynamic driver as two separate sound sources. Thankfully, the Dharma D1000 aced the blend—the two drivers sound like one.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 02, 2014  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
HDMI input for high-res music on Blu-ray
Adjustable ’phone impedance and sampling rate
Sounds good with different ’phones
Minus
None to speak of...

THE VERDICT
Essence’s HDACC bridges the gap between Blu-ray music content and legacy audio systems with an extremely adjustable and great-sounding DAC.

The most unusual product in this roundup is the HDACC HD Audio Center from Essence Electrostatic, a company that also markets flat-diaphragm loudspeakers. Like the NAD, it qualifies as a headphone amp, DAC, and stereo preamp with TosLink, coax, and analog inputs. But its greater claim to fame is a pair of HDMI jacks, input and output, on the back panel.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Jun 26, 2018  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $179

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Accurate sound, with a gentle bass bump
Best-in-class noise isolation
Two-year replacement warranty
Minus
Requires deep ear tip insertion

THE VERDICT
The Etymotic ER3XR delivers accurate, transparent sound at a very affordable price.

Have you noticed that most headphones, including plenty of models with audiophile aspirations, have pumped-up bass and highs? That intentionally less-than-accurate sound is likely due to their designers knowing that most people enjoy boosted bass and the extra “detail” of tipped-up treble. Etymotic is a company that doesn’t play by those rules, and its new ER3 Extended Response (ER3XR) is just the ticket for anyone who craves accurate sound from in-ear headphones.

Stewart Wolpin  |  Sep 03, 2019  |  0 comments
We put eight noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones to the test to find out which are the best.
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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 21, 2018  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Aluminum/magnesium diaphragms
Impeccable construction
Balanced presentation
Minus
Less than spacious imaging

THE VERDICT
Focal’s Clear headphones are admirably well-balanced performers with irreproachable build quality and a gorgeous look.

Is $1,499 a lot to pay for headphones? Well, how much is a lot? Only you can make the definitive decision about what is a good buy and what would be an undue burden on your checking account. Here’s how Focal thought through the problem. This formidable loudspeaker manufacturer gave its emergent headphone line its best shot in the Focal Utopia, a four-thousand-dollar product that we hailed with a five-star review. Its latest offering, the Focal Clear, borrows technology developed for the Utopia and cuts the price by more than half.

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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Mar 28, 2018  |  0 comments
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’s leading speaker manufacturer, but in 2016 they turned a corner and entered the fiercely competitive high-end headphone market with two extraordinary ’phones, the Elear and the deliriously great Utopia.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 07, 2017  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $3,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Beryllium diaphragm
Rock-star cosmetics
Fine-tuned highs and timbre
Minus
Expensive

THE VERDICT
Focal’s Utopia headphones are a bleeding-edge statement from a pedigreed loudspeaker manufacturer that has made the most of its speaker-designing experience.

When I look back on all the dumb things I did as a kid, surely one of the dumbest was pitching rocks and dirt balls at a wasp nest. With each impact, a cloud of wasps rose from the nest. It was mesmerizing—until one of us got stung. Reviewing Focal’s Utopia headphones isn’t at all stupid, but I suspect the results are going to be similar: a cloud of wasps, maybe a sting. Some readers will look askance at $3,999 headphones, especially since the things I have on hand for comparison cost a fraction of that. I don’t often breathe such rarefied air.

Brent Butterworth  |  Jun 25, 2012  |  0 comments

These days, the headphone biz is hot. The speaker biz? Not as hot. So it’s no surprise that every major speaker company is either launching a headphone line or thinking about it. And why not? They’re experts in developing, manufacturing, and marketing audio products. How hard could it be for them to launch a line of headphones?

Brent Butterworth  |  Sep 07, 2011  |  0 comments

When I got the press release for the new InTune in-ear headphones from Fuse, it made me think: How is any particular genre of music supposed to sound? And does it already sound that way, or do you have to do something to it to make it sound like it’s supposed to?

The InTune headphones inspired this question because they’re available in four varieties, each tuned for a certain type of music: red for rap and hip-hop, orange for rock, blues and country; blue for jazz and classical; and green for pop and easy listening.

Michael Berk  |  Nov 16, 2012  |  0 comments

Over the past few months, we've looked at a whole lot of gaming headsets, from affordable, entry-level models to the cream of the crop - and we've found worthwhile candidates for you at all price points. Even better, we've got three headsets to give away this week, from Skullcandy and Astro.

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