Headphone Reviews

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Steve Guttenberg  |  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.

Lauren Dragan  |  Mar 06, 2015  |  0 comments
There’s a new member of the Sennheiser Momentum family. The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless are Sennheiser’s answer to the Parrot Zik and Samsung Level Over; they’re Bluetooth, have active noise cancelling, and are looking to appeal to fans of higher-end audio. They also come with a higher-end price tag: nearly $500. So what, exactly, does your money get you?
Fred Manteghian  |  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!

Lauren Dragan  |  Feb 16, 2015  |  First Published: Feb 15, 2015  |  0 comments
Editor’s Note: This review was first published on 1/31/15, based on what proved to be a defective sample, and revised on 2/15/15.

Speaker company RBH has expanded their headphone lineup with new Bluetooth in-ears, the EP-SB. Lightweight and sweat resistant, RBH want the EP-SB to be your go-to headphones for on-the-go and at the gym. I got my hands on one of the first pairs available (literally!), and put them through their paces. How did they hold up? Lace up your sneaks and meet me after the jump.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Feb 09, 2015  |  1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $300

AT A GLANCE
Plus
The best noise-canceler, period!
Headphones can play after batteries are drained
Light and very comfortable
Minus
Sound quality isn’t stellar

THE VERDICT
The QC25 widens Bose's significant lead in noise-canceling technology, though it trails some other competitive headphones on sound quality.

The QuietComfort 25 (QC25) is the latest model to join Bose’s massively popular noise-canceling headphone lineup; it replaces the QuietComfort 15, the best noise-canceling headphone I’ve heard, till now.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Feb 05, 2015  |  0 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.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Feb 02, 2015  |  0 comments
It’s rare for a product to “wow” me right out of the box. So I surprised myself when I let out an audible “Ohh” as I opened the box containing the Harman/Kardon Soho Wireless headphones. They just oozed class and elegance—in fact, I’m reminded that I had a similar reaction to the Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini Bluetooth speaker. Black leather, stainless steel, and a hefty dose of panache. Could the Soho Wireless possibly sound as good as they look?

Steve Guttenberg  |  Dec 16, 2014  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Professional monitor sound, par excellence!
Extended high-frequency response
User-replaceable cable
Minus
No-frills design
Not as open sounding as open-back headphones

THE VERDICT
Sony’s MDR 7520 is something of an “anti-Beats” headphone that fashionistas will shun, but its real strength is its neutrality.

Just as I started working on this review, I met with Naotaka Tsunoda, one of the designers of the Sony MDR 7520, in NYC. This soft-spoken man is responsible for a number of Sony’s very best headphones including the legendary Qualia 010 ($2,400), a model that dates from 2004. That one had extraordinary high-frequency response, all the way up to 120 kilohertz, making it a good match for high-resolution audio.

Leslie Shapiro  |  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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Nov 06, 2014  |  2 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Wowie-zowie style
Nearly indestructible
High-impact sound
Minus
Over-40 crowd might feel awkward wearing something as hip as the XS

THE VERDICT
With the XS, V-Moda somehow made a bassy headphone even an audiophile could love.

Val Kolton started V-Moda ten years ago, but I didn’t meet the man until 2011. I thought he was their sales guy; he definitely didn’t look like an owner of an audio company, at least not like any I’ve met before. He’s a young, skinny, rock-star type, decked out in black leather and long, jet-black hair. Get him started, and Kolton will talk a mile a minute about music and headphones, but then again, so do I.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 31, 2014  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $1,099

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Planar technology
Rich sound
Understated good looks
Minus
Voicing too rich for some
Crosses the $1K barrier

THE VERDICT
Oppo’s first headphone, the PM-1, uses a planar diaphragm to produce a luxuriously warm sound that becomes addicting on its own terms.

There once was a piano tuner named Opporknockity. A customer asked him to re-tune a piano he’d done the week before. “Sorry,” he replied, “Opporknockity only tunes once.” Luckily for consumers, Oppo Digital isn’t as stingy as Opporknockity. You can buy all the Oppo products you want.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 24, 2014  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699 ($899 as reviewed)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Warm, tubey sound
Headphone impedance switch
New York born and bred
Minus
No DAC
Too polite for some headphones

THE VERDICT
Woo Audio’s WA6 is a Class A headphone amp whose glowing tubes are voiced to warm up any headphones.

The glow of vacuum tubes has fascinated me all my life. When I was a kid, my parents bought a Magnavox console TV with a built-in phonograph and AM/FM radio, the early-1960s equivalent of a home theater system with all the trimmings. It stood on 18-inch legs, and I loved to crawl under it, lying on my back to stare up into the orange glow of the tubes. My first few audio systems were solid state, but a cadre of die-hard audiophiliacs never really gave up on tubes. Now they’ve also wiggled back into my life and onto my desk, where the Woo Audio WA6 headphone amplifier sits, with three glowing obelisks keeping the retro audio flame alive.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Sep 17, 2014  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
3D-printed headphone
Big, highly dynamic sound
Dig those ear pads
Minus
Lacks mike and phone controls

THE VERDICT
MrSpeakers dared to go where no headphone manufacturer went before and used 3D printing technology to make a better-sounding headphone.

While MrSpeakers’ Alpha Dog may be the first high-end headphone to fully exploit 3D printing technology, the original intention was to speed the development process, and then make injection-molded plastic ear cups. But as MrSpeakers owner Dan Clark revised and refined the design, he realized it would be more cost effective to 3D-print his production headphones’ double-walled ear cups and added an intricate lattice to the printing process to increase the ear cups’ rigidity. He took the next step and bought enough 3D printers to keep quality control in-house. After the ear cups are printed, they’re chemically polished, hand sanded, sealed, primed, and finished with automotive-grade paint.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Aug 29, 2014  |  First 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.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Aug 25, 2014  |  0 comments
Look around you - wires are so passé. If you’re in the gym and your earphones are connected to your phone or iPod, you might as well trade in your Crossfit membership for a circa-1989 Step aerobics class. How can you complete your WOD with a tangle of wires getting in the way? The new Powerbeats2 in-ear earphone from Beats By Dr. Dre is Bluetooth 4.0 compatible, and other than the snag-free wire connecting the left and right side, it’s completely wireless. You couldn’t connect it to your iPhone with a wire even if you wanted to - plus and negatives to that situation to follow.

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