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Steve Guttenberg Posted: 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 Posted: Jan 26, 2007 0 comments
A systematic approach to speaker design.

As consumer electronics technologies continue to morph into ever more complex forms, convergence is key. Elan Home Systems was founded in 1989 in Lexington, Kentucky, and convergence is their raison d'tre. In the past, they have brought together wholehouse automation and touchpanel control of music, phones, lighting, intercoms, and TV functions. More recently, they acquired a high-end home theater electronics company, Sunfire. Four years ago, Elan jumped into the speaker business with a line of highly regarded in-walls. This brings us to Elan's new line of converging speakers, the aptly named TheaterPoint series.

Steve Guttenberg Posted: Dec 04, 2013 1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,345

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Big sound with undistorted, low bass
Separate, built-in amplifiers for the woofer and tweeter
Controls for fine-tuning bass and treble
Rock-solid MDF cabinetry
Minus
Requires interconnects and power to each speaker

THE VERDICT
A remarkably dynamic system with solid bass, airy highs, and wide imaging—with no amplifiers needed.

At first I wasn’t sure about the prospects for reviewing Emotiva Pro’s new Stealth speakers, if only because they’re bona-fide studio monitors. But after conferring with Dan Laufman, the designer and CEO, I was eager to try them. Turns out the Stealths are easily domesticated, and since they’re internally biamplified—there’s one amp for the tweeter and another for the woofer—I didn’t need to use a receiver, power amp, or surround processor for this review.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: 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.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 23, 2017 1 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.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 10, 2008 2 comments
I'm a big Samuel L. Jackson fan, but I didn't totally buy his performance in Black Snake Moan. Jackson plays a righteous old man who takes in a trashy nymphet (Christina Ricci) to set her straight. I was especially intrigued with the story because Jackson's character was loosely based on R.L. Burnside, who didn't just sing the blues, he lived them. Up to the point where Jackson picked up his guitar, he was perfectly fine. But when he started to sing, his performance didn't ring true. It comes down to authenticity. Acting is one thing; singing with a voice that sounds so rough it bleeds is something else. Come to think of it, I could say the same about great speakers. It's one thing to design a speaker that measures well, but that doesn't necessarily make for a great-sounding speaker.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: 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.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: 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.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Apr 14, 2015 4 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,998/pair

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Sleek tower design
Huge soundstage!
HVFR planar magnetic folded ribbon tweeter
Minus
Black is the only finish

THE VERDICT
At less than $2,000 per pair, the Triton continues the GoldenEar value tradition with superb sonics at an attainable price.

I’ve known quite a few speaker designers and owners of high-end companies, but GoldenEar Technology’s CEO and co-founder Sandy Gross is the only one who’s an avid art collector. He paints a little, too, but mostly expresses his creative side through the sound of his loudspeakers. Gross has developed a keen ear as a decades-long veteran in the speaker business, co-founding Polk Audio and later Definitive Technology. In 2010, he launched GoldenEar Technology at the CEDIA show in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 04, 2016 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $695

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Hand-crafted in Brooklyn!
Lightweight design
Incredibly open soundstage
Minus
Cable isn’t user-replaceable

THE VERDICT
The Grado RS1e is lightweight and has a big-as-all-outdoors soundstage and clarity that are unbeatable in its price class.

Grado Labs is located in a nondescript four-story building in the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn, where Joe Grado started manufacturing phono cartridges in the early 1950s. John Grado (Joe’s nephew) took over day-to-day operations in 1978, and in 1989 Grado Labs jumped into the headphone market. John and Joe hand-built all of the company’s first-generation headphones—the HP-1, HP-2, and HP-3—and those ’phones now fetch anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 on eBay! Grado Labs is still a family-owned business, and John’s son Jonathan came aboard in 2014.

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