Steve Guttenberg

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Steve Guttenberg  |  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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Aug 18, 2015  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
High-resolution sound
Planar magnetic drivers
Made in the U.S.
Minus
Lacks mic and phone controls

THE VERDICT
The Audeze EL-8 may be the first planar magnetic headphone sensitive enough to come alive with portable music players.

I’ve reviewed a lot of headphones, but I’ve never encountered anything quite like the Audeze EL-8 before. It’s the first high-end planar magnetic headphone to come alive and sound fully transparent with portable music players. Now, sure, we’ve heard similar claims for other high-performance, full-size headphones; and yes, they play, but too much of the headphone’s potential is forfeited with portable devices. The EL-8 sounds scary good with my humble little iPod classic.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Jul 08, 2015  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
UE’s tip-fitting system ensures a perfect fit
User-replaceable cables
Sweet, nicely detailed sound
Minus
Premium pricing

THE VERDICT
The Ultimate Ears UE900s look, feel, and sound right, they’re big on transparency, without shortchanging body and soul.

I was in for a big surprise when I opened the Ultimate Ears UE900s box. The headphone not only comes with a generous selection of sizes and types of ear tips, UE’s color-coded, systematic fitting process makes it easier than ever to achieve the perfect fit. This ensures maximum isolation from external noise and the full bass potential of the UE900s.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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.

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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  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.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Apr 08, 2015  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Comfort
Value
PRICE $180

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Bright and clear sound
All-new 9.2mm drivers
Bowers & Wilkins design flair
Minus
The C5 S2’s cable may rub against your ears

THE VERDICT
Bowers & Wilkins’ engineers revised and tweaked C5 Series 2 in-ear headphone sounds better than ever.

I doubt the original Bowers & Wilkins C5 that debuted in 2011 was ever confused for any other headphone. I loved its sharply angled, cylindrical aluminum earpieces and looped cables: They marked the C5 as a true original. The new C5 Series 2 doesn’t look much different. The biggest change is one you can’t see: The 9.2mm drivers are all new. The headphones’ silicone ear tips now provide a snugger fit, and the old silver/gray cable has been replaced with a black one. The new inline mic/remote has a better tactile feel. You can take calls on Androids and iPhones, but the remote only works with iPhones. Bowers & Wilkins’ headphone carry cases are classier than most, and the suede-like one that comes with the C5 S2 looks sharp.

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.

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  |  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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