Headphone Reviews

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Herb Reichert  |  Dec 04, 2019  |  5 comments
My current romance with audiophile-quality headphones began in earnest with the appearance, about 10 years ago, of Audeze's LCD-2 planar-magnetic headphones—these predated the company's patented Fazor elements, said to guide the sound around the transducers' magnet structures—and Schiit Audio's original Asgard headphone amplifier. Together, these groundbreaking products rekindled my interest by making headphone listening into something new and exciting—something less distorted, more dynamic, denser, and more intensely lifelike than what I was getting from my speakers on the floor. Best of all, I could listen while lying in bed with my eyes closed.
Herb Reichert  |  May 23, 2019  |  3 comments
Every time I review a digital-to-analog converter, my memory drifts to the spring of 1983, when the first Compact Discs arrived at Tower Records in New York City. They appeared in the opera section. Sitting next to big, thick boxed sets of opera LPs, these new discs looked truly compact. A few months later, boxed sets of popular opera LPs, in almost untouched condition, began selling in the Tower Annex for $1/disc.
Ken Micallef  |  May 17, 2019  |  1 comments
I have on hand a number of pairs of headphones. And I admit that I've lusted after the heavenly sounding, medieval-looking Abyss AB-1266 Phi headphones, and considered the MrSpeakers Aeon closed-back headphones. (I prefer the isolation from outside sounds provided by closed-back 'phones.) But from the moments I saw—and then heard—Meze Audio's 99 Classics, with their graceful style, balanced sound, and natural wood-grained glory, they had me.
Ken Micallef  |  Mar 29, 2019  |  22 comments
I first met Pro-Ject Audio Systems' founder and president, Heinz Lichtenegger, in 2016, at the US launch of the Austrian company's The Classic turntable. His passion for all things hi-fi was so intense I thought his head might explode. Gleeful in his mission to bring high-end audio to the people at less than typical high-end prices, Lichtenegger and Pro-Ject can fairly claim bragging rights for their entry-level Debut Carbon (DC) ($460 and up), one of the world's best-selling turntables.
John Atkinson  |  Mar 05, 2019  |  2 comments
It used to be on my commute that I'd see my fellow subway riders listening to music on their iPods with headphones from Beats, Bose, Sennheiser, Sony—and even, occasionally, from Grado. These days, however, iPhones and Android smartphones are ubiquitous, and while I still sometimes see a pair of Beats, many travelers now wear Bluetooth-connected Apple AirPods. I haven't bought a pair of AirPods, so I don't know how they sound, but at $159, I suspect they don't compete with "legitimate" headphones. Even so, I wondered if convenience trumps sound quality when it comes to listening on the move.
John Atkinson  |  Feb 26, 2019  |  4 comments
In November 2016, I reviewed Shure's KSE1500 electrostatic in-ear headphone system, which featured a D/A amplifier with both analog and USB inputs that drove in-ear headphones with unique electrostatic diaphragms. At $2999, the KSE1500 was and is pricey, and recently Shure introduced a less-expensive electrostatic headphone system, the KSE1200SYS ($1999), with the same amplifier and earpieces but just an analog input.
Herb Reichert  |  May 31, 2018  |  9 comments
Brooklyn, 1979: Fridays were fierce. After a week of doing construction, I would gobble Wild Turkey at the Spring Lounge, then fall asleep on the F train with a fold of cash and a Sony Walkman stuffed in a chest pocket of my paint-spattered Belstaff Trialmaster jacket. Usually I missed my York Street stop by only a few stations, but occasionally I'd wake up at sunrise on Saturday at the last stop: Coney Island. I didn't mind. It was restorative to shuffle the deserted boardwalk, listening to the Ramones' Road to Ruin or Television's Marquee Moon.
John Atkinson  |  Feb 20, 2018  |  6 comments
I got an e-mail last summer from my colleague Tyll Hertsens, editor of our InnerFidelity website. "Recently reviewed and really liked the new MrSpeakers Æon," he wrote. "They're a little rough-sounding as sealed headphones tend to be, but the tonal balance is superb. I got three in for review to make sure they're consistent. After measurements I asked [MrSpeakers'] Dan Clark if I could forward them to you because I like them so much and thought you should hear them. . . . I really think you may enjoy them."
Herb Reichert  |  Nov 28, 2017  |  8 comments
I spend my days comparing cartridges and speaker stands, arguing about imaging and microphone placement, speculating about DAC filters, and lately, sometimes, very secretly listening to headphones connected not to commercially available headphone amplifiers but directly to the outputs of basic tubed and solid-state power amplifiers. No person in his right mind would or should try this—it's too easy to destroy a pair of delicate, expensive headphones. But for me, it's been worth the risk.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 20, 2017  |  17 comments
Headphone listening has always been an important part of my audiophile life. In recent years I've been using at home Audeze's large, open-back, circumaural LCD-X headphones, which I bought after reviewing them for the March 2014 issue; and a pair of small Ultimate Ears 18 Pro in-ear monitors, which provide much better isolation on my subway commute to Stereophile's offices in Manhattan. I was intrigued by Audeze's iSine in-ear models, which were introduced in November 2016 and are unique in using planar-magnetic drive-units mounted outside the ear. I thought about reviewing a pair of the affordable iSines, but before I could get around to it, I heard that Audeze was to launch a cost-no-object version, the LCDi4, priced at a substantial $2495/pair. Aspiration got the better of frugality, and I asked for a pair to review.
Jim Austin  |  Oct 26, 2017  |  86 comments
Much has been written about the divide in high-end audio between subjectivists, who trust their ears, and objectivists, who believe that anything not scientifically proven is fake news. I respect both sides and am skeptical of both extremes, and I like to think that's how most audiophiles feel. High-end audio is about experiencing music—that's the whole point—but scientific and technological rigor lie behind every real advance, past and future. I regret the cynical snake-oil salesmanship, bad thinking, and clumsy engineering that pervade certain parts of our hobby.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 26, 2017  |  5 comments
Every day in my bunker, I use one of a few high-quality headphone amplifiers to double as a line-level preamplifier-controller and operate as the quality-assurance reference for my ongoing audio experiments. I must choose this component carefully, because it determines the upper limit of my system's ability to reveal any subtle differences among components under review.
Jana Dagdagan  |  Sep 21, 2017  |  1 comments
In June, I visited headphone manufacturer Audeze's factory in Southern California (they've since moved) and capture an abridged version of the making of a pair of Audeze LCDi4 in-ear planar magnetic headphones ($2495). In the first part of this video, which is narrated by first Sankar Thiagasamudram, Audeze's founder and CEO, we begin with the making of the LCDi4, followed by the testing, burn-in, and packaging. This is followed by the unboxing and very first listening session, with John Atkinson, Stereophile's editor in chief.
Herb Reichert  |  Aug 15, 2017  |  33 comments
In equipment reports, I use the phrase forward momentum to refer to something a little deeper and more encompassing than what's meant by that well-worn Brit-fi expression pace, rhythm, and timing (PRaT). Pace refers to the speed at which a piece of music is being played, and the accurate reproduction of that speed requires audio sources with good dynamic pitch stability. (Digital folk always lord it over LP clingers for digital's superior pitch stability.)
Herb Reichert  |  Jul 18, 2017  |  16 comments
Recently, a friend played me a masterpiece: Ike & Tina Turner's River Deep—Mountain High, arranged by Jack Nitzsche and produced by Phil Spector (LP, A&M SP 4178). It sounded terrible: murky, distant, with badly booming bass. Even before the first track was over, we both laughed and called it a night.

Nevertheless, I went home obsessed with Tina's inspired singing and Spector's infamous Wall of Sound production.

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