Stereophile's Products of 2011 HEADPHONE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

2011 HEADPHONE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom Monitor in-ear headphones ($1350; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.33 No.12 Review)

2011 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order)
Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold D/A headphone amplifier ($4495 in configuration reviewed by John Marks, Vol.34 No.10 Review) JH Audio JH16 Pro in-ear headphones ($1149; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.34 No.8 Review)
Smyth SVS Realiser A8 system ($3670 in configuration reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.33 No.11 Review)

Here's how John Atkinson opened his December 2010 review of the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro: "Headphone listening is hot these days, due not only to the ubiquity of the iPod as a music source but also because it is possible to get state-of-the-art headphone playback without having to have stupidly bottomless pockets."

It's true, you know: Headphones are hot. I receive more press releases for headphones than for any other type of component. They come in a dazzling array of colors, and are designed—by hip-hop artists, pop stars, fashion icons, and on and on—to look as cuddly as teddy bears or as deadly as bullets. I get a special kick out of those headphones inspired by HBO's popular vampire series, True Blood—their tag line is something like, "Supernatural sound, immortal durability." Ha! I bet they suck.

Apparently, all the hype is working: Headphones are everywhere—in the subway, on the street, in offices and cubicles. You'd think they were permanently welded to the head of our editorial assistant, Ariel Bitran, hard at work while exploring new music via streaming sites like MOG, Spotify, and Pandora. Indeed, the easiest place to find a set of headphones is on a young person's head. And while we know that some of the most popular brands don't exactly offer good value for money (paging Dr. Dre), there's a damn good chance that the kids who are now enjoying overripe bass and painfully bright treble will someday (if they have any hearing left) want something better, something more—something like our Headphone Product of the Year, the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro.

The 18 Pro is a three-way, in-ear, custom-molded design with six balanced armatures (that's a lot of armatures): two each for the bass, midrange, and treble, that last pair giving the 18 Pro the most extended top end of any Ultimate Ears model. It combined clean, airy highs with a smooth, detailed midrange and deep, well-defined bass.

JA enjoys wearing them during his daily commutes between Brooklyn and Manhattan. "Its ability to play low frequencies at high levels with minimal distortion is unmatched by other in-ear 'phones, and the clarity and smoothness of its midrange is Class A." Translation: They make him feel young again.

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Comments
soulful.terrain's picture
Surprised..well, sort of.

Never would have guessed the Voxativ Ampeggio would have garnered this awarding from Stereophile. Especially since this speaker is a single driver unit. Who'd a thunk it?

I too, was fortunate enough to hear them at Axpona in Atlanta this year. I remember saying to a buddy of mine that attended with me, "I can't believe the level of musicality I'm hearing from this somewhat minimalist speaker"?

If you take a look at all the German engineered speaker systems, the question begs to be asked: Are there any German made products that fall short of the sublime? If so, I haven't encountered any.

FranklinFQ's picture
Headphones

Interesting choices in your headphone category. Among users on HeadFi as well as other headphone enthusiast circles the UE18 is seen as somewhat of an Also-Ran product, released as a response to the JH Audio JH13 and the "driver wars". Very few people who have experience with the category would choose the UE18 as their top choice. 

There have been lots of significant advances in the headphone world of late. Audeze LCD-2 and now the new LCD-3. HiFiMAN HE-6 and HE-500. Westone ES5. Unique Melody Miracle and Merlin. Even UE's own Reference Monitor is more highly regarded than the UE18. I really can't see why you chose it. 

Regarding your comment about the "True Blood" headphones. Those are the V-MODA V-80 headphones, and are actually very highly regarded. You might check with your own headphone expert Tyll Herstens - he recently gave them a rave review, as have many other HeadFi members. I agree that the marketing seems goofy but you might want to look into things a bit before commenting. And speaking of Tyll - why wasn't he involved in this? You have one of the world's foremost experts in the field of headphones on your staff, and you don't bother to consult him?

Stephen Mejias's picture
something to consider

 Regarding your comment about the "True Blood" headphones. Those are the V-MODA V-80 headphones, and are actually very highly regarded.

I know what they are and I've read Tyll's review. I was just making a joke. I do, however, think it's funny to market a headphone around an HBO show about sex-starved vampires and mind-reading fairies. (Yes, I watch every Sunday night with the girls.) The press releases for the headphones do include the bit about "supernatural sound" and "immortal durability," so, they're clearly having fun with it, too.

And if audiophiles start wearing True Blood headphones, I will laugh. A lot.

And speaking of Tyll - why wasn't he involved in this? You have one of the world's foremost experts in the field of headphones on your staff, and you don't bother to consult him?

Something to consider for next year. 

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