Stereophile's Products of 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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