Headphone Reviews

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Jim Austin  |  Oct 26, 2017  |  76 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  |  29 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.

John Atkinson  |  Jun 20, 2017  |  14 comments
For digital playback, in recent months I've been breathing some rarefied air, pricewise. In December 2016, I reviewed dCS's Rossini Player and Clock, followed in May 2017 by Meridian's Ultra DAC, and in June by Chord's DAVE DAC. The Rossini Player costs $28,499 without the Clock, the Meridian $23,000, and though the DAVE is less expensive than either at $10,588, that's still a fair chunk of change. Even PS Audio's PerfectWave DirectStream DAC, which I bought following Art Dudley's review in September 2014, costs $6899 with the Network Bridge II, which hardly counts as "affordable."
Herb Reichert  |  May 23, 2017  |  8 comments
As much as I delight in pagan dreams of sweetly perfumed garden nymphs, I'm embarrassed to admit that my mind also drifts in pleasant reveries whenever I hear the words research and development in the same sentence. I am by nature a greasy gearhead. The idea of taking well-considered steps of engineering to analyze and possibly improve the operation of any electrical or mechanical system never fails to get my imaginative juices flowing. This is why I've spent decades fascinated by perfectionist audio: I like watching and participating in its edgy, eccentric evolution.
Sam Tellig, John Atkinson  |  Apr 04, 2017  |  First Published: Jul 01, 2014  |  2 comments
Before he left Stereophile for AudioQuest at the end of March 2014, Stephen Meijas asked Thinksound to send me the On1 closed-back heaphones. He thought I might like them.

Cool beans, Stephen. I do. These are among the nicest 'phones I've come across lately. List price is $299.99, but the street price—sometimes directly from Thinksound—is usually $249.99. You save an imaginary $50. That's $50 of your savings that you can share with me in Bitcoins.

Herb Reichert  |  Mar 30, 2017  |  33 comments
Some of our readers seem to believe that the essence of high-quality audio is disclosed primarily by science, and not by dreamy, bodice-ripping adventures that take place on plush carpets behind closed doors. Perhaps they're right. Unfortunately, I have had no personal experiences that confirm that hypothesis.
Tyll Hertsens  |  Jan 31, 2017  |  10 comments
Some 100 engineers and scientists from around the globe assembled for the Audio Engineering Society's 2016 International Conference on Headphone Technology, in Aalborg, Denmark.

I figured it was coming, but it wasn't until just after I'd returned from the Audio Engineering Society's 2016 International Conference on Headphone Technology—held last August in Aalborg, Denmark—and was writing up my report and summary on the event for InnerFidelity.com (footnote 1) that I knew for sure: Headphones are about to change . . . a lot.

Herb Reichert  |  Dec 29, 2016  |  5 comments
When I applied for this fabulist audio-preacher gig, John Atkinson protested, "But Herb, aren't you a triode-horn guy?"

"No, that was decades ago! Today I'm still a bit of a Brit-fi guy, but my mind remains wide open."

However: As a professional reviewer, I am biased toward affordable, lovingly engineered audio creations made by family businesses with traditional artisanal values. I enjoy solid-state as much as tubes—often more!

Herb Reichert  |  Nov 29, 2016  |  6 comments
My passion for listening to music through headphones is fueled by the enhanced sense of intimacy and extra feeling of connectedness I experience in rediscovering recordings I already love. You know the old audiophile cliché: It's like hearing my record collection for the first time. High-quality headphones provide a sharper-than-box-speaker lens that lets me experience lyrics, melodies, and instrumental textures more close-up and magnified.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 01, 2016  |  5 comments
I wrote several issues back that my first high-end headphones were Koss Pro4AAs, which I bought in 1972 following a positive review in the British magazine Hi-Fi News. Although that review didn't mention that the Pro4AAs were relatively fragile (footnote 1), I nonetheless loved their sound. They were the best headphones I'd heard—until, a couple years later, I was playing bass on some sessions for record producer Tony Cox. Tony had a pair of signal-energized electrostatic headphones, Koss ESP-6es, which were heavy and clunky—but they opened my ears to the sound quality that could be obtained from "cans." I didn't hear better until after I'd moved to Santa Fe, in 1986, and J. Gordon Holt loaned me his review samples of the Stax SR-Lambda Pros.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Sep 06, 2016  |  First Published: Apr 01, 1973  |  1 comments
666kossesp9.1.jpgThe top-of-the-line model from America's leading headphone manufacturer, these are bulky, heavy, very business-like in appearance, and very, very good.

The ESP-9 is dual-powered: from the AC line, or from the input signal itself, The power supply is rather large and heavy, and appropriate in appearance to the phones. Amplifier connections are via wires with spade lugs attached, and speaker connections are made to the rear of the power supply. A front-panel switch selects speaker or headphone operation, and terminates the amplifier outputs with 10 ohms in the Phones position.

Construction is typically top-of-the-line Koss: Rugged, nicely finished, and apparently very durable, and the phones are easy to handle. (Many headphones are so loosely pivoted on their headbands that they swing into impossible positions whenever you pick them up.)

Herb Reichert  |  Aug 30, 2016  |  5 comments
I am a lucky person. Who gets to be an artist, an aspiring griot, and a Stereophile reporter? Who gets to stay at home in paint-smeared pajamas, draw pictures of teapots and barn owls . . . and then, on top of everything, gets paid to listen to music made by Henryk Szeryng, Eugene Hütz, and Winston Reedy? C'est moi!

I have groovy friends, too: other eccentric artists, scruffy musicians, recording and mastering engineers, beekeepers, authors and editors, art and junk collectors, tube wizards, turntable savants, DJs, Mensa-type amp designers, bat-shit-crazy poet-philosophers, and unrepentant hoarders.

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