Headphone Reviews

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Herb Reichert  |  Jul 18, 2017  |  15 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  |  7 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  |  32 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.

Art Dudley  |  Aug 25, 2016  |  6 comments
Approximately 331/3 years after AudioQuest's first phono cartridge, the company announced two new USB D/A headphone amplifiers: the DragonFly Black ($99) and the DragonFly Red ($199). Both have circuits designed by the engineer responsible for the original DragonFly—Gordon Rankin, of Wavelength Audio—and both have the novel distinction of requiring considerably less operating power than their predecessors, so much less that the new DragonFlys can be used with iPhones, iPads, and various other mobile devices.
Dick Olsher, J. Gordon Holt, John Atkinson  |  Jul 12, 2016  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1984  |  0 comments
Stax Kogyo, a small audio company by Japanese standards, has been for the past 15 years steadfastly refining and redefining the electrostatic headphone. The SR-Lambda Pro is their current flagship model, and at a 1984 US list price of $780 it also represents a very substantial investment in headphone technology.
John Atkinson  |  Jul 06, 2016  |  First Published: May 01, 1991  |  4 comments
I do quite a bit of headphone listening during the day, making use of their convenience to shut out the office hubbub while I get down to serious copy editing. The system I use is modest—a pair of no-longer-available Sennheiser HD420SLs driven by an Advent 300 receiver I bought for $75, with CD source provided by a Denon DCD-1500 II—but I get quite a bit of musical satisfaction from it.
John Atkinson  |  Jun 21, 2016  |  4 comments
Life is too short to put up with poor-sounding headphones, I mused the other morning, during my 60-minute commute on the NYC subway. All around me, straphangers gripped smartphones and listened to multicolored Beats, noise-canceling Boses, white Apple earbuds, and, only rarely, Sennheisers and Grados.

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