Recommended Components 2021 Edition Headphones & Accessories

Headphones & Headphone Accessories


HiFiMan Susvara headphones: $6000 ★
The HiFiMan Susvaras are over-the-ear headphones with planar-magnetic drivers, built around gold-coated Nanometer Grade diaphragms—their thinnest ever, the company claims. The drivers also use HiFiMan’s Stealth Magnet grids, the individual magnetic strips of which have rounded edges to reduce interference with sound output. The Susvaras weigh 15.9oz and offer an impedance of 60 ohms and a sensitivity of only 83dB. HR later wrote that he thinks the Susvara is a contender for the world’s best headphones. However, when he auditioned the Susvaras with the LTA Z10e amplifier, he found that, with the combination of low impedance and low sensitivity, the Susvara needed more power than the amplifier could deliver. Subsequently though, that amplifier was updated to provide its full available power—10Wpc—to headphones. (Vol.40 No.12, Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC: $4995–$7995 ★
For those who regard the JPS Abyss AB-1266 Phi headphones as prohibitively expensive, HR offers perspective by suggesting that they, like such “notorious legacy products” as the Wilson Audio WAMM loudspeaker of 1983 and the Audio Note Ongaku amplifier of 1993, “exist in categories of price and performance all their own.” The Abyss ’phones are built into black-anodized aluminum frames and use single-magnet planar-magnetic drivers separated from the wearer by rotatable lambskin earpads held in place with magnets. Specs include a sensitivity of 88dB and an impedance of 42 ohms. After listening to a Schoenberg piece through the Abysses driven by the Woo WA5 headphone amp, HR reported: “I scribbled the phrase perfectly natural several times. I never felt more kindred or connected to Schoenberg.” He also suggested that the Abysses “delivered detail and soundstage images with an uncannily visual—nay, infinite—depth of field.” HR later wrote that “The amazing part of the Abyss Phi TC ’phones is their complete absence of diaphragm breakup or modulation noise: They are the quietest speaker drivers I’ve ever heard. With the right amp, the AB-1266 ’phones feel like they strip everything away between me and a recording.” (Vol.40 No.8, Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

Raal-requisite SR1a: $3200
With Ribbon amp interface: $3500

Described by HR as headphones that will satisfy “headphone connoisseurs and stubborn contrarians” alike, the off-the-ear RAAL-requisite SR1a’s have a physical design that prevents them from covering or putting pressure on your pinnae: Their sound character is not determined in any way by a padded acoustical chamber around the listener's ears. Electrically, the SR1a’s are built using open-baffle ribbon drivers, the very low impedance of which force the need for an impedance-matching box (included) and a 50–150Wpc loudspeaker amplifier (not included). Herb had his best results driving the RAAL-requisite ’phones with solid-state amps and said of the SR1a/Pass XA25 amp combo, “No matter what hi-fi you have, it’s unlikely to dig deeper and find more beauty in your recordings.” When he tried the SR1a’s with the Schiit Jotenheim R amplifier, HR commented that “The more I’ve used the SR1a, the more I’ve realized they reproduce recordings with unprecedented levels of musical texture and tactility” and concluded “No headphone images anywhere near as accurately or spectacularly as the SR1a, period.” (Vol.43 Nos.1 & 7 WWW)

T+A Solitaire P: $6400
Made in Germany, the T+A’s Solitaire P headphones use a relatively large, oval planar-magnet diaphragm made of “structurally stable High-Tech polymer.” Impedance is specified as 80 ohms. Two sets of earpads are supplied: The standard earpads are covered with gray microfiber suede, while the “UWE” earpads use foam that is firmer than that in the standard pads and encased in perforated artificial leather on the inside and microfiber suede on the outside. The UWE earpads are described by the manufacturer as elevating the high frequencies “just enough to add sparkle and detail for those who prefer that type of sound.” This was confirmed by HR, though he also felt these earpads lacked the rich harmonic underpinnings he prefers for a satisfying orchestral music experience. With the standard, nonperforated earpads, driven by T+A’s HA 200 headphone amplifier, the Solitaire P sounded balanced, with saturated tone and spacious, fluent clarity. HR enjoyed what he described as the Solitaire P’s “look-inside-the-recording transparency.” (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

ZMF Auteur LTD: $1699.99
The zebrawood Auteur LTD weighs 490gm, uses biocellulose diaphragms, combines fairly high sensitivity (97dB/mW) with a high impedance (300 ohms), and comes with two sets of earpads. HR preferred the standard, perforated Auteur pads, which he said “generated one of the most delectable midranges I have experienced.” He found the Eikon pads emphasized the bass enough to slightly obscure that luscious midrange. (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

ZMF Pendant: $2499.99
Designed by Justin Weber of Ampandsound, the ZMF Pendant uses a single transformer-coupled EL84/6BQ5 pentode per channel, connected in Ultralinear mode. The Pendant is rated at 2.5W into 8 ohms and 1.5W into 300 ohms. The review sample was equipped with the stock JJ-branded tubes; both the Pendant’s gain and its sonic character can be fine-tuned by experimenting with its small-signal tubes. Compared with the Feliks Audio Euforia amplifier driving the ZMF Vérité headphones, the Pendant made spoken words more intelligible and images more distinctly drawn. “The Pendant seemed like the best all-purpose headphone amplifier I have used since I died and flew to heaven reviewing the $5899 Woo Audio WA5,” summed up HR. A custom wood chassis adds $300 to the price. A vintage tube set adds $200. (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

ZMF Vérité Closed: $2499.99
The MonkeyPod-wood Vérité Closed headphones weigh 35gm less than ZMF’s Auteur LTDs due to using a magnesium headband rather than aluminum. Offering a sensitivity of 99dB/mW and an impedance of 300 ohms, the Vérité Closed headphones use an “ultra-thin” polyethylene naphthalate driver with a vapor-deposited beryllium coating. Using the standard Universe earpads, bass was tighter and more powerful than HR could remember experiencing with any headphones. “Piano and plucked-bass notes exhibited a very distinct leading edge, followed by an unusually solid note-center, followed by a trailing edge that I perceived as mildly attenuated,” he wrote. Replacing the Universe earpads with the Vérité pads made the low frequencies sound perfectly tight and tuneful. “The midrange came up and brought the presence region with it. The 1–8kHz octaves were exquisitely detailed and wide open, he summed up, adding in a follow-up that “the Vérité was the Schiit Jotunheim’s favorite headphone.” (Vol.43 Nos.4, 5 & 7 WWW)


AmpandSound Bigger Ben: $4950
See HR's review in Gramophone Dreams elsewhere in this issue.

Audeze LCD-X: $1199 ★
These large, luxurious, circumaural headphones have planar-magnetic drive-units with a thin-film diaphragm energized by arrays of powerful neodymium magnets on both sides. They employ Audeze-patented Fazor elements, claimed to guide and manage the flow of sound in the headphone. The circular drivers are housed in polished, black-anodized aluminum earpieces cushioned with generously sized foam pads covered in lambskin or leather-free microsuede. Adjustment is via notched, chromed metal rods attached to each earpiece, which fit into the sprung, leather-clad headband. The LCD-Xes produced a seductive, compelling sound with precise imaging, rich mids, smooth highs, and clean bass, JA said. Compared to his longtime reference Sennheiser HD 650s, the LCD-Xes resolved more detail, produced the more convincing sense of recorded ambience, and provided deeper bass. “Highly recommended!” JA concluded. HR found that the Audezes driven by the Schiit Jotunheim “gave reproduced music life and brilliance.” “Creator Special” edition (without travel case) costs $1199. (Vol.37 No.3, Vol.41 No.6, Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Benchmark HPA4 headphone amplifier: $2999
The HPA4 adds a THX888 amplification stage to Benchmark’s LA4 line preamplifier (see “Preamplifiers”) to allow it to drive even low-impedance headphones with aplomb. It keeps the LA4’s balanced and single-ended preamplifier outputs and adds unbalanced headphone outputs on a 4-pin XLR jack and a 1/4" jack. HR noted that with the hard-to-drive HiFiMan Susvara headphones, the HPA4 “showed each instrument in dramatic bas-relief. It accomplished this by presenting cleaner, better-articulated bass and manufacturing a sharper midrange focus than I had experienced previously with either my solid state reference, the Pass Labs HPA-1, or the tubed Linear Tube Audio Z10e.” With the JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Phi TCs driven by the HPA 4, “deep bass emerged with great volume and energy.” “My romantic-dreamer mind adapted surprisingly well to the Benchmark HPA4’s presentation," HR concluded. “The more I used the HPA4 to drive high-resolution headphones, the more comfortable I felt with its precise, pro-audio recording-studio aesthetic.” JA noted that the the LA4 preamplifier was, “ithe widest-bandwidth, widest-dynamic-range, lowest-noise, lowest-distortion preamplifier I had encountered at that time ... . To those virtues, the HPA4 adds equally superb balanced and single-ended headphone outputs.” Optional remote costs $100. (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

Feliks Audio Euforia: $2599
Built in Poland, the Euforia Mark II is an output-transformerless (OTL) headphone amp that uses 6AS7G dual-triodes as output tubes and 6SN7 dual-triodes as small-signal tubes. The Euforia has a single pair of (RCA) inputs and a single 1/4" output jack. The amp is specified by its manufacturer as offering 130mW into 32 ohms and 200mW into 100 ohms. Herb said the Euforia made the Grado GS3000e headphones sound “more transparent and satisfying” than the other headphone amps he had on hand; he further observed that “the Euforia’s radiant liquidity enhanced [the Focal Clears’] sense of flow and resolve.” (Vol.42 No.12, Vol. 43 No.4 WWW)

Focal Clear: $1490
The Clears are dynamic, circumaural, open-backed headphones built on a solid aluminum yoke with a soft leather headband. They use the same 40mm aluminum-magnesium domes and transformerless voice-coils as the 33%-less-expensive Focal Elears, yet here those coils are pure copper rather than copper-clad aluminum; their impedance is 55 ohms, their sensitivity 104dB—clearly drivable by an iPhone. Three cords are included: one with a 4-pin XLR for balanced use, one with a ¼" plug, and one with a 3.5mm plug. According to HR, with the Clears, “large-scale dynamics operated in marvelous ways,” and they avoided the occasional glare experienced with Focal’s flagship ’phones, the Utopias. For pure listening pleasure, the “absolutely comfortable, museum-quality-beautiful” Clears are Herb's “real-world reference” and driven by the affordable Schiit Jotunheim, the Focals “made full-spectrum tone color, haloed by a sunny brilliance.” “Springy cord is a hassle to manage,” notes JI. (Vol.41 No.6, Vol.43 Nos.5 & 7 WWW)

Focal Stellia Casque de Musique: $2990
When he first heard these closed-back headphones, which use 1.5" M-shaped electrodynamic beryllium-dome drivers and have a 35 ohm impedance, HR felt that they “were delivering a very high level of relaxed and refined sound, with no beryllium metallic-ness.” Continued listening with the Feliks Euforia amplifier resulted in “more excitement and colorful energy” than with the Auris Nirvana powering the Focals. HR concluded that with the HoloAudio May DAC and the Euforia, “Focal’s Stellia closed-backs produced vital, exciting sound.” (Vol.43 No.10 WWW)

Grado GS3000e: $1795 $$$
Grado's flagship "Statement Series" headphones, the made-in-Brooklyn GS3000e, feature 50mm Mylar drivers built with neodymium magnets and present the driving amplifier with an impedance of 32 ohms and a sensitivity of 99.8dB. According to HR, when driven with a complementary amplifier, the Grados impress with their "swaggering rock'n'roll boogie factor," but they can also sound "elegant and refined." As a bonus, the Grados "look and feel more expensive than [their] price would suggest." (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

HEDD Audio "HEDDphone": $1899
The “HEDDphone” headphones use full-range, air-motion-transformer (AMT) drive-units and proved a synergistic match with the Pass Labs HPA-1 and Feliks Audio Euforia headphone amps, found HR, commenting on “an extraordinary level of transparency.” (Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

HifiMan Shangri-La Jr: $8000 with energizer
For less than one-sixth the price of HiFiMan's flagship electrostatic headphone set, the Shangri-La ($50,000, including amplifier/energizer), you can own the Shangri-La Jr, whose companion amp/energizer uses a quartet of 6SN7 dual-triode tubes and provides two output ports for shared listening. HR praised the Jr for presenting and preserving vocal tones and textures, and noted its uncanny way with subtle details: "I heard the full Doppler effect of cars shifting gears as they passed [the recording venue]," he wrote, declaring that "this level of vibrant resolution makes the Shangri-La Jrs' $8000 price seem reasonable." The headphones are available separately for $4000, the amp/energizer for $5000. (Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

Linear Tube Audio Z10e: $6950
The all-tube Z10e integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier/electrostatic headphone amplifier is built around a David Berning–designed, push-pull, output-transformerless (OTL) EL84-tube power amplifier that is rated at 12Wpc into 8 ohms and 13Wpc into 4 ohms. “The Z10e is a distilled, shape-shifted version of the Z10, designed to appeal to today's new breed of headphone collector-connoisseurs,” wrote HR. It also has a five-pin, 580V-energized output to drive Stax electrostatic headphones. Though he liked how this amplifier sounded with high-sensitivity DeVore and Zu loudspeakers, he mostly used it with a variety of headphones. The Z10e got the best from Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC, Focal Clear, and ZMF Vérité Closed dynamic headphones, and excelled with Stax SR-009S and Dan Clark Voce electrostatics. Herb found that it wasn't powerful enough to drive the demanding HiFiMan Susvaras, but it was subsequently upgraded to deliver the full 10Wpc to headphones. HR summed up the revised amplifier by saying “the LTA Z10e Susvara combo missed no beats, showed no weaknesses, and kept my head bopping . . . The Z10e amp displayed no hesitations, dullness, or clipping; no smoke from the tires, no engine stalling—only full-traction, high-torque engagement.” (Vol.43 No.5, Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

Pass Labs HPA-1 headphone amplifier: $3500 ★
Also usable as a line-level preamp—it has a pair of single-ended RCA output jacks—the Pass Labs HPA-1 is a perfectionist-quality headphone amplifier that uses a MOSFET-based current-feedback amplifier to drive headphones ranging from 15 to 600 ohms. Its single headphone-output jack, also single-ended, is a Neutrik locking jack sized for ¼" plugs. After auditioning the HPA-1 with a variety of 'phones from Audeze, AudioQuest, and Master & Dynamic, JA declared that “in bass quality and authority, and in midrange transparency, the Pass Labs HPA-1 is without peer.” JA also brought the HPA-1 to his test bench, where it stood up to everything he could throw at it (well, not literally), prompting the appraisal: “superb audio engineering.” One of HR’s long-term reference headphone amplifiers. (Vol.39 Nos.7 & 9, Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Schiit Audio Jotunheim R: $799
The Jotunheim R is a special edition intended to be used with the open-baffle RAAL-requisite SR1a full-range ribbon headphones. It offers a “baffle compensation” filter for use with the SR1a and replaces the regular Jotunheim’s headphone-output jacks with a single four-pin male XLR that mates with the SR1a’s female connector. The SR1a headphones, driven by the Schiit Jotunheim R, “transduce recorded music at a level of verity and resolution matched only by the best at any price,” HR concluded. (Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Sennheiser HD 650: $499.95 ★
The HD 650s are an evolution of Sennheiser's very successful HD 600 open-back dynamic headphones, claimed to provide superior results due to hand-selected parts with closer tolerances and the use of a specially developed acoustic silk for the driver diaphragms. Compared to the Grado SR325i, the Sennheisers sounded richer but slightly darker. JM found that their very effective seal created a resonant cavity that produced "bass that is both quite deep and a trifle indistinct." JA's new reference cans. Compared to the Audeze LCD-Xes, the HD650s had a similar overall sound, but lacked bass control, detail resolution, and ambience retrieval, said JA. (Vol.28 No.6, Vol.31 No.9, Vol.37 No.3 WWW)

Shure KSE1200SYS electrostatic in-ear headphone system: $1999
A less-expensive alternative to Shure's KSE1500 in-ear headphone system, the KSE1200SYS uses the same electrostatic transducers, driven by an amplifier/power supply with only a single (analog) input. Acoustic output is coupled to the user's ear via a small tube, covered with a detachable Soft Flex rubber sleeve to seal the ear canal. (A supplied Fit Kit provides pairs of sleeves in different sizes—something for everyone!) The accompanying amplifier is about the size of a deck of cards, and sports a 3.5mm analog input jack, a volume control, and a Lemo connector for the Kevlar-shielded cable, which carries the transducers' polarizing voltage alongside the high-voltage (+/-200V) audio signal. JA praised the pocketability of the new system's slightly smaller amp, not to mention the comfort of those Soft Flex sleeves. More important, he noted the "superb clarity" of the Shure system's midrange and its "extended, weighty low frequencies," adding that the KSE1500s' slightly bright balance was nowhere to be heard from the KSE1200SYS. JA's conclusion: "a must-hear product." (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

T+A HA 200 DAC/headphone amplifier: $8999
This class-A headphone amplifier has analog and digital inputs, the latter processing DSD and PCM data independently, each in its own optimized pathway. There is a choice of four reconstruction filters plus a NOS (non-oversampling) mode. One of the USB inputs accepts PCM sampling rates up to 768 kHz and DSD up to DSD1024. (The other is for “possible future extensions.”) An optional HDMI module ($600) adds two HDMI inputs and one ARC (Audio Return Channel) HDMI output. Analog outputs are balanced on a 4.4mm Pentaconn jack, balanced on a 4-pin XLR jack, and single-ended on a standard 1/4" stereo jack. Each output has adjustable impedance. Comparing the T+A with the Pass Labs HPA-1, HR felt that the German HA 200’s soundfield was “more of one piece, the music more relaxed.” Comparing the T+A with the Benchmark HA4, he felt that the expensive German amp beat the moderately priced American amp “at its own force, clarity, and specificity game.” (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

Woo Audio WA5 (2nd Gen): $5899 ★
Described as a line-level integrated amplifier for headphones and loudspeakers (the latter must be able to get by on just 10Wpc into 8 ohms), the Woo WA5 uses, per channel, one 300B triode tube running in single-ended mode and driven by one 6SN7 dual-triode tube; a pair of 5U4G rectifier tubes straighten out the AC in this two-chassis, dual-mono, hand-wired design. Switches abound: for selecting between high and low output power, high- and low-impedance headphones, and headphones and loudspeakers. After harnessing the Woo to a variety of loads, HR declared it "a Darwinian step toward a new renaissance of audio humanism." It also sounds good—especially with less-sensitive, higher-impedance headphones such as Audeze's LCD-4s, which, according to Herb, the Woo drove "in a more satisfying fashion than any other headphone amplifier I've heard." After measuring the WA5, JA expressed reservations about its suitability as a driver of loudspeakers, but conceded that, for a single-ended amplifier, the Woo "performed better than I expected." (Vol.40 No.1 WWW)


AudioQuest DragonFly Red: $199.95 $$$ ★
AudioQuest DragonFly Black: $99.95 $$$ ★
AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt: $299.95

In 2016, AudioQuest replaced their original DragonFly USB D/A processor-headphone amplifier with two new models—the DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red. Like their popular forebear, both models were designed by computer-audio pioneer Gordon Rankin, and both offer 24 bit/96kHz resolution. AD wrote of preferring the DragonFly Black's "superior musical incisiveness" compared to the original 'Fly of 2012; for its part, the Red, which has higher output voltage than the Black, offered "surer reproduction of pitches and timing." But he felt that, for headphone listening with an iPhone, there's no sense opting for the twice-as-expensive Red if that's all the consumer has in mind. The new (2019) DragonFly Cobalt boasts a faster microcontroller and a newer processor chip (the ESS ES9038Q2M), plus improved power-supply filtering. When used in his home system, the Cobalt impressed JA with better bass extension and control than the Red, which also sounded "slightly 'harder' in the highs"—although he also noted that the distinctions between the two tiny DACs were "relatively small." JA the Measurer, who in 2016 noted that neither the Red nor the Black were at the head of the class in terms of jitter rejection, observed "excellent rejection of word-clock jitter" from the Cobalt, which he praised for "[performing] well on the test bench." JA adds some remarkable praise for a $300 DAC: except for its limited ability to drive low impedances, the Cobalt would be Class A. (Vol.39 No.9, Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

Auris Audio Nirvana: $5799
With its EL34 output tubes and optional 12AX7 driver tube, this single-ended headphone amplifier/preamplifier is specified to produce a maximum of 6Wpc into 32 ohms. (A front-panel switch selects one of five separate taps on the amplifier’s output transformer to optimize performance with 32, 80, 150, 300, and 600 ohms. HR found that the Nirvana drove the closed-back Focal Stellia headphones “in a manner I would describe as straightforwardly neutral and well-controlled but also glowing and magical.” He also found it worked well with JPS Labs’ Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC and HiFiMan’s Susvara headphones. HR concluded that the Nirvana provided “greater wallop” than the ZMF Pendant and while it was not as “LSD-300B radiant, atmospheric, or dramatically three-dimensional” as the Woo WA5, it was “more solidly detailed and directly spoken.” (Vol.43 No.10 WWW)

HifiMan Jade 2: $2499 with energizer
A successor to the Jade—HiFiMan's first electrostatic headphone set—the Jade II weighs just 12.9oz (365gm) and comes with a solid-state amplifier/energizer. HR found the Jade II's sound to be "cool, clean, and well sorted" but lacking in the bass depth, grainlessness, and clarity of the company's more expensive electrostatic headphone set, the Shangri-La Jr. Using the Shangri-La Jr's tubed amp/energizer to drive the Jade IIs restored some, but not all, of the charms of the higher-priced set, HR noted. The Jade II headphones are available separately for $1399, their solid-state amp/energizer for $1599. (Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

iFi Audio Pro iDSD 4.4 D/A processor/headphone amplifier: $2749
See "Digital Processors."


Grado SR60e: $79 $$$ ★
The original SR60 offered a rather dark-toned balance, with a full bass and excellent resolution of detail. A more forward midrange, however. Uncomfortable. Upgrades from the original SR60 include a new driver and improved cables. While maintaining the original's freedom from obvious colorations and resonances, the SR60i went a bit deeper in the bass and had a slightly more vivid midrange for a more involving overall sound. "The SR60i is modestly better than the original, and remains one of audio's great bargains," said JCA. (Vol.17 Nos.6 & 10 WWW, original, Vol.33 No.4 WWW)

Hagerman Audio Labs Tuba: $699
The Tuba, like the ZMF Pendant, uses a transformer-coupled EL84 output tube but wired in triode mode to deliver 350mW into 32 ohms, which should be enough power to drive most headphones. “It played most headphones really well,” decided HR, “but its limited gain and low power prevented it from being considered as an all-purpose giant killer.” Compared to the Pendant or the Feliks Euforia, the Tuba had a clear but “short” sound, wrote HR. With Grado GS3000e open-back headphones, the Tuba generated a tidy, naturally detailed, highly musical sound that HR found 100% enjoyable. “Midrange tone was exemplary,” he found. (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Koss PortaPro: $49.99 $$$
Imagine 60-ohm, 101dB-sensitive, perfectionist-quality 'phones that fold up small, clip together, and fit in your pocket. Imagine silver-dollar-size earpieces with easily replaceable foam earpads that rest gently on your pinnae. Imagine flying down a hill on your bike while grooving—and I do mean grooving—to your favorite music. Imagine that the ca-1979 Koss Porta Pro headphones are back again and sell for only $49.95 per pair. As it happens, and as HR reported in the June 2018 Stereophile, it's all true. (Editor JCA, who first tried them in the '90s and disputes "perfectionist" but agrees they're decent 'phones and a good value, has seen them for $35 on Amazon.) (Vol.41 No.6 WWW)

Meze Audio 99 Classic: $309
The Romanian-engineered, Chinese-made Meze 99 Classics are closed-back, circumaural headphones that feature Mylar-cone drivers, machined-walnut earcups, synthetic leather-covered earpads and headband, and a clever frame design that KM found comfortable. Standard accessories include a 4' remote-equipped cable for travel, a 9' cable for home use, and a resealable faux-velvet pouch. KM praised their "slightly buttoned-down sound," which he found to be more neutral than that of the AudioQuest NightHawks, although the latter provided a more "immersive" experience. JA measured the Mezes and found their impedance to be "relatively low" and thus needful of a current-capable amplifier—and after listening to the 99 Classics, he suggested that their low-frequency balance was "somewhat exaggerated." (Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

No Class Distinction

Shure Bluetooth 5.0 Earphone Communication Cable: $149
Intended as a convenience accessory for Shure in-ear headphones, the company's Bluetooth 5.0 Earphone Communication Cable plugs into the two earpieces, replacing their original cable, and dangles down to approximately mid-sternum, where it terminates in a Bluetooth receiver/DAC that's roughly the size of a USB flash drive, and that opens to reveal a USB-B Micro jack for charging. (Estimated playing time: up to 10 hours.) AptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, AAC, and SBC codecs are all supported. Used with a pair of Shure SE535 in-ear headphones, the Bluetooth 5.0 cable impressed JA with AAC-encoded sound that was "[not] as inferior as I'd expected" on classical music, with only slight congestion that, much of the time, "wasn't an issue." Hard-driving rock fared slightly less well. (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

Audeze LCDi4, not auditioned in a long time.

grymiephone's picture

The Linton Heritage is not an audiophile speaker, and I will stop there, it's hard to find music it plays well

Glotz's picture

And it sounded fantastic with 'entry'-level Hegel components.

Everyone is different, and especially when one levels generalist comments.

grymiephone's picture

I had a response with more details but it was deleted.

Glotz's picture

Sorry man. I think the site had some issues a week back as well. Anything that was edited sometimes got deleted.

grymiephone's picture

Oh, well. for what's it's worth:
I tested the Linton with 5 other speakers. When I ordered it, the sales person said: be warned, it's NOT an audiophile speaker. And it didn't compare well. I wanted to love them but my 23 year old Celestions had more image and punch than the Lintons. I am sure they can sound good in a different system

MatthewT's picture

I agree with the "not an audiophile speaker" remark. I wish we could know what Art Dudley thought of them. I love them, FWIW.

Glotz's picture

I appreciate both of your insights here.

It helps me come closer to the truth. Or that's not right- The perceptions of each person lend us insights into how each person feels in their system.

I know a lot of times it's hard to speak to one's system for fear of others being critical.

Nonetheless, it does tell me what possible variances there are. I thought the double Linton's were impressive, if expensive. The dealer had them in a pseudo-d'appolito configuration, with the top speakers upside down and on top of the bottom pair.

liguorid42's picture

I agree everyone's opinion of what he or she likes is valid, and an opinion that you shouldn't like something because it's not an audiophile product is invalid. That being said, if you're a wine connoisseur you wouldn't necessarily make a buying decision on a pricey Cabernet based on the opinion of someone whose beverage of choice is Mountain Dew. And "not an audiophile speaker" can just mean your favorite reviewer has not made the sign of the cross before it, and is pretty useless without some description of what you perceive its sonic flaws to be.

Glotz's picture

I think all stereo products can have a home, but you are right it's all about context.

I was impressed with the Denton's midrange, but perhaps that's not fair given I was listening to the collective output of 2 pairs of speakers working in tandem.

mememe2's picture

PLease put this in the "useless phrases" section of your mag. Can we have good pace but lack timing -no. can we have good rhythm but lack pace - no. Can we have good timing but lack rhythm - no. This description seems to be aimed at audio prats (in the original meaning of the word).

Charles E Flynn's picture

"captures the emotion"

liguorid42's picture

Back when founding father Gordon Holt started Stereophile he tried to develop a lexicon to describe how things actually sounded--things like "liquid", "transparent", "grainy", "warm"--as opposed to how things emotionally affected him personally. Theoretically you could go to a hi fi emporium, listen to KLH Nines driven by Audio Research electronics and hear for yourself what he meant. Though he did open the door with his "goosebump test". These days terms such as you describe have made subjective audio reviewing so subjective as not to be very useful to anyone else.

Charles E Flynn's picture

Thanks for your reply.

I have always wondered how one could determine that a playback chain captured the emotion of the performers when the only evidence we have about their emotions is what is provided by the playback chain.

The reproduced sound may convey or provoke emotion, but whether what it conveys is what the performer felt is something we can never determine on the basis of only the reproduced sound.

liguorid42's picture the Firesign Theater album said, "That's metapheesically absurd, mun, how can I know what you hear?"

Heck, you can't know if what you're feeling is the same as what the performer is feeling even at a live performance. Not even close would be my guess. What I'm feeling when I play the piano in private is very different from when I get conned into playing for someone. What the composer felt when setting the notes to the page, different still. I doubt a loudspeaker, let alone a piece of loudspeaker cable, has anything to do with any of this.

George Tn's picture

the Schiit Sol made it on to the list in such a high spot for its price. I've been rooting for that product and it's finally being seen for how great it is.

PTG's picture

Yup.. So happy to see Sol finally get some recognition. SOL had a very rough launch but they owned up to it and made it right ! I would love to get one but am worried about how much tinkering is needed to make it right.. Still thinking about it.... It LOOKS amazing !!!

georgehifi's picture

Same for the Aegir, a A20w Class-A stereo in Class-A Stereophile. I can only think of one similar that could/would do that, and that's the mighty 20w Mark Levison ML2 monoblocks.

Cheers George

Glotz's picture

Yes, these components are great to see classified, but it's one person's ranking for a component. The classes also cut a large swath in performance of any one category- and within each class.

That being said, I do think the Sol is pretty-well-reviewed for the money and if my rig broke suddenly... I'd get this one to tie me over.

PTG's picture

Did I miss it or was Bluesound family of products (Node2i, Vault2i ??) totally dropped off the RC2021 list ? If yes, I wonder why...

Jim Austin's picture

On previous lists, when several Bluesound products were listed together, we put them under "Complete Audio Systems." We dropped most of them simply because they haven't been auditioned in years--indeed, no Stereophile reviewer ever tried a gen-2 version of any of the products except the Node2i, which I bought a few months back and use daily. Dropping products that haven't been auditioned in a long time is longstanding RecComp policy.

With only the Node2i on the list, it no longer makes sense to list it under Complete Audio Systems; it should be moved to Digital Processors. But I overlooked that fact when preparing the 2021 edition.

Jim Austin, Editor

C_Hoefer's picture

I just navigated to this page intending to point out the error in location of the Bluesound Node 2i - glad to see you already caught it! It belongs in digital players.

prerich45's picture

I'd like to see some of the other offerings tested by Stereophile. The Gustard dacs have measured well by another site. I've actually purchased one to see how it fairs to my ears - as I've already seen its numbers. SMSL,Gustard, and Topping are making some possible world beaters, it would be interesting to see this publication put them on the bench.

Fstein's picture

Lirpasound announces $79 amplifier, states previous price of $159,000 a joke no reasonable person would believe

Tweak48's picture

I'm confused by the Editor's Note: "There are no Class D integrated amplifiers listed". It looks like the Marantz 30, the NAD, and the Rogue Sphinx are using Class D output sections, among others. What am I missing here??

John Atkinson's picture
Tweak48 wrote:
I'm confused by the Editor's Note: "There are no Class D integrated amplifiers listed". It looks like the Marantz 30, the NAD, and the Rogue Sphinx are using Class D output sections, among others. What am I missing here??

Not amplifiers that have class-D output stage stages but amplifiers that are rated in Class D in this Recommended Components category.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Ron Lel's picture

Is there any reason no class D amplifiers are listed? Surely the Mola Molas should be mentioned.
Also I am surprised at the omission of the Audionet Humbolt.

John Atkinson's picture
Ron Lel wrote:
Is there any reason no class D amplifiers are listed?

There are several amplifiers with class-D output stages listed, but none in the Class D category/

Ron Lel wrote:
Surely the Mola Molas should be mentioned. Also I am surprised at the omission of the Audionet Humbolt.

As it says in the introduction, Recommended Components is reserved for products that have been reviewed in Stereophile. Neither the Mola Mola nor Audionet amplifiers have been reviewed yet.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile