Stereophile's Products of 2017 Headphone Product of the Year

Headphone Product of the Year

Pass Labs HPA-1 headphone amplifier ($3500; reviewed by John Atkinson & Herb Reichert, July & December 2016, Vol.39 Nos. 7 & 12 review)

In an era when planar-magnetic headphones are increasingly common, it's fitting that our first Headphone Product of the Year is an amplifier unfazed by difficult loads. Indeed, the Pass Labs HPA-1, which also functions as a two-input, line-level analog preamplifier, is comfortable with loads ranging from 15 to 600 ohms—and, as John Atkinson discovered, this MOSFET-based design plays with authority.

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Notes on the Vote: Not content with a single win, Mytek HiFi's Brooklyn D/A headphone amplifier—our Joint Digital Product of the Year—took second place for its talents as a headphone amplifier, winning almost as many first-place votes as the Pass Labs amp. Earning just as many first-place votes as the Mytek but fewer second-place votes were the Abyss 1226 Phi headphones, which so impressed Herb Reichert. Thus were we spared the chagrin of having no headphones place in our very first headphone competition.

Finalists (in alphabetical order)

Abyss 1226 Phi headphones ($4495; reviewed by Herb Reichert, August 2017, Vol.40 No.8 review)
AudioQuest NightOwl Carbon headphones ($699.99; reviewed by Herb Reichert, June 2017, Vol.40 No.6 review)
Focal Elear headphones ($999; reviewed by Herb Reichert, December 2016, Vol.39 No.12 review)
HiFiMan HE1000 V2 headphones ($2999; reviewed by Herb Reichert, April 2017, Vol.40 No.4 review)
Mytek HiFi Brooklyn D/A headphone amplifier ($1995; reviewed by Jim Austin, Kalman Rubinson, Herb Reichert, November 2016 & May 2017, Vol.39 No.11 & Vol.40 No.5 review)
Shure KSE1500 electrostatic headphones ($2999; reviewed by John Atkinson, November 2017, Vol.39 No.11 review)
Sony Signature Series MDR-Z1R headphones ($2299.99; reviewed by Herb Reichert, June 2017, Vol.40 No.6 review)

COMMENTS
stereoGoodness's picture

I'm not sure I understand the following:

"One can parse this in any number of ways, but to me, all those second-place votes speak of voters who may have lacked full confidence in the Kii's ability to take top honors, but who nevertheless said to themselves, while pulling the lever, 'Maybe this one isn't as crazy as we think?' Can't think what that reminds me of . . ."

Can someone less obtuse than I please enlighten me?

dalethorn's picture

The price isn't out of line for PotY, but given the relatively low price plus the fact that it's self-amplified *and* it's DSP-controlled is extremely unusual. After all, you're accepting not only its amplifiers and preamps, but whatever the DSP codec does to the sound.

Kal Rubinson's picture

They are, of course, inseparable and that should make one's assessment less complex, not more.

Glotz's picture

Would the unit be considered as an extension of the original DAC1 and its variants?

The Kii system does seem very next gen, and I agree, it reduces a set of system variables by the integration of its technologies. If I had the dosh...

John Atkinson's picture
Eligible products for the 2017 Awards had to be reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017. The Benchmark DAC3 is reviewed in the November 2017 issue so will be a contender for the 2018 awards.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Shangri-La's picture

Did the GoldenEar Reference speakers not make the cut to compete in this year's competition, or it was included but just not good enough to win/be nominated for anything?

John Atkinson's picture
Shangri-La wrote:
Did the GoldenEar Reference speakers not make the cut to compete in this year's competition?

As it says in the introduction, eligible products had to be reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017. The GoldenEar Triton Reference speaker is reviewed in the January 2018 issue.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Bodhisattva's picture

How the Magico S5 Mk2 speakers are sitting in a lonely group of finalists which include Wharfedale, Monitor Audio and that abomination from Bang and Olufsen is completely beyond me. Sure, the $12k 0/96's sound musical, but better than the S5 Mk2's? Maybe if you're an SET guy and aren't particularly fussed about things like speed, accuracy or transparency.

scottsol's picture

The Ayre does not have “an abundance of analog and digital inputs”. Only digital inputs are available. The unit is now also available at a lower price by excluding the USB and/or Ethernet inputs.

sb6's picture

Late to the game, but I'd like to understand more about criteria. Specifically, was price or more explicitly sonic value per $ considered when each reviewer made their picks?

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