Stereophile's Products of 2020 Headphone Product of the Year

Headphone Product of the Year

Focal Stellia headphones ($2990; reviewed by Herb Reichert, October 2020, Vol.43 No.10 Review)
RAAL-Requisite SR1a headphones ($3200; reviewed by Herb Reichert, January 2020, Vol.43 No.1 Review)

920gramdreams43.focal

Finalists (in alphabetical order)
Abyss Ab-1266 Phi Tc headphones ($4999–$7995; reviewed by Herb Reichert, July 2020, Vol.43 No.7 Review)
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt D/A processor/headphone amplifier ($299.95; reviewed by John Atkinson, December 2019, Vol.42 No.12 Review)
Grado GS3000e headphones ($1799; reviewed by Herb Reichert, December 2019, Vol.42 No.12 Review)
ZMF Vérité Closed headphones ($2495; reviewed by Herb Reichert, April 2020, Vol.43 No.4 Review)

These two headphones have nothing in common except their similar price, their overall excellence, and their popularity among Stereophile voters. (The Focal got one more vote; the RAAL-requisite got one extra first-place vote—hence, a tie.) The Stellia features 1.5" (40mm), M-shaped, electrodynamic beryllium-dome drivers, which, Herb said, delivered "a very high level of relaxed and refined sound, with no beryllium metallicness." It didn't hurt that Herb, for reasons he could not explain, was "feeling extra-good about closed-back headphones." Auditioned with the HoloAudio May Level-3 DAC—our digital source component winner—and the Feliks Audio Euforia headphone amp, the Focal Stellia's closed backs "produced vital, exciting sound," Herb wrote.

120gram.promo_

The RAAL-requisite SR1a "earfield monitors" are not conventional headphones. They sit away from your ears—don't plan on using them on noisy airplanes; there's zero isolation—tilted back to produce an image of a soundstage in front of you. In this respect, they're practically opposite to closed-back 'phones like the Focal Stellia (although, inside its earcups, the Stellia, too, has angled drivers). Sound is produced by what is claimed to be the world's first full-range pure-ribbon transducer, which has extremely low input impedance, specified as 0.018 ohms; the designer recommends a 100Wpc amplifier—for headphones! "With their extreme purity and resolution, the SR1a's deposited Vladimir Horowitz, his piano, and the room he was playing in right there, in the space in front of me," Herb wrote. "Not inside my skull."

"In my view: The RAAL-Requisite SR1a's are both revelatory and revolutionary."

About the Vote
The Stellia appeared on one more final ballot; the RAAL-requisite otherwise scored slightly higher, to bring the vote to a tie. Also doing well: the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt and the Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC headphones.

COMMENTS
mtrot's picture

No doubt an exceptional product but lacks both a USB-B port and a true home theater bypass, which makes it a no-go for me.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Update for USB in the pipeline. It will be in the form of an MDC module.

mtrot's picture
BlackH20's picture

A whole article on cost, you have already lost generations by arguing over the wire and can't let a young working man get into the basic hobby or even understand the value in it.

tonykaz's picture

If you were young again, which of today's gear choices would you invest in?

I'm thinking Schiit & PS Audio probably.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tony in Venice

PeterG's picture

Yes on Schiit and PS. Let's add in NAD, Bluesound, and lower priced B&W

tonykaz's picture

like a ultra-niche watering hole for eclectics ( something like me ) featuring artistic writing on rather intellectual subjects like 'transparency'. This might be an out-of-the-way Bar where the Audiophile Junta meet in semi-secret. hmm.

and yet,

The group's nominated Product of the Year is a Chinesium , of all things.

Why wasn't it Chad Kassem's Company and thier work in accessible High Quality Music ? It could've be a No.1 choice.

or

the Schiit Company for making Audiophile gear available to anyone that can afford cigarettes.

Stereophile has a higher calling than a normal glossy Mag.

Stereophile is the Carrier/Keeper/Curator & Documentor of a beautiful Music Culture where, I'm hoping, rising prices won't be the measure of raising the Bar.

The Audiophiliac remains my nomination for Audiophile of the Year.

Tony in Venice

Glotz's picture

Goes to YOU, Tony!

Kudos.

monetschemist's picture

This comment:

"Best of all, readers who bought one because of the review emailed me to say they were thrilled.—Michael Fremer

Here we have a reviewer, who has been "doing this" for a long time, who is at the top of his game, who impresses both manufacturers and readers for his efforts, who has the reputation and technical chops to review 6 figure audio equipment.

And here, where we might therefore expect to see swagger and an "I told you so" attitude, we see instead his delight in readers who are pleased by his recommendations.

Thank you, Mr. Fremer, for sharing your wisdom and experience and for maintaining your humanity.

Glotz's picture

For giving me incredible, accurate recommendations every year!
I put my money where their mouths are!

Despite Corona virus whupping the world economy's ass, I bought in 2020:

PS Audio Stellar phono preamp (Stereophile- MF)
Benchmark HPA4 line/headphone amp (KR)
Hana ML cartridge (HR)
NAD C427 tuner
Schiit Modius DAC (Analog Planet- ML)
Magneplanar 1.7i speakers
REL T5i subwoofers -2
HiFi Man He-400i headphones
AudioQuest Colorado XLR & RCA interconnects
AudioQuest Carbon Coax and USB interconnects
Shunyata Defender
Audio Reference LP Carbonmat record mat
Aesthetics ABCD-1 Demagnetizer
Belles 150a Hot Rod amp re-chip (ST)
Soundsmith Carmen 1 cartridge re-tip (HR).

All of the parenthesis show which reviewer recommended it, and I feel their perceptions on every product were spot-on accurate. The rest of the equipment were also well reviewed and recommended by other magazines.

I truly thank them for reporting on their observations, insights, and thoroughness when reviewing. My trust is shown by purchasing this gear!

I also thank them all for fun and truly superlative writing! And to JA for his measurements and insights...

The take-away is great sound isn't by accident. We need great writers who adhere to truth and art, and understand the fine line between both and make salient recommendations for the audience they believe it fits.

And thank you to Stereophile and its web presence (and the AP), where real audio debate and discovery are available to everyone.

davemill's picture

I'll second Sterophile's gear advice with one notable exception. Gear that is manufactured and designed in China is a definite no go for me. This includes such companies as Holoaudio and Denafrips. I will not support communists. My wife grew up under communism in Romania. I also avoid gear that is manufactured in China although if I wasn't fortunate to have funds for a higher budget I might be tempted to buy the lower end B&W and NAD equipment. That being said I am very happy with the following purchases I made over the past 12 months.

Revel PerformaBe F228 (KR)
Parasound Halo A21+ (KR)
Shunyata Research Denali 6000/S v2 power distributor
Shunyata Research Sigma XC and 2 Alpha NR v2 power cords
Shunyata Research CopperConn duplex outlet

The impact of the Shunyata products was mind-blowing to me. I will likely replace my Synergistic Research interconnects and speaker cables with Shunyata's new v2 products in 2021.

YRMV

Glotz's picture

Killer speakers and amp!

I do love Shunyata's approach to their entire line. While I don't like the Venom interconnects, I do love and use the speaker cables. But I will be looking to the V2 line next year, probably the Deltas.

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