Headphone Reviews

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John Atkinson  |  Oct 05, 2014  |  2 comments
A reader recently asked if I preferred listening to loudspeakers or to headphones. There is no easy answer: Although I do most of my music listening through speakers, about 10% of that listening, for various reasons, takes place in the privacy of my headphones. I have also found that, since I purchased the Audeze LCD-X headphones following my review of them last March, I now tend to watch movies on my MacBook Pro, with the soundtrack reproduced by these headphones plugged into an AudioQuest DragonFly or whatever D/A headphone amplifier has been passing through my test lab. So when Meridian's PR person, Sue Toscano, asked me last Christmas if I'd be interested in reviewing the English company's new Prime D/A headphone amplifier ($2000) with its optional Prime Power Supply ($1295), it took me less than a New York minute to say "Yes."
Art Dudley  |  Aug 30, 2013  |  First Published: Sep 01, 2013  |  6 comments
Those of us who groan at the appearance of every new five-figure digital source component in a massively oversized chassis—and who groan in greater torment when the offending manufacturer says his customer base insists on products that are styled and built and priced that way—can take heart: The appearance of such sanely sized and affordable products as the Halide Design DAC HD ($495) and the AudioQuest DragonFly ($249) would suggest that the market has a mind of its own.
Jim Austin  |  May 19, 2016  |  3 comments
I was lying on a mattress on the floor of an empty apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Not as grim as it sounds—it's a nice apartment, and the mattress was new, and had just been delivered—but it was hot (no air-conditioning), and my family and my furniture were still in my condo up in Maine, and I was lonely. I needed some cheering up. Which is how I rationalized the decision to buy an Explorer2, Meridian Audio's tiny, inexpensive ($299) digital-to-analog converter.
Stephen Mejias  |  Mar 18, 2010  |  0 comments
I was looking out the window. I was waiting for the plane to take off. I was wearing Monster Cable's Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones ($349.95). I was listening to Pens' burning, fuzzed-out, 27-minute onslaught, Hey Friend, What You Doing? (320kbps MP3; LP, De Stijl IND071). I was shouting with sudden shock and pain.
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.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Nov 29, 2010  |  2 comments
I remember my first experience with headphones. In 1960, I bought a set of Trimm dual 'phones (less than $5) and rewired them for stereo. The experience was remarkable for several reasons. First, it brought the sounds into my head—I was thrilled with the impact. Second, stereo effects, especially with Enoch Light's ping-pong LPs (eg, Provocative Percussion, Command RS800SD), were striking. Third, I could play them really loud without bothering others. Of course, they had no bass, brittle treble, distorted at high levels, and their wire headband and Bakelite earpieces were uncomfortable. My fascination with this gimmick quickly faded.
Herb Reichert  |  Aug 15, 2017  |  28 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.)
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.

John Atkinson  |  Jun 16, 2016  |  2 comments
When Pass Labs is mentioned, it's natural to think of its founder, iconic engineer Nelson Pass. But Nelson heads a team of engineers at the California company: Their XP-30 preamplifier, which I enthusiastically reviewed in April 2013, was designed by Wayne Colburn; and the subject of this review, the HPA-1 headphone amplifier, is the first Pass Labs product designed by Jam Somasundram, former director of engineering for Cary Audio. Somasundram joined Pass Labs in July 2013; he spent a year working on the HPA-1, which was shown at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, but not formally launched until the 2016 CES, at a hefty $3500.
Wes Phillips  |  Jan 14, 2009  |  0 comments
I once spoke to a blacksmith (named Smith, actually) about the wonderfully patterned bowie knives he made of Damascus steel. Struck by the contrast between the massive brutality of the knives themselves and the delicate beauty of the steel from which they were wrought, I asked Smith why he worked in Damascus, expecting him to extol its legendary temper or its aggressive cutting edge. After all, he was a pretty macho guy with a physique like, well, the village blacksmith's (Google it, young 'uns). He thought for a minute before responding, quietly, "Beauty is its own reward."
John Atkinson  |  Sep 21, 2009  |  0 comments
Phiaton is the brand name used by the South Korean Cresyn Company. Wes Phillips reviewed Phiaton's conventional closed-back Moderna MS 400 headphones in January 2009 and was as impressed by the sound quality as he was by their appearance. The PS 200 ($249), the only in-ear headphone sold by Phiaton, also has a striking appearance: the black rear face, which is all someone sitting next to you in the subway will see, resembles the turbine blades of a fan-jet engine. There are two balanced-armature drive-units, with a passive crossover network.
Ariel Bitran  |  Sep 29, 2011  |  0 comments
The outer walls of the Cooper Square Hotel reflect blue sky and angle gently as they rise to the penthouse suite. When construction on the hotel began, New Yorkers cried “Abomination!” at the idea of a glass-sheathed high-rise towering over the short brick buildings of the East Village. Now that the Cooper Square Hotel has integrated itself into the Bowery’s landscape, it is the ambitions of the building’s architects that are remembered, not New Yorkers’ gripes.
Wes Phillips  |  Oct 01, 2005  |  First Published: Sep 01, 2005  |  0 comments
The Emmeline SR-71 portable headphone amplifier ($395) is small but not light. Housed in an extruded-aluminum chassis with a bolt-on faceplate and a rear panel and battery cover that attaches with a thumb-screw, it measures 3.5" by 2.5" by 1.5" and weighs 11oz. That sounds light, especially compared to some of the headphone amps I've carted around in the past—not to mention their four–D-cell extended power supplies—but in the iPod era, it's the portable equivalent of a class-A power amp. So why would anybody be willing to lug it around?
Wes Phillips, Sam Tellig  |  Nov 05, 2006  |  First Published: Sep 05, 2006  |  0 comments
I've been a little remiss in writing about one of the best tools for travel I've experienced recently: Ray Samuels Audio's Emmeline The Hornet ($350), a tiny (3" L by 2" W by 1" H) rechargeable portable headphone amplifier. I tend to travel with my iPod packed with hi-rez music files and a pair of low-impedance headphones. That's not a marriage made in heaven, so I also need a headphone amplifier. Over the years, portable headphone amps have gotten better and better while getting smaller and smaller. The Hornet is the smallest I've discovered so far and is my current favorite.
Wes Phillips  |  Feb 09, 1998  |  0 comments
Sometimes, the only thing that'll soothe the cares and lift the thoughts of man is kicking back and letting glorious music wash over you. Isn't that why we're all here? But no sooner do you sit yourself down in the sweet spot and cue up, say, Mozart's 40th, than you hear:

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