Headphone Reviews

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Jana Dagdagan  |  Sep 21, 2017  |  1 comments
In June, I visited headphone manufacturer Audeze's factory in Southern California (they've since moved) and capture an abridged version of the making of a pair of Audeze LCDi4 in-ear planar magnetic headphones ($2495). In the first part of this video, which is narrated by first Sankar Thiagasamudram, Audeze's founder and CEO, we begin with the making of the LCDi4, followed by the testing, burn-in, and packaging. This is followed by the unboxing and very first listening session, with John Atkinson, Stereophile's editor in chief.
Herb Reichert  |  Aug 15, 2017  |  29 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.)
Herb Reichert  |  Jul 18, 2017  |  16 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  |  8 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jon Iverson  |  May 25, 2016  |  4 comments
I first spied the Ayre Codex two Januarys ago, at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, and its scrappy proletarian vibe sure made it look different from any other Ayre creation. On learning that its price would be well under $2000, I was immediately curious what Charley Hansen and his gang—makers of the $3450 QB-9DSD USB digital-to-analog converter, plus a few five-figure amps and preamps—could create when cost is an object.

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