2015 Recommended Components Headphones | Stereophile.com

Editor’s Note: We strongly encourage those interested in listening with headphones to visit our sister website, www.innerfidelity.com, edited by tyll hertsens.


Reading: Headphone amplifier reviews 2015

antelope zodiac gold: $3595 voltikus psu adds $995 when purchased separately. the package price is $4495. see digital processors. (vol.34 n.10 www)

audeze lcd-x: $1699 These large, luxurious over-ear headphones feature planar magnetic drive units with a thin-film diaphragm powered by arrays of powerful neodymium magnets on both sides. They employ Audeze’s proprietary fazor elements, which are said to guide and manage the flow of sound in the headphones. the circular drivers are housed in polished black anodized aluminum earcups, with oversized cushions in either lambskin or leather-free microsuede foam-filled cushions. adjustment is via notched chrome-plated metal rods attached to each earcup, which fit into the sprung, leather-covered headband. The LCD-Xs produced an alluring and compelling overall sound, with sharp imaging, rich mids, smooth highs, and clean lows, he said. Compared to its long-time reference Sennheiser HD650s, the LCD-Xs resolved more detail, produced the most convincing sense of recorded ambience, and provided deeper bass. “highly recommended!” has concluded. (vol. 37 no. 3 www)

benchmark media systems dac2: $1995 see “digital processors” (vol.37 no.2 www)

dac1 hdr reference: $1595 ✩ two headphone jacks. see “digital processors”. (vol.26 nº7, vol.27 nº5, vol.31 nº1, 7, & 10, vol.32 nº3, vol.33 nº6 &11 www; vol.34 no .6 www)

hifi man he 400i headphones: $499 $$$ the cheapest planar magnetic headphones known, the he-400i offers an impedance of 32 ohms and a sensitivity of 93db, and it works at its best with a dedicated headphone amplifier. the sound is “crisp, clean, clear and lightning fast, just like music is in real life. this also applies to the bass. in fact, the sound is perfect from top to bottom or from bottom to top” Sam summed up. (vol. 37 no. 12)

jh audio jh16 pro: $1149 (plus custom mold fee) designed by jerry harvey (exultimate ear), the top-of-the-line jh audio in-ear monitor uses eight-balanced armatures (two woofers armature, a double-armed midrange and a double-armed tweeter) and a three-way crossover. it delivered clean transient attacks, a smooth midrange, hearty bass, and a detailed soundstage, he said ha. The JH16 Pro exhibited excellent overall performance when driven directly through the JA iPod Classic, but offered more bass energy and greater articulation when driven through the Ray Samuels Emmeline The Tomahawk headphone amp. Price includes plastic carrying case, felt drawstring bag, and cleaning tool. (vol.34 no.8 www)

meridian prime d/a headphone amp: $2000 notable for both its commendable headphone amp and analog inputs which, when fed the output of an auralic vega dac, sound “rich and warm via ja audeze headphones, meridian prime’s asynchronous usb dac handles incoming 16-bit and 24-bit data streams with sample rates up to 192 kHz, and applies an “apodizing” reconstruction filter to all incoming data . While noting that the star’s weight and body are less than that of the Vega, JA praised the “clearer balance” of the meridian. he singled out in praise “[the main dac’s] palpable way with images,” which, he mused, could be attributed to that reconstruction filter. Using Meridian’s optional main power supply ($1,295) instead of the standard wall wart added “a touch more body, a bit more authority.” in his measurements, he found discrepancies in the 24-bit performance of the main display, which turned out to be due to the optional power supply, but praised the well-designed analog section. the verdict: “a cautious recommendation…for this great-sounding, beautifully finished headphone amp.” (vol.37 no.10 www)

sennheiser hd 800: $1499.95 ✩ sennheiser’s attack on the state of the art in headphones uses a 56mm ring radiator transducer, the largest dynamic driver currently in use in any headphone. The HD800’s large earcups are made from a combination of absorbent composites and functional metal accents, and while the ‘phones’ weight is 11.5 oz without cable, their clever cushioning and padding make them comfortable for longer listening. The HD800’s Y-wire harness uses stranded Kevlar-reinforced OFC copper wire; The cable is terminated with a very substantial 1/4″ phono plug on one end and two proprietary Sennheiser plugs on the headphones. WP: “I was amazed at Sennheiser’s ability to project scale, reveal dynamic nuances, present with realism.” Compared to the Audeze LCD-Xes, the HD800s similarly revealed low-level detail and recorded ambience, but sounded brighter, less relaxed, and lacked some bass extension and weight, he said.(Vol.32 #7, Vol.37 #3 www)

sennheiser hd 650: $499.95 ✩ the hd 650 is an evolution of sennheiser’s highly successful hd 600 open dynamic headphones, claiming 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 sr325i grade, the sennheisers sounded richer but slightly darker. jm found that its very effective seal created a resonant cavity that produced “bass that is quite deep and a bit fuzzy”. the new reference cans of ha. Compared to the Audeze LCD-Xes, the HD650s had a similar overall sound, but lacked bass control, detail resolution, and ambience recovery, he said. (vol.28 nº6, vol.31 nº9, vol.37 nº3 www)

sennheiser hd 600: $399.95 ✩ wp, kr, and st were unanimous in calling these the best dynamic headphones they’ve ever heard. “The only ones I’ve ever felt physically or sonically comfortable with,” says KR. “sennheiser has kept all the qualities that made the hd 580 one of the best in its class, and has even managed to improve it impressively in several areas,” according to wp. says st, “the magic of the hd 600 is its midrange, a purity of tone, especially when driven with tubes, that’s pretty special.” amazingly transparent when driven in balanced mode by an airhead, found j-10 in july 2002. (vol.21 no.2 www)

See also: Grado Labs SR80x & SR325x review – Headfonia Reviews

smyth research realiser a8 system: $2910 ✩ based on the smyth virtual surround sound algorithm, the realiser a8 subjects an audio signal to a dsp simulation of the auditory mechanisms necessary for full spatial perception and then plays the signal through the headphones, allowing users to effectively bring the sounds of up to 64 different listening rooms with them wherever they go. The package includes the Realiser A8 power supply and processor case, the RC-1 remote control, one TU-1 head-tracker, one TR-1 head-tracker reference, and two HTM-1 miniature internal microphones. (A set of Stax SRS-2050 II headphones adds $790 to the price.) the a8 maker provided the same balance and sound as kr’s main system, and allowed him to hear subtle differences between his manhattan and connecticut systems. “For the first time in my life, listening with headphones was not only compelling but enjoyable,” Kal marveled, adding “Class A all the way. The Realizer not only sounds transparent like a headphone amp, it transforms the headphone listening in both stereo and multichannel”. (vol.33 n.11 www)

thinksound on1: $249 st, who hates in-ear headphones and noise-canceling headphones of any kind, liked thinksound on1 flip phones, a new American company whose products are made in China. on1’s over-the-ear shells are crafted from mahogany-like wood sapele, sport ear cushions are made of memory foam (the material of modern pillows) and covered with faux fur. Two cables are supplied, one with a smartphone-compatible microphone, one without, along with an unbleached cotton carry bag. st described the on1s as “bass-rich, full-bodied, non-fatiguing, comfortable to wear, [and] reasonably well insulated” in their closed, passive form. (vol.37 no.7)

ultimate ear 18 pro custom in-ear monitors: $1350 (plus custom earmold fee) the 18 pro is a three-way in-ear custom earmold design with six balanced armatures – two each one for bass, mid and treble, the latter allowing the 18 pro to have the most extended top end of any ue model. it combined clean, airy highs with a smooth, detailed midrange and deep, well-defined lows. “Its ability to reproduce low frequencies at high levels with minimal distortion is unmatched by other in-ear phones, and the clarity and smoothness of its midrange is class A,” said Ja. however, its high mids can sound a bit slack with headphone amps that have a high output impedance. The price includes the custom aluminum carrying case and cleaning tool, but does not include the custom mold fee; optional ambient feature allows some leakage of outside sounds and adds $50. (vol.33 no.12 www)


bowlers & Wilkins P3: $199.99 Available in black or white, the sleek and stylish over-ear P3s are designed specifically for wearable use. They fold neatly to fit inside a rugged hard case, and their iPod-compatible, tangle-free cable has built-in microphone and volume controls. st and sm agreed that the cloth ear pads and thin headband were very comfortable. st found the sound “slightly warm, surprisingly rich and full, without exaggerated highs”. compared to the hds-only audio beats, the b&ws were cleaner, clearer, more detailed, and overall more pleasing; Compared to the harman/kardon cls, the b&ws had more delicate highs and a fine sense of space, but lacked some drama, impact and scale, sounding a bit too polite, said sm. (vol.35 #12, vol.36 #2 & 3 www)

centrance dacport: $249.99 $$$ ✩ built in the usa, the bus-powered dacport is a small, well-finished tubular device, 4.5″ long, with 1/ 4″ connector and a usb port. Although the usb interface works in adaptive isochronous mode, centralce employs its own two-stage jitterguard clock management system. the d/a section of the dacport will decode 24-bit data at sample rates up to 96 kHz, and its direct-coupled output stage is claimed to run in class a. setup was simple; no driver is required, and the dacport is compatible with mac, windows, and linux operating systems. Although it lacked the bass extension and control of the reference dac1, the dacport delivered a clean, grain-free sound with airy highs and natural transients. “a great sounding product at a great price” ha exclaimed. (vol.33 no.6 and 10, vol.35 no.10 www)

musical fidelity mf-100: $199 the mf-100 headphones are among musical fidelity’s first speakers and are, in fact, their first over-ear model . Designed in the UK and made in Taiwan, the folding MF-100s come with leather ear pads and a pair of soft ear pads made from Alcantara, the rare animal from which artificial suede is derived. the impedance is 64 ohms, the sensitivity is 98db, the frequency range is 20hz20khz, and the jack size is 3.5mm. slightly larger and therefore less easy to pack than bowers & wilkins p3s or the pioneering se mj591s that st is familiar with, the phones musical fidelity, however, amazed him with “the fullness, the richness, the overall sweetness of [his his] sound of his.” (vol. 37 no. 4)

musical fidelity v90-hpa: $199 $$$ Like the musical fidelity v-canii that I admired so much, the new v90-hpa has two front-mounted headphone jacks : An old-style 1/4″ jack and a newer 3.5mm minijack. However, the V90-HPA goes a step further and adds an asynchronous USB digital-to-analog converter capable of 24-bit throughput. bits/96khz.the v90-hpa measures 6.6″ by 4″ by 1.8″ and draws its power from a wall wart (supplied), though st would like to have seen options for battery and/or usb power (5v ). Still, he says, Musical Fidelity’s new headphone amp offers “fuller, stronger bass and more dynamic driving” than its predecessor. (vol. 37 no. 4)

psb m4u 2: $399 the m4u 2 are closed, circumaural, noise-canceling headphones with a 40mm dynamic driver in each earcup. They use PSB’s room feel equalization technology to produce an open, three-dimensional sound similar to what one might experience when listening to high-end speakers in a typical listening room. Physically resembling the ubiquitous beats studio model, with an expandable headband and collapsible polycarbonate frame (available in white, black, or red), the m4u 2 is big and bulky, but it was extremely comfortable on sm’s head. Unlike many active noise canceling headphones, the m4u 2s also work in passive mode (without batteries). although the high frequencies sometimes sounded too aggressive, the overall sound was exciting and physical, with an extraordinary sense of space, excellent transient speed and stunning dynamics, said sm. “The m4u 2 delivered the most exciting headphone listening experiences I’ve ever enjoyed,” he summarized. (vol.36 no.12 www)

Sennheiser Impulse: $349.95 (Over-Ear Version)$229.95 (Over-Ear Version) Sennheiser’s cutting-edge Impulse models use a compact, closed-back design with a clean and sophisticated look that is both modern and classic. the over-ear model is slightly larger and heavier than the over-ear, but the two have a similar overall appearance. the oval ear cups slide up and down on the same stainless steel headband, but while the over-ear design uses leather, the over-ear cushions are covered in a synthetic material called alcantara, which looks and feels practically identical to before. Similarly, where the larger version’s headband edge is padded and covered with more leather, the supra-aural version’s padded headband is covered with more alcantara. Although he loved the look and feel of both models, SM had difficulty achieving a consistently secure and comfortable fit on his head with either, although he did find the smaller in-ear version slightly more comfortable. And while both models combined true hi-fi sound with great looks and durability, the over-the-ear design produced a bigger, more spacious overall sound, with sweeter highs, cleaner attack transients, a richer, more present midrange. and tighter bottoms. said sm. (vol.36 no.12, over-the-ear version www; vol.37 no.3, over-the-ear version www)


sr60i grade: $79 $$$ ✩ the original sr60 offered a balance of rather dark tones, with full bass and excellent detail resolution. however, a more advanced mid-range. uncomfortable. Updates to the original SR60 include a new controller and upgraded cables. While maintaining the original’s freedom from obvious colorations and resonances, the SR60i went a little deeper in the low end and had a slightly more vivid midrange for an overall more immersive sound. “The SR60i is modestly better than the original and remains one of the great bargains in audio,” said Jim Austin. (vol.17 no.6 and 10 www, original, vol.33 no.4 www)

See also: What&039s the difference between a preamp vs. power amp?

skullcandy roc nations aviator: $149.95 designed to evoke classic ray-ban sunglasses and available in a wide range of colors, the skullcandy aviator are medium-sized over-the-ear headphones. 40mm mylar ears. drive units, each with a neodymium magnet. published specifications include a frequency range of 20hz-20khz, impedance of 33 ohms, and total harmonic distortion of less than 0.1%. The 1.3m long detachable nylon-braided cable has a 3.5mm gold-plated plug and a three-button control for selecting tracks, adjusting volume, and taking phone calls. fit and finish were excellent. Although the Aviators lacked the broad, deep soundstage of the Harmon/Kardon CLs, they produced a well-balanced overall sound with bright highs, clean mids, and slightly loose lows, SM said. “These ‘phones sound great and are comfortable, durable and attractive,’ he summarized. (vol. 36 n. 5 www)

thinksound ms01: $99 the sleek and simple ms01 in-ear headphone is the first product in thinksound’s monitor series. It uses a single 8mm driver, has a pearwood and aluminum body, and comes neatly packaged with ear hooks, a cable clip, four sizes of silicone eartips, and an attractive carry bag. ThinkSounds fit lightly and comfortably in SM’s ears and offer a smooth, easy sound with well-extended highs, a clean midrange and warm, full lows. “One of the few internal designs I can bear to have in my ears,” he adds. (vol.35 no.8 www)


howard leight sync stereo headphones: $36 $$$ these passive noise-isolating headphones held their own against jm’s reference audio-technica ath-m50 and provided good isolation against outside noise. “tidy!” (vol.34 no.12 www)

skullcandy navigator: $99.95 the navigator is a smaller, over-the-ear version of the popular skullcandy over-the-ear aviator. Similar in style but a little more understated, its plastic earcups (available in glossy white and translucent blue, black or pink) are shaped to look even more like the lenses on Ray-Ban’s famous eyeglasses. sm found the Navigators to be as well built, durable and comfortable as the Aviators, but with better isolation from external noise. they traded the sparkling highs and open mids of the Aviators for an overall softer, darker, and more bass sound. Compared to the Grado SR60IS, the Navigators produced a heavier, more robust and exciting sound, but lacked the refined highs and wide, open soundstage of the Grados, SM concluded. (vol.36 no.8 www)

vinyl flat can opener: $79.95 made in the usa. In the US, the Vinyl Flat Opener is a small (5.1″ deep by 4.75″ wide by 1.75″ tall) passive headphone adapter with a simple steel housing, a single headphone jack with neutrik lock on front panel and two pairs of five-way binding posts – use standard speaker wire to connect the outputs of an amplifier or receiver to the opener’s binding posts – neat PCB inside The board uses heavy-duty resistors to create a voltage divider network, which reduces the level of the signal sent from the amplifier to the user’s headphones.Compared to the headphone jack on NAD’s C316 Bee integrated amplifier, the can opener produced greater overall control, improved detail retrieval, and a more accomplished sense of image space and delineation, said sm (vol.36 no.7 www)

without distinction of classes

etymotic research custom earmolds: about $150 a pair ✩, “through the national network of audiologists in their custom program, etymotic research produces custom eartips for their headphones for about $150 per pair (custom network audiologists may charge more for a printing, shipping and handling appointment, so the total price may exceed the base price of $150. It is always a good idea to verify the exact price when making an appointment with a custom network audiologist.) custom earmolds are made of soft silicone, can be molded to fit all etymotic models and improve the ambient noise reduction of standard etymotic eartips. wp: “with earmolds tailored, the bass is better, the midrange is clearer, and the treble is crisper, but most importantly, they are comfortable“. once the master molds are made, there are pairs of additional molds available at a discount. l.33 no.12 www)

westone custom molds um56: $126/pair made of vinyl; $154/pair made from silicone ✩ westone ear molds are made from impressions of silicone material taken by an audiologist. when jim austin used the um56s with his shure e4s, he noted strong bass response and excellent sound isolation. a positive and secure fit requires an impression of the ear with an open jaw. the initial moldings, formed from a relaxed jaw impression, resulted in poor insulation and a loose fit. “highly recommended, but wide open,” jim said. (vol. 30 no. 5 www)


black and white p7, beyerdynamic t1, ​​sony mdr-7506, denon ah-d7000, ultimate ear custom monitors.


beats audio only hd replaced by new model; grace m903 and harman/kardon cl are no longer available.

See also: How to fix one wireless earbud not working? Solved. – My Audio Lover

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