Headphones

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Review: Christopher Breunig, Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  May 29, 2020
hfncommendedSan Diego-based Dan Clark Audio, previously known as MrSpeakers, has just launched its lightweight but resilient Aeon 2 headphone in both 'open' and 'closed' variants

If you're looking at the photos of the Aeon 2 here thinking, 'Isn't that a MrSpeakers product?', the answer is yes and no. The original Aeon was indeed made by MrSpeakers but recently the company changed its name to Dan Clark Audio, Dan Clark being the company founder. It was a sensible move because MrSpeakers had never made, or looked like making, a loudspeaker, but like all company name changes it can take time to bed in.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 12, 2020
hfnoutstandingWith input from the designer behind MoFi's cutting lathes, the UltraPhono (and StudioPhono) were conceived as high value partners for its affordable turntables

Are we in the midst of a Golden Age of Analogue? If you're returning to, or just discovering the vinyl LP, then yes, we are. Mobile Fidelity's UltraPhono is an example of what the industry can deliver when inspired, and clearly this is a response to the need for affordable phono stages to render suitable 30 years' worth of post-CD integrated amplifiers without phono stages. At £499, it's not for the impoverished analogue neophyte, but neither is it horrendously expensive by any measure.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard, Review: Ken Kessler  |  May 08, 2020
hfnoutstandingIf you have an expectation of Audeze circumaural headphones that they are large and heavy and not something you'd want to schlep around, the LCD-1 is a mould-breaker

When we reviewed the LCD-2 [HFN Mar '13], Audeze was in the vanguard of what was to become the rebirth of isodynamic driver technology, more commonly known today as 'planar magnetic'. To those of us who'd lived through the high-profile launch of the original PM headphone, the futuristic looking Wharfedale Isodynamic, 40 years earlier, it came as a surprise.

Review: Christopher Breunig, Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Apr 21, 2020
hfncommendedWhile their eye-catching aesthetics have been unkindly compared with 'Eastern Bloc, Cold War era' industrial design, these flagship cans still aim to please both head and ears

Is conventional headphone design an example of what biologists call convergent evolution – adoption of a common design solution because it's optimal – or something more akin to herd behaviour: doing it a particular way because we always have?

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 23, 2020
hfnoutstandingBest known for its music rippers and servers, the Korean company has now entered the personal audio market with a comprehensively-equipped DAC/headphone amp

When it comes to affordable music players with hard disk storage, few companies have the pedigree of Korea-based Novatron. Its range of products, sold under the Cocktail Audio brand worldwide – including here, before a UK-only rebranding to Novafidelity – starts from as little as £650 for the X14 model. In this instance the user is able to decide how much storage capacity to have installed, or even buy the unit 'bare bones' and add their own choice of drive.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Mar 10, 2020
hfnoutstandingGenuinely novel headphones are few and far between but here, from a small brand in Vienna, is one worthy of the description. And it can boast a famous ancestor...

Among those fortunate enough to have experienced it, the AKG K1000 is often spoken of with a mixture of reverence and awe. It wasn't just AKG's flagship when introduced 30 years ago, it was an attempt to redefine headphone design and shove it in a new direction. The K1000 had no earpads as such – its capsules were held away from the head by small pads above the ears – and it was pared-down structurally to obviate other resonant cavities and minimise the reflective surface area.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 05, 2020
hfnoutstandingHigh-end headphone amps for connoisseurs of cans require total adjustability – has Manley Laboratories delivered the goods with the Absolute Headphone Amplifier?

Veteran makers of headphone amplifiers for studios, Manley Laboratories is taking on the extreme high-end of the domestic genre with a £4500 unit – the Absolute – that marries audiophiles' sonic requirements with the total control demanded of professionals. Company CEO Eveanna Manley says, bluntly, 'Our goal was simply to produce the most awesome-sounding and sonically flexible vacuum tube headphone amplifier!'.

Review: Christopher Breunig, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Feb 19, 2020
hfnoutstandingHiFiMan has done as much as any brand to popularise the planar magnetic headphone since the technology's revival, and the Susvara is the best PM it knows how to make

Astute readers will have noticed that we've been exploring the HiFiMan range in stepwise fashion. We began with the £475 Sundara [HFN Jun '19], progressed to the £1500 Arya [HFN Aug '19] and have now reached the £5750 Susvara. While, despite its elevated price tag, the Susvara isn't the most expensive headphone the Chinese manufacturer currently offers, the costlier Shangri-La and Shangri-La Jr are both electrostatic models, making the Susvara its flagship planar magnetic design.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jan 13, 2020
hfnoutstandingIt's a brave company that launches a £20,000 headphone as only its second product – and an electrostatic too. Yet more remarkable: that company isn't Chinese but British!

Electrostatic headphones are like royalty: rarefied enough to assume an aura that rivets mass attention. In the case of Warwick Acoustics' Aperio, it's not just its operating principle that catches the eye and sparks interest but its price too: at £20,000 this isn't the most expensive headphone/amplifier combination ever seen but it's up there with the very few daring to dangle a price tag greater than that of a family car.

Keith Howard  |  Dec 04, 2019  |  First Published: Jul 01, 2016
Keith Howard revisits the question of headphone headband resonance

Shortly after my first Investigation into headphone headband resonance was published [see HFN Jun '14], Owen Jones – he who designed THX's Achromatic Audio Amplifier circuit – pointed out to me that I could have done a better job of it.

Keith Howard  |  Dec 03, 2019  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2014
Do headphone headbands carry unwanted sound? Keith Howard finds out

Imagine that instead of each of your stereo loudspeakers sitting in splendid isolation, optimally aligned with respect to the listening seat, there was a large band of metal or plastic curving between them, joining the two cabinets. If you know anything of loudspeaker design and the efforts taken to quell structural resonances, you'd immediately suspect this structure of colouring the sound and – by carrying vibrations from one speaker to the another – of messing with the stereo image.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 29, 2019
At a third of the price of the Nirvana headphone amplifier reviewed in June, Auris Audio's Euterpe promises valve, er, Nirvana for solo listeners with lighter pockets

As one approaches gear at lower price points, every pound matters that much more. It's simply a fact of life: the customer for Auris Audio's Nirvana high-end headphone amp [HFN Jun '19], at £4900, might be cavalier about issues such as value-for-money, features, finish or other details. Not so the prospective client for Auris Audio's £1499 Euterpe, because the market is over-burdened with serious competitors and money is more of a determinant.

Review: Christopher Breunig, Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Nov 26, 2019
hfnoutstandingBeryllium drivers, sustainable hardwood, real leathers, price – these debut open-back 'phones tick all the boxes. But do they offer the ultimate in sound quality?

Mention beryllium and digit counters begin to whorl in the imagination. Unquestionably the very best metal from which to construct a headphone or loudspeaker diaphragm – because the speed of sound through it is over twice that of aluminium, magnesium or titanium – its use has historically been constrained for two reasons.

Review: Christopher Breunig, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Oct 28, 2019
hfnoutstandingWith their unusually extended ovoid cups – pear-shaped, you might say – these new planar magnetics, once auditioned, could easily become the apple of your eye

With 16 current models in its Reference range, HiFiMan's product offering many not be as extensive or potentially confusing as Audio-Technica's but still it's a lot to get your head around. I classify them, informally, into round capsule and ovoid capsule models, the £1500 Arya being one of the latter. It's an apt classification in that once you've worn the Arya – or any other headphone whose capsules better reflect the shape of the external ear – you wonder why headphones aren't all designed this way. You wouldn't wear rectangular shoes, so why are these shapes so widely used for headphone capsules and earpads? It flies in the face of anatomical logic.

Keith Howard  |  Oct 15, 2019
Keith Howard explains how and why HFN has expanded its test regime

Time flies when you're having fun. I bought the equipment to measure headphones for Hi-Fi News as long ago as May 2007, since when I've tested around 115 different models for the magazine. These have included circumaural (over-ear) designs, supra-aural (on-ear) and insert, active and passive, priced from under £100 to almost £5000.

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