Headphones

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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 and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jun 19, 2020
hfncommendedThere's no point in doing research to establish the optimum headphone frequency response, as Harman has done in recent years, unless you sell a product that delivers it...

If like me you enjoy the ancient notion that an engineer is someone who can make for a shilling what any fool could make for a pound, you'll share my longstanding delight at finding unpretentious, low-bling but high-achieving products which, despite modest price tags, blow away a lot of their more expensive competitors. Products which convince you that resources have been husbanded and design effort expended in pursuit of one key goal: first-class sound.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jun 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngAn engineering tour-de-force informed by the latest research in ‘targeted sound curves’, the miniature N5005 in-ear headphone features no fewer than five drivers

The hi-fi industry throws up some wonderful contradictions. If this were a review of a five-way loudspeaker you’d expect it to be a monster and question whether five-way wasn’t one way too many. If the subject of the review were a five-way over-ear headphone you’d think the world had gone mad: most over-ear headphones make do with a single drive unit, and while there have been two-way models they have rarely been successful. Yet going down the size scale one more notch to the insert earphone (aka in-ear headphone), here we have a new £800 flagship model from AKG boasting, yes, five drive units within its compact exterior dimensions.

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 and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jul 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngFollowing a succession of top Audio-Technica headphones that were variations on a familiar theme, this latest flagship open-back model rings some significant changes

Audio-Technica currently offers a bewildering 22 headphone models to its European customers in the hi-fi category alone, and goodness knows what exotica there may be which never escapes Japan. Prices range from £30 at the bottom end to £1990 at the top, that latter tag dangling from this new model, the ATH-ADX5000, but if you thought you knew what to expect from A-T’s most expensive headphones, it may surprise you a little.

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: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 20, 2019
hfncommendedGorgeous looks, superlative build quality, and hailing from Serbia, the Nirvana is a headphone amplifier that oozes luxury. We find out if the sonics match the styling

Having followed Auris Audio from show to show since its 2013 founding, I leapt at the chance to review its stylish Nirvana two-chassis headphone amplifier. I'm no longer shocked by the cost of high-end headphone amps, especially not at a time when £3000 headphones are common, so its £4900 price tag earned a mere 'Meh' from me. After all, I'd be putting it through its paces with, among others, the Audeze LCD-4Z, which sells for £3600.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngDesigned to match its compact DACs, Benchmark’s all-analogue headphone amplifier employs the same THX ‘Achromatic’ tech debuted in its 100W AHB2 power amp

With the boom in headphone listening outpacing even the uptake of new turntables, the hi-fi landscape has changed to a significant extent. Not only are hi-fi shows shining a spotlight on the personal listening experience but dedicated headphone events have spun out in their own right. And the hardware is changing, too: the market is awash with DAC/headphone amp combos, all the way from the tiny (and highly portable) AudioQuest DragonFly models [HFN Oct ’16], to the ‘transportable’ Chord Hugo 2 [HFN Aug ’18] and mains-powered units such as the iFi Audio Pro iDSD [HFN Sep ’18].

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.

Review: Cliff Joseph, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jan 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngIt took some time to develop its first noise-cancelling headphones, but Bowers & Wilkins has thrown down the gauntlet to its rivals with this high-tech PX model

Noise-cancelling headphones are undoubtedly useful if you want to relax and block out the background drone on a long journey by train or plane, but the technology can also have a frustrating, deadening impact on sound quality. And rarely is adding Bluetooth wireless streaming a boon to great sound.

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: Christopher Breunig, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Apr 18, 2019
hfncommendedWith the Fostex T50RPmk3 as its donor chassis, headphone accessory brand Dekoni Audio breaks into the big time with a back-to-basics planar magnetic. It's blue too...

Now where did I put my headphones?' It's not a question you are likely to ask with the Dekoni Audio Blue, as it comes in the associated Japanese company Fostex's signature colour, with a boldly lettered headstrap. It's the first headphone product from Dekoni Audio – a New Jersey company specialising in replacement pads for a range of 'phones – and an obvious step for Dekoni to take.

Review: Dean Hartley, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Mar 06, 2019
hfncommendedYou won't find any 'on-the-hoof' fripperies here as the Japanese company unveils a new iteration of its tried-and-trusted AH-D5000 headphone, with 'free-edge' tech

At £549, the AH-D5200 represents the entry level offering in a new three-model range from Denon, with the AH-D7200 (£699) and range-topping AH-D9200 (£1399) completing the lineup. They are all closed-back designs and aimed squarely at the home audio user looking for a premium set of cans. The large over-ear, non-folding arrangement ensures they're not the type of thing you could or would want to take on the road, but more likely to take pride of place in a study or living room, ready for those relaxing musical pastimes.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Mar 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngFocal’s latest luxo-headphone slots in between the Elear and Utopia models, in the hotly-contested ‘affordable high-end’ middle ground – we hear the sound of £1400

If I have learned anything about committing one’s thoughts to print, it is Never Make Predictions. They will invariably be wrong and will come back to haunt you. I am thus unwilling to hazard a guess as to the longevity of the boom in headphone sales and usage. As long as it continues, however, in the best ‘make hay while the sun shines’ manner, Focal is covering all its bases. The latest to join its high-end family is the £1399 Clear, between the dearer Utopia [HFN Feb ’17] and less costly Elear [HFN Apr ’17].

Review: Christopher Breunig, Lab: Keith Howard  |  May 17, 2019
hfncommendedLooking for isolating headphones to wear when out and about? Focal has the answer in its first closed-back cans, the elegant Elegia, with tech derived from earlier models

The idea of listening to music while commuting or exercising was almost unheard of until the advent of the Sony Walkman 40 years ago, but nowadays it's ubiquitous. And with the 'Beats' generation wearing full-sized headphones this too has become widespread. One of the advantages, along with sound quality, is the increased sense of isolation – for which you might look for a closed-back model. So, following its £3250 flagship Utopia [HFN Feb '17], £800 Elear [HFN Apr '17] and £1399 Clear [HFN Mar '18] open-back predecessors, Focal has integrated these technologies into a closed-back design – the £799 Elegia.

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