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: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 21, 2022
hfncommendedThe game of one-upmanship between portable headphone DACs and DAPs continues with Astell&Kern's 'triple amp' SP2000T featuring a KORG Nutube for 'tube warmth'

Far from listening rooms filled with huge monoblocks and heavier-than-a-grown-man loudspeakers, a few brands are catering to another class of enthusiast by taking the concept of a digital audio player (DAP) to new heights. Astell&Kern, a spin-off from Korea's iRiver, crafts very sophisticated pocket hi-fi that's light years removed from the humble iPod.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 26, 2022
hfncommendedWith powerful battery pack and styling inspired by the Mars rover, the CA1000 aims to squeeze the performance of a full-sized 'digital' headphone amp into a portable player

The new Astell&Kern ACRO CA1000 desktop player/DAC/headphone amplifier, selling for £1999, has a raft of functionality built-in – and yet I'm still not quite sure who it's for… Of course, this is far from the first step beyond its core expertise in high-quality pocket music players taken by the company. After all, it's already given us the extraordinary AK500 stack system [HFN Apr '15], active speakers and the chunky ACRO L1000, its first desktop headphone amp/DAC.

Review: Ed Selley, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 27, 2021
hfncommendedThe third portable player in A&K's 'alloy brick' KANN series boasts extended battery life, a higher powered headphone amplifier and compatibility with Bluetooth 5.0

With modern smartphones able to offer high-resolution audio playback, the market for dedicated portable audio players is now fairly niche. One of the biggest fish in this relatively small pond is Astell&Kern, which offers an extensive range of models priced between £625 and £3400. These are divided into four lines – KANN, A&norma, A&futura and A&ultima – with the £1099 KANN Alpha being the latest addition to the KANN series and slotting in between the existing KANN and KANN Cube players on price.

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: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 20, 2022
hfnoutstandingTiny, solidly made, UK-built and now even more capable, is this compact USB DAC/headphone amp from Chord Electronics still the one to beat below £500?

Inundated as we are with pocket-money portable headphone amp/DACs, Chord's Mojo 2 asks the question: why drop £449 on a portable headphone DAC? Once you hear it, you'll understand, especially if top-quality sound on the move matters to you. The Mojo 2 is an upgrade on the top-drawer Mojo [HFN Jan '16], the battery-powered, smaller-than-a-deck-of-cards DAC/headphone amp. It arrives with only a £50 price increase that doesn't even correspond to real-world inflation. Even without the Mojo 2 improvements, the original Mojo should retail for £470 in 2022 just for the inflation, so Chord has somehow managed to squeeze in a host of upgrades with but a nominal price hike.

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.

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