Headphones

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Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 24, 2022
hfnoutstandingThe Polish brand scored a prestigious EISA award with its first product, the Hypsos power supply – can it build on that success with its all-analogue headphone amplifier?

Polish company HEM, based just outside Warsaw in Pruszków, had something of a dream debut for its Ferrum brand: its first-ever product, the Hypsos power supply collected a 2021-22 EISA award in the Hi-Fi Accessory category [HFN Mar & Oct '21]. The judges praised it as 'a potent upgrade for a wide range of devices, not least USB DAC/headphone amplifiers, typically encouraging a sound with greater ease and smoothness – and yes, power!'

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 16, 2021
hfnoutstandingThe evergreen Uniti Atom all-in-one platform, complete with custom streaming solution, is adapted to service the needs of the most demanding headphone users

Never let it be said the product name isn't long enough – in the 12 years since Naim launched its network audio all-in-one, to which the buyer need only add speakers, it's grown from the simple NaimUniti of the initial model, all the way to this, the £2399 Naim Audio Uniti Atom Headphone Edition. And yet here, less is more.

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: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 26, 2021
hfnoutstandingWith deep roots in 'professional audio' and a novel discrete op-amp module as a key driving force, SPL is looking to bring a splash of colour to our audiophile universe

Well, it makes a change from the usual choice of silver or black… Yes, you can have the German-made SPL Phonitor xe USB DAC/headphone amp, which starts from £1899 depending on specification, in either of those colours if you want, but it's also available in the bright red anodised finish you see here. Not that it needs colour to catch the eye for the unusual battery of features makes it either intriguing or something of a head-scratcher: what do all those knobs and switches do? And then there's the pair of illuminated, retro-looking VU meters – this is clearly not your common or garden DAC/headphone amp.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 27, 2021
hfnoutstandingLaunched with a typically dazzling array of acronyms, the NEO iDSD is nonetheless a more focused DAC/pre/headphone amp, equipped with the latest 'hi-res' Bluetooth

Seemingly there's no stopping Southport-based iFi Audio: it just keeps on trotting out new digital products, all aiming to fill a gap in the market – or create a new gap to fill. Indeed, while writing this review I was unsurprised to see another new launch pop up, in the form of the bright red iDSD Diablo.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 14, 2020
hfnoutstandingThe giants of small-scale audio solutions have just expanded the ZEN range of BT and USB DACs with a beefier, all-analogue 'drive anything' headphone amp. A bargain?

There's an air of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' about iFi Audio's ZEN CAN. The third model in the Merseyside-based company's affordable range of (non-portable) desktop devices, it shares the physical chassis design of the earlier £129 ZEN DAC and ZEN Blue models [HFN Jul '20] and promises the same mix of 'high-performance audio' and value for money. Yet there's arguably more to this cost-conscious headphone amplifier than meets the eye.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 08, 2020
hfnoutstandingIn a world where every other product seems to have streaming this or network that, this compact box from the German brand is about as direct – or linear – as it can get

Writing in his Welcome page last month, editor Paul Miller explained how shifting hugely heavy equipment about is all part and parcel of the HFN reviewing 'experience'. Perhaps he was eyeing a recent speaker launch proudly declaring that its new products weigh over 450kg apiece. Add on their external crossover with its power supply, and a quartet of high-quality amps to drive them, and you could well end up wondering whether your floor will support a tonne and a half of hi-fi.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 17, 2020
hfnoutstandingClose on the heels of T+A's flagship Solitaire P headphone comes this appropriately luxurious partner combining familiar digital tech with a Class A headphone amplifier

Well, it seems everyone's doing it, so why shouldn't German high-end company T+A have its own headphone system? Hot on the heels of its first headphone offering, the Solitaire P planar magnetic design [HFN Jun '20], T+A also has a matching headphone amplifier, the HA 200 – and here it is. Even by the standards of some of the headphone exotica out there, the Solitaire P/HA 200 duo is pitched unashamedly high: the 'phones will set you back £4800, and this headphone amp £6600 in either black or silver finishes, making the whole system the thick end of £11,500. So you're going to have to be pretty serious about your headphone listening to consider it.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 24, 2020
hfnoutstandingWith its eye-catching looks, flexibility, solid engineering within and a remarkably grown-up sound, this entry-level DAC from iFi Audio is a conspicuous hi-fi bargain

We've come a long way since iFi Audio was started as an offshoot of high-end brand Abbingdon Music Research, building its initial reputation with its 'Purifier' products, designed to clean up digital signals. And if anyone was labouring under the delusion that these were devices designed to tackle non-existent problems – you know, the old 'digits is digits' thing – the company has since expanded into making everything from complete systems to some of the most cost-effective DACs and headphone amps around. After all, its excellent xDSD [HFN Jul '18], was a 2018-19 EISA Award-winner, following on from the 2014-15 winning footsteps of the nano iDSD [HFN Dec '14].

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: 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.

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