Headphones

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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.

Review: Christopher Breunig, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Sep 24, 2019
hfncommendedTaking a load off your mind, these headphones are claimed to be the lightest open-backed planar magnetics around. Great for comfort – but what about the sound?

We've reached the stage in the renaissance of the planar magnetic (aka isodynamic) headphone where merely being one is no longer worth more than a passing mention. In fact it's a few months since I've had anything but PM headphones arrive for review. So to be more than the PM headphone du jour, any new model needs something extra: a true USP.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard, Review: Christopher Breunig  |  Sep 03, 2019
hfnedchoiceThe Chinese company claims a decade of planar driver technology development with these robust mid-priced open-backed 'phones – are they a cause for celebration?

With HiFiMan's UK distribution now switching to Signature Systems, we are at last able to get our hands on this idiosyncratic range of headphones from China. What makes them idiosyncratic is not merely their use of planar magnetic (aka isodynamic) drive units – something which is becoming increasingly mainstream – but that these drivers are reminiscent of isodynamic units of the past in respect of their low sensitivity.

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: Christopher Breunig, Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jul 05, 2019
hfnoutstandingThe French speaker company has upped its game with this de-luxe closed-back design – perhaps aimed to make a 'mocha-ry' of the competition? Let's see how well it sounds

Hot on the heels of the Elegia [HFN Mar '19] – the first closed-back model in Focal's revamped, post-Spirit headphone range [HFN Dec '15] that launched in 2016 with the open-back Utopia [HFN Feb '17] – comes the second closed-back design, the £2799 Stellia. These two flagship models, both featuring beryllium diaphragms, effectively bookend the range, their less costly siblings being based around the same M-cone drive unit concept but with a less exotic aluminium-magnesium diaphragm.

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