Headphones

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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.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard  |  Jun 26, 2019
hfncommendedA development of the earlier M4U 2, this new design adds Bluetooth and internal battery charging while listening, via micro USB. How do the improvements stack up?

Although it received a lukewarm review in these pages [HFN Dec '13], the M4U 2 – predecessor to the M4U 8 we're looking at here and still available – proved to be a success for PSB, garnering plaudits and awards along the way. The M4U 8 looks very similar and it would be easy to suppose that it's just an M4U 2 with wireless capability in the form of Bluetooth and NFC (near-field communication) bolted on. In fact it's a bit more than that, principally because its onboard DSP capability allows it, in active mode, to deliver a more precise adherence to PSB's RoomFeel target frequency response.

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.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 23, 2019
hfncommendedFrom the company that's built itself a reputation as the go-to brand for personal audio devices, can this simplified xCAN headphone amplifier continue the success story?

Once only known for odd small USB or S/PDIF signal conditioning devices, iFi Audio has grown in stature to encompass a wide range of mainly digital products, and has plans to keep on expanding into new areas – including a highly innovative Bluetooth speaker on the stocks claiming very superior performance. However, two of the success stories of 2018 were its DSD products – the EISA Award-winning xDSD pocket DAC/headphone amp, and the very fine desktop Pro iDSD [HFN Sep '18].

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  |  Dec 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngMeze Audio turns up the heat in the hotly-contested high-end headphone sector with the radical Empyrean, claiming the first 'Isodynamic Hybrid Array Headphone'

Yes, £2700. For headphones. Ulp!… Meze Audio isn't messing around with its assault on the state-of-the-art and, thankfully, its new Empyrean model goes to great lengths to justify that price. These ooze with innovation, the construction is impeccable – all the better to convey immediate perceived value – and, thanks in no small part to the impressive packaging, an air of luxury rare in hi-fi. Which is what I have been screaming about for years: these tell you that you're getting what you pay for, and in spades.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngThe companion to Klipsch's retro HP-3 headphones has similarly 'classic' styling – yet within the casework is a strikingly capable DAC/amp with an appeal beyond the brand

For some reason, one can't help but be reminded of those great American festive TV specials, usually called 'Home for the Holidays' or something similar, hosted by the likes of Andy Williams or Perry Como, and performed in a huge log-cabin set far up in the mountains of a Burbank backlot. You see, Klipsch has gone decidedly retro with its Heritage range, as noted in our review of its HP-3 headphones [HFN Nov '18], with a brochure liberally scattered with downhome images almost clamouring for a fine bourbon and an even finer cigar.

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].

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngLuxman’s update of its fully-loaded, flagship headphone amplifier has resulted in the heavyweight P-750u – is this incarnation a contender for the best of the breed?

Decades on from the likes of the EarMax, AudioValve RKV and other pioneering headphone amps, born before cans became a ‘thing’, we are now spoiled for choice. Luxman, which has been on dazzling form of late, has upgraded its no-compromise champ to produce the P-750u, and it just may be the go-to unit if you’re 1) crazy for cans, 2) use various models and 3) love added fine-tuning control.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngThe most ambitious iFi digital product to date is a hugely flexible DAC/headphone amp with an eye on both studio and consumer markets. But is it just a bit too complex?

The idea of the DAC/headphone amplifier is firmly established, whether for ‘on the go’ use, desktop audio or as a main system component. Less than £100 will get you started, with the likes of the AudioQuest DragonFly Black [HFN Oct ’16], Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS V2 or Cyrus SoundKey, while the ambitious might consider models such as the long-running Chord Electronics Hugo [v2, HFN Aug ’18] and costing the thick part of £2000. However, even by the standards of this highly diversified market sector, the range-topping model from iFi Audio, the Pro iDSD, looks pretty punchy with its £2500 price-tag.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Aug 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngEighty-two years after its founding and 61 years after the ESL-57, Quad delivers its first headphone, the ERA-1, and it's a planar design... but not an electrostatic!

For Quad devotees, the ERA-1 headphone has been a long time coming. One suspects that the company – like B&W, KEF and so many other traditional British brands – saw the writing on the wall. And what did this say? 'Headphones are now the only growth area in audio.' Disagree or concur, that's the reality check in the post-iPod era, and Quad has wisely chosen to deliver a model costing £599.

Review: Cliff Joseph, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngWith a more compact and elegant design, plus both wired and wireless connectivity, iFi Audio’s new top-of-the-range portable DAC/headphone amp seems to have it all

The iFi Audio range of portable DACs and headphone amps has been one of the main challengers to the popular Chord Mojo [HFN Jan ’16], with its first-generation nano iDSD [HFN Dec ’14] picking up an EISA Award back in 2014. The company recently updated its range with the entry-level nano iDSD Black Label [HFN Apr ’18], which offers a highly competitive audio upgrade for just £199. However, it’s this new xDSD model that’s setting the standard for the company’s latest range of products, with a more streamlined and portable design, improved connectivity, and a £399 price tag that pits it right up against the Mojo.

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