Headphones

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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: 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: 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  |  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: 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: 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: 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 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: 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.

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: 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: Andrew Everard, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Feb 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngA high-end luxury headphone solution from a new name, the M1 offers a unique in-house twist on established technology. Is it the ideal solution for 'head-fi' enthusiasts?

There's no denying that headphone listening, or 'head-fi' as some fans describe it, is one of the boom sectors of the audio industry. There are now more upmarket headphones on the market than ever before, along with dedicated amplifiers and other accoutrements, and it's a safe bet that one of the busiest areas of any hi-fi shows is going to be the personal audio zone.

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  |  Dec 01, 2017
hfncommended.pngSomething for the high-end user with a sense of fun – Metaxas' Marquis 'Memento Mori' headphone amp marries form with function and the result is rather jolly. Er, Roger.

Headphones now rule – period – and as a vivid illustration of the current profusion of cans, I was staggered to see, at a store in Tokyo, a selection of something like 1500 headphones, and with plenty of high-end brands notable by their absence.

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