Hans said: The A1 headphone amplifier-DAC is pretty much faultless in terms of sound quality; add in its flexibility and DSD capabilities, and I could happily live with one for a long while.
The gist: Stylish, full-featured, great-sounding headphone amp.
Hans said: On the whole, the EH008s sounded nearly full-range, with a wealth of resolution easily audible down to all but the very lowest registers, and with low-frequency information doled out in responsibly ample portions.
The gist: Competitive with the better earphones out there.
Vince said: Although other portable USB DAC-headphone amps work well with Apple devices, the ADL by Furutech X1 is a unique device that adds 24/192 capability via USB. It sounded splendid at all resolutions, and with every device that I connected it to. At $479, the X1 is pricey -- but you get a versatile, classy-looking device with exceptional sound quality to match its good looks.
The gist: Competition for Astell&Kern.
Rad said: The Astell&Kern AK240 makes it possible to listen to high-resolution music practically anywhere. It’s pricey, but look at what it can do and what components it can replace, and see if that doesn’t lessen the sticker shock. After using it for a month, I concluded that it was probably worth close to its asking price of $2499.
The gist: Lotta money, but if you want portable hi-rez . . .
Garrett said: The Audeze LCD-3s created the best head-fi listening experience I have yet had. They’re serious contenders for a reference-level set of headphones and a must-hear for anyone looking at the top-tier of head-fi.
The gist: The anti-Beats set of headphones.
S. Andrea said: The LCD-Xes imbue every recording with a little extra glow, but their enhanced high-frequency performance, and the fact that they’re more easily driven, will likely broaden their appeal beyond Audeze’s current fan base. Last, the LCD-Xes’ materials, build quality, and accessories embrace both luxury and utility. For anyone truly serious about headphones, the Audeze LCD-Xes are a must audition.
The gist: Newish company stands apart in a crowded headphone market.
Rad said: Audio-Technica’s ATH-AX5iS headphones are in no way outstanding, but they have competently good sound, and they’re lightweight and easy to wear for just about any activity.
The gist: Not bad, but doesn’t stand out in a crowd.
Brent said: I think probably just about anyone would like the Audiofly AF140s. Who would love them? Listeners who want a neutral, natural, spacious sound in the mids and treble, combined with some extra bass power.
The gist: Audiofly’s upscale earphone series contains this good middle-of-the-road performer.
S. Andrea said: The P7 headphones are another well-thought-out design by team B&W. They’re fashionable in a mature way, with high-quality materials and meticulous attention to detail. And there is substance to go along with the style.
The gist: Great for your tunes and your image.
Brent said: If you like a little extra treble, and if you want to hear every last detail in all of your music, the S5 is one of the few earphone models I’ve heard -- actually, it’s the only one I can think of -- that can do detail without downsides.
The gist: Detail monsters.
S. Andrea said: Where the Spirit Classics step ahead of most of their competition is in the exceptional clarity with which they reproduce the textures of voices and instruments, and their excellent dynamic contrasts. With that combination of strengths, any audiophile looking for closed-back headphones should audition Focal’s Spirit Classics.
The gist: Andrea was knocked out by this stylish French design.
Rad said: The JBL Synchros E50BTs are excellent commuter headphones. They sound terrific, they’re extremely simple to operate, and they can be used wirelessly via a Bluetooth connection, or wired with a cable connection. They look stylish, fit securely on the head and ears, and though they have no noise-reduction circuitry, they block a huge amount of exterior noise.
The gist: Just another good set of headphones at a respectable price.
Hans said: I was deeply surprised by the M200s’ high qualities of materials and sound. This model is a strong candidate at the $200 price point, and a laudable freshman effort on the in-ear-’phones front from one of audio’s most respected names.
The gist: Take KEF sound everywhere.
Rad said: Those uncritical of sound quality will perhaps be OK with the sound of the Motorola S11-HDs, but audiophiles will find them unacceptable. That’s too bad, as the features and design are such great improvements over the S10. But somewhere along the way, good sound got lost.
The gist: These pretty much sucked.
Brent said: I doubt the existence of any earphones that every listener will love -- people’s reactions to headphones seem to be too varied to make so broad a prediction -- but clearly, the Viso HP20s are world-class earphones with great sound at a reasonable price.
The gist: If it’s got a speaker in it, designer Paul Barton can make good sound come out of it.
S. Andrea said: With their combination of dependable-looking build quality, reasonable price, and strong marks in all areas of sound reproduction, the Viso HP50s carry on the NAD tradition of solid performance and high value.
The gist: PSB’s NAD counterpart is a winner, too.
Brent said: The NuForce Primo 8s are flat-out great earphones. Yeah, $499 is a lot to pay for in-ears when you can get quite a nice set for $150 or so. But I think anyone who cares about audio will appreciate the Primo 8s’ practically perfect bass, ultraclear midrange, uncolored treble, and -- most of all -- awesome sense of space.
The gist: With these expensive earphones, the sound supports the price.
Uday said: The HA-1 functioned beautifully in all of the roles I asked it to play in my system, and its sound quality was first rate. Its build quality is fantastic, it’s very user friendly, and it works as advertised. If you’re looking for a one-box headphone amp, preamp, and DAC, your search should begin and end here.
The gist: Oppo seems to only make winners, and the HA-1 is no exception.
S. Andrea said: Oppo Digital’s first headphone model proves itself a strong competitor in the very demanding premium-headphone segment. The PM-1s’ warm balance pairs wonderfully with voices, offers enough extension to capture the essence of all manner of instruments, and grants an enjoyable listening experience with almost any recording. Their bass reaches authoritatively into the bottom octave and can deliver a firm punch, but always remains clear and controlled.
The gist: Well-built, stylish, and great sounding.
Rad said: The Outdoor Tech. Privates are stylish, can be used wired or wirelessly, fold up for easy packing and conveyance, and sound like much more expensive headphones. They’re the best on-ear headphones in their price range that I’ve heard.
The gist: Totally cool in an outdoorsy, adventurer sort of way.
Garrett said: If you’re looking for something with real power and versatility, arresting looks, and seriously good sound, I heartily recommend the Pathos Acoustics Aurium. You may end up buying one. I did.
The gist: Italian style and classic sound to power your headphones perfectly.
Brent said: I’m impressed at the overall quality and design of the Level Ins. However, these earphones’ lower-treble peak spoils them for me. That’s disappointing -- I suspect that the Level Ins may be only a tweak away from greatness.
The gist: One potentially fatal flaw.
Brent said: I’ve worked on reviews of some 100 earphones, for websites including Sound & Vision and The Wirecutter, and I can’t think of anything I’ve tried for under $300 that I like better than the Sony XBA-H1 earphones.
The gist: The buck-fifty earphones to beat.