Massdrop x NuForce EDC3 earphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
All by themselves, the Massdrop x NuForce EDC3 earphones tell the story of where the audio biz is headed in 2018. Although the EDC3s pack three balanced-armature drivers into each tiny earpiece, they cost just $99 USD -- about 25% of what three-driver earphones typically cost a few years ago. They’re sold not through retail outlets or even conventional e-tailers, but through Massdrop, a Web-only entity that sells products based on requests and feedback from its own online communities. Five years ago, no one would have believed you could get three-driver earphones for $99, and no one would have heard of Massdrop.
Sonarworks True-Fi measurements using headphones mentioned in this review can be found by clicking this link.
Anyone who’s tried a few different headphones knows their sound can vary wildly. Some sound harsh and thin, others dull and bloated, and many sound good but have a few annoying quirks. When you consider these differences, and that most headphones are now connected to smartphones and computers, it’s not surprising that many apps have emerged to equalize ’phones for better sound. One of those is Sonarworks’ True-Fi ($79 USD), an app for Windows or Apple OS that I first encountered at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show.
Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
These days, it seems as if every major loudspeaker manufacturer has gotten into the headphone market -- but the iconic British loudspeaker brand Bowers & Wilkins has already been at it for the better part of a decade. In 2010, Bowers & Wilkins introduced their P5 over-ear headphones, and since then they’ve released a new or updated model each year. We have reviewed and been impressed with many of these, and 2017’s P9 Signature headphones won Reviewers’ Choice and Product of the Year awards for their high qualities of sound, looks, and build. Bowers & Wilkins’ latest headphones are the PX over-ear model with active noise canceling and Bluetooth ($399 USD). Will it carry on the tradition of excellence?
Klipsch Heritage HP-3 headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
It was high time Klipsch created something like the Heritage HP-3 over-ear headphones. For years, the company has been exploiting its deep heritage with products that reflect the classic great looks and surprisingly tenacious design concepts of founder Paul W. Klipsch’s original horn loudspeakers. Yet in the mobile space, Klipsch has focused most of its efforts on tiny, balanced-armature earphones that can’t benefit much from the Klipsch cachet. To my delight, the HP-3s look like something Paul Klipsch himself might have designed back in the 1950s.
Focal Clear headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
Headphones are like loudspeakers in two important ways. First, both make sound. Second, in both categories, what was recently considered a super-high-end product is now touted as “midpriced” or “accessible.” Take, for example, Focal’s Clear open-back headphones. They’re priced at $1500 USD, which slots them between Focal’s first two high-end models, the Utopias ($4000) and the Elears ($1000). Sure, the Utopias are among the costliest headphones available today, but for most people, spending even $500 on headphones is unthinkable.
In late 2015, Amazon launched its first Echo smart speaker, ushering in a new category of technology products. A year later, Google introduced the Echo’s first competitor, the Google Home, and in spring 2017, Microsoft announced a partnership with Harman/Kardon to bring Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana -- present on any PC running Windows 10 -- to a standalone wireless loudspeaker, the Invoke ($199.95 USD).
AKG N60 NC Wireless headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
Noise-canceling headphones are greatly prized by commuters and frequent fliers, as they subdue engine noise and other intrusive sounds. Up until now, most noise-canceling (NC) headphones have been over-ear designs, to provide a better seal. But commuters also like headphones that are smaller and lighter and can be folded up into smaller packages. AKG has therefore decided to release on-ear models, wired and Bluetooth, that can be folded up yet provide enough NC to be viable. Their Bluetooth model, the N60 NC Wireless ($299.95 USD), provides wireless transmission backed up by a wired analog cable mode. Design-wise, AKG has achieved this goal, but I have some minor criticisms, and a major criticism of something that will be, for some, a deal breaker.
Acoustic Research AR-H1 headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
The AR-H1 headphones are the last thing I expected from Acoustic Research. Audiophiles know AR as the pioneer of the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker, in 1952, and as the builder of widely varying yet generally quite good speakers created in the 1990s by teams that included such audio luminaries as NHT cofounders Chris Byrne and Ken Kantor, Infinity cofounder and current Artison CEO Cary Christie, and current James Loudspeaker CTO Mike Park. But for the last 15 years or so the AR brand has been applied mostly to accessories, such as inexpensive cables and Bluetooth speakers -- in fact, AR is currently owned by Voxx Accessories Corp. While it’s puzzling to see this once-revered, now-trashed brand name suddenly applied to high-end, planar-magnetic headphones, I have to admit that it gives me a bit of a warm feeling inside.
Sony WH-1000XM2 earphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
Based on what I’ve observed, the greatest challenge in headphone design isn’t building the world’s greatest audiophile headphones. It’s building really good noise-canceling headphones. Consider the challenges Sony faced in creating the WH-1000XM2 noise-canceling (NC) headphones ($349.99 USD). The engineer must deal not only with the incoming music signal, but also with the signals coming from one or two microphones in each earpiece, each mike separately filtered to compensate for its distance from the driver, and for the acoustical properties of the driver and enclosure. The response of the drivers must be tuned to compensate for the effects of NC on the headphones’ sound -- and they still have to sound reasonably good in passive mode, when the battery runs down. Then there’s the noise of the internal amps and microphones to worry about. Perhaps worst of all, I’m told that many of the key patents of this technology are still held and vigorously defended by Bose.
Monoprice Monolith M300 earphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
Products like the Monolith M300 in-ear earphones show how different Monoprice is from other audio brands. Other than their name and logo, Monoprice makes no pretense of brand identity in their products. Their focus is working with various overseas manufacturers to deliver products of (usually) reasonably good quality in all sorts of categories, at prices so low that few other companies can match them. However, the Monolith M300 earphones reflect what seems to be a minor sideline for Monoprice: products that look like knockoffs of well-regarded models made by other companies.