Until recently, the product category of loudspeaker had seen little change outside of relentless tweaking by designers trying to refine its basic capabilities. Now, like almost everything else, it’s been absorbed into the Internet of Things and forced to undergo some reinvention. Most people associate wireless audio with Bluetooth speakers: affordable, portable, decent-sounding (good ones, at least). But in the past few years other options have emerged that can tap your home’s Wi-Fi network to deliver an even better wireless music experience than a typical Bluetooth speaker provides.
Recommending pairs of loudspeakers to audiophiles and to non-audiophiles are two different propositions. It’s analogous to selecting the right bottle of wine to bring to a friend’s house for dinner. If the friend is a wine aficionado, the task becomes a tedious, labor-intensive process that includes trying to remember if she likes red or white, light- or full-bodied, Old World or New World, and so on. In every other circumstance the decision is far easier: $12-$15 USD, cool label, done. Up until 2010 or so, Audioengine’s A2 ($149/pair) and A5 ($349/pair) powered speakers were my go-to suggestions for audiophiles and non-audiophiles alike, and for good reason. The speakers looked good, were easy to set up, and sounded great for the money, with surprising amounts of bass.
Quebec’s Simaudio has been designing and manufacturing audio electronics for the past 35 years. The company began with preamplifiers and power amplifiers, and later, following the demands of the market, added CD players and standalone digital-to-analog converters (DACs). More recently, Simaudio has launched a series of components incorporating their Moon intelligent Network Device (MiND) platform, which enables streaming audio from your computer, network-attached storage (NAS) device, or the Internet. It should come as no surprise, then, that Simaudio has brought their electronics-design experience to the thriving market of headphone audio -- with first their flagship 430HA fully balanced headphone amplifier ($3500 USD; add $800 for DAC option), and now the subject of this review, the more modestly priced Moon Neo 230HAD ($1500 including DAC).
Sennheiser HD 800 S measurements can be found by clicking this link.
It’s not often that most enthusiasts and professional reviewers agree about a set of headphones, but it happened in 2009, when Sennheiser’s model HD 800 ($1399) was introduced. “I don’t love them, but I respect them,” one of my favorite reviewers told me. Most people thought the HD 800s sounded admirably spacious, but lacked sufficient bass and seemed to highlight flaws in recordings. I heard them at a couple of audio shows and came to the same conclusion -- in fact, after hearing so many initial reports saying the same thing, I decided against reviewing them, worrying that I’d have nothing new to add to the conversation.
RBH Sound HP-2 measurements can be found by clicking this link.
With their HP-2 headphones, RBH Sound -- intentionally or otherwise -- makes a bold statement: Nobody gives a damn what your headphones look like, so neither should you. Instead, you should care what they sound like and how comfortable they are.
That is exactly the approach RBH took with the HP-2s. The industrial design is fairly generic, reminiscent of Bose’s model QC25. RBH seems to have invested, in top-notch drivers and comfortable padding, all the money they might have spent creating a new design. The drivers use diaphragms made of beryllium, a metal often used in high-end tweeters because it’s extremely light yet stiff. (It’s also brittle and toxic, which is why manufacturing with it is expensive.) The padding, covered in soft plastic, has the look and feel of what you’d see on headphones four times the HP-2s’ list price of $249 USD.
Pryma 0|1 measurements can be found by clicking this link.
An ideal world would be meritocratic and egalitarian. Appearance wouldn’t matter. What truly counted would be what was inside each of us. Somewhere in the mooted multiverse such a reality probably exists, but it’s not the one we currently inhabit. Here, not only does one’s physical appearance matter, it’s been suggested that more good-looking people will, all else being equal, be perceived as more intelligent, friendly, and competent than the less good-looking. In fact, studies have shown that, on average, the better-looking get hired and promoted more often, and are paid more. Whether that’s fair or unfair, it might behoove me and you to get into better shape, shave regularly, and wear clothes that actually fit.
HiFiMan Edition X measurements can be found by clicking this link.
I can’t believe I’m reviewing $1799 headphones that are considered a step-down model. The HiFiMan Edition X is a less-costly version of HiFiMan’s flagship headphones, the HE1000s ($2999), which I recently reviewed and truly loved. Except for color and materials, the Edition Xes look almost identical to the HE1000s, but they’re intended as a more practical product. Not only do they cost $1200 less, they’re touted as being sensitive enough that any smartphone can drive them.
JBL Everest Elite 700 measurements can be found by clicking this link.
The JBL Everest Elite 700s are the most technologically advanced headphones I’ve tested. I can’t think of a significant feature they don’t have, but the most innovative is TruNote automatic calibration. TruNote uses an internally generated test tone and an internal microphone to evaluate the acoustical effects of your ears, and tunes the Everest Elite 700s’ frequency response to compensate for those effects. It’s basically a headphone version of the auto-calibration technologies, such as Audyssey MultEQ, found in most A/V receivers. This feature was launched earlier this year in the N90Q ($1499.95 USD), from AKG -- which, like JBL, is owned by Harman International.
Klipsch Reference X20i measurements can be found by clicking this link.
When non-audiophiles see something like Klipsch’s new Reference X20i earphones priced above $500 USD, they’ve got to wonder how something so tiny could be worth so much. For that price, you can buy a TV or a digital SLR camera -- something that looks as if it costs $500. But the X20i’s don’t appear to be substantially different from Klipsch’s R6 earphones, which cost only $79. What makes them worth $549 -- nearly seven times as much?
A price of $349.99 USD might seem high for a medium-size Bluetooth speaker, but the KEF Muo isn’t just any Bluetooth. With its release, KEF enters a new realm of speaker manufacturing -- namely, of portable wireless Bluetooth speakers -- while upholding its longstanding reputation for making great-sounding audiophile speakers.
Box and specs
The Muo is available in Neptune Blue, Light Silver, Sunset Orange, Storm Grey, or Horizon Gold, and comes in an oblong box of heavy cardboard. The top lifts off to expose the speaker, covered in clear plastic -- nice plastic, not the blister-pack style that rips your fingers. Lift the Muo to discover its accessories: a braided USB-to-Micro-USB cord, three power adapters that allow you to charge the Muo from your home’s power grid, and a quick-start guide and warranty information.