The Audez’e LCD-2 is a planar-magnetic headphone that both looks and sounds gorgeous. The LCD-2 offers generally neutral tonal balance with a very slight hint of warmth, coupled with extremely high levels of resolution and detail. Indeed, the sound of the LCD-2 parallels that of Quad’s revealing yet natural-sounding 2905 electrostatic speaker. For best results, make sure to buy the version with Audez’e’s Rev. 2 drivers and uses a moderately high-powered headphone amp.
Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla
The T1 does everything well, offering wide-bandwidth frequency response that— though tilted slightly to the warm side—is quite balanced from the bottom octaves to the top. The T1 is also low in coloration, very transparent, and offers excellent reproduction of microdynamics, giving the music a sense of life and conveying spatial information beautifully. The only drawback is a slight sense of dynamic reserve, underscoring the fact that the T1 requires a potent amp.
Grado PS 1000
The PS 1000 builds on the signature midrange excellence of the Grado line, by offering a more extended sound on both ends of the frequency spectrum. It is balanced for more warmth in the bass, mitigating the tendency of some Grados to sound a bit thin. But the PS 1000 really shines by delivering low-level detail in an effortless, relaxed way. The PS 1000 needs, and merits, a very good amp.
HiFiMAN’s HE-5LE is a curve-breaker—doing more for less than most of its competitors can (sort of like a pair of Magneplanar MG 1.7’s for your head). The Maggie comparison is apt, since the HiFiMAN HE-5LE’s also feature light, responsive planar-magnetic drive units. As a result, the HE-5LE offers balanced and extended frequency response, uncanny top-to-bottom coherency, an exceptional degree of transparency, and terrific resolution of low-level details. Not very easy to drive, it needs a high-powered/high-quality headphone amp.
HiFiMAN’s HE-500 is one of the greatest headphones on today’s market—and a good value to boot. The HE-500 delivers bass power and definition that are the best TM has heard from any headphone. The HE- 500 separates instruments clearly without the “hyper resolution” that can become aggressive and distracting. It also exhibits very low grain, so that inner details are well conveyed. Better still, the HE-500 is easier to drive than other HiFiMAN planar magnetic models.
The HE-6 is HiFiMAN’s flagship headphone and incorporates the most responsive and revealing planar-magnetic drivers the firm makes. The HE-6 essentially builds upon the strengths of the HE-5LE, delivering a slightly brighter and amazingly revealing sound. The HE-6 reminds us of hyper-revealing loudspeakers like the MartinLogan CLX, but with the ability to deliver deep, powerful bass. For optimal sound, you’ll want to drive the power-hungry HE-6 with a potent headphone amp or even a full-size audio amplifier.
The HD 800s derive their claim to greatness from good bass/treble balance and a rock-solid delivery of musical fundamentals. Bass is deep, with an articulate midbass that is naturally proportioned. Lower midrange is clean, with good reproduction of power instruments. The upper midrange can seem a bit depressed, however, necessitating real attention to amplifier matching. You want to find an amp with low output impedance and midrange warmth. Treble can seem too revealing and thus a bit ragged, so these are headphones that also want the purest D/A conversion you can muster.
Stax SR-007 Omega Reference Series II Headphone with SRM-007T II Energizer
$2600 (headphone), $4649 (headphone plus energizer combo)
The world-class electrostatic headphone and dedicated electrostatic-specific amp offers levels of clarity and nuance that not only rival but may actually surpass those of event the most costly speaker-based reference systems. As our reviewer put it, the Stax combo “lays bare different aspects of the music, performers, and their performance.” ‘Expensive, yes, but also worth every penny.
Ultrasone Edition 8 S-Logic
This headphone is almost impossible to fault when judged by standard audiophile criteria. It has a very linear balance, treating each octave equally and offering macrobalance (bass/treble) that is akin to live music. Distortion levels are quite low, which helps dynamics sound right, and bandwidth is wide, so you get deep bass and extreme treble extension. The Edition 8’s neutrality makes it a good canvas for those who enjoy tweaking via amplifier selection. The Ultrasone’s only limitation is that it offers a bit less low-level resolving power than a few competitors do.