One of the great audio bargains, the SR60e has the signature Grado midrange excellence. It also delivers just enough midbass warmth to satisfy, though for bandwidth, low-level detail, and neutrality, you can do better if you pay more.
The smart hi-fi men at HiFiMan of Hong Kong have figured out how to deliver the sonic benefits of planar-magnetic headphone technology for under $400. The HE400s delivered detail and spaciousness that blew reviewer Julie Mullins away. Plus, the HE400S are so high in sensitivity they can be driven by your smartphone—no outboard amp required. Great sounding, and a great value, too.
The Oppo PM-3 uses the same basic technology as the Oppo PM-1 and PM-2 with its sound emanating from a 7-layer planar diaphragm made from double-sided spiraling coils of flat aluminum conductors. By using a double-sided diaphragm the magnetic field is populated with twice as many conductors as a single-sided diaphragm. This, in turn, dramatically increases the headphone’s sensitivity and ability to withstand higher drive forces. If you need a pair of headphones for situations where you want to hear some outside sounds yet also want a headphone that prevents others from hearing your music, the PM-3 would be a savvy option.
PSB Speakers M4U 2
Designed by PSB’s Paul Barton, the M4U 2 is one of the cleverest, most well-thought-out, and best-executed headphones on the market. It boasts a wonderfully extended and neutral tonal balance, with voicing that deliberately adds a touch of bass lift to emulate the low-frequency “room gain” most loudspeakers enjoy. Very good, though not class-leading, in clarity and dynamic swagger, the M4U 2 also offers active noise-cancelling to suppress background noise. If you only plan on owning one headphone for all possible listening contexts, strongly consider this one.
With a basically neutral harmonic balance the PM-1 will appeal to anyone looking for an easy-to-drive, extremely comfortable, open-back headphone suitable for a wide variety of musical genres and electronic devices.
The Stax SR-L700 ranks as the third-best earspeaker in Stax’s lineup. It is also the least expensive earspeaker that uses Stax’s latest electrostatic technology. As such, it is the first new design from Stax that could, due to its combination of lower price and higher performance, lure many longtime Stax owners to replace their older Stax models with an SR-L700. For those audiophiles who want to experience the latest Stax tech, the new SR-L700 is simply the most cost-effective way to arrive at a new level of uncolored sound.
The HD 800s derive their claim to excellence from good bass/treble balance and a rock-solid delivery of musical fundamentals. Bass is deep and articulate, while the 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.
Grado PS 1000e
The PS 1000 builds on the signature midrange excellence of the Grado line by offering more extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum. It is balanced for greater warmth in the bass, mitigating the tendency of some Grados to sound a bit thin. But where the PS 1000 really shines is in delivering a relaxed sense of detail. Connected to a great amp, it will give you goose bumps, guaranteed.
If you’re looking for the state of the art in headphones, look no further than the Audeze LCD-X. These planar-magnetic ’phones have extraordinarily wide and even frequency response and very low levels of distortion. Infinity co-founder and hi-fi legend Arnie Nudell, who reviewed the LCD-X for TAS, wrote: “It is my opinion that the LCD-X can compete with all of the very best high-end loudspeakers.” RH concurs; the LCD-X redefines headphone performance.
Model 2000, $1995
The Gemini 2000 “headphone dock” is a departure from Auralic’s previous offerings because it was created as a lifestyle product to appeal to younger, mobile, entry-level, high-performance audio consumers. Reviewer SS thought by calling the Model 2000 a “lifestyle product” it did the Gemini a disservice. This high-performance DAC/headphone amplifier will be at home in even the highest-end computer audio systems, which makes it the best lifestyle desktop products SS ever heard.
HiFiMan HE1000 v2
This newly updated version of the HE1000 is based on the thinnest planar-magnetic diaphragm of any headphone. The HE1000v2 is fairly lightweight and comfortable as planar-magnetic headphones go. With an impedance of 35 ohms and a sensitivity of 90dB, the HE1000V2 is best driven by a stout amplifier. The HE1000V2 offers a quick, extended, open, and highly detailed treble without a trace of peakiness. These ’phones provided more musically meaningful information than virtually any transducer VF has heard at any price. Throw in beautiful build quality, high comfort, and an included cable set that will work with virtually any source, and you have a recipe for a winner.
While SS hesitates to call any component “the best,” the Focal Utopia certainly ranks as overall the finest dynamic headphone he’s experienced to date. Its faults are minor (the cable), and easily remedied. If your primary listening space is a quiet spot in your home and you want the ultimate in dynamic headphones, the Focal Utopia will have few, if any, peers. This is a true reference component worthy of the finest systems.
One of the best headphones money can buy, the SR-009 offers almost perfectly neutral tonal balance, terrific extension at both ends of the audio spectrum, very good dynamics, and almost shocking levels of resolution, transient speed, and transparency. In all seriousness, this headphone can stand tall in comparison with most any high-end loudspeaker, which is pretty amazing when you consider the huge price differentials involved.
The flagship LCD-4 takes the superb performance of the company’s LCD-X to new heights. The clarity, transparency, soundstaging, and dynamics must be heard to be believed. Although massively detailed, the LCD-4 is anything but etched or analytical. A true reference.