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Reviewers' ChoiceThere’s a belief, common among TV watchers, movie watchers, and apparently people in general, that headphones are magic. That wearing literally any pair of headphones makes you completely oblivious to the world around you. That headphones are able to create a fantastical cone of silence where no reverberations penetrate. If only, am I right? Even the best noise-canceling headphones still let in some sound. Now sure, if you combine high music volume, solid noise canceling, and decent passive reduction, you can get pretty close to this magical ideal. But it’s still fantasy to think slapping on a pair of headphones can really isolate you from the real world. Or at least, it was.

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Reviewers' ChoiceIf I made high-end earphones, I’d find the cheapest balanced armatures available and shove as many as I could into each earpiece. So 64 Audio can do 18 drivers per ear? Big deal—for the Butterphones, I’d do at least 24 per ear; watch with barely concealed glee as CanJam showgoers flock to my booth and ignore Jerry Harvey Audio; then hand out handsomely packaged review samples at a lavish dinner in Irvine, California’s finest high-end chain restaurant, packed in a gift bag including a Buttersound water bottle and 180-gram vinyls from Patricia Barber and Hellhammer.

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You could say that when it comes to headphones, I’m hard to please. Or maybe you could say that I find it easy to disavow any positive feelings when it comes to ear-based hardware. I don’t know why you’d say that, but you could I guess. What it comes down to is because I’ve got a steady supply of headphones passing my earholes it becomes rather easy to dismiss the lesser among them. After all, with so many options why waste time on something lesser?

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A million years ago, in the before times, I worked at Circuit City. It was the golden age of Dolby Pro Logic and the dawn of the Dolby Digital era. Receiver manufacturers far and wide had decided, as if in exquisite concord, that what consumers really wanted was sound modes. Hall, Stadium, Big Room, Small Room, Bucket—the list was endless and somehow also growing. Every new model had yet more of these modes; nearly all just added reverb and ridiculous EQ. And yet, customers asked about them. Asked if they should get the genuine Panaphonics with 18 sound modes, or the Sorny with 20. Surely the uber-expensive and “overpriced” Harman Kardons and Onkyos were inferior with their minuscule sound-mode offerings.

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I’m not much of a sports person. Sort of the opposite of that. Too opposite. I’m pushing maximum density here. But I’m getting better at getting moving. Part of that is traveling, which I do a lot. Well, did a lot. A bit of a break for the last few years for obvious reasons, but I’m back at it. So Geoff, I can’t hear you asking, why are you reviewing earphones that literally have “sport” in the name? Well, dear reader, they’re not just sports earphones, they also have noise canceling. Noise canceling is the bread-and-butter of any tech-savvy traveler. So for that, and for reasons I’ll get into, I’m always on the lookout for well-fitting and comfortable true-wireless earphones. Spoiler: these are those.

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Sound: *********1/2
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Reviewers' ChoiceI feel bad for the old guard of the headphone biz. They spent decades honing their expertise in acoustical tuning of headphones and earphones, only to find themselves competing with mega-companies that can afford to hire dozens, maybe hundreds, of code-slinging engineers to work their magic through digital signal processing. But Beyerdynamic is definitely not throwing in the towel—the Free Byrd true wireless earphones ($249, all prices USD) are a full-on assault on the Apples, Amazons, Sonys, and Samsungs of the world.

Latest Comments

Brent Butterworth 2 days ago Focal Utopia Headphones
@Bill SizerIt's not out of the question. But unfortunately, DCA usually arranges for about five reviews ...
Bill Sizer 6 days ago Focal Utopia Headphones
Nice, thorough review...much appreciated! Speaking of top-tier headphones, any chance you guys will be able ...
@a1982They're supposed to be sending me one ... I'll check on it.
Hi can you measure the 2022 utopia? no one had ever published details like csd ...
@JimmyYeah, I created one for Wirecutter that's an average of the noise canceling between 100 ...
Have you thought of a rating system for noise cancellation. Useful like your other scale. ...
@Brent ButterworthFair. Thank you for your time. Appreciative of advice.
Very informative, easy to read article. It's gotten hard to find reviews of any kind ...
@JonathanYou should read those reviews on this site, read some other reviews, and decide. I ...
@Brent ButterworthThose 4. What would you pick for you? I want sound most, but good cancelling. ...