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In many ways, the MEE Audio Matrix Cinema ANCs are the headphones of the future. As the name suggests, they’re built not just for music listening, but for all sorts of media, including movies and YouTube. As required of pretty much any under-$300 headphones that hope to succeed in today’s marketplace, they have Bluetooth -- and not just Bluetooth, but aptX Low Latency, which eliminates the lip-sync problems that standard Bluetooth suffers from. They’re also primed for mobile use, with active noise canceling and a fold-flat design convenient for traveling. The battery is rated at 20 hours for music playback with Bluetooth and noise canceling on, and 33 hours with Bluetooth only. Not bad for $149.99 USD.

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I’d probably never have paid Status Audio -- or its new BT One headphones -- any attention were it not for something I never asked them to send. I’d requested a set of the company’s OB-1 open-back headphones for a comparison test, and they threw in a set of the closed-back CB-1s for good measure. Months later, desperate for headphones that would be better for mixing my recordings than Sony’s mildly bass-boosted MDR-7506es, I gave the CB-1s a try -- and their neutral, balanced sound (which resulted in neutral, balanced mixes) immediately made them my pro monitoring and mixing headphones of choice. Pretty impressive for $59 USD.

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Reviewers' ChoiceThe Empyreans represent the gutsiest move the headphone biz has seen in a long time. At $2999 USD, they’re almost ten times the price of Meze Audio’s next-priciest over-ear headphones, the 99 Classics ($309). They use a new driver technology I’ve never seen before. And they’re designed and manufactured in the medieval country town of Baia Mare, Romania, which isn’t exactly a tech nexus.

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If you asked me to name a high-end headphone brand, I might think first of Audeze or HiFiMan. But ten years ago, I might have named Denon first. Much -- actually, almost everything -- in the headphone world has changed since then. Yet Denon has taken a relatively low-key approach to the hype-heavy headphone market. Even the company’s most elite current models were “soft launched,” posted on the company’s site with little fanfare. The AH-D7200 headphones ($999 USD) were introduced in December 2016, but I only found out about them when I stumbled upon them at CES in January.

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After seeing prototypes of the Cleer Next headphones at a couple of trade shows, I’d filed them into my “if it ever ships” mental folder and soon forgotten about them -- and thus missed the initial introduction of these last fall. Fortunately, Cleer had to send me a sample of its other headphones, the Flow noise-canceling model, for a measurement project and offered to throw in the Nexts, too. Considering that the company seems in the midst of a major ramp-up, I thought I’d give the Nexts a proper technical workup to see where this company’s starting from -- and I’m glad I did, because they’re among the more interesting audiophile headphones I’ve recently encountered.

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Reviewers' ChoiceWhen I first encountered Focal’s new Stellia closed-back headphones, I was exhausted and eager to hit the road. It was last month at CES 2019, in an early-morning, press-embargoed meeting scheduled right before my departure. Figuratively speaking, the imaginary sounds of my car calling out to me from the Mirage hotel parking lot drowned out most of Focal’s pitch. Regardless, I left with a review sample, and after living with the Stellias for a month, and soliciting the opinions of our usual listening panelists, I really don’t care what that original pitch was -- because I think my reaction to these headphones might be a little different from the way the company will position them.

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