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When the Audeze LCD-1 headphones debuted a couple of months ago, I was deeply disappointed -- in myself. I’d reviewed the company’s products for years, but never really stopped to ponder why there were LCD-2s, LCD-3s, and LCD-4s, but no LCD-1s. Maybe I assumed it was an early attempt that never came to market. Regardless, the LCD-1s ($399 USD) are here -- but these are radically different headphones from what we’d normally expect of Audeze.

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Reviewers' ChoiceTo date, the best science on what headphone frequency response sounds best comes from Harman Research. Although the group presented its original research at the 2012 Audio Engineering Society Convention, it has only recently begun to influence headphones and earphones made by Harman companies, such as AKG and JBL. In fact, the AKG K371s are the first passive headphones that clearly show the influence of the so-called “Harman curve.” Harman International senior fellow Sean Olive, co-author (with Todd Welti) of the 2012 paper, told me the K371s come within about 1dB of the Harman curve -- which, for passive headphones, is quite impressive, given how complicated they are to tune.

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With the Lagoon ANC headphones, Beyerdynamic takes on the toughest task in audio: trying to beat Bose at the noise-canceling headphone game. Sure, some companies outperform Bose in some ways -- for instance, PSB’s noise-canceling headphones sound better, and Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones cancel noise a bit better -- but still, Bose practically owns the category. The Lagoon ANCs ($399 USD) attempt to best Bose with better sound, sleeker styling, better Bluetooth codecs, and cooler features.

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The Zvox Audio AV50s look like your average, everyday noise-canceling headphones. But they’re not. Zvox specializes in making soundbars that make voices easier to hear. Many audio products claim to do this, but most accomplish it through simple EQ shaping -- usually boosting in the upper midrange/lower treble, somewhere around 2 to 4kHz. Zvox does some EQ, too, but says it also adds dynamic range compression and a few other tricks to achieve more effective voice enhancement. The AV50s bring this technology, which Zvox named AccuVoice, to headphones.

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Reviewers' ChoiceElectrostatic headphones seem to live in the shadow of planar magnetics, even though the two are similar in many ways. Why aren’t electrostatics getting more love? Because they’re kind of a pain. They need an amplifier that can provide hundreds of volts of charge to the electrostatic membrane that is part of each driver, so you can’t plug them straight into a smartphone or laptop. The HiFiMan Jade IIs might help the electrostatic category get a little more love -- not because they’re any less of a hassle than other electrostatic headphones, but because they’re only $2500 USD for the headphones and the amp. That’s far from cheap, but considering that the best-known headphones in the category, the Stax SR-009s, cost about $5000 with an amp, and many new planars cost $3000 or more, the Jade IIs seem like something of a bargain.

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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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Latest Comments

Brent Butterworth 1 days ago Eardrum Suck: The Mystery Solved!
@JeremyCWe did some further study at Wirecutter: https://thewirecutter.com/blog/how-do-noise-cancelling-headphones-work/

That probably answers the first two questions. I ...
@Brent ButterworthI will check it out!

in the meanwhile I have checked out the AutoEQ project and ...
@Brent ButterworthI think Mukund is asking the same thing I'm wondering about:

But *why* does the ...
Brent Butterworth 1 days ago Where Are We At With The Harman Curve?
@DustinApparently. I wish JBL and AKG would market this, and show the Harman curve and ...