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Grado reminds me of some of the musicians I’ve encountered. Most people I play gigs with show up on time, play whatever the leader wants, and do a solid job on most or all of the tunes that get called—but they don’t really stand out. There are a few, though, who maybe aren’t so reliable, or get fussy about what we play, or might suddenly sit out on a tune they don’t like—but blow my mind at least once per gig with the brilliant stuff they play. Grado’s the headphone equivalent of that. I’ve loved a few of its headphones, but some I’ve found too far outside the norm to enjoy. So when the company offered me the RS2x headphones for review, I had no idea whether or not I’d find them sonically simpatico with my ears.

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Sendy Audio is a China-based brand well known to headphone enthusiasts and totally unknown to anyone else. At a quick glance, Sendy’s new Apollo headphones ($499, all prices USD) look a lot like the Sendy Peacock headphones ($1499)—but a longer look tells you that there are big differences between these two models. A glance can’t tell me which headphones are better, but it does show me several reasons why one of them costs three times as much.

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I sure didn’t see this coming. Not just because the N⁰ 5909 headphones are the first to wear the Mark Levinson brand, but they’re also priced about twice as high as the next-most-expensive set of noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones.

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I’d say that over the last ten years, there’s been more innovation in headphones and earphones than in any other segment of audio—and there’s a lot more coming. With the “wearables” and “hearables” trends, audio companies and tech companies are exploring new form factors, hearing-enhancement capabilities, and other new features that can turn headphones into a substantially different experience than what we’re used to. Considering that SoundStage! Solo focuses on products targeted at audiophiles, I generally don’t review these types of products here—but I decided to make an exception when I heard the Soundcore Frames.

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My first “real” job was writing ads for a Dallas agency that handled Wilsonart decorative laminates. Wilsonart was number one in market share, yet they made it a rule never to innovate. They’d let competitors like Formica and DuPont come up with new ideas and build public awareness for them, then Wilsonart would launch something similar and out-distribute the other companies. Monoprice follows a similar plan with its headphones—a year or two after an innovative headphone technology comes out, Monoprice jumps in with a similar product at a lower price. The Monolith AMT headphones are the latest example.

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There are all sorts of paths into the audio products biz, but one of the most tried and true is to start as a dealer. That’s what happened with the new Caspian headphones, which are sold by Apos Audio, an online retailer specializing in headphones and related gear. Although Apos has been offering its own line of cables for some time, the Caspians ($499, all prices USD) are the company’s first attempt at making a complex audio product.

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