RBH Sound EP3 Earphones

RBH Sound EP3 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

December 2015

One great thing about the headphone business is that you never know who’s going to rise to the top. RBH Sound, creator of the EP3 earphones reviewed here, is a perfect example. It’s a medium-profile audio manufacturer that never, to my knowledge, strayed outside its specialty -- loudspeakers -- until a couple of years ago, when it came out with its first earphones, the EP1s. The EP1s were voiced by RBH technical director Shane Rich, a talented speaker designer with no previous experience in headphone design. Although they looked rather generic and had no particularly marketable features or design tweaks, the EP1s won numerous rave reviews, and beat out dozens of big-name competitors in a multi-listener comparison test I participated in.

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NAD Viso HP30 Headphones

NAD Viso HP30 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

November 2015

On-ear headphones such as NAD’s Viso HP30 model rarely appear among audio websites’ top picks. There’s good reason for that. First, it’s difficult to make comfortable on-ear headphones, because the earpads, rather than encircle your earlobes, mash directly against them. Second, it’s difficult to ensure that the earpads seal correctly on the ear -- and without a good seal, it’s impossible to get consistently good sound.

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NuPrime Audio IDA-8 Integrated Amplifier-DAC

November 2015

Reviewers' ChoiceNuPrime Audio continues to carve out its own unique path since being spun off from NuForce (now owned by Optoma, an international manufacturer of video projectors). While Optoma NuForce continues to make lower-priced audio products, NuPrime concentrates on designing components of higher performance yet still high value, including amplifiers based on the highly respected, proprietary class-D architecture first developed by NuForce. One of NuPrime’s first products was the IDA-16 integrated amplifier-DAC ($2600 USD), reviewed for SoundStage! Access in January by Vince Hanada, who liked it so much that he bought the review sample.

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Oppo Digital HA-2 Headphone DAC-Amplifier

October 2015

Reviewers' ChoiceI think I like reviewing headphones and mobile audio gear more than I do full-size hi-fi components. The thrill of unboxing a new set of speakers retreats pretty quickly once the outriggers are hooked up, minute adjustments are made to toe-in angles, and the speaker cables are attached. But you live with a pair of headphones. You touch them, grab them, adjust them, and, most important, wear them -- they’re almost as much a fashion accessory as a watch or a pair of eyeglasses. Top-quality appearance and sound are necessary but not sufficient. The quality, durability, and comfort of the materials, the feel of the controls, become much more meaningful when they’re part of a device you physically interact with multiple times a day. A loudspeaker merely shouts at you from a distance.

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HiFiMan HE1000 Headphones

HiFiMan HE1000 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

October 2015

Reviewers' ChoiceTry to build the ultimate loudspeaker and you’ll end up with something costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The ultimate pair of headphones, on the other hand, might cost less than a midpriced high-end stereo amplifier. We’ve recently seen attempts at creating the ultimate headphones, including such models as the Audeze LCD-3 ($1945 USD), the Abyss AB-1266 ($5495), and the resurgence of the classic Stax line, which tops out with the SR-009 ($4450). Now come the HiFiMan HE1000 headphones ($2999), from the company that did much to inspire the recent interest in high-end ’phones.

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Cabasse Stream 1 Bluetooth Speaker

September 2015

I’m listening on the screened back porch downstairs -- we live out here during the summer -- to Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left (MP3, Island) from Amazon’s Cloud, wirelessly streamed to my iPad courtesy our home Wi-Fi LAN and heard through an Urban Beatz UB-SPB80 wireless speaker on a Bluetooth feed from the iPad. The only wires in this transaction are the essential ones: the ISP feed via a coaxial cable to the Motorola Surfboard modem, and a CAT6 cable from that to the Apple AirPort router. What I’m listening to isn’t exactly hi-fi -- it’s about the fidelity of a good table radio a rung below, say, the Tivoli Model One -- but it’s monstrously convenient. (Amazon offers its Prime subscribers a terrific feature: When you buy certain CDs, an MP3 copy can be accessed by a proprietary app via the Cloud. Saves lugging CDs and/or FLAC files around on vacation . . . or downstairs.)

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AudioQuest NightHawk Headphones

AudioQuest Nighthawk measurements can be found by clicking this link.

September 2015

I couldn’t even guess how many companies have gotten into the headphone business since 2010, but I doubt any has done it so boldly as has AudioQuest. Their NightHawks ($599 USD) are the result of a from-the-ground-up effort to improve headphone sound. In fact, so much about the NightHawks is radically different that I mention here only their most important features; if you want an in-depth explanation, AudioQuest has devoted to them an excellent microsite.

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PSB M4U 4 Earphones

PSB M4U 4 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

August 2015

Reviewers' ChoicePSB’s new M4U 4 earphones raise an important question for audio manufacturers: After you’ve achieved near-perfection, where do you go? Before PSB’s founder and chief engineer, Paul Barton, built his first set of headphones, he read all the existing research and did a lot of his own. The result, the M4U 2 over-ear headphones, were indeed close to perfect, according to reviewers. But a manufacturer generally has to offer a complete line of headphones -- and Barton is responsible for designing headphone-related products for two of the audio brands owned by the Lenbrook Group: PSB and NAD. What’s a designer to do? Voice them all the same, so there’s little reason to spend more for the more expensive models? Or make some models sound different from the others?

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Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 Headphones

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

August 2015

Bowers & Wilkins continues to be one of the most popular manufacturers among audiophiles. Mere mention of the name makes me think of hi-fi icons like their Nautilus loudspeaker, and the Nautilus 801 and 802. These speakers were far ahead of their time for their build quality, materials used, and acoustical engineering. Somewhere along the way, B&W made the leap from a pure hi-fi firm to a premium audio company, likely with its introduction of the Zeppelin iPod dock. Since then they’ve moved from strength to strength, offering a variety of wireless speakers, as well as a full range of earphones and headphones. The subjects of discussion here, the P5 Series 2 headphones ($299 USD), are a perfect marriage of old-school hi-fi and class-leading industrial design.

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Aurender Flow Headphone Amplifier-DAC

July 2015

Reviewers' ChoiceIn a recent column, I complained about the rapid growth in the number of lookalike headphone amps that are little more than a DAC-amp chip stuffed into an extruded-aluminum box. The Aurender Flow ($1295 USD) is the exact opposite: a product that represents a major rethinking of what people -- specifically, audiophiles -- need in a headphone amp.

I’m writing this review on a sleek, highly portable Hewlett-Packard Spectre laptop equipped with a modestly sized solid-state drive (SSD) that makes me wish I’d spent the money on a bigger drive. Despite my efforts to move my storage-intensive audio and video files to an external drive, my SSD has just 2.2 gigabytes of space left. Yet thanks to the Flow, I can now use this overstuffed computer to access my entire collection of digital music files, and I can add more music without worrying I’ll run out of space.

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