KEF Egg Powered Loudspeakers

July 2016

The speaker designed for desktop use is a category that seems to be in flux. A few companies specialize in desktop designs -- Audioengine comes to mind -- but most mainstream speaker makers have either missed the boat or taken a pass on the opportunity to make a statement in this category.

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AKG N60 NC Headphones

AKG N60 NC headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

July 2016

Reviewers' ChoiceWhen it comes to noise-canceling headphones -- which are designed specifically for travel -- audio reviewers focus almost entirely on their sound quality and on the efficacy of their noise canceling; they rarely consider portability. My guess is that most of these reviewers don’t travel much, and don’t consider how much of a drag it is to have to lug a huge headphone case along. I do travel a lot by air, and I also spend a lot of time on public transit. That’s why the AKG N60 NC’s predecessor, the very similar K 490 NC, has been my favorite noise-canceling headphone since it was introduced, in 2012.

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Bluesound Node 2 Streaming Tuner, Pulse Mini Streaming Loudspeaker, and Vault 2 Streaming CD Ripper and Storage Device

June 2016

When, in the 1950s, Eichler installed the first whole-house intercom/radio system in a tract house, it jump-started a fascination with the notion that you could listen to your favorite radio program anywhere in your home. The marketing went something like this: “With whole-house audio, no matter where you are -- kitchen, laundry, den -- you [the stay-at-home mom] don’t have to miss a word of [insert favorite show, song, etc.]” Of course, it helped if you didn’t mind the horribly tinny sound quality, or the limitations of the AM radioband. The convenience sure beat having a tabletop radio in every room -- even if you already had a tabletop radio in every room.

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Focal Sphear Earphones

Focal Sphear earphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

June 2016

Reviewers' ChoiceWith the Sphear earphones ($149 USD), Focal has become the first high-end audio company to attempt building a product as good as a Bose model. Yeah, I wrote that to rankle audiophiles a bit -- but regardless of what you think of the sound of Bose headphones, there’s no denying that they’re comfortable, and that’s the part Focal is trying to match. A frequent traveler, I believe that the comfort of headphones and earphones is as important as their sound. Getting deeper into the music you love is what high-quality audio is all about, and you can’t get deep into any music when your earlobes feel as if they’ve been worked over by Manny Pacquiao.

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Bluesound Pulse Flex Bluetooth Speaker

May 2016

Until recently, the product category of loudspeaker had seen little change outside of relentless tweaking by designers trying to refine its basic capabilities. Now, like almost everything else, it’s been absorbed into the Internet of Things and forced to undergo some reinvention. Most people associate wireless audio with Bluetooth speakers: affordable, portable, decent-sounding (good ones, at least). But in the past few years other options have emerged that can tap your home’s Wi-Fi network to deliver an even better wireless music experience than a typical Bluetooth speaker provides.

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Audioengine HD6 Powered Loudspeakers

May 2016

Recommending pairs of loudspeakers to audiophiles and to non-audiophiles are two different propositions. It’s analogous to selecting the right bottle of wine to bring to a friend’s house for dinner. If the friend is a wine aficionado, the task becomes a tedious, labor-intensive process that includes trying to remember if she likes red or white, light- or full-bodied, Old World or New World, and so on. In every other circumstance the decision is far easier: $12-$15 USD, cool label, done. Up until 2010 or so, Audioengine’s A2 ($149/pair) and A5 ($349/pair) powered speakers were my go-to suggestions for audiophiles and non-audiophiles alike, and for good reason. The speakers looked good, were easy to set up, and sounded great for the money, with surprising amounts of bass.

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Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD DAC-Headphone Amplifier

April 2016

Quebec’s Simaudio has been designing and manufacturing audio electronics for the past 35 years. The company began with preamplifiers and power amplifiers, and later, following the demands of the market, added CD players and standalone digital-to-analog converters (DACs). More recently, Simaudio has launched a series of components incorporating their Moon intelligent Network Device (MiND) platform, which enables streaming audio from your computer, network-attached storage (NAS) device, or the Internet. It should come as no surprise, then, that Simaudio has brought their electronics-design experience to the thriving market of headphone audio -- with first their flagship 430HA fully balanced headphone amplifier ($3500 USD; add $800 for DAC option), and now the subject of this review, the more modestly priced Moon Neo 230HAD ($1500 including DAC).

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Sennheiser HD 800 S Headphones

Sennheiser HD 800 S measurements can be found by clicking this link.

April 2016

Reviewers' ChoiceIt’s not often that most enthusiasts and professional reviewers agree about a set of headphones, but it happened in 2009, when Sennheiser’s model HD 800 ($1399) was introduced. “I don’t love them, but I respect them,” one of my favorite reviewers told me. Most people thought the HD 800s sounded admirably spacious, but lacked sufficient bass and seemed to highlight flaws in recordings. I heard them at a couple of audio shows and came to the same conclusion -- in fact, after hearing so many initial reports saying the same thing, I decided against reviewing them, worrying that I’d have nothing new to add to the conversation.

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RBH Sound HP-2 Headphones

RBH Sound HP-2 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

March 2016

Reviewers' ChoiceWith their HP-2 headphones, RBH Sound -- intentionally or otherwise -- makes a bold statement: Nobody gives a damn what your headphones look like, so neither should you. Instead, you should care what they sound like and how comfortable they are.

That is exactly the approach RBH took with the HP-2s. The industrial design is fairly generic, reminiscent of Bose’s model QC25. RBH seems to have invested, in top-notch drivers and comfortable padding, all the money they might have spent creating a new design. The drivers use diaphragms made of beryllium, a metal often used in high-end tweeters because it’s extremely light yet stiff. (It’s also brittle and toxic, which is why manufacturing with it is expensive.) The padding, covered in soft plastic, has the look and feel of what you’d see on headphones four times the HP-2s’ list price of $249 USD.

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Pryma 0|1 Headphones

Pryma 0|1 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

March 2016

An ideal world would be meritocratic and egalitarian. Appearance wouldn’t matter. What truly counted would be what was inside each of us. Somewhere in the mooted multiverse such a reality probably exists, but it’s not the one we currently inhabit. Here, not only does one’s physical appearance matter, it’s been suggested that more good-looking people will, all else being equal, be perceived as more intelligent, friendly, and competent than the less good-looking. In fact, studies have shown that, on average, the better-looking get hired and promoted more often, and are paid more. Whether that’s fair or unfair, it might behoove me and you to get into better shape, shave regularly, and wear clothes that actually fit.

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