Wireless loudspeakers are propagating at a remarkable rate. The first appeared in the 1990s, and received music signals from the source components via RF. But they sounded pretty awful, and didn’t catch on. The next wireless speakers used Bluetooth, which have gradually become better as Bluetooth’s codecs have improved, from SBC to aptX to the new aptX HD. Lately we’ve seen a proliferation of wireless speakers that work via Wi-Fi; these are easy to implement, as most people’s homes now have a wireless network. Apple, Google, and Amazon are the latest and biggest players in this market, with voice-activated products that also play music.
I’ve been asked to review several home-theater soundbars over the years, and I usually decline. In my experience, the vast majority of them don’t sound any good. They’re so compromised in size and abilities that they wouldn’t be on the radar of most home-theater enthusiasts. Nor have I had an easy way to accommodate a soundbar, either in my home-theater room or my living room. The speakers in my living room are on-wall models, and running wires from my receiver to a traditional soundbar would be messy.
The Missus and I relocated to the Carolina coast earlier this year, and are now happily perched next to a tidal creek and its wondrous array of wetlands avifauna. When we moved, two desires (read: edicts) were that the living area of our new house have excellent music and movie sound but not be awash in speakers. This is something I clearly understand. Few artifacts of modern living disrupt domestic feng shui more than arrays of surround-sound speakers, and man, there can be a host of them -- 11.2 channels, anyone?
Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
Some of the fabled audio brands of my teen years, in the 1970s, seem to be aging even less gracefully than I am as they face brutal competition from online merchants and low-cost Chinese brands. Sure, established names like Sennheiser can still command a premium over such brands as Fleeken, Hiearcool, and Paww. But when consumers can choose between OK headphones for $70 and name-brand cans for $350, most will likely cheap out. I’m guessing this is why Sennheiser has introduced the HD 4.50 BTNC noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones for $199.95 USD -- half the price of their next-least-expensive current models of this type, the PXC 550 Wireless and HD1 On-Ear Wireless, both at $399.95.
JBL E55BT Quincy Edition headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
The E55BT Quincy Edition headphones take me back to the early days of the headphone boom, when it seemed that the primary goal of headphone brands was to get a celebrity to endorse their products. While endorsements were once common to the point of absurdity -- Soul Electronics sold a model endorsed by Tim Tebow -- these days they’re rare. I think the E55BT Quincy Edition ($199.95 USD) is the first set of celeb-endorsed headphones I’ve reviewed in about four years.
In this brave new world of Wi-Fi-driven audio, there is no understating the importance of a robust home Wi-Fi network, and in our move from northern Virginia to coastal Carolina we’ve met the issue of robustness head on. We’ve completely revamped and upgraded our Wi-Fi network, which now includes a dual-band range extender so that even the farthest reaches of our new house produce all four bars on the Wi-Fi signal strength indicator. As a precaution, I also put into effect Plan B and had every room in the house wired with Ethernet -- RJ45 ports with CAT5 cabling -- because, as good as Wi-Fi is, it can be maddeningly unpredictable. As it turned out, Plan B was essential to reviewing Bluesound’s Pulse Soundbar and Pulse Sub.
Tidal Force Wave 5 headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
In the last several years, new headphone brands have seemed to emerge almost weekly. It used to be we reviewers would roll our eyes and ignore the latest press release touting a celebrity endorsement, or boasting of a headphone’s “Xtreem!” bass, or trying to lure us with flashy styling. We figured these mass-market products wouldn’t appeal to most of the people who read our reviews. Lately, though, we’ve seen more new brands focus on the audiophile segment. One is Tidal Force, which just launched its first headphone model: the Wave 5 ($299 USD).
Monoprice M1060 headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
The audio industry is now seeing two clear, opposing, concurrent trends in product development: a race to the top and a race to the bottom. The race to the top is evident at any hi-fi show, where demos are dominated by amps and speakers priced in the mid-five figures. The race to the bottom can be found on the Internet, where high-value audio specialists fight to see who can most dramatically undercut audio’s storied brands. The Monoprice M1060 headphones ($299 USD) exemplify the latter trend.
“Schiit happens.” It’s not the sort of language usually found in an owner’s manual for a headphone amplifier like Schiit Audio’s Jotunheim ($399 USD). No, an owner’s manual is usually full of bland marketing copy, loosened rules of grammar, regulatory warnings, and stultifying technical detail. I almost never use them, and unless you’re a novice audiophile, neither should you. The folks at Schiit seem to agree. In the preface to their safety instructions, they state: “The following is required by the roughly 9,542 government agencies and regulations we have to comply with. If you have some common sense, they should seem pretty straightforward.” Who are these guys? I did some digging.
HiFiMan Susvara headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.
Trying to judge the HiFiMan Susvara headphones on the basis of only their performance and design is as hopeless as trying not to think of an elephant. Once you see the Susvaras’ $6000 USD price tag, there’s no way to banish from your mind this question: “How can a set of headphones be worth so much?”