The way I see it, high-end audio is all about the pursuit of excellence, and Audeze headphones exemplify that philosophy. Now sure, most headphone manufacturers try to make the best products they can, but mass-market brands have to satisfy a broad range of tastes, load on features like Bluetooth and phone controls that don't enhance sound quality, and design their products within real-world price constraints. Audeze engineers focus on doing whatever it takes to make the world's best-sounding headphones, and the results speak for themselves.
The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is held every October in Denver, and every year it's packed with the latest and greatest high-end audio goodies. High-end doesn't necessarily mean outrageously expensive, though; Schiit Audio was previewing its upcoming $119 Vali tube headphone amplifier, and I quickly auditioned Audioengine's soon-to-be-released $249/pair A2+ desktop speakers. I hope to get one of the first pairs in for review. Hifiman was showing prototypes of a sleek portable music player that comes with a set of the company's excellent in-ear headphones; the complete system price was $249.
Oppo, best known for … Read more
I've heard a lot of, but far from most of the world's best headphone amps, but even in that heady territory the Auralic Taurus MKII shines. I've used a wide range of my very best headphones, in-ears and full-size, and they're all sounding better than I've heard them before.
The $6,475 Mal Valve amp is right up there, but it's been a few months since I heard it, and I never had it at home so my experience was more limited. I had the luxury of living with the Taurus MKII for weeks, … Read more
Elegantly designed, affordable products are marvels of our age, but then there are the extreme, defiantly outrageous ones designed to thrill. Take the new 640-horsepower Dodge SRT Viper GTS: this $120,000 supercar looks like a venomous snake with wheels and can propel its owner to insanely fast speeds, but the car probably won't be of much practical use as a grocery hauler or picking up the kids from soccer practice. The Abyss AB-1266 is the SRT Viper GTS of headphones. It's a no-holds-barred attempt to build the best-sounding headphone on the planet.
The mostly metal design is … Read more
The Fostex TH600 full-size headphones' sound is downright addicting. They take you inside the sound of a recording like few other headphones can. Unfortunately, Fostex's U.S. distribution of its high-end headphones is very limited (it's a Japanese company), but Fostex dealer Moon Audio was kind enough to send over a sample pair of TH600 headphones ($1,299) fitted with an extra-cost Black Dragon V2 cable. Fostex also offers much less expensive models, including the $129 T50RP, but the company mostly caters to the pro sound market.
The TH600 has large 50mm drivers, matched with an unusually powerful … Read more
I heard through the grapevine that the Mal Valve Head Amp Three takes headphone sound to the next level, so I had to check it out for myself. I brought two of my best headphones to the Audioarts NYC showroom to audition the amp, and it really was an ear opener. "Space" was the first thing I noticed, the Mal Valve decodes spatial cues in recordings better than any amp I've heard to date; and the resolution, clarity, and purity of the sound were all superlative via my Audeze LCD 3 headphones. The Mal Valve frees up … Read more
The Fosgate Signature Headphone Amplifier is one of the very best-sounding amps I've ever used. It was designed by one of the greats, Jim Fosgate, a man who earned 18 audio related patents, founded a number of successful electronics companies -- oh, and he pioneered high-power car audio systems. He was also a big supporter of the very first home surround format -- quadraphonic -- in the early 1970s, and so committed to the format that even as quad was winding down, he designed the Fosgate Tate 101, arguably the finest quad processor of the era. Fosgate also created … Read more
Most of the headphones I've tested over the years weren't designed to have a neutral balance of bass, midrange, and treble frequencies. Manufacturers are well aware that most people like bass, and that buyers tend to favor one headphone over another based on how much bass it produces. I think that's obvious, but a recent study cited in Brent Butterworth's blog countered that assumption. "The Relationship between Perception and Measurement of Headphone Sound Quality," a paper by Sean Olive and Todd Welti presented at last October's Audio Engineering Society convention found that a … Read more
America may not design world-class cars anymore. We don't build TVs, phones, tablets, cameras, or all that much consumer technology, but we're still at the top of the heap in high-end audio! That's why the White House should have an American engineered and built hi-fi system for use by the president and his invited guests.
I'll volunteer my services to coordinate and help assemble such a system (presumably donated by the manufacturers). On a leap of faith, I'm assuming the president still plays LPs, so I'd recommend the Spiral Groove turntable and tonearm from … Read more
The Burson Soloist looks and feels like a scaled down high-end stereo power amplifier, but the Soloist is a headphone amp. The chassis is constructed from thick slabs of machined aluminum that dissipate the heat from the amp's Class-A electronics. The amp would appeal to Ferrari and Leica camera owners who appreciate no-holds-barred industrial design. The Soloist is the real deal.… Read more