John Seaber started JDS Labs in 2007 with the cMoyBB headphone amp, which is based on an open-source design. Seaber revamped the cMoy's power supply and volume control, added a DC power jack, and a special bass boost switch. The tiny amp sold well and got the company off the ground. The cMoyBB is still being made, in an Altoids tin box, and currently sells for $60. Seaber is 26 and has an electrical engineering degree from Missouri S&T University.
Some "portable" headphone amplifiers aren't all that small, but the Firestone Audio Fireye Mini is downright tiny.
It's just 1.5 inches by 1 inch by 0.5 inch, and the soft-rubber-shelled amp weighs almost nothing, so you can hang it off your iPod, iPad, iPhone or any device with a 3.5mm headphone output. Plugging in a headphone turns the Mini on and lights a bright blue LED, unplugging turns the amp off. Charge the Mini via the USB connection and it'll play for up to 24 hours. It's available in green, gray, purple, red, and white.
It seems like every time I write about a USB digital-to-analog converter or portable headphone amplifier I get a slew of reader e-mails requesting a review of one of Fiio's low-cost/high-performance audio components.
Pricing may be solidly in the affordable range, but don't for a second conclude Fiio's components aren't beautifully designed little gems.… Read more
You've probably already read about the latest and greatest in smartphones, tablets, and OLED displays shown at CES, so let's take a look at the coolest high-end audio goodies. We've assembled some of the most promising candidates for your approval.
For anyone searching for wild looking audiophile speakers that stand out from the crowd of rectangular boxes, the new Vivid Audio G3 would be a good place to start. Vivid is coming on strong in the no-holds-barred audiophile market. The G3 stands a little under four feet tall, a good deal smaller than the company's flagship … Read more
The Monoprice 8323 Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style Over-the-Ear Pro Headphones are, hands-down, the best full-size, over-the-ear headphones you can buy on the cheap.
I've written about Monoprice's high-value, low-price cables, and more recently raved about some of its superaffordable speakers and subwoofers, so it seemed like a good time to check out Monoprice's headphones.
Monoprice has quantity pricing for nearly everything it sells, so if you buy two pairs of 8323 headphones it knocks the price down from $21.59 to $21.23. In any case, Monoprice sells the 8323 model with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
I … Read more
I wasn't expecting much from the Hifiman Express HM-101; it's just a $39 outboard USB digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier. Well, this tiny USB-powered (it doesn't need batteries or an AC power supply) device definitely pumped up the sound of my Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones! They sounded significantly better with the Express than they did plugged directly into my Mac Mini's headphone jack. Sure, the Mac's sound is perfectly acceptable--until you compare it to something better.
The Express is a lot better.
Before we go any further, the Express isn't just for headphones, it also has a line-out 3.5mm jack you can run to a set of desktop-powered speakers, like myAudioengine 2s. DAC resolution isn't specified, but it's probably 16-bit/48-kHz.
Switching over from the computer's headphone jack to the Express, the first thing I noticed was that the Express could play a lot louder. That's great, but when playing drummer Ginger Baker's "Going Back Home" CD at equal volume levels from the computer and the Express, the Express unleashed more of the drummer's hard-hitting dynamics. The computer squashed his sound, especially Baker's mighty bass drum. Wow, the little thing delivers. If anything, the Express errs on the side of too much bass fullness, which isn't such a bad thing.… Read more
They don't have the spiky, studded look of the new Lady Gaga earphones, but Audio-Technica's ATH-CKF303 in-ear and foldable ATH-FW33 on-ear Bijoue headphones do have a "jewel-cut" design and fit squarely (or is it octagonally?) in the company's FashionFidelity line.
The new models come in a variety of colors and list for $29.95 and $39.95. One suggestion for Audio-Technica: add an integrated microphone. Diamonds may be a girl's best friend but hey, she needs to make calls, too.
I recently wrote about Musical Fidelity's M1 HPA headphone amp. It sounded spectacular, on par with what I'd expect to hear from a $799 high-end amp. It's expensive, but a significant portion of its retail price is the result of its gorgeous chassis and excellent build quality. Right, just like with all luxury goods--cars, watches, and hi-fis--some portion of the price is just for show, but doesn't enhance the performance capabilities of the product. When people buy luxury goods, they better look the part.
I love the sound of the Musical Fidelity amp and recommend it … Read more
I'm occasionally a guest on WTOP-FM in Washington, D.C., and it's been trying to convince guests to upgrade to USB Skype microphones instead of using lower-quality telephones for future interviews.
To help us pick the right ones, the good folks at WTOP, an all-news station that also broadcasts in Maryland and Virginia, have spent a month testing the best microphones to use with Skype in different price ranges.
Here's what their engineers found, according to Ari Ashe, an evening producer and reporter for WTOP Radio. They rated the audio quality on a scale of 1, a cell phone, to 10, a high-quality ISDN link often used to transmit audio from one radio station to the other, which CNET uses as well.
We highly recommend the Logitech USB H530 at this price point. It's a no-brainer. Logitech delivers a great pack for the punch at about $35. We believe if you're going to already spend $25, spend $35, because the the difference is that noticeable. The only shortcoming is that it is a consumer headset. A great one, but the broadcast gear is even better. On a scale from 1-10: Cell phone (1), Hard line phone (2), Logitech (6), ISDN (10).
Bass may be the single most important sound characteristic people focus on when auditioning headphones. There's either not enough or too much bass, or it's too thick or boomy, and getting just the right balance can be tricky. I like bass, but it has to be clear and well-defined, and Audio Technica's new ATH-WS55 full-size headphones ($100) are exceptional in that regard. Before you get the wrong idea, the ATH-WS55's midrange and treble are just as pure and detailed as the bass.
It's a lightweight (165 gram) design and features Audio-Technica's new Double Air … Read more