Introduction to Headphone and Earphone Reviews

From the days of the huge, over-the-ear headgear, with the coiled phone cable, that we used with our parents’ home hi-fi, to the latest wireless Bluetooth earbuds, headphones have been with us forever. In fact, without them, the category of “Personal Audio” couldn't properly exist.

In recent years, a spate of technological and material advances has increased both the sound quality one can expect and the available types and sizes of headphones to choose from. From the lowliest cell phone earbuds to reference quality electrostatic headphones, as consumers and audiophiles today, we are spoiled for choice. Closed-backed, open-backed, dynamic drivers, planar magnetic, electrostatic, balanced armature drivers, noise cancelling, Bluetooth, and that's just the tip of the iceberg! We haven't even touched on the available styles and aesthetics of these products we wear as well as listen to.

Typically, of course, the most cutting edge models command higher prices. Truly eye watering sums can be spent by committed souls who want “the best” out there. But we also have seen those same technologies that make the best headphones so special, gradually trickle their way down to genuinely improve the models that reside a little closer to Earth for most of us.

While we don't typically bench test headphones, we do rely on extended critical listening combined with our experience to provide honest feedback that will help you wade through the seemingly endless headphone and earphone choices out there.

Headphone and Earphone Reviews

HiFiMAN HE-400i Planar Magnetic Over-the-Ear Headphones Review

The HiFiMAN HE-400i is an updated version of their entry model HE-400 featuring the new design changes introduced in the terrific HE-560 planar magnetic headphones. Believe it or not, at $499 the HE-400i is an absolute steal in the headphone world. Planar magnetic designs are often tricky, with drivers that require strong housings for the magnets which add extra weight along with needing plenty of wattage to drive. HiFiMAN has successfully solved both of these drawbacks with the HE-400i. They are easy to drive, light, and incredibly comfortable and that's just the icing on the cake. These bring phenomenal tonal quality, clarity, and depth to the music they deliver.

HiFiMAN HE-560 Planar Magnetic Over-the-Ear Headphones Review

The newest planar magnetic headphones from HiFiMAN ushers in a new generation of design. A brand new single-sided driver allows for better imaging and sounds along with significant weight savings. Considerable thought has gone into the ergonomics of the new headphone and that has lead HiFiMAN to create the most comfortable over the ear headphone that I have had the pleasure to wear. Oh and they sound simply brilliant. A great buy in today's bustling headphone market.

OPPO PM-1 Planar Magnetic Over-the-Ear Headphones Review

OPPO, known for their very high quality universal players, including the latest OPPO BDP 105 Blu-ray player, has now ventured into another arena: headphones. Their first model, just released, is the OPPO PM-1, which is an over-the-ear design, using planar magnetic drivers. At a time when everyone seems to be offering headphones and/or earbuds as part of their product portfolio, only a handful really stand out as top notch performers. The PM-1 is destined to join that group. NOTE: INFO ON THE NEW OPPO PM-2 HEADPHONES IS POSTED AT THE END OF THIS REVIEW - APRIL 29, 2014.

NAD HP20 In-Ear Headphones (Earbuds)

The HP20 is a welcome addition to the in-ear (earbud) headphone family from none other than NAD. These little guys pack a lot of punch into a small package and at $169 they cost almost half as much as the $299 NAD HP50 headphones. Like the HP50, the HP20 also takes advantage of the years of research spent at the acoustic labs of Canada's National Research Council. This research is what Paul Barton utilized to create RoomFeel, the concept of making a headphone sound more like listening to a pair of speakers in a room.

NAD HP50 Viso Over-the-Ear Headphones

The NAD HP50 is the latest headphone design from Paul Barton, founder of PSB, a sister company of NAD, and features a new trademarked concept called RoomFeel. RoomFeel attempts to recreate the sound of listening to high-end speakers in a room. Most listening rooms add a low frequency bump to the sound that is often not taken into account when designing headphones. A room gain compensation transfer function was developed to add a +3 dB per octave boost from 200Hz down to 50Hz in order to replicate the fuller, warmer sound of a room. Clearly a lot of time and engineering has gone into the development of these headphones, the only question is, did it pay off? Yes it most certainly did.

RBH EP2 Noise Isolating In-Ear Earphones

RBH Sound is no newcomer to the audio market. They began in 1976 as an OEM manufacturer for companies including McIntosh, JBL, and Parasound. Since then, they have built up their own brand name; one of quality high-performance loudspeakers. Now they have started to produce their own line of earphones. The RBH EP2's, reviewed here, are in-ear earphones.

Paradigm H15NC Noise-Cancelling On-Ear Headphones

The new Paradigm H15NC Noise-Cancelling Headphones are the latest foray into the lucrative headphone market and part of the Shift line of Paradigm products. They feature a noise isolating on-ear design along with active noise cancellation which utilizes a microphone paired with processing to analyze the noise around you and filter it out. Paradigm believes that sound quality trumps celebrity endorsement, and I couldn't agree more. Let's see if the H15NC headphones are up to snuff.

Ultimate Ears 4 Pro Custom In-Ear Headphones

Ultimate Ears is one of the most well-known and respected names in the custom in-ear monitor (IEM) market (part of the general class: headphones). While historically custom IEMs were targeted at music and sound industry professionals, manufactures have more recently started marketing their monitors to audiophiles, recognizing that many of their attributes might be valued by this community as well. I recently had the opportunity to take a look at UE's entry level 4 Pro Custom IEM and am excited to pass along some thoughts.

Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X Over-the-Ear Headphones

Audio-Technica has been around for over 50 years making professional microphones, phono cartridges, and headphones. Given that it is nearly impossible to research audiophile headphones and not come across Audio-Technica in some fashion, I felt it imperative that I review a pair. Outside of brief, less than ideal listening at trade shows, the ATH-AD900X is the first headphone from Audio-Technica that I have used. In today's vast ocean of headphones, Audio-Technica's claim to fame is offering audiophile sound quality at an affordable price. The ATH-AD900X is the successor to the ATH-AD900 and unfortunately I haven't listened to the AD900 so this review will focus purely on the new ATH-AD900X. The only thing I will mention with regards to the model differences would be the subtle visual differences in the design. The open air cage that covers the back of the drivers is more spaced out on the newer AD900X, so much so in fact, that the insides are easily visible – a neat aspect. Also the logo and markings are in gold rather than the silver of the older model.