The House of Marley Liberate headphones don't look or feel like any other $100 pair. Most are flimsy plastic things, while the Liberate's metal, wood, hemp cloth, and vinyl construction gives it the feel of a more expensive design. The Liberate features 40mm drivers and an unusually flexible cable with an iPhone/iPad-compatible mic and inline controls. The headband isn't hinged and the earcups don't fold flat, but the upside to those design choices is the Liberate will probably withstand rough treatment better than most hinged models. Then again, the Liberate's cable isn't user-replaceable, … Read more
Bass-emphasized headphones are now the norm, so much so that when I get to listen to more accurate headphones they really stand out. Not that I have anything against bass, readers of this blog who crave feel-it-in-your-bones bass had their turn with the JBL Synchros S700 headphones, so now it's time to go for a higher-resolution/clarity model with the new Phiaton Fusion MS 430 M-Series headphones ($179).
The earcups' carbon fiber inserts are a sleek styling touch, but the ear cushion's comfort levels are good, not great. While the headband padding may be a little lean for … Read more
I get to hear a lot of headphones. Don't be jealous, most of them are different shades of awful. Some are so bad I yank them off my head in a few seconds, some are just cheap copies of famous headphones, and some are built like crap. The Griffin Technology WoodTones jumped out from the pack: they're beautiful, they're comfortable, and they sound great.
True to their name they're available in Beech, Sapele, and Walnut. Handling these $99.99 headphones, I found the real wood earcups make for a very different feel than the more typical … Read more
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.
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
The BlueAnt Embrace on-ear headphones ($200) look luxurious and, if you don't mind, adult. I sometimes think a lot of today's headphones are designed to look cool to 15-year-olds, with boosted bass and highs designed to dazzle young ears. The Embrace's demeanor is more, shall we say, reserved?
Maybe it's the all-black color scheme and lack of flash that first appealed to me, but then I fell in love with the thickly padded headband and pillowlike ear cushions. My ears and head appreciate being coddled like this. The sound mimics the Embrace's look and feel: … Read more
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