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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Optoma NuForce HEM8 earphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

How many drivers do earphones really need? I’ve heard models with as many as eight per ear. I’ve also heard excellent earphones that have just one driver per ear. With their HEM earphone models, Optoma NuForce lets you decide. You can get the single-driver HEM2s ($119 USD), the two-driver HEM4s ($299), the three-driver HEM6s ($399), or the four-driver HEM8s ($499). All share the same enclosure shape and features. When NuForce asked which I wanted to review, I opted for the top-of-the-line HEM8s.

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Focal Sphear earphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceWith the Sphear earphones ($149 USD), Focal has become the first high-end audio company to attempt building a product as good as a Bose model. Yeah, I wrote that to rankle audiophiles a bit -- but regardless of what you think of the sound of Bose headphones, there’s no denying that they’re comfortable, and that’s the part Focal is trying to match. A frequent traveler, I believe that the comfort of headphones and earphones is as important as their sound. Getting deeper into the music you love is what high-quality audio is all about, and you can’t get deep into any music when your earlobes feel as if they’ve been worked over by Manny Pacquiao.

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Klipsch Reference X20i measurements can be found by clicking this link.

When non-audiophiles see something like Klipsch’s new Reference X20i earphones priced above $500 USD, they’ve got to wonder how something so tiny could be worth so much. For that price, you can buy a TV or a digital SLR camera -- something that looks as if it costs $500. But the X20i’s don’t appear to be substantially different from Klipsch’s R6 earphones, which cost only $79. What makes them worth $549 -- nearly seven times as much?

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

RBH Sound EP3 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

December 2015

One great thing about the headphone business is that you never know who’s going to rise to the top. RBH Sound, creator of the EP3 earphones reviewed here, is a perfect example. It’s a medium-profile audio manufacturer that never, to my knowledge, strayed outside its specialty -- loudspeakers -- until a couple of years ago, when it came out with its first earphones, the EP1s. The EP1s were voiced by RBH technical director Shane Rich, a talented speaker designer with no previous experience in headphone design. Although they looked rather generic and had no particularly marketable features or design tweaks, the EP1s won numerous rave reviews, and beat out dozens of big-name competitors in a multi-listener comparison test I participated in.

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

PSB M4U 4 measurements can be found by clicking this link.

Reviewers' ChoicePSB’s new M4U 4 earphones raise an important question for audio manufacturers: After you’ve achieved near-perfection, where do you go? Before PSB’s founder and chief engineer, Paul Barton, built his first set of headphones, he read all the existing research and did a lot of his own. The result, the M4U 2 over-ear headphones, were indeed close to perfect, according to reviewers. But a manufacturer generally has to offer a complete line of headphones -- and Barton is responsible for designing headphone-related products for two of the audio brands owned by the Lenbrook Group: PSB and NAD. What’s a designer to do? Voice them all the same, so there’s little reason to spend more for the more expensive models? Or make some models sound different from the others?

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Phiaton MS 100 BA measurements can be found by clicking this link.

The new MS 100 BAs -- Phiaton’s first earphones with balanced-armature drivers -- make me wonder once again why there’s not more controversy or disagreement about balanced armatures. Look at all the stuff audiophiles do disagree about: tubes vs. transistors, the benefits (or lack thereof) of high-resolution audio, whether or not cables make a difference. Well, the audible difference between using balanced-armature and conventional dynamic drivers in earphones is much more significant than the differences you’d hear in any of the pairings just mentioned.

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