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Sound: ******1/2
Value: *****1/2
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I’m used to seeing a consistent design philosophy from audio manufacturers, where their products are mostly similar, with the expensive ones having fancier parts and (one hopes) better sound. French manufacturer EarSonics says, “Mais non!” Their high-end earphones split into two very different lines. The Reference line tops out with the Purple, a set of lightweight acrylic earphones with a tiny tone control and five balanced-armature drivers. The top of the Hybrid line is the Stark ($1549 USD, $59 more than the Purple), a metal-shrouded design beefed up with an 8mm dynamic driver in addition to two balanced armatures for the mids and two more for the treble. When I scanned the EarSonics website a while back looking for stuff to review, I decided I just had to hear both, because they didn’t look like they came from the same company.

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Reviewers' ChoiceEven though we have really solid science on what kind of frequency response listeners prefer in headphones and earphones, that doesn’t mean a product created along those guidelines will be your favorite. There’s still plenty of room for taste. I’ve heard lots of headphones and earphones that closely track the “Harman curve,” and while all of them were very good, they weren’t necessarily my absolute favorites. I might want a touch more or less bass, or just a little more zip in the treble. The EarSonics Purple earphones ($1490 USD) seem designed with just such a thought.

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Although I don’t know much about you, dear reader, I am pretty confident you’ll eventually own some true wireless earphones -- even if you’re a hardcore audiophile. The sheer convenience of them seems to win over everyone who tries them, and they’re expected to take about 50% of the earphone business this year. Audiophiles haven’t shown much interest yet, but with new models such as the Edifier TWS6 earphones ($119.99 USD) appearing, they probably will.

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Reviewers' ChoiceI signed on to review the JVC HA-FW01 earphones ($329.95 USD) because one of the many ideas about audio that I’m working hard to disprove, dispel, and sometimes even deride, is the absurd obsession with driver materials in headphones and speakers. Pick a driver material, and I can almost certainly cite examples of good- and bad-sounding products using that material. Or as Voice Coil editor and Loudspeaker Design Cookbook author Vance Dickason told me, “I certainly have my favorites, but given any decent set of drivers, I can make you a good speaker with them.”

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I tend to love headphones with planar-magnetic drivers. And I tend to love hybrid earphones using a couple of different types of drivers. So when I saw the oBravo ERIB-2a hybrid earphones ($899 USD) at CES a few years ago -- combining a planar-magnetic driver and a dynamic driver in a single earpiece -- I thought it might be love at first listen. Sadly, I never saw them again. But the new oBravo Cupid earphones ($179) seem like a miraculous rebirth of the ERIB-2a earphones -- the same concept, but at a price most listeners can afford.

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Atlantic Technology’s just about the last audio brand name I’d have expected to see on a set of earphones, even ones as complex as the FS-HAL1s. I first encountered Atlantic Technology when the company and I were both just getting started, at my first CES in 1990. It built a solid reputation in the ’90s and ’00s as a pioneer in home-theater sound. Now under new ownership, the company’s branching out into products designed for the listening preferences of the early ’20s -- including headphones and earphones.

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