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The Shure Aonic 5 earphones succeed the SE535s, which were released a decade ago. How things have changed since then! The mechanics and acoustics of passive earphones haven’t really changed at all, but the way earphones are tuned sure has. Ten years ago, every company seemed to have a signature sound, or perhaps multiple signature sounds, because there was little or no agreement on what earphones should sound like. But now, with the Harman curve, we have a reference that many in the industry are gravitating toward, and to which new models are often compared. When I saw the press release for the Aonic 5s, and noted how similar they seemed to Shure’s past designs, I had to wonder if they would be more like the SE535s, or if the science of the last decade had influenced the sound.

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Reviewers' ChoiceThe Technics EAH-TZ700 earphones employ an unusual design that almost no one uses, and that’s for very good reason. From an engineering standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. But from a marketing standpoint . . . not so much.

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Reviewers' ChoiceTrue wireless earphones have practically taken over the mass-market headphone biz. But to this point, all of the true wireless earphones I can wholeheartedly endorse -- such as the EarFun Frees -- cost less than $100. The pricier models I’ve tried either haven’t offered a clear advantage in sound quality, or they presented ergonomic complications I couldn’t forgive. But I keep on trying more high-end, fully featured true wireless earphones in hopes of finding some I can rave about. This month’s contestant: the Technics EAH-AZ70W earphones ($249.99, all prices USD).

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Through the years, I’ve come to believe it’s almost impossible to build really good headphones that sell for less than $50. I’ve heard only a couple of them that I’d want to live with. But earphones are different, because they’re smaller and use tiny drivers that don’t seem to range as widely in performance as headphone drivers do. I’ve actually heard very listenable earphones that sell for as little as $10 (all prices USD). Of course, true wireless earphones cost more, but last year I found a great set for just $50: the EarFun Free earphones. This year, EarFun has introduced a new model: the EarFun Air earphones, which sell for $59.99. (And there’s currently a coupon for $10 off on the Airs’ Amazon page.)

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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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