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Reviewers' ChoiceWhat do you do after you’ve created the perfect audio product? Most audiophiles would counter that there is no perfect audio product, but I wonder. There are plenty of component categories—amplifiers, preamps, cables, and others—in which the best from 30 years ago are 100 percent sonically competitive with anything made today. And one possible definition of perfection is that your work can’t be improved upon. Focal’s original Utopia headphones, introduced in 2016, were probably as close as anyone’s come to perfection in headphones—but at the 2022 CanJam SoCal, Focal announced that it had improved on the Utopias. The new model is still named Utopia ($4999, all prices USD), but to distinguish it from the old model (which we’ll be referring to frequently), we’re going to refer to it in this review and the measurements as Utopia 2022.

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The Crosszone CZ-10 headphones are special for me, because I have a soft spot in my heart for crosstalk cancellation. You don’t hear that said a lot, but some of my warmest memories of past audio experiences involved crosstalk cancellation. I remember reading about it in Stereo Review, years before audio rose from my hobby to my career. If you told me then that I’d someday get a one-on-one lesson about crosstalk cancellation from Bob Carver, whose face often popped up in ads in Stereo Review, I wouldn’t have believed it. Nor would I have believed I’d get my first demo of multiple-driver crosstalk cancellation from Matthew Polk, in his own home—the same guy who always wore his lab coat in Polk’s Stereo Review ads. The Crosszone CZ-10s, though, are my first chance to hear multi-driver crosstalk cancellation in headphones. Interesting products like these—along with the next book by Robert Caro and new flavors of Pop-Tarts—are what give me the inspiration to keep on living.

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Inflation’s a big concern these days, but maybe not in audio. The excellent JBL 305P MkII powered speakers I use for mixing recordings are down to $108 each right now (all prices in USD). You can get full-on tube amps—with a tube rectifier, no less—for $299. And it’s just as good in headphones, where you can get the beautifully crafted, rosewood-backed Sivga Oriole headphones for just $199, or in dark zebrano wood for the same price. If you’d shown me these five years ago, I’d have assumed they cost at least $500.

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Looking at the Sundara Closed-Back headphones takes me back to the earliest days of my audio obsession: reading Stereo Review in my high-school library, ogling the top-of-line Realistic Mach One speakers in the RadioShack catalog, listening to the ample selection of headphones at the Burstein-Applebee store in my local mall, and dreaming of a day when I could afford snazzier gear. The Sundara Closed-Backs aren’t what I’d call retro, but their woody, earthy vibe wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Burstein-Applebee’s headphone display, and any pipe-smoking, Esquire-reading, 1970s suburban-sophisticate dad would have been proud to listen to his Dave Brubeck records on them. I, as a teenager with nothing but a paper route to fund my hobbies, could afford only a plasticky $17 set of Panasonics. Little did I know I’d someday be reviewing $3000 ’phones.

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I guess the high-end audio companies got sick of Bose and Sony owning the market for noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones. We’ve seen DALI jump in with the IO-6 headphones at $499, Mark Levinson with the N⁰ 5909s at $999, and now Focal with the Bathys headphones at $799 (all prices USD)—substantial price boosts over the $350 or so that Bose and Sony tend to charge. I’ll come right out and say it’s highly unlikely that the high-end guys are going to beat Bose and Sony at noise canceling. But they might beat them on sound quality, although Bose and Sony are no slouches at that, either.

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Reviewers' ChoiceMeze Audio has the weirdest line of headphones. They include affordable stuff priced in the low three figures, but from there, they leap boldly to the $2000 Liric, the $2999 Empyrean, and the $4000 Elite headphones. Yeesh! What’s the audiophile to do if they’re neither as pathetically broke as an audio reviewer nor as absurdly oversupplied with disposable income as an audio manufacturer? Fortunately, Meze now has an answer: the 109 Pro headphones for $799 (all prices USD).

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Geoffrey Morrison 6 days ago Greetings!
@oratory1990We're still working out the details for measurements. I probably won't be doing them personally. ...
oratory1990 6 days ago Greetings!
Hi!

Will you be doing measurements as well?
Brent Butterworth 23 days ago A Fond Farewell
@ToddI have only used a few of them. None were great. Wirecutter recommends this one, ...
Todd 1 months ago A Fond Farewell
@Brent Butterworth  Usb Wired 
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Brent Butterworth 1 months ago A Fond Farewell
@ToddThanks, Todd! You mean wired or Bluetooth?
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Best of luck Brent. I enjoy your writing and will miss your podcast. Can you ...
azlan 1 months ago Linsoul 7Hz Timeless Earphones
A lots of iem comin' But kings of Clarity is timeless Dun get the funny ...
Joe Pop 1 months ago A Fond Farewell
I have enjoyed your writing throughout your reviewing career and over that time I have ...
Harris Fogel 1 months ago A Fond Farewell
Fantastic!

Mauro 1 months ago A Fond Farewell
@MauroYou’ll miss my typos :)