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Reviewers' ChoiceI’m actually not interested in the Life Q35 headphones for the reasons Soundcore wants me to be. They want me to get all excited because the Life Q35 headphones feature Sony’s LDAC codec, which in its highest-quality mode transmits data at 990 kilobits per second (kbps). That’s about three times the maximum that the standard SBC Bluetooth codec can achieve, and pretty close to the 1411kbps data rate of uncompressed 16-bit/44.1kHz audio.

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I’m reluctant to review any headphones more than a few months past their launch, because I worry that readers won’t be interested—and that all the search traffic for those headphones will go to sites that got their reviews posted earlier. Technically, I’m not making an exception with the DALI IO-4s, because the company recently introduced the IO-4 and the IO-6 headphones in two new colors: Army Green and Chalk White, in addition to the existing Iron Black and Caramel White. I liked the IO-6es so much when I reviewed them last year, but sadly, I got only a few weeks with them. The new colorways gave me an excuse to check out the company’s line again; the IO-4 ($399 USD) is basically the same model, except that the IO-6 ($499) adds noise canceling.

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Reviewers' ChoiceThe HiFiMan HE400se headphones are a classic example of product development. Last year, HiFiMan introduced a new, more mainstream, less artisanal industrial design with the Deva headphones . . . and I loved them not only because they had a great design, but because they had a fuller sound than the dozen or so HiFiMan models I’ve previously tested. Now HiFiMan combined the headband of the Devas with the cup design of the company’s 400-series headphones to create the HE400se headphones—a “parts bin” model that costs just $149 USD.

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In 2010, Bowers & Wilkins, the iconic British loudspeaker manufacturer, debuted its first headphone model—the P5. Every year since then, B&W has launched a new model, eventually making at least one in every form factor, from the in-ear C5 to the large, over-ear P9 Signature. As the headphone market has evolved, the company has kept pace by going wireless, and adding active noise-canceling technology. Now, in celebration of its first decade of headphone manufacture, Bowers & Wilkins has introduced a special Carbon Edition of its current flagship PX7 Bluetooth active noise-canceling headphones ($399.99 USD).

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By far, the biggest potential for improvement in headphone sound comes not from new driver materials, new amplification technology, or tweaking by some grand master of audio, but from digital signal processing, or DSP. DSP can make headphones sound almost any way you want—or adapt the sound of headphones to your specific needs and situation. This is exactly what Yamaha is doing with the YH-E700A headphones ($349.95, all prices USD).

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I’m surprised that Emotiva didn’t get into the headphone business a long time ago, considering it’s in so many other areas of the audio business. But I’m not surprised that the Airmotiv GR1 headphones ($299, all prices USD) represent a somewhat fresh approach, because Emotiva’s always been fairly aggressive about moving into new technologies.

Latest Comments

Brent Butterworth 6 days ago HiFiMan HE400se Headphones
@MarkVery different products. The HE400se is better for audiophiles who are listening at home with ...
Mark 6 days ago HiFiMan HE400se Headphones
Hifiman 400SE or the AKG K371? Thanks.

@Brent ButterworthIn FPGA video codecs are quite power hungry, resource consuming and produce quite a lot ...
Brent Butterworth 9 days ago Soundcore Life Q35 Bluetooth Headphones
@MauroThanks! I would guess not, but I really should find out for sure -- I'll ...
Brent Butterworth 10 days ago Eardrum Suck: The Mystery Solved!
@Dennis DidingerJust checked my measurement files and I have only on/off measurements for the noise canceling ...
Dennis Didinger 11 days ago Eardrum Suck: The Mystery Solved!
@Dennis DidingerSorry, I Mean those: Sony WH-1000XM3
Dennis Didinger 11 days ago Eardrum Suck: The Mystery Solved!
@Brent ButterworthDo the Sonys XM1000M3 allow for the adjustment of noise cancelling as well? Its a ...
Hi Brent, Great review! A curiosity: does the LDAC decoder requires more power than the ...
thank you, a very good review , ordered mine today :), i have GL 2000 ...
Brent Butterworth 20 days ago How Audio Writers are Killing the Audio Industry
@ThynI miss the digest-size Stereophile. The measurements were nowhere near what they are today, but ...