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With the Lagoon ANC headphones, Beyerdynamic takes on the toughest task in audio: trying to beat Bose at the noise-canceling headphone game. Sure, some companies outperform Bose in some ways -- for instance, PSB’s noise-canceling headphones sound better, and Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones cancel noise a bit better -- but still, Bose practically owns the category. The Lagoon ANCs ($399 USD) attempt to best Bose with better sound, sleeker styling, better Bluetooth codecs, and cooler features.

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The Zvox Audio AV50s look like your average, everyday noise-canceling headphones. But they’re not. Zvox specializes in making soundbars that make voices easier to hear. Many audio products claim to do this, but most accomplish it through simple EQ shaping -- usually boosting in the upper midrange/lower treble, somewhere around 2 to 4kHz. Zvox does some EQ, too, but says it also adds dynamic range compression and a few other tricks to achieve more effective voice enhancement. The AV50s bring this technology, which Zvox named AccuVoice, to headphones.

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Reviewers' ChoiceElectrostatic headphones seem to live in the shadow of planar magnetics, even though the two are similar in many ways. Why aren’t electrostatics getting more love? Because they’re kind of a pain. They need an amplifier that can provide hundreds of volts of charge to the electrostatic membrane that is part of each driver, so you can’t plug them straight into a smartphone or laptop. The HiFiMan Jade IIs might help the electrostatic category get a little more love -- not because they’re any less of a hassle than other electrostatic headphones, but because they’re only $2500 USD for the headphones and the amp. That’s far from cheap, but considering that the best-known headphones in the category, the Stax SR-009s, cost about $5000 with an amp, and many new planars cost $3000 or more, the Jade IIs seem like something of a bargain.

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In many ways, the MEE Audio Matrix Cinema ANCs are the headphones of the future. As the name suggests, they’re built not just for music listening, but for all sorts of media, including movies and YouTube. As required of pretty much any under-$300 headphones that hope to succeed in today’s marketplace, they have Bluetooth -- and not just Bluetooth, but aptX Low Latency, which eliminates the lip-sync problems that standard Bluetooth suffers from. They’re also primed for mobile use, with active noise canceling and a fold-flat design convenient for traveling. The battery is rated at 20 hours for music playback with Bluetooth and noise canceling on, and 33 hours with Bluetooth only. Not bad for $149.99 USD.

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I’d probably never have paid Status Audio -- or its new BT One headphones -- any attention were it not for something I never asked them to send. I’d requested a set of the company’s OB-1 open-back headphones for a comparison test, and they threw in a set of the closed-back CB-1s for good measure. Months later, desperate for headphones that would be better for mixing my recordings than Sony’s mildly bass-boosted MDR-7506es, I gave the CB-1s a try -- and their neutral, balanced sound (which resulted in neutral, balanced mixes) immediately made them my pro monitoring and mixing headphones of choice. Pretty impressive for $59 USD.

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Reviewers' ChoiceThe Empyreans represent the gutsiest move the headphone biz has seen in a long time. At $2999 USD, they’re almost ten times the price of Meze Audio’s next-priciest over-ear headphones, the 99 Classics ($309). They use a new driver technology I’ve never seen before. And they’re designed and manufactured in the medieval country town of Baia Mare, Romania, which isn’t exactly a tech nexus.

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Latest Comments

Brent Butterworth 1 days ago Eardrum Suck: The Mystery Solved!
@MukundApparently it throws off the brain when you're doing heavy cancellation in the bass but ...
@CarlI'm not sure, but at least 6 weeks. E-mail me at brent@brentbutterworth.com
So I get the technical explanation of why noise canceling isn't used at high frequencies, ...
Simon Wright 2 days ago Eardrum Suck: The Mystery Solved!
@Brent ButterworthIf the effect occurs in the chamber without headphones and can be relieved by the ...
@Brent ButterworthReview when?
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