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Reviewers' ChoiceWhy do we generally avoid reviewing headphones priced under $99 on SoundStage! Solo? The first reason is you: Our readers are audio enthusiasts, so they’re likely more interested in $1000 headphones than $50 headphones. The second reason is me: I get e-mails everyday pitching me cheap headphones for review, and setting a minimum price lets me weed them out more easily. So why are we reviewing the Tribit XFree Tunes, a set of Bluetooth headphones priced at just $49.99 USD? It’s because I think there might be something special going on at Tribit Audio.

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At $999 USD, HiFiMan’s new Ananda headphones blur the distinction between the company’s “first class” planar-magnetic headphones and its “business class” models. Most of the company’s top models, such as the HE1000 V2s ($2999), have ear-shaped, oblong earpieces with very open rear grilles that present negligible acoustical impedance to the drivers. The mid-priced models, such as the Sundaras ($499), have round earpieces with less-open, perforated metal grilles. The Anandas are the least-expensive models with the oblong earpieces, priced close to the most expensive of the “business class” models.

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About six years ago, it seemed every speaker company wanted to get into the headphone business. Then about two years after that, it seemed every speaker company wanted out of the headphone business. But a few -- most notably Bowers & Wilkins, Focal, and PSB -- proved they could prosper in both worlds. Curiously, although all three offer high-end speakers, Focal is the only one that also offers truly high-end headphones, with open-back models priced as high as $4000. The new Elegias ($899 USD) are the company’s first high-end closed-back model, similar in look and feel to the open-back Clear headphones ($1500) I reviewed earlier this year.

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The Base Audio G12 headphones represent something many people (including me) thought impossible: high-end headphones with excellent fit and finish, made in the US, and priced at just $349 USD. Few people realize how challenging this task is. A business associate of mine who builds boutique tech products in the US recently told me that a Chinese factory quoted him a price that was less than a third of what it currently costs him to manufacture his products. So for Base Audio to build reasonably priced, nicely finished headphones in the US is remarkable.

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Reviewers' ChoiceMonoprice has evolved radically in the last few years. The company still sells lots of the generic commodity products that it began with, but now it also employs experienced pros who work with manufacturers to develop products designed specifically for Monoprice. Most recently, the company has launched Monolith, a line of audio products that, while competitively priced, promise performance comparable to that of some of the best-known brands in audio. Examples include the Monolith M1060 headphones and Monolith THX Ultra 15" subwoofer -- and now the Monolith M650 headphones ($149.99 USD).

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Reviewers' ChoiceIn 2014, when NAD Electronics introduced their Viso HP50 headphones, some may have wondered why an electronics company was bringing a passive design -- i.e., one with no built-in amplification -- to an already-crowded market. Paul Barton, of sister Lenbrook Group company PSB, had designed the HP50s, and their sound signature was similar to PSB’s own M4U 1 and M4U 2 models. The HP50s also included RoomFeel, a technology intended to provide a listening experience similar to that of hearing a pair of loudspeakers properly set up in a good room. Among a sea of competitors, the Viso HP50s won praise from reviewers and consumers alike, and have remained among the better-sounding closed-back headphones available at their price of $299 USD.

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