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Reviewers' ChoiceClosed-back audiophile headphones became something of a big deal in the last year, with lots of new releases in this somewhat neglected category. Does this reflect a desire to block banal chit-chat in open-plan offices? An urge to keep Starbucks’ innocuous playlists from mixing with Miles? I don’t know, but I do know the Audeze LCD2 Closed-Back headphones ($899 USD) are the latest example of this trend. The original LCD-2s ($995) and most other Audeze headphones are open-back designs, which produce a spacious sound but do almost nothing to block the sound from your environment. The LCD2 Closed-Backs have big, semi-spherical rear shells that keep outside noise from interfering with your music and your mental well-being.

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Reviewers' ChoiceFostex has one of the most unusual product lines in the headphone biz. They mostly split between pro ’phones priced under $200 and high-end consumer models priced at $599 or more. I’ve been a fan since 1997, when a very well-informed sales guy at the old Sam Ash store on Manhattan’s 48th Street “music row” steered me toward a set of Fostex T20s to use for mixing my music recordings. True to Fostex form, the new TH909s ($1799.99 USD) cost more than 11 times the price of the current version of the T20s, the T20RPmk3s. But of course, they’re almost completely different headphones -- all they have in common is that they’re open-back and they wear the Fostex brand.

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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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