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I bet most North American headphone enthusiasts would be shocked if they saw the Ultrasone booth at the High End show in Munich, Germany. Both times I’ve attended, Ultrasone had the biggest booth of any headphone manufacturer — yet while the brand is huge in Europe, it’s barely known in North America. So Ultrasone is usually off my radar, but when I saw the Performance 880 headphones ($499.99, all prices USD), and the snap-on Sirius Bluetooth adapter ($169.99), I immediately wanted to check them out. With headphone jacks rapidly vanishing from smartphones, the idea of an audiophile-grade headphone with Bluetooth capability is increasingly appealing.

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I found the Dan Clark Audio Æon Flow 2 Closed headphones pretty thrilling when I reviewed them earlier this year, and I thought they were a good deal at $899.99 (all prices USD). So imagine my surprise when the company came out with a new model only a few months later that looks the same but is priced at just $499.99: the Æon RT Closed. Clark took the original Æon (pre-Æon 2) open- and closed-back designs and retuned them for a different sonic vibe, thus saving a lot of money on R&D costs while reaching a different kind of listener. So this decision makes economic sense, but does it make musical sense? We’ll find out . . .

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I got my first set of Philips headphones in 1998, I think -- compact, noise-canceling on-ears for which my dear departed friend Ken Furst had been the product manager. Although Philips wasn’t a big name in the headphone biz back then, the headphones sounded good and the noise-canceling worked reasonably well. Twenty-two years later, Philips still isn’t a big name in the headphone biz, at least in the US, and I sure don’t know why, because I’ve liked a lot of their headphones. So when I found out about the new Fidelio X3 headphones ($349.99 USD), I couldn’t resist giving them a spin.

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Reviewers' ChoiceSo much attention in the audiophile headphone biz is devoted to relatively young companies, such as Audeze, Dan Clark Audio, and HiFiMan, that we tend to overlook the three European brands -- AKG, Beyerdynamic, and Sennheiser -- that were making good headphones before the founders of the aforenamed upstarts were even born. In fact, I’ve still never spent quality time with some of the high-end models from that classic Teutonic trio. That’s why I was excited to hear Beyerdynamic was releasing third-generation versions of its T1 open-back and T5 closed-back headphones. Finally, I’d get a chance to listen to them for more than a minute. I requested samples of both, flipped a coin to see which one goes first, and here we are with the new T5 headphones ($999 USD).

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If you’d have told me (or anybody else) ten years ago that 2020 would see so many companies selling headphones for more than $1000, I’d have said you were crazy. But off the top of my head, I can name a dozen brands, and that’s not even getting into earphones. With such a surprising number of competitors, it’s becoming more difficult to create headphones that are truly distinctive. But with the HEDDphone headphones ($2499 USD), HEDD Audio has indisputably come up with something no one else has.

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With all the talk about the Harman curve and how it’s improving headphone and earphone design, it’s easy to forget that a lot of headphone designers were getting things right a long time ago. The Sony MDR-7506 headphones, which became ubiquitous in audio and video production after their introduction in 1991, are still winning comparison tests of affordable headphones. I have a set of decades-old AKG K240s, given to me by vintage audio guru Gordon Sauck of Innovative Audio, that to this day sound really good. The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros go back about as far as the MDR-7506es; I’d used them in radio and recording studios, and always liked them -- but I never reviewed them. So in my probably never-ending quest to find the perfect recording headphones, I thought I’d test the DT 770 Studios ($199.99, all prices USD), which are said to be the same as the Pros but for the name.

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