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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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Reviewers' ChoiceWith this review, I’m violating one of my long-established rules: never review a product after a lot of other people have. I figure, with so many opinions already out there, who’ll care about mine? And how will anyone even find my review with so many others grabbing the top spaces of their Google search? That’s why I never reviewed the Utopia, Focal’s top-of-the-line headphone model that debuted in spring of 2016 -- I didn’t submit my sample request early enough, and by the time Focal had a set to send, there were already at least a dozen reviews posted. But when Focal sent me a pair of Utopias to use to test the Arche DAC-headphone amplifier, and SoundStage! founder Doug Schneider suggested I take this chance to do a formal review of the Utopias, I didn’t hesitate.

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Lutefisk, Dua Lipa, AIAIAI: three foreign entities I’ve been dimly aware of yet never really taken the chance to check out. Dusty shelves of my memory hold vague recollections of AIAIAI headphones encountered in various European places -- perhaps at the IFA show in Berlin, or in the electronics stores of Munich or Prague, or worn by passengers on the London Underground, or featured in the pages of What Hi-Fi? magazine. I was curious about them, mostly because of the cool name (pronounced “aye-yi-yi”), but the Danish brand’s negligible presence in North America discouraged me. Then out of the blue, I got an e-mail from the brand’s PR rep, which suggested my home continent was at least on AIAIAI’s battle maps, so I immediately asked for a set I could listen to.

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Your review helped me to make a decision on getting these headphones.

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