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How many closed-back headphones are priced at $2000 and up? Not many. The Focal Stellias ($3000, all prices USD) come right to mind, and I suspected HiFiMan has a model, but I had to look it up—the HE-R10P headphones ($5499). Now Meze Audio is entering this tiny market with the new Liric, a closed-back, scaled-down, less-expensive version of its big, open-back Empyrean and Elite headphones.

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Grado reminds me of some of the musicians I’ve encountered. Most people I play gigs with show up on time, play whatever the leader wants, and do a solid job on most or all of the tunes that get called—but they don’t really stand out. There are a few, though, who maybe aren’t so reliable, or get fussy about what we play, or might suddenly sit out on a tune they don’t like—but blow my mind at least once per gig with the brilliant stuff they play. Grado’s the headphone equivalent of that. I’ve loved a few of its headphones, but some I’ve found too far outside the norm to enjoy. So when the company offered me the RS2x headphones for review, I had no idea whether or not I’d find them sonically simpatico with my ears.

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Sendy Audio is a China-based brand well known to headphone enthusiasts and totally unknown to anyone else. At a quick glance, Sendy’s new Apollo headphones ($499, all prices USD) look a lot like the Sendy Peacock headphones ($1499)—but a longer look tells you that there are big differences between these two models. A glance can’t tell me which headphones are better, but it does show me several reasons why one of them costs three times as much.

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I sure didn’t see this coming. Not just because the N⁰ 5909 headphones are the first to wear the Mark Levinson brand, but they’re also priced about twice as high as the next-most-expensive set of noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones.

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I’d say that over the last ten years, there’s been more innovation in headphones and earphones than in any other segment of audio—and there’s a lot more coming. With the “wearables” and “hearables” trends, audio companies and tech companies are exploring new form factors, hearing-enhancement capabilities, and other new features that can turn headphones into a substantially different experience than what we’re used to. Considering that SoundStage! Solo focuses on products targeted at audiophiles, I generally don’t review these types of products here—but I decided to make an exception when I heard the Soundcore Frames.

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My first “real” job was writing ads for a Dallas agency that handled Wilsonart decorative laminates. Wilsonart was number one in market share, yet they made it a rule never to innovate. They’d let competitors like Formica and DuPont come up with new ideas and build public awareness for them, then Wilsonart would launch something similar and out-distribute the other companies. Monoprice follows a similar plan with its headphones—a year or two after an innovative headphone technology comes out, Monoprice jumps in with a similar product at a lower price. The Monolith AMT headphones are the latest example.

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