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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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Although the combination of Bluetooth (BT) and noise canceling (NC) seems ideal for headphones used on the go, such models have typically cost about $350 USD -- not expensive for audio enthusiasts, but a lot for average listeners. Fortunately, in the last year some major brands have begun offering BTNC headphones for about $200, and the latest example of this trend is Audio-Technica’s ATH-ANC700BT ($199).

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For years there were essentially two classes of noise-canceling (NC) headphones. One was represented solely by Bose, whose headphones offered by far the most effective NC, as well as outstanding comfort. The other class was basically every other company offering NC headphones. Their products typically offered much less effective NC, but they sometimes sounded better than competing Bose models. Recently, some companies have come close to the NC performance of Bose products. These include Samsung, Sony, and Bang & Olufsen (B&O), the last of which recently launched two new NC headphone models in the B&O Play line: the on-ear Beoplay H8i ($399 USD) and the one reviewed here, the over-ear Beoplay H9i ($499).

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