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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Focal Clear headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceHeadphones are like loudspeakers in two important ways. First, both make sound. Second, in both categories, what was recently considered a super-high-end product is now touted as “midpriced” or “accessible.” Take, for example, Focal’s Clear open-back headphones. They’re priced at $1500 USD, which slots them between Focal’s first two high-end models, the Utopias ($4000) and the Elears ($1000). Sure, the Utopias are among the costliest headphones available today, but for most people, spending even $500 on headphones is unthinkable.

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

AKG N60 NC Wireless headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

Noise-canceling headphones are greatly prized by commuters and frequent fliers, as they subdue engine noise and other intrusive sounds. Up until now, most noise-canceling (NC) headphones have been over-ear designs, to provide a better seal. But commuters also like headphones that are smaller and lighter and can be folded up into smaller packages. AKG has therefore decided to release on-ear models, wired and Bluetooth, that can be folded up yet provide enough NC to be viable. Their Bluetooth model, the N60 NC Wireless ($299.95 USD), provides wireless transmission backed up by a wired analog cable mode. Design-wise, AKG has achieved this goal, but I have some minor criticisms, and a major criticism of something that will be, for some, a deal breaker.

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Acoustic Research AR-H1 headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceThe AR-H1 headphones are the last thing I expected from Acoustic Research. Audiophiles know AR as the pioneer of the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker, in 1952, and as the builder of widely varying yet generally quite good speakers created in the 1990s by teams that included such audio luminaries as NHT cofounders Chris Byrne and Ken Kantor, Infinity cofounder and current Artison CEO Cary Christie, and current James Loudspeaker CTO Mike Park. But for the last 15 years or so the AR brand has been applied mostly to accessories, such as inexpensive cables and Bluetooth speakers -- in fact, AR is currently owned by Voxx Accessories Corp. While it’s puzzling to see this once-revered, now-trashed brand name suddenly applied to high-end, planar-magnetic headphones, I have to admit that it gives me a bit of a warm feeling inside.

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Reviewers' ChoiceThe relatively expensive ATH-DSR9BT headphones ($549 USD) are almost identical to Audio-Technica’s ATH-DSR7BT model ($299), which I reviewed in July 2017. They employ A-T’s new digital-transmission design, Pure Digital Drive. Instead of a traditional DAC feeding an analog amp, this method uses Trigence Semiconductor’s Dnote technology, in which, A-T explains, “the digital pulses of the chipset move the voice coil and diaphragm [of the drivers] forward and backward to create soundwaves heard by a listener.”

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Sony WH-1000XM2 earphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

Based on what I’ve observed, the greatest challenge in headphone design isn’t building the world’s greatest audiophile headphones. It’s building really good noise-canceling headphones. Consider the challenges Sony faced in creating the WH-1000XM2 noise-canceling (NC) headphones ($349.99 USD). The engineer must deal not only with the incoming music signal, but also with the signals coming from one or two microphones in each earpiece, each mike separately filtered to compensate for its distance from the driver, and for the acoustical properties of the driver and enclosure. The response of the drivers must be tuned to compensate for the effects of NC on the headphones’ sound -- and they still have to sound reasonably good in passive mode, when the battery runs down. Then there’s the noise of the internal amps and microphones to worry about. Perhaps worst of all, I’m told that many of the key patents of this technology are still held and vigorously defended by Bose.

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Originally published on SoundStage! Xperience

Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC headphones measurements can be found by clicking this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceSome of the fabled audio brands of my teen years, in the 1970s, seem to be aging even less gracefully than I am as they face brutal competition from online merchants and low-cost Chinese brands. Sure, established names like Sennheiser can still command a premium over such brands as Fleeken, Hiearcool, and Paww. But when consumers can choose between OK headphones for $70 and name-brand cans for $350, most will likely cheap out. I’m guessing this is why Sennheiser has introduced the HD 4.50 BTNC noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones for $199.95 USD -- half the price of their next-least-expensive current models of this type, the PXC 550 Wireless and HD1 On-Ear Wireless, both at $399.95.

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