I heard through the grapevine that the Mal Valve Head Amp Three takes headphone sound to the next level, so I had to check it out for myself. I brought two of my best headphones to the Audioarts NYC showroom to audition the amp, and it really was an ear opener. "Space" was the first thing I noticed, the Mal Valve decodes spatial cues in recordings better than any amp I've heard to date; and the resolution, clarity, and purity of the sound were all superlative via my Audeze LCD 3 headphones. The Mal Valve frees up … Read more
Frankly, I was a little disappointed when I first unboxed the new ALO Pan Am tube headphone amp. It looked so cute and tiny; how could it possibly deliver the goods? The dainty 4.6-inch-by-3.8-inch footprint makes it easy to place anywhere. The amp's rear end houses three inputs: stereo RCA and 3.5mm analog inputs and a USB connection. The built-in digital-to-analog converter accommodates up to 24-bit/96-kHz audio. The amp is available in anodized silver or black finishes.
I started listening with my trusty Grado RS-1 headphones and loved the clarity. The Pan Am has the … Read more
I'm a lucky guy, I've heard most of the world's very best headphones: Sennheiser's HD 800 and their legendary Orpheus, the Audeze LCD 2 and 3, the Stax SR-007 ($2,600), SR-009 ($5,200), and now I'm spending quality time with Hifiman's flagship HE-6 planar magnetic headphones. I've long admired Hifiman's designs, starting with their very first model, the HE-5 back in 2009. The HE-6 looks nearly identical to Hifiman's current HE-4, HE-400, HE-5LE, and HE-500 headphones, but the HE-6 is heavier (502 grams), and it feels like it's built … Read more
Head-Fi is a national headphone club, and I went to the local meeting in Babylon, N.Y., last Saturday.
The vibe was friendly, and it was great to hear Head-Fi members' home-built gear, but there were a few surprises popping up from the headphone and electronics manufacturers in attendance.
Logitech Ultimate Ears' Personal Reference Monitor in-ear headphones feature a new twist on custom-molded-to-your-ears headphone design. Lots of brands now make custom in-ear headphones, and Logitech's have been among my favorites for years, but the upcoming Personal Reference Monitor takes the personalization to the next level. Once your ear canals' &… Read more
I've written about Schiit's amazing headphone amps before, but their new Lyr is the company's first high-output headphone amplifier. It delivers up to 6 watts into 32 ohm headphones. If that sounds like overkill for most headphones I'd agree, but there are a few headphones that need more power to sound their best. That's where the Schiit Lyr ($449) comes into its own.
I have to admit I never really bought into noise-canceling headphones.
The name was a turnoff, they don't really cancel or eliminate noise, they reduce noise--and that's great--but so do most in-ear headphones. Better yet, those headphones don't need batteries and don't run the music signals through the noise-canceling electronics. My favorite isolating headphones sound better than noise-canceling headphones, but I haven't tested a noise-canceling headphone for a long time.
The market for quality headphones is still growing by leaps and bounds, so there are lots of new brands getting into the game.
When Hifiman introduced the HE-5 headphone in 2009, I was so impressed I compared it with $1,000+ models from Audio Technica, Denon, Grado, Sennheiser, and Ultrasone, and the upstart company's headphone model more than held its own.
More recently I looked at the Hifiman HE-500 headphones ($699), and compared them with one of the best headphones in the world, the Audeze LCD-2 ($945). That one's low bass felt more solid and had superior impact, but the HE-500's midrange and treble were more detailed and present.
The HE-300 ($249) shares the HE-500's styling, but uses more conventional driver technology. It's lighter in weight (270 grams), has a leather headband and soft velvet earpads, and comes with a user-replaceable 9-foot-long cable terminated with a 3.5mm plug (and there's a 6.3mm adaptor). The long cable is bulky and a little stiff, but since it's user-replaceable, HE-300 owners may find shorter, more flexible alternatives. The headphone comes with a sturdy padded storage case. Comfort over long listening sessions was good, but not up to full-size Sennheiser headphone standards. That company has a real knack for making comfy headphones. … Read more
Everyone knows Bose, in large part because it's the most heavily advertised audio brand in the world.
Then again, I can't think of any other audio brand that advertises on the radio, national magazines, or in newspapers. So unless you're an audiophile, or a regular reader of this blog, I doubt you could name another audio brand, if you're under 40. Older people might remember a few names from the days when audio was more mainstream.
Sure, a lot of folks would probably cite Sony or Apple, but those companies make all sorts of products. Bose just makes speakers and audio electronics; I might have to also include Monster's headphones or JBL as brands people know. That's it, I've run out of names that almost everyone would recognize.… Read more
Steve "Sphere" Guttenberg joins the cast today to talk about the joys of eating roadkill, borrowing e-books on Amazon, and pocket-sized USB audio amplifiers. … Read more
I wasn't expecting much from the Hifiman Express HM-101; it's just a $39 outboard USB digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier. Well, this tiny USB-powered (it doesn't need batteries or an AC power supply) device definitely pumped up the sound of my Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones! They sounded significantly better with the Express than they did plugged directly into my Mac Mini's headphone jack. Sure, the Mac's sound is perfectly acceptable--until you compare it to something better.
The Express is a lot better.
Before we go any further, the Express isn't just for headphones, it also has a line-out 3.5mm jack you can run to a set of desktop-powered speakers, like myAudioengine 2s. DAC resolution isn't specified, but it's probably 16-bit/48-kHz.
Switching over from the computer's headphone jack to the Express, the first thing I noticed was that the Express could play a lot louder. That's great, but when playing drummer Ginger Baker's "Going Back Home" CD at equal volume levels from the computer and the Express, the Express unleashed more of the drummer's hard-hitting dynamics. The computer squashed his sound, especially Baker's mighty bass drum. Wow, the little thing delivers. If anything, the Express errs on the side of too much bass fullness, which isn't such a bad thing.… Read more