1964 Ears makes custom-molded, in-ear headphones, just like Ultimate Ears, JH Audio, and Westone, but 1964 Ears is a relative newcomer. It has to try harder than the more established brands, so 1964 Ears offers a wider array of customizable features and service options than the others. Prices start a little lower, at $350 for the 1964-D, and $650 for the top-of-the-line model I'm reviewing here today, the 1964-V6. That's significantly less expensive than the established brands' flagships.
I've been listening to Jerry Harvey's custom-molded in-ear headphones for years. The very first one, the UE10, was a game changer; in 2006 it was the best sounding in-ear headphone I'd heard. Now with his new Freqphase JH13 and JH16 in-ears, Harvey's done it again. The performance gains in clarity, detail, resolution, and stereo imaging are huge -- the adrenaline-pumping sound of the music you love over a set of Harvey's headphones can't be matched by any other in-ear 'phones.
Years before he made headphones, Harvey mixed stage monitor sound for Kiss, Van Halen, … Read more
The great thing about headphones is that you can, with a bit of effort, find great-sounding models in every price range. True, the best expensive models definitely sound better, but my picks for the cheapest ones are still pretty awesome. In fact, the $89 Velodyne vPulse headphones are the ones I regularly used long after I wrote the review! There was something about the sound of the vPulse that had me coming back for more. I cover audiophile, in-ear, full-size, wireless, and noise-canceling headphones, and prices run from dirt-cheap to insanely expensive.
Sound-quality advances in headphone design show no sign of slowing down, and even old names like Philips and Sony are getting serious about making great-sounding headphones. Sadly, those brands aren't attempting to make anything that could be compared with the world's best, like the JH-3A headphone/amplifier system, from JH Audio.
That company's founder and designer, Jerry Harvey, started building in-ear monitors for rock bands in 1995. He counts Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Aerosmith, Foreigner, and Linkin Park as customers. Harvey is currently with the Van Halen tour--the band uses his 'phones onstage--and Harvey uses their feedback to improve his designs.
The JH-3A is an amplifier/in-ear headphone system, with analog and digital inputs with up to 24-bit resolution and 96kHz sampling rates. I've used portable headphone amplifiers before, and they can sound great with all types of headphones, but the JH-3A takes in-ear headphone performance to another level.… Read more
Looking for gift ideas for that special audiophile in your life? Here are some, priced from affordable to crazy expensive. Let's get started!
"Miles! Live at Montreux - The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux Collection, 1973-1991" This historically important 10-DVD set ($150) captures all of Miles Davis' performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival between 1973 and 1991. The final concert features Davis paying tribute to his collaborator and close friend Gil Evans, who died in 1988. The audio and video quality of the collection varies, but most of it is surprisingly good.
Audio Technica ATH M50 headphones These headphones are nearly impossible to fault; they're extremely comfortable, great-sounding, ruggedly built, and fairly priced. The ATH M50 ($199) is a closed-back design and provides nearly as much isolation from external noise as noise-canceling headphones, but sounds better than any NC headphones I've heard to date.… Read more
There's good sound, and there's high-end sound; the difference is in the details. Case in point: the little Cruise USB digital-to-analog headphone amplifier from Alpha Design Labs by Furutech.
The Cruise sounds clear, clean and remarkably transparent. Regarding the details, connectivity comes in two flavors, there's a 3.5 mm analog stereo line input and 24/96 USB digital input. The Cruise can run off its external AC power supply, internal rechargeable lithium ion battery, or USB power from your computer. Furutech claims the battery is good for 80 hours of playback time.
High-end gear has to look the part, and again the Cruise scores. It may be a little thing, but it feels solid. Mirror-polished, nonmagnetic stainless-steel end caps flank a curvy, high-gloss carbon fiber body. Resting on my desktop the Cruise absolutely looks the part; it's the real deal. … Read more
The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2011, held last week at the Denver Marriott Tech Center Hotel, not only showcased a vast array of high-end audio designs, there was a special headphone-oriented show within the show called CanJam. It was a fantastic opportunity to sample the world's best headphones and headphone amplifiers.
The energy in the CanJam ballroom was palpable. There's no doubt the headphone market is still expanding at a rapid rate, and anyone who spent some time listening to the latest crop of cutting-edge products had to come away from the experience shaken and stirred. … Read more
Our resident CNET audio expert Steve Guttenberg finally joined the rest of us and started his own Twitter page, so we invited him back on today's episode to see what else is going on with The Audiophiliac.
Steve always comes prepared with relevant (and not so relevant) talking points for us, and today's includes Joy Behar's mixed-breeding novel Sheetzucacapoopoo (Steve's a big fan of her work), the value of headphone amplifiers, and his concerns about the next generation of self-proclaimed audiophiliacs.
It's not a term that should be lightly used to describe anyone who loves music, and Steve considers a real audiophiliac to be someone who is truly concerned with an active music listening experience where extra attention is paid to audio fidelity in all its expensive glory.
The high-priced equipment might be the reason why audiophiliacs are a dying breed of enthusiast, but Steve makes it clear that quality audio gear is worth the price, especially when you consider that some equipment like headphones can last a lifetime.
We also learn that today's younger audiophiliacs are specifically interested in headphones and can be found on Head-Fi.org, a comprehensive audio site with in-depth headphone reviews, expert forums, and more.
Check it out if you're shopping for new cans or earbuds, along with CNET, of course!Episode 703 Subscribe in iTunes audio | Suscribe to iTunes (video) | Subscribe in RSS Audio | Subscribe in RSS Video… Read more
Jerry Harvey got into the headphone business by making in-ear monitors for just a few musician friends, and went on to build headphones for hundreds of bands, and now counts Mary J. Blige, Godsmack, Guns 'N' Roses, Alicia Keys, Eddie Vedder, and the Glee Live Tour as customers.
Harvey pioneered two-way (bass/treble) in-ear designs in 1995, and later the first three-way (bass, mid, treble) in-ear monitors. Harvey's multiple driver designs produce less distortion and increase dynamic range compared with conventional single-driver headphones, which include all of the standard headphones from Etymotic, Monster, Skullcandy, Sony, etc. The JH16 Pro I'm reviewing here is the world's first eight-driver, three-way in-ear headphone, and its sound is revelatory.
I reviewed the JH Audio's 13 Pro in-ear headphones last year in this blog, and the JH16 shares a lot of the same technology, but the big difference is in the bass. The JH16 has four low-frequency drivers (the JH13 uses two), two midrange, and two high-frequency drivers--for a total of eight drivers per channel. Both headphones feature "balanced armature" drivers, which are proprietary to JH Audio, and they're designed by Jerry Harvey.
The sound is addicting; once you've gotten used to hearing this kind of uber resolution, it's hard to go back to merely excellent in-ear headphones like my old Etymotic ER-4P ($300). I haven't heard any of Etymotic's latest designs, but the ER-4P now sounds small, cramped, and hopelessly outclassed by the JH16. Can't afford $1,149? JH Audio offers a range of custom in-ear models; prices start at $399 for the JH 5 Pro.
The JH16 is super efficient, so it can play louder, a lot louder than most headphones while being driven by iPhones, iPods, and Zunes' puny built-in headphone amplifiers.
Each JH16 is a unique hand-built creation, based on custom ear molds. The company's Web site has a list of recommended audiologists who make the molds (for around $100). Building a JH16 is a labor-intensive process; each headphone takes five hours to complete and test in the company's factory in Florida. … Read more
The Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom Monitors are really expensive, but the best stuff always is. Then again, $1,350 may be a lot for headphones, but it's cheap for state-of-the-art speakers. Wilson Audio's Sasha W/P floorstanding speaker is in the middle of the company's line, and it goes for $27,000 a pair; Magico's entry-level tower model, the V2, runs $18,000 a pair. The UE 18 Pro is on par with them, it's that good. It's the best headphone UE makes, but UE's custom fitted models start at $399 for the UE 4 Pro, and universal fit UE models start at $50.
The UE 18 Pro is no "earbud," those things are placed in the cupped area around the outer ear canal; in-ear headphones fit into and, most importantly, seal the ear canal. The isolation from outside noise allows listening at significantly lower volume, so it's safer to rock out with in-ears than earbuds. The UE 18 Pro's custom fit (more about that later) hushes outside noise more completely than standard in-ear designs. With external noise hushed, you hear a lot more detail and subtlety from your music.
Never heard of Ultimate Ears? That's understandable; the company originally made its mark building custom in-ear stage monitors for musicians, including Aerosmith, Arcade Fire, Mary J. Blige, John Fogerty, the Rolling Stones, Linkin Park, and hundreds of other touring bands.
I'll tell you this: the UE 18 Pro is drastically better than say, my old favorite: the Etymotic ER-4P in-ears. That's not to take anything away from the ER-4P, but it sounds constrained and contained compared with the UE 18. It's hardly a fair comparison, the ER-4P lists for around $300, the UE 18 Pro is $1,350, plus the expense of getting custom ear molds made (figure about $100). Each UE 18 Pro is a one-of-a-kind creation, hand-built for your ears. … Read more