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HolidayBuyer's Guide

NAD Viso HP50 ($299)

Koss KTX Pro 1 ($10)

Sony MDR-V6 ($110)

1964 Ears V6-Stage ($699)

AKG K712 Pro ($699)

JH Audio JH13 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitor ($1,099)

Audeze LCD-X ($1,700)

Sennheiser IE 800 ($1,000)

Abyss AB-1266 ($5,495)

Shure SE846-CL ($1,200)

The HP50 is NAD's very first headphone, but it gets everything just right. Comfort, build quality, and sound are superb.

Caption by / Photo by NAD

The silver plastic on-ear has an all-too-generic look, but as soon as I started listening, the sound had my full attention; they were very decent! Most cheap on-ear headphones sound claustrophobic and pinched, but the KTX Pro 1's sound was big and spacious. It's the best sounding headphone around for this kind of money.

Caption by / Photo by Koss

The Sony MDR-V6 debuted in 1985, but I didn't listen to it until this year. My loss. Balance -- that's my best one-word description of what makes the MDR-V6 so special. It does everything well, the bass-midrange-treble balance is nice and smooth, the sound is spacious, and it's easy to listen for hours at a time. It's easy to see why the headphone is still in production after all these years, it sounds and feels right.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

The V6-Stage is a "three-way" design with six balanced-armature drivers (dual bass, dual midrange, and dual treble). Each pair is built to order, hand-crafted by 1964 Ears technicians in their Portland, Ore., facility. The sound will blow your mind, you can really feel the power of drums on this headphone. The dynamic jolts are stronger, cymbals and high percussion instruments sound more lifelike. 1964 Ears' custom headphone prices start at $350.

Caption by / Photo by 1964 Ears

The K712 Pro's neutrality lets the music speak for itself, which is a surprisingly rare commodity in headphones. The big, super soft ear pads are seriously comfy, and the open back design lets you hear sound from all around you. Amazon sells them for less than $400.

Caption by / Photo by AKG

These handmade, custom-molded headphones are all about high-resolution sound. I'm hearing finer details of the mixes of favorite old recordings, which makes them sound fresher and sometimes better than I thought they were. I wrote about the JH13 back in January.

Caption by / Photo by JH Audio

These American-made, full-size headphones boasts innovative tech and spectacular sound. The X is one of the few super headphones that delivers with MP3 players and phones on the go, and of course, only gets better at home plugged into a proper headphone amplifier.

Caption by / Photo by Audeze

The IE 800's tiny, all-ceramic ear pieces feel positively inert. The headphone has an almost magical ability to render iffy MP3s or ragged sounding CDs palatable, an astonishing feat! Audiophile recordings are crystal clear, and the IE 800 is the most comfortable in-ear I've heard to date.

Caption by / Photo by Sennheiser

With good recordings you feel like you're in the room with the band; no other headphone can come close to producing that level of realism. The AB-1266 is as good as it gets.

Caption by / Photo by Abyss

The Shure SE846-CL is the Audiophiliac In-Ear Headphone of the Year. It's a universal fit in-ear, but outshines the sound of my favorite custom molded in-ear headphones from JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, Westone, 1964 Ears, and more.

Caption by / Photo by Shure
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