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Audiophiliac's picks for 2013, golden age of headphone design

It's been a stellar year for headphones. The Audiophiliac looks back on the real standouts.

Shure SE846 in-ear headphones

We're living in the golden age of headphone design. Never before has there been such a vast assortment of exceptional headphones available in every price class. I was totally knocked out by the terrific Koss KTX Pro 1, on sale for just $10 right now, and at the other end of the scale we have the best headphones I've heard, the $5,495 Abyss AB-1266. Slotted between those two I found lots of jewels, including Shure's radically innovative SE846 in-ear headphone. The NAD HP50 over-the-ear headphone beat out Sennheiser's and Bowers & Wilkins' similarly priced models.

The Abyss AB-1266 is a full-size (and more) design; it's huge and heavy, but I find it super-comfortable to wear for hours at a time. The secret? The AB 1266's ear pad barely touch my ears, and the sound is a giant leap better than anything I've had home. 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 The Audiophiliac's Full-Size Headphone of the Year. Abyss' Joe Skubinski and his son Eric developed the AB-1266's planar magnetic drivers from the ground up over a period of nearly five years.

Abyss AB 1266 headphones Abyss

The Shure SE846-CL ($1,200) is the Audiophiliac's In-Ear Headphone of the Year. The SE846 is 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. The SE846's sound is more open (less stuck inside my head), it's highly transparent, treble detailing and dynamic range capabilities are extraordinary, and then there's the bass. It plumbs deeper and is significantly better defined than the competition's headphones. The SE846 is the one I take when I leave home. Comfort levels are high, and the cables are user replaceable, so this is one in-ear design that won't need to be returned to the manufacturer if the cable breaks, simply pop on a new cable.