S. Andrea said: If you find that most high-end headphones sound analytical, bright, diffuse, insubstantial, or lacking in bass, then the Audeze LCD-2s may be for you. Their sound is warm, solid, and dense, with a robust bass response that remains under control. They present the music to you rather than shoving it at you, and their way of handling ambience creates a deeply immersive listening experience.
The gist: Ever heard planar-magnetic headphones?
S. Andrea said: Bowers & Wilkins’ C5 earphones have a particular sonic signature: abundant bass, a full midrange, and forgiving high frequencies. The C5s’ high-tech yet classy appearance is just as distinctive as their sound. Thanks to the weight distribution, the Secure Loop, and the minimal insertion of the eartips, their fit is immediately comfortable and rock solid. The combination of all these features makes the Bowers &Wilkins C5 a unique product definitely worth an audition.
The gist: Unique sound in a stylish design.
S. Andrea said: The Etymotic Research ER-4PT earphones -- and, even more, the ER-4 S model -- provide reference-quality sound in a vanishingly small package. Their level of transparency of detail is beyond what I thought possible from this type of device. They really are like having studio monitors that you can take with you wherever you go. Very highly recommended.
The gist: A reference in the category.
S. Andrea said: The Etymotic Research hf5 is a cannily voiced design from a company with a thorough technical understanding of human hearing. These earphones are not strictly accurate, but they provide a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience with a high degree of detail. Their frequency balance, combined with their excellent isolation, make the hf5s ideal for listening to portable devices in noisy environments. In such environments, and with the limitations of portable players, it’s hard to justify the need for going beyond this already high level of performance. At only $149, the Etymotic hf5s offer a solid value.
The gist: Good-value earphone from a company that knows the genre.
S. Andrea said: Driving the HD 800s with the HeadRoom Balanced Ultra Desktop Amplifier propels them to still greater heights of resolution and depths of bass power and articulation. If you’re in the market for an absolutely top-quality headphone listening experience, you need to audition this system. Maybe as the HeadRoom folks say, “It will leave you grinning from ear to ear.”
The gist: A top-shelf headphone amp for a balanced system.
S. Andrea said: The HiFiMAN HE-500 is a well-engineered and well-built headphone design. Their overall neutral tonal balance, satisfying but measured bass, and big sound make them well suited to a wide variety of musical styles. They can show off many of the virtues of good recordings, but don’t render less-than-stellar recordings unlistenable. Their somewhat low sensitivity will require a very good headphone output or dedicated headphone amplifier, but is not too demanding to be realistic. While no single headphone design -- or design of any other category of audio component -- will appeal to every listener, I think that the balanced approach of the HE-500s will help them find their way into many systems.
The gist: Well-balanced headphone design from a relatively new player.
Roger said: Logitech has many models above the Harmony 300 that should suit the needs of those who require a fully featured, activity-based remote control for a complex A/V system. But if all you need is an inexpensive, basic universal remote that can control up to four components and is incredibly easy to program, the Harmony 300 is an excellent choice.
The gist: A deal for under $50 street price.
Rad said: For its size, the Logitech S715i is an amazing-sounding product that raises the performance bar for portable speakers. If you need a speaker for your iPod, are more concerned with good sound than with bells and whistles, and can put up with or are unaffected by the docking and remote-control limitations mentioned above, the S715i might be the portable speaker and docking station for you.
The gist: Doesn’t sound like most iPod docks.
Price: $1499.95 single ended, $1649.95 balanced
S. Andrea said: The Sennheiser HD 800s are clearly some of the best headphones out there. They’re dynamic, detailed, sound exceedingly smooth, and create an out-of-the-head listening experience that headphone lovers and headphone haters alike need to try.
The gist: The headphones everyone needs to try.
Price: $3670 including Stax SRS-202 headphones
Rad said: What Smyth Research claims the Realiser A8 does, with its intricate SVS algorithm, is to make the sound from the headphones like the sound in your room. It’s like taking a virtual-reality audio tour of the sound of your audio system in your room, one that you can commit to a digital file or preset, and preserve for your regular use.
The gist: Seems impossible, but it lives up to its claims.
Price: $55 (PL50), $50 (EH11)
S. Andrea said: Not all $50 earphones sound the same -- some manage to really stand out from the crowd, and the SoundMagic PL50 and EH11 are two of them. Each offers a particular set of ergonomic and sonic benefits that can provide a satisfying listening experience. While neither design challenges the best of their pricier competition, each offers strong value in a very competitive market.
The gist: An earphone recommendation amongst the generic multitudes.
Colin said: Living with the TEAC SR-100i was eye-opening in a number of ways, but mostly because it proved popular with the members of my household, and with pretty much everyone else who heard it playing here. It has a stylish, modern design, offers pretty much all the functionality anyone could want in a small sound system, and has an iPod dock that sounds really quite good. It will fill most rooms with enough powerful sound and enough bottom end to satisfy all but the most bass hungry. In short, the TEAC SR-100i rocks.
The gist: A B&W Zeppelin for the common man. Sort of.
S. Andrea said: Given the personal nature of listening to music, and especially of headphones, there will never be one design on which all can agree -- but Ultrasone's Edition 8 headphones clearly belong on that short list of contenders for World's Greatest Headphone.
The gist: Damn these are cool!
S. Andrea said: The Ultrasone Pro 900 is an excellent choice of closed-back headphone. Its exceptional high-frequency extension can exploit the ability of high-resolution recordings to deliver harmonic textures. Its rendering of fine detail is not quite up to the level of Ultrasone’s own Edition 8, but it comes remarkably close for 60% less money.
The gist: Euro-sleek design with sound to match.