I was very happy to finally get something for review from Beyerdynamic - I rarely review headphones from companies whose specific purpose is neutrality, particularly in the portable market. The Amiron Wireless is a classically utilitarian execution of Beyerdynamic’s house sound; the headphone is generally neutral, although the highs are somewhat bright, particularly in this closed context. However, for the mixer-on-the-go or the classical-music-fan or those that simply prefer uncolored sound, these are a very solid option.Read More
Man, am I incredibly excited to get to write this post. A number of absurdly fortunate events conspired to allow this to happen - in the end of my time in China this summer, my friend (Kyle, actually! An editor here) and I have been traveling miscellaneously, a bit. The penultimate stop before heading back to the States was Shanghai.
While we were in Shanghai, we got to wandering. There's a lot to the city, not even a small percentage of which we explored during the short, three-day trip. On one outing, our first day, we walked past a very large, reasonably well-known hotel in the city - The Peninsula. As we circled around it, I looked across the street and saw, in their lobby level, a Sennheiser store. What a coincidence! We decided to stop in.
As I walked in, directly in front of me are not one, not two, but five HE-1s. All in glass cases.Read More
It seems oddly fitting that this review is being posted on the one-year anniversary from my first post on this website, for reasons that I think will become clear by the end of this review. Speaking of the anniversary though, I've thrown together some admittedly simple statistics and a bit of reflection that I think might be valuable, and that'll go up in about an hour after this does.
But beyond all that, let's get to the actual review.
Campfire Audio sent me their Polaris IEM a few months back, and I very much enjoyed my time with them, as well as the background I was able to get from Caleb on what exactly they had done, in terms of innovation and improvement, to create the headphone that they had.
But, as soon as I saw an over-ear pop up on their website, I reached back out. The fully closed-back form factor, the minimalistic, but somewhat industrial design, and the price-point - I knew I needed to get my hands on a pair. They shipped out, and I got them on my head. Spoiler (although more so for framing the review): these are my new favorite pair of headphones, and that's likely to be a theme throughout.
Fit and Form
Pictures fail to convey quite a bit of valuable information about a headphone, and that's what I was waiting to resolve once I got them in my hands. The headphones are incredibly robust, with almost all exterior surfaces being either matte-black anodized aluminum or sheepskin leather. The actuation of the headphone is something that really surprised me. The design is such that adjustments in the points of pressure of the earcup on your head (both horizontally and vertically) stay where you put them. This was something I had yet to see in a headphone that, it turns out, I really like. I feel that it's valuable for those that are irritated by certain positions of an over-ear headphone, just as a result of the shape of their jaw, etc., to be able to position the headphone exactly as they like.
Let's get through accessories real quick before digging into design of the actual headphone, though. Included with the headphones is a very nice, hard leather case. The zippers are black chrome, and the case has a removable leather carrying strap, all tastefully embossed with the Campfire Audio logo and/or name. It's as compact as could be for headphones of this form factor, and can pretty comfortably fit in a backpack.
The included cable was another surprise. From the pictures, it looked oddly stiff and seemed like it'd be an inconvenience. Quite the opposite is the case, thankfully. The cable is cloth-wrapped, and is very supple - I had no problems with kinking or stiffness. The connector at the signal-end is a 45° 1/8" TRS connector, and is as compact as possible, although there is still space for a CA logo. The splitter is also very minimal, although I don't foresee any longevity problems with either. The connectors at the headphone-end are circular push-pull connectors which feel absolutely great. The tolerances are good, and the rotational orientation-locking mechanism works very well. The click is also very satisfying - all around, great cable. Microphonics were minimal in use, although they can be heard with purposeful effort.
Because of their weight, along with the materials used, the headphones feel extremely premium. They aren't so heavy as to cause sore spots on the top of the head, thankfully, as that was always a complaint of mine on headphones like Audeze's LCD-series (although I'm aware that the Lohb strap can fix that). Comfort is extremely good, as the level of pressure conveyed through the luxurious leather pads is just right for me.
Speaking of earpads, there's another high point. The pads attach to the earcup with a very robust magnet that snaps them into position, along with an alignment pin on the top. The pads themselves are deep, rectangular, and my pinna fit very comfortably in them, with almost no pressure on them. This attachment system is a high point for me, as I've never been a fan of ring-attached pads, as swapping pads becomes such a chore.
However, it's not pad-rolling that's the motivation for this design - it's something arguably more significant. These headphones include a very cool acoustic element that I haven't personally seen in any other headphone. Speaking of, it turns out that I left out one set of accessories in the above.
When you pull the earpad off the earcup, on the face of the pad that connects to the cup, you'll see a hole that looks like a rectangle with a semi-ellipse cut out of its longest edge on one side. Included in the case of the headphones, there's a black envelope which contains four sets of black sheets of the same shape, although slightly larger. These are wrapped in plastic, and are accompanied by a small pamphlet that explains how to use them. They are acoustic filters with varying pore sizes, from 7μm up to 15μm. Depending on which one is used, the user can tune the headphone to their listening preferences - a smaller pore size allows more mid- and low-frequencies to pass through the dampener.
In the tuning guide, there's an interesting note, which reads, "All included values have acoustic merit and are worth your time to experiment with to find the right sound for you," which I initially found odd. However, having spent a fair amount of time with these headphones, it's a very valid clarification. None of these filters are thrown in there without consideration - CA is being accurate to say that they all hold acoustic merit. The adjustment is not night-and-day, but it's certainly a noticeable change. Each of the filters is good in its own right, and it really is simply a matter of personal preference. I found myself varying between the 7μm and 10μm (the missing option being 12μm).
The reason I find this so impressive is the following: not only did Campfire Audio properly damp and implement design to make a single, good-sounding headphone, they figured out where the best placement was, what the best size was, and what the best screening material was in order to be able to tune the sound to four fairly different versions, while retaining quality in all of them. Huge props to them for this.
In this section, I'll try to give a bit of a picture of what the comparison between the different acoustic dampeners presents as in listening. With all of them, there is a slight bass tilt to the headphones, but with none of them does the bass ever overpower or cloud out the mids. That bass tilt increases fairly noticeably as you step down in pore size, and with the 7μm filter in place, I think that these could at least satisfy the wants of a basshead, although there are those that would still be looking for more.
Detail across all ranges is very good, with almost every small detail with which I've become so acquainted in my test track set coming across with good fidelity and faith to source. Although the soundstage is comparatively small (to most open-back headphones that I've heard), imaging and separation are extremely good. Every track within the mix comes through as distinct and separate, even in extremely busy tracks (see: most of Animals as Leaders discography, as well as much of Snarky Puppy). Something that these headphones do especially well is handling of texture - these headphones presented among the most pleasant rendition of Yosi Horikawa's Wandering EP that I've yet heard.
Leakage is minimal, given the fully closed-back design, and isolation is pretty good. These don't match the likes of any noice-cancelling over-ear, but they certainly do well enough to combat the noise of a busy room.
Something that I'd like to touch on here is that these headphones sounded great off of every source that I ran them through. They sound almost 100% as good out of my Pixel's headphone jack as they do out of Neurochrome's $1299 HP-1. This was great for me, since, when coupled with their relatively high portability, I was able to use them on-the-go just as easily as I was as dedicated, desk headphones.
Note: the remainder of the sound portion is conducted with the 10μm pore size acoustic dampener on the earpads.
Songs used: Three Ralphs by DJ Shadow, I Never Woke Up in Handcuffs Before by Hans Zimmer, and The Way It Was by Coast Modern
These headphones do bass very well. Although they don't quite match the likes of some very good ortho or biodynamics, they get very close. The first mental note I made was actually that I no longer felt as bad about having sold my personal pair of Fostex's TH-900 Mk II, since these get damn close to matching the sheer thump and force that I got out of those headphones.
In terms of more granular description, with the 10μm filters in place, the bass has very good slam and impact, without losing detail. Although they hammered their way through, "Three Ralphs," showing off some very good sub-bass extension, they don't lose their pace in a faster, more demanding track, like, "I Never Woke Up in Handcuffs Before". As mentioned above, texture generally is very good, and this range is no exception. Because of their speed, these headphones are very good at conveying the subtle and small variances that make a side-chained sawtooth synth so satisfying as a driving bassline.
Key descriptors: detailed, powerful, and controlled
Songs used: From Darkness by Avishai Cohen Trio, Tadow by FKJ & Masego, and Nocturne (Live) by Julian Lage
The mids are actually the highlight of these headphones for me. They remain detailed enough to find almost every subtlety of the recordings that I know best, but have just the right amount of lushness and flow to them to keep them engaging and pleasant to hear. Vocals of both genders come across as natural, with good detail and clarity. Instrumental lines are well controlled, allowing for good fidelity to source, and an overall sense of pervasive realism in the listening experience. The staging comes through in this range particularly, with instruments and vocals forming an intimate, but very clear picture of where everything was intended to be.
Key descriptors: natural, accurate, and engaging
Songs used: Ageispolis by Aphex Twin, Whammy by Death Grips, and Helix by Flume
This range serves as a great compliment to the former two. Extension is very good, with almost no peakiness to speak of. All of the detail sensitivity that I refer to above is supported by the quality of this range. I experienced almost no sibilance in my time with these - although these may be my overall favorite pair of headphones, they haven't dethroned the Kaiser Encore as one of few to get a zero-flaw mark in the treble. Cymbals have very good fidelity, with every element of the attack and decay of all types coming through clearly and accurately. Apologies for this always being one of my metrics for this range, but as I've said before, I've usually found it representative of a certain sense of fidelity for a headphone, and it is in this case. Plus, it doesn't hurt that I've got a lot of live exposure to them.
Key descriptors: extended, detailed, and poignant
I don't exactly know how to approach this wrap-up section for these headphones. I will admit that my opinion has been somewhat flavored with time, but I feel that the above qualifications of the headphones are accurate to my experience and representative of what motivates my opinion. These truly are a wonderful pair of headphones, and an incredibly impressive first shot at over-ear headphones for a company that has never approached that market before.
Campfire Audio has delivered an extremely competent headphone that is anything but boring. The inclusion of four swappable acoustic dampeners still boggles my mind a little bit, as that acoustic design element is anything but simple. The price point is high, but for that price, Campfire Audio delivers supremely good build quality, with no exposed actuation points, and nothing but the highest-quality materials available. Everything, from the cable to the case to the headphones themselves, screams quality. If what I described above seems like the sound signature, form-factor, and implementation for you, these should be at the top of your list.
Having had these headphones on my head for the past month or so, I could not be more excited to see what Campfire Audio has in store next - maybe an open-back? I can't say, but if they apply the brain and design power that it's clear they have in spades, I'm sure whatever comes next will be everything but anything bad.
These headphones were provided to me by Campfire Audio. I am not being paid by anyone to write this review, to endorse the product reviewed, or for the content that I put in the review.
These headphones were powered by an Astell&Kern AK Junior, a Google Pixel, a Neurochrome HP-1, and by whatever soundcard is in the motherboard of my computer.
I have had these headphones for about a month, and I have put about 60 hours of analytical listening through them during that period.
I've been waiting to get these in for review ever since the HeadFi meet back in the fall of this year. I came into that expo with Taction marked as a stop, since they had claimed quite a lot about their products on their website, and I wanted to briefly put them through their paces. I'm fully willing to admit that after having heard many "bass boost" headphones, the only commonality between them being their almost-universal terribleness, I was skeptical, at the outset.Read More
Fostex sent me a pair of their newly released T60RP to test out about a month back. This is the next iteration in their RP (Regular Phase) series, following the famous T50RP, which I have only heard as modifications. This employs some of the same orthodynamic technology that has served Fostex well in the past, and I'm glad that I was able to take the time to really put them through their paces.Read More
After coming home from school for winter break, I found waiting for me this package. I’ve seen a lot of prior attempts at multi-driver over-ear headphones, but in full candor, they mostly suck. The drivers always seem haphazardly and nonsensically arranged in some arbitrary geometry, and that randomness is usually reflected in the acoustic qualities of the headphones. But, I’d heard a lot from 1More in the past, almost entirely good, so I suspended my prior experience as best as I could and went in with the clearest head that I could muster.Read More
ZMF made its name in modification. First of the T50RP, which is one of the most commonly modified headphones in existence, they eventually made their move into wholly custom products. Although I haven't had the opportunity to hear those yet, I hope to in the future. But, I have had the time to listen, extensively I might add, to Zach Mehrbach's modification of the T50RP Mk III - the ZMF Classic. Having heard Cascadia Audio's Talos, a modification of the same headphone, this made for a great comparison.Read More
Sony sent me their reasonably new portable offering, the MDR-1000X. It occupies a section of the market that is relatively saturated at this point, although the man contenders right now are Bose's QC 35 and Sennheiser's PXC 550, both of which I have to hear. These make a great bang-for-the-buck in the wireless, over-ear, noise-cancelling category, and man was that a lot of words to get out. They've got a killer, unique feature-set that offers great ease-of-use, with a sound that falls right in line.Read More
After reviewing their flagship, the TH-900 Mk II, Fostex followed up with another of their biodynamic closed-backs, this time the TH-610. It occupies a much lower price bracket, at around $600. With a very much different style, but a somewhat similar sound signature, I think that these could be a great deal at the price.Read More
With their new Pro iESL Electrostatic Energizer, iFi generously included a pair of King Sound's KS-H3 Earspeakers. They have been my first exposure to electrostatic headphones, and I've very much enjoyed my time with them. The transient response and general quickness with which they create sound is unique, and absolutely wonderful to hear.
Fit and Form
The KS-H3 came to me in a very convenient, and surprisingly small, fabric-clad, hard-shelled, zippered case. They fold completely flat for storage, and their 5-pin Pro Bias cable wraps up nicely. Although wide, the cable hangs nicely and isn't too microphonic. Although movement is audible without music playing, I wasn't disturbed by it once I hit "play". The cables are permanently attached at each ear-cup, but I don't see that as a longevity issue, as these really aren't "on-the-go" headphones.
I'm a fan of the design of these headphones, but it's rare that I'm offended by design, so that may be a moot point. The mainly black ear-cups have a chamfered edge in a bronze coloration; I believe both the black and bronze are either anodized or (more likely) PVD coated. The headphones rotate 90 degrees (flat) at the hinge, and two arcs of spring steel wrap high over the head, while a leather-clad strap sits underneath that, responding to the pressure of the top of the head to automatically adjust to the user's head size. These headphones are fairly light, so this wasn't an issue for me, although I could imagine that if someone has ears that sit very low on their head, these might not drop enough to reach them comfortably.
The ear-pads are a bit shallow, although they are made of a nice quality, if thin, leather. They are completely circular, and cover the flat grill which covers the electrostatic diaphragm. I did have an occasional issue where my helix would uncomfortably rest against this covering, but that only came out in very extended uses, over 3 hours usually. Additionally, I've found that I have pretty sensitive ears to discomfort in headphones, so your mileage may vary, if you are in the market for these headphones.
But comfort and design, that's not why you buy these headphones. You buy them for the sound. And that's what I'm about to get to but (spoilers), it's pretty incredible.
There's a reason that there is this overarching mythos that surrounds electrostatic headphones. Incredible clarity, unrivaled transient response, with absurdly low distortion and tremendous dynamic sensitivity. That's a whole lot of buzz words, and I recognize that; they were chosen very purposefully. These headphones live up to that hype, and surpass it in many ways, some that I didn't expect.
Having read much media about electrostatic headphones in general, and some about these in particular, I came in with some expectations that were met and some that were surpassed. I expected all of the above buzzwords - how could I not? Those are what reviewers tend to offer as the defining characteristics of this section of the market. However, there were other things that I expected. I expected thin, anemic bass, without much ability to satisfy my occasional bass-head cravings. I was wrong there. I expected a cloistered, congested soundstage, with great imaging and separation, but not much more than that. Wrong there too.
These are the things I want to get through over the course of this review, because I feel that these offer an extremely good bridge between the benefits of dynamic and planar drivers, and electrostatic drivers.
So let's get to it then. Sub-bass takes a hit in a big way, losing a lot of impact, but still maintaining some good rumble. I was surprised as the amount and quality of mid-bass, with there being good potential for some punchiness and great texture where called upon. The mids are absolutely the high point. Natural and detailed, with just the right sense for lushness without airing on the side of inaccuracy or soupiness. The highs reach very high, creating a tremendous sense of airiness and space in the sound signature.
The soundstage isn't massive, I'll admit that, but it isn't the two-dimensional stereo image that I expected when I walked into these headphones. Imaging and separation are as great as I would expect them to be, with each instrument and vocal line coming through as exactly distinct, while somehow simultaneously creating a cohesive, ensconcing mix of sound that just embodies musicality.
Songs used: Three Ralphs by DJ Shadow, Black Eunuch by Algiers, and Feels feat. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, & Big Sean by Calvin Harris
Here was the first surprise I encountered with these headphones. Sure, sub-bass is massively reduced, but mid-bass has pretty good presence. More than just presence, the texture and detail, beyond just impact, was impressive, and very amicable. Bass guitars, with any combination of pedals, come through with great fidelity, straight down to the sound of the pick striking the metal string. Electronic synthesizers fare exactly as well, with a very tactile and realistic feel, almost as if you could reach out and grab the instrumentalist by the hand. All this isn't to say that these are bass kings or that this range is the emphasis, as it certainly lies below the mids, but it is much more present than I expected it to be, and in much better quality. They do not compare to a great pair of dynamics, per se, but I just wanted to emphasize that the sound signature isn't empty or hollow, by any means. They lose a little bit of weight behind some impacts, but beyond that, they are very competent performers.
Key descriptors: recessed, detailed, and tactile
Songs used: Scarlet Town by Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, Cajon by Daniel Waples & Friends, and Mama's Gun by Glass Animals
The mids are the high point of this set of headphones, without a single doubt in my mind. The incredibly fast response of the electrostatic driver allows a tremendous sense of realism to this frequency range. I wouldn't go so far as to call it lush, per se, but it leans to that side, compared to thin, edgy, or anemic. Vocals particularly, of both genders, come through as though the singer is right in the room with you. The delicacy and caution that the speed of these drivers allow means that every single breath, every intake of air between notes is caught and conveyed nigh-perfectly. The same is true of instruments, with the strokes of guitars and mandolins being so realistic that when I close my eyes, I swear I could see Chris Thile plucking away. There is, to my ears, a slight peak in the upper mids that can make the upper-end of the piano's spectrum a little bit sharp, but with some tasteful volume control, I avoided that issue pretty easily. To give a more specific note to the detail that I found in these headphones, I actually noticed what I believe to be a production quirk in the track "Mama's Gun" from Glass Animal's sophomore album, How to Be a Human Being. Right in the beginning, in the right channel, there is a slight crinkling that was reproducible consistently enough for me to be sure that it is not just the headphones diaphragm responding oddly. It's extremely low in volume, but I had never heard it before, and appreciated that these were revealing more of a track to me than I had heard before.
Key descriptors: detailed, articulate, and realistic
Songs used: Down the Road by C2C, Ageispolis by Aphex Twin, and Goodnight Kiss by Ibrahim Maalouf
The treble is another high point of these headphones, and it supports the mids in much the same way that the treble in Venture Electronic's Monk+ earbuds did. It adds a great sense of air and space to all the music that I put through these. It extends very high without much apparent effort, and I didn't notice much peakiness to speak of. I encountered no sibilance whatsoever in my use, thankfully, and didn't come across any other unpleasantness of which to speak here. Overtones are presented with the right emphasis, such that timbres of individual instruments are not bastardized, which similarly helps the realism and naturalness that I referenced earlier. I oftentimes find myself, as a drummer, harping on the presentation of cymbals by many lower-end headphones, as they blur the attack and decay too much to seem truly realistic, but these did a great job there too.
Key descriptors: extended, airy, and detailed
Minutia and Miscellaneous
The leather on the ear-pads does seem like a longevity issue to me. I am aware that I got a used pair, so I do not fault King Sound directly for this, but the leather on my ear-pads was noticeably flaking, which could either be from lack of proper care on the original owner's part, or from overuse over time. Just something to note, though that should be taken with a grain of salt, as I can't account for where the theoretical fault lies. However, they are user replaceable, so at the very least, it is not a permanent issue.
If you can't tell by the content of this review, I very much enjoyed my time with these headphones. They are a true embodiment of the incredibly nebulous moniker "high fidelity" and I feel that they represent a great entry point into the world of electrostatic earspeakers. They are not alienating in the slightest, retaining a good share of mid-bass while adding the tremendous transient response, dynamic sensitivity, and all the other buzz-phrases that surround electrostats. These definitely fall on the list of the most musically pleasing headphones I've heard, as they are satisfying both in a casual listen, and in a deeply analytical listening session. Highly recommended if you have the cash and the equipment necessary to do these headphones justice.
These headphones were provided to me for review by iFi Audio. I am not being paid by anyone to write this review, to endorse the product reviewed, or for the content that I put in the review.
These headphones were powered by an iFi Pro iESL, which was fed signal from an iFi Pro iCan, which was fed signal by USB from my computer.
I have had these headphones for about three weeks, and I have put about 50 hours of analytical listening through them during that period.
I had a lot of trouble writing this review, but not for the usual reasons. I wasn't ambivalent, nor did I find myself struggling for words to describe my experience. It was that I knew that as soon as this posts, I'll have to put these back in the box they came in, and ship them back off to Fostex.Read More
I've had Audio Technica's latest offering in their M-X line for the past month, or so. After much analytical listening, I've come to the conclusion that these serve as a wonderful replacement for the M50X, straying much closer to true neutral, as their monitor designation should imply.Read More
Cascadia Audio sent me their Fostex T50RP Mk III modification: the Talos. As comfortable as pillows sitting around your ears, I think the sound matches their comfort, or close.Read More
Sennheiser sent me their HD700 for review. After controversy upon release, I think that these headphones have aged well, given time.Read More
The Sennheiser HD 598 is one of Sennheiser’s low-/mid-range open back headphones. They’ve been on the market for a long time and have been extensively reviewed. Sennheiser offered to send me one, and it seemed senseless to turn it down.Read More
I was loaned my friend’s pair of Bose QC 25s for a few days. Below are my impressions of them; I only got a little less than a week with them, so my opinion is not as refined as I’d like it to be, but I think is substantive enough to warrant a review.Read More
Although these headphones are older than most, the Bose QC15 are a pretty good deal for portable use at around $150, although their value was arguable at their original price of around $300. They offer a fun, pleasant sound signature without sacrificing too much in the way of sound quality.Read More