The Guide: Headphones

Sound & Stage rounds up some of the top headphones for 2015
Audeze LCD-3, RRP $1.945
Audeze LCD-3, RRP $1.945
Bose QuietComfort 25, RRP $249.95
Bose QuietComfort 25, RRP $249.95
OPPO PM-2, RRP $699
OPPO PM-2, RRP $699
Sennheiser Urbanite XL Wireless, RRP $199.95
Sennheiser Urbanite XL Wireless, RRP $199.95
Philips A3 Pro, RRP $160
Philips A3 Pro, RRP $160
Grado PS1000e, RRP $1,695
Grado PS1000e, RRP $1,695

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Whether you’re the type of person that could pick out a pin drop in the background of a big band recording or if you simply want to enjoy in-flight movies minus the crying babies in the background, there is a headphone range out there for everyone. From the bank busters to the purse pleasers, check out just a few of our top picks…

AUDEZE LCD-3
The flagship headphone by high-end audio manufacturer, Audeze, may have a price tag that could scare off even the biggest audiophile, but for those who can stretch their purse strings that far, the LCD-3 delivers the highest resolution experience that Audeze offers throughout its entire product line.

The LCD-3 has the longest voice coil and the strongest diaphragm driving force of all the LCD designs, which yields the fastest transient response. Patent-pending Fazor elements guide and manage the flow of sound in the headphone for improved clarity and focus, greater frequency extension top and bottom, and remarkable 3D holographic imaging.

Its sound is always musical, spacious and realistic, with powerful bass, a rich mid-range, and a top end that pulls you into the music. For the best results, the LCD-3 should be driven by an external headphone amp or integrated amplifier, however the open-back design does tend to lead to a fair amount of sound leaking into the room.

All in all, however, to justify the gargantuan price point Audeze really did have to produce a headphone that wipes the floor with most other competitors. And, with the LCD-3, we can’t help but believe it did just that.

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BOSE QUIETCOMFORT 25
In the year 2000, 22 years after Dr Amar Bose’s original noise cancellation research, Bose introduced the original QuietComfort noise cancelling headphones, forever changing the consumer headphone category. Fast forward to late 2014 and the company launched the latest version, which represents the sixth incarnation of the popular noise cancellation headphone.

The QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones (QC25) feature an entirely new design, combining better noise reduction and audio performance with a new look and greater portability.

Sean Garrett, vice president of the Bose Noise Reduction Technology Group, explains: “We improved nearly every dimension — greater noise reduction, lifelike audio, a striking new profile and styles, and a new earcup pivot to fold up smaller than ever. We weren’t going to replace the QC15 headphones unless we had something that was better and different — and the QC25 is both.”

The QC25 model benefits from over 30 years of research, cancelling more noise than any other Bose consumer headphone in history — especially at low frequencies. The company’s engineers placed microphones both inside and outside the earcup to better sense and measure unwanted sounds.

The measurements are then sent to a digital electronic chip that calculates a more precise equal and opposite noise cancellation signal within a fraction of a millisecond.

A more finely tuned Active EQ delivers a demonstrably smoother frequency response across the full spectrum of sound, regardless of listening level. TriPort technology delivers deep, detailed low notes, while a lower noise floor reduces the common “hiss” that is often associated with conventional active noise cancelling headphones.

Offering a comfortable and light design that is also durable, with a reasonable yet worthy price tag, in out opinion the QuietComfort 25 bridges the gap between audiophile and everyday perfectly.

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OPPO PM-2
If, like us, the OPPO PM-1 Planar magnetic headphone was out of your price range at approximately Dhs6,700, the good news is that the latest version, unsurprisingly named PM-2, hit the market towards the end of last year.
While the price may have dropped by almost 50 per cent, the quality — fortunately — remains the same and the OPPO PM-2 headphone offers natural, dynamic sound quality, with an emphasis on comfort and reduced weight.

While the sleek and unobtrusive design of the PM-2 undoubtedly looks good, there is a heavy dose of science going on under the surface when it comes to these coveted cans. After years of research by a team of audio and acoustics engineers, scientists, and audiophiles, a number of technological breakthroughs have made their way into the PM-2.

These include the use of a unique seven-layer diaphragm, double-sided spiralling coils, and an FEM-optimised magnet system. While the ins and outs of planar magnetic technology may not appeal to people that don’t quite get excited by waveforms and phase irregularity, the PM-2 provides any music lover with an open, transparent and dynamic sound that they will appreciate. Plus, it means that we now don’t need to save for the next 10 years to get our hands on a pair of OPPOs.

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SENNHEISER URBANITE XL WIRELESS
Going wireless can be a slightly unnerving concept for many audiophiles. Perhaps it’s the reassurance of being physically plugged in that leaves many of us ignoring the freedom offered by breaking the ties. But, when a name like Sennheiser drops a wireless option into the mix — like it did at the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 — we tend to take note.

Introducing the Urbanite XL Wireless, Dr Christian Ern, director of product management, consumer, Sennheiser Communications A/S, commented: “With the Urbanite series, we’ve created a range of headphones that deliver an emotional, powerful club sound on the move. But the generation of Millennials knows more and demands more.

With the new Urbanite XL Wireless, they can take their bass-driven sound easily anywhere, with effortless wireless connectivity, incredible battery life, and touch control for ease of use.”

The new headphone — which offers up to 25 hours of playback — deploys the latest wireless technologies, with easy Bluetooth pairing to NFC-compatible devices or by bringing the headset into close proximity. It is also built to last, with tough, durable materials including metal components, and a collapsible design that makes the Urbanite XL Wireless easy to fold and store safely.

While there are, admittedly, more pro-focused models out there in the Sennheiser marketplace, the Urbanite (also available in a wired version) offers an affordable option for those that may just be starting in the industry — not yet able to splash the cash, but unwilling to compromise on quality.

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PHILIPS A3 PRO
Created in collaboration with internationally-renowned DJ, Armin van Buuren, the new A3 PRO headphones by Philips have been designed with electronic music in mind.

On top of the 50mm drivers handling 3000mW for distortion-free music, the A3 PRO also offers source-accurate sound reproduction, which claims to bring the listener “sound as it was recorded in the booth, without distortion or alteration, so the sound you hear is true to the original.”

Whether or not this was noticeable, the closed-back design certainly gave us a bass boost when listening through these cans, which avoided the muddy sound offered by many other models in this price range. While there is some sound leakage once you start to push the volume to the higher levels and a little loss of energy in the mid-range, the A3 PRO generally copes well with the entire spectrum thanks to a frequency response of 12 - 23,000 Hz.

The most notable factor for us however is the comfort of the A3 PRO along with the lightweight feel. With DJs such as Mr van Buuren clearly at the forefront of the design process, the earpieces swivel to 90 degrees for one-ear monitoring and the breathable materials are soft and malleable for music on the move.

So, even if you’re more likely to wear the headphones on the exercise bike at the gym instead of while spinning the wheels of steel, the A3 PRO offers comfort and audio quality at an affordable price point.

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GRADO LABS PS1000e
If hand-crafted, top-of-the-line headphones are what you’re after, you couldn’t go far wrong with, well, anything that’s been lovingly built by Grado Labs. However, for the purpose of this article we’ve zoned in on the Brooklyn-based manufacturer’s latest professional offering, the PS1000e. By using tone-wood clad with metal alloy, Grado claims to have obliterated two of the most pressing issues when it comes to headphone design: ringing in the chamber, and transient distortion.

According to the company, this “gives audio professionals the security of consistent response throughout the frequency range,” which for real audiophiles is anything but a luxury.

Taking its cue from the PS1000, this new hybrid design has an inner sleeve of hand-crafted mahogany made by using Grado’s new ‘e’ curing process — hence the ‘e’ series — while its outer housing, machined from aluminium then chrome-plated, utilises a special processing and casting method to increase the porosity of the alloy.

On top of this, the PS1000e also has a 50mm driver and a newly reconfigured voice coil and diaphragm design, resulting in much improved speed and accuracy responses.

While the price may — remarkably — remain the same as its predecessor, the quality has certainly been improved. Which, if you were lucky enough to experience the audio supremacy of the PS1000 that paved the way for this new ‘e’ series, is by no means an easy task.

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