Hi-Fi+ Products of the Year: Headphones, Earphones, and CIEMS

Earphones and in-ear monitors
ENIGMAcoustics Dharma D1000,
HiFiMAN HE-400S,
HiFiMAN HE1000,
MrSpeakers ETHER C,
Noble Audio Kaiser 10 custom-fit in-ear monitor,
RHA T20 earphone,
Westone W60
Hi-Fi+ Products of the Year: Headphones, Earphones, and CIEMS

Value-priced Headphone of the Year

HiFiMAN HE 400S planar magnetic headphone

HiFiMAN has been on quite a roll for the past several years, creating an ever-expanding family of high-performance planar magnetic headphones. First came the excellent HE560 (which superseded the well-loved HE500), and then the also excellent but more affordably priced HE400i, which in turn lead to the spectacular flagship HE1000. Now, however, HiFiMAN has brought us its least expensive planar magnetic model ever: the entry-level priced yet nevertheless extremely high performance HE400S. Quite simply, the HE400S has redefined what’s possible in a mid-priced headphone. Here’s how the performance maths works: the £659 HE560 arguably offers best in class sound, while the £369 HE400i comes very close to the HE560 for substantially less money.  Then along comes the easy-to-drive £219 HE400s offering sound that in many respects invites comparison to the HE400i, but for a fraction of the price. Can we say ‘legitimate audiophile bargain’? Sure we can. (Review forthcoming.)

Closed-back Headphone of the Year

MrSpeakers ETHER C closed-back planar magnetic headphone

Most planar magnet headphones are open-back models, though some manufacturers have begun to experiment with closed-back variations—with varying degrees of success. Thus far, closed-back adaptations of open-back designs have almost invariably lost a few sonic steps when compared to their open-back brethren, typically sounding thicker, less transparent, and somewhat compressed. However, the superb ETHER-C closed back planar magnetic headphone from MrSpeakers is about to change  that perception forever. The ETHER-C appears almost identical to the firm’s excellent ETHER open-back model, yet with a carbon fibre rear enclosure and a driver tuned entirely differently to the ETHER’s – one specifically specifically optimised for use in a closed-back environment. As a result, the ETHER-C offers much the same precise, uncommonly transparent, and very evenly balanced sound that the open-back ETHER does, which is a remarkable achievement. Finally, there’s a closed-back headphone that can do everything its open-back sibling can. Bravo! (Review forthcoming)

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