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

Open-back Headphone of the Year

ENIGMAcoustics Dharma D1000 hybrid electrostatic/dynamic headphone

Up to this point, ENIGMAcoustics has perhaps been best known for its excellent Sopranino add-on electrostatic super-tweeter and for its clever Mythology M1 hybrid electrostatic/dynamic standmount loudspeakers, but we expect the firm’s new Dharma D1000 headphone will change all that. In essence, the Dharma D1000—much like the Mythology M1 speaker—represents an attempt to marry the virtues of the firm’s signature SBESL self-biasing electrostatic tweeter (in this case a miniature version of  thetweeter) with the sonic strengths of a 52mm Washi paper diaphragm-based dynamic driver. The result, we think, is an almost magical combination of high sensitivity (103dB!), exceptional responsiveness and delicacy, and hearty, robust output. In sharp contrast to many aspirational, upper-end headphones, the Dharma D1000 does not seem to be inordinately fussy about amplification and will happily give satisfying results when powered by everything from small digital audio players (e.g., the Questyle QP1R) up to state-of-the-art desktop amps. (Review forthcoming)

Cost-no-object Headphone of the Year

HiFiMAN HE1000 planar magnetic headphone 

HiFiMAN’s top-tier planar magnetic headphones have long pushed the envelope of top-tier performance, but with this year’s release of the flagship HE1000 model the firm has pulled out all the stops, creating a true benchmark headphone in the process. Sporting an ultra-thin and very low-mass ‘nanomaterial’ diaphragm, a powerful ‘asymmetric’ magnet assembly, a distinctive ‘Window Shade’ protective grille system, and an all new ergonomic design, the HE1000 is a technical tour de force that looks great and sounds better than it looks. In simple terms, the HE1000 offers the subtlety, detail, transient speed, and all-around nuance of a great electrostatic headphone, but with killer dynamics, the ability to play loudly and cleanly as the music warrants, plus the ability to be driven by conventional headphone amplifiers. In short, this brilliant do-all headphone sets the standard against which all other top-tier designs will be judged. (Reviewed in Issue 126).

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