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HEADPHONE BUYERSGUIDESponsored by NuForce & Shure

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1 HEADPHONES REVIEW COLLECTION

ISSUES 1-22

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table of contentsIN-EAR HEADPHONESOverview & What to Look For Models $120 and BelowApple In-Ear Heaphone Denon AH-C551 NuForce NE-7M NuForce NE-8 Sennheiser CX300 (now CX300 II) Skullcandy Titan Skullcandy FMJ 11mm

headphonesNOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONESOverview & What to Look ForAudio-Technica ATH-ANC7 (now ATH-ANC7b) Beats By Dr. Dre Studio Bose QuietComfort2 Creative Labs Aurvana X-Fi Denon ATH-NC732 JVC HA-NC250 Sennheiser PX 450 Sony MDR-NC500D

HIGH PERFORMANCE HEADPHONESOverview & What to Look For Models $500 and BelowAudio-Technica ATH-A700 Beyer Dynamics DT-880PRO Denon AH-D1001 Grado RS2 Sennheiser HD650 Shure SRH840 Ultrasone PRO 2500

Models Between $120 and $300Beats By Dr. Dre Tour Denon AH-C700 (now AH-C751) Etymotic Wireless ETY8 Etymotic ER4P Future Sonics Atrio Klipsch Custom 3 Monster Cable Turbines Phiaton PS 200 Shure SE310 Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5PRO

Models Over $500Denon AH-D5000 Grado GS1000 Sennheiser HD 800 Ultrasone Edition 8

Models $300 and UpKlipsch Image Sennheiser IE7 Shure SE420 Shure SE530 Ultimate Ears Triple.fi 10PRO

2 HEADPHONES REVIEW COLLECTION

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HEADPHONE BUYERS GUIDE

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W

elcome to the first-ever Playback Headphone Buyers Guide. Todays music lovers are more interested in headphones than ever before, and its easy to understand why. Dollar for dollar, no other class of audio product delivers more musical enjoyment or refinement than a good set of headphones can, which may be why so many listeners regard headphones as their personal hi-fi systems of choice. Of course, no two listeners are exactly alike, nor are their specific needs and requirements. For this reason, our Buyers Guide addresses three very different classes of headphones, with expert reviews of over 40 different models: In-Ear Headphones (geared for listeners on the go who appreciate sound quality and isolation from external noise, but for whom pocket portability and ease of use are very high priorities). Noise-Canceling Headphones (geared for listeners who prize sound quality, but who also know they will

often have to listen in noisy, potentially distracting environments). High-Performance Headphones (geared for listeners who have made sound quality their absolute, number one priority. Listeners seeking headphones in this class often want sound quality thatapart from headphonescould only be achieved through multi-thousand-dollar loudspeaker systems). To help you navigate through the many choices available, weve prepared Overviews for each of the three classes of headphones above, showing the specific qualities and attributes we look for among products in each class. We hope you have as much fun reading this guide as we did preparing it, and even more than that, we hope the guide takes you forward in your quest for better sound. Chris Martens, Editor, Playback

IN-EAR HEADPHONES: OVERVIEW & WHAT TO LOOK FORkiller earbuds: why should you care?If youre reading this sentence, odds are that you own an iPod or other personal digital music player. And because youre a smart, music-loving person, well assume youd like to get the most enjoyment possible out of your player (within reason, that is). The easiest and best way for that to happen is for you to upgrade to a set of killer earbudssuch as those surveyed here. Now nobody likes to spend money needlessly, so that many listeners ask if the earbuds that came with their iPod arent good enough, and our answerborn of extensive listening experienceis simple and unequivocal: No, theyre not good enough. The truth is that the thin, tinny sound of stock earbuds limits the iPod to about 70 percent of its true performance potential (and thats being generous). To tap the full potential of your iPod, youll need to spring for better inear headphones. As one wide-eyed listener put it after hearing top-shelf earbuds for the first time, Whoa, I didnt know it could be like this... Prepare to be amazed. course better than others in this department). Heres the deal: stock earbuds are generally worn in the curves of your outer ear, and they tend to fit very loosely, which is a major problem in terms of noise pollution. When earbuds fit too loosely, noises from the outside world can flow into your ears and overpower the music. As a result, listeners often crank up the volume higher and higher until they can hear their music over the background din. Not good. But the earbuds in this survey are different, in that they all offer soft rubber or foam eartips that fit inside your ear canals, creating firm yet comfortable seals that block out nearly all outside noise. Once noise is gone, theres no need to turn up the volume to hear your music clearly. In fact, compared to stock earbuds, our killer earbuds actually let you hear more music at lower volume levelssomething for which your ears will thank you now and in years to come. Whats more, some earbuds in this survey can block noise more effectively than big, expensive noise-cancelling headphones do. Cool, no? earbud is fitted. If the fit is too loose, the sound will be seriously imbalanced (too much treble and midrange, and not enough bass). To get the most from in-ear headphones, you must make sure they achieve an airtight seal in your ear canals. Most in-ear headphones come with multiple sizes and/or shapes of rubber/foam eartips, and our advice is to experiment with them until you find a set that are comfortable, yet seal well. To make sure the seal is good, just listen for noises from the outside world. When all (or nearly all) background noise is blocked out, the seal is good; otherwise, somethings wrong. Other hints: If youre having trouble getting a good seal, try these three simple tricks. First, wet your finger and lightly moisten the rubber eartips before inserting your earbuds. Second, after inserting the earbuds, try gently pulling back on them just a tiny bit (this sometimes helps the eartips expandGOOD enough to achieve Fit a good seal). Finally, try gently rotating your earbuds forward or backward about 1/8th of a turn either way. Once you get a good fit, you wont believe how rich, deep and full-bodied these little guys can sound!

important tip: go easy with the volumeStart out with the volume turned down, and work your way up gradually. As a general rule, you wont need to turn your iPod up to super high levels in order to hear clearly. One word of caution: many killer earbuds continue to sound clean, clear, and undistorted even at ridiculously (and dangerously) high volume levels. So take it easy: dont dial up higher volumes than you really need.

killer earbuds: what were looking for Tonal BalanceThe ability to produce smooth, evenly balanced bass, mids, and highs, with nothing exaggerated, and nothing left out. ClarityAccurate reproduction of transient sounds and musical texturessuch as the sound of a pick on guitar strings or the shimmer of cymbals. DynamicsThe ability to reveal contrasts between loud and soft passages in music without audible stress or strain. Comfort/FitDoes it accommodate a wide range of listeners and achieve a good seal in the ear canal without applying too much pressure? ValueAre you getting your moneys worth?

noise isolation: an ear-saving blessingKiller earbuds sound great, but thats not the only reason to buy them; another great reason is to enjoy the superb noise isolation they typically provide (though some models are of6 HEADPHONES REVIEW COLLECTION ISSUES 1-22 PLAYBACK

important tip: a good fit = great soundPerhaps the biggest complaint youll hear about in-ear headphones is that they make no bass or sound too thin and bright. In most cases, though, the problem isnt with the earbud itself, but rather with the way theGOOD Fit BAD Fit

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7 HEADPHONES REVIEW COLLECTION

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in-ear

headphones

models $120 and under

models $120-$300

models $300 and up

go to: noise-cancelling headphones | high performance headphonesthe product reads, Turns out you havent heard everythinga tacit admission that stock iPod/iPhone earbuds leave much to be desired. Happily, Apples In-Ear Headphones are designed to cater to audiophile tastes, and so, somewhat surprisingly at this price point, the phones use a sophisticated balanced dual armature design (meaning each earpiece provides separate, miniature woofer and tweeter drivers). Of course no Apple product would be complete without offering a few clever, functional twists, and Apples toptier headphones are no exception. They incorporate a tiny, in-line remote/mic module that enables the phones to function as a headset when used with 2G/3G iPhones and that provides limited remote control functions when used with newer generation iPods. Of course our top priorities (and probably yours, too) are sound quality and wearer comfort, and its on the basis of those two parameters that well evaluate Apples top-shelf model to see how it compares to competing models in its price class. foundational low-end response that some affordable headphones, such as the NuForce NE-7Ms or Skullcandy Titans, can provide. If your sonic frame of reference is the stock earbuds that came with your iPod, then you may well find the superior resolution of Apples In-Ear Headphones revelatory. Suddenly, youll be able to access and en