The sweet spot between audio performance and aesthetic appeal is a precarious balance between audio engineering and industrial design which even the most staunch audiophile hopes for these days. Beyond the niche of high end models (like the coveted $1,700 Grado PS1000e) there are several mid-range models – albeit a subjective term in regards to audio products – capable of producing beautiful sound all in a stylish package which highlight material quality and craftsmanship. Here are our five current favorites which hit the sweet spot:
Master & Dynamic Halliburton Kit: The name and full-on aluminum travel case evokes images of inconspicuous corporate dealings (the name actually derives from the case maker, Zero Halliburton), but you’ll get nothing by stares once you pop open the latches and reveal a set-up of Master & Dynamic’s signature MH40 Over Ear or MH30 On Ear Headphones with matching metal headphone stand and boom microphone – a creative toolkit for those who deal in the art of sound.
Angle & Curve Carboncans: A sexy design with super lightweight durability – in part due to its flexible nylon carbon composite material – offer what might be our current favorite pair of travel, work/play headphones. Hand-built in Stratford Upon Avon, UK, the fold-up weather-proof design and matte black with gold finish present a pair of headphones with an air of sophistication matched by the quality of ergonomic comfort and a neutral sound which plays nice with all genres of music. In our few days testing a sample the Carboncans operated brilliantly as a daily accessory for audio appreciation or jumping onto a conference call using the discrete built-in mic, comfortable for hours at a time.
Philips Fidelio X2: the original X1 models were my daily work headphones for years, notably accommodating for my larger head and very comfortable for extended listening periods. It’s only because the ear cushions began to fray along the edges I had to ditch them, as they were non-replaceable parts. So I’m happy to see Philips updated their Fidelio X2 with a replaceable ear cushi on design, alongside a larger headband to evolve what should be a fatigue-free fit, both ergonomically and in audio performance.
Flare R1: Flare Audio is attempting to bring a wholly different sound to headphones with this Kickstarter project, applying what they’ve learned from loudspeaker design and shrinking it down into a portable headphone form. The first ‘fully open’ headphone, the design is characterized by a pair of precision milled drivers made with solid billets of aerospace aluminum topped with hand-stitched memory foam ear pads. The sound is described to be similar to that of electrostatic loudspeakers, with little noticeable distortion. We’ll know soon enough, with a upcoming release this June.
OPPO PM-2: Another sequel headphone model, this one equipped with a proprietary double-sided diaphragm, planar magnetic driver design (those curious about the technology can watch this video illustrating the material interaction between the thin acoustic diaphragm and the the magnetic and conductor system). The oversized open back design is optimized for enjoying moments when music is designated as a primary focus (versus a multi-purpose model), an ideal gift for an audiophile.
What are your favorite headphones?