The Best Headphones in Every Style, for Every Budget
Every headphone enthusiast knows there are a lot of high-quality options out there, with great new models introduced each month. You may not have the luxury of auditioning all of them, so we’ve done the work for you. Here are Moon Audio's picks for the best headphones and IEMs for 2021. Are you looking for a closed-back headphone for public use or an open back for the home or studio? A warm and musical sound for an immersive listening experience or a more detailed and resolute sound for critical listening? An in-ear or wireless style for on-the-go convenience without sacrificing audio quality? We've made it easy for you to choose among the best of the best in sound quality, comfortable fit, and uncompromising style.
Table of Contents
Top Reference Headphones:
Watch the video and then check out the descriptions below to learn more about our recommendations for the best reference headphones on the market right now.
Meze Elite: An Even Better Meze Empyrean
Think of the Elite as Meze's new and improved version of the Empyrean. The Empyrean is a phenomenal headphone, but we like to think of the Elite as "more" -- more more clarity, more detail, more efficient. The planar magnetic Elite has a neutral-warm and spacious sound with clean and deep bass, forward mids, and smooth highs.
Like its sibling the Empyrean, the open-back Elite has a gloriously big and wide soundstage with a good amount of height and depth. The aluminum and carbon fiber design features a suspension wing support system for even weight distribution on the head. The Elite features a new black and silver color scheme, and we find it has less sound bleed than other open-back headphones. We like to pair the Elite with a Silver Dragon Premium Cable to support detail retrieval and tighten up the bass.
The Elite is one of our favorite headphones for classical and jazz. Click here to read our full review of the Elite.
Focal Stellia Headphones: Smooth, Detailed Closed-Back Design
The Focal Stellia is a closed-back version of our top-selling Focal Utopia. Featuring the same beryllium driver, the Stellia has a smooth, clean, detailed, and energetic sound. It's on the forward side, but it's not overbearing. Soundstage on the Stellia is taller and deeper than it is wide (whereas the Utopia's soundstage is wider than it is tall). As Focal's top-tier closed back, the Stellia offers more bass and more upper-level detail than other Focal closed-backs.
The Stellia does not have a warm sound, but its bronze coloring imparts a warm aesthetic. The full-grain leather on the headband is soft and cushy, and the yoke is made from solid aluminum as opposed to carbon fiber on the Utopia. It's a very comfortable headphone. With an impedance of 35 Ohms and sensitivity of 106dB, the Stellia is easy to drive. Coupled with its closed-back design, this makes the Stellia an option for on-the-go use. We like to pair the Stellia with a Black Dragon Premium Cable for a musical sound with some warmth and fullness.
The Stellia is one of our favorite headphones for classical and jazz. Click here to read our full review of the Stellia.
Our #1 Best Seller
Focal Utopia Headphones: Our #1 Best Seller
The open-back Focal Utopia has been a favorite of Moon Audio Founder Drew Baird, P.E. since its release in 2016. The Utopia is the whole package: sound, elegance, and comfort, where you get an "as recorded" listening experience that will knock your socks off. As a world first, Utopia features the only full range and fully open-back loudspeaker built within a pair of headphones, using pure beryllium formed in an "M"-shaped dome. The acoustic quality of the pure beryllium "M"-shaped dome achieves a frequency response from 5Hz to 50kHz, allowing Focal to avoid the use of any crossover or passive filtering process. Everything is revealed with the Utopia: layers of music, instrument separation, the tiniest of details. You might think of the Utopia as two tiny loudspeakers over your ears. You get outstanding realism, natural sound reproduction, dynamics, and clarity.
When listening to the Utopia, the headphones practically disappear and the audio signal is revealed with a level of precision never achieved until Utopia. Soundstage is expansive, with a level of detail retrieval that is out of this world. If you want to hear every cymbal crash, every intake of your favorite singer's breath with lifelike precision, this is your headphone. The Utopia is simply one of the best dynamic headphones -- if not the best headphone, period -- that you will hear. We like to pair the Utopia with a Black Dragon Premium Cable to add warmth and body without sacrificing any detail.
The Utopia is one of our favorite headphones for classical and jazz. Click here to read our full review of the Utopia.
HiFiMan SUSVARA Headphones: Huge, Immersive Sound
This top-of-the-line SUSVARA open-back planar magnetic headphone from HiFiMan has a neutral sound signature that is also quite exciting. The SUSVARA has a huge, immersive, musical sound that is articulate down to the very last detail. When powered with the right amp (these cans are power hungry!), you will be blown away by the SUSVARA's tremendous low end. Bass is linear, clean, well defined, and wonderfully detailed. Vocals are emotive. It’s got an incredible top end with some sparkle, but it’s not forward.
The SUSVARA will reveal things in music you have been listening to for years, yet never noticed. Now, at well over a pound, this is not a lightweight headphone. But that’s about the only downside we can come up with. If you’re a fan of planar magnetic headphones, you’ll want to try the SUSVARA. We like to pair the SUSVARA with a Black Dragon Premium Cable for a warm and musical sound with a smooth top end.
The SUSVARA is one of our favorite headphones for rock and heavy metal. Click here to read our full review of the SUSVARA.
RAAL SR1a Headphones: Speaker-like Sound
The RAAL SRI-a is like nothing you've ever experienced in a headphone. Described as the world's first Earfield™ Monitor, the unique-looking SR1a puts the sweet spot “out there” for speaker-like sound. You can experience mixing, mastering, and home listening with unparalleled accuracy and realism. Unlike conventional over-ear headphones, there are no ear cups on the SR1a; it's an open-baffle design with a rectangular stainless-steel face that weighs less than a pound. The SR1a uses driver technology derived from RAAL's aluminum ribbon tweeters. These highly specialized ribbon drivers have a frequency range of 30Hz to 30kHz in order to eliminate the need for sealed chambered bass and allow for open air baffles (both front and back) for a true full-frequency soundfield.
The SR1a has a neutral, uncolored, and analytical sound that is pure, smooth, clear, and highly detailed and resolute. You can actually angle the drivers toward or away from your head; away will widen the soundstage, toward will narrow the soundstage and increase bass. Something to note: The SR1a needs to be driven by a specially designed high-power headphone amp, such as the RAAL HSA-1b, or a moderately powered speaker amp connected to the interface box that comes with the SR1a. We like to pair the SR1a with a Black Dragon Premium Cable for a full-bodied sound with a smooth top end.
The SR1a is one of our favorite headphones for blues, country, and folk music. Click here to read our full review of the SR1a.
Top Warm and Musical Headphones:
Audeze LCD-3 Headphones: All About the Bass
The LCD-3 is the warmest and most musical-sounding headphone in the LCD lineup. This open-back planar design boasts a full-bodied, lush, and laid-back sound that is natural and transparent. The LCD-3 features a huge bottom end that's nicely textured and never bloated. Mids are warm and musical, while treble is smooth, with some top-end roll-off.
It’s not the heaviest headphone in the LCD lineup, but it’s got some heft to it. But the headband with a suspension system does a good job of evenly distributing weight across the top of the head. While you can drive the LCD-3 from a variety of sources, as with other planar magnetic headphones, this headphone will enjoy a boost in sonic signature the more power you throw at it. We like to pair the LCD-3 with a Silver Dragon Premium Cable for top-end sizzle and a clean, clear sound.
The LCD-3 is great for EDM and electronica & other bass-heavy music.
Dan Clark Audio ETHER 2 Headphones: Our Warmest Headphone
The open-back planar magnetic ETHER 2 from Dan Clark is the warmest headphone we sell at Moon Audio, with rich, prominent bass and a laid-back and musical sound that is great for vocals. At just over half a pound, it's also the lightest-weight planar magnetic headphone on the market and the lightest high-end headphone in its class.
The ETHER 2 features a driver diaphragm that is much lighter than that of the original ETHER. As a result, ETHER 2 delivers incredible clarity, powerful, fast bass, liquid mids, and a smooth, balanced top end that’s incredibly resolving yet not at all bright to deliver a coherent, dynamic, and remarkably balanced performance.
A nifty feature of the ETHER 2 is that it offers three "peel and switch" ear pads. With the stock earpad as the reference, a suede pad offers a little more output in the bass region and a little more sparkle on top, while a perforated pad delivers the largest soundstage and increases relative bass and treble for a more fun and lively voicing. The stock earpad puts the midrange a bit farther forward compared to the perforated and suede pads. It’s like having three headphones in one! We like to pair the ETHER 2 with a Silver Dragon Premium Cable for added detail and clarity plus instrument separation.
The ETHER 2 is great for bass-heavy music. Click here to read our full ETHER 2 review.
Focal Celestee Headphones: Lively and Engaging
A very well-received Focal release from 2021, the Celestee has a neutral-warm sound and a lovely navy blue and copper design. The Celestee replaced the discontinued Elegia as Focal’s entry-level closed-back headphone. The Celestee contains a re-tuned version of the Elegia’s aluminum-magnesium driver. Some people really liked the Elegia, but others found it to be too flat and/or lacking in bass.
With the Celestee, you get punchy bass with impactful but not overbearing sub-bass; warm mids and engaging vocals; and smooth highs. It's a lively and engaging sound, but in a relaxed kind of way. The Celestee is easy to drive from almost any source, and it's closed-back design makes it a good option for portable use. It’s a fantastic headphone under $1,000. We like to pair the Celestee with a Silver Dragon Premium Cable for some top-end sizzle and a clean, open sound.
The Celestee is great for classical, blues, rock, and bass-centric music. Click here to read our full Celestee review.
HiFiMan HE-R10P Headphones: Smooth, Pleasant Planar
The new closed-back planar dynamic HE-R10P from HiFiMan has a look and sound all its own. Super lightweight and comfortable, the R10P has a large headband that does a great job of distributing the weight evenly and even lifting the pressure off the ear cups. Speaking of the ear cups, they are uniquely curved to follow the shape of the outer ear. Your ears don't lay parallel to your head, so why should your headphones? This way, the drivers are angled directly into your ear.
The warm, mid-centric sound signature is smooth, pleasant, and so, so enjoyable. The bass is incredibly punchy for a planar magnetic headphone, and the closed wooden ear cups help these lower frequencies stay tight and immediate. You'll get slightly more sound bleed than your typical closed-back headphone, which of course will only be an issue if you opt to listen to these in public.
Bonus: Bluetooth connectivity! The HE-R10P has the option to transmit audio wirelessly. HIFIMAN has developed what they call the BlueMini Bluetooth adapter. The device connects to the underside of the left ear cup, giving you the option to transmit audio via Bluetooth or via USB-C. We like to pair the HE-R10P with a Silver Dragon Premium Cable for added clarity and resolution.
The HE-R10P is great for rock, blues, and Americana. Click here to read our full R10P review.
Meze Empyrean Headphones: Stupendous Soundstage
We love the enormous "arena-like" soundstage and warm, lush, organic sound of the Meze Empyrean. The tuning is varied enough to please both audiophiles and music enthusiasts, and the headphone does well with most any genre. You get warm and well-extended bass with “oomph”; smooth vocals; and relaxed treble.
The Empyrean is Meze's first open-back headphone and features the first Isodynamic® Hybrid Array Driver on the market. This means there are two different magnet traces on the planer driver, which is key to the sound dispersion of this headphone. The Empyrean boasts a beautiful and sophisticated design that is available in copper or jet black. It’s also really comfortable, with a wide headband and unique ovoid-shaped ear cups that fit the ear more closely than standard circular or elliptical ear cups. The Empyrean is truly ear candy at its finest. We like to pair the Empyrean with a Silver Dragon Premium Cable for some top-end sizzle and a clean, open sound.
The Empyrean is one of our favorite headphones for classical music as well as EDM. Click here to read our full Empyrean review.
Top Detailed and Resolute Headphones:
Audeze LCD-X Headphones: Neutral with Some Sizzle
The open-back planar magnetic Audeze LCD-X is the most neutral headphone in the LCD lineup, making it a go-to studio monitor. The clarity, fast and accurate dynamics, and neutrality of the LCD-X account for its popularity with audiophiles, recording engineers and musicians alike. It's got a big, intense, and forward sound with a highly resolving top end with sizzle and tons of detail. Soundstage on the LCD-X is on the tighter side, making for an intimate listening experience.
The LCD X is sensitive enough to be driven directly by portable players and smartphones, but as with all planar dynamic headphones, it will sound better the more power you throw at it. At 635g, the LCD-X is on the heavier side as headphones go, but its stellar sound and technical performance may make you forget that. We like to pair the LCD-X with a Black Dragon Premium Cable for a full-bodied sound and a smooth top end.
The LCD-X is one of our favorite headphones for rock and heavy metal.
Focal Clear Mg Headphones: A Detail Lover's Dream
Focal released the Clear Mg in 2021, an update to its original Clear open-back headphone. It certainly looks different -- a warm chestnut and mixed metal design has replaced the earlier silver aesthetic -- but inside is where you'll find the real change. The driver of the Clear Mg sports an all-magnesium dome -- hence the "mg" in the name. This is in contrast to the original Clear, which had an aluminum-magnesium dome.
Focal says this new driver offers greater dynamics, improved bass articulation, and a higher level of detail. It's a great choice for the listener who enjoys a balanced sound that leans warm and full without any loss of detail. In fact, the Clear Mg really excels with detail. The Clear Mg offers a flatter and more neutral sound signature that tells it like it is, so to speak. It's an attractive, well-made, and comfortable headphone. We like to pair the Clear Mg with a Silver Dragon Premium Cable for a clean, clear sound and maximum detail retrieval.
The Clear Mg is one of our favorite headphones for blues, country, and folk music. Click here to read our full Clear Mg review.
Fostex TH-909 Headphones: Eye-Catching and Comfortable
The TH909 is Fostex’s flagship open-back headphone. Linear from top to bottom, it's got a similar sound signature to the TH900, but with a bigger presentation and a wider soundstage. It's a very fast and detailed headphone. The TH909 offers a wider dynamic range with low distortion using a 1.5 Tesla 50mm driver with repulsion magnet. The diaphragm is constructed from Biodyna, a material composed of bio-cellulose and inorganic fiber. This diaphragm design accomplishes rich low-end frequencies, a natural mid-range, and excellent presence in the high frequencies.
The double-layer etching on the metal grills is beautiful, and the ear cups are finished with a deep red lacquer. Contrasted against the black metal, it's a striking design, one that is sure to garner looks. That being said, it's an open-back headphone, making it most appropriate for home or studio use where sound bleed isn't going to be an issue.
Finally, the TH909 is a very comfortable headphone -- right up there among the most comfortable that we sell. We like to pair the TH909 with a Silver Dragon Premium Cable for an expanded soundstage and top-end sizzle.
The TH909 is one of our favorite headphones for jazz, blues, folk, and Americana.
Grado GS3000e Headphones: Detailed and Expressive
Grados are known for their forward sound, making them great rock and roll headphones. The Grado GS3000e, from the company's Statement Series, is different. Using Cocobolo wood for the first time in a large-body housing, the GS3000e has some of the richest, most detailed and expressive sound that Grado has ever produced. Cocobolo is found in Central America, and just like the music there, is teeming with texture and emotion.
This open-back headphone has a deep and impactful signature and a sizable soundstage. The 50mm drivers are tuned to not only take advantage of the larger soundstage, but to embrace the musical character of the wood. The GS3000e is not only a classy-looking headphone, it is lightweight and comfortable. We like to pair the GS3000e with a Black Dragon Cable for maximum body and fullness and a warm sound that is not too lush.
HIFIMAN HE1000se Headphones: A Live Performance on Your Head
If you crave the experience of listening to live music in a club or hall without leaving home, you'll want to check out the HIFIMAN HE1000se. This open-back planar magnetic headphone boasts a marvelously wide and natural soundstage. Its predecessor, the HE1000V2, is one of the most heralded high-performance headphones on the market. That being said, the HE1000SE takes things further, with a thinner driver and neodymium magnets that increase efficiency and lower distortion for true purity of sound.
With neodymium, the driver in the HE1000se is faster and more dynamic, presenting every sonic detail for a more compelling performance. Meanwhile, a higher sensitivity rating makes this headphone pairable with any source -- even your smartphone. The overall result is a headphone that sounds airy and detailed with an even more immediate dynamic sound. We like to pair the HS1000e with a Black Dragon Premium Cable! for even more of that musical, "I'm there" feeling.
The HE1000se is one of our favorite headphones for rock and heavy metal.
Top Noise Canceling Headphones:
Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise Canceling Headphones: Ambient Sound Control
If you’re looking for the top noise-canceling headphone, then look no further. The Sony WH-1000XM4 is an amazingly good value considering the quality of sound and number of features provided at this price point.
The build quality is pretty standard for this class of headphones. It won’t take a beating but if you take care of it, it will take care of you. Sony has been around the block for some time now, and they understand not only what the consumer wants, but how to beat out their competition. The XM4 is likely the best you can buy right now for noise canceling. It’s not the cheapest but it’s also not the most expensive. Wireless audio is not perfect, but the Sony XM4 makes you think it’s achievable, if not almost there.
The WH-1000XM4 incorporates the best ideas from the competition as well, so you can be assured you're getting everything you possibly can for this price point. An amazing 30 hour battery with ANC, combined with LDAC compatibility, and a Dragon Cable, and you have a headphone that can literally do it all; the Swiss-army knife of headphones if you will. The XM4 makes enough quality-of-life updates from the previous generation to make it a worthwhile upgrade. It’s a headphone that learns to integrate into your day-to-day, and it's smart enough not to get in the way. Click here to read our full WH-1000XM4 review.
Top Wireless Headphones:
HIFIMAN Ananda BT Headphones: Hands-Free Audiophile Awesomeness
The HIFIMAN Ananda-BT headphones have made us believe in the power of wireless technology and where it’s going. If you’re in the market for a wireless headset that doesn’t sacrifice sound quality, then look no further.
The biggest thing the Ananda-BT brings to the wireless headphone table is the sound quality. It’s the best sounding wireless headphone we’ve tested. That being said, the wired Ananda will set you back a reasonable $699 for this price range, but the BT variant goes for $999. The Ananda-BT is one of the more expensive wireless headphones at Moon Audio, but the fidelity and soundstage are unmatched by the competition.
HIFIMAN states that the Ananda-BT gets 10 hours of battery play time, with about 2.7 hours to fully charge. I was getting about 8-10 hours depending on volume. After all, planar magnetic drivers require a lot of power, so although the battery life could be considered abysmal compared to other wireless headphones on the market, I’m getting almost 10 full hours of free-ranging sonic enlightenment. I’m not complaining. I’d happily trade a shorter battery life for a better quality listening experience any day.
The HIFIMAN Ananda-BT is the wireless headphone for the audiophile. Sure, it’s not going to be as good as plugging directly into a quality tube headphone amp, but it’s one of the best if not THE best wireless headphone on the market. Click here to read our full Ananda BT review.
Grado GW100 Wireless Headphones: Bang for the Buck
The GW100 are the world's first open-back Bluetooth headphones. This alone makes them wholly unique among wireless headphones. Their speaker housings and internals have been designed from the ground up, now working in tandem to notably diminish escaping sound by up to 60% (as compared to Grado wired headphones. Leakage reduction varies in certain situations. This is based on a reasonable distance, angle, and genre of music played).
The left earcup has buttons for controlling volume and other functions. The button can also be used to skip tracks or take incoming phone calls. A microphone is built into the earcup for phone calls or voice assistants. There's also an option for wired listening via an auxiliary 3.5mm jack that can be used to connect the GW100 to an analog source using the supplied cable if the battery runs down or if you don’t want to use Bluetooth. That being said, the battery charges in two hours and provides up to 40 hours of playback, which is based on a 50-percent volume setting. Battery varies due to volume and musical genre.
The sound quality is excellent: lively and transparent, with a frequency response that goes from 20Hz up to 20kHz. For fans of the Grado brand, this are our pick for the best budget-friendly wireless headphone.
Top Warm and Musical IEMs:
Empire Ears Bravado MK-II IEM:
The Bravado MK-II is the 2021 update to Empire Ears’ entry-level X Series IEM. We say bravo! This is a great-sounding IEM that belies its entry-level position. Empire Ears has taken what was already a fabulous all-purpose IEM and brought it to the next level by adding two electrostatic drivers (think resolution and detail) and an additional balanced armature driver as well as a next-generation Weapon IX+ dynamic subwoofer. Empire's declaration that Bravado works with multiple genres is no joke -- it works with an array of rock, classical, folk, and jazz. We like to pair the Bravado MK-II with a Black Dragon IEM Cable to support great bass plus detail retrieval. Click here to read our full Bravado MKII review.
Empire Ears Hero IEM
Are energy and emotion your jam? The Hero delivers with its proprietary triple balanced armatures and next-generation W9+ subwoofer. You get warm, powerful bass; lush and emotive vocals; and supreme detail retrieval via a 4-way synX crossover network backed by Empire’s ARC resonance mitigation technology. If you’re familiar with Empire Ears’ flagship Legend X, you’ll be happy to know the Hero shares some of that DNA, but may be thought of as more toned down -- and with a smaller price tag. We like to pair the Hero with a Black Dragon IEM Cable to support the powerful bass and excellent detail retrieval. Click here to read our full Hero review.
JH Audio Jolene IEM
Jerry Harvey of JH Audio has described the Jolene as the company's most analog-sounding IEM to date. The Jolene has a very natural-sounding signature with a glorious midrange, warm and controlled bass, and pleasant treble. There's a certain grittiness to the sound, but the overall effect is more airy than dark. The bass attenuator on the cable is a great feature. If you're in the market for a supremely natural-sounding audiophile-quality IEM crafted by a respected company that's been doing it right for decades, we recommend the Jolene. We like to pair the Jolene with a Silver Dragon IEM Cable! to really open up the music with detail and air. Click here to read our full Jolene review.
JH Audio Lola IEM
The midrange is where the magic is, and that was the jumping-off point for the Lola. While many hybrid designs use dynamic drivers on the low end only (with balanced armatures on the mids and highs), the Lola uses dual dynamic drivers for the midrange. The effect is an airy, musical, and natural midrange that has some warmth to it. With the Lola, you get a fast bottom end, while the quad balanced armatures on top lead to extended treble. The cable features JH Audio’s patented bass attenuator, allowing the listener to adjust the low-end response. We recommend the Lola for a delightfully musical-sounding experience. We like to pair the Lola with a Silver Dragon IEM Cable for a detailed and airy sound.
Rai Penta IEM
For those who enjoy the Meze Empyrean headphone, the Rai Penta is a great IEM alternative. The sound and tuning are remarkably similar in terms of detailed and organic sound, with a soundstage that mimics that of larger open-back headphones. The Rai Penta is nicely balanced, and the natural timbre of instrumentation really stands out. Drums and mids are clear and unveiled, vocals shine, and bass is present with lots of depth.
Meze Audio has done a superb job tuning the five drivers in the Rai Penta. The overall fidelity is impressive, and combined with the ergonomic and anatomically shaped shell, you have the best of both worlds: great sound and comfortable fit. The Rai Penta feels premium in every way. The low impedance and high sensitivity of the Rai Penta ensure that it will work effortlessly with almost any device. Click here to read our full Rai Penta review.
Top Detailed and Resolute IEMs:
Astell&Kern Layla AION IEM
Designed as a reference IEM for mastering and studio use, the Layla AION features a neutral-flat, highly revealing, and detailed sound signature, making it equally appealing to audiophiles. A collaboration between JH Audio and Astell&Kern, the Layla AION features a whopping 12 drivers in each ear – with four balanced armature drivers each for the lows, mids, and highs. These drivers sit inside a 3D-printed housing (called a sonic tube chassis) that help facilitate JH Audio’s proprietary freq|Phase technology.
The ergonomics of the smaller size, universal fit carbon fiber shells make the Layla AION a great match for most ears. The Layla AION boasts a wide soundstage with good depth and precise imaging. Instruments and vocals exist in their own space, allowing you to easily discern their unique qualities and positioning. If you’re looking for an IEM that approaches the soundstage of a full-size headphone, this may be it. The cable has a variable bass control dial, allowing you to adjust the low end.
Empire Ears Odin IEM
The Odin is one of those products whose name really says it all. As the "all father," the Odin represents a coming together of everything Empire Ears has accomplished thus far with its exclusive technologies. Odin boasts a tribrid design with a total of 11 drivers per side (electrostatic, balanced armature, dynamic), and an extraordinary frequency range of 5Hz-100kHz. With Odin, there is a sense of: "Here is music for you to enjoy, and now I'll leave you alone to enjoy it in your own way."
It's a remarkably pure and honest presentation, allowing the listener to hear music as it is, appreciating it for its inherent beauty. Bass is clean and punchy; treble is sweet and pretty. The midrange, in particular female vocals, are lovely, with lots of depth and nuance. Sound separation on Odin is exquisite, with excellent clarity and detail. It's not an analytical sound signature, which can come off as sterile. There's nothing sterile sounding about Odin. We like to pair the Odin with a Black Dragon IEM Cable for added fullness along with air and definition. Click here to read our full Odin review.
Empire Ears Wraith IEM
The Wraith, from Empire Ears' professional series of IEMs, was the company's first quad electrostatic IEM. The Wraith has a smooth, clean, fast, and articulate sound with an unbelievable level of detail, facilitated by the proprietary Empire Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control (EIVEC) technology. EIVEC utilizes two transformers to bring the Wraith’s four electrostatic drivers into order, dividing the duties of the e-stat drivers, and blending them seamlessly with the seven balanced armature drivers that fill out the rest of the sound profile. EIVEC keeps the e-stat drivers from overpowering the other drivers, so the treble is engaging and smooth as opposed to harsh or shrill.
With the Wraith, each note, each pluck, each intake of a singer’s breath is there for you to consider, analyze, and enjoy. While the Wraith is marketed as a studio monitor, it will surely appeal to the discerning audiophile who lives for critical listening. We like to pair the Wraith with a Bronze Dragon IEM Cable to add fullness and musicality.
QDC Anole VX IEM
The QDC Anole VX has a sound signature that will captivate. The flagship model of the Anole series, the VX has 10 balanced armature drivers and three tuning switches that can be adjusted independently to accommodate your listening preferences. Switch 1, 2, and 3 control low, medium, and high frequencies respectively, adjusting gain levels from 4 to 8. There’s strength behind the neutral sound of the Anole VX, but it’s not overpowering.
The sound signature draws you in, but it lets the music shine on its own. It’s stunningly crisp and clear. The bass has slam and thump, with great sub-bass presence; mids are smooth and emotive; and highs lend a tremendous amount of detail. Soundstage is encompassing, but intimate. As for comfort, the QDC Anole VX is simply the closest you will get to a custom fit in a universal IEM. We like to pair the Anole VX with a Silver Dragon IEM Cable for maximum definition and airiness. Click here to read our full Anole VX review.
Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic IEM
The Shure KSE1500 is the first ever single-driver electrostatic sound isolating earphone. Electrostatic headphones are known for their low distortion and high accuracy, and these are no exception. You get sound that is clean, clear, transparent, and tonally balanced. If you want an earphone that will allow you to hear everything, exactly as it is, the KSE1500 is for you. The driver design features a virtually weightless, massless diaphragm, surrounded by an electrostatic field generated by back plates that manage charge oscillation.
The audio technology of the KSE1500 earphones enables listeners to fine-tune and appreciate frequencies that may be distorted, or lost completely. Extremely high correlation to the source audio provides unmatched audio clarity and detail. Custom-designed Kevlar™ reinforced cable specifically isolates each conductor. Sound Isolating™, comfortable sleeves block up to 37 dB of ambient noise, and the lghtweight, ergonomic shape minimizes ear fatigue. Now, any e-stat headphone requires a dedicated amp. The KSE15000 comes with its own dedicated headphone amp/DAC that is about the size of an iPod. Neither the earphones nor the amp can be used with anything but each other. Click here to read our full KSE1500 review.
Top Noise Canceling IEMs:
Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Canceling Earphones: Breathtaking Sound
The Sony 1000XM3 offers leading industry-leading noise cancelation and stunning sound in a compact, stylish, truly wireless design. Dual microphones—one feed-forward and one feed-back—on the surface of the headphones catch more of the ambient sounds from your surroundings, whether it's in-flight noise, city traffic, or office chatter. Having caught the ambient sound, the dedicated HD Noise-Canceling Processor QN1e gets to work. It not only cancels significantly more noise across almost all frequencies but also uses less power. The QN1e combines Digital Noise Cancelation, 24-bit Audio Signal Processing, and a Digital-to-Analog converter with headphone amplifier. The results? Stunning sound with minimal distortion.
Rather than relaying sound from one ear to the other, the newly developed Bluetooth® chip transmits sound to the left and right ears simultaneously for an exceptional listening experience. The placement of the headphones’ Bluetooth® antenna has been optimized to ensure a wider coverage. This helps keep the signal strong for uninterrupted streaming.
The 1000XM3 is ergonomically designed to make contact with three different points on your ear for a comfortable, secure fit. A high-friction rubber surface keeps the noise-canceling earbuds snug and secure in your ear so they won't slip out unexpectedly.
On a full charge, these earphones offer six hours of power, and the handy charging case provides a further three charges to keep you going throughout the day. That's up to 24 hours of noise-free listening. With noise-canceling off, it's even longer — eight hours of power on a single charge, with a further three charges from the charging case, for up to 32 hours of play time. And if your headphones are running low on power, a 10-minute quick charge in the charging case gives you up to 90 minutes of play time.