It’s that time again! This is when we look back at some of the best gear we’ve come across this year. The mission of HI-FI Trends is “Helping audiophiles to build affordable high-end audio systems,” and to that end, we’ve picked some of the best affordable high-end gear available right now. You can use these pieces to upgrade existing systems or use them as building blocks for a new one.
This post covers the best headphones we’ve used this year, and there were a lot of them, especially in the wireless earbud category. Wireless earphones broke through in a big way this year, with some producing sound just as good as their wired counterparts. Read on for our list of “Product Of The Year-Best Headphones.”
Product Of The Year-Wired Headphones: Audeze LCD-1 ($399)
These lightweight, compact, and versatile planar magnetic headphones are truly remarkable. A few years back, I could never picture a fully-foldable, easy to drive, portable set of planar headphones with such a refined sound, but here they are!
The Audeze LCD-1 Planar Magnetic Headphones are so airy and precise, if you listen to a well-recorded album like Holly Cole’s “Temptation,” you will swear you’re in the room. The sound is fast and immediate, but with depth and quality soundstage. I can’t believe these are only $399!
There are only two things to watch out for. One, they are open back, so they let sound in and leak sound out. Two, due to their size, you won’t get the volume of bass present in some of the larger planar cans. But to me, a dude that likes a balanced sound signature (they are designed for studio mixing) with a present but measured bass, these are right up my alley. (Check out our full review)
Buy Here: [Amazon; $399]
Pairs well with: Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt Headphone Amp/DAC
Product Of The Year-Wireless Headphones: Grado GW100 ($249)
Grado took a while to come out with their first set of wireless headphones, but they did an excellent job of translating the highly successful Grado formula to Bluetooth once they did.
The GRADO GW100 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones look a lot like my beloved SR-60e headphones, which I dig for their lively immediate sound, but the housings used for the GW100 are purpose made for wireless duty. While they have a similar open-back design to all the Grado headphones that came before it, they also took measures to reduce the wired versions’ sound leakage.
Enjoying the warm, detailed Grado sound without the thick, unwieldy cable is quite liberating. If you love a mid-centric sound with deep bass and a good amount of spaciousness, you will dig these. Pretty much any music I played on them sounded good.
They’re also lightweight and very comfortable, especially for an on-ear headphone; the clamp is judged perfectly.
Watch out for: Some features are a little behind the curve, like Bluetooth 4.2, micro USB charging, and only 15 hours of playback.
However, once you take a listen, you probably won’t care about any of that stuff.
(Included in our story “These Are The Best Wireless Headphones For Audiophiles! (2020)”)
(Ed. Note: The GW100 V2 is up on 4ourears.com…same design, but with BT 5.0, USB-C, and Longer Battery Life)
Pairs well with: FiiO M11 Android High-Resolution Lossless Music Player with aptX HD
Product Of The Year-Wireless Earbuds: 1 MORE True Wireless ANC In-Ear Headphones ($179)
The 1MORE True Wireless ANC In-Ear Headphones have the best noise-canceling I have heard from a pair of wireless earbuds. Comfort is excellent, and they have true audiophile sound quality provided via dual drivers in each earphone (1 dynamic, 1 balanced armature).
Throw in fast charging times plus a wireless charging option, and you have a premium TWS product that comes at a price much lower than many other premium earphones.
I listened to Livingston Taylor’s “Baker Street” on these earphones and was astounded by the beautiful imaging and placement of instruments within the soundstage. I really like the lively sound of these buds. They make just about every type of music sound good, with crisp highs and articulate bass.
Watch out for: Sound is sculpted to add a little sparkle or excitement on the high end (a little boosted, but not bright), and mids are a tad bit recessed. It’s not distracting in the slightest to me, but it’s something worth mentioning.
Basically, If you want True Wireless Earbuds with top of the line features without a top of the line price, you should check these out.
Buy Here: [Amazon; $179]
EarFun Air Pro Wireless Earbuds Active Noise Cancelling ($79.99)-These are the best True Wireless Earbuds w/ANC under $100! Excellent ANC and Sound (a step behind the 1MORE ANC, but amazing for the price!)
HIFIMAN Sundara Hi-Fi Headphones ($349)-These are probably the best-sounding Planar Magnetic headphones under $500! They have a nice open sound with great depth. We picked the Audeze LCD-1 over them because they sound almost as good (albeit with less bass), plus they have better build quality and portability.
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.