Acoustic Research AR-H1 Open Planar Magnetic Headphones

What's in a name?
And BOOM! Acoustic Research, a brand long recognised amongst audio enthusiasts, shows up with their new planar magnetic AR-H1 at CanJam at RMAF 2017. Color me surprised!

Wait a sec...didn't I see recently that Acoustic Research was making outdoor patio speakers? Yep. So, who is AR anymore? Turns out they're is one of a dizzying array of brands owned by Voxx International including (and this is only naming a few that you might recognize): Terk (antennas); RCA (now making clock radios, cables, remote controls); 808 Audio (low cost consumer headphones, BT speakers, karaoke systems); Advent (now making automotive audio and video products, back up cameras, navigation systems); and—get this—Klipsch (you know them). By the way, the Voxx name was derived from another brand you might recognize from times past: Audiovox. Wow. Talk about a grab bag of old enthusiast audio brands now making all manner of stuff.

Anyhow, the particular subsidiary that makes the AR-H1 headphone is Acoustic Research High End and Digital division, whose other products include three digital audio players (AR-M200 ($399); AR-M20 ($699); and AR-M2 ($999)) and the AR-UA1 ($374) headphone amp/DAC. I'm not sure I know what to think. On the one hand, repurposing a respected old brand's market capital for consumer products seems a little shady to me; on the other hand, if it makes a good company that's making good products stronger, it's fair game I suppose. Oh well, let's just have a look at the headphones.

Acoustic Research AR-H1 ($599)
The Acoustic Research AR-H1 is an open acoustic, over-ear, planar magnetic headphone. The magnet structure is single-sided with magnets mounted between the rectangular 86mm diaphragm and the ear.


The randomized grill pattern reminds me of Penrose tiling a bit.

I find the AR-H1 a fairly handsome headphone with a mix of black and deep bronze—maybe purple-ish—accents. Particularly interesting are the outer metal grills with a pattern of small randomized equilateral triangles and rhombi forming a quasi-crystalline pattern bringing to mind Penrose tiling—which I've got a strong attraction to. The Acoustic Research script logo is tastefully embossed atop the headband pad and AR logos are inset in the headband end pieces. All-in-all, this seems to me a rather masculine and attractive headphone.

Build quality and materials seem quite good. The headband arch is spring steel; yokes are likely black anodized aluminum; elastic suspension headband pad is leather. Synthetic materials are used in a few places: headband arm ends are molded plastic with a nice finish; driver baffle plate is unfinished black plastic with a fine matte texture on the visible edges; and headband pad sliders are plastic.

Earpads appear to be a good grade of protein leather over memory foam. Earpads are removable and snap off with a tug. Putting them back on can be a bit of a trick. If they're positioned just right they simply snap into place, but if they're off alignment the slightest bit snapping on one retainer can cause the adjacent retainer to release. It's quite possible to think you've got them on correctly only to find a loss of bass in one ear due to an ill fitting pad. With careful visual inspection for a small gap around the edge of the pad you can tell if the pad is on properly or not.

The cable is five feet long and terminates at the earpiece ends with two 2.5mm mono plugs. There is no mechanical reinforcement for the connector bodies. I'm not a fan of this simple termination. It does make it easier for DIY cable builders, but I just don't trust these small connectors. A good yank on the cable and damage may occur. The cable is terminated at the player end with a 3.5mm TRS plug with screw-on 3.5mm to 1/4" adapter. The finish on the adapter is dark gray and doesn't quite match the black of the 3.5mm plug body. The black cable insulation is medium density with a rubbery feel and tends to keep its kinks from the initial packaging.

A simple suede-like carry bag is the only included accessory. The packaging can be used as a storage case, but it's a very simple cardboard and foam with a cut-out affair. At this price I think something a little more substantial is warranted. Head-Fi member cskippy said that the AR-H1 will just fit in the Slappa Hard Body Pro headphone case.

Comfort is below average. I'm typically not a fan of self-adjusting elastic headbands. Getting it exactly right is very tricky. I found the headband pressure mildly too strong and would eventually develop a hot spot at the top on my head.

Caliper pressure is okay, but earpads should probably be somewhat thicker, and maybe angled, as my ears touched the magnet structure inside the earpad. It wasn't enough to cause discomfort or hot spots, but it was enough to decrease the overall comfort of the headphone.

All-in-all, I found the Acoustic Research AR-H1 physically makes a good first impression, but not a long lasting one. I wouldn't say this is a bad design, but unlike the MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open, the attention to the important details needed to be a really good headphone just weren't there.

Really good sound quality could tip the balance though, let's have a listen

Acoustic Research High Fidelity Audio
3502 Woodview Trace
Indianapolis, IN 46268
+1 (844) 353-1307

zobel's picture

AR will learn from this. We are saved from looking further into this headphone. Thanks.

luvmusik's picture

Thank you for this review.

Is there anything in common with the Oppo PM-2, other than visual features ?

Jazz Casual's picture

Those measurements don't look good.

thefitz's picture

I thought you only reviewed stuff you liked, only saving negative reviews for egregiously bad headphones (i.e. Ultrasone Edition 10) or flagships with crazy hype (LCD-4). Why would you ask for a sample and throw them under the bus?

If that review philosophy's changed, please review the HD700.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
What can I say, they had promise when I listened at RMAF. I think I've mentioned "newsworthy" at some point regarding reviewing less-than-very-good headphones. This is a slot heating up and if I hadn't weighed in on the AR-H1 I think it would be unresponsive of me.

Okay, my review of the HD 700: Ouch! Way too bright and piercing.

tony's picture

You kept a good many folks from HD700 Sennheisers annnnnnd a good many other rather pricy headphones.

I know folks that purchased the HD700 in spite of your review, who later describe their disappointments but still moved onto the HD800.

I only recall a 'few' headphones that our Tyll loved, the rest of the 'liked' were because of their price/performance equations.

Tony in Michigan

coastman25's picture

You are fond of referring to Tyll as “our Tyll”. Who’s Tyll, surely his own Tyll, I would suggest. He is already in between a hard place & a rock. Dammed if he does & dammed if he doesn’t.
It seems to me perfectly acceptable that Tyll reviews not only possible candidates for the WOF but also intriguing and less likely candidates. I am sure he, along with us all, delights in finding headphones that on first appearance seem duds but on further investigation prove to be pleasant surprises and indeed visa versa.
AR was a respectable and even highly regarded speaker maker way back in the 70s & 80’s. For sure, the present owners want to trade on that heritage and why not. A planer magnetic headphone at this price wants to be taken seriously and with a respected brand name is bound to get attention.
If there is a problem with Tyll’s reviews, which there isn’t. I suggest it has more to do with his desire to cover all bases ie not just be a headphone reviewer but in addition comment on news, devices, trends, development, a better measurement system and establishing an upper & lower audiophile benchmark etc etc.
At least Tyll has his headphone reviewer hat on for a while so we should rejoice at that. One down and two to go.

tony's picture

Tyll reports on the Future stuff, placed in the Context of our shared histories.

Tyll is "Our" Tyll in the sense that he's one of us, representing "Our" interests, sharing "Our" aspirations, kinda leading us on a exploration of this new world of personal audio, showing us the mis-steps to avoid, pointing out the interesting bits. Tyll is "Our" Man in Headphones !

Doubling Down

Right now, our Tyll is the only one reporting on what happens after the ear converts sound into electricity which then travels to the Brain to be processed. This is an important component to Personal Audio ( all of Audio) and it's a part of the work my Audiologist is describing to me in explanation for my changing hearing curve responses. ? Why is my 8khz hearing response curve tapering down as I age?, which is just one noticeable & measurable aspect of human hearing.

No-one understands the Ear/Brain relationship

My brain prefers dynamic drivers, well recorded Music or Live Acoustic Music releases Dopamine in my brain, I don't know why, neither do my UofM Audiologists. We might be decades away from understanding our Brains. Innerfidelty is one of the few places where the Ear/Brain relationship is described in the context of gear, thanks to "Our" Tyll.

21st. Century Tony

tony's picture

AR is a Brand owned by the VOXX Group ( about $700 Million in Sales ), once the Audiovox Branding.

There are 5 products within the AR Brand, all are Chinesium based.

VOXX is a OEM type company.

Tony in Michigan

ps. AR's packaging is the best part, it looks Japanese.

mariscosyketchup's picture

When I grow up, I want to be like Tyll (or at least, a similar beard), wonderful review as always.
Keep doing the good job, thanks for being so honest!

Acoustic Research HiFi's picture

Dear Tyll:

Thanks for taking the time to review the AR H1. We are disappointed that you were not thrilled with the product, but we appreciate your feedback, especially as it relates to what you would like to see in a future product.

Like all of our DAPs and in-ear monitors, the H1 was designed in-house by engineers dedicated to the Acoustic Research HiFi brand. Our goal is to design and market audio products that are true to the vision of AR's founders. Though we agree that quality headphones in the $500 - $1,000 range are not as common as they should be, we didn't have a specific price range in mind when first developing the H1. Instead, we set out to create a planar headphone that can go head-to-head with the most popular products in the category.

Since first delivering the H1 earlier this year, sales have been brisk, and feedback overwhelmingly positive. As much as we hoped you, too, would be a fan of the product, we're happy you took the time to give it a fair assessment.

Thanks again for spending some time with our headphone. We hope you have a chance to review some of our other models sometime soon.

nadtom's picture

I’m a happy owner of the AR-H1.
I ordered an AR-H1 and a HD700 same time to compare them.
My audio system: Bodor Audio PC + Audiobyte Hydra Z USB Bridge + Hegel HD12 dac/preamp (+NAD M25 power amp + Elac 249.3).
According to the reviews what I have read the HD700 was my favorite.
After few days test I had to say that the AR-H1 is definitely in an other (much) higher category, then the HD700.
The sound of AR-H1 is open, clear, airy, detailed, natural. Texture of bass is rich, goes very deep, punchy but precise, the sound stage is wide.
(sorry because of my English)