InnerFidelity Top Ten Best Headphones of 2017

Had a cruise through the last year of posts; pulled some cans off the Wall of Fame for a listen; and put together a list of the 10 best headphones of year. This list is roughly ordered by the value proposition and not absolute sound quality. I say roughly because it's more by the seat of the pants than it is some objective measure. How could it be otherwise? In addition, some products listed may be relatively poor value, but have novel and interesting features and/or characteristics that make them valuable additions to the world of headphones. Bottom line: these are all worthy products. Pick and choose at will.

#10 - AKG N90Q ($1499)
WoF_Photo_AKGN90QOkay, a crazy expensive noise canceler without wireless capability but, holy smoke, it's got every other bell and whistle imaginable and some never before imagined. On top of all that, they sound pretty good.

Though a bit gaudy and bulky, no doubt due to the Quincy Jones endorsement and all the electronics and batteries in the headphone respectively, the N90Q is quite a technological tour de force including: noise canceling; EQ adjustment; cross feed; USB digital input; and an astonishing self-calibration capability.

The complement of accessories is likewise impressive with: three cables; batter to extend life; large hard shell carry case; and soft carry bag. It's quite the kit, and a technologically interesting headphone for sure.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#9 - Sonoma Model One Headphone System ($5000)
WoF_Photo_SonomaModelOneThough significantly limited in maximum volume level the tonal balance is spot on. Portrayal is slightly hazy, but never hard on the ears. The industrial design is lovely, as is the packaging, but a tight fit on the head is problematic.

In truth this one makes the list more for it's technological prowess than the value gained in purchase. It uses a very novel electrostatic driver and manages to squeeze great performance out of it. If I were an acoustic music lover using a computer as a source and didn't listen at loud levels, this system makes for a quick and easy, high performance system at a lower cost than end-game electrostatic systems.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#8 - MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open ($799)
WoF_Photo_MrSpeakersAeonFlowOpenI really like the warm, comfy tone of these headphones, but they're not going to rise higher on this list because they're not neutral. The good news is their character is one, for me, that is easily and most pleasurably psychoacoustically accommodated. A relaxed listen, well suited to electronic music and music that may have a harsh edge (rock, metal).

The quirky stylishness of the Aeon Flow Open is a result of careful ergonomic design. Comfort is excellent. Also included is a nice cable, had side clam-shell case, and three tuning filters the provide an appropriate and useful range of personalized acoustic tuning.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#7 - Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless ($399)
WoF_Photo_BowersWilkins_P7WirelessThe Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless is an elegant, well built, comfortable Bluetooth headphones with excellent sound quality and good isolation. Built with leather, chromed steel, and anodized aluminum, the build quality, fit and finish is superb. A true daily driver...especially if you like English sports cars; very natty.

The overall sonic character is warm and lively. The lows are nicely emphasized, though a bit mid-bass centric and slightly invading the low-mids. Mid-treble is very slightly emphasized and is nicely resolving; cymbals are natural sounding though just a tad forward.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#6 - MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Closed ($799)
WoF_Photo_MrSpeakers_AeonUnder the unusual tear-drop shape of the MrSpeakers Aeon you'll find a quiet, comfortable sanctuary for sublime music listening. Build quality, comfort, and rock solid accessories complete this excellent piece of headphone kit.

With a sound straight down the middle, both audio enthusiasts and professionals will find themselves pleased as punch with this high-value audio transducer. Tonal balance and transient response are extraordinary; imaging is very good for a sealed headphone; only some roughness and slight dynamic compression belie the fact that this is a sealed headphone and isn't going to deliver the finess, smoothness, and liquidity of some open headphones.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#5 - Sennheiser HD569 ($179)
WoF_Photo_Sennheiser_HD569The Sennheiser HD569, while relatively new, delivers a mature and high-value experience due to its roots going back a decade and more in the Sennheiser HD5xx line. Build quality, comfort, and styling are simply superb. Synthetic suede ear pads over plush memory foam and "just right" ergonomics makes this a great headphone for long listening sessions at work without being disturbed by, or disturbing neighbors.

Sound quality is quite neutral with a solid sense of the whole of the music. Overal response is smooth and more open sounding than many sealed cans. Bass lacks deep extension and mild distortion causes a modest lack of textural resolve. Though mid-bass centric the bass is tastefully emphasized delivering an appropriate sense of weight, and doesn't intrude on the mids as so often happens. 500Hz to 1kHz is slightly emphatic relative to 1kHz-3kHz giving vocals slightly hefty character...but this is slight. Treble is slightly low in level, and is slightly hazy, which to my ears creates more of a problem with a reduced depth of image rather than tonal balance or articulation.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#4 - Sennheiser HD 471i ($109; ~$70 street)
WoF_Photo_SennheiserHD471Don't let the light weight, all plastic build, and low price fool you, the HD 471 is a very high price/performance ratio headphone. The styling in matte black and silver are tasteful and understated. Though the materials are no doubt low cost, the build quality appears to be robust. Its light weight allows low-cost pads, foam, and pleather covers to confidently provide a comfortable fit. This is "cheap" done right!

Sound quality is close to neutral with a mildly rolled-off treble and a very slightly under emphasized though well extended bass. There are no glaring faults, but it's performance is clearly not as liquid and coherent as reference cans. I find them inherently truthful sounding and my mind quickly accommodates to their sound and simply listens to the music. I can't tell you how rare it is to hear this much competence in a low-cost headphone.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#3 - Sennheiser HD 4.40 BT ($149)
WoF_Photo_SennheiserHD440BTWhat can the world's most accomplished headphone manufacturer put on your head wirelessly for $149? Turns out, quite a bit. The HD 4.40 BT is elegantly styled and very well built. Comfort is quite good, but not great as the ear pad openings are a bit small forward to back—big eared folks may want to look elsewhere. Bluetooth controls are easy to use and pairing is flawless.

Sound is warm, smooth, and enjoyable. Bass is mid-centric and a bit high in level; upper-mids a tad shouty; and treble a tad low in level but quite organic and articulate. Not a trace of harshness or tizz here. Wired and Bluetooth sound quality is quite similar; wireless there's a bit more bass and low/mid-treble energy and actually a tad better sounding to my ears. This is a really good sounding headphone at the price.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#2 - Bose SoundWear Companion Speaker ($299)
WoF_Photo_Bose_SoundWearCompanionHad the Focal Clear not come along at the last minute, these would have been my product of the year. They're just so...different than anything I've seen before.

The Bose SoundWear Companion sounds way better than I expected. It produces a very unusual sonic cocoon around your head. While it might be somewhat artificial and foreign sounding, it remains a remarkably pleasant listening experience.

It works great for puttering around the house or garden when moving from place to place makes a speaker less than ideal, and where physical activity makes headphone less comfortable. It also allows you to hear the kids call or chat with a spouse in passing. When tucked under the crew neck of a t-shirt they are quite stable and could easily be used for exercise activities, and may be particularly well suited for bicycling and skateboarding where helmets are used and you want to retain some situational awareness.

On the other hand it's poor in loud environments where IEMs, and sealed or noise canceling headphone work better. Though they will be much louder for you than the people near by, they will still be able to hear your music. These do produce some noise pollution and should be And though they're pleasant enough for casual listening, they won't have the fidelity desired for a high-end listening experience.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

#1 - Focal Clear ($1499)
WoF_Photo_FocalClearThe Focal Clear is what an enthusiast headphone should be: It's gorgeous; it's comfortable; its accessories are spectacular; and its sound is clear as a Montana winter sky. It's not bright, or dark, or liquid, or even—some odd way—neutral. It's just competently and confidently true to the music.

It doesn't have the tightest bass I've ever heard, nor the most liquid midrange, nor the smoothest treble resolve, but it is the best all around headphone I've ever heard. Weak points are a bit lacking in bass resolve and midrange liquidity; a very slight glare in the treble; and not much image depth. (Also, not a good match for high output impedance tube amps.) Strong points are fantastic overall balance; great dynamics; and terrific vocal and treble realism.

For the first time I can unreservedly recommend a $1000+ headphone. If you've cautiously made the headphone enthusiast approved treck from a Koss Porta Pro to the Sennheiser HD 600/650, and have found your carefully protected wallet stuck there without a sure fire step up, now you have it. Even if it's a financial stretch, the Focal Clear is worth the struggle for an end-game headphone. That's not a recommendation I make lightly.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

COMMENTS
--------------'s picture

Given your enormous Focal enthusiasm, can we expect to see an Elex review, or at the very least, some measurements?

detlev24's picture

The Elex mod has a very nice finish and its price was great at US$699.99 just a week ago! You can find measurements with comparison directly at Massdrop; or just klick the following links.

http://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/massdrop-x-focal-...
https://www.head-fi.org/threads/massdrop-x-focal-elex-review-measurement...

The claimed acoustic changes are (verified by the measurements above):

1. Reduce the bass response to a tasteful ~3 db above neutral
Which I cannot understand, since the Elear is lacking of bass already; see the following frequency response, which is translated to what loudspeakers measured in an anechoic environment would show:

BLUE = measured average frequency response (of many samples)
RED = target frequency response [B&K 1974]
https://picload.org/view/ddawrora/focal_elear-before.png.html

2. Bring up the midrange presence so it's in line with the rest of the frequency range
That makes more sense. :)

In the end, it still is a trade-off and besides the better accessories of the Elex; tonally both need to be further EQed to sound accurate. [As I wrote in an earlier post, a 4-pin balanced XLR cable is certainly not required at its impedance and sensitivity + the unbalanced cables will also be free of crosstalk and will *not* increase THD etc., since the L and R 'ground wires' come together only on the jack at a 'common mass point'.]

Without EQ, the Elex might not be the better choice for everybody! With precise EQ, aesthetics will prevail the choice and both will be tonally [close to] identical to an EQed Clear [differences most probably will not be audible at all].

Regards

zobel's picture

Lets hope not. Can't even see the sun...and it is mid-day, I think.

http://www.kbzk.com/category/296003/missoula-i-cam

Well fairly good picks Tyll! All have dynamic drivers, traditional voice coils and magnet structures, except the Sonoma, (and who cares). It is hard to improve on the value of Sennheiser's, with their offers kept below $200. Above $200, it is very difficult to offer anything of additional value above the AKG K 7XX ($200-Massdrop) until you start getting silly with your money. IMO.

Iliketrains's picture

"all have dynamic drivers" huh, do you not see the AEONs?

zobel's picture

I have questions about these AEONs using "identical" drivers but with grossly different electrical measurements. 14 ohm vs 10 ohm...31.61 mW vs 2.76 mW...0.67 volts RMS vs 0.168 Volts RMS....hmmmmm not sure about these cans. Do you have a pair? Which ones?
These electrical measurements, and other measurements, are also totally wrong for the Sennheiser HD 380 Pro. Makes me wonder.

cash1489's picture

The P7 Wireless is still my favorite Bluetooth headphone right now, even though it doesn't have NC...actually I think that is an advantage, because I believe NC always detracts from the SQ, even though Sony has done a good job balancing SQ and NC in their top of the line models...it's a shame B&W are discontinuing it in favor of the PX....I think it is an inferior product in many ways...

arthur li's picture

Just 2 months ago, Tyll made the statement that the aeon flow open "has taught me that while "transparent" is very good, "inviting" might be even better". Now, Tyll decides that the aeon flow open "are not going to rise higher on this list because they're not neutral". Tyll's opinion changes so fast.

crenca's picture

When something new comes along (like the Clear), it forces a re-eval of your previous positions. Not that your example indicates this. One can still be "invited" by a non-neutral signature and not rate it above other neutral signatures...

DanStanley01's picture

Any of these value headphones good for big heads?

TMRaven's picture

Tyll's quote in the AFO review, in regards to the open vs the closed:

"...I pretty easily prefer the Aeon Flow Open..."

Yet the AFO is #8 on this list, and the AFC is #6.

You're not consistent at all, Tyll. In fact you're all over the place.

Magoo's picture

I could not agree with you more!!! NO Consistency....WOF>>>>WTF? One day The Sonoma's are the top Open headphone and the next they barely make it into the top ten???

He ranks some stupid "shoulder" 'phone #2??? Tyll put the pipe down and step away...

wiinippongamer's picture

Really did not expect the Focal clear to end there given it's mediocre measurements, ringing-wise. Is it perhaps lower-than-measured distortion at high frequencies? Would there be any usefulness in extending the distortion measurement range up to 10khz for the second harmonic?

gibtg's picture

Although a rare occurrence here, this article doesn't have any purpose for me to read... I can't understand why the only headphones mentioned on this site under $300 are made by Sennheiser.

crenca's picture

That said, you and I are swimming upstream. The majority (a large majority) of HP enthusiasts treat Sennheiser, particularly the HD600/650, like their first love in high school - A home town cutie, a first love, that can do no wrong in spite of her (rather obvious) deficiencies.

I think this situation partly accounts for the fact that Sennheiser has not had to innovate in the least for the last decade. The cracks are showing (see Tyl's review of the HD660 here) but for now, they are only cracks...

sciencemajor's picture

The HD 650's do not have any obvious deficiencies. Headphones have not improved in any real way in decades since the HD 580's and HD 650's came out IMO.

crenca's picture

Except the lack of low end extension, the mountain high mid/upper bass hump, and the grainy treble... ;)

But hey, the mid's (when you can hear them through the hump bleed) sound pretty good!

sciencemajor's picture

They do need the deep bass turned up. The mid bass hump is fine. No digital audio has grainy treble.

zobel's picture

in many newer HP as greatly improved over the HD 6XX. Also, the transients in the top end and inner detail have been bettered in many, such as the Mr Speakers AEON , the Focal Clear, the AKG K 7XX, to name a few.

Vinhcomputer's picture

gibtg (and for some other ones), did you read the title of this article before you posted this? Besides, what's wrong with some brand if only it create great headphone for some price range, through diverse distribution channels?

gibtg's picture

Is that a real post?

tony's picture

it's like coming home after a 3 week stay at a 5 Star Hotel : nice & comfortable.

Tony in freezing Michigan

zobel's picture

Was the 5 star hotel not nice and comfortable? Which cans represent the 5 star hotel? How many stars is your homey Senns?

Zobel,
Warm as toast in Montana.... (in my home).

tony's picture

Hotels are not nice places, if your travel is work.

Staying "sharp & crisp" whilst on the road is draining. Phew!

Coming home to the old pair of New Balance Cloth Shoes is a wonderful & relaxing experience.

My various Sennheisers seem like that after I try out a Store 'Listening' station with a $5,000 + pair of somethings playing something they love to demo with.

Too heavy, too pricy, too sharp, too edgy, can't tell if it's their Music or my ears that are waaaaay offfffff. My own gear has been tuned to my listening abilities & response curves. ( it's able to play Bombay Orchestra Dub's ultra low stuff that Bob Katz adds -- sub 20hz. )

Sennheiser stuff has a Family Sound that works well with what I gotten adjusted to.

How many Stars is my homy stuff? , I don't quite know but I do know that they please the hell outa me after hours of tuning work by me and my UofM Audiologist.

My home headphone rig ( using Car performance as a reference ) is something like a Sports Sedan. Headphones like the Big Stax ( that I once sold in my Retail Store ) is like a Pagani Roadster on the Nuremberg Ring in Germany. So, in my opinion, a moderately high performance headphone system is desirable ( I'm not a hot-rod kid any longer ).

Tyll & Steve G recomended Senns., they probably read me properly, they were right, I'm delighted that I accepted their recommendations.

Now-a-days I'm getting my thrills from listening to Lang Lang & a good many other superb recordings being recommended by Stereophile's staff.

However, if I feel the need for some spine tingling thrills, I can spend a couple of hours in close proximity to a local String Quartet playing a Brunch with Bach.

On the other hand...

While we're at it, do you have an opinion on Denis Had's latest Headphone Amp ( Dragon ?, sold by that young lad in NC.?, made with some "special" transformers that cost a fortune and are made out of some special techniques.? , an SET design that also works as a Pre-amp ) ?

or

Would you simply recommend that I stay with my Shit Class A Asgard2 since it seems to be holding up ok ?

You can probably tell that I'm becoming a dis-loyal Shit owner.

Brrrrrrrrrrfreeeeezzzzzzzing Tony still in Frozen Solid Michigan, dam-it!

zobel's picture

Yeah..actually my go-to cans at present are the Amperior and the AKG K 7XX...Senns for portable and AKGs on the amp...(an O2). These Ampeiors are so dynamic and you can drive them well with anything..(listening to the Chicago Symphony now on Pandora One via Chromebook Ha haha).

Next amp is Massdrop x Alex Cavalli Tube Hybrid Amp (CTH), I ordered it. have to wait another month for delivery...it sounds very promising, we'll see. I like it straight, no editorializing...give me what is there, with warts please.

I keep wondering if upgrades are really sideways-grades for the most part. I am tired of my HD 600s...no bass, weak treble, without the detail and clarity of my other cans. Never really did the job completely. No listening fatigue though...way too polite.

Throw another log on Tony, and put those NB up by the fire...we'll send some of this tropical Montana weather to you.

sciencemajor's picture

The HD 600's do not have weak treble. Their treble is quite loud and you can see that in FR graphs.

Pianist's picture

Having owned the HD598 Cs, which, from what I've read, are essentially an HD569 with different pads I much prefer the AKG K553 and Beyer DT250 250 Ohm over them, both of which are roughly in the same price range... I think the latter two sound more hi-fi with better resolution, separation, clarity, low end... I thought the 598 Cs were awesome, until I heard the other two. Just my two cents. Also, forgive me if it turns out that HD569 sounds better than the 598 Cs (I highly doubt it though).

Chiumeister's picture

Tyll,

Saw this on Youtube video regarding magnetic radiation off Bose companion speaker.
Should we be concerned?
thanks
https://youtu.be/FSXXQQJu9CU

AnkhiE's picture

Thanks for the round up! Been looking for a wireless headphone for my hubby. I would definitely check out #3. It's in top 3 and fairly priced...can't imagine paying thousands of dollars for a headphone...

Thanks,

Jenny, House cleaner Lynnwood

Pokemonn's picture

Tyll is really worring about young and or poor people's wallets.
Tyll is really good guy. you dont know.

sciencemajor's picture

The point of diminishing returns for headphones is $300 or less.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

..."1more" suggestion for the top 10 list...

Not sure if these dropped in 2017..i seem to recall learning about them from a Jana D show video early in the year...regardless, i just picked up a pair and they are outstanding:

1More Quad Driver In Ear Headphones.

Backstory: Frequent visitors to this site are probably aware of 1more in-ears. Their triple driver in ears dropped a couple years ago and impressed a lot of folks in sound n cost value. Im included in those impressed. The triple driver 1more has pretty much been my go-to in ear for a while. It gives other solid choices such as the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear and Shure 215s a nice run for their money. When i heard they were releasing a Quad Driver, i was very interested but hesitant to purchase as the triples served me fine.
After a glowing review from a fellow headphone enthusiast, i snagged a pair.

The Quad Drivers as with the Triple Driver offer outstanding value and sound for the money. The Quads run a tad under $200 so you'll be dropping more coin than than the very reasonably priced Tripples at just under $100. However i think they amply justify the cost as the build quality is great (metal housing, solid wiring, nice interface, reinforced right angle 3.5mm. They come packaged realllly nicely with a gaggle of extras (case, LOTS of earpads, double connector for airlines, etc). And they sound wonderful. Crisp crisp highs and smooth mids. The lows are there and good but i suppose could be a tad lower. Ive done some quick test runs with: live tunes, instrumental, dance, rock, vocal, etc and they've handled it all wonderfully.

Soooooo...if you are searching for some new in-ears...1more is worth looking into. If budget is tight..the triples are absolutely groovy. If you can bump it up a little...the quads are fabulous.

Peace .n. Happy New Year to Ya Fellow Audio Fans!

Three Toes of Fury.

zobel's picture

is not a headphone.

sciencemajor's picture

The Focal Clear's treble looks like a peaky mess to me. I know many audiophiles like treble that way, but personally I am sure I would hate them.

Ivan Lebedev's picture

Will there be a review on the Bowers & Wilkins PX? I'd love to hear a professional opinion about these headphones.

circlark's picture

>If you've cautiously made the headphone enthusiast approved treck from a Koss Porta Pro to the Sennheiser HD 600/650,

LOL. Don't forget the obligatory pit-stop at the Grado SR60!

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ramhari's picture

Seems pretty much expensive. But the quality must be amazing. One question though, does this work in bluetooth transmitter for TV.

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