InnerFidelity Editor's Choice 2018 – Under $500

With a lot of help from contributor Grover Neville we bring you the first of three in a series of the 2018 Editor's Choice Components Lists. Sure to please many, sure to disappoint more than a few. Regardless, this is it.

We hope you enjoy reading about them as much as we enjoyed (and struggled over) choosing them.

This is the Under $500 USD List, so I'll get to the point and let you read on.

– Rafe Arnott

Campfire Orion –$350 USD

Campfire Orion

I’m not normally a big IEM fan, but this one caught my attention at RMAF this year. I like a neutral tuning, and often find it difficult to get a good fit from IEMS, making my few journeys into that world frustrating at best. With Campfire’s foam tips I’m able to get a satisfying fit and I really enjoyed their even-handed tuning, none of the bass-cannon effect from other IEMS that I find so fatiguing. At the same time it doesn’t have the peaky and elevated treble that I have found a lot of folks enjoy too. Really a nice, balanced product from Campfire. A little expensive, but attainable and worth the cost in my opinion.

iFi Nano iDSD Black Label – $200 USD

iFi Nano iDSD

I had a little trouble coming up with strictly audiophile oriented headphones for this list – 2018 seemed to be the year of the $600-$800 headphone. But it was also the year of the electronics, and one of the absolute highlights was this unit. You can read my full review from a few months back, but my thoughts haven’t changed much. This is a wonderful little unit, quite neutral, a little laid back perhaps, able to drive just about any headphone you’d want to take on the go, and it’s truly Nano sized. The price point is reasonable to boot.

Sonarworks True-Fi Software – $80 USD

Sonarworks True-Fi

It’s $80 and if your headphones are supported it works like a charm. What’s not to like? Ok, so if you’re headphones aren’t supported obviously it’s not ideal, but you can actually email Sonarworks and request they add them. I also found the correction does have a bit more effect than some other, more work-intensive solutions, but the real value proposition here is that this is an inexpensive and non-destructive way to correct your headphones. I wish there were a little more flexibility to it, more FR tilt or EQ options to tweak to your personal taste would be great, but I think this is nonetheless an excellent investment, especially if you have expensive headphones that have some frequency response oddities.

Audeze Mobius – $400 USD

Audeze Mobius

The Gaming Headset to rule all gaming headsets? Maybe, maybe not, but definitely the best one I’ve tried so far. Now, it’s also one of the most expensive I’ve seen as well. However, I’d be doing a bit of a disservice calling this just a gaming headset, because it’s really much more than that. Waves headtracking, inbuilt LDAC, DSP and Bluetooth functionality, and Audeze’s least expensive planar magnetic driver yet – quite a bundle of features. But how does it sound? In my opinion? Excellent. That comes with the caveat that it is not the most detailed, the punchiest, or really the most audiophile headset. However, the frequency response on the ‘music’ DSP setting is quite tastefully tuned, and the spatialization works brilliantly for gaming and OK for movies. I usually turn it off for most music, though occasionally I use it. The real strength of this headphone is that it’s a brilliant travel and Bluetooth headphone, and allows me to enjoy my games in ways audiophile headphones are suited to. A strong all-rounder.

Sennheiser Ambeo – $300 USD

Sennheiser Ambeo

I’m sort of surprised the AR/VR and ASMR communities haven’t caught on to this yet. It’s probably a little expensive for what it does. Basically this is a binaural recording headset – and it really sounds quite good. The microphones and settings are all pretty basic, and it’s more set-and-forget than a tweaker’s paradise, but this is about the easiest binaural gets. I was also very pleasantly surprised at how nice these sound, they really do sound very good for such a multifunctional IEM. The downside is they can only really connect and record off a phone, which limits their ultimate usability, but this is another boundary pushing ‘cool thing’ that I’m hoping we see more of in 2019.

Cambridge Audio DUO Phono Preamplifier and Headphone Amplifier – $299 USD

Cambridge DUO

Little box, big, ballsy sound… That’s what I said in my preview of the DUO Moving Coil/Moving Magnet Preamplifier with integrated Headphone Amplifier when I first hooked it up and spun the vinyls through it for several hours. I stand by that initial impression and then some since it’s broken-in further. It’s got PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) in spades as well a warmth to the sonic presentation that doesn’t take superb resolution out of the picture one iota. Sounding far better than anything at this price point has any right, the DUO is a great place to start your LP-listening journey via its RCA outs to your stereo or powered speakers or via its punchy headphone out. Some might find they don’t need to go further and just stand pat, not finding a need to upgrade. –Rafe Arnott

BoseBuild Headphone DIY Kit – $120 USD

Bose Build

Love or hate Bose, they are one of the research giants of the industry, constantly pushing the boundaries of audio science and new products. The vast majority of what they know never reaches us the consumers, and their history is littered with plenty of failed experiments. Personally I give them a lot of credit for those risks, and every once in a while, they come out with something that’s really pretty cool, and even useful. I think this is one of them. No, it’s not a fantastic noise-cancelling earbud, or AR Audio-glasses (yes, they have those now) but it is of interest to the audio enthusiast or kid who’s interested in knowing more about DIY and how headphones work. This little kit arrives as a jumble of parts and an Apple iOS app. It walks you through several hours not only of how to build, but also basic auditory science, how transducers, ears and microphones work, how to maintain ear health and a bunch of other topics. It’s somewhat focused on a younger crowd, but the information and process should prove informative for anyone interested in a hands-on headphone product. The headphones themselves are nothing special, but the learning process and experience is one of the cooler headphone-related things I’ve seen in 2018.

COMMENTS
Simply Nobody's picture

How about Bose Quiet Comfort Bluetooth noise cancelling headphones, under $500? .......... Consumer report rates them high ........... They beat out the Beats (ha, ha, ha) in their ratings :-) ...........

Rthomas's picture

Hi Rafe,

Any update for us as to when the first full headphone review with Keith's measurements will be published?

Thanks

Thomas

Rafe Arnott's picture
Co-ordinating with the UK is proving challenging, so I still can't say when the first measurement reviews will be rolled out.

I can say that full reviews will be starting to roll out very shortly, although without measurements at first (they'll have to be added later).

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