Value-Priced Headphone of the Year
Meze 99 Classics
The first product out of Antonio Meze’s Romanian headphone lab, the Model 99 Classics are a closed-back design featuring a 40mm full-range Mylar transducer with a Neodymium magnet system, a V-shaped metal head band with a single flexible inner band of comfy pleather, two sets of Kevlar-wrapped OFC cables (one with and one without an in-line microphone/media controller), and walnut ear-cups. These last are solid blocks of walnut, CNC milled, then hand finished and polished to an artisan matt finish.
In our test, Alan Sircom said, “The Meze 99 is an unexpected joy. It has a sensational musical performance, even when played with very humble audio equipment, and is comfortable enough (both in wear and in listening) to allow the listener to spend many hours at a stretch in the company of the Meze 99 without a care.”
Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 134
Closed-Back Headphone of the Year
Final SONOROUS III
Drawing heavily from some really big hitters in the Final range, this headphone has a lot in common with the SONOROUS X and SONOROUS VIII, despite the more than ten-fold price differential. Based around a 50mm dynamic driver that features a polycarbonate/glass resin molded front plate, Final’s unique Balanced Air Movement mechanism, and synthetic leather ear pads, the SONOROUS III looks and sounds more upmarket than many of its peers. In listening, Chris Martens felt that “it offered deeply extended and powerful, (albeit somewhat elevated) bass, with plenty of pitch definition and transient impact,” with a vibrant midrange, an extended treble response, “effortless transient speed”, and “a satisfying quality of coherence.”
Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 137
Open-Backed Headphone of the Year
MrSpeakers ETHER Flow
In our last Awards, MrSpeakers ETHER C won Closed-Back Headphone of the Year. This time round, it’s the turn of its Open-Backed big brother – the ETHER Flow. This planar magnetic design, using the company’s patented V-Planar technology, also incorporates the TrueFlow U-shaped metal channels with bar magnets with circular relief air holes. This forms the core of the ‘Flow’ upgrades, and helps rid the design of unwanted turbulence.
In his listening test, Chirs Martens felt that, “the ETHER Flow is at once a headphone that is endlessly engaging and always invigorating to hear, yet that is so smooth sounding, comfortable, and relaxing that it makes us want to listen for hours on end. It is everything that a great transducer should be.”
Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 141
Cost-no-object Headphone of the Year
Although Focal has made its Spirit headphones for several years, the new Focal Utopia flagship model is the product of four years of fundamental research and development. The Utopia features a lightweight 40mm pure Beryllium driver set in an M-shaped dome arrangement, with custom designed frame and motor systems, and an ear cup frame that optimises driver positioning for the best stereo imaging. With thin, carbon-fibre yokes, pure lambskin ear and head pads, and high performance OFC cables, no part of the headphone design was subject to corner cutting. As to the sound quality, it more than matches the design, and Focal has created a headphone of rare quality, more than worthy of the Utopia name.
Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 142
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