2017 was a pretty crazy year and full of innovation and advancement. Products such as the iSINE 10 and 20 earphones brought planar magnetic tech to the in-ear sector, and others like the KZ ZS5 brought to users truly affordable, multi-driver hybrid earphones.
While this quick article isn’t going to cover anything like that, it is going to highlight what ended up being some of my favorite products of the year, and ones that I can confidently recommend checking out. I hope you enjoy!
Many of the products listed below were complimentary samples sent over for the purposes of review, while others were purchased. Others still meet both criteria. Anything I have reviewed will contain a link to the review so you can read up on it should it be of interest. I’ve also tried only to include things I have already reviewed, or will be reviewing shortly. Let’s get started!
Budget Earphone (0-99 USD):
Kicking things off is the budget friendly TinAudio T2, a 49.90 USD dual dynamic with a beautiful presentation, fantastic build quality, and a near neutral signature that is uncommon among it’s direct competition. You can check out my full review here.
Some excellent runner ups also worth checking out are the MacaW GT600s, SOMiC V4 and Brainwavz B100. MacaW’s GT600s is my sub-100 USD baseline as it does nothing wrong. That said, unlike the T2 it fails to take top billing in anything either. For just over 20 CAD, the V4’s dual micro-dynamic drivers deliver outstanding sound quality in a unique shell with great build quality and a terrific cable. The B100’s single balanced armature and low profile design gives you a taste of high-end sound at a fraction of the price.
Mid-Range Earphone (100-299 USD):
Despite so many excellent offerings in this segment, there was one clear winner in my books; the Brainwavz B400. This quad balanced armature gem exceeded nearly all expectations and offered up a level of performance well exceeding it’s 189.50 USD base price. On each listen I am in awe at the near-3D presentation Brainwavz managed to give this earphone. Check out my full review here to see if it is something you would enjoy.
While the B400 is my top pick, these others are just as deserving of your attention. The Simgot EN700 Pro not only looks stunning but it’s warm, well-rounded signature makes it a near perfect all-rounder. If the B400 and EN700 Pro didn’t cross my path this year, the Fischer Audio Dubliz Enhanced would have taken top billing. Last but not least, RHA’s CL750 is a monster of a value with it’s flawless build, extensive accessory kit, detailed signature, and 3-year warranty.
High-End Earphone (300 USD and up):
While this is the segment in which I have the least experience, I was given the opportunity to check out some pretty killer gear this year. HiFiMan’s RE800 is the one that impressed the most, despite a few flaws. It’s compact size, unmatched comfort, and vibrant sound signature kept me coming back for more. My full review of this pricy gem can be found here.
Another worth consideration is the Campfire Audio Polaris. It’s tank-like build and v-shaped signature which is rife with clarity make it an awesome daily driver that gives you top tier sound in a package that can take some serious abuse. Fidue’s A85 Virgo also gets a hesitant recommendation. It certainly looks and feels like a premium offering, but with such a unique sound signature it won’t be for everyone. It’s a “try before you buy” kind of product in my opinion.
Earbud (Price N/A):
My journey into the world of earbuds is just beginning, but there are a number of great ones worth checking out. The Penon BS1 Experience Version is my go-to daily driver earbud. It’s build is amazing for the price and backed by a fairly neutral signature that’s easy on the ears. If I need a little more low end, the HE 150Pro is nothing short of awesome. The all-metal design and braided cable make for a tough bud too. In realm of budget buds, the BS1 and 150Pro are my go-to picks.
If looking for something a little more premium, the Astrotec Lyra and Rose Mojito have your back. The Lyra’s design and build are nothing short of stunning and set a new bar for me on what to expect from the premium earbud segment. They back all that style with an impressive sound signature, giving listeners a lush mid-range and vibrant upper end. Rose’s Mojito does much of the same with it’s dual dynamic driver setup, but adds in a hefty dose of low end that the Lyra simply lacks. Sure, it doesn’t look or feel as premium with it’s 3D printed housings, but comfort levels are the best of the bunch (for me) and you get a nice set of accessories to further personalize the fit of this high end product.
Headphones (Price N/A):
Admittedly pickings are a little slim in this category, but pending you’ve got a heavy wallet and are willing to lighten it, significantly, you’ll be pleased with the options. Before we start, I want to give a special nod to the ADVANCED GT-R. I could not include it simply because the GT-R is not yet in production, and unless the next Kickstarter campaign is a success, may never be. That’s really a shame if so because the GT-R is a killer portable planar magnetic headphone that really deserves to see the light of day. If you want to read about it, you can check out my coverage here.
For headphones that you can buy, my “budget” pick is ADVANCED’s Alpha, their current flagship planar. At 499.99 USD it’s not an inexpensive product, but it neither looks nor feels like one either. The Alpha shares much of it’s signature with the GT-R, from what I can recall, but balances it out with deeper bass, cleaner treble, and a less aggressive mid-range. It’s not as neutral-leaning as my next pick, but it’s an impressive headphone none-the-less, and I highly recommend trying them out. My review should be up before the end of the year, so keep your eyes and ears open.
Next up is the 6,000 USD juggernaut that is the HiFiMan Susvara. I don’t know what I can say about this masterpiece of a headphone other than it is the best sound producing product I have heard to date, even with my sources which I am told are not entirely adequate for such a demanding set of headphones. Even so, I don’t care. I enjoy looking at is as much as I do listening to it, because I’m petty like that. It’s as much a piece of art to me as it is a ballin’ headphone. Just look at those lines and that hand-brushed steel. @#$%….so sexy.
Wireless (Price N/A):
When it comes to wireless gear, there are three products that stand above the rest. For the price conscious you have the SoundPEATS Q16, a fully wireless budget offering that doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s awesome. Sure they’re ugly, but their battery life is great, they’re comfortable, their connection quality is fantastic, and not just for a fully wireless option. They’re also inexpensive. The Q16 is very good, plain and simple.
If you’re looking to spend a little more and want a more balanced, audiophile-style sound, the Optoma NuForce BE6i is a great pick. They’re built like a tank, have the best wireless range I’ve come across to date, and their neutral-leaning sound signature truly impresses. Definitely worth a buy.
Lastly, we have the plusSound Exo BT. This is a premium Bluetooth module through and through, and is one that can be customized heavily to be exactly what you want. Do you need a 0.75mm 2-pin connector or a 0.78mm one? Or maybe MMCX? How about a gold plated silver cable? Where do you want the control module? You name it, they’ll make it, by hand. It’s a gorgeous custom product that is every bit worth whatever you’re willing to pay.
Portable Budget Amp/DAC (0-100 USD):
A quality media player (DAC) is always nice to have around, letting you power harder to drive headphones than what you phone can handle, and with higher sound quality to boot. If you need more power still, a budget amp can take things to the next level. There are two picks here that are awesome either on their own or paired up, and you’ll still have enough money left over to get yourself a decent pair of budget earphones. The Walnut V2s is an old-school player both in design and features. No screen, a crisp sound signature, and gobs of power are it’s defining features. As long as you are willing to give up the creature comforts found on more feature rich players, at the price the V2S goes for you’ll have a hard time finding something that sounds this good AND that can power some truly hungry headphones.
Walnut’s F1 portable amp also gets a high recommendation. It’s essentially the V2s with the media player section removed, a balanced output added in, and even more power. It can run the Susvara, at least until the battery starts to dip a bit. Then you run into distortion. But still, that it can run that headphone at all, and sound good while doing it, is truly impressive for the price. You can check out my review of this little powerhouse here.
Portable Mid-Range to High-End Amp/DAC (100 USD and up):
Earlier in the year I joined Shanling’s tour of the M1, a tiny little media player that was packed to the gills with features. It’s crazy just how much usability they crammed into such a compact player, but they did it, and they did it well. I liked it so much I ended up purchasing my tour unit and it’s been one of my daily driver’s ever since. You can check out that review here on Head-fi. I’ll be posting and heavily updating that review here on The Contraptionist in 2018.
If you’re wanting a power, high end amplifier to take with you on your travels, the RHA Dacamp L1 should do the trick. Also a tour unit, it was sent over with the CL1 Ceramic and CL750, both very demanding earphones to power. This thing is a premium piece of kit through and through and while I didn’t find all it’s features useful, such as the bass and treble EQ, at least they’re there. The Mini-XLR balanced input was also a pretty sweet inclusion on a portable product.
My Product of the Year:
I figured I’d also highlight my personal favorite product of the year, which is…
the Brainwavz B400!
Yes, the B400 takes top billing for me. Even having listened extensively to stuff like the Susvara, RE2000, Polaris, and other expensive, accomplished high-end gear, the B400 is the one I keep coming back to the most for my personal listening sessions. It’s build quality is merely acceptable and the finish on the Crimson Red model I bought following my review looks pretty terrible, but that really doesn’t matter when it sounds as amazing as it does. It’s a cracking good deal for the quality of sound on offer. Brainwavz truly knocked it out of the park with the B400 and I cannot recommend it enough.
To finish things off, I want to thank you the readers for your attentiveness this year. This blog went from less than 1,000 views in February to well over 11,000 in November. Thanks to those who followed, stopped by just for a quick glance, and to those that keep coming back. I appreciate that you read my content and look forward to providing you with more in 2018.
What was your favorite headphone, earphone, amp, dac, whatever of 2017? Comment below!
Thanks for reading.