HEADPHONE.GURU 2021 PRODUCT OF THE YEAR AWARDS

Headphone.Guru’s 2020 Product of the Year & Writer’s Choice Awards!

We listened to quite a few products this year and all were deserving in the end. I listened to the LCD-5 from Audeze and the amazing Meze Elite both were award winners the LCD-5 best open headphone and the Meze Elite earned the Editors Choice but the best design was the Dan Clark Audio Stealth Headphone which has a new carbon designed cups and significant work on the driver. Dan’s best effort to date has obtained a revolutionary sound from a closed monitor.

The Stealth has balanced bass with exciting midrange and treble extension which also sounds like an open back headphone but is closed design and delivers a bold and exciting new sound. Congratulations to everyone who submitted their product for review in a challenging year and to Dan Clark, Andy Regan, and their team for bringing home the best design for 2021.

Frank Iacone

CLOSED-BACK HEADPHONE DAN CLARK AUDIO STEALTH

2021 CLOSED-BACK HEADPHONE OF THE YEAR

DAN CLARK AUDIO STEALTH

Dan Clark Audio Stealth Headphone

There is a reason that every headphone that Dan Clark has designed has made it into our Products of the Year Awards, they are simply that good. I have been for most of my adult life a very staunch Electrostatic Headphone (and speaker) fan and several years ago at an Electrostatic Headphone shoot out (featuring headphones in the $50k bracket) and found the Dan Clark Audio VOCE to be the finest sounding headphone I have ever heard, and it has remained my favorite headphone ever since. At CanJam SoCal 2021 I had the opportunity to do a head to head comparison of the VOCE and the new Dan Clark Audio Stealth, and even being driven with inferior electronics, the sound of the Stealth was superior, offering a much more natural and realistic tonal balance and richer bottom end without sacrificing that extreme upper-end detail and musicality. Congrats Dan Clark on another epic achievement and a hard-earned Publisher’s Choice Headphone of the Year Award, the king is dead, long live the king!

-Gary Alan Barker

Manufacturer’s Website: danclarkaudio.com

Price: $,3999

 2021 OPEN-BACKED HEADPHONE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR -Audeze LCD-5

2021 OPEN-BACKED HEADPHONE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Audeze LCD-5

 Audeze LCD-5

What a year! COVID-19 lockdowns at the beginning of the year kept us all at home and I can think of no better way to pass the time than listening to some of my favourite music with a great audio setup! There were several amazing new releases this past year that made selecting my choice a rather difficult one. Heck, one manufacturer released 3 products that I could very easily pick for my selection. With the release of the LCD-R ribbon-based headphones (limited production run), CRBN electrostatic headphones and the LCD-5 planar magnetic headphones, Audeze certainly ran the gamut of not only multiple driver technologies but some truly groundbreaking releases. Coming in at $2,600, the LCD-R headphones and included Jotenheim-A amplifier (by Schiit Audio in a joint venture), this setup provides the best bang for your buck in the “high-end” realm and it is my top recommendation for any setup under the $3,000 barrier. Too bad that it was just a limited run of 67 and I’m hoping might come back from time to time ala the McRib. But for me, the LCD-5s were the headphones for me. They completely redesigned these headphones from the ground up and brought us planars that are 1/3rd the mass and are among the most natural and neutral headphones that Audeze has released to date. Transparency has been turned up several notches and these headphones are truly among the very, very best that I’ve ever had on my head. You can find my full review here: https://headphone.guru/the-audeze-lcd-5-flagship-headphones-as-good-as-it-gets/. Definitely worthy mention to the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Noir (https://headphone.guru/the-aeon-2-noire-the-black-beauty/) for truly the best sub $1,000 closed-back and portable headphones that I’ve come across and the Raal Requisite HAS-1b amplifier that just took their pioneering SR1a ribbon backed ear-speakers to a whole new level. This amplifier not offered a big step forward with their SR1a, but also could serve as an endgame amplifier for some of the power-hungry planar magnetic headphones like the Abyss Phi TC AB-1266 and the Hifiman Susvara. Talk about win-win. You can find my review here for this amplifier: https://headphone.guru/the-new-raal-requisite-hsa-1b-headphone-speaker-amplifier-the-pinnacle-of-personal-audio/.

-Peter Pialis

Manufacturer’s Website: www.audeze.com

Price: $4,500 USD

RIBBON HEADPHONE SYSTEM AUDEZE LCD-R + SCHIIT JOTUNHEIM-A 

2021 RIBBON HEADPHONE SYSTEM PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

AUDEZE LCD-R + SCHIIT JOTUNHEIM-A 

Never being a company to rest on their laurels, Audeze is always looking at pushing things forward and with the LCD-R and Jotunheim-A combination, they have definitely done this and then some! With the very natural frequency response that we’ve come to know and love from Audeze, the LCD-R offers a level of quickness and clarity that is among the very best out there! For $2,500 for both the LCD-R and Jotunheim-A, the value that this setup provides is very strong as you end up with one of the very best personal audio setups around. Think: planar-like mids/bass with electrostatic-like treble and quickness…you can have your cake and eat it too! Just be sure to provide it with a source/DAC that is up to the task and these headphones will reward you in spades! The sound staging was one of the best from their already impressive line-up of headphones and with such an incredibly high level of transparency, this setup will have you smiling the entire time. Highly, highly recommended!

-Peter Pialis

Manufacturer’s Website: www.audeze.com

Price: $2,500

DYNAMIC HEADPHONE - BEYERDYNAMIC T1 GENERATION 3

2021 DYNAMIC HEADPHONE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

BEYERDYNAMIC T1 GENERATION 3

I absolutely loved reviewing the third iteration of these venerable flagship headphones by beyerdynamic and continuing in the tradition of being the first north of the 49th Parallel here in The Great White North! While certainly a departure from their previous 2 generations of the T1 and DT880 / 600-ohm headphones, these new headphones offer a more musical and laid back presentation that I could enjoy for literally hours and hours on end without a hint of listening fatigue. Overall transparency, clarity and sound staging were truly worthy of “top of the line” status and the high level of comfort thankfully has remained with this version. No longer do you require a more powerful desktop solid-state or OTL tube amplifier to get the most out of them as the 600-ohm impedance has been swapped out for a much more manageable 32 ohm setting that will allow you to enjoy these fantastic headphones anywhere you may want to take them. If you are in the market for a top of the line pair of headphones and love a laid-back and musical presentation with great kick and punch in the bass region, I strongly suggest you give the newest T1s a try! Highly recommended!

-Peter Pialis

Manufacturer’s Website: north-america.beyerdynamic.com

Price: $999

WIRELESS HEADPHONES - CLEER ENDURO ANC WIRELESS

2021 WIRELESS HEADPHONES PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

CLEER ENDURO ANC WIRELESS

We have to remember here that the Cleer Enduro ANC Wireless Bluetooth Active Noise Canceling Headphone is a hundred and fifty dollar headphone, with its own internal amplifier and ANC and Bluetooth to boot. It easily performs as well sonically as any sub-two hundred dollar wired headphone that has crossed my desk and better than most, especially on the bottom end. If you are into dance or club music this is the headphone for you, if not the EQ can fix that.

As noted above, the ANC is excellent, and these are the perfect headphone for on the go. The build quality is exemplary and the spring steel headband is a welcome addition in a light travel headphone (I have a goddaughter who is constantly breaking headbands that I then have to re-engineer). The comfort is also excellent and as they are a headphone designed for hours of listening while on airplanes and such, this is a good thing. The cups are small and fit close to the ear which is a necessary thing for a proper seal to close out unwanted noise and enhance the noise-canceling properties of the headphone. All in all, they are a great value and a wonderful choice especially for younger people who spend a good deal of time traveling and are demanding of their audio sources. A definite thumbs up and full recommendation.

-Gary Alan Barker

Manufacturer’s Website: cleeraudio.com

Price: $149.99

IEMS - AUDEZE EUCLID

2021 IN EAR MONITOR PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

AUDEZE EUCLID

A decade on, and despite venturing into a completely new field and application. Audeze’s Euclid proves that they are still one of the ‘greats’ of the industry. Packing engineering innovation and the execution to pull it off the Euclid offers the versatility of owning a single product that is small and portable in size, adaptable thanks to its MMCX platform, and closed back for isolation, but with a world-class soundstage. I would like to see Audeze continue to develop this platform to where we may one day get an IEM with more low-frequency range reproduction. But for now, it’s a hell of a start. 

-Bowei Zhao

Manufacturer’s Website: www.audeze.com

Price: $1,299.00 USD

TRUE WIRELESS IEMS - NOBLE FALCON PRO

2021 TRUE WIRELESS IN EAR MONITOR PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

NOBLE FALCON PRO

Noble Falcon Pro

Without question the best sounding Bluetooth IEMs I have listened to, and the most comfortable True Wireless IEMs. While it is true that the Noble Katana is my all-time favorite IEM and one of my favorite headphones period, the Wizard’s (John Moulton AU.D. CCC-A) magic trickles down throughout their line producing a product for every listener and every budget. Congrats Noble for yet another Product of the Year Award!

-Gary Alan Barker

www.nobleaudio.com

Price: 329.00 USD

AMPLIFIER – DANATONE HEAD-SPACE

2021 AMPLIFIER PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

DANATONE HEAD-SPACE

Waiting four years to finally hear the DanaTone Head-Space in its completed version was well worth the wait. $8995 is a lot of money for amplification but this is hand-made by Dana Robbins and takes 65-70 hours of his time to build this from scratch. Listeners looking for the very best in reproduction will find the Head-Space is able to deliver exceptional performance for both speakers and headphones and competes with the best amplification out there whether its tube or solid-state

Frank Iacone

Manufacturer’s Website: clarissonaudio.com

Price: $8995

DAC - AUDIO-GD R2R-1 

2021 DIGITAL TO ANALOG CONVERTER PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

AUDIO-GD R2R-1 

Audio-gd R2R-1 FPGA PCMDSD DAC

Simply one of the best DACs I have heard with a musicality, resolution, and soundstage I have not heard equaled in DACs costing three to four times as much. One of my favorite discoveries of the year, congrats Audio-gd for a much-deserved Product of the Year Award!

-Gary Alan Barker

Manufacturer’s Website: www.underwoodhifi.com

Price: $1,199

AMPLIFIER - QUESTYLE CMA FIFTEEN

2021 DAC/AMPLIFIER PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

QUESTYLE CMA FIFTEEN

QUESTYLE CMA FIFTEEN

Current Mode Amplification is probably the purist most accurate form of amplification, while I personally still prefer the musicality of tube amps, there is no question that Current Mode is the most musical solid-state design and Questyle pioneered the way and now they have coupled their patented Current Mode Amplification with a Current Mode DAC chip producing their best sounding DAC/Amp so far. Congrats Questyle on sinching another Product of the Year Award!

-Gary Alan Barker

Manufacturer’s Website: www.questyle.com

Price: $2,499

2021 LOUDSPEAKER AMPLIFIER PRODUCT OF THE YEAR - LIVING SOUNDS AUDIO DISCOVERY WARP ONE

2021 LOUDSPEAKER AMPLIFIER PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

LIVING SOUNDS AUDIO DISCOVERY WARP ONE

LSA Discovery Warp 1

Simply put, the LSA Warp 1 is the best sounding Class D amplifier I have ever heard, and among the best amplifiers in general in its price range. Congrats Living Sounds Audio on forwarding this emerging technology and well earning this Product of the Year award!

-Gary Alan Barker

Manufacturer’s Website: www.underwoodhifi.com

Price: $1,499

PORTABLE DAC – QUESTYLE M12

2021 PORTABLE DIGITAL TO ANALOG CONVERTER PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

QUESTYLE M12

Questyle M12 Inline DAC-Amp

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a DAC for this price that will compete with the Questyle M12 for sound, much less one that is portable and able to drive most portable headphones. Congrats Questyle on a well-earned Product of the Year Award!

-Gary Alan Barker

Manufacturer’s Website: www.questyle.com/

Price: $139.99

CABLE - DANACABLE REFERENCE PLUS

2021 CABLE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

DANACABLE REFERENCE PLUS

Top-tier products that are hand-made are not inexpensive but the Lazuli Reference+ gets it right and needs to be heard to be appreciated. A serious contender for accessory of the year and gets my highest recommendation for enthusiasts who want to hear everything their transducer can produce. Highly Recommended.

-Frank Iacone

Manufacturer’s Website: danacables.comclarissonaudio.com

Price: $1,399.00 – $1,899.00

BUDGET HEADPHONE - DAN CLARK AUDIO  AEON 2 NOIRE

2021 BUDGET HEADPHONE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

DAN CLARK AUDIO  AEON 2 NOIRE

What else can I say about these spectacular closed-back headphones by Dan Clark Audio? I absolutely loved them for their incredible design, portability, transparency and comfort! The all-black colour really makes them pop visually and after a few minutes, I found that they disappeared on my head thanks to their outstanding comfort. I found that these headphones worked with every genre that I threw at them; from classical to hard rock, these headphones excelled at everything I used them with. Throw in a sub $1000 price tag, but a $1000+++ sound quality and you have a win-win proposition sitting right in front of you. The value proposition is off the charts impressive for me and I wholeheartedly recommend them!

-Peter Pialis

Manufacturer’s Website: www.danclarkaudio.com

Price: $899

ACCESSORY – DEKONI HEADPHONE HERO

2021 ACCESSORY PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

DEKONI HEADPHONE HERO

DEKONI HEADPHONE HERO

A safe, secure, and convenient way to transport your headphones with a built-in portable headphone stand. While custom road cases have been a standard for musical equipment it is great to see an aftermarket alternative for high-end headphones, congrats Dekoni for a great product and a well-deserved Product of the Year Award!

-Gary Alan Barker

Manufacturer’s Website: dekoniaudio.com

Price: $149.99

Editor’s Choice Award for 2021 – Meze Audio Elite

Frank Iacone:

Editor’s Choice Award for 2021 – Meze Audio Elite

Meze Audio Elite

Meze took home honors and in many ways changed listening with the multi-award-winning Empyrean.  Elite was introduced with Rinaro tuned drives and minor changes that created a better midrange clarity and a new bass sound with texture and better low frequency. Accurate and fine-tuned with its removable pads and comfortable headband the Elite remains a good choice for extended listening sessions. (full review pending)

mezeaudio.com

Price: $ 4000

Writer’s Choice Award for 2021 -  Raal | Requisite HAS-1b

Peter Pialis:

Writer’s Choice Award for 2021 – Raal | Requisite HAS-1b

Raal | Requisite HAS-1b

The Raal | Requisite HAS-1b amplifier that just took their pioneering SR1a ribbon backed ear-speakers to a whole new level. This amplifier not offered a big step forward with their SR1a, but also could serve as an endgame amplifier for some of the power-hungry planar magnetic headphones like the Abyss Phi TC AB-1266 and the Hifiman Susvara. Talk about win-win. You can find my review here for this amplifier: https://headphone.guru/the-new-raal-requisite-hsa-1b-headphone-speaker-amplifier-the-pinnacle-of-personal-audio/.

-Peter Pialis

Manufacturer’s Website: RaalRequisite

Price: $4,500 USD

Writer’s Choice Award for 2021 – Core Power Technologies AV Equi=Core 1000

Gary Alan Barker:

Writer’s Choice Award for 2021 – Core Power Technologies AV Equi=Core 1000

Equi=Core 1000

It’s always difficult to choose which product was the most special, and this year was no different, with the Dan Clark Audio Stealth, the Audio-gd R2R-1 and NFB-1, the Questyle CMA Fifteen, and the Noble Falcon Pros, all vying for my attention, but one product makes everything sound better, whether it be amplifier, DAC, headphone, or loudspeaker system, and that is the Core Power Technologies AV Equi=Core 1000. Noise floor is critical to listening no matter what you listen to, and nothing reduces noise floor like the Equi=Core 1000 for less than four times the price. Congrats Core Power Technologies AV on an exceptional product that has earned my Writer’s Choice Award!

-Gary Alan Barker

Manufacturer’s Website: www.underwoodhifi.com

Price: $999 (introductory special, $1,495 MSRP)

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