Sometimes the sequel is better than the original

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Photo taken by the author.

It was a relatively quiet year for affordable wired headphone releases. Most of the movement in the consumer sector is now in the wireless space, and that shows no sign of slowing down.

Last year was also a tough act to follow, thanks to the huge splash made by the AKG K361 and K371. Sennheiser made some aggressive moves with their new HD 560S, and its $200 price tag and high level of performance seem bafflingly designed to eat away at the market share of their own massively popular HD6XX model.

Still, $200 is too much to pay for a huge swathe of the market. If you want to get into good audio at a fair price and you want the latest-and-greatest in wired headphones, my favorite pick this year is the Philips SHP9600. You can check out their official site by clicking right here. That’s not an affiliate link, as I think those are gross.


This studio classic has a timeless build, questionable comfort, and a bland sound signature

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Photo taken by the author.

Fostex’s RP series of headphones has decades worth of legacy in the audio production world. Their “regular phase” planar magnetic driver is one of the earliest examples of the technology. Planar magnetic drivers use a thin energized membrane suspended between magnets instead of a traditional dynamic speaker cone assembly, with the goal of reducing distortion and improving overall audio fidelity. The Fostex RP driver features some of the good characteristics of newer planar drivers packed into a solid frame, but its far less suited to multi-purpose listening than other popular studio headphones.

The most recent Mark 3 update of this headphone launched about six years ago, and subtly refined the headband design and audio tuning while keeping the core driver intact. It’s available in three models: T20RP, T40RP, and T50RP, and each one has a street price of around $160, which is what I paid on Amazon. That price makes these slightly cheaper than the average planar headphone. You can check out their official product page right here, and that’s not an affiliate link as I think those have no place in reviews. …


It’s time for a tech labor reckoning

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Photo by Nikolai Chernichenko on Unsplash

Apple had a terrible revelation come out at the end of 2020, but thanks to other pressing news like the slow rolling chaos of the pandemic and the recent failed US insurrection, I’m worried that it went unnoticed by too many.

Right at the end of December, the online premium business publication The Information released a report showing that Apple knowingly relied on child labor for three years from one of their MacBook suppliers (roughly 2013–2016) without doing anything meaningful about it. …


Blizzard’s chaotic soundscape will push your speakers or headphones to their limit

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Diablo III Xbox Series S screenshot taken by the author.

I’ve reviewed dozens of headphones and gaming headsets over the last five years, and the key to a balanced approach is to use audio material I know inside and out. In addition to a handful of music tracks I’ve heard too many times and some work I’m hyper-intimate with because I created it in my production career, I also test several video games.

Video games are more challenging to mix than music and movies because they’re a superset of both disciplines. They contain both the linear sound mixes of those mediums for things like cutscenes and the soundtrack, and dynamic elements that have to play in real-time and move around based on player or camera position. …


A new keyboard and Xbox charge station plus new worldwide launches for modern favorites

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Official marketing image provided by HyperX.

CES looks a little different this year, but the move to a digital event doesn’t mean that we’re missing out on exciting new gaming gear launches. HyperX kindly sent me some info about their slate, and it’s got a great mix of new stuff and expanded worldwide launches for some recent headsets and a mouse. You can read my thoughts just below, or scroll down to read their official press release.

The star of HyperX’s CES lineup this year is probably the new HyperX Alloy Origins 60 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard. This sleek keyboard uses the increasingly-popular 60 percent form factor, packing all the functions you need for gaming into a svelte body. I love smaller keyboards. They give you more room for mouse movement and for keeping microphones or headsets on your desk. …


Sorting through a pile of nearly thirty gaming headsets

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Photo taken by the author

It’s nice to have choice as a gaming headset consumer. However, sometimes a company’s pursuit of new technology combines with a reluctance to retire old models, and suddenly they have far too many options on the market.

That’s exactly the messy position Steelseries is in right now, with twenty-seven different models of the Arctis headset in active production. The sound in these many different models is provided by one of only two different unique speaker drivers. …


2020’s Best Xbox Wireless Headset

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NOTE: Razer graciously sent me a final retail unit of this headset to review alongside marketing assets and technical information. They also took the time to chat with me in a short video call about the design of the product. No money changed hands and I had full editorial control over this article.

As per my reviews policy, this article will never be monetized, but other additional content about this gaming headset, such as comparison articles I write in the future, might be. My posts contain zero affiliate links as I don’t personally believe in the practice.

Once again, Razer has surpassed my expectations with a surprising new headset. The Kaira Pro is an exciting new design that packs in all the features I’d expect from a premium gaming headset, and it’s also a far cry from the market trend of recycling an old model with Xbox connectivity shoved in. …


The most disappointing headset of 2020?

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The “flagship” gaming headset market is a narrow field. $300+ price points are increasingly common in the standard headphone space, but still rather rare in gaming audio. As a result, competition is fierce, and gaming headsets that want to demand this high price have to really bring it.

JBL launched an astounding number of different gaming headsets earlier this year under their new Quantum branding. I previously reviewed the affordable Quantum 300, and despite a few minor complaints, it was still good enough to be one of the year’s best new headsets. …


Brilliant THX sound, active noise canceling, and plush comfort in a sleek wireless package

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Razer has been a major player in the audio space for a long time. They helped define the concept of a “gaming headset,” and their products have true mainstream visual appeal. However, their sound signatures have been stuck in the realm of powerful bass and fun over accuracy for years now, lacking the detail and nuance of some of the other big audio brands.

That’s all in the past now.

2020 is the year that Razer truly excelled in sound, transforming from a maker of fun and exciting gaming headsets into a true all-around audio powerhouse. Their current slate of products has incredible, accurate sound performance backing up their impressive and fun industrial designs. And with the Razer Opus, my favorite Bluetooth headphone of the year, they’ve taken a proud swipe at other consumer tech brands like Sony, Apple, and Bose and easily bested them where it counts most. …


A classic gets an iconic follow-up

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Photo taken by the author.

The wireless sector is where most of the action and excitement is in gaming headsets today. Gamers and peripheral companies are both engaged in an aggressive campaign to get rid of all wires without sacrificing performance, and with the launch of new consoles this year, there’s no sign of that trend slowing down.

Numerous brands released completely new wireless headsets in 2020 to try and win this lucrative market…but for me, the clear winner in this field is the HyperX Cloud II Wireless.

When the headset was first announced, I was skeptical. Was HyperX really going to jam wireless parts into an older model and call it good? After testing it out, my fears were unfounded and silly. This is nowhere near a hasty refresh. In fact, it’s a truly new headset, sharing only a name and a few small details with its predecessor. It has a new industrial design with an improved sound signature, and its comfort, battery life, and performance rival the premium offerings from any other company. …

About

Alex Rowe

I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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