You’ve heard of Bose, Beats, Denon, Sennheiser, Pioneer, Bowers & Wilkins and V-Moda. Those are all very popular brands when it comes to portable audio. However, there is a whole world of high-quality audio products that you’ve probably never heard of and can take your passion for audio to unimaginable levels.
Those of you who demand more out of your audio products probably call yourself an audiophile. Audiophiles love the attention to details and nuances in high-fidelity music that are lost when compressed into digital files.
Audiophiles are a whole different breed of enthusiasts who are only satisfied with perfection. For those of you who are new to the hobby, there are several companies that you need to know. Most of them aren’t in big brand stores like Walmart or Best Buy – instead you will have to buy these products direct from the manufacturer. That helps them keep costs down as advertising is a fee most cannot afford. And to be honest, some of these companies don’t want to sell millions of products for billions of dollars, instead they prefer to maintain a high level of quality by limited production.
The companies listed above – Bose, Denon, Sennheiser, etc. – are similar to what we would equate to luxury car companies Mercedes, BMW and Audi. While those companies make great products, they are nothing like McLaren, Pagani, Aston Martin, or Rolls Royce for true auto enthusiasts.
I’ve got six audio companies that you need to know if you’re into high-fidelity music. If you think Bose and Beats are good, you have no idea what you are missing. Keep in mind, most of these products are out of range of most for their hefty price tags, but if you can afford them, you’ll experience an out of this world audio performance you never knew was possible.
Shure is listed first because it is the first company to open my ears and mind to high-fidelity audio.
Shure was founded in 1925 where it got its start by selling kits to build radios. It then took on US government projects and built microphones for tanks, airplanes and ships. That’s when the company set a level of quality that met the rigors of battle, and Shure still maintains that same level of craftsmanship.
Taking what it learned from the war, it then went back into creating civilian products for stage, studio, broadcast, corporate and civilian use.
“Built on professional audio roots, Shure listening products take the personal listening experience to a new level. From award-winning sound isolating earphones, to professional and consumer headphones, to stereo headsets for popular smartphones–our listening products deliver sound, comfort, and style, and can withstand the rigors of everyday use.”
Shure’s notable products:
- SE846 Quad Drivers Sound Isolating Earphones – $999.99 at Shure and Amazon
- KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System – $2999.99 at Shure and Amazon
- SE112 Sound Isolating Earphones – $49.99 at Shure and at Amazon
Master & Dynamic
Master & Dynamic is a brand that I have recently come across and have found the perfect balance of cost versus performance in its headphones, notably the MW60 and MW50 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones.
“Master & Dynamic is a New York City-based, premium audio company obsessed with sound and creativity.”
That’s the foundation for Master & Dyanmic’s headphones and it hits the nail on the head with every one of its seven headphones/earphones. By keeping its product line limited, it can perfect just about every product and does it at a level that Bose and Beats can’t even dream of. Its products are designed to not only sound good, but to last decades as well.
While many audiophiles would scoff at the notion of wireless headphones, Master & Dynamic manages a level of detail and depth in its wireless headphones that challenges the notion that high-fidelity music can only be transmitted over wires.
M&D’s notable products:
- MW60 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones – $549 at www.masterdynamic.com
- MW50 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones – $449 at www.masterdynamic.com
- ME05 Earphones – $199 at www.masterdynamic.com
Astell&Kern is the pinnacle of audio perfection that all audiophiles wish to own. Its products aren’t cheap, but they are breathtaking.
Astell&Kern pursuit is to provide the natural and original sound without distortion. It offers almost the exact presence with tiny details you wouldn’t have noticed from other music systems by playing back high-resolution music bit for bit, exactly as it was recorded. The exact sound without missing any bit of the live performance in recordings is what Astell&Kern is known for.
Most of your earbuds have one driver that puts out all of the sound – the highs, mids and lows. Astell&Kern’s Layla II custom balanced earphones have 12 drivers per ear for a total of 24 drivers. That’s the kind of passion and perfection that almost qualifies as insanity. Quad low, quad mid and quad high balanced armatures make for an audio experience I have yet to replicate.
Notable Astell&Kern products:
- AK380 Media player – $3499 at Astell&Kern and Amazon
- AK70 Media player – $599 at Astell&Kern and Amazon
- Layla II Earphones – $2999 at Astell&Kern and Amazon
- Angie II Earphones – $1399 at Astell&Kern and Amazon
- XB10 High quality Bluetooth dongle: $189 at Astell&Kern and Amazon
Jerry Harvey Audio
If I found out I only had a few months left on earth, I would splurge on a set of Jerry Harvey Audio Custom fit monitors.
Jerry Harvey got his start in audio when he designed custom monitors for legendary artist Van Halen. Back in a time when custom monitors were in their infancy, Jerry Harvey was a pioneer engineer who was behind Ultimate Ears and Jerry Harvey Audio. While Ultimate Ears was purchased by Logitech, Jerry went on to create heavenly audio products that every single audiophile has on their bucket list. Jerry Harvey Audio partnered with Astell&Kern to create the products like the Layla II, except those aren’t custom fit.
At Jerry Harvey Audio is where you will find the list of custom fit monitors that many in the audio industry turn to for the extreme level of detail. You can get your own set of monitors that are perfectly molded to your ear canals.
Notable Jerry Harvey Audio products:
HIFIMAN is one of the newcomers on the block, but offers incredible sound for the price. I’m a huge fan of its use of planar magnetic drivers which overcome the limitations of cone drivers. I honestly don’t understand the planar magnetic technology, but know it has incredible detail that is unmatched by traditional headphones.
HIFIMAN was founded by audio legend Dr. Fian Bang in 2005. Since then he has demanded the most from his products and has created a following of loyal audiophiles that expect perfection. HIFIMAN makes a wide range of products – headphones, earbuds, Hi-Res players, desktop audio systems and more.
Notable HIFIMAN products:
- HE1000 V2 Headphones – $2999 at HIFIMAN and Amazon
- HE400i Headphones – $449 at HIFIMAN and Amazon
- HM-901s Portable Music Player – $1499 at HIFIMAN and Amazon
- Edition S Headphones – $249 at HIFIMAN and Amazon
AUDEZE LCD series headphones are some of the best in the world. Its audio quality is driving the high-end audio industry more than any other company on the planet.
Audeze’s origins go back to 2008 when founders Sankar Thiagasamudram and Alexander Rosson met engineer Pete Uka who developed specialized flexible circuit materials for NASA. They quickly realized the material might be perfect for headphones. That’s when Dragoslav Colich, who has 30+ years’ experience in designing planar drivers, joined the team as CTO to create the LCD-1 headphone.
The LCD-1 deserves to be in the audio hall of fame (if one existed). It is one of the most influential headphones of all time as it was hand-made with the ultimate quality and materials. It used the planar magnetic technology that gave them detail that was unmatched in 2008. AUDEZE followed up the LCD-1 with award winning headphones and continues to push the envelop. It is even releasing the world’s first planar magnetic earbuds (AUDEZE if you’re reading this, please send me a set!).
Notable AUDEZE products: