Top 10 Christmas 2014 picks

Top 10 Christmas 2014 picks from mark2410

So, Christmas is near upon us and in keeping with tradition, that is buying stuff, here are my musings on things that would make a great present.  That present, be it for your very good self or some other whom is dear to your heart.

1:  Right now I think my first two are those that most immediately spring to mind and by the toss of a coin it in the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ears.  They have pretty much a bit of everything going for them in terms of a gift.  They have a big and recognisable brand name, they look the part, they feel premium and to top it off, they sound great.  Sure for proper audiophiles they are too heavy in the bass but for most people this isn’t any kind of problem, for many it’s likely a great big plus.  Then just to pile on some icing to that cake, they come in an actual android compatible version as well as the obligatory apple version.  All in all I cannot for see anyone on Christmas morn unwrapping a pair of these and being at all unhappy about it.

2:  The looser of the coin toss is none other than the RHA MA-750.  These many not have the Momentums Android controls nor is it quite so massive in the bass.  For budding audio purists, these have a balance that is much more even.  The bass is still large and of wondrous quality but they also a have a most scintillating treble.  The build quality of them too is a true stand out feature and they put even the big branded Sennheisers to shame, with their crafted aluminium enclosures that you could tell people they cost 3 or 4 times what they do and I bet they would believe you.  To get such a good sounding pair with such visual quality too make these a truly excellent present option.

3:  This I’m going to make a joint choice.  No round up with audiophile pretensions could ever hope to exclude an offering from HiFiMAN.  The RE-400 and RE-600 are in many ways untouchable but in a couple areas have problems.  The 400 has, next to the likes of the MA-750, not such pleasing build quality, not even close.  The 600 is much better, but it’s much more pricey (normally, they have a sale on which is substantial.)  Where these shine though is in their sound quality.  The 400 right now is US$80.  I can tell you there in no IEM I know of that will come anywhere near the audio quality of the 400’s for this money.  Likewise, the current sale of the 600 for only US$200 again will just trounce everything before it.  Everyone on earth with even the slightest audiophile pretension should at the least hear one of these and really ought to own one too.

N.B.  I have not quite yet heard the RE-300 (I’m told one is in the post to me) but I would be willing to bet, given HiFiMAN’s history that they too will be excellent.

4:  Dunu DN-1000.  This won’t be the first in this list you’ll see DUNU get a mention, in the last few years they have come from nowhere and have mastered the art of putting together a great package.  Every single aspect of things they just get so right.  They look great, they have a great bundle and they sound phenomenal.  The bass is so controlled yet powerful, mids are explicit and highs dazzle.  Then to crown things they come in at a price that puts western brands to shame.  I know that DUNU is a silly name, I mean what the hell does Delicate, Utmost and Unique actually mean?  I don’t know, maybe in Chinese its poetic?  Never mind, because once the recipient gets to hear them they won’t give a fig over the lack of Chinese word smithery.

5:  Well here is another DUNU.  This time it’s the DN-2000 and yes I know that on paper they are not all that different from the 1000, they just take what the 1000 did and scale everything up.  They scale it up a lot too.  These just sound so much more grandiose and symphonic in their presentation in a way that makes them appear so much more than mere IEM’s.  These are too keenly priced for this height of quality and give you the traditional excelent all round package from DUNU.  Name aside these simply have zero aspects that you can count as a negative.  I know they aren’t the cheapest but you get something so much grander for your money.


6:  This one is a bit of a fudge because technically I saw it last year but as the review was last edited on the 24th or November and it’s also the 24th today I’m going to sneak it in.  It’s the Firestone Audio BlackKey.  I realise it’s not a product that a lot would actually have a use for but……. If you are someone that listens to music from out of the headphone socket on your laptop, then I’m telling you now, that thing sounds crap.  Laptop makers don’t care about audio so they skimp on the quality  the little BlackKey just slots into a USB socket and sounds fantastic.  Sure its little excitable and a little V shaped but it’s going to likely be an epic leap up on what you were subjecting yourself to.  Also, it’s just such a dinky little thing and has the potential to make a massive difference for users so what isn’t to love about it?

7:  This is a bit of a new one but it’s the RockJaw Arcana V2.  The V2 is a grand wee beast of an IEM.  It’s got a fantastically enthusiastic and bouncy style and is so very keenly priced given how much detail it can spit out at you too.  Then to go one better it just happens to look rather lovely too.  The wood thing has cropped up time and again and I think is likely more a visual thing than anything else but so what.  These sound great, they look great and come in at a price that I think puts them into that wee little extra / stocking stuffer price category.  I am quite sure everyone would like finding a pair of these with their name on it come Christmas morning.

8a:  I was going to go for just things I’d seen this year but I don’t care, this one goes in.  The NuForce NE-600X.  I realise this is mostly one for those in the US and it’s down to pricing.  On Amazon US you can get a pair of these for US$14.  These are dirt cheap and other than being way, way too bassy, sound just amazing for that price.  These are so the sort of thing you could get for a kid or two.  Something that can show music can sound good on the go and without you having to worry the kids will kill an expensive pair of earphones.  For the money these are available for in the US it’s just stupidly good value.

8b:  Since I picked something that’s only so cheap in the US here is one for this side of the Atlantic.  The Radiopaq Classical.  It along with its sibling, the Jazz are available in the UK for stupidly, stupidly cheap prices. Varying a bit, Argos on ebay has the Jazz for £6 and Amazon UK has the Clasical for £6 too.  These are so underrated because they never were available outside the UK and because the two awesome ones are the Jazz and the Classical.  So the names were off putting and the Rock ones were terrible.  The Jazz and Clasical are both similar, Only that the Jazz is the more bassy of the two and the Classical a bit more trebly.  Both are insanely good value for money.

9:  This one I hesitated to add but I love how it sounds so much I couldn’t stop myself.  The Brainwavz R3.  Now to look at them you might think, holy ****, who the F is going to wear them!  I get that, these look “different” and they are not tiny little things that just melt away visually.  They are big and they look like nothing else around.  So why are they here?  Well because once in your ears, you know they are actually really quite comfy and you can’t see them when they’re in your ears so looks aren’t such a big deal.  Oh yes and they sound simply beautiful.  As big and weird as they look, they sound just so sublimely delicate and genteel on the ear, they just make everything sound so achingly beautiful.  Sure it’s not a party beast so bass heads wont love it but for more mature tastes its silk for your ears.  I love it and it’s probably what I have personally liked most of all the things I’ve heard this year.

10:  Last of all I have one you might not have thought would have been picked by me.  It is the Brainwavz S0.  So why have I picked the S0 given it’s really not something I loved?  Well the S0 is a most excellent crowd pleaser, it’s not an audiophile pleaser, it excels nowhere in particular and in no particular way.  It’s very easy to dismiss it has having no stand out, appealing aspect that it just shines in.  It does everything quite well and as such holds minimal audiophile appeal.  This though is a gift idea list and I would wager that your average chap or chapette would greatly enjoy the musical styling’s of the S0.  Big party bass, enthusiastic mids and glittery highs.  It nails what I think an ordinary person wants and it comes with a fantastic wee bundle for the money.  Whats not to like?

I know I should stop things here, but well, there is a couple of “honourable mentions” I wanted to add.  They are things I greatly like but for one reason or another are something that I would hesitate to suggest as a gift to buy someone else.

First up we have the FiiO X3.  It is a great sounding DAP.  It is a great little DAC for your computer.  It is a fantastic combo device and for a good price too.  So why is it not above?  Well, its not a looker and not everyone wants a separate DAP.  Phones are the king convergence device and many just don’t want to carry something else with them.

Second we have the Audiofly AF180.  It is pretty easily the “best” sounding thing I’ve heard this year.  Why isn’t it in the list then?  It is expensive, really expensive and it is in no way a generalist that your average teen who’s never heard a BA driver before is going to appreciate.  It is a squarely premium product that requires a little discernment and that, for me, makes it something you should buy for yourself and not for anyone else.  (Well I suppose unless they have told you they want it.)

Third the HM-650.  I freakin’ love how it sounds with some caveats.  It’s awesome.  However its flaws, oh my they are some stunners.  First, the not everyone wants a separate DAP issue.  Then the battery life is just terrible, just awful.  Then to the reason its battery is as it is, the thing doubles as a hand warmer.  Sure, a plus in winter but it’s a DAP than has heating vents!  Then the UI, while it’s not utterly terrible it’s a far cry from elegant. Oh and it’s fugly.  It is an extremely specialised device.

Then last of all we have an old, old favourite of mine.  It’s the tiny little Soundmagic PL-50.  It is a teeny tiny little marvel and in its class has the best mid range for the money.  The trouble is, it bass output while fine for me is sure as hell not going to put a smile on everyone’s face.  Buying for someone else unless you know them super well is just a bad idea.

So there we go.  If anyone has any specific questions feel free to ask and I’ll have a go at assisting.  The key thing to remember though is, if you’re buying for someone else and they don’t have audiophile leanings then pick a safe and solid bet.

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