Holiday Gift Guides 2023 – Personal Audio

As our readers know, we are huge fans of headphones and earphones. For a fraction of the cost of a good Hi-Fi system for the home, wonderful headphones starting at a few hundred dollars and incredibly close in quality to those costing ten times as much. Add in some wonderful DACs, and great audio is impossible to miss. The Audeze MM-500 and Audeze MM-100 Planar Magnetic Headphones are high on Santa’s list, and the Audeze Maxwell Wireless Gaming Headset is the best sounding gaming headphone we have ever heard. Want a great sounding sounding, incredibly comfortable headphone at a bargain price, check out the Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt Closed Back Dynamic Headphones. Need a handy pair of inexpensive Bluetooth headphones, check out the iLive Active Noise Cancellation Bluetooth Headphones. One of the most interesting sport headphones we’ve tested at the Cleer ARC II Sport Smart Open Ear True Wireless Headphone, which allows you to hear the outside world, yet music and voice come through clearly. Read on for our full reviews!


Audeze MM-500 Professional Planar Magnetic Headphones & Audeze Maxwell Wireless Gaming Headset

As our readers know, we are fans of Audeze’s headphone line. From innovative products like their AI powered speakerphone, the Filter, to their cutting edge CRBN electrostatic headphones, Audeze products continually create new boundaries.

The Audeze Maxwell Gaming Headset is easily the best sounding gaming headset we’ve ever heard. It comes in two versions - Sony PlayStation or Xbox. Although the headphones are the same, the dongle is what differentiates them. They work perfectly with a computer, but for console use, just choose the appropriate one. At the present time you can’t purchase the Microsoft dongle, so if you have both platforms, you might have to settle for one until Audeze makes the adapter available. Either way, it’s chock full of the latest technology, so no matter what you have, even the Nintendo Switch, it’s going to make the gaming lover in your life happy. As a standard headphone for music, it certainly has its chops down. Clear, concise, and accurate, the made-in-the-USA planar drivers are wonderful instruments. They have all the latest in fancy tech features that make gaming come alive from all angles, and pinpoint audio accuracy with the latest games.

For more information on the Audeze Maxwell Gaming Headset visit:

It’s big news when Audeze introduces a new headphone, and last year’s introduction of the MM-500 Professional Electrostatic Headphone, designed in conjunction with fourteen-time Grammy winner Manny Marroquin, was big news. Lighter, with a cleaner aesthetic than previous Audeze models, the MM-500 is ideal not only for the mixing board, but for audiophiles. They are accurate and flat, yet not boring as some studio monitors can be. In extended listening they are comfortable, good looking, and beautifully made. They ship with one of Audeze’s trademark black cases, form fitting foam, and cables.

We were hoping to review the new Audeze MM-100 Professional Headphones which at under $400 are on high on the gift lists of many audiophiles, but demand has outstripped production, so that review will have to wait. When I’ve had the chance to listen to them at shows and at the Audeze offices, they seemed to be wonderful all-around headphones at an affordable price.

The MM-500 is capable of extraordinary definition, and we tested it with a variety of DACs and headphone amps. No matter what music we threw at them, they excelled, with the lighting-quick response and airiness associated with planar magnetic drivers, and as open and airy as one may expect with excellent soundstage. The materials are first rate, as are their fit and finish. As one of the first companies to promote the technology, few get planar as right as Audeze does on a regular basis. Although part of their Professional Series and marketed toward recording engineers and musicians, we consider them perfect for the discerning audiophile. Highly recommended.

For more information on the Audeze MM-500 Professional Headphones visit:


Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt Closed Back Dynamic Headphones

We are big Dekoni fans. Of course most of our experience with Dekoni has been through their line of replacement pads for headphones, and earphones. All of our Sony headphones now sport Dekoni pads with an increase in quality and comfort, as do some of our Sennheisers, which seem to have self-destructing pads. A couple of years ago they partnered with Fostex and created a lovely set of planar magnetics, the Dekoni x Fostex Blue. This year they partnered with HIFIMAN, to create the Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt Closed Back Dynamic Headphones which are a traditional design, using carbon coated diaphragms, fenestrated sheepskin pads, and early models shipped with a free set of Elite Velour pads. Are they comfortable? Absolutely.

They are so comfy that they remind me of sitting in my father’s Lincoln Town Car in the 70s with those plush seats you could barely get out of. It took a few days to break them in, which I did by just letting music play through them night and day. They are well made, with large blue plastic ear cups, and the sound has that nice dynamic punch one expects. They aren’t overly boomy, but the bass punch works for different genres of music. We found that they were efficient, working well with a variety of small DACs like the EarMan Angel, EarMan Colibri, Zorloo ZuperDAC Pro, and the iFi Go Link. Volume levels were more than adequate, and we rocked out without disturbing anyone nearby. While you are checking them out on the Dekoni website, don’t miss all their other products from their Bulletz-In-Ear Tips to their extensive line of headphone pads.

For more information on the Dekoni x Hifiman Cobalt Closed Back Dynamic Headphones visit:


iLive Active Noise Cancellation Bluetooth Headphone

iLive has an attractively priced noise canceling headphone. With a promised fifteen-hour battery life, active noise cancelation, USB cable, headphone cable, A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile),

and available in a variety of colors (Black, Rose Gold, Blue), built-in microphone, and a 33-foot range. They’re MSRP is $49.99, but we’ve seen them for sale as low as $30, and at that price they are a solid choice. We found it worked good, was tough, and easy to use.

For more information on the iLive Active Noise Cancellation Bluetooth Headphones visit:


Cleer ARC II Sport Smart Open Ear True Wireless Headphone

Cleer garnered a following after their introduction of the ARC headphones. Following on the heels of that success is the Cleer ARC II, which improves on the original model in a number of ways. The real story with these units aren’t the improvements, but the overall design, which is unique in that it doesn’t block the ear canal. But these aren’t like the ear pods of old. These wrap about the back of your ears, with a hinged flat flap holding the drivers against your open ear canals. Thus you can hear the outside world, yet the fidelity is very good. The feature list is right out of an audiophile playbook.

The ARC II has aptX™ Lossless technology, Snapdragon Sound™ certification and LE Audio compatibility, aptX™ Adaptive, wind noise reduction, and the included Bluetooth Multipoint connectivity is great. If you are wondering that that means, it’s that two people can both share the same source. Perfect for a pair running together who want to share music or a podcast. It comes in a nice cloth-covered charging case, with a UV-C light to kill bacteria while charging, perfect for that sweaty workout. The ARC II has eight hours of battery life, and the case adds another 27 hours. I was able to use it during several long flights recently without missing a beat. It meets the IPX5 standard so they are water-resistant and sweat proof, and has a cool feature that we wish more products have - an anti-loss detection feature, so lost earbuds will beep, which is super helpful if you drop or misplace one! Lastly, the Cleer+ app has a step counter, battery monitor, and an equalizer to adjust the sound to your liking.

We both found them a bit odd at first, but the longer we wore them the more natural they felt, and the lack of fatigue was noticeable. Nancy found the open air sound important on her walks, as she doesn’t think it’s safe to be too isolated from the noises around you especially on city streets. The Cleer ARC II Sport Smart Open Ear True Wireless Headphones are a great choice for the active person in your life. Offering the latest in Bluetooth technology and features, with a finely tuned audio signature, they’ll make a great gift!

For more information on the Cleer ARC II Sport Smart Open Ear True Wireless Headphones visit:


Status Between 3 ANC Triple Driver Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Earbuds

A new name in personal audio, Status manufacturers three models, with the Between 3 ANC their flagship. With a host of audiophile features and tuning, they are packed with current tech. With triple driver performance, active noise cancelling, transparency mode that allows the outside world inside instantly, and wireless charging, they meet the bill for a high-quality true wireless design. They are rated at 8 hours of continuous audio playback with ANC on, and 12 hours of playback with ANC off. They claim hybrid active noise cancellation up to 38 decibels. Two balanced armature drivers and one dynamic driver in each earbud provide for a wide frequency response.

Traditionally, balanced armatures are known for a lighting quick response due to their loss mass. Dynamic drivers are favored for their dynamic punch, especially with drums and percussion. So, the trend has been to combine the two for a wide dynamic ranges, coupled with a smooth frequency response. Stylish with a smooth finish, rectangular design, and supplied with multiple ear tips in different sizes, we had no problem finding the right fit. Happy in the rain, they carry a IPX-5 water resistance rating.

Status advertises their use of high quality components and while we didn’t want to dissect ours sample units, but the assembled model exudes high quality. Calls were clear, even in fairly noisy environments, helped no doubt by six beam-forming microphones with environmental noise reduction (ENR). Bluetooth 5.2 allows for multi-point connectivity, and wireless and Type-C USB charging. They are supplied with a charging case, for a well appointed overall package. Available in two colors, Bone and Onyx, the Status Between 3 ANC Triple Driver Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Earbuds come Highly Recommended.

For more information the Status Between 3 ANC Triple Driver Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Earbuds visit:


Harris Fogel, Nancy Burlan, and Frank Schramm, posted 12/05/2023