Audiophiles that have been saving their money on that perfect endgame headphone received a wider selection to choose from this year. This year, some of the lesser-known brands really made a strong impression on the community, and have overall given us at MajorHiFi some listening experiences that are easy to look back on. Here are some of the selections from this year that helped deliver those experiences.
Starting off this list with a bang. When I first got to hear the Meze Elite I knew it was going to be special. Listening to this wonderful open-back headphone gave me one of my favorite listening experiences this year, with its phenomenal soundstage and almost overwhelming detail. Its width is impressive and its height even more impressive, properly conveying an immersive sound field that goes beyond its stereo limits. The bass displays a tight and balanced response, while not being afraid to deliver smooth textures and a heightened coloration thanks to the present sub-bass.
The rest of the midrange and treble timbre is incredibly natural and crisp, showcasing airy vocals and a sparkly coloration. Have I mentioned the look? The Elite screams high-end, with its silver frame made from CNC aluminum. They’ve also found a way to make these headphones incredibly lightweight too, as wearing them for long hours feels like a breeze. If you’ve got the money to invest in the Meze Elite, you’ll never look back.
Stealth drivers have made a significant impact this year, with the Dan Clark Stealth starting this trend. Everything about the Stealth makes it out to be Dan Clark’s most premium headphones to date, with a price point to reflect that. Of course, you definitely get that feeling listening to the Stealth as well. These stealth magnets allow signals to pass through the planar driver without creating any significant noise or interference, and that’s what makes these headphones extraordinarily clean in their response.
This closed-back headphone delivers great depth that reveals a ton of realism and accuracy, while not withholding a sense of scale. The bass is clear and not overblown, providing a distinct pool of frequencies that really come alive. By far the biggest standout of the Stealth is its midrange, which produces a lifelike tonality that’s hard to not be enthralled by. Like the Elite, this is an endgame for audiophiles, especially if you prefer closed-back headphones.
Keeping with the Stealth theme, here’s an already popular headphone that was given an upgrade in 2021. HiFiMAN has taken its acclaimed Arya model and given it the Stealth magnet treatment, which changed enough of its sound characteristics to be considered a new headphone. In fact, this new 3rd version offers a significantly different experience according to my ears, and it makes the Arya a different headphone altogether. Firstly, the soundstage appears a lot closer to your head, and while it’s nowhere near congested, the Arya Stealth provides a more accurate display of spatial imaging. The last Arya model had a much more floaty feel, but that goes away with the Stealth, and hopefully, that will help bring a new audience to the Arya that might not have heard its greatness before.
2021 is the year I was introduced to Kennerton, and although there was a lot to choose from for this list, nothing stuck out to me as the Gjallarhorn GH 50 did. These wooden closed-back headphones barely resemble their isolated nature when experiencing these horn drivers. For its price, the GH50 offers one of the widest and deepest images for a closed-back sound signature. It excels in providing an outward headspace that likens itself more to open-back headphones than its closed-back principle. Its bass is tight but impactful while the mids and highs offer excellent coloration and are richly layered for an engaging tonality and a crisp timbre. This is still a premium audiophile headphone in my eyes, but its $1,299 price point is actually the most reasonable, giving you a fantastic value.
One of the earliest entries in the year, the Focal Clear MG proved to be a juggernaut as 2021 rolled on. As an upgrade from the original Clear, the MG provides great depth and transparency that only Focal can deliver. The soundstage forms a great bubble of sound that feels both immersive and accurate while featuring a dynamic bass that feels versatile and lively. Parts of the midrange lean warm but are extremely well detailed in their timbre, offering only the highest fidelity. Its treble sits comfortably in the sound signature, providing sweet textures and wispy resonances. This is also one of the best-looking headphones I’ve ever seen, with that stylish honeycomb grille, and solid aluminum yoke. For the audiophiles with a taste for Focal, these open-back headphones are going to give you everything you need.
If you own one of these headphones and love how it works for you, comment in the forum below and let us know your favorite audiophile headphones.