By Todd Anderson on Nov 22, 2017 at 10:57 AM
  1. Todd Anderson

    Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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    Acoustic Research AR-H1 Planar Magnetic Headphones Review

    Manufacturer & Model:
    Acoustic Research AR-H1 Hi-Res Headphones with Planar Magnetic Technology
    MSRP:
    $599
    Link:
    http://www.acousticresearch-hifi.com
    Highlights:
    Planar magnetic driver with a neodymium magnet array, open-back circumaural design, lite weight, luxurious soft-touch surfaces, comfortable fit, easy to drive, excellent full range sound that’s equally weighted from highs to lows, attractive price point.
    Summary:
    The AR-H1 is Acoustic Research’s first headphone model. Utilizing planar magnetic drivers, the AR-H1 delivers evenly balanced sound that extends well below 20Hz. The headphone’s open-back design further improves sound quality by introducing an open and airy soundstage. We tested the AR-H1 with two sources (including a simple iPhone) and found it was easy to drive and sounded phenomenal. The headphone’s luxurious build quality made for hours of comfortable listening, and its reasonable price tag allows for entry into Hi-Fi playback for under $600.
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    There’s something magical about hearing your favorite tunes played on a great pair of high-end headphones, but for many enthusiasts the prospect of dumping a grand (or more) on such a small piece of gear is downright discouraging. Luckily, there are companies that take quality sound and wallet-friendliness to heart, crafting true Hi-Fi products without exorbitant price tags. Earlier this year, Acoustic Research (AR) threw its hat into the high-end headphone ring by introducing its new AR-H1 Hi-Res Headphones with Planar Magnetic Technology. Tagged at $599 (MSRP), the AR-H1 is a breath of fresh air that occupies a sparsely populated price point.


    Meet The AR-H1
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    Acoustic Research has been in the audio game for some 70 years, originally making its name with well-regarded Hi-Fi speaker designs. Now owned by Voxx International Corporation, the company’s modern-day portfolio is loaded with a host of wireless speaker, connectivity, and power options, in addition to a growing number of products developed by its “High End and Digital Division.” AR’s high-performance personal audio offerings include a range of Hi-Res players and a USB-DAC, and 2017 saw the arrival of the AR-H1 – the company’s first-ever headphone model.

    The heart of the AR-H1 is two 86mm planar magnetic drivers paired with neodymium magnet arrays, delivering specified performance from 10Hz to 70kHz. Sound quality and spaciousness is further enhanced by an open-back over-ear design. And to broaden the headphone’s usability, it carries a relatively low impedance (33 ohms) and high sensitivity (100 dB@1Vrms) giving it the ability to be used with handheld and portable audio devices.


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    It’s important to reiterate the AR-H1’s open-back design. While the headphone plays nicely with portable devices, it doesn’t offer the same level of privacy or discreetness delivered by traditional closed-back headphones or earbuds. That means external environmental noise can contaminate your listening experience, and anyone in your immediate vicinity can hear your tunes, too. Not so bad if you’re out walking the dog, but not great if you’re trying to enjoy music at the local coffee shop.


    Out Of The Box
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    Being a huge fan of the unboxing experience, I was excited to find the AR-H1 ships in quality – well-designed – packaging; Acoustic Research deserves recognition for making it present like a special product. The headphones are shipped nestled safely inside a large box stamped with a silver logo, protected by a thick black outer sleeve adorned with various markings and graphics. Once opened, a satin tab lifts a separate inner lid to reveal the headphones.

    You can watch the entire unboxing process by clicking on the video image below.





    My initial out-of-the-box impressions of the AR-H1 were exceedingly positive. The headphone looks every bit the part of total luxury Hi-Fi equipment, and its materials and functional design match its appearance. It’s loaded with comfortable appointments, including ultra-plush pleather earpads, an all-leather adjustable headband suspended within a rigid metal frame, and earcups that swivel on two axes for the perfect fit. And its overall construction features extensive use of brushed metals and durable materials.


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    Accessories include a soft suede-esque carry bag, a 1.2-meter audio cable, and a 6.3mm stereo adapter plug. The audio cable is relatively thick and coated with a soft rubberized exterior; it features dual 2.5mm 2-pole connectors on the headphone end, a reinforced Y-split, and a 3.5mm termination housed in a black metal cylinder. The cable is, in fact, my only real complaint about the entire AR-H1 package. It’s construction quality is excellent, but it’s too short (considering some users may want to connect to gear situated more than four-feet away from a seating position).


    Set Up
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    For the vast majority of my listening, I relied on an OPPO UDP-205 4K Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player and various CD and SACD discs. For portable listening, I used an iPhone 6 with music streamed via TIDAL Hi-Fi. Perhaps this is a less sophisticated arrangement than hardcore headphone enthusiasts would typically choose, but the OPPO’s built-in headphone amplifier and ESS SABRE PRO DAC pair for exceptional all-in-one performance and the iPhone makes for a great “real world” audio test.

    Fitting the AR-H1 to my head literally involved gently placing the earcups over my ears; it was that simple. The adjustable leather headband effortlessly slid into place and the swivel earcups instantly situated themselves on the sides of my head. It’s worth mentioning the AR-H1’s overall light weight, headband, and comfortable clamping force all applied little pressure, making for hours upon hours of easy listening. And the oversized earcups (opening is slightly smaller than 2” W x 3” T) and plush earpads left my ears completely free and untouched.

    The AR-H1 is a seriously comfortable headphone, easily matching the comfy nature of significantly more expensive models I’ve demoed at various audio events.


    Listening Impressions
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    (Phish/Elektra Records)

    Materials and fit aside, Acoustic Research absolutely nailed the performance side of the AR-H1’s design. Over a period of weeks, I listened to dozens of my favorite albums and was treated to a spectacular audio show punctuated by detailed and uncolored sound loaded with presence. And the AR-H1’s delivery was silky smooth with lots of depth, completely devoid of fatiguing harshness. They truly are wonderful cans.

    The best sound was experienced while the AR-H1 was fed by the UDP-205, but overall performance when paired with the iPhone 6 wasn’t terribly bad. I was able to coax reasonably loud volume levels from the smaller device without unpleasant sound degradation. That’s a major plus for owners that plan on splitting listening time between a true headphone amp and standard run-of-the-mill portable devices.

    Before we dive into listening impressions, let’s discuss a subjective assessment of the AR-H1’s real-world frequency response capabilities. I use the word “subjective” because I lacked access to a true headphone measurement device during this review. However, I did manage to push low frequency sine waves through the cans, using my ears to gauge results. I experienced pressure changes all the way down to 9 Hz (with the lowest notable frequency being 12.5 Hz) and plenty of audible bass through 20 Hz into the teens. While rather unscientific, my ears tell me that the AR-H1 can dig deep, hitting super low (likely far lower than most music dares to venture).

    Musically speaking, the AR-H1’s clean presentation was an absolute delight, and the extra width of soundstage offered by its open-back design allowed its refined sound to extend into the room. Here are a few notes from listening sessions:

    I spent hours soaking-up Dead Can Dance’s prolific tunes. The 4AD band sounded spectacular as its mesmerizing and enchanting music swirled around my head. I was particularly wowed by wide soundstages and sharp imaging heard during “Yulunga (Spirit Dance)” and “Ariadne,” both of which offered distinct separation of instruments and voices. The underlying depth of sound was perfectly balanced with the music’s crisper side, making for a neutral presentation that didn’t sound top or bottom heavy.

    Reaching a bit further into my musical past, I spun the New Fast Automatic Daffodils’ Pigeonhole, an album I hadn’t entertained in years. What a joy it was to re-experience the Manchester band’s rhythmic vibe through the AR-H1! Richly layered percussions and isolated guitars blended perfectly with the album’s flowing bass. Once again, breadth of sound was phenomenal, anchored by the centrality of singer Andy Spearpoint’s vocals. The album’s semi-distorted textures were all there on beautiful display, from the infectious “Fishes Eyes” to the bass-heavy flow of “Part 4” and tight pulsations of “Big.”

    Keeping in line with the Brit Indie-Pop theme, I also re-explored Primal Scream’s Creation Records catalog. The southern rock inspired Give Out But Don’t Give Up dazzled my ears with a dynamic presentation, transporting me back to the 1990s. “Big Jet Plane” showered my ears with a warm shimmering vibe that balanced perfectly with the song’s horn section. And the bluesy semi-hollow guitar action on “Call on Me” was supremely textured with lovely little rough edges readily apparent.

    Phish’s Billy Breathes has long been a running favorite of mine and – wow – did the AR-H1 do the release justice. The definition of the album’s complex acoustic guitars was wonderfully rich, with the smallest of picking details revealed. Trey Anastasio’s enticing lyrics were surrounded by small little breaths, just as if he was whispering in my ear. And his distressed guitar solos held that wonderful “Trey Tone” so well, loaded with luscious growls and deliciously dirty sound. Of particular note was the exacting definition of fun basslines as heard in songs such as “Theme from the Bottom.” Pure audio candy for the ears.

    For the last act, I pushed the AR-H1 with Ultramarine’s United Kingdoms. While not as bass heavy as some electronica, United Kingdoms allowed the headphone to show off its low-end prowess. “Kingdoms” resulted in smooth flowing basslines that were controlled and limitless, balanced in perfect proportion to the rest of the song. The same was true of “Happy Land,” which also benefited from vocals that appeared exacting and naked. The revealing nature of this album paired with the AR-H1 was mind-bogglingly good, and the purity of the music’s presentation left my ears wanting more!

    Overall, my demo sessions found the AR-H1 to be a highly articulate pair of cans with a sonically neutral capability for balanced playback. With detail abound, my ears adored the headphone’s smooth top end and natural sounding bass. Add to that a soundstage that has zero issues existing outside of the earcups, and the AR-H1 begins to trick your senses into believing it isn’t resting on your head.


    Conclusion
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    The AR-H1 is a fantastic headphone entry by Acoustic Research, scoring big points on multiple fronts. It’s luxuriously comfortable on the head. It plays nicely with a headphone amplifier as well as a simple portable device. It looks great and features impressive craftsmanship and materials. It sounds ridiculously good, punctuated by a detailed sonic presentation comprised of controlled bass, a refined smoothness on the upper end, and a soundstage with a shockingly wide presence. And, last but not least, it carries a reasonable price tag.

    For $599, the AR-H1 delivers entry into a world of true audiophile open-back planar magnetic driver performance. That’s quite a statement unto itself. Based on my experience, it’s a headphone that’s easy to recommend. If you’re in the market for a new pair of cans, the AR-H1 should be on your shortlist!


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    AR-H1 Specifications
    • Genuine leather headband
    • Low resilience ear cushion
    • Interchangeable headphone cable
    • Connectivity options: 3.5mm audio cable or 6.3mm stereo adapter
    • 86mm planar driver with NdFeB magnet array
    • Frequency response: 10Hz to 70,000Hz
    • Total Harmonic Distortion: <1%
    • Sensitivity: 100dB@1Vrms
    • Impedance: 33 ohms
    • Inter-changeable cable interface: Dual 2.5mm
    • Weight: 14 oz
     
    #1 Todd Anderson, Nov 22, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2017
    tripplej likes this.

Comments

Discussion in 'AV Equipment Reviews' started by Todd Anderson, Nov 22, 2017.

    1. tripplej

      tripplej Senior AV Addict

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      Thanks for the review and great write-up. I wonder how they compare to other brands? I use Sennheiser and am very happy with them.
       
    2. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      I have a closed-back Oppo PM-3, XTZ Divine, Panasonic RP-HC700, and a Grado Labs SR80 on hand. They closely resembled the PM-3 (honestly, making me wonder if they share similar bones to the PM family?).

      They had less of weighty end as compared to the PM-3, but a much wider soundstage. Also, must give the AR-H1 the nod to earpard comfort.
       
    3. tripplej

      tripplej Senior AV Addict

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      An idea for this.. Something like the speaker comparison that was done..

      Maybe headphone competition with the various top brands and their best headsets??? Inquiring ears are interested. :)
       
    4. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      Interesting idea!
       
    5. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      Had a question about how these compare to the OPPO PM-1 open back. Tough for me to answer. I've only heard the OPPO PM-1 in a show environment. Not ideal. I did review the PM-2 while it was still in production... my memory of its sound characteristics are a bit rough, but I my gut is telling me that the AR-H1 has a slightly better low end.
       

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