Acoustic Research AR-H1 Open Planar Magnetic Headphones Page 2

AcousticResearch_ARH1_Photo_InCase

Sound Quality
Bass on the Acoustic Research AR-H1 is tight, undistorted, and well extended. I do like a modestly elevated bass and the AR-H1 is flat, but open headphones rarely have an elevated bass response so no knocks there. Plenty of nuance and texture here, decent power handling as well. Bass is the strong point for these headphones.

Midrange is a little rough and sometimes hard sounding—especially at higher volumes—but the big problem is the upper midrange/low treble (1kHz-3kHz) is somewhat recessed causing the overall tone to lack presence and seem a little distant. Vocals are also somewhat lackluster due to reduced overtones that reside in this area.

While the lower treble is somewhat subdued, there is a fairly strong response peak in the 8kHz-12kHz area, which creates a sort of high frequency splashy sound around cymbals and sibilant vocal sounds. The peak is high enough in frequency not to create a piercing character, but it does become tiresome after listening for a while.

I have seen some comments on-line claiming very deep and wide imaging for the AR-H1. My experience switching between the AR-H1, Audeze LCD-2 Classic, and MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open was that the latter two headphones did a significantly better job of creating a coherent image portraying the whole of the music, while the AR-H1 image was more discontinuous and confused. It may have givent he impression of more space, but, to me, this seemed more due to the missing presence region causing an artificial perception of distance rather than well controlled depth and width.

The bass had nice dynamic punch, but punch in the midrange was overshadowed by the hardness that could be fairly wince-inducing at higher volumes. The Audeze LCD-2 Classic, HiFiMAN HE400S, and especially the MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open were much smoother and coherent sounding headphones.

Five years ago the AR-H1 would have been a pretty good headphone...today, not so much. MrSpeakers, Audeze, and HiFiMAN were born, and have been living face-to-face, in the acid soup of headphone enthusiasts. All three have taken their lumps, learned lessons, and refined their designs and manufacturing processes. They're well aware of all the details that need to be ticked off to make an enthusiast worthy headphone.

My guess is Acoustic Research saw the market opportunity in the $500-$1000 segment—it's been damned near empty for a while—and figured their brand name and industrial design chops would give them entre. So, they likely went to an ODM/OEM headphone supplier and gave it a shot. To be fair, they did a decent job. But getting it right, really right, right enough to win over the headphone enthusiast crowd, is a lot harder than it looks. The AR-H1 doesn't quite cut the mustard for me.

Summary
At first blush the Acoustic Research AR-H1 seemed like a promising open, over-ear, planar magnetic headphone. The look, materials, and build quality are quite good. Unfortunately, long listening sessions brought out comfort problems with an over-tensioned headband and earpads that were not deep enough to prevent my ers from touching the magnet structure. The cable and carry case seem underwhelming at this price.

Bass response is good, but lack of upper-midrange/low-treble presence gave a distant sound to vocals that lacked overtone proportion. The mid-treble was marred be a fairly strong response around 10kHz giving a high frequency splashy sound to cymbals and sibilance. Fortunately it's not piercing.

Five years ago this would have been a decent addition to the price point—well, there was virtually nothing there—but in todays world I'd shell out the extra $200 for the significantly superior MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open or Audeze LCD-2 Classic. Though it's a little bass-light, the HiFiMAN HE400S is a significantly smoother sounding headphone at half the price.

Video
Watch on YouTube

Resources
Acoustic Research High-Fidelity home page and AR-H1 product page.
Head-Fi.org impressions thread.
SBAF impressions thread.

COMPANY INFO
Acoustic Research High Fidelity Audio
3502 Woodview Trace
Indianapolis, IN 46268
+1 (844) 353-1307
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
zobel's picture

AR will learn from this. We are saved from looking further into this headphone. Thanks.

luvmusik's picture

Thank you for this review.

Is there anything in common with the Oppo PM-2, other than visual features ?

Jazz Casual's picture

Those measurements don't look good.

thefitz's picture

I thought you only reviewed stuff you liked, only saving negative reviews for egregiously bad headphones (i.e. Ultrasone Edition 10) or flagships with crazy hype (LCD-4). Why would you ask for a sample and throw them under the bus?

If that review philosophy's changed, please review the HD700.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
What can I say, they had promise when I listened at RMAF. I think I've mentioned "newsworthy" at some point regarding reviewing less-than-very-good headphones. This is a slot heating up and if I hadn't weighed in on the AR-H1 I think it would be unresponsive of me.

Okay, my review of the HD 700: Ouch! Way too bright and piercing.

tony's picture

You kept a good many folks from HD700 Sennheisers annnnnnd a good many other rather pricy headphones.

I know folks that purchased the HD700 in spite of your review, who later describe their disappointments but still moved onto the HD800.

I only recall a 'few' headphones that our Tyll loved, the rest of the 'liked' were because of their price/performance equations.

Tony in Michigan

coastman25's picture

You are fond of referring to Tyll as “our Tyll”. Who’s Tyll, surely his own Tyll, I would suggest. He is already in between a hard place & a rock. Dammed if he does & dammed if he doesn’t.
It seems to me perfectly acceptable that Tyll reviews not only possible candidates for the WOF but also intriguing and less likely candidates. I am sure he, along with us all, delights in finding headphones that on first appearance seem duds but on further investigation prove to be pleasant surprises and indeed visa versa.
AR was a respectable and even highly regarded speaker maker way back in the 70s & 80’s. For sure, the present owners want to trade on that heritage and why not. A planer magnetic headphone at this price wants to be taken seriously and with a respected brand name is bound to get attention.
If there is a problem with Tyll’s reviews, which there isn’t. I suggest it has more to do with his desire to cover all bases ie not just be a headphone reviewer but in addition comment on news, devices, trends, development, a better measurement system and establishing an upper & lower audiophile benchmark etc etc.
At least Tyll has his headphone reviewer hat on for a while so we should rejoice at that. One down and two to go.

tony's picture

Tyll reports on the Future stuff, placed in the Context of our shared histories.

Tyll is "Our" Tyll in the sense that he's one of us, representing "Our" interests, sharing "Our" aspirations, kinda leading us on a exploration of this new world of personal audio, showing us the mis-steps to avoid, pointing out the interesting bits. Tyll is "Our" Man in Headphones !

Doubling Down

Right now, our Tyll is the only one reporting on what happens after the ear converts sound into electricity which then travels to the Brain to be processed. This is an important component to Personal Audio ( all of Audio) and it's a part of the work my Audiologist is describing to me in explanation for my changing hearing curve responses. ? Why is my 8khz hearing response curve tapering down as I age?, which is just one noticeable & measurable aspect of human hearing.

No-one understands the Ear/Brain relationship

My brain prefers dynamic drivers, well recorded Music or Live Acoustic Music releases Dopamine in my brain, I don't know why, neither do my UofM Audiologists. We might be decades away from understanding our Brains. Innerfidelty is one of the few places where the Ear/Brain relationship is described in the context of gear, thanks to "Our" Tyll.

21st. Century Tony

tony's picture

AR is a Brand owned by the VOXX Group ( about $700 Million in Sales ), once the Audiovox Branding.

There are 5 products within the AR Brand, all are Chinesium based.

VOXX is a OEM type company.

Tony in Michigan

ps. AR's packaging is the best part, it looks Japanese.

wiinippongamer's picture

Measures like a bad T50RP mod

mariscosyketchup's picture

When I grow up, I want to be like Tyll (or at least, a similar beard), wonderful review as always.
Keep doing the good job, thanks for being so honest!

Acoustic Research HiFi's picture

Dear Tyll:

Thanks for taking the time to review the AR H1. We are disappointed that you were not thrilled with the product, but we appreciate your feedback, especially as it relates to what you would like to see in a future product.

Like all of our DAPs and in-ear monitors, the H1 was designed in-house by engineers dedicated to the Acoustic Research HiFi brand. Our goal is to design and market audio products that are true to the vision of AR's founders. Though we agree that quality headphones in the $500 - $1,000 range are not as common as they should be, we didn't have a specific price range in mind when first developing the H1. Instead, we set out to create a planar headphone that can go head-to-head with the most popular products in the category.

Since first delivering the H1 earlier this year, sales have been brisk, and feedback overwhelmingly positive. As much as we hoped you, too, would be a fan of the product, we're happy you took the time to give it a fair assessment.

Thanks again for spending some time with our headphone. We hope you have a chance to review some of our other models sometime soon.

nadtom's picture

I’m a happy owner of the AR-H1.
I ordered an AR-H1 and a HD700 same time to compare them.
My audio system: Bodor Audio PC + Audiobyte Hydra Z USB Bridge + Hegel HD12 dac/preamp (+NAD M25 power amp + Elac 249.3).
According to the reviews what I have read the HD700 was my favorite.
After few days test I had to say that the AR-H1 is definitely in an other (much) higher category, then the HD700.
The sound of AR-H1 is open, clear, airy, detailed, natural. Texture of bass is rich, goes very deep, punchy but precise, the sound stage is wide.
(sorry because of my English)

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