With the AR-H1, Acoustic Research offers its challenger for headphones in the price range between 500-1,000 euros. With these Planar headphones, the company enters new territory.
The AR-H1 impresses with great looks and high-quality workmanship. Fans of lighter tuning get a possible alternative with a solid foundation.
Acoustic Research: the traditional American company is considered one of the pioneers of modern loudspeaker systems. Following several buy-outs, the company has been fully owned by VOXX International Corporation since 2007, a group of companies comprising more than 30 brands. Klipsch, 808 Audio, RCA, Audiovox and Magnat are among them.
Magnetostatic surface spotlights are coming onto the market in ever greater numbers, which is probably why Acoustic Research has dared to take the step towards a full-surface driver. The debut is called AR-H1, has 86 mm drivers, an immense transmission range of 10 Hz – 70 kHz and can be easily operated thanks to 33 Ohm impedance on a variety of players.
The AR-H1 comes in a functional and adequate cardboard box with custom-fit foam cut-outs for the headphones. This includes the headphones themselves, a 1.2 m long headphone cable, a screw-on 6.3 mm jack adapter, a fabric bag for transport and a slimmed down, multilingual user manual.
Feel, Look & Comfort
Magnetic headphones typically weigh much more than dynamic voice coil headphone. The AR-H1 is no exception but weighs in at 416 grams, which is much less than the Audeze LCD-2C (for test purposes). The weight is distributed over the self-adjusting headband made of spring steel and the separately attached to plastic straps and a variable headband with a real leather casing that sits on the head. The self-adjusting headband is problematic for users with a larger head. After a somewhat longer listening time (from about 1 hour onwards), I feel as if the headband is pressing down, which is why I had to put down the headphones again and again—personally, this bothers me.
The headband produces a pleasant lateral pressure, which is evenly distributed around the ear by the memory foam padded and imitation leather-covered ear shells. I can move my head freely and the ear cushions stay in place. Incidentally, the large ear cups are a real eye-catcher. The aluminium housing is held in matte bronze and provided with a glossy finishing line on the outer edge. The strongly rounded rectangular shape is also reproduced by the upholstery. The complementary highlight is the open back of the converter. It is also made of metal and has a structure of equilateral triangles and diamonds, which, as if randomly arranged, give a fascinating pattern that I like to look at again and again. The transitions between the headband and earcup suspension are also bronze and carry the embossed company logo. The ear cups can be easily turned sideways, making them fit well to the head. The height of the padding might be a bit thick for my ears, as my ears touch the driver covers. There are 2.5 mm mono plugs on both sides of the pluggable cable. The plugs cannot be locked and also appear somewhat fragile. The cable length is just right for mobile use, but if I’m listening when stationary, then it might need to be at least half a metre longer. And if I’m already wishing for things, a less stubborn cable would be great too!
Two positive takeaways: firstly, during the test phase, I enjoyed that the AR-H1 produces virtually no mechanical noise and secondly, you can easily swap the ear pads out, as well as upgrade the cable with a third-party alternative.
The AR-H1 scales significantly with the value of the players. While the headphone output of a MacBook is pretty grainy and slightly “stuffy”, the sound is much better when playing through a DAC player or a professional audio interface. The basic sound is well-balanced, fast and relatively evenly structured. The bass reproduction is strong and to the point. The foundation of the AR-H1 shines and that makes listening to electronica, soundtracks and hip-hop a joy. The measurements already suggested that the centres are strongly represented. For productions that deal with many – and also highly compressed – signals in this region, the mids sound almost bristly and harsh because, in the area above 1 kHz, the scene is significantly reduced over the entire presence range. Vocals, therefore, sound restrained in dynamic productions, creating a kind of distance that I do not particularly like. In the heights, the AR-H1 picks up speed again. On S-tone-rich tracks, it hisses emphatically. The tuning beyond the 10 kHz polarizes the audience—those who prefer a light tuning will probably feel comfortable with the AR-H1. But since many chart productions in this area have been going strong since the 2000s, I find the AR-H1 demanding. On the one hand, it is easy to guess what the producers and engineers were thinking; on the other hand, it is exhausting in the long run (for me).
The AR-H1 from Acoustic Research impressed me visually and also in the material selection. For longer listening sessions, I had to take breaks because the band at the top was uncomfortable. Although the AR-H1 are certainly very classically designed headphones with great acoustics, I would resort to models from other manufacturers in the price range. However, with a different cable, a different headband and a more elegant sound design, the tide could turn very quickly, so I’m hoping for a further commitment from Acoustic Research in the magnetostatic field.
Measurement ResultsMore measurement results
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principlemagnetostatic, dynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)10 - 70.000 Hz
- Impedance31,3 ohms
- Sound pressure level (SPL)91,86 dB
- Pressure averaged from big and small head835,5 g
- Weight with cable445 g
- Weight without cable415 g
- Cable length145 cm
What's in the box
- Cable (1.2m, mini jack)
- 6.35mm stereo jack
- Carrying pouch