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2013 Head-Fi Summer Buying Guide (Over-Ear Headphones)

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OVER-EAR HEADPHONES

 

Sony MDR-V6

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, on-the-ear headphone

 

PRICE: Around $65

URL: www.sony.com

 

If you're wondering why this headphone is included in the guide, call it a bit of sentimentality from me--the Sony MDR-V6 was the headphone that got me started on this long, winding headphone hi-fi journey back in the 1980's.

Is it the best at the price?  No, and hasn't been in a long time. You can find headphones that isolate more, sound more refined, have better detail retrieval, etc.

Yeah, it's old, but it's still a rugged, well-isolating, fun, bright, lively sounding headphone with good bass extension and impact. The MDR-V6 (and its pro-audio twin, the Sony MDR-7506) is still widely used in studios and on-location as a pro monitoring piece.

This many years later, I still like the classic ol' V6, and still feel comfortable recommending it from time to time.

"This headphone was my first high quality one. It sounds extremely neutral with good bass that is in proportion to the other frequenciencies. The midrange and treble also sound natural."

-JK1
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Grado SR-60i and Grado SR-80i

 

TYPE: Open, full-size, on-the-ear headphones
 

PRICE: Around $80 and $100, respectively

URL: www.grado.com

Why have I listed both the Grado SR-60i and the SR-80i?  Because so often SR-60i owners end up quickly upgrading to the SR-80i.

 

After many years being happy with the Sony MDR-V6, the Grado SR-60 and SR-80 represented the next steps in my Head-Fi journey. These entry-level Grado headphones have probably created more headphone audiophiles than any other headphone models, for their affordability, for their accessibility at many audio retail locations, and for their lively presentations.

The Grado SR-60i and Grado SR-80i sound immediately impressive, addictive, especially to those who aren't already grizzled Head-Fi veterans.

I've gifted several sets of Grado SR-60i and SR-80i headphones, and they've been met with great smiles and enthusiasm every single time.

"From the very first listen it is obvious that the SR60i, like all Grados, is a purpose-built listening device. Build quality, isolation, comfort, and all other considerations simply fade away when the music starts playing. There is just nothing out there for the money that can compare to a Grado for that front-and-center-at-the-Rock-show feeling."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sony MDR-ZX700

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, on-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $120

URL: www.sony.com

 

The MDR-ZX700's bass is energetic, yet controlled, which is a trait I don't think is common enough in affordable closed headphones. The MDR-ZX700's mids and highs are resolving without being edgy.

If you've heard the Shure SRH440, but felt it on the colder side of your tonal preferences, then the Sony's more authoritative bass (and a slightly warmer tilt than the Shure) might be more your speed.

I consider the MDR-ZX700 a sort of modern spin by Sony on its classic Sony MDR-V6--a more current, affordable closed headphone, and possibly another affordable classic in the making.

"Punchy and warm but with excellent resolution and a strong midrange presence, the Sonys make for good all-rounders and, while they may not quite beat the ATH-M50 and HD25 on a technical level, the sound signature simply works when taken as a whole."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Audio-Technica ATH-M50

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $160

URL: www.audio-technica.com

I'm including the closed-back ATH-M50 in this guide because it is a very strong favorite in this price range with Head-Fi'ers, known for solid overall performance at the price, with a tendency toward bass emphasis and sparkly treble. I see few headphones recommended as often by our community, both for starters looking for a good entry into Head-Fi'dom, as well as for seasoned Head-Fi'ers looking for a good closed around-the-ear headphone.

"The M50 pulls off the difficult balance of being neutral, accurate, and detailed while not causing listening fatigue, and that is one of the most important things to get right when it comes to any audio device. "

-Rob Chang (Lunatique)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sennheiser HD 558 and Sennheiser HD 598

 

TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear headphones
 

PRICE: Around $190 and $250, respectively

URL: www.sennheiser.com

For a nice open-backed full size headphone in this price range, Sennheiser's HD 558 is one of the best choices I've come across. Lightweight, and well padded, the HD 558 is among the most comfortable headphones I've owned (at any price), and I've owned a lot of headphones.

And, thankfully, the HD 558 sounds as good as it is comfortable, projecting a wide, open sonic image. Though its bass presentation is more on the neutral side, there's still a sense of fullness down low. Smooth, yet with outstanding detail overall, is how I'd characterize this headphone.

The HD 598 is like an HD 558 that went to sonic finishing school--simply put, it's more refined. Most noticeable is that the HD 598's presentation is slightly more treble-tilted, and its bass more controlled. The HD 598's more polished sound signature is, to my ears, higher-end, and earns the difference in price between it and its mid-line sibling.

I also love the HD 598's entirely unique color scheme--no other headphone I'm aware of looks like it, with its cream-colored leather-like chassis, and dark brown faux burl wood trim and velour ear cushions.

Creative Labs Aurvana Live!

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $70

URL: www.creative.com

Creative Labs has been discussed a lot on Head-Fi's forums, particularly their audio/MIDI interface products. Of their slew of headphone products, though, one routinely shines through with frequent member recommendations, and that's the Creative Aurvana Live.

"The Solo is without a doubt leaps and bounds ahead of anything out there that any of us have heard of. These guys have hit the nail squarely on the head."

-monotune
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Onkyo ES-HF300

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphones

PRICE: $179.00

URL: www.onkyo.com

Growing up, my parents had an Onkyo audio system (and still have parts of it going strong). Then I worked at a hi-fi store while I was in college, and the most affordable brand of electronics we sold was Onkyo. It was the brand we turned to when our customers couldn't afford to buy the Linn, Naim, Creek, or even the NAD gear. Because I was just a poor college student, the Onkyo gear we sold endeared itself to me for being so much more affordable than the higher-end stuff we sold, but somehow not undeserving of a place in our snobby shop. Onkyo had long ago fallen off my radar, but I was thrilled when they popped back up on it at CES 2013 last January with headphones! Onkyo sent me one of their upcoming ES-HF300 headphones, and it's a very good first headphone by Onkyo.

There are actually two new over-ear headphone models by Onkyo, one called the ES-FC300 ($149.00) and the ES-HF300 that I have here that's $30.00 more. To the best of my knowledge, the only difference between the two models is that the ES-HF300 comes with an upgraded cable. The ES-FC300 comes with a more common looking flat elastomer cable. The ES-HF300's cable is, as described by Onkyo, a "high purity copper-core cable for pure sound." The ES-HF300's cable is a 6N oxygen-free copper cable, apparently with lower resistance than the ES-FC300's. In both models, the cables are easily detachable. I do wish Onkyo offered a cable with an inline remote/mic, to use directly from my phone while on the move.

The Onkyo headphone's styling is clean, modern, and very attractive. At first glance, the Onkyo's design reminded me of the clean lines of AKG's portable models. I think its design will appeal to folks young and old, and (especially in black) would look perfectly fine worn by suit-wearing executive types. It also folds very flat, so it's easy to carry, but only comes with a flimsy drawstring case for the purpose. I find the ES-HF300 very comfortable, even for longer listening sessions; and it's also comfortable worn around the neck when you need them off your ears.

In terms of sound, the ES-HF300 has prominent bass, with what sounds to me like an upper-midbass peak that does tail off with mild effect and bloom on the lower midrange. Still, the ES-HF300's midrange and treble have a very clear, cool quality to them--so, on balance, the Onkyo ES-HF300 sounds to me like a bass-emphasized headphone with good overall clarity and detail. It's also a versatile sound signature that I feel comfortable using on any genre. For example, the bass emphasis livens up EDM, and the midrange/treble clarity serves jazz and classical well.

I've been enjoying the Onkyo ES-HF300 a lot as an on-the-go headphone, and recommend you check Onkyo's new headphones out if you're looking for a good, closed headphone under $200.00.

Bose QuietComfort 15

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, active-noise canceling, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: $299

URL: www.bose.com

The Bose QuietComfort 15 has the most effective active noise cancellation circuit I've yet used in a consumer headphone, and by a noticeable margin. If the amount of active noise attenuation is your primary consideration, the QC15 would easily be my top recommendation, as it's uncannily good in this regard.

Musically, the QC15 sounds good, too; but, if you're used to ultra-high-end headphones (like ones we more typically discuss at Head-Fi in this price range), the QC15 is not likely to wow you with its musical output while sitting in a quiet room at your desk or in your easy chair. Use it in its element (plane, train, data center, any place with loud droning background noise), and it's a very hard over-ear headphone to top.

Additionally, the Bose QC15 is exceptionally comfortable, even on my huge head, with its very moderate clamping force, very soft cushy earpads, and light weight. The QC15 also folds very flat into its compact semi-hardside case, so its easy to pack.

If you're type of person who travels a bunch, but can't get comfortable with in-ear headphones, then the QC15 has to be added to your must-try list. As far as over-ear headphones go, the Bose QC15 is my current first choice for international travel.

Sennheiser MOMENTUM

 

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $350

URL: www.sennheiser.com

In their bid to create a fashion-forward headphones, Sennheiser eschewed the Beats-trendy plastic cuff look in favor of a ritzy metal and leather sculpture of a headphone.

The $350 Sennheiser MOMENTUM is a closed, circumaural (around-the-ear) headphone designed to be used the way most people in the world today seem to be using their headphones--plugged directly into mobile phones. Sennheiser designed the MOMENTUM to be easy to drive by a mobile phone, with a low 18-ohm nominal impedance, and a relatively sensitive nature. Increasing its phone-friendly appeal is the included cable with iDevice-compatible three-button in-line mic/control. (The MOMENTUM also comes with a plain audio-only cable.)

The headband is stainless steel with a brush finish you're more likely to find on a fancy Swiss watch than a headphone. The leather covering the top of the split-type headband is a beautiful, rugged-feeling hide, and the leather on all the surfaces that touch you has a far more supple hand. To provide the opulent skins, Sennheiser actually turned to famed English tannery Pittards. (And, yes, it's all real leather, and it's also sweat and water resistant.) This headphone is a pleasure to hold and examine, but it's also a cushiony, comfortable treat to wear.

The MOMENTUM also comes with a nice zip-around semi-hard-side carrying case, covered in premium fabric. And I wanted to specifically point something out about the MOMENTUM, and its relationship with its case: It can be stored in its case with its detachable cable installed. Almost every headphone I use with a detachable cable requires removal of the cable before placing it in its carrying case, which I find maddening. The MOMENTUM's detachable cable plug (on the headphone side) inserts so deep into the earpiece that, installed, it doesn't even look like a detachable cable--and deep enough that there's no plug to get in the way when placing it in the case. This may not sound like a big deal, but, for an on-the-go headphone, having to install and uninstall the cable every time you use it and put it away is huge pain. I hope this design detail becomes more commonplace.

As for its sound, the MOMENTUM's tonal balance includes forward sounding bass, with low-end presence strong enough to push the MOMENTUM's tonal balance into territory I'd describe as mildly thick. Still, though, there's adequate control down low. The MOMENTUM's mids and treble exhibit more clarity and resolution than two of my other favorite on-the-go cans, in the Philips Fidelio L1 and Bowers & Wilkins P5, so the MOMENTUM moves ahead of those with me.

This new premium headphone has so much going for it--and has a great sound signature for out-and-about use--that it gets plenty of time over my ears.

Also, the fact that it's one of the most gorgeous headphones I've ever seen certainly doesn't hurt it. The Sennheiser MOMENTUM is a leather and steel design oasis in a desert full of plastic lookalikes.

"The Sennheiser MOMENTUM is a fabulous choice for anyone wanting a stylish looking headphone that also sounds great overall. It works great with pretty much every audio I feed it, and with Sennheiser's readily available spare parts, could be a headphone than can be cherished for life. I highly recommend the Sennheiser MOMENTUM."

-Windsor
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Denon AH-D600

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Street price from $239.00 to $499.00

URL: www.denon.com

This headphone and its flagship sibling (the AH-D7100 Artisan) may be the most controversial headphones in quite some time in the Head-Fi community. First of all, there's the look. Some might say that the new Denon flagship line's look is at least inspired by the cuff look made popular by Beats, whereas Denon's previous top headphones have generally been far more classic in appearance, with either a studio monitor look (like the now-discontinued AHD-950), or the high-end wood-cupped classics (like the AH-D5000 and AH-D7000). Then there's the sound (which I'll get to in just a minute) which is also a departure from the headphones they replace.

 
But what's done is done, and, as it turns out, I really like the AH-D600, as new and different as it is. I also like its flagship sibling for fun listening, but I had a hard time justifying the AH-D7100's recommendation in this guide at its street price range of $750 to $1200, which puts it in the crosshairs of some of the world's best headphones.
 
Compared to its predecessors, I find the AH-D600 to be missing some extension up top, but I wouldn't characterize its treble as rolled off to my ears. It also doesn't image as openly as its predecessors, perhaps because the AH-D600 is a fully closed headphone, whereas its predecessors were semi-closed. One area the AH-D600 excels to my ears is low bass presence and impact. The AH-D600's midrange is good, but not as forward or detailed as, say, Sony's new MDR-1R.
 
In consideration of its deep bass extension and brawn, straight away I started with electronic dance music, and the AH-D600 was so good with Reid Speed and Skrillex (the first two artists I cued up on the AH-D600) that I assumed it might be at the expense of musicality with acoustic music, but that just wasn't the case. I've found the AH-D600 works well with all genres I listen to, including solo piano, where this funky looking headphone does a very nice job of conveying piano's timbre and density with my best recordings.
 
I own and really like the now-discontinued Denon AH-D7000, and this AH-D600 is just a different headphone (not to mention far more durable in its build); and I like this new headphone for what it is, which, for me, is a full-size on-the-go headphone that I can recommend at $400 (and even more so if you can find it at the lower end of the current street price range).
"This is a fast, clear sounding headphone. They sound open and airy for a closed can, which I feel is their main accomplishment. The bass is very powerful and very well extended."

-Bjorn (Lan647)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

PSB M4U 1 and M4U 2

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphones (the M4U 2 with active noise canceling)
 

PRICE: $299 and $399, respectively

URL: www.psbspeakers.com

Paul Barton's company (PSB) is well known with audio enthusiasts as a loudspeaker company whose products typically perform well above their price points. When I found out Barton wanted to turn his attention to headphones (as an increasing number of loudspeaker manufacturers are doing), he had my attention.

The M4U 2 was an impressive first go at headphones for Barton. First of all, it operates passively, and in this mode the M4U 2 sounds very good, with good, solid, low bass presence, and good clarity throughout. The M4U 2 also has an amplified mode without active noise canceling, which could come in handy if all you've got on hand is a particularly anemic headphone output. This amplified mode has a lively sound, but at the expense of a little self-noise from the amp circuit, and some loss of clarity (compared to its passive mode). The M4U 2's active noise canceling circuit is good (though definitely not as effective as the Bose QC15's). And, again, like Sennheiser's active noise cancelers (and unlike Bose's), the M4U 2 also operates passively, so that when your batteries die, your music need not be cast aside.

PSB later released the M4U 1, which is essentially a passive-only version of the M4U 2. A wee bit of weight is saved (22 grams). A whole lot of money is saved ($100). And, to my ears, the M4U 1 actually sounds just a touch better than the M4U 2, perhaps because of the missing electronics, and maybe better acoustics as a result. In my opinion the M4U 1 is an even easier recommendation to make, and has blossomed into one of my favorite reasonably priced over-ears.

The biggest downsides for me with both are their size (they're large) and the fact that they don't fold flat (so their carrying cases are bulky). And, though they're generally comfortable on my huge head, they don't feel as light and gentle on the head (in terms of both weight and clamping force) as some of their peers. They also have an imposing look on the head--rather heavy and severe looking. (Though I find the Monza Red M4U 1 helps lighten the look up nicely.)

If you're in the market for a good, closed, sub-$500 around-the-ear headphone, the M4U 1 should definitely be on that list. If you absolutely want active noise canceling as a part of the package--and if the additional hundred bucks doesn't scare you off--then consider the M4U 2.

In my conversations with Paul Barton--and based on the performance of his first models--I get the impression he's not just dabbling in headphones, and so I'm looking forward to more from PSB in the future.

Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviator

 

 

 

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $150

URL: www.skullcandy.com

The Skullcandy Aviator, in my opinion, is one of the coolest looking headphones on the head, though it takes some youthful spirit to pull it off.

Sonically, I think the Aviator holds its own as a portable headphone, even at $150, with its surprisingly even-handed presentation (surprising considering rapper Jay Z had something to do with it), and a nice open sound. That openness comes at the expense of isolation, which the Aviator is devoid of (despite technically being a closed headphone)--so, in terms of isolation, assume it similar to an open headphone.

Skullcandy Mix Master Mike

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $250

URL: www.skullcandy.com

The Mix Master Mike is a DJ-type headphone (designed in conjunction with its legendary DJ namesake), with a couple of unique features. DJ's often do one-ear listening, so the Mix Master Mike sums both channels to mono when either earpiece is rotated for one-ear listening. The single-side headphone cable can be plugged into either the left or right earpiece. And there's a mute button.

 

The Mix Master Mike's prominent (but not overwhelming) bass, good mids, and softer treble, all combine nicely for an easy-to-listen to sound signature that is modestly detailed. Overall, I think the Mix Master Mike is the most refined sounding Skullcandy headphone so far. Build quality seems good, but rather plasticky in the hand. The Mix Master Mike might be a tough sell, though, to Head-Fi'ers at $250, a price point at which many outstanding headphones reside. But I think it's a worthy full-size closed headphone consideration, even at the price, with a couple of cool, unique features to boot.

"The Mix Master is the first celebrity-endorsed headphone I can listen to all day and is easy to recommend for professionals interested in its unique feature set and consumers with pro audio aspirations."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

V-MODA Crossfade M-80

 

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the ear headphones
 

PRICE: $199

URL: www.v-moda.com

V-MODA's M-80 has earned a place as one of the top Head-Fi choices for a closed, portable, around-the-ear headphone (alongside the likes of the Sennheiser HD 25-1 II and the beyerdynamic DT 1350).

The M-80's sound signature includes rich, detailed mids, accompanied by smooth treble response, and full bass (with emphasis placed where I think any bass emphasis should be, which is down in the deep-bass region). It's a sound signature that many audiophiles have found very easy to love, and with enough of a down-low kick to also satisfy the more typical non-Head-Fi'er consumer tastes. (I find most non-audiophile consumers tend to prefer bass emphasis to neutrality.)

On sonics alone, I think the M-80 is entirely in HD 25-1 II and DT 1350 territory. That the M-80 sounds so good and looks so stylish is a huge win. I think it's one of the headphones that has forced the makers of its more conservatively styled (read: staidly styled) competitors to take notice and add stylish new models to their lines (like beyerdynamic's CUSTOM ONE PRO and Sennheiser's MOMENTUM).

In addition to the M-80's stunning looks, it's built very tough, and should withstand a lot of abuse. Also, V-MODA's SpeakEasy cable separates the mic unit from the remote for ergonomic improvement, and also to improve sound quality on both the send and receive sides of a call.

"The M80s are a huge "W" for V-MODA.  Not only they look good and they're comfortable, but they're very well built and good-sounding too. The M80s are headphones that are easy to like, and both the average-consumer and the audiophile that spends thousands of dollars on audio-gear would probably find it enjoyable."

-Yuval (ItsMeHere)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Shure SRH440 and SRH840

 

TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear headphones
 

PRICE: Around $100 and $160, respectively

URL: www.shure.com

Closed-back, pro-audio-oriented headphones, the SRH440 and SRH840 have found popularity for studio use. However, many audiophiles also appreciate them for their more neutral tonal balances (relative to many other closed headphones in this price range), the SRH440 having none of the bass bloat that many of its closed competitors have. The SRH840 adds a little more bass presence and a touch more midrange bloom. I also find the SRH840's overall presentation a bit more refined.

Though a full-size headphones, both the SRH440 and SRH840 fold into pretty compact, portable bundles.

At its street price of around $100, I think the Shure SRH440 is one of the better bargains in Head-Fi'dom, particularly because it can be challenging to find a good, affordable, neutral-ish closed headphone. If you want a touch more musicality without sacrificing the neutral-for-a-closed-headphone balance, its more refined sibling is still a great deal--and a classic--at around $160.

"The SRH840's strengths are in the mids - and these cans absolutely excel with female vocals and also acoustic.  The high end has a little sparkle without being sibilant - but the mids are what really continues to shine through for me.  I've also found them wonderful for jazz, and especially for progressive rock"

-Brooko
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Bowers & Wilkins P5 Mobile

 

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphones
 

PRICE: $299.99

URL: www.bowers-wilkins.com

 

Another good around-the-ear passive isolator is the über-stylish Bowers & Wilkins' P5 Mobile (now also available in white). The P5 looks like something crafted by Swiss watchmakers. So luxurious is the P5 that nowhere on it (except for the cable) do your fingers come in contact with anything but metal or soft leather.

And the P5's style continues with its appearance when worn, its lines elegant and graceful, but bold enough to be tastefully noticeable.

How does the P5 sound?  It doesn't quite have the sound quality and detail of the top audiophile portables, but it still sounds very good, with a sonic signature best described as smooth. The Bowers & Wilkins P5 does provide extremely effective noise isolation (passively), inline controls and headset microphone, and so is a fantastic, voguish travel headphone.

Following is a quote from my review of the Bowers & Wilkins P5:

"The P5's artisanal materials, fit, finish and style make for a headphone that many of its owners will be proud to own. Its delicate lines and light weight belie its vault-strong construction. Almost a year later, and I still love handling and wearing the P5. Something this gorgeous, this well crafted, does instill that sense of pride of ownership that one might feel owning, say, a beautiful wristwatch."

That the stunning looking P5 is such a huge hit isn't the least bit surprising to me.

"[The P5] have strong crisp bass with smooth mids and clear highs. These headphones particularly thrive is portable use. They are some of the best unamped portable sound for the money."

-Farnsworth
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

beyerdynamic DT 1350

 

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $300

URL: www.beyerdynamic.com

On sound alone, the beyerdynamic DT 1350 is still one of my favorite closed, portable on-the-ear headphones. Sonically, I simply couldn't expect much more from something this compact, as the DT 1350 sounds to me like a very good full-sized, closed around-the-ear headphone, with its tight bass, detailed mids, and very good treble extension. 

This little beyerdynamic has also been durable enough to easily withstand the physical abuse of being crammed into my backpacks and messenger bags over the last couple of years.

The DT 1350 is part of beyerdynamic's flagship Tesla line. Though it was designed as a pro audio headphone, it is still one of the most audiophile-friendly closed, portable on-ears I've heard.

For portable use, it's important to note that the DT 1350's plug housing is rather large (more like a full-size headphone's plug); and that it does not come with portable-use accoutrements like an inline remote/mic. Still, its sound quality currently still puts the DT 1350 in my on-the-go bag very frequently..

"...the Beyerdynamic DT1350 is a high-end portable headphone done right. Superb build quality and unprecedented isolation meet sound quality that can rival the best portable headphones I’ve heard and many full-size sets. The construction is nothing short of bulletproof and - soundstage size aside - the DT1350 is technically the best truly portable headphone I’ve come across, boasting superb detail and clarity, excellent bass control, and a level signature."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi MemberReviewer

Ferrari Cavallino T350 by Logic3

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, active noise-canceling headphones

PRICE: $400.00

URL: www.ferrari-by-logic3.com

The Ferrari Cavallino T350 by Logic3 surprised me. Yes, it's gorgeous--I mean gorgeous (especially the tan leather version). My expectation, prior to hearing it--given that neither the names Ferrari or Logic3 have been previously associated with premium headphones--was that the T350 was going to be all show, no go.

I was happy to find, though, that its sound quality is actually quite good. Audiophiles will probably find its tonal balance inviting, with its non-boomy bass quite well controlled, and its midband is smooth but still reasonably detailed. And though the Ferrari Cavallino T350's treble might sometimes come off as a smidge grainy at times, I like its sparkle. (That said, what I call sparkle, some may call bright.)

The Cavallino T350 is powered by two AAA batteries, and, though I haven't measured how many hours of battery life I've gotten from a set, I'd guess that battery life is good, but not quite as long as the 35 hours you can expect from the QC15.

Things to look out for with the T350: It's expensive, at $400. Like the QC15, the music stops when the batteries die, as there is no passive mode. On my head, it can feel heavy after a few hours of listening time. And one of my biggest complaints about the Ferrari Cavallino T350 by Logic3 is that it doesn't fold flat, so it's very bulky to carry in its stylish carbon-fiber-look carrying case.

Sennheiser HD 25 1-II and HD 25 1-II Originals

 

 

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $180 to $250

URL: www.sennheiser.com

One of the all-time headphone hi-fi classics, the Sennheiser HD 25-1 II is still the top choice for a closed, portable on-the-ear headphone for many Head-Fi'ers. It's one of my all-time favorites in that category.

With robust bass, relatively neutral mids, and a lively treble, the HD 25-1 II is definitely on the fun side of the audiophile-type sound signatures.

With an extremely tough build (yet still lightweight), the Sennheiser HD 25-1 II remains a popular DJ headphone for its bombproof durability, outstanding isolation, and retro-hip utilitarian looks. And if you want one of the grooviest looking portable headphone choices around, pick up the "Originals" version, which is a special adidas co-branded edition--same headphone, but with very cool, sporty adidas blue stripes, cable, and pads.

"I think the HD 25 is an excellent headphone for personal use that is particularly suited to music such as pop/rock music and other musical styles where rhythm is important such as some electronic music, reggae, and R&B."

-Windsor
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sennheiser Amperior

 

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphones
 

PRICE: Street price from $220 to $320

URL: www.sennheiser.com

Despite the unique name, there's no denying that the Amperior by Sennheiser was born of the Sennheiser HD 25 line of headphones--I mean, just look at it. And if you consider the Amperior an addition to the HD 25 family, then it's the best sounding HD 25 I've yet heard. The occasional tendency of the HD 25-1 II to be treble-peaky has been done away with in the Amperior. The Amperior also refines the HD 25's bass, exhibiting greater control and definition. That the Amperior has a nominal impedance of only 18 ohms, and is quite sensitive, makes it easy to drive straight from your phone or media player. No amp? No problem. Not surprisingly, the Amperior has become one of my favorite grab-and-go on-the-ear headphones.

Construction quality feels every bit as solid as the HD 25's before it. Actually, its substantial use of metal makes it feel even more unyielding than the HD 25's before it. Its machined solid aluminum earcups feel bulletproof, and look very cool, in either blue or silver.

My only real quibble with the Amperior is that it comes with a 3-button remote/mic accessory dongle--I'd have preferred that its cable instead had an inline, built-in version. Also, like beyerdynamic's DT 1350, the Amperior's plug housing is quite large. But these are just minor quibbles with a headphone that sounds and looks so darn good.

A worthy addition to the legacy of the HD 25 family, I think the Sennheiser Amperior is going to be a blockbuster headphone with high-end headphone enthusiasts.

NOTE: The Sennheiser Amperior was recently discontinued, but we've kept it in the guide, as it's still available in retail channels.

"The Amperior is a stylish-looking, lively-sounding, and robustly-constructed headphone that presents music to the listener with an abundance of sonic impact. It sounds good with all styles/genres of music (it particularly shines with pop/rock and other music that thrives on visceral impact such as some electronic styles, reggae, and R&B) and it is excellent for both personal and professional audio applications. The Amperior is also an ideal choice for people who frequently travel or find themselves on-the-go and want an audiophile quality headphone to take with them."

-Windsor
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Koss PortaPro

 

TYPE: Open, portable, on-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $40 for standard version, and around $80 for the KTC version

URL: www.koss.com

There's something--a certain je ne sais quoi--that makes Koss' PortaPro timeless. It's not just its looks, as looks alone might render the mighty PortaPro dated (though there's no denying its vintage aesthetic is part of its charm).

This is a bassy headphone, and its bass defines it--heavy, just shy of sloppy by audiophile standards, but always fun. Despite its bassiness, the PortaPro still manages to sound coherent. Its mids and highs are good, but if you're looking for a mid-centric and/or bright headphone, you're going to have to look elsewhere. Also, if you're a detail freak, walk past the PortaPro.

Last year, Koss also released a version of the PortaPro called the PortaPro KTC (Koss Touch Control), which has an inline three-button remote/mic. As an iPhone/iPad/iPod user, the KTC version has become my PortaPro of choice. I was surprised to see Koss give such a concession to smartphone modernity with a headphone as old school as the PortaPro, but I'm thrilled they did. Here's the rub, though: expect to pay at least $30 to $40 more for the KTC version, which I'm guessing is probably due to licensing costs associated with using the made-for-Apple three-button mic/remote design.

Looking for fun sound on the go? And served up with retro-hip style? Put the Koss PortaPro on your list. 

"...I love the PortaPros for the uncompromising retro-throwback design and sound that somehow feels like it would have been right at home in the 80s."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Koss PRODJ100

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, portable, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $80

URL: www.koss.com

Based on recommendations in Head-Fi community discussions, I'm glad I finally experienced this headphone for myself, as it's not just one of the best value Koss headphones I've heard, I think it's one of the better headphone values in the sub-$100 range, regardless of manufacturer.

Was this headphone designed with DJ's in mind? Yes. There's even a switch on it that lets you sum both channels to mono, for one-ear listening. But do not let that "DJ" label trick you into thinking the PRODJ100 is a boomy, bloated headphone, as "DJ" designated headphones more typically tend to be. The bass is impactful, but in no way overdone.

The PRODJ100 is a headphone that does a lot of things very well, even if it doesn't (to my ears) do anything exceptionally well. You'll be hard pressed to find another sub-$100 headphone that is so well-rounded, and so able to easily satisfy such a wide variety of listening preferences. If the Shure SRH440 is a bit light in the bass for you, try the Koss PRODJ100. Are the entry-level Grados a little too lively up top for you? Try the PRODJ100. You know what, just try the PRODJ100 regardless of whatever other relatively affordable headphones you were already considering.

"There is still much to like about the DJ100 – for a headphone that can easily be found in US retail stores it is priced very reasonably and the lifetime warranty should be a welcome reprieve for those who like to be rough on their gear."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

beyerdynamic Custom One Pro

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphones

PRICE: $249.00

URL: www.beyerdynamic.com

I've used headphones with tunable acoustics before, and even with the ones I've liked, I've mostly found one setting and stuck with it. With beyerdynamic's CUSTOM ONE PRO, though, changing its bass tuning is very easy, with no parts to swap out--just flick a four-position switch on each earpiece to season bass to taste.

More important than ease of tuning is how effective it is, and the beyerdynamic CUSTOM ONE PRO's bass tuning is superbly executed. Essentially, when you move the sliders, you're either opening or closing bass reflex vents in the housing shells, and, as described by beyerdynamic, you can choose between "an analytical sound to a rich, full bass," and almost anything in between.

I've found the 16-Ohm beyerdynamic CUSTOM ONE PRO very easy to drive, and I've routinely used it directly from my mobile phones. While it doesn't reach the resolving abilities of my favorite beyerdynamic Tesla models, like the DT1350, T1, and T5p, the CUSTOM ONE PRO is still a revealing headphone, still sounds like a modern beyerdynamic to me (which is a good thing), and adds a level of versatility with its tunable bass that few other headphones can match.

In other words, the CUSTOM ONE PRO is a lot of German-made beyerdynamic goodness for only $249.00. And given that it's like having a few different headphones for that price makes the CUSTOM ONE PRO an even stronger bargain.

Sennheiser PX 90 and PX 200-II

 

TYPE: Portable, on-the-ear headphones (PX 90 is open, PX 200 is closed)
 

PRICE: Around $30 and $90, respectively

URL: www.sennheiser.com

The Sennheiser PX 90 has a charming, no-frills design. With the simplest of headbands, affixed to which are equally unadorned open earpieces, the PX 90 reminds me of the legendary (and equally stark) HD 414.

What you get for around $30 with the PX 90 is an elegant, well-balanced sounding headphone that's great for on-the-go use. If you're a Head-Fi'er with several people on your gift list whom you'd like to introduce to Head-Fi'dom, the PX 90 is an excellent, affordable choice.

The PX 200-II is an easy go-to for a portable on-the-ear headphone under $100 with a more neutral sound signature. If you've found most portable on-the-ear headphones too bass-heavy for you, put the PX 200-II at the top of your list, especially if you want something ultra-portable. The closed-back PX 200-II provides good passive noise isolation, too.

(The PX 200-II is now also available with a three-button remote/mic cable, and that model is the PX 200-IIi, and is priced around $110.)

"Far less complicated in construction than the higher-end sets, the PX90 is lightweight and sturdy enough for portable use. The sound of the baby PX is balanced and competent, allowing it to keep up with the pricier PX100-II at its best"
"Well-built, reasonably comfortable, and offering a good amount of isolation, the PX200-II is the headphone that the old PX200 should have been and finally offers serious competition for the likes of the AKG K81DJ."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

AKG K 550

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $330

URL: www.akg.com

If you've generally been an AKG fan, then the K 550 is almost certainly going to appeal to you. If you want a closed headphone that approaches the sense of airiness of a good open headphone, then the K 550 should definitely be on your list. If you prefer a sound signature that's more on the bass-light side; if you prefer crisp, clear, flat midrange; if you prefer treble presentation that might more fairly be described as somewhat potent than somewhat smooth; then the K 550 may be the headphone you're looking for.

The funny thing is that as I read the preceding paragraph, it doesn't read like something that would appeal to me. Yet the first time I listened to the K 550, I knew I had to have one, because everything I've said about it is, to my ears, true--it's just that the K 550 is all those things, cohesively. There are any number of single things about the K 550 that might rub me the wrong way, but, as the ol' saying goes, the overall presentation and sound of the K 550 is greater than the sum of its parts.

I can think of few closed headphones that offer all the qualities of the K 550.

"I can't hear any grains on these. It's very clean sounding. Details and soundstage is what earns the point most specially for a closed headphone. I don't think I had ever heard headphone that sound so clean before."

-BilsonChang007
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 650

 

TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear headphones
 

PRICE: Around $400 and $500, respectively

URL: www.sennheiser.com

Is there a more widely owned and lauded pair of headphones than the Sennheiser HD 6XX series in the world of high-end audio? And all the acclaim for these headphones is absolutely deserved, earned over many years on the market. The Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 650 both have sonic performance that can scale so far up in world-class rigs that I struggled with whether or not to include them in the Summit-Fi (high-end audio) section instead.

Though detailed, both the HD 600 and HD 650 do not have the hyper detail that some of the newer breed of high-end dynamic and planar magnetic headphones have. Still, when I'm listening to them, I don't find myself longing for more (even though I know headphones like its successor flagship HD 800 can certainly give me more).

I think the magic of these headphones is that, in terms of detail and tonality, they can be like listening to good loudspeakers, and there's instant comfort in that. Some find this overly laid-back, but I'm not one of them.

As for what differentiates these two headphones, the HD 650 is the slightly warmer of the two, and yet I personally find it more refined than the HD 600, especially in the upper registers. There's no question that there are more similarities than differences, so if you're already straining your budget, you can feel comfortable choosing the HD 600 to save some dough.

In my experience, getting the best out of the HD 600 and HD 650 absolutely requires the use of good headphone amplification, so make sure to feed 'em right. And if you do feed 'em real right, you can feel confident you're listening to headphones that are still, in my opinion, absolutely world class.

"Amazing cans and they deserve the title of a legend... When listening to classical music I always reach for my HD600. They are simply astounding and sound heavenly in your ears."

-nikp
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

"All in all the HD650 is a superb headphone that comfortably matches, or beats, competitors at more than twice its price. A superb allrounder with a fun and energetic play-style, detailed but not too unforgiving - not to be overlooked!"

-TwoEars
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Spider PowerForce and Moonlight Studio Monitor

 

TYPE: Closed, on-the-ear and around-the-ear headphones

PRICE: $129.99 and $359.99, respectively

URL: www.spiderproduct.com

When it comes to styling their over-ear headphones, Spider has so far taken a rather literal-minded approach. Let's start with the Spider PowerForce, which Spider decided to style with the word "spider" in mind. Huge spider logos on the earcup endpieces; molded spiderweb pattern around the entire outer rim of each earcup; quilt-stitched headband padding that reminds me of (you guessed it) a spiderweb. The Spider PowerForce looks to me like an extremely spider-themed Heil Sound Pro Set 3 headphone (which I haven't yet heard, so I can't confirm whether the Heil is or isn't the PowerForce's sonic equal).

Here's the thing, though: The PowerForce is actually a very good headphone, especially if you're the type who prefers emphasized bass response. Yes, I know, that description--in consideration of the styling--might make you think I'm foisting a typical consumer basshead headphone your way, but you'd be wrong. The PowerForce actually has good midrange presence, and surprising treble clarity. And the bass, though prominent, has good control and speed. The PowerForce is a wonderful headphone for the person who has audiophile tendencies blended with a dash of basshead bent. Depending on what I'm listening to, depending on my mood, I can occasionally be described that way, so I really like the PowerForce's combination of sonic qualities. But that styling...hmmm... I can forgive the styling for the price, which, with careful shopping, I've seen come in substantially lower than the $129.99 price I've listed. I can recommend it at its price, but finding it for less makes it an even easier recommendation if the sound I've described appeals to you, too.

 

While we're back on the subject of styling, Spider chose to style its flagship Moonlight Studio Monitor with the word "moon" firmly in mind. Each gigantic (and I do mean gigantic) earcup has a very prominent design that I'm guessing is supposed to look like a lunar eclipse. The ends of the headband have very proud crescent ornaments adorning them, and the sizing portion of the yokes have hanging circle ornaments that I imagine may be intended to symbolize full moons. Rather shockingly, Spider missed an opportunity to style the yokes as still two more crescents (and I'm glad for it). However, with its very extensive use of brushed aluminum, I will admit that the Moonlight Studio Monitor's appearance has grown on me, and is certainly unique.

Intended as a professional monitor, the Moonlight Studio Monitor, in my opinion, sounds quite good. I'd describe this headphone as revealing, and sometimes mildly unforgiving. Bright? Perhaps a bit, but not to the extent that, say, the Shure SRH1440 is (I'm a Shure fan, but that model is just too bright for me). I haven't had issues with sibilance with the Moonlight Studio Monitor (which is something I'm quite sensitive to); and I actually appreciate its level of treble presence when I'm listening at lower volumes (which is how I listen more often than not). Midrange clarity is also good, but sounds mildly recessed to me. Bass impact and extension sounds good and seems nimble enough, but perhaps with a bit of upper-mid-bass emphasis.

Given its tonal balance, I can see why Spider fancies this model a professional studio monitor. Soundstaging for a closed headphone is also very airy, very spacious, perhaps helped by the large sized earcups. I have to imagine Spider's Ronny Tsai is a fan of classical and jazz, as his flagship tends to shine most with music in those genres, and other acoustic music.

The Moonlight Studio Monitors earpads seem to be made of synthetic leather over thick memory foam. I've found that it takes a little while (well under a minute, but longer than most earpads) to settle into a good seal on my big ol' head. And getting a good seal is very important with this headphone--otherwise you may think it bright and bass light.

My biggest strike against the Moonlight Studio Monitor is its cable, which has to be one of the worst stock headphone cables I've come across in quite some time. The Moonlight's cable is a dual-entry design (which is fine with me), and is covered in what feels to me like thick Techflex (which is not fine with me). This covering makes the cable ultra-stiff, abrasive feeling, and virtually impossible to dress--it doesn't want to coil or wrap, it wants to be straight. So on my to-do list now is a call to Moon Audio, ALO Audio, or Toxic Cables to ask for a custom cable solution for an otherwise very nice headphone.

Perhaps Spider thought that standing out in an increasingly crowded market necessitated extreme styling, not just good sound. I'll leave it up to you to decide on how they look; but the PowerForce and Moonlight Studio Monitor are, in my opinion, very good sounding headphones that merit your sonic consideration.

HiFiMAN HE-400

 

TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: $399

URL: www.hifiman.com

I wondered when something would come 'round to challenge the Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 650 for my top pick in the sub-$500 sit-down, high-end headphone category, and that something is the HE-400 planar magnetic headphone by HiFiMAN. Listen to this headphone, and its $399 price tag will have you wondering if its price was mismarked--like you found something in the clearance bin that wasn't supposed to be there.

If the HD 600 and HD 650 just aren't pressing your sparkly-treble hot-button, the HE-400 probably will. Bringing to bear a lot of what makes the Summit-Fi-class planar magnetic headphones by HiFiMAN and Audeze so special--but with a bargain price, and enough sensitivity to be driven by an iPhone in a pinch--the HE-400 is one of the easiest sub-$500 recommendations to make right now.

Soaring, shimmering treble, and a greater sense of overall speed--certainly more so than any over-ear in this price range that I've heard--are the HE-400's hallmarks.

"The sound from the HE-400 was immediately appealing to me. I heard the typical "planar" presentation which I categorize as having a sort of effortless sound to it, with excellent deep bass extension. I don't know how better to describe it, but it’s something that the LCD-2, Thunderpants, and HiFiMAN models all have in common, despite all sounding very different from one another. There's just an ease to the presentation that dynamic headphones can't quite match."

-John Grandberg (project86)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Philips CitiScape Downtown, CitiScape Uptown, Fidelio L1 and Fidelio X1

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, on-the-ear headphone (CitiScape Downtown)

Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone (CitiScape Uptown)
Semi-open, full-size, around-the-ear headphone (Fidelio L1)

Open, full-size, around-the-ear headphones (Fidelio X1)
 

PRICE: Street price around $35.00 to $50.00, depending on color (CitiScape Downtown)
Street price around $70.00 to $75.00, depending on color (CitiScape Uptown)
Street price around $180.00 to $275.00 (Fidelio L1)
Street price around $270.00 to $330.00 (Fidelio X1)

URL: www.philips.com

Let's go back to 2011, when Head-Fi turned a hearty ten years old. Up to that point, in millions of posts, in untold thousands of threads, in ten years of online headphone chatter, Philips rarely came up in our discussions. Almost never, actually. Then, at CES 2012, from seemingly out of nowhere, Philips unveiled several headphones that hit it out of the park. We're talking really good headphones here, for very little dough. And in the past year, the lowest prices available for most of these models has fallen tremendously, so the performance for the buck has commensurately jumped.

Of the many new models Philips announced back at CES 2012, the ones that wowed me the most were a few of the over-ear models. The first two are from an affordable (now super-affordable) premium line of urban headphones called CitiScape. The Philips CitiScape Downtown is a closed on-the-ear model very uniquely styled, with a headband wrapped in a padded cloth that looks like an elegant cravat, and earpieces wrapped in a nice synthetic leather. The look, inspired by New York casual street style, is graceful, modish, and suitable for men and women alike. The Downtown is also one of the more comfortable on-the-ear headphones.

The Downtown also sounds great, with a warmish tonal balance, but still nicely detailed throughout. Bass is impactful, precise beyond the price point, and emphasized mildly. Mids are smooth and nicely present. Treble is on the softer side, but there's enough of it to give just a hint of sparkle. Closed though it is, the Downtown images well, too. At around $100, the Philips CitiScape Downtown was one of my favorite closed on-the-ear headphones under $100, providing musicality and balance at a level well above its price, and with all genres I listen to. Found online as low as $35.00 nowadays, it's a no-brainer.

The Philips CitiScape Uptown is the slightly upmarket sibling of the Downtown, and is a closed around-the-ear headphone. Like the Downtown, the Uptown is stylish, albeit with a completely different, retro-cool style. The abundance of synthetic leather is nice looking, and attractively tufted on the headband's underside.

Tonally, the Uptown, like the Downtown, has a warmer tendency, but does have the advantage of having a touch more sparkle in the treble. Like its sibling, the Uptown images nicely. Having used the Downtown more at the beginning, switching to the Uptown revealed more of a closed-cup resonance than is present with the Downtown. However, it's minor enough that it's easy to hear past as you get accustomed to the Uptown. Sonically, which do I prefer, the Downtown or Uptown? Truth be told, it's a toss-up for me. At their current prices, you could buy both, and give the one you don't want to a lucky friend.

Both the Downtown and the Uptown have a feature called MusicSeal, which is intended to keep the music in the headphone, and not leaking out to bother those nearby. I haven't examined or inquired to find out exactly how it works, but MusicSeal does work (and also works to provide good isolation from outside noise).

Both the Downtown and the Uptown use flat, tangle-resistant fixed cables. The Downtown's cable has an inline one-button remote/mic. The Uptown's cable also has an inline one-button remote/mic, but with the unfortunate addition of a useless analog super-short-throw sliding volume control. I have no idea how such a useless volume control made it past testing on the otherwise wonderfully executed Uptown, but it's hardly enough to dash my recommendation of it.

The Philips Citicape line is carried not just in big box electronics stores, but also through some major department stores. That kind of channel presence is big news with headphones that sound this good. (Still, your best deals might be found online.)

 

"Fidelio" is Philips' flagship audio brand, and the Philips Fidelio L1 was the first of the Fidelio headphones. The Fidelio L1 is, in my opinion, one of the best looking sub-$500 headphone on the market today. To my eyes, there's no angle--on the head or off the head--from which the Fidelio L1 doesn't look stunning. And it feels just as impressive, with extensive use of real leather, protein leather and aluminum. The design is a near-perfect blend of modern and retro, and I still look admiringly at the L1 every single time I use it.

Coming from the left earpiece is a very short length of fixed cable to which can be attached two different headphone cable options, one plain, and one with a three-button remote/mic. By the way, the L1's three-button remote/mic cable is one of the best of its types that I've yet used, with easily distinguishable buttons, and nice positive clicks. (The Fidelio L1 cables are fabric-lined.)

The Fidelio L1's sound signature is definitely on the warmer side, but more refined, more polished than its CitiScape siblings. The L1's bass is well north of neutral, but controlled enough to keep a lot of the audiophile types happy. The mids are bloomy and smooth; and the treble has nice presence (though I'd prefer a more extended sounding higher register). No, the Fidelio L1 is not a detail freak's dream headphone, but still I find it, overall, a very satisfying headphone to listen to.

 


At CES 2013 last January, I was introduced to the Philips Fidelio X1, the new flagship of Philips' flagship Fidelio line. This large, open, around-the-ear headphone is, true to Philips recent form, awesome. The Fidelio X1 essentially looks like a larger version of the gorgeous Fidelio L1, but with larger, rounder earpieces, and a substantially larger grille that makes for an open headphone (versus the semi-open L1). The Fidelio X1's headband uses an elastic-sprung suspension headband that can be tight on large heads like mine without some easy-to-do re-contouring of the outer headband/frame. The X1's cable is detachable at the left earpiece, covered in cloth, and terminated with a 1/4" (6.3mm) stereo plug.

In terms of sound, like the Fidelio L1, the X1 has midbass presence boosted above neutral, but fast enough for me to find it, on balance, very well done. The bass emphasis also has no effect on the flat, clean mids, which gives the Fidelio X1 a good sense of clarity and speed. The treble is nice and sparkly, too. If you like the Fidelio L1, you'll love the Fidelio X1--it's like a more open sounding, freer breathing, more detailed, more sparkly version of the Fidelio L1's sound. I dig Philips new flagship very much indeed.

As far as headphones go, last year was definitely a breakout year for Philips, and this year's progress shows they haven't stopped. And given the far-reaching retail presence Philips has, these Philips headphones are potentially very important for the industry, not just for Philips.

"Everything feels very well put together, and for once I'm not afraid of putting a pair of headphones inside my shoulder bag. The metal bars that connect the cups to the headband slide up and down in steps and lock into place very solidly, unlike other headphones I've had which felt loose and wobbly. The cups are also able to swivel (to a limited degree) at any angle. The pleather earpads and headband cushioning are good quality-very soft and smooth."

-manervu
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Monster Diesel VEKTR, Monster Inspiration, and Monster Diamond Tears Edge

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, on-the-ear headphone (Diesel VEKTR)

Closed, full-size, active noise canceling, around-the-ear headphone (Inspiration)
Closed, full-size, on-the-ear headphone (Diamond Tears Edge)


PRICE: Around $250, $300, and $300, respectively

URL: www.monsterproducts.com

As co-developer of the now-ubiquitous Beats By Dre line of headphones, Monster, for the last several years, has helped grow Beats into what some might say is the biggest success story in the history of headphones. Though Beats certainly isn't a popular make here on Head-Fi, outside of our community Beats is everywhere. I'd seen it estimated at one point that Beats headphones accounted for 54% of the >$100 headphone market (and around 29% of the entire headphone category). Huge.

This year, however, Monster and Beats broke up. 2013 began with Monster in their post-Beats era, and they've been preparing for it for quite some time with the development of a bunch of their own models. It seems to me that for its first round of over-ears, Monster wanted to make sure we knew they weren't going to simply mimic what they were doing with Beats, releasing several wildly styled headphones, a few of which I quite like. And all are (probably thankfully for most) a sonic departure from what Beats is doing, and a move toward a more audio-enthusiast-friendly sound signature.

The Monster Diesel VEKTR is a headphone collaboration between Monster and Italian fashion brand Diesel. As you can see in the photo, there's nothing else on the market that looks anything like it--the VEKTR's look is in-your-face Italian supercar meets F-117A stealth bomber, with its abundance of chiseled angular cuts and flat surfaces.

Even on my huge head, I find the lightweight Diesel VEKTR comfortable for a supra-aural (on-the-ear) headphone. And though it looks rather severe when you're holding it in your hands, the all-black Diesel VEKTR looks surprisingly modest on the head. It also folds up into a very compact package, so its a nice headphone for those whose bags are usually tightly packed.

As for its sound, the Diesel VEKTR's sonic performance far exceeds what I expected from a headphone co-developed with a fashion brand, development-led by a company in the throes of a split with Beats. The Diesel VEKTR is very good, and exceedingly so for a headphone targeting the general consumer market. For example, I'd never consider listening to the weighty, thick Tord Gustavsen Trio album The Ground via the Beats Pro, which reduces that recording's bottom heaviness to muck. But not only do I listen to that Gustavsen album--and other thick-waisted recordings like Fiona Apple's song "Extraordinary Machine"--through the VEKTR, I enjoy listening to recordings like these through this headphone. Yes, the bass has some low emphasis, but it's surprisingly even-keeled in its overall presentation. And though I might wish for more overall resolution and shimmer, and perhaps a more fleshed-out soundstage, I'd say the VEKTR is a fun, enjoyable, musical headphone.

 

The Monster Inspiration I have here is the active noise canceling version (around $300). (The passive-only version, which I haven't heard yet, goes for around $250.) As with the VEKTR and Diamond Tears, Monster made sure to give the Inspiration its very own style. In terms of its looks, the Inspiration, unlike its over-ear siblings in this guide, is absolutely not polarizing--just about everyone I've shown it to loves its chic-yet-business-friendly lines. Whereas its siblings might require youthful spirit and some moxie to pull off, the Inspiration is styled to be worn by anyone, any age.

The Inspiration's styling coup, though, is one that is very clever, yet so simple I can't believe it hasn't been done before: interchangeable headbands, held on firmly (yet easily changed) with a magnetic mount system. Since an over-ear headphone's headband can be such a major part of its outward appearance, changing it out for different colors, patterns, and materials can dramatically alter the headphone's appearance. I've got the Inspiration in black, and the black ballistic nylon or black perforated leather headbands on it will go with a suit. A blue denim headband turns the Inspiration into something completely different. And there are now many headbands to choose from, ranging in price from $25 to $50 each. Of course, if you're the creative type, perhaps you could customize one for a completely one-off look.

By the way, the Inspiration's in-line three-button remote is easily one of the best I've used, with responsive buttons that have just the right amount of click, and a bumped-out middle button that eliminates any doubts about which of the three buttons you're pressing. Every company making in-line three-button remotes should try the one on the Inspiration's cable.

The Inspiration's sound in its passive mode (again, I have the version with active noise canceling) is on the bass-heavier side, but, as a bass-heavy headphone, I think it's a good one. It's not a detail freak's headphone, but it's probably better than what most general consumers listen to, and better than anything Monster and Beats released together. In passive mode, the Inspiration's mids are balanced nicely, and its highs smooth--again, though, look elsewhere if you tend to favor a more detailed, airy headphone, as the Inspiration's passive-mode presentation is, overall, rather heavy, and its soundstage on the tighter side.

When its active noise canceling circuit is switched on, the sound takes a harsher turn, sibilance kicks up, and the tonal balance takes on more of a general consumer-ish U-shape. For louder environments, it seems clear to me that Monster was trying to provide more detail to compensate for high ambient noise, but, to my ears, they dialed that up to a level that sounds somewhat etched and unnatural, which is particularly clear when you're surrounded by only mild ambient noise. Stick to its passive mode when you can for better sound. As for canceling noise, the circuit works well, but still far off the likes of Sony's new MDR-1RNC and Bose's QC15. (I have been told the passive-only Inspiration sound even better than the active version in passive mode. I haven't tried the passive-only version yet, though.)

 

The big gem (pun absolutely intended) in the Monster over-ear roster is, without a doubt, the Monster Diamond Tears Edge (around $300). I'll say it: I dig this headphone's sound, and its attitude. If you think the Diesel VEKTR is out-there in terms of its design, wait until you see the Diamond Tears. And unlike the Diesel VEKTR, which looks rather modest on the head, the Diamond Tears draws a bunch of attention even when worn (especially the white version, with its abundance of chrome). Never, in all my Head-Fi life, have I been asked more about the headphone on my head or around my neck than when I go out wearing the Diamond Tears. When I first saw it, I thought more women than men would ask about it, but the inquirers have been just about 50/50 women and men.

Monster developed the Diamond Tears with Park Jin Young (JYP), an entertainer and producer who's immensely popular in Korea. And if JYP helped voice this thing, Monster should make more headphones with this guy. Look again at what I wrote about the VEKTR (above), and know that the Diamond Tears is somewhat like the VEKTR, but sonically improved and refined in every respect, to the point that I think the Diamond Tears is the better headphone.

The Diamond Tears' bass is emphasized, but with nice control and detail down low, especially for a very closed on-the-ear headphone. The Diamond Tears' midrange has very good presence and precision for the class, and its treble the same. When I feed high-resolution recordings through the Diamond Tears, its ability to scale above its Monster siblings is clear. Though the Diamond Tears has better soundstage and image placement than the VEKTR, it's still pretty closed in, so I do wish it conveyed a greater sense of space.

The "diamond" earcups feel solid and, combined with the seal provided by the earpads, offers very good passive noise isolation. Its headband is metal with thick silicone fittings. The Diamond Tears has so far proven a very durably built headphone in my experience.

So how does this spunkily styled Monster over-ear flagship compare to its similarly priced, more outwardly serious competitors, by the likes of Sennheiser, Sony, and V-MODA? Very well. Along with some of the finer offerings in this class by these companies, Monster's Diamond Tears is one of my favorite on-ear, closed portable headphones. And I appreciate Monster's unflinching attitude in offering such a serious-sounding headphone in such an unconventional, plucky, spirited style.

Now well into their post-Beats era, I'd say Monster's off to a bang-up start.

"Instruments and voices are shockingly clear and real (shocking because I was not expecting anything like this). Soundstage is compact, which I don't mind, it holds the music together with smaller headphones, and the presentation is rather in-your-face but the balance is so right. And the real soundstage is, of course, recording dependent and the [Diamond Tears] seems to tell it like it is with no artificial exaggeration."

-Dave (Beagle)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Logitech UE 4000 and Logitech UE 6000

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone (UE 4000)
 

PRICE: $99.99 and $199.99, respectively

URL: ue.logitech.com

For years, the name "Ultimate Ears" has been synonymous with in-ear monitors, but last year began their foray into over-ear headphones, with the release of three new over-ear models. The UE 4000 is the entry-level model in the line, and the UE 6000 the middle child. (The flagship UE 9000 can be found in the Wireless Headphones section of this guide.)

The UE 4000 is a very lightweight, closed on-the-ear headphone that is one of my new favorite entry-level headphones. For an on-the-ear, it's very comfortable, with well-padded earpads and light-moderate clamping force. Its build quality seems good, and it's an elegant looking headphone, upholding the new UE design ethos, with the diagonally-folded faceplate that can be found on all their latest headphone models, including their flagship universal-fit in-ear UE 900.

The UE 4000's sound is on the warm side, with prominent bass that largely leaves the midrange alone; a sweet, modestly detailed midrange, and treble that forgoes any chance at harshness by sacrificing some detail for smoothness. For its price, and for the passive isolation, which is quite good, I think the UE 4000 is a bargain at $99.99.

The UE 6000 is the middle child, and quite possibly the sweet spot in the new UE over-ear line. Go to the Wireless Headphone section of this guide, and read the entry for the UE 9000. Subtract the Bluetooth functionality, and, for the most part, you've got the UE 6000. Here's the thing, though: the UE 6000 is half the price of the UE 9000. So let me essentially repeat what I said about its wireless sibling: As a passive headphone the UE 6000 is an easy recommendation, with its impressively deep, powerful bass; detailed, relatively uncolored midrange; and smooth treble that's a bit rolled-off way up top. As a passive headphone, the UE 6000 is an outstanding portable, closed around-the-ear headphones. On my wish list for it, though, is a bit more treble extension and energy.

 

Like the UE 9000, the UE 6000 has active noise canceling, but, in my opinion, it's best left off unless you absolutely need it. I don't think you'll need it often, as the UE 6000 isolates quite well passively, and the active noise canceling is only so-so (in terms of canceling noise). Additionally, the UE 6000's noise canceling boosts things unnaturally, which turns the UE 6000 into a lesser headphone (in terms of fidelity) when its active circuitry is on.

Both the UE 4000 and the UE 6000 come with a cool "shareable splitter" accessory (that splits one mini stereo output into two) that has already come in handy for me, for sharing iPad movies with a travel mate on long flights.

Ultimate Ears is not just in-ears anymore, and that's a good thing.

"I think these are designed for modern lifestyles from build quality to features and sound quality are no exception."

-BilsonChang007
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Focal Spirit One

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone

PRICE: $279.00

URL: www.focal.com

French outfit Focal is known mostly for their very well regarded, very expensive high-end loudspeakers--especially the flagship Focal Grande Utopia EM, weighing 572 pounds each, and priced at $180,000.00 per pair. And it's all the rage nowadays for storied names in loudspeaker design and manufacture turning their knowledge and attention to the world of headphones; so I wasn't surprised to see Focal enter the headphone market, but I would've expected a cost-no-object, kilobuck headphone from them. What they entered the Head-Fi world with, however, was something entirely different. Something accessible. Something relatively affordable. The Focal Spirit One. $279.00. There's probably not a nut or bolt on the Grande Utopia EM that can be bought for $279.00.

Like most of Focal's other products, the Spirit One is stylish. To keep it affordable, it looks and feels to me like Focal went with a mostly plastic chassis for the Spirit One, with brushed metal cladding to give it the appearance (from a distance) of being more metal than it actually is. The top of the headband and the earpieces feel to me like rubberized plastic. Yes, in the hand, the Focal Spirit One does feel more plasticky than it looks, but it all comes together to make an attractive headphone that feels well-built.

I like that the Spirit One folds flat, making it easy to carry in its very nice included semi-hard-side case. As an iDevice user, I also like the three-button remote/mic on its cloth-covered cable (but wish they'd done more to differentiate the center button from the other two).

As for sound, the Focal Spirit One is smooth, with a neutral-ish tonal balance, and a mild bass lift down low where I like any emphasis to be. While it isn't the most revealing headphone in my stable, it still conveys more detail and neutrality than what is perhaps the most popular model by a high-end loudspeaker maker in the Bowers & Wilkins P5. And, while more revealing than the P5, the Spirit One shares one similar, very positive trait: It is eminently easy to listen to. It can be hard to find a headphone that can be forgiving and still sound excellent, and the Focal Spirit One is one of those headphones.

Given Focal's history, I'd like to see them eventually move upmarket, too, adding even more premium, cost-no-object type headphones to their line. For now, though, the Spirit One is a very good first headphone from Focal, and one I've added to my roster of on-the-go over-ear headphones.

"For a closed headphone the Spirit One have a great presentation. The sound is presented as if I am in an intimate venue. The imaging is great on the Spirit One and instruments have their space, I never feel that the music is congested, rather I find it to be immersive. Very well done."

-keanex
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sony MDR-7520

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $400

URL: www.sony.com

If, as I said earlier, the Sony MDR-ZX700 is a sort of modern spin on the circa-1980's MDR-V6, then the MDR-7520 is still a further evolution and refinement of the monitor sound the MDR-V6 represented in its heyday.

Let's get one thing straight before I continue: The MDR-7520 is not the same headphone as the now-discontinued (in the U.S.) MDR-Z1000. That was something I always assumed, but a belief I had banished for me in a head-to-head comparison of the two with Sony's Naotaka "Nao" Tsunoda (Nao was the lead engineer for these products). They do look similar, but they definitely sound different, with the MDR-7520's signature the one I preferred, its bass more impactful, and its image more spacious.

The pro audio market MDR-7520 has grown into one of my top choices for a sub-$500 closed headphone. While the newer Sony MDR-1R is also one of my favorites with its smooth-yet-detailed presentation, the MDR-7520 is often what I turn to when I want a closed around-the-ear that's more even-keeled (the MDR-7520's bass, though impactful, sounds less bumped-up to me than the MDR-1R's), and less polite, more revealing. I tend to prefer the MDR-1R when I know the music I'll be listening to is going to be all over the map, and the MDR-7520 when I'm queuing up my highest fidelity recordings, most of which are jazz and classical recordings. I'd have to give a slight edge to the MDR-7520 in imaging, too--image placement just seems a bit more precise with it.

Yes, its latest sibling, the MDR-1R, with its comfort advantage, fold-flat design, and smoother presentation, may see more general use from me; but the MDR-7520 has become an important, key member of my closed headphone stable. The MDR-7520 is now one of my primary go-to cans for reference sound in closed cans under $500.

"Punchy and warm but with excellent resolution and a strong midrange presence, the Sonys make for good all-rounders and, while they may not quite beat the ATH-M50 and HD25 on a technical level, the sound signature simply works when taken as a whole."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sony MDR-MA900

 

TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
 

PRICE: Around $300

URL: www.sony.com

Like the old Sony MDR-F1 that clearly inspired this one, the MDR-MA900's huge 70mm drivers are essentially held afloat over your ears by a completely open frame--there are no real earcups to speak of with this one.

Though it's certainly not for everyone, I can't believe the MDR-MA900 isn't more of a favorite in our community. Of headphones currently in production, this is about as open as a headphone gets, so don't bother taking it outside; and keep it away from coffee houses, lest you get the boot for leaking your music for all the customers to hear.

Tonally, the MDR-MA900 strikes me as neutral-ish, but with low bass a bit rolled off (but not rolled off enough for me to characterize the bass as sucked out). Perhaps what I perceive as its relative flatness is also what makes it sound a bit on the drier side to me. Still, though, at least it doesn't offend in any way either--there's nothing missing, nothing glaring. It's not the most detailed headphone in the world, and certainly not the most immediate, but it is among the easiest headphones to listen to all day, and with just about any kind of music (though I found it tends to sound best with acoustic music, and least impressive with EDM).

So what is it I love about this headphone? The imaging. In this regard, it's entirely unique in my collection. Big, airy, open, with a greater sense of out-of-head placement than just about any other headphone I've heard. (If you have the MDR-MA900, close your eyes and listen to "Windstorm (A Place To Bury Strangers Remix)" by School of Seven Bells--especially the first 30 seconds--for just one fun example.) The MDR-MA900's airiness might be a bit diffuse for those who prefer more intimacy, more immediacy, but I love it when I'm in the mood.

The MDR-MA900 may also be one of the most comfortable headphones on the planet, which, along with that imaging and easy-going balance, makes this an easy headphone for hours-long listening sessions. If you've got nobody else around you, and you work in a quiet environment, the MDR-MA900 is an awesome listen-while-you-work headphone. At low listening levels, it makes for an amazing background music headphone.

"I prefer the MA900 because it’s simply easier to listen to, has better genre bandwidth and seemingly better technical ability."

-Lachlan (a_recording)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

V-MODA Crossfade M-100

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphones
 

PRICE: $310.00

URL: www.v-moda.com

The V-MODA M-100--V-MODA's current flagship--was one of the most anticipated product launches we've seen in the Head-Fi community in quite some time. Part of what made the M-100 so anticipated is how it came to be, uniquely developed alongside online audiophiles, musicians, editors--a true collaborative effort. At its core, though, the M-100 was a passion project for V-MODA founder Val Kolton. He'd been working on it for a long while before he revealed the project publicly; and then for about a year after that, he started gathering feedback from his musician and editor friends, and then welcomed opinions from the Head-Fi community, including sonic critiques from Head-Fi members.

In 2011, Kolton and I met twice to discuss the M-100, once in Chicago, and then again at Head-Fi HQ in Michigan. The purpose of the visit to my office was to look at his hinge design (which ended up evolving into something stronger and more refined by the time it made production), as well as evaluating a bunch of earpad variations that looked so much alike they had to be numbered for identification (yet they sounded quite different from one prototype pair to the next). There was no sleep at that latter meeting, as there was a lot to cover--we even had a couple of video conferences with his engineers overseas. Then there was a limited public unveiling (and auditions) of M-100 prototypes at CES 2012, and a few more get-togethers about the M-100 last year. Strengthening the community-developed nature of the M-100, a very limited run of specially packaged first-run M-100's was sold exclusively to Head-Fi community members who signed up for it.

After all that, what was the result? Let's start with that hinge: As a professional DJ who knows how rough headphones can be treated on the road, Kolton wanted to make sure that any hinge he developed wouldn't be a point of weakness. And the hinge that evolved into the production version feels exceedingly strong. A lot of attention even went into the detents that *click* to confirm full-open and full-closed positions--this hinge feels positively Swiss-like in its precision.

The M-100 is a tough headphone that can survive 70+ drops on concrete from a height of six feet; survive environmental tests including high and low temperatures, humidity, salt spray, and ultraviolet light exposure; with a headband that can bend flat 10 times, and a cable that can survive 1,000,000+ bends. And, yes, these are actual tests V-MODA performs.

Also Swiss-like in its precision is the quality control the drivers are subjected to, each matched to tight tolerances at six different frequency bands, as one of Kolton's hot buttons is, without a doubt, driver matching.

Even more attention and anxiety was paid to the sound signature. With every V-MODA headphone ever made (in-ear or over-ear), there's bass emphasis, depending on the model, to varying degrees. The V-MODA Crossfade M-80 (also in this guide) was the first headphone from V-MODA that was designed for audiophiles (or "Modiophiles"--modern audiophiles--as Kolton calls them). The M-100 is the second, and the flagship. Still there is bass emphasis, but in a manner that smartly leaves the mids relatively unruffled. The M-100's mids are detailed, if not just somewhat subdued with its framing between the prominent bass on the one side, and the soaring treble on the other. Imaging is surprisingly spacious for a closed headphone whose drivers don't appear to me to be at all canted at an angle, like we see on so many headphones today.

The M-100's passive isolation is good enough for most of my on-the-go needs. For an on-the-go headphone, its sound (not to mention its durability) make it virtually perfect. If you've a tendency to prefer some bass emphasis and very detailed treble, this might very well be the closed, over-ear reference headphone you've been looking for. For me, the M-100 has become one of my top passive on-the-go headphones of choice, for both its sound and durability.

"By far the strongest sonic trait of the M-100 is it's rendering of its bass. At least to my ears, this is the defining signature of these headphones... I won't call myself a bass head but the M-100's bass traits have enlightened me on how to appreciate good quality bass."

-AnakChan
Head-Fi Member/Moderator

Sony MDR-1R and Sony MDR-1RNC

 

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, around-the-ear headphone (MDR-1R)

Closed, portable, active noise canceling, around-the-ear headphone (MDR-1RNC)

PRICE: Around $299.99 and $499.99, respectively

URL: www.sony.com

 

Last year, Sony's Naotaka "Nao" Tsunoda stopped by Head-Fi HQ in Michigan for an all-day visit. Nao is a 22-year Sony veteran--a Sony Distinguished Engineer--and one of the heads of Sony's headphone engineering and development efforts in Tokyo.

One of the reasons for the visit was to discuss, and listen to, what was then Nao's most recent project: the MDR-1 family of headphones. One by one, Nao removed a sample of each of the new models from one of his suitcases, grinning ear to ear as he did. He looked like a proud papa as he laid each box down. The new models included the Sony MDR-1R (passive-only, closed, around-the-ear), Sony MDR-1RNC (active noise canceling, closed, around-the-ear), and the Sony MDR-1RBT (Bluetooth wireless, closed, around-the-ear). (You can read about the MDR-1RBT in the Wireless Headphones section of this guide.)

The Sony MDR-1RNC, in terms of technology and features--and in terms of price--is the MDR-1R line's flagship model. It's an active noise canceling model. The MDR-1RNC also differs from the other two models in the line with a 50mm Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) driver, the other models sporting 40mm LCP drivers.

As for its noise canceling circuit, the MDR-1RNC uses an adaptive digital noise canceling system that will automatically select one of three distinct noise canceling profiles (airplane, bus, or office), depending on the MDR-1RNC's assessment of the ambient noise around you. In use, I've found the MDR-1RNC's noise canceling to be very effective. However, the way it goes about canceling noise is quite different than Bose's QC15. The Bose's noise canceling seems to cancel more total noise, to my ears, using a technique that sounds like its effect is more broadband. The MDR-1RNC, on the other hand, seems to selectively let more human voices through, but only after substantially blunting them. This effect is so specific, I have almost no doubt that it's deliberate.

One place the MDR-1RNC's noise canceling may have an advantage over the QC15 is in low-frequency noise cancellation. While testing them at an airport, Joe (one of Head-Fi's co-administrators) was wearing the MDR-1RBT (and I the QC15), and when I asked what the rumble of the tram that had just gone by sounded like to him, he asked, "What tram?"

Another advantage the MDR-1RNC has over the QC15 is in sound quality. The QC15 actually sounds pretty good--particularly when its in its element, which is in areas of loud ambient noise--with a smooth, friendly sound signature, but one that's not very detailed, and with rather flat imaging. The MDR-1RNC, like it's wireless sibling (the MDR-1RBT) uses Sony's "S-MASTER" digital amplification and "DSEE" processing which is designed to restore depth and detail lost in the audio compression process. The effect is more dramatic in the MDR-1RNC than it is in the MDR-1RBT, adding a bit more edge to the sound than the MDR-1RBT's implementation of these technologies; but, again, I think this was intentional, as an attempt to accentuate details that loud ambient noise may mask. The result is a more detailed sound signature, and more three-dimensional imaging, than Bose's QC15.

Also, unlike the Bose QC15, the MDR-1RNC can be used in passive mode, so the sound can keep going, even after the internal rechargeable battery dies. However, since the MDR-1RNC's battery life is rated at up to 30 hours of listening time, you're not likely to run it dry if you routinely charge it. (The Bose QC15 is rated for up to 35 hours of use from a single AAA battery, but the Bose's sound shuts down when there's no power.) The MDR-1RNC's passive mode's sound quality is acceptably good, but certainly not this headphone at its best. In this mode, it's bass-heavier and thicker-sounding overall than the better sounding passive-only MDR-1R and the Bluetooth MDR-1RBT in its passive mode--but it's still good. For all of these things, the MDR-1RNC has replaced the Bose QC15 as my top pick for a wired noise canceling headphone.

 

The real gem in the MDR-1R lineup is, to me, the least expensive one--the passive-only Sony MDR-1R. It's the best sounding of the three, edging out its Bluetooth sibling, the MDR-1RBT. It's also, to my ears, one of the best of the sub-$500 closed headphones currently available.

The Sony MDR-1R has a sound signature that is at once smooth and detailed. Mid-bass sounds a bit north of neutral, but very tastefully so, to my ears. It doesn't quite have the visceral low-end, gut-punching drive that the V-MODA M-100 has, but, for sit-down listening in a quiet environment, the MDR-1R has what I'd call a more reference presentation. Sony's engineers focused a great deal on carefully tuning the MDR-1R's bass performance, with one key aim being to improve the quickness of the driver's response, substantially reducing the driver's rise time in the 30 to 40 Hz area. To my ears, their efforts yielded excellent results.

The MDR-1R's midrange is also wonderful, presenting most vocals slightly forward, and with beautiful rendering of subtle details that some of its peers miss. In terms of treble, the MDR-1R has very good extension, but is never sibilant, never harsh up top, to my ears. As far as sub-$500 closed headphones go today, I can't think of another I'd pick over the MDR-1R for long-term sit-down listening sessions, across a wide variance in recording quality, and a wide variety of musical genres. The MDR-1R is available in black and silver versions.

For all three MDR-1 family models, Nao's team also spent considerable effort to make these headphones exceedingly comfortable. A lot more went into engineering comfort into this line than we have space here to discuss, but innovations in earpad design and inventive engineering around the swivel axis were among the areas of concentration for improving comfort. The results are three of the most comfortable closed headphones I've ever worn (especially the lighter passive-only MDR-1R).

After having spent time with the new MDR-1 family of headphones, it's easy to understand Nao's ear-to-ear grin, and his proud-papa sense of pride. This is a wonderful lineup from Sony.

"...in summary from a physical comfort perspective, I feel these are one of the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn. And it's isolation is also very decent, way above average and one of the better ones. In terms of balance of isolation and comfort, I'd have to say this is the best next to the Denon D7100/5100's."

-AnakChan
Head-Fi Member/Moderator

"When I put them on, I had an odd moment because all of a sudden the ambient noise level dropped dramatically, just as you would expect it would.  But it was so dramatic that I thought something around me had happened and the whole hall went silent!  I can definitely vouch for the NC abilities of this headphone..."

-Mkubota1
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

 

Comments (23)

Wow. Just wow. So many new offerings...My wallet is screaming in terror.
mine to ,i think i have to hide my cards
I was rooting for my Soundmagic HP100s to show up in this guide, but oh well :)
Great job, it looks really great! Helpful to anyone looking for a new pair of headphones, I'm sure!
this is very helpful...thank you all for the suggestions
Have an eye on the shure srh440...heard a lot of positive comments about its neutral tone and accurate bass
Umm kinda disappointed by this thread :(
good guide,well done. I do wish they'd included the soundmagic and german maestro full size offerings, all of which deliver solid performance, but then one can't expect a guide to cover everything available on the market
Great guide! Does anyone know who makes the headphone stand used in the pics for the Crossfade M-100 and Momentum (and the Sony right above) ?
@exvsynz, thanks for suggesting those brands/models.

@RapidPulse, that stand was made by Astro Gaming. Unfortunately, I think it's now discontinued.
that is a beautiful headphone stand. me thinks that the maker didn't market it well. :(
I am happy to know that my dear m80 is still loved here in spite of the beyerdynamic DT1350 and the Senny Amperior XD. I agree with lukEM22 The SoundMagic HP100 does deserve a spot here
wondering why mr speaker mad dog isn't mentioned in here ..
Fantastic guide, Jude...as always! I was disappointed that the B&O H6 over-the-ear cans didn't make the cut. I was hoping to get your opinion!
 Please, the he-400 surpasses the hd6xx series in almost all respects. 
Wow! Amazing post!! Amazing!! Thanks!
Amazon has the Koss PRODJ100 for $40 right now
Wow, what an amazing article. Seriously, this is extreme.
@jude, In terms of tight, accurate bass: MDR-1R or ATH-M50? I've owned the M50 before so I know I like it, but the Sony's seem much more comfortable. Or would you have another suggestion? Custom One Pro or CitiScape Uptown maybe? I listen to mainly hip hop, but I want good crisp highs, and warm mids.
If you want brighter sound from Portapros, simply swap the stock drivers out for KSC75s. -shrug-
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