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.
"Despite its age, the MDR-V6 really is a headphone that does very little wrong for the asking price. It is well-built, comfortable, and isolating enough to compete with the best ‘modern’ studio and DJ headphones."
In 2013, Shure contacted me to ask if I wanted to have an advance listen to a new closed, over-ear flagship headphone to be released later in the year. The answer was an obvious "yes," but there were some admitted reservations about what to expect, as a couple of their previous over-ears--the Shure SRH940 and SRH1440--were definitely not my cup of tea, being, to my ears, too bright, too reedy, too lean. (The veteran Shure SRH840 and their flagship open SRH1840--which I'm getting to in a minute--I definitely do like.)
Fortunately, in terms of sonic performance, Shure absolutely stuck their landing with the SRH1540, making what I feel is their best over-ear headphone so far. With fantastic, full, controlled bass (though emphasized), and excellent, evenhanded, monitor-like detail and balance from the mids on up. It's a safe tuning that I think sounds awesome with every music genre I listen to (and I listen to just about everything).
The Shure SRH1540 is also insanely comfortable--one of the most comfortable large, full-size over-ear headphones I've got. Weighing just over 10 ounces, it's very light for its size. Perhaps the single biggest contributors to the SRH1540's comfort are its Alcantara earpads. Alcantara might be my favorite synthetic earpad material, with its ultra-soft, sueded hand, and perforated on the SRH1540 which makes it very breathable. Filled with what feels to me like memory foam, these are among the most plush, most comfortable earpads of any headphone.
The SRH1540 isolates well, too. Along with the pads, which are plush enough to quickly create a good seal, the closed earcups do a fine job of keeping your music in, and the world around you muted. The outside of the earcups are clad in genuine carbon fiber, which I believe was chosen in part for its resistance to resonance--and those carbon fiber outside plates look gorgeous, too.
Again, in my opinion, the SRH1540 is Shure's best over-ear headphone so far, and an easy recommendation at its $499 price. If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a big fan of this latest Shure over-ear. Make sure to check out ourHead-Fi TV episode about the Shure SRH1540.
Now you may have noticed that the Shure SRH1840, which certainly isn't new (released back in late 2011), has made it into this update of the Buying Guide (though wasn't in the guide previously). Why? Though I really do like the SRH1840, I felt its original price of around $700 put it in a tough spot, given what else is out there at the price. Some time since its release, however, the SRH1840's street price has fallen to around $499, and, at that price, I think it definitely is a candidate for anyone looking for a good, open, full-sized headphone.
With its bass sounding shy of neutral to me, neutrality through the mids, and treble that is a bit hotter than neutral, the Shure SRH1840's tonal balance is on the leaner side to me. It's a revealing headphone, though, and images nice and big. Again, I really like this headphone, and, at its new lower price, it's easy for me to recommend, which is why it's now in this guide. (You can click here to read my more detailed impressions of the Shure SRH1840.)
"Let me say that for a closed back, these are superb. I don't know how Shure does this, but they manage to make their closed back have one of the best soundstage for a closed back. "
Blue Microphones unveiled advertising and PR teaser campaigns leading up to CES 2014 that wereveryprovocative, and they certainly worked on me. Their ads said things like"Move over headphones. Mo-Fi is coming,"and,"Headphone is lo-fi. Mo-Fi is coming."Those provocative ads, combined with Blue's reputation for quality in the microphone world, had me scheduling Blue as one of our very first stops at CES, so their campaign worked as intended on me anyway.
I paid a visit to Blue's offices after CES, and was thrilled to see how much effort, research, and development they were devoting to their first headphone. Blue's intention to join the premium microphone/headphone manufacturers club--with members like Sennheiser, Sony, beyerdynamic, Shure, Audio-Technica, and AKG--was certainly something they hadn't taken lightly.
For those of you not familiar with Blue Microphones, they've been making high-quality microphones for nearly 20 years, and became popular with mainstream consumers when they released their line of USB microphones, which are now wildly popular with podcasters and home recording enthusiasts. Look upBlue YetiandBlue Snowball, and you'll probably say, "Oh, yeah, I've seen those!" Pro audio folks have known Blue for a long time now, with Blue's top mics being highly coveted in the pro world, with prices as high as $6000 for their flagship Blue Bottle microphone. In addition to sound quality, one thing all of Blue's microphones have in common is visually striking design, and they wanted their first headphone to carry the Blue's DNA into the headphone market, in terms of sound and sight. By now you've probably seen the Mo-Fi, but, until you did, I'm quite sure you'd never seen anything like it. (If you haven't seen it yet,click hereto watch our Head-Fi TV episode about it.)
At first sight, what immediately sets the Mo-Fi apart from every other headphone in the world (and perhaps ever made) is its headband. The Mo-Fi headband is a multi-link, multi-jointed assembly, and it was designed this way to do a lot more than just provide shock value at first sight, which it never fails to do. The first time I handled Mo-Fi, its headband movement and feel reminded me a bit of the well-damped suspensions of high-end remote controlled cars. The multi-link design keeps the earpads angled flat against your head, regardless of width. Because of this design, I find the headband applies force very evenly, making for a very comfortable fit over my ears and against my head. I don't feel any pressure hotspots from the earpads, or any sense that the force applied across the earpads is anything but even.
The headband also has adjustable tension, using a recessed dial atop the headband. Because of the width of my head, my Mo-Fi is adjusted close to its loosest setting. I really like that Blue recognized that their multi-link headband design opened up the possibility of providing adjustable clamping force, and that they chose to go with it.
Just as unique as the Mo-Fi's physical design was Blue's approach to its sound. The Mo-Fi has a built-in amp that is more akin to a dedicated high-quality portable amplifier than it is to a typical active headphone circuit. Blue's engineers co-designed the amp with a well-known portable amp developer/manufacturer (whom they haven't publicly revealed), and the result is impressive--the Mo-Fi's amp is powerful (240mW), with no self-noise that I can hear, and with output impedance of less than an ohm! It was designed to authoritatively drive the headphone when in use, but to do so as transparently as possible (there is a setting to optionally boost bass if desired).
I really enjoy the sound of the Mo-Fi in its passive mode from my high-quality amplifiers. And I do feel the amp circuit largely meets the goal of being transparent when compared to the Mo-Fi in passive mode, driven by a high-quality external amp. What is its sound signature? Blue's engineers wanted a headphone that was flat enough for professional use, but not clinical, and I think they succeeded in doing this with the Mo-Fi. I use this headphone a lot, and like it enough to carry it regularly, despite its large size.
Now this brings me to my only caveats where this headphone is concerned. The Blue Mo-Fi is a large headphone. It is large on the head, and striking ripped-from-a-cyborg styling does nothing to de-emphasize that. I have no problem wearing it in public (and do), but you should know that going in. It is also a rather heavy headphone, with extensive use of metal in its construction, weighing 466 grams (or 16.44 ounces). On my head, the weight is distributed well, and I have no problem wearing the Mo-Fi for hours; but if you're very sensitive to heavy headphones, the Mo-Fi is definitely no lightweight.
2014 isn't over yet, but I feel comfortable calling the Blue Microphones Mo-Fi one of the most innovative, interesting products of the year in the world of Head-Fi.
"I think the Mo-Fi’s are perfect for a work setup or someone looking for an all-in-one headphone solution in a non-mobile setting, especially if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a dedicated headphone amplifier. "
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.
"These cans in my opinion are ideal for pure enjoyment of music - either straight out of your DAP, or amplified for a little extra lift. If I had to sum them up in a couple of words I would "smooth" and "balanced". I use the word balance more in an all purpose sense rather than a frequency range sense - these cans are great with most genres you throw at them."
Written by Jude Mansilla
V-MODA's M-80 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). With its rich, detailed mids, and smooth treble response, and full bass (but certainly not overblown, to my ears), the M-80 became one of the standards in this class of headphones. And though, technically, the M-80 is still on the market (at the time of this writing), V-MODA's XS serves is similar enough to it that we chose to replace the M-80 in this guide with it.
Starting with the low end, to my ears, the XS actually has a touch more energy in the mid-bass than the M-80. Still, though, I prefer the XS's bass presentation, which I find more precise, and more revealing of bass detail than the M-80 musters. The XS's rich, detailed mids are a nice carryover from the M-80. The newer headphone's treble, however, is more refined, and smoother than its older sib's. And, overall, that is actually how I'd describe the sound of the XS relative to the M-80--more refined. To my ears, in terms of sound, the headphone gives up nothing to its older stablemate.
Because the it more than keeps up with the M-80's sound, the biggest story with the XS, in my opinion, are the improvements that come with its physical design, and the changes and innovations there. V-MODA put considerable effort into making the XS more comfortable (and more compact) than the M-80, and it has paid off in spades.
One of the things I've always appreciated about every V-MODA over-ear headphone (both on-ear and around-the-ear) is the durable build quality that comes with their extensive use of metal and relatively straightforward swivel-less designs. While doing away with yoke swivels and joints certainly leads to greater strength, it also results in limited flexibility, especially in terms of earcup articulation. With my M-80, I've rather forceably twisted the headband to better optimize the angle at which the earcups greet my ears. With the XS, however, V-MODA has created a headband that seems to me to be more flexible, and that also seems to apply force to the earcups more evenly than with the M-80. The XS feels less clampy, and sits just as securely--but more evenly on my ears--than the M-80. For me, the XS is the a substantial comfort upgrade over the M-80.
V-MODA's Val Kolton also designed the XS to have a more form-fit appearance on the head. I've seen the XS worn by a good number of people by now, and the headband seems to have the ideal radius and flexibility to keep its lines snug up against heads of just about every shape and size. Because there's so little gap between the XS's headband and the head of the wearer, one of the marketing phrases V-MODA uses for the XS is "Mind The Gap," of course borrowed from the famous London Underground rail system warning. In my opinion, the XS is one of the best looking headphones on the head, with an understated physical presence, but with all the bold design elements of a V-MODA.
Finally, borrowing from the larger V-MODA M-100, the V-MODA XS incorporates V-MODA's awesome folding hinge design. As on the M-100, these folding hinges are things of beauty, super-sleek yet seemingly indestructible, and possessing of a detent *click* sound that reminds me of a well-made folding knife's blade snapping into its open position. And, when folded, the XS fits into its tiny carrying case, making for the smallest supra-aural (on-ear) headphone in its class. Even in a tightly packed messenger bag, when it seems there might only be room for an in-ear monitor, I can usually find a place for the XS.
For its sound, and for its comfort and compactness, the V-MODA XS is easily one of the best on-the-go headphones currently on the market.
"If you want a rich, smooth, warm yet detailed, big and dynamic sound in a crazy small portable package I strongly recommend trying the XS out. V-MODA just keeps getting better and better with the quality of their products and they should really be proud of this one."
In 2013, Fostex decided to show an early prototype of their new planar magnetic headphone at CanJam at RMAF, before the headphone was even given a name. Since then, it has gone through A LOT of development, and it has also earned the name "Fostex TH500RP." The TH500RP is a sort of melding of Fostex's longstanding planar magnetic expertise with the design philosophy and flair of their flagship dynamic Fostex TH900 (and the TH600). The end result is a headphone that may confound those looking to buy their first premium Fostex headphone, as it adds one more excellent option to the top of the Fostex headphone line (accompanied by the TH600, and flagship TH900).
Built largely of aluminum and magnesium, the TH500RP's construction is outstanding, and fully in keeping with the quality that the TH600 and TH900 have spoiled us with. With the large, round earcups, and the perforated grill, the TH500RP looks like the love child of a Stax SR009 and a vintage Fostex.
The TH500RP isverycomfortable on my head. I've worn it for hours at a time without any hotspots or clamping force issues. It only weighs 380 grams (13.4 ounces), so, as far as planars go, it is quite light.
Compared to its TH600 and TH900 siblings, the TH500RP is a more subtle headphone, a more even-tempered headphone. The bass emphasis isn't there--in fact, some may find the TH500RP's bass on the lean-ish side; I find its bass more neutral. To my ears, there's certainly no bass emphasis or boost. The TH500RP's midrange is very smooth, and with beautiful tone--I wouldn't describe its mids as bloomy, but, again, relative to pure neutrality, there's some sweetness in the TH500RP's midband. The same goes for its treble presentation. To my ears, it doesn't have the sense of treble extension that, for example, the HE-560 has, but, as with its mids, there's something entirely pleasant and mellifluous about the TH500RP's treble presentation.
Sonically, the TH500RP is not a headphone that wowed me, and, strangely enough, I really mean that as a compliment. It's a revealing headphone, but it's not incisive or analytical, to my ears. It's a headphone that has enough ease about its sound that once it's on my head, it's usually on for dang long time.
I visited Fostex's highly secretive audio labs last year in Japan, and one thing I've learned is that Fostex doesn't leave anything to chance. The overriding character of the TH500RP to me is that it doesn't impose itself on me or the music, and I'm inclined to think that Fostex fully intended that.
The TH500RP is an eminently musical headphone, and if you're shopping in its price range--and if what I've described sounds appealing to you--definitely put it on your audition list.
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.
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."
One of the most popular DJ headphones in the world is the HD 25 by Sennheiser--many DJ's the world over wear their 25's proudly, a sort of status symbol. Here's the thing, though: the HD25 wasn't originally designed as a DJ headphone.
The Sennheiser HD 25 headphones were first released in 1988, and were intended for outside broadcasting use. What were some of the features that would be helpful for outside broadcasting? A rotatable ear cup for one-ear monitoring, and isolation from outside noise. Obviously, these are traits well suited for DJ use, too; but it wasn't until around ten years after their introduction that the HD 25 picked up steam with DJ's. And for the last 15 years or so, they've become a common site around the neck, and half on the head, of serious DJ's.
Early last year, Sennheiser released some purpose-built DJ headphones in the HD7 DJ and the HD8 DJ (both have nominal 95Ω impedance). I have them both, but I'm no DJ. My friend Adam Bellinson (DJ Thread, or simply "@thread" on Head-Fi) is a DJ, however, playing the Detroit scene regularly, and he had been an HD25-wearing DJ for a long time. When Sennheiser contacted him to ask him to try the HD8, he agreed to, and I wondered which--between his long-time HD25 and the new HD8 DJ--he'd prefer. Well, since receiving the HD8, I haven't seen a photo of him spinning with any other headphone. He really likes the HD8 and posted as about it on Head-Fi. (thread is a high-end headphone audio enthusiast, too, by the way.)
Again, I am not a DJ, but I have spent a lot of time with the HD7 DJ, HD8 DJ, and the HD6 MIX (which I'll get to in a minute). Of the two DJ models, I have a slight preference for the HD8. It is quite bass-heavy, yes. But I find its overall tonal balance fun, with what sounds to me like hard-hitting emphasis, particularly from the mid-bass through the lower mids. (This is also true of the HD7.) And though the bass is heavy, it's surprisingly fast--emphasized a lot, but with detail. Where the HD8 edges out the HD7 for me is its slightly more lit treble, which gives it a little more pizzaz, and makes for a fun on-the-go headphone.
Of the three models in this new group of headphones, the one I prefer most is the HD6 MIX (nominal impedance of 150Ω), which Sennheiser describes as a headphone "designed to cater to the needs of the professional sound technician," and describe its sound as "accurate, balanced sound reproduction suitable for mixing and monitoring." In addition to notbeing a DJ, I am also not a professional sound technician. The HD6 sound signature Sennheiser describes might read to audiophiles like the HD6 would sound neutral, which, to my ears, it is not. So perhaps what a professional sound technician is looking for and what audiophiles consider neutral are two different things. The HD6, however, is more even-handed than either of the two "DJ" models, still with some mid-bass emphasis, but not as much thickness, to my ears, in the upper bass or lower mids. Its treble doesn't have that extra bite that I'm hearing with the HD8 DJ, so from the bottom to the top, its sound is certainly more uniform, and less exciting, which, to me, is the more preferable of the two signatures for my kind of use and listening.
All three headphones are built very stoutly, obviously intended to withstand the rigors and punishment of pro audio use, and come with tough carrying cases. The HD7 and HD8 have dual rotating ear cups, and the HD6 cups don't rotate at all. All three are quite light in weight for their size, with the HD8 just slightly heavier due to the use of metal parts in key areas to improve strength and durability.
This new family of headphones also introduces an aesthetic that is unique, not just to Sennheiser, but to the market as a whole, and I love their style. Their look is at once professional, youthful, and attractive.
While I may not have the professional credentials of the intended customers for these headphones, I've found them enjoyable, and have occasion to carry especially the HD6 MIX for on-the-go use.
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."
The last time Sennheiser released a new headphone with the "HD" designation--with a number in the 600's behind it--it was the Sennheiser HD 650, nearly 12 years ago (in 2003). Whereas the HD 650 was rather a lot like the HD 600 (and the HD 580 before that), the new HD 630VB has no outward familial ties to anything from Sennheiser's modern era, its design instead inspired by a long-ago Sennheiser infrared wireless model called the HDI 434. (Go ahead and look it up, as I wasn't familiar with it either.)
Beginning with its obscure design inspiration, the HD630VB definitely marches to the beat of its own drummer. Like Sennheiser's HD 25-1 II, the HD 630VB has rather atypical right-side cable entry. The HD 630VB's ear cups, yokes, and sliders are made of aluminum. The right ear cup's flat surface is dominated by a dark circle that houses the volume and music/call control buttons (which I'll get to shortly). (The HDI 434 also had controls on its right ear cup.) The left ear cup has no controls (also like the HDI 434), and Sennheiser did not elect to put a decorative dark circle in its center to match the HD 630VB's right ear cup--they left its beveled silver-colored aluminum to dominate that left side, sans any logos or emblems. The contrast between the two cups is certainly unique.
The HD 630VB is a large headphone, with full-size ear cups that are rather thick. Fortunately, the HD630VB has a couple of tricks up its sleeve that most closed headphones this large do not have: first, the earpieces rotate to fold flat; and, also, the headband has sturdy-feeling hinges—with very nice, very positive detents—that allow the HD 630VB to fold flat, and to stack the flat-rotated ear cups one on top of the other. While it's not ultra-compact no matter how you fold it up, the HD 630VB's flat-folding design and hinged headband make it far more stowable than most headphones of similar size.
The "VB" in this headphone's name stands for "Variable Bass." This, and perhaps a few other things, are likely to give some audiophile's pause. What other things? The Sennheiser HD630VB's headphone cable is captive (non-removable), and has an inline microphone for headset use. The controls on the right ear cup include music/call controls, and an iOS / Android switch to optimize its control compatibility with most popular mobile phones. To further optimize the HD 630VB's drivability from most mobile devices, it was designed with low nominal impedance (23Ω) and high sensitivity (114dB).
While some of the above features/specs are not typical of the audiophile headphones we usually discuss on Head-Fi, do not cross the HD630VB off your list of candidate headphones if you're looking for a headphone with impressive sound that's both full-size and closed-back. With an expected retail price of $549.95, the Sennheiser HD 630VB is priced to compete with the likes of the Fostex TH600, and, to my ears, it's in league with the big, black Fostex. I actually think many will find the new Sennheiser more versatile with its well-implemented passive bass control (which I'll get to in a minute), not to mention being better suited to be packed up and toted along. Also, unlike the semi-closed Fostex TH-600, the Sennheiser HD 630VB is a fully closed design, meaning it's better at keeping the music from leaking out, and has solid passive isolation.
As for its sound, the HD 630VB is very versatile, helped by the fact that its bass control (rated by Sennheiser for +/- 5dB at 50Hz) is, to my ears, very well implemented. It actually has a more pronounced effect the further down you go below 50Hz, but little effect in the direction of the midband (until you really crank it up).
The bass control dial is continuously adjustable, but marked by several index points, starting with MIN, and then five primary marks between, before hitting MAX (for a total of seven major index points, each sub-divided into quarters). No matter how you set the bass control, the HD 630VB has some upper-bass emphasis, but I find it very well voiced there, and not at all intrusive. Between the MIN and the first major index point, I can discern little change in tonal balance. However, when I keep turning past there, the changes become more evident. What I love is that there's minimal effect on the lower midrange, until you get into its highest settings, at which point the lower mids do thicken noticeably--fortunately, the onset of this happens somewhat quick, and so it's rather easy to avoid. I'm impressed with the bass control's execution, and, so far, most of those I've let listen to the HD630VB have been similarly impressed.
In terms of how I set the HD 630VB's bass adjustment, I've found myself using the third notch above MIN (the red line in the graph above), and the fourth notch (the purple line), and moving in between those. For my tastes, I've found this range the most even-handed with the HD 630VB, while still giving me some extra oomph down low for a little heightened drive. @joe tends to prefer a thicker sound than me, and he's been using it at around the second from highest setting (the one just below MAX), and sometimes backs off a little bit from there.
While I don't often go beyond the fourth notch--and very rarely venture anywhere near MAX--I do find the latitude to thicken the sound at or near the HD630VB's highest bass settings a blessing for some of my ultra-tinny 80's pop and new wave music. It can also add a sense of welcome tonal depth to some of my thinner, reedier old jazz and cabaret recordings, by the likes of Django Reinhardt and Edith Piaf, for example.
One of the HD630VB's strongest points is its imaging, especially for a closed headphone. I know a lot of tuning went into this aspect of the headphone, and it's with great effect--never reaching out like the super-open flagship Sennheiser HD 800, but often casting well beyond what I'd expect of a headphone that is as closed as the HD630VB is.
I think one headphone a lot of shoppers will inevitably compare the HD 630VB to is the Fostex TH-600, given that they're both closed (well, the Fostex is semi-closed), and that their prices are within striking distance of each other (the Fostex's street price is currently around $50 higher). Again, I think the HD 630VB is a worthy contender for the venerable Fostex, and I'd compare them thusly: The Fostex--perhaps owing to its semi-open design--has tonal characteristics to me that are, in some ways, rather less like a closed headphone (than, say, the Shure SRH1540, or this HD 630VB), being a bit more even-handed from bass to mids, with more open-sounding, more soaring treble, too.
If the TH600 is closed enough for you and your environment, and you don't desire greater versatility from it, I'd say you might end up preferring the TH-600 to the HD 630VB. If, however, you've found the TH-600 too open (in terms of leakage in or out), and/or you've found the TH-600's treble a bit too tipped-up for your tastes, then the Sennheiser HD630VB is a must-audition headphone.
Is the Sennheiser HD630VB capable of being adjusted (via its bass adjustment knob) to the type of neutral presentation of something like a Focal Spirit Professional? No. However, if you've found the Focal Spirit Professional a bit lean or cold for your tastes, then the spunkier Sennheiser HD 630VB might be more to your liking.
What quibbles do I have with the HD 630VB? Though it has a certain charm about its appearance, it is a very noticeable headphone on the head. While this doesn't bother me (I've been known to wear the Fostex TH-600 and Audeze LCD-XC out and about on rare occasion), some might find it a bit too obvious, in all its large silver glory. As for sound, I've found its adjustability suits its purpose for me for on-the-go use. When I've used it at my desk, though, I've had occasion to wish for a little more richness in the mids (low-mids to mid-mids), but not to any degree greater than other minor wishes I have for just about every headphone I use.
Don't let the bass adjustment dial, inline microphone, or song/call controls fool you into thinking the Sennheiser HD 630VB isn't a serious closed headphone at the price, as it very much is. As with any other headphone, it won't be to everyone's taste, but its versatility may broaden its appeal. If you're currently shopping for a good closed headphone in the $500 price range, make sure to put the Sennheiser HD630VB on your list of candidates to audition. In my opinion, it's a serious closed headphone candidate at the price, that just happens to have some unusual (but useful) features thrown in.
Aedle VK-1 Valkyrie
Written by Jude Mansilla
Designed in Paris. Assembled in Brittany, France. You read that, and thoughts of beautiful things probably come to mind. And when it comes to the Aedle VK-1 Valkyrie, that's exactly what you get. It's simply one of the most beautiful headphones I've ever seen.
In founding Aedle, Raphael Lebas de Lacour and Baptiste Sancho decided to create something unique in the headphone world, aiming to combine old world craftsmanship and noble materials with modern technology, and they've certainly done that--and the result is certainly unique.
Outside of its aramid-fiber-covered cable, the only thing your hand touches on the Aedle VK-1 is metal or leather. The metals used in the VK-1 include manganese steel, polished stainless steel, and pieces machined from ingots of T6066 aircraft grade aluminum. The leather is all hand sewn lambskin--and I love that the leather looks hand sewn. Though CNC machining is used on the metal parts, looking at the Aedle VK-1 instead conjures images of hammers and anvils in my mind.
It also comes with a beautiful quilted, padded carrying pouch with a magnetic closure top, and made of what feels to me like a brushed denim. It's a perfectly fitting case for the Aedle VK-1.
The VK-1's earpieces are supra-aural (on-the-ear), and, coupled with some pretty strong clamping force out of the box, don't exactly make for the most comfortable headphones. Some flexing and bending to shape and loosen the lambskin-covered manganese spring steel headband has improved fit quite a bit. It'll never be one of my most comfortable headphones, but I can wear it for a couple of hours without a hitch.
The titanium drivers their semi-closed housings (using what Aedle calls a "passive bass enhancement system") sound very good to me, with a warmish overall tilt. Bass is strong, but firm. The midrange has good clarity--wonderful with vocals--without a hint of edge or glare. The treble has a soft rolled-off quality. The Aedle is warm-sounding to me, but not dark. It's more about a pleasant listen than it is a deep dive into sonic microscopy. For what it is, the Aedle VK-1 sounds very nice to me.
In short, the Aedle VK-1 is very French--literally, and in spirit. And I absolutely adore it.
25 years is how long it has been on the market. 25 years is how long it has been a pro audio staple, a favorite of DJ's, a portable go-to for audiophiles. Since it was an instant hit, 25 years is also how long it has been a classic. I can't believe it, but the HD 25 is already 25 years old this year. And to celebrate its birthday, Sennheiser decided to create a 25th anniversary edition of it, and I hope it's not just a special edition, because this is one model I want to stick around: the Sennheiser HD 25 ALUMINUM.
Using earcups machined from solid blocks of aluminum, the HD 25 ALUMINUM might be mistaken for the now-discontinued Sennheiser Amperior. Unlike the low-impedance Amperior, however, the HD 25 ALUMINUM uses the same drivers as the standard HD 25-1 II, and has the same 70Ω nominal impedance (versus the Amperior's much lower 18Ω nominal impedance).
Other than the aluminum earcups and hinge covers, the only significant changes I can see (holding my HD 25-1 II and HD 25 ALUMINUM side by side here) is that the HD 25-1 II's cable is terminated with a right-angle mini plug, whereas the HD 25 ALUMINUM's cable is terminated with a straight mini plug. Also, the 25 ALUMINUM's pads (both the earpads and the headband padding) seem to be softer, and covered with a leather-like material with a softer hand than the original HD 25-1 II.
As the Amperior did (obviously suggesting the damped aluminum housing is an important change), the HD 25 ALUMINUM refines the HD 25-1 II's bass, imparting greater control and resolution down low. The whole spectrum is improved, actually, and the treble loses some of the bite and edge that the standard HD 25-1 II's can exhibit. Whereas the HD 26 Pro is more of a departure (with some similarities), the HD 25 ALUMINUM is an HD 25 through and through--only a more refined one, a better one.
I've seen this model referred to as the 25th Anniversary Edition, but I hope it's more of a permanent model in the lineup than a temporary one, especially now that the Amperior has been discontinued.
The Bose QuietComfort 15 was the most effective active noise canceling headphone (for the consumer market) that I'd ever used. Then Bose's in-ear QuietComfort 20 raised the bar, actively canceling even more noise than its over-ear sibling, nestled in my ears for over 100,000 miles of travel so far. Well, Bose has done it yet again, with the over-ear QuietComfort 25, replacing the QuietComfort 15.
To my ears, the QC25 improves on virtually every aspect of the QC15, from the amount of noise canceled, to its sound quality when playing music (or movies, for that matter), and even the carrying case was improved. One critically important upgrade is that the QC25 now plays passively, whereas the QC15 would completely cease to function when its battery died. However, as with the QC15, a dying battery isn't likely to be commonplace with the QC25, as it can play for around 35 hours from a single alkaline AAA battery.
The Bose QuietComfort 25 has the most effective active noise cancellation circuit I've yet used in a consumer headphone regardless of form factor, and by a noticeable margin. If the amount of active noise attenuation is your primary consideration, the QC25 wouldeasilybe my top recommendation, as it's freakishly good in this regard.
Musically, the QC25 sounds good, too, and has improved in terms of musicality and resolution versus its predecessor. However, if you're used to high-end headphones (like ones we more typically discuss at Head-Fi in this price range and above), the QC25 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, though--in a 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 QC25 is exceptionally comfortable (as comfortable as the QC15 before it), even on my huge head, with its very moderate clamping force, very soft cushy earpads, and light weight. The QC25 also folds very flat into a newly designed, even more compact semi-hardside case, so it's very easy to pack.
If you're type of person who travels a bunch, but can't get comfortable with in-ear headphones, then it has to be added to your must-try list. Simply put, as far as over-ear headphones go, the Bose QuietComfort 25 is my current first choice for a travel headphone, and a worthwhile upgrade to the outstanding QuietComfort 15 that came before it.
When the beyerdynamic T50p and the DT1350 were released a few years ago--the T50p being beyerdynamic's consumer compact headphone and the DT1350 the pro audio counterpart--I had a clear preference for the DT1350. The pro sibling's deep bass was more impactful and controlled; and its sound, though at times analytical, was certainly the more revealing of the two. Sure, they looked a lot alike, but, to my ears, the DT1350 was simply the runaway winner in any comparison between the two.
Fast forward to 2013, and the introduction of the T51p, successor to the T50p. Because (to my ears) there was a rather substantial gap in performance between the older T50p and the DT1350, I wasn't expecting the new T51p to challenge the DT1350 for my ear time--but, wow, was I pleasantly surprised when it arrived.
I want to be clear about something straight away: the T51p does not sound like the DT1350. Like the T50p before it, the T51p seems to be aiming for a more consumer-friendly sound (than the DT1350), but beyerdynamic gave the new T51p a healthy shot of improved resolution (versus the T50p), making it a much stronger competitor--and a true performance peer--for their pro compact DT1350 than its predecessor was. So, now, choosing between beyerdynamic's consumer compact and its pro compact is simply a matter of choosing one of two different flavors of high-performance compacts.
If you've heard the DT1350 and felt it even the least bit cold or dry, then the T51p is worth an audition. Versus the DT1350, the T51p has more emphasized bass, but still with a nicely textured, detailed lower end. Its midrange also sounds richer to me than the DT1350's mids, but no less resolving here than its sibling's midband. Treble is where the two models have their strongest differences, the T51p's treble being comparatively smoother, more subdued, but still with a nice presence and just enough to keep the T51p from sounding soft, to my ears. Whereas the DT1350 could occasionally render unforgivingly (and even less occasionally harshly), the T51p shows comparatively more forbearance.
Verus the DT1350 I have on hand, and versus its predecessor T50p, the T51p represents a substantial improvement in on-ear comfort. The T51p's on-ear pads have a bit larger diameter to them, and combined with their super-soft, super-smooshy feel, can comfortably be worn by me for hours. The T51p also seems far less sensitive to placement than the DT1350--yes, with its small cans, it still needs to be placed right over your ear, but, unlike my DT1350 it's not as microscopically sensitive to exact placement. Also, versus the DT1350, the T51p is less clampy, rated for 2.5N of headband pressure, versus the DT1350's rated 5.5N. (NOTE: the DT1350 I have here is a very early model, I believe the first unit to arrive in the U.S., and I think they may have made some changes--including the earpads--since then. I'll try to get hold of a more current DT1350.)
I think the DT1350 was beyerdynamic's answer to Sennheiser's HD25 series. The T51p seems more like their response to the likes of V-MODA's XS, Sennheiser's MOMENTUM, the Sony MDR-1R, and other excellent audiophile headphones that are more consumer-oriented.
Maybe it's just a mood thing--maybe it's because it's still new to me--but the T51p has had more ear time with me since its arrival than the DT1350. It gives up very little in the way of resolving ability to its pro sibling, but sounds and feels more easygoing and forgiving. I think the beyerdynamic T51p is certainly among the top-tier in the portable on-ear headphone market and is one of my new reference portable supra-aural (on-the-ear) over-ear headphones.
"...considering fantastic "made in Germany" design, rich full body sound, super comfortable fitment, and the bass to make everybody happy - these deserve a very serious consideration for anybody in a market for on-ear or over-ear headphones."
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.
"The HD600 has become my favourite headphone for simply listening to music. They are well built, comfortable, and sound simply phenomenal. Their tonal balance and the naturalness of their sound is the best I've personally heard so far."
In the last few years, though, loudspeaker manufacturers, noticing the exploding popularity of headphones, decided to parlay their acoustic engineering and product development chops to develop headphones of their own. One of the newer such players of this game--but certainly no newcomer to the high-end audio world--is KEF.
Though I've never owned a KEF loudspeaker, KEF has been a significant part of my own audio history, making the legendary KEF B139 woofer that was used in one of my favorite loudspeakers of all time, the Linn Isobarik DMS. Why the significance to me? The big Linns were the loudspeakers in the very first hi-fi system ever to reproduce music with enough power and presence to literally bring tears to my eyes.
In 2013, KEF released its first two headphones: the KEF M500 (over-ear) and the KEF M200 (in-ear). Like Bowers & Wilkins did with their P5, KEF's first over-ear entry is a supra-aural (on-ear) model made of copious amounts of metal and leather (I'm not sure the M500's leather is real leather, though it sure feels good and soft regardless). The M500 also boasts a gorgeous design, with the M500 having a thoroughly modern, sharp-cornered, space-age appearance, versus the P5's retro-smooth curves and lines. (Though I haven't asked anyone at KEF about this, I wouldn't be surprised if perhaps that legendary oval-shaped KEF loudspeaker driver inspired the M500's oval-shaped earcups--the proportions are so similar, I can't imagine it was a coincidence.)
The KEF M500 also comes with one of the better carrying cases in the biz, in terms of combining style, portability, and functionality. Combined with the M500's unique left-side yoke cable entry, the case can accommodate the M500 with its cable still plugged into to it.--this is something I really wish more headphone makers kept in mind when designing their headphones and accompanying cases. (It's a pain to plug and unplug cables every time one wants to use or store his headphones.)
Like the Bowers & Wilkins P5, I find the KEF M500 very comfortable for an on-ear headphone--I might even give a slight edge in comfort to the KEF, with earpads that feel even cushier on my ears than the P5's plush numbers. And though the M500's design is chunky with metal, it is much lighter than it looks, weighing only 208g (or around 7.3 ounces), and so it feels very light on the head.
In terms of sound, I have to give the M500 the advantage over its on-ear rival from Bowers & Wilkins (the P5). Actually, as of this writing, I can't think of any other current supra-aural headphone that I think sounds better than the KEF M500. Its bass extension is very good, its bass control just as impressive. On balance, I'd say its bass is north of neutral, especially down low, but, again, well controlled. The M500's midrange is warmish to me, but still clear as a bell--this is a closed on-ear? The KEF's treble is a seamless extension of the mids, with a bit more presence and sparkle than a lot of my portable closed headphones.
With a nominal impedance of 32Ω, and a rated sensitivity of 103dB/mW, the KEF M500 is an easy load to drive. It sounds very good straight out of my iPhone 5S, but will also scale up its performance noticeably when being driven by my good portable and desktop rigs.
If you can't tell, I'm mightily impressed by KEF's first over-ear headphone. Along with the likes of PSB and Bowers & Wilkins, KEF is showing the headphone world that some of the loudspeaker players are here to compete in this headphone game with the utmost seriousness; and I think they're here to stay.
"In my humble opinion, the KEF M500 is up there on the top 3-list of best portable headphone I've listened to. Unless you want unnaturally emphasized lows or crave good isolation capabilities the M500 will deliver the goods in spades. I really hope more people get to experience this headphone because it's just that damn good and KEF deserves some serious credit for that accomplishment!"
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 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."