Head-Fi.org › 2014 Summer Buying Guide › Head Fi Buying Guide Over Ear Headphones 2

Head-Fi Buying Guide (Over-Ear Headphones) 2

Introduction
Over-Ear Headphones
In-Ear Headphones
Wireless Headphones
Gaming Headphones
Exercise Headphones
Cables & Accessories
Desktop Amps & DACs
Portable Amps, DACs & DAPs
Ultra-High-End Headphones (Summit-Fi)
Desktop & Portable Speakers
Head-Fi Meets
Music
Head-Fi Buying Guide

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Philips Fidelio L2
TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
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PRICE: $279.00 
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URL: www.fidelio.philips.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Last year, I took a trip to Philips' audio research and development facilities in Leuven, Belgium. If Philips' recent headphones have impressed you, it's because Philips has invested huge sums to reestablish Philips as a premium audio brand, and it was impressive to see the resources they've marshaled to get there.

 

One of the interesting things to see was how they examined their own Philips Fidelio L1 (which they were already justifiably proud of), and how they went about attempting to improve every aspect of an already-very-good headphone--its design, its comfort, its style, its sound. The result is the Philips Fidelio L2, and I have to say they've done it.

 

In terms of its style, I'd describe the change as having gone from standard BMW to BMW M Sport--a move from more traditional design and colors to a more modern, edgy variation. The more conventional colors of the L1 were adjusted to include gunmetal, and orange stitching and hinge pins. The L1 consisted of a lot of metal that some mistook for plastic--Philips wanted to make sure this didn't happen again, making sure all metal parts are obvious to the eye as metal. Lines were smoothed out, tightened up. The Bentley-type grille is now even larger. The loosely coiled cables that went from the top of each earpiece into the headband have been eliminated. I think it's a better looking headphone for all the changes--an absolute stunner.

 

The headphone cable is also now fully detachable at the left earcup.

 

Unfortunately, from what I can tell, the earpads are still not user replaceable. Don't get me started on this, as I simply can't understand how that wasn't addressed, and I've expressed this to them...emphatically. Fortunately, my Fidelio L1 pads have held up wonderfully, looking pretty much good as new after a lot of use; and the L2's earpads seem at least as durable.

 

In terms of sound, the improvements over the L1 are, in my opinion, a big deal. The sonic changes are actually more dramatic to my ears than the style and design changes are to my eyes. Bass has been tighened up substantially, and the level brought down closer to a more reference level (but still hitting solidly)--in my opinion, this is a very welcome change. The mids are still bloomy and smooth, but with even more clarity than its predecessor. And another of the most welcome changes is the treble performance of the L2, which is a substantial improvement over the L1--more extended, more shimmery, more present, more detailed. It's a more revealing, less forgiving headphone than its predecessor, for sure.

 

Frankly, the Fidelio L2 is one of my new portable reference-type headphones, right along there with the HD 26 Pro, DT 1350, NAD VISO HP50, Focal Spirit Professional and Sony MDR-7520. And I personally prefer it to Philips current flagship Fidelio X1, which, in my opinion, could use some of the same treatment that brought the L1 to the L2.

 

highly recommend you audition the Philips Fidelio L2 if you've been considering some of those other headphones I just mentioned. It's a very strong contender.

 

(NOTE: We left the Philips Fidelio L1 in the guide for now, as it is still widely available at dealers.)

Audeze LCD-X and LCD-XC

Details about the Audeze LCD-X and LCD-XC can be found in the Summit-Fi section of the guide.

 

Click here to read about these Audeze headphones.

 

TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear headphones
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MSRP: Around $400 and $500, respectively
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URL: www.sennheiser.com

 

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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."

-Brooko
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

Blue Microphones Mo-Fi  c57420db_blast_new_green_2.png

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Last year, Blue Microphones unveiled advertising and PR teaser campaigns leading up to CES 2014 that were very provocative, 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 up Blue Yeti and Blue 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 here to 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.

TYPE: Full-size, closed headphone (with built-in headphone amplifier) 
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PRICE: $349.99 
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URL: www.mofiheadphones.com
Logitech UE 9000

Details about the Logitech UE 9000 can be found in the Summit-Fi section of the guide.

 

Click here to check it out.

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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

TYPE: Open, portable, on-the-ear headphone 
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MSRP: Around $50 for standard version, and around $80 for the KTC version
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URL: www.koss.com

 

OPPO PM-1
TYPE: Open-back, planar magnetic over-ear headphone
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PRICE: $1099 
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URL: www.oppodigital.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

It was rather cloak-and-dagger when OPPO's Vice President of Product Development Jason Liao approached my table at 2013 CanJam @ RMAF to quietly tell me that OPPO--a company best known for its high-performance, high-value digital universal disc (Blu-ray/DVD/DVD-A/CD/SACD) players (and also for its smartphones in other parts of the world)--was going to be making a headphone. I told him I'd be interested in hearing it when it was ready, at which point he looked around carefully, saw nobody was looking, and pulled a black cloth bag from his backpack, and put a prototype of the OPPO PM-1 planar magnetic headphone on my table.

 

Straight away, I was impressed with its build quality, especially for a prototype. Brushed metal, chrome, and super-supple leather were all that my hands touched when handling the PM-1. Jason then gave me the go-ahead to listen, and I knew they were off to a good start.

 

Fast forward several months, and news of the PM-1 had already spread like wildfire throughout the audio world. They had worked with beta testers from our community to iterate until they were satisfied, and the PM-1 was officially launched, just as the anticipation (and perhaps the impatience) for them was building to fever pitch. Though I had heard a few different beta units leading up to the release--and made a physical design suggestion that ended up being incorporated in late beta and production--I wasn't formally providing feedback as part of the beta test team. Because I was not on the beta test team, I didn't hear the final voicing until it was done, so I was just as anxious and eager as everyone else.

 

Before we get to the OPPO PM-1's sound, I want to first discuss some of its other qualities that make the OPPO PM-1 a very unique offering in this market. In the boutique planar magnetic headphone market, I think the PM-1 is perhaps the most polished, in terms of the consistency and level of its fit-and-finish, the quality of its fittings, and ergonomic design. The PM-1 was designed and packaged with a duality in mind: in one role, it is a $1099 super-polished, super-fancy, full-size planar magnetic headphone for use at home or at work, delivered in an almost mirror-polished wood-veneered presentation box that looks fit to store a crown. For this role, the PM-1 comes with a three-meter, cloth-sheathed OCC (Ohno Continuous Cast) cable, terminated in 3.5mm (1/4") stereo plug. And, again, I can't overstate the PM-1's build quality and feel, which ranks it among the best in this regard I've ever handled, regardless of price.

 

However, there is another role that it just as convincingly takes on--the headphone for on-the-go use. The build quality of the PM-1 isn't just beautiful to look at and feel, it's also built very ruggedly, so I've had no hesitation stuffing it into a crowded messenger bag or backpack. To help with that, OPPO designed the PM-1 to fold perfectly flat--a quality I'd love to see in more headphones. OPPO also included an effective, well-designed, very cool slim carrying case that is made of black selvedge denim. And to really drive home its on-the-go role is the included super-thin, lightweight, super-flexible, tangle-resistant OFC (oxygen-free copper) cable that's only one-meter long. Some might want a longer on-the-go cable, but I like my cables as short as possible--or, maybe better put, not a centimeter longer than absolutely necessary--so I really like this cable and actually use it even more than the fancier one.

 

Of course, none of this would matter if OPPO didn't do its homework on the technology and engineering for the planar magnetic sonic engine of the PM-1, and to design their driver, OPPO enlisted the help of Igor Levitsky, who most famously worked on ribbon driver speaker designs for Bohlender-Graebener Radia (BG Radia). The driver they developed uses a FEM-optimized magnet system (FEM standing for "finite element modeling"), with emphasis on maximizing sensitivity and uniformity of the applied force over the driver's surface area. The PM-1's diagphragm is a thin, seven-layer design, constructed to be stable under thermal stress and vibration. The flat aluminum traces on the diaphragm are in the form of spiraling coils, and cover both sides of the diaphragm for increased sensitivity--and there was a high priority placed on maximizing the PM-1's sensitivity. In fact, at 102dB / 1mW, it may be the most sensitive planar magnetic headphone I'm aware of, able to be driven by a smartphone if need be (further helping with its on-the-go prowess).

 

To further set the PM-1 apart from the field, OPPO voiced it rather uniquely, moving away from some of its competitors' tendencies toward incisive, mega-resolving voicings, and instead going with what is, to my ears, perhaps the best safe-sounding headphone currently on the market. The PM-1's bass is just about where I would want it to be with any headphone--punchy and detailed, and, for my tastes, not overemphasized. The PM-1's midrange is smooth and full-bodied; but even-handed and resolving enough for me to feel like I'm getting a full helping, without a sense of mid-bloat.

 

The treble is where OPPO played it safest, opting for what sounds to me like a velvety, rolled smoothness, and doing very little to risk any appearance of harshness up top. There's energy up there, but it's milder than most of its competitors. If you tend to prefer even a hint of lift in treble--or even just something akin to perfect treble neutrality--you may be disappointed, but I really enjoy how they tuned it here so much of the time. The OPPO PM-1 seems to be nearly impossible to coax a harsh note out of, yet, overall, I find it to be detailed enough most of the time.

 

If something like the very resolving HiFiMAN HE-6 can occasionally put the harsh stuff into too sharp a focus, the OPPO PM-1 can occasionally make for smoother, prettier closeups, and does so by perhaps sacrificing a little exactness in comparison. Again, a lot of the time I actually love this about the PM-1. I don't always want safe sounding, but so much of the music I listen to is far from ideal (as far as recording or mastering quality goes), and so can benefit a great deal from a touch of mercy. Don't be mistaken, though, in thinking the PM-1 unable to convey the magic and detail of great recordings, because it does, exceptionally well--it's just that it will generally fall short of the ultimate resolution of several of its high-end competitors by the likes of Sennheiser, HiFiMAN, Audeze, which might be exactly what you're looking for.

 

So if what I've described sounds like it's up your alley (it certainly is up mine), then give the OPPO PM-1 serious consideration. You should also give it a serious look if you're been looking for a high-end, high-fidelity, full-size headphone to take with you on your travels.--I have yet to find a high-end full-size headphone that travels better (let alone one that's planar magnetic).


The secret's completely out of the bag now: the PM-1 is a remarkable first headphone from OPPO.

 

"The PM-1 provides a complete package from unboxing to listening that I find immensely satisfying, I simply put on the headphones and forget that they are there. The PM-1 are a headphone I simply put on and enjoy music with and that's rare to find."

-keanex
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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."

-Windsor
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, around-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: Around $350
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URL: www.sennheiser.com
TYPE: Closed, portable supra-aural (on-the-ear) headphone
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MSRP: $229.95
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URL: www.sennheiser.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

The Sennheiser MOMENTUM has been a bona fide hit. It's not hard to understand why. Everyone I show it to who hasn't seen it before ooohs and aaahs when they see it and then feel the brushed stainless steel and Pittards leather--and that's before they've heard it. Then they hear it, and the ooohs and aaahs resume. I've spent a small fortune gifting MOMENTUMs, because everyone who sees mine wants one. At an L.A. Head-Fi Meet earlier this year, someone I work closely with at Huddler was there for his first meet. I told him I'd treat him to his first Head-Fi headphone--he picked a black MOMENTUM.

 

With its success, it shouldn't be surprising that Sennheiser would want to release a more portable, more affordable version. They're smart people over there, and didn't mess with success. The Sennheiser MOMENTUM On-Ear looks exactly like what it is--a miniaturized MOMENTUM. And it retails for $120 less than the original, which means it'll probably be the version I gift from now on! ☺

 

To help keep the smaller headphone as comfortable as its big sib, Sennheiser chose to use copious amounts of Alcantara, a synthetic, sueded material that is sooo soft, and is one of my favorite materials to feel against my skin. Put on the Sennheiser HD 800 or Shure SRH1540--both of which use a lot of Alcantara--and you'll understand why. For the MOMENTUM On-Ear, Sennheiser chose to use it to cover the headband and earpads, in place of the Pittards leather on the full-size MOMENTUM. The headband is the same gorgeous brushed stainless steel.

 

Sennheiser also chose to make it available in several gorgeous colors: pink, green, ivory, blue, black, brown, and red. I saw the ivory with brown Alcantara, and had to have it--it's such a beautiful color combo, I wish the full-size MOMENTUM was also available in that color. Then I saw and picked up the red one…then the blue one…hello, black, I think you're next.

 

Of course, none of this would matter if the sound of the MOMENTUM On-Ear didn't live up to the MOMENTUM name, and it does a good job there. It sounds good for a closed supra-aural, but, no, it doesn't sound as good as its full-size sibling, its bass being rather thicker and less detailed, but very well extended. Its mids and treble aren't as detailed as its full-size stable mate either. Still, though, as a whole, it manages a sound signature that does evoke a familial tie to the original--it's good, but it's definitely the sonically less accomplished sibling of the two.

 

The Sennheiser MOMENTUM On-Ear definitely sounds good enough to me that I often choose it as one of my regular grab-and-go headphones, pausing only to decide which color I'm taking with me that day. It's a fashion headphone that sounds good enough to be a Sennheiser.

 

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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.

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: $249.00
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URL: www.beyerdynamic.com
Audeze LCD-2

The entry about the Audeze LCD-2 can be found in the Summit-Fi section of the guide.

 

Click here to read about the LCD-2 from Audeze.

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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.

 

"The midrange allows these headphones to sound good with any genre. Rock, pop, jazz, classical –especially classical-, you name it. The midrange is full, detailed, balanced. Male and female voices sound natural and acoustic instruments sound like they are made of wood."

-wind016
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

 

TYPE: Open, full-size, around-the-ear headphones 
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MSRP: Around $180 and $250, respectively
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URL: www.sennheiser.com

 

 

 

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, circumaural (around the-ear) headphone 
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MSRP: $399.95
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URL: www.bowers-wilkins.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Since its release, Bowers & Wilkins' P5 has been a hit, in the broader consumer market, and also with many audio enthusiasts. Overall, the P5 is a very good supra-aural (on-the-ear) on-the-go headphone--comfortable for an on-ear, with a sound that's pleasant for just about anyone, even if it wasn't particularly detailed or resolving. In other words, being one of the most gorgeous headphones ever made, having a good, smooth sound signature, and bearing the name of one of high-end audio's most well-known names, all together makes for an alluring value proposition. It sucked me in, and I still use and enjoy the P5.

 

If Bowers & Wilkins asked me, though, how I'd improve on the P5, I'd have several suggestions:

 

  • Don't mess with its stunning good looks, both off and on the head.
  • I love how no matter where I touch it, I'm touching either metal or leather--please don't change that.
  • Don't mess with the awesome cable-groove-in-the-earpiece strain relief, so that it can continue to be cased up with its cable still installed.
  • Make it a circumaural (around-the-ear) design, to make it more comfortable.
  • Give it more bass control, more detail in the mids, and better treble extension. If you're feeling generous, throw in better imaging, please. High-end audio enthusiasts will thank you.

 

In addition to making audio products I love (I bought two of their Zeppelin Airs, and their MM-1 mini monitors for one of my main desks), I think Bowers & Wilkins can also read minds. Because they made all the changes to the P5 I was wishing for, and somehow managed to make it even better looking.

 

It's called the Bowers & Wilkins P7, and it's a perfectly good reason to drop 400 bucks. Thank you.

 

"The P7 looks fantastic, it feels fantastic, it's very comfortable and isolates very well, and it SOUNDS just beautiful. If you seek a high fidelity headphone, value both form and function and have $400 to spend on a portable, I can't think of anything I'd recommend more."

-Lan647
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sony MDR-1ADAC  c57420db_blast_new_green_2.png

Written by Ethan Opolion (third_eye)

 

At first glance the new Sony MDR-1ADAC looks like the popular MDR-1R and its recently announced update, the MDR-1A. But upon closer look, this headphone is unique in that it is a hybrid active/passive design with a built-in DAC/headphone amp. In passive mode, the headphone is connected with a detachable dual-sided 3.5mm mini connector to any smartphone, dap, or other portable device. In active mode, the MDR-1ADAC is digitally connected with either Lightning (Apple), Micro-USB (Android), or proprietary Sony Cables (Walkman). The package includes said cables to enable the right connection out of the box, as well as a handy carrying pouch.

 

These headphones are included in Sony’s new Hi-Res range and have 40mm drivers with ALCP (Aluminum Liquid Crystal Polymer) diaphragms and S-Master HX digital amplification circuitry which was developed for high resolution audio playback. The soft urethane cushions fit completely around my (average size) ears and are deep enough to where my ears do not touch the drivers. Comfort is excellent and the headphones isolate very well.

 

To get started, the built-in 3.7V lithium-ion battery needs to be recharged with the micro-USB cable and provides up to 7.5 hours of battery life. On the left ear cup, there is a power switch to activate the built-in circuit and a green LED confirms that the unit is active and ready to use. The volume control is on the right side is easily adjustable with the right thumb.

 

I’ve always been a fan of the Sony’s unique ability to deliver high quality headphones that provide punchy sound, warmth and non-fatiguing clarity and the MDR-1ADAC is no exception. The headphone is just simply fun to listen to and using the built-in circuitry versus running straight out of my iPhone 6 provided a better sound stage depth and was overall smoother and more articulate.

 

At $399.99, the Sony-MDR-1ADAC is highly recommended for those looking for a great portable option to digitally connect to their smartphones/tablets without the extra fuss of additional DAC/amp/cables to worry about.

TYPE: Full-size, around-the-ear closed headphone (with built-in DAC and amplifier)
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PRICE: $399.99 
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URL: sony.com
TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: Around $160
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URL: www.audio-technica.com

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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.

Audeze LCD-3

Details about the Audeze LCD-3 can be found in the Summit-Fi section of the guide.

 

Click here to check it out.

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
MSRP: Around $150
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URL: www.skullcandy.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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.

Koss PRODJ100

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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.

 

"...the Koss ProDJ100 extends the bang/buck of the other Koss headphones featured in this review to a whole different price range – a great proposition for budget-conscious buyers."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Closed, full-size, portable, around-the-ear headphone 
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
PRICE: Around $80
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URL: www.koss.com
AKG / Massdrop K7XX  c57420db_blast_new_green_2.png
TYPE: Over-ear headphone
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PRICE: $200 
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URL: www.akg.com / www.massdrop.com

There are at least a couple of long-time Head-Fi'ers working at Massdrop, and it certainly shows, as many of Massdrop's famed "Drops" are headphone audio products. Recently, however, they decided to use a Drop to rekindle a very well-regarded headphone from the recent pages of AKG's history book. That headphone? The quite-beloved AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition.

 

Here's the thing, though: Massdrop's version is called the AKG K7XX, and it's available exclusively through them. Gone are the "65th Anniversary" markings, the blue stitching and other blue highlights, replaced by K7XX badges and a stealthier blacked-out treatment. There's also a very subtle, tasteful "Massdrop" logo on one side (of the inside) of the headband, to remind you who brought you this gem of a headphone for only 200 bucks. From what I can tell, colors and badges aside, the K7XX is the K702 65th Anniversary Edition, bump-free comfort strap headband and all. 

 

I really like AKG's K550, but its lean-ish signature--much as I enjoy it when I'm in the mood--is not one with particularly wide appeal. The AKG K812, which I love, is AKG's current flagship, and priced accordingly. Without delving into discontinued models, then, I have to say the AKG K7XX is, for me, the most desirable current-production AKG, unless you're willing to jump up to $1500 for the K812 (and if you're an AKG fan with that kind of budget, definitely audition the K812).

 

What's to love about the AKG/Massdrop K7XX? Well, if you've tended to find many of AKG's headphone likable but too lean or a touch brash, then the K7XX's definitely-smooth-for-an-AKG-but-still-an-AKG sound will almost certainly have you grinning big. An AKG with some nice presence and body down low? Yes. But what about the AKG top end? Yes, it's there, but tamer to my ears than the K701 I have here. The tradeoff is losing a bit of air and shimmer to its more common AKG siblings, but, for my tastes, it's a positive tradeoff.

 

If you're an AKG aficionado, the AKG/Massdrop K7XX is a must-own, and, at only $200, is an outrageously strong value. Yes, you can still find the K702 65th Anniversary Edition out there, but you will almost certainly be paying substantially more for what is essentially the exact same headphone.

 

NOTE: I picked up the AKG/Massdrop K7XX from a tiny initial batch that Massdrop's Will Bright (who happens to be the architect behind this cool collaboration) was kind enough to let me have a crack at. At the time of this writing, the first big Drop for the K7XX hasn't yet occurred, but is expected to start soon.

 

"It's definitely an evolution, not a revolution, but for me it goes just far enough to satisfy that craving I must have had all these years."

-project86
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

For a company known for its relatively affordable eco-conscious in-ears--the ms01 being the one model of theirs that I've tried, and really like--to come out with their first over-ear, call it a studio monitor (as they did with their ms01), and charge 250 bucks for it…that's ambitious. $250 buys you some pretty fantastic headphones out there, from the likes of Sennheiser, V-MODA, Sony, Grado, beyerdynamic, AKG…the list goes on.

 

So how'd thinksound do? Let's start by talking about its design: the thinksound On1's design is about as simple as can be, adding its visual flair the way they did with their ms01--with gorgeous handcrafted wood housings. I'm not sure what kind of wood thinksound is using for the On1, but it's finely finished, and the grain is very pretty. The on-the-ear earpads are very soft, made of black leather (or synthetic leather) stuffed with memory foam. Isolation from the closed earcups is good. The headband is made of a flexible metal, with a padded fabric covering.

 

I find the On1 to be very comfortable, its earpads being very flush, and the very flexible articulation offered by the hinges and yoke design makes for a very quick, flush fit on the ears. I wish more headphones offered similar earcup articulation, which can go a long way to making fit better, and, thus, performance that's more optimal and consistent. This On1 is also a very light headphone, weighing only 6.5 ounces.

 

The On1's drivers are 40mm dynamic drivers, and nominal impedance is 50Ω. It comes with a Kevlar-reinforced, tangle-resistant fabric cable, with an inline one-button mic/remote. The On1 is a relatively sensitive headphone, and I can drive it with my iPhone 5S (which is how I usually use it), but found it does up its game with a good amp in front of it.

 

Compared to its in-ear thinksound monitor counterpart (the ms01), the On1 has a more bass emphasized sound signature. The On1's bass is very impactful, but still has good control. While a little bit of the thickness tails up into the lower mids, its midband detail doesn't suffer from it at all, to my ears. In fact, the more I listen to the On1, the more I've come to appreciate its midrange and treble detail. On balance, the thinksound On1 sounds very rich without sounding bloated to me. I use the On1 for all genres and find it very versatile.

 

The On1 is one of the gems in its very crowded, very competitive premium price range.

 

"The On1 are a headphone I can really put my support into not only for thinksound’s excellent customer service and ideals, but because they are a beautiful headphone that not only sounds great, but will draw a lot of attention as you attempt to drown the world out."

-keanex
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Closed, supra-aural (on-the-ear) headphone
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MSRP: $250.00 
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URL: www.thinksound.com
Parrot ZIK 2.0

Details about the Parrot Zik 2.0 can be found in the Wireless Headphones section of the guide.

 

Click here to check it out.

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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 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.

 

 

"These headphones put a smile on my face when I listen to music. Eventhough they are marketed to the professional audio engineer market (and I can certainly hear why), I think any audiophile will be able to appreciate these headphones."

-starfly
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone 
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MSRP: Around $400
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URL: www.sony.com

 

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: Around $180
ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï ï
URL: www.sennheiser.com

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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.

beyerdynamic T1

Details about the beyerdynamic T1 can be found in the Summit-Fi section of the guide.

 

Click here to check it out.

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: $299.99
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URL: www.bowers-wilkins.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

The Bowers & Wilkins P5 was, in my opinion, one of the most market-defining headphones not made by Beats. It was the first headphone from Bowers & Wilkins--a decades-old, storied loudspeaker manufacturer--released at a time when many experienced headphone manufacturers were thinking the only way to answer Beats was to mimic them. Bowers & Wilkins wasn't among them.

 

 

Obviously, nobody would expect B&W to enter the headphone market with a plasticky headphone, and they didn't. In fact, they did very much the opposite--with their P5, the owners' hands only touched metal or leather; and its styling was as gorgeous as it was unique. It even felt premium--even mechanically, everything about the P5 was buttery smooth and durably built. Five years after its debut, the Bowers & Wilkins P5 remains, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying headphones to touch and hold.

 

Sonically, the P5 was a very good portable headphone--competent, pleasant, but missing something, especially up top. Perhaps playing it a little too safe for their first headphone, Bowers & Wilkins opted for a very safe sound signature, and perhaps went a bit overboard with the smoothness. The original P5 was a headphone that, to my ears, lacks presence up top, sounding at times sparkle-free, even when the music called for more shimmer. For a time, I was willing to accept some amount of sonic tradeoff, for all the P5's other positive traits. In the nearly five years since, though, the competition has ramped up substantially. Bowers & Wilkins knew this, and so this year they updated the P5 substantially, introducing the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2.


With an all-new driver design--that I understand to inspired by the drivers in Bower & Wilkins' flagship P7--the P5 Series 2 is, to my ears, improving on the original P5 in just about every area it was needed, without losing what made it the P5. In other words, if you loved the P5, I think you're going to love the P5 Series 2.

 

To start, the bass is still rich and pronounced, but control and detail have improved in the lower registers. Midrange clarity has also taken a jump forward, reminding me of a lens coming into focus--it wasn't something I was as much wishing for as treble presence, but now that it's here, I'm very happy to hear it.

 

Now let's talk about treble, as this constituted the biggest unchecked checkbox for me with the original. In my 2011 review of the P5, I said:
 
"Treble performance is where I think the P5 faces its biggest sonic criticism from me, with enough treble softness and roll-off to heighten the warmth of the P5's overall presentation, especially combined with the P5's smoothness everywhere else. Even through the clamor of public transportation, treble detail can often be heard and appreciated, and it is here, with the P5's upper registers, that the P5 falls the most sonically short. If I had my druthers, I wouldn't ask the Bowers & Wilkins engineers to abandon their aforesaid aversion to exaggerated treble--but I would enjoy enough of a boost in the upper registers (compared to where it is now) to get me to something I'd describe as a more neutral treble presentation. More detail up top would help to carve out a greater sense of detail in what is, again, a generally very safe (probably too safe), smooth, and pleasant overall sonic presentation."
 
I am excited to report that the P5 Series 2 checks that box. Treble extension has been improved noticeably, and entirely to good effect. There's an assuredness now to the P5 Series 2's upper registers that was definitely not there in the original P5, and it was executed in this new version without creating any demons--no stridence, no sibilance, no offensive treble nasties of any sort. 
 

 

In terms of soundstage, I'd call the new version essentially equal to the original. I don't find it in anyway constricting, but it's not going to convince you it's an open headphone either. Even though the P5 Series 2's soundstage isn't airy, the image it projects is coherent and precise for what I'd expect from a compact, closed, supra-aural (on-the-ear) headphone.

 

 

To be clear, though, this is not a neutral, flat sounding headphone. It is still a richer-than-neutral sound signature, but this new model is significantly more detailed than the P5 before it. In terms of overall performance, the P5 Series 2 is closer now to Bowers & Wilkins flagship P7 than it is to its P5 predecessor. 

 

 

As for its styling, Bowers & Wilkins wisely chose to keep changes to a minimum. The only very noticeable change is that the silver brushed metal earcup faceplates are now black brushed metal earcup faceplates. I haven't decided yet which look I prefer, but, either way, this headphone is still one of the most beautiful headphones ever made, in my opinion; and, like its predecessor, it's still one of the best looking headphones on the head that I've ever seen.

 

 

At $299.99, the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 is not just an easy recommendation for me to make, it is an emphatic one--especially if you're in the market for a super-compact on-the-go premium headphone.

Sennheiser MM 450-X Travel

Details about the Sennheiser MM 450-X Travel can be found in the Wireless Headphones section of the guide.

 

Click here to check it out.

Alpha Design Labs ADL-H118 (by Furutech)
TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone 
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MSRP: $269.00
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URL: www.adl-av.com

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Furutech is probably most widely known in the high-end audio industry as a manufacturer of some of the best-made, fanciest cable terminations for signal and power cables. High-end cable manufacturers consider Furutech cable terminations bragging rights, and charge accordingly for the inclusion of them. In the last few years, Furutech ventured into portable and computer audio via their Alpha Design Labs (ADL) brand, with several models of DAC/amp combos, both portable and desktop. Now Furutech is officially in the headphone business, and the H118 is a cracking good start.

 

That this headphone isn't garnering more attention by the Head-Fi community is a bit of a shock to me, as it's a very good closed headphone that's reasonably portable (because it folds). This is a headphone that, in my opinion, should easily be considered as a candidate among the likes of the Sennheiser MOMENTUM and HD 26 Pro, V-MODA M-100, Sony MDR-1R, Shure SRH1540, Focal Spirit Professional, etc. Among the more balanced headphones in its class, I've found the H118 to be a joy to listen to, not just on the go, but at my desk, which I usually reserve for headphones with a more reference-type presentation.

 

The H118's bass extension is very good, and its presentation very impactful. There's perhaps some mild bass emphasis, but "mild" is the key descriptor here. Before I received the H118, I read at least one other review of this headphone that seemed to suggest it was going to be bass-heavier than it is. (It was a pretty early review, so perhaps there was a running change?) The H118's bass control and detail is also exceptionally good for this type of headphone. As for mids, the H118's midband sounds mostly neutral, to my ears, but with more warmth than the very flat mids of the Focal Spirit Professional. Treble presence is excellent, with maybe a touch less shimmer than the Focal, but a bit more than, say, the smoother treble of the HD 26 Pro. In terms of its tonal balance, this is one of the easiest to recommend headphones in its class, for a variety of tastes.

 

The ADL H118's imaging is good, in terms of precision image object placement; but spaciousness is not one of its strong points, especially compared to something like the expansiveness of the Sony MDR-1R. I'd say, in terms of the H118's imaging, it's par for the course for a closed headphone of this type.

 

My biggest reservation about the ADL H118 headphone by Furutech is its earcup shape, which appears to be ideal for someone with upside-down Mr. Spock ears. ADL stands for "Alpha Design Labs," and with some of their components, they've gone for an alpha-shape profile. Okay, I get it--it looks unique, and plays on the name. (Look up the "ADL Cruise" if you want to see what I'm talking about.) But to shape headphone earcups this way...well, let's just say it makes a lot less sense to me. To honor the alpha-shape, the bottoms of the earcups--and, thus, the earpads--come down into a tight, pointy bend. My ears mostly fit inside the ear pads, but would probably fit completely inside if they'd rounded off the bottoms more. It's not so much that the H118 isn't comfortable--it's more that it could have been significantly more comfortable, which, for a headphone that sounds this good, would've made it even more irresistible. Still, though, the H118 is more comfortable for long-term wear than most of its supra-aural (on-the-ear) competitors.

 

The ADL H-118 by Furutech is a headphone I strongly suggest you audition if you're in the market for a solid, reasonably priced, closed headphone with a more reference sound signature.

Monster DNA On-Ear and Monster DNA Pro Over Ear

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Several years ago, Monster made history when they partnered with Beats, developing headphones that would (and still) dominate the premium headphone market, commanding well over half of all dollars spent on headphones priced over $100!

 

While Beats never caught on with high-end audio enthusiasts, Monster--independent of their partnership with Beats--had a very strong interest in making headphones of their own that would appeal to audiophiles, and they certainly met with success in that endeavor with several of their own in-ear headphones, like the Turbine Pro models, and the Miles Davis Tribute and Trumpet. While still in the Beats partnership, they also developed over-ear headphones with solid sonic performance, like the Diamond Tears and Diesel VEKTR, although perhaps the far-out styling of those models ran a bit counter to more conservative style tastes of audiophiles.

 

The termination of the Monster/Beats partnership was announced at the beginning of 2012, but Monster had no plans to slow down the development and production of their own headphones. Earlier this year, they released the Monster DNA--a supra-aural (on-the-ear) headphone--which was essentially the very first Monster headphone developed and released after the termination of the Beats partnership.

 

With its rather unusual triangular shape--and sticking to the plastic cuff-type design they helped popularize with Beats--I'm not surprised that the DNA's styling may have limited its appeal to Head-Fi'ers. To my eyes, the Monster DNA is a strange looking headphone in any color other than black--they sent me one in blue, and it looked almost...well...Trekkie to me. I communicated that to Monster, so they sent me one in black. Much better--still funky looking, but much better than the blue.

 

It's a shame if this headphone's appeal to audio enthusiasts has been limited by its styling, because the DNA is actually a very good portable headphone. Looking at it might suggest something bass-heavy to appeal to the youth market the design seems mostly aimed at; but the DNA is surprisingly even-handed, in terms of its sound. While the DNA's bass is north of neutral, it's not to a large degree, and the bass control is very good. The Monster DNA's midrange is very nicely fleshed out, very meaty, and quite detailed. The DNA's treble performance is also very good--maybe a bit soft way up top, but overall the treble presence is good, and never strident.

 

Again, for the price, the DNA is a very good portable headphone whose funky style likely has all but the very youthful passing over it on the store shelves. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the only one in the world, at this very moment, listening to (and enjoying immensely) Anonymous 4 on a Monster DNA. And, yes, the DNA renders these four women's angelic voices beautifully.

 

Very recently, Monster announced the next headphone in the Monster DNA lineup with its new Monster DNA Pro--a move upmarket, and a move up in size, with the DNA Pro being a circumaural (around-the-ear) design, albeit on the small side of circumaural. For the DNA Pro, Monster elected to stay with the triangle design theme, although the larger around-the-ear cups create a far more conventional silhouette (especially if, again, you order it in black, which I think most Head-Fi'ers would).

 

I get the impression Monster was not simply throwing the word "Pro" out there randomly when they named this headphone, because this is a headphone I'd imagine Monster might create if asked to make a detailed studio monitor.

 

The DNA Pro's bass is surprisingly neutral (surprising to me anyway). All credit to Monster for being adventurous enough to veer in this direction with their most expensive headphone model--honestly, I'd have expected them to go in the other direction, and I think this may have some in the general consumer market finding it a bit light down low. (The general consumer market isn't usually served anything neutral-ish in the bass region.) Still, the DNA Pro's bass has good presence to my ears, and is detailed, so I think a lot of audiophile-types will prefer this level of bass over boosted bass.

As far as its midrange goes, the Monster DNA Pro begins slightly on the leaner side; but as you move up through to the upper mids, things start to level up, leading to treble that is rather prominent and detailed. I can't imagine you'll see the words "dark" or "rolled off" used to describe this headphone as more reviews come in.

 

I find the DNA Pro to be a versatile headphone; but with its tendency to highlight details, I find the DNA Pro is at its best with well-recorded acoustic music, classical music and jazz; and its airy soundstage (for a closed headphone) also helps with that.

 

In either case, I think these Monster DNA headphones merit spots on your audition list if you're shopping for closed headphones in their price ranges.

 

If these DNA models represent the sonic direction Monster's going with their over-ears after their split with Beats, I'm glad for it, and will look forward to hearing more from them. To broaden their appeal, though, I do hope Monster also gets more adventurous with respect to styling, and would love to see them--in terms of style--seek more industrial design inspiration from headphones like the MOMENTUM, P7, M500, VK-1, and the M100, than from their past with Beats.

TYPE: Closed headphones (DNA On-Ear is on-the-ear, DNA Pro is around-the-ear) 
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MSRP: $169.99 and $279.99, respectively
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URL: www.monsterproducts.com

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