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Head-Fi.org › 2015 Summer Buying Guide › Head Fi Buying Guide Over Ear Headphones 3

Head-Fi Buying Guide (Over-Ear Headphones) 3

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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Sennheiser HD 26 Pro
TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone 
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PRICE: $319.95
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URL: www.sennheiser.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Let's get this out of the way right now: Sennheiser's HD 26 Pro is not replacing the legendary HD 25 in the Sennheiser lineup. Despite some similarities, the HD 26 Pro is a new addition to the Sennheiser HD family, and, as far as I'm concerned, it's a very welcome one.

 

In the treble, where the HD 25-1 II can tend toward a bit of etch to me, the HD 26 Pro is smoother. Its bass is likewise less peaky sounding to me than the HD 25-1 II's. The overall sound of the HD 26 Pro suggests a kinship with the HD 25-1 II, but, to me, more along the lines of a cousin than a sibling--the less forward cousin who went to finishing school. The HD 26 Pro is an eminently listenable, resolving professional monitor, and has become one of my primary closed on-the-go over-ear headphones.

 

In terms of styling, the HD 26 Pro certainly shares some similarities with the HD 25-1 II--its industrial design is unmistakably influenced by its legendary relative. I think some will find its styling perhaps too utilitarian, but I dig its all-business bearing.

 

One of the most distinguishable characteristics of the HD 25-1 II's design is its split headband. Building on that, the HD 26 Pro's headband is also split, but it separates with a click automatically when you open up the headphone to put it on, and then snaps closed when you take it off—very, very cool.

 

I also find the HD 26 Pro to be substantially more comfortable than its older relative. The plush ear pads (filled with what feels to me like memory foam) are much more pillow-like than the HD 25's. The HD 26's design also distributes its clamping force much more comfortably on my head than the HD 25's. These updates mean I can wear the HD 26 for substantially longer than I can its renowned relative.

 

There's no doubt some will still prefer the more aggressive sounding, more classically styled HD 25-1 II to the HD 26 Pro, but, for its sound and comfort, my preferences lean toward the newer model.

Koss BT540i

Details about the Koss BT540i can be found in the Wireless section of the guide.

 

Click here to check it out.

 

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.

Sony MDR-1A  

In the last couple of years, I've personally seen the Sony MDR-1 series models--mostly the MDR-1R--worn in the wild more than any other premium Sony over-ear in recent memory. Sony updated the popular Sony MDR-1R with the MDR-1A. The two headphones look almost identical, but the Sony MDR-1A, like Sony's flagship MDR-Z7, has aluminum-coated liquid crystal polymer (ALCP) drivers, and an updated sound signature. (The Sony MDR-1R's drivers were liquid crystal polymer without aluminum coating.)

 

As a Sony MDR-1R fan, I'm happy to say that Sony didn't stray too far from the sound that made it so popular. Still, Sony's engineers worked hard to update the the MDR-1A with meaningful sonic improvements, and the results were very fruitful. To my ears, the Sony MDR-1A sounds like it has more low-bass than the MDR-1R, so there is a richer bottom end now. Also, the MDR-1A's treble response has more shimmer--the treble seems better fleshed out on the newer model, which, to my ears, gives it a leg up on its predecessor.

 

Like the MDR-1R before it, the MDR-1A's midrange is wonderful, presenting most vocals slightly forward, and with beautiful rendering of subtle details that some of its competitors miss. Midrange detail and focus have improved with the MDR-1A, but not quite to the extent that the treble improved.

 

There have been changes to the earpads, too, with the newer pads being thicker, which does change the feel a bit. I think the older ones (on the MDR-1R) are a wee bit more comfortable, but the MDR-1A remains one of the most comfortable closed headphones currently available.

 

I think the sonic adjustments made with the MDR-1A will play very well in showroom auditions, so I have a feeling I'll continue to see more and more Sony MDR-1A's in the wild in the coming years. I was happy with the MDR-1R as it was, but certainly welcome the progress Sony has achieved with this model update.

TYPE: Full-size, around-the-ear closed headphone
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PRICE: Around $300
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URL: www.sony.com
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.

 

HiFiMAN HE-560

The entry about the HiFiMAN HE-560 can be found in the Summit-Fi section of the guide.

 

Click here to read about the HE-560 from HiFiMAN.

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

After his success with his own PSB headphones, Paul Barton turned his attention to a headphone for NAD Electronics. The resulting headphone--the NAD VISO HP50--is, in my opinion, his best headphone yet. To my ears, there's a familial sonic resemblance to the PSB M4U 1, both of which use Barton's "RoomFeel" technology, which is intended to provide the rich and natural experience of listening to a set of high-end loudspeakers in a room.

 

Like its PSB siblings (I call them siblings since they have the same father in Barton), the NAD VISO HP50 sounds outstanding, with impactful bass that is very taut and well controlled. The overall balance of the VISO HP50 is, to my ears, just slightly on the warmer side, but still very resolving. Again, listening to it reminds me at times of its PSB sibs, but with greater refinement and a smoother presentation. Like the Sony MDR-1R and the Sennheiser MOMENTUM--two of my other favorite portable over-ears--the VISO HP50 is mellow enough to make for fatigue-free long-term listening, yet detailed enough to get the audiophile in me deep into the music.

 

Additionally, in designing the NAD VISO HP50, Barton addressed two of my biggest quibbles about its largish PSB siblings, with the HP50 being more compact, and able to fold flat for greater portability. However, the NAD, like its PSB relatives, is still rather large and awkward on the head (especially when viewed from the front).

 

Without a doubt, though, the NAD VISO HP50 is one of the easiest to recommend headphones at its price, and can very capably serve as both a portable over-ear or one's main headphone at the desk.

TYPE: Closed, portable, around-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: $299
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URL: www.nadelectronics.com

 

'
TYPE: Closed, full-size, on-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: Around $100
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Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

AKG / Massdrop K7XX  

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. 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.

 

"The K7XX to my ears has a level of refinement, resolution and dynamics that most other 200 dollar open backs simply cannot deliver."

-Bryan (bpandbass)
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Over-ear headphone
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PRICE: $200 
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URL: www.akg.com / www.massdrop.com
TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: Around $300
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URL: www.beyerdynamic.com

 

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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

 

But what's done is done, and, as it turns out, I really like the AH-D600, as new and different as it is. I also like its flagship sibling for fun listening, but I had a hard time justifying the AH-D7100's recommendation in this guide at its street price range of $750 to $1200, which puts it in the crosshairs of some of the world's best headphones.

 

Compared to its predecessors, I find the AH-D600 to be missing some extension up top, but I wouldn't characterize its treble as rolled off to my ears. It also doesn't image as openly as its predecessors, perhaps because the AH-D600 is a fully closed headphone, whereas its predecessors were semi-closed. One area the AH-D600 excels to my ears is low bass presence and impact. The AH-D600's midrange is good, but not as forward or detailed as, say, Sony's MDR-1R.

 

In consideration of its deep bass extension and brawn, straight away I started with electronic dance music, and the AH-D600 was so good with Reid Speed and Skrillex (the first two artists I cued up on the AH-D600) that I assumed it might be at the expense of musicality with acoustic music, but that just wasn't the case. I've found the AH-D600 works well with all genres I listen to, including solo piano, where this funky looking headphone does a very nice job of conveying piano's timbre and density with my best recordings.

 

I own and really like the now-discontinued Denon AH-D7000, and this AH-D600 is just a different headphone (not to mention far more durable in its build); and I like this new headphone for what it is, which, for me, is a full-size on-the-go headphone that I can recommend at $400 (and even more so if you can find it at the lower end of the current street price range).

 

"This is a fast, clear sounding headphone. They sound open and airy for a closed can, which I feel is their main accomplishment. The bass is very powerful and very well extended."

-Lan647
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: Street price from $239.00 to $499.00
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URL: www.denon.com
Focal Spirit Classic and Focal Spirit Professional
TYPE: Closed, portable, circumaural (around-the-ear) headphones
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MSRP: $399.00 and $349.00, respectively
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URL: www.focal.com

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

In writing up the Focal Spirit One, I mentioned that I'd like to see Focal move more upmarket with their headphones, given that they're best known for their ultra-expensive (and ultra-respected) loudspeakers. Well, since the last guide update, they've started making their moves, with two new headphones: the Focal Spirit Classic and the Focal Spirit Professional.

 

The $399 Focal Spirit Classic is the current flagship, intended as a headphone intended more for home or office use than it is for on-the-go use. As evidence of this, it comes with two cables, one of which is 13 feet long!

 

Also, with its larger headband, larger earcups and non-fold-flat design, it's clearly not intended to be as mobile as the Focal Spirit One. The Focal Spirit Classic also takes on a more mature appearance, with its "Hot Chocolate" brown color (that's what they call it), in varying shades from the earcups to the pads and headband. It's a gorgeous headphone.

 

Though its earcups are larger, the Spirit Classic's earpads aren't that much larger than the Spirit One's. Filled with memory foam, though, they're definitely more comfortable. The headband is also more comfortable than the Spirit One's, with broader, better padding.

 

As for how it compares to its more portable sibling, the Spirit Classic is a move to a more detailed, more complete soundscape, with richer tonality, and better imaging. There's a lushness to the Spirit Classic's tone that makes voices and most instruments come alive. It's warmer than neutral, never rough or strident, but still with glistening detail when appropriate.

 

We discussed the Focal Spirit Classic on Head-Fi TV earlier this year.

 

The Focal Spirit Professional is Focal's first studio monitor headphone, and is the most neutral headphone from Focal so far. Actually, to my ears, it's one of the more neutral closed over-ears on the market right now, period. For this reason, I predict it'll soon have a very strong following in the Head-Fi community.

 

Though I perceive its tonal balance to be rather flat, there's enough going on in its presentation to sound rich with detail, if not in tone--and, again, I think this is what a lot of Head-Fi'ers are looking for. I love this headphone for this reason, and have a hard time deciding which of the two newest Focals I prefer (and so am glad we have both here now).

 

Whereas the Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor is my neutral reference in-ear--one of my sonic palate cleansers--the Focal Spirit Professional is earning a place as one of my over-ear neutral references.

 

The Focal Spirit Professional's form factor is sort of a mix between the Focal Spirit Classic (with a similar headband), and the Focal Spirit Classic (in terms of its earcup size and memory foam earpads). One very cool thing about the Focal Spirit Professional is the speckled black finish they gave it--it's supposed to an ultra-tough finish to stand up to the rigors of professional use. It's hard to capture its coolness in photographs, but trust me, in person it's very cool and unique.

 

For a company that also makes $180,000 loudspeakers, I'm hoping to see Focal continue to explore still higher-performance, no-holds-barred headphones going forward. For now, though, I'm pleased with the Focal Spirit Classic and Spirit Professional as upmarket moves by Focal in the headphone world.

 

"If you’re looking for something with a neutral presentation for work, these are it; if you’re simply looking for something to take you bouncing into Graceland, these will most certainly do that too."

-AustinValentine
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

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.

 

"All things considered, the DNA Pro are one of the best sounding headphones I’ve heard in a while. I find them more lively and engaging than the Mr. Speakers Mad Dogs and just as detailed."

-keanex
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

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
Sony MDR-10RBT

Details about the Sony MDR-10RBT can be found in the Wireless Headphones section of the guide.

 

Click here to check it out.

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

The Sennheiser PX 200-II is an easy recommendation for an ultra-portable on-the-ear headphone priced under $100, especially if you're looking for a compact, closed headphone with a more neutral sound signature. If you've found most portable on-the-ear headphones too bass-heavy for you, put the PX 200-II at the top of your audition list, especially if you want something super portable that's not an in-ear. The closed-back PX 200-II provides good passive noise isolation, too.

 

This headphone is also available in a version with a three-button remote/mic cable, and that model is called the PX 200-IIi, and is priced around $110.

 

"The PX200-II therefore has all the hallmarks of a critical and commercial success – usability, excellent sonic characteristics, and a respected name to back it all up - and will likely become more popular than the famed PX100 in the near future."

-ljokerl
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Portable, closed, on-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: Around $90
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URL: www.sennheiser.com

 

 

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

AKG K553 Pro  c57420db_blast_new_green_2.png

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

First it was the AKG K7XX (which was the same as AKG's 65th anniversary edition of the AKG K702) that took an AKG headphone I found too lean and gave it more meat. The Massdrop/AKG K7XX is, in my opinion, one of the strongest headphone performance/price values of the past year.

 

Now AKG and Massdrop have done it yet again--taken an AKG model I liked, gave it more meat, and turned it into something I love. I'm talking about AKG's new K553 Pro, which Massdrop has now dropped at least a couple of times for only $120 (when I've seen it at other dealers for $199)! I've long been a fan of K553's predecessor AKG K550, for being a closed headphone with the airiness of a good open-back headphone. The K550 was more on the bass-light side, and had crisp, clear, flat mids. The K550's treble was, to my ears, on the livelier-than-neutral side--"more potent than smooth" is how I'd once described its treble. Somehow it all came together to make a headphone that I've enjoyed for years, but, admittedly, have had many occasions to want more from.

 

The AKG K553 is AKG's outstanding answer for those who, like me, wanted more. The AKG K553 is essentially the K550 changed in all the ways I wanted it changed. Bass-light? Not anymore. AKG filled the bass in, but kept it taut and detailed. Would it satisfy a basshead? Perhaps not, but, to my ears, it's now neutral-plus down there, instead of the K550's neutral-minus. The mids are a wee bit smoothed, too, but still detailed, still airy. In the treble region, AKG smoothed it out some, and I'm glad they did. Those who thought the K550's treble was perfect might find the K553's treble lost too much sparkle--I am definitely not one of them.

 

I think the the changes from the K550 to the K553 represent a much-needed refinement that took a headphone I really liked (K550) into a headphone I love, even at its $199 retail price, and even more at the $120 Massdrop price.

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear headphoneX
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PRICE: $199 
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URL: personal.akg.com
TYPE: Closed, full-size, active noise-canceling headphones 
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MSRP: $399.99
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URL: www.amazon.com

 

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.

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

 

Sennheiser RS 220

Details about the Sennheiser RS220 can be found in the Wireless Headphones section of the guide.

 

Click here to check it out.

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Growing up, my parents had an Onkyo audio system (and still have parts of it going strong). Then I worked at a hi-fi store while I was in college, and the most affordable brand of electronics we sold was Onkyo. It was the brand we turned to when our customers couldn't afford to buy the Linn, Naim, Creek, or even the NAD gear. Because I was just a poor college student, the Onkyo gear we sold endeared itself to me for being so much more affordable than the higher-end stuff we sold, but somehow not undeserving of a place in our snobby shop. Onkyo had long ago fallen off my radar, but I was thrilled when they popped back up on it at CES 2013 with headphones! Onkyo sent me one of their ES-CTI300 headphones, and it's a very good headphone by Onkyo.

 

There are actually three over-ear headphone models by Onkyo, and, to the best of my knowledge, the only differences between the models are the cables they come with. The ES-FC300 ($149) comes with a more common looking flat elastomer cable. The ES-CTI300's ($179) cable is, as described by Onkyo, a "high purity copper-core cable for pure sound." The ES-HF300's cable is a 6N oxygen-free copper cable, apparently with lower resistance than the ES-FC300's. The ES-CTI300 ($199) has the higher-end cable, but with an Apple-certified inline three-button remote/mic. In all three models, the cables are detachable, using gold-plated MMCX connectors.

 

The Onkyo headphone's styling is clean, modern, and very attractive. At first glance, the Onkyo's design reminded me of the clean lines of AKG's portable models. I think its design will appeal to folks young and old, and (especially in black or silver) would look perfectly fine worn by suit-wearing executive types. It also folds very flat, so it's easy to carry, but only comes with a flimsy drawstring case for the purpose. I find the ES-CTI300 very comfortable, even for longer listening sessions; and it's also comfortable worn around the neck when you need them off your ears.

 

In terms of sound, the ES-CTI300 has prominent bass, with what sounds to me like an upper-midbass peak that does tail off with mild effect and bloom on the lower midrange. Still, the ES-CTI300's midrange and treble have a very clear, cool quality to them--so, on balance, the Onkyo ES-CTI300 sounds to me like a bass-emphasized headphone with good overall clarity and detail. It's also a versatile sound signature that I feel comfortable using on any genre. For example, the bass emphasis livens up EDM, and the midrange/treble clarity serves jazz and classical well.

 

I've been enjoying the Onkyo ES-CTI300 a lot as an on-the-go headphone, and recommend you check Onkyo's headphones out if you're looking for a good, closed headphone for $200.00 (or less than that, depending on which cable you want).

TYPE: Closed, portable, on-the-ear headphone
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MSRP: $199
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URL: www.onkyo.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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Diamond Tears' bass is emphasized, but with nice control and detail down low, especially for a very closed on-the-ear headphone.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

TYPE: Closed, full-size, on-the-ear headphone (Diesel VEKTR)
Closed, full-size, active noise canceling, around-the-ear headphone (Inspiration)
Closed, full-size, on-the-ear headphone (Diamond Tears Edge) 
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MSRP: Around $229, $300, and $300, respectively
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URL: www.monsterproducts.com

 

 

 

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Comments (1)

No Sony MDRZ7 or Fidelio X2 on this list? 
Head-Fi.org › 2015 Summer Buying Guide › Head Fi Buying Guide Over Ear Headphones 3