After the introduction of its flagship HD 800, Sennheiser had a one-thousand-dollar-wide chasm in its product line between the $500 HD 650 and the $1500 HD 800. Of course, Sennheiser's competitors were more than happy to slot into that price range with some amazing new headphones, and I knew it was only a matter of time until Sennheiser would have its own. At this year's CES, Sennheiser unveiled the $1000 Sennheiser HD 700. It was a long time in coming, but I think it's another new winner from the old German mark.
Though it does not come equipped with the HD 800's extraordinary ring drivers, the HD 700 does have a patent-pending ventilated magnet system to manage airflow (and minimize turbulence) around its new drivers--and careful use of sandwiched materials through the headband to damp chassis vibration--equipping the HD 700 with its own innovations. It is also one of the three most comfortable full-size headphones I've worn (the other two being the HD 800 and the Fostex TH900).
Its sound is highly detailed, with a treble tilt north of neutral, reminding me more of the HD 800 than the warmer HD 650, even if it doesn't quite reach the performance heights of its flagship sibling. One key advantage I've found with the HD 700 over the HD 800 is an easier time finding amp matchups for it, and greater ease of driving. As a result, I regularly find myself using the HD 700 in good portable rigs--and more affordable desktop rigs--a lot more than I've ever done with the HD 800 (which I find to be pickier, its use almost always reserved for my higher-end setups). It probably helps that the 150-ohm HD 700 is somewhat more sensitive than the 300-ohm HD 800. The HD 700 also images very well, but again at least a tick behind the HD 800's standard-setting wide, open, airy soundstage.
At $1000, the HD 700 finds itself in a growing crowd of world-class headphones, including some remarkable planar magnetic designs. However, its sonic performance, combined with its light weight and ultra-comfortable design--and relative ease of driving--will have the HD 700 finding its own fan base quickly, including yours truly.
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."
For years, the name "Ultimate Ears" has been synonymous with in-ear monitors, but last year began their foray into over-ear headphones, with the release of three new over-ear models. The UE 4000 is the entry-level model in the line, and the UE 6000 the middle child. (The flagship UE 9000 can be found in the Wireless Headphones section of this guide.)
The UE 4000 is a very lightweight, closed on-the-ear headphone that is one of my new favorite entry-level headphones. For an on-the-ear, it's very comfortable, with well-padded earpads and light-moderate clamping force. Its build quality seems good, and it's an elegant looking headphone, upholding the new UE design ethos, with the diagonally-folded faceplate that can be found on all their latest headphone models, including their flagship universal-fit in-ear UE 900.
The UE 4000's sound is on the warm side, with prominent bass that largely leaves the midrange alone; a sweet, modestly detailed midrange, and treble that forgoes any chance at harshness by sacrificing some detail for smoothness. For its price, and for the passive isolation, which is quite good, I think the UE 4000 is a bargain at $99.99.
The UE 6000 is the middle child, and quite possibly the sweet spot in the new UE over-ear line. Go to the Wireless Headphone section of this guide, and read the entry for the UE 9000. Subtract the Bluetooth functionality, and, for the most part, you've got the UE 6000. Here's the thing, though: the UE 6000 is half the price of the UE 9000. So let me essentially repeat what I said about its wireless sibling: As a passive headphone the UE 6000 is an easy recommendation, with its impressively deep, powerful bass; detailed, relatively uncolored midrange; and smooth treble that's a bit rolled-off way up top. As a passive headphone, the UE 6000 is an outstanding portable, closed around-the-ear headphones. On my wish list for it, though, is a bit more treble extension and energy.
Like the UE 9000, the UE 6000 has active noise canceling, but, in my opinion, it's best left off unless you absolutely need it. I don't think you'll need it often, as the UE 6000 isolates quite well passively, and the active noise canceling is only so-so (in terms of canceling noise). Additionally, the UE 6000's noise canceling boosts things unnaturally, which turns the UE 6000 into a lesser headphone (in terms of fidelity) when its active circuitry is on.
Both the UE 4000 and the UE 6000 come with a cool "shareable splitter" accessory (that splits one mini stereo output into two) that has already come in handy for me, for sharing iPad movies with a travel mate on long flights.
Ultimate Ears is not just in-ears anymore, and that's a good thing.
"I think these are designed for modern lifestyles from build quality to features and sound quality are no exception."
In the last few years, though, loudspeaker manufacturers, noticing the exploding popularity of headphones, decided to parlay their acoustic engineering and product development chops to develop headphones of their own. One of the newer such players of this game--but certainly no newcomer to the high-end audio world--is KEF.
Though I've never owned a KEF loudspeaker, KEF has been a significant part of my own audio history, making the legendary KEF B139 woofer that was used in one of my favorite loudspeakers of all time, the Linn Isobarik DMS. Why the significance to me? The big Linns were the loudspeakers in the very first hi-fi system ever to reproduce music with enough power and presence to literally bring tears to my eyes.
Last year, KEF released its first two headphones: the KEF M500 (over-ear) and the KEF M200 (in-ear). Like Bowers & Wilkins did with their P5, KEF's first over-ear entry is a supra-aural (on-ear) model made of copious amounts of metal and leather (I'm not sure the M500's leather is real leather, though it sure feels good and soft regardless). The M500 also boasts a gorgeous design, with the M500 having a thoroughly modern, sharp-cornered, space-age appearance, versus the P5's retro-smooth curves and lines. (Though I haven't asked anyone at KEF about this, I wouldn't be surprised if perhaps that legendary oval-shaped KEF loudspeaker driver inspired the M500's oval-shaped earcups--the proportions are so similar, I can't imagine it was a coincidence.)
The KEF M500 also comes with one of the better carrying cases in the biz, in terms of combining style, portability, and functionality. Combined with the M500's unique left-side yoke cable entry, the case can accommodate the M500 with its cable still plugged into to it.--this is something I really wish more headphone makers kept in mind when designing their headphones and accompanying cases. (It's a pain to plug and unplug cables every time one wants to use or store his headphones.)
Like the Bowers & Wilkins P5, I find the KEF M500 very comfortable for an on-ear headphone--I might even give a slight edge in comfort to the KEF, with earpads that feel even cushier on my ears than the P5's plush numbers. And though the M500's design is chunky with metal, it is much lighter than it looks, weighing only 208g (or around 7.3 ounces), and so it feels very light on the head.
In terms of sound, I have to give the M500 the advantage over its on-ear rival from Bowers & Wilkins (the P5). Actually, as of this writing, I can't think of any other current supra-aural headphone that I think sounds better than the KEF M500. Its bass extension is very good, its bass control just as impressive. On balance, I'd say its bass is north of neutral, especially down low, but, again, well controlled. The M500's midrange is warmish to me, but still clear as a bell--this is a closed on-ear? The KEF's treble is a seamless extension of the mids, with a bit more presence and sparkle than a lot of my portable closed headphones.
With a nominal impedance of 32Ω, and a rated sensitivity of 103dB/mW, the KEF M500 is an easy load to drive. It sounds very good straight out of my iPhone 5S, but will also scale up its performance noticeably when being driven by my good portable and desktop rigs.
If you can't tell, I'm mightily impressed by KEF's first over-ear headphone. Along with the likes of PSB and Bowers & Wilkins, KEF is showing the headphone world that some of the loudspeaker players are here to compete in this headphone game with the utmost seriousness; and I think they're here to stay.
"In my humble opinion, the KEF M500 is up there on the top 3-list of best portable headphone I've listened to. Unless you want unnaturally emphasized lows or crave good isolation capabilities the M500 will deliver the goods in spades. I really hope more people get to experience this headphone because it's just that damn good and KEF deserves some serious credit for that accomplishment!"
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.
25 years is how long it has been on the market. 25 years is how long it has been a pro audio staple, a favorite of DJ's, a portable go-to for audiophiles. Since it was an instant hit, 25 years is also how long it has been a classic. I can't believe it, but the HD 25 is already 25 years old this year. And to celebrate its birthday, Sennheiser decided to create a 25th anniversary edition of it, and I hope it's not just a special edition, because this is one model I want to stick around: the new Sennheiser HD 25 ALUMINUM.
Using earcups machined from solid blocks of aluminum, the HD 25 ALUMINUM might be mistaken for the now-discontinued Sennheiser Amperior. Unlike the low-impedance Amperior, however, the HD 25 ALUMINUM uses the same drivers as the standard HD 25-1 II, and has the same 70Ω nominal impedance (versus the Amperior's much lower 18Ω nominal impedance).
Other than the aluminum earcups and hinge covers, the only significant changes I can see (holding my HD 25-1 II and HD 25 ALUMINUM side by side here) is that the HD 25-1 II's cable is terminated with a right-angle mini plug, whereas the HD 25 ALUMINUM's cable is terminated with a straight mini plug. Also, the 25 ALUMINUM's pads (both the earpads and the headband padding) seem to be softer, and covered with a leather-like material with a softer hand than the original HD 25-1 II.
As the Amperior did (obviously suggesting the damped aluminum housing is an important change), the HD 25 ALUMINUM refines the HD 25-1 II's bass, imparting greater control and resolution down low. The whole spectrum is improved, actually, and the treble loses some of the bite and edge that the standard HD 25-1 II's can exhibit. Whereas the HD 26 Pro is more of a departure (with some similarities), the HD 25 ALUMINUM is an HD 25 through and through--only a more refined one, a better one.
I've seen this model referred to as the 25th Anniversary Edition, but I hope it's more of a permanent model in the lineup than a temporary one, especially now that the Amperior has been discontinued.
Sennheiser HD 26 Pro
Written by Jude Mansilla
Let's get this out of the way right now: Sennheiser's new 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.
When the beyerdynamic T50p and the DT1350 were released a few years ago--the T50p being beyerdynamic's consumer compact headphone and the DT1350 the pro audio counterpart--I had a clear preference for the DT1350. The pro sibling's deep bass was more impactful and controlled; and its sound, though at times analytical, was certainly the more revealing of the two. Sure, they looked a lot alike, but, to my ears, the DT1350 was simply the runaway winner in any comparison between the two.
Fast forward to last year, and the introduction of the T51p, successor to the T50p. Because (to my ears) there was a rather substantial gap in performance between the older T50p and the DT1350, I wasn't expecting the new T51p to challenge the DT1350 for my ear time--but, wow, was I pleasantly surprised when it arrived.
I want to be clear about something straight away: the T51p does not sound like the DT1350. Like the T50p before it, the T51p seems to be aiming for a more consumer-friendly sound (than the DT1350), but beyerdynamic gave the new T51p a healthy shot of improved resolution (versus the T50p), making it a much stronger competitor--and a true performance peer--for their pro compact DT1350 than its predecessor was. So, now, choosing between beyerdynamic's consumer compact and its pro compact is simply a matter of choosing one of two different flavors of high-performance compacts.
If you've heard the DT1350 and felt it even the least bit cold or dry, then the T51p is worth an audition. Versus the DT1350, the T51p has more emphasized bass, but still with a nicely textured, detailed lower end. Its midrange also sounds richer to me than the DT1350's mids, but no less resolving here than its sibling's midband. Treble is where the two models have their strongest differences, the T51p's treble being comparatively smoother, more subdued, but still with a nice presence and just enough to keep the T51p from sounding soft, to my ears. Whereas the DT1350 could occasionally render unforgivingly (and even less occasionally harshly), the T51p shows comparatively more forbearance.
Verus the DT1350 I have on hand, and versus its predecessor T50p, the T51p represents a substantial improvement in on-ear comfort. The T51p's on-ear pads have a bit larger diameter to them, and combined with their super-soft, super-smooshy feel, can comfortably be worn by me for hours. The T51p also seems far less sensitive to placement than the DT1350--yes, with its small cans, it still needs to be placed right over your ear, but, unlike my DT1350 it's not as microscopically sensitive to exact placement. Also, versus the DT1350, the T51p is less clampy, rated for 2.5N of headband pressure, versus the DT1350's rated 5.5N. (NOTE: the DT1350 I have here is a very early model, I believe the first unit to arrive in the U.S., and I think they may have made some changes--including the earpads--since then. I'll try to get hold of a more current DT1350.)
I think the DT1350 was beyerdynamic's answer to Sennheiser's HD25 series. The T51p seems more like their response to the likes of V-MODA's XS, Sennheiser's MOMENTUM, the Sony MDR-1R, and other excellent audiophile headphones that are more consumer-oriented.
Maybe it's just a mood thing--maybe it's because it's still new to me--but the T51p has had more ear time with me since its arrival than the DT1350. It gives up very little in the way of resolving ability to its pro sibling, but sounds and feels more easygoing and forgiving. I think the beyerdynamic T51p is certainly among the top-tier in the portable on-ear headphone market and is one of my new reference portable supra-aural (on-the-ear) over-ear headphones.
"...considering fantastic "made in Germany" design, rich full body sound, super comfortable fitment, and the bass to make everybody happy - these deserve a very serious consideration for anybody in a market for on-ear or over-ear headphones."
If you've generally been an AKG fan, then the K 550 is almost certainly going to appeal to you. If you want a closed headphone that approaches the sense of airiness of a good open headphone, then the K 550 should definitely be on your list. If you prefer a sound signature that's more on the bass-light side; if you prefer crisp, clear, flat midrange; if you prefer treble presentation that might more fairly be described as somewhat potent than somewhat smooth; then the K 550 may be the headphone you're looking for.
The funny thing is that as I read the preceding paragraph, it doesn't read like something that would appeal to me. Yet the first time I listened to the K 550, I knew I had to have one, because everything I've said about it is, to my ears, true--it's just that the K 550 is all those things, cohesively. There are any number of single things about the K 550 that might rub me the wrong way, but, as the ol' saying goes, the overall presentation and sound of the K 550 is greater than the sum of its parts.
I can think of few closed headphones that offer all the qualities of the K 550.
"It's one of my favorite all time closed cans! Great sound for almost all kinds of music and the bass lovers will enjoy it with everything! Good dynamics and fantastic build quality."
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.
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.
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."
Let's go back to 2011, when Head-Fi turned a hearty ten years old. Up to that point, in millions of posts, in untold thousands of threads, in ten years of online headphone chatter, Philips rarely came up in our discussions. Almost never, actually. Then, at CES 2012, from seemingly out of nowhere, Philips unveiled several headphones that hit it out of the park. We're talking really good headphones here, for very little dough. And in the past year, the lowest prices available for most of these models has fallen tremendously, so the performance for the buck has commensurately jumped.
Of the many new models Philips announced back at CES 2012, the ones that wowed me the most were a few of the over-ear models. The first two are from an affordable (now super-affordable) premium line of urban headphones called CitiScape. The Philips CitiScape Downtown is a closed on-the-ear model very uniquely styled, with a headband wrapped in a padded cloth that looks like an elegant cravat, and earpieces wrapped in a nice synthetic leather. The look, inspired by New York casual street style, is graceful, modish, and suitable for men and women alike. The Downtown is also one of the more comfortable on-the-ear headphones.
The Downtown also sounds great, with a warmish tonal balance, but still nicely detailed throughout. Bass is impactful, precise beyond the price point, and emphasized mildly. Mids are smooth and nicely present. Treble is on the softer side, but there's enough of it to give just a hint of sparkle. Closed though it is, the Downtown images well, too. At around $100, the Philips CitiScape Downtown was one of my favorite closed on-the-ear headphones under $100, providing musicality and balance at a level well above its price, and with all genres I listen to. Found online as low as $35.00 nowadays, it's a no-brainer.
The Philips CitiScape Uptown is the slightly upmarket sibling of the Downtown, and is a closed around-the-ear headphone. Like the Downtown, the Uptown is stylish, albeit with a completely different, retro-cool style. The abundance of synthetic leather is nice looking, and attractively tufted on the headband's underside.
Tonally, the Uptown, like the Downtown, has a warmer tendency, but does have the advantage of having a touch more sparkle in the treble. Like its sibling, the Uptown images nicely. Having used the Downtown more at the beginning, switching to the Uptown revealed more of a closed-cup resonance than is present with the Downtown. However, it's minor enough that it's easy to hear past as you get accustomed to the Uptown. Sonically, which do I prefer, the Downtown or Uptown? Truth be told, it's a toss-up for me. At their current prices, you could buy both, and give the one you don't want to a lucky friend. Both the Downtown and the Uptown have a feature called MusicSeal, which is intended to keep the music in the headphone, and not leaking out to bother those nearby. I haven't examined or inquired to find out exactly how it works, but MusicSeal does work (and also works to provide good isolation from outside noise).
Both the Downtown and the Uptown use flat, tangle-resistant fixed cables. The Downtown's cable has an inline one-button remote/mic. The Uptown's cable also has an inline one-button remote/mic, but with the unfortunate addition of a useless analog super-short-throw sliding volume control. I have no idea how such a useless volume control made it past testing on the otherwise wonderfully executed Uptown, but it's hardly enough to dash my recommendation of it.
The Philips Citicape line is carried not just in big box electronics stores, but also through some major department stores. That kind of channel presence is big news with headphones that sound this good. (Still, your best deals might be found online.)
"Fidelio" is Philips' flagship audio brand, and the Philips Fidelio L1 was the first of the Fidelio headphones. The Fidelio L1 is, in my opinion, one of the best looking sub-$500 headphone on the market today. To my eyes, there's no angle--on the head or off the head--from which the Fidelio L1 doesn't look stunning. And it feels just as impressive, with extensive use of real leather, protein leather and aluminum. The design is a near-perfect blend of modern and retro, and I still look admiringly at the L1 every single time I use it.
Coming from the left earpiece is a very short length of fixed cable to which can be attached two different headphone cable options, one plain, and one with a three-button remote/mic. By the way, the L1's three-button remote/mic cable is one of the best of its types that I've yet used, with easily distinguishable buttons, and nice positive clicks. (The Fidelio L1 cables are fabric-lined.)
The Fidelio L1's sound signature is definitely on the warmer side, but more refined, more polished than its CitiScape siblings. The L1's bass is well north of neutral, but controlled enough to keep a lot of the audiophile types happy. The mids are bloomy and smooth; and the treble has nice presence (though I'd prefer a more extended sounding higher register). No, the Fidelio L1 is not a detail freak's dream headphone, but still I find it, overall, a very satisfying headphone to listen to.
At CES 2013 last January, I was introduced to the Philips Fidelio X1, the new flagship of Philips' flagship Fidelio line. This large, open, around-the-ear headphone is, true to Philips recent form, awesome. The Fidelio X1 essentially looks like a larger version of the gorgeous Fidelio L1, but with larger, rounder earpieces, and a substantially larger grille that makes for an open headphone (versus the semi-open L1). The Fidelio X1's headband uses an elastic-sprung suspension headband that can be tight on large heads like mine without some easy-to-do re-contouring of the outer headband/frame. The X1's cable is detachable at the left earpiece, covered in cloth, and terminated with a 1/4" (6.3mm) stereo plug.
In terms of sound, like the Fidelio L1, the X1 has midbass presence boosted above neutral, but fast enough for me to find it, on balance, very well done. The bass emphasis also has no effect on the flat, clean mids, which gives the Fidelio X1 a good sense of clarity and speed. The treble is nice and sparkly, too. If you like the Fidelio L1, you'll love the Fidelio X1--it's like a more open sounding, freer breathing, more detailed, more sparkly version of the Fidelio L1's sound. I dig Philips new flagship very much indeed.
As far as headphones go, last year was definitely a breakout year for Philips, and this year's progress shows they haven't stopped. And given the far-reaching retail presence Philips has, these Philips headphones are potentially very important for the industry, not just for Philips.
"The X1s are solid recommendation in this price bracket. I feel the X1s make a nice compliment to a flatter and more traditional "audiophile" headphone, but they're also balanced enough that they make for a very good all-purpose headphone on their own, with a special talent for games and movies. They're also very comfortable, easy to drive, and are downright gorgeous looking."
As co-developer of the now-ubiquitous Beats By Dre line of headphones, Monster, for the last several years, has helped grow Beats into what some might say is the biggest success story in the history of headphones. Though Beats certainly isn't a popular make here on Head-Fi, outside of our community Beats is everywhere. I'd seen it estimated at one point that Beats headphones accounted for 54% of the >$100 headphone market (and around 29% of the entire headphone category). Huge.
This year, however, Monster and Beats broke up. 2013 began with Monster in their post-Beats era, and they've been preparing for it for quite some time with the development of a bunch of their own models. It seems to me that for its first round of over-ears, Monster wanted to make sure we knew they weren't going to simply mimic what they were doing with Beats, releasing several wildly styled headphones, a few of which I quite like. And all are (probably thankfully for most) a sonic departure from what Beats is doing, and a move toward a more audio-enthusiast-friendly sound signature.
The Monster Diesel VEKTR is a headphone collaboration between Monster and Italian fashion brand Diesel. As you can see in the photo, there's nothing else on the market that looks anything like it--the VEKTR's look is in-your-face Italian supercar meets F-117A stealth bomber, with its abundance of chiseled angular cuts and flat surfaces.
Even on my huge head, I find the lightweight Diesel VEKTR comfortable for a supra-aural (on-the-ear) headphone. And though it looks rather severe when you're holding it in your hands, the all-black Diesel VEKTR looks surprisingly modest on the head. It also folds up into a very compact package, so its a nice headphone for those whose bags are usually tightly packed.
As for its sound, the Diesel VEKTR's sonic performance far exceeds what I expected from a headphone co-developed with a fashion brand, development-led by a company in the throes of a split with Beats. The Diesel VEKTR is very good, and exceedingly so for a headphone targeting the general consumer market. For example, I'd never consider listening to the weighty, thick Tord Gustavsen Trio album The Ground via the Beats Pro, which reduces that recording's bottom heaviness to muck. But not only do I listen to that Gustavsen album--and other thick-waisted recordings like Fiona Apple's song "Extraordinary Machine"--through the VEKTR, I enjoy listening to recordings like these through this headphone. Yes, the bass has some low emphasis, but it's surprisingly even-keeled in its overall presentation. And though I might wish for more overall resolution and shimmer, and perhaps a more fleshed-out soundstage, I'd say the VEKTR is a fun, enjoyable, musical headphone.
The Monster Inspiration I have here is the active noise canceling version (around $300). (The passive-only version, which I haven't heard yet, goes for around $250.) As with the VEKTR and Diamond Tears, Monster made sure to give the Inspiration its very own style. In terms of its looks, the Inspiration, unlike its over-ear siblings in this guide, is absolutely not polarizing--just about everyone I've shown it to loves its chic-yet-business-friendly lines. Whereas its siblings might require youthful spirit and some moxie to pull off, the Inspiration is styled to be worn by anyone, any age.
The Inspiration's styling coup, though, is one that is very clever, yet so simple I can't believe it hasn't been done before: interchangeable headbands, held on firmly (yet easily changed) with a magnetic mount system. Since an over-ear headphone's headband can be such a major part of its outward appearance, changing it out for different colors, patterns, and materials can dramatically alter the headphone's appearance. I've got the Inspiration in black, and the black ballistic nylon or black perforated leather headbands on it will go with a suit. A blue denim headband turns the Inspiration into something completely different. And there are now many headbands to choose from, ranging in price from $25 to $50 each. Of course, if you're the creative type, perhaps you could customize one for a completely one-off look.
By the way, the Inspiration's in-line three-button remote is easily one of the best I've used, with responsive buttons that have just the right amount of click, and a bumped-out middle button that eliminates any doubts about which of the three buttons you're pressing. Every company making in-line three-button remotes should try the one on the Inspiration's cable.
The Inspiration's sound in its passive mode (again, I have the version with active noise canceling) is on the bass-heavier side, but, as a bass-heavy headphone, I think it's a good one. It's not a detail freak's headphone, but it's probably better than what most general consumers listen to, and better than anything Monster and Beats released together. In passive mode, the Inspiration's mids are balanced nicely, and its highs smooth--again, though, look elsewhere if you tend to favor a more detailed, airy headphone, as the Inspiration's passive-mode presentation is, overall, rather heavy, and its soundstage on the tighter side.
When its active noise canceling circuit is switched on, the sound takes a harsher turn, sibilance kicks up, and the tonal balance takes on more of a general consumer-ish U-shape. For louder environments, it seems clear to me that Monster was trying to provide more detail to compensate for high ambient noise, but, to my ears, they dialed that up to a level that sounds somewhat etched and unnatural, which is particularly clear when you're surrounded by only mild ambient noise. Stick to its passive mode when you can for better sound. As for canceling noise, the circuit works well, but still far off the likes of Sony's new MDR-1RNC and Bose's QC15. (I have been told the passive-only Inspiration sound even better than the active version in passive mode. I haven't tried the passive-only version yet, though.)
The big gem (pun absolutely intended) in the Monster over-ear roster is, without a doubt, the Monster Diamond Tears Edge (around $300). I'll say it: I dig this headphone's sound, and its attitude. If you think the Diesel VEKTR is out-there in terms of its design, wait until you see the Diamond Tears. And unlike the Diesel VEKTR, which looks rather modest on the head, the Diamond Tears draws a bunch of attention even when worn (especially the white version, with its abundance of chrome). Never, in all my Head-Fi life, have I been asked more about the headphone on my head or around my neck than when I go out wearing the Diamond Tears. When I first saw it, I thought more women than men would ask about it, but the inquirers have been just about 50/50 women and men.
Monster developed the Diamond Tears with Park Jin Young (JYP), an entertainer and producer who's immensely popular in Korea. And if JYP helped voice this thing, Monster should make more headphones with this guy. Look again at what I wrote about the VEKTR (above), and know that the Diamond Tears is somewhat like the VEKTR, but sonically improved and refined in every respect, to the point that I think the Diamond Tears is the better headphone.
The Diamond Tears' bass is emphasized, but with nice control and detail down low, especially for a very closed on-the-ear headphone.
The Diamond Tears' midrange has very good presence and precision for the class, and its treble the same. When I feed high-resolution recordings through the Diamond Tears, its ability to scale above its Monster siblings is clear. Though the Diamond Tears has better soundstage and image placement than the VEKTR, it's still pretty closed in, so I do wish it conveyed a greater sense of space.
The "diamond" earcups feel solid and, combined with the seal provided by the earpads, offers very good passive noise isolation. Its headband is metal with thick silicone fittings. The Diamond Tears has so far proven a very durably built headphone in my experience.
So how does this spunkily styled Monster over-ear flagship compare to its similarly priced, more outwardly serious competitors, by the likes of Sennheiser, Sony, and V-MODA? Very well. Along with some of the finer offerings in this class by these companies, Monster's Diamond Tears is one of my favorite on-ear, closed portable headphones. And I appreciate Monster's unflinching attitude in offering such a serious-sounding headphone in such an unconventional, plucky, spirited style.
Now well into their post-Beats era, I'd say Monster's off to a bang-up start.