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Decent $30 headphones for music listening

A Review On: Gamma LH-036

Gamma LH-036

Rated # 378 in Over-Ear
See all 1 reviews
Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $30.00
Bagheera
Posted · 245 Views · 1 Comment

Pros: Warm, pronounced mid-range. Tight, controlled bass.

Cons: Treble is sharp and dry. Both treble and mid-range lacks clarity and detail.

Oh noes, the invasion of ambiguous Asian products continues! tongue.gif

 

Actually, no - chances are if you live in the States or Europe, you have never seen one of these, and never will. They were never marketed nor sold outside of Taiwan, to my knowledge.

 

So why have I mentioned them?

 

Well, a lot of music genres I listen to aren't very popular in the U.S., so whenever I get a chance to visit Taiwan, I shop at all the record stores to check out New Age and Eurodance albums.

 

I first noticed the Gamma LH-036 in the early 2000's (though, it seems they've been in production since 1992, according to a Taiwanese audio forum).  Almost every single record store (and even listening stations inside book stores) in Taiwan uses them. Back then, I was still completely new to the definition of "good sound", and as mediocre as these cans may now seem to me, they were amazing to me then.

 

I will say that these cans (retails for roughly $30 USD) do have very good price/performance ratio, which is the reason they are so widespread (I went back to Taiwan two years ago, they were still a common sight in record stores). Before the likes of Superlux came into prominence on the budget headphone scene, I suspect the Gamma LH-036 was the antiquated equivalent of the HD668b.

 

Construction Quality & Presentation

I don't think there's much I can praise about the presentation of the Gamma LH-036. You get what you paid for at $30.

 

Very vanilla packaging; the only accessory included is the 1/4" adapter.

 

In terms of construction quality... these cans look cheap, and feel cheap. The same type of cheap plastic used by the Superlux is present here, but the Superlux has better styling at least.

 

That said, the LH-036 does have one design feature I really like - which is that the cups are connected to the headband via pivot joints - and they can pivot freely for a very good fit.  Unfortunately, there is one flaw with the way Gamma implemented this design - the cups are affixed to the pivot joints via a small plastic ball (located inside the housing), which are screwed onto the headband. The screws have the tendency to become loose after prolonged use, at which point the cups begin making squeaky noises when pivoted.  So every once in a while I have to remove the earpds and driver units to tighten the screws on the back of the housing.

 

The type of pleather used on the earpads are... cheap. They will last a year or two before starting to crack. The size of the opening on the earpad is also on the small side - if you have big ears (like me) the pads may press down on the outer edges of the ears and cause pain after prolonged use. But not unlike the pivot joint design - where there's a weakness, the LH-036 makes up for it with a merit: The earpads are attached to a plastic ring that simply snaps into place on the cups. The pads can be easily removed for cleaning or modifications.

 

Comfort

I don't find the LH-036 to be comfortable due to my ear size. Like aforementioned, the cups/earpads are on the small side for full-sized cans, and they press down on my ears. I have to take them off after an hour or two to let the pain subside. frown.gif
 

Additionally, while the headband is adjustable, I personally don't find that the cups quite go down far enough. An extra 1/2 inch to an inch of room for adjustment would be nice.

 

The headband is well-padded with foam and wrapped in stitched pleather, which is a nice touch.

 

Audio Quality

I consider the sound quality of the LH-036 decent for its price. It has a fairly warm presentation, with an emphasis on mid-range and lower treble. The result being that it has a good "musical" quality to it.

 

Technical Specifications:

  • Driver: φ50mm Neodymium
  • Impedance 32Ω
  • Frequency Response: 5-25,000Hz
  • Maximum Output: 100mW

 

Treble: The treble presentation isn't particularly good. It seems to have a sharp peak around 8-10K, which makes treble very sharp and sibilant. But it doesn't have the same kind of detail and extension as, say, the HD668b, and the presentation isn't sparkly. Overall I would call it "sharp and dry".

 

Mid-Range: The mid-range is the main strength of the LH-036. It is forward, pronounced, warm, and has good body - vocals sound good on these cans, so do most wind and string instruments. Details aren't particularly great - but can't be too nit-picky at this price.

 

Bass: These cans aren't bassy, but I find the bass quantity more than ample. It is also decently tight and controlled when present, though extension isn't as good as the HD668b (but it isn't drony/boomy, which is something I really disliked on the HD668b). The funny thing is the bass presentation was originally the reason I bought these headphones (after hearing how bassy they were in record stores) - in retrospect, I am pretty sure the listening stations bass-boosted these cans, because I was never able to get anything near the kind of bass I heard in the stores on the LH-036.

Sound Stage: Sound stage mediocre - but it is present (really can't be too picky at this price range beyersmile.png ).  Sound focus and positioning is fairly good as well.

 

Instrument Separation: Separation mediocre by modern standard due to slight lack of detail in the treble and mids - but I would rate the LH-036 as "above-average" at its price point (I've heard some really horrible audio products at $30). It's nowhere nearly bad enough to be "muddled" - I actually consider the LH-036 to be a valid (and cheaper) alternative to the HD668b for budding music enthusiasts looking for something cheap and risk-free to try.

 

Isolation: Not very good, to be honest - considering its closed nature. Cheap plastic housing + trouble achieving full seal (my ears are too big) may be the reason.  But it's okay for use at home.  It doesn't leak sound as badly as the HD668b, being closed headphones, so it won't annoy your roommates as much.

 

Final Verdict

The Gamma LH-036 has been around for two decades now. In all honesty I am surprised by how well it's held up (and how popular it still is among Taiwanese enthusiasts as well as for music demos in record stores). It's a decent, well-rounded pair of headphones for music listening (it doesn't sound cold and analytical like the HD668b). At $30, I don't think one can ask for much more.

1 Comment:

I just wanted to add something to your first statement regarding not being available in US / North America.
I was using this as a cheap alternative headphone and my first one was actually purchased in Asia (15+ years ago). Sometime around 8-10 years ago, I purchased a second unit since my first daughter wanted to use the exact same unit (and the first one was already showing signs of age). Anyway, a local big box store in Western Canada (Vancouver), A&B Sound carried these headphones. At the time of purchase, they had several dozen units on the display shelf and continued to carry them until they store chain closed circa 2008. The other big box stores like Futureshop and BestBuy did not carry them and I was unable to find them anywhere else. Just for the sake of clarity, I will be referring to my first set as the asian model, and the one purchased in North America as the Canadian model. This, however, does not infer in any way that they are indeed such models.
Maybe it was because of the age of the drivers on the first unit but when I compare them, the Canadian bought model seems to sound a bit better. I still have both headphones and both are functioning (with the exception of the asian model's mini jack replaced with a cheap radio shack connector). I understand that "sounding better" is relative but at least for myself, there was a noticeable improvement in music reproduction compared to the "asian model"
There are some variations in overall presentation of the products. The Asian model did come in the plastic blister pack similar to what you have posted. The Canadian version came in a "higher end" presentation in the form of a proper box and better packaging. The Asian version came with the cheaper feeling leatherette ear surrounds (the leather was stretched smooth and shiny) which eventually completely "flaked off" leaving a cloth covered foam surround. The Canadian version came with a more "wrinkled" and finer grain dull-leather (albeit still fake leather) but has somehow survived the last 10 years or so of use. I keep it under my TV-entertainment system when I want to watch something while there are kids running around. The Asian version I have also has that "audio-transparent" thin black layer on the headphone foamies that sits between the ear and the driver (similar to your last two pictures), while the Canadian model just has that white material (shown on your last picture).
I do have to agree with two things. The cups are tool small and begin to feel uncomfortable after extended use. They are not the best headphones but certainly not the worse for drivers at this price. For me, they are still viable headphones compared to sony's low end MDRXD100 which has absolutely no bass. The bass output from the LH-036 is just enough not to be overpowering.
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