Pros: Tight bass, warm tones, amazing detail, versatility, value, build, comfort, LACK of aural fatigue
Cons: Mild compression, rolled highs, no prestige factor, lack of initial aural “WOW”
I have recently been on an all-consuming quest to find a new set of headphone due to my renewed interest in audiophilia. Anyways, for the past while I have been intently auditioning several pairs of headphones to replace my aged AKG K240DFs (bought in the very late 80s, but just lack the “POW” I want).
Just to let you know, my requirements are for a closed design headphone because I often listen music in bed and don’t want to disturb the better half (happy wife, happy life – you married guys know it).
So based on internet reviews (and posts on this forum from tdockweiler who is the PRODJ100’s top evangelist!) I bought the Koss PRODJ100 headphones and was really impressed. But that was not enough – I had to compare these cans to whatever else was out there to make sure my ears didn’t deceived me or that for a few dollars more my audio enjoyment couldn’t be greatly increased.
The PRODJ100 will work with an iPod but just barely at maximum volume. So in order to properly test I broke out my old CD collection, trusty Kenwood DP-5040 disk player and Rotel RA-960BX amplifier (good thing I didn’t follow my wife’s advice and get rid of this equipment) and began my listening. I won’t bore you with all the different tracks I used or the nuances heard per track with each headphone, but here is brief write up on my findings in the order I tried each pair (you’ll note the increase in price):
Shure SRH440: I hated these right out of the gate – the highs were so bright they just hurt my ears! However, after longer listening, I began to appreciate their dynamic range, but overall the sound was lacking and those highs became too fatiguing and unlistenable. Can’t recommend.
Audio-technica ATH-M50s: Talk about “WOW” factor on first listen. These things sound rich, full and dynamic. But after more listening I just found them not to have enough of a balanced signature and the bass just became too much – it’s almost like they have some kind of built in bass boost. I liken them to a really rich tasting pasta dish: the first bite is AMAZING but by the time you get to the end of the meal you feel bloated and you wonder why you just didn’t order the steak. If you have these enjoy! I have a buddy who is very bass centric and I would recommend these headphones in a heartbeat knowing his tastes.
Shure SHRDJ750: Only one word to describe these: boring. I spent the least amount of time listening to these and won’t waste any more time on them. Zzzzzzz…
Shure SHR840: These have what I consider an almost perfect sound signature. Just overall great range, rich/warm texture, tight bass, and definition, definition, definition! But like their little brothers (SHR440) the highs are just a little too high (not as bad) and long listening stints resulted in aural fatigue. Also, for a $200 pair of headphones the build/design is just HORRIBLE – too heavy, what’s with the external wires on the earcups (really?), and just too much plastic. I couldn’t get over the negative qualities, so back they went. If those things don’t bother you, I say get these and you won’t be sorry.
AKG K550: Ok, first off these things should win an industrial design award. My god they are BEAUTIFUL! Sonically they are near perfect – massive sound stage, exacting definition, clear imaging, balanced range (maybe a tich light on the bass, but it is definitely well represented and TIGHT), precise but mellow highs – these are a true reference headphone (it even says so right on them ;-) with personality. They aren’t overly warm, but that’s what makes them so exacting in their sound quality (the DJ100 definitely best them for warmth). These remind me a lot of my K240DFs, just with more dynamic range (bass) and much, much better imaging (plus it takes about a third of the power to drive them to awesome volumes). Now these babies cost $300 bucks – almost four times the price of the DJ100s – and in all honesty I just don’t feel they deliver multiple times the audio pleasure! However, I just might keep them (do you believe in love at first sight? First listen?). These actually sound good on the iPod, but like the DJ100s volume has to be set to max. If you’ve got the dough, don’t think twice.
Ok, so this is hardly an expansive comparison of all makes and models of closed headphones (I hope I wasn’t implying that it was). And maybe it could be said that it is more of a series of mini reviews of the models listed above more so than of the PRODJ100s. But in essence the review is that the PRODJ100s has most of the good qualities of the other headphones and LACKS most of the negatives. However, when you first listen to them you may be disappointed as they don’t have a certain “WOW” factor. But unlike the ATH-M50s which impress from first listen, these things are made for the listening long haul – the more you listen to them the better they get and the more your appreciate their even sonic presentation.
What I think my experience shows is that you don’t have a spend a pile of money to buy a really great pair of headphones. The Koss PRODJ100 are an AMAZING sounding set of cans that you can have for a mere $80. In fact, I would only have a few reservations recommending them over the AKG K550s! Yet, at almost 4x the cost, I can say that the K550s only give about 1.5x increase in audio pleasure over the PRODJ100s. Think on that before plopping down your hard earned cash!
I can’t end without discussing the ATH-M50 pad modification that has been suggested by tdockweiler and others. Be warned, this will CHANGE the sound of the PRODJ100s – and not necessarily for the better. With the ATH-M50 pads the highs on the DJ100s definitely open up and they gain much greater definition (they feel more high quality in build too, but that has nothing to do with sound). In fact, with the earpad modification, the DJ100s sounded almost IDENTICAL to the SHR840s in dynamic range and definition (the SHR840 certainly had more “punch” but only by about 15-20%). Truly amazing. But like the SRH840 the highs became fatiguing after a while and the DJ100s definitely lost most of their warmth. In the end to me this is the greatest sonic quality of the PRODJ100s: their warmth.
So here’s what I suggest: drop $80 on a pair of PRODJ100s and use them as a baseline when auditioning new headphones to see if it’s worth it to spend the extra cash. Hell, buy a pair and compare them to your existing cans and see if you didn’t get ripped off! You might just be kicking yourself.
(Albums used for testing: The Beatles “Love”, Eels “Daisies of the Galaxy”, Cake “Comfort Eagle”, Groove Collective, “Groove Collective”, The Brand New Heavies “Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1”, Led Zeppelin “II”, Yes “Close to the Edge”, Duke Ellington “Blues in Orbit”, Regina Spektor “Begin to Hope”)