Pros: Inexpensive, Good bass, Great Mids, Style, Comfort, Long cord
Cons: Build material is budget, pads are vinyl, Highs can be a little fatiguing
Samson SR850 An inexpensive semi-open high performer
First let's get some information across. The Samson SR850 is a clone of the Superlux HD668B. Same headphone. They simply rebranded it and changed the style of the headband. The Samson SR850 more resembles the AKG series headphones. The Superlux HD668B more resembles the AudioTechnica series. Keep that in mind depending on which style you may prefer, as they are the same headphone and virtually cost the same. I went with the SR850 because I like the look better and the headband way better than the HD668B. This headphone is low impedance and sensitive, you will not need an amplifier at all.
Why: Well, I wanted to try out various inexpensive (budget) headphones to get a feel for what's all out there. Here at HeadFi, and other online communities, there seems to be a lot of blind suggestions when it comes to a headphone that is popular when mentioned in a thread. My favorite example is the AudioTechnica AD700 for gaming specifically. The problem is that a lot of people are recommending that headphone for someone who wants a headphone for gaming, who have never even heard that headphone, let alone gamed with headphones sometimes. Anyhow, I wanted to find another headphone that was even more inexpensive and capable of being great for gaming and music and movies all the same. After doing some hunting around, that landed me on the SR850. Part of the deal was that it had to look good and feel good, not just perform good. Again, landed me on the SR850.
What Comes in the Box:
- The headphone itself of course.
- 1/4" adapter (cable terminates into 3.5mm).
- Owner's manual (gee, thanks).
The packaging is very simple. No extravagant packaging extras, no accessories. It's just a headphone with a cord and an adapter for the termination plug. This is not a plush or luxury item. It's an inexpensive budget item. Note, I didn't say cheap as that comes off as a negative and that's not to be implied here. It's inexpensive and budget in a good way. You're not paying extra premium for junk that you throw away anyways.
Construction, Materials & Comfort:
Right away, you'll notice it looks a lot like an AKG headphone. It definitely clones their look, which is a really good thing to grab attention (which is what these kinds of marketed items are made for). The cups that house the drivers pivot, so they are not broad-straight, they adapt to whatever surface they press to. The bars on top are sturdy and provide the grip needed to keep the headphones in place. The grip is not forceful, so it doesn't cause discomfort, nor is it so completely lite that the headphone wobbles off. Very easy to wear. The headband is a vinyl that is molded/stamped to look like leather. Nothing fancy, but it's actually a nice detail compared to just getting bare vinyl I guess. The way the cups attach to the headband and bars is exactly like the AKG sets. There is an elastic band on each cup that pulls it towards the headband, that extends when you place it on yourself and pull down to increase the size of the headband for fit. Literally, the same as AKG (I compared the mechanism to my K701, it was pretty much the same build). The headphone is of course semi-open, so you can see the vents that open to the driver housing. Inside the cups, there is a filter.
The cord is long and terminates with 3.5mm, and you get a 1/4" adapter.
The pads are where the budget comes into play. The pads are decent, they are relatively large, definitely envelope the ear with some room to spare both in circumference and in depth. The material is another vinyl type material with a semi-soft foam inside. They're not super soft, but they're not hard. The vinyl material is the only part of the build quality that sort of makes me grimace, but that is because I'm hyper sensitive to non-velour/velvet pads. I don't even like the AudioTechnica M50's pads, to give you a reference point. So this fault is more my preference, not necessarily a fault of the headphone for someone else who prefers non-cloth pads.
Overall, the headphones are pretty light weight and are fairly comfortable to wear. I've put many hours into it so far and often found myself realizing, "Oh, I'm wearing the headphones...". When you hold them, they don't have a heavy metal feel, they feel like very light plastic, which they are. Plastic and vinyl. They seem to sit just fine over my glasses too.
When you first put on the headphones, you realize right away, they are not what you expect. These have a big sound. They have full rich bass and generous mids. The highs are very present, it's actually a sort of bright headphone and the highs are the only weak point in the sound if that's a problem for someone. It gives them a nice full sound feel with some detail etched around it.
Quick summary of the sound of the SR850:
- Bright treble (highs).
- Full bass, great impact.
- Full mids, no recession here.
- Great for literally all genres of music from acoustic to dubstep. And I tested it extensively.
- Easy to drive, no amplification needed.
- Good sound stage and separation of sounds.
Music tested included: Ani Difranco (Acoustic, Female Vocals), Regina Spektor (Folk, Pop, Female Vocals), Euge Groove (Jazz, Bassy), Ludovico Einaudi (Classical, Piano), Keith Jarrett (Classical, Piano, Live Concert), The Cranberries (Pop, Female Vocals), Elton John (Classic Rock), Avantasia (Metal, Fantasy), Buckethead (Alt. Metal), Rusko (Dubstep), Ephixa (Dubstep), JesusDied4DubStep (Dubstep), Robyn (EDM), BT (Trance, Techno), OceanLab (Trance, Techno). All in lossless format.
The highs forward and bright. Too bright sometimes to the point of sounding like they are going to be sibilant and fatiguing, but the more I listened, the more this became less of an issue. I only noticed it really bothering me at higher volumes. At normal listening volume, I had no problem with the highs and I didn't experience sibilance. But at high volumes, beyond my listening level, it definitely goes that direction. So keep that in mind if you listen to headphones very loud. This headphone is bright and can fatigue you. Otherwise, the detail of the highs is great, it's airy too. They felt like they etched a level of detail across audio that made things like acoustic really interesting and clear to listen to. The highs are not rolled off on this headphone. This is not a laid back sound at all.
The mids are forward and present, very rich and with good clarity. The mids are not recessed or drowned out by the bass. The sound is very full and I find any headphone with solid mids and even a hint of bass will perform well in nearly all music as mids make up the bulk of what we listen to (from instruments to voice). Vocals are great, guitar sounds wonderful and piano was very powerful. I was very pleased in general with the mids as a lot of budget headphones are recessed in mids to make a bassy/treble headphone which tends to be more fun and popular. That's not the case here. Mids are full steam ahead.
One thing you always wonder is whether an open or semi-open headphone will have any real bass to talk about. Sure they have impact and give you a touch of snap, but they don't usually have great reverberating bass that makes you want to shake your head or dance. Well, that's not the case here. This headphone has some bass. I was completely surprised how low this thing went. I'm not used to open-air headphones being able to perform bass like this. I was listening to dubstep and it was keeping up with other headphones that I have that are colored for bass. I was thrilled to say the least, being a basshead in general anyways. These SR850's provide some serious kick even though they're semi-open. Decay is not too quick, so you get a pleasing rumble, but it's not so fast that you hear no bass at all. It's a fast response too, it kept up with everything rather well.
Isolation, or rather, Sound Leaking:
Make no mistake, these are semi-open, which might as well be open-air. They leak. You will have no isolation. Everyone in the room will hear you. I suppose I can rate how much they leak, but I can't measure it really beyond my perception. Grados leak like mad. Beyers don't seem to leak that bad. These are some where in between. If privacy is needed, these are not for you. The compromise is that you get that open sound stage.
Soundstage is pretty good, it's an open headphone though, so you expect that. Instruments and vocals all had great separation from each other, not congested into a cramped clump of mush. The channels fade back and forth nicely and it's easy to generate a 3D field depending on what's powering them. I say that because these are excellent for movies & gaming where position is important and pleasing. In other words, here's a $59 headphone that is great for gaming that is less expensive than the common "gaming" headphones that get recommended left and right blindly. The difference on top of that is that these have plentiful rich bass, so they're great to listen to music and watch movies on too. Not just focus on little foot steps in a FPS game. Everytime I see "AD700 for gaming" I think "No, SR850 for gaming, AD700 for foot steps in FPS games only."
Conclusion & Closing:
The SR850 is an inexpensive high performer. It exceeded my expectations. I'm not completely pleased with the headphone, as I would prefer the highs to be a little tamer (I use an equalizer and dropped the highs down a tad and all that fatigue went away while still sounding excellent). And I would prefer different pads on the cups (cloth!) but that's my main preference anyways on headphones (velour). The bass was surprising. Very low and full. The mids are forward and present. The headphone in general is warm (warm in my definition references bass and fullness). The highs add a nice etch of detail to the whole image. I'd really like to get a pair of Beyer pads and see if they fit around these, because if they did, bam, it would be awesome. These headphones are excellent for all musics and great for gaming and movies. They're inexpensive and yet give so much. This is to be expected being a hidden Superlux HD668B which we all know is an excellent budget headphone.
By the way, if you want a closed version of this headphone, the CAD Audio MH310 is this headphone, but closed back.