Pros: Masterful bass, forward mids with great body, exceptional high end sparkle, great imaging, depth and height, durability, very comfortable
Cons: Small wires protruding from the driver, plasticy pad cushions
I needed a pair of headphones for office use so I won’t need to bring my JVC HA-RX700 every day going to work. They take a lot of bag space and inconvenient to carry around when commuting. Secondly, I wanted to own a pair of open back headphones. Or at least semi-open ones. I read a lot about the sonic advantages of an open back and of course the isolation advantages of a closed headphone so owning a semi-open one looked like the best option since it may provide the best of both worlds – an open sound and some amount of isolation. Given the budget I’m willing to work with (less than $100), I had several options, including the venerable Shure SRH440 (not open but one of the options for portability) and one of the world’s best, a legend in the making, the Grado SR80e. All things considered, and more importantly, the price they sell for, I went with the Superlux HD330 as I felt they are the best value overall.
The HD330 comes in a decent package that may look ordinary but feels very secure. What you get:
- The headphones
- 6.3mm screw-on adapter plug (attached to the headphones initially)
- A hard case for the headphones (quite large but does an exceptional job in protecting the headphones; the headphones themselves are in a bubble wrap for extra protection)
- An octagon-shaped quick-guide that describes the headphones (includes the specs for both the HD330 and HD660)
For the price point, I would say that the packaging looks rather professional, which is very good.
BUILD QUALITY AND COMFORT
I would say very decent. The headband is made of metal that is thick and feels durable as it doesn’t bend very easily. It holds the ear cups by screws (yes, actual screws). This gives them a feel of industrial ruggedness. The ear cups are all plastic but also the thick and durable type. If I have to nitpick regarding the build quality, it’s that the padding on the headband and the ear cups, though adequately thick and very comfortable, are covered with thin and plastic-feeling pleather. I imagine this lasting for quite some time for casual listening but if you intend to use this for professional purposes, it may just wear out easily. Glad to know that these are compatible with Beyerdynamic pads so they can be easily replaced with higher quality ones (like velour pads). Also, the small wires protruding from the drivers may need some extra care. If they get snatched, they can be severed rather easily and may need repair for the drivers to produce sound. Careful-to-normal handling is recommended. The coiled cable is thick and feels very durable with strong strain reliefs on both ends and terminates to a very shiny gold plated 3.5mm jack. It is also easily stretchable but I don’t imagine it stretching to 3 meters as the specs suggest. Maybe a little past 1.5 meters is as far as it will go.
The headphones are very comfortable. For a full-size set, you can easily forget that you have them on, even after hours of listening. Clamping force is just right to give a good seal but doesn’t press on the ears to cause discomfort. Due to the thick headband padding, you won’t really feel the weight over your head. Again, very durable and comfortable headphones.
Burn-in: 150+ hours
- Fiio X1 + Fiio E11k (w/ JDS Labs ultra-short interconnect)
- The X1’s Line Out (LO) for pure, uncolored sound (I feel that EQing doesn’t show the true character of the headphones)
- Mostly flac and 320kbps music files
Very authoritative. It is definitely enhanced. I would say it’s the maximum quantity of bass for “audiophile” before it crosses the “basshead” level. Anything more then it will be a basshead headphone. The bass, with all its abundance, is never the dominating factor. It nicely complements the rest of the spectrum. It gives more body to the mids and makes the highs really shine by providing a really good contrast of “top versus the bottom end” sonic perception.
For symphonic pieces (e.g. classical verses of symphonic metal bands like Epica and other classical pieces), basslines are really thunderous and alive! Bass notes are all very clear and easily distinguishable. And the bass gives music a very ambient feel (a sense of surround sound or concert hall effect as some might call it).
The quality of the bass is among the best I’ve ever heard. I auditioned an Ibasso DX80 + Chord Mojo + Hifiman HE-400i before and the bass from the HD330 is very close to that level. I imagine that if the HD330 is at the end of that set-up, it will be at that level (since the DX80 + Mojo combo are both darker/richer sources than what I have (X1 + E11k)). Based on what I’ve heard so far, it is at the mid-fi planar magnetic level.
Forward sounding and with great body. Guitars! My god, electric and acoustic guitars sounded as they should, with all their grunt, sexiness, and communicative emotion! The opening riff in the song Satellite by P.O.D sounds very exciting, almost captivating. Vocals are also forward and intimate but not so intimate that it’s in your face. I’d say it’s the perfect kind of intimate and always free of sibilance and “shoutiness”. It’s clean and natural. The rest of the mid-frequency instruments like piano, percussion, and other strings all sound very clear, and not recessed at all. The song Say Goodbye by Dave Matthews Band, with all its complex percussion and flute arrangements sounded very detailed and so much fun.
I would describe the mids as forward and aggressive but not the Grado type of aggression. It’s more akin to a Grado than anything else. But unlike a Grado, it’s more of a tamed aggression rather than ruthless aggression (I’ve auditioned the SR80e extensively). It gives the same level of engaging experience without the occasional sibilance and katana sharpness of Grado headphones. Don’t get me wrong. If budget is not an issue, I would still get an SR80e as a proud addition to my collection. It remains as one of the world’s best (price to performance wise). For the price they’re sold for though, the HD330 has one of the best mids I’ve ever heard.
The best among anything that I’ve heard. Like the bass, highs are enhanced on these headphones. But they are enhanced nicely. “Enhanced” is the perfect term to use, not “pronounced”. Highs are very detailed, textured, and natural. Cymbal crashes, decay, brushes, quick hits all sound very clear and natural and they never sounded fizzy. These headphones never lack in high end sparkle. It is actually the “sparkliest” headphones I have ever heard. The song You Could Be The One by Brian McKnight with its chime-laden opening sounded spine-tingling. Other songs laden with “bells” will give you the same sensation. High end sparkle is exceptional.
Soundstage is not so wide. It would say it’s just right. About as wide as the SR80e and those too are intimate sounding headphones. Though I like a wide sounding headphone, I don’t want it to be abnormally wide as well. At this price point, the sense of depth and height you get from these headphones are more than decent. They are great. There is good space between instruments. Instrument placement or imaging within the soundstage is also very precise. In the song Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2, you clearly have a sonic picture of the drums at the back of the stage and the guitarists and vocalist at the fore front like watching them perform live. The presentation is either “in the venue of recording” or “front row”. The sonic picture is not having the musicians too far away but rather playing in an intimate live/recording venue. It is a very intimate and engaging music experience.
I am not sure why it is not ranked higher here in Head-fi or why reviews are not abundant about these headphones and if there are any, it’s mostly reviewed together with its close brothers, the HD440 and HD660. I just feel like it doesn’t give justice to how these headphones perform.
This kind of performance is what makes other audiophiles, beginners or otherwise, not go beyond a certain price point any longer. In my case, this $43 headphone had given me as much sound quality, excitement, and enjoyment as other headphones I have ever tried and auditioned up to the $500 range.
To be fair with this review, I have not tested this with other equipment other than the set-up described above and some occasional laptop listening (direct from Headphone Out w/ Foobar2000, flat EQ). Other headphones may scale more preferably, especially for professional/studio use. Nonetheless, the results are always the same. You do not need to EQ these headphones. They sound as exciting and as fun as a default sound a headphone can give. I did not even note a big difference with the sound out of the box vs the 150-hours burn in mark, aside from the bass being a touch tighter and the mids opening up more.
With this in mind, this might very well be my last review here in Head-Fi (or at least my last review for a very long time). In my quest for audio nirvana, I realized that audio nirvana is a state-of-mind, and not a state-of-equipment. Once you become an audiophile, you actually lose your audio nirvana since you forget to enjoy your music more than you enjoy the sound of your equipment. If a simple audio set-up (like what I have now) brings you back to that same sense of enjoyment, that sense of being one with your music, then you’ve once again regained your audio nirvana. I’ve come to realize that there is no “best at xxx price point” or “best beginner headphones”. There are only the worst, the average, the above average, and the best headphones around. And the Superlux HD330, in my honest and humble opinion, are worthy to be tagged among the best in the headphones world.
See you around audio masters! I’ll always be a fan of your knowledge and expertise (thus “audiophilefan”)! Until my next review (in a long time to come)!
Happy listening everyone!