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Intoduction and first impressions: HD-590 HD-600 Grado SR-80 Grado SR-225

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
Introduction: As a new subscriber, I want to say that I have been interested in high fidelity sound and equipment for over 35 years. I can remember the first time I entered the hushed lush environment of a high-end audio salon and felt my nipples get hard. I dunno, maybe it was the cool air, then again maybe it was the all that high end equipment on display in one place

My first set of headphones, actually these belonged to my father, was a pair of Superex Pro phones. Totally sealed design, liquid filled ear pads, separate miniature woofer and tweeter in each can. Good sound, plenty of bass, even today I have never heard some of the audio tricks on Pink FloyD DSOM such as voices rotating around in front and behind my head on Us and Them as on those Superex phones.

The first pair of phones that I purchased was while I was in college. These were a pair of Pioneer phones that used a piezoelectric element instead of a conventional driver. These cost $100 in 1976, quite a bit of money then actually. These phones had a very transparent sound, but not much bass. They were high impedance, I think 600 ohms, and I had trouble driving them from the headphone jack on my Sansui integrated amp so I wired them directly to the speaker outputs. This helped with the sound but they were very unreliable, one channel would quit working and after sending them back twice, I got rid of them and promised never to buy another Pioneer product ever. Never have, either. BTW these phones came in a nice vinyl box that I still use.

My long term headphones are a pair of Yahama natural sound YH-1 orthodynamic headphones that I still have. They were about $80 in 1978 as I recall, and they provided a very smooth relaxing sound that is so relaxing that it is easy to fall asleep while listening to these phones. They are supraural, with a wide web of suede-like material supported by a metal band. They have a full range sound, with good but not overpowering bass, a bit rolled off perhaps in the upper register.

Until recently I would have been content to stay with my Yahama YH-1s, however, I started buying components, and open reel tapes, to add to my growing collection of mostly vintage audio equipment. I decided to read up on what was considered top of the line in todays headphones to better enjoy my growing open reel tape collection played on an Ampex 2100 reel to reel tape recorder through a Fisher 400 tube receiver. The sound of this tube unit is absolutely first rate, even more so when listening to headphones. Also, while my Yamaha YH-1s still work, they can be a bit uncomfortable for longer sessions as the transducers sit on the outer edge of my ear.

I learned that Yahama still offers several models of headphones, but no dealer near me carrys these. It seems that the Yahama RH5MA is considered a good buy for under $40, but they have apparently abandoned the high-end headphone market.

I read about the Grado phones. I once owned a Dual turntable with a great sounding Grado phono cartridge, so I was initially very interested in reading about and hearing some of their products.

I also read the reviews online here and on some of the other audio forums on various models of Koss, Sennheiser, and AKG phones. I had no experience with AKG but I recalled some of the earlier Sennheiser designs from the 1970s (not a personal favorite). I had always liked the rich deep sound of the Koss Pro 4A phones, and at one point thought these might be a good addition to my vintage collection, however repeated postings about how even the latest model Koss Pro 4AA phones were too heavy for extended wearing without neck fatigue put me off seeking these out any further.

As it is, I am glad I kept looking, reading, listening, and learning online, especially here on this forum, before selecting a new pair of headphones.

Headphone reviews: I will only comment on those headphones I have actually heard, as opposed to second hand information or conjecture.

Grado SR-225 : Not full range, lacking bass below 100 Hz. Top two octaves, say above 5Khz, are greatly boosted. I had to turn the treble control on the NAD integrated amplifer I was using to audition the Grados down quite a bit to approach anything like a natural treble. Verdict: Not for me, thanks.

Grado SR-80 : A bit more apparent bass than the 225, but still not full range. Treble was also too bright, but not nearly as exaggerated as on the 225s, turning the treble down just a bit made these quite listenable. Verdict: At $95, these would make a reasonable pair of phones for a second system, say at work, or possibly for use with a portable.

Both of these Grado phones had the old style ear pads, so I don't know how much more comfortable they would be with the newer style ones, but they were fairly light weight and reasonably comfortable, although I was always aware I had them on.

Sennheiser HD-590 : Auditioned these in a mass market audio/video store. Lightweight and very comfortable. While these were clearly full range phones, the 590 had an unnatural peak in the upper midrange. Verdict: For $150, I felt I could do better.

Sennheiser HD-600 : I just bought these off eBay after reading many reviews and also considering the HD-580 and AKG K501. I have been listening to these for about three hours now. Initially the HD-600s seemed to clamp my head a bit to tightly, but now after a few hours they feel fine and are very comfortable. I am listening to an FM classical station through a vintage Marantz 35 watt/channel solid state receiver. The Marantz has no problem driving these to a comfortable listening level with the volume control still below 8 o'clock. Anything above 9 o'clock would be ear damaging. So if any of you want a great deal, pick up a vintage solid state amplifier or receiver from the 1970s such as Fisher, Sansui, Marantz, Harman Kardon off of eBay or even a flea market. They make one hell of a headphone amp.

Although this is only my initial impression, it was immediately apparent that the HD-600s are full range phones with a very smooth response. No part of the audio spectrum appears to be out of place. Male announcer voices are not boomy, a sure give away if the mid bass is boosted between 80 and 160 Hz. Horns and string instruments sound clear without seeming strident. Vedict: I am very pleased with my purchase

Something you should know about me is that I have some hearing loss in the upper registers that is significant above 4Khz. Whether this is due to age, listening to music too loud, or gun fire, I do not know. I have always been aware of too loud music, after attending a few live concerts when I was younger, and have since tried to stay away from rooms where bands were playing excessively loud, or used ear plugs, and I have always worn hearing protection when shooting firearms (well OK not the .22 rifle when I was younger). Maybe it is not one thing but an accumulation of exposure to environmental noise, music, and everything else. My point is, don't think it won't happen to you. Take care of your hearing, keep the volume down, and always use hearing protection when mowing the lawn, using a leaf blower, hammering, or using most power tools. Just my $0.02.

Also, just because I have limited hearing in the upper range does not mean I don't know good sound, because I can and do still enjoy my music collection and can immediately tell when something is not right with the sound of a loudspeaker or headphones.

In selecting a pair of headphones, I think that full range natural sound, is most important. Of course, comfort and fit is also important. As most musical fundamental frequencies are in a range of say 80 Hz to 5Khz, a headphone that provides as close to flat frequency response in this range as possible will sound most natural. Extend this another octave in each direction and you will have a fuller sounding headphone that begins to approach full-range sound. Expand the range again and you have the makings of a true full range headphone. For me, that is what the HD-600 approximates, a true full range headphone.

Good: 80 Hz - 5Khz +/- < 2 db
Better: 40 Hz - 10Khz +/- < 3 db
Full range: 20 Hz - 17 Khz +/- < 3db

Note: I accept that there are lower level fundamentals than 20 Hz, but these are limited to pipe organs, sound effects, and electronic music. Also, I recall reading that studies have shown that in the uppermost octave, few people (mostly children) can hear sound frequencies anywhere near 20Khz. By age 18, most males have an upper hearing limit of something less than 17Khz. For women the limit in the upper range is slightly extended.

Incidently, one of the reasons I decided not to pursue or purchase either the HD-580 or the AKG K501 phones is that neither of these models measures as truly full range headphone using the above scale. e.g., relative to say 1 Khz, the bass output at 40hz or even 50hz of both the HD-580 and the K501 is down by more than 3 db, in the case of the K501, much more than 3db. As 3db represents the half power acoustic output level, generally accepted as the nominal low frequency limit of a loudspeaker, the same standard should apply to headphones.

I will post more after I have had a chance to listen to the HD-600s some more using my different components and on a variety of music.

post #2 of 4

What makes me curious is your comparison of the HD580s and 600s in the full range reproduction aspect. I found them both to have very similar frequency bandwidths at both the top and bottom of the spectrum. Have you listened to the 580s yet or are you just going by specs / response graphs?

Also, I'm glad someone else out there thinks there are quite a few receivers and amplifiers, mainly vintage, that are capable of driving headphones well. I'm using a Sansui 2000X myself, which has a MOSFET output stage that sounds good with both speakers and headphones. Most people snarl and turn their nose at the thought, though.
post #3 of 4
Thread Starter 

re: HD-580

Xander - Regarding the HD-580s, no I have not heard them. Yes I agree that they are very similar in design to the HD-600 (same basic drivers, and impedance).

For most applications I can see how they would sound the same as the 600s, however, by looking over the response curve of the 580s vs. the 600s the range over which they are truly flat (+/- 1db or less) is not as extended as the 600s. If you pick an arbitrary reference frequency of say 500 or 1000 Hz, the 580s output is down by at least 3db at just over 40 Hz while the 600s maintain their midrange output level +/- 1db down one more whole octave to at least 20Hz. Using my standard, this would place the 580s into the "better" category of phones, but not truly full range reproduction.

I actually came very close to purchasing the HD-580s, but decided that spending the additional $100 was worthwhile for a purchase I would likely enjoy and keep for many years. The matched drivers, lower resonance materials in the the housing, etc. were worth the difference to me. The 580s would make a good second pair for work, travel, etc. Although personally, if I was going to buy another pair of phones, the K501s would be my choice, just to have a different perspective on headphone reproduction that would work well with much of my music collection.
post #4 of 4
Thread Starter 

Listening to HD-600 with different equipment

I had a chance to do some more listening to my HD-600 headphones using some of my other equipment.

First, the slight tightness I experienced when wearing the 600s for the first time is gone, they fit better and I notice I'm wearing them even less.

So far, I have listened to them using four pieces of equipment:

1) Marantz 2235B stereo receiver with 1/4" headphone jack. This is a vintage 1975 receiver, from the period when Marantz still built some of the best consumer audio equipment. 35 watts/channel, built like a tank, large chassis, heavy massive power supply.

The Marantz easily drives the 600s, with a full range sound with deep well defined bass. I have only listened to FM radio, but classical, jazz, and rock music sound great on the 600s through the Marantz. The low frequency response of the 600s is very solid and extended when connected to the Marantz. Also, good soundstage is evident, better than when listening to my Yahama YH-1 headphones connected to the Marantz.

2) Denon DCD-1500 CD player with a 1/4" headphone jack. While dated compared to today's players, the DCD-1500 was one of the better CD players when it was introduced in 1985/86.

The Denon had no problem driving the 600s to acceptable volume level. The sound was clear and detailed, especially in the upper range. The lowest two - three octaves were rolled off, say below 100 Hz. The 600s still sounded good but the sound was not as full as I had experienced when connected to my Marantz receiver.

3) Hafler DH-110 Preamplifier with a 1/4" headphone jack.
I built this from a kit, to match my Hafler DH-200A amplifier also built from a kit. I recently added a second DH-200A, and use one of each channel. The DH-110 uses all discrete components and has precision switches and controls.

The Hafler DH-110 specification sheet states that it can produce an output level of 3.5 Volts nominal, 14 Volts RMS maximum output. The Hafler had no problem driving the 600s to loud levels. The sound was full, with none of the bass roll off I heard through the Denon CD player headphone output. However, the upper range was a bit recessed, and did not have the clarity I heard when the 600s were fed directly from the Denon.

This confirms something I had already learned, that my CD player sounded better when its output was fed directly to the dual mono amplifiers I use to drive my Magneplanar MG-1 loudspeakers. I have toyed with the idea of getting a better preamp, but for now believe that the best preamp is no preamp, so when I want to hear the purest sound from my CD player, I feed the variable output of the Denon (it has both fixed and variable outputs) directly to the amplifiers that drive the speakers. I also decided that instead of investing in special speaker cables, the best speaker wires were no speaker wires, so I have the shortest length wires possible (about 8 inches in length) to connect from the amplifier to the speaker terminals. This has resulted in higher output, better bass, and overall better sound than I had believed possible.

4) Fisher 400 FM Multiplex stereo tube receiver. This 1960s receiver is the last all-tube model receiver sold by Fisher. Uses 4 - 7868 output tubes for a rated 28 watts/channel. 1/4" headphone jack is wired with left and right channels reversed, dunno if this is normal or a goof. I have a slightly later vintage Fisher solid state receiver called Futura Series 201, and it also had the left and right channels wired reversed on the headphone jack. I had this corrected while the model 201 was being checked out and the FM section realigned.

The Fisher 400 never ceases to amaze me with its effortless, natural sound. Male and female voices emerge from both speakers and headphones with such a sense of three dimensionality that it's kinda spooky. Also electric guitars have a depth of sound that makes you feels as if you can get inside of and look around the notes as they hang in the air around your head. Using the Fisher, the HD-600s are driven to normal listening levels much easier than was the case with my Yamaha YH-1 phones. I don't recall the impedance of the Yahamas, I believe it may be 300 ohms, in any event the 600s are easier to drive to normal and above normal levels. The sound is first rate, even more natural and with a clarity beyond anything I have heard from my Yahamas used with the Fisher.

I realize this is a headphone forum, but if anyone is wondering what's the big deal with tube amplifiers and headphones, after a number of months listening to the Fisher with CDs, FM, and reel to reel tapes I have formed my own opinion about the special magic of tube audio.

First, when listening to any source, but especially a well recorded analog source, the ambience of the recording session (instrument, room, booth , studio,and hall ambience, etc.) passes through the tube circuits intact and actually gets to the speaker terminals or headphone jack. This ambience is sometimes so strong, you swear that they added artificial reverb in the studio. The wide-range sound of the 600s make recorded ambience easy to hear and appreciate. It is rare to hear this level of ambient sound on most CDs, but whether natural or artificial, it can be more fully experienced with a good tube amplifier or receiver such as the Fisher 400.

Second, wide-range dynamics. The crash of a cymbal or a drum being kicked, or an orchestra hitting a crescendo in the music will momentarily require the amplifier to deliver signal peaks that are higher than its rated output. I think two things happen here that make tube amplifiers handle musical peaks with greater ease. The first is less well known. The power supply sections of tube amplifiers, especially the vintage ones, use very high voltages (greater than +400 Volts). They store their extra energy in power supply capacitors just like solid state amplifiers. The difference, however, is that solid state amplifiers need capacitors that are able to store tens of thousands of microfarads of charge at their lower operating voltages (+ 14 volts) to equal the amount of energy in joules capable of being stored in the power supply capacitors of a vintage tube amplifier charged with only a few hundred microfarads, because of the higher voltages used. The net effect is that the tube amplifier is able to handle musical peaks in a way that solid state equipment can't match. The other reason, more well known reason, is that when tubes reach their maximum output, they clip the signal in a way that is less harsh, with even-order distortions that the human brain finds less grating than the odd order harmonics generated when transistors clip their output signals. What does this have to do with headphones? Well, the HD-600s are capable of very wide dynamic range. When they are fed a clean peak signal from an amplifier, they accurately recreate the musical dynamics present in the signal. With good tube amplification, this makes for hearing some very natural sounding musical peaks on the HD-600s without any harshness.

Regarding the bass, I found the bass reproduction of the HD-600s, while listening to them using the Fisher 400, to be very satisfying and natural. However, I did not hear the same level of power and authority of the lowest octaves, say 50 Hz and below the way I did when listening to the 600s using the Marantz receiver. I believe the reason is that the Fisher rolls off response in the lowest octaves due to the impedance matching output transformers that are part of the output circuitry. These transformers are also responsible for much of the tube sound quality that is so highly prized in these vintage units, so its a trade off but one I would happily make to enjoy the highly musical reproduction of the Fisher 400. Suffice to say that the HD-600s can play much deeper in the bass than the Fisher 400 does, and the HD-600s reproduce all of the bass and other frequencies passing through the Fisher's output tubes and output transformers with ease. It is a joy to listen to the wide-range, dynamic sound of the HD-600s when connected to the Fisher's headphone jack. I guess I could intentionally reverse the leads on the HD-600s to correct the left/right channel reversal of the Fisher's headphone jack. For now, since all of my critical listening with the Fisher tends to be reel to reel tape, I simply reversed the left and right tape inputs to the Fisher.
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