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Massive headphone comparison (LONG!!!)

post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 
Alright my fellow headbangers, here's a nice big fat comparison of my current five dynamic headphones, just to make that next headphone purchase of yours easier.

Here's what's going on behind the 'phones first though:

Source - Denon DCM-370
Amp - Audio Valve RKV Mark II
CD albums - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack, Pearl Harbor soundtrack, Bond - Born, Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks (only one track used from this CD...Aeris' Theme, Symphonic version). No Aqua this time.

And away away we go...

Sennheiser HD-600 + Red Clou cable - the most prominent thing about them compared to the others is their soundstage...it definitely projects the farthest soundstage away from you out of all the headphones. You very noticeably feel like you're in the 3rd row compared to the other headphones. Strangely though, I have found that with certain amps, typically lower end ones, you can nonetheless feel right up close with all the action. Higher end amps tend to allow the HD-600s to project the stage farther and farther away. This extra wide soundstage makes these really perfect for orchestral music. Their sound is incredibly smooth, lush, and non-fatiguing. Their bass extension is definitely the strongest, as with drums I can totally feel waves of bass thrumming around my ears. Treble is laid back, and lacks a certain sheen to it...cymbals lack a certain bite, and string instruments don't sound as clear as with the other headphones, especially noticeable in Aeris' theme, which contains a big cymbal clash at the end. The midrange is what makes these headphones so lush sounding...it's just creamy smooth.

Allesandro Grado Music Series Pro - instant eye opener with these is the soundstage once again...in comparison, instruments feel as if they're playing right next to you. And I do mean, right NEXT to you. While this helps to increase the clarity of those instruments, at the same time I find it very unrealistic...and ultimately, you get a clump of the singer and instruments all stuck right in the center of your head. The treble on these is laid back, smooth, very similar to the HD-600s except there is a steely sheen to instruments that need if, if not nearly strong enough of a sheen. Bass is your typical Grado trademark bass, fast and whapping without too much extension. It gets in, and gets out quick...which has come to be known as the Grado impact. With the bass comes a bonus...if you run across drums among instruments, they will make good use of the wooden cups and sound extra realistic. Midrange is a shining factor on these...cleanly warm, but not quite as lush as the Sennheisers. Whereas the HD-600s midrange starts to tread into the upper bass region, the MSP keeps the midrange out of there.

Grado HP-1 - first thing to catch your attention is the airiness of everything...the details, the voices, the instruments. It's all hanging suspended on a soundstage spread out wide from left to right. I believe in details, these headphones are still the strongest at it out of the four...thanks to a slightly extra dosage of treble. These definitely give cymbals and strings their due sheen...the cymbal shines through very loudly on Aeris' theme, and yet through normal passages won't give off nasty sibilance. Midrange is missing that warm presence, and sounds clean. The bass is tight, and doesn't contain the typical Grado impact...it loses what extension the current Grados even have, and trades it in for accurate bass. The ultimate strength of these headphones is their balance...the treble, bass, midrange, and soundstage all perfectly compliment each other.

Sony MDR-CD3000 - their treble is clear and birght, with a slight bit of tizziness to the treble ("tsss" sound). They're brighter than the HP-1s, and maintain that slight sizzle to the treble throughout playback. There is no warm midrange to speak of compared to the other headphones, it's a clean one. I think the bass is the meat and potatoes of the CD3000s...it's very stong, has excellent extension, but at the same time, the bass has a quickness that can only be matched by Grados...it has the same "get in, get out" factor. While the HD-600s draw out the bass, the CD3000s maintain that deepness but cut off the extension a bit earlier. Soundstage is noticeably closed switching over from the Grados and the Senns, but you still get audio cues beyond the ear. So you're probably wondering, "well these sound good...why'd he sell them?" Because compared to the others, they lack a certain musical feel to them...I think these really belong in a recording studio than next to a tube amp and warm CDP at home. Something about the bass and treble remind me of a much higher class Sony MDR-V600...it sounds good, but it lacks a certain refinement to the overall sound.

Sony MDR-R10 - after going through each and every headphone, getting back to these was quite interesting. Putting these on, and then playing the music through shows off something that none of the other headphones could portray...the beautiful naturalness of the music. I couldn't help but grin as I went through my CDs for the fifth time...I felt like waving my arms around like Tom Hanks in Castaway and yelling "I...have MUSIC!!!" Getting back to headphone basics 101 however...the soundstage is sealed in, and after just hearing the other headphones, it does sound noticeably closed. You still get a very good extending of instruments beyond your ear however. Strangely, while details aren't a strength of the R10s, their transparency is downright incredible...in fact, the best by far out of these four headphones. You can just really hear things clearly...it's like a veil that was on all the other headphones has suddenly been lifted away on the R10s. Details on the other hand suffer because in order to create the natural sound, the treble and bass are both recessed...both are simply "enough". The lack of excessive treble is perhaps why details don't stand out. On the other hand, that extra transparency makes the R10s details much better than the HD-600s, which by now definitely sounded heavily veiled and almost muddy in comparison. The midrange is very clean, almost a cross between being lush and being warm, without overdoing anything. Finally the bass is tight, without much extension. The final picture is a perfect blend of sounds, and the music just simply flows out naturally.

With this all said and done...some notes.

If I had to choose among these headphones and pick my favorites, I'd be hard pressed...but if there's one finding I have, it's that I'm discovering more and more that the HD-600s are getting outclassed and outgunned by the other four headphones. There's just a sense of clarity all the other 3 headphones possess that I find missing in the HD-600s. It could very well be I find the way the HD-600s increase the distance from me to the singer to be a bit too alienating...I prefer to hear those singers right up close and personal.

The Grado lineup is very complicated...'nuff said I think. Just when you think you've heard it all, along comes another one of their lineup to throw everything you think you know about Grados off. I thought the MSPs would be bright as a cheap earbud...but instead, I get no sibilance at all. I thought the HP-1 would follow along the current Grado lineup...and they sound so different that they're in another class totally. I'd still like to hear the 325s someday and see just how different those are from the MS-IIs I've heard.

Finally, I see more and more people getting interested in the Sony R10s. Before you make the jump, I would suggest the following to prepare yourself. 1. Listen to two or three other dynamic headphones...even better if you can own them and compare them to the R10s, when you get them. 2. For the love of God, make sure you have a good high end amp, preferably a tube based one...don't make the same mistake I made in driving them from an MG Head. I've discovered the R10s are VERY amp dependent, after putting them though four different amps. 3. Keep an open mind and ear...it is very easy to dislike the R10s right from the get-go because you're talking about a product that comes from Sony, who normally doesn't make very good products...and you're talking about something that costs $4000, a pricetag that looks like something Sony would tag on for the sheer hell of it. Give them some time, give them some love...and soon you'll be totally loving the way they present the music. Which is why you'll want to have the extra headphones on hand...it's almost a requirement to truly understand what makes the R10s special, since their signature sound is certainly nothing interesting. Nay, it's in the way they present the music. All natural, baby. It just about took me all these steps to truly love the R10s...and love them I do now. I can't even truly describe the way they sound...for example, I say they aren't as detailed simply because their treble and bass isn't so strong, but in reality they rival the HP-1s and Etymotics for detail. You'd have to hear it for yourself to understand...those that simply dismiss them out of hand are just simply missing out on a very unique way to listen to music.

*WHEW* I think that's it, after 40 minutes of typing and thinking of how to describe the sound...so you guys can go ahead and start reading now.
post #2 of 31
Wow, nice review Vertigo! Your use of "details" and "transparency" is a bit confusing, do you think you could elaborate a bit on your definitions of them? I would've thought that greater transparency = greater detail...

Oh, and for crying out loud, when in the world are you going to upgrade your source? I know the Denon's are pretty good, but your downstream components demand better!
post #3 of 31
Yea, vertigo - you should sell the Denon and get an SACD...your R-10s deserve it...

Very nice comparison. dhwilkin, I think he used transparency as "truthfulness to the music," while detail was used as "detail in the recording." I guess the R-10s are phones that make you listen to the music, NOT the equipment.....
post #4 of 31
Once again, Vertigo, a first class review! And once again, your assessments are very much in tune with my own. Since I've never heard the R-10s (maybe someday), I can only comment on the other three. To my ears, your descriptions of the sound that they produce is dead on! From the "bass is definitely the strongest" description of the HD-600s, to the "MS Pros keep the midrange out of there," to the "balance" of the HP-1s, I found myself nodding in agreement with those statements. Great job!........and thank you.
post #5 of 31
Ah, that would make more sense, thanks coolvij!
post #6 of 31
Great review Vert!

You make it sound as though all these headphones have merits worth appreciating, despite the high fluctuation of price.

It's also interesting to hear a comparison of old vs. new. The R-10s and HP-1s are grandfathers (grandmothers?) compared with the HD600s and RS-1s, yet they keep up with the pack and in some cases surpass it.

But, (of course there always is a but) as owning none of these desirable cans, I wish you had included my beloved etys =) You still own those right? I'm always interested in seeing how they compare with the cream of the crop.

And dammit everyone, stop buggin vert to upgrade his source! It took him 5 billion years just to move to the denon, which is regarded as a mighty fine unit worth more than its price would indicate. MOOO!
post #7 of 31
GReat reviews...

I think i know what you mean when you say "transparency" and "details" are different... Transparency involves means playing back everything very cleanly, without adding any colouration. I've noticed that with some of the most transparent headpones, the details don't come through as strongly, as everything is blended in. You hear the textures and resolution of the phones, but no details seem to stick out. In fact, with incredibly fast and transparent headphones, it sometimes seems harder to pick out details, as if the headphones were LESS detailed than a less transparent headphone.

when people say they hear new subtle details in their recordings that they never heard before, right after making an upgrade, i don't think its an indication of transparency. ( unless their previous equipment was really that bad). When certain details stick out and sound more prominent, its usually a sign of colouration, where a headphone is emphizing certain frequencies.

btw, while i obviously have not had as much experience as you in the top dymanic headphones, i can see where your comments about the HD600's are comming from. Everything seems a bit too warm, and making the headphones sound somewhat fuzzy. Thet sound downright slow in realation to my Koss's. And the midbass seems a bit too prominant in relation to the DEEP bass. But they do have a very musical presentation, and always produce good sound and aren't as sensitive to bad recordings. And for their price, they are simply unbeatable (comparasons with headphones that cost 20X more aren't fair ).
post #8 of 31
Great write up Vertigo.
I have heard the HP-2 and the Senn 600 and you are right on about the sound. But for classical music the soundstage that the 600 presents do seem "right".
After all, who sits with the orchestra beside the musicians?

And for their price(600), they are simply unbeatable (comparasons with headphones that cost 20X more aren't fair ).
Thomas, I agree but the 580's are an even bigger bargan because they give you about 90% of the 600's sound for much less.

post #9 of 31
Hmm too bad you didn't have the CD3000 there to compare.
post #10 of 31
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the comments everyone!

Moo...I actually wanted to throw in the Ety 4S, but I was doing this review at 4 in the morning...but, I'll throw em in tonight. Look for an edit soon...

beowulf, you wanna know more about the CD3000s? Read the top again.

What do I mean by transparency vs. detail? Transparency is this feeling that everything in the music just suddenly sounds clearer...you'll get the the most when moving from any typical headphone over to something like the Etymotics...or the R10s. Or any Stax headphone. Detail is how strongly you can hear those instruments or the singer's voice. The stronger you can hear those instruments or the stringer, the more "detai" I say I can hear. So while the R10s make things sound very clear, nothing really stands out...those cymbals don't come out and smack you in the ear, and those drums don't come in and vibrate your eardrum. On the other hand, whereas you may have never even heard those instruments in another headphone, you can actually notice them, maybe for the first time, in these extra transparent headphones. Really the best way to describe it is that going to the R10s after all the other 'phones is like lifting a curtain off the soundstage...but at the same time, you maybe moved back a couple of rows to affect the sound (not soundstage).

As for my Denon? I think I finally got a good synergy here...nah I don't think I'll be upgrading anytime soon, except to maybe a better DAC. SACDs really aren't my thing, as I can hardly find anything that interests me in the current SACD collection, and even if there were something interesting, I don't want to start duplicating my collection with simply SACD versions. I'd rather have an HDCD player at the moment than an SACD player.
post #11 of 31
Heh, I'm not too thrilled about SACD yet til they get more selection for cheaper either.

How about that new Cary HDCD player? Supposedly its redbook playback alone is even better than SACD on an SACD player.

And I can't wait til more hardware uses the PMD-200 filter instead of the PMD-100 since even that is supposed to have very nice gains in quality.
post #12 of 31
I think those 3K's of yours were broken, vertigo.
post #13 of 31
Originally posted by Tim D
Heh, I'm not too thrilled about SACD yet til they get more selection for cheaper either.

How about that new Cary HDCD player? Supposedly its redbook playback alone is even better than SACD on an SACD player.

And I can't wait til more hardware uses the PMD-200 filter instead of the PMD-100 since even that is supposed to have very nice gains in quality.

You're an Audio Asylum reader too, eh? Yeah, that reads like a very nice player. But at $5000, it's more than I'm likely to spend on a source component.
post #14 of 31
Well there are very few players and DAC's right now with the PMD-200 chip. The ones that do exist are hi-end and expensive but still have made a name for themselves in some disturbing way as having great bang for the buck.

Course I also wish I had enough bucks for the bang.

I can only hope for the trickle down effect...more down to earth PMD-200 HDCD players that have a great bang for the buck I can actually afford. The Denon-370 for example is a bang for the buck model using the older but still venerable PMD-100.

I only mentioned it as a dream CD player...its just that Vertigo has a nasty habit of getting dream equipment
post #15 of 31
jude said...

You're an Audio Asylum reader too, eh? Yeah, that reads like a very nice player. But at $5000, it's more than I'm likely to spend on a source component.
Tweaks, on the other hand...
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