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Micro-Meet: When HE90 Met K1000

post #1 of 40
Thread Starter 
On July 23, Foo_me and I had a two-person get-together at my place, so I can get a taste of his spanking new toys: HE-90 (Orpheus) headphone and ES-1 amp. It is really kind of Foo_me to drive around with his gears admist the inferno heat (it hit 110 F in Pasadena )

We tried to set up an A/B test for K1000 and HE-90. The source was my Benchmark DAC1. HE90 was driven by ES-1. K1000 was driven by Cayin HA-1A. The HE-90 and ES-1 both still have low hours (<100). ES-1 is running on stock tubes and its PSU suffered some external damage during shipping.

I got very excited about hearing the legendary, mystical HE90. Am I supposed to hear what people classify as "uninterrupted sonic bliss" or simply "the best sound ever from a transducer?" Will I get carried into some "ecstatic flow of music" and burst into tears?

The revelation is, HE90 did not blow me away, and it didn't blow other hi-end headphones I have heard (K1000, K340, R10, Omega II, PS1, GS1000, HD650, UE-10) out of the water. It is not the best in everything, and I even doubt if it is the best in anything. Nevertheless, I won't hesitate to call it the finest headphone in the world, since no other headphone I heard can handle every type of music with such eveness and finesse. It has unmatched balance. It does not mean every sonic attribute is exquisitely balanced in a way that they sum up to total perfection. Instead, the sonic attributes are intelligently balanced in a way that the various sonic compromises don't get in the way of music too much.

HE90 (with ES-1) is not resolution monster, just on par with other great cans like UE-10, R10 or Omega II, and sounds quite relaxed and laid back to my ears. Tonal accuracy is very good across all frequencies, and rather sweet in the treble (Omega II too dark here). The bass is very well controlled although I wish it would have a bit more impact (like Omega II and HD650) or speed (like UE-10). Soundstage is very coherent and natural, but there is nothing jaw-dropping about it (especially next to a K1000).

I really like HE90 with pop music, probably more than anything I have heard. With jazz it has a lot of body and sounds really intimate, although I would not mind jazz being presented a tad more livelier. With rock music it seems a bit polite and a bit lacking in bass impact. Perhaps Omega II, PS-1 or GS1000 would do better here. For classical it seems to have everything it takes, but next to a K1000 it is still can't be called the king. K1000 has a bigger soundstage with more air and ambience, and a lot more concert-hall feeling. The timbre of violin is also more faithful on K1000. We both felt that there is no better headphone for classical than K1000.

As for the competition between Sennheiser and AKG's top cans, Sennheiser won by a clear margin. On jazz K1000 lacks the body and weight of HE90, but still manages to sound decent with its "live" feeling. For pop music or rock music, K1000 is no match for HE90, unless the album is mixed to have extremely spatial feelings. HE90 is a cost-no-object statement product designed to be the king. K1000 is a more afforadble statement product to showcase a new concept and to create a specialty product for classical music. Both companies succeeded in their goals. Kudos to the German and Austrian engineers.

At the end of the day we agreed that no headphone can be the best for everything. You just can't ask a heapdhone to sound distant/diffused for classical and intimate/in-your-face for rock, unless you invent a spatial pattern knob built into the headphone (like those spatial pattern knobs on mics). You can't ask for head-banging bass for killer drums and still want airy treble for violins and female vocals, because different frequencies all affect one another. Some people want this more lively and that more replaxed, and others the other way around. The perfect transducer does not exist, and it's not called HE90. The best violin in the world does not do everything best-- it is exceptional in some aspects and well balanced in othners. The world's best pianist can play many standard pieces extremely well, but not neccessarily better on any piece than the specialists. By the same token, HE90 can be called the world's best headphone but it by no means displace or negate other great cans out there.
post #2 of 40
Any pics?
post #3 of 40
The HE90 never blew me away either in meet-style brief impressinos. But I have heard it sound pretty darned nice.

What is more relevant tho, are the opinions of owners who have told me that at first they weren't "blown away" either. But over time, they grew to appreciate how the HE90 does nothing wrong and just presents the music effortlessly. Then they appreciate how great it is and it takes top spot in their already impressive collections.

Fortunately, I haven't gotten yet to that point.

Best,

-Jason
post #4 of 40
I still have not heard the HE90. But the Stax Omega II/ ES-1 combo definately blew me away from the first listen. I'm not sure what tubes were in the ES-1. It was bahamaman's setup that I listened to. But so far that is the best setup I've ever heard bar none. And it has scarred me for life! Thanks Rob!
post #5 of 40
It's always nice getting together with Bruce...we have very different tastes in music and headphones so it's cool to get a different perspective, but I think we both share a belief that it's ultimately the music that's important...

For me, the K1000s are the only other headphones I think I'd like to have. For most types of music, I still prefer my HE90s, but for classical, I agree with Bruce...it's the best I've heard. They are truly special headphones...

But since I like to listen to a variety of music from pop, folk, rock, opera, and classical, the HE90s are the best phones for me and I've never regretted going down this route vs. sticking with any other headphone.
I never expected it to be the best in everything, but I did want something to be excellent in everything I listen to and it definitely is.

As Bruce said, it's just accurate and balanced and you can enjoy everything you throw at it. Ultimately, my journey was to get to a point where I would focus less on the equipment and more on the music...which is the whole point of this hobby is it not? With the HE90/ES1, I'm almost there.

I still think there's room for improvements...I'm curious how the sound will change with more burn-in...(it has less than 50 hours on both the HE90 and ES-1) and getting a better source than the Zhalou 2 and better tubes.

Anyways, a fun but extremely HOT HOT HOT day in southern california...thanks for hosting Bruce
post #6 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferbose
At the end of the day we agreed that no headphone can be the best for everything. You just can't ask a heapdhone to sound distant/diffused for classical and intimate/in-your-face for rock, unless you invent a spatial pattern knob built into the headphone (like those spatial pattern knobs on mics). You can't ask for head-banging bass for killer drums and still want airy treble for violins and female vocals, because different frequencies all affect one another. Some people want this more lively and that more replaxed, and others the other way around. The perfect transducer does not exist, and it's not called HE90.
I agree there is no headphone which is best of everything. I do not agree about what I bolded but in general practice, it's true. It's possible to have both but both the amp and source must display both attributes and the rest of the system tuned for it. I've never heard any combination of systems which gets this right. I only know it's possible because I'm tweaking my own gear.
post #7 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by foo_me
.

I still think there's room for improvements...I'm curious how the sound will change with more burn-in...(it has less than 50 hours on both the HE90 and ES-1) and getting a better source than the Zhalou 2 and better tubes.
Tubes will improve the sound of the ES1/HE90 combo ,but the source will give the biggest improvement by far,while the Dac1 & Zhalou are decent sources they are not up to the level ES1/He90 can reach.
You need a better source to reach the full potential of the combo.
Burn in will also improve the sound.
Meet impressions are just that,Long term listening will reveal why the HE90s are considered the best.
post #8 of 40
In my setup, I have an HE90, an R10, and a K1000, all simultaneously playing from the same source (Exemplar modded Denon 2900). The HE90 is driven by a McAlister amp., the R10 is driven by a newly upgraded SDS amp., and the K1000 is driven by an ASL AQ-1005DT 300B tube amp. While the K1000 sounds great, it's performance is not quite up to that of the HE90 and R10. As for the performance of the HE90 versus the R10, their sound is very different, but I haven't been able to decide yet, which I prefer. It's like comparing delicious apple to cherry pie. They both taste wonderful.
post #9 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by bozebuttons
Tubes will improve the sound of the ES1/HE90 combo ,but the source will give the biggest improvement by far,while the Dac1 & Zhalou are decent sources they are not up to the level ES1/He90 can reach.
You need a better source to reach the full potential of the combo.
Burn in will also improve the sound.
Meet impressions are just that,Long term listening will reveal why the HE90s are considered the best.
Yup...I remember the potential very well after hearing your setup at the national meet...unfortunatley, don't think I can afford the meitner setup anytime soon

But still, that's my next goal...finding a better source for the HE90/ES1.
post #10 of 40
Thread Starter 

Ferbose's Ultimate Tonality Test

During the micromeet I gave Foo_me a little ear challenge.
It is the newest tonality test I have devised for testing audio sysems, using this CD:



The first seven tracks feature seven famous violins recorded in the same manner, so a direct comparison of violins' tone can be conducted. Fortunately these are violins from famous violin makers and we already know how they should sound relative to one another based on centuries of information about violin sound. Can one tell the difference between a Stradivari and a Guarneri? Or the difference between a 1 million USD and a 4 million USD violin? Or the difference between the grandfather's creation versus the grandson's?

Foo_me used my Benchmark DAC1, Cayin HA-1A (triode mode) and K1000 for the evalutation. My Cayin uses GE JAN 5751, Japanese 12AU7 (labeled Channel MAster) and Japanese EL84 (labeled Marconi Radiotron). K1000's replaceable cable is DIY using Canare star-quad wires. All other cables are in the <$20 range, and with Furman Power Factor Pro as conditioner. Sony DVP-NS900V acts a transport playing the CD. This is a single blind test because Foo_me does not know which track is which violin. He is handed the remote control and this question sheet:


###############################################

Test CD [Tacet 036]: What about this, Mr. Paganini?

This is a reference quality CD featuring seven great violins across different ages. Tracks 1-7 feature the same piece of music played by the same violinist using the seven violins, recorded in the same way. Different violin tones can be directly compared this way.

1) Listen to tracks 1 and 5.
One of them is the oldest of the seven violins (>350 yrs), while the other is the youngest (<5 yrs). As we know, violins gain a darker, richer tone as it ages. Which of these violins sound more seasoned?

2) Listen to tracks 3 and 4.
These two instruments are made by one of the best known families in violin making: one by the grandfather and the other by the grandson. It is generally thought that the grandson has taken the family craft to a higher level. Which of these do you think is made by the grandson?

3) Listen to tracks 2 and 6.
These two violin makers have very similar sounds. It is the result of a younger master copying the sound of the older master. The older master's violin still sounds a bit more sophisticated, with more nuances in its sonic flavor, like an older wine. Which of these do you think is made by the older master?

4) Listen to tracks 4 and 6.
These two violins represent two famous violin-making families that were neighbors, but had very different sonic inclinations. One is known for its brilliance in treble, which may sound bright at a close distance but very sweet in a large hall. The other is known for a darker timbre and phenomenal power in the lower registers. Which of these violins produces a more brilliant treble? Which school of violin sound do you prefer?

5) Listen to all seven tracks.
Which is your favorite? Do you think the one you pick will be the Stradivari? Stradivari violins are the most famous, but are they really better? Paganini's favorite violin is a 1742 Giuseppe Guarneri. One of the featured violins here is made by Giuseppe's talented brother—perhaps you'll pick this one. Most leading violinists play either a Stradivari or a Guarneri. Maybe you will pick the violin by Nicola Amati, the teacher of both Stradivari and Guarneri. Or will it be Vuillaume? He once made a perfect replica of Paganini's favorite Guarneri, and Paganini himself tried to buy it for a high price.


###############################################

Does anyone want to guess how many questions did Foo_me answer correctly out of the first four? Let me remind you that Foo_me is not a violin player and is unfamiliar with the sound of fine violins.

If you don't think he got everything correct, what do you think is the weakest link?

A. The recording
CD format simply is not up to par / No recording equipment can really capture the fine tones of great violins
B. The playback system
Benchmark DAC1 is not so great / Cayin uses EL84 as pseudo-triode and no premium NOS tubes like Mullard or Telefunken, that's weak / All the cables used are cheap garden variety, not going to cut it / K1000 is overrated
C. The listener
Common folks are not supposed to be able to hear the differences between great violins / Foo_me, you su**...


So what's your guess, people?
I will post the results later.
post #11 of 40
heheh...well, nice to know that I'm not completely tone deaf and can actually discern some differences in the quality of music

Guess all the differences I hear listening to different headphones is not just my imagination!

It was quite interesting listening to that CD...could be a good test CD to see how a headphone can resolve subtle but real differences or if just love the violin...like bruce
post #12 of 40
Nice impressions. I'm in total agreement that there is no single pair of headphones that does everything right for every person with every kind of music. Of at least if that's what you were saying, I agree.

I also agree that the HE90's come closest to doing everything right and are the least offensive pair of headphones I've ever listened to. It's difficult to find examples of well recorded music that will make them sound bad. Of course, poorly recorded music will still sound like crap, but that's not a fault with the headphones.

The K1000's with the right amp can really give the HE90's a run for their money. I'm not sure about the Cayin amp (simply because I'm not familiar with it) but I can say that the K1000's are more amp sensitive than any headphones I've ever encountered. I guess I should make the same comment (again) to mikeg! IMO, the K1000's can definitely stand up next to the HE90's and R10's. This might be a simple matter of the differences in our tastes, but my guess is that it's more than that.
post #13 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wmcmanus
I also agree that the HE90's come closest to doing everything right and are the least offensive pair of headphones I've ever listened to. It's difficult to find examples of well recorded music that will make them sound bad. Of course, poorly recorded music will still sound like crap, but that's not a fault with the headphones.
I'm never one to write too much about my opinion as I believe everyone should listen to equipment and see for themselves...but I must say...it continues to amaze me how music can sound out of the HE90/ES1.

It's a good feeling in that the excitement is not necessarily about the equipment...since that seems to always fade as with any new toy, but the music! and knowing that I can listen to not just my current collection of songs through these, but all the future CDs I buy as well...

Started to listen to older songs that were always just 'okay', but now seem to come alive...more musical, balanced, and rich. Burn-in is definitely helping as music sounded a little thin and flat when I first heard them out of the box.

I even have thoughts of buying jason's HE90 as a safety backup! but then my temporary bout of insanity thanksfully ends and I start listening to music again

For those that have not listened to it, definitely a sweet experience and if I'm not on the road, will definitely share it with all those at the August so. cal meet.
post #14 of 40
Wayne - My preference for the R10 and HE90 is in part due to my preference for having the feel of headphones enveloping my ears. I was never as satisfied with the off-the-ears feel of the K1000. Although the K1000s have a fine sound, I've found a better home for my K1000 system with another member of head-fi.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wmcmanus
....I guess I should make the same comment (again) to mikeg! IMO, the K1000's can definitely stand up next to the HE90's and R10's. This might be a simple matter of the differences in our tastes, but my guess is that it's more than that.
post #15 of 40
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeg
Wayne - My preference for the R10 and HE90 is in part due to my preference for having the feel of headphones enveloping my ears. I was never as satisfied with the off-the-ears feel of the K1000. Although the K1000s have a fine sound, I've found a better home for my K1000 system with another member of head-fi.

So you are keeping both the r-10's and he90 or do you think you would be able to decide between two and just move to one setup for your tastes and preferences.
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