Sub-thread: How do I place HD650's on my head? Help?!?!11
No, it's not a noob question from Beldar Conehead. It's a legitimate question that occurred to me after a few revelations.
I've been using my HD650s for five of six years. I've been both a fan and have considered upgrades at various times. Recently I upgraded my setup to a Schiit Lyr and Bifrost. Suffice it to say, I no long have any desire to upgrade my cans. They're amazing as-is. The first revelation I had this weekend was just how much time it takes to get the amps tubes warm, and just how massive a sonic difference it makes. The second occurred when I was reading this thread and others on the HD650. What I found interesting was the stark difference people experience with them. Almost inexplicably so.
Some people have the "Sennheiser Veil" others don't. This is easily explained as an electrical incompatibility to the amp (output impedance, voltage.) Lyr has low impedance and high voltage. Veil gos away. Ok, so it's an amp pairing issue. Veil solved for me (finally.) But other things couldn't be explained. Some refer to it as being very dark, smooth, seductive, etc. Others refer to it as analytical and just a shade darker than neutral. Some refer to them as muddy and unclear and that HD800 is far, far superior. To others, HD800 is still superior, but only by relative margins. Finally to some HD650 and HD800 have astonishingly different overall signatures. To others both are a fairly neutral signature. And the one that really caught me was a post about someone who they know reporting jaw clamping and fatigue, but the poster never experienced that. And neither did I.
Some of this is differences in ears and preferences. But some of it makes no sense. But the one that got me thinking was a Sound On Sound roundup from 2010. SOS is geared toward studio professionals, and the headphone roundup was between a number of cans at a number of budgets ($125 or so up through HD800.) In the main range they picked no winner but only "one of the best" and cited differences between 701, 880 (250ohm), 650, and some others.
Now, this was a roundup for the reference ability of the cans as applied to both mixing and tracking (you know, where getting paid depends on your cans...) They sung the praises of many cans, but especially the HD650, all three commentators in the roundup seemed fond of them, the only detraction they had was that they had a slightly emphasized bass which lead them to mix bass-light by a hair until they got used to it. But what caught me was their description of the better detail resolution in the mids than the other cans in the roundup, and the clear and detailed treble and wide soundstage. Wide soundstage? Detailed mids? Near-neutral? My HD650s? That goes against 60% of what you hear by both fans and detractors here at H-F. And my own experience.
Then they got to HD800. It won the "Best at any price" category (LCD2, 3, electrostats etc were not part of the review.) They sung the praises of its edge driver tech, the detail, the improvements. But they also commented that only the "fanatical" would pay that much for them, and that the HD650 was already "90% of perfection" as it was. (Wait, they're comparing HD800 to HD650? What about the treble happy voicing difference?)
Something occurred to me: The big roomy ear cups. And the angled slant of the ear cups in relation to the headband that few cans seem to have. I looked careful at the inside of the cups: The driver is not mounted symmetrically inside, it's skewed slightly towards the bottom front. (Remember driver placement is one of the big differences between some models such as HD600 and HD650.) It occurred to me, with a big roomy headphone cup...how do you know where you should put your ears? Where you place them changes the angle of the driver (The angled driver is part of what gives HD800 its big soundstage. Same for my AT AD-700's) as well as where the sound is projected, how it hits your ear lobe, and how it bounces around the chamber (which is how you detect directionality in the real world, the lobe is a sound baffle.)
I noticed I had a tendency when putting the cans on to try to straigten out the ear cups so they're vertical. When doing so, the headband was placed in the center of my head rather than back near the crown of my head. This positions the driver right above the ear canal and provides, as you'd guess a straight through sound with minimal baffling and interference. The result is a velvety smooth dark, lush sound. Very pleasing. In this setup my ear lobes touch the upper rear of the cup.
I then moved the headband up to the crown of the head, which meant angling the cups back to the angle they sit if you hang the headphones on a stand. (not vertical.) I had to shorten the headband two clicks each side. This also meant sliding the cups back a bit so that the FRONT of my ear was lined up with the front of the earcup, toward the bottom, leaving a lot of room behind.
The differences was obvious:
What I lost: Some of the lush, full, liquid, enveloping warmth.
What I gained: Air. A lot of "air"...a more holographic soundstage with better instrument placement, and the "in your head" soundblob moved more to the left and right, with the sense of the infamous "air" feeling that adds to presence. The bass strikes from behind a little now, but the bass presence is larger, strikes with more impact and feels overall more tight (same extension however, which was always fine.) Treble details are more forward...there's more of that detailed treble attack cited from some other cans like the 800's (I have not heard 800 yet, but from the description I know generally where it likely is voiced.) In other words 650 change from thick, full, lush, warm, and smooth, to more detailed, articulate, open, and, dare I say, neutral (650??), with a bit of an extended bass (not a bad thing.) In other words, the way the product page described it for a decade, and the way SOS described it, and a seemingly small number of users here describe it (I used to laugh one I saw posts from people saying they didn't like them because they were too analytical...) Additionally I got some of that mentioned jaw clamping! I also need to bump the volume a little (maybe this accounts for what I've heard about HD650 sounding better a little louder) since not all the sound is being aimed straight at the ear canal like an IEM anymore.)
While I think the infamous "veil" is just a product of HD650 being picky about the amp it's paired to (no less so than HD800 I suspect.) I think a lot of the other attributes people seem to differ on, especially soundstage and "darkness" may actually be a matter of us putting them on our heads differently! It's actually kind of neat: One pair of headphones can provide two different presentations (not actually a different signature, but a different overall presentation), just by rotating the band and sliding the cup. I have seen other people do what I do, put them on with the band in the center and try to straighten the cups. It seems to be the automatic way most people put them on, even though I suspect it's not actually the right way.
I'm not sure which way I prefer. I like the "new" way with the wide stage and accented treble most I think, but I can see going back to the lush warm sound for some albums as well.
So my question to HD650 owners, both fans and enemies: How do you wear them? Headband back, headband forward, ears in the back top, or ears in the front bottom? And do you perceive them as warm & lush, or neutral-ish and open?
Edited by IEMCrazy - 2/13/12 at 7:54am