Originally Posted by jtaylor991
It's not that big a deal so I didn't pursue it but this was kinda what I was getting at earlier.
OK, didn't mean to not answer in more detail.
As you can tell, I have a personal bias towards the open frame, thin diaphragm, very coherent type of sound as opposed to the slam and impact of dynamic driver systems. So while the 2 channel and the two headphones systems listed are cut from the same cloth, they're more like pieces of a whole rather than rivals. Not sure if that makes sense, but I really don't compare them critically. I use each one to get what I need from the listening sessions.
The SR-009s resolve recordings so far beyond anything else I've heard, that listening to them is really a full time activity; they demand my full focus. That kind of transducer is merciless on flawed recordings, so I usually keep them connected to the EMM Labs directly. (My opinion on the EMM Labs stuff is below and spoilered since I think not everyone wants to read that). But when the recording and source are right, there really is nothing I can compare it to short of a live performance. Not having heard the the HE-90s myself, I cannot criticize the SR-009s simply because I've not yet heard a better headphone system for recorded music. (HeadAmp's Justin Wilson gets a huge hat tip in that direction also.)
With that in mind, the HE-500s allow me to get a desktop version of the open sound that is not so critical of details and allows my listening focus to drift if I choose to let it. I can also be more flexible with sources, e.g. I can connect the HE-500s to my portable rig (IPod, CLAS and GoVibe Porta-Tube+) and get great desktop sound on the road.
The question that may (or maybe not) be asked is: how close does the HE-500 get to the SR-009s? And, watch me evade that with a "how can I answer that objectively given my biases"? Subjectively: I don't feel there's a huge gap between the two, (again, I don't really compare them under controlled conditions; maybe I can do that this weekend and report back?). Put a number on it: well over 80% of the way towards SR-009-level performance seems about right (maybe up to 85%?), but those last percentage points make a big difference. This is not a knock on HiFiMan at all. In fact, I mean it with a "how-did-Fang-do-that-at-that-price-point?" kind of slack-jawed awe.
What you do get from the HE-500s are more flexibility, much lower cost (for the cans as well as the system behind it) and in some ways a more relaxing sound, if you get my meaning. It's why I choose to use them for listening while working. I really don't notice the differences as much but still get most of the enjoyment from the music.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
EMM Labs gear notes:
I listened to a lot of DACs over the past year and posted on this forum in various threads and PMs about them. All were good and could have fit into my system. But when I heard the EMM Labs gear, I stopped searching.
EMM Labs is detailed and beautiful sounding but I would not call it "neutral" the way I feel the Berkeley's Alpha 2, Antelope's Zodiac Gold or even AMR CD-77 are. Those three are clean and clear and "truthful" to the source recording, almost to the point of excess. Flaws like sibilance and compression sound shrill and awful through those DACs. There's no smoothing done by the hardware; if the recording sucks, you'll know it. On my system with one of those 3 as a DAC, you won't want to listen to mp3s below a 256k bit rate, just as a minimum threshold to listen. Lossless is a much better proposition, but you're still at the mercy of the recording engineer.
The EMM stuff editorializes in the most subtle of ways. I've heard the "clean and clear" of the sigma-delta style chips and design used in the above DACs. I know what it sounds like in my system. And the EMM gear gives me the best of that "c&c" sound with more added. It's the "more added" part that some listeners may not like.
Using only lossless tracks of "poor" recordings or dynamically compressed music, the EMM seems to tame the shrillness and tempers the peaks enough to make me listen to recordings which would otherwise have me running for cover. The best example I use is Florence + the Machine's track "Seven Devils" off the album "Ceremonials". The noises of wind and her voice during the crescendos are brittle and make me cringe throughout the track, despite it being a really enjoyable song. At a high-end local store, I played this track through a $300k all Mark Levinson and high-end Revel multi-channel system and walked out before the track finished.
Put the same track through the EMM gear and there's the "c&c" openness in the recording, but the brittleness is buffed and replaced with a more continuous (and emotional?) sound. I hate to sound melodramatic about this, but for me it breathes a certain life into the recording that is missing though a lot of other gear.
Price aside, taste-wise (is that a word?) - it's not gear for everyone. There is an EMM Labs "house sound". You like it or you don't. But it's not "neutral". For my system, the surrounding gear is what I would call coherent and detailed. If my DAC had the same qualities, I think my listening notes would often use words like "cooler", "clinical" and on a lot of tracks, "emotionless". And of course there are whole sections of my music library which I could not listen to without grinding my teeth or doing an impersonation of Tyll Hertsens' infamous Ultrasone Ed 10 review on YouTube. A case of "good equipment gone bad ..."
I have not listened to the Bricasti, MSB, Esoteric or Resolution's Cantata, so I can't compare them. But I would expect them to have their own pluses and minuses. Are they "better"? At this performance point, I think it's all subjective; that there is no absolute truth. My POV is that I am no longer in the market for a DAC and can't see that changing anytime soon.