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NJ Super Micro Meet Jan 9, 2010 -- Impressions  

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
MD1032 (John -- co-organzier of the annual big NJ meet), along with Vcoheda (Dave -- meet regular) and Kerry (Kerry -- DIY'er of note) gathered at my house Saturday to pit dynamic phones against 'stats.

It was one of the very few BLD meets -- that's Breakfast (Bagels and cream cheese), Lunch (Baked Ziti with sausage, eggplant, and chicken, OMG), and Dinner (Sushi, white tuna taking the prize) -- from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., all-out take-no-prisoners Jersey Boy style.

Many boxes were carried. We were swimming in gear and CDs.

Let me tell you, this was a blast.

Kerry brought his impressive DIY creations: two amps based on Gilmore circuits (a BH type, and a GES type), a DAC, and computer source. Plus 404s.

Vcoheda brought one of his many impressive rigs -- HD800s, balanced, driven by Headroom Max'd, with a Meridian CDP for source. He also chose the winning CDs for the day, much Chesky and Mapleshade. The guy's got taste!

MD1032 was the wiring wizard, and brought Grados and ATs.

Battle was done in the Orpheus room, with HE90 and HE60 suiting up as champs. A Stax O2 Mk2 (Spritzer mod) 007a joined the battle. KGSS and a 717 rounded out the 'stat amps, and on the dynamic amp side we had in addition to the gear listed above a fully balanced Beta 22, and QESLabs HPBA-2 balanced amp designed for 600 ohm phones ... plus MANUFAKTUR custom 880/600s and 770/600s.

My recently-delivered K1000s were there too, driven by a monster 200 wpc solid state amp (Lyngdorf 2200).

The conclusions, after hours and hours of careful listening, rocked my world to the core. I'll let the others post their observations first.
post #2 of 32
Firstly, thanks to Larry for generously opening his home for more Head-Fi nonsense than usual on a Saturday! It's not often that you're in a room capable of auditioning 8+ headphones from the same source at the same time.

Unfortunately Kerry was only with us for a short while but his DIY amps were ridiculous... whatever one was driving his 404's (GES I assume) was better than the Gilmore KGSS, which is already pretty much the best match for the 404's that we had there.

First, I had my way with Dave's rig and just had a dynamic holiday, comparing the HF-2's, AD700's, AD2000's, HD600's, HD800's, DT880's, and K701's and throwing in the 404/KGSS as kind of a "zero" since that's a fairly neutral rig. I made several interesting conclusions:
--I put the AD2000 versus K701 battle to rest...the AD2000 truly is better than the K701 in every respect, and heck, the K701 is the clear loser in almost any competition, even with cheaper 'phones. I hate the K701's. I have surprised many people with how much I hate these headphones, and probably will continue to because I think they suck!
--Audio Technica's Air line at least and Grado's line follow similar trends...the AD700 really isn't all that dissimilar from the AD2000 like the SR-60/RS-1. In this case, though, it's an even more depressing comparison because there is just no way the AD2000's are worth even close to 10x the price of the AD700's. Furthermore, the balance of the two 'phones is nearly identical, so users of the AD700 looking for a "fixed" high end and better bass will not find any increase in bass...to the contrary, if anything. The AD2k's Achilles heel is its light bass.
--The HD600 ain't all that bad. The Headroom Home (Maxed, Balanced) can really make it sound good but it can't remove that "veil" which I can't say I ever truly observed until today. Furthermore, the HD600's are already fairly dark headphones and this just solidifies my theory that the HD650's are a complete waste of time and any HD650 v. HD800 arguments are invalid because the HD800's much more closely resemble the 600's. The HD600's Achilles heel is its darker sound which is far less lively, and its lack of impact and punch, which is why you buy a dynamic in the first place!
--The DT880 600 ohm headphones are a force to be reckoned with. With the Headroom Home set to high gain, they can really, really sing, and when they do, they easily eclipse the HD600's, AD2k's, HF-2's when it comes to most everything but their Achilles heel, rock. The DT880's just do so, so, well with one of my favorite genres...pipe organ music! They reproduce it so well that I'll have to buy these some day...I'm set on that.
--I really like the HF-2's because they're excellent all-around headphones but this rig highlighted that Grado "coloration" people talk about, like on the RS1's. The mids are just ever so slightly changed and it's hard to describe...you'll either love it or hate it, but Grados are the best method of reproducing guitars (esp. amplified) in my opinion.
--I was able to put the myth to rest about the AD2k's being the best headphones for rock. Seriously, they are just no competition for the HF-2's. If Grados are good at one thing, it's crunchy guitar rock-and-roll, and the AD2k's lack of bass just makes them far, far less gratifying despite their smoother high end that is capable of separating instruments better. The HF-2's not only have more bass, it's much more impactful and drums just have so much more oomph and snap with them. PRAT at its most!

Moving into the realm of high-hi-fi audio, the O2 mkII's are interesting electrostats that I now know that I would never own because the sound just doesn't appeal to me for some reason, but they do sound much better out of the Stax 717 amp than the KGSS, which, it turns out, really only sounds good with the Stax 404's. I really did enjoy my time with the 404's...they're just not bad overall stats, like the Grado of stats while at the same time sounding nothing like a Grado.

The HD800's are interesting headphones and I still have mixed feelings about them even after spending the better part of a day comparing them to almost everything important. My main problem with them is that they are just too bright to my ears. I'm sure a lot of people would agree that they are the most detailed dynamics ever made (and our micro-meet conclusion overall is that they are specifically the most stat-like dynamics ever made), however, I would not want to listen to these for more than about an hour because I'm pretty sure my ears would be ringing from the fatigue. I feel like the HD800's are just so, so close to greatness. They're really, really detailed at times but the high-end is only razor-flat for so much of the frequency spectrum because sibilance is still a problem with these and some cymbals are a real doozy and just make me cringe inside. The bass is great but there needs to be more of it, and it needs to be deeper. I don't care what the measurements say...the DT880's have far, far better bass and deeper at that on my organ recordings (remember, organ is the only instrument that goes from 16 to 16,000 Hz!), and that's probably in part due to the balance of the headphone. This is a top-shelf headphone but if I had one, I would still choose to listen to, most of the time, a "lower-end" 'phone like the 404's, which doesn't have nearly the details or spaciousness or realism at all, but has a darker, less strident sound.

Getting to the main part of the story, what did we hope to accomplish in this meet? Larry wanted to put away the myth that the HD800's are better than the HE90/HEV90 (The Orpheus). We accomplished this goal so easily that it just absolutely surprised me. If anyone thinks their HD800's sound better than the Orpheus, frankly, they must have an Orpheus setup that is in need of repair, because even Dave admitted its superiority (I'm sure he'll share later), and he owns these things. Furthermore, the HE60/HEV90 combo is still far superior to the HD800. We agreed on this very soundly. I was listening to the HE90's and Dave was listening to the HE60's comparing them to the HD800's with a concerned look on his face and I excitedly said, "You have to try these...if you like those, you'll like these even better", and he said, "No, no, this is already bad enough!!" The difference between the Orpheus and the HD800's is simple...the Orpheus has a sound that is at once, less bright and grainy (I don't use that term lightly, but the HD800's sound grainy by comparison) than the HD800's, and at the same time, so much more detailed, full, lush, and realistic that any attempt to find superiority in any aspect of the HD800's sound failed for my part, and this was with multiple tracks and multiple CD's. It is impossible to describe just how much the Orpheus dominated all other setups at the meet, especially when we were using a bunch of Dave's high-fidelity recordings at the end and comparing until we dropped. The HE60's are already a gigantic improvement over the HD800's in terms of sheer detail and soundstage, and then the Orpheus is simply eargasmic, to say the least!

Other conclusions: The HE60's sound much better from the HEV90 than any other amp. We don't know why, but it's probably because the HEV90 is a ridiculously good amp. Good luck finding one.

That's all for now. What a meet! I got more information out of this meet than any other I've ever attended before. A few minutes in silence comparing a few 'phones is worth its weight in gold.
post #3 of 32
I am supremely disappointed to have missed this meet!

John, your insights this time around are very interesting indeed, and I wish for the opportunity to one day compare in such a headphone-rich environment. I look forward to Larry and Dave's opinions!

Now if we could just set up that all-out 'stat mini-meet...
post #4 of 32
Thread Starter 
The idea here, of being able to "spread" the audio output of a single source to a number of multiple amp/hp combos at the same, and quick switch among two or three yourself, with others quick switching likewise, is key.

With John's wiring, and some superb patch and switch gear (more on that below), we actually had two of these in play: a Meridian, and a Wadia CDP (each well regarded high end players). As a bonus, the Wadia could spin SACDs as well as redbook.

So, at one time, two or three combos (meaning amp/hp's) were being compared quick-switch style with the Meridian source, while two or three other combos were being compared with the Wadia as source. On top of that, another set of combos were in play simultaneously, although these used an exterior DAC (a Benchmark) since we had to tap the digital output stream to make it happen -- and thus the comparison was not pure.

I must stress how key Dave's choice of CDs was to the process. A mix of SACDs and fantastically-recorded redbookers picked to not only test the system, but to be oh so musical!

Keys to the castle here are:

(a) Custom signal duplicators built by Ying at YBM Audio. Top of the line connectors, internal wiring ... audiophile thru-and-thru. Amazing.

(b) Terrific audiophile patch panels (XLR and RCA) built by onevisitmedia.com ... these guys are fantastic.

Sonic impressions to come.
post #5 of 32
thanks again larry for having us and feeding us 3 square meals. as mentioned, the ziti was tops. john, always a pleasure. kerry, your DIY BHSE sounds great. too bad you couldn't stay longer.

there was lots of gear there. here are a few impressions, almost always done on the same source and music.

* the O2 sounded fantastic out of Kerry's DIY BHSE. you way i describe it is that the headphone finally wakes up. on every other amp, you feel like you are not getting the whole thing. the O2 sounds decent but not as good on the KGSS. and i would say the O2 sounds as good or better on the 717 than on the KGSS.

* the HE60 paired with the HEV90 was my favorite overall setup. the HE60 just sounded fantastic on it. best i have ever heard. by comparison, the HE60 did not sound nearly as good from the KGSS or the DIY BHSE. the HE90 has an ethereal, airy quality to it and is preferable for most classical, but across genres, the HE60 and its smaller stage yet more focused sound is more complete and better sounding. the HE90 was a bit more refined and detailed, but not by much.

* the HD800 sounded better from my HeadRoom Balanced Home (maxxed) than larry's premium balanced Beta22, which was a surprise. the bass on the HR was better, the music sounded deeper/richer whereas on the Beta everything was a little thinner and a tad bright. the 800 sounded better - larger sound stage, better detail and clarity - than any other dynamic headphone we had (grado, akg, beyer, other senns). but it came up short when compared to the HE60 or HE90 paired with the HEV90. the sound on the 800 seemed grainy like a dirty record by comparison. the enhanced clarity and overall resolution was unmistakable on the HE60 or HE90, which was very disappointing since i am so heavily invested in dynamics.

* the G08 is a great player and seems a bargain at around $2100. it fared well against the much more expensive wadia. the wadia was better overall though - just as smooth (or smoother) and with more detail.
post #6 of 32
Looks like you guys had a great day.Sorry I couldn't make it.

I agree the best I have heard the HE60 is out of the HEV90 as well.
But to me the HE90 is the one to beat.
post #7 of 32
you were missed boze.

the big meets are great, but the small meets are just as good and always better for listening. real fun time yesterday. wish i had brought more CDs. 8 CDs is not enough for an all day meet. by mid point, i had listened to all of them (and more than once). other music i really enjoyed was the new beatles box set (mono). the sound is definitely dated but was still pretty good. we also did a few A/Bs to the stereo set and the mono was preferred - the stereo (at least on the tracks we compared) was too loud and bright. another box set i really enjoyed was the remastered paul simon. really excellent sound quality. i see myself picking this up.

Originally Posted by El_Doug View Post
I am supremely disappointed to have missed this meet!

John, your insights this time around are very interesting indeed, and I wish for the opportunity to one day compare in such a headphone-rich environment. I look forward to Larry and Dave's opinions Now if we could just set up that all-out 'stat mini-meet...
adding the WES/Omega to the mix would have been very interesting. another time.
post #8 of 32
Looks like it was an awesome meet guys.

Originally Posted by El_Doug View Post
Now if we could just set up that all-out 'stat mini-meet...
Count me in
post #9 of 32
I am quite sure that this will be repeated in the future.
post #10 of 32
Thread Starter 
Here's MD1032 pondering which HP to try next (as he wraps up his AD700 vs. AD2000 marathon comparison).

Picasa Web Albums - larry
post #11 of 32
some tentavive conclusions re high-end setup.

* i'm always interested in trying other CD players but my G08 and 306, which is even better, is really all i need. source is just one of those areas where there are so many choices that you can never be sure which will be the best fit. but really i think (maybe) that once you reach the 2-4k mark (used), you are getting near the best of what can be had in terms of sound quality.

* the HD800 has redefined the market for dynamics. i have not heard the PS1000, Ed8 or T1 (unfortunately) but as of now the 800 is by far the best dynamic headphone out there. the only dynamics i would want in addition to the 800 would be an HP1000 and R10. the rest are not competitive.

* the O2 is a great headphone but only shines (imo) with extreme amplification. the only amp where i have been wowed by its sound is the BHSE. on lesser amps, i would probably go with a 404.

* the HE60 is just an amazing headphone in that with just an HEV70 it sounds better than most setups and with an HEV90 it sounds better than almost everything. the HE90 is the best for classical but too refined for harder types of music.

* headphone-amp synergy is important and can easily be the difference between a setup sounding merely good as opposed to great.
post #12 of 32
Thread Starter 
Comment and Rejoinders:

Well, I still like the K701's !! And I like even more the K1000's that just arrived. So John and I part company on this point. These are both going to stay. But I agree with John that the AD2000 is better than the AD700, but not as much as the price difference would suggest. Nonetheless, AD2000 is a great headphone, and I gotta have it!

The 770/600 with a big amp is the best closed phone I've got. Therefore the Ultrasone Pro 750 re-cabled and balanced with Silver Dragon ... well they're going on FS. Along with the Shure 500/530's (since in-ear is just not important to me anymore).

The 880/600 deserves all the praise it gets. It and the K1000 are the only dynamic phones I am going to use when I can leak sound. The HF-2's are s.e., did not get them balanced, so they go to the upstairs rig with the EF-1, knocking the Senn HD600 out of the box. I can't bear to sell the HD600, so it stays. I am not going to buy the HD800 after yesterday (I agree with Dave that it is a great dynamic phone, but for me it is not enough better to justify the expense, or to convince me to sell even more of my other HPs than those singled out for FS in this post -- the ones I'm keeping are like old friends to me -- to fund getting it).

All other dynamics (except the GS1000 Frankenstein) are going to FS -- the K240DFs especially, which have not stood the test of time vs the 880/600 in the 600-ohm rig (the QESLabs).

Thus, with the wife refusing to lend the D2000/Lawton's out, my extended family gets to choose from the pool of K701, AD2K, HD600, and the GS1000-modded-by-Larry-at-headphile-into-something-heretofore-unknown-but-pretty-nice-sounding when they come over to listen to music, as they do often. These all sound fine with the Beta 22 and the dual M^3's ... Ying creations (YBM Audio). Something for everyone, no need to fight.

Now on to 'stats. Kerry has the amps to drive the O2-Mk2-Sprtizer-Mod-007a, I don't. As everyone else noted, it sounded fantastic with his BH. But I now know that with my KGSS it lacks. Lacks both muscle and soul. So taking John's advice, it goes to the 717, and the 404's go to the KGSS. Happy with that. Well no I'm not, since the O2's are being wasted, but I can't see getting a BH at this time. Interestingly, Dave reached this conclusion months ago on his own, and sold the same KGSS that I have, and his Stax. I can't bear to do that.

Thanks to an adapter made by Drew at moon-audio, the HEV90 is now driving both the HE90 and HE60, this is Dave's idea, and it is the best use of HE60's .. who knew?

These are (to me) fascinating conclusions and changes ... I have weeks of re-wiring to do now, and with John going back to school, I have to do it myself and will f*** it up ... but John will fix it at spring break!

These were just the best darn 13 hours I have spent in a long long time.
post #13 of 32
Originally Posted by wavoman View Post
the HEV90 is now driving both the HE90 and HE60...and it is the best use of HE60's .. who knew?
It doesn't surprise that the HE60's speed & the HEV90's euphony make a pleasing combination. I'd love to hear it some time.

I am rather surprised at the preference of the Stax 717 amp over the KGSS with the O2's though. *shrug*
post #14 of 32
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by jpelg View Post
...I am rather surprised at the preference of the Stax 717 amp over the KGSS with the O2's though...
The 717 is not good enough either ... only the BH made the O2 really perform. The real find is that the KGSS made the 404 sound fantastic.

A better way to put it: the 717 lost nothing to the KGSS in driving, or rather failing to drive, the O2's in the way that the BH can. And since the 717 didn't do much for the 404s, and the KGSS did, why not make the switch!
post #15 of 32
i also wanted to mention how cool larry's listening room was. all in one room he had the HE90/HEV90, HE60, O2, loads of dynamics (both SE and Bal), a KGSS, a 717, an all out Bal Beta22, a top end wadia CD player, magnepan speakers, plus much more! but the key is being able to listen to all the gear easily. to accomplish this, he set up two rows of multiple inputs and outputs - one for XLR and one for RCA - which was connected to everything. so at the same time you could listen to various amps from one source (or vice versa). makes for great comparisons and just an easier listening experience depending on what mood you are in.
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