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Quick note: In case you're wondering why I started a thread on this: I was one of 4 people whom Jude contacted to ask if we could continue posting to our Head-fi blogs post-software change-over.  As there isn't any blog software presently, our blogs are now forums.

 


 

It's always interesting to get impressions from musicians and people involved in music production on headphones and related gear. Lunatique, whom, as I recall is one or another of, went to a local hi-fi shop and tested a bunch of headphones in an attempt to find one that suites his tastes and requirements. Since the post is buried in the middle of his thread, I'm re-posting it here.  It's always interesting to get impressions from musicians and people involved in music production (as I recall Lunatique is one or another of).  I'm not surprised about his negative assessment of the HD-800s, as I posted in his thread, they are a terrible headphone, entirely reflective of the other components in the chain, which is both their great ability and their great curse.  Lunatique's original thread is here if you want to see the entire discussion.

 



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lunatique View Post

OK, I went to 音悅音響 (http://www.hifi.com.tw/) in Taipei today and tested headphones and an amp for 3+ hours, and these are what I tested:

 

Stax 007 MKII + SRM717

JVC/Victor DX1000

Audio-Technica W1000X

Audio-Technica  ES-10

Grado Alessandro MS-Pro

Sennheiser HD800

Denon D5000

 

All dynamic headphones were amped with the Corda Symphony.2, and I even A/B'd the Symphony.2 against straight out of the Creative Zen's headphone output.

 

I have a CD that I use especially for testing studio monitors speakers and headphones, which starts off with pure sine waves at various frequencies--this is to test how neutral/flat something is, and it goes from 16Khz all the way down to 30Hz, not in a sweep, but repeating important frequency tones 3 times at each interval. Then I have all kinds of music that ranges from orchestral, electronic, jazz, rock, acoustic/voice, and so on, each track testing specific things like sub-bass presence, bass texture/detail, neutrality, instrument/voice body/texture, percussion impact/texture/detail, soundstage, shrillness, muddiness...etc. On the Zen player, I also have these same tracks.

 

So, this is what I thought after 3+ hours of testing.

 

D5000 - It isn't at the same level as D7000. With typical music it may be hard to tell the difference, but a simple sine wave test shows that it isn't as prominent at 30Hz as the D7000. The bass also isn't as well controlled and punchy/clean as the D7000. The D7000's treble is more articulate and clear, and the mids are roughly the same in both. The upper mids/low treble--which is where the sibilance plays (6Khz~8Khz), is also roughly the same on both. So basically the D7000 improves the D5000 in just about every way, and the D5000 isn't better than the D7000 in any way to me.

 

 

JVC/Victor DX1000 - Right off the bat, the treble just sounds odd--it's kind of distant and muffled, but still articulate--it's as if the treble exists in a different plane of space or something. The sub-bass isn't as extended, with 30Hz being rolled off--in fact the right driver buzzes starting at 45Hz and lower (D7000's 30Hz remains just as prominent as the other bass frequencies, with no sign of roll-off, and no sign of distortion). My M50's 30Hz is also struggling a bit, with a little bit of sign of distortion, but seems better than the DX1000. Even if the DX1000's right driver isn't misbehaving at sub-bass frequencies, the 30Hz area is roll-off a bit anyways.The mids are fine and I like it--it's natural and soothing, but strangely enough the upper mids/lower treble is slightly sibilant and sharp, which make the distant treble stand out more. Comfort wise I like it a lot too--nothing to complain about--it's more snug than the D7000, which isn't good or bad--just depends on taste. Some people like the feeling of snug pillows around the ears, and some like a barely there light clamp. If I had to choose I'd choose D7000. The DX1000's treble is just too weird and its bass not as extended as the D7000.

 

Audio-Technica W1000X -The W1000X is better balanced than the DX1000X to me--it's treble, upper mid/lower treble, mids, bass, and sub-bass are fairly balanced. 30Hz is also a bit rolled-off just like the DX1000. I think the overall sound is probably more natural than the D7000, but the sub-bass isn't as authoritative. Comfort-wise I like it a lot too--also snug like the DX1000 as opposed to the D7000's barely there super-light clamp. I find that I prefer auto-adjusting headbands since you don't have to fiddle with anything or accidentally change the notch setting.

 

Audio-Technica  ES-10 -Surprisingly hefty sub-bass, very similar to the M50--both able to almost match the D7000 all the way down to 30Hz, although the D7000 does it effortlessly, while the two AT models struggle a little bit more. In fact. The ES=10 and the M50 sound very similar overall--to the point where I wonder if they use the same driver. It's a pleasant and warm sound without any sibilance, but not as articulate as I'd like. Being a portable on-the-ear is fine since it's actually pretty comfortable, but I still prefer to not have something pressing on my ears at all. I wouldn't pick the ES-10 over the M50 since the M50 costs less than half but sounds so similar, and is more comfortable, being full-sized.

 

Grado Alessandro MS-Pro -Terrible ergonomics. Why would anyone design headphones that sits on your ears uncomfortably like this? 30Hz is rolled-off, and while it's sounds pretty ok in general (nothing to write home about though), I just can't stand the ergonomics.

 

Sennheiser HD800 - This is my second time listening to the HD800, and I just don't really care for it. It's clarity and resolution sounds artificial to me instead of natural, and it has no authority at all in the sub-bass region. I'm one of those people who simply cannot consider a pair of headphones to be "amazing" or "the best of" if it's lacking neutrality in a chunk of the frequency range. A amazing pair of headphones should sound like a full-range speaker system that reaches down to 30Hz and remains substantial and authoritative--anything less than that is not "amazing" to me. It's kind of like if a girl is really hot with an awesome body, but her ass is flat, barely able to fill any pair of jeans. Even the HD650 has more sub-bass.

 

Stax 007 MKII + SRM717 - I have seen people comment that once you try electrostatic, you might get hooked, and being a musician who's familiar with the concept of condenser microphones, which uses a similar concept, I had some idea of what to expect (and I do prefer the condenser mic sound overall to dynamic mics, since it's more nuanced, detailed, sensitive, and textured). Originally I had hoped to test the 4070, but it's a special order only item at the store. They suggested the 007 MKII instead, saying that most people prefer it over the 4070 anyway because the 4070 isn't as comfortable, and the 4070's sub-bass isn't all that more prominent, while sounding a bit more congested since it's closed-back (I don't trust what they say since they could be just trying to get me to buy the 007 instead). The 007 was very comfortable--more snug like the DX1000 and W1000X.

 

I loved the sound of the 007. It's so freaking natural sounding that I can't help but smile from ear-to-ear. Voices and instruments sound so textured, full-bodied, yet clear and smooth and with no hint of any unnatural coloration or sibilance or artificial dip or spike in any frequency range. Dynamic headphones just pale in comparison, sounding artificial and forced--like the engineers used all kinds of tricks to push and pull and squeeze and mold the sound into their ideal, but leaving all kinds of fingerprints behind in the sound--little anomalies here and there--like the fake Hd800 sound, or the strange treble on the DX1000, or the somewhat sharp upper mids/lower treble of the D7000 and DX1000...etc.

 

What else is amazing about the 007 is that even though 30Hz is a bit rolled-off like some of the other models mentioned previously, it doesn't not seem to take away the sub-bass authority of the headphone--the sub-bass remains full-bodied, rich, tightly controlled, textured, and I couldn't figure out how that's possible. It slams and punches and booms just as well as the D7000, while sounding perhaps even more natural at it, and still matching the power and heft and lushness of the D7000.

 

The treble is articulate and smooth, and makes dynamic headphones' treble seem kind of squeezed and fake. It's not as sharp but it's very clear and defined, whereas most dynamic headphones' treble sound EQ'd in comparison. The mids are also so smooth and textured--when I listened to orchestral string, I can actually hear and "feel" the horsehair of the bows rubbing against the strings--something I have never heard or felt with any dynamic headphones--ever. Voices also sound so natural--it's almost like dynamic headphones' reproduction of voices are like girls who are only pretty after they've piled on the makeup, while the voice I hear on the 007 are naturally beautiful--no need for makeup at all.

 

I also found that because the 007 sounds so natural, it doesn't need to be lush in any artificial manner--its naturalness is just naturally lush--so hard to describe it, but oh so beautiful to listen to.

 

I was really hoping that electrostatic headphones are just all hype and audiofool insanity, so that I don't have to go down that expensive road to reach my audio nirvana, but goddammit everyone was right--the Stax is no joke--it's the f-cking king--the one headphone to rule them all. Now I'm facing the fate of my bank account being $3,000+ short sometime in the future, becauseunless Edition 8 or T1 or LCD2 or He-5 or JH-13/16 can compete on the same level as the 007MKII, I'm pretty sure there's going to be a Stax in my studio in the near future.

 

I'm still interested in the 4070 since I don't want to buy a 007 MKII without at least hearing the 4070 for comparison, as I suspect the 4070 might sound just as good but with just a bit more sub-bass so that 30Hz isn't rolled off at all, and perhaps just slightly smaller soundstage being closed-back. Can anyone confirm this?

 

Corda Symphony.2  - OK, this is where I might lose all credibility here (or maybe open some eyes/ears with what I'm about to say). I actually tested my D7000 amped by the Symphony.2 and straight out of my Creative Zen's headphone out, and I listened and listened and listened, and you know what? If there are any differences, they are so minute that aren't night and day obvious. The Symphony.2 sounds just a bit smoother and better controlled--like a tiny bit more refined version, but this is if I really concentrate to hear the differences, and I'm a composer/sound designer. The average person will not be able to hear the difference. But I realize that the D7000 is only 25 Ohms, so it's very easy to drive, thus  probably doesn't benefit as much from a dedicated headphone amp like the Symphony.2. I have listened to the SPL Phonitor a few days ago at Kingsound Audio in Hong Kong too, and I don't know if I really heard anything all that special either.

 

Before I had ever heard any dedicated headphone amps. I had always been skeptical, feeling that if they colored the sound in anyway, then they are just like microphone preamps where different models have different flavors, but nothing like the differences between the headphones themselves. While really amazing mic preamps like the Great River or DAV-BG models do have a larger-than-life sound, they ARE coloring the sound, in a good way--like how audio engineers use EQ's and compressors. I'm sure that when headphiles go on and on about headphone amps, they are talking about this desirable coloration just like how musicians and audio engineers talk about mic preamps, and I can totally understand that. But at the most basic, the headphone itself needs to sound damn close to the sonic signature you desire, and the amp is just extra icing on the cake--it should not be something you depend on or use to force the sound of any headphone, just like you can't make a crappy mic sound amazing with a killer preamp, but you can make a good mic sound awesome with a killer preamp.

 

On that note, neither the Symphony.2 or the Phonitor blew me away. If they had that larger-than-life desirable coloration like the most coveted mic preamps, then I'd understand all the hoopla about headphone amps, but they more or less sounded so much like the headphone out of my Zen player--just slightly more refined, that I don't see the need to spend over a grand for that tiny, tiny bit of difference. Maybe when I hear a very nicely colored amp I'll changed my mind, just like how I've been wanting a Great River or DAV BG mic preamp for their beautiful larger-than-life sound.