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Headphones better than Speakers? A system that GLOWS?

post #1 of 66
Thread Starter 

Somewhere I read that the pinnacle of Hifi audio reproduction exists not in speakers and standard high end audio, but in high end headphone systems. Comming from high end audio and selling it for a living, this sparked my interest. If what I was hearing wasn't the best, than what would better sound like?

 

I've built systems up for customers as well as for myself over the years that when the audio system reaches such a level of the highest resoloution and utter synergy where everything just harmonizes with each other and the music seems to eminate from an organic almost living source, that the system just "Glows". (as I call it) It is a point as I define it where there is a clear difference between merely very good or excellent audio reproduction, and perfection. You could put together a system of all Stereophile class A rated components and easily not reach this level. Only when the synergy of each component meshes together so perfectly can you reach it and the sound you hear will simply glow. 

 

Now, I have heard this glow quite a few times in Hifi and have owned a system that had it to a very high level, but I have not yet heard it in headphones. The closest thing I heard to my minds eye of what I'm talking about was a pair of HD-800's hooked up to a $20,000 clearaudio turntable powered by one of the Headroom amps. To be honest, it my have had exactly what I'm talking about, being of exceptional quality, but I only got to listen for a couple minutes on an unfamiliar LP in a somewhat noisy environment so I couldn't say for sure. 

 

What I want to know is:

 

1.) Do you think the pinnacle of audio is truly in headphones?

 

2.) What was the headphone system that you have or have merely heard that GLOWED?    

 

post #2 of 66

I've only heard a couple of dozen speaker systems from $150,000 on down, and only one (mine luckily) has that glow you're talking about.  In fact I listened to over a dozen speaker systems this past spring at various dealers, and with every single system I thought my headphone systems sound far better than this!

 

I've never heard a headphone system that comes close to mine, but then I've never been to Can-Jam or other meet.  I have owned many of the top headphones over the years and a few great amps to get to where I currently am.  Despite the obvious differences between speakers and headphones, as a recorded musical experience system, my headphones are equal to my speakers.  Can both get better?  Of course.  And I continuously tweak them.  But I'm also 100% certain that no one else in the world has ever heard my setups either.

 

Both speakers and headphone systems can equally 'glow'.  But it's very, very rare in my experience.

(And of course everything is relative and dependent on personal taste, but that's a different topic.)

 

post #3 of 66

1. No

 

2. Dunno, but maybe Blue Hawaii -> Stax O2mk1 or Omega

post #4 of 66

1.  Generally, no.  There are aspects of performance -- soundstaging, involvement of the whole body in the listening experience, sense of weight and scale -- that headphones never quite deliver.  The experience of phone listening is so different from speakers, and taken on its own terms, it can be very enjoyable.  The "inside-the-head" sensation is so different, it is hard to make a comparison; once you accept that, one can just as easily say it is "better" and speakers can never do the same thing.  The one unequivocal plus side to speaker listening is that it is much more comfortable.

 

I own Stax Omega II mk 1 phones that I play through the 007t amp/interface.  I like the sound of these phones.  I am waiting on a Blue Hawaii Special Edition amp (I am in the next group to receive that amp when it is built).  Who knows? I may like that amp and my headphones more than my amp/speakers, but, more likely, I will continue to view the two experiences as different--one not necessarily better than the other. 

post #5 of 66
1. No. I really enjoy and value headphones, however, speakers do things that headphones never will.

2. My favorite setup is running the HD-800 off a Moth Si2A3, fed with SACD or vinyl. It always makes me happy.
post #6 of 66

1. I think if all music was recorded binaural, headphones very well could have a shot at the pinnacle, but as it is, they can't. Many headphones can do things that take a great deal of money to do in a speaker, but at the end of the day the pinnacle still rests with the speaker.

 

2. Still working on that.

post #7 of 66

My present opinion is that the sound quality in headphone reproduction never can be matched by speakers. The best speakers I ever heard (and owned) was the Beveridge model 2 electrostat with built in OTL amps. These speakers are leages ahead of Quad, not to mention other Maggies or dynamic speakers.

But listening to the excellent music reproduction of the Beveridge electrostat, and switching to headphones, the difference is huge.

The best headphone I ever heard (and own) is the Sennheiser Orpheus. I think that the integrated system it represents is unsurpassable, SOTA. (I do use the built-in DAC.)

It is way above Stax Omega, SR-007, Senn HE60 or the lesser stax lambdas. The Orpheus is perfection, and has that magic glow.

If you close you eyes listening late at night, the soundstage emerges out of thin air, everything is clear in a you´ve never heard before. (On a good recording that is.) The tonality is perfect.

That music presentation is something speakers never can achieve.

post #8 of 66

In general, it is much easier to get great sound out of a headphone system.  For what most people spend on an external speaker set-up, they'd be much better off with headphones.  On to your questions:

 

1.)  Nope, a great speaker set-up still trumps headphones.  The difference isn't as large as the price difference would suggest.

2.)  HE90 with BHSE, K1000s with WA5, Balancing Act with LCD-2s are my favorite combos.

post #9 of 66

Well, now I want to try the Orpheuses....  But I suspect I would still be disappointed.

 

1.  Headphones will never match the impact or soundstage of high end speakers.  If recordings were oriented towards headphones it would improve, but they aren't and won't likely be.

 

2.  I don't think "glowed" actually defines anything - so this question isn't answerable.  But my speakers (Infinity Renaissance 90) essentially disappear when placed well and playing a good recording.  There's a reason why the 35 reviews for them on audioreview.com are entirely unanimous at 5 stars.  My Sennheiser HD 600s, located similarly along the relative audio spectrum compared to the R90s, don't even come anywhere near the performance level of the speakers in any way.  I have no reason to expect anything but a similar relationship as you get into ultra high-end systems.

post #10 of 66



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackbeardBen View Post

1.  Headphones will never match the impact or soundstage of high end speakers.  If recordings were oriented towards headphones it would improve, but they aren't and won't likely be.

 

2.  ... My Sennheiser HD 600s, located similarly along the relative audio spectrum compared to the R90s, don't even come anywhere near the performance level of the speakers in any way.  I have no reason to expect anything but a similar relationship as you get into ultra high-end systems.


It depends on what was meant by the original question.  Sure, headphones cannot have the tactile impact and unlikely the soundstage and image size of speakers (I haven't heard the Smyth Realizer yet), and have several other limitations.  But as a system to give musical pleasure from recorded music, my headphones are the equal of my speakers, and better than any other speaker systems I've ever heard.

 

I would agree with you about your headphones though, your HD600's will never come close to the performance or satisfaction of your speakers.  (No flaming intended.  )

 

post #11 of 66

A good speaker system can be superb and probably most listeners will accept it as better than a headphone set-up which has some technical advantages such as a more accurate stereo imaging and better frequency response.

 

Many people seem unaware that speakers create "phantom channels" of signals whereby, for example the left channel feeds the right era and vice-versa with a slight time delay. Thus you get 4 channels of sound from 2 speakers, two of them time delayed and which will interefere the two correct signals. These phantom channels are complete artifacts and hence unnatural, compared to headphones which provide a pure left and right channel signal to the correct ear. 

 

You definitely get better localization with headphones because of the lack of phantom channels.  What you don't get is the externalization effect.  I am not so concerned with body sensations.  I don't like rock concerts in part because of the extreme volume which not only gives body sensation but hearing losses.  Other than that the only time you should be getting boidy sensation would be in a cathedral/church when the organ goes deep.  However even my Stax Lambda 404 create a pretty decent depp bass and I personaly feel the vibrations in my chest from the phones.

 

As to what is best I toss up between my 007A and Sigma/404 which is an old Sigma with new (Lambda 404) components. 

 

http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/464873/stax-sigmas-compared-low-bias-sigma-pro-and-sigma-404

 

 

The 007A has better definition but the Sigmas, because the Sigma mounts the drivers ahead of the ears, it give some approximation of externalization.  When you run them on a top of the line amp such as a BHSE they start to get a lot closer in definition to the 007A.   I also now look forward to making a Sigma with the new Lambda 507 drivers which may close the gap even more.

 

 

 

post #12 of 66
1. Yes!
2. I have never heard a speaker system that involved me in the experience like a good headphone system has. However, i must put a huge qualifier on that statement. I believe we all have brains that are wired differently, and that react to the same stimulus differently. I simply don't get a good gut reaction to the experience that speakers provide, to passive for my taste, even near field systems don't do it for me. Again, this is simply how my brain and heart react to the presentation of the two approaches. Your milage may vary. My pinnacle of audio reproduction will always be over headphones.

(I'll take an iPod and SR60s over any speaker system at any cost anytime)
post #13 of 66

1) I think a live personal performance would be the pinnacle of audio.  

2) nothing currently that matches my pair of martin logans 

post #14 of 66


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bdh View Post



 


It depends on what was meant by the original question.  Sure, headphones cannot have the tactile impact and unlikely the soundstage and image size of speakers (I haven't heard the Smyth Realizer yet), and have several other limitations.  But as a system to give musical pleasure from recorded music, my headphones are the equal of my speakers, and better than any other speaker systems I've ever heard.

 

I would agree with you about your headphones though, your HD600's will never come close to the performance or satisfaction of your speakers.  (No flaming intended.  )

 


That's a good point about the musical pleasure aspect.  The HD600s do a great job with that, even if they don't provide all the same sensations that my speakers do.  I've got plenty of time to get closely acquainted with them since I've only got them and a pair of Shure E2C's as backup/isolation while I'm in Sweden for a year (getting my master's degree in mechanical engineering).

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ivanrocks321 View Post

1) I think a live personal performance would be the pinnacle of audio.  

2) nothing currently that matches my pair of martin logans 


I couldn't agree more on the first point.  I think that the question was more specifically (but not unequivocally indicated as such) about reproduction of recordings - so whatever system gets as close as possible to recreating a live performance ought to take the cake.

post #15 of 66

1. No

2. Isabellina -> Signature 30.2 -> K1000

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