Like many of you, I was interested in multiple cans…took notes and read through dozens of threads both here and abroad in an effort to figure out what might or might not be the right cans for me in my price ranges. I found certain cans on the list, then off, then on again on the opinion of fellow forumites with high post counts and dozens of cans in their collections…and yet in spite of their confidence the reality is that we’re investing in headphones we often times can’t see or touch before we buy. The following commentary comprises my jumbled thoughts after a few days (but almost a month with the D5000’s). Those who obsess about burn-in time, this commentary may not be fore you. For everyone else, I hope you find something here of value. It was made for people like me who vacillate over products that are hard to compare to one another because local stores rarely stock them. Who struggle to find exact meaning of commentaries provided by high post-count members, particularly when debate arises. Who just want the best cans their money can buy.
The Heavyweight – Denon AH-D5000(~$450, new)
Well known and well respected, the AH-D5000s have a solid reputation here at Head-Fi and abroad, with high praise for their quality of highs, mids and tight lows. A refined D2000. Or so they say. These are about 3 weeks old and have been used extensively during that time.
The People’s Champ – Denon AH-D2000(~$230, new)
One of the most popular cans anywhere. These are fresh out of the box.
The Kid – Denon AH-D1100(~$200, new)
The can we’re all wondering about. Well…this and the A100’s. These are fresh out of the box.
Just hoping to not get curb-stomped – Bose On-Ear(~$170, new)
We all know Bose isn’t exactly a favorite brand of Head-Fi. Purchased before I knew much about the higher quality brands and options available, I purchased them in 2008 and they’ve served me well. But they have some competition, finally.
Amp – Fiio E7(~$100, new)
Just a nice, simple DAC/AMP. A big step up from my E5 and cMoy, but those amps took good care of me, so I have nothing bad to say about either. This was used with both a high-quality "L2" cable for 3.5mm to 3.5mm iDevice listening, and the USB/DAC was used for tasting from my MacBook Pro.
(Prices are just the typical prices I see in “Google Products”.)
General Hardware impressions.
D5000sand D2000’s are built and designed exactly the same. The ear cups swivel on a bolt that looks like it’s pretty damn fragile. Coupled with the fact that they don’t fold and are huge, these are definitely not portable cans. They feel very fragile indeed. The mahogany wood on the D5000’s is beautiful, but other than there, there is no difference apparent to the eye. They are not particularly heavy, and the ear pads are wonderfully soft. They have a very soft clamp to the head the can allow you to forget they’re there in elongated wearing sessions. The pads on the 5000’s and 2000’s are the same. The cables for both are wrapped in fabric:
This brings a stiffness to the cable that makes travel awkward. There is noticeable sound leak, so be aware. Not as bad as semi-open or open cans, but it is there. Neighbors will be able to clearly make out what you’re hearing at moderately loud volume levels. (Levels that the other cans in this discussion would be pretty quiet to neighbors.)
The D1100’s are a bit tougher in every regard. They’re lighter and fully plastic. The only metal you see is when you extend the length of the cans. They don’t fold, but are much more compact than the D5000’s or D2000’s. They are of cheaper construction for sure, but who cares. They clamp pretty strongly to my medium-sized head but aren’t uncomfortable. After wearing them for several hours today, wearing these for several hours is perfectly reasonable. I can see the relatively firmer pads softening up over time and becoming even more acceptable in that regard. There is no special wrapping on the cables:
Making them much more accomidating over the road. The end of the cable is more iPod/iPad friendly, as it has a more exposed connecting end. I did not have to remove my iPhone case in order to get the 1100’s to connect, which was nice. With the 5000 and 2000, I did.
Sound leak is very minor in these cans, which I consider ideal for closed cans. If we wanted sound leak, we’d get semi-open or open cans! lol
(Picture: On-Ears being appropriately sat upon)
The On-Ears are very small and nondescript. Only the size of a small set of ears. The ear pads are very soft and on par with the D5000/2000. They’re definitely among the most comfortable to wear and do not clamp too tightly. Like the 1100’s, the construction is just about all plastic. Sound leak is very minor.
None of them are homely. I would not be ashamed to be seen with any of them.
Summary of sound impressions.
They do everything well. Highs are clear and crisp without sounding sharp. Mids are present and feel quite natural if not just a wee bit reserved. Lows feel like they have the right proportions, deep and rich without feeling overpowering. A weee bit warm overall, which I like. In Jazz, Miles and Coletrane come alive again. Electronica and Bossa Nova come alive. Rock guitars hit their highs without sounding sharp or shrill. Bass is tight enough for my preferences and present enough to make bass-heavy genres (R&B, Rap, Reggae) sound fantastic and satisfied. Classical sounds beautiful. If I were to describe the sound stage, it would be like sitting 2 or 3 rows back at a live concert with the drummer placed slightly behind the other instruments. Soundstage is the widest of the bunch. This is what I expect and like. Seems like they’re worth the price of admission.
- Strong genres– All
- Okay genres– None
- Poor genres– None
Yea, it’s that solid all around.
Relative scoring (out of 10): Highs 9 | Mids 8.5 | Lows 9 | Soundstage 8.5 | Clarity 9 | Comfort 10
But…then in working my way through these cans, I hear Lee Corso (ESPN) in my head saying, “Not so fast, my friend!” to the D5000s. The D2000’s are excellent. For half the price, they just about all the quality of the 5000’s. Bass is good but perhaps ever so slightly broader (a little less tight). Highs are crisp, but can become a little bit sharp or shrill in the right situation. Especially evident on the attacks from Miles’ trumpet…or a hard electric guitar line from Santana…or a loud run from the Soprano section in a Kirk Franklin song. This I do not like and can envision this becoming fatiguing on nights where I just want to bug out to some Miles Davis. But that’s pretty rare for me, so it’s not a big deal and can be EQ’d out. Other than that, they sound pretty much exactly like the D5000’s. They are certainly within 10% of each other in sound quality. Slightly less refined, ever so slightly cooler signature (maybe the difference between plastic vs wooden cups?), bass ever so slightly slower…but all of the critiques are “fine-tooth comb” critiques that required dozens of listens across multiple genres to discern and confirm. This is surprising to me, as I expected a bigger drop off considering they retail for half the price. It took me forever to really hear any difference at all between the 2 cans. That told me something. It should probably tell you something too.
- Strong genres– All
- Okay genres– None, though songs from any genre with somewhat regular high/treble attacks may become tiresome (without EQ adjustment).
- Poor genres– None, though songs from any genre with frequent high/treble attacks may become tiresome at an elevated pace (without EQ adjustment).
I don’t want to overstate it the sharp treble. It’s a game of inches between the D5000 and D2000. This is just a pointing out of the difference; not a measure of the scale of said difference. It’s really very slight, but the issue’s significance increases with volume level. For example, Gipsy Kings “Hotel California” sounds uncomfortable at higher volume levels towards the end of the song when the classical guitar takes center stage and some of the singers notes start to trend towards feeling sharp (during the hook in particular), so I’m forced to turn the volume down. Whereas with the D5000’s, the song is just a little bit warmer (very slight, could be placebo), and the voice and guitar never, ever become sharp or shrill at whatever volume I want to hear it at. It’s just all under good control with the D5000, but the D2000s aren’t far behind at all. Again, maybe 10%-12% difference. Though depending on your ear sensitivity, that 2x price tag might be a fair price to pay for never having to worry about the EQ. For all I know, this sharp treble effect may fade over time. (Hopefully some of our long-time D2000 owners can chime in.)
Point of Information:adjusting the EQ by about -2db (16k) and -1db (8k) mitigates the sharpness of the treble, removing what I consider the chief problem with the D2000s.
Relative scoring (quality, bal.): Highs 8.6 | Mids 8.3 | Lows 8.8 | Soundstage 8.5 | Clarity 9 | Comfort 10
Hmmmm. The contrast when going from D5000/2000 to D1100 was pretty stark. I will break this down by “with” and “without EQ” because it’s a big deal.
Without EQ adjustments- By default (without any EQ adjustments) I find that the highs are pretty good, though a bit rolled off in the highs compared to the D2000’s and D5000’s. To their credit, the treble never becomes uncomfortably sharp like the D2000s can, nor is the treble rolled off enough to make it feel dull or dark. I’d say we have about 92% of the D2000 highs here. The mids, however, seem arrested…by the bass. Indeed, I would describe the bass as somewhat overwhelming and can make some songs feel heavy and muffled. If I were to describe default the sound stage here I terms of positioning of instruments…I’d say the 1100’s make you feel like you’re sitting on stage (extremely forward; thinner ear pads than the D5000/2000)…
(pictured: thinner cup pads bring the drivers closer to your ear. You can tell.)
...and within 2 feet of the bass (instrument) or the drums…and the other instruments / musicians positioned somewhere behind them. It’s certainly not the organization you see in a performance. In Robert Glasper’s piano performances, the piano sounds muffled. Dwele’s R&B tracks sound a bit bloated/congested/stuffy. Denez Prigent’s somber background tones in J’Attends sound muddled. Certain elements felt altogether missing in some of the classical and Bossa Nova songs because of that bass, principally. But other songs sounded good. Most of my Rock and Alternative also sounded either “not bad at all” or “pretty damn good” which was a bit unexpected. Staind for example, sounded great and Three Days Grace sounded pretty good. They really benefitted from the rich bass. So yea, some genres suffer…and sometimes just a couple of songs IN a genre (ie, R&B) suffer. HOWEVER, they are tolerable and if need be, you can certainly get used to them in most cases.
Also, for what it’s worth, there wasn’t a single track I threw at it that caused the low/bass reproduction to start clipping or distorting at all either on my computer or on my iDevices. This is impressive considering how much bass they hit with.
- Strong genres– Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop/Rap, Alternative, Latin, Classical (w/o heavy cello/bass accompaniment), Rock (that doesn’t feature a lot of low-cord “growl”), anything that could use a touch more bass
- Okay genres–Rock (with a lot of low-cord “growl”), Gospel, Bossa Nova, similar
- Poor genres– Jazz, Classical (with heavy cello/bass accompaniment), anything already on the edge of “bass saturation”
With EQ on iDevices set on “Bass Reducer” or EQ or my computer similar to–
(Just an example EQ. many will prefer the 31k dropped closer to 0 if not lower)
Yes. Oh yes. Bass now brought under control, it is now present and solid but not overwhelming at all. It’s now similar in bass and arrangement to what we expect…though I still feel like I’m on stage (very forward). Drums and bass are now behind the other instruments. The reduction in bass allows the mids to actually be presented, though they don’t extend quite as far as the D5000/2000, though they get close. Highs come out more as well, though they’re still not as crisp or extensive as the D5000s/2000s (slightly recessed by comparison, maybe 96% of the D2000s treble range)…but nowhere near as far away either. All genres range from good to great. Sound stage is probably as wide as I could hope for. Bass feels more “thumpy” and more meaningful than the D5000/2000. Very impressive.
- Strong genres– All.
- Okay genres– None!
- Poor genres– None!
I think if the 1100’s were my only cans I could afford, a little EQing will go a long way towards making me feel extremely satisfied with the purchase. If EQ adjustments aren’t an option for you…or if those kinds of adjustments mess up the sound quality (depending on your portable device, it certainly can), you might find some genres/songs tough to accept with these cans. By default the D1100’s are deep cans as-is and compliment some genres/songs who enjoy bass punch or have a perceived shortage of bass representation. For other genre/songs, look out. They have what equates to an 12” woofer in the car trunk, for good and for bad. Fortunately, it can be tamed and as such becomes mostly an asset. To be clear: we’re talking about 3x – 5x the amount of bass when compared to the D5000/2000 at similar volume levels and flat EQs. There is enough bass to feel it on your ears even after hitting the “Bass Reducer” on your iDevice. Wow. Helluva driver. Maybe too much driver if you consider the D5000/2000 nearly too strong as it is.
Scoring (qual., bal.; no EQ): Highs 7 | Mids 6.5 | Lows 8.3 | Soundstage 7 | Clarity 7.7 | Comfort 8.5
Scoring (qual., bal.; EQ’d): Highs 8.4 | Mids 8.1 | Lows 9.8 | Soundstage 8.25 | Clarity 8.75 | Comfort 8.5
What the hell is this shit on my ears? Never have my On-Ears sounded so bad as now, when they’re being compared to high-quality headphones. Soundstage sounds extremely narrow and small. All sound is tiny and flat. Mids are clearly recessed. Highs are a little muffled and thin, bass is acceptable. It doesn’t sound really distant so much as very small. All the sounds are there and in the right places…it’s just small. Do not want.
- Strong genres– None.
- Okay genres– All.
- Poor genres– None. But some songs with heavy bass can clip/distort.
Scoring (quality, balance): Highs 4 | Mids 4.5 | Lows 6.5 | Soundstage 4 | Clarity 7 | Comfort 9
Amp vs. No Amp
Affect of the amp -The On-Ear’s did gain some clarity from the amp, but that’s about it. Didn’t do much for any of these other than add volume. Setting the bass to 1 added a nice bit of warmth and richness to the D5000’s and D2000’s without being offensive or unusually powerful at all. Just a nice little extra presence. Adding any extra bass to the 1100’s is simply out of the question. They’re doing too much down low as it is. BUT when you configure your portable to reduce bass, the bass boost options give you a bit more control over the amount of bass added, so that’s nice though not really necessary.
Unamped, straight out of my iDevices (iPhone, iPad), all 4 cans got sufficiently loud and had all their virtues in tact. The 1100’s fared even better, getting extremely loud at max volume without any distortion of any kind (about 30% more volume unamped). The D5000 and D2000 only reach moderately high volume levels unamped. In most cases, you’ll be okay with any of them, but I do recommend an amp for the D5000 and D2000. On-Ears got loud but still sounded small. Bleh.
Conclusion (sound quality): 5000 > 2000 > 1100 > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > On-Ear.
While the D2000’s were right there, the 5000’s were just a little better out of the box and I think there is less chance a listener would become fatigued listening to the genre with the 5000’s thanks to them not being as sharp in the highs/treble. I wouldn’t use the 1100’s for jazz sessions where a heavy bass instrument is involved at all without the EQ amendments. The 1100’s natural penchant for overstating lows mean any instrument fitting that description will feel like it’s placed right on your ear. With EQing, however, I almost prefer them. The On-Ear’s are almost out of the question…but to be honest the sound was balanced better in them than the 1100’s without EQ changes.
Conclusion (sound quality + value): 2000 > 1100 > 5000 > > > > > > > > > > On-Ear
Considering there is only a 10% gap between the D2000 and D5000, the D2000’s are the clear value winners here. The only legitimate complaint I have with them is that the treble trends towards being a bit sharp on strong treble attacks. Even then, it’s a nitpick and most would be happy living with it. I expect that it is something that can be tamed with a re-cabling and I KNOW can be tamed with an EQ adjustment. Though really…by the time you invest in re-cabling, you’ve probably spent enough in total on your D2000’s to have bought the D5000’s...without all the fuss. So if you can see that kind of effort in your future, just get the 5000’s. If you want to never worry about the occasional shrill, sharp sound (if you listen at fairly high volume levels, you will have to worry about it) or hate adjusting EQ, get the D5000’s and never look back.
Interestingly, I’d suggest that if not for the occasionally sharp note, there would be no market for the D5000 in its present from. That is the single biggest reason I’ve found to upgrade from the D2000 to the 5000…and for some, that single reason will be enough. On principle, it just seems unfair to have to pay so much more to address what seems like is such a small thing…but there it is. Good thing a small EQ adjustment can solve it.
If you know your musical tastes/library don’t trend heavily towards a lot of high, potentially sharp treble or if you don’t mind a slight EQ adjusting, the D2000’s are your best bet without any question out of those 2 cans. They are a fantastic value. Personally, 100% more in price for 15% better default sound is probably not the best investment for most. You can spend that extra $200 on a nice DAC or a set of portables (like the 1100’s! lol). D2000’s are worth all their weight, but you can’t go wrong either way. They don’t really NEED an amp for iDevices unless you find them to not be loud enough. I find that at max volume levels, they sound reasonably loud to me and are never distorted. Out of an iDevice, however, you will have to contend a bit with the ever so slight sharpness (“Treble Reducer” is an audio abortion) with the D2000s. The D5000 are never an issue in that regard. If you want a pair of cans you can buy and never really have to worry about tweaking to get the sound you want (or if you think you'll be overwhelmed by your OCD), the D5000s are for you. Buy based on your intended needs and uses. Some posters, however, recommend people interested in the D5000s instead save up for the D7000s. I'm sure someone will chime in on that one.
The D1100’s are very different from the other cans. Slightly smaller sound space (relatively speaking), extremely forward presentation, slightly rolled off highs, slightly recessed mids, and very powerful bass that is sometimes straight-up overwhelming and even frustrating by default. BUT as I’ve mentioned, with a few EQ adjustments they become just wonderful…and the fact of the matter is that all things considered, they are probably the best $200 portable-sized cans I’ve heard yet (Beats, Bose, V-Moda, and Bowles all included) with our without the great EQ adjustments. They require no amp and can get painfully loud straight out of an iPod/iPhone/iPad or similar device, while never distorting in the low end no matter how deep and heavy the song. But with or without amperage, they are bass-heavy cans by nature, so if you have music that you can anticipate will probably suck with a strong increase in bass, you’ll probably be right…and you might want to look elsewhere if you don’t want to manage custom EQ settings. Those who enjoy Rap/Hip-Hop, R&B, Latin, Alternative, Pop & Reggae…you’ll be in love (no, really) regardless. In these genres, it’s fairly rare for the bass to feel overpowering (though it does occasionally happen) or particularly out of balance. It generally feels like how it’s supposed to feel for these genres. Music fans who prefer less bass in their music or who are fans of jazz, Gospel or similar live music that features rich voices and/or bassy guitars will probably find their genre muddied/stuffy/congested through these cans more often than not without the EQ adjustments. But after these adjustments, the cans sound fantastic in all genres. Again, on iDevices, I find simply enabling “Bass Reducer” fully solves the heavy bass problem. It’s like…the first time I’ve ever found any iDevice EQ setting beneficial. Ever. The cans go from borderline to wonderful.
D1100s vs D2000
Well if you ever plan on traveling, the competition is over before it begins: the D1100s are your choice. Both will require a little EQing to bring out their best. The 2000s have a slightly bigger sound stage and slightly clearer highs and mids, but not by a large margin. The 1100s have more bass, can run well unamped, and can nearly match all of the D2000s virtues with proper EQ adjustments. If I were to recommend one to someone, I’d probably recommend the D1100’s. With an EQ amendment, they can do most of what the D2000 sonically, but leak less sound and are clearly more portable. If you never, ever travel or have a separate set of travel cans, you’ll be happier with the D2000’s softer ear pads, ever so slightly broader sound stage and bass that doesn’t need to be EQ’d. But understand that they’re not going on any trips. If you’re realistic about your need (or lack thereof) for portability, you’ll buy the right cans.
Leave the On-Ears on-shelf. What you've heard about Bose is generally correct. It's true that you don't miss what you've never heard...and I'm sure most of us who have purchased Bose cans found them to be the best of some pretty lame options at places like Best Buy. It's too bad that you have to blind-purchase cans > $200 off the internet in most cases instead of being able to sample them. But I assume its a function of cost-control. Leave Bose and Beats alone!
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So that’s about it. This is all subjective commentary based on what I have available to me, not Gospel. Though I benefit from having all of these cans available to me right now, the reality is that in many cases you probably won’t miss what you’ve never heard. In other words, if you don’t know there’s more/different sound to be heard, you’ll not really notice many of the pros or cons above. Also true, I don't have any cans with different attributes (say, Senn. HD650's) for me to adjust scoring with. Take it all as a relative comparison to just the cans provided. Anyway, in most cases, you’ll be happy with any of these cans…but let the genre suggestions serve as a humble warning. I intentionally stayed away from some of the more advanced lingo to reduce confusion. Hopefully, this doesn't read as dumbed-down, but I can be more specific if requested. Hope this post helps someone out there.
Which will I be keeping?
After finding the EQ adjustments I like, I will either be keeping the D2000’s or D1100’s. I’m leaning towards the D1100, as they are portable, don’t need an amp and sound extremely good for the price. They are just a wonderful value. I don’t mind adjusting the EQ to accommodate either, though I understand that might be a show-stopper for others. Considering I can keep both the 1100 and 2000 for the price of the D5000…that’s not out of the realm of possibility either. But again, you can’t go wrong with any of them, in my opinion.
Will I be trying out the AH-A100’s as well when they become available?
My order has already been placed at Crutchfield. And yes, I’ll most certainly post impressions of those as well. I’m cautiously optimistic about the difference between them being greater than that between the D5000 and D2000. Based on the specs provided in the Denon Product Sheets, the the D1100’s and the A100’s are separated by wood cups, higher quality cabling, and some sort of fancy driver magnet that will probably significantly improve audio characteristics. This may or may not provide the quality that justifies a 2.5x increase in price ($200 vs. $500), but we’ll see. I’m not into giving my money away, so if the A100’s earn a place in my home, it’ll be because they were just that damn good...in which case, all the above will be sent back to whence they came. lol
What was your favorite test song?
Hosanna, by Kirk Franklin. That song has everything. Live instruments, a little electronic mixed in, tenor, alto, soprano big choir, awesome highs, mids, lows, soundstage, ambiance. I found it to be very helpful for figuring out some of the levels. I recommend it highly.
Edited by ajreynol - 10/25/10 at 1:46pm