I, like many who seem to pass through here, am on a "simple" quest: to replace my old mediocre headphones (in my case, 20-year old on-ear Sony MDR-V400) with an affordable (~$100) higher-quality over-ear (circumaural) headphones to use all day at work. Like everyone, I am trying to find the "best" headphone in my budget but I also have the conditions that they are comfortable enough to wear all day with glasses and are suitable for office use (this is what's killing me -- I think I would prefer an open or "semi-open" design how much leakage is too much leakage?).
I am documenting my ongoing decision making process here because I am still undecided and would love to have feedback on few things and I have seen a lot of other people here grappling with the same questions so maybe this will be useful to others as well. So please pardon this lengthy post -- it's been a much more difficult task than I thought! Damn you head-fi!! ;)
I have a large music collection (100k+ songs) that is mostly rock and jazz with some old school soul/funk, library music, vocals, country, blues, folk etc. mixed in. I don't listen to much electronica, hip-hop, and other contemporary bass-heavy music at all so I do not require headphones with exceptionally good bass response (in fact I found the M50s a little too bass heavy for my tastes).
So, after my initial research on the internet it seemed like the Sennheiser HD280 Pro was the most recommended can in my budget (http://www.goodcans.com/HeadphoneReviews/Reviewss/recommendations.html ; http://www.headphonereviews.org/ ; Amazon, etc).
Then I started reading a little more on these same sites and decided that the Sennheiser HD555 would be a much better value (still under $100 on sale) so that is what I asked my wife to get me for Christmas and they already been ordered. I read a review that said the leakage was not as bad as some claimed but I am still very unsure of whether these will be too loud for my co-workers; I also began to start reading the forums here and have even more doubts since the HD555/595s do not appear to be all that well respected among the head-fi illuminati!
BOSE AE2 Impressions
To make things infinitely more complicated, I was gifted a pair of Bose AE2 headphones after the HD555s were already ordered! I did not want or choose these headphones but here they were. Despite what I read in the forums here, I tried to give them an unbiased try. For what it's worth here are my impressions: very comfortable as everyone agrees. Sound is warm and pleasing BUT I definitely agree that they are lacking in clarity, especially in the mids (even compared with my old V400s!) and the bass response does not seem smooth but over-emphasize the sub-bass frequencies. Overall the sound makes me think of margarine: smooth but artificial. I almost wonder if they have added compression to make the sound "punchier" at the expense of clarity and accuracy. Also, build quality did not seem that good and they have very thin headphone cable that I can't imagine lasting long.
So I started looking for replacements and auditioned the following phones at Guitar Center. Note my options were severely limited since I had to exchange the Bose phones at BestBuy :(
Budget Closed Headphone Comparisons:
Audio Technica ATH-M50:
These were more expensive than the other cans I was considering and I personally found them to over-emphasize the low end for my tastes. Otherwise the quality was excellent as most head-fiers attest. I can see why "bassheads" love these phones.
Sennheiser HD280 Pro:
Compared to the two other closed headphones I auditioned I found these to be a little flat and lifeless. Maybe that's a sign of their accuracy and neutrality that Sennheiser is know for? Not sure but they didn't do much for me. Also, just as importantly I found these very uncomfortable with their clamping force and can't imagine wearing them all day.
Shure SRH 440:
Read good things about these here and HeadRoom and I definitely found these to be the best of the closed cans I auditioned. These are what I ended up exchanging the AE2s for and have been burning them in (pink noise at night) and using them for the past several days. The clarity is great, the response across all frequencies seems to be very smooth to me with satisfying bass, clear mids and highs. The one criticism I've read that I agree with is that the 10k bump that gives many songs a nice sense of clarity and sparkle can add a little harshness to some tracks that are not as well balanced throughout the frequency range (some older 50s-60s rock recordings for example). They are comfortable enough for me to wear most of the day though they do pinch my glasses a little. I don't find them too heavy as some have mentioned. Overall I like these for closed cans (excellent isolation) and would recommend them to others looking for a good budget closed can that don't need extreme bass.
NOTE: I would have liked to also hear the Sennheiser HD448 phones but neither Guitar Center or Sam Ash had those and BestBuy doesn't carry them anyway so I wouldn't have been able to exchange them. But these seem like another closed can in the $100 price range that is worth considering. Also, the Denon AH-D1001 that appear to be very popular closed cans were not available when I looked.
AKG K240S ("Semi-Open")
Now my dilemma! While auditioning the above closed cans, I also wanted to gauge how much leakage an open can like the HD555 might have. None of the stores near me carry the HD555 or HD595 but the Guitar Center rep pulled down a pair of AKG K240s as an example. Compared to all three closed cans above the K240s felt and sounded FANTASTIC! I didn't really audition them long enough for a fair comparison of frequency response and detail but I loved the open soundstage, the comfort and the overall sound from the brief amount of time I listened. Also, the leakage did not seem to bad to me that I might be able to get away with it at work (but I'm still not sure). I attributed the SQ difference to "Open" vs. "Closed" and initially assumed that the HD555s would sound just as good if not better with the same amount of leakage. I found out later that the K240s are "semi-open" so might not leak as much as the HD555s. Looking for further confirmation on this. I also started reading the many Head-Fi posts related to all these headphones and am now thinking that these might be the best pick of the bunch, or at least a better open can than the HD555s. But then I see all the rave reviews elsewhere for the Senns!! And I can modify those to be equivalent to the HD595 for under $100!
So finally this is where I would really appreciate some feedback and advice between the SRH440s that I already have, the HD555s that I am getting for Christmas, and the AKG K240s that some people here seem to really really like. Reading some of the threads on particular models like these can really be convincing! Is the hype true?
QUESTIONS for Head-Fi:
- Are the open HD555 or K240 going to sound better than the SRH440?
- Do the HD555 and K240S phones have similar leakage or is the K240 significantly less?
- Is either one acceptable for work (not worried much about isolation, just too much leakage)?
- Which cans do you all think is the best overall SQ for rock and jazz?
1. Suck it up and keep the SRH440s that I am using now and seem just fine and meets my original requirements. Possibly exchange the HD555s for a FiiO e7 amplifier/dac or be responsible and just save the extra money.
Pros: Good isolation, don't have to worry about annoying my co-workers, can be used for portable listening, studio recording, etc.
Cons: Least comfortable, quality not as good as open phones? What do you all think about that?
2. Keep the HD555s (do foam mod to make them comparable to HD595s) and return the SRH440s. Possibly try to finagle a headphone amp/dac somehow in the deal.
Pros: More comfortable and better SQ (again I haven't listened to these so I don't know but am basing this on what I've read)
Cons: Will probably annoy my co-workers most? No isolation. Not good for travel or other uses (but I do have other hps I can use for those purposes).
3. Join team Groovilizer! Try to trade in the SRH440s and HD555s for the AKG240S and a amp/dac like the FiiO e7.
Pros: Very comfortable. Get to join Team Groovilizer, lol! "Best" SQ overall for rock and jazz? Don't know yet if this is true or not! What do you all think? May leak less than HD555s?
Cons: May annoy co-workers? Harder to drive and really require an amp more than others. May not be the best SQ of the bunch? More difficult and a little pricier overall than keeping one of the pairs I will already have. Not good for portable or travel.
Oh man, sorry for such a long post!! Would appreciate any and all feedback you have on the three options I'm considering, especially regarding the overall SQ of the three models I'm considering for rock and jazz and whether either of the open models is really going to be ok in the office (a little leakage should be fine, just not so much that it sounds like I've got a transistor radio on my desk!) Does anyone else use open headphones at work without a private office?
I will update when I get the Senns and have a better chance to audition the K240s!