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Review: Denon AH-D1100 vs Sony MDR-XB500

post #1 of 95
Thread Starter 

 

 

 Denon AH-D1100 vs Sony MDR-XB500 

 

 

 

IMG_0458.jpg

 

 

EDIT: More pics are added here as the forum fails to display the thumbnails http://img254.imageshack.us/g/img0387z.jpg/

 

In this review I will try to explain both headphones in as objective and detailed manner as possible. Will the Sony XB500 I bought for 43 EUR give Denon D1100 (paid 128 EUR) a run for its money? Source I will be comparing with is an Audigy 2 ZS soundcard with kX Audio 3rd party drivers installed and they were tested with FiiO E5 amp as well. Before we begin you can have a quick glance at the glossary in case there are terms used in this review you don't quite understand and want a explanation of them.

 

 

Glossary

 

Warm:                  

Concerning the tonal balance, lowend, midrange emphasis and neutral to dark sounding highs which leads to a more thick/fullier/meaty or "fun" sound. 

 

Cold:                   

Concerning the tonal balance, highs emphasis and neutral to dark / recessed lowend (doesn't necessarily have to be) and midrange, especially recession in the upper-bass to lower-midrange. Thin/edgy/sharp analytical sound.

 

Forward:              

Up-front/in-your-face/powerful/engaging sound. Often results in smaller soundstage and more smeared instrument separation (instruments flows into each other creating a more united sound).

 

Laid-back:            

Relaxed/distant sound. Often results in bigger soundstage and clearer instrument separation.

 

(Tonal) balance:  

The relevance/emphasis of the different frequencies compared to each other across the whole sonic spectrum. Results in various amount of clarity or detail and brightness or darkness in the sound etc.

 

Dry:                      

Crispy sound with lack of reverberation that decays quickly.

 

Wet:                     

Smoother sound with more reverberation that decays slower.

 

 

Design 

 

 

Isolation (Least: -10  -  avg: 0 (in-between typical closed & open)  -  Most: +10)  

 

D1100: +4.0

XB500: +1.5

 

Comfort (Least: -10  -  avg: 0  -  Most: +10)   

 

D1100: +7.3

XB500: +9.7

 

Denon D1100 is unusually lightweight for headphone featuring 50mm drivers at only 180 g. According to Denon the Hybrid Metal Housing (machined aluminum alloy + resin material) is used to suppress vibration but the visual outer parts of the headband is made of plastic, at least it looks and feels like it. It feels somewhat flimsy at the point where the claws holding the cups itself is connected to the headband and may sometimes give some noise when you put it on your head but nothing of a major concern, once on the head it won't give any noise. The pads according to Denon are using a new 3D draping soft skin that gives a good fit and seal, it's not quite as soft or thick or soft as the higherend D2000/5000/7000 pads are but then again it provides relatively good isolation also from the slightly more forceful clamp and I could wear these for many hours without problem. The pads/cups are quite big nicely oval-shaped and should fit around your ears just fine. The drivers sits very deep inside the cup and the drivers are somewhat angled. The foam is made of some kind of cloth and is sitting very loose inside and not forming a flat surface at all but it won't cause any problem as far as touching your ears due to the depth. It features a 1.3m cord and comes with a 3.5mm extension cord, a suitable length for both portable and home use, nice touch Denon!    

 

Sony XB500 is also a very lightweight headphone at only 185 g but is featuring 40mm opposed to 50mm drivers in the Denons. Headband is a combination of a little plastic and some kind of metalhousing, it feels very flexible. The pads are what Sony calls King Size cushions due to their enormous size that delivers extremely good comfort due to the extra thickness and softness that will take shape according to your head. The circumference is a bit too small for most people's ears to fully fit inside but around 90~95% of it probably would and due to their softness it's very difficult to even tell if it fits fully inside or not so it's not a big concern for me at least. Due to their thickness and softness users should be aware these might become deformed after a while of use. Due to the pads sitting rather straight against the head and my head gets thicker higher up, more pressure is being added at the upper side/edge making the pad thinner at that point. Therefore I added some paper pieces to make sure the cups stay in place slightly slanting so that even pressure is put on the pads and this also results in slightly better seal and sound quality. Also it helped in a different way, there's a plastic piece at the end of the headband that might vibrate rarely from certain deep basstones and this will help keep it in place as well. Leaks a bit due to 3 bassreflex holes behind the headband and offers ambient noise isolation that is something in-between a typical open vs closed headphone. This headphone only comes with a short 1.2m cable so extension cable is a must buy if you intend to use it at home but the cord never seems to tangle itself so that's nice.

 

I can tell you this that both are very easily driven, the XB500 is just a tiny bit easier driven and D1100 benefits more by an amp than XB500 that might sound only worse with an amp that colors the sound by adding even more warmth and possibly bass etc like the FiiO amps which results in a muddy mess.

 

Sound signature, soundstage and separation

 

Cold/Warm ratio

 

D1100:            Coldest |-----------------------------------neutral--(x)------------------------------| Warmest

XB500:            Coldest |-----------------------------------neutral-----------------------(x)---------| Warmest

 

Laid-back/Forward ratio

 

 

D1100:  Most laid-back |------------------------------(x)--neutral-----------------------------------| Most forward

XB500:  Most laid-back |-----------------------------------neutral-----------------(x)---------------| Most forward

 

 

Soundstage

 

D1100:          Smallest |-------------------------------------avg---------(x)-------------------------| Largest

XB500:          Smallest |-------------------------------------avg-(x)---------------------------------| Largest

 

Instrument Separation

 

D1100:              Worst |------------------------------------avg--------(x)----------------------------| Best

XB500:              Worst |------------------------------(x)---avg---------------------------------------| Best

 

 

D1100 is a slightly warm (dark) and laid-back sounding headphone with a smoother presentation but not extremely warm or smooth. As a result the soundstage is very large for a fully closed headphone and the instrument separation is also very clear. With D1100 it's like sitting somewhere in the first rows in the audience on a concert and it sounds like everything has a slight distance to it but not very far away which makes it feel a bit more relaxed. The sound is also slightly dry, with a crispy sound that fades away quickly.  Tonal balance is fairly good unEQ'd with a bump in the upper bass range and fairly neutral highs or possibly tiny bit on the darker side making it having a slight warm sound to it which may result in slight loss of detail but nothing severe but as far as clarity goes, it's quite decent but not superb. Also the mids contribute to this in the case of D1100 being quite a bit recessed but more about that later. 

 

XB500 is a very warm and forward sounding headphone, much more than the D1100 in comparision with a bit smoother presentation overall but details are still very well present despite the warmness ratio. Sound quality of mids and highs are good but the unbalanced frequency response using a flat EQ setting will make the mids sound like they are colored/masked by the excessive upper bass and the highs are slightly veiled making the tonal balance a bit overly smooth unEQ'd but the quality/detail is there and can be made sound very good if EQing. Soundstage is large like on D1100 but instrument separation isn't quite as clear as D1100 due to the extremely warm sound signature which has a tendency to somewhat "smear together" sounds in complex tracks with lots of different layers of instrument etc. In case of the positioning, well it feels like you're on the stage, with the instruments surrounding you, very engaging and you could picture yourself being the drummer on the stage (because of the bass emphasize) and having the singer next to you like 3 meters in front of you and the guitars and other instruments diagonally like 4-5 meters away. It's maybe slightly more wet sounding than dry but nothing severe.

 

Lows

 

Bass quantity (Least: -10  -  avg: 0 (in-between typical closed & open)  -  Most: +10)  

 

D1100: +7.0

XB500: +9.5        

 

 

Deep/Upper bass focus (just a rough estimate which is more emphasized compared to each other)

 

D1100: 32/68 % (deep/upper)

XB500: 46/54 % (deep/upper)       

 

 

D1100 has a very strong punchy upper bass with big impact, just a tiny bit weaker than on XB500 but the bass decays quickly, the bass starts rolling off somewhere at the 90~100Hz range so the deep bass isn't very strong compared to the upper bass. Especially in some hardstyle genre songs which is known for its deep bass, it sometimes becomes very noticable. It can sometimes overpower the mids a bit, but since it decays fast it's not a big problem. It goes fairly easily audible down to 30Hz but below that you have to increase volumes a bit to hear the last basstones before your hearing capability sets the final limit.

 

XB500 has both very strong punchy upper bass and very strong deep bass, it seems to go nearly flat from somewhere around 10Hz to 200Hz which is one-of-a-kind headphone really. This results in a very huge bass quantity and the impact is probably among the strongest you'll find in a headphone, you can really feel the bass vibration your ears sometimes with bass wanting to escape between the pads and your ear giving you an ear tickling effect. Despite the strong bass I never hear any distortion. It can overpower mids sometimes due to the strong upper bass especially and EQing is quite vital here if you want a more balanced sound but more on that later. The bass is easily heard down to your hearing capability limits and you can feel it beyond that at a relatively normal listening volume even!

 

Mids

 

Recessed mids ratio

 

D1100:  Most recessed |----------------(x)----------------neutral-----------------------------------| Most forward

XB500:  Most recessed |-----------------------------------neutral(x)--------------------------------| Most forward

 

D1100 has quite recessed mids and they sound quite smooth, not the most detailed mids exactly and this is one of it's major disadvantages, EQing can help but not totally fix the issue as the quality itself isn't very good. Vocals are often a bit more smooth sounding than "crisp". After 50 hrs of burn-in it hasn't changed much. The quality of mids are what I'd expect to hear from a good pair of 50 - $100 headphone, not $100+, and it's of very similar quality of what's found in the AKG K 518 DJ. 

 

XB500 has relatively forward mids for a headphone in this price category and reasonably detailed but it needs slight EQ-adjustment for best possible result to remove the excessive upper bass that colors/masks the mids and what's heard then is of very good quality, especially vocals you'll hear lots of fine details in, especially higher pitched male vocals like 30 Seconds to Mars sound really crisp and detailed, very impressive for its price with proper EQing.

 

Highs

 

Brightness ratio

 

D1100:            Darkest |--------------------------------(x)neutral-----------------------------------| Brightest

XB500:            Darkest |-----------------------(x)---------neutral-----------------------------------| Brightest

 

D1100 has quite smooth highs but especially the upper treblerange starting around 8kHz and above is slightly harsh and somewhat thin and edgy/sharp and you can notice sibilance in a very few songs and it gets worse quickly if you even try to boost them a little. It seems after burn in the highs became even less smooth in favor for more harsh but it's fairly negliable difference if any. It's far from the most detailed highs I've heard but it's not a hopeless case but it could use some improvement with less ear-piercing/thin sounding upper-highs for sure. I have to add I'm very sensitive to sibilance myself though.

 

XB500's highs are smoother and you almost never hear any signs of sibilance unless it's a problem with the recording itself. The highs are somewhat held-back and could use some boost from the EQ to bring them more forward and what pleases me here is that even when you boost them, no harshness or edgy highs are noticable, they just gently come out very softly adding more detail but without any signs of harshness, perfect for my sensitive ears.

 

EQing

 

EQ_Settings.png

 

D1100's upper bass needs to be at the lowest point, especially 125Hz as it's already very strong while mids needs a decent boost to bring them out more and if your ears are sensitive as mine then the upper highs can use some decrease but I think for most people they'd be fine as they are but I think this depends a lot on the equipment too, on some equipment you may even want to boost them slightly. The deep bass also needs a fair boost in case you wish to bring it to the same levels as the upper bass.

 

XB500's main problem is that the upper bass is a bit too excessive masking the fine details in the mids somewhat and highs are somewhat held-back and needs to be brought out more, XB500's clarity depends a lot on the EQing, it's decent unEQ'd but nothing exceptional but when taking care of the imbalance with an EQ the result is far more better and suprisingly good for a headphone costing a mere 43 EUR or 50~$60. It should have the lowest point at 125 - 250Hz and 1kHz, 4kHz and 16kHz should have the biggest boost, especially 4kHz is important for for adding more crispyness to instruments and vocals as according to headphone.com and my own ears the 4kHz is fairly recessed unEQd.

 

 

Conclusion

D1100 

 

Pros:

- Great soundstage & instrument separation

- Great upper-bass

- Decent sound isolation and comfort

- Very portable

- Decent lower-highs

 

Cons & the average:

- Recessed mids

- Upper-highs may be a bit harsh sometimes

- Deep bass rolls off pretty quick (no love for deep bass lovers)

 

XB500

 

Pros:

- Good soundstage

- Very balanced deep/upper bass ratio

- Reasonably forward & detailed mids

- Highs that don't bite for sensitive ears

 

Cons & the average:

- Instrument separation takes its toll sometimes by the extremely forward and warm sound signature

- UnEQ'd can be a bit "muddy" sounding due to unbalanced sound

- Upper bass may overpower the mids somewhat (can be fixed with EQ)

- Leaks a bit sound and only "slight" ambient noise isolation

 

So in the end which would I personally choose, well that would XB500 because of balanced deep/upper bass and more gentle highs for my sensitive ears and more forward mids and overall very warm/aggressive/forward sound signature which is my personal taste, but you pick your prefers!


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 1/27/12 at 12:25pm
post #2 of 95
Dudester...EPIC review!
post #3 of 95
Thread Starter 

That's what you do when you got nothing else to do while spending xmas & new years at parents place. But yea I said I would give D1100 a in-depth review later and decided to add XB500 into the mix as well as a reference, could have added AKG K518 DJ as well as they are very similar to D1100 in many aspects but it had been far too long to read then, already a bit excessive as it is. Looks like I might sell D1100, it's quite good for TV use though and could possibly replace the AKG K 518DJs for that use but meh the difference is mainly the soundstage which is far better on D1100, otherwise they sound very similar out of the TV and D1100 is worth a lot more cash if I'd sell it.


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 1/2/11 at 3:37pm
post #4 of 95
Thread Starter 

My Denons went for sale here locally in Finland now (because pricing for shipping abroad is ridiculous in Finland) so hopefully they will find another satisfied buyer for a reasonable price. 

 

After trying some more it's fairly obvious which of these 2 I like more, I don't even have to try listen for the differences to what I would prefer more, it's just instantly obvious right there when I put the Denons on they don't satisfy as much as the XB500 because the XB500 are so aggressive/forward/in your-face and warm sounding and Denons sound far more laid-back in comparision with a much greater distance to the sound which is the opposite what I like. 


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 1/3/11 at 12:59pm
post #5 of 95

Great review.  Very extensive and well laid out.  I was actually looking for a comparison between these two.  Thanks beerchug.gif

post #6 of 95

thank you for a very informative and thorough review... really considering the sony's since they are so much cheaper 

post #7 of 95

I only had the d1100 for a hour or two but I liked them a lot. I would definitely buy them later on and I kind of liked them more then my m50/srh840/bose oe phones.

post #8 of 95
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doorbell View Post

I only had the d1100 for a hour or two but I liked them a lot. I would definitely buy them later on and I kind of liked them more then my m50/srh840/bose oe phones.


It's been a while since I tried the M50 but yea I'd probably easily pick D1100 over it because of the soundstage especially, M50's soundstage is too small to be fully enjoyable (I also play some games online so need a headphone with decent soundstage or 3D positional sound processing at least) and the bass lacks some punch for my taste as well. Vocals/mids I felt were quite good on M50 though compared to D1100, I had the newer M50 coiled cable white boxed edition that seems to have more mids and highs and slightly less bass than older version. Except for the mids I think D1100 is very solid choice, and would probably be better sounding to some/many people compared to XB500 but I've tweaked the XB500 with EQ, modded it for better seal and done everything I could to get it optimal sounding though, from some sources you may find XB500 to sound overly muddy/smooth especially without EQ capabilities, with Audigy 2 ZS with kX Audio Drivers it's a perfect fit, the highs especially are provided really nicely (less held-back) compared to for example my TV or mp3 player.


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 1/3/11 at 5:26pm
post #9 of 95

So the new m50's did change? Hmm, I wanna check out the new version. I have the old ones.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by RPGWiZaRD View Post



Quote:
Originally Posted by Doorbell View Post

I only had the d1100 for a hour or two but I liked them a lot. I would definitely buy them later on and I kind of liked them more then my m50/srh840/bose oe phones.


It's been a while since I tried the M50 but yea I'd probably easily pick D1100 over it because of the soundstage especially, M50's soundstage is too small to be fully enjoyable and the bass lacks some punch for my taste as well. Vocals/mids I felt were quite good on M50 though compared to D1100, I had the newer M50 coiled cable white boxed edition that seems to have more mids and highs and slightly less bass than older version.

post #10 of 95
Thread Starter 

Well I thought the highs on my M50 was borderline to harsh, possibly slightly more so than the D1100, it was rather edgy/sharp highs, not the "soft" highs found in XB500, it's difficult to explain but it was still a bit better quality than D1100's, mids were the best about the M50 headphone though and bass too weak for my liking.

post #11 of 95

Maybe it's just me but the bass on the older m50's is stronger than the bass on the d1100s. I'm listening to Funkadelic's first album with the m50's and they are boomin' haha.

post #12 of 95
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doorbell View Post

Maybe it's just me but the bass on the older m50's is stronger than the bass on the d1100s. I'm listening to Funkadelic's first album with the m50's and they are boomin' haha.


O_o Really, the M50 I tried lacked both deep and upper punchy bass for my taste, D1100 has significantly stronger upper bass that you can feel, the M50 I tried had rather gently boosted bass and was focused somewhere around 80 - 120Hz mostly. Maybe mine was a fake, bought it 2nd hand... Compared to Bass quantity ratings +7.0 for D1100 and +9.5 for XB500 I had rated the M50 I tried for like +2.5.  

 

Anyway I'm off to sleep.


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 1/3/11 at 5:38pm
post #13 of 95
Thread Starter 

BTW, you're free to ask any kind of questions on those two or comparision to my other headphones I've got or sold.


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 1/7/11 at 2:54am
post #14 of 95

Nice compare RPG, I like the slider representaions of the sound good work!  You have been championing the XB500 for a while now and I would traded in my 700s but instead now hold out for the XB1000s as they will be rediculious. Recently I hovered arround the buy button on the 1100's but ended up going with the 2000s and am loving them, I'd like to see your take on them sometime.

post #15 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doorbell View Post

Maybe it's just me but the bass on the older m50's is stronger than the bass on the d1100s. I'm listening to Funkadelic's first album with the m50's and they are boomin' haha.



Actually I would agree, the older M50 from memory is bassier than the D1100. I prefer the D1100 though, It hink the D1100 is the "improved" version of the M50 which gets rid of all the M50's main disadvantage (basically soundstage)

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