Let me first say that this is my first post here at head-fi and head-fi was a great resource for me to pick my next headphones so I am posting this in hopes of helping others who may encounter the same situation I have. Also, I am by no means an expert or an audiophile when it comes to musical instrument. I just love to listen to and enjoy all kinds of music, and I have never done any kind of reviews so please keep that in mind.
I have owned and listened to Grado SR-80 almost exclusively (my other headphones are lower quality Sony and Bose) for about 8 years. I love them for their clear highs, mids and not-too-shabby bass. One thing I don't like about them is comfort and open design (sound leak in & out). I wear them almost every day for hours so comfort is a big factor but so is the SQ along with noise/privacy (in the office). So I've finally decided to get a new pair of quality closed cans. As you probably know, what was meant to be a quick search had turned into reading many, many reviews and comparing several different cans to search for 'the one.' I've set some must-haves and started to narrow down the candidates to two final contenders, HFI-580 and ATH-M50 (ATH-M50S in this case which has a straight cable). The reason I added SR-80 is because the final selection has probably been influenced by SR-80 due to years of listening to them. Anyway, here you go!
Just an average guy who enjoys music through a nice pair of headphones without trying to measure every frequency. I like all kinds of music so please refrain from making judgment against my taste of music ;)
$100 - $200
What I am looking for (in the order of importance)
- Overall quality sound
- Bass (with at or more than SR-80's level)
- Comfort (able to wear several hours a day, can't do that with SR-80)
I used CDs on a Yamaha receiver/Sony CD player and also on iPad (converted from CD using ALC).
I listen to many different genres including classical, classic rock, modern rock, instrumental, techno, trance, heavy metal, etc.
I was set on buying M50 for sure after reading rave reviews but they were all out of stock just about everywhere so I put in a request to notify me when they came in at B&H. While I was waiting for M50 to come in stock, I kept reading online to find a possible alternative and Ultrasone's HFI line seemed to fit most of my requirements and among them, 580 because of bass. After fruiltlessly trying to decided between the two I just ordered both of them thinking if I were to keep them for the next 10 years I can surely afford to waste a few bucks to satisfy my curiosity and pick the one I like more otherwise I will always wonder :) After I received both of them, I burned them in using real music and an even mixture of pink noise, white noise, and a frequency sweep for about 50 hours.
Bass - I read that M50 was known for bass and sure enough, it had the most bass of all. Against 580, songs with moderate bass (Led Zeppelin, U2, GnR) it was hitting harder (not by much but noticeable without paying too much attention). I could tell that the bass was a bit muddy in M50 than 580, not as tight. Songs with heavy bass (mid to high bass, BEP, OMD, trance, technos), I can definitely tell M50 has more bass (thumping and boomy a bit). By no means 580 has weak bass but M50 overpowers it noticeably. Again though M50's bass sounds a bit loose and not as tight as 580. Also, bass seems to over-shadow mid and high in M50. 580's bass was tight although not as loud or hard hitting (plenty of hitting for me though).
Mid - I've read numerous posts stating that M50's mid is recessed. I was able to confirm this against 580 and SR-80, which has a nice balance of hi, mid and low, IMO. I think part of the reason why it sounds recessed is because the bass seems to shadow the mid a bit but still, the mid sounded pulled back a bit regardless. On the other hand, I love 580's mid. I was able to distinguish each instrument clearly in Beethoven's symphony and piano sonata sounded very realistic resonance- and tonality-wise (my wife is a pianist so my ears are better trained than most when it comes to piano :)
High - I thought since 580 does better with mid, it should be better with high as well. Yes, I love the high on 580! It's very clear, lively, and bright (in SR-80's way). Again, tone separation is excellent and not a hodgepodge(I noticed a very, very little bit of muddiness on M50 in high compared to 580 and SR-80 but still better than most). When I listen to M50 and 580 right after I feel like a layer of skin has been removed (albeit a thin layer) from the music in high and mid. Bass is lessened as well, however.
For some reason, during certain classic pieces (not all) M50 sounded like I was sitting in a front row (slightly farther away and lower) of a concert hall whereas 580 sounded like I was sitting where conductor is standing (surrounded). This was not noticeable in other genres.
Comfort - I did a very crude (and unscientific) clamping force test by using a postal scale to measure the pressure. 11 oz for 580 and 15oz for M50 (approx. 36% higher clamping force). However, the foam used in M50 is slightly softer and the contact patch area is wider and flatter (where your face touch the pad) as you can see in the photo below. This makes M50 more comfortable than 580 for what it's worth. With a higher clamping force it also makes for a better sound isolation as well (contrary to what I thought, the higher clamping force doesn't seem to contribute much to discomfort because the wider contact patch which results in more evenly spread pressure.) The inner space where your ears settle in is about the same size as well although M50 seems larger because of the black-clothed interior and shadow. Because both of them are new, it will be a while before they loosen up but I was able to wear them for a couple of hours without any issues.
Other nitty gritty stuff - They both fold nicely and come with a carrying pouch and 1/4" adapter. I think HFI-580 looks cooler ;)
I paid $15 more for HFI so the price difference is (almost) negligible to me. 580 comes with a demo CD and while playing a couple of tracks from it I swore I forgot to put my phones on and was listening to the Energy speakers (S-Logic at work?).
Final thoughts - If you prioritize heavy bass to be on top of your wants list, ATH-M50 will suit you well. I can see why they say this is a good option for electro/trance/tech music. If you like detailed hi and med, with not overwhelming but tight bass, I think HFI-580 is a better option. Like I mentioned in the beginning, I am sure SR-80 has something to do with me choosing 580 because I think it more closely resembles SR-80. ATH-M50 is no slouch either and I think it's a great value at a bit over $100 but my ears have been too "fouled" by 8 years of SR-80 listening to I am going to keep my HFI-580. I will be wearing these every day so I am hoping the pads will wear down and soften up over time (otherwise I will have to get new pads)
Now, if anyone is interested in a virtually brand new ATH-M50S, let me know ;)
Thanks for reading and enjoy your music!