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Mad Lust Envy's Headphone Gaming Guide: (Update: 7/9/2014: Ultrasone HFI-15G Added)

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NO UNSOLICITED PRIVATE MESSAGES ASKING ABOUT GAMING HEADPHONES. PLEASE ASK QUESTIONS ON THE GUIDE.


I NEED TO STRESS THIS. DO NOT COMPARE SCORES FROM ONE REVIEW TO ANOTHER. EACH SCORE IS REFLECTING A HEADPHONE'S OWN MERITS, AND NOT COMPARED TO ANOTHER UNLESS I SPECIFICALLY STATE SO.



This quick guide is for Headphone gaming WITH virtual surround (I personally use Dolby Headphone). NOT stereo, so those looking at this guide as a headphone guide for stereo gaming will need to note that my reviews aren't based on stereo gaming. I play most games with virtual surround DSPs like Dolby Headphone and THX Tru Studio, so I CAN'T make suggestions to those who wanna play in plain stereo, as I find most headphones to be on a more level playing field in stereo due to the lack of dimensionality in plain stereo.

The Nameless Guide To PC Gaming: For PC Gaming Audio advice, I highly recommend you guys read this guide, which is written by NamelessPFG, and specializes in the PC related side of gaming audio, which I am 100% not knowledgeable of. I'd consider it a great extension to my own guide for those who aren't console gamers.

MY YOUTUBE ACCOUNT: PLEASE SUBSCRIBE! smily_headphones1.gif

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv5zwzyOSEBk7m6u5Y6npkw?feature=watch











Latest Updates:

7/9/2014

Ultrasone HFI-15G Added.

Also, from this point on, reviews will have a like, dislike, and unfiltered thoughts section. This is to let everyone know my thoughts on the headphones, professionalism aside. I will bluntly state what I like, don't like about a headphone.

4/17/2014

AKG K612 and K712 Pro added + edits

I will also be editing many scores very soon, as I feel my scoring has been a bit generous with too many 9 scores thrown about. They will be downgraded in the 8 range. This doesn't make the headphones worse. It is SIMPLY a change to reflect a more realistic approach to scoring. For example: The K702 Anniversary's score will be lowered to accommodate the K712 Pro, as they are similar, with some tradeoffs. I will note them in the K712 Pro review. Again, this doesn't make any headphone worse. I will let you know when the scoring changes have started/finished.

3/29/2014

Ultrasone HS-15 (*headset*) added. Fixes to the layout, and minor changes to scores for some headphones.

3/23/2014

Astro A30 added

3/12/2014

Monster DNA On Ear added

2/20/2014

External microphone section rebuilt/updated, V-moda BoomPro and chicolom's FAQ added. Thanks to a great friend and contributor to the guide, @chicolom for the FAQ. It will be updated here and there.

V-moda Boompro compatible list will be updated periodically.











Here are some Dolby Headphone and other virtual surround processors at work. These may let you know if it is right for you, or if you're better off in plain stereo.





EVERYONE can hear this, so try it! If you can't hear the surround cues at the time stamps I mention, then Dolby Headphone may not be for you, or your headphones don't pair up well with it.










Mad Lust Envy aka. Shin CZ's Gaming Headphone/Headset Guide

Intro on how I came to start this guide and why. (Click to show)
Before I start, let me get a few things out of the way. Everything I say is PURELY personal opinion. I'm not a professional. I have clearly stated that is is all my opinion, with subjective preferences as well as objective ones. Okay, moving on.

Hello everyone. I wanna make an introduction on my journey into headphone gaming, and pretty much headphones in general. I myself actually got into this audiophile hobby BECAUSE I fell in love with the sound of the AD700 when I paired it up with my Mixamp. I first started this journey when I looked for a discrete solution for gaming during the night time, where my home theater at the time (Pioneer HTS-G1) was just too much for my roomates and neighbors. Being someone who reads up on the things he buys before making purchases, I read up about how good the A40+Mixamp combo was, and that it would be all I would ever need. It was $250, which was extremely expensive for me at the time (at least I thought such a thing was too expensive back then). I caved in and went for it, as long as it delivered as promised.

Once I got it, I have to say that I was somewhat underwhelmed. I was expecting something that mimicked my surround sound. I wasn't feeling Dolby Headphone in the least. I was so underwhelmed that I barely used it, and decided to just play my games really quietly, which to me hurt, as I like to be immersed, and concentrate quite a bit when I game online. Fast forward to a few months later, where I decided to give it another try. Much to my dismay, my practically brand new A40s (very rarely touched back when I did use it) had lost the right side audio. I was so peeved that I didn't bother contacting Astro. I tossed them... just like that.

So there I was back again, with a seemingly useless Mixamp, and no headset. I went back online and read up on ACTUAL headphones that worked very well with gaming and the Mixamp in general. I, like many of you, heard how grand the AD700s were especially for games like Call of Duty 4, which was my favorite game back in the days I got into this hobby. So what the hell, I went for it. When I got it, I was somewhat turned off by the color, and they didn't exactly sit well on my head. It was slippery as hell, and it just sorta pissed me off. I then did the rubberband mod and then felt it was good enough to try.

I then hooked them up to the Mixamp, and fired up Call of Duty 4... let's just say... my mind was BLOWN. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was hearing EVERYTHING. Sounds were coming from all around me. I could hear exactly where people were around me. A pin drop was easily distinguishable for me. I did notice the distinct lack of bass, but for this game, I couldn't care less. I felt like I had an unfair advantage against those who DIDN'T wear a headset. Bass was the last thing on my mind. My speakers sounded like pure crap next to this ridiculous soundfield I was suddenly enveloped in. Dolby Headphone and Headphones in general showed me what a miraculous combo they could be, and I told myself I would never seriously game without either of them ever again. I had converted. This was just but the first step into this disease called upgraditis.

Since then, I have somewhat gone through seemingly countless amount of headphones, both for gaming, and for music/movies. I knew I'd have to own at least two pairs: One for direct hardcore gaming, where bass was on the lighter side so I could focus on the more important sounds like a grenade pin being released, footsteps, or claymores being placed. The other would be for more, non-competitive gaming where I could enjoy what audio as a whole has to offer. I wanted a nice boost in bass, to feel the explosions. Something to directly contrast the sound of the AD700 but still work well with the Mixamp. I was also a budget headphone hunter. I loved what cheap headphones had to offer: bang for the buck. So I have bought my share of garbage, and gems.

Enough of that, I'm now going to attempt to remember ALL the headphones I have bought and used since the beginning of my journey. One criteria HAD to be met at first: The headphones would have to work well with Dolby Headphone, or they were gonna be returned or sold. It was that simple to me.

Okay, I'm gonna list my share of WORTHY headphones, especially for gaming. By worthy, I mean worthy of being discussed (some may be added to let you know they are NO GOOD for gaming with DH). This list doesn't include headphones I bought/used that were never intended to be used for gaming (for example, my HAS700, ES7, ESW9, though I did try them with meh results, obviously). I couldn't begin to remember them all anyway. Also rating them based on how good they are for 'fun' gaming (anything not taken too seriously, where sound accuracy isn't a huge concern), and competitive gaming (where sound is incredibly important, specifically positional accuracy and ability to pick up the finer details). The scores aren't scientific. It's just MY opinion on how they score from a scale of 1-10 by their own merits, and not how they compare to other scores whether higher or lower, so don't whine about scores, lol.











INDEX, RATINGS
Use this for quick searching (highlight/copy what you're looking for, Ctrl+F, then paste)

Lists (Click to show)

chicolom's FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions



HEADPHONES



D: $0-$50

Koss KSC35 / Sportapro
Koss KSC75
Koss UR40
Philips SHP2500
Sennheiser HD201
Steelseries Siberia V1 (*headset*)
Turtle Beach Z2 (*headset*)
Ultrasone HS-15 (*headset*)



C: $50-$150

Astro A30 (*headset*)
Audio-Technica AD700
Audio-Technica M50
Creative Aurvana Live! (aka "CAL")
HiFiMAN RE0 (IEM)
Nuforce HP-800
Sennheiser HD280 Pro
Skullcandy SLYR (*headset*)
Sony XB700
Tritton AX720 (*headset*)
Turtle Beach PX21 (*headset*)
Ultrasone HFI-15G



B: $150-$300

AKG K612 Pro
AKG K701 (K702)
AKG Q701
Astro A40 (*headset*)
Astro A50 (*wireless headset*)
Beyerdynamic DT770 (Pro 80 ohm)
Beyerdynamic DT880 (Premium)
Beyerdynamic DT990 (Premium)
Monster DNA On Ear
Monster DNA Pro
Philips Fidelio X1
Sennheiser HD598
Sennheiser PC360 (*headset*)
Skullcandy PLYR 1 (*wireless headset*)
Sony MA900
Tritton AX Pro (true 5.1 *headset*)
Yuin G1A



A: $300+

AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition
AKG K712 Pro
Audeze LCD-2
Denon D7000
HiFiMAN HE-4
HiFiMAN HE-400
Koss ESP-950
MrSpeakers Alpha Dog
MrSpeakers Mad Dog v.3.2
Sennheiser HD650
Shure SRH1840
Stax SR-407
Ultrasone Pro 2900
Ultrasone Pro 900



Virtual Surround Devices

Astro Mixamp Pro (2013 Edition)
Astro Mixamp Pro (2011 Edition)
Astro Mixamp 5.8
Beyerdynamic Headzone (Base only)
Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D USB
Tritton AX 720
Turtle Beach DSS (old version)
Victor SU-DH1



External Amps

Fiio E9K (aka E09K)
Fiio E12
Objective O2
Schiit Magni



External Microphones

AntLion ModMic
Labtec LVA7330
Mini Clip-on Microphones (Neweer, HDE, DX models)
V-moda Boom Pro

Ruuku's Antlion Modmic, Labtec LVA-7330 Comparison



How to get Dolby Digital signals from DTS only Blu-Rays off your PS3/PS4



Final Notes



Special Thanks











Ratings

10: Legendary
9: Amazing
8. Great
7: Good
6: Fair to Decent
5: Mediocre
0-4: Bad to worthless

I NEED TO STRESS THIS. DO NOT COMPARE SCORES FROM ONE REVIEW TO ANOTHER. EACH SCORE IS REFLECTING A HEADPHONE'S OWN MERITS, AND NOT COMPARED TO ANOTHER UNLESS I SPECIFICALLY STATE SO.










chicolom's FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ (Click to show)
  • [*] Why are Gaming Headsets often said to be inferior to regular headphones?
    • In general, headphones (especially "audiophile" or "hi-fi" headphones) tend to have better sound quality than your typical gaming headsets. This is due to a number of reasons, such as: a design more focused on maximizing sound quality instead of maximizing stylish "gaming" looks, an Open Vs. Closed design (most gaming headsets are closed), and simply having more experience at designing headphones than gaming headset companies.




[*] What about multi-driver "true surround sound" headphones? Aren't they better?
  • No. Multi-driver headphones make use of tiny drivers with inferior performance to larger stereo (dual driver) headphones. A better route is a good pair of stereo headphones with a good virtual surround DSP.



[*] Do I need an amp?
  • That depends on your headphone. All headphones will benefit from an amp, but some benefit more. Those are usually higher ohm OR lower sensitivity headphones.



  • [*] Will headphone X be a huge improvemet for competitve gaming over the AD700?

    • Probably not. HD800s or SR009 are probably the very best headphones, but nothing is going to be that much of an improvement for competitive gaming over the AD700s.
      Your NOT going to keep getting competitive improvements as you go up in price. The main improvements your going to get are a more immersive sound (fuller weighter sound, better bass). Sometimes a more immersive sound counteracts a competitive focused sound though. Part of the reason the AD700 works so well for soundwhoring is because it sounds bright and bass light (counteracts immersion though).
      So if your looking for the very best headphone for competitve gaming, just get an AD700. Or get an HD800. Everything in between the two will offer improvements to immersion, but not really improvements for simple competitive sound whoring. If your willing to trade a little competitive ability for a more immersive and enjoyable sound (and a more audiophile headphone that will be better with music), then you should look at more immersive headphones.




  • [*] What traits make for a good competitive gaming headphone?
    • A non-bassy heavy signature, emphasis on mids and highs to bring out details like footsteps, and a large and accurate sounding soundstage...


    [*] What traits make for a good immersive gaming headphone?
    • Dat Bass...




  • [*] What' the difference between "Dolby Digital" and "Dolby Headphone"?


    • Dolby Digital surround and Dolby Headphone surround are NOT the same thing.


      Dolby Digital is a compressed and encoded 5.1 channel signal which can ONLY be passed through optical or HDMI. Dolby Digital is actual surround sound (5.1 channel), NOT virtual surround sound for headphones (2 channel). You can't listen to Dolby Digital with headphones, unless your headphone has multiple drivers. To get virtual surround for your headphones you need to process that 5.1 channel into a 2 channel (stereo) signal that your stereo headphones can actually use. That's where Dolby Headphone comes in.


      Dolby Headphone is a virtual surround sound DSP for headphones which takes a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel signal and downmixes and processes into a special 2 channel stereo signal that any headphone can use. Since it's just a 2 channel stereo signal, any 3.5mm jack will output it and it will work with any regular stereo headphone (although some work better than others). Even though it's only a stereo signal, it still sounds like surround sound when used with headphones because the Dolby Headphone DSP adds head related transfer function cues to the signal, which fool the brain into the hearing the same surround sound that was in the original 5.1 signal.




  • [*] My PC has optical/toslink out. Will I be able to plug in a device like the Astro Mixamp or Ear Force DSS?
    • Maybe. It depends on whether your computer's sound card is capable of encoding games into Dolby Digital and outputting that signal through optical.



  • [*] Can I have more than one DAC in the audio chain? Can I "chain" DACs together?
    • NO. You only convert the signal from digital to analog ONE time, so the first device in the chain that gives you an analog signal is your DAC and will be the only DAC in the chain.


    [*] Should I get a mixamp if I'm gaming on PC?
    • No, probably not. Devices like the Mixamp are mainly recommended for consoles. For PC's a better solution is an internal soundcard.



  • [*] What's the difference between Pro Logic II and Dolby Headphone?/What is Pro Logic II?
    • Pro Logic II is basically a 2 channel signal upconverted to interpolated mutli-channel surround, while Dolby Headphone is basically multi-channel surround down-converted to 2 channel stereo with virtual surround from added HRTF cues.











HEADPHONES











Tier D: $0-50











Koss KSC35 / Sportapro (*clip-on*)



My Koss KSC-35, KSC-75, Sportapro, Yuin headband/clip swap/mod video

Sells for $45. Sportapro sells for $20-$25
Review (Click to show)
Okay, the more mature Koss clip-on that was discontinued and then brought back (only on the Koss website), for a pretty hefty $45. I'd say it's hefty because it honestly should cost just slightly above the KSC75 range, not 3x as much. They sound very similar to the KSC75. However, they are fuller sounding, with fuller bass approaching full-sized type bass, and the mids/vocals are very rich and forward. Treble is also quite neutral for me, not being too smooth, and not too sparkly. I actually am quite fond of their treble. The KSC75's treble is harsher, grainier, and more fatiguing. The mids on the KSC75 are slightly laid back, while the KSC35 presents them up front and more fleshed out. In all honesty, you can say the difference between the KSC75 and KSC35 is like the difference between the K701 and Q701. One is brighter, drier, and thinner sounding, while the other is more natural, and fleshed out.

How do they perform for gaming? Obviously, this is what you'd guys wanna know, and fortunately, they are pretty good performers, just the way the KSC75 is, but just a tad bit better. I played Black Ops for several hours today, and Dolby Headphone truly worked well together with the KSC35. There were sounds that would make me think were outside of the game. Soundstage with DH isn't huge, just like the KSC75, but it's not small either. It felt natural. Directional cues were quite easy to identify, so no complaints. All in all, it's a solid sounding headphone, that does work very well for gaming. Bass was strong but quick due to the open nature of the headphones, but slower than the KSC75. Based on sound alone, I'd say the KSC35 is a headphone you could use for hours without fatigue. Kind of like a smaller, more bassy PC360. Nice tonal balance that I don't think anyone would dislike.

My biggest complaint is the price. I'd put them at $25 at it's highest point. $20 would be perfect. For $45, I don't think I can recommend them since the KSC75 can be found for $15, are are just slightly inferior. However, if money is no object, and you want a great clip-on, the KSC35 is definitely worth the upgrade from the KSC75, and the difference between them with their respective stock clips is significant enough to warrant purchase.



Comfort-wise: compared to the KSC75, the KSC35 is quite noticeably lacking in comfort. The KSC75 has those very comfortable rubberized clips, that once you get used to, it's as if they weren't there. The KSC35 has some hard, slightly sharp plastic clips, that will never truly disappear off your head. At times, they can get bothersome, but with time, they're fine for several hours use.

Now, if you use the KSC75 clips on the KSC35 for comfort, you will lose a bit of SQ, and it will put them very close to KSC75 sound, with just a very slight hint of warmth (literally 90% alike). I'd say that it's worth the minor discomfort to use the stock plastic clips as it boosts SQ maybe 25% better than the KSC75, IMHO.

Update: The Koss Sportapro houses the same drivers as the KSC35, for less than half the price. You can literally buy the Sportapro, snap off the drivers, and snap the KSC75/35 clips on to the Sportapro drivers, and you have a cheaper KSC35. Ideal solution is getting the Sportapro and KSC75, putting the KSC75 clips onto the Sportapro drivers. This will save you $10, give you BOTH the KSC35 and KSC75 as a spare, and give the most comfort, IMHO. Just make sure to bend the KSC75 clips to place the drivers closer to the ears, as stock form may place the drivers too far, losing bass and overall sound quality.

Fun: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

Competitive: 7/10 (Good)

Comfort: 7.5/10 (Very Good), 9.5/10 with KSC75 clips (Amazing), 7/10 w/Sportapro headband (Good)











Koss KSC75 (*clip-on*)



Koss KSC75 Unboxing + Mod For Improved Sound Quality

My Koss KSC-35, KSC-75, Sportapro, Yuin headband/clip swap/mod video

Sells for $13-$20. Review (Click to show)
It belongs here. Most of you already know what a bang for the buck these are, and I'm more than happy to say that they are pretty good gaming headphones. Directionality is accurate, detail is fantastic for their price, and treble is sparkly and energetic. The bass is also no slouch, assuming you are in a decently quiet atmosphere. The KSC75 is very picky about what is around you, so the quieter the place you're in is, the better they perform. If you want to game on a budget, these should be not be taken lightly. I use them when I wanna relax and lay back, since I don't ever have to worry about them sliding off or out of position. They stay in place no matter what. I love them so much. You couldn't get me to give mine up unless it's for another pair. You get a lot of performance for the price, and everyone should pick some up.

edit (6/2/2012): Just want to add that the way to present sound is considerably different from full-sized headphones. They are like a bridge between IEM and Full-sized cans, in which they don't have a FULL sound that envelopes you the way full-size cans do, but they project farther out than IEMs.

Fun: 7/10 (Good)

Competitive: 7/10 (Good)

Comfort: 9.5/10 (Amazing)











Koss UR40



Sells for $25-30.
Review (Click to show)
Tried two of these... both were so ridiculously bloated and congested in bass, and everything sounded like pure muffled nonsense. Hated EVERYTHING about them. Of course the HD650 fans actually like this thing, so I'll chalk it up to me hating that ridiculously warm/smooth sound. Still, I felt the bass was ridiculously out of proportion, more so than heavy hitters like the XB700. It was giving me headaches. I'm not gonna mod anything. If it doesn't work for me as is, then I'll look elsewhere. They may use the same drivers as the KSC75, but they sound nothing alike. We all should know by know how different a driver sounds depending on housing and other factors.

Comfort-wise: Personally, I couldn't get them to sit right on my head, as they were too short. The net style headband didn't do anything for me either. This one is for small heads.
Fun: 4/10 (Bad) (Click to show)
Give you an extra point for the obscene bass... if that's a good thing...)

Competitive: 4/10 (Bad)

Comfort: 4/10 (Bad)











Philips SHP2500



Sold for $20 (discontinued?). Review (Click to show)
Very comfortable, and has a surprising decent sized soundstage for gaming. Not bad AT ALL for gaming with Dolby Headphone. Won't top the KSC75, but if you need isolation when gaming for the least amount of cash, this is a fine choice.

Comfort-wise, they are pretty comfortable, the only issue that even with their velour padding, they quite hot due to a very good seal. No air escapes = sweat galore.

Fun: 6/10 (Decent)

Competitive: 6/10 (Decent)

Comfort: 7/10 (Good)











Sennheiser HD201



Sells for $20.
Review (Click to show)
Another budget performer. Very well balanced sound signature. Closed headphone with a sense of depth and width. Not terribly exciting, but for $20, these are a pretty good alternative to the Philips SHP2500 when it comes to budget closed cans. Id still say the Philips SHP250 performs a little better with Dolby Headphone and is more comfortable. Still, if comfort isn't a priority, these are very. very good for the price.

Comfort-wise, it's not very comfortable. The pleather is cheap and plasticky, and the seal causes discomfort quite quickly. Like bad pressure to the head. Not as bad as the HD280 pro though.

Fun: 6/10 (Decent)

Competitive: 6/10 (Decent)

Comfort: 4/10 (Bad)











Steelseries Siberia V1 (*headset*)



Sells for around $35-50 (discontinued).
Review (Click to show)
The sound... hmm... a bit on the veiled side. To be honest, they sounded better with music than they did with gaming. It wasn't even impressive with Dolby Headphone. I wouldn't look at these twice. The Siberia V2 is known to be pretty good, but sadly, I didn't get those because she didn't want pleather pads, so opted for the inferior version with tiny velours and smaller drivers.

Comfort-wise... quite possibly the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn. Seriously. The self adjusting headband is just AWESOME. Very light, and very open, so your ears breathe quite a bit. Looks like a budget Sony MDR-F1. The only area they lack in comfort-wise is that the pads are a bit too small to give them a perfect score.

Fun: 5/10 (Mediocre)

Competitive: 5/10 (Mediocre)

Comfort: 9.5/10 (Amazing)











Turtle Beach Z2 (*headset*)



Sells for around $50.
Review (Click to show)
These come with 50mm drivers, has no inline amp, and is cheaper than the PX21. These MUST be good! Okay, so when I opened the package and attempted to adjust it... the right cup snapped off. Seriously. Just snapped. That goes to show you the kind of quality to expect. I couldn't even test the sound quality properly. Not to be unfair, I asked for a replacement on Amazon, which was shipped to me within 2 days. Knowing the durability issues, I took RIDICULOUSLY special care on not snapping one of the cups off when adjusting them on my head.

The sound: Hmm... not good. Really. it's weak. Now I will tell you why I think that is: the pads. It uses neoprene pads that don't isolate, and don't form any sort of seal. I'd think that some pads that seal properly would probably make the Z2 sound a little better. I'm not a fan of the neoprene pads. They lose the isolation of pleather, and the comfort of velour. Really, no reason why I think neoprene should be used.

If you really want me to tell you how it worked with Dolby Headphone, well... not even remotely good. Lack of soundstage and positional accuracy. Actually, I think it's the very worst I have ever used with Dolby Headphone.

Comfort-wise, don't remember, but as with the PX21, the neoprene pads weren't great.

Fun: 3/10 (Really Bad)

Competitive: 3/10 (Really Bad)

Comfort: N/A











Ultrasone HS-15 (*headset*)



Discontinued (found on Ebay for $20-$40)

Where To Buy: Ebay
Review (Click to show)
Before I begin, I'd like to personally thank forum member and friend @calpis for sending me the Ultrasone HS-15. It was unexpected, yet very much welcome.

The Ultrasone HS-15 headset. It is the third Ultrasone I've heard, and sounds completely different from what I have experienced with the Pro 900 and Pro 2900 (which calpis also sent to me at the time of it's review). The Ultrasone HS-15 is no longer in production, and is somewhat rare and hard to find outside of the random Ebay listings. There is a semi-open variant without a microphone, the HS-15G which is unfortunately even harder to find and more expensive. I'd like to get my hands on the HS-15G at some point.

HS-15 bullet points found on Amazon:
Quote:

*S-Logic natural surround sound moves the sound out of the headphones and into the room around you for a spacious three dimensional sound, as if you are in a live concert

*Safer listening, less fatigue - pressure to the ear drum is decreased by up to 40% (3-4dB) for the same perceived loudness, significantly reducing the risk of hearing damage

*ULE technology with MU Metal shielding to reduce radiation by up to 98% compared to ordinary headphones

*Ideal for Gamers

*Lower dB output for equal clarity



Build Quality:

Rating: Great



The HS-15 has a retro 80's vibe to it's design, with an all black plastic frame, overly lengthy boom microphone (see here), and a cable that looks like it was taken from a home appliance. The HS-15 reminds me of the many cheap no-name headphones found in any store in terms of aesthetics. It's all function over form, substance over style, which fits it's intentions in every way.

The headband is covered in relatively cheap looking, but smooth synthetic leather. It sits perfectly on the head, and you could potentially bend and twist it in any which way without so much as even a minor scare of it breaking.

The circular cups are held by short plastic arms that would allow plenty of extension for my longish head. Update (I forgot to mention this): The HS-15 does not collapse inward or fold flat, so it limits it's choices on travel pouches/bags. That being said, the headphone has a relatively small form factor, and should fit plenty of bags, cases, etc.

The foam ear pads are supraaural/on ear, reminiscent of Koss Portapro, and the Sennheiser PX-100, though larger, and considerably softer. The HS-15 pads are thicker and more plush, though you can feel a thinner circular area in the middle (which I'm sure is to not muffle up the sound before it reaches the ears).

The cable itself is incredibly long and (as mentioned earlier), looks like those found on home appliances, like 3 small cables clued together horizontally. Electrostatic headphones share this style of cable as well. The cable terminates into two 3.5mm plugs, one for audio (black), one for the microphone (gray). Strain reliefs appear perfectly functional on both ends.

Overall, while the HS-15 certainly looks cheap, I don't see any structural weaknesses anywhere on it's frame, and the plastic looks like it could take a lot of abuse. You could bend the headband and twist the cups, yet it'd go back to it's normal shape without any issue whatsoever. It's a wonder how headphones this relatively inexpensive can take any abuse short of a nuclear strike, yet headphones costing over 10x the price would crumble under any minor stress. I can safely say that these would suit anyone that needs a beater headset to toss around and abuse without any real consequences.



Accessories:

No extra accessories.



Comfort:

Rating: Great

The HS-15 is easily THE most comfortable supraaural headphone I have owned to date, outside of the Koss/Yuin clip ons (which may be on ear, but as clip ons, don't sit on the ear the same way as headphones with headbands), and Ultrasone's own 15G (which build-wise is an open, non-headset version of the HS-15).

The HS-15 is incredibly lightweight, and rests on the ears just enough to not be loose, but tight enough to stay secure. The only issue I have is that my right ear gets sore after a prolonged session, though that may be a personal sensitivity issue, as I get no discomfort on my left ear. I have to assume that if others have less sensitive ears, the HS-15 may be near perfection in comfort for them.

Again, these are arguably the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn outside of the Koss KSC75 and Yuin G1A. I'd argue that the Sony MA900 may beat it solely due to the fact that it (mostly) rests around the ears, though with it's larger frame and my inability to relax and lay down with them in the same way as the HS-15, I would honestly reach for the HS-15 over the MA900 more times than not if I were basing everything off comfort. I'm positive that some who didn't find the MA900 to be comfortable, would think otherwise of the HS-15.

Long story short, if you want excellent comfort, it simply doesn't get much better than this for an on ear headphone.



Design Issues:

Microphone:



The boom microphone is massive, and isn't as flexible/malleable as others I have owned/tested. It easily reaches the front of my mouth, and is almost always present in my peripheral vision. The only solution is to bend the microphone a bit away from the face, and even then, it's not elegant.

Microphone plug:



The plug is single pole, and doesn't exactly plug into inputs quite right. If you connect it into an input completely, you won't get any audio. The solution is to connect it partially until you get chat audio. This is a problem I have encountered with all my chat inputs, whether on my mixamp, computer, or my Mixamp female 'Y' splitter cable for audio/chat.



Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Fair

While it's closed back, the pads allow sound to leak in and out, so it's not one of the better closed backed headphones I have used for noise control. Not as bad a fully open headphone, but it's not going to contain it's own sound all that well.



Microphone:

Rating: Good

From the brief testing I have done with the microphone, everything was heard relatively well. The only problem with the mic is that it has it's own plug, so something like a PC Y audio splitter (those that have an audio and microphone input and convert it into one plug) will be needed for most new devices that have only one input for both audio and chat. The problem here is that for some reason, the microphone plug won't pick up any audio unless I partially plug it into my devices. Perhaps someone can send me a message as to why this older looking gray plug works this way, or if this is just an issue with the HS-15.



Sound:

Rating: Decent

The HS-15 is undeniably on the warm, bassy side. It is overall a quite non-fatiguing, and relaxing sound signature, with a spike in treble for some upper range clarity, though not so much as to aid much in airiness, clarity, and detail retrieval. The mellow tone of the HS-15 is unlike what I would expect of Ultrasone, since from my experience, Ultrasones are known for their aggressive, bright, and forward sound which is the opposite of the HS-15's sound. One thing that the HS-15 shares with the other Ultrasones I have reviewed is that it yields excellent low end control despite it's emphasis.

S-Logic to me is a hit or miss. The pros are that it expands the soundstage and works well with virtual surround. The downside is that it makes music sound slightly distant, and is akin to a full tonal recession. It also makes ear pad placement on the ear alter the sound quite noticeably, so it has to be placed perfectly to get the best possible sound.

The bullet point stating lower decibel output for equal clarity is somewhat true. The volume level is considerably lower than other headphones, and I find a need to use an amp for most occasions, as the HS-15 sounds distant and muted overall. To contradict it's intention, I find the HS-15 to sound it's best when played moderately high in volume, which aids in clarity and detail, which isn't hampered much by it's bass due to the excellent control.

Let me clarify with some specifics...



Bass:

Rating: Great

If one thing can be said of the HS-15, is that it handles bass very well. This is a budget priced headphone that I have no shame in saying would outdo many headphones in bass control at any price range. The bass is strong and commanding, textured, and expertly controlled. Due to it's emphasis, it may take some of the spotlight away from the HS-15's other frequencies, though it's more a problem of it being strong on emphasis, and not because the HS-15 lacks control or speed. The HS-15 is ideal for bassy music without any of the upper range fatigue.

The one downside I find is that some male vocals and instruments that hit in the lower depths of sound tend to sound artifically strong and boomy.



Mids:

Rating: Fair

The mids (due to S-Logic and the strong emphasis of bass) sound a bit distant/spaced further back in the mix than I'd personally like. I'm fine with mid recession as long as it's not too distant, and the HS-15 walks a fine line between being fair to being mediocre.

The upside is that due to the great control of bass, the mids aren't swallowed up or masked in general. Just...pushed back.



Treble:

Rating: Decent

There are a few areas that sound peaky, sizzly, and artificial. Thankfully, the ranges seem to be short, as the treble is generally smooth for long-term listening sessions. The detail in the treble isn't the final word on transparency or clarity, so if you're looking to analyze details and want lots of air, the HS-15 isn't a strong contender in that regard.

If you want a headphone you can listen to for hours, upon hours, and don't mind the warm, smooth presentation, the HS-15's treble range will more often than not please you.



Soundstage:

Rating: Good

For stereo/music, I find the HS-15's soundstage to be decent for a closed headphone, partly in thanks to the S-Logic. The instrument separation is very good within the head space, though it doesn't image as well as some of my favorite soundstage proficient headphones.

In virtual surround, S-Logic once again proves itself valuable, as the HS-15 throws off a nice soundstage depsite it being a closed headphone, with decent depth, and tight, well defined sound placement.



Positioning:

Rating: Very Good

The HS-15's good soundstage especially in virtual surround paired up with sharp sound placement is quite beneficial to it's very good positional cues. It easily bests my Astro A30s and DNA On Ear in pinpoint accuracy, despite it's warmer, more bass driven sound and smooth tonality. While it certainly wouldn't be a top recommendation for competitive gaming due to the bassy and warm tonality, the HS-15 can stand it's own feet if you decide to use it for hardcore gaming.



Clarity:

Rating: Mediocre to Fair

The HS-15 is slightly muted and distant sounding alongside it's bass emphasis, so don't expect proficiency in clarity and detail. The warm, non-fatiguing tonality sacrifices clarity and detail, with the exception of some treble ranges which shimmer and peak above the softness of the HS-15's general sound.

As stated before, the HS-15 favors moderately high volume levels to bring out some of the detail that at low volumes can come off non-descript and veiled.



Amping:

Recommended

The HS-15 was designed with a lower volume output supposedly for equal clarity. I'd say they partially succeeded as it does make it harder to drive to satisfying volume levels. The clarity is 'equal' as stated, though I'd joke that it's more or less equally lacking.

For music, you will want at least a portable amp on the neutral to bright side to bring out more of the detail.



Personal Recommendation?

Movies, Music, In General? Maybe
Gaming? Maybe

As long as you understand it's limits, and I assure you it's not without flaws, you will be pleased by it's warm, smooth nature, and amazing comfort, which makes the HS-15 decent for all around listening, with good immersion for fun gaming, or bass driven music.

Despite it's less than stellar technicalities, I could see myself reaching for these more than many other headphones due to it's comfort and inoffensive nature.



Final Impressions:

Sound quality on the HS-15 isn't amazing overall, so if you're looking for something to be impressed by, the HS-15 will leave you longing for something objectively clearer. However, if you are looking for a beater headphone that you can wear all day, and can jam out to without over analyzing it's details, the HS-15 is a great headphone. It presents a good value at it's low street price, with excellent control of it's bass and nearly perfect comfort.

While the review may sound a bit on the negative side, I have to say that the HS-15 is enjoyable and pleasing to use, enough for me to forgive it's shortcomings and mark it as a decent headphone. I would simply reach for the HS-15 over many headphones mainly due to comfort and pleasing sound.
Fun: 7.5/10 (Good) (Click to show)
The strong, yet well controlled bass, paired up with the very good positional cues, makes for a pretty fun and immersive headphone.
Competitive: 6.5/10 (Very Decent) (Click to show)
While the HS-15 offers very good positional cues, it's mellow and distant sound won't hold up next to headphones more detailed, forward, and clearer. It is still quite decent for competitive gaming, with sharp positional accuracy and a good sense of space in virtual surround, just don't expect soundwhoring goodness. I'd wager that a good EQ of the mids and treble would make the HS-15 a very good competitive gaming headphone for a budget price.
Comfort: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
Regardless of whether any other headphone is on ear or over ear, there simply isn't much out there that is as comfortable as the HS-15, though after some time, your ears may get sore.
Overall: 6.5/10 (Very Decent) (Click to show)
The HS-15 makes a good backup headset, and a good, relaxing headphone due to it's warm tonality and top tier comfort.










Tier C: $50-150











Astro A30 (*headset*)



Sells for $99.99

Where To Buy: Astrogaming.com
Review (Click to show)
The Astro A30. Astrogaming's original and still current on-ear gaming headset, released after the well known Astro A40, and aimed at gamers with a need for portability and versatility which the A40s can't provide. I was able to score the A30s for a ridiculously good deal with the Mixamp Pro (2011 version).

How does the bite size Astro headset compared to the older, immensely popular, and higher priced A40 and A50? Let's find out.



Build Quality:

Rating: Great

The A30's frame consists of mainly plastic, which feels a little cheap and less prestigious than the tank-like frames of the A40 and A50s. However, the A30's plastic is flexible and feels like it'd take much abuse with nary a complaint.

The top headband portion is matte plastic, and houses ample cloth padding on the underside on headband. While the padding is thick and springy, I personally feel it puts some annoying pressure on the top of the head. I personally feel the padding could've been spread across the entire top headband piece with less thickness and yield better results in comfort and pressure distribution.

The frame on the cup side is covered in a glossy finish, which is quite the contrast compared to the headband. Not sure why Astro decided on a clashing finish to the plastic. The outer cups sport removable speaker tags, reminiscent of the A40s. Unfortunately, removing the speaker tags expose something disappointing: the A30s are closed back regardless whether the speaker tags are on or not, which is a change from the A40s. I personally like to keep the speaker tags off, as it reduces the weight by a subtle amount (I stress the word subtle). No other benefits are gained from what I could tell.

The cups are supraaural and square in shape, including the cloth ear pads which seem to have memory foam inside. Considering the overabundance of synthetic leather pads, the cloth pads are welcome, though the square shape doesn't allow the pads to sit as well as I'd like on the ear compared to traditional round-shaped ear pads. That, and the memory foam traps some heat compared to cloth pads without memory foam.

The cups swivel inward for a flat profile when placing the around your neck, with the outer cup facing outwards. I much prefer just an inward swivel like the A30 over having a fully collapsible design which may lead to more portability at the expense of more potential breaking points.

Located on the bottom of the left cup is a silver barrel that holds the cable as well as small 2.5mm input for the removable boom microphone. The cable itself is non-removable and extremely short as it simply holds the inline mic (an alternative to the boom mic), as well as the mic/mute switch, and A/B selector switch which lets you choose between A (boom mic) and B (in line mic). The cable terminates into both a 3.5mm stereo plug as well as a 2.5mm chat plug placed side by side. There is enough distance between the two plugs to attach a 3.5mm coupler or 3.5mm extension cable if you choose to use some other cable, though it will block you from using the chat plug.

The included cable (referred to as the 'Mobile QD Cable') connects to the dual plugs on the headphone end with a pair of inputs on the control 'puck', one 2.5mm (for the mic) and the 3.5mm for audio. This end is where the 'Call / Pick up / Track Control Button' is placed for Iphone/mobile phone use. The cable is of good quality, though a bit short in length. Thankfully, an extension cable is included, which fortunately retains the mic channel.

All in all, the A30 may feel like cheap plastic overall, but it looks like it can take a ton of abuse. You would really have to commit to the act of mutilating the A30s for them to break. Under normal circumstances, these look like they'll last a lifetime.



Accessories:

I can't exactly say what comes with the A30 alone as I bought it in a bundle with the Mixamp Pro (2011 version). Depending on whether you buy the A30s alone or in a bundle, you may/may not get some of these accessories:

Boom Mic: Detachable and connects to the headphone via a 2.5mm plug. It bends, but doesn't give in easily, and doesn't retain memory all too well. You'll more than likely have to readjust the boom mic every time you attach it to the A30s.

Speaker Tags: Attaches to the cups via 4 small magnets on the corners of the tags. They are customizable (other designs can be purchased on the Astrogaming website).

Mobile QD Cable: The main cable used.

Extender Cable: 1 meter extension cable for the mobile QD cable (will more than likely work for any 3.5mm terminated cable that has both audio and chat channels, which should be most headsets that don't separate the chat and regular audio into two separate plugs.)

PC Splitter cable: Separates the audio/mic channels into two plugs. I personally did not receive this cable in my package, though the quick start guide includes it in the image.

My suspicions for Mixamp related goodies:

Optical cable
Mini usb cable
XBOX cable
3.5mm cable



Comfort:

Rating: Very Good

The Astro A30s are about as good as any on-ear headphone I've used to date in terms of comfort (with the exception of the Ultrasone HS-15, which is quite a bit more comfortable than any other on-ear I've owned). The A30s are lightweight, clamp just enough for a secure fit, and the cloth covered memory foam pads sit on the ears comfortably, though the shape of the pads make it a little harder to position properly on the ear.

The only gripes I have with the A30's comfort is the headband padding which puts some pressure on the top of the scalp, despite how well padded it is. Also, the ear pads can build up heat, though not as much as typical synthetic leather pads.



Design Issues:

Headband padding - Could stand to have been wider for better distribution of weight. The pad pushes down on the top of your head which can get a little uncomfortable.

Square ear pads - Not really an issue, but round shaped ear pads would be easier to adjust and position on the ears.

Permanently attached and incredibly short cable with in line mic and mic/mute switch - The design seems cumbersome. This could've easily been remedied by just having two detachable cables: One with the the mic and switches, and another standard cable.



Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Decent

It's passable for a closed headset. It doesn't leak in or out a ton, but it doesn't work all that well either way. If you're using the A30s next to someone sleeping, you're sure to bother them, and in loud rooms, they won't block out outside noise as much as I'd hope.



Microphone:

Rating: Decent

The A30 comes with both a removable boom mic as well as a cable with an inline mic. I found both microphones to perform decently in personal tests. In other tests with a good friend of mine, I was told the boom mic came out clearly though came off a bit bright and artificial sounding. The inline mic sounded more natural to him at the expense of a little vocal clarity. He preferred I'd use the inline mic, due to the brightness and artificial tone of the boom mic. To compare, I was told that the V-moda BoomPro microphone blew both of the A30's mics out of the water.



Sound:

Rating: Fair

A bit thin, lacking in definition, clarity, and dimensionality. The positive aspect of it's sound is it's bass, which while a little lacking in control, is lively and quite enjoyable for music. The A30 performs at it's best for energetic, bassy music from my experience which highlight the bass and treble moreso than the details in the mids. Let me explain a bit further below...



Bass:

Rating: Decent

On one hand, the A30's bass is not what I consider heavily emphasized, but on the other hand, it's rumbly, a bit loose, yet still on the dry side. It may lack control, speed, and quick decay, and can at times, creep up and rob some of the mid's clarity and presence. The A30 is a dry, somewhat thin sounding headphone which doesn't quite match up with it's rumbly bass. That type of bass doesn't usually associate itself with thin sounding headphones. When music gets busy with a lot of bass, the A30s can distort and scramble up the bass with other details. I have to say, despite it's flaws, it's still the best part of the A30s for me. The bass is enjoyable even if it doesn't maintain control like other headphones with this level of bass prominence.



Mids:

Rating: Fair

The mids are dry, thin and a bit diffused sounding which gives way to the somewhat peaky treble. I have to say it's a bit disappointing, as it comes off a bit stunted and lacking in definition, sharpness and clarity.

Dolby Headphone tends to add some warmth and smoothness to the presentation of any and every headphones, and in the case of the A30s, robs it even more of it's clarity (or lack thereof). This is but one reason why I don't find the A30s to match up well with Dolby Headphone, which is the surround processor the Mixamp uses, and is typically bundled with the A30s.



Treble:

Rating: Decent

The treble is another aspect of the A30s that I somewhat like, though at times becomes harsh/sibilant and distorts at higher volumes. It sparkles on a frequent basis lending some air to the presentation. The treble comes out as the cleanest area in the frequency response. It matches up more with the bass than the mids.



Soundstage:

Rating: Mediocre

The A30s soundstage comes off very flat and lacking in dimension, depth, and width. This is without a doubt the most disappointing aspect of it's sound to me. As usual, I don't find much to complain about in stereo, as most headphones sound a bit two dimensional/linear to me, with most sounds placed in a straight line between my ears. The problem with the A30s is that the imaging mostly comes off as 3 different points in and between the head: the left, center, right. The transition between the left/center/right seem imprecise to my ears with some gaps in between those extremes. Using virtual surround didn't help matters much. The soundstage remained fairly linear with a notable lack of depth. A lack of depth doesn't translate well for positional cues.



Positioning:

Rating: Mediocre

The soundstage and imprecise imaging did not benefit greatly from virtual surround, making positional cues a bit hard to locate. I found the A30s to be one of the hardest headphones to use for gaming, as front positional cues and rear cues were not easy to discern, and linear soundstage choked any potential possible out of the A30s for competitive gaming.



Clarity:

Rating: Fair

The slow bass, hazy mids, distorted at times treble, and non-dimensional soundstage, robbed any hopes of great clarity out of the A30s. It's not muffled sounding for music (really, the A30s can be quite enjoyable for the right kind of music). It can come off a bit energetic in the bass and treble, but as far as minute details and gaming friendliness, the A30s fall short.



Amping:

Not necessary



Personal Recommendation?

Movies, Music, In General? Small Maybe
Gaming? No

Though I try to find the good aspects of any headphone/headset I review, the Astro A30 is a headphone I find hard to recommend. The only way I'd ever recommend getting the Astro A30 is if you find the A30/Mixamp bundle for a really good deal (at the time of purchase, I got my combo for $80 which is $120 off the standard price. The Mixamp alone is worth getting for that price, so I considered the A30s as a free bonus).



Final Impressions:

I wanted to like the A30s, and give it a somewhat positive review. Really. Yet, reality proved that some headphones just don't stack up to the competition, the A30s being a forgettable headset that should be passed on by most people other than those who can score them for a very low price.
Fun: 6/10 (Decent) (Click to show)
While the bass is pretty enjoyable, the lack of dimensionality and generally lackluster sound make the A30s a bit hard to enjoy for anything other than some bassy music genres, like Trap.
Competitive: 5/10 (Mediocre) (Click to show)
The lack of depth and subpar positional cues really disappointed me. If you're interested in the A30s, focus on stereo/media use, and less on competitive gaming.
Comfort: 7.25/10 (Good) (Click to show)
One of the best on ear headphones in terms of comfort. On ear headphones will generally lose some points compared to circumaural headphones, due to the constant pressure on the ears. However, the A30s can be worn for hours on end, and the cloth padding is a much needed contrast to the copious amount of synthetic leather padded headphones in the market. If the headband padding were a little more comfortable and if the ear pads were round in shape, the comfort could've been great.
Overall: 5.75/10 (Okay) (Click to show)
My recommendation: Only get the A30s only if you buy it in a Mixamp bundle for a very good deal. Otherwise, look elsewhere.











Audio-Technica AD700



Update: Discontinued. The updated model is the AD700x, which I have heard from some trusted members to sound near identical to the original AD700, with worse build quality.
Review (Click to show)
Spectacular for FPS games. Great detail in the mids and energetic treble. Soundstage is the biggest of any headphone I have heard in Dolby Headphone mode (including the K701). Everything sounds just so crystal clear and sparkly. Directional accuracy is just bloody fantastic (2nd only to the DT770 Pro 80s for me). If you want a headphone that just murders practically everything else for FPS games, the AD700s is that headphone. They are really bass light. That is their biggest issue. Bass is so light, it sounds like a tin can attempting to sound like a subwoofer. Just no bass, lol. So for immersive, non-competitive gaming, these aren't going to impress. The treble can also be quite grating and harsh. They also sound somewhat artificial, so don't expect accurate and realistic sounds coming from this headphone.


Comfort-wise, the pads are super comfortable, but the cans are way too loose for some people, and your ears may touch the drivers which a shock prone person like me couldn't handle anymore.
Fun: 5.75/10 (Fair) (Click to show)
The soundstage is it's own brand of fun, but soundstage and clarity aside, they're not going to wow you.
Competitive: 10/10 (Legendary) (Click to show)
The AD700 ditches warmth, bass, and musicality for sheer performance and detail-whoring.
Comfort: 6/10 (Decent) (Click to show)
Great feeling pads, though drivers press against the ears due to a lack of density and thickness in the pads. Slippery fit, due to a very severe lack of clamp and security on the head. 3d wing headband design that I personally can't stand. The comfort on the AD700 is love it or hate it.











Audio-Technica M50



Update: I feel that because the M50s are one of my fave headphones, they deserve a bit more in the listing.

Sells for $120 (more or less).
Review (Click to show)
This review is for the older ATH-M50 models which have been replaced for the M50X, which the M50x is known to be better sounding with less of a treble peak, and a warmer, fuller sound. I recommend going for the M50x (not reviewed here) instead of the older M50.

Bass: The M50's bass is emphasized, but not by a lot. It's well balanced, slightly favoring bass over mids. The bass can go pretty low, and has a good thump to it, without it being flabby. Bassheads won't appreciate the quantity, however, the M50s can handle bass boosting like a champ.

Mids: The mids are ever so slightly recessed due to slightly more prominent bass and treble. However, the mids aren't THAT recessed, and is well in line with the rest of the sound.

Treble: the treble is emphasized, energetic, and sparkly, They can get harsh, but it's nothing too worrisome, compared to other headphones on the list. The M50's treble gives you a crisp sound overall.

Comfort-wise, the M50 is the most comfortable pleather-padded headphone I have ever owned. You have to do the stretch mod, but once that is done, they are just godly in comfort.

edit: HERE is my thread with how to do the stretch mod.


As far as isolation goes, the M50's do extremely well keeping sounds from leaking out, and a great job isolating from the outside.

Gaming: the M50s don't do very well with Dolby headphone. Their issue is their soundstage, which sound congested and doesn't give you a big enough virtual space to let Dolby headphone work it's magic. I feel that even the Hifiman RE0s (the IEMs) do it better. I'd say if you want a good headphone for plain stereo gaming (like say with a Vita, DS, phones, etc), the M50s will be just fine. Just don't take them seriously for console/PC gaming.
Fun: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
Nicely balanced with a good emphasis on bass.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Competitive: 5.5/10 (Fair)] Small soundstage depth and width really hurts positional cues for competitive play.
Comfort: 8.75/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
After the stretch mod, the M50s are absolutely stellar in comfort, even with it's pleather pads.











Creative Aurvana Live! (aka "CAL")



Sells for $100 (or less).
Revised Review added on 8/17/2013) (Click to show)
Creative and Fostex partnered up to give us the relatively inexpensive Creative Aurvana Live. It shares most of it's design with the discontinued Denon D1001, with the same bio cellulose drivers, and very few, superficial differences. From what I have personally read, the Creative Aurvana Live has been known to be the slightly superior of the two sonically, made even better at the fact that the CAL was the less expensive of the two, and is still sold today. The CAL can be considered as the baby sibling of the incredibly popular and discontinued Denon D2000, D5000, D7000 headphones, all which came with bio-cellulose Fostex drivers.

Build Quality: The CAL is known as a small circumaural. Not as small as typical on ear headphones, but not as large as most full sized headphones. The CAL is incredibly lightweight. It has a classy piano black, glossy finish on the plastic cups with chrome accents, the only thing on the cups being Creative branding. The headband has both metal and plastic pieces, relatively thin as well. The headband padding is covered in some smooth but quality, synthetic leather.

The pads are also made up of synthetic leather/pleather, and are quite soft. The pads are on the small side for a circumaural headphone, with a lack of width and depth for bigger ears.

The CAL's cable is personally what I find to be it's worst aspect in terms of build quality. Each cup houses a thin, somewhat flimsy cable which meet just over a foot down the cable's length. The cable is quite short, terminating into a small 3.5mm plug. Good thing the CAL comes with an extension cable. The cables are rubbery and will 'grip' onto everything, which I personally find quite annoying.



Comfort:

The Creative Aurvana Live! is a rarity for me in terms of comfort. I tend to hate headphones with pleather pads, especially closed headphones. I personally find the CAL to be quite comfortable. It is odd, as not only is it pleather padded (very soft pads), but the pads aren't wide or deep, so my ears press up against the drivers and the inner walls of the pads. This is usually disastrous for a headphone's long-term wearing comfort, yet, I don't find the CAL to be problematic. Perhaps it's due to how light the CAL is, and how the CAL doesn't exactly exert a lot of clamping pressure. That being said, I do know that a lot of people have issues with these very things, so keep that in mind.


Design Issues:

As stated earlier, the pads are neither deep nor wide, so larger ears may find their ears pressing against the drivers.



Accessories:

The CAL comes with a small, cloth carrying pouch, an extension cable, and a gold-plated 6.3mm adapter. The carrying pouch won't offer any real protection from anything other than scratches/scuffs.



Isolation/Leakage:

The CAL is exactly like the other Fostex/Denon 'marriage' headphones. They do not isolate that well for a closed headphone. They DO keep from leaking internal noise out to the world quite well, but aren't the best at keeping external noise from leaking in. Better than an open headphone, but far from the best at external noise control. Long story short, if you want a headphone that keeps noise OUT, the CAL is not it. However, if you want a late night headphone that won't bother other people around you (i.e. the sleeping girlfriend), the CAL is quite proficient in noise leak.



Sound:

The Creative Aurvana Live is a wonderful sounding headphone. It's relatively warm, spacious, and detailed. It has a fantastic balance of bass, mids, and treble, not usually found in their price range. It's not a neutral headphone, but for a sub-$100 headphone, it's clearly one of the best headphones I've ever heard, if not THE best. Fostex knows their headphones. The CAL is warm, bassy (not overly so), with smooth mids, and detailed treble, without being overbearing. Mostly organic, and natural sounding, with few caveats.



Bass:

The CAL's bass is warm, full, rich, organic, and soft hitting. Not particularly quick, but well integrated with the mids, giving the CAL it's deliciously warm tonality. It's emphasized, but never truly overbearing. One of the best I've heard in terms of ambience, emphasis, and integration.



Mids:

The CAL has organic, fluid mids. Not incredibly rich or forward, but very well behaved, balanced, and again, expertly integrated. It in all honesty, the CAL puts some of the more expensive headphones to shame. Bassy headphones tend to ruin mids in some form or another. Not so with the CAL. If you like a good amount of bass, and don't want to sacrifice vocals, the CAL makes a wonderful headphone for those purposes. The only real negative aspect to the mids is that the upper mids/lower treble may at times come off just a little thin. Not recessed or lacking, but not as organic and natural.



Treble:

The treble is probably the weakest aspect of the CAL's sound. Note: I said WEAKEST. Not that it was bad in general. The treble has nice amount of presence and energy. Not particularly aggressive or sharp. It has a good mix of smoothness and sparkle. The lower treble may have just a hint of glare, but it's rarely ever problematic.



Soundstage:

In true Fostex fashion, the CAL has a truly impressive soundstage. It is a closed headphone, yet instrument separation and a virtual sense of space this big is just unheard of in most closed headphones, regardless of price range. Sure, it's not going to trump the well known open soundstages of headphones like the DT990, K70x, and X1, but even next to those, the CAL's soundstage will still impress. Not the deepest, or widest, but very good all around.



Positioning:

The CAL has very good positional cues. Positional cues are very well defined, with plenty of virtual space to maneuver. Among the best closed headphones in this regard.



Clarity:

The CAL's clarity if quite impressive, especially considering the price. Despite the CAL leaning on musicality and not neutrality, the warm, bassy nature of the CAL does not detract from it's well presented mids and good treble range. Nothing is ever truly lost, making the CAL a solid gaming headphone if you want clarity without sacrificing musicality and overall enjoyment for the sake of sound-whoring.



Amping:

The Creative Aurvana Live! is an efficient headphone, demanding minimal amping. It benefits more from a clean source, and not so much power. Mixamp owners will have no problem using the Mixamp alone to power the CAL.



Value:

At under $100, the Creative Aurvana Live is what I consider to be the epitome of bang for buck headphones. I have compared it directly to other, considerably more expensive headphones, and personally found the CAL to either meet or exceed their performance. If you want an inexpensive, efficient, and fantastic sounding headphone, the CAL is practically begging for your money.



Final Impressions:

The Creative Aurvana Live! is a not so hidden gem in the headphone community. The secret came out years ago, and with good reason. Fantastic warm tonality, good bass presence, fluid mids, with a truly spacious soundstage, all for an incredibly affordable price. Then one true drawback on the CAL may be that it's comfort level may be good for some, not for others. I believe it's truly worth checking out.
Fun: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
Full, warm, immersive, and entertaining.
Competitive: 7.25/10 (Good) (Click to show)
Even for a warm and slightly reserved sound signature, the soundstage and positional cues are good for competitive play.
Comfort: 8 (Great) (Click to show)
Even for a small circumaural, I find them to be very comfortable, with the only negatives being that the pads are shallow and small and may crush other's ears. I didn't have issues with it though.










HiFiMAN RE0 (IEM)



Sells for $79.
Review (Click to show)
Can an IEM truly be good for gaming with Dolby Headphone? Astrogaming just released the A*Stars to use with the Mixamps, so they believe so. My experiences with the highly regarded HiFIMAN RE0s leads me to believe the same. The sound signature is like a VERY neutral to slightly bright sound, lacking a little in bass, but being incredibly analytical. That to me, sounds like a perfect headphone to test for hardcore gaming. Being an IEM, the RE0 doesn't have any worthy soundstage depth and width to speak of even with Dolby Headphone. Everything sounds pretty much close to you. What they DO however, is accurately pinpoint which direction sounds are coming from, and pick up all the detail you could possibly want for gaming. No one will be sneaking up on you with the RE0s on. Still, you will be missing the soundstage, which helps in immersion. Still, when it comes to IEMs, this is a fantastic one to use.

Comfort-wise, I'm not a huge IEM fan, and these weren't notably superior or inferior to any other IEM in comfort. The stock tips weren't great, and they would constantly fall out of my ears. I much prefer the JVC Marshmallow's tips for comfort, but not sure what they'd do to the sound, as I didn't own them at the same time.
Fun: 5/10 (Mediocre) (Click to show)
The RE0 is pretty analytical/sterile and not exactly engaging.
Competitive: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
Despite it being an IEM with very small soundstage, the clarity is absolutely top notch, making details pop out very easily. Positional cues don't have a lot of depth to do their work as well as they should, but they are easy to pinpoint which direction they originated from.
Comfort: 6/10 (Decent) (Click to show)
IEMs don't do much for me in terms of comfort.










Nuforce HP-800
Nuforce Website


https://www.nuforce.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=311:nh-800&Itemid=194

Sells for $129
Review (Click to show)

I'd like to thank Wolfgang, NuForce's social marketing specialist for contacting me, and giving me the opportunity to test and review the Nuforce HP-800. Very much appreciated.

Okay, so the Nuforce HP-800. Prior to Nuforce contacting me, I must admit, I knew absolutely nothing about the HP-800. All I have known about Nuforce has been what I've read about the quite popular UDAC, UDAC2, Icon, and HDP dac/amps. I certainly had no idea that Nuforce had jumped into the headphone game. The HP-800 is Nuforce's first entry into full-sized headphones.

So the question is: How was Nuforce's first foray into full-sized headphones?



Build Quality:

Before I get into the aspects of it's design, I'd like to address one thing: I believe the HP-800 may have been designed with portable use in mind, yet the HP-800 is not portable by any conventional means. It's large, and doesn't fold up in any shape or form. This betrays it's incredibly minimal power requirements. The design will easily place the HP-800 as a home or studio headphone, not a portable one. Quite some large head bling here. The HP-800 does fit well as a transportable headphone, like office or library use with a laptop.

The HP-800 is a fully closed-back headphone which is made up almost entirely of very sturdy and solid feeling plastic (with thinly stamped aluminum cups) in a full black matte finish. That means fingerprint resistant, which is always a good thing. I grow tired of high gloss plastic that looks good as long as you have psychic powers and never physically touch the headphones. The design of the HP-800 is quite minimalistic, which would feel at home next to typical studio headphones you can purchase from the musical instrument section of any major electronics stores like Best Buy. It is almost entirely black, with the only contrasts being the driver covers being red/orange, and a golden metallic 'NU' logo on the center of each outer ear cup.

The headband is of the auto-adjusting, tension/suspension type, similar to the popular AKG K70x line, as well as the recent Philips Fidelio X1. The headband portion that rests on your head is made up of a very rubbery material that has quite a grip. This is the first time I have seen such a material being used, and I'm not sure it was the best choice. I find that this rubbery material is prone to picking up dust and dirt from the air, and is not exactly easy to wipe off.

The top portion that holds the wires that sends audio to the right driver is all plastic, and as such, I wouldn't recommend bending it if you feel like the HP-800 doesn't have enough extension, in fear of possibly snapping the plastic. This makes the HP-800 a possible problem for bigger heads, as you can't really bend the HP-800 in any way, unlike the Fidelio X1 which has a metal band that is easily bent for more extension.

The pads are synthetic leather/pleather. They're quite large, and very soft. Personally (as you may all know by now), I have a strong aversion for pleather pads, so I'm not exactly thrilled by the abundance of it on the HP-800. The pads, while big, don't have the largest openings, and they compress quite easily, so those with larger ears may find their ears pressing up against the driver covers, and inner walls of the pads.

The HP-800's left ear cup comes with a standard 3.5mm input, no locking mechanism, so cable replacement is a breeze. Speaking of the cables, the HP-800 comes with two cables: A cloth-covered long cable that terminates into a 3.5mm plug, with an attached 6.3mm adapter which screws on/off. One of the better stock cables I've ever come across. The shorter, thinner cable doesn't inspire much confidence in it's build quality, and unlike the lengthier cable, lacks proper strain reliefs. I'd stick with the longer cable, or buy a more durable short cable for portable use.



Comfort:

The comfort will be a hit or miss. The HP-800 may be problematic for larger heads, in that there may not be enough clearance, due to the lack of extension. My head fits, but the strong tension causes the cups to want to ride up my ears ever so slightly. This could've been mitigated with a longer extension. As it stands, it is a bit problematic for me personally, as the feeling of the drivers want to slide upwards never ceases.

The headband portion that rests on the top of the head is covered in very rubbery material which can and will grip onto your scalp or hair, so any small adjustments will yank a bit. This is only an issue if you're constantly shifting and readjusting.

The pads are quite soft and plentiful. Being synthetic leather (which I'm not a fan of on ANY headphone), they will heat up and get a little sticky. As mentioned before, the openings aren't the largest in diameter, so larger ears may have to struggle between pressing up to the driver covers and pinching up against the inner pad walls.

The HP-800 is quite lightweight, so they shouldn't pose much of an issue for those with neck problems. All in all, the HP-800 will cater to smaller heads and ears. Everyone else should try and demo these first.

The HP-800 doesn't exude much clamping force, and the little it does have will keep the HP-800 from sliding off the head. Needless to say, the HP-800 has an ideal amount of clamp to my ears without being too loose, or too clampy.

In terms of comfort, the HP-800 is among the better pleather-padded headphones I have reviewed on this guide. That means, that if you don't have a particular distaste for pleather, you may find the HP-800 to be relatively comfortable overall, assuming you have smaller ears. Personally, I find them okay in comfort, and mostly inoffensive, my main issue being the pad material, and the diameter of the openings. If Nuforce manages to update the pads with a bigger diameter, and possibly just a bit larger/deeper, they'd have a solid headphone in terms of comfort overall.



Design Issues:

- Not particularly suited for portable use due to a very large frame, despite it's minimal amping requirements.

- Rubbery headband padding may grip onto the scalp/hair, potentially causing discomfort with every minor adjustment. Also picks up dirt/dust easily (the top side of the rubbery headband).

- Pleather pads, while soft, build up heat in a hurry, and will stick to the skin. They also do not have the biggest openings, so those with large ears, take note.

- Lack of extension for larger heads will cause the cups to pull and rise up towards the headband.



Accessories:

The HP-800 comes with:

- One long, durable, cloth-braided cable w/3.5mm plug with an attached screwed on 6.3mm adapter.

- One short, thin cable w/3.5mm plug

- Carrying pouch



Isolation/Leakage:

The HP-800 as a fully closed-back headphone does incredibly well at keeping it's sound from escaping out into the world. This means that you can blast the HP-800 loudly, and very little will actually leak out, making it an ideal headphone for late night use when you're trying to keep your significant other in the same room from waking up. It's been quite some time since I've heard a headphone control noise leak as well as the HP-800, the last one being the Mad Dogs.

The HP-800 however isn't exactly great at keep external noise from leaking in, so it's not the best at passive noise-cancelling. It's not bad, but not the best.



Sound:

The HP-800 is unlike anything I've ever heard upon first listen. It's quite warm/dark most of the time, yet spacious, which I usually find to be quite a contradiction. Very much so. Coming off more neutral and brighter offerings, the HP-800 will sound stuffy and muted (it even makes the well known Creative Aurvana Live! sound bright in comparison). In fact, prior to hearing the Sennheiser HD650, my perception of it's sound just based on impressions I've read online (which didn't turn out to be true), I would've thought it'd sound something like how the HP-800 actually sounds like. Dark, creamy, and smooth, if a bit veiled. The only difference being that the HD650 is known for it's stellar and intimate mids, which the HP-800 just does not have.

Quite bassy (okay, VERY bassy), with fairly distant sounding mids, and mellow treble that sounds pretty up to par with the mids. For a closed, dark, mellow sounding headphone, I feel the soundstage to be quite spacious, more than likely due to how distant the mids sound. To be quite honest, I was thrown off by it's sound signature. However, given some time, I adapted to it's tonal characteristics, and found it to have a charm I'd say is all it's own, even though it's still a bit polarizing.

It isn't the most detailed headphone by a stretch, but it is relatively enjoyable, pleasant, and fatigue free. I feel it's best suited for hip hop, and general club music with most importance in the pulse of the rhythm. For this reason, I find the HP-800 to be very genre specific.

All of that being said, the HP-800 is almost a completely different beast for virtual surround gaming use. Even though the headphone is dark and mellow, the linearity between the mids and treble makes it easy to maintain a good mix for gaming purposes. Because bass is situational in gaming and not overly dominant, you can raise volume levels to put the mids and treble into better focus (not overly so), making the HP-800 a competent, fun oriented, gaming headphone.



Bass:

Huge, dominating, impressive, and ferocious bass. It will be the first thing you immediately notice when listening to the HP-800. However, what sets itself apart, is that the bass is fairly linear (though quite emphasized from the mids and treble ranges). The sub bass is actually quite decent, and the mid bass is proficient in fullness, presence, and control. The bass is on the slower side, but doesn't creep into the mids. I expected this soft, yet full bass to swallow the mids, but the HP-800's control is pretty apparent.



Mids:

The mids are a paradox on it's own. The HP-800's bass doesn't swallow up the mids, and the treble isn't by any means bright or emphasized over the mids, yet the mids are a bit recessed to my ears. Almost undoubtedly so. The mids are warm and full-bodied, yet...distant. I'm at odds with the HP-800 because of this. It takes time to get used to.

I'm not entirely against recessed mids on a headphone (I do generally like a mild v-shaped sound signature), yet when a headphone is clearly NOT v-shaped, you'd expect mids to be either in tune with the rest of the sound, or up front and center. The HP-800's mids are a little off putting at first. Not a gaping void, but noticeably pushed back.


Treble:

The treble range is more or less in line with the mids in emphasis, meaning that they aren't in the spotlight, and are just a tad laid back, but not more so than the mids. They are in the comfortable range of being smooth, and sibilance free. Treble in instruments isn't exactly the sharpest, nor the clearest, ultimately making the HP-800 lack just a bit detail.

A bit glossed over, but completely inoffensive to the ears. I find the treble to be a strength when you play the HP-800 at a moderately loud volume, as it never gets harsh. Comparing the treble to the Creative Aurvana Live, I found the HP-800 to sound less detailed, but smoother, and less fatiguing.



Soundstage:

The soundstage is a surprisingly good thing in the HP-800. It's wide for a closed headphone, and thought not excelling in depth, there is decent amount of virtual space. I'll touch more on this in the next section.



Positioning:

Positional cues are good. Not great but good. The HP-800 has a pretty good soundstage in width, but not necessarily the best in depth. Also, positional cues in certain angles sound a bit diffused. The HP-800's positional cues take up a bit more virtual space, and aren't as precise. In the end, the HP-800 gets the job done, but there are better, and cheaper in this regard.



Clarity:

Clarity isn't exactly a strong suit in the HP-800. I do find it to be objectively clearer for gaming purposes in virtual surround gaming than it is for stereo/music use (or any non-virtual surround uses for that matter). Due to the fact that the HP-800 is pretty closely even in mids and treble, nothing is lost in between, so within a certain amount of volume, the HP-800 makes a pretty decent gaming headphone, and mitigates the overall darkness somewhat.

You do have to somewhat tune out the abundant amount of bass that leads the mix, though because the bass doesn't smother other details, it isn't that arduous a task. All in all, not the clearest headphone, but relatively stable.



Amping:

While the HP-800 isn't the most sensitive full-sized headphone I've tested, it truly demands very little amping with a maximum input power of only 30MW. This means that practically any device you hook up the HP-800 up to will drive them loudly, and with authority. As always, clean power is the best power, so while the effect may be subtle, a decent portable amp will benefit the HP-800 especially in controlling it's dominant, and somewhat slow bass. For gaming use, I found the Mixamp alone to be just fine for the HP-800. The HP-800 is already full bodied as is, even unamped.



Value:

The MSRP of the HP-800 is $129. In it's price range, it fills it's own niche, and for that reason competes well with others in it's price range, if you're looking into a somewhat unique sound signature, even amongst other dark/warm headphones. Bassheads in particular should take note.



Final Impressions:

I feel the HP-800 is a solid (though polarizing) headphone for those who'd like a closed back, pleasant, fatigue-free, warm headphone, with big bass, and solid noise leak control. I feel the HP-800 is a fairly competent closed headphone for virtual surround gaming, fun-oriented gaming in particular. Just remember, the HP-800 is bass first, everything else second. So unless you value a substantial amount of bass presence above everything else in a headphone's sound, you may want to do your homework before taking the plunge.
Fun: 7.5 (Very Good) (Click to show)
It's a basshead can, in every sense of the word. Paired with a surprisingly good soundstage, makes the HP-800 a fun, bass driven headphone.
Competitive: 7 (Good) (Click to show)
Despite it's softer/veiled sound signature, it works surprisingly well for competitive gaming.
Comfort: 6.75/10 (Very Decent) (Click to show)
With a bigger diameter and deeper pads, the HP-800 could become a much more comfortable headphone. Could also use more extension to fit bigger heads, as well as a different material of the headband, instead of the rubber-like material used.
Overall: 6.75 (Very Decent) (Click to show)
I personally find the HP-800 a bit polarizing with it's bassy sound and it's veiled signature, yet spacious soundstage for a closed headphone.












Sennheiser HD280 Pro



Sells for around $100.
Review (Click to show)
Needed to mention this one. Like the M50... these aren't very good for Dolby Headphone gaming. The soundstage is so miniscule, everything sounds pretty much like it's right next to you. No sense of depth or width. My RE0s were better at least.

Comfort-wise.... uhh, no. Just...no. Sennheiser loves it's clamp, and the HD280 Pro is a TORTURE device. It's a vice grip on your head, and the really 'perfect' seal adds heat and sweat on top of that painful clamp. Probably the worst I've used in terms of comfort.
Fun: 5/10 (Mediocre) (Click to show)
Competitive: 4/10 (Bad) (Click to show)
Comfort: 4/10 (Bad) (Click to show)
The clamp is unbearable after a few minutes. The airplane cabin pressure is also incredibly uncomfortable.











Skullcandy Slyr (*headset*)
http://www.skullcandy.com/shop/slyr-black-yellow



Sells for $79.95
Review (Click to show)

Before I get started, I really want to thank Skullcandy for getting in contact with me and giving me the chance to review the SLYR, as well as the A40+Mixamp 2013 Edition, and A50s on their Astrogaming side.... They have been very communicative, and understanding. Can't thank them enough.

I'm sure that pretty much anyone interested in headphones know the Skullcandy brand. Their name is instantly recognizable, and their headphones can be found in many stores, ranging from their very entry level headphones, to their higher end Aviator and Mix Master headphones. They do not have a shortage of headphones, and as such, have been the target of a lot of criticism for not catering to audiophiles but to the domestic market. Personally, I can easily say that I do not have a lot of experience with Skullcandy products. My first pair of Skullcandy headphones were a pair of Ink'd IEMs that I bought ages ago loved. I didn't know a thing about headphones back then, but I do remember liking their sound signature, and their cheap price. The next product I had some time with was the Lowriders...a PINK pair, I had bought for my then girlfriend, hahaha. I have never been a fan of on ear headphones, and the Lowriders couldn't stay on my head. I honestly couldn't tell you if they were halfway decent or not. I have a slippery dome it seems, lol. I wasn't exactly pleased with them, and their build quality was quite lacking from what I'm used to today, but they were very inexpensive, and my girlfriend liked them well enough.

Anyways, my point is, I don't have a bias for OR against Skullcandy. What I DO know is that they have made great strides in improving their line and becoming more serious about the quality of their products. I can surely appreciate any company doing that. With the arrival of the SLYR, PLYR, and PLYR2 (with help from Astrogaming, which is well known in the gaming community, and which they now own), it's hard to not be curious about what Skullcandy has up their sleeves for us gamers.

So I'm approaching these headphones with a completely open mind. Okay, maybe not completely open. I do have ONE bias: I don't expect much from headsets. With as many headphones as I have owned and tested, gaming headsets have been, for the most part, disappointing. Save for the Sennheiser PC360 (which remains the best headset I have used, and still among the best competitively even among the amazing headphones I have owned), the next best headset for me was the Tritton AX720 which was decent, but not 'good' overall. They are excused as they come with a Dolby Headphone decoder box which more than makes up for their lack of pure sound quality. Everything else was borderline forgivable to 'blegh'. So, with that bad taste in headsets overall, the SLYR had an uphill battle, and that's before I even opened the package. Still, I was excited.

Hmm, the Skullcandy SLYR (pronounced Slayer). Upon opening the package and taking them out, I was still neutral. They were unassuming, and relatively stealthy in a dominantly matte black finish with sort of yellow/green 'windows' on the cups. From what I have seen of earlier Skullcandy designs, they tend to be fashion statements, with lots of urban/street flavors, etc. The SLYR is humble looking in comparison. I actually like this. I tend to prefer a more classy approach to my headphones, rather than ones that scream at you. The SLYR still has an edgy design to them with sharp angles, but it's not 'loud'. It's hip for the younger crowd, but still reserved enough for adults.

So that was my first impression on looks. Looks are not my top priority in a headphone. Comfort and sound first. How did they fare? Well, as soon as I put them on, I immediately thought: "Crap, these are on ear." I'm not a fan of on ears. Still, the pads were very soft, and they weren't pleather. Things I DEMAND in a headphone nowadays. I absolutely avoid pleather/leather like a plague. Then I realized, with a little bit of adjusting, the SLYR is actually circumaural/over ear! YES! Very happy about that. Certainly not the biggest cups, but they did fit my ears well enough (bigger openings than the Creative Aurvana Live, and much deeper pads). The SLYR is off too a good start, and I haven't even heard them yet.

As with every headphone I buy, my first listening test is ALWAYS music. Gaming comes later. I fired up some songs, let my ears adjust to their sound signature and soon after, I knew; Skullcandy meant business. These don't just sound like a good headset. They sound like a good headphone. PERIOD. I absolutely did not expect this sound coming from an $80 headset. The first thing that I immediately noticed was the balance between the bass, mids, and treble. I am not exaggerating in saying that headphones costing 3x the price of the SLYR can't manage to find such a great balance between fun and balance the way the SLYR does. I mean it. With the Sennheiser PC360, you get a really good and overall neutral-ish tonal balance, with not much sticking out of place, but not being exciting tonally. The SLYR on the other hand manages to sound balanced, with the right amount of bass emphasis and energy to make them exciting. They are forward sounding headphones, with not a hint of boredom in it anywhere. The Creative Aurvana Live sounds considerably more reserved in direct comparison, darker, and warmer. (which I had on hand at the time of review). While the CAL was still more refined overall, I have to say, I preferred the sonic signature of the SLYR. It was immediately more engaging and exciting. The SLYR isn't the fullest sounding headphone I've heard, nor the most refined, but they definitely got the balance right for my ears.



Bass:

To be honest, I expected to have more bass than they did. I expected bloated bass. Bass that gets in the way of detail. This is NOT what I got. Instead, I got punchy, impactful, energetic bass that is quite present, but never overwhelming. It also has good speed and decay. Quite impressed with the SLYR's bass. A very good start. If I had to give the bass a quantity, I'd give them an 8. Plenty of bass for me. Not perfectly in line with mids and treble, but it's a GOOD emphasis.



Mids:

I'm used to v-shaped curves, with bass and treble emphasis, and recessed mids. Yet, the SLYR has some pretty up front mids next to the typical v shaped can. Can't pinpoint if it's the smaller soundstage, or just the mids in general, but they certainly weren't what I consider really recessed. Maybe just slightly so next to the bass, but I'd say they're pretty in line with the treble. They are pretty forward in the sense that vocals are near you basically at all times unless a song purposely mixes them further back.



Treble:

You either expect dull, veiled treble, or treble that is too sharp, too spiky, too peaky. Again, the SLYR surprises in it's sonic characteristics. The treble is energetic, but it's not harsh. It's very close in balance to the mids for me. It is RARE for treble to be in the safe zone between too soft, and too harsh. The SLYR is DEFINITELY in that safe zone. I honestly wish the DT990's treble had a similar line. That's right.



Amping:

As to be expected, the SLYR is a very efficient headphone, and I didn't feel they needed any extra amping.



Soundstage:

This is definitely the only aspect of their sound that I was personally not entirely happy with. Part of it is because I'm grown so accustomed to open headphones, with an airy, wide/deep soundstage, and going back to a closed headphone's soundstage and typical closed headphone signature is a bit jarring. After getting used to the closed headphone sound, I'd still say the SLYR's weakest aspect is the soundstage. It's relatively small even comparing other closed headphones. I have VERY little experience with closed headphones, and I feel that out of the few I have on this guide, the SLYR is near the bottom in terms of soundstage. Thankfully, everything else is so good, so this drawback doesn't hurt as much. Still, it is small, and everything sounds pretty packed together next to other headphones in direct comparison like the CAL and A40s (the two main headphones I had on hand).



Positioning:

Now that we're getting into the gaming side of this review, the first thing to discuss is positioning. Since I feel that positioning is very dependent on soundstage, I feel they did suffer just slightly compared to my faves. That is the nature of closed headphones (with the exception of the D7000, and DT770s which have some truly large soundstages for closed headphones), and the Pro 900 which, with the aid of S-Logic helps give a sense of depth not typically found on closed headphones, though not by much. The SLYR does place positional cues properly around you, though with the lack of soundstage, there isn't much space between you and the virtual space to make pinpointing easy. Still, it does a good job. Not great. I was able to dominate pretty easily in Call of Duty 4, and didn't feel lie I was at all hampered by the SLYR's positional cues. I didn't feel like they gave me a huge advantage compared to some of my fave headphones, but they did their job well. Again, good. Bear in mind, the SLYR was definitely marketed as a stereo headset with a mixer that plugs into RCA cables. I'm fairly certain that those who play in stereo will have VERY little to complain about.



Clarity:

The SLYR is a warm headphone, but with enough crispness to say that they are plenty detailed for gaming. The closed design hurts clarity again only compared to open headphones like the PC360 and K701. As a closed headphone, I found them to have a nice balance between fun and detail-whoring, so I'd say that if I had to rate clarity separately, they'd get a 7 (good). I doubt there will be any complaints about clarity, especially at their price range.



Comfort:

Pads? Soft, deep, comfy velour. They could definitely be bigger as larger ears MIGHT make these on ear ear headphones. Clamp? Not too loose, not too firm. I find them just right. Weight? Very light. Check. They stay relatively in place at all times, with not a lot of readjusting needed. A huge win here.



Microphone:

The microphone is permanently affixed to the SLYR, but like the PC360, you swing it upwards. Unlike the PC360, the mic on the SLYR tucks away nicely into the cup, and is relatively well hidden when not in use. it's also small, but sensitive enough to pick up my voice quite easily. My voice came through clearly on my PS3 device settings, so I have very little to say about it, other than it does it's job well. It may be just a little too sensitive for my setup, as I have a large, noisy fan near me, and the mic picks it up unless I sit further back than what I'm used to. Still, that shouldn't be an issue for most people.



Build Quality:

The SLYR is made out of all plastic. The plastic feels sturdy enough for my taste, somewhat reminiscent of the PC360 plastic. I have more faith in tossing these around than I would the Creative Aurvana Live. Assuming you're not abusing the hell out of the SLYR, I don't see these breaking with normal use.



Accessories:

The SLYR comes with a stereo mixer. Think of it as a stereo alternative to the Mixamp, with the ability to mix voice/game audio at your desired levels, with three different EQ presets. One bass heavy, one flat, and the other treble heavy. I personally don't have much use for the Mixer since I own the Mixamp and prefer gaming in Dolby Headphone surround, but I did test the mixer and found the presets to work relatively well, and the mixer to also work pretty well in mixing game and voice without a lot of distortion. If anything, the closest alternative to this Mixer is the Steelseries Spectrum Audio Mixer, which retails for $40 and is for the 360. The SLYR's mixer works for both the 360 and PS3 (as well as PC). I didn't find a need for the EQ presets as the SLYR already has such an agreeable sound signature.

The Mixer has a very lengthy cable terminated in RCA jacks with piggyback female inputs. The Mixer is powered by a standard USB plug, and comes with a 3.5mm input for ANY headphone, as well as the 2.5mm input for the 360's controller for chat audio. The SLYR comes with a detachable 3.5mm male/male cable (a bit on the short side, IMHO) that carries chat audio. You can indeed use your own 3.5mm male/male standard audio cables, though the entry on the headset side may not accommodate thicker plugs. I found that the CAL's extension cable fit, but the first gen Astro 3.5mm cables didn't. I used the CAL's extension on the headset side, and my own 3.5mm male/male cables on the female end of the CAL's extension cable when using the SLYR for music on my main headphone setup (non-gaming). Basically, you will want cables with thin 3.5mm plugs if you want a lengthy cable for the SLYR. I don't know where to get lengthy ones that also carry voice audio, unfortunately.



Value:

$80 gets you a damn good headphone that just so happens to actually be a headset. Convenience, comfort, and a relatively forward, engaging, and still balanced tone makes the SLYR the very first headset in the sub-$100 bracket that I recommend to anyone who absolutely needs a headset.



Final Impressions:

While the SLYR isn't perfect, and aren't as refined as to what I'm personally used to (hello "Head-fi standards"), I must say that even with my higher end tastes, I really, REALLY like the SLYR from the sound, all the way to the comfort. These are great for music, pretty good for fun gaming, and good enough for competitive use. Skullcandy's first serious gaming headset gets a solid B from me, and have made me a true believer. I can't wait to see what else Skullcandy has up their sleeve. If their $80 headset is this good, I have high hopes for their higher end models. One last thing that you will want to know: I prefer the SLYR over the A50s.
Fun: 7.5/10 (Very good) (Click to show)
They really did a great job in finding a great balance between fun and balance. Very impressive for this price.
Competitive: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
They absolutely do their job. I'd say stereo gamers will particularly love them, kind of like how I personally see the M50s if a little better in terms of positional cues. For us virtual surround gamers, I'd still say they are worth looking into if you absolutely need a headset.
Comfort: 7.5/10 (Very good) (Click to show)
Those with larger ears may have to use them as on ear as mentioned before, though they are still comfy in that way.
Overall: 7.25/10 (Good) (Click to show)










Sony XB700



Sells for just over $80.
Review (Click to show)
A real guilty pleasure. I knew what I was getting into, and I LOVED it... for music that is. For gaming...well, let me give you an example. In Mass Effect 2, when you're on your ship, you CAN'T hear the dialogue, because the humming sounds the ship makes is SO pronounced, voices are pretty much completely drowned out. Needless to say, these are NOT ideal for picking up finer details. Pass for gaming. The 770 Pros do a better job at keeping mids intact, and that isn't exactly a strength for the DT770 Pro 80s.

Comfort-wise, the XB700 is a hit and a miss. The headphone is luxuriously comfortable...until all that padding makes the surface area it made contact with, incredibly hot and sticky. Then that comfort takes a large step in the wrong direction. Seriously, they get hot and sticky in a hurry. Considering how much surface area the pads take up... it's not a pleasant feeling at all. They'd be perfect for near freezing temperatures though.
Fun: 6/10 (Decent) (Click to show)
The bass is something to hear once in a lifetime, though it is quite omnipotent and distracting.
Competitive: 4/10 (Bad) (Click to show)
While the XB700 isn't one of the most undetailed headphones I have heard, the bass is still way too strong making details hard to hear.
Comfort: 5/10 (Mediocre) (Click to show)
The comfort starts off amazing, but the large amount of pleather to skin contact is a bit too much. Causes sweating, skin reddening quite quickly.











Tritton AX720 (*headset*)



Sells for $129 (Best Buy).
Review (Click to show)
My ex-roommate purchased the AX720, and I'm happy to say that it's a pretty decent headset. I find it better than what I remember the A40s to be, but the general consensus is that the A40s are slightly better than the AX720 which is why I can't really judge the A40s. The AX720's mic works fine, the amp is comparable to the Mixamp if slightly MORE powerful and sleeker and more practical (it's a set top box, which you don't need next to you unlike the Mixamp). The headset itself is closed and comfortable, with good positional accuracy, with a small but still decently spaced out soundstage. It doesn't come close to the headphones I have mentioned, but it's a great starting headset which you can consider FREE, as what you really want is the AX720 virtual surround amp. Many people wouldn't have an issue with the AX720 headset. It doesn't do anything horribly wrong, but doesn't do anything particularly particularly well either. It's just good enough to get you going.

Comfort-wise, I didn't find them bad or great. They do their job, though for a sealed headphone, they are comfortable.

Fun: 6.5/10 (Decent)

Competitive: 7/10 (Good)

Comfort: 7/10 (Good)











Turtle Beach PX21 (*headset*)



Sells for $80 (or less).
Review (Click to show)
There is an audible hiss blanketed over the sound due to it's proprietary inline amp. Yeah, if you hook this up to the Mixamp, you're getting a double dose of hiss. If you can get over the hiss, the sound is actually pretty crisp and detailed. I actually LIKE the sound it has, hiss aside. However, due to the hiss, I won't go any further into trying to remotely going into the specifics. And yes, this is an innate issue with all PX21s. The inline amp is the problem.

All this tells me is that you should not use headphones that have in line amps, especially with another amp like the Mixamp.

Comfort-wise, don't remember much, but the neoprene pads weren't amazing.

Fun: 5/10 (Mediocre)

Competitive: 5/10 (Mediocre)

Comfort: N/A











Yuin G1A (*clip-on*)



Sells for $150
Review (Click to show)
The Yuin G1A. You can say that these are the most high end clip-on headphones in the world. That sounds like hyperbole, but it's true. Clip-ons don't really have much of a market for audiophiles, and are content with staying relatively on the domestic market, and/or for physical activities. With a small niche market, the Yuin G1A sits comfortably as the most expensive and highest regarded clip-on headphone.

I am a huge fan of clip-ons. They don't hurt my ears like IEMs. They stay in place no matter what I do, short of literally touching them. They are small enough to lay down with. After a few days of adjusting to how clip-ons feel on your ears, they may as well be the most comfortable headphone design ever made.

It helps that my first experience with clip-ons was with the Koss KSC-75, which for a mere $10-$20, should be in every audiophile's inventory. The KSC-75 hits well above their price range, is extremely comfy, pleasing, and just... legendary.

My 2nd taste of clip-ons headphones was with the rare and mature KSC-35. The KSC-35 is older than the KSC-75 and discontinued everywhere, but can be bought directly from Koss on their website. The Koss KSC35 sacrifices just a little comfort in place of more musicality and warmth compared to their cheaper, and more common sibling. It's also now sold for 3x the price of the KSC-75, though I personally don't believe they should be priced so high, despite my overwhelming love for them.

So how does the Yuin G1A stack up next to the budget conscious Koss offerings? Does the overall package justify the huge price difference? Let's find out.

The package is quite small. A nicely designed cardboard box, with a nice presentation. Doesn't look as generic as the Koss packaging. Upon opening the package I am greeted by the sleek Yuin G1A.



Build Quality:

The 'cups' have a sexy, brushed metal finish to them, which immediately puts it well above the KSC-35 and 75 in aesthetics. With that said, that really is the only physical aspect I find superior to the Koss clip-ons. Everything else is so ridiculously similar to the Koss clip-ons, they may as well have been made by the same OEM. The cable's only difference is that the two sides merge further down the line, making it easier to wear the G1A behind the neck, so you can take them off and let them rest on your shoulders/chest, which isn't that easy to do with the Koss clip-ons due to how close the clip-ons are to where the cables merge.

The build itself is... well, it doesn't inspire confidence. The clips are plastic (a very comfortable curved plastic), which seem like they won't take a beating the way the KSC-75's silicone/metal clips, or the sharper, stronger plastic on the KSC-35 would. The cable is quite frankly, sad. It is essentially the same thin, flimsy cable found on the Koss clip-ons. My KSC35's cable is already pulling away from the drivers, and I have feeling the same would probably happen to the G1A's cables.

The good thing about the Koss clip-ons is that their ugly 'hubcaps' aren't luxurious, so I doubt you'd fear messing them up. They are rugged to say the least. On the other hand, you have the G1A with it's amazing brushed metal finish, which might be just as sturdy, but I'd be scared to just toss them in a bag in fear of scratching them or leaving any marks whatsoever. The fact they are $150 further enhances my fears of treating them with wild abandon like I'd do with the Koss clip-ons. In the end, they are expensive, yet very cheap feeling other than the back cover. Very disappointing overall. It's fine with the Koss clip-ons, NOT so with a product this expensive.



Comfort:

If there is one thing that can be said, it's that the Yuin G1A is amazingly comfortable. They literally disappeared on my ears. The most important part of a clip-on in terms of comfort is the clips. If the clips don't feel good resting on your ears, that can be quite problematic. Thankfully, the Yuin's plastic clips are smooth and curved just right. They share a very similar form factor as the KSC-75's clips, which are both quite a bit better on the ears than the KSC-35's relatively sharp-edged clips. I also like that the clips are so smooth, they easily slide on my ears. The KSC-75's rubberized clips 'grip' on my skin, so it's a little harder to put on than the Yuin clips. They are both wonderful to wear, however. As mentioned before, the small form factor, secure fit, and super comfort make these practically unrivaled in terms of long sessions, relaxing, or physical activities. As usual, clip-ons may not be the best in comfort for those who wear glasses, as they have to share the same placement on the ears.



Accessories:

The only accessories is a 3.5mm to 6.3mm (1/4") adapter (the same exact one found on the HE-400, coincidentally), as well as an extra pair of foams.



Isolation/Leakage:

As with the Koss clip-ons, the Yuin G1A is open backed (though they actually LOOK closed). This means that they do not isolate well, if at all. External noise will come in with very little contention. I find this to be more good than bad for my Koss clip-ons, as I'd like to be able to hear things around me when I wear my clip ons at work. However, the G1A being hard to drive for such use (more on that later), as well as my fear of physically damaging them makes their very open nature not as beneficial, seeing as the GA1 is more content being used at home with a dedicated amp.



Amping:

As I briefly mentioned, the Yuin G1A is a rare breed of clip-on, in that it has a relatively high impedance of 150ohm, and take advantage of that by being harder to drive than typical clip-ons (as well as lots of full sized headphones), which results in more refinement at the expense of versatility. They don't demand a LOT of amping, but amping is necessary nonetheless. I find that it sounds cleaner with an external amp than with the Mixamp alone. Soundstage and overall positioning didn't change, but I feel the improvement in audio fidelity warrants using an amp. Still, these can be used with the Mixamp alone without much drawbacks.



Sound:

Before I get started on it's sound, let me state that all three clip-ons I have used can easily swap clips with the others (i.e. KSC35 with Yuin clips, G1A with KSC75 clips, etc). The problem I see with this, is that the sound signature of the headphones change quite a bit just by whatever clip you have equipped onto them. The reason being that each clip places the drivers at certain distances from the ears, which greatly vary the sound signatures. Even with the same clips, just a light bending of them will alter sound quality (easily done with the KSC75's clips). The Yuin clips can bend just a teeny bit, but be prepared to possibly break them in the process if you attempt to. The KSC35's clips don't seem to have any give whatsoever, so what you hear is what you get. For the purpose of this review, I will be rating the G1A based off it's stock clips, which I found to give the most balanced sound signature.

Now on to the sound itself. Upon first listen, the first thing I thought of was that the Yuin G1A sounded like a mini Q701. Well balanced, relatively neutral, with just a hint of warmth. Obviously lacking in soundstage, as well as being lot smaller in presentation of sound, but mini-Q701s is the best description I can come up with.



Bass:

Starting with the bass, I can say that the Yuin G1A has neutral bass. The bass is neither strong nor weak. It's present, but not emphasized nor lacking. The KSC35 has more bass impact and presence by quite a bit, and the KSC75 has a slight lead in bass impact.



Mids:

Really nice, balanced mids. Not forward or recessed, they sound natural and full. Some frequencies are ever so slightly forward than others, but overall, I find it well integrated with the rest of the frequencies.



Treble:

Nice and smooth. SOMETIMES has some sparkle, but overall, it's presented quite naturally. A nice improvement over both the Koss clip-ons which sound grainy and unrefined next to the Yuin, especially in the treble.



Soundstage:

Like the other clip-ons, the soundstage isn't big, but it's somewhat airy and spacious, still not rivaling a full-sized headphone's soundstage.



Positioning:

I find the G1A to perform very similarly to the Koss clip-ons. They do good. I didn't have a problem playing competitively, though there is room for improvement.
The positional cues don't have a lot of space to work with, but with what they have, they do a good job placing sounds around you. It helps that they are a bit more clearer and fuller sounding than the Koss clip-ons, so soundwhoring is easier.



Clarity:

Very clear. Very impressed with how detailed the G1A is. Detailed, and full sounding. Just a lovely balance all around, making these very good for all around gaming.



Value:

It's hard to judge the Yuin G1A's value. They deliver a rich, detailed sound which is noticeably improved on what the Koss clip-ons offer. On the other hand, the improvement doesn't justify the huge price jump, nor does the shoddy build quality on the cables. I would say these would make more sense being sold at $75, and even then, they could use some improvement on the cables and perhaps the clips, even though I love the clips.



Final Impressions:

The Yuin G1A is a fantastic clip on, though overpriced when everything is taken into account. They won't replace full-sized headphones in either competitive or fun gaming, but they are great alternatives if you wanna lay back and listen without the feeling of having something on your head. If you are a huge fan of the Koss clip-ons, you may wanna give the Yuin G1A a chance, as it refines and fills out the already great sound found on the budget friendly Koss offerings. Just be prepared to pay a steep price for a fractional improvement. Do I recommend it? No. The only people who should look into the Yuin G1A are those who love clip-ons and want to see what the best sounds like.

Fun: 6.75/10 (Quite Decent)

Competitive: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

Comfort: 9.5/10 (Amazing)











Ultrasone HFI-15G




$90-range

Where To Buy: Amazon.com (3rd party sellers)
Review (Click to show)

The Ultrasone HFI-15G. After having come off the impressively comfortable, closed headset variant, the HS-15, I knew I had to try the 15G. I desperately wanted a lively, open, and super comfortable headphone that I could lay down and relax to (which is less than ideal with full-sized headphones), and on paper, the 15G suited that need perfectly. Did it suit these needs in execution?



Build Quality:

Rating: Excellent

Before I begin, I need to mention that there was an older 15G model with gold lettering and different exterior cup design, with an incredibly long cable. The one being reviewed is the newer model with gray lettering, and short cable. I currently can't confirm whether the differences are entirely aesthetic, or if there are sonic differences between them.

Not much has changed coming from the HS-15. It is basically identical in build, with the exceptions being the lack of an oversized boom-mic, semi-open cups vs. the closed cups on the HS-15, and a standard, very short 3.5mm cable.

I'll basically paste what I've written on the HS-15, adding/omitting the differences.

The HFI-15G has a retro 80's vibe to it's design, with an all black plastic frame. The HFI-15G reminds me of the many cheap no-name headphones found in any store in terms of aesthetics. It's all function over form, substance over style, which fits it's intentions in every way.

The headband is covered in relatively cheap looking, but smooth synthetic leather. It sits perfectly on the head, and you could potentially bend and twist it in any which way without so much as even a minor scare of it breaking.

The round cups are held by short plastic arms that would allow plenty of extension for my longish head. The cups look reminiscent of car rims with silver accents. The arms have gray S-Logic/Ultrasone HFI-15G branding. Update (I forgot to mention this): The 15G does not collapse inward or fold flat, so it limits it's choices on travel pouches/bags. That being said, the headphone has a relatively small form factor, and should fit plenty of bags, cases, etc.

The foam ear pads are supraaural/on ear, reminiscent of Koss Portapro, and the Sennheiser PX-100, though larger, and considerably softer. The HFI-15G pads are thicker and more plush, though you can feel a thinner circular area in the middle (which I'm sure is to not muffle up the sound.)

The cable itself is quite short. The cable terminates into a 3.5mm plug with a generous strain relief.

Overall, while the HFI-15G certainly looks cheap, there are seemingly no real structural weaknesses anywhere on it's frame, and the plastic looks like it could take a lot of abuse. You could bend the headband and twist the cups, yet it'd go back to it's normal shape without any issue whatsoever. It's a wonder how headphones this relatively inexpensive can take any abuse short of a nuclear strike, yet headphones costing over 10x the price would crumble under any minor stress. I can safely say that these would suit anyone that needs a beater headphone to toss around and abuse without any real consequences.



Accessories:

3.5mm extension cable: Considering how short the cable is on the HFI-15G, it is a logical choice to include an extension cable. That being said, the length of the extension cable is borderline illogical, as it is extremely long. I'd recommend using some other extension cable with a more modest length, for less potential sacrifice to the sound quality, and less cable management.



Comfort:

Rating: Great

I'll paste what I've said of the HS-15, as the comfort is absolutely identical, aside from slightly less weight due to a lack of boom microphone. The difference in weight is negligible, as they're both incredibly light.

The HFI-15G is easily THE most comfortable supraaural headphone I have owned to date, outside of the Koss/Yuin clip ons (which may be on ear, but as clip ons, don't sit on the ear the same way as headphones with headbands).

The HFI-15G is incredibly lightweight, and rests on the ears just enough to not be loose, but tight enough to stay secure. The only issue I have is that my right ear gets sore after a prolonged session, though that may be a personal sensitivity issue, as I get no discomfort on my left ear. I have to assume that if others have less sensitive ears, the HFI-15G may be near perfection (9.5) in comfort for them.

Again, these are arguably the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn outside of the Koss KSC75 and Yuin G1A. I'd argue that the Sony MA900 may beat it solely due to the fact that it (mostly) rests around the ears, though with it's larger frame and my inability to relax and lay down with them in the same way as the HS-15, I would honestly reach for the HFI-15G over the MA900 more times than not if I were basing everything off comfort. I'm positive that some who didn't find the MA900 to be comfortable, would think otherwise of the HFI-15G.

Long story short, if you want excellent comfort, it simply doesn't get much better than this for an on ear headphone, and perhaps any other kind of headphone.



Design Issues:

The only issue I see with the HFI-15g is that the non-detachable cable is very short, and unless you provide your own extension cable, you'll have to contend with the unruly and overly lengthy extension cable provided with the 15G.



Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Fair

It honestly leaks about as much as the closed HS-15, which is to say, it doesn't isolate all too well, though doesn't get loud either. As with any open headphone, they do not make for the best headphones if you need absolute silence in or out. It does block out sound better than something like a KSC75, which is like wearing nothing at all.



Sound:

Rating: Good

Whereas the HS-15 was very, very warm, the HFI-15G is noticeably less warm (though definitely still on the warm side), with prominent bass emphasis, though considerably less so compared to the (exceedingly) heavy bass tilt on the HS-15. The end result is a more balanced sound signature, though not natural by any stretch of the word. It is unquestionably less polarizing and more likely to be favored over the HS-15. It is undoubtedly better sounding than the HS-15 in almost all regards, though the price difference seems steep.

The Ultrasone hits a nice sweet spot between fun and balance, with a definitely tilt towards fun. It also loves to be played on a moderately higher volume, despite Ultrasone's aim at mitigating volume level by a considerable amount.

As with the HS-15, the HFI-15G is sensitive to ear placement and it could benefit from a tighter clamp for SQ-reasons (at the expense of it's stellar comfort). That being said, the 15G would likely be a hit to fans of headphones with considerable bass, openness, and comfort.



Bass:

Rating: Great

The HFI-15G's bass is full, strong, and lively with a notable emphasis in the mid-bass. As with all Ultrasones I've heard to date, the bass is very well textured and controlled. The speed and decay is moderate despite it's prominence, which as far as I've known and heard, is an Ultrasone specialty. Not many other headphones that yield the 15G's control. The 15G's bass is more fleshed out and better integrated with the rest of the sound compared to the HS-15, though the Pro 900, and Pro 2900, which sounded more artificial, stood out as some of the tightest, most refined, bass I've heard, despite their more artificial tonality in other areas. The level of prominence on the 15G's bass will take some attention away from the mids, though it is by no means invasive or bloated, just strong.



Mids:

Rating: Decent

The mids are a hit or miss with the 15G. The mids aren't particularly lost in the mix, though I would place blame on the S-Logic messing with the mids the most. S-Logic to me, seems to artifically enhance the sense of space by pushing things further away in the soundstage, which results in things sounding distant in general. The mids fall on the thinner, distant side compared to the bass, though they aren't hampered by the treble whatsoever. Due to the bass control and generally even mids to treble response, the 15G comes off as bass first, mids and treble second. The upper mids to lower treble are definitely the most recessed part of the 15G's sound signature, which then lead up to a treble spike for some sparkle.



Treble:

Rating: Quite Decent

The treble is overall on the smooth, buttery side, with a noticeable peak for sparkle at around 10khz, which sounds cleaner and clearer than the stifled and muted treble output of the HS-15. I would've preferred a broader range of treble emphasis, as the HFI-15G is still on the rolled off side overall, though at louder volumes, it is quite even sounding, if just short of the neutral line of emphasis. Due to the disparity between anything before and after 10khz, the particular spike can become a nuisance if your volume level is catering to the other frequencies. Nowhere near as problematic as the DT990 or HE-400's treble spike, however.



Soundstage:

Rating: Great

The 15G's soundstage is quite impressive, with a great amount of width. Music sounds open and spacious, with a few instances where it sounded out of my head. The 15G's soundstage shines especially when gaming in virtual surround. I have yet to be let down by Ultrasone's S-Logic for gaming applications, and the streak continues with the 15G. Time and time again, I was fooled into believing a sound was coming from my room and not the headphones. The imaging on the 15G was great, with tight, focused audio cues, which were easy to poinpoint in the virtual space. The depth isn't the most impressive for a dynamic headphone, but I didn't have much, if any problem with it's presentation.



Positioning:

Rating: Great

The 15G is easily one of the best sub-$100 headphones for positional cues. The positional cues were sharp, tight, and focused, though some can make a valid argument that sounds can be more distant than the typical dynamic headphone without S-Logic. I place more importance towards the direction of sound placement more than the distance (as my eyes can take care of the rest, once I face the direction of sounds), so I don't have too much of a problem dominating shooter games with the 15G's positional prowess.



Clarity:

Rating: Good

Clarity in the 15G is considerably improved compared to the HS-15, which was quite warm and veiled in comparison. The 15G is still on the warm side, but nowhere near as muffled or stuffy. The bass tilt on the 15G takes it's seat as the dominant aspect of it's sound, though the mids and treble are generally on equal footing, and unhampered by the bass in general. As stated previously, most of the shortcomings in clarity can be blamed on S-logic pushing things further back in the soundstage, and less because of the potent bass.



Amping:

Recommended

The 15G needs an amp more for volume than drivability, as it has a low volume output with general sources by design. I don't personally find the 15G hard to drive, though some sources can limit the 15G to moderate volumes, where I prefer a moderately high level (nothing ear piercing). I recommend a portable amp, which is all that is necessary for the 15G, or at the most, an entry desktop amp for convenience, which should be more than necessary. I feel a neutral amp like the O2 should be a great match for the 15G.



Personal Recommendation?

Movies, Music, In General? Yes
Gaming? Yes

Potent bass, and great soundstage lead to a very fun, immersive headphone which lends it self perfectly to bass driven music, action movies, and immersive games. Don't expect it to highlight vocals, acoustic music, or any real audiophile-specific necessities where detail retrieval is of utmost importance.

Those looking for a sub-$100 headphone, should really look out for the 15G in particular. I recommend the 15G for those who want a general purpose headphone, where fun is favored over analyzing details.



Comparisons:

The only headphones I can truly compare it to in terms of uses and general sound signature are the Beyerdynamic DT990, HiFiMAN HE-400, and Philips Fidelio X1, all which are better overall, but considerably more expensive, heavier, and less comfortable overall.

The Sennheiser PX100-II is a solid music alternative to the HFI-15G in the sub-$100 price range if you prefer a warm, mid rich, and smooth, non-fatiguing headphone. The PX100-II is undoubtedly the more music-friendly headphone with a more stable sound signature, but it's quite clampy and less comfortable (considerably more external ear fatigue), and less gamer friendly, with a more closed in soundstage. Note: No review is planned for the PX100-II in the near future.



Final Impressions:

The HFI-15G won't win any awards based on it's aesthetics or sheer technical ability, but it's fun, bassy signature, and great synergy with virtual surround puts it high on my recommendations for fun uses like immersive gaming, bass driven music, and action movies, all at an affordable price. It's just a great headphone for those who want to have fun, and don't want to deal with the typical bass looseness and muffled sound of headphones that normally cater towards the fun side at an entry-level price.



Likes, Dislikes, and Unfiltered Thoughts:

What I like:

The bass
Fun factor
Immersion
Comfort
Soundstage
Build quality (despite cheap looks)
Price

What I don't like:

Thin midrange
The cable could be longer (though it does come with a generous extension cable)
Could stand have a better transition from bass to mids.
Upper mids could stand to be less recessed relative to the treble spike
Finicky with ear placement
Pads aren't removable
Doesn't fold flat or collapse inward
May be hard to find nowadays

Unfiltered Thoughts:

I really like this headphone. Quite an improvement over the HS-15 which was just too warm and veiled for my taste. My right ear gets a bit sore after awhile, which is annoying as I love to wear these up until that point. I think that's a personal issue, though. While it isn't perfect, the sound signature lends itself well to my kind of music, and types of movies and games I play. There isn't much to complain about, to be honest.


Fun: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
Fun is the 15G's forte, with great bass impact, deep immersion, and plenty of potential for wow inducing moments in movies and games.
Competitive: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
While the 15G is leaning towards fun, I had little issue dominating with it in competitive games. The well controlled bass, sharp audio cues, and solid soundstage for gaming makes the 15G quite a competent headphone, though those looking for competitive oriented headphones first, should look elsewhere.
Comfort: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
Regardless of whether any other headphone is on ear or over ear, there simply isn't much out there that is as comfortable as the HFI-15G, though if you're particularly sensitive to on ears, they may induce some soreness after prolonged periods.
Overall: 7.25/10 (Good) (Click to show)
Affordable, sturdy, very comfortable, super light, and fun. That is really all that needs to be said.










Tier B: $150-300











AKG K612 Pro

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 80
Street Price: $175-range

Where To Buy: Amazon.com

Review (Click to show)

Before I get started, I'd like to thank guide contributor and friend, @Change is Good for sending the K612 Pro for review. Had it not been for him, very little chance these would've ever had a review on the guide.

The K612 Pro. A direct successor to the K601, though I haven't confirmed whether it's a simple headphone refresh, or if they actually updated the drivers. I haven't had any experience with the standard K601, so I personally can't prove this to be true or not. Knowing AKG and their reluctance to give up their headphones for improved models, I'll assume the K612 Pro sounds near identical to the K601. Based on all I have read of the K601 and what I have experienced with the K612 Pro... it wouldn't surprise me if the only difference was entirely cosmetic. I've been told that the K612 and K601 sound near identical, with the K612 having just a hint more bass. If so, it is definitely worthwhile getting the K612 over the K601, as the K612's bass is a standout.



Build Quality:

Rating: Great

As with the other AKG models I have owned or tested, the K612 Pro shares the same exact design and frame as the K601, K701, K702, Q701, K702 65th Anniversary, and K712 Pro. The only key differences being the leather headband shape, and the cable being non-removable.

Made of a durable plastic, I find the build quality to be quite good. I wouldn't toss them around haphazardly, but they'd definitely survive some abuse.

Compared to the 7xx models, the headband is larger/wider. The biggest difference (and it's incredibly significant), is that the underside of the headband no longer has the notorious (7-8) bumps, and is instead completely smooth. This basically turns the K612 Pro from a torture device to a relatively comfortable headphone, with some nitpicks. There is no padding, which is a shame, as it could soften up the hard leather used. The headband distributes pressure evenly across where it rests, though it does pull down towards the scalp quite a bit.

The velour pads feel mostly reminiscent of the K701, K702, and Q701 pads, with the key difference being that they aren't angled. They are large and relatively deep, and should fit most if not all types of ears. The pads are a bit firm, and lack the comfort of the K702 Anniversary or K712 Pro's memory foam velour pads. The upside to this, is that it allows the ears to breathe a little more.

The cable is not detachable (unlike the 7xx line). It terminates into a 3.5mm plug with a screw on 6.3mm adapter.



Accessories:

Unfortunately, the K612 is devoid of any accessories, other than a 6.3mm adapter connected to the cable.



Comfort:

Rating: Very Good to Great

The bad news:

- Hard leather headband with constant pressure downwards to the top of the head due to the tension of the suspension wires.
- Clampy. The pads are huge and a bit firm, and due to the clamp adds a bit of pressure on the upper jaw.

The good news:

+ The headband has no bumps unlike the K701, older K702, and Q701.
+ The K612 Pro is relatively light for it's large size, so pain to the neck is minimal compared to other, heavier headphones.
+ Auto-adjusting headband eases the pain of readjusting for a proper fit.

I find the K612 Pro to be relatively comfortable, despite having some downforce on the headband, and some moderate clamp. The biggest source of discomfort on the K612 is definitely the headband, though I'm sure that after a period of use, most will become get used to the feeling. Those with smaller heads will most likely find it even more comfortable.



Design Issues:

Can't say I personally find much to complain about the tried and tested AKG K6xx and K7xx design. My only main gripes with the K612 Pro is that the cable isn't detachable unlike the K7x2 variants and Q701. Also, the comfort could be better with some headband padding, softer ear pads, and less clamp.



Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Poor

The K612 is a fully open headphone, and as such, it is expected not to perform well for noise isolation/leakage. As I mention time and time again, reports of open headphone's leak tend to be severely exaggerated. Yes, you may bother someone in the same room, but never someone in another room, even with the door open. Unless you need absolute silence in the same room, open headphones don't leak so loud as to bother most people, even if they were in the same room.



Sound:

Rating: Great

While I have never heard the original K601, the K612 Pro sounds a lot like what I have read of the K601: The K612 Pro is easily one of the most linear and balanced headphones I've heard to date, even in comparison to the K701, K702, and Q701. It's a wonder how AKG manages to sell these for less, though I gather it's due to less refinement, especially at louder volumes (which tends to distort the drivers), and is handled with less finesse compared to how it behaves at moderate volume levels.

The K612 Pro isn't as musical as the K712 Pro and K702 65th Anniversary, but what you get is a faithful reproduction of music with fewer peaks that seem out of place. The body of sound is neither thick nor thin. It sits squarely between the two extremes.


Bass:

Rating: Very Good

The K612 Pro has a surprising amount of low end extension and fullness without artificial bumps. It reaches quite low (lower than even the bass boosted K712 Pro), which is quite rare of open dynamic headphones. In addition to the full and extended bass, the K612's mid bass isn't boosted, maintaining the K612's neutral balance.

The K612's bass isn't ever dominant, nor thin. It is present, natural, and safe. If you like a bass emphasized sound, look elsewhere, but if you like a generally well balanced and stable bass output, the K612 Pro does not disappoint.

The decay of the K612's bass is moderate in speed and nicely textured, though not as articulate as the 7xx series bass. The K612's bass isn't emphasized by any means, but it is present and accounted for at all times. Next to the K612 Pro, the K712 Pro has an added warmth and body to the mid bass, is snappier, but rolls off earlier. This gives sub bass better representation with the K612 Pro.

Due to it's great linearity, the K612 Pro makes a better rounded headphone compared to many other open headphones that roll off early with a strong mid bass hump. If you don't have a particular need for bass emphasis, but prefer accurate bass instead, the K612 Pro makes a fantastic choice especially for an open headphone.



Mids:

Rating: Great

The K612's linearity and balance leads to a natural midrange, barring a few hiccups in the upper midrange which can get a little tizzy and harsh. Vocals are expertly integrated with the bass and treble, never lagging behind or come off shouty and overly strident (other than the occasional sizzle in the upper registers). I personally find the K612 Pro to excel with non-aggressive music. Aggressive, energetic music can come off a bit unrefined at times, but the well composed, slower, more melodic music can really shine on the K612 Pro.



Treble:

Rating: Very Good

The K612 Pro's treble is generally balanced with the rest of the sound spectrum. The strength of a neutral balance proves itself worthy here. The K612 Pro is generally smooth in the extreme upper range, though it can at times sound sibilant and harsh. The treble does not lack detail, and contains just the right amount of shimmer and sparkle for most occasions. The treble flirts with between smoothness and brightness, and I wouldn't doubt it's characteristics changing depending on the tonality of the amp used. The treble can be on the grainy side, and can exacerbate the harshness found in some recordings. This is about the only real nitpick I have with the K612's signature, as everything else is top notch for the price.



Soundstage:

Rating: Great

The soundstage is generally large and spacious. It doesn't stand out amongst soundstage monsters, but like most things associated with the K612 Pro, the soundstage can be summed up with one word: natural. It lacks the dimensionality and layering of the K712 Pro's soundstage, but among the many open headphones I've tested, the soundstage comes out as one of the best when factoring all the benefits.



Positioning:

Rating: Excellent

Large, natural soundstage paired up with a clear, linear sound signature and neither thin nor thick body of sound will equate to an excellent sense of directionality. Positional cues are detailed and accurate, making the K612 Pro one of the strongest headphones for competitive use. Aural wallhacking is entirely possible with the K612 Pro.



Clarity:

Rating: Great

Linear headphones with no particular emphasis in the lower range will almost always tend to sound clear and detailed, the K612 Pro being no exception. All manner of frequencies play harmoniously with other ranges, so you won't find any masking of details anywhere in the sound.

The K612 Pro's linearity works against it when listening to badly mastered recordings. If a track is harsh, the K612 will play it harsh. If you have a lot of flawed tracks, I'd advise you use some other headphones. The K612 Pro demands quality. Garbage in, garbage out.



Amping:

Essential

The K612 Pro is a higher impedance than it's 7xx siblings, and therefore demands more power to hit a moderate volume in comparison. For gaming, you can forget about using the K612 Pro off the Mixamp alone if you attempt to use a mic. Even with the Mixamp putting all it's power on game audio, the K612 pro hits moderate, not high volume levels.

I recommend an amp with a warm signature to offset the slight tizzyness in the upper ranges, though it isn't crucial as the K612 Pro isn't exactly fatiguing.

The K612 Pro's neutral signature is bound to change in tonality depending on the amp used, so matching the K612 to a proper amp is essential. Again, I recommend a warmer sounding amp to better match the K612's neutrality and shave off the slight harshness up top.



Personal Recommendation?

Movies, Music, In General? Yes
Gaming? Yes

As long as it's understood that it's not a bass driven headphone, everything will fall into place. That being said, the bass is neutral and natural, never light. The K612 Pro is an all rounder through and through, which will work for most media, whether it's fun gaming, competitive gaming, music, and movies. Just be warned that it isn't as proficient with fast or aggressive music. Everything else is quite excellent, and even fast/aggressive music is still respectable off the K612 Pro.



Final Impressions:

The K612 Pro hits well above it's price range, with one of the most balanced, natural sound signatures I've personally heard. The large, spacious soundstage, clarity, and gaming prowess make the K612 Pro a likely candidate for one of the best all rounder recommendations under $200. The hype is justified. The K612 Pro is the real deal.


Fun: 7.25/10 (Good) (Click to show)
The K612 Pro isn't the most immersive headphone due to a fairly flat bass response that reaches deep down but isn't emphasized. That being said, the large soundstage lends itself well, and despite it's linear bass, it does have some chops and can hit with authority if demanded. Unless you need extra bass for immersion, I highly doubt you'll find much to complain about in terms of fun factor.
Competitive: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
The large, yet natural soundstage, clear, linear sound signature, and accurate positional cues make the K612 Pro a fine choice for competitive gaming and soundwhoring.
Comfort: 7.75/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
After you acclimate yourself to the downforce on the headband and moderate clamp, the K612 Pro can be worn for hours. Smaller heads may find the comfort to be great, even excellent.
Overall: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
There really isn't much competition against the K612 Pro in it's price range. If you want a balanced, yet engaging headphone, the K612 Pro is an ideal choice.











AKG K701 (K702)



update: my impressions are for an older K701 (7 bump version). New K701s (8 bumps on headband) MIGHT sound close, or the same as the Q701. Too many conflicting reports to say who is right, and who is wrong. All I know is that my old K701 sounded different enough from the newer Q701s.

Sells for around $250-300.
Review (Click to show)
Remember how I felt the AD700 did something to me? How it completely change my view on headphones and Dolby Headphone? Well, I got that same feeling again with the K701. In fact, I felt like god had given me the secret to just out right smite my enemies with the hammer of justice. The K701 to me, is pure, unadulterated, SMACKDOWN inducing OWNAGE. The very first time I used them (Modern Warfare 2), I went 2 straight 25-0 games in Free For All. I mean, holy smokes. The K701 was like wearing x-ray vision goggles for my ears. Depth, width, imaging, complete detail retrieval... it had it all. These to me, are the very vision of the perfect gaming headphone (with Dolby Headphone). I'd still place the overall positioning behind the DT770 Pro 80, and AD700, but it's on par with the HD598. We're talking about them being maybe a 9.9 instead of a 10 (which is what the 770s and AD700s are to me). Those two have NOTHING on the clarity and detail-whoring the K701 has. The bass is light, but present enough for it not to be anywhere near a complaint for me. It just works. You want my top pick for a purely godlike hardcore gaming headphone? The K70x is it. Now if only they were easy to drive. Believe it or not, the Mixamp does a good job driving the K70x, as long as you don't mix in voice chat whatsoever. Talking about leaving the game/voice balance completely on the game side. Once you nudge the balance away from game, the volume takes a steep dive, and you will note how badly the things need an amp.

Now I already know how volume =/= driving force, but for gaming with dolby headphone, you WON'T think about that or notice. Trust me, the Mixamp is enough for the K701 if again, you don't add voice chat. If you do, you WILL need to attach an amp to the Mixamp's headphone out, just to juice the K70x and voice chat audio. Yes, they do scale with good amping, but for the purpose of gaming, I don't deem it necessary, asides from when you're in need of voice chat.

Comfort-wise, quite polarizing. A lot of people have issue with the headband's bumps. I won't lie, they take getting used to. However, once you've beared with it enough, your head will get desensitized by that particular sensation. The bumps no longer affect me in the least. I find them decent to good. My main complaint now is that I wish the headband extended just a little more. I have to fully extend them to fit me properly, and it's quite noticeably felt, though it's not a real discomfort.
Fun: 6/10 (Decent) (Click to show)
There is SOME fullness to the old K701, though it is ultimately a sterile, and highly analytical headphone unless paired up with a very warm amp.
Competitve: 10/10 (Legendary) (Click to show)
The meaning of God-mode is strong with this one. If you want a headphone to pick apart details from everything arround you, this one is pretty hard to pass up.
Comfort: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
The bumps may be a factor for a lot of people.
Overall: 7.75 (Very Good) (Click to show)











AKG Q701



Sells for around $250 (more or less).
Review (Click to show)
Fun: I want to give them an 8 for fun, and they do deserve that most of the time, but there are times when you can tell that sub bass is lacking. Don't get me wrong, they can be bassy at times, but its leaning more towards mid bass punch, rather than the ambient/mood setting bass that I prefer. Still, they can get very fun at times, and anyone looking for a well balanced can that can perform great overall, make these a great choice.

Competitive: I can't directly compare the Q701 and K701 for competitive use, but no one should pass these up for the slight decrease in score. They are essentially just as good, but the K701 lacks a warmth I deem necessary for overall use, so you end up really focusing on details, which is the main strength in the K701. The emphasis on detail retrieval is what makes the K701 just beastly. The Q701 is tuned for more enjoyment FWIH, though they are still detail monsters, just not as glaringly obvious. As far as positional cues and accuracy, they are every bit as good as the K701. Soundstage may be just a smidge smaller, but I attribute that to the fuller sound. Soundstage to me is bigger on headphones that lack a lower end, letting the space breathe more.

Comfort-wise, quite polarizing. A lot of people have issue with the headband's bumps. I won't lie, they take getting used to. However, once you've beared with it enough, your head will get desensitized by that particular sensation. The bumps no longer affect me in the least. I find them decent to good. My main complaint now is that I wish the headband extended just a little more. I have to fully extend them to fit me properly, and it's quite noticeably felt, though it's not a real discomfort.

I need to mention that while the Q701 is a better overall can than the old K701 to me, the difference is not night and day. They essentially sound VERY similar, with a slight tonal difference. The difference was definitely enough for me to say it's worth choosing the Q701. Need to clear that up, in case people are expecting a big difference. Think of the Q701 as a very slightly EQ-ed K701, with added warmth and very slightly more bass.

Like the K701, they desire amping when using voice chat. The sound also scales with amping, but isn't really necessary.

Update 3/5/2013: So it seems that the K702 Anniversary and Q701 are essentially the same sound-wise, the difference being attributed to the K702 Anniversary having memory foam pads that alter the sound. The new sound gives these headphones a warmer, thicker body, with bass that now meets the mids, for an even more balanced sound, though not as immediately airy as the Q701 pads.

If you happen to already own the Q701, you might want to invest on some K712 pads which will bring the sound to a new level, one I personally feel is superior in bass, balance, body, and fun. The K712 pads will still allow the Q701 to be very detailed, and amazing for competitive play, but with the added benefit of being more fun.

Which is better? Well, now that they're known to be essentially the same with different pads being what harbors the difference in sound, the K702 Anniversary still has the added benefit of a flat headband which is much more comfortable. They are also limited in quantity and aesthetics, if you are into that. Buying new, the Q701 + K712 pads will cost less than $300, while the Annie is ready to go at around $375. If you are brave enough to mod the headband on the Q701, you can also pay for a K601 headband which will be flat and more comfy than the stock headband. Still, I have seen a thread on the mod, and doesn't seem easy. This will further bump up the price to perhaps around the Annie's price anyways. If you have owned the Q701 already, you can basically renew them for around $100 for the Annie pads and K601 headband, which is probably more appealing and cost effective than spending $375 to replace the Q701 for the Annie, barring selling your Q701 to fund for the Annie as some have done.

Fun: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
More warmth, fullness, and bass than the OLD K701. Still slightly lacking a little in bass most of the time, but engaging in other areas.
Competitive: 9.5/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
The Q701 is basically about 98% as good as the K701 for competitive use. The reason it gets a lower score is because it's not as competitive oriented as the K701, though ultimately, I would suggest the Q701 anyways, as it's more enjoyable all around and still god-mode inducing.
Comfort: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
The bumps may be an issue for some people, though I say they have to let their heads adjust to the feeling.
Overall: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)











Astro A40 (*headset*)
http://www.astrogaming.com/a40-audio-system-astro-edition



Sells for $249.99 (w/Mixamp 2013 Edition), $199.99 (headset alone)

Review (Click to show)

Before I get started, I really want to thank Skullcandy for getting in contact with me and giving me the chance to review the SLYR, as well as the A40+Mixamp 2013 Edition, and A50s on their Astrogaming side.... They have been very communicative, and understanding. Can't thank them enough.

Aah, things have come full circle. Back in 2009, the Astro A40+Mixamp bundle was my very first foray into headphone gaming. While they weren't what truly started the obsession as you all know it today (that goes to the AD700s, as they were a real eye-opener), the A40 was the first recommendation I was ever given. While I wasn't impressed by the bass light, hollow sound coming off the A40s, the Mixamp which became the most important purchase I had ever made in audio. So even though I didn't love the A40s, that bundle was the very beginning.

The current A40 Audio System comes with the Mixamp 2013 Edition, which brings in the addition of an Equalizer/preset button, to customize the sound on whatever headphone you have plugged in. The presets benefit the A40s greatly, as I will touch upon in the review. This review of the A40 will be when paired to the Mixamp 2013, compared to my other reviews which have been with the Mixamp 5.8. Makes more sense, as anyone interested in the A40 will more than likely buy it as a bundle with the Mixamp 2013 Edition. The differences in the Mixamps are that the 5.8 is slightly brighter and thinner sounding (a little clearer sounding overall), while the Mixamp 2013 Edition is warmer and thicker (which I find more beneficial to thin sounding headphones). The packaging is very well-crafted, and artistic. Astro surely knows how to present their items like no other headset company.

Upon first listen, I found that the A40s are quite warm and bass emphasized. A radical departure from the thin, cold, and hollow sounding old school A40s. The A50s are very bass heavy and muddy in it's innate sound signature, which the A40 thankfully isn't. Still, the A40s are not as balanced as I would have liked. That being said, the Mixamp's Media and Pro presets boosted the A40's clarity to really good levels, where I didn't find the A40s to lack in clarity for competitive gaming. The Core (flat) preset left the fun, general A40 signature, which worked quite well for non-competitive gaming. I dabbled in competitive gaming with the Core preset, and although not as detailed, was quite passable, so some people may not even need the other, clearer presets.



Build Quality:

Build-wise, I felt the parts used were pretty high quality. Astro made a pretty reliable looking headset here. Nothing looks or feels cheap. The plastic used looks high-grade, and looks like it can take a beating. I'd still handle it with care, however. The only area of 'weakness' that I'd be wary of, is the headband padding piece which sort of 'floats' in the center of the headband. Doesn't look like it'd be a problem, but it's the only area I can see that would probably be the first to give out with rough treatment.

The A40s swivel inward, so you can lay them flat if you need a breather. I find them very comfy letting them rest on my shoulders/neck area, which is rare compared to the vast majority of audiophile headphones which have huge cups, won't swivel, etc. The speaker tags covering the cups can be removed for a more open sound (more on that later). The boom mic is also removable, and can be placed on either cup. The cable is also removable. I attempted to use my own 3.5mm cables, but wasn't able to get any good sound. I believe it's due to the 'channels' being a bit deep into the cups to reach by standard cables, which only the Astro's supplied cables can reach properly.



Comfort:

I must have a ginormous head, as I have to wear the A40 fully extended. That, or they don't have enough give. On the opposite side of the size spectrum, the PC360 has enough extension to fit the head of a giant. I wish more headphones allowed that much freedom in size. The A40/A50 is comfortable, but they are at their limit with my head. It could use just a bit more extension, in my opinion. The pads are made of cloth/velour-like material, which is to say, they are quite comfy to my ears, and won't be heat building/sweat-inducing like typical pleather. I've felt better, but they do their job well.



Accessories:

Boom Microphone: Very high quality, and malleable boom mic. Astro has always had some very quality mics. Too bad, the mic can't be muted by flipping it up like the PC360, but it makes sense as it's removable, and the PC360's mic isn't.

Y cable (mic and audio): A must have for those wanting to use your own headphones and external microphone

Optical cable: A very nice, thick, and lengthy optical cable with a mini-optical side. Astro is stepping their game up here, as the old ones packaged in were a really thin, frail cable.

3.5mm male/male cable: For use with the mp3 input, though any 3.5mm male/male cable will work. Still, nice to have more.

Headset cable: The cable that plugs directly into the A40 and Mixamp itself and has the mic mute switch.

USB cable: To power the Mixamp as well as for PS3 voice chat. Any standard USB cable will work (I use an incredibly long USB cable).

2.5mm cable: For Xbox 360 chat. Plugs into the 360's controller to the Mixamp's controller input.



Isolation/Leakage:

In terms of letting sound in/out, I find the A40s to perform...decently. I do hear a fair amount of leakage, so I wouldn't crank these loudly if someone is near me sleeping. As far as keeping external noise out, I found that while using the A40s, it did a decent job overall. I wasn't truly bothered by external noise, though it's not particularly great at it. I blame the cloth pads, which sacrifices isolation/noise leakage protection for extra comfort/less sweat inducing.If you're like me and prefer to use the A40s with the speaker tags removed, isolation/leakage is even worse, as it functions more like an open headphone.



Microphone:

While I'm not too experienced with microphones, I didn't have any issues with my tests. It picks up my voice well. The microphone is long, pliable, and one of the better mics I have used. I don't see anyone having issues with this mic. The microphone is muted by the in-line mic mute switch on the Astro headset cable. The microphone can be placed on either side of the headset, in case you have a preference.



Bass:

The bass is a bit emphasized over the rest of the frequencies (easy to notice when using the A40 for music), but not as much as the A50s. Removing the speaker tags allows the bass to decay a little faster, which I find beneficial. The bass is strong and ever present, but not obnoxious. I personally prefer less bass on a gaming headset, as I feel headsets should be balanced all around. Too much bass muddies up details, which is never good in competitive gaming. The A40s are respectable in it's details, even with it's bass. The Mixamp has the Pro and Media presets which make the innate bass emphasis a non-issue.



Mids:

The mids are a bit recessed and pushed back due to the bass via default, but the Pro and Media presets bring out the mids quite a bit. The A40's innate sound signature could use more mid forwardness, but I've heard much worse.



Treble:

I find the treble to be a strong suit on the A40s. It's neither too emphasized, nor too recessed. It's in a pretty balanced region for my taste. Not overly refined, but for a headset, it's in a good place.



Soundstage:

As a pre-dominantly closed headset, with slight openness, I find the soundstage to be decently sized. Not as closed sounding as the SLYR, and not as spacious and large as the PC360. Removing the speaker tags adds just a hint more air, which is beneficial to the soundstage, though ultimately, the effect is minimal. It could use more depth and width to better aid the positional cues, but it's quite respectable for a partially open headset.



Positioning:

Due to the decent soundstage, positional cues are pretty good. I personally found positional cues to be pretty easy to pinpoint, but not on par with the better headset and headphones. For the purpose of all-around gaming, I doubt there will be much to complain about here.



Clarity:

The innate sound signature of the A40 is on the bass heavy, and warm side, and I found it a bit lacking in terms of details. However, the Mixamp's Media and Pro presets are quite detailed, greatly aiding the overall clarity. I also found clarity to be passable for gaming in the Core (flat) preset for fun gaming. It's no PC360, but the Mixamp's good presets boosts the A40's clarity to very good levels.



Amping:

I found the A40 needs no additional amping past what the Mixamp provides.



Value:

At $249.99 for the A40+Mixamp bundle, I find it to be an exceptional value. You are essential paying $130 for the Mixamp, and $120 for the A40s. At $120, the A40 is a pretty good headset overall, which benefits a lot from the Mixamp. At $199.99 for the A40 alone, I would not recommend it, as it is in a price range with some truly amazing headsets/headphones like the PC360, HD598, Q701, DT990, etc.



Final Impressions:

The A40+Mixamp bundle is more than likely all that many gamers will ever need for all forms of worry free gaming. The bundle offers the ability to have both fun and competitive sound everyone can enjoy. The A40s are a solid headset overall with few shortcomings.
Fun: 7.5/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
The innate sound signature has lively bass, with an enjoyable balance of the other frequencies.
Competitive: 7.5/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
Since people will undoubtedly pair the A40 with the Mixamp 2013 edition, the Mixamp has two presets (Media and Pro) that enhance clarity of details, greatly aiding calrity for competitive gaming. The positional cues/soundstage aren't the best, but they will perform quite well.
Comfort: 7.5/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
A pretty comfortable headset all around. No problem wearing them for hours on end, with just a few occasional times of re-adjusting them. My only complaint is that it could use a bit more extension for larger heads, as I have to wear it fully extended.
Overall: 7.25/10 (Good) (Click to show)











Astro A50 (*wireless headset*)
http://www.astrogaming.com/a50-wireless-system



Sells for $300
Review (Click to show)

Update: This review does not reflect changes made to the A50 via software updates. I reviewed the A50 when it was still incredibly new, and riddled with technical issues (though I didn't experience any). I assumed sound quality wasn't something you could fix with a simple update (after all, drivers have to be tuned in the factory), but Astro may have updated their presets to offset the A50's deficiencies and boominess.

Before I get started, I really want to thank Skullcandy for getting in contact with me and giving me the chance to review the SLYR, as well as the A40+Mixamp 2013 Edition, and A50s on their Astrogaming side.... They have been very communicative, and understanding. Can't thank them enough.

The Astro A50s. The first venture into fully wireless headsets for Astrogaming. Prior to the A50's inception, Astro released the discontinued, rare, and very sought out Mixamp 5.8. The Mixamp 5.8's main selling point was that any standard headphone or headset terminated with a 3.5mm plug could be attached to the Rx unit (receiver), essentially making them wireless. As you guys may know, I'm a humongous fan of the Mixamp 5.8, and it remains as my main gaming device when using my audiophile headphones. While it wasn't truly wireless (you still have your own headphone's wires to deal with), it did remove the tether always necessary between the console and yourself in wired setups, making it a more elegant, and cleaner solution than anything else before.

Unfortunately, Astro didn't find the Mixamp 5.8 to be a big seller, and sought out other solutions. This is rather unfortunate, as with more improvement and functionality, future iterations of the Mixamp 5.8 could have been a huge success in my eyes. Ah well, them's the breaks. So now Astro steered their focus away from the 5.8 and towards fully wireless headsets, the first being the Astro A50s.

Upon opening the freshly designed package, you are greeted with the A50, the transmitter (that shares the same body as the Mixamp 5.8's Tx unit, though different inputs/functionality), parts of a headphone stand (which is VERY nice of Astro to supply), and the necessary cables (which I will edit into this review later, as I have a mess of cables from 3 products at the moment).

Now onto the headset itself. Upon first listen, I was immediately attacked by a relentless assault of bass. Seriously, it absolutely surprised the hell out of me. My prior experience with an Astro headset was the first gen A40s, which was anything but bassy. For a $300 headset, I EXPECTED a well balanced, competitive oriented headset with nowhere near as much bass as the A50s have. In truth, I was quite put off by it.

The A50 has 3 presets:

Preset 1: Media (Bass enhanced)
Preset 2. Core (Balanced/flat)
Preset 3: Pro (Enhanced details in the mids and treble)

I found the only preset worth using was the Pro Preset, which wasn't bass light to begin with, but at least I could actually hear the details, and it was quite decent sounding, though ultimately catering more towards fun than competitive, and not exactly sounding balanced. In my future review of the Astro A40s (w/Mixamp 2013 Edition), you can see Astro's presets CAN be useful and maintain some clarity. Just...not much here.

I'm not even sure whether to fault the presets, the fact that it's wireless, or if it's the A50's drivers themselves. I plugged in the transmitter to my PC in which the transmitter functions as a USB dac/amp (as well as microphone). The presets as well as Dolby Headphone are disabled, allowing you to hear the drivers work at their most natural state. Well, it seems to be the drivers. They are quite bassy. I am quite literally confused as to why Astro decided to use such bassy drivers for their most expensive gaming headset.

The A50s weren't down for the count yet, though. While 2 of the three presets left a really bad taste in my mouth, I still had one functional preset. Firing up CoD4 (and later on MW2) revealed that the A50s were decent gaming performers albeit on the disappointing side in terms of sound quality. It does perform fine when getting down to the nitty gritty, with a little more bass than I'd prefer out of competitive gaming cans. While the audio quality isn't great, positional cues and details were decent to good. The problem is that it's a closed headset, and everything sounds congested. The A40s sound more open, airy, and balanced, even with the speaker tags on. As far as the wireless capabilities, I find it to be great, where it takes quite a bit of distance for the A50's to drop the audio. I didn't notice and snap, crackles, or pops, nor did I get any hiss until you crank the volume quite a bit past the point where I'd say it's humanly necessary.

I'll get to the specifics in the break down.



Build Quality:

The Astro A50 shares the same body and aesthetic design of the A40s, which is to say, they look/feel great for a headset. There are a few key differences from the A40s.

1. The microphone is permanently affixed to the left earcup. The A40's is removable.
2. The cups are closed, and unlike the A40s, can't be removed for a semi-open design. They are now fully closed.
3. The right cup can be pressed on the sides to adjust voice/game volume, similar to the Mixamp's voice/game knob, with the exception that it's two hidden buttons you press, not turn. Once you go completely towards the game or voice side, a chime will play, letting you know you're at 100% game or voice.
4. On the rear of the right cup is where the power button, preset slider (EQ), and volume adjustment is placed.
5. On the rear of the left cup is where the mini usb input (for charging), and the 2.5mm controller input (for the 360 controller) is placed.

Build-wise, I felt the parts used were pretty high quality. Astro made a pretty reliable looking headset here. Nothing looks or feels cheap. The plastic used looks high-grade, and looks like it can take a beating. I'd still handle it with care, however. The only area of 'weakness' that I'd be wary of, is the headband padding piece which sort of 'floats' in the center of the headband. Doesn't look like it'd be a problem, but it's the only area I can see that would probably be the first to give out with rough treatment.

The A50s swivel inward, so you can lay them flat if you need a breather. I find them very comfy letting them rest on my shoulders/neck area, which is rare compared to the vast majority of audiophile headphones which have huge cups, won't swivel, etc.



Comfort:

I must have a ginormous head, as I have to wear the A50's fully extended. That, or they don't have enough give. On the opposite side of the size spectrum, the PC360 has enough extension to fit the head of a giant. I wish more headphones allowed that much freedom in size. The A40/A50 is comfortable, but they are at their limit with my head. It could use just a bit more extension, in my opinion.

The pads are made of cloth/velour-like material, which is to say, they are quite comfy to my ears, and won't be heat building/sweat-inducing like typical pleather. I've felt better, but they do their job well.



Microphone:

While I'm not too experienced with microphones, I didn't have any issues with my tests. It picks up my voice well. The microphone is long, pliable, and one of the better mics I have used. I don't see anyone having issues with this mic. The microphone is muted when placed upright,m similar to the PC360. Much better than having to press a button.



Accessories:

Headphone stand: also has space for the Tx unit.

Tx unit (transmitter): optical input, optical output (passthrough), USB input (to pair and charge the A50), 3.5mm auxiliary input (for future accessories, mp3 players will not work.)

Cables: Optical cable, 2 mini USB cables. One for powering the Tx unit. This one will also feed the voice chat from the PS3 (has to be hooked up to the PS3 directly). The other is for charging the A50s. 2.5mm male/male for Xbox 360 voice chat capabilities, and the only cable you will need to constantly have attached if using voice chat on the 360.



Isolation/Leakage:

In terms of letting sound in/out, I find the A50s to perform...decently. I do hear a fair amount of leakage, so I wouldn't crank these loudly if someone is near me sleeping. As far as keeping external noise out, I found that while using the A50s, it did a decent job overall. I wasn't truly bothered by external noise, though it's not particularly great at it. I blame the cloth pads, which sacrifices isolation/noise leakage protection for extra comfort/less sweat inducing.



Bass:

As mentioned earlier, the bass is overly emphasized and boomy for a high-end headset. It's enjoyable on the bass light preset, but ultimately too strong to truly make this headset compete with the other, more balanced headsets like the PC360, SLYR, AX720, and Astro's own A40s. On the flat and bass heavy presets, the bass is loose, boomy, and sloppy. It mucks up the detail quite heavily, making these presets worthless. I'm seriously wondering if the default presets are causing this extra boominess, but I feel that if/when the custom presets become available, a lot of bass reduction is needed to compensate.



Mids:

Due to the heavy bass emphasis, mids are drowned out a bit. The mids are distant, but not lost. For the purpose of gaming, the mids are fine, but ultimately not forward. The Pro preset brings out the mids a bit more, which is helpful. For the other two presets, the mids are heavily recessed.



Treble:

With the good preset, treble is crisp and bright. It can get sibilant, but not many instances where I see treble being problematic. Again, the Media and Core presets place too much emphasis in bass, drowning out everything that isn't bass.



Soundstage:

Somewhat closed in. It's not going to win anyone over based on size.



Positioning:

Due to the closed sound, and not so large a soundstage, positioning isn't great, but it's not bad. It's passable, and sometimes even good.



Clarity:

To repeat what I have already mentioned, clarity is decent on the Pro preset with sparkly details, albeit somewhat artifical sounding. Clarity is just plain lacking on the Core and especially Media presets. The sound turns overly warm and bass heavy, and all details are sucked out.



Amping:

No possibility of being amped, as the transmitter can only take a digital signal, with no way to attach an amp. The A50 is fairly sensitive in either case.



Value:

This one isn't hard. It's $300. That's a hard number to swallow. The main benefit of the A50 is that it's wireless. You do get everything you'll ever want in one headset, but sound quality is clearly lacking. I prefer the sound quality of the SLYR, A40, AX720, PC360 by a considerable margin. The A50s are left behind on sound quality. If sound quality is important to you, I'd advise you get something else. It's that simple. In good conscience, I can't recommend the A50s based off it's sound quality. For the purpose of worry-free wireless gaming, the A50s are good enough on the Pro preset if being untethered is absolute top priority, though you will be making some sacrifices for the benefit of going wireless.



Final Impressions:

The A50's quite honestly make a better stereo headset than a Dolby Headphone one. I find it enjoyable for music off my PC, but not so much for gaming w/Dolby Headphone. Whether it's the drivers, or the internal amp in the headset, or the presets, the A50s put out bass oriented, and muddy sound for gaming.
Fun: 6.5/10 (Very Decent) (Click to show)
While the bass is strong, the only preset worthy to be used is the Pro preset, and ends up sounding heavily processed, which detracts from enjoying non-competitive games to their fullest extent. Bass adds to the immersion, but when you can't hear details, it sucks away from the fun factor, so I don't recommend the other two presets even if just for fun.
Competitive: 6.5/10 (Very Decent) (Click to show)
Again, the Pro preset brings out the detail which helps quite a bit, but the headphone is still on the bass heavy side which detracts from focusing as much as I'd personally like. The soundstage and positional cues aren't great, and the sound overall feels closed in, but for most gamers, the A50s would be at least, passable.
Comfort: 7.5/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
A pretty comfortable headset all around. No problem wearing them for hours on end, with just a few occasional times of re-adjusting them. My only complaint is that it could use a bit more extension for larger heads, as I have to wear it fully extended.
Overall: 6.5/10 (Very Decent) (Click to show)











Beyerdynamic DT770 (Pro 80 ohm)



Sells for $180-200.
Review (Click to show)
This is a heavy hitter. Very impressive for non-competitive gaming, especially if you wanna feel like you're in a movie theater. The bass is considerably super powered, and would make this a bad choice for competitive gaming. However, the soundstage depth and width is surprisingly large for a closed headphone. These also have some of the very best sense of distance when positioning sounds that I have heard. Too bad it's too wild in bass for hardcore FPS gaming. The finer details are pretty much sucked out because of the bass.

Like the other Beyers on this guide, they require amping to truly bring out their sound quality.
Fun: 8.5/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
This is easily one of those most immersive headphones I have used. The bass is incredibly full and fun, and the soundstage adds to the immersion.
Competitive: 6/10 (Decent) (Click to show)
Positional accuracy is fantastic, though the bloated bass makes it hard to pick up details.
Comfort: 7.25/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
The clamp is a bit strong, and the pads aren't as soft as the amazing DT880/990 pads.











Beyerdynamic DT880 (Premium)



Sells for around $250-300, though prices vary wildly by ohm version and depending on the day.
Review (Click to show)
Fantastic. Absolutely. Comfortable, durable, and prestigious. One of the best balanced signature I have heard. If you want a gaming headphone based off sound alone, the DT880 is a very good choice. It's so good, the sound works well in both hardcore gaming, and when just enjoying a game. The bass is quick, unobtrusive, but can get deep when the game calls for it (for example: Mass Effect 2, when you warp from one place to another, there is a low end rumble that sounds pretty **** epic on the DT880. Lovely. They do have one possibly major drawback. Think of yourself being in the center of a clock. Sounds with Dolby Headphone pretty much come from any direction relative to the clock.

The DT880s had a problem accurately depicting sounds that come from between 5 o clock to 7 o clock. Pretty much everything behind you. It actually sounds closer to the center, as opposed to sounding like it's actually behind you. With practice you can LEARN the distinct signature a rear sound makes with the 880s, but it will take you a split second to register that it's coming from behind you. That split second is enough to get you killed in an FPS game. Trust me. This is an issue with all models of the Premium DT880s, as I have compared with a few of my AVS friends who have owned different versions. They all arrived to the same conclusion.

If FPS gaming isn't a priority, don't skip these. They are wonderful for almost all uses.

Comfort-wise, they can be a hit or miss. One, the padding is pretty much the best I've felt on ANY headphone, ever. I love velour. The miss part is that the space for your ears to fit in isn't big and your ears will press against the padding protecting the drivers. It can be quite uncomfortable for some people. It didn't bother me, but I had another issue. The design has it where the pads will rest on my jaw, causing some pretty significant discomfort after a period of time. Hit or miss, really.

Like the other Beyers, they require amping to truly bring out their sound quality.

update: This listing is for the Premiums. I'd like to try the DT880 Pro 250ohm, as the slight difference in fit may give it enough of a difference both positioning and bass. I also want to mention that like all the Beyers on this guide, they require amping. Don't bother if you don't have a decent amp for them.
Fun: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
The DT880 has a very balanced sound with some great, accurate sounding bass. It may not be as powerful as other, bassy cans, but I find the sound as a whole to be very impressive for fun gaming.
Competitive: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
The positional cues could be better. The depth of the soundstage lacks a bit compared to the DT990, though it's still an open sounding headphone.
Comfort: 8.5/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
Overall: 8 (Great) (Click to show)











Beyerdynamic DT990 (Premium and Pro)



Sells for around $180-$200 for the Pros, and $250-379 for the Premiums, though prices vary wildly depending on ohm version, and day by day price changes.
Review (Click to show)
These are GREAT for gaming. Probably easier on the ears than they are for music, as the treble's edge isn't as pronounced in Dolby Headphone mode. There is a greater soundstage, more fantastic bass impact than the 880s (super quick and tight, and unobtrusive still, but more lively), and the detail retrieval is on par, if not better than the 880s due to the more emphasized treble, and just as detailed mids (though the mids aren't as forward as the bass and treble). If you want a more fun oriented sound than the 880s have for gaming, the 990s are it. The bass isn't boomy, but more omni-present, which adds to the immersion. They also work very well for the hardcore gamers out there who wanna nitpick the finer details in games like Call of Duty. Imaging is excellent, and overall positioning is better than the 880s. The hole between 5 and 7 is no longer there, though it's still not as good at judging front and rear sounds as my other faves. However it does it well enough for me that I happily sold the killer K701s as I saw no need to own anything for gaming after the 990s at the time. The treble WILL be too much for some people, though I believe that is more of an issue with it's use in regular stereo. For gaming, I didn't ever feel it got up there...

Comfort-wise, they can be truly great a hit or a miss for some. One, the padding is pretty much one of the best I've felt on any headphone. I love velour, especially ones as soft as these. The DT990 is very lightweight, and it will feel like pillows caressing the side of your head. The miss part is that the space for your ears to fit in isn't big and your ears may press against the padding protecting the drivers.

update: My original review was for the 600ohm. I have also used the 32ohm, 250ohm, and more 600ohm versions, and I must say, they're too much alike to consider them different headphones. There may be slight differences, but unless you have them side by side, they're very much the same headphone with different amping requirements.

Comparisons of the 32 vs 250 (Premium and Pro) vs 600 ohm:

The 32ohm is a lot easier to drive in terms of volume, though they scale quite a bit with amping, to the point that I thought they were just shy of the 600ohm. The 32ohm I feel is recommended for those who just want an amazing headphone to pair up with something like the Mixamp and possibly a portable amp.

As for differences between the higher ohm DT990, the 32ohm is slightly less refined, and the soundstage is slightly smaller in stereo mode. It also has a dryness to the sound compared to the 250 ohm Premium. One that wouldn't change my thoughts on it. The 600ohm is slightly better overall to the 32ohm, but to make it better than the 32ohm, you need a pretty good amp to bring out that potential. For most of us, the differences don't justify the hassle. Don't overlook the 32ohm, especially if you're not getting an ideal amp for 600ohm headphones. The 32ohm gets you 95% of the way there, with the benefit of being able to sound very good unamped, and better driven than the 600ohm on all but really good gear. You will still want an amp to bring out their sound quality, like the other Beyers on this guide.

The 250ohm Premium is also just like the 320hm and 600ohm, but it has a darker tone, fuller bass, and less mids than the 32ohm and 600ohm. The differences again, are very negligible, especially if you don't have all 3 to compare. The 250ohm is also more refined than the 32ohm, with a bigger soundstage, and the sound as a whole has more body/weight, but again, the mids aren't as forward as the 32ohm or 600ohm. The difference yet again, are slight. The 250ohm is harder to drive than the 32ohm in terms of VOLUME, and only on certain sources will a portable amp be enough. To be safe, you'll want a desktop amp for the 250ohm.

The Pro 250ohm model sounds just like the Premium 250ohm model, but it has a bit more clamp so the bass is raised slightly, and soundstage is slightly lessened, (though still very similar to the Premium 250ohm, and still bigger than the 32ohm DT990). Because the Pro model is the cheapest, if you're looking to save some money and don't mind the retro look and stronger clamp, the DT990 Pro 250ohm gets you 99.9% the same sound as the Premium 250ohm.

The 600ohm is the most refined, and shares more in common with the 32ohm than the 250ohm, but just barely. The bass is tighter with very slightly less impact than the 250ohm. Like the 32ohm, the mids are ever so slightly more forward than the 250ohm. The soundstage is like the 250ohm, which is to say, slightly larger than the 32ohm. The 600ohm deserves some real good amping to make it worthwhile over the 32/250ohm variants. If you don't plan on getting something in the realm of $250+ for a bonafied desktop amp, get the 250ohm instead, though recent comparisons using the E09K have shown me that the 600ohm is still the better can (literally by a micro hair).

Now, when using a Dolby Headphone device (also using an amp to help drive the Beyers), I found them all to sound almost too similar. virtual surround positioning, soundstage, and tone where all incredibly similar. Made the differences even harder to discern than when listening to music, etc, without the Mixamp.

Because they're all so similar, I won't be giving them different scores. They're all within a hair of each other for fun, competitive, and obviously comfort.

Fun: 8.5/10 (Excellent)

Competitive: 8/10 (Great)

Comfort: 8.5/10 (8/10 for the 990 Pros due to stronger clamp)











Monster DNA On Ear




Monsterproducts.com

Sells for $199.95

Where To Buy: Amazon
Review (Click to show)
I'd like to thank Monster for giving me the opportunity to test and review the Monster DNA On Ear (the second DNA product sent in for review, the DNA Pro being the first). Placed next to the higher end DNA Pro, it isn't hard to see the difference in size and functionality. The DNA On Ear was released quite a bit earlier than the Pro model, and was tuned a bit differently as well. The DNA on Ear targets a more active demographic, with smaller, more portable, lighter, and (in my opinion), sleeker looks (despite a very similar aesthetic).

How did the DNA On Ear compare to other supraaural headphones, and more importantly, how did it compare to it's younger, bigger, and more expensive sibling? Let's find out...



Build Quality:

I received the Black Tuxedo DNA On Ear, which was visually striking compared to the straight matte black DNA Pro I had on hand. Color differences aside, most of what was said in the DNA Pro review holds true for the DNA On Ear, with two exceptions:

- The metal hinges are on the cup side (as opposed to the DNA Pro's metal hinge being on the headband side).
- The pads are smaller, supraaural (they rest on the ears), and circular in shape (not like the DNA Pro's triangular shape).

I'll paste most of what I said of the DNA Pro's build quality, bolding the edited parts to account for DNA On Ear's difference, as well as omitting DNA Pro specific musings:

The headband isn't generously or even moderately padded, instead using what seems to be a sweat-resistant rubbery material. If anything can be said of the padding, is that it should be very easy to keep clean. The adjustment mechanism doesn't have any markings/notches, yet feels very secure, so there shouldn't be any worries with the DNA On Ear losing your preferred size/extension (which I believe for many people is going to always be fully extended). They also collapse inwards to allow for a smaller footprint/easier storing/portability with it's included travel bag.

The outer cup sports a mirror-esque triangular shape with the DNA logo embossed in the middle. The reflective 'triangle' is the only area on the headphone prone to fingerprint smudges. The rest is glossy black and prone to fingerprints, as with all manner of black and glossy things in the world. Moving on to the portion housing the drivers, it swivels/rotates just enough to to cater to different head shapes, but doesn't have a large amount of freedom in any direction.

The ear pads are of synthetic leather. They are soft, and airy (to the point that you can hear the air move if you compress the pads). The pads are dense enough to retain just enough of it's shape without flattening out and crushing your ears against the drivers. From what I can tell, they don't seem to be user replaceable.

Both cups house 3.5mm inputs for personal preference as to whichever side you'd like to use the audio cable on. The exposed side can be used to share the source signal (MusicShare™), whether it's with other headphones (which is great for A/B testing, assuming the headphone connected has a similar decibel level), or even something like speakers if you'd like. I'm generally used to headphone's cables being attached to the left ear cup (typical of single ended headphones), but you can be rebel against the norm and use the right side. Removable cables are always a plus, especially using the standard 3.5mm input, as it allows the user to use whichever standard audio cable they'd like. That being said, the two flat cables supplied are tangle-resistant, which is always a plus in my book. However, I'm not a fan of the grippy surface of the cables, which tend to snag on my clothing and other objects. There have been worse offenders in that area, however.


The DNA Pro's right cup snapped off the headband recently, which is really not a good sign for it's build quality. The DNA On Ear seems to be on par with the Pro's build, though the extension arms are thinner and likely to be less durable. However, I don't see this being a weak point on either DNA, with the weak point actually being the entry point of the headband, which I'll talk about in the Design Issues section.



Accessories:

The DNA On Ear comes with:

ControlTalk Cable for Apple - a flat 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable with an inline mic with volume buttons. One side ends in a right angle, perfect for pocket use.

MusicShare Cable - 3.5mm to 3.5mm flat cable. This is apparently for when you want to attach a headphone from the DNA to another headphone with a 3.5mm input. However, it's just a basic cable that you can use as your main cable, though it's pretty short (looks to be 3.5ft or so). Good thing is that the DNA On ear has a standard 3.5mm input, so you can use any 3.5mm cable.

Stylish Carrying Pouch - A very nice pouch that should keep the DNA On Ear from getting scratched while on the go, though not much else. It has a string to close tightly, as well as a clip/hook in case you're the type of person who likes to attach things to their pants.

Monster Cleaning cloth - Self explanatory. Good for wiping away the eventual fingerprints and smudges on the gloss.

All in all, I'd say the DNA On Ear comes well equipped with all the necessities, with the exception being a lack of 6.3mm adapter if you plan on attaching these to audio receivers/desktop amps.



Comfort:

Rating: Decent

The DNA On Ear has a few things going against it in terms of comfort:

-It's an on ear design
-Fake leather pads

These two things, paired up with a strong clamping force will almost always lead to a disaster, comfort-wise (Audio Technica ES7). Thankfully, the DNA On ear doesn't clamp strongly. It clamps with just the right amount of force to keep it secured to the head in most situations. That leaves you to contend with it's on ear design and pads. I have recently found out that an on ear design doesn't have to be uncomfortable or torturous, having experienced relatively comfortable headphones like the B&W P3, P5, Astro A30s, Sennheiser Momentum On Ear, and my favorite in comfort, the Ultrasone HS-15 (which is arguably one of the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn, period).

The DNA On Ear isn't going to win any awards based on comfort. Most times it will be respectable. I favor it over the DNA Pro's comfort any day of the week, though I'd say it's only a marginal (but noticeable) improvement. I can wear it for hours on end, and it won't bother me too much, but after awhile, my ears will start to feel raw from the pleather pads. In short, the DNA On Ear's pleather pads harm it's potentially good, or even great comfort. The positive aspects of it's comfort are it's incredibly light weight (no neck fatigue), and small cup dimensions, which makes the DNA On Ear a very good choice for using while laying down and relaxing.

Ironically, while small, the DNA On Ear reaches down to my ears without stressing the extension arms, unlike the bigger DNA Pro. I still have to use them with the arms fully extended, but it's a comfortable length, and it isn't constantly pressing down towards the top of my skull like the DNA Pro.

While the headband has very minimal padding, it's hardly worth mentioning, as the DNA On Ear's weight is mostly supported by the pads/clamp. The headband merely rests on my head, so the little bit of padding used is quite sufficient.

To sum it all up in terms of comfort, the DNA On Ear is decent overall. It could've been very good, even great if non-pleather pads were used. I have been using it as my main headphone for weeks (at the time of this review), and I didn't have much to complain about with the exception of my ears getting quite a bit sore/red due to the pads. Everything else was top notch in comfort.



Design Issues:

- The entry part of the headband that meets with the extension arms is a definite point of weakness. With enough force, the top part of the headband can separate from the bottom part, potentially causing it to snap. I advise everyone to be careful when adjusting the size on your head, and when collapsing the headphone.

Here is an image of what I'm referring to:

*

As you can see, the headband is starting to split from the stress caused by the extension arm. This is the exact same thing that happened to the DNA Pro which later caused a breaking point, only it was on the cup side, as the hinge was on the opposite from the DNA On Ear. On my particular DNA On Ear this is happening on the left side only. I don't abuse my headphones (sans a few unfortunate ones like the PX100-II and KSC75), so seeing this problem occuring on both the DNA On Ear and DNA Pro is definitely worth noting.



Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Great

The DNA on Ear does a great job controlling noise leak, as well as keeping external noise out when in use. It's not the best at attenuating external noises when nothing is playing, but once the DNA On ear plays at a moderate level, the outside world won't be much of a distraction.



Sound:

Rating: Good

While I didn't expect the DNA On Ear to reach the same level of finesse and technical brilliance as the DNA Pro, I found the DNA On Ear to win me over for different reasons. It is undoubtedly more mainstream oriented than the DNA Pro, with a warm, bass-driven sound signature, without the upper range harshness associated with many mainstream headphones typical tuning. It's actually quite surprising how 'big' it sounds. It throws off a big sound, with a lot of body.

The DNA On Ear is bass first, mids second, treble on par to slightly behind the mids. This means it's warm, full sounding, and non-fatiguing. This is not typical of mainstream branded headphones which tend to have strong bass, a thin midrange, and sparkly, if a bit too much emphasis on treble, which borders on being too fatiguing.

The DNA On Ear will cater to a large demographic, particularly those who want bass, good mids, without it being too basshead-friendly. It's tuning doesn't scream reference, but it doesn't make it less enjoyable either. The DNA On Ear is for those who want fun, lively sound, without analyzing it's intricacies or lack thereof.



Bass:

Rating: Decent

The DNA On Ear's bass is full, and the most dominant part of the sound spectrum. However, that doesn't mean it specifically caters to bassheads. The bass isn't obnoxious, though it's level can impact the level of clarity in the mids and treble. The bass leads to a nice warmth added to the sound signature, without making the sound signature overly dark, muddy, or veiled (for example, the Nuforce HP800 which is a bit too bassy and overly smooth for my taste).

The DNA OE's bass is on the slow side, soft of note, and it can sound one-note-ish. On the downside, it could stand to be a bit tighter, sharper, faster, and more textured, which the DNA Pro definitely improved upon in comparison. The warm, full bass really lends itself to mainstream music and immersion for media such as action movies or games. The bass definitely makes the DNA On Ear a very fun headphone to use, despite it's flaws.

If you want tight, accurate bass, the DNA Pro is a better choice when it comes to Monster's offerings. If you want a full, heavy bottom end, the DNA On Ear can bring much satisfaction. Bear in mind, the flaws in the DNA On Ear's bass is much less apparent when listening to genres that aren't so reliant on bass. The DNA On Ear can sound particularly clean and well behaved on a regular basis, though if you have many bass heavy tracks, the bass bloom will make the DNA On Ear sound a bit unrefined and lacking in detail compared to other headphones with tighter bass.



Mids:

Rating: Good

The mids can be deemed to be 'on the level' by normal standards, whenever the bass isn't in full swing. The mids are warm, full sounding, and enjoyable. They can sound a hint laid back when bass is dominating a track, however. I sincerely believe the mids will be either good or ok depending on the track played, mostly due to the DNA's general bass bloom. Overall, I'd say the mids sound just south of neutral. Asides from the bass, I find the mids to sound relatively organic, (always a good thing).



Treble:

Rating: Good

The DNA On Ear's treble is easily what I could only describe as safe. It's neither overly sparkly or overly rolled off. It doesn't particularly shine or extend infinitely, and it doesn't completely soften up the upper range enough to consider it a smooth headphone in general. I personally like the treble, as it lends itself well to the vocals/mids in particular. The treble (along with the mids), is very reliant on the level of bass. Overall, I'd say it's on the soft/smooth side, though not veiled level smooth. If you're sensitive to treble spikes, the DNA On Ear will be a safe choice. If you don't like overly smooth or rolled off treble, the DNA On Ear may still be a safe choice. It lives in the happy medium between to two extremes, if just a hair on the smooth side.



Soundstage:

Stereo: Decent
Virtual surround: Decent

Keep in mind, I was NOT given the DNA On Ear to review for gaming in particular. A headphone like this would normally fall under headphones I'd use mainly for music and nothing else. However, I figured I'd go through my normal process of reviewing a headphone for all manner of things.

The DNA On Ear's soundstage was what I expected from a closed, on ear headphone with a general bass bloom: On the small side. The DNA On Ear's soundstage plays to it's strengths: Mainstream, bass oriented music. It's intimate, immediate, and somewhat in your face. Not something that will lend itself to gaming and spatial awareness.

For virtual surround gaming, I actually found it to work surprisingly well. At the time of this review, I paired up the DNA On Ear with a V-moda BoomPro microphone cable, and it became my main gaming head(set). I must say, while I noted it's lack of soundstage in general, it wasn't completely devoid of one, and the soundstage was just enough to give the positional cues enough space to perform well.

The positive aspect of it's soundstage (in comparison to the DNA Pro) is that while it wasn't large by any means, it felt more circular in shape, whereas the DNA Pro had more oval shaped soundstage that favored width over depth.



Positioning:

Rating: Good

As stated earlier, closed, well-isolating, on ear headphones would throw all sorts of warning signs my way. Headphones like this wouldn't normally perform well for gaming based on my preferences of a large soundstage, and precise imaging and positional cues.

The DNA On Ear doesn't have a big soundstage, nor does it have the sharpest, most focused imaging. To my surprise, the positional cues were still relatively easy to locate, despite it lacking the clarity of the better headphones I've reviewed. While it lacked the clarity, accuracy, width, and spaciousness of the DNA Pro, the On Ear's soundstage came off as more circular, which benefits the transition from side positional cues to ones in the rear. It was easier to identify what positional cues were behind me in comparison to the DNA Pro.



Clarity:

Rating: Decent

The DNA On Ear's clarity is in all honesty, at the mercy of it's bass. As stated before, If a source isn't bass heavy, the mids and treble come off cleanly and evenly. The clarity's biggest enemy is the bass bloom which detracts a bit from the DNA On Ear's strengths in it's tonal balance after the bass.

One other (and important) thing to note: The DNA On Ear likes to be played on the louder side, due to an increase in mid and treble clarity. While the bass may be big and prevalent, it is soft hitting, so it won't mask the mids or treble's increase in clarity, from what I have experienced. Since the mids and treble are generally even with one another, you won't gain unnecessary upper range harshness relative to it's vocals/mids.

If you tend to listen to headphones at a low decibel, the DNA On Ear will more than likely come off as a little muted, hazy and undetailed. This leads me to the conclusion that the DNA On Ear caters to the younger, mainstream crowd that likes their music on the louder side. Ear splitting levels are not necessary, but moderately high volumes seem to be the DNA on ear's sweet spot. At these volumes, the DNA On Ear sounds clear, balanced, and energetic.



Amping:

Not necessary

The DNA On Ear is one of the most sensitive headphones I have used in a long time, and sounds quite full and engaging off minimal amping. If anything, a portable amp will be more than enough to tighten up the sound a hair, but isn't necessary. If you absolutely must use an amp, I recommend on using solid state amp that is tight, fast, and on the neutral to cold side which would help offset the warmer/slightly smooth tonality of the DNA On ear.



Personal Recommendation?

Movies, Music, In General? Yes
Gaming? Yes

While it isn't one of the most detailed and refined headphones I have tested/owned/reviewed, the tonality is enjoyable for a broad range of music, movies and games. It's full bass adds a ton of immersion for games and movies. The relatively well balanced mids and treble won't cause any aspect of those ranges to sound lacking, especially at moderately high volume level. It's performance for gaming wasn't a stand out, but it performed well enough to pass my tests. In short, the DNA On Ear is enjoyable for all purposes, though it isn't without flaws. It wouldn't be my first or second choice for either purpose, but if you happen to own the On Ear, you can rest easy in knowing that it can put in some good work for all media that doesn't bear a huge importance in detail retrieval.

The DNA On Ear's performance works well enough for me to be happy with it for all around use.

The DNA Pro is a more audiophile friendly headphone, with a cleaner, tighter, sharper, and more focused sound, with fantastic stereo soundstage and clarity. In direct comparison, the DNA On Ear will come off a bit bloated in the bass, slower, lacking in detail, and hazy. The DNA On Ear does have a more circular soundstage for gaming, which I actually do prefer despite it being smaller and having less clarity and precision. The DNA On Ear's bass may be a little more immersive, but since it isn't as refined as the DNA Pro's, I'd score the Pro's fun a bit higher overall.

To be quite honest, they don't share a similar sound. The DNA On Ear is more specialized and tuned for specific purposes, while the DNA Pro has a tonal balance and quality that can be used for all purposes. They are both quite acceptable as all rounders, with the On ear focusing on fun, and the Pro focusing more on refinement and quality.



Final Impressions:

The Monster DNA On Ear will undoubtedly resonate more with the mainstream/casual demographic over the audiophile community. The DNA On Ear has big bass that isn't overly dominant, but the heart of it's sound nevertheless. The mid and treble sections are well presented after the bass. The DNA On Ear will be for those who want an attractive, very portable headphone with an upfront presentation without the fatigue of overly aggressive treble. What it lacks in refinement, it makes up with good immersion, good performance all around, and a sound that anyone can enjoy.

If Monster can manage to improve the build quality and lower the bass emphasis a tad, they can have a real winner with a future version of the DNA On Ear. As it stands, the DNA On Ear is a good headphone, though flawed. Most of the groundwork is done. Monster just needs to implement those improvements stated, which will turn the DNA On Ear not just to a good headphone...but a great one.
Fun: 7.5/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
I enjoy the DNA On Ear for all purposes, especially fun gaming and action movies. It's rounded soundstage allows some very good positional cues for added immersion. The potent bass adds a lot to the immersion, but it does take away from it's clarity a little bit.
Competitive: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
The DNA On Ear doesn't have a tough time placing rear sounds, which is always a plus for competitive gaming. The bass's emphasis can detract a little from the good mids and balanced treble, and the imaging isn't as sharp as it's younger, more proficient sibling, the DNA Pro. That said, the DNA On Ear is still one of the better closed headphones I've used for all forms of gaming, due to it's mostly all purpose sound signature, and ease of rear positional cues.
Comfort: 6.75/10 (Very Decent) (Click to show)
The comfort is hit and miss. It's incredibly lightweight, the clamp hits the sweet spot between too loose and too tight, the headband is a complete non-issue, and the pads are very soft. The problems mainly lie after prolonged use, when the pressure of the pads resting on the ears may make them quite sore and cause some noticeable discomfort.
Overall: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
The DNA On Ear is among the very few on ear headphones I actually enjoy, and certainly one the best on ears I've reviewed.










 

Monster DNA Pro



monsterproducts.com

MSRP $299.95

Where To Buy: Best Buy Exclusive ($279.99)
Review (Click to show)
I'd like to thank Monster for giving me the opportunity to test and review the Monster DNA Pro. Unless you've been living under a rock, Monster should be one of the most recognizable names in the headphone industry, if not THE most well known. I won't bore you with their history, since they should be a common household name by now. Monster can take a humongous chunk of credit as to why there has been a huge interest in the headphone market the past few years. Over the past few years (now completely separated from the Beats name), Monster has garnered a lot of positive attention from audiophiles with their release of the Turbines and Miles Davis Trumpet IEMs. Having proven their worth amongst audiophiles for their IEMs, they then made a move towards the portable/full-size market with their release of the DNA On Ear headphones, and now the DNA Pro Over Ear.

Having only previously owned the Monster Turbines IEM in their headphone line, I wasn't sure what to expect out of the DNA Pro. The Turbines, while definitely great sounding, were a bit too big for my ears, so I didn't keep them long enough due to personal issues with comfort (though to be quite honest, I find almost every IEM uncomfortable). How did the Monster DNA Pro fare with me? It surely had an uphill battle as a closed AND faux-leather padded headphone, but it wouldn't be the first time I've given a chance to headphones of that particular ilk. Personal bias towards open-backed/cloth padded headphones aside, I feel any and every headphone deserves a chance to prove themselves, regardless of make and model.

On to the DNA Pro...



Build Quality:

Rating: Very Decent

I received the matte-black DNA Pro, which I personally found aesthetically pleasing if a bit contemporary, urban/street styled. I generally prefer a classy approach, but for the general consumer, I feel they used the right amount of styling. Not so sure on the other colors, which are a bit too loud for my taste. I'm very thankful to have received the most 'normal' of all DNA color schemes. The DNA Pros are built mostly of plastic, save for some visible metal areas on the hinges. The plastic feels somewhat durable, though I feel that the exterior plastic piece with the 'DNA' label may be a weak point if some accidental stress is put on the size adjustment mechanism. It may potentially cause the that piece to separate from the inner piece with the L/R markings. Under normal use, I don't see this being an issue, but freak accidents aren't impossible. I have spotted some DNA Pros at my local Best Buy stores, and almost every single one (yes, all of them) had broken pieces on or near the DNA labelling. I have a feeling people are much too abusive with demo units, and I don't expect this to be a normal occurrence. Still, some careful handling should apply.

The headband isn't generously or even moderately padded, instead using what seems to be a sweat-resistant rubbery material. If anything can be said of the padding, is that it should be very easy to keep clean. The adjustment mechanism doesn't have any markings/notches, yet feels very secure, so there shouldn't be any worries with the DNA Pros losing your preferred size/extension (which I believe for many people is going to always be fully extended). They also collapse inwards to allow for a smaller footprint/easier storing/portability with it's included travel bag.

The outer cup sports a mirror-esque triangular shape with the DNA logo embossed in the middle. The reflective 'triangle' is the only area on the headphone prone to fingerprint smudges. Thankfully, the rest is matte black and resistant to fingerprints. Moving on to the portion housing the drivers, it swivels/rotates just enough to to cater to different head shapes, but doesn't have a large amount of freedom in any direction.

The ear pads are of synthetic leather. They are soft, and airy (to the point that you can hear the air move if you compress the pads). The pads are dense enough to retain just enough of it's shape without flattening out and crushing your ears against the drivers. The DNA Pro is marketed as over ear/circumaural, though on the smaller side, and may potentially cause the DNA Pro to fit as a supra-aural headphone. For my medium-sized ears, it fits just over my ears with some work. Not impossible to fit over ear unlike the Sennheiser Momentum (which I argue has a circumaural fit for people with freakishly small ears...or Hobbits). From what I can tell, they don't seem to be user replaceable.

Both cups house 3.5mm inputs for personal preference as to whichever side you'd like to use the audio cable on. The exposed side can be used to share the source signal (MusicShare™), whether it's with other headphones (which is great for A/B testing, assuming the headphone connected has a similar decibel level), or even something like speakers if you'd like. I'm generally used to headphone's cables being attached to the left ear cup (typical of single ended headphones), but you can be rebel against the norm and use the right side. Removable cables are always a plus, especially using the standard 3.5mm input, as it allows the user to use whichever standard audio cable they'd like.

That being said, I find the tangle-resistant coil cable supplied to be fantastic. It's around 6 feet, with the cable being straight up until the coiled end which can be stretched to add around 2 extra feet or so (by my guesstimation). The cable feels durable, with a nice amount of thickness, and without the horribly grippy texture found on other cables that love to snag on everything. Easily one of my favorite stock cables out of all the headphones I've reviewed/tested. It terminates into a standard 3.5mm plug with a thin barrel, which is appreciated as it should put less stress on 3.5mm jacks. I measured the cable's resistance at around 0.7ohm, so there really isn't any reason to replace it based on resistance alone.


Accessories:

The Monster DNA Pro comes with:

- 3.5mm to 3.5mm tangle-resistant coil cable

- ControlTalk® cable for Apple devices (one wasn't included in this review sample)

- Travel pouch (very high quality)

- Monster Clean Cloth

- 6.3mm snap-on adapter



Comfort:

Rating: Decent

This is one aspect of the DNA Pro I wish I could be happy with. My problem being that it simply doesn't extend far enough on my head. The DNA Pro has to be fully extended to reach my ears in the proper position, and at that point, the headband is pushing down against my skull, enough to leave a dent on my head after a brief session with it on. The headband has a lot of wasted horizontal space that I could use to allow the cups to reach lower (without needed as much extension), but due to their plastic design, I wouldn't be able to bend it in a more cone shape, as it wouldn't retain the shape. If Monster had allowed for around an inch more extension in the arms or had a more arch on the headband, a lot more people would be covered. As it stands... it fits me, though not ideal by any means.

Lack of headband extension aside, the DNA Pro is a bit clampy, which I assume was a choice to allow for a strong seal and secure fit at all times. The DNA Pro is not a headphone that 'disappears' on your head. The ear pads are relatively comfortable, with a few caveats. While they are soft, they do cling to the skin and isolate a bit too well. It traps heat, and the addition of clamp doesn't exactly help matters. If the DNA Pro didn't clamp as tightly, I could see the pads being one of the most comfortable synthetic-leather pads I've ever tested. They aren't removable from what I've personally seen, so no easy way to clean the pads or replace.

The DNA Pro is relatively light weight, and the cup's dimensions allow it to be used comfortably while laying down. Assuming it doesn't clamp so tightly on your head, it'd make a good 'laying down' headphone.



Design Issues:

The only real issues I have with the DNA Pro is:

- Could use more extension for bigger heads

- Ear pad diameter could stand to be wider/taller for those with bigger ears. They are also not easily removable.

- More arch on the headband as there is a lot of waste headband real estate



Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Fantastic

This is one of the areas the DNA Pro absolutely excels in. It is among the very best passive noise cancelling headphones I have personally heard, if not THE best. Once the music plays, you'll be hard pressed to hear most external noises. It also keeps sound in even at high volume levels. I don't see how anyone would complain about isolation with the DNA Pro.



Sound:

Rating: Great

The first thing I test with headphones is music, and from the moment I put on the DNA Pro, it was an instant success. People may be adversed to 'popular/mainstream' headphones, but I will say here and now, that selling the DNA Pro short, is a complete and utter mistake. It is a FANTASTIC sounding headphone, so much I'd say it's probably my favorite voicing of any headphone I've heard for my preference in music. Yes, it even outdoes my previous fave: the Philips Fidelio X1's tonal balance. I haven't had a chance to listen to the Philips Fidelio X1 in a while, but the DNA Pro reminded me a lot the X1 in a closed version it's sound They are both energetic and fun, yet in the realm of being well balanced. The one thing I do remember well is the X1's bass, being impressive for an open-backed design, yet being a bit too bloated at times. I'm personally a bit sensitive to mid bass bloat, and get fatigued by an abundance of it, even by headphones with moderate mid bass. The DNA Pro maintains a somewhat lively bass response, with excellent control that doesn't blanket the midrange, nor causes any discomfort.


Bass:

Rating: Great

As previously mentioned, The DNA Pro's bass is lively, as well as tactile, yet well controlled. It's not the the final word on speed and attack, instead choosing a happy medium between well-rounded fullness, and restraint. It's in the realm of balanced and moderately emphasized. The bass seems reliant on how well the DNA Pro seals on your ears. I have heard complaints that it rolls off a bit. I believe that is more of a fit issue, and not actual frequency response. To my ears, the DNA Pro's bass extends quite low, and I've never felt it lacking by any stretch of the word. It's surprising to me, as the DNA Pro doesn't exactly fit my head perfectly, yet I have zero issues with getting a good seal on the pads. As mentioned before, the pads aren't exactly the widest, and I could see an issue arising for those with larger ears, which may be breaking the seal enough to lose some bass.


Mids:

Rating: Good

The DNA Pro's mids are well defined, tight, and lean. Lean as in it doesn't take up as much headspace as some other headphones with a thicker sound (i.e. MA900, HD650, LCD2). It isn't the most impressive in terms of vocal warmth and intimacy, instead choosing to define them cleanly rather than making them forward. The mids slightly give way to more clarity in the upper ranges and fullness down in the bass. The mids however, are not blanketed by either bass or treble. They're nicely integrated, just not the main focus. I feel female vocals are a bit more impressive than male vocals on the DNA Pro. Female vocals tend to be a problem area on a LOT of headphones, so this is surprising and welcome.



Treble:

Rating: Great

It's been a while seems I've heard a headphone with some good sparkle and energy up top, and the DNA Pro has left me feeling quite impressed in this regard. Having been used to headphones that generally slope downwards and iron out the rough edges of an energetic upper range, I wasn't quite prepared to go back to a headphone with a tilt upwards in treble. I was expecting some ear fatigue caused by treble emphasis. The DNA Pro managed mostly quell my fears, with a clean treble presence that I have been missing of late. There is some grain up top, but I felt that it wasn't as prevalent as some other treble tilted headphones. The DNA Pro's treble is possibly one of the best examples I've heard to date. The few times I felt the DNA Pro to be harsh was few and far between, which is more than I can say for many headphones with treble this well extended.



Soundstage:

Stereo: Great
Virtual surround: Good

Here is where I was expecting the DNA Pro to suffer. Badly in fact. Headphones that seal this well, and clamp tightly don't tend to leave me impressed. Yet, again, the DNA Pro threw out a REALLY nice soundstage for a closed headphone. I mainly test soundstage in gaming, lately in both stereo and in virtual surround. As I played some games on my PSVita, I was incredibly impressed by how spacious the DNA Pro's sound appeared to be. Aided by the lean and tight spatial cues, there was a nice amount of air in between audio cues. The stereo separation can be summed up with one word: Stellar.

The soundstage was less impressive in Dolby Headphone virtual surround gaming, in part due to the added warmth Dolby headphone tends to impart on headphones. Closed headphones tend to suffer due to this warmth, and the DNA Pro is no exception. That being said, I was getting some inconsistency when it came to gauging the soundstage on the DNA pros. In some instances, the DNA Pro had open-like soundstage, yet in others, it sounded boxed in and unimpressive. Due to this, I'll say the DNA pro's soundstage is good overall, and even great at times, especially in stereo.



Positioning:

Rating: Very Good

As usual, soundstage and positional cues tend to go hand in hand, and while I felt the soundstage can be inconsistent at times in virtual surround, the positional cues were not. They were always quite precise to my ears, and clearly defined. Better defined than even the Sony MA-900 in direct comparison, which sounded hazy in comparison. The inconsistent soundstage would at times, box in the positional cues, making rear cues to sound less convincing.



Clarity:

Rating: Great

It has been awhile since I've heard a closed headphone sound this clean and energetic. It was definitely a surprise to my ears. As mentioned before, the bass isn't the fastest or tightest, though it stills hold great control of itself. The mids are clean, lean, focused and sharp. The treble holds plenty of air without becoming too edgy or grating. This all adds up to a fun, yet clean sounding headphone.



Amping:

Not necessary

I find the DNA Pro to be quite sensitive, and unless you like a particular flavor an amp adds, I don't see it really needing one. The DNA Pro sounds magnificent with minimal amping, everything else being icing on a pretty delicious cake.



Personal Recommendation?:

Movies, Music, In General ? Yes
Gaming? Maybe

I find it to be the best alternative I've personally heard to the Mad Dog for those looking for another well isolating/closed headphone with a bit more fun/energy. At around $280, if you want a well isolating headphone that controls noise like a world champion, easy to drive, portable, and stylish, the DNA Pro is an attractive option. If you happen to own the X1 and want something similar in closed form, the DNA Pro is quite close, from what I personally hear. I'm a bit adamant to recommend it as a GAMING headphone, however due to inconsistent soundstage which may make the DNA pro lag behind the better competitive gaming headphones.



Final Impressions:

I'm heavily leaning towards really loving the DNA Pro. They sound absolutely fantastic, with one of my absolute favorite sound signatures, tonal balance, and audio fidelity. In terms of a closed-back headphone, there truly isn't much more I can ask for that the DNA Pro doesn't happily provide. It's got great sound quality, amazing noise isolation, and demands very little power to sound fantastic.

My gripes with it are almost entirely on it's build quality, mainly how it ties directly to comfort (or lack thereof), due to strong clamp, lack of headband extension for bigger heads, synthetic-leather pads (which are admittedly comfortable for faux-leather, but still lacking in comfort in comparison to cloth/velour pads). These are personal gripes, and your mileage may vary. I expect those with smaller heads may find no real issue with the DNA Pro's comfort.
Fun: 8.25/10 (Great) (Click to show)
If you're in the market for closed headphones and want a fun tonality without sacrificing quality, I fully recommend the DNA Pro. Yes, it's that impressive.
Competitive: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
Great at times, but decent in others, I'll average the competitive aspect to be good. The clarity of sound cues is stellar, though with the soundstage being a bit closed in at times, I can't say it'd be a replacement to the more competitive open-backed headphones, even if some of them may not match the DNA Pro in definition.
Comfort: 6.5/10 (Decent) (Click to show)
Personally, I find them to be passable at best due to the tight fit that forces the headband against my skull, strong clamp, and faux-leather pads which trap heat. Those with smaller heads may have better luck in finding them more comfortable.
Overall: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
To say that the DNA Pro was a surprise is an understatement. The DNA Pro is a testament to Monster's constant evolution and growth. Had it been a bit more comfortable and durable, it would've easily been placed among my personal favorite headphones, period. While it may not particularly excel at gaming, it has everything else completely under it's control. If they manage to build upon the winner they have in the DNA Pro, I believe the Monster name will not only stay popular in the general consumer market, but in the audiophile market as well.











Philips Fidelio X1



Sells for $250-$300
Review (Click to show)

The Philips Fidelio X1. The flagship headphone in the Fidelio line, and quite possibly the final headphone made by Philips. If it is indeed the final headphone before Funai takes over, Philips sure went out with a bang.



Build Quality:

Rating: Fantastic

The X1 is a physical masterpiece in almost every way. Elegant and sleek design paired with a well machined construction puts headphones costing thrice as much to shame. The Fidelio X1 is easily the best looking full sized headphone I have ever laid eyes upon, with no tradeoffs in actual quality. Even the plastic used on the headphone doesn't feel like plastic, but something more akin to ceramic.

The cups are made of said plastic, with a wonderful feel of solidity, which connects to one another via two wires (like the AKG K70x line) encased in metal and strong leather. The open-backed design of the cups are protected via a beautiful mesh pattern/grill, possibly the prettiest of all headphones I've seen. It is tightly knit, which doesn't seem as open as something like the HD650's outer grill, yet it is still undoubtedly and utterly open. The left cup has a 3.5mm input for the audio cable, which makes it convenient, and easy to remove/replace/swap cables. As with all 3.5mm inputs, you'll want to be very careful when attaching/removing the cables.

The headband is a suspension type (again, like the AKG K70x line), which is very soft, and generously padded. It is quite large, covering a lot of head space wherever it rests. Ultimately, it is incredibly comfortable, though it is a bit problematic for larger heads, which I'll explain later.

Next, we have the ear pads. The pads are made of memory foam, covered in velour. This makes them incredibly soft and a bit more breatheable in comparison to leather/pleather pads. It isn't as dense as the K702 65th Anniversary pads, so it doesn't retain quite the same amount of memory foam properties. This makes them seal a little less through the pads, but doesn't trap as much heat as the AKG memory foam pads. They are quite thick, so those sensitive to ears being pressed against the driver enclosures shouldn't have an issue with the X1's pads.

On to the cable. The cable is quite possibly... scratch that, it IS the most beautiful stock cable I have ever seen on any headphone. It's long, cloth covered, thick, and soft/bendable without retaining cable memory. It terminates into a very nice 6.3mm (1/4") jack. As amazing as it looks... you will want to swap it for another cable, which I'll explain later.



Comfort:

Rating: Excellent

To put things as simple as possible, the Fidelio X1 is one of the most comfortable full-sized headphones you will ever wear. While it isn't the lightest headphone, it certainly isn't the heaviest, and whatever weight the X1 has is expertly spread around by the suspended headband, so it feels lighter than it really is.

The huge cups and pads allow the ears to fit inside comfortably, and the soft and airy velour padding keeps heat from building up compared to leather/pleather pads. No stickyness, and less heat is always a good thing in my book. The X1 could still stand to have more extension to allow bigger heads to fit with zero issues, as even with the post bending mod, the lack of extension will make the X1 press the headband down to your head. It's mostly harmless as the headband is so big and well padded, but it is worth noting.



Design Issues:

One of the biggest issues on the X1 (and there are only two real issues), is that the ear pads aren't removable. This makes it quite problematic to clean or replace. It is held in by four screw-like protrusions, and a strong adhesive. This makes it a quite a commitment to remove and place back on. Considering the masterful design of the X1, the ear pad assembly comes off as archaic and incredibly cumbersome. You may have to contact Philips for a replacement (possibly for a price) once the pads start wearing out. Problem there being that Philips quite possiby won't be in the headphone business soon, so there may not be a legitimate method of replacing the pads. You will definitely want to baby the pads, and try to keep them as clean as possible at all times. Some tape to remove particles/dust/etc, and not using the X1 when you're dirty.

The second (though less problematic) issue, is that the stock cable (as amazing as it looks and feels) has a very high resistance (around 1.8ohm). That is unnaturally high for an audio cable, and it does cause a negative effect to the sound quality. Compared to audio cables with a typical resistance of around 0.5ohm, the stock cable makes the sound slightly congested, and slightly undetailed, which makes instruments sound a little hazy and blended into the background. Replacing the cable will immediately tighten up the bass, and better define instruments, and other sound effects clearly in comparison. The difference isn't vast, but it is there, and can be noticeable with the right material. Replacing the cable isn't costly, and you can replace it with something equally sturdy such as the Mediabridge audio cables sold on Amazon for $10 or less for an immediate improvement. The only positive aspect of the stock cable's sound is that it's warmer, and less fatiguing, due to the softer, less defined sound.

The third issue with the X1 is that the headband simply isn't made for larger heads. The space between the suspended headband padding and the leather covered top that connects the cups is quite small, and once you put the headphone on, the suspended headbasnd will crash into the top piece, not allowing clearance for larger heads. There is a simple solution to this, and that is to bend the top piece into more of a cone shape, to allow more clearance. There is a lot of wasted horizontal space by default so bending the headband allows this unused space to be occupied by the suspended headband if needed. The top band is all metal and leather, and won't break, so there shouldn't be any worry about damaging the headphone with this mod.



Accessories:

The X1 comes with a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter (1/4" to 1/8"). As with all 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapters, I would advise on NOT using it, and instead getting a Grado adapter cable or something like it, as these typical adapters can put some strain on 3.5mm inputs. The X1 also come with the audio cable and a clip attached near the 6.3mm plug which can help control the length if need be.



Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Mediocre

As an open backed headphone, you can't expect much isolation/noise control. However, I don't find them to leak as badly as other open backed headphones, so with moderate volumes, you can get by without bothering too many others. Even so, don't plan on using these to great effect if you need to control leak or keep external noises from seeping in.



Sound:

Rating: Excellent

The Fidelio comes out swinging. My first thought when I heard the X1 was something like "This is exactly what I have always wanted out of an open backed, bassy headphone." The X1 has an open, spacious, lively, energetic, yet controlled sound. It is tonally on the warm side due to the bass, but verges on neutral. The treble gives the X1 a nice amount of energy despite most of the treble actuallyu being on the smooth side. The X1 to me is at odds with itself. Not in a bad way, mind you. By odds, I mean that it doesn't know if it wants to be a basshead headphone, or an audiophile headphone. Both? That sounds about right. A basshead/audiophile headphone. Let's get into the specifics...



Bass:

Rating: Great

The X1 is a rare breed of headphone, particularly in it's bass. There are very, very few headphones that can be this open, yet retain so much energy in it's bass which more closely resembles something coming out of a sealed design. It has a lot of growl and punch, but not overly so like most bass heavy, closed headphones. Open-backed headphones tend to roll off in the bass quite quickly, losing energy, impact, and are too quick to decay. The X1 is among the elite few dynamic headphones which does away with that stereotype. Other dynamics with potent bass would be the Sennheiser HD650 and Beyerdynamic DT990, and neither reach as low as the X1, nor fill up the virtual space in the same way. The X1 has a broader range in bass than the 650 or DT990, and fits somewhere between in decay and speed. The 650 is more neutral in it's bass, while the 990 is a bit stronger in the mid bass, but rolls off faster, not allowing it to reach the lower depths as well as the X1. Ultimately, the X1's bass is more fleshed out than the other two.

That being said, the bass can at times come off a bit undetailed and lacking in texture and layering. Perhaps even one-note-ish. To me, the X1's bass sounds like it was pre-boosted from a neutral headphone, and it sounds as if Philips pushed the X1's driver to it's limit in the bass, and adding any more would probably strain the drivers causing them to distort badly. This is just an assumption though, and overall, the presentation of bass on the X1 is among my favorites on any headphone. Just note that I feel that it can stand to be more textured, refined, and overall improved upon.



Mids:

Rating: Very Good

The mids on the X1 are pleasantly intact, despite the X1's bass heavy nature. The mids are actually quite linear and neutral in tone, with no crazy drops or rises all the way up to the treble. It's neither forward nor truly recessed, staying in place at all times, only slightly trailing behind the abundant level of bass. The mids are neither weak nor special. They are happy to be present in the mix at all times, only slightly getting masked by the bass at times. Such is the nature of virtually all bass heavy headphones, and the X1 is among the best ones at keeping the mids intact. Due to the open and spacious sound of the X1, the mids are never intimate, nor are they thick or organic like the HD650, LCD-2, and K702/65. In the end, you can say the mids are good in that they are detailed, but not special. They are definitely more upfront than the DT990, which was something I personally wanted out of a DT990 successor (which is how I see the X1).



Treble:

Rating: Great

The treble on the X1 is generally smooth, with slight peak at 10khz, which adds a nice amount of sparkle and energy, keeping the X1 from sounding completely warm or smoothike the HD650, LCD-2, and K702/65. The treble is well in line with the mids other than the slight peak at 10khz, and massive drop off after 10khz. Said drop off keeps the X1 from being sibilant or fatiguing overall, but it does gloss over quite a bit of treble detail.

Overall, the drop off in treble after 10khz isn't problematic, as the X1 still exudes plenty of air and energy, but it is worth noting. Also, the rise at 10khz can rear it's head with certain material and can be a little tizzy at times, keeping the X1 from being completely fatigue free. Overall, it's a minor gripe, and I feel it to be a very small, necessary evil to allow the X1 to sound as open and lively as it is. Surely, nowhere near as problematic as the treble happy DT990 and HE-400.



Soundstage:

Rating: Great

The X1 has a large soundstage somewhat similar to the DT990. Plenty of space between instruments and positional cues, with great imaging. A soundstage this good just isn't normal with bassy headphones, making the X1 even more special. The instruments and positional cues don't take up as much space as something like the K702/65, giving a larger sense of virtual space, even if it doesn't reach as far out.



Positioning:

Rating: Great

Great positional cues tend to accompany open headphones with large soundstages, and the X1 surely does not disappoint. Among the best in positional cue clarity, with a pretty good sense of height (something I don't normally notice in headphones), front and side cues, and very good rear positional cues. For a bass oriented headphone, the X1 will be among the best all rounders, especially if positional accuracy is a must.



Clarity:

Rating: Great

Due to the very (VERY) linear frequency response after the bass, the Fidelio X1 is among the clearest sounding headphones, especially for gaming. The mids are so dead even with the treble overall, that nothing is truly lost. The only problem in clarity is that due to the potent bass, some details can be hidden behind each bass impact, though for an all rounder with bass heaviness, there just won't be much better than the X1 in clarity. It really is that good.



Amping:

Minimal Amping

With popular headphones come the inevitable influx of people recommending they be amped by powerful amps to get the best out of them. I have heard this with basically EVERY SINGLE headphone that is worth their grain in salt. I'll be a little more realistic in saying that the X1 is quite easy to drive and doesn't scale up enough to warrant a potent/pricey amplifier for them. I believe a very good portable amp would be enough for them, and anything else is more for tweaking the flavor and sound signature, and not because the X1 needs a certain amount of power. So again, I say, the X1 can do very well with a good portable amp or decent desktop amp, and still sounds fantastic with very little to no amping. The X1 is quite sensitive, and I feel that for console gaming, the Mixamp alone is enough.



Value:

The X1 is sells for around $232 consistently and at that price, it is an ABSOLUTE must have. You get a lot of performance, and very few drawbacks. Those who want a linear headphone with bump in bass need look no further. You get one hell of a headphone for so little money.



Final Impressions:

With the X1, you get a very beautiful, comfortable, affordable (by audiophile standards), open, velour padded, easy to drive, bassy, energetic, linear headphone. That is a hell of a lot of boxes ticked for a headphone in this price range, and trust me, it's all true.

There are a few caveats: essentially non-replaceable pads, mediocre stock cable, metal bending mod necessary for larger heads. Also, bass could stand to be more refined, mids aren't exactly highlighted, treble detail gets glossed over past a certain point, and slight (very slight) fatigue at times.

Despite those few caveats, the X1 is well worth their price and then some. For those who have been on the hunt for an open, bassy can, with comfy velour (like I have), your journey is over. Get the X1 as soon as possible. It isn't perfect, and depending on what you want out of a headphone, the X1 may not be suited for you (those looking for stellar mids need not apply), but considering their price and domestically appealing sound signature, the X1 is a clear winner in my book.



Final Scores...
Fun: 8.75/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
Open headphone with bass, soundstage, and comfort. Need I say more?
Competitive: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
If the bass were a little tighter and more refined, the X1 could've been a 9 in competitive, though it may have reduced the fun factor.
Comfort: 8.75/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
The only downside to the X1's comfort is the heat build up.











Sennheiser HD598



Sells for $200-250 (I was lucky enough to buy them for $170).
Review (Click to show)
You all know it as an improved HD595, which is a consistent fave among gamers, especially those who use virtual surround amps like the Mixamp. My opinion? The hype is well justified, at least when it comes to the HD598. They are incredibly well balanced. Somewhat bass neutral, mids are pretty up front and center, and neutral treble (never harsh) translates to a very promising headphone for gaming on paper. And I'm happy to report that they are ABSOLUTELY phenomenal for gaming. They belong right up there with the best for competitive gaming. Soundstage? Check. Positional accuracy? Double check. Detail retrieval? Triple check. The trifecta. It's missing very little for those needs. The bass may be a bit too laid back for those wanting some immersion in their non-competitive gaming however.

Comfort-wise: It's a hit or miss. The pads are huge and give your ears plenty of space to breathe. My issue is mostly with the clamp. Sennheiser just seems to design some pretty clampy headphones. Like the PC360, the only way I can find them comfy is to over extend them, and give them a loose fit. The headband padding is full on pleather, which is less comfortable than the PC360's velour padding.

Fun: 6.5/10 (Pretty Decent)

Competitive: 9.25/10 (Amazing)

Comfort: 7.25/10 (Good)











Sennheiser PC360 (*headset*)



Sells for $180-250.
Review (Click to show)
Seriously, if you want a headset, this is one is hard to pass up. Easily the best headset I have heard with a sound quality that doesn't make audiophiles cringe.

Clarity? Check. It slightly lags behind headphones like the AD700, K70x, Q701, and HD598, but for gaming, it is NO slouch. I can say that it COULD be clearer as a whole in comparison to headPHONES in their price range, but as far as headsets go, I highly doubt clarity would ever be a complaint. It picks up subtle details with ease.

Balance? Check. There is no part of the audio spectrum that I felt was truly emphasized over the rest. Well balanced. That's all I can say. Treble is neither too smooth, nor too sparkly. It sounded neutral. Fantastic.

Soundstage? Lagging behind the monsters that are the K70x and AD700, but is indeed no slouch. I'd say it has a bigger soundstage than the DT990. Fantastically large sense of space and airiness.

Directional Cues? Check. What can I say? This may actually be as good as the best when it comes to overall directionality. Trust me when I say that I could EASILY tell where sounds were coming from with the games I love to test.

Easy to discern front and back? Check. Perhaps the main shortcoming of Dolby Headphone (as some games just don't do this well even with the best headphone ever), and the PC360 got it down masterfully for those games that do rear positional cues well.

If you're in the market for a wired headSET, this should be the top priority. If you're looking for clarity, the PC360 does a fantastic job.

Comfort-wise, it's near identical to the HD598. The pads are wonderful and huge enough for your ears, but the clamp can be bothersome. Extend them to fit loosely, and they'll feel pretty good. Your mileage will vary. the velour headband padding is a step above the abundant amount of pleather on the 598's headband.

The PC360 is definitely a gaming beast.
Fun: 6.75/10 (Quite Decent) (Click to show)
Well balanced, but not really matching the punch in bass I like from funner cans, though the bass is enjoyable at times.
Competitive: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
I highly doubt you'll be complaining about anything as you're precisely locating anything and everything around you.
Comfort: 7.5/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)











Skullcandy PLYR 1 (*wireless headset*)
http://www.skullcandy.com/shop/shop-all

*

Sells for $180.

Review (Click to show)

Before I get started, I again want to thank Gernard Ferril at Skullcandy for getting in contact with me and giving me the chance to review the PLYR 1. This makes the 4th product I've received from them, which I'm absolutely thankful for. The PLYR 1 (pronounced "Player 1") is Skullcandy's flagship gaming headset with all the bells and whistles you'd come to expect from a top of the line headset. It's almost fully wireless (save the XBox 360 controller/chat cable), with Dolby Headphone 7.1 virtual surround decoding, and a base/decoder box that doubles as a headstand. Basically, this is an alternative to fully decked out wireless headsets like the Astro A50s.

I have an unboxing video posted up on my new channel, HERE. It will give you a solid idea as to what to expect.

PLYR 1 features:

Dolby 7.1 Surround (Dolby Headphone)
3 EQ presets: Bass Mode, Supreme mode (flat response), and Precision Mode (for extra air, treble detail)
Wireless Audio
Pivoting Boom Mic (non-removable)

The base/decoder box/headphone stand has:
Power
Dolby Headphone button
Aux In (for external devices)
Optical Out (passthrough)
Optical Input
USB input to charge the headset
Mini USB for powering the base.

The PLYR 1 headset itself has:

Power Button
Master knob with the voice/game volume balance, and volume up and down.
EQ preset slider with 3 settings
USB input for charging
2.5mm input for Xbox 360 controller/chat input
Non-detachable boom mic (flexible), mutes when flipped up



Build Quality:

The PLYR 1 is made up of some pretty durable plastic, heavier, and more solid than the SLYR. The design reminds me a lot of the newer Denon line, but without the horrible 'lip' at the ear cups. The PLYR 1 is a very nice looking headphone. Not extreme in it's design, but not understated either. I prefer it's design over the Slyr's. It's cups are non-glossy, textured in a street style pattern. The underside of headband is padded with soft cloth-like material, plenty to keep the headband from being uncomfortable. The left cup houses the microphone which is long, malleable, and easy to position any way you'd like.

The right cup houses all your buttons/functions. The power button is quite easy to find. The EQ preset slider is placed on the front side and isn't the easiest thing to find, though with some time, I didn't have any big issues finding it.

The Voice/Game/Volume 'stick' is placed near the power button, directly on the face of the right cup. I'm not the biggest fan of the stick, as it feels a bit analog and can be harder to 'feel' if you're adjusting the volume up/down or the V/G balance, basically not knowing if I'm hitting up or right if I move it somewhere in between the two, etc. My solution (as I never use a mic) is to immediately adjust the V/G balance all the way to the game audio side (G), which the headset confirms with two beeps. from there, I adjust the volume. If you adjust towards the voice side (V) all the way, you'll get a single, higher pitched beep. You'll want to adjust for game audio first, just to make sure you're getting a signal. There are instances where the headset drops audio completely (usually when switching a source, or a game booting up), and if you adjust for voice first, you won't hear game audio either way.

I understand Skullcandy wanting to have all these functions in one 'stick' for simplicity, but in the end, I felt it would have been better off having some buttons to press to separate each function. It ended up being harder to use over simple buttons, personally. I guess with time, it'd be second nature, however.

The ear pads are made up of the same material as the headband padding. Very soft, with plenty of depth, but a bit on the small side, so bigger ears may need to 'tuck' inside to have a circumaural fit.

On to the base/decoder box/headphone stand. The base is incredibly light. I personally would've wanted a heavier base, so it wouldn't slide around so easily, but that's more of a personal issue, as I'm constantly having to readjust the cables (using various sources for testing). I also would have preferred the power and Dolby button to be placed on the front, since there are times when you'll be switching from Stereo (for music) to Dolby (for games and DVD movies). Dolby Headphone doesn't discriminate and adds it's processing to all signals, which isn't a good thing for music and other 2 channel sources. It's a minor hassle having to reach around the back to switch it on/off.



Comfort:

The PLYR 1 is a pretty comfortable headset overall. It's not as featherweight as the Slyr, but it's relatively light. At first, it can be quite clampy, which makes the PLYR 1 lose out on points, but after leaving it stretched over my headphone amp, it loosened up. I think I overdid it though, as it was a bit TOO loose. I ended up placing a rubber band around the headband for a night, and it allowed the PLYR 1 to clamp to my head again. It's at a decent clamp, not as bad as it was when I first wore it.

The headband has a generous amount of extension, so it should fit all but gigantic heads. The pads are incredibly comfortable, and plenty deep, though they are a bit on the small side. They could stand to be quite a bit wider/longer to allow bigger ears to fit in without issue. The headband padding is just as good as the ear pads, and is an absolute non-issue.



Accessories:

Headset, base/decoder box, optical cable, 2.5mm (Xbox 360 chat cable), two usb cables. All you will ever need with the PLYR 1, though if you want to use external sources, you will want cables that terminate into 3.5mm to plug into the base's AUX IN.



Isolation/Leakage:

Like the SLYR, it's not the best at isolation/noise leak. It's not as bad as an open headphone, but I would expect better. Comparing it directly to Mr. Speaker's Mad Dogs, you can clearly tell that the PLYR 1 was lacking in noise control compared to the MD.



Microphone/Chat:

I'm not very experienced with headset mic capabilities, but I personally didn't have much if any issue with the microphone on the PLYR 1. It's malleable design ensures that you can position it any way you'd like to get it to pick up your voice properly.



Sound:

The PLYR 1 shares a lot with the SLYR. This was confirmed by Gernard Feril (Skullcandy rep) via email.
Quote:
Our aim was to offer the great wired SLYR acoustic experience but in a wireless format with Dolby Surround, so far it seems like we have achieved that.

I asked if they shared the same drivers and frequency response:
Quote:
Yes, we had to make some modifications to the PLYR sound due to the added mass in the ear cavities (batteries and PCBs), but our target curves were the same for both.

So, the strengths and weaknesses of the SLYR were more or less the same in the PLYR 1. The PLYR 1 is a lively, energetic headphone, with boosted bass, but not overly so. Unlike it's relative the Astro A50s, the PLYR 1 has less prominent bass which doesn't intrude it's mids or treble. It's a bassy headphone, make no mistake, but it doesn't hamper it's sound quality the way the A50's bass did.

Unlike the SLYR, I personally feel the PLYR 1 has less congestion, and a better sense of space. The sound breathes easier than the SLYR, which sounded a little more closed and two dimensional in comparison.

The wireless through it's optical input is incredibly silent, with no discernible noise/hiss/hum. My only other wireless experience came with the A50 which had some background noise. The signal on the PLYR 1 (save for audio drop outs when launching PS3 games, which I'll touch upon later) was constant, distortion free, and clean.

The 3 EQ presets are as follows: (confirmed by Skullcandy's Head Engineer)
Quote:
Preset 2 is a flat, true response EQ curve. That is how the headset was acoustically tuned. EQ1 and EQ3 flavor the sound. EQ1 has a significant (8dB) low bass boost (sub 200hZ), with some modifications to the sound elsewhere. EQ3 is more subtle and was meant to emphasize the gaming details. I added a moderate sub 200hz bass boost to emphasize explosions, but I wanted to avoid a “muddy” sound. I also added a moderate treble boost to highlight gaming details.

EQ1 (Bass Mode): It considerably recessed the mids, and gives the PLYR 1 a massive bass wallop. 8db is an overwhelming amount of bass, personally. I think 4db could have sufficed for bassheads, as the PLYR 1 is already bassy. I honestly didn't care for this preset. However, it is still better than the A50's bass heavy presets, which were just...not good at all.

EQ2 (Supreme Mode): The most natural of the 3, being mostly linear, though not completely. Like the Slyr, it's still bass emphasized, but as mentioned earlier, it's a nice bass boost that doesn't hamper the mids or treble detail.

EQ3 (precision Mode): This mode is slightly more v-shaped than EQ2, with a slight bump in bass and treble. The bass boost is subtle, and the treble boost adds a nice amount of air to the PLYR 1. The mids get ever so slightly pushed back, but it's benign, as the PLYR 1 still sounds relatively well balanced, despite the rise of it's higher/lower extremities. This mode has the most soundstage and air of the three, though ultimately, I still slightly prefer EQ2.

Before I get into the specifics of the PLYR 1's sound, I need to mention that I'm basing the majority of this review on the PLYR 1's EQ2 (Supreme Mode) preset, as that is it's inherent tonal balance without any EQ.



Sound Issues:

I found EQ1 and EQ3 to have distortion embedded in the signal when running Sinegen frequency sweeps. EQ2 had no such distortion. The distortion/noise isn't noticeable while gaming, and I had zero problems playing in EQ3, but just take note that the noise may be there. It's mostly in the lower octaves (most of the bass) that distorts pretty noticeably on Sinegen. Again, it wasn't noticeable while gaming.

Another issue is that the Auxiliary Line In on the base has some background hum that gets louder as you raise the volume. Regardless of source or cable, the hum remained. It reminded me of the hum I had on my Schiit Lyr tube amp. Ultimately, it's not a big issue while gaming. The hiss off the Mixamp Pro (2013) and Mixamp 5.8 were more noticeable than the low hum off the Plyr 1's Line In.

The last sound issue I had with the PLYR 1 is that the signal would drop indefinitely when going from the PS3's XMB into launching a game. It never dropped WHILE gaming however. On those occasions when I would lose audio, I'd either press the DH button or powered off/on the base/headset, which would then get the signal back with no further issues. I'll have to do more testing to see if it's just an issue with the PS3 switching from LPCM to Dolby Digital which causes the audio to drop.



Bass:

Like the Slyr, the PLYR 1 has a very full, lively, and fun amount of bass. I can't say anything I didn't already mention about the Slyr: "punchy, impactful, energetic bass that is quite present, but never overwhelming. It also has good speed and decay. Quite impressed with the SLYR's bass. A very good start. If I had to give the bass a quantity, I'd give them an 8. Plenty of bass for me. Not perfectly in line with mids and treble, but it's a GOOD emphasis."



Mids:

Again, like the Slyr, the PLYR 1 has similar mids: I'm used to v-shaped curves, with bass and treble emphasis, and recessed mids. Yet, the (Plyr 1) has some pretty (decent) mids next to the typical v shaped can. Slightly recessed next to the bass, but I'd say they're pretty in line with the treble. The SLYR's mids are slightly more forward, though I'm sure it's due to the more compact and intimate soundstage.



Treble:

Again, I felt the treble to be very much like the Slyr: "The treble is (ever so slightly) energetic, but it's not harsh. It's very close in balance to the mids for me. It is RARE for treble to be in the safe zone between too soft, and too harsh. The (PLYR 1) is DEFINITELY in that safe zone." The treble may be just a tad smoother than the SLYR, though it's close.



Soundstage:

The soundstage on the PLYR 1 is decidedly closed, but it's pretty airy and spacious despite being closed. From memory, it has a better sense of air and space than the SLYR, and so it performs a bit better for competitive gaming. In direct comparison to the Mad Dogs (which at the time of this review I was re-reviewing), the PLYR 1 sounds more open and spacious, though the Mad Dogs have better depth. On EQ3, the PLYR 1 gained a subtle amount of air and perceived soundstage.



Positioning:

The relatively decent soundstage for a closed headphone works better than the more congested SLYR's soundstage. Positional cues were relatively easy to pinpoint, though the soundstage depth wasn't stellar, and the imaging wasn't as clean and precise as some of the better headphones reviewed. If I were to score the positional cues, I'd give them a 7. Good.



Clarity:

The PLYR 1 isn't the most detailed headset or headphone I've heard, but for the purpose of gaming, it's pretty good. The flat preset is somewhat on a tonally neutral to slightly warm side, and I found the perceived clarity to be better on EQ3, despite it being more V-shaped.



Value:

For $180 MSRP, you get a solid wireless headset which includes it's own Dolby Headphone decoder and headphone stand. If you're a gamer and just want one very simple and affordable solution for ALL your gaming, music, movie needs, the PLYR 1 is going to be pretty hard to pass up.



Final Impressions:

The PLYR 1, like the SLYR is a winner by Skullcandy. I was very pleased by it's sound quality for music, gaming, and movies. Have I heard better? Of course. However, the PLYR 1 has a tonal balance that just resonates with my particular tastes. There are almost no headphones I have reviewed outside of Skullcandy's own SLYR that has the bass/mid/treble balance that I deem near PERFECT for my taste. The higher end cans I have reviewed have better quality, but their tonal balance isn't as dialed in to my tastes as the SLYR and PLYR 1. Paired with the fact that the PLYR 1 is wireless (and a very good wireless signal at that) makes it a must have for those looking for simple all in one solutions, despite a few drawbacks/issues with it's functionality and EQ presets having some distortion.



Final Scores...
Fun: 7.75 (Very Good) (Click to show)
There's nothing I can say about the PLYR 1's sound signature except that it's incredibly fun to listen to with all forms of media.
Competitive: 7.25 (Good) (Click to show)
Due to a bigger soundstage, and sense of air that allows positional cues to stick out better than the SLYR, the PLYR 1 makes a better gaming headset overall. Depth isn't excellent, but overall, it does work quite well.
Comfort: 7/10 (Good) (Click to show)
Initially a bit clampy, after some trial and error, the PLYR 1 is a pretty comfortable headphone, though some with bigger ears may have an issue with the small diameter of the pads.











Sony MA900



Discontinued
Review (Click to show)
The Sony MDR-MA900. MA900 for short. Modeled after Sony's own F1 and SA5000, the MA900 (like the F1) stands out in that there is a huge opening between the drivers and the rear side of the pads. I can honestly say I have never seen any other headphone with such an obvious lack of seal/isolation outside of the AKG K1000. It comes equipped with humongous 70mm drivers, which may be repurposed from the Sony XB1000, though unlike the XB1000, the MA900 is not placed in the Extra Bass line of Sony headphones, with good reason. I was always interested in the F1 for gaming/comfort purposes but I never took the plunge. I've since outgrown the desire to try the F1 and went on to pursue other ventures. With the release of the MA900, my interest in such a peculiar design was resurrected. The overwhelmingly positive impressions and reviews was the final straw, and I knew I just had to try them for myself if only to satiate my curiosity.



Build Quality:

Upon first glance, the build quality is suspect on the MA900. It is essentially two massive drivers surrounded in a black plastic-looking magnesium/aluminum alloy (it looks and feels like plastic to me) cups held by an incredibly thin headband that looks out of proportion with the massive cups. The cups are quite large, though for housing 70mm drivers, I expected, and have seen bigger. The color scheme is classic Sony black with silver Sony logos placed on the center of the outer cups with a thin silver accent separating the outer grill with the rest of the cups. The styling is pretty barebones overall. Not really what I'd call an aesthetic marvel, but they are inoffensive to the eyes, and won't bring attention to itself. I find the cups themselves to look quite nice, despite the basic, somewhat retro look.

The thin size adjustment mechanism is pretty standard fare, if a bit too loose for my taste. There are no markers/notches, so if you're OCD about having both sides at exactly the same length, you may need a measuring tool of some sort. On the center of the headband is a wider section covered in the same cloth material as the ear pads. The padding isn't generous nor is it horribly thin. It could stand to be a bit thicker, but with the MA900 being so incredibly lightweight, the headband is ultimately quite comfortable, if just a hint of a minor annoyance in comparison to everything else on the headphone.

The ear pads are placed on an angled portion of the cups (thus angling the drivers for optimal sound quality), and like the headband padding, are made up of a very breathable, cloth material. The pads used, paired with the huge cavity between the pads and the drivers ensure that your ears will stay cool for many hours. The ear pads are quite thin and lack density, and will flatten out quite easily. This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the MA900's design in terms of comfort. That's not saying much, as even though the pads flatten out, the pads are still incredibly comfortable. Still, had thicker, taller, denser pads been used, it would've improved the comfort to a legendary level. The driver cover is also made up of similar cloth material. Placed normally, your ears will more than likely press against the driver cover lightly, but for the vast majority of people, it won't be an issue.

The left cup houses the relatively thin and lengthy non-removable cable which terminates into a 3.5mm plug (6.3mm snap on gold-plated adapter included) with 'Thailand' embedded on the plug, letting everyone know where the headphones were made. The cable, while on the thinner side, isn't of the horrible, 'grippy' rubber material, and is instead smooth, quite flexible, and very lightweight. Neither the plug, nor the entrance to the headphone itself have robust strain reliefs, so I'd be careful in yanking the cable.

I believe they went with such a thin, seemingly frail design with some concessions made to it's build quality in order to keep the MA900 incredibly lightweight and non-intrusive on the head and ears. I don't expect the MA900 to fail me in terms of it's build, and I'm moderately careful with my headphones. So, it's not the sturdiest headphone, nor is it just going to crumble in your hands. I personally feel like they can be tossed around in a bag without too much worry. I'd mostly just be careful to not trip/run over the cable. In the end, I forgive Sony for going with this design, because I'm an absolute fan of their comfort. So much, that the MA900 is now the only headphone I wanna put on my head. Seriously.



Comfort:

This is perhaps the single most defining trait of the MA900. The MA900 is undeniably, and inarguably one of the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn. It seemingly weighs absolutely nothing when you put it on. The headphone just rests on your head with just enough clamp to keep them from slipping and sliding around unlike the 3d wing design and incredibly loose fit of the Audio technica AD700. No, really. You can compare with some other top tier headphones in terms of comfort, and the MA900 will still put them to absolute shame.

Is it PERFECT? No. The headband could be just a little more plush to make it truly disappear on the top of the head. The pads can stand to also be more plush, to both keep from flattening out, and to keep the ears from lightly touching the drivers. That being said, the driver cover is of similar cloth to the pads and headband and won't crush your ears, so it won't offend the ears compared to something like the premium Beyerdynamic DT770/880/990 which have a tendency on crushing ear due to their shallow pads. Every once in awhile you'll have the urge to readjust the MA900. That's about the only real gripe I personally have.

Despite these very minor annoyances, there's arguably no real competition from all the headphones I have worn (and I have worn many). The MA900 truly stands alone as the king of full size headphone comfort. Only those with a strong aversion to their ears touching any material may find them uncomfortable.




Design Issues:

The MA900 has a few things that I feel are worth noting. When adjusting the size, I STRONGLY advise on actually holding the headphone on the exposed rubber pieces where they extend, and adjust the headphone by holding the solid arm piece with the other hand and pulling. Don't just yank the cups down while they're on your head, and don't adjust the size by holding the headband and pulling down on the cups or the arm piece as you can cause the rubber pieces to slip out of the headband and expose the wires. Protect the rubber piece between the headband and the cups by holding that specific piece tightly when adjusting. Trust me on this.

Also, as previously mentioned, the cable doesn't have a proper strain relief, so make sure not to yank on it from either the entry point to the headphone itself or the headphone jack. With proper care, the MA900 shouldn't have any build quality issues despite it's thin, light design. If you're somewhat abusive to your headphones, then perhaps the MA900 is not for you. However, I don't see an issue coming up with tossing them around. Just be careful with the cable itself.

Finally, this may not really be an issue, but I need to mention that the MA900 is sensitive to ear placement. It's possible to reduce bass and make the MA900 slightly more holographic sounding by placing your ears closer to the rear side of the pads. I personally recommend wearing the MA900 in it's natural position, with the ears as close to the center as possible to ensure you get the intended sound quality. The one benefit I find by wearing the MA900 with the ears close to the rear, is that your ears will breathe a little more, and won't touch the driver cover.



Accessories:

The MA900 comes with a 6.3mm gold plated adapter attached to the plug. It also comes with a rather gaudy looking gold carrying pouch. The pouch doesn't even have a Sony label on it, but at least it's functional. I would've preferred a black, cloth pouch like those that came with the Sony XB500.



Isolation/Leakage:

I'll make this easy for all of you. If you're looking for isolation and noise control, skip every open ear headphone, especially ones as open as the MA900. The MA900 by design is incredibly open, to the point of having a large gaping void between the pads and the driver housing. This means that the sound of the MA900 will leak out as much as if you're holding the MA900 in your hands with the cups spread apart. If holding a pair of headphones in the air with the cups spread apart is too loud for you (at your listening level), then the MA900 won't help matters.



Sound:

The Sony MA900 has comfort and price in the bag. Does the sound hold up? Absolutely. The Sony is what I consider a true all-rounder, doing many things well, with no glaring flaws other than a slightly polite treble response. It won't be the best at any one thing, but do all manner of things well. Tonally warm, well balanced, with some fantastic imaging, and a large, spacious soundstage. The MA900 in all honesty, shares a lot with the HD650 with some key differences, which I'll touch upon in the comparison section.



Bass:

The MA900's bass is actually quite impressive. For an open dynamic headphone with such a large leakage point in the hole between the pads and the drivers, the bass is surprisingly pretty competent and hits with convincing authority. It hits hard when a song calls for it, and is well in line with the mids every other time. Note that there is a noticeable sub bass roll off, so don't expect a massive low end rumble from these. Mid bass is more than plentiful, and could even be seen as ever so slightly emphasized. More bass than the AKG Q701, and about on par with the K702 65th Anniversary, despite the latter having more linearity in the bass that extends and reaches lower. Feed the MA900 some music that asks for bass, and the MA900 won't disappoint for anyone looking for good, balanced bass. Bassheads need not apply.



Mids:

This is without a doubt the star of the MA900's show, and it's greatest strength. The MA900's warm, organic tonality is thanks mostly in part due to it's realistic voicing, and fleshed out mid section. Thankfully, the mids don't come out as shouty or over-emphasized due to the mid bass staying relatively on par with the mids, giving the MA900 a linear curve that doesn't particularly add emphasis to anything. The large, spacious soundstage places some distance between you and the vocals in the virtual space, so the MA900's mids aren't as intimate as something like the LCD2, HD650, and K702 Anniversary. It is however still the area in sound that brings to the most attention to the MA900, with zero mid recession. If you love natural sounding, clear vocals, the MA900 is a safe bet. One of the best mid sections out of all the headphones I've owned.



Treble:

If anything can be considered to be the weakest area of the MA900 and the least likely to grab attention when it comes to the sound signature, it would definitely be the treble region. The MA900's treble is not the final word on energy, sparkle, and aggression. However, it's definitely not veiled or overly rolled off. The MA900's treble is on the smooth side, inoffensive, and almost entirely non-fatiguing. It doesn't extend as well as brighter, more treble oriented headphones, sacrificing some hyper detail and upper clarity for overall listening comfort. If you want a headphone to analyzing hyper details, the MA900 is not it. However, if you're looking for a headphone that won't shatter your ears with sibilance, and instead give you a pleasant amount of non-fatiguing treble, the MA900 will be right up your alley.



Soundstage:

Following in the footsteps of my HP-800 review, the MA900 follows suit as a tonally warm headphone with smooth treble still manages to have a large, spacious soundstage. The smoother presentation causes instruments and sound effects to sound thicker, but a little less defined, and less cohesive in the virtual space (like the K702 Anniversary). However, this is in comparison to the more analytically inclined headphones like the AD700, K702, and other, more treble oriented headphones like the DT990.



Positioning:

This shouldn't come as a surprise due to the fantastic imaging, large, spacious soundstage, and very balanced sound: the MA900 has some fantastic positional cues. While the positional cues aren't as tightly defined as other headphones like the K701 and AD700, placement is spread apart, and easy to locate in the virtual space. Like the K702 Anniversary, the notes are on the thicker side, just robbing positional cues of just a little bit of breathing room, but when there is already so much available virtual space, it's nothing truly to be concerned about. The MA900 makes for a fantastic competitive gaming headphone, with no sacrifices made to it's immersion for fun oriented gaming. What that means is that if you're looking for a headphone that will easily locate enemies, or other sound effects, yet do great with other forms of gaming, the MA900 makes a compelling argument for your hard earned money.



Clarity:

Thanks to the MA900's fantastic mids, and overall linear response, there really is nothing that blocks the vast majority of details. The treble's smooth and inoffensive nature may bottleneck and mask the upper range's last bit of extension and hyper detail, but as we all should know by now, mids are where the vast majority of sound is, and the MA900 has plenty of it. There is plenty of clarity otherwise. The MA900 may not be the most refined and technically proficient headphone out there, but for most uses, clarity is not going to be a problem.

For gaming, there's not going to be anything that performs well above the MA900 in terms of sound-whoring, unless you want to sacrifice the realistic tone, immersion, and pleasant signature for pure analytical use.



Amping:

The MA900 has a very interesting design, in that there is an impedance compensator, allowing the MA900 to be used with basically any standard headphone amp without having to worry about the output impedance altering the MA900's frequency response curve. The MA900 is actually quite efficient, and incredibly sensitive to boot. A portable amp would be basically all the MA900 needs. For gaming purposes, nothing in addition to something like the mixamp would be necessary.



Value:

The Sony MDR-MA900 represented one of the greatest values I've seen for ANY headphone. There is so much it does right, with very few caveats, which really aren't even based off it's fantastic sound. In my opinion, the MA900 stood nearly uncontested in the under $200 price bracket. A serious headphone for your money. That being said, the MA900 has been discontinued, and prices have shot up.



Final Impressions:

Great sound, truly amazing comfort, minimal amping requirement, and (at the time) relatively affordable price. It also does most forms of music genres, and all forms of gaming very well. What more can you ask for? The build quality and incredibly light weight doesn't inspire the most confidence in terms of durability, but with some care, I don't see the build being problematic. The Sony MA900 will now be my baseline and point of reference for all headphones in the $200 price range (even though it is no longer sold). The MA900 is quite possibly one of the easiest headphones to recommend for anyone that isn't a pure basshead or in need of isolation.



Final Scores...
Fun: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
Warm, immersive, and balanced bass that kicks with authority when asked for. The sub bass is a weakness in terms of immersion, but when so much content focuses on mid bass, it really isn't a detriment to the MA900's fun factor.
Competitive: 8.25/10 (Great) (Click to show)
The large soundstage, paired with great balance, and fantastic positional cues make the MA900 a truly sublime, competitive gaming headphone. The positional cues aren't as incredibly well defined as some of the more analytical or treble emphasized headphones, but overall, there is little to complain about for competitive use.
Comfort: 8.75/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
Despite the minor annoyances of the thin headband padding and ear pads, and your ears touching the driver covers, there just isn't much out there that stack up to the MA900 in terms of long wearing comfort. Incredibly light and heatproof make the MA900 an absolute comfort legend. As stated earlier, if you have a strong aversion against your ears touching any material, these may not be for you. Considering how long I've used the Koss KSC75/KSC35, which always press on the ear, the MA900's softer driver cover which doesn't press as hard, is mostly a non-issue that will need just a little re-adjusting once in awhile.











Tritton AX Pro (true 5.1 *headset*)



Sells for $170.
Review (Click to show)
This is my first and LAST 5.1 headset. I couldn't believe it was worth $189. The sound quality was absolutely mediocre, more on par with $30 headphones (KSC75 excluded). Now to the meat of the reason anyone would get this: The 5.1 speakers. If it's better than virtual surround, it sure could have fooled me, because I wasn't buying into that gimmick. There was a noticeable gap between the drivers when a sound switched from one driver to the next. Sure, you can TELL where sounds are coming from if you pay attention to which driver is currently putting off noise, but I'll take the complete 360 degree soundfield Dolby Headphone has to offer over the AX Pros. The AX720 is better, and cheaper, plus the AX720's amp can be used with other headphones. There is absolutely no reason to own the Ax Pros, unless you want to see just how inferior it is to a good headphone paired with Dolby Headphone.

Comfort-wise, I didn't find them bad or great. They do their job, though for a sealed headphone, they are comfortable. Same as AX720.

Fun: 4/10 (Bad)

Competitive: 6/10 (Decent)

Comfort: 7/10 (Good)










Tier A: $300+











AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition



Sells for $400-$500
Review (Click to show)

The K702 65th Anniversary Edition. Limited to around 3000 units worldwide, sold at a premium, with a new headband, memory foam pads, gunmetal-like color scheme, and supposed retuning of the hand-picked drivers. I found the name to be a mouthful, so I decided to call it the K702 Annie, or just Annie. Thankfully, the name stuck. So from here on out, I'll be calling it the Annie.



Bass:

Sound-wise, this is the most significant change coming off the older models. The Annie presents bass quite well. You can consider it slightly above neutral. Natural if the source doesn't have a need for bass, and quite full and involving when the need for bass is there. There were times where I found them to have more bass than even the HE-400. Overall, it certainly does not, but make no mistake, the bass can be quite full, layered, textured, and infectious.

What it improves over the Q701 is that the bass is no longer situational. It doesn't just hit with really bass heavy songs. It hits at all times, in a very natural way. Put on a bassy track, movie, game, etc, and the Annie WILL impress bass-wise. Make no mistake. I always found the Q701 and especially the old K701 to be slightly below neutral, bass-wise. The bass would decay too quickly, and wouldn't hit with enough energy to give a sense of naturality. No longer an issue with the Annie. Unless you're a basshead, I don't think there will be much to complain about here. If you like accurate, yet full bass, the Annie will impress. They are also absolutely stellar for movies in Dolby Headphone.



Mids:

The mids on the K701/K702/Q701 have always been forward. However, due to the very large soundstage, they didn't come across as intimate. That large sense of space made the mids seem pushed back, even though they were actually forward in the mix compared to the bass and treble. The Q701's extra push in bass over the old K701 filled out the sound more, making the mids more natural than before. The Annie further improves on the mids by integrating them even more with the bass and treble. Due to the fuller, warmer sound signature, the mids are still forward, but not as distant due to a thicker sound. The mids are an absolute strength on the Annies. They remind me mostly of the HD650's mids, albeit with less intimacy due to the bigger soundstage. The HD650's strength is in the intimate mids due to a smaller, more closed in soundstage, placing the mids quite near you. The Annie's mids aren't HD650 special, but still fantastic.

The older models had some form of upper mid peak that caused some fatigue with certain music and the like. I personally have not heard any upper mid peak on the Annie, leading me to believe that the stronger bass, and warmer tone fleshed out and softened that peak to non-fatiguing levels. In this instance, the Annie shows what the Q701 would be like when perfected.



Treble:

The treble to me, has been a strength for both the Q701 and Annie. Both are detailed, yet smooth, still packing energy without being fatiguing. As mentioned before, the fatiguing area of the older AKGs was in the upper mids, and not the treble.



Soundstage:

Oh, that soundstage. The K and Q models have all been known to have some truly immense soundstage width, and good depth. The Annie follows suit with equally large soundstage, despite the overall sound being thicker which further integrates sound cues with the soundstage, making it not as apparently airy. Notice that I said 'not as airy', and not 'smaller'. This is both a pro and con. The thinner sounding K701 (old) had an incredible sense of air due to the thinner notes, which were't full sounding in comparison. This made notes easier to pick up, despite not sounding as natural as the Q701 and especially the Annie. What all this means, is that sound effects on the Annie occupy more of the space around you in comparison to the older models, for an overall meatier/weightier sound.



Positioning:

Though I discussed the thicker body of sound making the soundstage not as airy as the old K701 and to a lesser extent, the Q701, positional cues were not hampered in any way. This means that you can expect amazing performance with Dolby Headphone. Lots of space for positional cues to do their magic. Surely among the best that I have reviewed.



Clarity:

The Annie's warmer, less immediately detail oriented sound signature compared to the older models does not mean they lack clarity. The Annie is a very revealing headphone, just as the Q701 is, though it shifts the focus a bit more towards warmth, and musicality. The Annie is in a place that reaps the benefits of both warmth and detail focus, though if you put it next to the old K701, then yes, it will come off as less detailed, as you're it isn't dry, sterile, or particularly analytical.



Amping:

As with the older models, the Annie is very sneaky in terms of amping requirements. It needs minimal amping to play loudly, but the AKGs are notorious for craving as much power as 600ohm headphones. The Q701 was one of the most amp reliant headphones I had ever heard, and changed the most out of any dynamic headphone I ever heard and reviewed here. You will get away with moderate amping, but believe me, you will be doing a disservice to all the Ks and Qs by skimping out on amping. If you're gonna spend this much money on these headphones, you shouldn't feed it weak power, IMHO. They will reward you. The Annie is definitely the easiest of the models to power in terms of sounding good, but they benefit from good amping. Still, if you absolutely can't do with much amping, the Annie sounds quite full and refined off lesser equipment compared to the other models.



Build Quality:

Made of a durable plastic, and well thought out design, I find the build quality to be quite good. I wouldn't toss them around haphazardly, but they'd definitely survive some abuse. The detachable cable is like the non-Anniversary models, which isn't the thickest I've seen, but certainly very malleable, flexible, and light. It certainly does it's job, though I would have expected a more rugged, or fancier cable for this very limited edition variant.

Compared to the non-Anniversary models of the K701/K702/Q701, the headband is thinner in width when viewed from the top/bottom, with a widening of the area where the AKG branding is located. The biggest difference (and it's incredibly significant), is that the underside of the headband no longer has the notorious (7-8) bumps, and is instead completely smooth. This basically turns the Annie from a torture device to a godsend in headband comfort. There is no padding, but it is absolutely unnecessary as the headband perfectly molds to your head, distributing pressure evenly across where it rests. The bumped headbands were notorious for digging into the scalp, especially on the center one or two bumps. Why it took AKG this long to rectify this issue the vast majority of people had is beyond me, but it's finally done.

The headband also has the added benefit of allowing bigger heads to fit due to less stiffness, and more space. Prior to the Annie, I basically needed the other models to be fully extended for them to fit my head. This caused a lot of tight, downwards pressure, which in addition to the hard bumps, didn't lead to the most comfortable headband design. It took me a few days to adjust to the older models, but I didn't find them as problematic as most people still do.

The pads are the second most significant change from the older models. They are made of memory foam inside velour. Very dense and molds to your head shape MUCH more than the older model pads. This causes a better seal, which is more than likely the main reason why the sound signature is warmer, and more bassy (though no consensus or proof that it either is or isn't what causes all the sonic difference between the older models). Other than those two main differences, the Annie is physically a rebadged K702.



Comfort:

As previously mentioned, due to the new headband and new pads, the Annie has made a substantial boost in comfort over the older models. I would say that from what I've read, the K701/K702/Q701's comfort is hypothetically a 5/10 (for everyone else). The Annie, however would more than likely jump up to a 9/10 in comfort. Yes, the headband change is that significant. The removal of the dreaded bumps would basically satisfy ANYONE who had issues with them on the older models, and even those that don't have issues with the bumps.

The pads are arguable, as the older pads, while more firm, breathed a little easier than the new memory foam velours. In either case, neither are sweat inducing or uncomfortable, personally. I find the older models to be not as uncomfortable as most people would lead to believe, but the Annie provides a noticeable boost in comfort either way.



Accessories:

Nothing but a 6.3mm adapter. Just the goods.



Isolation/Leakage:

I don't know if it's just me, but even for a fully open headphone, I found these to not leak out as much as most open cans. I'm pretty sure it's due to the pads. The sound does not escape from the pads, but from the grills, and I find them to be pretty good at keeping sound in despite it's openness. I found the older models to leak out quite a bit more, more than likely due to the velour pads being a bit more breathable.



Value:

At around $375, the Annie is a tough sell, especially for those who own the later K702/Q701s (not sure on the newer K701). The non-Annies consistently sell for around $200-230. If you're fine with their sound signature and comfort, it's quite hard to recommend the Annie, despite the addition of warmth, bass, and overall tonality. The Annie brings out what was lacking in the older models, for sure, but the jump in price may not be worth it to some. If you haven't owned any of the standard models and can afford the Annie, I highly recommend jumping straight to the Annie if you feel the difference in signature is worth it to you.



Final Impressions:

In the Annie you have: very balanced, warm, detailed, spacious, god tier in positional cues, fun, engaging, and extreme comfort. If it sounds like I'm gushing about them, that's because I am. There is VERY little to complain about here. This is my idea of a perfected, well balanced headphone. The Annie is one of my absolute favorite headphones ever, and due to it's comfort, musicality, and gaming prowess, the Annie would be one of those headphones I could live happily with even if it was my only headphone.



Final Scores...
Fun: 8.25/10 (Great) (Click to show)
The bass is mildly above neutral to my ears, while still maintaining good accuracy, giving it the injection of fun that the other models lacked without being too emphasized to hamper it's overall well balanced signature. The soundstage paired with it's tonality, give it a great sense of immersion for ALL manners of gaming and movies, etc. I base this value on overall package, and not just bass emphasis. The Annie is one of the most impressive and fun headphones all around.
Competitive: 8.5/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
These are like the Q701, with a trade off of pure analytical detail-whoring, for an overall better balance between fun and competitive. Positional cues are just as good.
Comfort: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
A significant leap in comfort compared to the older models due to the flat/smooth headband which allows for more extension. The memory foam velours contour to head shape incredibly well, and aren't as sweat inducing as pleather/leather. The Annie is a light headphone as well. The only problem I foresee others having is that due to the size of the pads (like the older models), the pads may rest on the jaw which may cause some discomfort.
Overall: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
It's no secret how fantastic the Annies are to me. They will remain one of my top recommendations for all around purpose.











AKG K712 Pro


Street Price: $379

Where To Buy: Amazon.com

Review (Click to show)
Before I begin, I'd like to personally thank guide contributor and friend, @Evshrug for sending these out to me for review.

The K712 Pro, the latest and greatest AKG headphone to supersede the (in)famous 7xx line (K701, K702, Q701, K702 65th Anniversary Edition being the previous models) as AKG's best mid-fi headphone. I have been wondering just how different the K712 Pro is to my dearly departed K702 65th Anniversary. Turns out, not much (I wouldn't doubt that some people would find them near identical), but there are differences, however subtle they may be. Also need to mention that my K702 Anniversary was one of the earlier ones sold that had flatter/shorter pads, which may be the main difference between the Annie and K712's sonic differences. The K712 Pro had a lot to live up to, seeing as the Annie is more or less my favorite open dynamic headphone to date.



Build Quality:

Rating: Great

I'll basically paste what I've said about the K702 65th Anniversary, as the build is absolutely identical to the Annie. The only differences between the color differences (Annie is gunmetal with blue bars and accents, K712 Pro is black with orange bars and accents).

Made of a durable plastic, and well thought out design, I find the build quality to be great. I wouldn't toss them around haphazardly, but they'd definitely survive some abuse. The detachable cable is like the non-Anniversary models, which isn't the thickest I've seen, but certainly very malleable, flexible, and light. It certainly does it's job, though I would have expected a more rugged, or fancier cable for these higher priced variants.

Compared to the non-Anniversary models of the K701/K702/Q701, the headband is thinner in width when viewed from the top/bottom, with a widening of the area where the AKG branding is located. The biggest difference (and it's incredibly significant), is that the underside of the headband no longer has the notorious (7-8) bumps, and is instead completely smooth. This basically turns the K712 Pro from a torture device to a very comfortable headphone. There is no padding, but it is mostly unnecessary as the headband perfectly molds to your head, distributing pressure evenly across where it rests. The bumped headbands were notorious for digging into the scalp, especially on the center one or two bumps. Why it took AKG this long to rectify this issue the vast majority of people had is beyond me, but it's finally done.

The headband also has the added benefit of allowing bigger heads to fit due to less stiffness, and more space. Prior to the K712 Pro and K702 Anniversary, I basically needed the other models to be fully extended for them to fit my head. This caused a lot of tight, downwards pressure, which in addition to the hard bumps, didn't lead to the most comfortable headband design. It took me a few days to adjust to the older models, and I didn't find them as problematic as most people still do.

The pads are the second most significant change from the older models. They are made of memory foam inside velour. Very dense and molds to your head shape MUCH more than the older model pads. This causes a better seal, which is more than likely the main reason why the sound signature is warmer, and more bassy (from my experience with using a Q701 with the Annie pads, I found the Q701 to sound 99.9% the same as the Annie, with a slightly brighter tone which may have just been driver variation).



Accessories:

Velvet carrying pouch: One of the best carrying pouches I've seen bundled with headphones. It's thick and feels great, though it won't protect a headphone from much except dust and scuff/scratches.

Long coiled cable (black)

Straight cable (orange) w/6.3mm screw on adapter



Comfort:

Rating: Amazing

As previously mentioned, due to the new headband and new pads, the K712 Pro has made a noticeable boost in comfort over the older models. The headband change is significant for comfort. The removal of the dreaded bumps would basically satisfy ANYONE who had issues with them on the older models, and even those that don't have issues with the bumps.

The pads are arguable, as the standard 7xx pads, while more firm, breathed a little easier than the new memory foam velours. In either case, neither are sweat inducing or uncomfortable, personally. The new memory foam pads molds to the shape of one's head, leading to no uneven pressure. I find the older models to be not as uncomfortable as most people would lead to believe, but the K712 Pro would more than likely satisfy those who have problems with the older pads.

The K712 pro is easily one of the most comfortable full-sized headphones I've ever worn.



Design Issues:

There really isn't anything to complain about with the K712 Pro. If anything, some may not particularly like how big the cups are, but that's the nature of a full-sized over ear headphone. AKG has more or less perfected their 7xx design, fixing all of the previous issues people had with them (headband bumps being the main problem). The only thing I can see improving upon this design is to add some padding underneath the currently bare headband strap, which would further drive the comfort towards perfection.



Isolation/Leakage:

Rating: Poor

The K712 Pro is a fully open headphone, and as such, it is expected not to perform well for noise isolation/leakage. As I mention time and time again, reports of open headphone's leak tend to be severely exaggerated. Yes, you may bother someone in the same room, but never someone in another room, even with the door open. Unless you need absolute silence in the same room, open headphones don't leak so loud as to bother most people, possibly even if they were in the same room.



Sound:

Rating: Amazing

People will undoubtedly complain about the incremental improvements constantly being made to their 7xx drivers, but to those who haven't experienced every little upgrade (or even those who have) will find the K712 Pro to be the their strongest headphones yet based on their 7xx drivers. What you get in the K712 Pro is the most musical, and fleshed out variant, with a noticeable addition of bass, warmth, and pleasing tonality. AKG had previously made most of these improvements with the K702 65th Anniversary (aka Annie), but the Annie had some trade offs, particularly in the sense of spaciousness (not necessarily soundstage itself), and upper range clarity and detail (which were slightly lessened due to a smoother, less fatiguing upper range). The Annie was a slightly different flavor of the K712 Pro sound, with a thicker body of sound, more intimacy, and smoother, slightly more organic sound. I'm exaggerating the differences, as they are subtle, but a good ear can tell them apart.

The K712 is the perfect middle ground between the standard 7xx airy sound, and the Annie's warmer, more fluid presentation.

NOTE: I'm basing my assessment of the Annie with it's ORIGINAL memory foam pads, which AKG has since replaced with a taller memory foam. The new pads on the Annie may have closed the gap even more between the two headphones to the point where it may be harder to discern the differences in sound quality. I haven't heard the Annie with new pads, so I can't personally confirm. Just something to keep in mind, in case those with a newer Annie don't agree with what I say here.



Bass:

Rating: Excellent

The K712 pro's bass is quite well balanced and always present, favoring midbass over sub bass (which rolls off a little compared to the K612 Pro which maintains it's bass to very low levels, though isn't energetic and forward as the K712 Pro). The bass is full, fluid, and rich, creating some warmth and body to the meat of the K712's sound. Because the bass is very, very similar to the K702 Annie's bass, I will quote most of what I said about those, with a few edits:

Sound-wise, this is the most significant change coming off the older models. The K712 Pro presents bass quite well. You can consider it mildly above neutral. Natural if the source doesn't have a need for bass, and quite full and involving when the need for bass is there. Overall, the bass can be quite full, layered, textured, and infectious.

What it improves over the standard models is that the bass is no longer situational. It doesn't just hit with really bass heavy songs. It hits at all times, in a very natural way. Put on a bassy track, movie, game, etc, and the K712 Pro will impress. Make no mistake. I've always found the Q701, and particularly, the old K701 to be slightly below neutral. The bass would decay too quickly, and wouldn't hit with enough energy to give a sense of naturality. No longer an issue with the K712 Pro. Unless you're a basshead, I don't think there will be much to complain about here. If you like accurate, yet full bass, the K712 pro will impress.



Mids:

Rating: Great

The K712 Pro's mids sit between the 7xx's mids and the Annie's more upfront and intimate presentation. The K712's mids sound pushed back in comparison to the Annie, though not pushed back in the way of recession, but more because the soundstage is large and nothing is exactly upfront and in your face. The lower mids are aided by the lean towards bass that the K712 has, which results in a warm, and tonally realistic voicing compared to the standard 7xx and even the incredibly balanced K612 Pro, which comes of a little dry in direct comparison.

The one downside I see in the mids is that the patented AKG upper mids peak is still somewhat present, causing certain sounds to have an artificial etch to them, and seem out of place next to the K712 Pro's general warmth and smoothness. It isn't as pronounced as the standard 7xx models however, and the warm tonality and fleshed out signature of the K712 mitigate the fatigue a bit compared to the standard 7xx.

All in all, the K712's mids are more or less balanced with the rest of the sound, and are never lost or masked.



Treble:

Rating: Great

The K712's treble maintains a level of sparkle some found lacking on the Annie. The treble is generally smooth with some upper end peak as usual of the 7xx line, cutting off some extension as well as the fatigue that can be associated with too much treble in those ranges. The K712's treble adds some much beneficial air to the soundstage, as well as clarity and detail which isn't typical of warm/smooth headphones (which tend to roll off in the treble range).

I personally have to say that I really love the K712's treble as it isn't an everyday occurrence to find warm headphones that sparkle in the same way as the K712. I also love the original Annie's smoother, less fatiguing presentation, but it did come across more subdued. I'd say the K712's treble is generally more favorable, and more likely to please most people.



Soundstage:

Rating: Excellent

While the original Annie had a large soundstage, the thicker body of sound and smoother treble made the soundstage sound more restricted and congested compared to the standard 7xx and K712. The K712's soundstage is spacious, and excels particularly in width. The soundstage is dimensional, holographic, and layered. The K612 Pro didn't have the same dimensionality and layering in direct comparison, despite it's large size.



Positioning:

Rating: Excellent

A large soundstage, generally linear balance, and great detail is a recipe for success. The K712 excels in positional cues, much like the standard 7xx line, but with more body, and fullness. One can argue that it won't be as masterful for competitive gaming focus due to the standard 7xx model's tilt towards analyzing and detail-retrieval, but the K712 doesn't give up much in the way of those things, and adds in extra immersion.



Clarity:

Rating: Excellent

Objectively speaking, the standard 7xx models as well as the K612 Pro have a clearer tonality over the warmer, more musical K712 Pro. That being said, the refinement, musicality, and tonality of the K712 Pro is more natural sounding and realistic in comparison. The standard 7xx sounds artificially boosted for clarity, which may be good for raw detail, but bad for enjoyment. The K712 has excellent clarity, and I don't feel like I'm losing much of anything when choosing the K712 over the standard 7xx models.



Amping:

Necessary

The K712 Pro doesn't require much to sound fantastic, but as with all 7xx models, they scale up with better gear and amping. I would recommend a decent desktop amp for these. That being said, I enjoyed the K712 Pro with the Fiio E12, and didn't feel I needed much more. I can easily live quite happily with the K712 Pro and FiiO E12.



Personal Recommendation?

Movies, Music, In General? Yes
Gaming? Yes

The K712 Pro, is among my very favorite headphones I have ever heard, and currently my favorite open dynamic for all around use, even over the Philips Fidelio X1. If you're looking for the best all-rounder under $400, the K712 is one my absolute top recommendations. While I prefer the original Annie (flatter pads) for certain things (the mids and intimacy for music), the K712 has a better sound signature due to a clearer upper range and better sense of space which will benefit a larger amount of media, including gaming.

As a cheaper alternative, you can get a standard 7xx, and if you order some K712 pads for it, it essentially becomes a cheaper Annie/K712 Pro alternative for around $100 less than the Annie and K712 normally go for. It may not be completely identical, but it will be close. You also get the benefit of having both the standard pads as well as the K712 pads for easy swapping and tonality change. Your mileage may vary as driver variation needs to be taken into account. I recommend the K702 most for this, since it has a bumpless headband, while the K701 and Q701 still have the uncomfortable bumps, though will also benefit from this pad swap in the same exact way.



Final Impressions:

The K712 Pro has proven to be the best mid level AKG headphone in terms of musicality, refinement, and organic tonality. Yes, it doesn't stray far from that well known 7xx sound, but it eliminates most of what people disliked about them, while adding nearly all the things that were lacking (bass, warmth, organic sound). If you happen to like the standard 7xx and wished for more warmth, bass, and musicality, with less upper mid/lower treble fatigue, the K712 Pro demands your attention. I admit I was skeptical at first, seeing how much I love the original Annie and heard that the K712 reduced the intimacy. My fears were quelled, as the K712 gained it's own benefits over the smoother, original Annie, mainly in the addition of air/less congestion and upper range clarity.

I'm actually quite in love with the K712 Pro overall, and I find it to be a great endgame headphone for those without deep pockets. It's a safe bet to say that the K712 Pro is a headphone that I can recommend to practically anyone.


Fun: 8.25/10 (Great) (Click to show)
The most immersive AKG headphone I've heard to date. Excellent bass response, natural sound, and spacious soundstage makes for a very fun headphone.
Competitive: 8.75/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
While the standard 7xx models may be more detail oriented for easier soundwhoring, the K712 Pro is no slouch with great clarity without the expense of immersion and fun factor in general.
Comfort: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
Sharing the same exact comfort I loved in the K702 65th Anniversary, the K712 Pro is among the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn. Auto adjusting headband, soft memory foam pads, and light frame. Not much more you can ask for.
Overall: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
The K712 Pro is amazing, plain and simple. If you want a great all rounder that does practically everything well, the K712 Pro is an incredibly easy recommendation.











Audeze LCD-2



Sells for $995 (Headamp)
Review (Click to show)

Before I begin, I would like to personally thank Justin at Headamp for allowing head-fiers like myself to test out the Audeze LCD-2 at home for a few days. Without him and Headamp, I would have most likely never been able to demo these stellar, and extremely expensive headphones. The LCD-2 are one of the most popular, and highly regarded former flagships to date. Until the LCD-3's release, the LCD-2 was arguably known as the best headphone in the world in the $1500 or less price range. It's most popular and direct competitors in the price range at the time were the Hifiman HE-6, the Sennheiser HD800, Ultrasone Edition 8 and Signature Pro, among some others.



Build Quality:

I must say I'm not a big fan of the LCD-2's aesthetics. It has a very retro look to it, as if these were made in the 1940s. I'm sure there are many fans of it's look, but I'm not one of them. It looks clunky, way too large, and borderline utilitarian, in my opinion. The cups are made of wood (there are rosewood and bamboo variants, bamboo being lighter). I was sent the bamboo LCD-2, which I was hoping on, as the LCD-2 is quite heavy as is. The grills are black, with the Audeze grill design, with screws that protrude holding it in place. The headband adjustment is basically two long cylindrical rods, which look durable, but ugly as sin. The headband is padded with leather bumps, which aren't as offensive as the AKG K701/2/Q701 bumps. They aren't extremely soft, but get the job done. The cable input is a 4-pin XLR, which is leaps and bounds better than Hifiman's horrible screw-in type of connector.

The connectors are angled, which I'm a big fan of, as they allow the headphone cables to stick out a little in front of you, and not directly fall on your shoulders. The removable headphone cable looks straight out of 1940 as well, with small cables covering each channel and stuck together. While it's not the prettiest cable, I am a fan, as it's relatively flat, and should be mostly tangle-free. The termination is a very thich 6.3mm (1/4") plug, which screams rugged and durable. Unfortunately, there is no 3.5mm adapter of any kind, so you may want something like the Grado 1/4" to 3.5mm cable to connect to smaller devices. Due to the fact that the LCD-2 is actually pretty decent on lesser equipment (doesn't need a lot to sound good), you might wanna invest on such an adapter if you have a portable amp here or there. The LCD-2 is definitely not for portable use, but it can at least be transportable and enjoyable in that method.

The included pads are made of real leather (none of that pleather nonsense). They are angled, and VERY thick. Not the softest kind, but not hard either. I feel they are the right amount of firmness, personally. Audeze also sells vegan pads (which are more akin to something like velours) if you're like me, and prefer non-pleather/leather material.

As I briefly mentioned, the LCD-2 overall is a very retro, very heavy, very big, and of utilitarian design.



Comfort:

The LCD-2 is not exactly what I'd call comfortable. The weight is definitely a factor. They also have some clamp, which can be a bit strong. I'd bend the headband out to lessen this, but as these are not mine, I've left them untouched. I don't mind it's clamp personally, but I would prefer a bit less. My biggest issue is that even for an open-design headphone, they have that airplane cabin-pressure feeling once you put them on. It's as if the pads find a seal, and you get that suction feeling. It's a bit surprising and unpleasant, but the feeling goes away after awhile.

As always, leather builds up heat and induces sweat, but the effect is somewhat better with leather compared to pleather which tends to add stickiness into the mix. Thankfully, as I demoed the LCD-2, Florida was going through a pretty strong cold front, so the pads didn't bother me much. I still would have preferred the vegan pads, but beggars can't be choosers. The headband on the first day of use put pressure on the top of my noggin, which was quite uncomfortable. After a day, I was able to get used to the feeling. Certainly not as bad as the AKG headband bumps which never disappear off the head.

Overall, I'd say the comfort on the LCD-2 is passable. Not the worst, but not great. It's between decent to good.

Comfort is noticeably improved with the vegan/leather-free version, as it allows the ears to breathe, no sweat inducing leather, and the headband's bumps is softer, though not as plushy as I would like. Even better than the vegan headband is if you acquire the foam padded headband. The headband is made of durable metal, but the underside is line with very soft and comfortable foam, boosting comfort even more. With the foam headband, there is basically no pressure/hotspots, and all the weigh is distributed evenly. This leaves just the pads/clamp/weight to potentially cause discomfort.



Accessories:

You get the headphone, the cable, some stickers, and an AMAZING hard case. The case looks like it would survive a nuclear blast. Very impressive, to say the least. Not exactly something I'd keep in the the open, but it should offer extreme protection if you desire to use it.



Isolation/Leakage:

As an open-ear headphone, the LCD-2 isn't exactly isolating. It lets external noises in, and leaks out a LOT. You definitely do not want to use this in a room with people, or even in a separate room with the door open.



Sound:

To the meat of what everyone really wants to know. What does a $1000 headphone sound like? I must say... FANTASTIC. The tonal balance is quite warm, rich, creamy, and oooooh so seductive. The frequency response of the LCD-2 is VERY linear up until the upper mids, which then gently rolls off to a smooth treble range. This makes the LCD-2 like the HD650, in which is brings in a thick, musical, and non-fatiguing sound signature. In short, if I were to put the HE-400's bass with the HD650's mids and treble, with a pinch of refinement, the concoction would sound something like the LCD-2.

Is it all magical? Unfortunately, no. The LCD-2 has it's weaknesses. Number 1 being that the treble isn't what I'd consider natural. It's rolled off a bit. The smooth treble leads to very little airiness in the sound and somewhat congested and small-ish soundstage. Can't have it all, it seems. Let's get into the specifics...

update: The vegan LCD2 (leather free) mitigates the weakness in treble/congestion. It's slightly more open/airy, with a hint more treble sparkle. The downside is that it's not as velvety smooth as the leather LCD2. The difference is slight, and they're both quite warm/smooth, but it should be noted that there is SOME difference in tonality/treble section.



Bass:

The bass. Dear god. The bass. Incredibly full, textured, and very, VERY deep. Due to the extreme linearity of the LCD2's response, I can't say the bass is emphasized, because it is PERFECTLY in line with the mids. Seriously, if you look at the published graphs, you'd see, there is absolutely no real emphasis anywhere. Does that mean the bass is neutral and not very strong? Yes and no. The LCD-2 has bar none, the best bass I have ever heard on any headphone. Not the MOST bass, just the best overall.

While I personally prefer the Denon D7000's fun fueled bass with it's emphasized and omnipotent sub bass, it isn't accurate, and doesn't have very strong mid bass. It also tends to add bass where there shouldn't be none. The Ultrasone Pro 2900's bass is incredibly agile, and sharp, but lacks quite a bit in the sub-region. The LCD-2's bass is full in all areas and not just certain frequencies. When a source demands it, the LCD-2 hits like Thor's hammer, and in all other cases, presents itself very naturally. There is absolutely no lack of bass here. Just accurate, and always involved in a proper manner.

The closest competitor (with very similar bass) is the Hifiman HE-400. The LCD-2 further improves on the type of bass the HE-400 is known for with even more texture and fullness. Headphones should strive to have the type of bass that the LCD-2 has. It's that good.



Mids:

If you have read my HD650 review on this guide, you know how absolutely entranced I am by it's mids/vocals. What if I told you the LCD-2's mids are even better? That's right. The LCD-2's mids are incredibly intimate, haunting, and realistic. I have never heard vocals sound as if the singers were singing in the same room. This is as close as it's come to that. The best word for me to describe the mids is: NATURAL. Natural, organic, realistic, very detailed, and spine-chilling. Don't get me wrong, the HD650's mids are very, VERY close to this, but the LCD-2 just has that extra step that makes them stick out even more for me. Amazing. Absolutely.



Treble:

The treble range. This is the LCD-2's weak point in terms of it's frequency response. In order to make the bass and mids as special as they are, something had to give. Unfortunately, it's the treble range. Technically rolled off and smooth. This gives the LCD-2 lose out on air and soundstage, which leads to congestion/stuffiness. The lack of air paired up with the incredibly full notes tends to clash sounds together in comparison to other headphones with more treble, which is the LCD-2's biggest shortcoming. Personally, the treble is the least important aspect of sound to me now, as most music is in the bass and mids region of the sound spectrum. Treble aids in perceived clarity with sparkle and air, but it's not essential or integral. The LCD-2 is not undetailed or veiled sounding. However, the treble does lack sparkle in comparison to more neutral offerings. That is undeniable. This is one area that it truly shares with the HD650. However, I feel the LCD-2 is quicker and more aggressive, so it doesn't sound laid back like the HD650.

Update: The vegan (leather free) LCD2 has treble quite close to the bass/mids, just slightly rolled off. This means, that the treble range's weakness is a little more improved. In order to gain that slight bit of clarity/treble, a hint of warmth/smoothness was lost, though the vegan LCD2 is still decidedly on the warm side of neutral. Good news is that the bass and mids sound just like the leather LCD2. What this means, is that vegan LCD2 has a slight hint of sparkle, whereas the leather LCD2 is slightly smoother and warmer.



Soundstage:

As mentioned before, the lack of air and the congestion due to it's smooth treble response leads to a soundstage that is more akin to a closed headphone. Like a closed headphone with a large soundstage, but disappointing for an open headphone.

I directly compared the LCD-2 with my K702 65th Anniversary which is also warm/smooth.

The LCD2 is a bit intimate and closed in. The LCD-2 for gaming (with Dolby Headphone) fared quite a bit better. Soundstage opened up, with a very good sense of depth and relatively decent width. Not very large, but there was ample space to allow positional cues space to do their magic.

Update: Having recently acquired a pair of vegan (leather-free) LCD2s, I have to say the suede-ish pads breathe easier, and gives the sound more space and air. It's no K702, but the soundstage is medium sized, with nice separation in comparison to the leather LCD2.



Positioning:

Positional cues were surprisingly very good. I had zero issues locating sound placement, though lesser headphones with less thickness made it easier to pinpoint sounds. The LCD-2 is one of the better headphones I have heard in terms of rear depth, which is incredibly beneficial for positional cues.



Clarity:

Clarity for gaming is actually pretty good. That linear response in bass and mids gives the LCD-2 quite a detailed sound for gaming, even borderline analytical at times (like the HD650, which was also surprisingly detailed for gaming), while softening just the impact of the more annoying sounds like gun fire and glass shattering enough to reduce ear fatigue. You get fullness AND clarity. Not many headphones that do both.

Update: The vegan LCD2 (leather free) is even clearer than the leather pads, where the highest peak in the treble is just under the main bass/mid line. This in practice = very linear sound signature, which means almost all areas of sound are in line with verything else. For gaming, this means a very detailed sound. The leather LCD2 first reviewed had a bigger treble roll off, so it was a little warmer and smoother in comparison. They both sounded near the same, but the difference is there, albeit, very slightly.



Amping:

The LCD-2 is surprisingly easy to power for a planar magnetic headphone, requiring minimal amping to sound good. I was able to use it with the Mixamp alone, though I would still recommend some amping to truly make this $1000 worth the purchase. No reason to skimp out here when you've aready spent so much money on the headphone alone. The LCD-2 is known to scale up quite a bit, as it can handle a ridiculous amount of power, despite not needing much to hit the ground running. It certainly improved in refinement when I used paired the Mixamp up with my Compass 2 which does 2 watts at 50ohm. The LCD-2 can handle even more than that.



Value:

Value is certainly questionable. It costs an exhorbitant amount of money, and you can get by with much, much less for gaming in particular.



Final Impressions:

The LCD-2 is a truly stunning headphone with the best bass and mids I have heard to date. That being said, as far as gaming goes, there are headphones better suited that cost MUCH less. It however, a top tier headphone that will impress on almost all fronts with few weaknesses. You get lots of warmth, musicality, fullness, and truly organic sound. Treble, air, and congestion are it's weaknesses, but the overall package is so fantastic, you can forgive these faults once everything is taken into account. This is one headphone I suggest people use for gaming if you happen to own them, though I certainly wouldn't buy them with gaming as the top priority. It is certainly better for non-gaming needs, though hold their own for gaming, especially for casual/fun gaming.

Final Scores...
Fun: 9 (Fantastic) (Click to show)
Incredible warmth, bass texture, mids, and fullness, for lots of immersion.
Competitive: 7.25 (Good) (Click to show)
Great clarity and detail, decent soundstage in Dolby Headphone with good rear positional cues.
Comfort: Leather: 6.5. Vegan: 7.0. Foam Headband: 7.25 (Decent/Good/Pretty Good) (Click to show)
Heavy, and clampy, but not completely offensive. It's passable. Vegan version is easier on the ears, with less heat buildup. The vegan headband doesn't dig in as strongly into the scalp as the leather headband. The foam headband is even better. Softer, and no pressure on top of the head whatsoever.











Denon D7000



DISCONTINUED
Review (Click to show)
Normally, I wouldn't be recommending you spend anywhere near the price of the D7000 for gaming needs, but since I happened to own them, I'll went ahead and critiqued them. This may or may not be a surprise, but they are absolute gaming monsters. Despite them being closed, there is a great soundstage, with plenty of depth and width. Pinpointing directional sounds around you is a BREEZE. Detail is in everything you can focus on. If you happen to own the D7000 and something with Dolby Headphone, you need not look further for your pleasureable gaming needs. The bass is so magnificently present without it smearing over the rest of the frequencies. The mids are very good though obviously take a step back because of the bass and pronounced treble. The treble is sparkly but not overly prone to fatiguing. They are also GREAT for hardcore gaming, but in all honesty, the bass is so good, you'll find yourself paying attention to it when you should be picking up the finer details, which is why I'd still choose something with quicker, and less present bass. Still, the D7000 they can do it all, and do it well.

Comfort-wise, the D7000 is very comfortable overall. The pads are soft, luxurious, and the headphone feels good on the head, for the most part. Personal distaste for pleather aside, the D7000 is damn comfortable. Personal gripe: The headband is big and can feel awkward as you move around. It's not the most secure fit.

Fun: 10/10 (Incredible)

Competitive: 8.25/10 (Great)

Comfort: 8/10 (Great)











HiFiMAN HE-4



Sells for $450.
Review (Click to show)
I feel I should add these to the list as I did own them for quite a bit and loved them almost as much as my D7000, and more than the rest. That being said, while they are one of my fave headphones I have owned, they are in the middle of the pack in terms of gaming either competitively or for fun. First, they are ridiculously illogical to use, as they require a substantial amount of power to drive properly. The E9 was driving them loudly, but the dynamics were clearly lacking. I've never heard a headphone sound loud, yet so inadequate, but there you have it. I specifically bought the Schiit Lyr for these back then. It was a huge difference. So yeah, imagine having to attach something like the Lyr to the Mixamp to give the HE-4 some Dolby Headphone love? I'm a man of certain passions, so I did just that. You can forget about trying to drive these with the Mixamp alone. It was very, very low in volume, let alone dynamics.

Now how did they perform? Well enough. The HE-4 distinctly reminds me of a cross between the DT880 and premium DT990. Seriously, take both of them, fused them together, add some good refinement, and you have the HE-4. What was lost in that fusion was a little bit of the soundstage size. Don't get me wrong, the HE-4's soundstage is large, airy, and spacious. They just have less depth to it that the other planars I have tested, but more width.

They are VERY detailed headphones, with plenty of bass impact, but not nearing the DT990s in this regard, and energetic treble close to the quantity of the DT880.

Comfort-wise, the HE-4 has one of the BEST headband designs out of all the headphones I have owned/used, with the exception of the suspension style headbands. The HE-4 uses a Grado style headband which lays pretty flat on your head, and conforms to the shape of your head, so it distributes weight wonderfully. I wish more headphones had this style headband. The pads, hmm, the velour pads. They are wonderful. One the comfort side, they feel great. They aren't too soft, or too firm. However, the issue is the point where the cushiony part of the pads meet the part connected to the drivers. There is a not so subtle hard texture there, and it HURTS if your ears touch it. It feels like hardened glue or something. I was able to rotate the pads enough to where I wasn't hitting the hard part, but your mileage may vary.

Note: While they may not be the highest scoring headphones in either fun or competitive gaming, you need to understand that it's overall quality is absolutely amazing. So if you feel there is a discrepancy, it's because this review was posted before I got into the specifics of the sound, and how refined and detailed the HE-4 actually is.



Fun: 7.75/10 (Very Good)

Competitive: 7.75/10 (Very Good)

Comfort: 8.75/10 (Excellent)

Overall 8.75/10 (Excellent)











HiFiMAN HE-400



Sells for $400.
Review (Click to show)
Updated: 8/30/2012: The earlier impression was with the Mixamp alone. I didn't notice at the time, but after having used the E17 to help the Mixamp power the HE-400, they improved enough to warrant some pretty significant edits to this entry. Please read on to see the updated impressions, and score.

While I bought the E17 due to wanting the bass and treble control, as well as a portable DAC, those wanting the HE400 who want to help the Mixamp power the HE-400 only need something like the E11/E9/E09K (if you're not looking for a DAC for non-gaming use).


Before I start, let me clarify something: This impression is of the HE-400 Rev. 2 using the Hifiman velour pads, instead of the stock pleather pads. The Hifiman velours can be bought from Head-Direct for $10. Why the velour? The velour pads give the HE-400 a cleaner, more refined sound, with less tradeoffs. The bass remains the same, the mids are pushed up, and treble is better fleshed out (the pleather pads give the HE-400 some pesky and uneven treble peaks). It has also been tested by many of us on Head-fi, myself included. The clarity is noticeably improved, as well as lifting the slight veil and darkness that the pleather pads have. Can't forget that velour is MUCH better than pleather in comfort, IMHO. No more sweaty, sticky pleather touching the skin. You all know how I feel about pleather.



Bass:

This is what I'd consider one of the most natural sounding bass in terms of quantity and quality that I've heard. Is it bass light? No. Is it bass heavy? No. So what IS the bass? Well, the bass is just what it is... BASS. When a song asks for lots of bass, the HE-400 surely does not disappoint. It is NOT an aggressive bass like most bass heavy headphones that tend to impart bass to things that shouldn't have bass. For example: The D7000 (which has my fave bass presence in a headphone), still tends to sound bass heavy on bass light recordings. The HE-400 only adds bass if it's there to begin with. In reality, you can say that the bass IS emphasized, because bass neutral cans don't tend to have the power and impact that the HE400's bass has. So let's call it mildly bass emphasized, but just absolutely lovely in any which way. You put a bassy song, and you'll never think to yourself "Hmm, this could use more bass". It's that good. This is the type of bass that bassheads looking for actual quality can appreciate. I'd put the actual quantity between the DT880 and DT990. The quality of the bass isn't as clean as the Pro 2900 and Q701, but it's easily fuller sounding, and more realistic. Once I added the E17 to help drive the Mixamp, the bass became more present, and fuller. It really added some meat to the sound. I'd call it emphasized, but not DT990 level of strong.



Mids:

Very natural sounding mids overall, but recessed in the upper range. They're well balanced mids for the most part. With certain recordings, the mids are right where they need to be, and with other recordings, the mids may be slightly pushed back in the upper ranges. The mids are not hindered by either the bass. Even with the E17's various bass boosts, they never hampered the mids in any way. Must be planar magic.



Treble:

This is what I was most skeptical about when I read up on the HE-400. Many times I have read that the treble was too dark, too smooth, and lacking air. The previous HE-400 may have actually had that issue, but the current batches do not have this issue. The stock HE-400 with pleather has a tendency to be smooth in certain ranges of the treble, and peaky on others. Uneven treble that can be dark or bright. The velour pads lets the treble behave in a more uniform manner, being bright overall, but that's in comparison to the overall tonality of the headphone which is dark everywhere else. They sound crisp enough and sparkly. Due to how warm/dark the headphone is UP UNTIL the treble range, it's a bit jarring to have such lively treble. It can be fatiguing at times. I'd say this is the one biggest weakness in the HE-400 in an otherwise fantastic headphone. It's not a very fatiguing headphone overall, but the treble is out of place with the rest of the spectrum. Still, it's a minor gripe in a mix of greatness.



Soundstage:

I'm not a soundstage nut when it comes to non-gaming purposes, and I find the HE-400's soundstage to be medium sized. Not small, and not big. I guess those used to something like the Q701's soundstage may feel the loss of sheer size, but I don't have a problem with it whatsoever. To me, what is lost, is gained everywhere else. The HE-400 sounds less like a headphone, and more like two speakers strapped to the side of your head. Literally haven't heard anything like it. It's airy, and sounds are place all around you, and less next to your ears like standard headphones. The depth wasn't exactly great off the Mixamp alone, but once I added the E17 to help amp the HE-400, the depth improved for sure, enough to truly help with the positional cues.



Positioning:

How did the HE-400 fare for gaming? Well... it did pretty good. About as good as the HE-4 if not slightly better in terms of positioning. They both are both better than the DT880 in terms of positional cues, which is to say, they could do better, but will do their job. Not quite on the level of the AD700, Q701, K701, DT990, DT770 Pros, D7000, etc, but pretty good. So if you're looking for an amazing, fun, and competitive headphone, the HE-400 is a in a good place, assuming you help the Mixamp with an additional amp to open add some depth to the soundstage.



Amping :

The HE-400 is unlike the HE-4, in that it doesn't require the power of Zeus to get it to sing well. A portable amp will make them sound great. A desktop amp would be even better. How did it do with the Mixamp? Honestly? It needs an additional amp to give the HE400 some headroom. The HE400 can be loud enough with certain games, and not loud enough for others. HOWEVER, they are clearly lacking in driving force. The dynamics were lacking. Bass was slightly reserved in comparison, mids were a teeny bit distant, the soundstage depth was constricted with the Mixamp alone. This was what gave them just barely better than DT880 performance in terms of positioning prior to this updated impression. Once I added the Fiio E17 to the chain (the E11 would be a cheaper alternative with simlar amp performance) after the Mixamp, the depth really improved, as did positioning. Not as good as the DT990, but good enough to be borderline great.

Playing Mass Effect 3, I had to literally max the volume out when using the Mixamp alone, and it was clearly lacking some oomph. So yes, you may want some amp on hand to give the HE-400 the energy it needs to truly bless you with some godly sound. I added the E17, and I couldn't believe how much better gaming with the HE400 became.



Comfort:

I find them comfortable, a little behind of the HE-4 which is lighter, and the velours are softer vs the HE400. The stock pleather pads are actually pretty good for comfort, as they aren't going to cover your face in pleather, though they still get hot and sticky. The velours however are just the right amount of firm/softness and plenty breathable. You will notice that the HE-400 IS a pretty heavy headphone. One of the heaviest headphone I've owned. It's a tank. However, due to the headband design (my favorite outside of the Steelseries Siberia), the weight gets evenly distributed, so it doesn't dig into your skull. I don't have a problem wearing the HE-400 all day. This is more than I can say about pretty much every other headphone I have used, with some exceptions. They also have some decent clamp, which I prefer on headphones like these. Not a strong Sennheiser-like clamp, but one that will keep the HE400 from moving around too much. All in all, not many people will have issues with the HE-400's comfort aside from how heavy they are.



Final impressions:

The HE-400 is nearly a must have for those looking for a fantastic all-rounder, with a slight tip towards fun. I'd rate the overall SQ to be top tier in it's price range, lagging behind the K702 Anniversary in balance, but besting it in fun. Other cans have more immediate fun factor (D7000, Pro 900), but long-term, the HE400 bests those as it blends ALL frequencies together to form an amazing, cohesive sound with very little to complain about. Usually, there is always something missing or hurtful, whether it's mids being recessed (Pro 900), treble being too edgy (DT990), bass not being impactful enough (Pro 2900, Q701), etc. The HE-400 is well balanced, EXCITING, full sounding, and an absolutely thrill to listen to. They're also highly detailed. For such a full sounding headphone, they can still REALLY analyze the source well, to the point where I thought my HE-400 was messed up. I then realized it was the files I was listening to that were less than perfect. That's how revealing they can be.

The detail, and clarity were top notch. They will do just fine overall. Positioning was very good while amped with more than just the Mixamp, decent without. The HE-400 impresses on pretty much ALL other fronts, that those looking for an endgame headphone shouldn't pass these up. Currently for $300, the HE-400 is among the best in it's price range.

Fun: 8.75/10 (Excellent)

Competitive: 7.5/10 (Very Good)

Comfort: 8/10 (Great)

Overall: 8.5/10 (Excellent)












Koss ESP-950



Normally sells between $700-$1000
Review (Click to show)

Before I begin, I want to thank forum member jazzerdave for being kind enough to loan these out to me. He didn't even ask for anything in return. Stand up guy. smily_headphones1.gif

With my introduction to the electrostatic world via the SR-407 with SRM-252S amp, and it completely blowing me away sound-wise, I started looking to see what was sold new today for an affordable price range (head-fi affordable, not real world affordable, but I digress). The Koss ESP-950 immediately jumped out at me. Electrostatic headphone WITH an amp sometimes sold for less than $700? I HAD to check them out!

Koss is usually associated with headphones that are budget conscious, delivering great sound without breaking the bank. By now you guys probably know how much of a fanboy I am of the KSC-75 and KSC-35. I will always have at least one pair of Koss headphones in my lifetime. The Koss ESP-950 has been part of Koss's repertoire for a few decades, known for their incredibly linearity, well balanced, yet musical sound. The ESP-950 comes bundled with their E-90 electrostatic amp. It uses a proprietary headphone input, so it only works with the ESP-950. The great thing about Koss is that their well known Lifetime Warranty is also applicable here, so if for any reason these fail you, you can get them replaced/fixed by Koss directly. More companies should follow this type of business mindset. Standing behind their products for as long as you live!



Build Quality:

Unfortunately, the build quality is without question, the worst build I have seen on a headphone costing more than $100. It literally feels like a $20 headphone to me. The internals could be made out of styrofoam, and I wouldn't doubt it.

Seriously, I don't know what it is, but electrostatic headphones seem to focus purely on sound quality, and not build or aesthetics (at least until you hit flagship level Stax headphones).

Starting with the cups, they seem to be the best area of the ESP-950's build. The grills look decent enough, and feel solid enough. It's all plastic, and not a very good feeling plastic at that. Seriously, it feels like this kind of plastic belongs on no name brand budget cans. The extension bars seem to be the only thing made out of metal, and yet, it still feels/looks a bit too thin for my personal taste. Unfortunately, the arms don't like to stay at the length you adjust them to, and I can almost guarantee that it will set itself a bit more loose than anyone may like. That is, unless you have a gargantuan head and wear these fully extended. The headband is made of some cheap feeling pleather that could stand to be a little more dense inside, but is ultimately quite comfortable, as the headphone is so light and loose, the headband feels like it practically just rests there.

The pads? Oh, the pads. They are made of incredibly cheap feeling pleather of the WORST kind. Seriously, pick out an extremely cheap over ear headphone, and I'm sure the pleather pads would be comparable to the ones on the ESP-950. Despite my absolute hate for these kinds of pads, they are actually not uncomfortable by any mean of the word. Due to how loose the ESP-950 clamps to the head, the pads don't really put much pressure on the skin, so it doesn't induce much if any sweat.

The cable is of the standard flat, ribbon-type cabling found on most if not all electrostatic headphones I have seen. This is a good thing. This basically guarantees no accidental tangling. It's a bit short of length, though it comes with an extension cable of decent length. Unless you sit right next to the amp, you're guaranteed to use the extension cable.

Now, I'm not sure if it's a build issue or just typical of electrostatics (didn't hear it on the SR-407), but the ESP-950 retains some static noise even if unpluged. You literally have to touch the contacts at the end of the cable to make the noise dissipate.



Comfort:

As mentioned before, the ESP-950 is incredibly lightweight, and incredibly loose fitting (think AD700 type looseness). While the comfort overall is pretty good, the lack of secure fit makes it a little less pleasing than it should've been. The headband is very comfy, and the pleather pads, while of horrible quality, is a non-issue due to the loose fit.



Accessories:

The ESP-950 comes in a very, very nice 'leather' bag, used to fit the headphone, the amp, a battery pack (without batteries) to allow the E-90 to be used on the go, a pair of RCA cables, and 3.5mm cables. If only they spent less time with accessories, and more time with the build quality of the headphone itself, but that's just a personal gripe.



Isolation/Leakage:

As expected on open and electrostatic headphones, there is absolutely no isolation or passive noise cancelling. These are not to be used where noise control is important.



Sound:

So to the meat of the review. As advertised, the ESP-950 is certainly a very linear, very balanced, and very well behaved headphone. These are among the flattest sounding headphones I have heard, where nothing really sticks out over anything else. The upper and lower ends are slightly rolled off, meaning there is no direct bass energy or treble sizzle. The sound as a whole was indeed quite neutral, with a hint of warmth. There is a very good sense of space and soundstage is decent, but not a stand out over what I've reviewed so far. The ESP-950 is soft sounding, a hint laid back, and polite overall. It's quite the contrast compared to the SR-407 which was quite fast, lively, energetic, and aggressive, while maintaing some amazing clarity and refinement. That's not to say the ESP-950 is muted or lacking in clarity. On the contrary. The ESP-950 is among the most detailed headphones I have ever heard. It's most evident during gaming, from what I experienced. The ESP-950 while not being the most musical headphone, is still very enjoyable. Not sterile/clinical, and not colored in any real way.



Bass:

While the bass is slightly rolled off at the extreme lower end, it's not a steep roll off. With bass heavy music, the bass has a surprising amount of presence. It's a bit soft hitting and slow in the bass compared to the SR-407 which was very agile and punchy, but rolled off quite a bit faster. The ESP-950's bass overall is enjoyable and atmospheric, but doesn't bring immediate attention to itself. It could stand to gain a bit more speed and punch, but it doesn't 'sound' bass light by any means, just somewhat polite.



Mids:

This is easily the biggest strength of the ESP-950. The slight warmth and linear frequency aside from the bass and treble roll off, ensures the mids are slightly forward and immediately engaging. Though not as sultry and intimate as the LCD2, it does have a similar organic tonal quality to it. Basically, voices sound very realistic/natural. If you have a lot of music that relies on vocals more than anything, the ESP-950 will not disappoint.



Treble:

The treble is ever so slightly rolled off, but it's not veiled or muddy. It gives the ESP-950 a pleasing clarity to the upper range without any of the harshness found on headphones with more treble quantity. Among the most pleasant treble presentations I have heard. Not too rolled off, not too sparkly. It's in a good place. Trebleheads may want a clearer treble presentation, like that found on the SR-407 however. In this aspect alone, the ESP-950 takes on a more musical than realistic approach.



Soundstage:

As previously mentioned, the soundstage while not being a stand out, is quite natural sounding in size. Depth isn't an exact strength, but there is an appreciable amount of width, with great instument separation.



Positioning:

For gaming, the ESP-950 stepped it up with Dolby Headphone. The soundstage was a very good size, and while the depth still wasn't amazing, it was pretty easy to poinpoint directional cues. Space between direction cues was very good, allowing for no confusion or distractions.



Clarity:

Again, like the HD650 and LCD2, the ESP-950 is slightly on the warmer side of neutral, yet like the other two, clarity for gaming was very, very impressive. Actually, if the soundstage was larger, and depth was better, these may have been right up there with the AKG K70x's in terms of god mode inducing clarity and performance. If I had to rate the clarity for gaming alone, it'd be an easy 9.



Amping:

A non-issue as the ESP-950 comes with it's own amp, though people do take the extension cable and mod it to allow the ESP-950 to be used with more robust Stax amps. In any case, the E-90 drives the ESP-950 quite decently based on what I'm hearing, though the amp's volume control is an absolute pain as each side has it's own independent volume control, so you'll have to match by ear. To get around having to constantly re-adjust with different sources, I set it once, and controlled the volume with my Compass-2 (used it as a pre-amp). In terms of gaming, Mixamp owners will probably want to set the volume once (on a high decibel level) and adjust volume with the Mixamp (or other DH devices). The E-90 is also not the quietest amp, with some very slight background noise that occurs randomly.



Value:

The prices fluctuate wildly, but if you can score them near the $700 range, they are an incredible value. Electrostatic headphone, amp, bag, portable battery pack. All your bases are mostly covered. The build quality doesn't not compliment it's price, however.



Final Impressions:

Those looking for an incredibly well balanced, linear, and neutral-ish headphone, may find the ESP-950 to be a serious contender for your money. The ESP-950 favors it's balance and faithful representation of sound over musicality, but it remains a fine bridge between the two. For gaming, it is among the best for competitive gaming with very few faults, and it's full sound makes it a very good headphone outside of non-competitive use.



Final Scores...

Fun: 7.75 (Very Good.)

Competitive: 8.5 (Excellent)

Comfort: 7 (Good)

Overall: 8.75 (Excellent)









Alpha Dog



MrSpeakers.com

MSRP: $599.99

Where To Buy: MrSpeakers Alpha Dog page

Review (Click to show)
Before I begin, I'd like to express my deepest thanks to MrSpeakers for the loan/demo of these headphones. Both the Alpha Dog and Mad Dog headphones reviewed on my guide were supplied directly by Dan aka MrSpeakers. Dan always aims to please, and though I have never met him personally, I fully expect him to be one hell of a guy in real life as well. He stands behind his products, and seems very proud of them. Rightly so, if I could be completely honest. That out the way... on to the review.

The Alpha Dog. The successor to the immensely popular and highly regarded Mad Dog. What a successor it is. The Mad Dog was generally labeled as a closed LCD-2, and though I don't completely agree with that statement, I do find the Mad Dog to be the closest thing to a closed LCD-2 (I haven't heard the new LCD-XC). I personally felt it was not an LCD-2 clone, but it's own headphone, with it's own strengths and weaknesses.

With the Alpha Dog, Dan set out to improve upon the Mad Dog, with a rise in clarity, speed, level of detail, neutrality, and soundstage/sense of space. As far as I'm concerned, he fully achieved his goal. How he was able to transform a $100 T50RP to something considerably more high end, especially being a closed planar magnetic, is anyone's guess. Not only does the Alpha Dog look the part, but plays it to the tee as well.



Build Quality:


Amazing.

The Alpha Dog is truly something to behold. Nearly gone is any trace of the retro-looking Fostex T50RP, with the only visible remnants of the T50RP being the black/grayish rubbery headband with the huge Fostex branding on the top (I personally hope Dan finds some form of leather or cloth wrapping to cover up the rubbery headband, like some Pro model DT770 leatherette headband cover), as well as the extension arms holding the cups/drivers. Speaking of the extension arms, gone is the copper/brass color, now anodized in black dye with MrSpeakers and R imprinted on the right side; Alpha Dogs and L on the left. Aside from the leather comfort strap (first introduced on the Mad Dog), every other external piece has been replaced. The most noticeable change is undoubtedly the new 3D printed cups, which ironically takes on a look that more closely resembles the flagship Fostex TH-900's red urushi lacquer cups.

The Alpha Dog's cups are simply a thing of absolute beauty. It is completely devoid of any marks, brands, logos, etc. Just a glossy red/burgundy candy coat of paint to feast your eyes on, as well as two cavities near the arms. These cavities have a purpose: They are the tuning mechanism for the bass on the Alpha Dog. With the supplied miniature hex key, you're able to adjust the screw inside the top cavity, which alters the bass on the Alpha Dog. However, be warned: doing so removes any liability on MrSpeakers's part. If you mess up the tuning, MrSpeakers will re-tune the drivers to their stock state at a cost. The bass adjustment was meant as a one time adjustment, not as an on the fly bass boost/reduction.

The Alpha Dog uses 4-pin XLR inputs on both sides for the new cables, with your choice of a single ended 6.3mm cable, or balanced cables. You can also order both sets of cables for an additional cost. The standard cable is thick, of good length (6 feet), durable, and heavy duty, terminating in a 6.3mm Neutrik plug. The last thing to ever complain about here is the cable, I assure you. The immensely popular Alpha pads (first introduced in a more recent version of the Mad Dog) are back and put to great use here. Made of lambskin leather, thick, soft, and angled, the Alpha Pads are arguably one of the most if not THE most comfortable pair of (lambskin) leather pads ever used on a headphone.

Wonderfully built from head to toe, I don't see any points of weakness anywhere on the Alpha Dogs. The only real reason you'd want to baby it is so as not to ruin the wonderful finish on the cups. That is a worry not found on the utilitarian Mad Dog with it's matte black plastic cups which could take quite a beating and come out relatively unscathed.



Accessories:

Fantastic.

The Alpha Dog comes with a full suite of goodies:

- Metal headphone stand. This is an awesome bonus, though I feel it's not exactly convenient. You can't exactly place the Alpha Dog on the stand with cables attached unless you add some foam or anything else that will raise the headphone enough to give the cables some clearance. As aesthetically pleasing as the headphone stand is, I don't see anything pretty about adding a block of wood or foam, etc. I'm sure some people will find elegant methods to provide enough clearance for the Alpha Dog with it's cables.

- Cloth carrying pouch

- Microfiber cleaning cloth

- Mini hex tool for adjusting the Very-Bass screw at your own risk

The only things missing are a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter and a hard case for solid protection. For the sake of versatility, I would've preferred it if the standard cable was terminated in a 3.5mm plug with a 6.3mm adapter, though considering the kinds of setups/systems the Alpha Dogs were built in mind for, it's understandable. The Alpha Dogs were made to be powered off desktop amps which tend to come with 6.3mm inputs. I recommend a Grado-style 6.3mm female to 3.5mm male cable, not a simple 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter, as those tend to put strain or outright break 3.5mm inputs. As for the hard case, would be nice, but not necessary. There is simply no legitimate reason to be unimpressed with the amount of accessories packed with the Alpha Dog.



Comfort:


Great.

As mentioned with the Mad Dog, the Alpha Dog has an incredibly similar comfort factor, the difference between the additional weight of the new cables and cups. It is a very, very comfortable headphone overall. The added weight over the Mad Dog is noticeable, but mostly inoffensive. The Alpha Dog would practically fit on any head, isn't oversized, and has some moderate clamp (clamp can be adjusted by bending the headband, which extremely easy to do). The Alpha Dog used in this review has some moderate clamp which I didn't want to mess with, as I feel it's a good middle ground for comfort and optimal sound quality.

The leather comfort strap feels great on the head, distributing downforce relatively evenly. The Alpha pads are as usual, very comfortable. Not on the same level as the best velour or alcantara pads (Shure 1540 pads as an example) out there, but certainly among the best of the leather/pleather pads. The pads are soft, seal very well, and don't get as hot or sticky as some of the worst offenders out there. They still do build up heat, so don't expect cool ears on hot days.



Design Issues:

The only complaint I have with the Alpha Dog's build itself, is the implementation of the bass adjustment screw. While I haven't personally adjusted this, it feels restricted, a bit ardous, and potentially harmful to the headphone's tuning (not to mention the possibility of damaging the inside of the housing). I hope the future provides further improvements on the design, adding a simpler method to adjust the bass or return it to stock form. I also hear the Alpha Dog is very reliant on seal, and needs to be adjusted to fit the head properly for the optimal sound quality/seal. I don't have a problem in this area, though your mileage may vary.



Isolation/Leakage:

Great.

Like the Mad Dog before it, the Alpha Dog isolates pretty well. It provides a good amount of passive noise cancelling when a source is playing, and controls noise leak relatively well. Not the final world on either internal/external noise control, but should suit most environments.



Sound:

Amazing.

Before I get into the specifics on the Alpha Dog's sound, I want to say that the Alpha Dog had a LOT of hype built around it, and I wouldn't have been satisfied if it failed to live up to most of it. I'm a realist, a skeptic, and pessimist at heart, but I do give things their chance to prove themselves. I don't know whether I was expecting the Alpha Dog to fall short of it's hype, or whether I was expecting it to be a complete success, considering how well the Mad Dog performed. I was basically torn, prior to hearing them for myself. I'll start by saying that MrSpeakers pulled an incredible feat with the Alpha Dog. To me, the Alpha Dog is the most successful headphone to meet the high expectations and hype built around it.



Bass

Quantity: Great
Quality: Amazing

In true planarmagnetic form, the bass on the Alpha Dog is incredibly linear all the way down to the lowest depths, not giving any attention to one aspect of it's bass in favor of another. Full bodied, tonally neutral, tight, impactful, well balanced, correct, and quick in speed and decay. It's one of the most realistic presentations of bass I've heard on any headphone. It's not my FAVORITE presentation of bass, as I prefer a warmer tilt with some emphasis and longer decay (like it's sibling, the Mad Dog 3.2), but I can't fault the complete neutrality and technicality in the Alpha Dog's bass. The bass lends itself well to any and every genre, from most genres of EDM, hip hop, rock, and acoustic, and everything in between. In true Alpha Dog form, the chameleon-like sound signature starts with it's bass.

I didn't alter the bass with the Very-Bass screw, and to be quite honest, I don't feel like it needs to be tuned. The Alpha Dog was built for utter neutrality, and the bass is neutral in every sense of the word. The bass is bass. Nothing more, nothing less. It is completely dependent on the recording. If your source is bassy, the Alpha Dog will happily transfer that energy to your ears. If the source has little to no bass, the Alpha Dog will also transfer that politeness straight to your ears. That to me, means near technical perfection. Objectively, the Alpha Dog's bass is absolutely reference-level. Spend enough time with a reference-type bass like the Alpha Dogs, and many others will start to exhibit their lack of finesses and correctness.



Mids:

Quantity: Great
Quality: Fantastic

Following suit to the incredibly accurate bass, is the incredibly accurate mids. It is tonally neutral to my ears, perfectly in harmony with it's bass and treble, and present at all times, without being recessed or shouty. Most audiophiles will most likely prefer a warmer, more organic, and intimate mid section (I admit to being one of them), but that is a subjective preference, not an objective quality. There is no compensation here. It is all presented evenly, so if you're adverse to certain areas in the upper mids (which tend to be smoothened out and blunted down with many headphones to produce a more pleasing tonality), you may find some upper mid/lower treble glare. The Alpha Dog does not mask any imperfections, and will expose any and all flaws in a bad recording, which tend to come out most in the upper mids and lower treble range.

Personally, I'd prefer a fuller, thicker, more intimate tone to the mids (like the LCD-2 and HD650), but for the sake of neutrality, I feel the Alpha Dog puts out the more correct sounding mids, with plenty of musicality and enjoyment factor. One thing is certain, the mids on the Alpha Dogs are superb, both subjectively and objectively. Not thick, and not lean, the mids are what I can only label as properly represented.



Treble:

Quantity: Fantastic
Quality: Great

Treble was one area many people were negatively vocal about in the Mad Dogs. Too mellow, rolled off, soft, etc. Those were common complaints with the Mad Dog, though I personally wasn't unhappy with it's treble presentation as it shifted the focus on the Mad Dog to it's wonderful bass and great mids, which I found more important to maintain. The treble on the Alpha Dog is the antithesis of the Mad Dog's treble presentation. Airy, extended, energetic, and again, more technically correct in every single way. The Alpha Dog's treble will expose problem areas in many bad recordings, mainly in S and T sounds, so if you're susceptible to sibilance, and/or have many recordings that exhibit sibilance, the Alpha Dog won't do you any favors. It will sizzle if the recording favors brightness. The Alpha Dog demands clean sources and recordings. I foresee many people throwing away badly mastered tracks, all thanks to the Alpha Dog which is a master of exposing flaws up top.

The treble is understandably not as airy as some of the better open-backed headphones on this guide, but you may be surprised by how airy it actually is. I'll touch upon this in the soundstage section which is aided by the presentation of the Alpha Dog's treble range.



Clarity:

Fantastic.

The Alpha Dog is without a doubt the cleanest sounding, closed-back headphone I've ever heard. Even next to the stellar, open-backed headphones that excel in clarity, the Alpha Dog stands among the best. It even does so without giving up fullness and body, which tends to be a typical trade-off for headphones that aim for the highest clarity and detail. The Alpha Dog maintains clarity and detail in almost any and every situation. People complained that the Mad Dog was too dark, overly warm, mellow, masking some upper range detail and extension. The Alpha Dog is here to put that argument to absolute rest. There is nothing dark, overly warm, or mellow about the Alpha Dog. How MrSpeakers was able to achieve this level of clarity out of T50RP drivers...well, some deals must have been made in blood. That's the only explanation I can think of.



Soundstage:


Stereo: Fantastic
Virtual Surround: Great

One of the goals MrSpeakers set for himself with the Alpha Dog, was to improve the soundstage to one that would more closely resemble an open-backed headphone's soundstage rather than a closed one. As a fully closed-back headphone, the Alpha Dog had quite a challenge ahead in order to fulfill that goal. As a gamer, I'm admittedly critical on the size of a headphone's soundstage. It is essentially one of the most important factor in terms of what I rate highly for competitive gaming performance (the others being clarity and detail). Many times did I hear of headphones like the Mad Dog having a large soundstage, which personally wasn't the case to my ears. It was decent for a closed headphone, but that's all it ever was for me. Now, with the Alpha Dog, all the hype, all the mentions of it sounding open, made me overly skeptical. One of my personal issues is that I personally try and debunk unrealistic hype.

With a skeptical mind, I put on the Alpha Dogs, and immediately tested some music (I hadn't even tried gaming first to test soundstage). What I heard simply shocked me. The Alpha Dog is simply the most open sounding closed-back headphone I have ever heard. So much, that at first, I thought I put them on wrong and broke the seal on the pads. Yes, the Alpha Dog has fooled me on various occasions. Even as I sat down, listening to music and typing this review, I still got the feeling that the pads had a broken seal because the sound is projecting out like an open-backed headphone in a quiet room.

No closed back headphone that I've used has given me this type of aural sensation. The sound projects outwards, cleanly, and convincingly. I don't know how MrSpeakers did it, but I assure you, he has done it. The closest I've personally heard were the Denon D7000 and Beyerdynamic DT770, both which have excellent soundstages for closed headphones, but won't ever fool anyone of being anything but closed.

Now, don't misconstrue my words: the Alpha Dog is no AD700, K701, MA900, or HD800. At best, the Alpha Dog sounds like an open-backed headphone with a good soundstage in a completely silent room. It also doesn't sound open with every source/recording, and sounds like a closed headphone in some instances. This needs to be particularly mentioned, because most people (I'm positive of this), tend to partly associate a large soundstage with a lack of external isolation. With an open-backed headphone, you feel the air, hear the ambient external noise, and feel the lack of seal. It fools the brain into feeling the 'openness' of a headphone's sound. This is why it's crucial to understand that the Alpha Dog seals and isolates very well, so no external ambience/air/etc will be mixed in with the Alpha Dog sound. Once you've taken all of this into account, you may finally understand what I mean when I say that the soundstage on the Alpha Dog sounds like an open headphone in a completely silent room.

The soundstage depth, as usual of planarmagnetics, projects outward about as well as any headphone I've ever reviewed whether closed or open. The width was an area of weakness that I found on the Mad Dog, and I'm happy to report that the Alpha Dog has good soundstage width, particularly for a closed headphone. It won't best any of the open soundstage favorites in terms of width, but even among open-backed headphones, the width would be considered very good.

In short, and to repeat myself, the Alpha Dog simply has the airiest, most open sounding soundstage on any closed back headphone I've ever heard. Not always true, but with great frequency, it will impress.



Positioning:

Great.

With incredible clarity, open-like soundstage, very good width and even better depth (which I argue is more important than width), it's pretty much obvious that the positional cues are very easy to pinpoint. The bell like clarity of surround cues which have plenty of virtual space to be located in a snap, the Alpha Dog an incredibly easy choice for gamers who'd like their headphones to isolate well without sacrificing openness and competitive gaming performance.



Amping:

I feel the Alpha Dog greatly benefits from raw desktop amp power. It scales noticeably going from a portable amp to a desktop amp, and it's sound signature can expose an amp's tonal strengths or weaknesses. I personally recommend a strong amp with a warmer tonality, as I believe it would further aid the Alpha Dog's musicality and timbre. It'd be a disservice to the Alpha Dog and the owner to skimp out on proper amping. The more you give it, the more it will reward you. You're paying for high quality sound, it'd make sense to provide it with a strong, clean signal from source all the way down the chain, up to the headphone.



Personal Recommendation?:


Movies, Music, Media In General? Yes
Gaming? Yes

At $600, it may come at a steep price for many, but you get what you pay for. A jack of all trades, master of plenty, with some truly amazing performance all around. If you're looking for one headphone that does everything well or better, the Alpha Dog should be one of the first headphones you should look into, possibly even the last.



Comparisons:


- Mad Dog 3.2 and LCD-2: Based off memory (I'm confident in at least remembering these two), as far as headphones the Alpha Dog will undoubtedly be stacked up against, I do prefer the warmer tonality on the Mad Dog and LCD2, though the Alpha Dog is objectively more capable than the Mad Dog, and I feel is on a similar tier of performance as the LCD2, with a different presentation of sound. The bass is fuller, and more upfront on both the Mad Dog and LCD2 over the Alpha Dog. However, the Alpha Dog's bass is faster, more energetic, and more tonally correct than either the Mad Dog or LCD2. The mids are warmer, more intimate, and overall more pleasing on both the LCD-2 and Mad Dog over the Alpha Dogs, but again, it will depend on your preferences. The Alpha Dog is definitely not lacking in mids, just that it presents it a little differently, with less coloration. The treble, yet again will come down to the individual: Do you want sparkle, clarity, and extension found on the Alpha Dog? Or do you want a softer, less prone to harshness, and slightly polite/more relaxing presentation on the LCD-2 and Mad Dog? One thing the Alpha Dog is a clear winner in is the much more open soundstage than either the LCD2 and Mad Dog which sound closed in. Yes, despite the Alpha Dog being closed, and the LCD-2 being open, the Alpha Dog sounds more open, reaches further out, and will give you a better sense of music playing outside your head.



Final Impressions:

The Alpha Dog certainly lives up to the hype. With it's chameleon-esque neutral balance, with full, linear bass, clean mids, and airy treble, the Alpha Dog is a more than capable performer for any and all manner of things thrown at it. It's highly detailed sound signature, unnaturally open and spacious presentation (despite it's closed back design), and great comfort easily put it in the upper echelon of headphones I have ever tested, and I personally can't see many people being anything but utterly impressed with the Alpha Dog.

Whether it be any form of gaming, any genre of music, or any other type of media, the Alpha Dog sings along beautifully. At it's worst, it may not be the BEST headphone in certain situations, but it's worst is better than the best many other headphones have to offer. The Alpha Dog could simply be my one and only headphone, and I honestly couldn't think of any other headphone better suited for all of my necessities. It just does absolutely everything well. Everything. So much that I REALLY don't want to give them back!



Final Scores...
Fun: 8.5/10 (Great) (Click to show)
Despite it's incredibly neutral sound signature, saying the Alpha Dog is lacking in fun is completely untrue. Due to it's tonal balance that blends in with basically anything you throw at it, fun gaming sound as fun as it wants to be.
Competitive: 8.5/10 (Great) (Click to show)
For a closed headphone, there really is no comparison here. Incredibly detailed and clear, with a spacious soundstage, and fantastic positional cues. There's not much you can ask for that the Alpha Dog can't provide here. The added benefit of blocking outside noises may even give it an extra advantage.
Comfort: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
The combination of Alpha pads and the leather strap keep the Alpha Dogs comfortable for hours on end. It is on the heavy side, and it can stand to be less clampy for extra comfort. Since clamp can be adjusted, the score can potentially more towards an 8.5 for me, at best.
Overall: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
In case you hadn't noticed from the start of this review, I am incredibly fond of the Alpha Dog, and believe it deserves all the hype that has spread since it's reveal. You get top tier performance in all areas, without any real detriment to it's sound. Most jack of all trade headphones tend to lack a little magic, or give up some sound quality to become a more all around pleaser. The Alpha Dog gives absolutely nothing up. Even as a jack of all trades, the sound quality is absolutely master class.











MrSpeakers Mad Dog v.3.2



Sells for $300 (w/alpha pads and comfort strap) (MrSpeakers website)
Review (Click to show)

Before I begin, I want to thank MrSpeakers and MattTCG for the loaners! Matt sent me the first MD I reviewed, and Dan (MrSpeakers himself) sent me the 3.2 version (May 2013 re-tuning). The MrSpeakers Mad Dog. A fully modified Fostex T50RP making a huge scene on Head-fi for it's sound quality, price, and comfort. The T50RP is a budget friendly, planar magnetic headphone well known for being extremely mod-friendly. The LFF Paradox and Smeggy Thunderpants are well known modded T50RPs that preceded the Mad Dog. However, the Mad Dog is the first to hit a price point that warranted the attention of the masses, and with good reason.



Build Quality:

The Mad Dog isn't cosmetically modified like the Thunderpants, so it is basically a T50RP on the outside, with the exception of a pad swap, an optional comfort strap, and MrSpeakers vinyl stickers on the ear cups. The ear cups are made of some pretty durable plastic. Not the most aesthetically pleasing ear cups, and a bit unassuming, but it has a retro-ish charm to them. The headband is made of a very pliable material that looks extremely durable. Lacks padding underneath, but the optional comfort strap more than makes up for it. Headband discomfort is the last thing you would ever think of when wearing the Mad Dog with the comfort strap. It's that comfortable on the head.

The extension bars are made of a brass/copper metal, and is the strongest part of the headphone. It's of a very, very generous length, which should fit comfortably even on watermelon-sized noggins. I'm a huge fan of headphones that allow that much freedom in terms of head-size. More companies need to follow suit. The two cables supplied are both quite good. The main 10ft cable is of decent thickness terminating in a 1/4" (6.3mm) plug. The shorter 6ft cable is undoubtedly one of the V-moda's 3.5mm to 3.5mm cables with one side ending in a 45 degree angle. Covered in cloth and being a bit more flexible due to it's thinness next to the bigger cable. Both seem very durable, and shouldn't be problematic with normal use. Dan chose well with his cables.

The Mad Dog comes with various pads. Each with their own distinct sound signature and comfort. The Mad Dog being reviewed here came with the Alpha pads, which are the newest, most linear, and most comfortable of the bunch. The Alpha pads are leather, angled, and very soft. While you all probably know how much I don't care for leather pads overall, I have to give credit where credit is due: these pads are VERY comfortable on the head, heat trapping issues aside.



Comfort:

As mentioned, the Mad Dog w/alpha pads and comfort strap is a very, very comfortable headphone overall. It's lightweight, would fit on any head, isn't oversized (*cough*LCD2*cough*), and doesn't clamp tightly (clamp can be adjusted by bending the headband, which extremely easy to do). The Mad Dogs I used for this review has some moderate clamp which I didn't wanna mess with, as I feel it's a good middle ground for comfort and sound quality.



Accessories:

The Mad Dogs come with: headphone, short cable, long cable, and a very nice velvet carrying pouch. That's all you need. I personally don't care for unnecessary accessories which add to the price, and Dan kept it simple, which I'm quite happy with.



Isolation/Leakage:

It's been awhile since I've heard a headphone that seals/isolates as well as the Mad Dog. It's incredibly silent in terms of leaking noise to the outside world, and it does a very good job of keeping external noise from coming in. Very, very good passive noise cancelling. If you need a headphone in the most noise polluted environments or need a headphone that won't ever bother others, the Mad Dog is a very, very safe bet.



Sound:

On to the sound. I did my homework on the Mad Dogs on more than one occasion, to the point of being one click away from ordering them prior to receiving these loaners. Basically glowing reviews all around, stating that they came very close to sounding like a closed LCD2, even down to having an incredibly similar frequency response. And all for a fraction of a price. Who wouldn't be interested in trying these out after all that's been written out there? So did the Mad Dog live to the extreme hype out there? Mostly, yes. Do they sound like a closed LCD2? Sort of. They do share similarities, but the Mad Dog is certainly not a closed back LCD2. The Mad Dog is a very balanced headphone, although being decidely on the dark side of neutral. Darker than the LCD2.

The LCD2 is still more neutral sounding, more spacious, more dimensional, and more refined. However, the Mad Dog has it's own personality and character, and I admire it's own strengths. The first pair I received on loan were from another head-fier (again, thank you, MattTCG), and didn't fit me quite so properly. I feel that my original review was premature, as I couldn't get it to sit perfectly on my head, possibly making it lose some fidelity. The latest Mad Dog (3.2) came fresh from MrSpeakers, and fit me like a glove. Also, most of my complaints with the original pair reviewed were quickly dismissed. The Mad Dog (3.2) was almost everything I hoped for them to be.



Bass:

The Mad Dog has a very balanced, very slightly romanticized bass. It sounds very well textured, and unlike the first pair, immediately engaging. In comparison to the LCD2, the bass did have a similar feel, impact, and presence. The LCD2's bass is still more refined and textured, but the Mad Dog's bass (being in a closed back design), resonated a little more, giving them a longer, and (IMHO) more enjoyable decay. Unlike the original pair I reviewed, the bass on the Mad Dogs not only sounds organic and correct, but has an amazing sense of body, emotion, and presence without ever becoming overwhelming. It's an AMAZINGLY balanced, and full bodied bass, that just fits right in with the rest of the sound. In the original pair, I felt the bass to be the most disappointing aspect of sound in the MD. With the MD 3.2, the bass has quickly become my FAVORITE aspect of it's sound. The bass on the Mad Dogs add a great layer of immersion. It's the near perfect blend of fullness and balance which translates incredibly well for movies and fun games in particular.



Mids:

Originally the biggest area of strength in the Mad Dogs, the 3.2 pushes the mids back slightly. The mids sound rich, warm, organic, and intimate, but aren't as forward as the previous version reviewed. They never come off as shouty or fatiguing, nor do they sound distant or lost in the mix. Most vocals come off quite naturally. They aren't 'special' in the sense that they aren't as immediately engaging as the LCD2's or HD650's mids, but they are still quite good and even great at times. It's biggest weakness is in the extreme upper mids to lower treble where some 'S' sound come off a little artificial and sizzly.



Treble:

The treble will be either love/hate for everyone. The Mad Dog is a bit dark, making the treble quite non-fatiguing, but not the clearest I've heard. Due to the closed nature of the Mad Dog, the treble is hampered by it's lack of air. I personally don't mind the treble presentation of the Mad Dog at all. I feel they have enough presence to be considered natural, but I can see it being a concern for those who prefer a bit more sparkle/clarity. The treble is a hint more clearer in the 3.2 than the previous version reviewed, so the Mad Dog doesn't sound as closed and congested as before.



Soundstage:

This is an area I can't seem to agree with quite a few people in on the main Mad Dog thread. Personally, I feel the Mad Dog lacks quite a bit in air overall, and it's size is decent at best for a closed headphone. That's the nature of closed headphones. Very few exceptions (i.e. D7000, DT770 Pro 80), and the Mad Dog is somewhere in the middle. It sounds decidedly closed in comparison to the more recent open headphones I've compared them to, including the LCD2 which isn't exactly the most open sounding headphone itself. The 3.2 does breathe just a hint more than the previous version reviewed. Another change is in it's depth. I previously didn't think it had a very good sense of depth. I don't know how, but the soundstage depth is one of the areas that noticeably improved for me. The Mad Dog isn't AMAZING in it's width, however, it's depth is pretty good.



Positioning:

I'm not going to lie when I say that as enthusiastic as I was about the Mad Dog, none of that enthusiasm was for it's potential to be good for gaming. Prior to hearing the Mad Dog, I expected it to not be amazing for gaming. I expected something like the M50 in that it would make a much better headphone for music and stereo gaming than virtual surround/Dolby Headphone gaming. The Mad Dog (3.2) actually does quite well for gaming for a closed headphone. The depth of the Mad Dog's soundstage helped it's positional accuracy. Despite it's closed back characteristics, the Mad Dogs do good for competitive gaming, and are EXCEPTIONAL for non-competitive gaming. Positional cues were good overall. The depth of the placement was pretty impressive which aided in pinpointing sounds quite a bit better in comparison to the more closed sounding headphones (i.e. Audio Technica M50).



Clarity:

The clarity for gaming is actually quite excellent. The Mad Dog benefits greatly from it's linear frequency response. Bass never creeps up and masks details, so all manner of sounds are heard quite easily. Clarity is a strength for the Mad Dogs, despite it's darker than neutral tonality. It shares this with both the LCD2 and HD650: Dark, but still plenty clear.



Amping:

Although I no longer have the Mixamp to truly test whether the Mad Dog needs additional amping for gaming purposes, I believe it does, as it requires more off my Marantz receiver and Compass 2 than the LCD2. It also gained a better sense of space and separation off my Compass 2 than off my Marantz alone. Ultimately, you will wanna invest in a good amp to bring out the Mad Dog's potential, though they are enjoyable with lesser equipment.



Value:

At $300, The Mad Dog represents an AMAZING value. It is easily my favorite closed headphone outside of the elusive Denon D7000. They are truly a great pair of music, movie and immersive gaming headphones. At $300, the Mad Dogs deliver an exceptional sound. Although I certainly don't put it in the same class as the LCD2 (which people loved to compare it to), I would say that it is clearly the best CLOSED alternative. That alone makes them quite a necessity for those who want planar goodness in a closed back design. It is a stellar performer for it's price, and I'm not usually a fan of closed headphones. For their low price of admission, these are truly a master of the price to performance ratio.



Final Impressions:

Not much else to say. The Mad Dog is a true wonder of the modding community. Transforming a $100 headphone into a $300 headphone that competes incredibly well in it's price range, despite it's closed back design. I have mentioned this already: If you need a closed headphone that isolates well...look no further. The Mad Dog is more than likely what you want. Well balanced (though on the dark side), very organic/natural with full, immersive bass, very good mids, and good treble (with a few rough edges). The total package is very, very impressive. One of the very best 'fun' gaming and movie headphones, and one of my personal faves for my heavy music genres like Trap, D&B, Trip Hop, and Chillstep.
Fun: 8.75 (Excellent) (Click to show)
Natural, full-bodied bass that greatly enhances immersion in games and movies. One of my absolute favorites for fun despite it not being heavily colored, nor it having the biggest soundstage.
Competitive: 7 (Good) (Click to show)
Clear and balanced sound, Good depth for a closed headphone aids in positional cues, despite the Mad Dog not being among the best in soundstage size or width for gaming.
Comfort: 8.5/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
The Mad Dog is the most comfortable leather padded closed headphone I've heard outside of the post-stretched M50s. If leather isn't an issue for you, the Mad Dog should bring little to no discomfort.











Shure SRH1840



SRH1840 at Shure.com

MSRP $499.99

Where To Buy: Amazon

Review (Click to show)

Before I begin, I'd like to personally give huge thanks to @Change is Good for sending me the SRH1840 for review. He also was kind enough to send me the Schiit Asgard 2 and SRH1540 ear pads!

The SRH1840. Ever since the first images of the 1840 surfaced online, I became very interested in it, as it looked like a higher end HD650 made by another company. The HD650 is one of my personal favorites aesthetically, and for that reason alone, the 1840 was on my sights (shame on me). I hadn't personally heard any Shure headphone prior to the 1840, but the fully open design and it being Shure's flagship circumaural headphone intrigued me. I had absolutely no idea on what type of sound Shure is known for. All I knew was that the 1840 was aimed at neutrality. A neutral-oriented, completely open headphone with velour pads? Sounded like something I'd completely go for in terms of competitive gaming and long-term comfort. How did it fare? Did it meet the expectations of it being comfy, detailed, and open, with competitive gaming prowess?

Note: Unless I specifically state as such, this review is made with the 1840 and it's stock velour pads in mind. In some instances, I may make some impressions of the 1840 with the SRH1540 Alcantara pads, which @Change is Good generously supplied. I will specifically mention when the 1540 pads are used. The 1540 pads are sold separately.



Build Quality:

Rating: Great.

I distinctly remember reading online, someone stating that the 1840's build quality wasn't as impressive as it looked. I feel that the 1840 is well built, considering how little there is in the way of external design. The headband is essentially split into two thin headbands covered in leather (unsure whether it's genuine or synthetic). This is about the only real area on the 1840 I wish would've been different, as it just makes sense to have one single headband pressing down to the scalp, not two. The 1840 leaves two VERY distinct red indentations on my head after extended periods of use. Unsure whether it's just my aversion to faux leather on my skin (I tend to keep my hair extremely short), or if it's the downward force of the dual headband that is causing those marks. It's not uncomfortable by any means, but it is worth noting.

The aluminum, gunmetal-toned, extension arms feel very solid, which I don't foresee ever, ever breaking or bending without some truly powerful force put behind it. There are no clicks, or grooves for size adjustments. The 1840 resizes in a very smooth manner, which may be a problem for those who like to perfectly match left and right sides. The arms hold the ovally shaped plastic cups, which may be a contrast to the strong aluminum, but doesn't look out of place in the general design of the 1840. The plastic doesn't feel cheap or fragile, and I'm happy to find that they aren't covered in fingerprint-prone gloss. Just a non-descript matte black which lends itself well to the 1840's no nonsense styling. The cups swivel vertically, but not horizontally, which may be a problem for oddly shaped heads, though I don't have any personal issues with it.

The outer cup's grills are a thing of absolute beauty. Reminiscent to the grills of the Sennheiser HD650, this grill design is among my absolute favorite designs for open-backed headphones. There is no branding, logos, etc., giving owners a glimpse at the 1840's exposed internals. I'm a sucker for naked drivers, and the 1840 does not disappoint. This may be the only area on the 1840 that truly stands out aesthetically, among the otherwise safe and inoffensive design. The 1840's oval pads are made of incredibly comfortable, soft, and airy velour, which are also easily removable for cleaning/replacement. I don't see how these pads can't fit over everyone's ears properly. Among the best pads I have ever used.

The 1840's cups house Shure's proprietary connection. Admittedly, I'm not a fan of this type of input and would've preferred standard 3.5mm or mini-XLR inputs. The dual ended cable is pretty standard fare. Not overly thin nor thick, neither too short nor too long, it gets the job done. Non-grippy and doesn't seem prone to tangling. On the source end, it terminates into a gold-plated, straight 3.5mm plug with a screw on 6.3mm adapter. The barrel is thick (Shure branded), with a great amount of strain relief. I can understand why people would upgrade the cable to something a little more luxurious, though I don't have any specific issue with it. It's just a decent, utilitarian cable.

After all is said and done, the Shure 1840's build quality is pretty top-notch, though a bit less luxurious than the price would suggest. It's just well built and non-descript.



Accessories:

The 1840 comes with the bare essentials and then some.

- Hard Case. You can never, ever go wrong with an included hard case.

- Extra velour pads. Among the best pads on any headphone, and you get an extra pair. Good on you, Shure.

- Two sets of 6ft cables. Not sure why there is a need for two identical cables, but I guess you can just leave one cable at home, and the other elsewhere.

- 6.3mm gold-plated adapter



Comfort:

Rating: Amazing.

Personally, I feel there isn't much out there that compares to the 1840's comfort. It is relatively lightweight, clamps just enough without being too loose or tight, and the oval cups allow the 1840 to be worn while laying down. The velour pads allow plenty of air to keep your ears cool, with plenty of diameter to fit any sized ears. The pads may be among THE best pads I have ever felt, bested by only a handful of pads, one being Shure's own SRH1540 Alcantara pads, which are ever so slightly even more pleasing on the ears, though don't keep the ears as cool. The only real downsides in terms of comfort is the dual headband design (leaves two noticeable red indentations on my head) and the lack of horizontal swivel, which may be an issue to some. The 1840 is a headphone I could easily live with as a main gaming headphone, since I can wear it all day, and feel no real discomfort.



Design Issues:

As mentioned before, the split headband design is unneccessary, and would've been more comfortable as a single headband design. Not sure if Shure did it for weight or aesthetic reasons. The only other real design issue I see is the lack of horizontal swivel on the cups, as it limits freedom of movement to adjust for oddly shaped heads.



Isolation/Leakage:

As a completely open headphone, you seriously can't expect much if any isolation from the 1840. Not that it needs to be said, but anyone in your general vicinity will hear what you're listening to. In short, if you need noise control, don't use the 1840 or any other fully open-backed headphone. It isn't terribly noisy, but the noise leak is loud enough to be an issue if you need to keep quiet.



Sound:

Rating: Very Good.

The SRH1840 at first listen comes off as a neutral (if just slightly cold up top), open, crisp, detailed headphone, with fantastic and natural soundstage. It has all the makings of a great, analytically oriented, open headphone, and I'm happy to report that it is, for the most part. If you don't pay attention to it's price, you can appreciate the sound quality, despite some shortcomings.

With SRH1540 pads:

Rating: Decent.

The 1840 with 1540 pads takes on a completely different character. It becomes v-shaped with strong bass, recessed mids, and similar (not identical), energetic treble to the stock pads.



Bass

Rating: Decent

This is without question the weakest area of the 1840's sound in both quantity and quality. The bass overall is *just* south of neutral, giving way to the 1840's stellar mids, and crisp treble. Fortunately, the 1840 is not without warmth in the bass. It reminds me of the old K701's bass in that it does have some warmth and body behind it, though it ultimately falls slightly behind the rest of the spectrum. It noticeably rolls off in the sub bass, so don't expect some impact in the lowest depths. The bass keeps a good sense of speed and decay, being just a tad too quick to decay for my own preference. It is well textured, though in it's good texturing, the distortions can become noticeable. Though it can be categorized as bass light and on the lean side, there are instances where the bass hits with some good punch, and the tone in the bass keeps the 1840 sounding relatively well balanced and neutral. As briefly mentioned before, the problem with the 1840's bass is the somewhat audible distortion. It's not a clearly noticeable problem, and many people may not even notice, but it is there, and depending on your listening volume and sources, you just may hear it easily enough. Overall, I don't find it to be a glaring issue, but one that doesn't befit the 1840's price and status as Shure's current flagship open-backed headphone.

With SRH1540 pads:

Rating: Decent

It is a different beast. No longer is the 1840 bass light, now transformed into quite a bass heavy behemoth. Plenty of bass body that surprisingly reaches quite low and deep for an open headphone, with substantial impact. It is truly a wonder how a fully open headphone like the 1840 retains a lot of bass energy just with a change of pads. The pad swap to the 1540 pads effectively allow the drivers to work considerably less to provide a more than satisfactory amount of bass. The bass is noticeably slower than the stock pad's bass. The 1540 pad's bass is long of note and decay. It has a very euphonic amount of decay which lingers in a manner which makes it seem like it wants to make a statement. Yes, the bass is potent, and can be considered basshead friendly. Quite possibly more potent than the X1 or DT990's bass which are the only two open fully dynamic headphones I have heard with truly potent bass. It is truly and undeniably powerful. It can most definitely stand to be more controlled, but it is by no means a messy bass. Just very prominent.



Mids:

Rating: Great

This is the greatest strength in the 1840, being neutral, well presented and balanced, with clear definition and sharpness. Vocals sound proper, focused, and lively without being too forward, or too distant. There is some articial forwardness in the upper mids which may cause some fatigue at louder volumes. The mids aren't thick of note, nor too thin. It's pretty accurate sounding to my ears overall, if just a little on the cold side. Not cold as in dry or lifeless, but things like vocals come off ever so slightly less organic rather than perfectly natural.

With SRH1540 pads:

Rating: Decent

This is where the drawbacks of the pad swap manifest. The mids take a very noticeable step back. The bass isn't to blame, as even in bass light recordings, the mids are noticeably pushed back and bit stuffy at times. This is easily the biggest tradeoff when changing from the stock pads to the SRH1540 pads, and if you bear major importance on mids, you will not be pleased by the difference. It isn't overly offensive, but it is a definite step down from the fantastic mids of the stock pads. It sounds a bit low-fi comparison to it's bass and treble. The mids are no longer well defined, and now sound a bit diffused and a bit mashed in with the background.

As an example: At times, some 'S' sounds may sound like 'TH' or even 'F'. Something like "Set me free" may sound like "Thet me free".

So all in all, you gain a LOT of bass energy, and lose mid clarity. This will undoubtedly convert the 1840 into a lower end headphone, but one that may much more appreciated for bass heavy genres, especially songs that don't rely on vocals.



Treble:

Rating: Great

An abundant amount of sparkle and clarity, without it being overwhelming or artificial sounding. The treble further aids the soundstage, particularly in gaming. The treble can at times sound a bit bright, especially at louder volumes. For this reason, along with it not being to handle loud volumes as well as I'd hope, I feel the 1840 works best at a moderate volumes or less. The louder you get, the brighter and less natural sounding the treble will get.

With SRH1540 pads:

Rating: Very Good

I don't hear a massive change between the stock pads and the 1540 pads in terms of it's treble. There is still a clean sharpness. Less zing overall up top, but still lively. Due to the added warmth and body of the bass, the 1840 with the 1540 pads doesn't sound as bright and is less fatiguing at louder volumes in comparison. Due to the much stronger level of bass, and recessed mids, the treble doesn't aid the sense of space in the same manner as it did with the stock pads.



Clarity:

Rating: Fantastic.

As usual for every neutrally balanced, slightly bass shy headphones I have reviewed, clarity is abundant. It's detailed to a fault, as it can easily pick apart bad recordings. It's not as ruthless as the Alpha Dogs, and can shave off some upper end harshness, but overall, this is not a headphone to use for less than stellar recordings. On the gaming side, the 1840 can venture on god-mode inducing, aural wall-hacking. It's not necessary to spend this much money for an amazingly clear headphone for gaming purposes (AKG K70x series has you covered on the cheaper front), though it is here, if you're interested in the 1840.

With SRH1540 pads:

Rating: Very Decent

The bass sounds quite dominating, and the treble still shines and sparkles, with less aggression. That leaves just the mids, which sadly drop off considerably, lessening clarity by a noticeable amount. If you want clarity, leave the 1840 with it's stock velour pads, as intended. It's decent overall, but clearly on a lower level from the 1840's inherent clarity.



Soundstage:

Rating: Fantastic.

The soundstage on the 1840 is airy, spacious, and plentiful. It is among the most natural-sounding soundstages I've heard, with a natural size, neither being too contricted nor overly wide/deep. While there may be headphones that reach out further to the sides, they may be lacking in depth, so the soundstage may sound inconsistent. This is not an issue with the 1840. Just naturally spaced to my ears.

With SRH1540 pads:

Rating: Good.

While the soundstage is reduced by a fair amount with the 1540 pads, it is still relatively open and spacious. Definitely spacious enough for some solid gaming. It could stand to be deeper, but that's my only complaint. With a huge bass boost, a tradeoff of soundstage was to be expected. Bass driven headphones tend to suffer a bit in terms of soundstage size. Not a golden rule, but one that applies more often than not.


Positioning:

Rating: Amazing.

As expected of an open headphone with a fantastic soundstage, the positional cues are easily top tier. Very easy to locate in the virtual space, regardless of direction, with amazing clarity, and no bass bleed intruding on the mids. If you happen to own the 1840, there really isn't any need to own another headphone for competitive gaming purposes. It is that good. Many times did I feel like I was verging on god-mode level type sound-whoring.

With SRH1540 pads:

Rating: Good.

The reduction in soundstage as well as hazy mids make it a little harder to pinpoint sounds compared to the stock pads. However, the 1840 remains fairly competent for all forms of gaming, with the added bonus of being even more immersive and fun. Chances are, if you're going to play competitively, you're gonna want to stick to the stock pads. That being said, competitive gaming with the 1540 pads isn't an impossible task, as I was still able to perform very well in my tests, and didn't have as hard a time locating sounds as I was expecting with the mid recession and strong bass presence. It was clearly not as easy a task as it was when gaming with the stock pads, but overall, I didn't find much wrong with it.



Amping:

Necessary

I found it to require some moderate amping, both for game chat boosting purposes, and in order to aid it's less than organic tone. For gaming, I found the Mixamp to lack enough juice to power both the 1840 and game chat at a moderate volume. You will definitely want more than just a portable amp for the 1840. To further aid the sound quality, I would heavily advise on connecting it to a desktop amp that is known to sound darker/warmer than neutral. This will better offset the deficiences and mitigate some of the slight coldness up top. I wouldn't use either Schiit Magni, or Objective O2 for the 1840. Perhaps a warm tube amp would suit it best. Without the need of voice chat, I felt the 1840 to do well with the Mixamp alone, though chances are, if you're thinking of the 1840, you'll most likely want to invest on a good desktop amp to bring them up to their potential.



Personal Recommendation?:

Movies, Music, In General? No
Gaming? Yes

I know this may sound as a surprise, considering how high it has scored overall, but as it stands, I feel the SRH1840 is a bit overpriced at $500. At it's original MSRP of $875, I would've considered it to be an absolute rip off. $350 sounds more along the lines of what I think would be a good price for it when you add up all it's strengths. If you happen to already own the 1840, you're basically set with a competitive gaming beast. However, seeing as I feel they really only do exceedingly well for competitive gaming, and detail analyzing, there are cheaper headphones that also do well in this regard for a fraction of the price. For other forms of media, I feel it's just a tad bit too cold and analytical to truly evoke much excitement. It's not completely lacking in musicality, but it isn't exactly what I'd describe as musical. Definitely more technical than musical. In stock form, it's current price puts it dangerously close to some truly wonderful headphones without it's shortcomings, which is why I can't give my personal recommendation as far as a headphone I'd use for all purposes.

With SRH1540 pads:

Movies, Music, In General? Maybe
Gaming? Yes

The 1540 pad swap makes it considerably more fun at the expense of clarity and mids in general. While the 1840 with the 1540 pads isn't anything special, it's still decent enough for general use, except where clarity (especially in the mids) is important. If you own/plan on owning the 1840, the 1540 pads makes it an enjoyable headphone for non-competitive gaming and media not reliant on mids. Not going to blow anyone's mind (except in terms of how potent the bass is even on an open headphone), but all it takes is a simple pad swap, not a whole other headphone.



Final Impressions:

I'm a bit torn with the 1840. Had it been priced at around $350, I think it would have held it's ground very well for those looking for an crisp and clear headphone. As stated earlier, I feel it's a bit overpriced, despite it's strengths. The bass needs some work in both reducing distortion and meeting the rest of the spectrum to aim true neutrality. I feel it could also use a tad more warmth in terms of balance, to my ears. It is still fairly competent, with MANY virtues (excellent clarity, mids, soundstage, comfort), which may tip some towards purchasing it. The 1840 is a solid headphone, especially for competitive gaming, though a bit overpriced due to it's bass needing some refinement.

With the SRH1540 pads:

If you already own a good headphone you find fun and immersive, the 1840 equipped with 1540 pads probably won't outperform them in any real capacity other than bass quantity (not quality) and comfort. If you don't happen to own one, forking over the small amount of funds necessary for the 1540 pads will essentially give you a whole new, decent, bass driven headphone. I feel it's worth the small investment, considering the not so subtle change in sonic characteristics that more or less compliment the stock 1840's detail oriented sound.
Fun: 6.5 (Decent) (Click to show)
While it doesn't exactly excite me for music in any real manner, the added warmth of Dolby headphone lended itself well to the 1840, allowing the 1840 to sound a bit more engaging. As far as other open headphones like the Q701 and MA900, they definitely outperform the 1840 as far as fun gaming goes, with a stronger impact in bass which aids immersion.
Fun (SRH1540 pads): 7.75/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
Plenty of bass and immersion, at the expense of some clarity mainly in the mids. The 1540 pads reduce the soundstage a bit, though not enough to completely hamper the 1840's ability to throw a decent soundstage for non-competitive gaming.
Competitive: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
Get ready for lots of god mode level sound-whoring without the harshness of headphones like the AD700, or plastic tonality of the older K701.
Competitive (SRH1540 pads): 6.75 (Decent) (Click to show)
The big bass, and hazy mids hurt the 1840's competitive gaming prowess, though it isn't a complete loss, as it still does decently in this regard. If you're focused on competitive gaming, stickthe stock 1840 pads.
Comfort: 9/10 (Amazing) (Click to show)
Easily amongst the best in comfort. Excellent weight, and amazing velour pads that breathe easy, aren't too soft, or too firm. It's lack of horizontal swivel may be an issue to some, and the split headband may cause double the downforce on your head, though I'm willing to bet not many will have an issue with comfort whatsoever. As for the 1540 pads, they are even more comfortable than the stock velour pads, though they trap heat a bit more.
Overall: 8/10 (Great) (Click to show)
*IF* I exclude the price, I feel the 1840 is an excellent headphone overall for gaming in particular. It will undoubtedly come off as polarizing to some however. As it stands, I consider it a poor value price-wise, though if you buy the 1540 pads, you can think of it as owning two complimentary headphones for the price of one, with one being considerably more refined than the other.











Sennheiser HD650



Sells for $350-$500
Review (Click to show)

Oh, one of the most beloved and well known headphones in the audiophile community. These were my 'dream' headphone since the beginning of my audiophile journey. One I never thought I'd ever buy back then. It's also one of the few headphones that after I learned what sonic quality I wanted in a headphone, didn't think I would personally like. If I had bought them months or years ago, I'm not sure I would've liked them. I tend to prefer a bright, aggressive, bass and treble-centric headphone. The HD650 is known to be the opposite. Dark/warm, relaxed, and smooth, with dulled treble response. You can see why I was very adamant about not ever giving these a chance.

It wasn't until recently that I wanted to venture out and look for something a little different from my normal preferences. An alternative that I'd use whenever I wanted to sit back, and enjoy a soothing sound, with forward mids/vocals that I could watch my TV shows, movies, anime with. Ironically, my secondary can is considerably more expensive than my main can (DT990s) at the time. Lol, Head-fi logic. Well, I went and took the plunge, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I thought I would hate them. Really. It was an experiment that would cost me, but one I needed to do at some point, as the HD650 was always that ONE headphone I was always curious about (more than any other).

So what happened? Did I like them? Hate them? To my surprise... I loved them for music, movies, TV, and anime, and liked but wasn't thrilled by them for gaming. Let's get into the sound.



Bass:

The lows. Well, this is surprising. They are actually pretty bassy. Not DT990 bassy, but they have a nice, full, bassy sound. I'd say it's between the DT880 and 990 in presence. It's a warm bass, with medium speed. Pretty much ideal for all-rounder headphones with good bass that would please those that like balance and a fun signature. The bass quantity is enjoyable for all crowds, unless you're a pure neutral-head or pure bass-head. I didn't find myself wanting more bass, though they do roll off in the sub-bass, which is typical of most dynamic headphones, something the HE-400 has no problems with.

If I could score the bass, it'd be; Quantity: 7.5, Quality: 8. Just really pleasing bass all around.



Mids:

This is the star of the show. And when I say star... I mean, it is absolutely one of the best interpretation of mids/vocals I have EVER heard on any headphone...EVER. I'm usually fine with mid recession as I tend to prefer bass and treble emphasis, but MAN... once I heard the HD650... it made me see mids in a whole new light. The vocals are so sweet, so upfront, so rich, so haunting! Based on mids alone, I recommend this headphone to ANYONE looking for a headphone that does vocals some amazing justice. The only other headphone that provides really sweet mids that I've heard is the Audio Technica ESW9, but the ESW9 is a closed on ear, with a considerably smaller soundstage, and overly smooth treble, and stuffy sound signature in comparison. The ESW9 is good, but not HD650 good.

The HD598 also has very forward mids, but I felt the lean bass, and thinner sound, made the mids sound unnaturally forward and shouty. The warmth and fullness of the HD650 basically destroyed any chance the HD598 had in a direct comparison. There was no competition. The HD650's mids demolish the HD598's in tone, realism, and richness. The HE400 is often compared to the HD650, and despite my preference for the HE400, the HD650 is clearly the king of mids here. The HE400 has great, INTEGRATED mids, that don't sound pushed back or forward with a realistic tone. That being said, the HD650's forward mids are special. The HD650 clearly wins here. As far as Q701 and HD650's mids, the HD650 wins again. The Q701 has forward mids, but they aren't nearly as full sounding, or as rich.

Long story shot, the mids are godly. If I had to score them: Quantity: 10, Quality: 10. That is perfection, because that's how I feel about the HD650's mids.



Treble:

Oh the treble. This is single-handedly the ONLY reason I have put off getting the HD650 for so long. If you read about the HD650, the treble will always be discussed and debated on. Are they too smooth, rolled off, undetailed... veiled? This is a debate that will never end on Head-fi. As a fan of treble sparkle and some emphasis, I was absolutely mortified about hearing what people said of the HD650's smooth, laid back, dull, treble.

So how did they sound to me? Surprisingly, I REALLY liked the treble! I didn't LOVE it. I still do prefer some more sparkle, but as the relaxing alternative to my typical treble emphasized headphones, I didn't find the treble overly smooth or dull on the HD650. Trust me, when your main can is the DT990 which is known for it's SUPER treble emphasis, and compare it directly to the much more reserved and rolled off treble of the HD650, you would tend to notice a huge difference. In all honestly, I really thought the treble on the HD650s was right where it should be for the type of headphone that the HD650 is. Without that treble, I think the HD650 wouldn't sound as rich and 'creamy' as they do. Would I use the HD650s as my ONLY headphone? To be frank, no. They performed well in absolutely everything except genres that desired an aggressive signature. Stuff like metal, and EDM just didn't have the energy on the HD650s. So no, they aren't the perfect all rounders. However, through some vocal dependent tracks, and stuff like movies, TV, and most non-music needs (even gaming), the HD650s are indeed in a very good place. Unfortunately, I tend to listen to EDM and metal more than anything, so the HD650 lost a few points.

To score the treble; Quality: 7, Quantity: 7. If the treble is boosted by a bit, these could be what I'd consider very natural to neutral with a slight emphasis towards bass. I think they'd be less rich overall though, so I personally wouldn't want to touch what makes the HD650 what they are.



Amping:

I have the HD650 paired up with the Audio-GD SA-31 which is much more powerful than pretty much any amp most of you use, or would use, so I'm not exactly sure how they'd sound with less power, but I personally felt that they aren't as hard to drive as people make them out to be. They need considerably less power than the DT990/600, and possibly even the DT990/250. I'd say they'd need about as much as the DT990/32 for at LEAST volume level. We know power =/= volume, but it helps. To be clear: they do not need a lot to be driven LOUDLY. I tested them with the Mixamp only, and they can be driven off it loud enough. I didn't test it enough to see how well they're actually driven, but they sounded good. They may be a little thinner sounding, which could actually be a good thing for gaming, as it makes pinpointing sounds a bit easier than the very rich, thick signature the HD650s have with the SA-31.

Okay, so how did they perform for gaming?



Soundstage:

I haven't gotten to the specifics of gaming with the HD650s yet, but I'll mention the soundstage first. With and without extra amping the Mixamp, I felt the HD650's soundstage to be medium sized. Not big, and not little. However, I didn't find them to be stellar in terms of depth, so the sense of space for gaming, wasn't as good as I would have hoped. I was always expecting the HD650 to not be the greatest pairing for Dolby Headphone, and my fears were slightly warranted. The front/back depth isn't great. Let's get that out of the way. The width is good, but not close to being the best. The DT990 destroys the HD650 in both depth and width. So how's the air within the soundstage? Well, the problem with the HD650, is that it's a very full sounding headphone. Thick, warm tone tends to make the soundstage seems less airy and smaller. This is one of those times where a thinner/leaner sounding headphone has the advantage, like the AD700/HD598/K701. The HD650 isn't STUFFY like say the ESW9, but that rich tonality doesn't help gamers.



Positioning:

Positioning and soundstage tend to go hand in hand, so if the soundstage isn't great, the positional cues will suffer. How did the HD650 fare positional-wise? Well, they were good. Not great, and could obviously be better, but they do their job. I could play something like Black Ops without any problems, though having used headphones much better for soundstage/positioning, I could tell they lacked a bit. I'd put the HD650 just ever so slightly above the DT880 positional wise, but they aren't that much better.



Clarity:

You need clarity for soundwhoring in competitive gaming. Despite the laid back treble, I found the natural tone of the HD650 to be very detailed. The forward mids came off very clean and clear, and I felt I didn't miss any sounds. I've heard better overall (even the 990's are better for soundwhoring). The problem is that the HD650 is a very thick sounding headphone. Basically, the issues I explained in the soundstage section is what hurts clarity for gaming purposes.



Comfort:

I mentioned that Sennheiser likes their clamp. The HD201, HD280 Pro (!), PC360, and HD598 all have some form of clamp. The HD650 is no different. They do clamp a bit more than I'd personally like, but it's a minor gripe overall. I find the HD650 to be very comfortable overall, and over extending the arms a little, to wear the HD650 slightly loose alleviates the clamp a bit. I've felt better, but not much better. The velours are great. Not too firm, and not too soft. The cups are huge and will fit ears very comfortably. I like the oval shape, which makes them easier to use while laying down compared to circular cups.



Value:

The Sennheiser HD650 is a considerably expensive headphone. If your main purpose for getting a headphone is gaming, there are considerably better options for less. If pure audio fidelity, and non-gaming purposes is your main purpose, the HD650 is incredibly hard to beat. Their sound signature is just stellar for most things, save for a few genres, and they're competent for gaming, just not stellar. I personally can't justify owning both the HD650 and HE-400, so I stuck with the HE-400 which is a more energetic, and better equipped for gaming use.



Final Impressions:

The HD650 has a very special place in my heart. It took years to finally take the plunge, but I'm VERY glad I did. They have quickly become one of my very favorite headphones. Though their gaming performance isn't as stellar as I would have hoped, it's better than I expected. I absolutely love the HD650 overall, and they have made me see the importance of mids, if even for just non-gaming, non-music use. Movies and TV shows are made for the HD650. Their incredible tonality, rich/full sound, perfect mids are an absolute blessing. Treble is definitely it's weakest aspect of sound, but they aren't veiled, just...reserved.

For gamers looking for all-rounders, these do put up a fight. They're better than the vast majority of headphones I mentioned on this guide in terms of audio fidelity, but in raw performance for gaming, they're outclassed by others costing considerably less.



Final Scores....

Fun: 8 (Great)

Competitive: 7 (Good)

Comfort: 8 (Great)

Overall: 8 (Great)












Stax SR-407

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 95

Sells for $575 (Headamp)
Review (Click to show)

Before I begin, I want to thank Justin at Headamp for loaning these out to me. If it weren't for Justin and Headamp, I don't think I would have become as interested in electrostatics as I am now. To drive the SR-407, I was also sent the Stax SRM-252S electrostatic amp (NOT the amp pictured above), which is also sold on Headamp for $495. The SR-407 is the very first electrostatic headphone I've demoed. I honestly did not know what to expect. Perhaps my assumption of 'stats in general was that they were mostly on the bright side with lots of air and detail, perhaps too analytical, sterile, and dry. I didn't read much into 'stats as they were a niche product in my eyes, being too situational, too expensive, and too picky with what you can use them with. They need their own specialized amps, unlike dynamic and planar magnetic headphones which work with most traditional devices. Electrostats just seemed too restrictive for my taste. I didn't like their looks (aside from the Sennheiser Orpheus, Stax Omega 007, and 009). I can honestly say that while they are indeed a bit restrictive, electrostatics are more than worth looking into.



Build Quality:

The Stax SR-407's build quality isn't anything special. It has an extremely retro design, made of almost all brown plastic from what I can see. The cups are rectangular and aesthetically hideous to my eyes, but there is a charm to it's non-standard looks. The adjustment sliders are decent, and hold their place very well. I'd prefer a little more freedom in it's extension, but it fits me fine at full extension. The headband strap is absolutely the best part of the 407's build, the underside covered in extremely soft and comfortable suede-like material.

The earpads are made of brown pleather (I believe). There isn't a lot of surface contact area, so it's not horribly sweat inducing as other pleather-padded headphones. It could definitely stand to be thicker, though that may alter the amazing sound quality.

The cable is flat/ribbon-like and a very decent length. Seems to be tangle proof. It's a bit wide and strap like. I'm definitely a fan of this type of cable.



Comfort:

The Stax-407 is passable in comfort. It's pretty lightweight, but the rectangular cup design will feel awkward at first. The 407 is lightweight. The pads don't have much contact with the skin, but it's pleather, and ultimately will induce sweat. As mentioned previously, the pads are a bit thin, and with a little force, you can feel the plastic housing so close to the skin.

The headband strap is soft, and perfectly forms to one's head shape. Quite possibly the most comfortable headband 'strap' I've ever felt. Literally no force felt on the top of my head. The clamping force is moderate. The 407 feels secure on my head. Not loose, not too tight.



Accessories:

Bare essentials. Just the headphone.



Isolation/Leakage:

It's an extremely open headphone, so don't expect any privacy in or out.



Sound:

The sound? THE SOUND. If there was one word to describe the SR-407 (and I assume any 'stat worth their grain in salt), that word would be: EFFORTLESS. What I mean is that the 407 sounds like producing sound is the easiest thing to do in the world. It's almost problematic, because you can pump up the volume to louder than bearable levels, and it will happily sing with no perceivable distortion anywhere to be found. I found myself jamming out to music and realizing that it's a bit louder than I tend to listen to with other headphones. That's how clear, grain free, smooth, and effortless the sound quality is. This is indeed the first time I have felt that there is ZERO fault in the headphone if you ever hear distortions.

The 407 is a neutral sounding headphone. Quite linear, with lots of speed, texture, quick decay, air, and instrument separation in spades. There is basically NO harhness to be found despite it not being rolled off. I've heard smoother/darker headphones that can be harsh. I don't know how the 407 does it, but there just isn't any harshness to my ears, despite a bell like clarity. My only gripe I have with the sound signature is that it's slightly dry (coming off the velvety smooth, liquid, and full bodied LCD2), and mids while blended in perfectly well with the treble and bass, doesn't sound 'forward' so it doesn't bring immediate attention to itself. It's not the fullest sounding headphone either. More neutral than natural/organic, which is the planar magnetic's strength over electrostatics, from what I've read. Still, the 407 is not sterile or too analytical, keeping a great amount of musicality and enjoyment to it's sound.

On to the different aspects of sound.



Bass:

I expected the bass to be weak and understated. While the sub bass is noticeably lacking in comparison to the LCD2, mid bass is tight, punchy and clearly present. I can listen to EDM or Hip Hop and jam with the 407. Not 'bassy' by any means, but the bass is nicely presented. It has more body and impact than the Q701, but not as much as the K702 Anniversary. I'd say it's basically neutral. However, if the source is bassy, these will surely please anyone not a pure basshead. It can be quite fun.



Mids:

The mids are presented very, VERY cleanly, though they aren't forward or recessed. They are blended in with the bass and treble, not bringing a lot of attention to itself. If anything, it's not romanticized in any way. It's there, it's clean, and well balanced. Again, neutral. Does this mean that it's safe? Yes. Boring? Not at all. It sounds faithful to the source. Unlike something like the Sennheiser PC360 headset which is also well balanced, but lacking in energy. Energy is definitely not one thing the 407 is lacking.



Treble:

The treble to me is the biggest strength in the 407. It's extremely clean sounding, yet completely grain free to my ears and no harshness. Even on sibilant tracks, I didn't feel any fatigue.This may sound like hyperbole, but this is definitely the best treble I've heard on any headphone. Sparkle and smoothness bundled in one, which isn't typically found on traditional headphones. No ringing, no harshness, no fatigue. You basically have to hear it for yourself to understand what I'm talking about.



Soundstage:

My first taste of electrostatic soundstage. It's quite open and with plenty of space between sound cues, but it's a bit two dimensional and linear in comparison to the better dynamics and planar magnetics. So it has a very good soundstage size, but not the best depth. However, it still translates very well into gaming.



Positioning:

The SR-407 performs very well for gaming in Dolby Headphone. The soundstage is a pretty decent size. Paired with the amazing clarity and slight dryness of the sound overall, sound cues come out very, very clearly. Soundstage depth isn't the best, but DH helps it out enough to make positional cues pretty strong.



Clarity:

The 407 is easily one of the clearest headphones I have heard, if not the absolute clearest. Bass is quick, very textured, and tight. The mids are very well balanced and clean, though not forward in the same way the LCD2 and HD650's mids are. Treble, as mentioned earlier is the cleanest, most refined treble I've heard on any headphone to date. Smooth and sparkly at the same time, with zero grain, and no perceivable ringing to my ears. While other headphones like the K701 are emphasized for clarity, they can't compare to the overall refinement and effortlessness of the 407.



Amping:

As stated, these demand an electrostatic amplifier. In terms of that, the SRM-252S is the cheapest 'desktop' 'stat amp in production, and to my ears drives the 407 just fine. I don't feel a lack of anything.



Value:

Value is purely subjective, but I personally feel that for around $575 you get a headphone that stands toe to toe with the LCD2 (and exceeds it in certain areas like neutrality, and clarity). You do need to spend money on an electrostatic amp, the SRM-252S being nearly $500 itself. Considering the 407 is basically the same in sound as the more expensive SR-507 (with different pads and materials), which I've read as being on par with the HE-6 and HD800 (if not better) to certain people, this may be the best entry point into high-end audio for a price not in the realm of impossible.



Final Impressions:

Call me an absolute believer of electrostatic headphones. So much refinement, clarity, and technical superiority over dynamics and arguably even planar magnetics. The Stax SR-407 makes a very compelling case for itself as the perfect starting point into electrostatic headphones (and possibly end). It's not perfect, with a slight dryness to the sound, wonky design, mediocre build quality, and okay comfort, but it's sound quality more than makes up for these shortcomings. For gaming, it's one of the better all-rounders on the guide, without question.

Final Scores...
Fun: 7.75/10 (Very Good) (Click to show)
Though it's not as immersive as the K702 Anniversary or the more bass-oriented headphones on the guide, the 407 has it's own special sound that is fun in it's own way. Bass is very good for a neutral headphone, lagging a little behind the K702 Anniversary, but having more energy and presence than the Q701, and having a nice, fun amount of bass when it's called for.
Competitive: 8.5/10 (Excellent) (Click to show)
Though the soundstage depth isn't the best, the clarity and virtual space is so clean, it makes for a very solid and competitive gaming headphone.
Comfort: 6.5/10 (Decent) (Click to show)
It's not the most comfortable headphone, but not atrocious by any means. No pressure on top of the head is a large plus.
Overall: 8.5/10 (Great) (Click to show)











Ultrasone Pro 2900



Sells for $400+.
Review (Click to show)

Surprise Review! biggrin.gif

I can't thank calpis enough for selflessly sending me his pair of Pro 2900 to review and compare. So all of you Pro 2900 owners, or those who were curious about them, thank calpis! I owe it to him to be a little more thorough in my impressions.

Okay, I've spent the last few days abusing my ears with almost nothing but Pro 2900 audio, so if anything, I can say I'm quite acquainted with them, and they're very fresh on my mind. I was able to test them with a variety of games, including Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, which are my go-to games for positional audio. Let me start with the build. Man, these are built like absolute tanks. Like seriously, it's plastic, but it's the strongest plastic I have ever felt on a headphone. The only other headphone that felt like an absolute tank was the M50, and these have those beat in just how ridiculously well built they are. You'd have to be a moron to break these.

Now for the sound. Let me break down the specific aspects of it's sound.



Sound:

The Pro 2900 is bright. The Q701 sounds like a warm monster next to them. They are VERY aggressive sounding headphone. The PRAT factor is incredibly high here. They are super quick, with tons of bite. This is NOT a headphone to relax and chill to. This is a headphone to jam out to. They are also very revealing, and dry sounding. The sound doesn't have the rich body of the Q701 or the D7000. The Pro 2900 is weird in that while it's notably a v-shaped sounding headphone, it is quite analytical. The speed of the bass is so quick and unobtrusive, the recessed mids come out highly detailed (but quite distant). The emphasized treble just bring a very clear sound. If I could compare the Pro 2900 to anything, it'd be the DT880 and HE-4. The DT880 and HE-4 however had a warmer tone, richer body, and slower, more present bass making them more fun, personally.



Bass:

These are supposed to have the same drivers as the mid bass monster known as the Pro 900, right? Well, they didn't sound like that to me. They initially started out somewhat bass light. The Q701 had more bass presence. HOWEVER, I dunno when it happened, but that changed. The bass on these? AMAZING quality. Literally the most articulated bass I have ever heard. I'm not talking quantity. I'm talking about how incredibly textured and quick the bass is. Something about how the bass notes hit that just blew me the hell away. You know how some headphones tend to have a one note type of bass that doesn't exactly sound realistic? Well, the Pro 2900 just presents bass in so many layers, I can't help but feel in awe. That being said, it's not particularly emphasized or strong, but they are definitely more present than the Q701. I'd put them on a DT880 level of bass presence. I like a bit more bass emphasis from fun cans like the DT990, HE-4, and D7000, but these are pretty on par with the DT880s in terms of quantity. Quality definitely surpasses the DT880 (which is slower) which was probably the second bass in bass quality for me. Seriously though, give them a very bass emphasized song, and you will be absolutely blown away by that masterful quality. Just don't expect them to immediately please you if you like some form of emphasized bass. The bass is there when a song absolutely calls for it, so I'd say it's the most natural aspect of the Pro 2900's sound. With the right songs, the bass is simply breathtakingly beautiful.



Mids:

This is their DEFINITE weak point. It's noticeably recessed compared to the treble. It falls shortly behind the bass, and quite a bit compared to the treble. Male vocals sound a little unnatural, but female vocals (due to mids going up to the treble) sounded quite unnatural. The Pro 2900 will not be one for female vocals, especially those who tend to bring out sibilance. They will murder your ears with the Pro 2900. On certain songs like 'Kaskade ft. Skylar Grey - Room For Happiness (Fire)', Skylar's voice was very metallic and unnatural sounding. When put next to the Q701... the recessed mids were quite obvious.



Treble:

The showrunner. The treble is prominent. I can't compare directly with the DT990, but it's up there. It has no reservations about them being treble heavy. I'm guaranteeing this would be the deal breaker for a lot of people. That being said, while the treble while is prominent, it wasn't grainy. It was a very high quality treble. The DT880 and DT990's treble were grainier. The treble can be quite fatiguing, so take note if you like smoother treble.



Soundstage:

I won't mention soundstage for music as I'm not too focused on it when I'm not gaming in virtual surround. For gaming, I felt the Pro 2900's soundstage wasn't exactly 'open'. It did spread out pretty far to the extreme left and right, but depth wasn't amazing. It felt like a cross between a closed headphone, and an open one. Considering the Pro 2900's are open, I was left a little disappointed in their soundstage. It wasn't airy like an open can. Felt like a closed can with a big soundstage.



Positioning:

Okay, this is where they are indeed quite excellent. They are great at directionality. No complaints. Not the very best, but they won't bring any issues for gamers using Dolby Headphone. A solid performer, can't say anything negative here. GREAT. I had a 40-0 game on MW2 and a 32-0 game on Black Ops with these, so they are quite capable, I'd say.



Clarity:

As stated before, they are actually revealing and analytical despite their v shaped sound. For GAMING, think of the Pro 2900 as a less bassy DT990 in terms of clarity.



Comfort:

Ah yes, I was skeptical about them, because I've heard several complaints about them, especially the padding on the headband. Perhaps I was desensitized by wearing the K701 and Q701 for so long, but the Pro 2900's padding was quite literally the same as the PC360's headband padding which are non-issues whatsoever. The ear pads feel very similar to the Q701s. Lovely velour that is neither too soft, nor too firm. They were just fine, and cause no discomfort for me. As for clamp, yes, these have a mild clamp, so those who don't like clamp may be irked by it. I actually prefer it, because they stay in place. It's better than any of the Sennheisers I've used in this regard. The headband extension is great, and sturdy. Big heads shouldn't have a problem with the size.



Value:

My biggest issue with the Pro 2900 is the price. It costs as much as the HE-4, and I honestly feel it competes more with the DT880/Q701 price range. The HE-4 is superior to me as a whole. The good thing about the Pro 2900 is that it easy fairly easy to drive and sounds great off the Mixamp. The HE-4 is most certainly the absolute opposite. The Pro 2900 sounds mid-fi to me, and not a bridge between mid-fi and hi-fi that the price seems to suggest. If these were price around $250-300, it'd be some serious competition to the popular Beyers and AKGs. As it stands, it's not good enough to warrant purchase over the Beyers, though if you happen to own them, they won't let you down.

Due to them being great for both fun and competitive gaming, those looking for all-rounders that just do all forms of gaming well, the Pro 2900 shouldn't be overlooked if you feel the price is justifiable. Better positioning than the DT880, and more analytical, while still retaining a healthy dose of fun.

Again, many, MANY thanks to calpis for sending them to me. You have my deepest gratitude.



Final Scores...
Fun: 8 (Great) (Click to show)
The Mixamp pairs up quite well with the Pro 2900, and the bass is satisfying, but not overly powerful. When the bass hits hard, that quality of the Pro 2900's bass really shines.
Competitive: 7.5 (Very Good) (Click to show)
Directionality is very good. Soundstage could be bigger, but it's good overall. Pro 2900 owners shouldn't have any issues dominating at least when it comes to using these as their main headphone.
Comfort: 7.5 (Very Good) (Click to show)
Overall: 7.25 (Good) (Click to show)













Ultrasone Pro 900



Sells for $300-$330.
Review (Click to show)
So I gotta say, the Pro 900 is lethal with Dolby Headphone. They are stupid awesome for gaming.

The DT990 is it's closest sounding alternative, but you definitely trade off that open soundstage for a closed one, so if there are any DT990 fans looking for a closed headphone that bears some resemblance, but with lesser treble, and more focused/stronger bass, the Pro 900 is it.



Fun:

You will be absorbed into your games with the Pro 900, make no mistake. The ambience won't come close to the D7000's, but it's damn good on it's own merits. There's something about the pulse the Pro 900s emit that really keep you excited every single minute you use them for gaming. The bass is strong as all hell, but very, VERY tight, making for an incredibly fun can that doesn't smother detail with it's bass. I'd say it does gaming bass better than the DT990, for sure. Not to knock the DT990, since it's open AND has that amazing bass. The Pro 900 is closed, which should make it's bass an obviously logical strength.



Competitive:

I know that the Pro 2900 is less bassy, making it for more focus on detail, but the Pro 900's bass really, REALLY doesn't get in the way. Directionality was great (just as it was on the Pro 2900). Soundstage was also similar, despite it's closed vs open design. The Pro 2900 didn't ever sound open in any case. The recessed mids didn't truly rear it's ugly head when I was gaming, so I'll consider them recessed but clean sounding, not making them much of an issue. The Pro 900 is stronger in the fun category than competitive, but it is by no means weak for competitive gaming. You can and will maintain focus even with the addition of that lovely bass. I'd say even with the tip towards bass, the Pro 900's bass keeps you ever so slightly more focused than the DT990's bass, though I'd say the DT990 is better overall for competitive use due to it's expansive soundstage/open sound that keeps other details more spread apart and easier to pick up.



Comfort:

Personally, I would say they are an 8 for me, and I can wear them all day long, but I know realistically, you guys won't find it as comfortable due to it's clamp grip, and whatnot. I honestly don't see why people have issues with the Pro 900's top padding. It's infinitely better than the Q701's padding, which was not really an issue after some time. The Pro 900's top padding is a lot like the Sennheiser PC360's. Can't see how that can bother anyone.



Isolation:

I know I haven't done this with any other headphone, but that's usually because I prefer open headphones, which don't isolate well at all. Because the Pro 900 IS closed, I feel it necessary to mention how well it does. I feel that it keeps outside noises out well enough (certainly leaps and bounds better than the D7000), and does incredibly well keeping sound from leaking out, even with it's velour pads.



Value:

Overall, the Pro 900 truly houses a resemblance to it's sibling, the Pro 2900, even down it it's soundstage. You trade off the Pro 2900's EXTREMELY articulated bass, for a more prominent, less articulate, but still very high quality bass. I can literally paste the review of the Pro 2900, and change the bass section, and voila. I gotta say, I prefer the treble on the Pro 900 to than the Pro 2900 by a little bit. They are both artificial sounding as a whole, but the Pro 2900's treble sounded more metallic to me.

I may not have been as happy with the Pro 900 for music initially, but considering how little I've been using headphones when gaming, I think it's a big win for the Pro 900 when I say that they MADE me wanna use them all day for gaming. They truly pulled it off in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, man on 2nd and third, down by one, with a bass hit to win the game. wink.gif

If you have just over $300 to spend on a headphone for gaming that you want to use for fun and some competitive gaming, the Pro 900 is a rock solid choice. It does favor fun more than competitive, but it won't let you down either way, with it's great positioning, unobtrusive bass, and clean sound.

I also want to add that if you were on the fence between the Pro 900 vs the Pro 2900, I personally recommend the Pro 900. The Pro 2900 doesn't have an airy sound, losing the main reason why I believe anyone would go for an open headphone. The mids and treble are similar, making the only real differing aspect being the bass. Considering that the Pro 900 is a ton of fun without sounding messy, it will impress you more than the Pro 2900. The Pro 2900 is more balanced overall, but even calling it balanced is a far stretch, due to mid recession, and more metallic treble. The Pro 900 may also have similar recessed mids, but that trades off for more bass, whereas the Pro 2900 doesn't really give you anything in return for those recessed mids. The Pro 2900 has remarkable texture and refinement in the bass, but is lacking in abundant quantity to make that bass really stand out. The Pro 2900 is also considerably more expensive than the Pro 900 (if you shop well), making it just tough choice in it's price bracket (which is full of amazing headphones, like the HE400, HE-4, D5000, etc).


Final scores:

Fun: 8.75 (Excellent)

Competitive: 7.5 (Very Good)

Comfort: 7.5 (Very Good)

Overall: 7.75 (Very Good)










Virtual Surround Devices (devices only, console use)
(many thanks to forum member ruuku for typing most of this up for the guide)











Astro Mixamp Pro (2013 Edition)



Dolby Headphone Device

Sells for $129.99
Review (Click to show)
Pros:

+ Presets for customized sound, with 4 modes: Pro (boosted details, less bass), Core (relatively flat/balanced), Media (boosted mids and subtle bass boost), Sports (tuned for a more open virtual space, stadium-like)

+ Core preset is rich and warm, which is quite beneficial to most headphones. Not quite ruler flat, but not detrimental to sound quality.

+ Pro Mode lessens the bass considerably, to focus on details. This preset will be quite beneficial for boomy/muddy headphones.

Cons:

- Wired

- Hissy. About as much as the 5.8. It's not an issue, but the older Mixamp Pro had considerably less hiss.

- Does not decode DTS, so no virtual surround for DTS signals (which sadly, most Blu-Ray movies use).


Impressions:

I found the Mixamp Pro 2013 to be the best Mixamp in terms of functionality, though the removal of the digital coaxial/RCA inputs means less devices to hook up to it at once (the digital coaxial input on the older devices could be used in conjuction with a digital coaxial to optical converter to allow two game consoles at once).

I sincerely hope in the future Astro manages to add multiple optical inputs, as most gamers will have more than one console/device. That and HDMI input, and DTS decoding (like the SU-DH1). Hopefully, LPCM decoding will be added, as the Wii U uses LPCM. Wii U gamers are out of in terms of virtual surround because of the lack of LPCM decoding on current virtual surround devices.

The Pro, Core, and Media presets are all very functional and worth using.

Core: Core is basically flat/balanced, but not perfectly flat. From what I'm personally hearing, it seems to have ever so slightly more bass/warmth than neutral. Easy to tell when comparing to the Mixamp 5.8 which had no coloration when bass boost was off. Still, it's the best preset overall, and I personally like the subtle coloration with every headphone I've used so far.

Pro: Forum member Chicolom describes as "AD700 mode", which sucks out the bass to focus entirely on mid and treble detail. This essentially makes the A40 sound like the old A40. This may be quite beneficial to muddy/undetailed headphones.

Media: Enhances mids with a very subtle bass boost, which I really enjoyed for movies, as movies tend to suck out the mids a bit. I recommend using preset for mid deficient headphones.

Sports: I didn't personally like this one, as it sounds like the virtual space was made bigger, and sounds more processed and artificial than the other presets.

Despite the added hiss compared to the old Mixamp Pro, the 2013 edition is worthwhile unless you absolutely want the least amount of hiss, which then you'll wanna seek out the older 2011 or the even older 2010 edition.


Extra Notes:
Quote:
Originally Posted by ruuku 
Added EQ Fuction/Button on face of Mixamp
"Daisy Chaining" does not require red 3.5mm male to male "bar" adapter
"Live streaming integrates game sound with incoming/outgoing voice chat"
TOSlink changed to mini-optical (3.5mm optical), Removed RCA/COAX Inputs, additional 3.5mm "STREAM" port











Astro Mixamp Pro



Dolby Headphone Device
Review (Click to show)
Pros:

+ Lowest noise of listed DH Decoders

+ Ability to "Mix" voice back into headphone audio

+ By far the most amount of inputs (RCA, Optical, Coaxial, USB (for PC, however it can only do stereo through USB, no DH).

Cons:

- Wired (Not as streamlined as AX720)

- Expensive, with horrendous shippping charges from Astrogaming.

- Does not decode DTS, so no virtual surround for DTS signals (which sadly, most Blu-Ray movies use).


Extra Notes:

Quote:
Originally Posted by ruuku 

5.1 Wired Mixamp

Input: TOS Link, COAX, R/L RCA, 3.5mm Input (MP3/AUX), USB (power only)
OUT: 3.5mm (PC)

7.1 Wired Mixamp (2011 Version)

Changes from Mixamp 5.1 (2009):

TOS link now "doorless" Ships with a plug to prevent dust/damage
USB can now output stereo, default output is through TOSlink if avaliable
Master/Mix knobs now flat instead of tapered/rounded

7.1 Wired Mixamp (2013 Version)

Changes from Mixamp 7.1 (2011)

Added EQ Fuction/Button on face of Mixamp
"Daisy Chaining" does not require red 3.5mm male to male "bar" adapter
"Live streaming integrates game sound with incoming/outgoing voice chat"
TOSlink changed to mini-optical (3.5mm optical), Removed RCA/COAX Inputs, additional 3.5mm "STREAM" port











Astro Mixamp 5.8



Dolby Headphone Device
Review (Click to show)
Pros:

+ Wireless

+ Uses 5.8Ghz for less interference with wireless devices (other older wireless solutions use a more common 2.4Ghz frequency)

+ Sound quality is on par with the Mixamp Pro, despite having slight background noise, where the Pro has little to none



Cons:

- Can only be purchased in a bundle with the A30 or A40 headsets

- Only one input (optical)

- Slight noise though lower than AX720 and DSS solutions

- Does not decode DTS natively.



Extra Notes:
Quote:
Originally Posted by ruuku 

5.8 Wireless Mixamp (TX)

Wireless, 5.8Ghz band used to avoid interference with wireless devices, devices that emit signal noise (microwaves ect.)
Added a "Bass Expander" function
Input:
TOS Link (Door version), 3.5mm Input (For PS3/PC Chat function) 2 USB [USB A] Ports for "future accessories"
Output
TOS Link (Door version)
Face Buttons: Power, Dolby/Stereo



5.8 Mixamp (RX)

Input
Mini-USB [USB-B] (Power/Charge function)
3.5mm (Voice)
Output
3.5mm (Headphone)
Face Buttons: Power, Bass Expander











Beyerdynamic Headzone (Base only)



Virtual Surround Device

Sells for $1099.
Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ Very good virtual surround emulation. Similar to Dolby Headphone, with a dead silent background.

+ Can decode both Dolby and DTS signals, so most content is compatible

+ Options to customize the sound. For example: changing the size of the virtual room, in effect, adding soundstage size and depth



Cons:

- Prohibitively expensive, and overpriced (IMHO)

- Very high (100ohm) output impedance, so most typical audiophile headphone's tonal balance may be affected negatively (For example, a low ohm headphone's bass may be boomier and less controlled, and treble can become grating and harsh, etc.)

- Virtual surround is great, but ultimately not too different from Dolby Headphone, which comes in devices costing much, much less

- Personally can't justify spending so much for this device (At around half the price, I'd recommend it, but not for it's current street price)












Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D USB

Many thanks to NamelessPFG for lending me this device!




Virtual Surround Device

Sells for $85
Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ Affordable wired alternative to the DSS, with mic capabilities (which the DSS lacks for everything but Turtle Beach headsets)

+ Low noise floor compared to the competition in the affordable price range (excluding the Headzone)

+ Software (computer required) has many settings to tweak to your personal preference, including an equalizer, bass boost with crossfeed, which you can then import directly to the device with a press of a button



Cons:

- Virtual surround doesn't quite match Dolby Headphone processing, with slightly inaccurate panning, lack of rear soundstage depth (compared to Dolby Headphone), and strange distortion with certain sound effects.

- Does not decode DTS natively.

- Software program has several useless and confusing settings, best left off (i.e. Crystalizer.)

- Scout Mode hurts the surround emulation for emphasis on certain audio ranges



Personal notes:

I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it is. It is indeed a viable alternative to devices like the Mixamp, DSS, and AX720, but it doesn't quite reach the performance sound quality-wise as those devices. It does deliver a clean, clear sound, with just a few hiccups (like odd, grainy treble distortion at times). I found the program to be mostly useless. Other than maxing out the Surround setting (default is at 65%), I left everything else alone. Bass boosting and EQ is best left to hardware, not software, though if you have no other choice, the option is there.

I'd personally put the surround emulation to be 75% as good as Dolby Headphone devices like the Mixamp. I found THX mode (the best mode), to be comparable to the Victor SU-DH1's DH1 mode. The Recon3D had better soundstage width and FRONT depth, but was comparable in rear depth, and didn't match the SU-DH1 in in positional cues (even in DH1 mode).

If you already own the Recon3D, no worries. It's a pretty good device, and you may not find the need to upgrade to a Dolby Headphone device, at least until you compare them side by side. The Recon 3D has a good sense of immersion and decent surround emulation. However, I find Dolby Headphone to be worthwhile over the Recon3D's surround emulation.











Tritton AX 720



Dolby Headphone Device

Sells for $129 with an included headset (Best Buy).
Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ The "cleanest" wired Dolby Headphone set up

+ Included is a decent headset, not the best for gaming, but it should give you an idea of what you're looking for in an upgraded pair of cans, or it might be "good enough" to use for gaming

+ Selectable Modes of operation: Dolby Digital 5..1/(7.1 for newer model), Dolby Pro-Logic II, Dolby, Music, Movie, and Stereo



Cons (as tested with an older 5.1 decoder):

- Needs External AC Adapter to function

- low level noise while in use at all levels, not just higher volumes. Interestingly, switching to a headphone only setup resulted in a dramatic reduction in static/noise. It seems as if the static is directly affected by the attachment of a microphone.

- Wired (though not as cluttered as Astro Mixamp)

- Limited Connections: Optical (TOS) and USB (PC & Mac Renders decoder box and Puck controls inoperable, can only be used for stereo sound).

- Does not decode DTS natively.

To use a microphone, plug microphone (must have 3.5mm plug) into the right port on the "In Line Audio Control Module" (puck/the thing the plugs into the white box). If using Xbox360 use a 3.5mm to 2.5mm audio cable connect 3.5mm plug into the side of the puck, and 2.5mm end into controller. If using PS3 use the usb (a to b) cable from the decoder box to the PS3.











Turtle Beach DSS (old version)



Dolby Headphone Device

(DISCONTINUED)
Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ Cheapest DH device for console use

+ Preset EQs

+ Can take two inputs (3.5mm in, optical in)



Cons:

- Wired

- No integrated mic input. This means only Turtle beach headsets have chat capabilities. This can be resolved through the use of a direct mic input to the controller of a Xbox 360 and on the newer DSS 2 through the use of a usb soundcard dongle with 3.5mm out and 3.5mm in for PS3

- Louder background noise than the AX720 decoder, which scales with volume (unconfirmed)

- New version, the DSS2 does not use Dolby Headphone, and only simulates 4 speakers. It is unknown (so far) how it compares to Dolby Headphone.

- Does not decode DTS natively.










Victor SU-DH1
Many thanks to NamelessPFG for lending me this device!



Dolby Headphone Device

(DISCONTINUED)
Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ All Dolby Headphone modes: DH1 (smallest, least processed DH mode), DH2 (the standard DH processing used in almost all DH devices like the Mixamp), DH3 (biggest virtual room size)

+ Decodes DTS (converts a DTS signal into Dolby Headphone)

+ Small



Cons:

- Very, VERY rare.

- JVC version only works through batteries

- No mic/chat support

- Internal amp is weakest out of all Dolby headphone devices tested



Personal notes:

The Victor SU-DH1. Not many bad things you can say about it, other than it being incredibly rare, and that the only one worth getting is the Victor version, as it works through an AC adapter, as opposed to just batteries in the JVC version. having finally been able to test DH1 and DH3 mode, I see why DH2 is the most popular choice for virtual surround devices. It's the middle ground between audio fidelity, and an immersive soundfield. DH1 is the best audio quality wise (the least processed sound), but it has a small soundstage, and positioning isn't as clear as DH2. DH3 is borderline unusable, as it's just an extremely processed, echo chamber-like sound. Directly comparing the DH2 mode with the Mixamp 5.8's DH2, I found them to be very similar, but due to the weaker amp in the SU-DH1, the sound was slightly thinner, and soundstage was smaller. However, the benefit of DTS decoding makes the Victor SU-DH1 worth it over any other DH device (on the list), assuming you can find one, and you don't mind the lack of chat capabilities.










External Amps
Info, and how to attach external amps to a virtual surround device (Click to show)
This section is for somewhat affordable audiophile amps (by head-fi standards) that would help power those pesky harder to drive headphones like the Q701, DT990/600, HD650, etc. This is especially useful when using an external mic. Mixing in voice chat tends to really hurt the overall volume of the 'Mixamp', where you can no longer get a loud enough volume without an aid of these audiophile amps.

The method to attach these amps to a virtual surround device like the Mixamp is:



Console -> Optical/Toslink cable -> 'Mixamp' -> Headphone out -> 3.5mm male cable to 3.5mm OR RCA male cable (depending on amp used) -> 3.5mm input/RCA input on Amp -> Headphones

If using an external microphone:

Console -> Optical/Toslink cable -> 'Mixamp' -> Headphone out -> Y cable (one orange/microphone input for the microphone, one green/audio) -> 3.5mm male cable to 3.5mm/RCA male cable (depending on amp used) attached to the green jack on the Y cable -> 3.5mm input/RCA input on Amp -> Headphones

The Y cable SHOULD come with the Mixamp, if going that route.



You would then max out or nearly max out the 'Mixamp' on the master volume, and control the volume with the audiophile amp.

It is recommended that you get a DESKTOP amplifier, for the power they output over portable amps. It takes nearly 2x the power of an amp just to gain a few decibels in volume. This is why using a portable amp is not recommended.

Now for a few recommendations:











Fiio E9K (aka E09K)



Sells for $109, $20 less if you want the older E9

Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ Clean, musical sound signature

+ Packing plenty of power for most dynamic headphones, and even some Planars like the HE400. Nearly 1watt at 32ohm and 75mw at 600ohm

+ Sleek, black brushed metal finish, with a dock on top for the E07K or E17, for audiophile DAC use

+ Plenty of versatility with an RCA Line In, Line Out, Pre-amp Out, and USB input for your E07K or E17 (while docked)



Cons:

- 10 ohm output impedance. Most headphones with less than 80ohm may have an altered sound signature due to not enough damping. Some exceptions are Planars and the Q701/K701 which aren't affected. However, you may want to look at another external amp if you plan on using low ohm headphones

- Treble range is very slightly on the brighter side of neutral, so headphones like the DT990 may be a bit harsh off the E09K



Personal notes:

I was seriously impressed with this affordable desktop amp, even next to the Audio-GD SA-31, which is many times more powerful and many times more expensive. Though it may have a less than universal 10ohm output impedance, I didn't find it to really mess up my low ohm headphones, though it's still a possibility to make bass more sloppy or treble more harsh if using headphones with less than 80ohm. I find the E9K and the older E9 to do their best with headphones in the 80-300ohm range.

Per Fiio, the best area of the volume knob is betweek 9-12 o' clock, so adjust gain accordingly to try to land between that sweet spot. I did feel that both low and high gain tended to land between that anyway, so I used low gain for the peace of mind.












Fiio E12 'Mont Blanc'



Sells for $130

Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ Fully portable w/rechargeable battery (via micro usb port), sleek design, volume knob instead of digital button for volume control

+ Very clean, neutral sound, with optional bass boost (50hz range), and optional crossfeed (unheard of in the price range). Gain switch from 0-16db, capable of outputting illogically loud volume levels to practically every headphone short of electrostatics and harder to drive planar magnetics.

+ Very, very powerful portable amp, rivaling desktop amps like the Fiio E9K in power

+ Incredibly low output impedance for near universal compatibility with low/high impedance headphones

+ No need to hook up to a power outlet when using it to aid the Mixamp/other DH devices, meaning less clutter



Cons:

- Lack of versatility (one 3.5mm input, no outputs)

- Inputs/usb ports placed in illogical positions (headphone jack in the center, not to the side of the front plate, next to analog input, making it difficult to adjust the volume knob, with an awkward side usb port)
.
- Difficult to stack with Fiio's own E07k and E17 dac/amps due to mismatched inputs (for non-gaming use)

- Slight noise/interference in the signal if used while charging (if problematic, unplug the E12 while in use, and charge when not in use)



Personal notes:

The Fiio E12 is more or less ideal as the perfect amp to pair with the Mixamp/other DH devices when you need extra power. It's small, sleek, portable, and rechargeable. As mentioned, it doesn't need to be attached to a wall outlet like the desktop amps, making it highly ideal if you game away from a desktop setup.

It's a very clean, fast, neutral sounding portable amp (the most neutral Fiio amp). It has a generous amount of gain, so harder to drive headphone used with microphones for chat purposes won't be an issue (unless of course you're attempting to use something like the harder to drive planar magnetics like the HE-4, HE-5LE, HE-6, and electrostatics. It's not a desktop amp killer, but a desktop amp alternative.

The bass boost is really high quality from what I'm personally hearing, basically targeted at around 50hz, and not being a broad range bass boost which tends to be more intrusive. It will add a nice layer of warmth and impact. Though I don't find much use for the Crossfeed, it's there if you happen to own older recordings with really bad left/right stereo pannings which cause ear fatigue. Take note that crossfeed being on will noticeably reduce soundstage and merge the left/right channels slightly.

If you're OCD about having the quitest noise floor, bear in mind that usb charging may/will add some slight noise/interference. Slight.

I'd personally would still go for a desktop amp for 600ohm headphones, but anything 300ohm or less (again, with the harder to drive planarmagnetic/electrostatic exceptions) should be fair game to the E12. That being said, the E12 is more than capable of at least driving 600ohm headphone like the DT990/600 to ear splitting levels.











Objective O2

USA buyers - JDS Labs Objective O2

UK/International buyers - Epiphany Acoustics Objective O2



Sells for $156 w/AC adapter

Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ Very technical, very neutral, and highly regarded. The most neutral and technical amp available for the price

+ DIY kits available for personal builds and customization

+ Battery bay for portable use, or remove battery bay for built in ODAC use

+ Incredibly low output impedance for near universal compatibility with low/high impedance headphones



Cons:

- Lack of inputs and versatility

- Front power, and analog input alongside the headphone input, for a messy and cluttered front (really, why are those not in the back?)

- Due to the very neutral signature, may not be as musical enough for personal tastes, and may come off as mostly clinical/analytical/sterile



Personal notes:

I haven't heard the O2 personally, but those wanting the most neutral amp available at the price, may want to look into the O2. The front inputs are a major personal turn off, so I wouldn't personally get it, but if you want function over everything else, the O2 may be hard to pass up.












Schiit Magni



Sells for $99
Review (Click to show)

Pros:

+ Cheap, quite powerful (1.2watts at 32ohm, 120mw at 600ohms), small, and incredibly sexy. The steel body has a nice weight to it as well

+ Very clean, neutral sound

+ Pair up with the Schiit Modi, for one lovely, affordable AMP/DAC stack that may be all you need in terms of audio equipment

+ Incredibly low output impedance for near universal compatibility with low/high impedance headphones



Cons:

- Lack of versatility (one RCA input, no outputs, no gain control which is fixed at 5x gain)



Personal notes:

Schiit surprised EVERYONE with the surprising release of the Magni/Modi stack. It brings power, technicality, aesthetics, and build quality all at an astonishingly low price. I couldn't pass it up and bought the combo as soon as I heard of it. I have not been disappointed by it, even next to my main setup. The Schiit Stack (Modi+Magni) is very similar to the Fiio E9/E9K in height, and basically swaps width for deep compared to the Fiios. The Magni or Modi alone are very short.

Unless you need the versatility of having a line out and pre-amp out, the Magni will be my future recommendation for those in the USA looking for an amplifier to hook up to their Mixamps. The only problem I see here is the constant unplugging of cables IF you also happen to have a Modi or any other DAC, as you'll have to share the single input. This isn't a problem for the Fiio E9K (if you use the E07K or E17 docked) and the O2 (if you get the O2 with the ODAC built in).










External Microphones











AntLion ModMic



Where to buy: Modmic

Sells for: $33.95-$36.00
review (Click to show)

I have not personally heard this microphone, but everyone I know who owns it is extremely pleased with how sensitive it is, and how versatile it is with attaching it to your headphones. This one is a high quality mic that attaches directly to your headphone, swivels up/down, and is flexible. It will make headsets obsolete, when paired with a good headphone, though you have to contend with an extra wire between the headphone and the source. I personally suggest the V-Moda BoomPro IF you have a headphone with a detachable 3.5mm cable (or possibly 2.5mm input when used with an adapter). If not, the Modmic makes the best choice for headphones that don't have a detachable 3.5mm cable.

There are various models out there, so check woth the Antlion website to see which works best for you. ruuku's comparison is at the bottom of this section, so impressions and comparisons can be found there.











Labtec LVA-7330



Where to buy: Amazon

MSRP: $19.95
Review (Click to show)

Now, I personally purchased this one and can attest to it's sound quality. It sounds almost as good as the built in mic on the Sennheiser PC360, with just a bright, and thinner sound, but still very clear.

The problem with the LVA7330 is that it's not very versatile in that to attach to a headphone, you have to commit to it by sanding off the headband portion (the mic has a perfect area on it to let you know exactly where to sand it off to), and attaching the mic to the headphone permanently, or with double sided velcro. I personally went with the velcro option, and it wasn't pretty, and the mic was too heavy for the velcro and would somewhat come off a bit. While it is a great mic, it's more for DIY-ers, and pretty much has to be permanently attached to your headphones for the cleanest looking setup.

This is a well known mic and popular mic for head-fiers of yesteryear. I'd personally save up the extra cash for the Antlion modmic if you want a full-sized microphone, as it's not permanent, and easier to attach/detach.











Mini Clip-on Microphones (Neweer, HDE, DX models)

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default quality

Where to buy: Neweer on Amazon, HDE on Amazon, DX on DealeXtreme

Sells for very cheap
Review (Click to show)

Note: This review does not reflect the Neweer or HDE models. Sound quality may vary in comparison to the DX clip on.

Original Review for the DX clip on: The DX clip on is incredibly cheap. It can be clipped on to your headphone's cable or your shirt. The sound quality is bright, thin, but clear. It's shielding prevents it from picking up unnecessary outside noise (unlike the borderline horrible Zalman clip-on mic, which you need can really only use in a very silent room, picks up all noises, yet you have to scream at the damn thing to pick up your voice clearly). The DX clip-on picks up your voice very easily, and you don't even have to talk loud. Not as elegant as the Antlion modmic, but it's a great mic for those wanting to save money, or as an alternative. It should be ordered by anyone currently looking for a mic and doesn't want to spend much money.

There is a catch. The DX mic takes a LONG time to reach your hands from the time you place your order. Seriously. It takes around a month's time. So I recommend you order it and forget about it. It also is prone to tangling, and adds cable clutter, so if you like an elegant solution, the DX clip-on is not it. I personally just put it away when I don't need voice chat, and attach it to my headphone's cable for the gaming session when I do use it. As stated earlier in the update: I recommend looking into the Neweer or HDE models first, as they are sold domestically, and will reach your hands much, much quicker.

IF you are having a problem with any of these mics not picking up your voice, try clipping the mic to the headphone's cable, and not your shirt.










 

V-moda BoomPro



Where to buy: Amazon

MSRP: $29.99
Review (Click to show)

V-Moda has found a way to rectify a problem many of us didn't realize we had until they brought it out to light: Why hasn't anyone made an accessory that will turn any headphone into a headset with a boom microphone, without additional clutter, or cables to mess with? The BoomPro is just that. If you have any headphone that has a standard, detachable, 3.5mm cable (meaning no proprietary twist lock design), you can swap out the stock cable and use the V-moda BoomPro. That's it. Just a quick cable swap for $30, gets you a very effective boom mic with an inline volume and mic mute swtich with a clip. No stress, no mess.

Having used the BoomPro for gaming lately on my PS4, I've been told my voice comes through loud and clear, with no weird background noise or distortion. Can't argue with that. The boom mic is incredibly flexible/malleable, so you can position it in any angle, and as close/far away from your mouth as you want. I put it just far enough to where it picks up my voice well without picking up my breathing. Nothing is more annoying than seeing the mic icon in the game from another gamer, and all you hear is background noise and breathing. The BoomPro does not have this issue, making it incredibly indispensable.

On the source end, the BoomPro terminates into a single 3 pole 3.5mm plug, meaning if you have a device that uses separate audio and microphone 3.5mm inputs, you'll have to use the included Y splitter, that separates audio and microphone signals.

The BoomPro can be paired up with a large amount of headphones: I will include headphones I know to work with the BoomPro, and I will update as the list grows. If you know for certain of a headphone that will work with standard 3.5mm cables/BoomPro, please let me know). ALSO, there are those rare headphones that have a removable 2.5mm cable, so I suggest picking up a cheap 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter as a small bridge between the BoomPro and your headphone with a 2.5mm input. Beware, as many headphones may have recessed inputs which will not allow the BoomPro or 2.5mm adapter to fit.

Vmoda BoomPro Headphone Compatibility List:
This list will be updated and may be changed. Currently, this is only a list of headphones I know that are capable of being used with the Vmoda BoomPro, not a list of recommendations.

Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro
Focal Spirit Pro, Classic (need confirmation)
M-Audio Q40
Monster DNA On Ear, DNA Pro
MrSpeakers Mad Dog (single ended version)
NAD Viso HP50
Nuforce HP800
Philips Fidelio X1
Skullcandy Aviator
Vmoda LP2, M80, M100, XS

From here on out, the BoomPro will be the best recommendation for a microphone that I give, as it basically makes getting a dedicated gaming headset obsolete. You can simply just buy a good headphone w/detachable cable, attach this mic, and it will outperform any headset at a comparable price range.

There are two alternatives I know of, that function similarly to the BoomPro: the cheaper alternative, provided by Auvio ($7.99), and the expensive alternative, the Beyerdynamic COP Headset Gear Custom One Pro Microphone ($59). I can't attest to the mic and cable's quality from either of the alternatives, as I haven't personally tested either. The sparse reviews on the Auvio model doesn't inspire confidence. I'd get the Auvio only if you need to pinch pennies and can't justify $30 for the V-moda BoomPro. Beyerdynamic's model is twice as expensive as V-moda's BoomPro, and is targeted for owners of the Custom One Pro. I'm confident Beyer's mic cable is at least as good as V-Moda's, if not better, but at double the price, and less likely to fit other headphones due to the thicker stalk, I still feel better recommending the BoomPro instead.












Ruuku's Antlion Modmic, Labtec LVA-7330 Comparison
Comparison (Click to show)
Quote:
Originally Posted by ruuku 
Finally got around to writing the comparison/review of the Modmic V2 and the Labtec LVA 7330:

Voice clarity: ModMic 9/10, Labtec 7.5/10 The ModMic was much, much clearer than the Labtec. To be fair, the Labtec is a noise cancelling (NC from here on) mic, so this rating is situational. I’m fortunate enough to game in a location with very low ambient noise, and I feel that there is enough of a difference between environments that it is necessary to put up this disclaimer. Many of you, while gaming with headphones, are seeking to block outside noise and a NC mic will extend this courtesy to those that you’re chatting with. Right now, we are experiencing cool (for Honolulu, Hawaii) temperatures of about 65°-68° at night. In a few months I’ll start testing with a Vornado fan on to see if there’s a noticeable change (I’m expecting there should be) but for pure sound clarity the Omni-directional non-noise cancelling seems to be the winner by and far. When chatting with my friends for the first time the first words were “Wow... what the hell did you do? You’re so much louder and clearer.”


Setup: Modmic 9/10, Labtec 6.5/10. Well this is just unfair for the Labtec, after all we’re repurposing a headset mic to become a boom mic to add on to headphones, but I’ll be honest, the Labtec clearly loses in this category. After dremeling off the headband portion of the mic, you're left with a crescent shaped portion to attach to your headphones. Velcro™ seems to be the adhesive of choice, and it works well enough, but I’ve found that after repeated removal the adhesive starts coming off, and furthermore the ball joint on my Labtec started to lose its rigidity and the boom arm would flail about. The ModMic attaches with a simple plastic base clasp that has a strong rare earth magnet in the center, and a 3M™ adhesive backing. Included in the purchase is an alcohol swab, a nice touch. There are also four triangles on both the mic and the base clasp that center and interlock/align the mic when attached. The wire attached to the Modmic is very flexible and moldable, so its not too bothered by imperfect placement of the base clasp. That being said I wish these was just a little more adjustment in the rotation of the base clasp/mic. I’m thinking more like gears than the triangles used.... This would lend more rotational adjustability, but this is fairly nitpicky.

Connectors: Modmic 8/10 Labtec 9/10. Here we can see the difference between an OEM/major manufacturer versus a small boutique shop. The Labtec comes with a pink plastic encased gold plated 3.5mm connector. It’s designed as a PC mic, and it shows through its color coded connector. The modmic on the other hand has a very simple, and very slim cable and silver 3.5mm connector. Points for having a very small diameter cable, but for the price I’d like to have a gold plated connector. It might be a placebo effect, but I seem to have better luck with gold plated connections lasting longer than their regular sliver counterparts. On the mic end of the cable the Labtec strain relief is pretty nonexistent or hidden beyond the plastic circle. The wire is wedged between two interlocking pieces of plastic and will not be moving at all. (I put quite a bit of pressure tugging on it and found no visible/tactile movement/give). The Modmic has a small diameter strain relief which goes from the inner steel wire to the cable and is made up of a sturdy plastic which terminates into a soft flexible strain relief for the cable. The fit and finish through the whole product is very good. At this point I have to admit that this is being a bit nitpicky, but that’s just my personality.


Price: Modmic $37.68, Labtec $15.00, DX Clip-on $2.31: Well... yeah. The numbers don’t lie. The ModMic is expensive. However, the value depends entirely up to you. I play almost every night, usually in a party of three to four, for about 2-3 hours a day... my mic gets a fair amount of use. Struggling with the Labtec was just not an option for me anymore, and I’m very satisfied with my purchase. Come summer, and the with the use of a fan through the night, if I get complaints of background noise I may just purchase the V3... we’ll see. I think this is a testament as to how much I enjoy using the ModMic.








How to get Dolby Digital signals from DTS only Blu-Rays off your PS3/PS4
Guide (Click to show)

This is incredibly important, as it's the ONLY way to watch Blu-Ray movies with Dolby Headphone and other Dolby-related virtual surround processors. If you don't do this, you'll be getting stereo with reverb, or no audio at all.

Easiest method: (thanks to jasnmb on AVSforum for pointing this out to me)

1. On the XMB, go to settings
2. Go to Video Settings (this is why I didn't find it last time. I expect it to be under Audio settings, go figure)
3. Scroll down to 'BD - Audio Output Format (Optical Digital)'
4. Select 'Bitstream - Mix'


Alternate method:

1. While watching the DTS only Blu-Ray movie, hit triangle
2. Go to AV Settings
3. Scroll to the bottom, and change the 'Audio Output Format' to 'Bitstream (Mix)'.

Both methods will be saved, so no need to adjust every time you watch a BD.

On the PS4, the option is still there in the menus, though the steps are different. I'll add them soon.





That's it. Enjoy watching your Blu-Rays in Dolby Headphone surround!










Final Notes (Click to show)
(the following was provided by forum member ruuku)

Cords/Connections:

RCA: The most common cable used to transmit audio signals (between components). Usually colored in white and red. This combination carries stereo sound.

3.5mm (1/8" / TRS) audio jack the most commonly used plug for headphones, most commonly used on portable devices.

6.35mm audio jack used on older/higher end headphones/components. Commonly used in Home Theater receivers.

Optical (aka: TOS-link, SPDIF) Fiber-optic line used in high-quality audio. Used to transmit (digital) Dolby/DTS/5.1/7.1 signals. Can be terminated in a TOS Link (Plug looks like a blocky "D") or
3.5mm plug

Coaxial: another digital cable connection, uses same plug style as RCA, but carries a digital (high quality) signal. Usually differentiated between RCA by an orange color and use of only a single cable (vs. RCA Stereo using two)

Terminology:

DTS: Surround sound codec used to transport multiple audio channels for surround sound.

DH (Dolby Headphone): Simulated (virtual) 5.1/7.1 surround sound. Processing is used to create an experience that simulates having multiple speakers despite using only two with headphones.

DH Decoders: In order for consoles to enable DH, the audio signal must first pass into a decoder, which "translates" the audio signal for your headphones. Computers can do this through the use of software and/or hardware (internal/external sound cards)










Special Thanks (Click to show)

Gaming Guide Contributors/Regulars

@AxelCloris
@calpis - Ultrasone Pro 2900, Ultrasone HS-15
@chicolom - FAQ
@Change is Good - K612 Pro, Shure SRH1840
@Evshrug - K712 Pro
@NamelessPFG - Victor SU-DH1, Creative Recon 3D USB
@PurpleAngel
@Stillhart



Contributors

@jazzerdave - Koss ESP-950
@jude - Contact for the Monster DNA, DNA Pro, DNA On Ear
@MattTCG - MrSpeakers Mad Dog
@mrspeakers - MrSpeakers Mad Dog, MrSpeakers Alpha Dog
@ruuku - Guide Help, mic comparison
@tdockweiler - AKG Q701 (for comparison to K702 Anniversary)



Companies (headphones sent in for review)

Astrogaming - Astro A40, Astro A50
Headamp - Audeze LCD2, Stax SR407
MrSpeakers - MrSpeakers Mad Dog, MrSpeaker Alpha Dog
Monster - Monster DNA, Monster DNA Pro
Nuforce - Nuforce HP800
Skullcandy - Skullcandy Slyr, Skullcandy PLYR1

Edited by Mad Lust Envy - 8/7/14 at 11:45pm
post #2 of 25705

Awesome post mate :D

 

Do you suggest using the Dolby Headphone option in Asus Xonar DX's Audio Center or purchasing a separate Dolby decoder like the Mixamp and Earforce?

post #3 of 25705
Thread Starter 

I don't see any real benefit of using a separate Dolby Headphone amp over your soundcard. o_O I forgot to mention that I'm a console gamer, so YMMV. XD

post #4 of 25705

Have you tried Ultrasone PRO 900? People say they have a really good positioning accuracy.

post #5 of 25705
Thread Starter 

No I haven't. I have only posted the ones I have directly tested enough to make a considerable assessment. I did put some bad ones in there for reference.

 

Here's good rule of thumb: If a headphone has a spacious soundstage and generally balanced sound signature, it will more than likely perform quite well with Dolby Headphone.

 

Dolby Headphone can make even some craptastic headphones sound acceptable for gaming.

 

The reason soundstage is GOOD, is because it allows the sound to have some depth, making it a lot easier for gamers to differentiate between front and rear sounds, which is a MAJOR reason why anyone should even go into headphone gaming.

post #6 of 25705

What about moving the speakers with the Dolby Virtual Speaker Shifter to correct this deadzone in the 880s? Would you move them further away since you say that it sounds like its coming from the center? I've read a post on game-fi from a user of the DT 880 600ohm and the essence STX saying to move the rear two speakers closer to the head (which would see counter productive if the issue is that the behind sounds like its in the center)?

post #7 of 25705
Thread Starter 

I can't do that, I game on consoles. Probably a good fix for PC gamers.

post #8 of 25705

So your suggestion would be to move the speaker away or toward the head?

post #9 of 25705
Thread Starter 

Away from the center. O_O There's like no distance between the rear sounds and the 'central' contact point. Instead of a full circle, it's like someone bit into the bottom. Kinda like Pacman.... that's the shape of the sound I and a few other sorta get with the 880s.

post #10 of 25705

Nice write up! The "fun" ratings really help to what I am looking for when gaming. The DT990's caught my attention but I'm not sure which one to get. I will be using it on my computer with a Xonar DX 7.1 soundcard (does this thing amp?). I'm really new to anything audio and I'm not sure what ohm is recommended for my setup.

post #11 of 25705
Thread Starter 

I had the 600ohm 990s. All three need some amping however. A soundcard can amp relative efficient headphones, but I'm not so sure about the three Premium Beyers. Probably best off with the 250ohm as the 32ohm is more expensive and seems to be even harder to drive than the 250ohm...

post #12 of 25705

amazing review!

 

i will wait for 6+ months to see if you still own d7000 and pc360 for a possible upgrade :P

 

glad my 2 cans are still among your favs :P

 

post #13 of 25705

great write up Shin!

post #14 of 25705

Great round up review of headphones and headsets...

 

Well done Mad Lust Envy, Keep it up!

 

By the way, in the review you mentioned that you have had played the COD series or at least had some prior experience( what do you think of the new Black ops?).

 

What system do you primarily play on?

 

Just a few thoughts...

post #15 of 25705
Quote:
Originally Posted by maltar7 View Post

Great round up review of headphones and headsets...

 

Well done Mad Lust Envy, Keep it up!

 

By the way, in the review you mentioned that you have had played the COD series or at least had some prior experience( what do you think of the new Black ops?).

 

What system do you primarily play on?

 

Just a few thoughts...



I think he mentioned that Black Ops has a terrible audio somewhere I can't remember. He plays on consoles.

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