First Impressions (Pre burn-in)
I bought these headphones for a reasonable pair of cans that I could throw around/in my bag and not worry about them if I'm in a rush on my way to uni. I set my budget myself to at AUD/USD$100, and obviously wanted both durability as much fidelity in my audio. After doing research I narrowed it down to a few competing sets from AKG, Audio-Tech and Sennheiser (all around the same price point), and these came out the top choice after sampling each of the sets. Even so, I wasn't all too impressed by the sound. (The in-store sample had a hundred or so hours in it according to the store owner, and had not been burnt-in in any way.) Despite that, I bought them, they were SG$109, roughly AUD/USD$90.
Packaging is neat, a lot of clear plastic, which is expected of pretty much any low-mid range headphone nowadays. Included are the headphones, an extension cable (approx 3.5m or 12ft.) and a 1/8inch female to 1/4inch male TRS adaptor for use in a mixer, portable amp or home system.
The headphones are reasonably well made. Pretty much covered in plastic except for the shell of the driver housings, a lightly brushed black metal and the reinforcings of the head-band. The metallic-looking plastic that makes up the earcup brackets looks a little tacky from up close, but is conservative enough not to be too embarrassing. The hinge that allow the earcup brackets to swivel 90 degrees backward aren't cheapishly loose, but do have a little more give than I'm comfortable with. If anything gives out, it would probably be this. The cable is thick and plastic-y rather than rubbery, making tangles a little easier to deal with, but the initial un-memorising from their tightly wound positions takes a good day of headphone dangling by the plug end. The reliefs on both the earcup and plug ends feel sturdy and resilient. The padding feels the same faux leathery stuff on the Sennheiser HD280 Pro albeit a tad thicker. The padding was mutated for a good few days after removing it from the packaging, seemingly crammed into the thin moulded plastic tray for months.
The headphones, after a good 8 hours are reasonably comfortable. They are light, due to their lack of much metal, and the cups go perfectly around my moderately large ears. The ear cups swivel and fit the range of head shapes, and the embrace is spread evenly throughout the surface area of the padding. Being light, and thus having a low momentum, it is difficult to get them to move from their position.
When I talk about the audio quality of these Denons, I must admit that I am a Christian who listens to a quite a bit of "Christian" music which is more or less a very rock sound, a full band concert. I also listen to rock, folk and acoustic pop in the form of Coldplay, Mumford & Sons and John Mayer, for examples.
Down to the good stuff. In the store, the cans were boomy, bottom heavy, too warm and lacked "clarity". Or in other words, everything above 800Hz or so, seemed cut by a good 6dB. Still better than the *cough*Sennheiser HD428*cough* which was tinny, clangy and lacked anything real below mid-bass and better than, well, we won't name the rest. Was a choice between bad, "badder" and unmentionable. But the pair that I brought home, after delaying my dread and regret as much as possible, suprised me. They weren't great, but they were really decent. And for a hundred bucks, a steal. The start of John Mayer's "Belief" had a real drive to the bassline during the intro, but it wasn't overly warm and boomy, much more controlled and refined. I would say everything below 125Hz is shelved at a good +3dB dropping almost like a HPF once below 30-40Hz. However, going up the frequency range, the vocal mids (1-3kHz) were quite dominant, at least a 3dB boost, a large boost in this frequency range especially. Even further up, the vocal high-mids (4-8kHz) hit a sudden ~3dB drop for the whole octave and resulted in the "sweetness/airiness" of many vocals to be lost and the soundstage to be overly present and sometimes overwhelming. Also, things like the crack of a snare became quite distant and crashes/rides both became easily overlooked and a delayed shimmery. Suddenly the lively-ness factor dropped a few notches. But on a positive note, the highs were all there. Some of the time.
I'll have to listen a lot more to comment on the width, depth and height of the sound stage. So far, quite frontal.
People have said this headphone sounds a million times better through an amp. I don't know how they know, these came out a few months ago and they haven't bought new headphones since the HD800's came out. But remember, I haven't burnt these in yet. A few half day of both freq sweeps and white noise should loosen these up some. I'll get back to you on that once in back in my homeland. But even now, were they worth it? I would definitely say these are up there in value for the sub-$150 range and I actually don't regret my decision on bit.
Post-Flight & Burn Impressions
So I just got back home to Australia after purchasing these in Asia and I spent about 12hrs (including rest periods) on a frequency sweep all the way up to 25,800Hz cycling through 180 seconds, 20 seconds and 8 seconds for each sweep. Loud enough that putting them on for a moderate time could cause temporary partial deafness or at least an annoying ringing, so I rate it around 123-125dB. (according to the sensitivity rating of 101dB/mW, approx 200mW). After the frequency sweep, I threw some white noise at it for about 6 hours, 5 mins rest every hour.
Before I get to how it sounds post-burn, I brought it on the plane with me on the flight back home. The trip was around 6 hours, so I used it for at least 4 hours straight, minus toilet breaks. I found that my ears weren't dreading being re-trapped under each can after each toilet break, as they really are over-ear, not on-ear headphones. I sat in the mid-rear of the plane and found that the bump in the 1KHz range really increased the intelligibility over the constant noise, especially at lower levels, without the need to really crank the headphones (keep in mind that this is still straight out of my iPod Nano 4G), saving a tonne of power, but still being able to enjoy my music. This would definitely be helpful when I used them on the bus or train to Uni. However when I did want to hear the details, and cranked it up, that mid range bump caused a lot of listening fatigue. I also stuffed them into my carry on without a second thought of fragility.
But after burn-in, alot of things changed. There was still a recess in that 4KHz area, a little annoying, but those highs REALLY opened up. I mean it was no longer like there were tin cans in between the diaphragm and the ear, it was lush and rich, but never hissy or harsh. The sound stage really opened up, no longer very frontal and very direct, but if you ever get the new-ish Sennheiser CX280s (which I got for AUD$40), is quite like those. Not just around me, but I swear, I've looked up a couple of times.
Bass is pretty flat, though never half-hearted, and can kick out without squaring off, even at a brain jiggling/wax loosening level. Don't believe them when they say 8Hz on the package though. Mid-bass is a little too prominent for my liking, sometimes a mix can get a tad muddy and this is true all the way to that 1KHz bump, resulting in a somewhat warm sound, making some vocals a little overpowering and seemingly breathing down your neck. As you can tell I like to keep my distance, but these cans can really appeal to alot of people.
Looks - 3.5 of 5 stars.
Durability - 3.5 of 5 stars.
Performance - 4 of 5 stars.
Value - 4.5 of 5 stars.
Overall - 4 of 5 stars.
Review when paired with an amp coming soon. I hope.
EDIT: 10th March 2011
I just received my brand spanking new headphone amp in the mail today, it's the latest pocket amp built by Gary at Electric Avenues, the PA2V2.
I've burnt it in for a good 20 hours with white noise, 2 hours between breaks, 5 minutes each break, loud enough to be able to hear it clearly from a good 2 metres away despite banding the pads together so they muffled each other. All up cost me about AUD$75 because I had to scrounge up a power adaptor and solder a connector for recharging.
Now the good bit. Keep in mind that I almost doubled the cost of these cans by adding an amp, So I do have to compare with headphones that I've heard in the sub-$200 price range. Some would argue that the portability has decreased, but I argue that it's also increased the "coolness" factor of the headphones. Just cos it's got an LED. Nah, just joking, but not really. I did use the headphones as the load to burn in the amp so there has been added hours on the cans, but if you read above, my previous burn in with only my cans was definitely extensive.
I've adjusted the gain, I admit, on the amp, turning the two blue screws in the amp a good 90 degrees clockwise, so that I am comfortable the volume produced with the dial facing the 12 o'clock position. But boy, this amp just keeps on giving. (I know these cans are only 32ohm but, still.) The huge caps (for a pocket amp) must've something to do with that. Sorry this isn't a PA2V2 review, I'll get back to the point.
Let's start low. Bass and sub-bass. They were more than decent from my iPod, but pushing it farther than normal, you could really hear the iPod struggle and the low end would definitely not go any further past a certain point. With the amp, it just feels, easy. Like it's got no worries on it's mind. It's definitely slightly more pronounced above the rest of the mix, about 3-4dB, but it sounds like it's just showing off, I can actually hear the ultra low end (40Hz and below) distortion without it now. It's not all aggressive and up-in-your-face about it, it just wants to show you it can. Not like some other popular headphones *cough* Dre Studios *cough* running around.
Body and Mids. You know that I was struggling a little with the amount of body and how full these cans were as I'm more used to the ultra fidelity of small driver in-ears. But this turned a rather chunky, excess body into a well muscled one. For lack of better analogy. They're definitely still there, it's just that it sounds, efficient, now. The mids have really flattened out, that 1KHz bump and that 4KHz recess were gone. Snares no longer sounded like they were being beaten to death by rubber sticks (exaggeration, they really weren't that bad) but claimed their presence in the soundstage. I am no longer fatigued listening to Adele, gone are the days where I would get headaches listening from listening to hours or vocally dominant tracks.
Highs. They compare with my in-ears. Really, they do. I've had a listen to some Etymotics, too. Sure they were only about 150 bucks, but they're only about a third of a step up in fidelity. Hi-hats, crashes, rides splashes, heck, even cowbells sound transparent. The transient response has definitely increased exponentially.
Soundstage. This is the only thing I'm not totally impressed with. It has definitely spread out, but it hasn't necessarily spaced out. I hear stuff from all around me, but half of the time, it's like my posse is a walking band shoulder to shoulder and just a step or two in front and behind me, following me wherever I go. Gets me a little claustrophobic at times.
But now that the sound's improved so much, I have noticed that they get a little uncomfortable whenever I wear glasses with them.
Still, I'm abso-beeping-lutely loving it.
Comfort (Which I forgot to rate earlier) - 3.5 stars, down from 4.
Performance - 4.5 stars, up from 4.
Edited by morethansense - 3/10/11 at 2:16am