My first post to the forums and I wanted to start by thanking this forum for assisting me in choosing a new set of cans. I was searching for a set of closed full-sized phones to do a mix of recording, mixing and casual listening/gaming on a budget. After a couple weeks of research, during which head-fi.org was instrumental, I had narrowed my choices down to the Senn HD280pro, the Senn 555s and the ATH-M50s. Coincidentally, my son, also began searching for a set of phones for strictly casual iPod listening at the same time.
We took a trip to our local Guitar Center and after debating over the choices for a while we settled on our choices. My son got the HD280pro and I chose the M50s, although a couple of the employees seemed to really be pushing the Sennheiser 380pros (but these were slightly above what I wanted to spend).
We both took our purchases out to the car and unwrapped them immediately and plugged them into my Galaxy S phone playing back a couple uncompressed tunes. My wife immediately chose her favorite (more on that in a minute). My son seemed a bit underwhelmed with his choice, saying he couldn't hear much difference between them and the middling earbuds he usually listens to. I decided to wait until I was home to do a more complete comparison.
When I'm listening on my PC, I spend a great deal of time on Soundcloud, where the quality and level of compression in songs varies greatly, from awful to excellent. I spent a great deal of time listening to both sets of cans, often switching back and forth and felt like I'd be able to offer a helpful comparison for others shopping in this price range.
My head is probably on the smallish side. In terms of comfort, I find the M50s to be WAY more comfortable. The 280pros are too tight and I can't wear them as long without fatigue. On the other hand, I have noticed that with extended wear, the M50s begin to almost feel TOO loose for me. I actually kind of prefer the more rigid earpiece design of the 280pros (they don't swivel almost completely like the M50s, only about 90 degrees). The M50s are too "floppy" at times.
There's really no comparison in build quality and looks. The 280s don't really separate themselves from any other sub-100 dollar phones in the looks department. The M50s just look and feel way more professional/high-end.
But none of this really matters in comparison to how they sound. Both sets of phones sound good and I actually find their sonic signatures to be more similar than different. Both seem to be relatively neutral across most of the frequency range. Neither really "jump out and grab ya", but that's usually what I look for from speakers, since it means I can listen all day without fatigue. Sins of omission are preferable to me over adding too much that's not there. The 280s are SLIGHTLY more forward, with the soundstage directly in front of the listener. The M50's soundstage is farther back, but still close enough to be be involving. That slight upper bass hump is audible in the M50s, but it doesn't overwhelm any of the music. The 280s bass response is terrific as well, just more natural and I don't feel as though they go quite as low. But they can pump out the bass when it's asked for. I would be completely satisfied with either set of phones (except for the comfort aspect of the 280s) if I had never compared the two, but there is one thing that sets the M50s a step above the 280s, and it's the thing that my wife heard immediately. If one were to go from the 280pros to the M50 immediately after, there's a pronounced drop in the noise. Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying the 280s are noisy. They aren't. But in comparison to the M50s there's a "veil" of "grain(?)" that seems to be lifted when listening to the M50s. That slight difference makes all the difference in the world and in my estimation makes the price difference between the two sets of phones completely justifiable. They are both amazing bargains, but the M50s bring out more of the music.