Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphones (full-size) › What are your top 5 headphones for classical music?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

What are your top 5 headphones for classical music?

post #1 of 86
Thread Starter 
Aside from Stax and other high-end stuff, what are your top 5 headphones for classical music? No preference for open/closed.
post #2 of 86

You can't go wrong with the ATH-AD700.



post #3 of 86

W5000, HD800, K1000


Edited by grokit - 4/11/11 at 12:36am
post #4 of 86

I should like to know this too.  This is my primary genre.

post #5 of 86
W5000. Very smooth.
post #6 of 86
When you say "high end," are you excluding headphones over a certain price?

That aside (and ignoring your request for five smily_headphones1.gif) the headphones I've enjoyed for classical are:

Sennheiser HD-800, HD-650, HD-600, HD-580
AKG K-1000, K-501, K-340, K-240DF
Beyerdynamic DT48
Stax O2

No particular order, but I listen to the HD-800 most followed by the K-1000. Also, this list is restricted to headphones I own or have owned. There are others good for classical, but I haven't spent any appreciable time with them.

The K-501 is probably the best bang-for-buck. Sure wish they were still in production.

The DT48 is polarizing, but I really enjoy it for classical. Used ones are a terrific value.
post #7 of 86
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post

When you say "high end," are you excluding headphones over a certain price?

That aside (and ignoring your request for five smily_headphones1.gif) the headphones I've enjoyed for classical are:

Sennheiser HD-800, HD-650, HD-600, HD-580
AKG K-1000, K-501, K-340, K-240DF
Beyerdynamic DT48
Stax O2

No particular order, but I listen to the HD-800 most followed by the K-1000. Also, this list is restricted to headphones I own or have owned. There are others good for classical, but I haven't spent any appreciable time with them.

The K-501 is probably the best bang-for-buck. Sure wish they were still in production.

The DT48 is polarizing, but I really enjoy it for classical. Used ones are a terrific value.

High-end as in, HD800, T1, LCD2 would be the max. Nothing over $1500.

Since you have the HD800 and HD650, how do you compare them for classical only? More specifically, are they worth the 3x the price of the HD650s?
post #8 of 86

Entry level I'm going to put the HD598 up there as they can be had for $170 on occasion.

post #9 of 86
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Ra97oR View Post

W5000. Very smooth.

I'm interested in these too. I wonder how these older high-end headphones compare to HD800 or LCD2.

I mainly use my A500 for gaming, but recently I find that they do pretty well for classical, and only classical. A500 for any other genre is junk for its complete lack of bass.
post #10 of 86
Thread Starter 
here's a post from 5 years ago I was reading just now:

link: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/195589/classical-music-shootout-ad2000-hd650-600-k701-k501-sorry-longwinded

Classical Music Shootout: AD2000, HD650/600, K701/K501
(sorry, this is a very longwinded read)

I’ve thought about doing something like this for a while, and now that I’ve accumulated a nice stable of highly regarded cans to play with, it’s fun to listen to them all and compare how they deliver different types of classical music. I picked some cuts from a few of my favorite CDs. All are great musical renditions captured on clear and ambient recordings. I thought about mixing in other genres as well, but maybe that can be another thread sometime. I don’t care for the vast majority of studio recordings through headphones, so I’m not going to venture too deeply into those waters.

Three of the headphones are TOTL for their type, and the HD600’s and K501’s were top dogs not long ago. In order to help level the playing field with the flagships, I used a Headphile V2 cable on the 600’s – would then put them in the price range of the both the 650’s and 701’s, still below the AD2000's. The K501’s are stock, but see how they certainly showed up on most of the events!

Anyhow, maybe some Headfiers might enjoy reading of my little journey here. It is specific to classical music that would resemble the below pieces, although some aspects will translate to other genres. As with all reviews, it is subjective – YMMV because MMDV!! If people like my approach, I can do a scaled back jazz shootout sometime with a group of cans.

The Recordings used:

E. Elgar, Symphony #1, esp. the 1st movment.
London Symphony, André Previn, cond.
Large orchestral texture, esp. shows soundstage, dynamics and detail in a large texture.

F. Chopin, Etude in C Minor, Op. 25, #12, and other cuts
Louis Lortie, piano
Shows midrange and depth of the stereo image.

M. Tournier: Sonatine for Harp.
Erica Goodman, harp
Shows a great deal of delicate detail and lifelike delivery of very intimate music

R. Vaughan Williams, from Songs of Travel:
The Roadside Fire, Whither Must I Wander & Bright Is the Ring of Words.
Bryn Terfel, baritone; Malcom Martineau, piano
Male vocals with piano, shows detail and lifelike delivery in a small setting

J. Brahms: Phänomen, and various other cuts.
Judith Blegen, Soprano; Frederica von Stade, Mezzo-Soprano; Charles Wadsworth, piano
Female vocal duets with piano, shows placement of two voices in simple musical textures.

The Engish Concert, Trevor Pinnock, cond
Small orchestral texture, solo vocals and chorus, shows both soundstage and detail

Wagner: Prelude to Die Meistesinger (transcription), & other cuts
Mark Laubach, organ
Huge musical texture, with demanding sustained tones, from the deepest bass to the upper limits of audibility.

The Source Gear used:

Denon DN-600F CD player (used as transport), ART DI/O DAC with upgrades by Bolder Cable Co., Fisher X1000 and 500C tube amplifiers, both restored by Terry DeWick of Knoxville, TN.

The Denon is just an ok CDP, but functions very well as a sturdy and reliable transport with good operational features. The ART DI/O DAC is incredibly detailed, and the Bolder mods make it even cleaner and more dynamic than stock. For the listening tests, I used two vintage tube amps with fed from a splitter off the DAC, this so I could do quick comparisons of the headphones. I switched amp/can combinations during the tests to make sure that one amp wasn’t favored. The restored 1962 Fisher X-1000 is one of the Holy Grail units of vintage audiodom. The most powerful integrated amp that Fisher made, the preamp section develops incredible depth with great detail, and the EL34 amp delivers effortless dynamic power. The restored 1968 Fisher 500C 7591 amplifier was Fisher’s most popular unit and actually gives up very little to the X-1000, the differences between the two being very difficult to impossible to detect even with a blind A/B tester. The Fisher pieces are worthy of this challenge, no little toy amps here. Two or three cans going at once allowed me to switch between them quickly.


Here we go: Shootout at the Bach Chorale!

Test # 1: Large Orchestra - Elgar Symphony

AD2000 Very large and dynamic sound with a very tall and wide soundstage.. The brass have a nicely controlled brilliance. The strings are a bit dull sounding in the middle registers, with no “rosin on the bow”, although the violins can be pretty lively when they are high and loud. These aren’t the most lifelike cans of the bunch by any means with this CD, but still there is something quite pleasant about them. They are both spacious and smooth.

HD600 Very good balance top to bottom. Huge, yet still lively sound. The strings just seem to be a warm presence suspended in midair. The percussion timbrels are plenty dramatic enough, although less so than the K501

HD650 Sounds like overly restrained 600’s. My gosh, these things are smoooooth. The trombones and cellos sound like they are in front of the band, with everyone else back a bit. A setting of -1 on the bass and a +1 on the treble helps some. These are so refined and seem to be without any harshness anywhere, but I’d like just a little more definition and a bit less weight.

K701 Decent enough balance, refined, nice detail, but something is missing here. Difficult to nail down, but something in (or not in) the midrange is giving me a two dimensional feel here. The brass do have lots of fire, the strings have detail but do not have the sensuous wraparound of the 600’s or the vibrancy of the 501’s. Although they sound very good, these cans just don’t present this large texture with as much breadth as the others.

K501 OMG! Very lively. Sounds a bit like its big AKG sister, but with a much more open and free presentation, if a little less deep. The strings sound more vibrant than the 701’s, and all of the other instruments have a great deal more energy. The percussion really jumps out, simply fantastic!

Prizes: Oh so tough to call a winner between 1 & 2
1st - HD600 the appropriate big, full sound top to botom
2nd- K501 (with a +1 bass) very special, a little more fullness and this little feller might well have pulled the upset
3rd - HD650 gosh these sound nice, but with an overabundance of girth.
4th (tie) - K701 & AD2000 701’s marked down for recessed mids, esp. in the most massive passages. AT’s avoid the cellar due to a very proper huge presentation of the huge orchestral textures.

Test # 2: Piano - Chopin Etudes

AD2000 Airy presentation with an ok balance. A bit distant, a few rows back from the Senns, and many rows back from the AKG’s. The big Steinway doesn’t “bloom” in the tenor range like it ought to, the upper mids are not as clear as the other ‘phones, and the stronger treble passages sometimes have a slight harshness with the percussive attack. The actual soundstage is narrower than the Senns, but there is a distinct ambient spaciousness about them.

HD600 Seems very nicely balanced. Lush and luxurious sounding. The stage is wide and the sound seems to be reflected all around in a concert hall. The Steinway has lots of body, and the detail is good, maybe I want just a little more of the detail sometimes? The music sounds like it is being played in a warm, acoustically sympathetic space.

HD650 Quite similar to the 600s, not quite as clear on top, maybe even more lush. Not quite as wide of a stage, with a little deeper sound. Borders on slightly muddy at times, even with the bass set at -1.

K701 Very detailed and lively sound, at times perhaps a little too crispy on the very top end. The mids and lower mids are not there in the quantity that I would like from a big piano. More transparent than the Senn sisters, not as full sounding. The detail reminds me a little bit of my departed DT 880’s, but more controlled. I can hear some things that I wouldn’t hear in real life, and some minor flaws in the instrument and the performance can be detected at times. After setting the Fisher bass up +1 and the treble –1, now the tonal balance falls a little better into place to my ears. I soon noticed that the K701’s do sound their best with the softer pieces on this CD.

K501 This is really nice, somewhat similar to the K701’s. Even more transparent, but less ambient than the 701’s.

Prizes: Tough call here in the first three places
1st - HD600 by a nose, best balance and ambience.
2nd (tie) - HD650 & K701 different from each other, but a toss up.
4th - K501 really nice, just a little dry and light weight.
5th - AD2000 not clear enough, mostly very smooth but with occasional harshness

Test # 3: Solo Harp - Tournier

This is pretty good, but the clarity and fine detail in the mids is less present than with the other ‘phones. However, the higher treble is acceptably clear and delicate. The overall musical setting sounds quite large, maybe appropriately so as this recording was made in a church.

HD600 Good presentation really, maybe slightly fuller than I would expect to hear from a solo harp. Detail is all there. The ambience is that of a larger overall setting than the AKG sisters.

HD650 Quite a good presentation with nice detail. The light touch of the softer passages comes across very well. Alas though, again, the “big hips” sound of these cans fill in more lower mid/upper bass body than might be realistic. With a bass setting of -3, this bulbous effect is partly alleviated.

K701 Nicely delicate and detailed, a little more distant sounding than I had expected. Very tall soundstage, but not as wide as the Senn siblings or the AT’s.

K501 OK, this might be about as good as it gets here. Even clearer and more delicate than it’s big sister, with a wider image. These have a most remarkable ability to carry the sustained tones very clearly after the pluck of the string, where all of the others tend to bury the light, already played notes with the new sounds being produced. The ambience is good with a soundstage appropriate to the music.

Prizes: There is no shame here, all sounded very good to excellent
1st - K501 Just so clear and lifelike, as if she’s playing music on the cobwebs inside my head!
2nd - K701 Can’t quite match its little sister, but a very sweet presentation indeed
3rd – HD600 Nothing wrong here at all, just can’t quite match the delicate detail of the AKG’s
4th – HD650 Would have jumped a place or two with a lighter presentation
5th – AD2000 Not as clear in the mids as the others, still very nice.

Test # 4: Male Vocals and piano - Songs of Travel

AD2000 Wonderfully open and full presentation, very dynamic. Maybe the best voice placement of the group, but also the most distant. The piano sound seems to be reflected from everywhere, as if in a fairly large hall. The piano blooms hugely in the mids – where was that big Steinway tenor/mid blossom in the Chopin with these cans??

HD600 The piano accompaniment sounds like a luxurious velvet backdrop to the voice. Better balance than the 650’s, but this is one where the 650’s refinement edges out it’s often prettier sister.

HD650 Well, this might be the just about most elegant thing that I’ve heard in some time. A little darker than real life, but this is something special to my ears. Terfel sounds like he’s got b@lls the size of church bells, and the 650’s and the Fisher X1000 are up to the task!

K701 Very lively, yet refined. A bit narrower presentation than the AT’s. The huge baritone voice does not quite bloom as well as it might,

K501 The piano accompaniment shimmers beautifully, different than the 600’s, but equally sweet. Very lifelike and real, if perhaps just a slightly light presentation,esp. the big baritone voice. A worthy contender, however.

Prizes: Wow, these cans all sound really great with this CD
1st HD650
2nd (tie) HD600 & AD2000 600’s strong, but AT’s could have won if they were clearer.
4th K701 Could use more weight in the mids, but good sound here nonetheless.
5th –K501 sounds good enough, but just can’t match the fullness of the big guys.

Test # 5: Female vocals and piano - Brahms

AD2000 These two wonderful voices blossom and blend so well on the AD2000’s. So seductive these two. (Oh gosh, not impure thoughts again!?) The piano sounds so full and vibrant here, but lacks some resonance in the tenor register. The overall effect is just slightly more distant than I expected, but excellent nonetheless. Nice job, AT!

HD600 Yup, these are really getting it done here. The two voices are nicely full and resonant, and are placed further apart than with any of the other ‘phones – an advantage to my ears. The piano is just about perfect. The best sonic image of the group.

HD650 The two voices are slightly closer together and darker than the 600’s, but oh such a full and effortless sound the divas are making here! At times, the HD650’s can get fine detail across cleaner and more gently than any other can I’ve heard – but this only happens when there isn’t a lot of bass tone to make them “overbloom” down low. Well, here is a place where the Senn flagship cans really shines, outresolving their pretty little sister by a fine blonde hair with the vocals. The piano has nicer presence on the 600’s though.

K701 This is really nice too. The vocals are much fuller and with nicer presence than with the 501’s, not quite as rich as the Senn sisters, with just a bit more presence than the AT’s. Also, the piano is more forward than with the AT’s, nicely done. All in all, a very lifelike rendering of the music with these cans, lighter and brighter than the Senns – not a bad thing.

K501 The gals sound like they are standing back from the piano quite a bit. Judith is clear on top, if a little thin, and Frederica’s full mezzo sound is missing something, and her sonic image is almost in mono with these cans. The overall effect of the vocals is distant and thin. The piano is light, but resonant and nicely placed in the sonic image.

1st (virtual tie) HD650, HD 600 & K701 Different from each other, but all excellent in their own right. This music doesn’t have a lot of bass, so the superior resolution of the 650’s lifts it to the top.
4th AD2000 Absolutely no dishonor with 4th place here, these sound absolutely wonderful with this CD.
5th K501 OK, but can’t compete with the imaging and nicely rounded presentations of the others.

Test # 6: Small Orchestra, etc. - Messiah

AD2000 Now this is a big, airy, yet laid back sound. The strings and harpschord sound pleasant enough, with less treble intensity than with any of the others, even the 650’s. The double basses are reserved, yet have a remarkable bloom to them, best in show, I think. We are hearing music in a large space with these cans. Wow, there is a reverberation in the hall that falls in the sweet spot of the AD2000’s. I didn’t notice this with any of the other headphones, although I can hear it on them all now that the AD2000's pointed it out to me.

HD600 The strings sound so fresh – gentle, but yet incisive and with authority. The overall presentation is somewhat airier than I expected. The solo vocals are presented in a nice image. In all, a very convincing rendition of the performance.

HD650 The overall texture of the period instrument orchestra is wonderfully light and airy, but with the authority of good tone throughout. The harpsichord continuo is convincingly light, and the strings just seem to wrap around the entire hall, although not quite as sweetly as with the 600’s. Takes a seat a row or two back I the hall from the 600’s. The double basses sound nicely deep, but maybe a little heavier than I would like, but that’s just me being very anal for picky here.

K701 This is exciting! We’re sitting close to the violins and away from the basses. The harpsichord is so clear, and the double basses have just enough authority. The solo vocals and chorus sound as if they are standing on a platform above the orchestra. The fine polish of this superb ensemble comes through. There had better not be any wrong notes when listening though the K701’s, because you’ll hear every one of them loud and clear! These cans can really show their stuff here, since there isn’t a rich, strong midrange to deal with.

K501 This is like Handel on horseback! Totally fresh and incluttered, - like a lighter, more agile rendition of the K701’s effort, the sport version!. Everything sounds closer to where I am, like a front row seat in a smaller hall. The string ensemble has a nice spacial aura about it. As with Bryn Terfel’s voice, John Tomlinson’s big bass voice could use some depth, but this isn’t bad at all. The music feels quicker on the K501’s as if the group is playing at a faster tempo – an aural illusion to be sure.

Prizes: Oh crap, do I have to choose? There are NO losers here, so this is going to be tough! How about we rate them two different ways – once for excitement and once for just being pleasant?? Since this is my review, that’s just what we’re going to do!

Excitement ratings
1st K501 The Porsche 911, with perf. mods - what a ride, but would eventually wear me out!
2nd K701 The Porsche 911, stock with touring tires
3rd HD600 The BMW sedan
4th HD 650 The Mercedes sedan
5th AD2000 the Lexus sedan

Comfort ratings:
1st HD 650 The Mercedes sedan
2nd HD600 The BMW sedan
3rd AD2000 the Lexus sedan
4th K701 The Porsche 911, stock with touring tires
5th K501 The Porsche 911, with high performance mods

Test # 7: Pipe Organ – Wagner

AD2000 Now here is a good contender. These have the deepest and most natural low bass of the bunch. The upper detail is clear enough, although somewhat reserved. The midrange gets a little congested as the musical texture thickens and the power of the instrument is exerted, almost like some sonic “glare” that rises into the music when there is a huge amount of sonic information to contend with. The mid bass could use more presence, and the treble lacks brilliance. All of this being said, these cans do show an airiness that is rather fresh in approach to this, at times, rather heavy music. There is nothing meek or fussy about this presentation, but I’d expect to hear a little more harmonic intensity in general.

HD600 The winner of this event will be the one that can most faithfully render all of the different elements that make up the massive wall of tone that is the full sound of a large Romatic pipe organ. The 600’s have thrown down the gauntlet! They go deep and can stay deep. I’m really pumping it to them and there is no strain at all. Upper detail is all there, nicely laid out, and the intense harmonics of the organ are in full play. The large space is portrayed nicely in an ambient presentation.

HD650 These resemble their sister’s work here, just a little fuller in the mid bass and slightly reserved in the treble. It feels sort of like the 650’s are trying to counteract the natural bass rolloff of the organ. The ambience is quite good, but not quite up to the 600’s spaciousness.

K701 Well now, this is an exciting ride. The bass goes very low, actually below the Senn sisters, although it is not very loud down there. There is an overall brilliance that comes across with the 701’s that is immediately engaging, but would eventually wear me out, I predict. There is more upper harmonic intensity than with the 600’s, not good or bad, just an AKG thing. They do lack some of the midrange bloom that develops in the large space.

K501 These little troopers are pumping as hard as they can, but they just don’t have the muscle of the big guys for this huge task. The deepest bass notes are but a figment here. These are not at all unpleasant and do present a clear and brilliant version of the performance, albeit a bit light (see subwoofer comments in closing remarks). If I were to scrutinize the instrument or performance, these would be my cans of choice, along with the Beyer DT880’s.

1st HD600 Overall the most ambient and convincing, surpisingly not the deepest bass
2nd K701 Surprised the heck out of me, but they did hold their own. 2nd best deep bass
3rd HD650 Mostly a darker version of the 600’s, really good, could be clearer though
4th AD2000 Good, would have placed higher with clearer mids. Best deep bass.
5th K501 Out of their league in the bass department, but still an engaging presentation.


If I had to live with one pair, it would have to be the HD600’s. They were very strong in every test. The K701’s have not been my favorite from the time I got them, even made a deal to sell them once that didn’t work out. I’m surprised at how well they sounded to me in the head-on situations. The HD650’s – I’ve had these the longest and I do prefer the 600’s in most situations. They could have been better than the 600’s – maybe they are, but I prefer the music that comes out of the 600’s. I’ll be very eager to hear Sennheiser’s next top model, whenever that will be. The K501’s are special little cans that pulled some surprise finishes in my tests. I’d like to think of what they would be like working in concert with a small but deep-reaching subwoofer and a carefully tweaked crossover. Maybe I’ll mess with that – could be fun. The AD2000’s are my newest cans, and I’m still trying to get my head around them. I do like the spaciousness of them, and their bass is the deepest of all. There is a colored sound to them that I don’t mind - until I compare them to other cans. They showed themselves esp. strong with vocals. I will branch out and listen to some other genres with them soon. Maybe I should sell everything else and listen to them exclusively. I would be happy then? Yea right.
post #11 of 86

hmmm...the HD600s might be on my Amazon wish-list very soon!

post #12 of 86

Wow... that was a very detailed comparison. Bravo.


I agree with much of your findings and think that the HD600 are great cans. They have a beautiful 'acoustic' tone to them and are sort of laid-back and warm. I appreciate that with classical.

But I found that they were missing the highs that I need for instrument placement. Highs for the air and breath of the players and the winds.


I found all I was looking for in the Denon AH-D7000. They have the richness and acoustic qualities and sonority, but also deliver on the highs.


The LCD-2 are wonderful, thought I found them bested by the HE-6, but only slightly in its highs and abilities to render details in the mids with greater clarity and speed. But this is nit-picking as both are wonderful.

Strangely, I actually prefer the 'soundstage' (thought I almost hate discussing it) of the D7000. It's more the width of the presentation, and for classical I prefer things a bit closer. Obviously this is all user preference and opinion, and I just like slightly more intimacy, or less space. When I watch a performance the musicians are usually in front of me, not on my sides, so I find extremely widened stereo effect to be unrealistic. The D7k puts the musicians right in front of you.


The HD800 is wonderful also, and when I heard it I was truly impressed. Very taken with the sound, but again 'wide' is an understatement. Many will prefer this, I don't.


There it is... there are four, with one clearly above the others for personal preference only. Many will probably tell you the LCD or T1 or HD800, whatever. Try them all out if you can. But don't miss testing the D7000 with a good solid state amp. Wounderous.



post #13 of 86
Originally Posted by shane55 View Post

Strangely, I actually prefer the 'soundstage' (thought I almost hate discussing it) of the D7000. It's more the width of the presentation, and for classical I prefer things a bit closer. Obviously this is all user preference and opinion, and I just like slightly more intimacy, or less space. When I watch a performance the musicians are usually in front of me, not on my sides, so I find extremely widened stereo effect to be unrealistic. The D7k puts the musicians right in front of you.


You are odd and a minority of this opinion on SS.  However, I agree.  biggrin.gif


post #14 of 86
Thread Starter 
Aren't the Denons more known for their bass, which may be too much for classical?
post #15 of 86
Strange that anyone would describe the AD2000 having mids that is not clear enough. IMO its cleaner than the W5000, maybe its the tube amp. Where most tube amp pairs very badly with the ADs or most Audio Technicas, maybe save the HA-02, but it still doesn't have the clarity of a good SS amp.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Headphones (full-size)
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphones (full-size) › What are your top 5 headphones for classical music?