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[Review] Battle of the Entry-Level Rivals: Ultrasone HFI-580 vs Audio Technica M50 (vs Pro700 MK2)

post #1 of 146
Thread Starter 

After two months of painstaking scrimping and saving, I finally managed to purchase my long-awaited Ultrasone HFI-580 to upgrade from my ATH-M50.

 

At the same time, I also got to try out the recently popularised Audio Technica Pro700 MKII, in which they were praised for being the new era of basshead 'phones. Being a basshead myself, I had to try it. So, I went over to my friend's house to audition them for an entire day, with my M50 and my new HFI-580 in hand.

 

Recently, a lot of my friends also want to get a pair of higher-end headphones, so I decided to write a review too, my second one here at Head-fi. Don't put me down guys, I'm a budget reviewer :)

 

Source:

iPod Touch/Nokia 5230/Laptop

320 kBps .mp3 song files

 

All headphones are tested ampless as, well, it's an entry level shootout after all.

 


 

Build Quality:

 

Audio Technica M50

This was my first step down the road of audiophillia. The entire casing is made out of dull-black plastic, which does not induce any smudging of fingerprints at all. Construction is very sturdy and well-put together, with the only noticeable weakness being at the swivelling hinges at the earcups.

 

It's toughness... built like a freaking TANK. I accidentally dropped these devils from the 2nd storey and they emerged without a scratch. You could stretch them till the band goes horizontally and yet it'll stay in perfect shape. These definitely have a studio-grade finish on them.

 

Cups swivel left and right 180°, and can flip around to face the environment.

 

Ultrasone HFI-580

My upgrade. There's nothing much to say about it's build, except that it's very stylish. Silver cups on dull-black plastic? The perfect combination of badass and plain sexiness. Its plastic looks and feels just slightly worse than the M50, but they're tough per se. The M50 has more metal in its design (in the adjustable band mostly) which makes the HFI-580 just a step lower in build quality and toughness.

 

Cups only swivel to one side at 90°, can also flip around. 

 

Audio Technica Pro700 MKII

Now considered to be the M50's big brother. Build quality is roughly the same, though in my hands the Pro700 feels less prone to breaking. The adjustable band is now replaced with plastic, however, but the entire casing retains it's toughness. Overall, the Pro700 feels much sturdier and better constructed than the M50.

 

Cups swivel in the same manner as the M50.

 


 

Comfort:

 

Audio Technica M50

There are many mixed opinions on this headphone's comfort. I personally feel that the M50 is very comfortable, with ample padding both on the earpads and the headband. I can wear this for 4 hours, tops.

 

Ultrasone HFI-580

The opinions on this headphone is much more universal. The paddings feel a little too stiff and press onto your head a little too hard if you have not stretched them out enough. You'll get used to it though. Wearing time for me is 2 hours tops.

 

Audio Technica Pro700 MKII

Very little reviews on this headphone, so I'll start the ball rolling. The earpads don't actually cover my entire ear and clamping force is about the same as the HFI-580. The padding on the headband feels the same, but the issue with this headphone is that it presses on the ears for those with larger ears. I recommend swapping out the pads to the M50 pads, but this will affect its sound which I'll elaborate more later on.

Wearing time for me is the same as the HFI-580 at 2 hours, tops.

 


 

Isolation:

 

Audio Technica M50

This fares very well in this aspect. Though not as good as IEMs, these come dangerously close. Train and bus rumbles are easily drowned out at moderate volumes, with conversations being blocked off very easily.

 

Ultrasone HFI-580

A step lower than the M50, probably because of its stiffer pads. Isolation is still very good, being able to block out train and bus rumbles though at a higher volume than the M50.

 

Audio Technica Pro700 MKII

As stated before, there was a problem with the fit on this headphone. I did audition them once in a store, but I could not hear the bass probably due to the poor isolation it had. Swapping out with the M50 pads help isolation a lot, but at same time increases its already massive bass, something which again I'll elaborate later.

 


 

Sound:

 

Highs

Audio Technica M50

The M50 is clear and well-layered, which makes its treble much smoother-sounding and lush. Highs are also pretty controlled, making them easy to listen to. Wind and string instruments work best on this headphone. However, there is a slight harshness in the treble that I just can't put my finger on.

 

Ultrasone HFI-580

Very bright and energetic. Treble is less controlled on the HFI-580 than on the M50, making some treblely parts of music sound a little too much. Highs are very lively and transparent, better for regular electric, distortion or acoustic guitars, percussion instruments or simply electronica-based sounds. There is a roll-off in the higher frequencies, so sibilance isn't a major problem.

 

Audio Technica Pro700 MKII

Even warmer than the M50. Treble extension is less so on Pro700 MKII than on the M50, though it provides an even smoother and lush sound in the highs. They're more laid-back, better for jazzy instruments or easy listening. Swapping the pads does not affect this aspect.

 

 

Mids

Audio Technica M50

The mids on the M50 are just a tad bit recessed, but only very little. The mids are more forward than the HFI-580 and as stated above are much smoother and/or lush, best for female vocals and mid-end wind instruments. Guitars sound veiled and slightly too warm however, but it's still on the enjoyable side. Better for distortion and/or overdrive guitars.

 

Ultrasone HFI-580

Due to the lively and energetic nature of the HFI-580, the mids also take on a transparent, bright feeling. Guitars sound sharp and well-developed, unlike the M50. Vocals, however, sound somewhat metallic and lifeless, and slightly thin too. Better for regular electric guitars and other lively mid-end instruments. Mids are less forward here than on the M50, and somewhat less natural-sounding. Definitely not it's best point.

 

Audio Technica Pro700 MKII

The one thing I hate about the Pro700 MKII. The mids are a bit more recessed on the Pro700 than on the M50, giving it more of a 'V' shaped frequency. They're more forward than the HFI-580, however. Due to it being even warmer than the M50, it takes away the magical M50 vocal reproduction and instead replaces it with a slightly muddied sound. I like warmness, but the Pro700 injects a little too much of it into the mids.

When replaced with the M50 pads, the mids are even more recessed due to bass bleed, and makes everything sound too veiled for any enjoyment.

 

 

Lows

Audio Technica M50

These headphones used to be well known as a basshead can. Not sure how or why, but the bass on the M50 just does not cut it to satisfy any level of bassheadedness. Sub-bass is projected beautifully though, with a slight bass hump that gives a VERY slight 'V' type sound signature. Anyone on the limbo of neutrality and bassheadedness will love this. Bass is a little slow and boomy, with quite some reverb at mid-bass, though the low-end remains very clean.

 

Ultrasone HFI-580

The main reason why I bought this. Bass is tight, quick, and best of all, loud. If bassheadedness was ranked in terms of 5 tiers, the HFI-580's bass would rank about a 2, not enough to satisfy the biggest but able to cater to the entry-level audiophile. Bass does not extend as low as the M50, but it sounds cleaner, clearer and bassier, and is almost a perfect improvement if not of the slightly worse sub-bass presentation. Impact-wise, it has A LOT. Surprisingly, its impact equals the Pro700.

 

Audio Technica Pro700 MKII

The big selling point of the Pro700, bass is executed brilliantly. Though it's clarity and tightness does not surpass the acclaimed HFI-580, sub-bass is project even better than the M50, which makes the Pro700 sound almost like a pair of mini-subwoofers (no, nothing like the cheapskate Skullcrushers). There is impact, and a lot of it too, which makes the Pro700's bass feel almost like a blend of tightness and boominess at the same time. Even with this type of bass, there is little or no bass bleed at all, which comes as a very nice surprise. Definitely a keeper in my basshead collection if I do make the purchase.

When paired with the M50 pads, the bass quantity increases probably due to a better seal. Though lacking the projection of a subwoofer, the volume of the bass increases a lot, equaling XB500 standards. Bass becomes even boomier but better controlled, though it isn't very noticeable. However, such an improvement comes with a price, in this case bass bleed which was not apparent with the stock pads.

 

 

Soundstaging

Audio Technica M50

Since all the headphones I'm comparing are all closed, soundstaging wouldn't be a number one priority. The M50 delivers a soundstage that is average for a closed headphone. Still though, the music still feels a little "stuck" in your head rather than being projected outward.

 

Ultrasone HFI-580

Woah. S-Logic feels a little weird, almost like a stereo-widening effect. After I got used to it, I was kind of liking the Ultrasone soundstage. The music truly doesn't feel like it is being projected in your head, instead the music does feel like it's a few inches from your ears. Though there is a wider soundstage, the depth isn't there like the M50.

 

Audio Technica Pro700 MKII

To cut a long story short, the Pro700 has more depth than the M50, and a little wider though by not much. The music feels like its swirling in your head rather than being focused into your ears like the M50.

When put with the M50 pads, the soundstage's width in shortened, but depth is increased.

 

 

Insturmental separation

Audio Technica M50

Rather that letting the instruments be more individualised, the M50 allows them to blend in slightly with each other, something that may work better for some genres but fare worse in others. One particular peeve about the M50 is that they let drums and guitars blend in with each other a little too much, ruining the clarity slightly.

 

Ultrasone HFI-580

I would say that this has the best instrument separation in terms of natural spacing. Instruments are more individualised but blend in with each other VERY slightly, less so that open headphones. Out of the three, the instrumental separation here works best for orchestral and band music.

 

Audio Technica Pro700 MKII

This is the Pro700's weak point. Instruments sound even more congested than the M50, and instruments blend in more as well. Drums and guitars however are better separated than the M50 but overall separation still remains an issue due to its warm nature.

With the M50 pads on, instrumental separation improves slightly, but not by leaps and bounds.

 


 

Conclusion:

These three headphones come in very close in terms of quality. However, I feel that the HFI-580 picks up slight nuances in music much more easily and provides the most natural "speaker-like" soundstage, albeit the sound being played inches from your ears. The M50 is something between the HFI-580 and Pro700, being warm, slightly neutral and fun at the same time. The Pro700 are very good basshead headphones, a headphone I would rank a notch lower than the Ultrasone Pro900 on my list.

 

In short (IMO, in terms of sound quality),

 

HFI-580 > Pro700 MKII (S) > M50 > Pro700 MKII (M)

 

Please leave some comments below, any questions or feedback are welcomed :)


Edited by crinacle - 10/8/12 at 8:27am
post #2 of 146
Thread Starter 

Updated with soundstaging and instrumental separation :)

post #3 of 146

Nice review, should definitely be helpful for any newbies looking for an entry-level set with decent bass (like I was not long ago). smily_headphones1.gif

 

Agree with most of your thoughts on the 580, though personally I wouldn't mind more clamp on them and I wear them much of the day at work (though I'm up and down talking to people or grabbing tea or something, so it's not a straight 8 hours or anything, more like 2-3 hours at a time with short breaks in between). I also didn't really notice anything weird personally with the S-Logic (seemed like any other headphones), maybe it "just works" for my ears, but I also wasn't wearing headphones full-time previously so there's not much to directly compare against so it's probably easier to adapt.

post #4 of 146

One thing I don't quite understand is the "Lows" part for the PRO700MK2, stock vs M50 pads what actually differs, does it get more/less deep/upper bass presence with either of them? However PRO700MK2 with stock pads sound somewhat interesting to me, the only part I'm worried whether it's forward or not sounding. I think some may confuse the terms and what I mean with it at least. That mids and highs are recessed (in comparision to bass at least) doesn't have to mean it gets laid-back sounding cuz they are not screaming for attention, what I mean with forward sounding is more related to soundstage if it sounds like there is distance to the music or if it would be very close to you. "The swirling" around the head comment in the soundstage part I can somewhat relate to with XB500 too, it's not the direct into your ear experience which I probably experienced with M50 as well as AKG K518 DJ which both lack in soundstage. I find XB500 is really optimal to me as far as soundstage goes, it's very forward but yet has some kind of soundstage to it and you can hear instruments clearly circulating around the head but it sounds like vocalists and instruments are usually some meters away at most and the singer often almost "within reach" depending on the recording.


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 6/1/11 at 8:49am
post #5 of 146
Thread Starter 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by RPGWiZaRD View Post

One thing I don't quite understand is the "Lows" part for the PRO700MK2, stock vs M50 pads what actually differs, does it get more/less deep/upper bass presence with either of them? However PRO700MK2 with stock pads sound somewhat interesting to me, the only part I'm worried whether it's forward or not sounding. I think some may confuse the terms and what I mean with it at least. That mids and highs are recessed (in comparision to bass at least) doesn't have to mean it gets laid-back sounding cuz they are not screaming for attention, what I mean with forward sounding is more related to soundstage if it sounds like there is distance to the music or if it would be very close to you. .

 

With the M50 pads, bass on the Pro700 MKII just increases from the stock pads. I guess from my memory it's a mid-bass/sub-bass increase, while upper bass remains the same in quantity and quality. Somehow there is less reverb in mid-bass with the M50 pads on, making the bass more controlled, but at the same time sub-bass is also deepened, bringing more boom to the low-end.

 

When I meant "laid-back" in this review, I meant that it's slightly less emphasised and is also much warmer, giving it a smoother feel and yes, "not screaming for attention". The Pro700 MKII retains a 'V' shaped sound signature, but leaves the highs (and mids) much less emphasised.

post #6 of 146
Thread Starter 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by idale View Post

Nice review, should definitely be helpful for any newbies looking for an entry-level set with decent bass (like I was not long ago). smily_headphones1.gif

 

Agree with most of your thoughts on the 580, though personally I wouldn't mind more clamp on them and I wear them much of the day at work (though I'm up and down talking to people or grabbing tea or something, so it's not a straight 8 hours or anything, more like 2-3 hours at a time with short breaks in between). I also didn't really notice anything weird personally with the S-Logic (seemed like any other headphones), maybe it "just works" for my ears, but I also wasn't wearing headphones full-time previously so there's not much to directly compare against so it's probably easier to adapt.



Thanks! The clamping definitely eases out a bit after a while, so comfort gets better.

 

I bet if you switch to other closed headphones (with you being so accustomed to S-Logic now), you'll feel very claustrophobic... :)

post #7 of 146
Thread Starter 

Final thoughts updated :)

post #8 of 146

Do you think PRO700mk2 feels heavy on your head? I thought M50 did slightly, XB700 that is about the same felt far less heavier and not much of an issue at all so it always depends on the design a bit how heavy it'll feel on the head.


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 6/2/11 at 12:51am
post #9 of 146
Thread Starter 
Oh, I didn't weigh it, but the Pro700 feels slightly heavier than the M50, though not really apparent.
post #10 of 146

Nice. Just read through it.

 

I'm surprised the MK2 with M50 pads isn't doing as well as stock pads. Even if it doesn't improve, I just want the added comfort and isolation. I'll have to compare them both to see what I like better though. I'm quite curious to see how I like the bass though, but I'm a bit worried at the same time. I absolutely HATED the XB500, and found out it's bass wasn't even that great. The Pro 900 far exceeded in terms of bass, and that was a headphone one could be very impressed with. Hopefully the MK2 is somewhat like the Pro 900, in which other aspects of the sound can still be heard, as the bass doesn't bury everything else like the XB500 did. I mean, mids and treble was GONE. Pro 900 everything was there, especially the bass, which knew it's place.

post #11 of 146
Thread Starter 
Well, I guess that if you're a major basshead you'll love the Pro700 with the M50 pads on. The reason why I dropped points from the M50ed Pro700s is because the dreaded bass bleed comes in, ruining the overall sound alot. If you are okay with that (something which I'm not), the M50ed Pro700 is second only to the HFI-580 IMO.

Basically, the M50 pad swap is mainly for the comfort, isolation and bass improvement (and maybe soundstage).
post #12 of 146

Okay, so I'm hearing a lot of good things about the HFI-580. I'm wondering how it would compare to the similar Pro 900. If the Pro 900 is "better" in terms of bass, then I am on a search for something even better than that. Which has lead me to the MK2. Hopefully, it responds well to EQ, so I can bump the mids a bit if needs be, and slightly reduce the mid bass.

post #13 of 146

That is an awesome comparo!  (If you want, you should throw that up on Amazon o2smile.gif).  I always like to hear different impressions on headphones too.  These Ultrasones that many say are great...I need to try some one of these days. 

 

I also further modded my MK2 with the Beyer softskins for comfort.  They are hands down the most comfortable pair of closed headphones that I've worn.  Coming from someone that wears glasses and has discovered that many cans press on the arms of my glasses to my head (near the temple), forcing me to take them off after an hour or two (including the MK2 stock, and with M50 pads), this is beyond a revelation for me!  The sound is virtually the same as the MK2 with M50 pads.

 

Anyways, great review!

post #14 of 146
Quote:
Originally Posted by Katun View Post

Okay, so I'm hearing a lot of good things about the HFI-580. I'm wondering how it would compare to the similar Pro 900. If the Pro 900 is "better" in terms of bass, then I am on a search for something even better than that. Which has lead me to the MK2. Hopefully, it responds well to EQ, so I can bump the mids a bit if needs be, and slightly reduce the mid bass.


It responds like a golden retriever.  I'm thinking that Crinacle's setup is without a 10 band eq.  With a little tweaking, I still stand behind this phone 100%.  It is awesome.

 

post #15 of 146
Thread Starter 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by GN3RAL KARL View Post


It responds like a golden retriever.  I'm thinking that Crinacle's setup is without a 10 band eq.  With a little tweaking, I still stand behind this phone 100%.  It is awesome.

 



Forgot to add on, throughout the entire review process all equalisers were set to flat and nothing else.

 

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Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphones (full-size) › [Review] Battle of the Entry-Level Rivals: Ultrasone HFI-580 vs Audio Technica M50 (vs Pro700 MK2)