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High end headphones - open or closed?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 


I've just come into some money (a modest but entirely liquid sum) and I decided I want some headphones, some that I could use with my laptop or my iPod. So I started googling things like "best headphones" and eventually ended up here, head-fi (love what you've done with the places by the way). So I read a lot about headphones, and find out two things, 1) the top headphones money can buy are well more expensive than four or five hundred (sorry about my wallet indeed) and 2) I might just need some sort of amplifier and possibly something called a "DAC".
So then I read a lot more. Living in New Zealand (I'm from here, study in America but am home for the summer), there's close to zero access to high end cans. From reviews I end up thinking I want the AKG Q701s - Or the K702s, whatever, but I think the funky green cable is cool and my plan is to buy one set of headphones and I may as well get ones that I like the colour of for not that much more money (also the cable being a replacable is good for lastability right?)
Then I realise that I will want to use them in public as well, so perhaps I want closed, so I now think the DT770s. 
So... Questions:
1) I gather that if I get open they won't be much use on a plane or in a library or on the train. So, how much better is open than closed in terms of sound qual? I'm no audiophile (yet), so I feel like I'd be very happy with any top level headphones. Simply put, would I know the difference and would it be worth giving up the use of the headphones on the plane or in the library etc?
2) I want to buy most anything necessary to get the real sound from it, but I don't want to spend a huge amount of money. And definitely not at once. I guage that I could do a cheaper amp plus the phones to start but I'd still rather not. If I buy items one at a time, which gets a better improvement in sound, a DAC or an amp? Would this be viable or just not really worth it?
3) I've been looking at the Fiio range, is the E7 good enough to drive the q701s? Is the e11? Everywhere I read I see they are hard to drive. I want something portable, but I'd *like* to be able to use the amp(/DAC) at home to reasonable effect as well.
4) Which 770 is best? I read that they are (one of) the best closed, but which is best for me? I am open to forking out for the better, but I think the Pros look cooler and they are cheaper. Also, what is the difference between the 32, 250 and 600 ohm versions? I gather the 600 sounds better, does that mean they are harder to drive?
I'm 20, have a very broad range of music tastes (most anything except metal... also I don't listen to a lot of rock - some post-rock though). Because of this I was thinking the 70x. I tend to settle in Folk or just acoustic usually, but I also listen to a fair amount of Hip-Hop. Really I just dig good vocals. My current headphones are Philips SHL9600s, nice, portable DJ types. I like these, but I haven't had much experience with anything else. I'm looking for ONE set of headphones to last me a fairly long time (good luck right? I just don't have the money and probably won't for a while out of college). 
Thanks for any and all help!
post #2 of 6



If you think you'll use them out and about at all, go closed. An open back headphone will be horrible to listen to in public, you'll hear everything around you and not be listening to your music. Likewise, everyone around you will be listening to your music and may or may not appreciate that. The AKG701 is a great can but needs some hefty amplification and is open back. That puts it out of your portable setup use right away and also means you'll need an amp that is a bit more serious than something simple. And even then, you may not like it completely. That said, if you like the idea, signature of sound and reviews of the AKG701, you'll simply love the Shure SHR940 which is a closed headphone and easy to drive. I suggest you check that out. I was in the same boat: K701 or SHR940 and the difference for me was getting a closed headphone for going out with it. I'm completely satisfied with the Shure 940. Perhaps read this thread.


Very best,

post #3 of 6


I was in a similar situation not too long ago and here is what I ended up doing.


First of all I should say that my ultimate conclusion was to not find 1 headphone that works perfectly outside and still is top-notch at home, the kind of headphone that has the most amazing sound I usually found to be too expensive to be walking around town with.

There is a revelation however, buying purpose driven headphones.


After much research I ended up listening to 3 headphones (only 2 allowing street use):


  1. Sennheiser HD800 (NZ$1400)
  2. B+W P5 (NZ$750)
  3. Audio Technica M50 (NZ$300)


I was pretty set on buying the P5s, they looked the part, got great reviews and I had the money to buy them but after carefully listening to all of them at the Auckland (NZ) store of Absolute Sound I ended up buying the M50.

While the cheapest, they blew me away quality wise. They were engaging, exciting, pumping with bass and sparkling with treble.


Of course it's unfair to compare the M50 to the HD800, a NZ$1400 headphone, but compared to the P5 the sound was much much better (subjectively speaking of course).


The lesson to me in all of this was that it's very hard by just reading reviews what the type of sound you like is and what headphone is best suited for you.


I bought the M50 on the spot and haven't looked back, I tried wearing them outside (totally doable) and they isolate well, but ultimately the pleather padding around the ear gave me hot ears and sweaty skin after walking around with them in town for 30min so I wouldn't recommend them for it.


So to come back to the purpose driven buying… buy 1 headphone which you will use primarily when stationery (I carry my M50 to and from work but don't use it on the way) and 1 set of IEMs for quality sound on the go.

I opted for relatively cheap IEMs, NuForce NE-700M (US$75), and with Comply Foam (TX-200) ear tips they give me much much better isolation in the street and as such sound much better than the M50 for instance because the detail comes through much better.

They also don't need an amp and you can plug them straight into the iPhone/iPod if needed and with the mic on them you can even take calls without removing the ear tips. Handy.


Anyway, to bring this full circle, don't try to find the one-size-fits-all. You'll end up buying something that isn't ideal for either situation and you're much better off spending $100 on some IEMs for on-the-go and another couple of hundred on a more indoorsy headphone.

And if you then have some money left to spend you can buy a nice desktop amplifier/dac (dac only if you use a computer to play your music off of).

At home I currently have a NuForce Icon Amp (which also includes a DAC, so I can connect my Mac via a USB cable directly to the unit) and at work I have the smaller uDac-2 which I also quite like though I have had a few problems with the uDac overheating lately.


If you're in Auckland, give Michael Steven from Absolute Sound a call and arrange a little listening session with him and trial a couple of headphones, some high end open cans such as the Sennheiser HD800/650 (if he has them in stock at the time, ask him) and then compare it to the very different sound of the B+W P5 and then try the Audio Technica ATH-M50. It would be a solid range of different cost headphones and sound styles that should allow you to make a well informed buying decision.


And after all this to answer your concrete questions:

  1. Open vs Closed headphones are very different, night and day different. Closed feel usually more intense and have stronger (more pronounced) bass, whereas open cans usually feel a little lighter, have a less pronounced bass and sound more… open, more like listening to music from tiny speakers around your head as opposed to a headphone if that makes any sense. It's a very very noticeable difference and you should definitely try one of each kind before you make a decision.

    To be clear though: Open headphones cannot be used in public places, the people around you will hear what you hear almost as loud as you do, so that's an absolute no for planes or libraries.
  2. As mentioned previously, it depends on your budget, the M50 for example does very well without any DAC or Amp but adding even a small unit like the uDac to it does help the sound quite a bit; It becomes 'clearer' and a little brighter.
    It would help if you told us how much your actual budget is, as 'not a lot' is a pretty relative term around here…
  3. Again it depends on the headphone you buy, most sub-$500 headphones probably don't need any amplification with your portable gear. The difference between the M50 with amp/dac and without (direct to iphone) is noticeable but minimal. It's not needed in my opinion, you get a better value by heaving a better, well isolating, IEM than big closed headphones and a portable amp.
  4. Sorry, just don't know, I only ever tried one set of AKGs and its not part of the 7xx range so probably won't compare.


Lots of stuff to read, hopefully it helps a little.

Feel free to reply with questions or PM me if I can help somehow.


PS: A good set of open cans are the Alessandro MS-1 or the Grado SR-80, but they are hard to get a hold off in NZ. I ordered my MS1 overseas (US$99). They're also 'small enough' to be considered portable but they leak sound like crazy due to the open design.

post #4 of 6

I much prefer closed more bass & soundstage.

post #5 of 6
Originally Posted by c64 View Post

I much prefer closed more bass & soundstage.

Open headphones have much better soundstage, the bass in a closed can is less detailed and more bloated.

post #6 of 6
Originally Posted by Graphicism View Post

Open headphones have much better soundstage, the bass in a closed can is less detailed and more bloated.

I disagree and I know it goes against everything btw even facts lol but watching movies or gaming  on closed > open for soundstage to my ears just feels so much more beefy and juicy with more depth more immersed.

Depends what you consider soundstage I consider it better bass closer mids highs.

Edited by c64 - 8/1/11 at 11:22am
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