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[Suggestions] Looking for new open-back headphones...

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 

Heya,

 

I came across this website and its enormous database of headphones when Gizmodo posted a video of the Thunderpants closed-back DIY conversion by smeggy. Since that time I have been considering upgrading my headphones- I realized that they are getting on in age and unfortunately are showing a lot of wear and tear in their six years of excellent service.

 

I currently use a pair of Sennheiser HD-555's and I listen to music exclusively through my desktop PC. I keep my audio on my desktop for convenience sake but all files are copies from my physical albums. I use EAC (Exact Audio Copy) and exclusively use FLAC for lossless audio. I use an Asus Xonar Essence STX sound card as well. While I wouldn't consider myself an audiophile, I do have an appreciation for music and respect the significantly higher quality sound you get from lossless audio, coupled with proper amplification and a good set of headphones.

 

I am looking for a proper upgrade from my HD-555's and I am by no means bound to the Sennheiser brand name. I am very curious about magnetic planar ear speakers but realize that new sets from Stax are far outside my budget- but I noticed that the Buy/Sell forum has some interesting deals on HifiMan HE-5LE and HE-6 sets, as well as some interesting Stax packages under $800. My HD-555's were only $150 and while I would like to avoid spending $800- it could be justified if I could hear an honest difference. Reasonably speaking I would like to try and operate in and around a $500 budget- the HE-5's without amplification can sometimes fall into that range. Some version 1 Audeze LCD 2 also seem to hover around $600.

 

I am looking strictly for open-back design, I have tried half a dozen pairs of closed-back headphones and could never bear them for more than fifteen minutes ("hot ears"). I listen to music for hours at a time, and my 555's show that in the fairly extensive wear and tear on them (~35 hours per week x 6 years = ~10,000 hours). I like engaging headphones, which means warm sound is not frowned upon, my 555's had adequate bass but I think that I am ready to take the next step up in headphones. 

 

Headphones of particular interest:

- AKG 701/702.

- Sennheiser HD 650/600.

- Hifiman HE-5Le (used) + amp [is it a justifiable improvement/difference?]

 

I am open to suggestions/brands of course.

 

On the question of amplification: Is this something worth looking into for non magnepan headphones? I should hope that the headphone amp built into the sound card should be adequate for my needs. 

post #2 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasio View Post

Heya,

 

I came across this website and its enormous database of headphones when Gizmodo posted a video of the Thunderpants closed-back DIY conversion by smeggy. Since that time I have been considering upgrading my headphones- I realized that they are getting on in age and unfortunately are showing a lot of wear and tear in their six years of excellent service.

 

I currently use a pair of Sennheiser HD-555's and I listen to music exclusively through my desktop PC. I keep my audio on my desktop for convenience sake but all files are copies from my physical albums. I use EAC (Exact Audio Copy) and exclusively use FLAC for lossless audio. I use an Asus Xonar Essence STX sound card as well. While I wouldn't consider myself an audiophile, I do have an appreciation for music and respect the significantly higher quality sound you get from lossless audio, coupled with proper amplification and a good set of headphones.

 

I am looking for a proper upgrade from my HD-555's and I am by no means bound to the Sennheiser brand name. I am very curious about magnetic planar ear speakers but realize that new sets from Stax are far outside my budget- but I noticed that the Buy/Sell forum has some interesting deals on HifiMan HE-5LE and HE-6 sets, as well as some interesting Stax packages under $800. My HD-555's were only $150 and while I would like to avoid spending $800- it could be justified if I could hear an honest difference. Reasonably speaking I would like to try and operate in and around a $500 budget- the HE-5's without amplification can sometimes fall into that range. Some version 1 Audeze LCD 2 also seem to hover around $600.

 

I am looking strictly for open-back design, I have tried half a dozen pairs of closed-back headphones and could never bear them for more than fifteen minutes ("hot ears"). I listen to music for hours at a time, and my 555's show that in the fairly extensive wear and tear on them (~35 hours per week x 6 years = ~10,000 hours). I like engaging headphones, which means warm sound is not frowned upon, my 555's had adequate bass but I think that I am ready to take the next step up in headphones. 

 

Headphones of particular interest:

- AKG 701/702.

- Sennheiser HD 650/600.

- Hifiman HE-5Le (used) + amp [is it a justifiable improvement/difference?]

 

I am open to suggestions/brands of course.

 

On the question of amplification: Is this something worth looking into for non magnepan headphones? I should hope that the headphone amp built into the sound card should be adequate for my needs. ;


I would say every single headphone you're looking at atm would need an amp (what sound card are you running with? Some can be quite powerful.). If you want an upgrade without an amp try the HD 598.

The HE 5LE (or any ortho) probably isn't a good idea if you don't plan to invest in a decent amp, or have a receiver to power it. Some are efficient, but without an amp have sub-par sound. The HE5LE and HE 6 are notorious for needing gobs of power.

If you want something very revealing get the 701. You can pair it with a nice tube amp and it'll work well. If you like bass you'll probably find them lacking.

HD 600/650 are a different beast. Some say they need quite a bit of power to make them at their best, but I disagree slightly. They do need an amp, but they aren't monsters like the HE5LE. They have a nice laid back sound and have quite the following around here.
post #3 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MorbidToaster View Post


I would say every single headphone you're looking at atm would need an amp (what sound card are you running with? Some can be quite powerful.). If you want an upgrade without an amp try the HD 598.

I apologize if I wasn't clear as to the sound card I use, it is the Asus Xonar Essence STX PCI-E ( http://www.asus.com/Multimedia/Audio_Cards/Xonar_Essence_STX/#specifications )
 

 

post #4 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasio View Post



I apologize if I wasn't clear as to the sound card I use, it is the Asus Xonar Essence STX PCI-E ( http://www.asus.com/Multimedia/Audio_Cards/Xonar_Essence_STX/#specifications )
 

 


That changes a few things then. biggrin.gif

Still don't think you could do the HE5LE justice, but you should be good powering the others methinks. If you do go with an ortho I'd say get a receiver for cheap at a second hand store (or just go all out on a refinished Marantz, not too bad for that much power), and use your soundcard's DAC.

It sounds like you enjoyed your 555 quite a bit, but is there anything new you'd want from your new headphone? What kind of sound signature do you like/want?
post #5 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MorbidToaster View Post

That changes a few things then. biggrin.gif
Still don't think you could do the HE5LE justice, but you should be good powering the others methinks. If you do go with an ortho I'd say get a receiver for cheap at a second hand store (or just go all out on a refinished Marantz, not too bad for that much power), and use your soundcard's DAC.
It sounds like you enjoyed your 555 quite a bit, but is there anything new you'd want from your new headphone? What kind of sound signature do you like/want?


The idea of getting a reasonably cheap receiver might be a good alternative too. Would a stereo amp like a Marantz SR4023 be sufficient? 

 

Sound signature is fairly subjective, but I do like headphones that tend towards being flat/balanced. When I'm on the go I use Klipsch Image X10 IEM's with my Cowon S9 and I have been very happy with their sound signature as well, despite Klipsch being known for being more bright because of their "klipsch horn" design philosophy. 

 

I'm in no way opposed to external amplification, but I would like to only consider it when it will make an appreciable difference in the sound. Although I am aware that magnepan earspeakers generally must have external amplification- the question is how reasonable can you go with amplification? I know Woo Audio makes great amplifiers, but $4000 is beyond my abilities for now. You mentioned refurbished Marantz receivers which would suggest that there is a lot of flexibility. 

 

post #6 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasio View Post




The idea of getting a reasonably cheap receiver might be a good alternative too. Would a stereo amp like a Marantz SR4023 be sufficient? 

 

Sound signature is fairly subjective, but I do like headphones that tend towards being flat/balanced. When I'm on the go I use Klipsch Image X10 IEM's with my Cowon S9 and I have been very happy with their sound signature as well, despite Klipsch being known for being more bright because of their "klipsch horn" design philosophy. 

 

I'm in no way opposed to external amplification, but I would like to only consider it when it will make an appreciable difference in the sound. Although I am aware that magnepan earspeakers generally must have external amplification- the question is how reasonable can you go with amplification? I know Woo Audio makes great amplifiers, but $4000 is beyond my abilities for now. You mentioned refurbished Marantz receivers which would suggest that there is a lot of flexibility. 

 


A good ol' Marantz 2238 will pretty much power anything out there. I suggest that over the popular Pioneer SX stuff for the HE series. Receivers are cheap and give you gobs of good sound and power. They knew how to build 'em 20 years back. You can get them right around 200 bucks in great shape sometimes.

Also...I'm trying to stress how much the HE (or any orthos) need a lot of power. There is no 'running them without an amp' if you want decent sound out of them.
post #7 of 38

Do you have a speaker power amp of some sort, perhaps a receiver?

 

If that's so, you can try and get a vintage Stax Lambda setup with an SRD-6 or SRD-7 transformer box, which needs speaker-level input. That should only run about $250-300, if you're in the right place at the right time. Great way to get into the Stax sound and find out if it's for you...if you can find a set on that sale for such a low price.

 

Other than that, I can't vouch for or against all the other options you're looking at, simply because I haven't heard them.

post #8 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NamelessPFG View Post

Do you have a speaker power amp of some sort, perhaps a receiver?

 

If that's so, you can try and get a vintage Stax Lambda setup with an SRD-6 or SRD-7 transformer box, which needs speaker-level input. That should only run about $250-300, if you're in the right place at the right time. Great way to get into the Stax sound and find out if it's for you...if you can find a set on that sale for such a low price.

 

Other than that, I can't vouch for or against all the other options you're looking at, simply because I haven't heard them.

Unfortunately I don't have a speaker power amp at the moment (although I can get one). I just moved from Canada to the UK, so I had to pack light and leave a lot of things back home. I was hoping to get a nice, compact, punchy system that will allow me to enjoy Trance/Electronica music. I do listen to the odd Pop/Rock album as well, but it isn't my primary genre. 

 

I noticed some interesting mentions of Hifiman HE-5LE's driven by a speaker amp- there are some used HE-5LE's and even an HE-500 around the $500-$700 range which could be a potential alternative to the HD-650's which I am considering most keenly now. 
 

 

post #9 of 38


X2.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MorbidToaster View Post


HD 600/650 are a different beast. Some say they need quite a bit of power to make them at their best, but I disagree slightly. They do need an amp, but they aren't monsters like the HE5LE. They have a nice laid back sound and have quite the following around here.



 

 

post #10 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasio View Post



Unfortunately I don't have a speaker power amp at the moment (although I can get one). I just moved from Canada to the UK, so I had to pack light and leave a lot of things back home. I was hoping to get a nice, compact, punchy system that will allow me to enjoy Trance/Electronica music. I do listen to the odd Pop/Rock album as well, but it isn't my primary genre. 

 

I noticed some interesting mentions of Hifiman HE-5LE's driven by a speaker amp- there are some used HE-5LE's and even an HE-500 around the $500-$700 range which could be a potential alternative to the HD-650's which I am considering most keenly now. 
 

 


HE500 is an amazing headphone and much easier to power than the HE5LE. it also has nicer bass. I really enjoyed them for EDM, and it's also my primary genre.
post #11 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MorbidToaster View Post


HE500 is an amazing headphone and much easier to power than the HE5LE. it also has nicer bass. I really enjoyed them for EDM, and it's also my primary genre.


 

Well it's my understanding that I could go: Desktop PC (via Soundcard) -> S/PDIF -> Modern Stereo Receiver/Amp -> HE-500 (via speaker taps). Correct?

This would avoid the need for a separate DAC and headphone power amp. Looking at the various Hifiman threads, these speaker receivers should be better since they can provide the gobs of power Hifiman are known to consume?

 

EDIT: Sorry, it seems that HE-500's have a 1/4" cable so you could probably go through the headphone jack on the front, or ideally- it would be better to go through the speaker outs on the back either way.


Edited by Jasio - 10/1/11 at 12:04pm
post #12 of 38

They only come with a 1/4" cable and only really need that. They're not ridiculous like the HE5LE and HE6. That seems like a proper set up to me. You'd be in good shape with that rig.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasio View Post

 

Well it's my understanding that I could go: Desktop PC (via Soundcard) -> S/PDIF -> Modern Stereo Receiver/Amp -> HE-500 (via speaker taps). Correct?

This would avoid the need for a separate DAC and headphone power amp. Looking at the various Hifiman threads, these speaker receivers should be better since they can provide the gobs of power Hifiman are known to consume?

 

EDIT: Sorry, it seems that HE-500's have a 1/4" cable so you could probably go through the headphone jack on the front, or ideally- it would be better to go through the speaker outs on the back either way.



 

 

post #13 of 38

I think its funny that you're describing (in my opinion) the exact headphones in your avatar.  The only thing would be is the need to adapt from 1/4? to 1/8", but they drive great just directly from your PC...

 

....give up?

post #14 of 38

I laughed.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ButtUglyJeff View Post

I think its funny that you're describing (in my opinion) the exact headphones in your avatar.  The only thing would be is the need to adapt from 1/4? to 1/8", but they drive great just directly from your PC...

 

....give up?



 

 

post #15 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ButtUglyJeff View Post

I think its funny that you're describing (in my opinion) the exact headphones in your avatar.  The only thing would be is the need to adapt from 1/4? to 1/8", but they drive great just directly from your PC...

 

....give up?


Well, the headphones in the avatar did look awfully attractive so... maybe it was fated?

 

I'm surprised you would say that the sound card would drive the headphones on its own. I realize its a good sound card (hence the reason I bought it)- but on one side I am seeing lots of threads/posts about what types of amps/hardware people are testing/using with HE-5LE's and HE-6's and then all of a sudden the HE-500's don't need any amplification? Am I going to miss something by just going straight into the card? 

 

On the question of using a speaker receiver/amp - it is my understanding that impedance(ohm) is usually 16 and down usually to 4 ohm, with each decrease involving an increase in wattage. How would a headphone like the HE-500 which is rated at 38 ohm operate on such a receiver through a speaker tap? 

 

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