Disclaimer: This review was written by an owner (or previous owner) of an LCD 2, XB700, D7000, and other various Basshead headphones.
I was in the process of writing a review for the Koss ProDJ100 when I got word that I'd won the Creative Aurvana Live in a recent contest from Headphones.com. They were being hailed as one of the best headphones in the sub 200 USD price bracket, so I decided to compare them to the budget king...the Koss ProDJ100. These have been burned in for at least 24 hours a piece before writing this.
My test track list is quite long, but some of the more noteable ones I will discuss are the ones I'll post.
Techmaster P.E.B. - Bassgasm (Bass Depth Test)
Pendulum - Crush (The 'Is it too Bright' test)
Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman - Con Te Partiro (Male & Female Vocal Test)
Noisia - Sunhammer (Teeny Tiny Details test)
The Who - Pinball Wizard (Classic recording test)
Price & Packaging
Koss ProDJ100 - $80
These headphones have been an 'under the radar' budget choice for quite some time now. They're an absolute steal in my mind for $80. That's really all I can say about the price. Looking at the packaging they're very short sweet and to the point. Cardboard box, name and picture of the headphone. Open it up and you get your cans and 1/8" to 1/4" adapter.
Creative Aurvana Live - $100
The challenger in this match up. When I first heard someone was calling these headphones 'one of the best under 200' I was very sceptical. After owning the DJ100 for awhile I never thought anything around 100 bucks could compete. They are packaged very similarly to the DJ100, but with a few (welcome) extras. Carboard box, picture of headphone, etc. When you open it up though you get your cans, a carrying bag, a 1/8" extension cable, and a 1/4" adapter.
Aesthetics & Build Quality
I love the way these look. No glossy plastic. They're (almost) full aluminum. They were a little smaller than I remembered them being but that just made them more portable. Black and silver made them look just plain sexy to my eyes. They're fairly light (the heaviest part is the cable), but I feel are built quite well. The cups swivel completely flat. The cable is coiled and feels pretty sturdy because of it but the termination leaves a little to be desired. The cable just...ends. It doesn't feel like there's much of a termination at all.
Creative Aurvana Live
These headphones are made completely out of plastic. The cups are a glossy black and silver. The rest is a flat black. My first impression was that they felt a little cheap when it came to build quality. Having handled headphones around the same price that felt worse I wasn't too worried though. As I said, these are black and silver as well but the only silver is the ring around each cup. They're a tad lighter than the DJ100 because of the cable. The cups swivel a bit, but just to enough to get a good fit. One of the nicest things about them though is the cable (where as it's the worst part of the DJ100). It's light, dual entry, and is shorter than the DJ100. Termination is straight but sturdy.
Overall (Build Quality) Winner: Pro DJ100 [No contest really. Aluminum vs Plastic]
Comfort & Isolation
[I'm grouping them together here as the differences between them are mostly small]
Starting with headbands I found the DJ100 to be slightly more comfortable than the CAL. Main reason being that it was a bit wider and didn't create as much immediate pressure. It's also padded more than the CAL which is a nice touch. Moving onto the ability to size them. Again I feel that the DJ100 has an advantage due to the fact it has thick aluminum sliders. They feel more sturdy when extended as opposed to the CAL's thinner ones. Cups is where it starts to get interesting. I give the advantage here to the CAL because they're much easier to fit on my ears. The DJ100's swiveling cups make it a bit difficult to get a good fit which also bleeds over into the isolation category. These cans are evely matched here and both work well for buses and crowded places but the DJ100 is a little tougher to get a proper fit with. Bringing us lastly to the pads...they're both pleather, but the CAL has a major advantage over the DJ100 here. The CAL has nice squishy pads that settle nicely to my ear. The DJ100 on the other hand comes stock with rough pads that I think would bother me more if I had short hair. I would recommend swapping them for M50 pads as soon as you can. They're more evenly matched that way. Oh, and overall weight gives the CAL gets another win. The DJ100's cable is just too heavy.
Recap: Headband - DJ100, Sizing - DJ100, Cups (Fit) - CAL, Isolation - CAL (Due to fit), Pads - CAL, Cable (Weight) - CAL
Overall (Comfort) Winner: Creative Aurvana Live [Due mostly to the cable causing uneven weight distribution]
DO NOT BLOW THESE OUT OF PROPORTION. They are very similar comfort wise to me.
[Again I'll be lumping them together as they both make good portables]
I would call both of these supra aural headphones even though they are more caught in between the 2 extremes (circum vs supra). The CAL has a somewhat smaller form factor due to the thinner headband and smaller cups, but the DJ100 does fold flat making them fairly close here. Either can easily be worn around the neck without getting in the way or causing discomfort but if you walk around in them quite a bit you'll notice the DJ100's cable bouncing and weighing you down. One thing to remember about portables though is they need to be durable. Considering this the DJ100 comes out with the win. If you can stand the cable (or find some way to keep it in check) they make a better portable due to the fact they're more durable and fold flat. The aluminum and rotating cups outweigh the weight of the cable.
Overall (Portability) Winner: DJ100 [Due mostly to durability. If you baby your gear I'd pick the CAL]
You'd think being a DJ headphone would mean these things are bass monsters. This is simply not the case. There is definitely more bass than the CAL, but it's not head shattering like most 'DJ' cans tend to be. Again it extends deep and sounds great, but the DJ100 has the leg up on bass texture. It definitely feels more meaty and fleshed out than the CAL. Thick would be a word I'd describe it as. Thick like syrup. It's punchy when it wants to be but it's mostly just a good rumble between your ears. I didn't find that it bled over into the rest of the spectrum though.
The first thing I'll say about bass on the CAL is that it may leave some to be desired for someone wanting a good amount of bass in their music. It's just not there on the CAL. The bass extends deep and sounds great, but if you're looking for quantity this isn't a headphone for you (unless you've got one of those glorious ZOs). It's very polite and in line. Being a heavy EDM listener I'd call it bass light, but for most it will be just fine. Needless to say it doesn't bleed over or overpower anything else.
(I'm changing it up here. This is a shootout after all. Mids will be compared head to head using (mostly) 'Con Te Partiro - Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman'. This song is my absolute bottom line for testing mids. Male & Female singers with excellent range and all the little details you could want (breathing, strings, etc.)
Jumping right into it I'll say that both of these headphones have excellent mids. It's the strong point of both. Up until now the wonderful mids on the DJ100 have made it an easy choice for any genre in the <$200 category…but the CAL takes it for me. Neither is a slacker, but the reason I've chosen the CAL over my beloved DJ100 from a pure midrange standpoint is the fact that the CAL extracts more detail than the DJ100. I think this may be the one downfall of the DJ100's sweet, thick sound. While the vocals are very textured the detail I want just wasn't there when comparing the 2 directly. The CAL gave me every little breath and pluck where as the DJ100 just lost those little details in its warm sound. I guess it comes down to preference more than anything. If you want every little detail in your instruments and vocals the CAL is for you. If you want a nice warm, smooth sound and can handle some loss of detail the DJ100 is for you.
Without a doubt the highs are the DJ100s weak point. That's not to say they're bad, but they seem rolled off and just take a back seat to the rest of the (excellent sounding) spectrum. They'll never tire you out, but they'll never wow you either. They're just…there.
Almost the opposite of how I felt about their bass. The highs are excellent here. What they lacked in the bass department they make up for in the highs. I think I'll be recommending these a lot for someone looking for a less ridiculous Grado. Probably what gives them the detail I really enjoy. I always worry that with headphones like this I'll never be able to use them as I'd find them painfully bright (being pretty sensitive). This just wasn't the case with the CAL. As stated at the beginning of my review my 'painful highs' test song is 'Crush' by Pendulum. Reason being that this song has constant and loud cymbals through. I love this song, but I can't take it on a lot of headphones because it just hurts my friggin' ears. I'd describe the CALs highs in short like this…Detailed and emphasized without being too bright.
Short but sweet here. They're both closed but the CAL wins out. You won't be too impressed with either, but the CAL just does it better. The instruments seem a bit more 'out of your head' and imaging is better. Again, they just won't compare to an open can though.
DJ100 - Warm (Due to the thick sound) and Balanced. Everything falls into place nicely with the highs taking a back seat.
Creative Aurvana Live - Neutral (On the border of cold, but I think that's due to just being a neutral can) and (again) Balanced. Everything falls into place nicely with the bass taking a back seat. Detail, detail, detail.
We have a new budget king...sort of. The Creative Aurvana Live and Koss ProDJ100 both show what budget-fi really has to offer. You can get something great for under $100. That being said I think that they're really just different flavors on equal footing. If you want more bass and a nice thick, textured sound the DJ100 is your man. If you want a detailed sound with wonderful mids and highs the CAL is your guy. This conclusion is being reached with both headphone 'come as your are' stock.
Things to consider:
- The DJ100 fits M50 pads. One of my biggest gripes is the pads on these headphones. The stock ones are just terrible, but the M50 pads really fix that.
- The Digizoid ZO exists. This little device would absolutely make the CAL my pick for a portable (or any headphone) under $200. The smooth boost without reducing the excellent highs and detail it just what they need.
- Cheap Mogami recables. The other major gripe I have with the otherwise excellent DJ100 is the heavy, coiled cable. Get it recabled with something nice and light and you've got a durable can that's great right out of your headphone out.
Pictures will be labeled for each section and in post 2!
EDIT: Be honest when commenting on this review. You won't hurt my feelings. I really think my reviews read horribly and I hate my formatting.
EDIT 2: Pictures added and 'Scaling' section removed. I will edit it in later, but people are going to want to know more about portable amps which I have none of at the moment.
Edited by MorbidToaster - 12/9/11 at 5:54pm