Finally got my impressions typed up. Please note that I am extremely critical with my impressions and don't take it as a personal attack if I didn't like your rig. These are my opinions only. As good as my SR-007/SRM323 rig is, and many commented on it at the meet as being excellent, I still find many faults with it, so don't think I'm sitting on high with the perfect rig and nobody else has anything good. I still don't know if I'm even keeping this. Some of the faults may prove to be too much to deal with. I actually prefer the delivery from my UERM to the SR-007, but the thing the SR-007 has going for it that the UERM doesn't is that last bit of detail. Unfortunately it also comes with hot treble that I don't particularly care for.
Here are my impressions of some of the rigs present:
Ayon CDP > Liquid Lightning > Sennheiser HE-60:
Smooth, no harshness. Soundstage is medium. Decay is great. Perhaps a bit too laidback. Not a lot of body in the bass compared to SR-007, still nice though. Dull with some recordings, just too polite. Easy to listen to, comfortable. Sound and comfort would enable endless listening sessions. Dynamics are great softs are really soft with many levels up to loud. Calms aggressive recordings nicely. Center focus is very good. Vocals are smooth and clear. Tonality is good, not perfect. Very slightly thuddy. Relaxing.
I think most of this is the source. The tube based output on the Ayon must be giving it this syrupy quality. When I heard the HE-60 on a KGSS/Apogee DAC and Boulder/A10 at RMAF it was also smooth, but not quite to this level. This was very relaxing in a way I'd not experienced since I heard the ALO prototype triode amp with MDHT Havanna and LCD2 at RMAF. This was a better version of that for sure.
Sony Discman D-121 > MusicMax AT-HA20 > MEElectronics HT21:
Surprisingly good. Highs are rolled a little and everything is slightly harsh. Clarity is not amazing, but impressive given the portability and cost ($25). Bass is nice and full but not well textured. Could easily recommend. Complex music gets muddy easily. Aggressive songs are a little abrasive. Focus seems to drift, perhaps source issue? (Indeed, the line out port had significant noise when spun in place, dirt in the jack). Vocals are strident but not too bad. Tonality as a whole is off a bit. More control in the mids and bass than PortaPros and with more treble presence.
If you heard PortaPros, but don't care for the very rolled highs, look to these at a slightly cheaper price. More aggressive, but better control and honestly better bass in all aspects. Anyone looking for a beater can that still sounds pretty good should pick one up, or this could be a great entry headphone for someone just getting started.
Sony Discman D-121 > MusicMax AT-HA20 > Shure SRH840:
Mids are really nice. Treble is harsh. Cymbals are just badly rendered. Bass is clean and well controlled. Highs just sound like shhhh instead of cssst. Bass volume is too low. Focus is excellent. Vocals are just OK. Not all that impressed. Probably equal to the HT21 in total, but really can't get past the poor highs. Bass being a bit low doesn't help. Comfortable.
On this setup I'd pick the HT21s over the SRH840 at even money. The SRH840 is $200 vs HT21s cost of $25. The sibilant harsh treble just killed it. About the same amount of bass as a moderately powered K701, so yeah.. not a lot.
Sony Discman D-121 > MusicMax AT-HA20 > Sony 7505:
Fit is really funky. Sound is pretty weak all around. Doesn't offend but no bass and rolled highs. It's boring. Bland.
Expected more from a Sony monitoring headphone, even at a fairly cheap price ($75-100ish). Not sure what you could monitor with these, certainly nothing with bass or significant treble. The pads were sort of half on half off my ear with the best sounding fit. Just odd.
Marantz SA8004 > Liquid Fire > LCD2.2:
Similar to HE60 setup in that everything is smooth and relaxed but a little darker (than HE60 setup). Bass is as expected, excellent. Cable entry hitting my shoulder is a little annoying. Slightly thick sound, not as precise as the stats. Separation is good not great. Could use just a little more treble for electronic music. Not as clear as I'd prefer. Really nice setup though. No fatigue and it's comfortable. Could listen for hours. Aggressive rock/metal sounds fantastic. Gives the setup a kick in the pants it needs. Focus is pretty good, a bit fuzzy. Sound stage is small-medium. Bass texture is so good.
Hearing this early in the meet while most people weren't there yet afforded me my first real quality time with the LCD2.2 (I heard several LCD2s at RMAF, but never knew which version they were). These are really nice, but just too dark for my preference. As I've said before along with the HD650, both well performing cans, just not enough treble. Because of the speed advantage I find the LCD2 better than the HD650. The HD650 just sounds muddy at times, but the LCD2 pulls through without too much problem.
Fubar USB DAC > DIY amp > Grado HF1:
Clapton Unplugged playing - sounds nice. Can tell there's a V shaped response. A little aggressive with treble spike as with most Grados but so far this is nice. Bass is a little quiet but tasteful. Stage is small-medium. Good punch on bass. Bass extension is very good. My favorite Grado. Still not something I would buy for myself, though. Just too aggressive.
My previous 'new favorite Grado' was the PS500 at RMAF, but I think I like these better. The HF2 was a huge departure from the HF1, and certainly not an upgrade. Later on at this meet I heard the RS2s, which I liked MUCH more than the HF1 and thus any other Grado. The HF1 is OK, but still not my thing.
JVC XL-Z1050 > DIY amp > Hifiman HE-300, then Grado PS500:
Hollow with classical. Highs rolled too much. Bass extends well but definition isn't good. Tonality is totally off. Amazingly it's actually fairly comfortable. (I have issues with Hifiman fit) Mids and highs are just smeared. Weird sound, poor detail all around.
Switch to Peachtree Nova as DAC and amp:
Much better, but still highs are shrill. Detail much improved. Tonality better still not great. Stage is small-medium. Really poor with aggressive music. Vocals really grainy. Clarity poor.
Switch to Peachtree with PS500:
Back to Grado peaked highs and harshness. The rest is not bad. Still like the HF1 best. These have bowl pads.
So, still don't like the HE-300 all that much. The gear combos didn't help much. Swapping to the PS500s resulted in a sound I thought was worse than when I heard them at RMAF (where they had flat pads, these had bowls).
Fiio E17 (EQ off) > Audio Technica ESW9:
Really nice. Bass is punchy but clear and not overpowering. Extension is ok not great. Mids seem recessed some. Highs are fairly detailed but rolled off. Smooth easy to listen to. Fit is good, on ear but comfortable. This Fiio is pretty slick.
One of the headphones that was on a short list I was considering ordering recently. I would have been happy with the sound, but apparently not with the build quality. This pair of ESW9s have broken 3-4 times in the few years he's owned them. Too bad, sound is great. Smaller size than expected.
Fiio E17 (Bass @ 8) > CTH DIY amp > Thunderpants (stock pads):
Slightly hollow, smooth and very rich. Sounds pretty weak with bass set to 0 boost. Needs a lot, but when it's up, wow... massive bass but somehow doesn't intrude much. Very detailed but in a slightly thick way. Focus is excellent. Lacks top end sparkle, but still it's excellent for electronic music. Amazing transformation from stock Fostex 50s.
If there was some measurement we could use for best quality of bass while also having the most quantity, these Thunderpants would be #1 easily. Not the best bass I've ever heard in quality, but in combination with the quantity it surely is. Crazy bass, never heard anything like it from a headphone. Mids are a bit recessed and highs rolled off, but both are present enough to keep it from turning into a Beats clone. Nowhere near accurate, but super fun. We managed to get his new Omega 2 pads on and the mids and highs cleared up very slightly, the biggest change was comfort went up significantly. Very comfortable after pad change.
Krell SACD Standard > DIY Torpedo amp > Philips Fidelio L1:
Detail is better (than WA6), but still a bit thick. Bass is punchy but not as loud as it can be.
Overall not a huge change from one rig to another. Gave up a little bass for more treble. Still not sure what to think of this headphone. I discovered that night in my hotel room that you can get some really good quality from this headphone by simply playing it at a low volume. You get rid of some of the tightness in the upper mids/lower treble which is what is giving me issues. The bass stays rich and full even at this low volume. Interesting findings.
Krell SACD Standard > Marc DIY Blue Hawaii > Stax SR-Gamma Pro:
Bass is slightly weak. Stage is medium. Highs really sparkle and light, not thick at all. Slightly grainy. Separation is good to great. Not bad.
Not my favorite stat ever, for sure, but not bad. I don't think I'd recommend them as they are older and I'm sure parts are a pain to find if something were to happen.
Cambridge iPod dock > Buffalo DAC > Beta 22 > K1000:
Presentation is nice, focus is great. Treble just isn't clear. Harsh really. Bass is not bad, volume is ok. Sibilant, just overall smeared. Separation is very good. Stage is very large with good depth. Mids seem recessed.
Switch to Pass F5 with K1000:
Better overall, but highs still smeared. Mids are more present.
Dunno, Steve, just don't like the treble on these. Have never been overly impressed with them. This was the first time I heard them and was satisfied with the bass, which was probably more to do with the room than anything. At their original selling price these are fair, but at well over $1000 I can't recommend.
Krell SACD Standard > DIY Torpedo > Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor:
Finally showing what UERM can be capable of. Detail is much better than Bifrost/WA6. Textures are almost real.
This told me I REALLY need a significantly better source. I think these are so revealing that source is far more important than amp, which seems to make almost no difference.
Schiit Bifrost > Schiit Lyr > Audeze LCD2:
Smooth and lyrical. Lacks sparkle and some of the detail is a bit dull. Yo Yo Ma's Bach Six Suites: String crossings and general bow brushing lacks bite. Too much bass. Real cello doesn't sound like this unless it's n a very resonant room with hard surfaces. nice, but could be better. Stage is medium. Center focus is fuzzy, probably due to lack of detail.
Change to Apex Arete w/ Volcano PSU:
Instantly better. Still not great, but bow strokes sound close to proper. Much more resolving, you can hear individual reverberations from the room. Slightly brighter, still too much bass, but better.
Switch to Apex Butte:
Somewhere between Lyr and Arete. Closer to Arete. Brighter than Lyr, cleaner. Really quite nice. Very close to Arete/Volcano. Actually has a bit less bass which makes the cello sound just about right tonally.
Switch to Butte with UERM:
Bowing on cello sounds almost perfect, a touch more detail needed. Lower end of cello is accurate. Bottom of C string chokes slightly like a real cello should for this piece. Nice. Black background, no noise/hum.
Switch to Arete/Volcano with UERM:
Really nice control, detail pops a bit more. Similar to Butte otherwise. Hums and has a bit of hiss at any volume, but it's fairly quiet. Would be audible during quiet passages, though.
Swap back to Lyr (different tubes) and LCD2:
Much more analytical signature. Better detail and less bass. Closer to what is needed for solo cello. Still has a ways to go, imo.
So.. lots of swapping going on here. The LCD2 really just can't help having too much bass to be accurate while also not having enough treble for the detail to shine enough. Switching to the UERM landed us back to neutral and a nearly real sounding cello. The Butte is so close to the Arete/Volcano I don't see any justification for the price difference.
A few post-meet notes:
Stopped at Best Buy on the way home to pick up an album (which they didn't have... grr..) but went by the headphone stand and used my phone (not the best of sources, granted, but I do know what my other gear sounds like through it) to test a few phones:
Skullcandy Aviator - Nicely balanced. For $150 this is good. Full rich bass, not deep on extension, but ok. Mids are smooth, highs rolled slightly, but the total frequency range is well balanced. Bass could use more punch, but this is good performance for the money. Not a fan of the looks.. at all.
Klipsch Image One - Not as good as Aviators, but in general similar signature. A little muddy and lacking in detail. Get the Aviators instead if you can stand the looks.
Philips O'Neil Stretch - Ugh.. highs and mids.. are gone. Bass boomer headphones and they aren't even good at that. Avoid at any price.
Beats Pro - Really not bad. Bass is reined in from Beats of the past and the mids and highs are not in an abyss like before. The price is certainly far above what I would pay for this sound, but discarding price these sound ok. Not something I would use myself, but I wouldn't question someone liking them.
Sony XB-500 - Sounds like headphones that were designed a decade ago. Thuddy doesn't even begin to describe it. Everything is bluntly delivered, nothing detailed at all. Sounds like the audio is coming from far away behind a curtain.
Edited by Maxvla - 3/12/12 at 9:24am