Build Quality, Presentation and Comfort:
The Mad-Dogs are very professionally done, the stickers used to conceal the original Fostex branding are so well placed that initially I thought they didn’t even have stickers on them—only silk-screen prints. My only issue with the stickers is the original ‘lock’ embossment over the cord jack that stands out in an ugly way with the stickers over them. I’d like to see those filed down smooth and then have the stickers applied over for a cleaner look. The comfort strap is neatly applied, although I would have liked to see black screws instead of silver screws. The T50rp itself is a very sturdy looking headphone. It has a nice weight in your hand that imbues solidness. The headband adjustments are a copper colored piping that seemse sturdy and allows for smooth adjustment. The cups of the T50rp are very rugged and sturdy feeling as well. The alpha pads are the only part of the Mad Dogs that I’m conflicted on. On one hand they appear to be built very well and I don’t see them falling apart any time soon. They’re nicely wedge shaped and very, very soft. In reality they remind me of a thicker Denon D2/5/7k pad. My issues with them are fit though. I appreciate them being really soft, but I think they’re too soft. The combination of excess softenss (that lends itself to the Alpha Pads being heavily squished looking at times) and an ear opening that is slightly too small to be ideal leads for a clumsy fit I feel. The fit of the alpha pads is nothing compared to say, the LCD2, which have the best fitting, best feeling pads I’ve ever used on headphones. The clamp of the T50rp is really tight too, like Sennheiser tight, and that doesn’t help with the comfort at all, but smushiness of the Alpha Pads alleviate that greatly. In comparison, HE-400 and LCD2 clamp less.
Most already know my opinion of the HE-400 build and comfort, but I’ll shortly reiterate here. The HE-400 is a very solid looking and feeling headphone. It feels just as solid as the Mad Dogs, but with an elegant sheen to it. The plastic coating is very glossy, and the gimbals are a shiny metallic color. I taped my pads down with double sided tape so it only adds to the cohesiveness of the HE-400’s frame. The buddy who loaned these Mad Dogs to me for the comparison said he also thought the HE-400 felt very rigid and sturdy compared to the Mad Dogs (by no means are the Mad Dogs shoddy feeling). Whereas the Mad Dogs have a steampunk draw to them with the copper colored tubing and handmade leather, the HE-400 have a high-tech technical draw to them, reminding me of a dark blue Zonda.
As far as overall comfort goes, it’s a really tough decision. I personally havn’t worn the Mad Dogs for more than an hour straight to really say if I prefer them for long-term comfort to the HE-400. However I I do prefer the HE-400 for short-term comfort. Their pads are more spacious; your ears get to breath and feel freer, and there is less clamp around them. Both headbands are about equal in terms of weight distribution. If I had to wager though, I say I’d maybe prefer the Mad Dogs in long sessions because I don’t sweat from the Alpha Pads, and they tend to move around less on my head, making for a less exhuasting experience. I feel though, if the Alpha Pads had slightly larger openings and more firm foam inside, that the Mad Dogs would fit very well and feel very great on the ears, and might even take my preference for short-term comfort over the HE-400 as well.
General Sound Comparison:
Once again these two headphones share a large amount of similarities. Both have a good, lush sound with sweet lower midrange reproduction and a linear bass. Just like the LCD2 vs HE-400 comparison, the Mad Dogs differe most from the HE-400 in treble. Simply put, the HE-400 has way more—more than neutral without mods or EQ. I EQ the treble on my HE-400 down, so for this comparison the treble is closer on the two. Being a closed headphone, the lack of airy soundstage is very apparent upon first listen to the Mad Dogs when coming from the HE-400. My buddy found this as a great weakness of the Mad Dogs and ultimately liked the HE-400 for realistic presentation over the Mad Dogs for this very reason. I tend to agree. However, the soundstage of the Mad Dogs is very clean and coherent for a closed headphone. There’s no messy resonances that would otherwise muddy its imaging and layering, and the width of its stage is decently wide. However it’s not as deep as the HE-400, or even the LCD2. I think the biggest strength of the Mad Dog’s sound is its smooth and lush tone though. I don’t have the LCD2 anymore to compare to see if the Mad Dog is really a baby LCD2, but on rough memory I wager that it’s close, however a bit more u-shaped (more upper bass, lower mids than the LCD2, less upper mids and lower treble, and slightly more upper treble). There’s also definitely less extreme low bass in the 40hz and below range on the Mad Dogs than both the LCD2 and HE-400.
The HE-400 has more bass quantity and depth than the Mad Dogs. It has a thicker and more impactful mid-lower bass, but more textured at the same time. However I think the Mad Dogs have a thicker/slower decaying upper bass around the 250-300hz region. In this sense the HE-400 is more like traditional open planars with completely linear bass, while the Mad Dogs remind me more of a Dynamic headphone, as it has a bit of a curve to it. Those looking for LCD2 bass at a cheaper price look to the HE-400, as it’s still the closest thing I’ve come to LCD2 in bass reproduction. The Mad Dogs bass reminds me of an enhanced HD650 in a sense. It extends slightly bit deeper than the HD650 and with more power, and has a more controlled representation overall. The Mad Dogs could use more presence in the extreme low bass regions—I think the smaller drivers of the T50rp just don’t push enough air to give enough energy to that region. Based off pure sine tones alone, the Mad Dogs rolloff at 35hz just like the HE-400, but when compared to the rest of its sonic signature, the Mad Dog’s sub-bass isn’t as powerful as the HE-400’s. However due to the great isolation and well-behaved nature of the Mad Dog’s bass, I think this might be one of the best monitoring headphones on the market for bassists.
The biggest separation in the mids between the Mad Dogs and HE-400 is the airy/layered representation vs the closed/wall of sound of the Mad Dogs. Both my buddy and I agree that the additoinal airy and layered representation of the HE-400 gives it the nod for more realistic sound reproduction while the Mad Dogs can sound more like a recording. While the HE-400 are deliberately colored to have lowered upper midrange and the Mad Dogs offer a smoother transition from mids to highs, I think the difference in upper midrange isn’t that extreme, at least not as big of a gap as HE-400 vs LCD2. The overall quality to the Mad Dogs mids is juicy, sweet, and thick while HE-400 is a bit more thin and laid-back in comparison. Both headphones have great instrument separation and sound clean. I think the HE-400 does a way better job at picking different instruments apart when they’re harmonizing in the lower midrange however. The Mad Dogs also offer an overall more smoothed sound to their midrange while HE-400 is a bit more defined and textured. The upper midrange recession of the HE-400 is rarely an issue to me, but there are times where the Mad Dogs render the harmonics of brass and strings better and more realistic than the HE-400. Once again, I still don’t’ see an issue with the HE-400 for female vocals. The Mad Dogs didn’t particularly handle female vocals better than the HE-400.
In stock configurations the Mad Dogs have a way beter behaved treble than the HE-400. It’s more in-line with the rest of its signature and never fatiguing. There is little sibilance with vocals, but enough detail to bring out nuances in music, however there’s a general lack of air in the upper treble that give it that last bit of realisticness and keeps it grounded—ultimately still recording-like sound. The HE-400 treble NEEDs an EQ. In its stock configuration it has great sparkle and air, but depending on the recording it can become wildly fatiguing and sibilant. My simple little EQ for it makes it more balanced while still retaining air and extension. It’s this airy quality of the HE-400’s treble that gives it the edge in realistic representation over the Mad Dogs.
I think the Mad Dogs are overall a more refined headphone with a more balanced sound signature that I’d definitely use to mix songs with over the HE-400, however the qualities of the HE-400 make it a more realistic experience and fun listen for me. Even though I still prefer the HE-400 over the Mad Dogs, I think the Mad Dogs are the 2nd best total package in a headphone for the value I’ve experienced so far. It will jump right to the top of my recommendation list for lots of people, as I feel that you probably wont’ get a better all-arounder in a headphone: isolation, comfort, balance, clean bass extension, portability, sturdiness… it has it all, and for a great price too. Dan Clark has created very good headphone. If what Mad Lust Envy said was true—that the Koss ESP950 sounds like an open Mad-Dog—then damn… that must be an incredible headphone.
Songs and Equipment Used:
iTunes EQ for HE-400: -3db at 8khz, -6db at 16khz
Johnny Cash: Highwayman
Adele: Hometown Glory
Mumford and Sons: The Boxer
Loreena McKennitt: All Souls Night
Jethro Tull: Up To Me
Arne Domnérus, Bengt Hallberg et al: Now’s the Time; Jazz at the Pawnshop
Two Steps From Hell: Winterspell
Hans Zimmer: Flight
The Mad Dogs are slightly less sensitive than the HE-400, but depending on the song can be a good bit less sensitive. The amping requirements between the Mad Dogs and HE-400 were about thes ame as LCD2 vs HE-400. I usually had HE-400 at 9-9:30 on the Magni vs the 9:30-10 of the Mad Dogs.
I don’t know what it is, but the Mad Dogs reveal the noise of the volume pot on the Magni whenever being connected into its headphone jack, or adjusting volume on the dial itself. With the HE-400 or other headphones there’s no noise. I’m wondering if it’s a problem with the connector used on the Mad Dogs.
The isolation of the Mad Dogs is second to none. Better at blocking outside noises and preventing leakage than the M50, which is already very good-- a great headphone for loud environments.