This is a review and comparison of the following headphones:
Audio Technica AD900
Audio Technica ES10
Creative Aurvana Live!
Since some of them are full-size and others are portable, and since threads on some of the portable headphones listed here have been posted in the full-size forum, I opted to post this article in the full-size headphone forum.
I wonder whether it might make a good wiki page as well. If people think so, then I will copy it over to the wiki section.
First, some preliminary comments:
Executive summary of preliminary comments:
1) Ergonomics and comfort are important because they impact overall listening experience.
2) I feel that using a separate amp detracts from the overall ergonomics of the listening experience, so all of these reviews
are mostly without an amp.
3) All my comments are, naturally, subjective. Your mileage may vary.
4) Check out my profile to learn about my musical preferences and to see which of these headphones I end up keeping and which
ones I sell.
Longer version of preliminary comments:
My quest for better headphones began when my trusty Denon 1001s (my first headphones I worth more than $10 or so) broke after a few years of use, due to one of the ear pieces coming detached and resisting my efforts to reattach it. When I first started this quest, I thought that overall sound quality, even at the expense of most other features, might be the most important. I came to change my mind about this, and in the process, I learned a lot about how and why I enjoy music.
Why do I enjoy good sound quality? It is not just the virtue of the sound quality itself, but rather because listening to good music with good sound quality makes me feel good. If other factors such as the comfort of the headphone or a music player with a poor user interface interfere with my overall comfort and happiness, then I derive less joy from the quality of the sound. What I am pursuing is not good sound quality in and of itself, but rather the intense emotional states that come from my listening to high quality music, reproduced at high fidelity.
I generally listen to music through my iPod with my headphones, at home, while I study at school, or walking around the neighborhood. My initial belief was that the portability of a headphone was not a concern for home use, but only for taking the headphone to school or walking around the neighborhood. But as I experimented with bulky long-cord headphones at home, I realized that even at home, I like to move around the house while I listen to music, and a long cord or bulky headphone makes this more difficult. Also, listening to good music makes me want to bob my head or even dance, and a light weight, good-fitting headphone is much more conducive to this.
A similar comment goes for amps. For some headphones, an amp can make the headphone sound a little bit better, and for some it can even make the headphone sound a lot better. But using an amp adds an extra layer of complexity to the process of listening to music and controlling the user interface, detracting from my focus on and enjoyment of the music. For this reason, I have reviewed all the headphones below without an amp, even though the Fischer arguably benefits from being amped.
Another thing I learned when comparing headphones is that it is hard to compare sound quality using A/B comparisons of brief selections of music. Such comparisons serve their purpose, but they necessarily involve me being in a different emotional state than when I am listening to the same headphone over an extended period of time. Also, by listening for one particular aspect
of the sound, I lose touch with the overall feeling of listening to the headphones. These and other factors make the overall business of comparing headphones very subjective, and so all my comments should be taken with a grain of salt. On different days or when I'm in different moods, my opinions of the headphones will vary.
Of course, sound quality also depends on the genres of music you listen to. I like lots of different genres, but I especially enjoy electronic, classical, instrumental, heavy metal, rock, and oldies.
Comparison of specific features
AD900 > ES10 > Fischer > Aurvana = HD25
AD900 > Fischer > Aurvana = HD25 > ES10
AD900 has by far the least bass, ES10 has by far the most. Fischer and HD25 have similar bass. Aurvana has about the same bass quantity or a little less than the Fischer and HD25, but it is looser and boomier -- more disruptive. The Aurvana bass is more disruptive even than ES10 bass, which is only mildly disruptive. Indeed, the ES10's treble is more disruptive than its bass.
AD900 < Aurvana < Fischer < ES10 < HD25
AD900 feels like a feather on my head. Aurvana feels like a soft pillow. Fischer has a solid clamp, but it does not press into my ears due to the circumaural design; rather it clamps against the side of my head, which is more comfortable. ES10 has a clamping strength that is mildly uncomfortable, but after stretching it over some books for over 20 hours, it is comfortable enough to wear for several hours at a time easily. HD25 clamps so hard that it is uncomfortable after only a few minutes of wearing. I did not try to stretch it out as much as with the ES10, so maybe this could be mitigated. But the clamping force
of the ES10 right out of the box was less than that of the HD25 after many hours of wear.
Aurvana > AD900 = Fischer = ES10 > HD25
The Aurvana is by far the most comfortable of the headphones, because of the combination of light clamping force, soft ear pads, reasonably secure fit, adjustability, smallish size, and light weight. Additionally, although it goes more or less around the ears, it leaves enough of a gap to let some air in around the ears, unlike the Fischer, which completely encloses the ears.
The AD900, Fischer, and ES10 have very different fits, but overall, their strengths and weaknesses in comfort balance out. The AD900 has very large ear cups, which can get itchy against the side of my head. It is also very loose fitting and moves around on my head more than I'd like.
The Fischer has a secure and comfortable fit, but it starts to feel heavy on the head after long use. It also does not allow any air to circulate around the ears, so the ears get sweaty after an hour or two. It comes with two kinds of ear pads, pleather and velour. I prefer the pleather because they are softer.
The ES10 presses against the ears, but does allow air in to circulate due to its on-ear design. It is also highly adjustable.
The ear pads are not particularly comfortable, but they're okay.
The HD25 presses way too hard against the ears. The ear pads do not adjust particularly well. It stays on almost exclusively by putting pressure on my ears, while putting almost no weight on my head. This gives me a headache. The HD25 is especially uncomfortable to wear with glasses. It does come with both pleather and velour pads. The velour are comparatively more comfortable.
Overall ergonomics (Taking into account comfort and other factors)
Aurvana > ES10 > Fischer > AD900 > HD25
The Aurvana is the overall winner, for the same reasons mentioned under comfort. The comparison is not even a close one. The Aurvana blows away all the other headphones reviewed here when it comes to overall comfort and ergonomics.
Due to its shorter cord, light weight, and portability, the ES10 beats the Fisher and the AD900 in terms of ergonomics. The Fisher beats the AD900 because of its more secure fit. The HD25 still loses because it is very uncomfortable and gives me a headache to wear. The Fischer could be improved by replacing the stock cord with a shorter cord. The stock cord is detachable, but I've been unable to find a replacement short cord.
One minor issue with the ES10 is that if I wear it with metal-frame glasses, the ear pads rub against the glasses and make a squeaking sound, interfering with the music. This does not happen much if I'm sitting or moving around the house, but if I'm walking more vigorously, for instance walking around outside, then it happens more. With glasses where the part that goes over the ear is rubber-coated, this issue goes away. I recently went to the eye doctor and got a new prescription, and my new glasses frame will be the rubber-coated kind for this reason.
AD900 > Fischer = Aurvana = ES10 > HD25
This is highly subjective, and I'm not very confident in my evaluation here. Note that the soundstage size is correlated with the clamping force. I think my perception of a large soundstage might be partly psychoacoustical -- lighter clamping force gives a perception of a bigger soundstage.
Overall detail level
ES10 = AD900 > Fischer > HD25 > Aurvana
These comparisons are for music without much bass. If the bass is heavy, then the AD900 would move lower down because it cannot produce the bass very well at all, although the lack of bass does help somewhat in allowing the detail to be heard in the higher notes. The AD900 has the best instrumental separation, but the ES10 is surprisingly good at separation too.
HD25 > Fischer >= ES10 > Aurvana >> AD900
HD25 has the most isolation by far, but still not enough to get a very enjoyable experience listening on the subway at safe volume levels. The AD900 has almost no isolation due to its open design. The Aurvana has enough isolation to listen outdoors in a quiet area or with somebody having a quiet conversation in the same room.
How much I paid (approximate, includes shipping)
ES10 -- $400 new on eBay
AD900 --$210 new on Amazon
HD25 -- $175 new on eBay
Fischer -- $115 used on headfi
Aurvana -- $55 used on eBay
Visual beauty (highly subjective of course)
ES10 > Aurvana > AD900 = Fischer > HD25
Only the Fisher came with more than a simple pouch for carrying, and the AD900 came with nothing at all. This is disappointing. My Denon 1001s broke largely because I carried them around in such a bag in my backpack for a few years. The Fischer case is soft-sided, but I would feel comfortable using it for air travel because it has lots of padding. I have ordered an HPP5 hard shell case for the ES10 on Audio Cubes. (It hasn't arrived yet.) As far as I know, hard cases designed specifically for the other headphones reviewed here are not available, but you can search around head-fi for suggestions for generic hard carrying cases that work well with headphones.
For what it's worth, my roommate is a professional graphic designer, and he said that if Audio Technica put as much money into the carrying case as they did into the design and production of the disposable packaging for the ES10, then the ES10 would come with a very hardy and useful carrying case instead of a flimsy pouch.
General comments and suitability to various genres
If I had to have only one headphone out of these, it would be the ES10, although that opinion might change in the future.
This headphone is fun especially for fast-paced and bassy genres, electronic music, and rock and roll oldies, but great for almost everything. Sometimes recessed mids are noticeable, especially in vocal centric music -- vocals will sound beautiful but will sometimes be dominated by instruments. This can be improved by decreasing the treble and boosting the mids on the equalizer, though I haven't messed with it much yet.
Percussion sounds other than drums (chimes, bells, shaky things, crackly things, scrapey things) are especially good, detailed, and crunchy
These headphones especially sound great with the album Dark Side of the Moon, with music by the group Infected Mushroom, and with certain hard rock and metal songs. With other hard rock and metal songs, the vocal seem recessed, but the sound is still very good. Strongly recommended, in spite of the price. The overall balance of sound quality and ergonomics is wonderful, and the snazzy looks are a nice added bonus.
Note that upon initial unpackaging the treble was especially disruptive and I felt the need to equalize up the mids. The treble settled down some after about 25 hours of burn-in, mostly off of my head, though the treble did remain prominent. But some of the burn-in was while I was listening to them, so I cannot say for sure what part of this was a change to the headphone drivers versus psychoacoustics.
Most balanced sound, but sometimes seem boring, especially for some rock/metal type music. However, for some metal and rock, the balanced sound of the Fischers is best. For instance, the track Refuse/Resist by Sepultura (on the album Chaos A.D.) sounds best to me on the Fischers out of all of the headphones reviewed here. These are good all around headphones at a good price. Even without an
amp, the sound quality is almost a strict improvement compared to the less expensive Creative Aurvanas, though the Aurvanas are more comfortable and portable. The Fischer might be better with an amp (I had a hard time telling the difference -- sometimes it sounded better and other times it didn't.) But even without an amp it's an excellent headphone. The Fischer generally edges out the ES10 for classical full orchestra music, depending on my mood, and it comes very close to the ES10 for electronic music. But for rock and heavy metal the ES10 often sounds more exciting.
Recommended, but beware that it is too big for portable use and comes with a long cord.
By far the most comfortable of the headphones. Relaxing. Great value, Sounds good with all genres. If it is your first mid-fi or hi-fi piece of audio equipment, you will not notice the loose bass and comparative lack of detail, rather you will be wowed by the sound quality, soundstage, and detail level . improvement as compared to laptop speakers or iBuds. The improvement in sound quality from laptop speakers or iBuds to the Aurvana is much greater than from Aurvana to any of the other headphones reviewed here, and for certain songs or when I'm in a certain mood, the sound quality of the Aurvana even beats the others. Note that the Aurvana is essentially the same headphone as my beloved damaged Denon 1001, which is no longer in production, but comes at a substantially lower price than the Denon 1001.
Very good detail, soundstage, and separation, but bass is terrible, even in genres that aren't bass heavy. The digizoid Z0 bass-booster can help with the bass, but that is an added hassle, and still does not put the bass on the level of the other headphones reviewed here. It is fun for occaional listening, the music feels like it's coming from all around you. Sounds very good with country music, female vocals. The soundstage is great for classical, but even in classical the bass is noticeably lacking, especially in pieces featuring bass drums. The excessive treble can get annoying, especially without bass to balance it out.
Not recommended as primary headphone unless you really hate bass or listen almost exclusively to music without bass. But fun for a secondary headphone.
Only recommended if you have a small head (it fits fine for my sister) or if isolation is paramount but you don't want IEMs. Sounds good with all genres, but generally not exceptional. The soundstage seems closed-in compared to the other headphones reviewed here. However, it does sound excellent with fast-paced music featuring electric guitars, two examples being Greenday's version of Brown Eyed Girl and The Offspring's The Kids Aren't All Right. This is an okay headphone, but I think it is over-hyped on head-fi. For a first mid-fi headphone purchase, the Creative Aurvana is a much better choice, and if you are looking to upgrade from the Aurvana, you'll do well to jump beyond the HD25.