Listened to these for a few hours yesterday straight out of the box, these are my current thoughts:
Straight out of a Clip+, my phone, and a Kindle Fire these sound quite good. Not as good as my other cans, but good enough that I wouldn't immediately start missing my other cans if I just brought them as a portable solution while on a vacation or something.
Now with the Bifrost + Asgard they actually have a bit of an odd low whine, not sure if it's my 1/8 to 1/4 adapter or what, but it's low enough that I don't think it had any real effect on my listening impressions. Honestly with these I don't think there's any need for anything beyond a Clip+ or smartphone, but to simplify testing conditions I used Bifrost + Asgard for all the cans.
I directly compared the Downtowns with Grado SR80i (quarter modded and back mesh removed), Shure SRH840 and LCD-2s (just because).
Before going into specifics, I'd say the biggest surprise was that listening to them on their own nothing really stood out as 'wrong' in their sound. Going back and forth between the Downtowns and other cans made it clear that they aren't necessarily as good, but taken on their own they sound quite good.
The Downtowns have remarkably good bass, a bit exaggerated but not to the point of being disruptive. It has good impact and is fairly well-controlled. I actually think the Downtowns get this more correct than the Fidelio L1s that I owned for about a week, whose midbass was much too accentuated for me.
The Downtowns' bass does feel a little disjoint from the rest, but this isn't very noticeable unless you directly compare it to something with noticeably better bass like the LCD-2s (which I fully agree isn't a fair comparison).
The Downtowns have weird mids, unfortunately. It's rather hard to describe, but the mids just sound slightly wrong on the Downtowns compared to all my other cans, almost as if there's a slightly out-of-tune extra harmonic frequency being added. The mids can also seem nasal at some points and are more piercing at higher volumes.
Unfortunately, I think the mids are the Downtowns' greatest weakness, but as with everything else, this is all relative to my other cans. It's just that all my other cans seem to have at least a similar tonal consistency in the mids that the Downtowns lack. With that said, even with this 'biggest weakness' it's not something that jumped out at me on first listen, but only in direct comparison to my other cans.
First a brief note about me and treble; I strongly dislike sibilance and exaggerated spiky treble. However, I do like top-end extension if it's done smoothly and well-integrated into the rest of the spectrum.
With that said, highs are a noticeably shelved when compared to my other cans. The Downtowns don't sound all muffled like some bass-heavy cans, but some of the top-end detail is obviously missing. As stated before, when listening to them on their own you won't necessarily notice this but in comparison it's obvious. I'd say overall this is probably the most noticeable difference between the various cans, but to my preference isn't actually that big of a deal.
Sound isolation is good, seems easily on par with the SRH840s and obviously better than the others.
Soundstage is small; this doesn't surprise me considering they're closed on-ear portables, but it is something to consider.
They seem to be a little slow compared to my other cans, just a bit muddy and congested at times (gah, now I'm even using vague audiophile buzzwords). But seriously, in complex passages details do tend to get a little blurred together and it can be hard to pick out individual instruments.
Comfort seems pretty poor right now, although I suspect after a bit of break-in it will likely get significantly better. I am slightly concerned that a reduction in clamping will mess up the isolation and bass though.
The flat cable seems pretty nice, rather short for home listening but seems about ideal for portable use.
Build quality appears to be quite good.
Grado SR80i - At full price if you don't need a closed headphone I would take the Grados, they have much better highs, are clearer and have a better soundstage (take this with a grain of salt, as this wasn't something I was paying that much attention to in this specific comparison). Both are about evenly easy to drive. With my added headband padding and washed earpads I also find the Grados more comfortable, although I would anticipate the Downtowns being as comfortable after a bit of break-in.
The Downtowns seem significantly better for portable use, with a much more flexible (and shorter) cable, angled plug, obviously better noise isolation and (imo) quite good looks.
Shure SRH840 - In my opinion the SRH840s are some of the best sound-quality-per-dollar you can get, and so it comes as no surprise to me that they handily beat the Downtowns in all aspects of sound. What really jumps out is the difference in treble energy and soundstage along with a more 'correct' midrange. However, the Downtowns hold their own quite well on bass and actually appear to be better built than the significantly more expensive Shures. Also do keep in mind that the Shures are more than 5x the price that I paid for the Downtowns.
Audez'e LCD-2 - Since I had my main rig home for the long weekend these ended up in the comparison as well, even though they're over 30x the price While it was sort of interesting to go back and forth between them, the differences are the obvious things that you'd expect. LCD-2s sound better, Downtowns are lighter, easier to drive and isolate better. The LCD-2s are easily the most natural sounding cans I've ever heard for any real length of time, so switching back and forth emphasized the disjointed-ness of the Downtowns much more than you would likely typically notice.
For $100 these are a good set of portable closed cans. While they have some noticeable sonic faults compared to higher-end cans, I found nothing so glaring that I would notice it on its own without AB-ing it against my other cans. With that said, there have been a number of deals on these (I got mine for $30) and at that price these are amazing. For $30 I've got a pair of headphones that I can use on trips without missing my main rig (for a couple days at least), works well with my mp3 player and phone, and if my four year old somehow breaks them I'm only out $30.
Edited by Defiant00 - 9/4/12 at 11:41am