31 May 2012
Review: AKG 550 versus Bererdynamic DT 1350 (with guest appearances by the Shure SRH840 and the ATH-M50)
Picking up on a comment in another thread (http://www.head-fi.org/t/588230/akg-k550-vs-some-others-denon-d2000-akg-k271-ultrasone-edition-8-shure-940-shure-840-beyer-dt770/30 ), I thought this deserved a thread of its own.
Comparing the AKG 550 with the DT 1350 is an apples and oranges thing, for sure, and with one being full-sized and the other not, it is hard to even know where to post it! Still, we eat different sized fruits all the time, and usually enjoy it. So here goes my attempt at chewing them both at the same time…
The AKG 550 is a big over-ear headphone, around $300. Choose it for sitting at home enjoying music or placing a mix in the studio. These provide a fine listening experience that rewards those who stop doing stuff and just listen. With a wide though recessed sound stage, and a grown-up but quiet sound, some call it "thin" and sometimes it is, but it is also very refined. They handle volume no probs, but wherever the volume sits, they have something to say. Wonderfully rich in real (not fake) harmonics, they mostly live up to the “Reference” moniker… more on that later.
The Bererdynamic DT 1350 is a small on-ear headphone, in in upper $200 range; i.e. a few bucks cheaper than the AKG, but not by much. Choose the DT 1350 for going out, running, bicycling, or recording in the field. Having fun. I don't know why, but I find it hard to sit still with these cans. They kinda make you want to get up and dance. Very forward mids, too much so actually, and a small compressed sound stage –sort of opposite to the AKG 550s in both these ways. But even so, they are very hard to resist, especially in an outdoor environment, where the mids need to compete with irate drivers, twittering birds, and crying babies. If the 505's are "grown-up," then these 1350's are at the peak of their youth, and having a hell of a good time while they are at it. Quiet is not really in their vocabulary, sounding loud even when they are quiet. The bass is deceptively effortless, going down as far as you would like. Awesome.
Both of these headphones are crown princes of their price point, so far as I am concerned. But, if I had to choose just one, the AKG 550's would be the winner. For me, sound always wins, and that sound has to include subtlety. (They are also more comfortable.) Then again, I am over 40…
They are both of moderate build quality in my opinion, though hard to say really since I have had neither for very long. I wouldn't want to take the AKG's onto the street --sort of like heading out in your sheep skin slippers. Just not meant to be. On the other hand, the Beyerdynamics scream for a road trip. I only wish they had gone with one or two notches heavier gauge in the wires and cable. Like many other headphones, those skinny little things feeding the cans are sure to get snagged sooner or later, and it won’t be pretty. The cable is no better, and not being detachable means you got a DIY repair job to look forward to when it does inevitably break... I bet that saved them about $2.50. Sometimes you just got to wonder.
The AKG’s win for comfort, but it was never a fair fight, since they are over the ear and the DT’s are on-ear. It would be weird if they didn’t win. Some have complained about the DT’s comfort but for me they are ok. Not comfy like an over-ear, but ok. That said, wearing them all day in the studio is definitely out. Also, getting that “sweet spot” can take a bit of experimentation. I think the DT’s drivers must be very, very, directional. That is another possible issue to be aware of; your ears may not match up.
Back to what matters most… I have focussed my various purchases on closed cans because I need them first and foremost for my home studio. The DT’s were a bit of a diversion, but they do have good sound isolation and so can be used in the studio too, though as noted above, they seem like a much better field can. The most common instrument puzzle I get is where I mix a piezo pick-up with a sound hole mic in an acoustic stringed instrument, and to make a long story short, this ain’t easy to do well, while keeping everything in phase. To check that I am doing it right (or wrong) I need to have rock solid phase coherence. Both headphones do this OK, but neither shines. In the quiet of the studio, the forward mids of the DT 1350 seem to drown out the other harmonics; whereas the subtlety of the AKG 550 sort of seems like just too much going on of secondary importance… Damn it, I just want to balance mid harmonics here, and neither is helping me the way I had hoped... Back to the trusty Shure 840’s –good value here at half the price. (A bit woolly sound, yes, but they let me get the job done quickly. BTW, the ATH-M50 fails this test completely, turning a perfectly cool set-up into steaming oatmeal porridge. )
I love both of these headphones, but for very different, pretty much opposite, reasons. Bass is excellent, but different in both, with the DT 1350’s making it seem so easy… wow, how did they engineer that? The AKG bass is a bit softer, but certainly not mushy, and can send a shiver through you. Both are “reference” class for bass. (Not for bassheads, but definitely for bass lovers.) Mids in Bererdynamic ‘s are simply too in-your-face (especially around 1k) to be reference, fun though that can be; while the Mids are too recessed in the AKG’s (though not as much as ATH-M50’s) and it is true that strings can sometimes suffer a loss of substance. Hence, I would not call either of them “reference” class, when it comes to mids, unfortunately, though they come close. Highs are good on both, not spectacular, but in my opinion good enough to be “reference” at the low end of the scale, with the AKG’s a bit too fuzzy and the DT’s a bit too metallic.
So, given this mixed summary, why do I love them? Because they hang together so very very well, each in their own way, to produce a wonderful coherent whole. The AKG sound stage is, for a closed can, unbelievably wide, clear, stable, and always offering up little hidden treasures. Never boring if you just go looking… an endless exploration. The “soundstage” for the Bererdynamic ‘s is, well, not really a stage at all, more like a few risers in the corner of a loud rowdy bar. Still, somehow they manage to make sure that you hear everything, from pumping bass through to brushes on the snare, magically miniaturized into these tiny units like a voodoo reality show. Subtle, hell no! But that is not what they were made for.
Two very different fruits, two very different flavors, and both taste good to me.