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Compact Portable Headphone Roundup (16 Phones including PortaPro, PX-100 II, V-Jays, Tracks,...

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Introduction

We seem to be in a “golden age” in terms of the number of good sounding, lightweight, portable headphones that are available on the market. Portable music players and digital music files have become the norm. And for many, such as me, IEM headphones are just not an option. In this “roundup” I will be reviewing and comparing 16 different models. I hope that this information will prove useful to those that are currently in the market and also generate some discussion regarding your own experiences. There are some iconic headphones in this group as well as some lesser known and newer manufacturers. Most of the “heavy hitters” are represented here as well as some of the “lifestyle” brands. All of the models are in what I would consider to be the “budget” price range. Almost all can be found for less than $50 and even the priciest are usually available for around $70. The only standard criteria for inclusion in this group is that they be portable and compact, supra-aural (on the ear), and reasonably lightweight. The list of headphones is as follows, in alphabetical order:

 

AIAIAI Tracks

AKG K430

Audio Technica ATH FC700A

Cresyn C550S

Denon AH-P372K

Eskuche Kassette

Fischer Audio Oldskool 70’s

Incase Pivot

Jays V-Jays

JVC HA-S650

Koss PortaPro

Meelec HT-21

Pioneer SE-MJ21

Sennheiser PX-100 II

Soundmagic P20

Urbanears Tanto

 

(There are certainly others that could have been included here, such as the Ultrasone Zino and Beyerdynamic DTX 300p, but time and resources have limited me. Should I have the chance to review any others in the future I will post them in this thread.)

 

I will be judging them in terms of design/aesthetics/build quality, comfort, sound quality, and value. All of my impressions are of course very subjective. My own background as a musician and audio engineer has given me decades of experience with studio monitor type headphones, of which the best have a relatively flat sound signature. But clearly the products in this comparison are designed for a more dynamic and “fun” sound.

 

Since I wanted the reviews to be as “real world” as possible I have used some very basic sources, the Apple iPod Nano (4G) and the Sansa Clip. All of the headphones were burned in for a minimum of 36 hours, using standard music files. I have not used any lossless or high-resolution music files in my listening sessions. I am also not going to reference any specific music since my tastes are somewhat eclectic, but I have used many audiophile quality recordings in my evaluations.

 

 

Group 1 – “Walkman” style ultra-portables

 

It’s no surprise that some manufacturers have incorporated classic and iconic design cues in the style of these models. They are all very lightweight, with a simple unpadded metal headband, and are open or semi-open designs with foam ear pads.

 

 

Eskuche Kassette

(MSRP: $39.95, street price: $35.00)

Eskuche is a Los Angeles-based audio and design company whose product line consists only of headphones.

Eskuche Kassette_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 105 db

Frequency Range: 20-20000 Hz

Cord Length: approx.  1m

Weight: n/a

 

Design

The Eskuche Kassette pays homage to the classic Walkman style portable headphone with some notable twists and improvements.  They are available in Black, Ice (White), and as is the case with the review pair, Burgundy. They are simply packaged in a modern looking box. The look is understated and they are unobtrusive to wear. Although the drivers are closed-type, the foam earpads will not provide much isolation. There are no extras such as a carrying pouch or case. There is a standard microphone and play/pause button on the cable which works properly on my iPod but I cannot comment on the mic as I never use them.  (7/10)

 

Build Quality

The Kassette seems competently put together but like any ultra-portable it is not going to withstand a lot of punishment. The metal headband is very light but provides an adequate amount of pressure. The plastic used on the earcups is a little cheap looking but should hold up well. At first glance it looks as though there is very little rotation where the earcups meet the headband but there is just enough play to allow for a good fit. The foam earpads are of a decent thickness but the material is on the firm side. The cable is one of the strong points. It is braided in cloth, thick and substantial and should be tangle-free. Like many braided cables it is slightly microphonic, but not enough to really notice. There is a very small rubber strain relief where the cables meet the earcups.  (7/10)

 

Comfort

The Kassettes sit comfortably on the head and seem to stay put once you get them adjusted. The headband simply slides through the earcup. There are no notches or clicks but they stay put when adjusted. Clamping pressure is adequate and most listeners will find them to be snug without being too tight. The foam earpads of not the softest material and some may find them a bit itchy after long listening sessions. (8/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The Kassette manages to be lively and engaging without sacrificing detail or the rest of the sound spectrum.  (8/10)

Soundstage

Nothing spectacular here but instrument separation is very pronounced and there is some sense of depth to be heard.  (7/10)

High Frequency

The highs are crisp and clear and quite well extended for something in this price range. (8/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are perhaps a bit recessed but there is enough to bring vocals to the front and no hint of congestion. (7/10)

Lower Midrange

As is often the case with a “fun” sound signature the midrange is a little bit compromised. The detail is always there but the “drive” and impact can feel a little lacking on some music. (7/10)

Low Frequency

The bass response is really pretty exemplary for something in this price bracket. The 40mm drivers feel properly tuned to deliver an even and substantial low end with any noticeable bloating. While it will not impress any of the real bassheads out there, most will find them to be quite engaging with many kinds of music. (9/10)

 

Value

For a relative newcomer to the market, Esckuche has done fine job with this headphone. When it was first launched in late 2011 it had an MSRP of $49.95. They wisely changed that to $39.95 recently and with a street price of $35.00 or lower these offer plenty of enjoyment for the money. (9/10)

 

Total Score

77/100

 

Summary

The Eskuche Kassette is a real surprise from a company whose products are geared toward a mainstream (and younger) demographic rather than the audiophile. The Kassette is a fun and engaging headphone that looks good (I might prefer the Black personally to the Burgundy), is well made, and sounds very good.

 

Pros

  • Engaging, detailed sound
  • Nice quality braided cable
  • Good bass response

 

Cons

  • Earpads are firm and sometimes itchy

 

 

Urbanears Tanto

(MSRP: $40.00, street price: $32.00)

Urbanears is a Swedish audio company manufacturing over-the-ear and IEM headphones.

 

Urbanears Tanto_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Open

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 112 db

Frequency Range: 20-20000 Hz

Cord Length:  1.2m

Weight: 61g

 

Design

The Tanto is clearly designed around the standard lightweight “Walkman” aesthetic.  Like the larger Plattan model they are available in 17 different colors, this review pair in simple Black. They are packaged nicely in a modern and minimal “origami” style box. Overall, they are unobtrusive (at least in black) and simple in design. The open design means that there is almost no isolation. The only extras provided are two adaptors, one for “neutral” stereo and one for Nokia phones. There is a standard microphone and play/pause button on the cable which works properly on my iPod.  (6/10)

 

Build Quality

Overall build quality is acceptable in this price range, however the metal headband is very thin and therefore does not provide enough pressure to give an adequate seal on the ears. I found this to be a serious design flaw especially considering that pressing the earcups tighter with your hands greatly improves the bass and mid frequencies. The foam earpads are very thin also. They are the replaceable type so it is possible to experiment with aftermarket pads.  The cable is also a bit of a problem. It is braided in cloth, a feature that would normally help with tangling but somehow is it still rather stiff and has a great deal of memory character. There is no strain relief of any kind.  It is not particularly thick either. I do suspect it would probably improve and straighten out over time. (5/10)

 

Comfort

The light weight and extremely low clamping force means that the Tanto is hardly noticeable and easy to forget that is on. But the downside of that is that they do not feel very stable and will likely fall off or move around if used outdoors or while exercising. The thin metal headband slides into a plastic arm connected to the earcup with series of clicks. (8/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The general sound signature of the Tanto is quite detailed, if a little “polite”.  (7/10)

Soundstage

For an open headphone the Tanto’s soundstage is quite lacking. There is an adequate amount of left-right separation but almost no depth.  (6/10)

High Frequency

Highs are clear and detailed with a nice “sheen” but somehow lacking any true sparkle. (7/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are also very good with nice levels of presence in vocals, especially female. (8/10)

Lower Midrange

The lower mids are not at all distinguished. This means that most music with a sense of texture is rendered somewhat flat sounding. (5/10)

Low Frequency

As stated above the low clamping force in the design means that these are quite lacking in bass. Pressing the phones to your ears reveals a little more heft, but as they sit naturally there is little low end to even evaluate further and I find that very disappointing. (3/10)

 

Value

In the ultra-competitive sub -$40.00 price range, the Urbanears Tanto has little to distinguish itself from the pack and it is not difficult to find something else offering much more sonic pleasure for your money. I suppose the fashion-conscious crowd will find something interesting in the vast color options, but serious music lovers should look elsewhere. (5/10)

 

Total Score

62/100

 

Summary

A disappointing offering from Urbanears, the Tanto would be far more satisfying and competitive were it not for some serious design flaws.

 

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Pleasing high end

 

Cons

  • Totally lacking in bass
  • Mediocre build quality and fussy cable

 

 

Fisher Audio Oldskool ‘70s

(MSRP: $68.00, street price: n/a)

Fischer Audio is a German/Russian company producing high quality headphones and IEM’s for consumer and professional use.

Fischer Audio Oldskool 70's_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 112 db

Frequency Range: 20-20000 Hz

Cord Length:  n/a

Weight: n/a

 

Design

The Oldskool ‘70s (I doubt if anybody likes the name) is easily the most retro looking design of this group. Almost all of the details in the design and material look like a “new old stock” discovery. It may be a polarizing look, but I happen to think they are cool in their own way. They are also about as nicely packaged as you could ask for (quite unlike the spartan “cardboard box” look of most of their other products). It comes in a slick looking box with an outer sleeve and opens up “book” style. I think they would make an attractive gift. Although they use a closed design driver, there is still very little isolation because of the foam earpads. The “L” and “R” markings are clear (in pink and purple respectively).

One odd detail is that the cable attachment to each of the earcups is angled “back” toward your neck. The only advantage I can see in this is that the cable does not hang down as it normally would and is thus “out of the way”. A very nice quality fabric bag is included. There is no microphone or play/pause button provided. (8/10)

 

Build Quality

Despite the convincing retro looks, the build quality is actually quite good in all respects. The metal headband is very substantial and provides firm and even pressure. The Fischer Audio logo is etched onto the underside. The foam earpads are firm and slightly larger than normal. They are adorned with the Fischer Audio logo as well. The cable is quite nice and has a unique “flat profile”. It is rubbery without feeling stiff and there is adequate strain relief. (8/10)

 

Comfort

At first I found the Oldskool ‘70’s to be a bit snug on the ears. Clamping pressure is firm and the foam pads, although thick, are not as plush as one would like. But over time I have become a little more used to them and there is little to complain about. (7/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

More than one reviewer has described these headphones of having a “Grado-like” signature. I can hear some similarities but I can only compare them to my Alessandro MS-1 and they really don’t compete with that headphone. I also own a pair of FA-004’s which I have always liked and it is clear that this is a very high quality driver with similar qualities. Detail and nuances flow easily. (9/10)

Soundstage

Soundstage is nice, but perhaps a notch below some of the best in this roundup.  (7/10)

High Frequency

The highs are very lively and sparkly but never shrill. (9/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are also decent but slightly recessed. (7/10)

Lower Midrange

The lower mids are very full and lush. Vocals and instruments such as horns and string have nice body. (8/10)

Low Frequency

This is where the Oldskool ‘70’s will fall short for most listeners. Considering the overall quality of the sound it is a bit puzzling why the engineers chose to give this product such a light bass response. It’s not a total loss and I still find them very enjoyable, but I can’t help wanting a good deal more heft and punch to really make these shine. I suppose it’s a matter of taste and some listeners may even prefer it. For what it’s worth, using the FiiO amplifier does make a significant difference and fills out the sound nicely, so if you own quality headphone amp you may find these to be very, very good. But straight out of an iPod or Sansa Clip they are not as satisfying as they could be, perhaps with a little better tuning. (6/10)

 

Value

It’s a little hard to give these a great value score. It should be noted that this product was manufactured a few years ago in a limited run (intentional by the manufacturer) and so are not easily found at this juncture. I had to order mine from an online dealer in Singapore and while the price was reasonable the shipping costs were higher than one would normally pay. (6/10)

 

Total Score

75/100

 

Summary

I really wanted to like these and I am still very glad to own them. They are a quality product that I will use with certain types of music. The absence of a satisfying low end is the only downside I can find, but it is enough to keep them out of the top contenders in this review.

 

Pros

  • Quality materials and construction
  • Authentically retro looks
  • Impressive drivers

 

Cons

  • Anemic low-end

 

 

AIAIAI Tracks

(MSRP: $85.00, street price: $70.00)

AIAIAI is a Danish audio company producing headphones and IEM’s for consumer and professional use.

AIAIAI Tracks_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 112 db

Frequency Range: 20-20000 Hz

Cord Length:  n/a

Weight: n/a

 

Design

Of all the headphones in this group, the Tracks are the most modern design take on the Walkman style. The metal headband consists of parallel “rails” that the earcups slide down and into. Interestingly, they are packed two extra sets of plastic clips that snap onto to the earcups. I suppose this could allow you to customize the look of the headphones (the standard clips are Black, and the others are Red and Grey), but it’s also useful to have extras in case of breakage.  The Tracks come in several tasteful color schemes. My review pair are Black, but they are offered in “Petrol” (Blue), “Sand” (Beige), Grey, and “Blush”. While the design is fresh and modern I cannot see any real practical use for having detachable earcups. Like most of the others in this review, there is not much isolation when wearing outdoors. A nice looking black fabric bag with the AIAIAI logo is included. The microphone and play/pause button worked properly. (9/10)

 

Build Quality

The Tracks are very nicely made and the materials seem to be of better than average quality. The metal headband provides firm and even pressure and the “slide” design seems to stay put once adjusted and should accommodate most head sizes. It should be noted that the headband on the Black model is painted black (the other colors have a plain silver band) and I can already see that the paint is likely to scratch and chip slightly if they are adjusted frequently. The foam earpads are plush feeling and the plastic used on the earcups has a very nice feel. The cable is decent quality and terminates in a right-angle gold plated connector. (9/10)

 

Comfort

The Tracks are light and comfortable to wear. Clamping pressure is firm but not tight. The only downside is in the way the earcups pivot to fit. They do move in all directions, but there seems to be a bit too much play in the way they rest “front to back” on the ears. There is a point at which they will either fall slightly forward or backwards and it just doesn’t feel quite right. It’s a minor thing and one does get used to it and it may be different each user. (8/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The Tracks have a very balanced feel that does not sacrifice any part of the spectrum. As such, the detail is very pleasing overall. (9/10)

Soundstage

I may have had higher expectations of many of these semi-open designs, but again the soundstage is good but not magical. (8/10)

High Frequency

Highs are crisp and occasionally very slightly edgy, but they are never harsh or fatiguing.  (9/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are very pronounced and balanced. (9/10)

Lower Midrange

The lower mids are also well represented. There is great clarity and texture. (9/10)

Low Frequency

The bass response is strong and certainly adequate, but may fall slightly short of expectations for those that listen to a lot of bass-heavy music. But the signature is rounded and the sound is never congested. (9/10)

 

Value

One of the more expensive sets in this review, the AIAIAI Tracks are rarely discounted online. I was able to find mine for $64.00. Occasional deals can be found on eBay but Amazon and other retailers frequently sell them at around $80.00. You may be able to find a pair of the earlier version (with no mic or pause/play) for less. Still, the unique and stylish design, solid build, and satisfying sound quality will seem like money well spent. (7/10)

 

Total Score

86/100

 

Summary

For such a relative newcomer, AIAIAI have opened the eyes (and ears) of many listeners and are building a solid reputation for quality. Their TMA-1 DJ and Studio headphones have received rave reviews and the IEM’s are supposed to be good as well. And so the ultra-portable Tracks are building a strong following.

 

Pros

•             Stylish and original design

•             Good build quality and decent comfort

•             Balanced and polished sound

 

Cons

•             Minor fit issues

•             Black paint on headband may wear off over time.

 

 

Group Summary

All of these headphones represent a quantum leap forward in comparison with the original Sony Walkman stock headphones while embracing the retro vibe and simplicity of the originals. The Urbanears Tanto is the most disappointing of them because of the poor design that does not allow a proper seal and therefore renders them weak and light sounding. I could not recommend these even at the competitive price. The Fischer Audio Oldskool ‘70’s have a lot going for them but their very limited availability and weak bass response means that there are better options available. Eskuche really impressed me with their Kassette model. It is a very competent all-rounder and comes in at very low pricepoint. It says a lot that it outscored the more expensive Fischer Audio product.  I highly recommend it. The AIAIAI Tracks is clearly the winner in this group, but at more than twice the cost of the Eskuche and Urbanears, I expected it to be. It will be interesting to see how well it holds up against the other competition.

 

 

 

Group 2 – Compact foldable ultra-portables

 

These three models are very similar to those in the first group except that they are collapsible. They are also very lightweight and have foam earpads and the headbands may consist of plastic and provide padding. This group also contains the most iconic portable, the Koss PortaPro Classic.

 

 

Koss PortaPro Classic

(MSRP: $49.99, street price: $38.00)

Koss is a Wisconsin-based audio and company whose product line consists primarily of headphones.

 

 

 

Koss PortaPro_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Open

Driver Unit: n/a

Impedance: 60 ohm

Sensitivity: 101 db

Frequency Range: 15-25000 Hz

Cord Length: approx.  1.2m

Weight: n/a

 

Design

While the PortaPro may have been cutting edge at the time of its introduction, it is starting to show its age. Not that I fault Koss for not updating the look. It is a classic, after all. Other than the limited run 25th Anniversary model, which was done in all Black and had a braided cloth cable, the look has remained unchanged. It is however refreshing to see that they have recently updated the packaging to a modern looking box in place of the old blister pack. The look is still unobtrusive and looks understated. As expected, the open design drivers and foam earpads offer little isolation. There are, however, two awkward elements in the design. The sliding, overlapping metal headband is very dated as are the plastic “fit adjustment” switches. The PortaPro folds easily into a rather small profile and a nice vinyl carrying pouch is included. There is no microphone or pause/play button.  (7/10)

 

Build Quality

The PortaPro is reasonably well put together for such a small and lightweight headphone. The metal headband is light but provides adequate pressure. The foam earpads are pretty standard but there are numerous options of aftermarket pads available. The cable is a bit dated as well. It has a plasticky feel and no strain relief is provided. It terminates in a 45 degree angle plug with no gold plating. (7/10)

 

Comfort

The PortaPros are very comfortable when you get them situated. The sliding headband means that you have to open them all the way before placing on your head and then adjust accordingly. The side cushions just above the earcups function well, but unfortunately the sliding switch for the “Comfort Zone” adjustment does not seem to stay in place and is very fussy. The switch seems to keep going back to the “firm” setting, but for me that actually feels fine.  Clamping pressure is intermediate and they don’t seem to move around. (9/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The PortaPro offers fine detail overall but certain types of music can get a bit overwhelmed because of the sound signature.  (8/10)

Soundstage

Soundstage is very average, probably speaking to the age of the drivers design.  (6/10)

High Frequency

The highs are well behaved and smooth, with a very slight roll-off in the higher register. (8/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are hard to criticize too heavily. The frequencies are certainly there, but some vocals and instruments such as guitar are lacking in body.  (7/10)

Lower Midrange

I find the lower mids to also be slightly lacking, but not enough to be a problem. (8/10)

Low Frequency

Koss really built a great following with the PortaPro and I think a big part of that is the big, full bass response. Yes, there is some bloating at times and listening to bass-heavy music at louder volumes will also create some very audible congestion. There is a slight lack of punch and tightness but the tradeoff is that the low end always seems to establish a sense of warmth. (9/10)

 

Value

No complaints here. Prices have been surprisingly stable and even though there is finally a lot of competition you still get great sound and value for your money. (9/10)

 

Total Score

78/100

 

Summary

Koss really started it all with this product. It’s actually a great accomplishment that it still holds its own among so many worthy competitors. That makes it a benchmark.  It’s still, even after almost 30 years, a highly enjoyable listening experience. Some reviewers have suggested that the sound quality could be fatiguing, but I have not had that experience. But I must also point out that I rarely listen for more than an hour at a time. It’s also not the prettiest headphone out there. But I’m very happy to own a pair.

 

Pros

•             Lively, fun sound signature

•             Reasonably comfortable and light

•             Powerful  bass

 

Cons

•             Aging looks and fussy to adjust

•                  Average build quality and materials

 

 

 

Jays v-Jays

(MSRP: $89.99, street price: $70.00)

Jays is a Swedish audio company manufacturing over-the-ear and IEM headphones.

Jays v-Jays_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Open

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 24 ohm

Sensitivity: 98 db

Frequency Range: 25-20000 Hz

Cord Length:  .6m + .7m extension

Weight: 59g

 

Design

The v-Jays are clearly designed from the ground up. You can tell a lot of thought went into it. Modern and original, it has a tasteful and refined look. The materials, primarily plastic, are of high quality and the fit and finish is admirable. The product packaging was revamped this year as well. It now comes in a very small and fancy looking box with an inner sleeve and peculiar graphics featuring a presumably Swedish hipster dude with a giant forehead. Isolation is marginal because of the open drivers and foam pads. The somewhat thin foam earpads are stretched over a plastic frame with a sort of “grill”. The v-Jays fold up and in just above the earcups on each side, but the headband is not collapsible so it is not as compact as some of its competitors. Extras include a .7m extension cable and one extra set of earpads.  There is no case or pouch included and the v-Jays do not include a microphone or pause/play button. (10/10)

 

Build Quality

The workmanship and attention to detail is very good and the materials are good quality. The headband appears to be made of plastic, but it may be reinforced with metal. It’s impossible to tell.  The square foam earpads are thin, but have a nice feel. The cable is sturdy and rubbery with very low memory character and terminates in a straight gold-plated plug. The main cable is only .5m in length and useful only for a shirt pocket. The included .7m extension cable brings the total length to 1.2m, which is pretty standard. The only strain relief is at the plug. (9/10)

 

Comfort

The headphone is very lightweight and easy to adjust. The clamping force is moderately high which means the v-Jays stay put, but the thin pads against the plastic grill do not seem quite adequate so there is some minor discomfort. Some users may try to double up on the earpads and I’m sure that would improve things, but would likely change the sound somewhat as well. (It’s interesting to note that the previous model, the c-Jays, was offered with three different types or pads and each was said to alter the sound significantly).The earcups pivot in all directions and will sit properly against the ears. There is a thin strip of fabric on the underside of the headband that really doesn’t provide any padding but keeps the headband from sliding around. (7/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The detail and clarity are impressive and well presented.  (9/10)

Soundstage

Soundstage is quite good. Instrument separation is noticeable and there is a reasonable amount of depth. (9/10)

High Frequency

The high end is a bit of a mixed bag. Extension is good with very little roll-off. But there is a lack of smoothness and at higher volumes there is a harshness that is somewhat unpleasant. Some listeners may actually like the crispiness. (7/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are also occasionally brash sounding. (7/10)

Lower Midrange

The lower mids are slightly lacking. Subtle nuances can get a little lost. (8/10)

Low Frequency

Bottom end is tight and controlled. You hear a lot of texture and detail but there does seem to be some roll-off when it tries to go deep. Very adequate overall but will likely not satisfy the bassheads. (9/10)

 

Value

One of the most expensive phones in this review, the v-Jays are a bit of a stretch for some buyers. Discounts are rarely available. Overall you are getting a well-made, cool looking and nice sounding headphone for your money. But the price point for these means that there are other options, including some circumnaural cans. (6/10)

 

Total Score

81/100

 

Summary

There is plenty to like about the v-Jays and I’m certain they have their share of fans. I personally find the high and upper mid spectrum to be a tad harsh and fatiguing. And along with some minor comfort issues I cannot put them at the top of my list. But they are well-worth trying and satisfying in their own way.

 

Pros

•             Fresh looking design and good build quality

•             Good soundstage

•             Tight and controlled bass

 

Cons

•             Lack of smoothness in the upper frequencies

•             Minor comfort issues

 

 

 

Sennheiser PX-100 II

(MSRP: $99.95, street price: $55.00)

Sennheiser is a German audio and electronics company producing a huge variety of products, including headphones for personal and professional use.

Sennheiser PX100-II_1.jpg

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Open

Driver Unit: n/a

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 114 db

Frequency Range: 15-27000 Hz

Cord Length:  1.2m

Weight: n/a

 

Design

The second generation of the highly regarded PX-100 underwent some notable improvements. They are a little more updated looking and more substantial. They are available in Black or White, like my review sample. Some phones end up looking cheap in White. The PX-100 II’s look classy, especially with the light grey earpads and headband padding. They are simply and nicely packaged (folded) in a small box.  The headband is firm metal surrounded by plastic with the Sennheiser logo printed on the top. They fold in a criss-cross fashion to a very compact shape.  The single sided cable is a nice touch. A very nice looking fabric bag is included. A hard case is longer offered. There is no microphone or play/pause button. (9/10)

 

Build Quality

While nothing in particular stands out, the overall quality is obvious. Materials, fit and finish are first rate. The foam earpads are plush and large. The folding mechanism is well-made, but takes a little getting used to. The single sided cable is nice quality with little memory character and strain relief at the earcup. It is terminated in a straight, non-plated plug. (9/10)

 

Comfort

The Senns are lightweight and very comfortable. The earpads feel soft and clamping pressure is perfect. The padding on the underside of the headband is fairly soft and adds to the fit of the headphones. I feel I could wear them for long periods with little or no discomfort. (10/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

Even straight out of the box it’s clear that the PX-110 II’s have a hi-fi pedigree. Detail and presentation are what you would expect from a much more expensive set. Clarity and balance are superb. (10/10)

Soundstage

Separation and depth are very pronounced.  (9/10)

High Frequency

The smooth and silky highs are very pleasant. They don’t extend all the way but very little is lost. (10/10)

Upper Midrange

As good as you will find in a low cost headphone. Female vocals sound especially good. Stunning presence. (10/10)

Lower Midrange

Lush and detailed. All the texture and subtlety of the music is there for you. This is one of the few headphones in this review where you will hear detail you didn’t know you were missing.  (10/10)

Low Frequency

The bottom end is very impressive. Never overpowering or excessive, but loads of impact. What sets these apart is that the bass feels “fast”. (10/10)

 

Value

Even though the MSRP looks high, the PX-100 II rarely sells for more than $60.00. To me, that is a small price to pay for something that offers near-audiophile sound quality in a super lightweight and compact package. (9/10)

 

Total Score

96/100

 

Summary

There has been a lot of debate as to how the PX-100 II compares to the original. Each has its devoted fans. Unfortunately, I have never listened to the PX-100 so I cannot comment. Certainly the new version is a little costlier but the improvements in build quality are notable and they are still fairly priced. This headphone met and exceeded all my expectations of what a compact portable headphone could be. They look nice, feel great, and sound superb. Very highly recommended.

 

Pros

•             Seriously sophisticated sound signature

•             Extremely comfortable

•             Solid build quality

 

Cons

•             None

 

 

 

Group Summary

While there’s not really a bad choice among these three, the Sennheiser PX-100 II really impressed me. It is clearly the best in this review so far and it would take a lot to better it, but we’ll see. I just cannot find anything to criticize about and there is so much to praise. The venerable Koss PortaPro is still a great headphone after all these years and it’s worth having a pair just for the important role it has played in portable audio. The Jays v-Jays is another nice product. I just found it a bit too shrill and forward sounding for my tastes. Interestingly, while the v-Jays outscored the PortaPro on paper, I might opt for the Koss for everyday listening.

 

 

(REVIEWS CONTINUE ON PAGE 2)

 

 


Edited by postrock - 7/12/12 at 4:57pm
post #2 of 201
Thread Starter 

Reviews of PortaPro, v-Jays, and PX-100 II posted today.

post #3 of 201

You left out my favorite low priced compact headphone, the JVC HA-S160 Flats. It is only around $13. Imo it sounds better than the Portapro, and almost as good as the PX100.

 

Where is your review of the JVC HA-S650? I didn't see it.

 

I am curious about the new JVC HA-S200.

post #4 of 201
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JK1 View Post

You left out my favorite low priced compact headphone, the JVC HA-S160 Flats. It is only around $13. Imo it sounds better than the Portapro, and almost as good as the PX100.

 

Where is your review of the JVC HA-S650? I didn't see it.

 

I am curious about the new JVC HA-S200.

Hey JK1,

 

I've also read a lot of good stuff about the JVC Flats. I choose to review the HA-S650 instead and I am posting the reviews a few at at time just so it's more manageable for me. I will be posting my review of the JVC in a few days. But for now let me just say that I like them a lot...

post #5 of 201

The HA-S650 is very different from the HA-S160. The HA-S650 has a warm sound balance, while the HA-S160 sounds very neutral. I like them both. Since the HA-S160 is so cheap, imo it offers the best value. There aren't many nice sounding headphones under $20, so the HA-S160 really stands out. In the $30-60 price range, the are several decent sounding compact headphones.

post #6 of 201
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JK1 View Post

The HA-S650 is very different from the HA-S160. The HA-S650 has a warm sound balance, while the HA-S160 sounds very neutral. I like them both. Since the HA-S160 is so cheap, imo it offers the best value. There aren't many nice sounding headphones under $20, so the HA-S160 really stands out. In the $30-60 price range, the are several decent sounding compact headphones.

I agree, not much in the under $20 range is worth mentioning. And yeah, I did find the HA-S650 to be warm sounding.

 

What others do you find "decent" sounding in the $30-$60 price range? I'm asking because I may add others to this thread in the future.

 

And by the way, the new JVC HA-S200 looks to be somewhat similar to some of the more mid-sized phones that are part of this review and I'll be posting those soon. I'm talking about: 

 

Audio Technica ATH FC700A

Pioneer SE-MJ21

Denon AH-P372K

post #7 of 201
Quote:
Originally Posted by postrock View Post

I agree, not much in the under $20 range is worth mentioning. And yeah, I did find the HA-S650 to be warm sounding.

 

What others do you find "decent" sounding in the $30-$60 price range? I'm asking because I may add others to this thread in the future.

 

 

I personally find the Koss KSC75's ($20) to be amazing for the price. The earclips are surprisingly easy to get used to, but pair the KSC75's up with the Parts-Express $2 headband, and they are awesome.

 

Over the last week I have been letting the KSC75's and the PORTAPRO duke it out. It really comes down to personal preference as to which one is better - I really like them both. But as it turns out, I am keeping the KSC75's, returning the portapro, and also getting a PX100-II (thanks to JK1, Katun, and now you!). Thanks for your very encouraging review smile.gif

 

Edit: Wow, I see that I have graduated to "Head-Fi'er" - tres cool!


Edited by waynes world - 6/29/12 at 12:01am
post #8 of 201

Wow! Excellent comparison. Can't believe I missed this.

 

I agree with your comments about the V-Jays. I don't like the upper midrange to treble region very much.

 

PX100-II is still my absolute favorite portable, and one of my favorite headphones, period.

post #9 of 201
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by WAYNENUMM View Post

 

I personally find the Koss KSC75's ($20) to be amazing for the price. The earclips are surprisingly easy to get used to, but pair the KSC75's up with the Parts-Express $2 headband, and they are awesome.

 

Over the last week I have been letting the KSC75's and the PORTAPRO duke it out. It really comes down to personal preference as to which one is better - I really like them both. But as it turns out, I am keeping the KSC75's, returning the portapro, and also getting a PX100-II (thanks to JK1, Katun, and now you!). Thanks for your very encouraging review smile.gif

 

Edit: Wow, I see that I have graduated to "Head-Fi'er" - tres cool!

Hi Waynenumm,

 

I'm well aware of the reputation of the KSC75's. I'm pretty sure that for me I would opt for the headband mod, even if the earclips are not bad. For that reason I chose the PortaPro...I wanted to review only phones that are not modified. But I'm sure I will get the KSC75's and some point and probably post some comments here.

 

I'm sure you're really going to like the PX-100 II! Let us know what you think when you get them.

post #10 of 201
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Katun View Post

Wow! Excellent comparison. Can't believe I missed this.

 

I agree with your comments about the V-Jays. I don't like the upper midrange to treble region very much.

 

PX100-II is still my absolute favorite portable, and one of my favorite headphones, period.

Hey Katun!

 

Keep checking this thread...I have 9 more reviews to post. And thanks for the comments. I keep waiting to see if the v-Jays mellow out a bit after more burn in, but so far that isn't the case. The PX-100 II's are amazing. They remind me a lot of my favorite all-rounder, the Denon AH-1001. Those have been discontinued for a while, but I've been looking for a good deal on the Creative Aurvana Live!, which uses the same drivers. I would love to do a comparison. Have you heard either of these?

post #11 of 201
Quote:
Originally Posted by postrock View Post

Hey Katun!

 

Keep checking this thread...I have 9 more reviews to post. And thanks for the comments. I keep waiting to see if the v-Jays mellow out a bit after more burn in, but so far that isn't the case. The PX-100 II's are amazing. They remind me a lot of my favorite all-rounder, the Denon AH-1001. Those have been discontinued for a while, but I've been looking for a good deal on the Creative Aurvana Live!, which uses the same drivers. I would love to do a comparison. Have you heard either of these?

 

Cool, I'll be back to check often. I really like the formatting.

 

I'm probably one of the biggest PX100-II endorsers on this site! Wrote a pretty lengthy review on them. 

 

I snagged the CAL! for $60 about a year ago. I did like the sound, but the earcups were too small for my ears. I would have loved to get the D1001 instead.

post #12 of 201
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Katun View Post

 

Cool, I'll be back to check often. I really like the formatting.

 

I'm probably one of the biggest PX100-II endorsers on this site! Wrote a pretty lengthy review on them. 

 

I snagged the CAL! for $60 about a year ago. I did like the sound, but the earcups were too small for my ears. I would have loved to get the D1001 instead.

Hey,

 

I read your review of the PX-100 II, very nice job. I also find the negative comments about the PX-100 II's very puzzling. I just think they are everything an ultra-portable should be.

 

In regards to the CAL! and D1001, I suspect that the CAL! cannot be as comfortable as the Denon. I just loved the D1001 from the minute I put them on and and like the PX-1001 they are the perfect balance of comfort and sound quality.

 

Lots of differing opinions on Head-Fi, that what makes it fun...

post #13 of 201
I can understand why some dislike the PX100II. Some people want a neutral sound sounding hadphone and reject all warm sounding headphones.
Edited by JK1 - 7/1/12 at 11:15pm
post #14 of 201
Thread Starter 

Group 3 – Compact foldable portables with padded earpads

 

The four headphones in this group are very similar to those in Group 2. They are compact, lightweight, and foldable but feature padded (as opposed to foam) earpads.

 

 

AKG K430

(MSRP: $119.95, street price: $60.00)

AKG is an Austrian audio company manufacturing numerous products including headphones for consumer and professional use.

AKG K430_1.jpg

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: n/a

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 126 db

Frequency Range: 12-28000 Hz

Cord Length:  1m

Weight: 110g

 

Design

AKG’s line of portables has been on the market for a while now, but the design still looks good.  The packaging is quite nice and very “pro audio” looking, but I did find it odd that box can only be opened by removing the cardboard tear-strips on the top and bottom which leaves a jagged edge as on a food carton . They look modern and although they are slightly larger than some of the others they don’t stand out too much. They are available only in Black with Silver accents. Even though the earcups are small, the closed design provides decent isolation. The headband is a substantial piece of metal encased in plastic with padding on the underside and adjusts with a series of clicks. The cable is single-sided and features a sliding volume control that unfortunately can be bumped accidentally. The K430 folds up in to fairly compact shape and comes with a nice semi-hard case. I did find that the case seems just a tad too small and it is a little difficult to get the headphones into it.  There is no microphone or pause/play button.  (8/10)

 

Build Quality

The K430 is solid and made of quality materials. The headband is substantial however some users have complained that the plastic piece that attaches the earcups is prone to breakage. The earpads are covered in a “pleather” material that is not especially soft. The single-sided cable is of good quality and adequate strain relief is provided.  It terminates in a straight gold-plated plug. (9/10)

 

Comfort

I found the AKG’s to be reasonably comfortable for short periods but unfortunately the combination of slightly too much clamping pressure and the firm material covering the earpads made them unpleasant to wear for longer periods. That material also tended to make my ears a bit sweaty. They do adjust very well and those with smaller heads might find them to be just fine. (6/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The K430’s have a very nice presentation. They are clear and clean but very slightly on the aggressive side.  (9/10)

Soundstage

Soundstage is very good, especially for such a small closed headphone. Instrument separation is admirable. (9/10)

High Frequency

The upper end is crisp and bright but perhaps lacking a little smoothness. (8/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are very nicely presented are very forward sounding. (9/10)

Lower Midrange

Low mids are also very good and well-balanced with plenty of texture. (8/10)

Low Frequency

Bass is nice and round, punchy and detailed, but very slightly lacking in the lowest frequencies. (8/10)

 

Value

AKG has never been a budget brand, but usually offers good value for the money. I would say that the MSRP of $119.95 is pretty out of line, but they are usually offered at a substantial discount. From time to time great deals can be found. I purchased mine for $39.95 and think they are a great buy at that price. But a few weeks later I could find them for no lower than about $60.00. (7/10)

 

Total Score

81/100

 

Summary

I found a lot of very good things in the K430. The sound signature is very satisfying and they are well put together and sharp looking. Comfort issues, however, really take these out of contention for the best in this roundup. I actually had hoped to review the K420 model, which has a similar look, but is an open design with foam earpads. I would also love to check out the K450 and pricier K460 “Quincy Jones” model (I actually like the look of the Lime Green model). But if they all offer the same comfort issues I’m sure I would also be disappointed.

 

Pros

  • Great, balanced sound
  • Very good build quality
  • Clean bass

 

Cons

  • Uncomfortable
  • Sliding volume control on cable is too easy to bump

 

 

 

Cresyn C550S

(MSRP: $69.90, street price: $55.00)

Cresyn is a Korean audio company manufacturing over-the-ear and IEM headphones. Cresyn is also the parent company of the luxury audio brand Phiaton.

Cresyn C550H_1.jpg

SANY0030.JPG

Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 40 ohm

Sensitivity: 106 db

Frequency Range: 10-21000 Hz

Cord Length:  1.4m

Weight: 85g

 

Design

I give Cresyn some credit for making a headphone that doesn’t look like everything else. The C550S is fairly small and folds up into a very compact package with two hinges on the headband and earcups that fold as well. The look is understated and somewhat stylish without being flashy or cheap looking. It is offered in Black with Silver trim and also White. They are packaged in a very basic plastic blister pack. The headband is slim and the earcups are low profile and covered in a very soft, but not excessively padded pleather. Even though they are closed design, isolation is not very strong.  A nice looking vinyl pouch with the Cresyn logo is included. The split cable features a mic, pause/play button, and a sliding volume control, which I find unnecessary, but it is not as easy to accidentally hit as the one on the AKG K430. (9/10)

 

Build Quality

The C550S offers nice quality materials and a good attention to detail. The headband is wide and solid and mostly metal with some plastic trim. The fit adjustment is made by sliding the headband with a series of clicks. The action on the folding hinges is very positive and they seem durable. The cable is on the thin side, but without too much memory character and strain relief is provided at the earcups and also the plug. I found the cable to be slightly too long for practical use at 1.4 meters. (9/10)

 

Comfort

The Cresyn is very light and comfortable overall. Clamping pressure is firm but not too tight. The soft pleather earpads are pretty comfortable as well and they don’t seem to get very warm when wearing for extended periods. The earcups pivot well and it is not difficult to adjust them. (9/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The sound signature is fairly well-balanced and detail is good.  (8/10)

Soundstage

Nothing special here, but enough spaciousness and separation to offer a potentially good listening experience. They are reasonably airy as well. (7/10)

High Frequency

Highs are pretty strong and there is some sparkle, but not overly smooth either. (7/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are decent, but on some music there is a touch of graininess. (7/10)

Lower Midrange

The lower part of the midrange is definitely lackluster. There just doesn’t seem to be enough bloom in voices or instruments such as guitars. (7/10)

Low Frequency

Some noticeable roll-off here, but what you do hear is respectably tight and never boomy. (7/10)

 

Value

Once again it is not easy to score these on value because they are not easily available in the U.S. But at roughly the same price as the PX-100 II they do not offer nearly as much for the asking price. (6/10)

 

Total Score

76/100

 

Summary

This is a very competent and well-made product that just doesn’t do quite enough to distinguish itself in this very competitive segment. Most of the Cresyn products available in the U.S. are very budget level. The C550S is a more upscale product and the look, build quality, and comfort are quite good. But a rather average sound signature pushes it back to the middle of the pack.

 

Pros

  • Nice design and good build quality
  • Very comfortable

 

Cons

  • Lack of distinctive sonic character

 

 

 

 

Soundmagic P20

(MSRP: $36.50, street price: $20.00)

Soundmagic is a Chinese company producing IEM and over-the-ear headphones.

Soundmagic P20_1.jpg

SANY0028.JPG

Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: n/a

Impedance: 35 ohm

Sensitivity: 100 db

Frequency Range: 15-22000 Hz

Cord Length:  1.2m

Weight: 61g

 

Design

The Soundmagic P20, the second of three over-the-ear models the company has introduced, is a pretty bare bones affair. Like the PortaPro, they feature a dated sliding adjustable headband. The earcups are slightly on the large side and twist upwards and in to make a compact folded shape.  A nice extra is the hard case, which is actually a little too large for the phones but features an elastic band to hold them in place. Also included is a 1m extension cable. There is no microphone or play/pause button. (6/10)

 

Build Quality

The materials and finish quality are decent overall, but the headband is on the flimsy side and therefore the P20 suffers from an insufficient clamping force and does not provide an adequate seal. While not nearly as problematic as the Urbanears Tanto, the fit issues are enough of a problem to limit the effectiveness of the drivers. The shells are very glossy and will smudge easily. The split cable is of average quality and no strain relief is provided where it meets the earcups . It is terminated in a straight, gold-plated plug. (7/10)

 

Comfort

Despite the larger earcups, the P20’s are still relatively light and comfortable. But the ineffective headband translates into a loose fit and they do not stay in place very well. (8/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

Overall, not a bad job. Presentation is good for this price.  (8/10)

Soundstage

Soundstage is not terribly impressive. There is some depth and instrument separation, but nothing special. (7/10)

High Frequency

Highs are very average sounding. There is no real harshness but there is a noticeable cutoff and a “flatness”. (6/10)

Upper Midrange

They feel a bit pulled back and occasionally shrill. (6/10)

Lower Midrange

Even if the design provided an adequate seal, the lower mids would be very lacking.  Music has very little texture. (4/10)

Low Frequency

As with the Urbanears Tanto, I can’t really evaluate the bass response since I am unable to achieve a proper fit. I suppose if some modifications were attempted the bass would reveal itself properly and would sound pretty decent because the drivers themselves seemed tuned for added bass. Disappointing.  (3/10)

 

Value

The $20.00 street price of the Soundmagic P20’s looks like a good value, but not when you consider the flawed design and loose fit. I may attempt to modify them, but I don’t know if they possess any special qualities to warrant that. (5/10)

 

Total Score

58/100

 

Summary

Soundmagic has a reputation as a good bang-for-buck choice for budget  IEM’s and I’ve read a lot of good reviews of those products. But over-the-ear headphones are a whole different thing and they have missed the mark with this product. Perhaps the P30 is worth looking into.

 

Pros

  • Nice hard case

 

Cons

  • Flawed design creates a thin, bassless sound
  • Mediocre build quality

 

 

 

 

Meelec HT-21

(MSRP: $39.99, street price: $20.00)

Meelec (MEElectronics) is an American company producing IEM and over-the-ear headphones. Products are manufactured in China.

MEElectronics HT-21_1.jpg

SANY0027.JPG

Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 114 db

Frequency Range: 20-20000 Hz

Cord Length:  1.2m

Weight:  .75 lb.

 

Design

The HT-21 is a straightforward looking headphone that is definitely more “function than form”. It’s not that they are dated looking, but they do lack the modern “tech” look of many competitors. A simple folding design allows the earcups to fold flat and then flip up.  The headband is nice, metal with plastic trim and some very light padding on the underside. A single-sided cable is a welcome touch. A generic looking vinyl bag is included. (7/10)

 

Build Quality

The Meelecs feel pretty solid and look like they could stand a little more abuse than many competitors. The materials used are average though, glossy plastics on the earcups that smudge easily and a cheap looking (and feeling) pleather on the earcups and headband. The single-sided cable is quite good. It is thick and pliable with very little memory character and terminates in a 45 degree angle gold-plated plug. (7/10)

 

Comfort

The HT-21’s are a little on the bulky side and don’t feel quite as light on the head as I would like. And while the clamping force is not too excessive, the plasticky material used on the earpads makes them marginally uncomfortable for longer listening periods. They are not very breathable either. (6/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

While the HT-21 does not have a veiled feel to it, detail is perceptibly sacrificed because of the bright and forward sound. (7/10)

Soundstage

Soundstage is nothing special and falls in the middle of the pack.  (6/10)

High Frequency

The true highs on this heaphone feel clipped and congested at times. (6/10)

Upper Midrange

Unfortunately the upper mids are probably the worst in the roundup. The words harsh, shrill, and tiresome come to mind. Vocals and guitars sound unrealistically forward in the mix and often grating. (2/10)

Lower Midrange

The overall sound signature is redeemed somewhat by a decent sounding lower midrange.  (7/10)

Low Frequency

The bottom end is much like many other budget portables. The lack of true bass is compensated by boosting the lowest mids. But I found the HT-21 especially frustrating in that certain bass frequencies completely disappear and music sounds very light and thin.  (5/10)

Value

Just like the Soundmagic P20 above, the Meelec HT-21 is not a recommended buy, even for $20.00. (5/10)

 

Total Score

58/100

 

Summary

I specifically included the HT-21 in this roundup because it had some very positive reviews and has even been called a giant killer by some. I must admit that I do get very tired of the “sounds really good for the barebones price” claim. When a really nice sounding set can be had for another $10.00 or so I don’t quite see the value. I certainly cannot recommend these. I was very disappointed with them based on expectations. In the super low budget price range, you would be much better off with something such as the JVC Flats. Another interesting note; apparently the new Fischer Audio “Oldskool 33 1/3” (not to be confused with the “Oldskool 70’s” in this review) uses the exact same headband assembly as the HT-21, but with obviously different and presumably more unique sounding drivers. I haven’t heard those yet, but they look fun and are in a much higher price bracket.

 

Pros

•             Decent build quality

 

Cons

•             Truly bad quality sound quality

 

 

 

Group Summary

This group represents the largest gap from best to worst so far in this roundup. That isn’t surprising because of the price differences. The AKG K430 is clearly a very competent and well-made product and it really does sound terrific. Unfortunately, the comfort issues were a problem for me. The Cresyn is a unique and fun portable that is generally satisfying and I could recommend it for those that just want something different. But it’s not the best deal out there and may be a little hard to find in the U.S. (I acquired this, along with the Fischer Audio Oldskool 70's, from an online dealer located in Singapore). The Soundmagic P20 and Meelec HT-21 are both major disappointments, even for budget cans, for different reasons. The poor design of the Soundmagic negates the decent enough sounding drivers. The Meelec has adequate build quality and design but the drivers are very unpleasant. So, both of those are a letdown and have been scored accordingly.

 

 

 

 

 

Group 4 – Flat-folding mid-sized portables

 

Both headphones in this group are unique in that they are not completely collapsible but the earcups fold flat for carrying or storage. They are also a bit larger than all the previous models.

 

 

Incase Pivot

(MSRP: $59.95, street price: $50.00)

Incase is a California-based company that primarily manufactures protective cases for technology products and musical instruments. They launched a line of headphones in 2011.

Incase Pivot_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 103 db

Frequency Range: 20-20000 Hz

Cord Length:  n/a

Weight: n/a

 

Design

The Incase Pivot is a very unique looking headphone with some nice design touches. They are sleek and modern looking with a minimalist feel. They are very well packed in a nice box with an outer sleeve. Even though they are on the large side they are low profile and inconspicuous. They are available in Black (my review sample), “Dove”, “Ash” , “Primer”, and “Stone” . In my opinion all but the Black and the “Dove” colors look more trendy than professional. The closed design does provide some isolation. The headband is unusual with two bands (at the top) tapering into a single band where they meet the earcups. There is a joint on the sides of the headband so that the earcups can be rotated flat. Also unusual is the way the adjustments are made. The shells attach into groove on the inside of the headband and slide up or down in a series of clicks. The shells also pivot freely. There is no logo of any sort on the headphones and you have to look very carefully to find the “L” and “R” markings. They are located on the inside of the headband near the shells and are barely visible. The Pivot comes with a nice pouch with some unusual touches. The exterior is made from a white “Tyvek”-like material and the inside is lined with a soft, grey faux fur. There is a mic and a play/pause/volume control on the cable at the junction of the split cable. It is one of the better designs and feels solid and works properly with my iPod.  (8/10)

 

Build Quality

Fit and finish is very good and the materials are high quality. I expected this from a company that has a strong reputation building high-quality cases and bags. The headband and shells are covered in a smudge-proof rubber-like coating. Earpads are covered in a suede-like material that is soft. However they are not replaceable and I can’t say how well they will hold up over time or how easily they can be cleaned. Also durability could be an issue with the way the earcups attach to the headband  and I would not expect that they could withstand a lot of abuse. The split cable is very well done; thick and rubbery with no memory character and good strain relief. It terminates in a 90 degree gold-plated plug. (8/10)

 

Comfort

At first the fit seemed a little too tight for my liking. But unlike most of the others in this test the Pivot seemed to loosen up over time and now I have no complaints. The suede-like covering on the earpads is soft and comfortable but is also absorbent so I’m not sure these would be ideal for exercising, although they do stay in place. (9/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

Overall very good, but at louder volumes there is some compression and loss of detail.  (7/10)

Soundstage

Soundstage is above average and instrument separation is good but depth is lacking. Not especially airy. (7/10)

High Frequency

Highs are smooth and refined but there is a noticeable roll-off at the top. (7/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids sound polished and balanced. (8/10)

Lower Midrange

Very nice, plenty of texture and no graininess. (9/10)

Low Frequency

Bass is reasonably full and punchy, but without too much of a bump. Those that enjoy a more neutral sound signature will enjoy it and bassheads may not. (8/10)

 

Value

The Incase Pivot offers a quality build and more than acceptable sound for the price. And while the average street price is in the $50.00 range it is not at all difficult to find deals on eBay and Amazon. I picked up mine as an “open box” item for about $25.00 and they are a fantastic deal at that price. (7/10)

 

Total Score

78/100

 

Summary

Incase did a great job with the Pivot. Since they are not an audio manufacturer I’m certain that the drivers were outsourced. But they chose their components well and clearly put a lot of thought into the design. The end result is a high quality and enjoyable headphone that I can find very little to quibble about. I look forward to reviewing their other models. Definitely worth a look.

 

Pros

  • Well-tuned drivers and polished sound signature
  • Good build quality and comfort
  • Distinctive looks

 

Cons

  • Suede-like earpads may be difficult to keep clean

 

 

 

JVC HA-S650

(MSRP: $52.99, street price: $40.00)

JVC is well-established Japanese electronics manufacturer.

JVC HA-S650_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 36 mm

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 106 db

Frequency Range: 8-26000 Hz

Cord Length:  1.2m

Weight: 103g

 

Design

The HA-S650 is an understated and tasteful looking headphone. The medium-sized rectangular earcups fold flat and they are unobtrusive to wear. It is available only in Black. They are well-packaged in a straightforward box. The headband is steel encased in plastic and feels very solid. The shells are unique and functional. They are made of carbon fiber (although there is no visible “weave” pattern). Moderate isolation is achieved. The earpads are memory foam covered in a very soft pleather. No accessories are included and there is no mic or pause/play button. (9/10)

 

Build Quality

The HA-S650 is well made and shows good attention to detail. The metal headband is surrounded by a thick rubbery material. The other materials seem to be of good quality as well. The pleather covering the earpads is especially soft and pliable. The 1.2m split cable is of decent thickness with very little memory character and good strain relief where needed and terminates in a straight gold-plated plug. (8/10)

 

Comfort

The JVC is perhaps the most comfortable headphone in this roundup, especially for long listening sessions. Clamping pressure is just right and the memory foam provides a good seal and very even pressure on the ears. The pleather is very soft and comfortable and the shells rotate enough for a good fit. They feel almost like a circumnaural phone. (10/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The sound signature is very warm so there can be a perceived lack of detail but it is the sort of thing that the listener’s ear quickly adjusts to.  (8/10)

Soundstage

While not particularly airy, there is some spaciousness and good instrument separation but not a great deal of depth. (7/10)

High Frequency

The high end of the JVC is a mixed bag. I find this headphone to be very warm (as opposed to “dark”) so there is not a lot of sparkle or sizzle in the upper register. And while the treble feels a bit pulled back there is not necessarily a roll-off. And what is there is very smooth and lush sounding. Some will love it, others may not. (7/10)

Upper Midrange

Nice presence and smoothness in the upper mids. (8/10)

Lower Midrange

The lower mids feel very fast and pleasing. (9/10)

Low Frequency

The bottom end is full and rounded. Not as tight as some but not bloated either. On occasion it does create some congestion. It may not appeal to those who listen to a lot of bass heavy urban music. (8/10)

 

Value

I feel the HA-S650 offers solid value for the asking price. There are deals to be found and I acquired my review pair for only $30.00 from an online retailer. (8/10)

 

Total Score

82/100

 

Summary

The JVC HA-S650 impressed me on many levels. The comfort factor alone is good reason to pick up a pair. The ultra-budget “Flats” model has achieved a big following, and I have heard it is much more neutral sounding. The HA-S650 is certainly warm, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. I do recommend a proper burn in on these however because the highs will improve and the bass will tighten up over time. I liken the sound signature to some of the “warmer” sounding British Hi-Fi speakers I have enjoyed. It should also be noted that they perform better than many competitors at higher volumes. They really  grow on you.

 

Pros

  • Superb comfort
  • Quality build
  • Less fatiguing than most headphones

 

Cons

  • Warm sound signature is not for everyone

 

 

 

Group Summary

I separated these two from the other mid-sized models because they are not completely collapsible. Both were a pleasant surprise. The Incase Pivot is a unique looking and surprisingly balanced sounding headphone that is very satisfying. The JVC HA-S650 is amazingly comfortable and the warm sound is something that will be polarizing; some will love it and others may find it just “dark”. But I am glad to own a pair for when that kind of sound seems appropriate. I recommend both of these phones.

 

 

 

 

Group 5 – Collapsible mid-sized portables

 

These last three headphones are larger, but still compact, portables that fold up completely. At the time of this writing, the Audio Technica and the Denon models were recently discontinued but still available. The Pioneer is still a current product.

 

 

Audio Technica ATH FC700A

(MSRP: $69.95, street price: $40.00)

Audio Technica was founded in Japan and manufactures a wide array of products including headphones for consumer and professional use.

Audio Technica ATH FC700A_1.jpg

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 40mm

Impedance: 40 ohm

Sensitivity: 102 db

Frequency Range: 10-24000 Hz

Cord Length:  .5m + 1m extension cable

Weight: 130g

 

Design

The FC700A is contemporary looking headphone with a fairly unique look. While there are many headphones in this style I find this one to be quite stylish and attractive. They are available in Black, Red, Blue, and White, like my review pair. The White version is accented with Grey on the headband and earpads. They come packaged in a clear plastic box, but thankfully it opens up with a series of tabs instead of annoying sealed edges. The closed design and medium-sized shells provide decent isolation. The headband is the only one in this roundup to feature a self-adjusting spring mechanism. It works as it should. The earcups rotate up into a compact folded package. Accessories include a vinyl carrying pouch and a 1m extension cable. The main .5m cable is only useful if used with a shirt pocket. No microphone or play/pause control is available. (8/10)

 

Build Quality

Like most of AT’s products the FC700A boasts a high standard of build quality and good materials on a par with Sennheiser and AKG. The plastics used seem very durable and I especially like the clear layer on the outside of the shells. The hinges for rotating the earcups look to be best in this group. The earpads are covered in a very nice quality pleather. The split cable is reasonably good quality and has little memory character and adequate strain relief. It terminates in a straight gold-plated plug (the extension cable has a 90 degree angle plug). (9/10)

 

Comfort

The FC700A is quite comfortable overall. The earpads are soft and well-padded and clamping pressure is moderate. But like all three models in this group the nearly circumnaural sized shells cover all but the tops of the ears and some of the earlobe. I wear glasses so the pressure against the top of the ear is mildly uncomfortable after a long listening session. They are also slightly on the heavy side for a portable. The self-adjusting headband works well. I did find the FA700A to be quite sensitive in terms of minute differences placement on the ears so take your time finding the precise fit that sounds right. (8/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

I find them to be quite revealing and subtle details are very audible.  (9/10)

Soundstage

Soundstage is fairly average but there is a nice airiness and depth is actually quite good. (8/10)

High Frequency

Crisp and clean without any sibilance or harshness. (8/10)

Upper Midrange

There is a very minor lack of texture and body in the upper mids, but still pleasant sounding. (7/10)

Lower Midrange

Lower mids are also very clean and perhaps the most neutral part of the spectrum. (8/10)

Low Frequency

The bottom end is quite good with plenty of impact and punch but a does not go as deep as the PX-100 II. It sounds quite similar to the bass on the K430. (8/10)

 

Value

Now that this model is discontinued there may be deals to be found. Even based on the original MSRP and street price the FC700A offers very good value for the money. (8/10)

 

Total Score

81/100

 

Summary

I really like the Audio Technicas. It is one of the few headphones with a fairly bright sound that I don’t find fatiguing. It is satisfying on many levels. For what it’s worth, I would say I like this model more than any of the other headphones AT has produced including their studio monitors.

 

Pros

  • Balanced and engaging sound
  • Nice build quality and above average comfort

 

Cons

  • None

 

 

 

Denon AH P372

(MSRP: $59.99, street price: $32.00)

Denon was founded in Japan and produces a variety of products for consumer use including headphones.

Denon AH-P372K_1.jpg

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 38 mm

Impedance: 35 ohm

Sensitivity: 106 db

Frequency Range: 10-22000 Hz

Cord Length:  .5m + 1m extension cable

Weight: 140g

 

Design

The Denon is a bit of an odd-looking headphone. The headband is sharply angled and is also hinged in the middle for folding. They look a bit conspicuous but not really bulky either. They are available in Black with Silver accents and also White (which I might have preferred). The medium-sized  earcups swivel up and in for folding. They are well-packaged in clear plastic box. The headband is wide and fairly solid.  Isolation is average. The earpads are soft pleather. A small velvet pouch and a 1m extension cable are included. There is no mic or pause/play button. (6/10)

 

Build Quality

The AH-P372 is shows fairly good assembly and fit and finish. The plastics have a cheap feel to them however. The pleather covering the earpads is soft but the actual padding feels a little too hard. The cable is a major disappointment, especially considering Denon’s standards. It is the thinnest and cheapest feeling cable in the entire roundup. It does not inspire confidence in its durability and has far too much memory character. It does provide strain relief though and terminates in a straight gold-plated plug. (6/10)

 

Comfort

The Denon is not among the more comfortable phones in this review. Clamping pressure is too tight for my tastes. The angled headband feels somewhat awkward also. A more plush padding in the earpads could have made a difference. With limited rotation on the shells this headphone could be very hit or miss depending on your preferences.  It’s not that it’s painful to wear but annoying enough to detract from the enjoyment. (7/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

The sound signature is very impressive with outstanding clarity and detail.  (9/10)

Soundstage

Airy and spacious with nice depth and instrument separation. (9/10)

High Frequency

Highs are very much in the Denon style, very extended and well-behaved and not at all fatiguing. (10/10)

Upper Midrange

Very good presence and quite smooth . (9/10)

Lower Midrange

The lower mids are above average but instruments such as guitar lack a bit of texture. (8/10)

Low Frequency

Bass is tight and clean but lacking a little impact. Most listeners will find it adequate but bassheads will not. (8/10)

 

Value

As the entry level model in Denon’s lineup, the AH-P372 offers a very sophisticated sound for the price, but I feel that in cutting corners the build quality and comfort are compromised. Recently discontinued, there may be good deals to be found. (7/10)

 

Total Score

79/100

 

Summary

I was eager to try the baby Denons since I am a huge fan of the AH-D1001 (now discontinued). Sonically these are really excellent. And that makes it even more disappointing that there are comfort issues and the flimsy cable is a major flaw. If anyone was willing to go to the trouble of doing a cable upgrade and perhaps some modding of the earpads you would have a pretty stunning portable. But only with these reservations can I recommend it.

 

Pros

  • Fantastic sound
  • Affordable

 

Cons

  • Moderately uncomfortable
  • Mediocre materials and ultra-cheap cable

 

 

 

Pioneer SE-MJ21

(MSRP: $42.99, street price: $32.00)

Pioneer was founded in Japan and produces electronics for consumer use including headphones.

Pioneer SE-MJ21_1.jpg

 

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Manufacturers Specifications

Type: Closed

Driver Unit: 40 mm

Impedance: 32 ohm

Sensitivity: 103 db

Frequency Range: 8-25000 Hz

Cord Length:  1.2m

Weight: 110g

 

Design

The Pioneer SE-MJ21 is a pretty typical looking “DJ-inspired” headphone. The earcups are a little on the large side and this headphone looks a little bulky. It is available in Black or White . They are packaged in a large plastic container. The headband feels pretty solid and is the usual metal surrounded by plastic. The shells pivot and fold inward but the headband is fixed. There is moderate isolation. The earpads are not especially plush and covered in a lower grade of pleather. Considering its size, the SE-MJ21 is actually very lightweight. The SE-MJ21 is more conservative looking (and IMO classier looking) than the very similar “Steel Wheels” model from Pioneer. There are no accessories or mic/pause/play button. (7/10)

 

Build Quality

Overall these are pretty decent with good fit and finish but rather average materials. The headband is very solid. The metal swivel mechanism that allows the earcups to turn and fold feels loose and wobbly. I was concerned that it may cause some rattling when in use but I didn’t find that to be the case. The 1.2m split cable is of average quality and has some memory character and terminates in a straight gold-plated plug. (7/10)

 

Comfort

I found the Pioneer to be surprisingly comfortable. Its light weight and relatively low clamping pressure worked well for me, but those with smaller heads may find them to be loose fitting. Also, there is no padding on the headband which doesn’t really affect comfort but may cause the headphones to move around too much. The earpads could benefit from a softer covering. (8/10)

 

Sound Quality

 

Detail

Detail and presentation is above average.  (8/10)

Soundstage

The Pioneer has a surprisingly good soundstage. Depth is not very pronounced but separation is very good and slightly airy. (9/10)

High Frequency

Highs are disappointingly rolled off and even sound “notched”. Obviously there is no harshness or sibilance but treble lacks smoothness. (6/10)

Upper Midrange

Upper mids are clean and balanced sounding. (8/10)

Lower Midrange

The lower mids vary greatly depending on the source material. Anything with a heavy and thick bass will render them weak and veiled. (6/10)

Low Frequency

Possibly the bassiest headphone is this roundup, the bottom end is dominant and will creep into the lower mids very noticeably. While not boomy, the bass lacks punch and speed and is sometimes bloated sounding. (7/10)

 

Value

There are many other options in this price range, but if you can find a good deal (as I did) you are getting a fairly well-made and decent enough sounding headphone. (7/10)

 

Total Score

73/100

 

Summary

I probably would not have included the Pioneer in this roundup were it not for the fact that I was able to find an open-box pair online for only $13.00. But the SE-MJ21 is not a bad headphone by any means. I can enjoy listening to it. Bassheads might find it very satisfying as well as those that listen to rap and techno. As an all-rounder the lack of a complex high end and compromised mids take it down a notch or two. Still better than I was expecting.

 

Pros

•             Comfortable

•             Decent build quality

 

Cons

•             Sound signature not very engaging

 

 

 

Group Summary

I’ve always felt that these mid-sized portables have a bit of an identity crisis. They are not as lightweight and truly portable as some and not as full-sounding as the larger (and arguably portable) circumnaural models. Still, they provide good isolation and in some cases better sound quality than smaller models. The Audio-Technica FA-700A is a very competent and satisfying headphone that I recommend highly. The Denon has really admirable drivers in a less than perfect package. And the Pioneer SE-MJ21 managed to handle itself surprising well and would make a good choice for those looking for a bass-heavy headphone at a low price. There seem to be a lot of deals to be found on this model and an open-box buy such as my review pair was worth it.

 

 

Summary and Recommendations

 

Final Scores

  1. Sennheiser PX-100 II - 96/100
  2. AIAIAI Tracks - 86/100
  3. JVC HA-S650 - 82/100
  4. Audio Technica ATH-FC700A - 81/100
  5. AKG K430 - 81/100
  6. Jays V-Jays - 81/100
  7. Denon AH-P372 - 79/100
  8. Incase Pivot - 78/100
  9. Koss PortaPro - 78/100
  10. Eskuche Kassette - 77/100
  11. Cresyn C550S - 76/100
  12. Fischer Audio Oldskool ‘70s - 75/100
  13. Pioneer SE-MJ21 - 73/100
  14. Urbanears Tanto - 62/100
  15. Soundmagic P20 - 58/100
  16. Meelec HT-21 - 58/100

 

Not surprisingly, my scoring system seems slightly flawed probably since certain things were not weighted more than others. Thus, I don’t think I would necessarily recommend them in this exact order.

 

But there is no doubt in my mind that the overall winner is the PX-100 II.

 

Perhaps focusing on some highlights will give a better perspective.

 

I can highly recommend the PX-100 II, Tracks, and FC-700A to most anyone looking for exceptional sound and a great all-rounder.

 

For those that prefer a warmer sound you will certainly enjoy the HA-S650 and the PX-100 II. Those that like a brighter, more forward sound will like the Tracks, FC700A, and possibly the V-Jays or the Cresyn. Bass lovers should enjoy the PX-100 II, HA-S650, and PortaPro. The only phones that struck me as somewhat neutral sounding were the Oldskool 70’s and the Incase Pivot.

 

If comfort is not the key factor for you, the K430 and AH-P372 offer top-notch sound quality.

 

I was very impressed with some of the newcomers in this review. The Eskuche Kassette is a fun sounding competent ultra-portable and the Incase Pivot is unique and well thought-out. Both are satisfying on many levels. And the Cresyn C550S seems to bridge the gap between the company’s low budget offerings and the high-priced Phiaton line.

 

Unfortunately, three models really missed the mark for me. Spend your money elsewhere. The Urbanears Tanto is seriously flawed because of its loose fit even though the drivers are not too bad. The Soundmagic P20 suffers the same problem. The Meelec was the worst sounding headphone in the roundup and left me wondering why it has garnered so many favorable reviews. Perhaps I got a defective pair, but I have read my fair share of comments posted in those reviews from others who also found them shrill and unpleasant, so at least I’m not a minority of one. (The V-Jays have a similar effect on me but with so many other redeeming qualities.)

 

Thanks to those who have already posted comments in this thread. I hope that much more discussion will ensue. What is your favorite portable and why? Let me know if I left out something you think is deserving of more attention. Let us all know. Feel free to post a mini-review as some others already have. Mostly, thanks for taking the time to read this. It was a fun project and I will very likely review a few more headphones in the near future and post them in this thread.


Edited by postrock - 7/13/12 at 10:31am
post #15 of 201
Thread Starter 

Reviews of AKG K430, Cresyn C550S, Soundmagic P20, and Meelec HT-21 posted today (see Page 2)

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