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Comparative review of the Sennheiser HD650 and the Stax SR-202

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Thread Starter 
Introduction:
In this review I will try to compare the Sennheiser HD650 and the Stax SR-202. These headphones are in similar price ranges, so it should make for an interesting comparison.
Please note this is my first review I have ever written. I would have written one before, but I am personally of the believe that a review of a headphone is hardly worth anything if not compared to another headphone. Additionally, the sheer length of this piece is mainly due to my lack of experience. I have never compared headphones with any degree of thoroughness, so I chose to go overkill on analyzing the sonic differences, both with the purpose of gaining experience and to make sure I did not leave anything out.
Also thanks a lot to Panda-sama, AKA bowei006, for all the emotional support in writing such a long review. I would not have made it without you.


Listening setup:
Not all the details matter as much, but I'll share them anyway.

foobar2000 -> re-sampled to 24/96 - > optical output -> NFB12 (no changeable filters)

HD650:
-> Headphone output

SR-202:
-> line out -> Pioneer SA-6300 -> Stax SRD-7 MK II

Normally I use RPGWIZARDs config, but for the purpose of this review I have disabled such DSPs as well as any equalization. It should also be noted that I tend to listen to the headphones at moderate volumes, almost never anywhere close to loud. It's hard to communicate the level of loudness, but let's keep it at the fact that I dislike listening to my music loud.

I level matched the headphones by ear, which obviously isn't very precise. However I frequently readjusted the volumes on both headphones, so the loudness should be more or less the same over the long run. Matching loudness is difficult in any case due to the differing frequency response.

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(sorry for dust and messiness)

At this point you may be thinking the NFB-12 isn't doing the HD650 justice, and perhaps especially the chain driving the SR-202 is far from perfect. This is all valid criticism, however, I just don't think that amplification affects sound a lot. I used to have a better tube amp for the HD650, but I sold it because it just wasn't worth the money.
These headphones will still sound very, very good in my opinion. The amp and DAC could have a subtle effect on the sound quality, but the headphones will always remain the primary component affecting sound quality after the recording it self. If you don't agree with this “philosophy” then I can understand that, but such discussions are simply not relevant to this review.


The SR-202:
I've had the SR-202 for some time now, but only about a week before I started writing this review I did I obtain the ability to actually use them with the arrival of an SRD-7 MK II.
These are electrostatic headphones, and hence require a different amplifier than normal headphones. In this case I used a vintage amplifier's speaker outputs and connected it to the Stax SRD-7 MK II, which is a so called energizer. This energizer adds a DC bias voltage as well as heavily increasing the voltage of the audio signal.
The Pioneer SA-6300 is an excellent speaker amp, and I can't hear any background noise under normal conditions with the SR-202. Maybe a proper electrostat amp is better, but since I was low on money this had to do.

Aesthetics
363
These look good. Not beautiful, but certainly not ugly. I bought them used, but with new pads. The headband is very worn, and looks a bit raffled, but it still works fine. They smelled like sweat on the first week, but that was quickly replaced with my own body odors.
Aesthetics don't matter that much in any case, since I highly doubt you will ever take this outside.

Build quality
They feel and look very solidly build. Nothing wrong with build quality.
I do advice you to be very careful. They may be build quite well, but they still feel a bit fragile when you wear them. In addition to that the plastic creaks a lot when it moves, and it may make a farting sound when you put them on or adjust them when on the head. This phenomenon is colloquially know as the 'Stax fart' and is a common feature of almost all electrostatic headphones.

Ergonomics
These are surprisingly comfortable. They create a good seal and are easy to adjust for proper fit. A huge disadvantage is that the headband adjustment slides back to it's lowest position relatively quickly when not worn on the head, so you have to readjust them every time you put them on your head. However, a huge advantage of this headphone is that the pads can both be rotated and adjusted vertically. This gives a comfortable but good seal with little clamping force. In my opinion this makes for an excellent design.

The pleather is nice and soft on the head, but as with all leather/pleather pads they get uncomfortable when you're sweating. Luckily it is only hot for a couple weeks per year where I live, but when it does get hot I prefer speakers over most headphones in any case. The pads are made out of fairly high quality pleather. Only the 507 pads within the lambda series actually have real leather, but the SR-202 pads are still incredible despite not using real leather.

It is strongly advised by the Stax mafia not to wear electrostats with wet or sweaty hair, as it can damage them. I think this should be something you take into account if you live in a place where it gets real hot.

These headphones do not weight a lot. The HD650's are lighter, but the weight is still such that it does not cause discomfort. Almost all the weight comes from the plastic enclosure and the pads, the driver and headband are featherweight. This means that the weight distribution is very even.

Isolation
These headphones have almost no isolation whatsoever. This is probably as open as a headphone can get, since I don't notice any change in level of sounds from my surroundings when wearing them. This also means that it's probably a bad idea to use them if sound leaking is a problem, since these headphones leak a lot of sound.


The HD650
The HD650 has been my first introduction to hi-fi headphones. I own these for over a year now, and I think it's one of the best purchases I've ever made. Since their purchase I have also bought a pair of HD 25-1 II's as a portable pair, and now recently the SR-202.

Aesthetics
446
These headphones look absolutely stunning. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about it, except for the fact that the paint on the headband chips a bit easily. Nothing really bad, but a bit disappointing considering the price.

Build quality
The build quality of these cans is phenomenal. I wouldn't toss them against the wall, but I have no reason to either. They look and feel as high quality equipment, and I'm sure that under normal usage they can easily go for 20 years or more. Apart from the chipping paint, there really isn't anything bad about the build quality that I can think of.

The cable is also very high quality, and practically tangle free with it's flat design. Personally I'm a huge fan of cables like this.

Ergonomics
Some people have fit issues with these headphones, and claim they have too high clamping force. For me this is absolutely not true at all, and I find them very comfortable. It feels like you are being gently hugged by a very fluffy pillow. Hard to describe it exactly, but I think the fact that I prefer to keep them on even when no sound is playing sums it up.


Isolation
While still being very open, these do have a little bit of isolation. Sound leakage is also little lower with the HD650's.
They are both open headphones, so it is to be expected.

Summary of non-sound quality factors:
In my opinion the HD650's both look better, and feel like they have a higher build quality. In both cases I don't really have any big complaints with either, but the HD650's would definitely be the winner in this regard.
The HD650 is also significantly more comfortable than the SR-202, but I really like how there is practically zero isolation on the SR-202. I prefer the flat and thin cable of the SR-202 as well, but in general the cables are both very well build and do not tangle. Both are good in terms of comfort, but the HD650 still wins hands down. I just haven't worn something more comfortable than the HD650's on my head. Ever.
I think it's also worth noting that during the writing of this review I had multiple occasions where I forgot which headphone I was wearing, and I had to actually feel them with my hand before I knew which I was wearing. At times I was also confused whether I wasn't listening to my near-fields instead, especially with the Stax.


Sound quality
The all important factor of course. Since this is my first real review I kindly ask you to bear with me, and I'll explain the review procedure:
I listen to an album while continually switching between the headphones and I try to make notes of very specific aspects of sound quality. This way I can thoroughly compare the sound quality. I try to do this in an as objective way as I am able, and very often when I'm not completely sure there is a difference I omit the statement altogether. I believe in real and easily identifiable differences, not in mysterious subjective factors such as how well headphones portray 'the soul of the music', or PraT.
I will review albums from a wide variety of genres. I know these albums very well personally, and most of them should be reasonably well known too.


Movies and TV shows
Personally I prefer the SR-202 when watching movies. I don't really have any particular reason for it, but the more natural sound of the SR-202 and the large soundstage really make it ever so slightly more preferable for movies.
Honestly, I haven't done any detailed comparison, but sub consciously I always grab for the SR-202 whenever I'm about to watch any kind of video.


Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R

250
Sample song (Click to show)

This album packs some serious energy, and features a lot of very distorted guitars. Additionally, it just plainly sounds very good. In the more complex passages it is easy for some headphones to muddy up the sound into a blob.

In the opening song “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”, the SR-202 does a very good job in keeping control in the song, and the instrument and presentation of the instruments remains very good despite the high amount of distortion. With the HD650 the stereo image of the rather prominent distorted guitar seems to spread out a lot. The drums are also a lot more noticeable on the SR-202 than on the HD650. This is both probably because the SR-202 is more treble weighted, which attenuates the (bass) guitar a bit relative to the HD650.

The same pattern holds true in the other songs of the album: the HD650 smears out the guitars a bit. However, if you take the second song of the album, “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”, I notice that the SR-202 lacks a lot of the rumble and energy the HD650 seems to portray. While the SR-202 seems to provide more detail, it also seems to lose a bit of the energy and feeling of the music in this case.

On the song “Auto Pilot” I can notice that the vocals seem a lot closer and less laid back on the SR-202 than on the HD 650. Cymbals also seem a bit subdued on the HD650 on this track, but on the SR-202 on the other hand they feel a bit unrealistic. The same is true for the hand claps of “Quick and to the Pointless”.

The fifth track on the album, “Better Living Through Chemistry”, is very interesting in terms of soundstage. With the SR-202 the instruments again seem a lot more separated, but what is also interesting is that in the beginning passage there is a slight echo to the drums, giving a very nice feeling of space. This echo, although easily audible on both headphones, is a lot more prominent on the SR-202. In the HD650 the sound seems to come from more or less one place, whereas with the SR-202 it is easy to notice the drums coming from to places at the same time.
On the track “Monsters In The Parasol”, the repetitive guitar/drums sound a better on SR-202. The cymbals in this passage are a lot more prominent, increasing the catchiness of the song.

On the song “In The Fade” the vocals feel more natural on the SR-202.

The very energetic “Tension Head” confirms the same observations I made in the first track. The SR-202 provides significantly better instrument separation, but it loses the raw energy of the rumbling distorted guitar. In this regard the HD650 is a lot more fun that the SR-202. I would also argue it feels more natural on the HD650, but that is very much a personal statement.

The song “Lightning Song” is a very good determinant for detail. In this song you can hear the fingers slide over the guitar if you listen carefully. It is subtle, but definitely there. I find a little easier to hear on the SR-202, but in both headphones this level of detail is easily distinguishable. This means that both are simply very good in terms of detail.

Overall on this album I think the HD650 won. The extra detail of the SR-202 is nice, but what is more important in this album is the emotion and energy conveyed in the raw thundering distorted guitar. The detail of the SR-202 seems to lie particularly in the sound stage, whereas this album does not really require this since it's more about the 'power' of the sound.


King Crimson – Lizard

250
Sample song (Click to show)

This album has a very large level difference between the soft and loud passages. Additionally, it has very complex passages with a lot of different instruments, making it a very good candidate for judging detail and soundstage. And on top of that this has been my favorite album for quite some time, so I have great personal interest in how the two compare.

In the first track, “Cirkus”, the song starts with vocals and then a short pause after which the volume suddenly rises as the drums kick in. The drums seem to have more impact, and sound better in general on the HD650. On the SR-202 the drums seem a lot softer than on the HD650. Bass also seems more pronounced on the HD650.
During the same passage there are a lot of different instruments playing, ranging from flute, vocals, bass, drums, saxophone, mellotron, acoustic guitar and organ. Though both headphones do an excellent job separating them, the HD650 does blend them a bit more than the SR-202. However, I do not think this a bad thing per se, On the HD650 it seems to be more like all the instruments are playing together, whereas the SR-202 separates them almost unnaturally.
After this passage the volume suddenly drops into a very quiet passage. Overall it seems the HD650 is losing control here and the position of all the separate instruments becomes blurred out a bit, whereas the SR-202 seems to do fine despite the very low volume.
The final passage that comes after the quiet one is very busy and chaotic. About halfway the saxophone becomes the main instrument, but on the HD650 it is drowned out a bit by the bass and drums, whereas the SR-202 does an excellent job in keeping it in front.

The next song, “Indoor Games”, is offbeat and contains distorted vocals. The drumming is at a faster pace here and does not share the impact of “Cirkus”, which the HD650 seemed to excel in. In this track the SR-202 seems to actually portray the drums better than the HD650 as a result.
Overall this songs sounds smoother on the HD650 than on the SR-202, but the HD650 has the tendency to slightly drown out the softer instruments playing alongside the main instruments. The bass guitar also seems subdued on the SR-202, whereas this is not the case on the HD650. Subjectively the SR-202 has more emotional impact than the HD650 on this specific song.

The third song, “Happy Family”, contains some very distorted vocals. On the SR-202 these, in addition to the intentionally harsh flute, have a very piercing and fatiguing nature. On the HD650 this song is quite manageable in this regard. Overall I don t really like this song in any case.

The next song is a short, soft, acoustic passage called “Lady of the Dancing Water”. Overall I find the SR-202 is better at softer passages than the HD650, and this seems to hold true for this track as well. This is very subjective, and I have difficulty explaining the basis of this statement.
The portrayal of timbre of the acoustic guitar is more or less equal, although the flute seems to sound better on the SR-202 by a small margin.

The final track is a 23-minute-long composition called “Lizard”. It contains both slow and soft passages as well as very chaotic and forceful ones. The first part alternates between a folksy refrain and a very soft poetic verse. During the refrain the bass guitar and drums have a lot more presence on the HD650 than they do on the SR-202, and overall the smoothness of the HD650 compliments this part very well.
This section ends with a very loud and chaotic part featuring military style drumming. This parts sounds a bit shrill on the SR-202, whereas the HD650 is more successful at conveying its great impact.

The next section of Lizard is appropriately titled “Bolero”, and contains a rhythmic bolero-like drum. This passage mainly contains brass and reed instruments. Overall I find that instruments like the oboe and saxophone are better conveyed by the SR-202 for some reason, but on the other hand they also tend to sound a bit piercing in the highs. Other than that this section is more or less as good on both headphones.

The next section is the introduction of a fighting scene, and starts with very soft and grim passage of a cor anglais (similar to oboe). Listening to this part several times really carefully I fail to detect any significant difference between the two. This points to the performance of the two being very similar in the mids, since this passage contains almost exclusively mid tones.
The next section is the fight itself, and is very similar to parts of the opening song, “Cirkus”. The force of the saxophone similar to that of the famous “21st Century Schizoid Man” is of special interest. Additionally there is the huge amount of detail and complexity in this passage. In contrary to what I have said about “Cirkus”, the SR-202 actually seems to convey they weight of the saxophone passages better than the HD650. I believe it is partly because in “Cirkus” the weight depended partly on the impact of the drums, which is much less true in this section. The HD650 smooths the sound out a bit, which makes it lose its vigor in this particular case.

The next and final section of the battle simulates the aftermath of the battle, and contains a funeral-like slow drum. Somehow the larger soundstage of the SR-202 makes this part sound more impressive, but overall the difference between the two headphones is not that big in this part. The album then finishes with a weird theme of distorted and phasing carnival and toy-box music that paces up an fades away. Not really all that much to say about it.


The performance of the two cans in this album is about equally good, but I would have to give a slight edge to the SR-202. Its impressive detail and soundstage make some of the passages feel even more impressive than on the HD650, although the smoothness of the HD650 makes it more suited for some other parts of the album. What was also very noticeable in the first track of the album is the lack of the SR-202s thump in the bass. Very low bass notes are done excellently, but transient tones (thump) is lacking.


Gorillaz – Self Titled

250
Sample song (with awesome video) (Click to show)

This album is very laid-back in nature, and one of the very few albums in the general direction of hip-hop which I own. I could have chosen an album from Nujabes or Massive Attack as well, but since this is one of the most popular all-time albums I think this is a better choice. Additionally, this album has some excellent parts which I consider more bass heavy, which can be interesting who tend to listen to bass heavy genres a lot.

The opening track starts with some deep sub-bass. Both headphones extend deep enough to make this sound really good. With the HD650 I can feel more of a thump, but with both headphones the bass is there at similar volumes. The overall smooth sound of this song is better conveyed by the HD650, but they do not sound all that different.

The next track, “5/4”, starts with a nice guitar riff before a synthetic drum kicks in. The guitar subjectively sounds better on the SR-202. When the drum kicks in it seems to have more weight on the HD650 than it does on the SR-202. After that a rumbling heavily distorted bass guitar joins. The thundering rumble sounds better on the HD650, as I have also noted on “Rated R”. On the noisier parts of this song both headphones seem to mask out detail, so there does not seem to be a difference here.

The next song, “Tomorrow Comes Today”, has a constant low bass guitar riff. Again this seems more present on the HD650 than on the SR-202. It should be noted that this song does not sound better on the HD650 because of it. I feel this bass part is a bit over emphasized on the HD650, which makes it different, but not necessarily better.

“New Genious (Brother)” shows something interesting as well; the SR-202 actually seems to put more emphasis on the bass than the HD650! This song features some very long bass notes, and my hypothesis is that the SR-202 has difficult with low pitched transient tones, but reaches deeper than the HD650 for longer tones. Other than that the SR-202 also makes it sound more spacious, which has a positive effect on this song.

The song “Clint Eastwood”, which is in fact one of my favorite all time songs along with “19-2000”, sounds fairly similar again on both headphones. Notable differences are that the SR-202 is more spacious and does not seem to over-emphasize any particular instrument. The HD650 on the other hand sounds more confined and muffled, and emphasizes the bass and vocals more than the other instruments, although this effect is minor.

On the song “Punk”, I find that the HD650 makes some parts sound noisy and over distorted, whereas the SR-202 seems to maintain proper balance. Additionally the airy sound of the SR-202 seems especially noticeable on this song with the percussion. Instead of giving it a nice slam like the HD650, the SR-202 tends to make it sound more distant. I personally prefer this, but I can definitely imagine others disagreeing with me on this.

I may be repeating myself here, but the song “Sound Check (Gravity)” sounds very smooth on the HD650, while it sounds airy and distant on the SR-202. Both are very nice, but my preference goes to the SR-202, as I (subjectively) enjoy that sound more. On the other hand, on the song “Double Bass” I actually prefer the HD650's smoothness over the airiness of the SR-202, even though both, again, have their respective charms. On most songs I prefer the SR-202, but definitely not on all songs. I will omit mention of further songs, as it is just a continuation of the pattern mentioned before.

I think this album was really interesting in showing that the SR-202 as really capable of producing very low tones. Looking at my spectrum analyzer, it did absolutely fine at tones of about 50Hz. In most cases, but not all, the HD650 did seem to put more emphasis on the bass than the SR-202, but this is probably caused by the SR-202 putting more weight on the treble. Overall the instruments seem more distance and airy on the SR-202, especially percussion instruments. The HD650 has a smaller soundstage and a slightly veiled or muffled character, but it does sound very smooth and laid back, which can be a good quality in many cases. Overall I did prefer the SR-202 over the HD650 on this specific album.


Bill Evans – Portrait in Jazz

250
Sample song (Click to show)

I do not listen to all that much jazz normally, although there are some albums which I just absolutely love. Generally I prefer instrumental jazz without guitars and synthesizers and whatnot. Some excellent examples are John Coltrane's “A Love Supreme”, Miles Davis' “A Kind Of Blue”, or Bill Evans' “Portrait in Jazz”. I choose to review the latter, for no particular reason other than mood.

The first track on this album, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, sounds almost exactly the same, and any differences I did find are subtle at best. They should therefore be taken with a grain of salt, since it might just as well be side effects of bias. First of all, the sound stage on this track is more or less equal. The one slight difference is that the location of the drums seems to be slightly smaller on the SR-202. Furthermore the drums also feel a little louder and more noticeable, but in turn have a slightly more grainy character to them. The piano sounds brighter on the SR-202 than on the HD650, and it also sounds very subtly clearer and natural on the HD650. The bass interestingly sounds the same on both headphones.

On the track “Autumn Leaves”, I again find that these headphones sound ridiculously similar. The cymbals feel slightly rolled of on the HD650, while on the SR-202 they feel slightly colder and more life like. Note that it took me at least a dozen times of switching between the two headphones to notice this, so it is very subtle if there at all.

On “When I Fall In Love” I notice that the piano seems ever so slightly more life like in terms of timbre on the SR-202 than on the HD650. On the HD650 it sounds clearer and more pure, but somehow less tangible and real than on the SR-202. I hate using such flowery wording, but I really can't put it in any other way.

In my favorite track from this album, “Peri's Scope”, I listened for more general differences in particular. I listened to this track over a dozen times, switching between the two headphones each time. At first it seemed both headphones were more or less identical, apart form the slight differences I have already mentioned before. Eventually though, I started to hear other differences. On the HD650 this track sounds more smooth and fills up the soundstage completely, whereas on the SR-202 there are more holes in the sound stages forming what I understand others call a 'black background'. On the HD650 it sounds slightly muffled and simply less real than on the SR-202. The differences are very subtle, but careful listening for long periods of time helps long ways identifying them.

I won't discuss the other tracks on this album, as they are very similar in style and instruments, meaning I'd just be repeating myself. It was surprising for me to note how incredible similar the two headphones sound in this album. I noticed many differences were subtle on other albums, but the differences are much more subtle here. I think the SR-202 is the clear winner here, although both are very solid contenders. The SR-202 is more life like, while the HD650 offers a cleaner and smoother sound. Please do take everything I have said here with a big grain of salt, since I myself am not even sure whether the differences I hear are real or not.


Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams

250
Sample song (Click to show)

This album contains some excellent laid back vocals, as well as some really smooth acoustic guitar and good cymbals. The smooth and laid back style of this album makes it an excellent representative of folk music. “Sleep Through the Static” is a more popular and well received album, but my personal preference goes out to this album.

First of all analyzing the opening track “Better Together”. The vocals feel more realistic, especially in terms of soundstage, on the SR-202 than on the HD650. It's not a large difference, but it simply feels more 'correct' on the SR-202. This is, of course, a very subjective statement. The bass and acoustic guitar feel smoother and more blended together on the HD650, but on the SR-202 they feel more realistic. For this specific track I prefer the HD650 in this regard, as it does a very good job complimenting the equally smooth and laid-back vocals. On the very last part of this track there is some really low bass. Both headphones play this with about equal volume, but on the HD650 it feels slightly masked by other tones, while this is not the case on the SR-202.

The second track, “Never Know” contains some low pitched percussion throughout. This feels better on the HD650 than on the SR-202, mainly because SR-202 lacks a bit of thump. On the HD650 I can at moderately loud listening volumes physically feel the bass, but on the SR-202 this only happens at much higher volumes.

Other than the aforementioned, I could add that the percussion in general feels better on the SR-202, especially the cymbals. The HD650 seems to have the tendency to roll of the higher frequency parts of such percussion. On the other hand the low pitched percussion, like mentioned before, sounds better on the HD650 as it has a greater amount of bass thump.

In general I can feel that the HD650 has the tendency to blend together instruments as if they were one sound source, whereas this absolutely not the case on the SR-202. In some cases this blending together can give a nice and smooth effect, as it makes the acoustic and bass guitar feel more as if they are one instrument. However the SR-202 just sounds more natural, since in reality the instruments should be separated. For example the track “Banana Pancakes” sounds a lot warmer and comforting on the HD650, which gives a very nice touch to the music, but usually I would prefer the sound signature of the SR-202 as it simply put sounds better to my ears.
The laid back soundstage of the HD650 is on the other hand very nice if you have a track open on the background while having your main focus on something else. The SR-202 is more attention grabbing, and makes you want to listen to the music primarily, which can be distracting at times.

From this point onwards I will try to only analyze very specific aspects of the sound, as I believe I have identified most of the sonic differences between the headphones by analyzing the other albums.


Angst – KMFDM

250
Sample song (Click to show)

I needed some metal in the repertoire as well, but truth be told, I'm not such a metalhead. However, I do really like KMFDM, which often includes heavy metal guitar riffs, albeit in a more electronic setting. In this music the heavy weight is one of the most important factors for good reproduction. I chose this specific album of KMFDM as it is one of the most metal influenced ones, instead of some of their more synth heavy music.

I noticed on “Rated R”, the HD650 does the heavy 'weight' and rumble of music better than the SR-202. The same is true for the opening track of this album, “Light”. On the SR-202 it sounds very bright, and the higher pitched guitars are distracting me from the thick and heavy foundation of this track. The slight roll-off in the treble of the HD650 compared to the SR-202 makes it sound a lot more bassy, which is actually a good thing in this case.

Also in the track “A Drug Against War” for example, the HD650 makes the fast paced drums a lot more noticeable than on the SR-202, where I almost solely hear electric guitar and vocals. I would almost argue it sounds boring and 'tinny' on the SR-202.

The distorted vocals on the track “Blood [Evil]” tend to display slightly more power on the SR-202, but the difference is definitely not big. I would expect the SR-202 to drown out the vocals slightly, but this is not the case, and it seems only the low tones are drowned out by the SR-202 due to the larger amount of treble. On the other hand the low pitched distorted voice of Käpt'n K at the first half of the track “Lust” sound better on the HD650, though again not by much.

The tracks up until now have been very upbeat and metal-like. The sixth track on the album, “Move On” is suddenly a lot slower and has a very heavy beat. With this the limitations of the SR-202 are especially noticeable. The SR-202 simply lacks the slam and thunder the HD650 so faithfully reproduces. This deficiency makes slow and heavy songs like this sound rather bland compared to the HD650.

I have noticed something else too by realizing the HD650 is better suited for music with a heavy weight to it. When playing music loud, that is significantly louder than I would normally listen at, the HD650 suddenly gets the edge over the SR-202. Normally my listening volumes are well below what I know others do, so to me this is not so relevant, but to those who like listening to music at high volumes this is a very important thing to consider. At high volumes the SR-202 starts to sound 'tinny' while the HD650 still retains it's smooth character. I have no technical explanation for this, but it is interesting to note nonetheless.


Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles

250
Sample song (Click to show)

Since I'm such a huge fan of the Beatles, I thought it was necessary to analyze the sonic characteristics of at least on Beatles album. My personal favorite is Revolver, but I found this album more appropriate.

On the track “The Fool On The Hill”, the warm and smooth sound signature of the HD650 seems to fit better than the SR-202. May be this album was mastered excessively bright, making it sound better on a warmer headphone such as the HD650, because I strongly prefer the HD650 on this track.

The vocals have a much closer presence on the HD650 on the track “Blue Jay Way”. Additionally the samples of instruments played back in reverse that occur in this track sound more natural and smooth on the HD650 as well. The soundstage of said samples just feel more natural on the HD650. Again, I think that it's because the track is mastered excessively bright since normally the soundstage of the SR-202 trumps that of the HD650.

I think it should be noted that this album is from the relative beginning of stereo mastering. A lot of times the vocals or even drums are in one channel only. I think it's because of this that it sounds better on the HD650, since the HD650 is excellent at smoothing out the soundstage a bit which makes the bad stereo image more bearable than the SR-202 makes it.
I think it could be argued from this perspective that the SR-202 is more revealing, and makes bad recordings sound less good. The sound quality of this album is actually quite good, but it's just the stereo image that's messed up. The HD650 does a better job at smoothening out the mistakes. I wouldn't say either of them has more detail, since whenever I have detected a small artifact for example on one of the headphones, I can easily hear it even on relatively low-fi equipment. There is detail in the soundstage, but in my opinion the ability to make soft sounds audible is more dependent on psychophysical limitations than on the headphones.

I think with this I will conclude my analysis of individual albums, since I see no further merit in it.

Conclusion of sound quality comparison

It's been an interesting journey, and I've learned a lot in writing this.
Subjectively I find that the SR-202 is the clear winner, but the HD650 definitely has its charms. The lack of bass thump in the SR-202 may not make it very suited for energetic electronic genres, and the smoothness of the HD650 makes them far more forgiving of bad recordings than the SR-202. For most other genres the SR-202 has the edge with its breathtaking soundstage.
I also think that the SR-202 is the more neutral (i.e. 'flat') of the two. Both the HD650 and the SR-202 deviate from neutrality, but the SR-202 just has a little too much treble, while the HD650 has a rolled off sounding treble. In my experience the SR-202 is easy to correct by EQ, but the HD650 not so much. I would classify the HD650 as dark, and I can see why people would call it 'veiled'. The SR-202's are bright, but not harsh in any way.



In case you skipped my album specific analyses, read them. I have discussed almost all significant factors of sound quality in quite some detail.



If you have any questions, additions or criticism, please feel free to post them to your heart's content.
Edited by Tilpo - 6/27/12 at 7:25am
post #2 of 20

Very well written review Rikkun!! The journey was fun....and yes, it burned.

 

After some demo'ing I'll look into some electrostats as well 

post #3 of 20

Nice review :)  I think a lot of people unfortunately disregard the non-SR Stax, which is too bad.  I tried putting a SR202 in my system and was really surprised at how well it scaled.  The build quality wasn't very good but it was comfortable to wear, though I was a little worried it was going to fall apart on my head!  With a decent chain, I think I'd find the SR202 easier to listen to than the HD650.

post #4 of 20

Now this is what I call an in depth review. The sr202 is impressive in your review. Oddly I am still compelled to try the hd650 but not the sr202. blink.gif

post #5 of 20

Wow, very detailed write up indeed. It's no wonder it took as long as it did! Awesome music selection too.

post #6 of 20

A very nice review of two classic titans (and a great contender for the title of "Longwindeus Supremus"  biggrin.gif)  Nice work!

 

The only area where I'd criticize it is that the conclusion that the Stax came out on top in your opinion doesn't seem as well represented as it should be in the album specifics.  I came away from the album specifics feeling like you favored each in different ways at different times for different things, and was kind of surprised that the conclusion was very weighted toward the Stax based on the specifics.  The hints are there but perhaps the album specifics were too forgiving of HD650 compared to your final opinion.

 

Other than the "surprise twist" at the end, very nice and detailed review.

 

 

The only thing I'd like to see is a comparison of the two with HD650 on some nice warm tubes :)   That would make it even more different than the Stax, but at the same time would show off some of its strengths better.  You can say you don't think there's much difference between amps, and I respect your stance on that, but there's a lot of HD650 owners including myself who feel they can change their character very easily between amps/tubes and feel that they don't show off their best without the "right" set ("right" meaning whatever fits the tastes of the owner.)  After all the Stax gets its own amp/energizer. 

 

However, objectively, SS is the closest way to try approaching electrostat clarity on a dynamic.  And always failing miserably wink.gif  Stats of all things are the hardest to compare to most things.  They're not really my cup of tea with the treble weight and analytical presentation, but you did a commendable job trying to contrast two very different and equally legendary headphones!

post #7 of 20
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by IEMCrazy View Post

The only area where I'd criticize it is that the conclusion that the Stax came out on top in your opinion doesn't seem as well represented as it should be in the album specifics.  I came away from the album specifics feeling like you favored each in different ways at different times for different things, and was kind of surprised that the conclusion was very weighted toward the Stax based on the specifics.  The hints are there but perhaps the album specifics were too forgiving of HD650 compared to your final opinion.

Other than the "surprise twist" at the end, very nice and detailed review.
Thanks!

In general I found the SR-202 has the edge over the HD650. In some cases the HD650 does a better job, but I find this to be the case in a relatively small percentage of the music I tend to listen to.
When I read the review myself I thought I made it pretty clear that in most cases I like the SR-202 better. The smoothness of the HD650 and the fact that the SR-202 does not really have a bass thump, makes the HD650 give a different character to the music in many cases, but often I just subjectively prefer the SR-202. I will add to the conclusion that the SR-202 'winning' is mainly opinion, as it is definitely true that there are a few things which the HD650 does better.
post #8 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tilpo View Post


Thanks!
In general I found the SR-202 has the edge over the HD650. In some cases the HD650 does a better job, but I find this to be the case in a relatively small percentage of the music I tend to listen to.
When I read the review myself I thought I made it pretty clear that in most cases I like the SR-202 better. The smoothness of the HD650 and the fact that the SR-202 does not really have a bass thump, makes the HD650 give a different character to the music in many cases, but often I just subjectively prefer the SR-202. I will add to the conclusion that the SR-202 'winning' is mainly opinion, as it is definitely true that there are a few things which the HD650 does better.

 

Oh, of course it's opinion.  Both of these are well loved headphones and, thankfully unlike K701 vs. DT880 vs. HD650 no one ever really held a war over which was better; they're both universally accepted as entirely different signatures so it's all about the narrative of comparison (one of the few such cases!)  And this is a nice contrasting of the two.

 

I definitely get where you're coming from regarding the jazz comparison.  Despite being an overwhelmingly dark/weighty headphone, what you described in the comparison between 202 and 650 is similar to how I feel about HE-400 vs. HD650.  Not entirely unsurprising since ortho shares some ancestry with stats. Specifically your piano statements.  Piano (and orchestra) to me feel so much more real and tangible with the HE-400's than the HD650 while the HD650 it's clearer and purer.   Both are different sounds for different tastes, and sometimes I can't decide which sound I want on a given album.  Arguably with the HE-400s (unlike the Stax) the HD650 is probably the technologically superior one in my example, but I usually enjoy forgoing technical prowess in favor of presence for orchestra, but stick with HD650 for jazz.  I suspect that's the opposite of what most audiophiles would pick. 

post #9 of 20
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by IEMCrazy View Post

I definitely get where you're coming from regarding the jazz comparison.  Despite being an overwhelmingly dark/weighty headphone, what you described in the comparison between 202 and 650 is similar to how I feel about HE-400 vs. HD650.  Not entirely unsurprising since ortho shares some ancestry with stats. Specifically your piano statements.  Piano (and orchestra) to me feel so much more real and tangible with the HE-400's than the HD650 while the HD650 it's clearer and purer.   Both are different sounds for different tastes, and sometimes I can't decide which sound I want on a given album.  Arguably with the HE-400s (unlike the Stax) the HD650 is probably the technologically superior one in my example, but I usually enjoy forgoing technical prowess in favor of presence for orchestra, but stick with HD650 for jazz.  I suspect that's the opposite of what most audiophiles would pick. 
For jazz I'd actually go with the SR-202's, if I were to choose. What I mainly noticed where that the differences were incredibly small, so small that I'm not even sure if the effects are caused by bias or whether they are just really subtle. If what I described is real, then the cans are more or less tied objectively. One does timbre/sound stage ever so slightly better, the other smooths up the sound a bit to create something clear and pure. Both have their advantages, and I happen to slightly prefer the SR-202's, but honestly it doesn't really matter all that much and I'd be fine with either headphone.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elysian View Post

Nice review smily_headphones1.gif  I think a lot of people unfortunately disregard the non-SR Stax, which is too bad.  I tried putting a SR202 in my system and was really surprised at how well it scaled.  The build quality wasn't very good but it was comfortable to wear, though I was a little worried it was going to fall apart on my head!  With a decent chain, I think I'd find the SR202 easier to listen to than the HD650.
I can definitely see where you're coming from with the low build quality thing. However, I would actually say the build quality is really quite good. Sure, they creak when moving your head and they feel fragile, but that's just how they are designed. In my opinion the build quality is very good, but you should still handle them with care.
post #10 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tilpo View Post


For jazz I'd actually go with the SR-202's, if I were to choose. What I mainly noticed where that the differences were incredibly small, so small that I'm not even sure if the effects are caused by bias or whether they are just really subtle. If what I described is real, then the cans are more or less tied objectively. One does timbre/sound stage ever so slightly better, the other smooths up the sound a bit to create something clear and pure. Both have their advantages, and I happen to slightly prefer the SR-202's, but honestly it doesn't really matter all that much and I'd be fine with either headphone.

 

I do think I tend to run opposite of what a lot of audiophiles, or at least headphiles tend to prefer for different genres.   I always hear "great for classical and jazz" associated with brighter headphones: K70x ,Beyer, HD800, HE-6, stats.  And I usually hear "good for jazz' with warm midrange cans like HD650, LCD-2, HE-500.  And typically "not for classical" with darker headphones like HE-400, LCD-2, etc.  And conversely the dark ones are often called "great for rock."

 

For me I actually prefer darker headphones for classical all the way around.  Any real orchestra, at any real sitting distance, in most venues has an extremely warm/dark timbre and sounds a little "slow.'  Most venues have wood walls, upholstered floors and ceilings.  "Bright" would be almost impossible in a real classical concert venue.  I've even sat feet away from recital performers/soloists/pianists, again wood rooms, high ceilings.  Warm or dark are, to me, the only two sounds of classical unless you're on-stage.  Brighter more sparkly tones tend to stand out as unrealistic for that genre to me.  It sounds like an orchestra playing in the open air.  Which happens, but usually isn't ideal.   So I actually find the HD650 is at times too bright for orchestral and not quite dynamic enough, so I pull out the HE-400's for most orchestral, one of the darker cans out there.  Solo piano, I like the HE-400s, again, even though they're dark and stats are generally bright, for the same type of reasons you described as differences between SR-202 and HD650.  So I suspect there's some of the common ancestry of stat/planar coming in to play.  It's been a long, long time since I've heard stats.  It wasn't any Stax model, it was one of the older Koss units.  But it's interesting to me, from your descriptions, where orthos may indeed have some of those stat elements inherited. Makes me want to try stats again biggrin.gif

 

But for jazz, while I like both, the mellow warmth and smooth air of the HD650 feels the most real to me.  But unlike most audiophiles I don't go for "what sounds ideal", I go for "what sounds the most real."  And real isn't always the ideal acoustics.  In fact it rarely is.

post #11 of 20

Personally I am willing to go straight to Summit Fi right now. HD800 or LCD2(revisioin something)

post #12 of 20
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bowei006 View Post

Personally I am willing to go straight to Summit Fi right now. HD800 or LCD2(revisioin something)
The Panda wants to get an LCD Rev. 2 without even remembering it's the second revision.
I would get an HD800 if I were to go that route (and I definitely will, probably sometime next year)
post #13 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tilpo View Post


The Panda wants to get an LCD Rev. 2 without even remembering it's the second revision.
I would get an HD800 if I were to go that route (and I definitely will, probably sometime next year)

The panda eats bamboo, haha!!!

 

I forgot which revision I was talking about. Sea cat was distracting me!!!

 

I will demo the two and see which I prefer for my genres!

post #14 of 20
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bowei006 View Post

The panda eats bamboo, haha!!!

I forgot which revision I was talking about. Sea cat was distracting me!!!

I will demo the two and see which I prefer for my genres!
I envy that.
I don't think it's easy to demo the LCD-2 here in the Netherlands, but I'll have a look right now if there are any stores which sell it.
post #15 of 20

Don't overlook the HE500/HE5LE/HE6 series if you have a chance to audition one.  A fair number of people around these parts prefer their high-end Hifiman's over the LCD2.2/LCD3, and a lot of these guys also own Stax.

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