Hello everyone. I just discovered Head-Fi while surfing reviews, and this place definitely seems like the best audiophile knowledge-base, at least when it comes to headphones. I'm actually kind of surprised that I hadn't found this community sooner.
Anyhow, I'm a fledgling audiophile, and have been trying to understand all the jargon I've been seeing around, so please excuse me if I can't adequately describe things!
I'm a university student, so the two places I'll primarily be using my headphones is either on the bus, or in a library. My commutes tend to be long, so comfort is a must. Since the buses here in Vancouver can get quite loud, and for obvious reasons in libraries, isolation is also a must. I'm looking to spend about $200. Definitely no more than $250 including tax.
My music is pretty diverse, ranging from bebop jazz, symphony orchestras, many kinds of rock, and some pop and rap. I don't plan on listening to anything other than music with my headphones (e.g. no movies, gaming). Regarding volume, I don't like to turn headphones up too high, as I'm cautious about hearing damage. On my phone/MacBook controls, I usually keep it at about half volume. Never at maximum.
Until now, I've used the in-ear phones that my Galaxy S2 came with, which weren't all that bad to my unexperienced ears. However, I've grown to dislike having these things in my ear canals. I take care to keep my earbuds clean, but I've had two debilitating ear infections. So, a week ago or so, I set out to find some suitable on-ear phones. I considered circumaurals, but for the sake of portability, I decided to stick with supra-aurals.
Being clueless as I was, I walked into Best Buy and went straight for some Bose headphones, the OE2. I've used these for the last 3 days or so, and even tried to burn them in a little by leaving them running. However, this was all before I found Head-Fi. 1 or 2 days ago, I stumbled upon Head-Fi and discovered the Sennheiser HD 25-1 ii, along with all its fans. So, today, I went to try to compare these two phones at Future Shop (with my brand-new OE2s, and the display model Senns, which are without a doubt burnt in). After about 20 minutes of listening and getting a bunch of weird looks, here's what I gathered. (I'm sure it makes no difference, but the display models were the Adidas branded kind.)
The first, most obvious difference to me was how comfortable the OE2s are. It's basically as if they're not there, and would be ideal for hours of listening. I'd heard that the Senns had some sort of crazy clamping force, but I guess the store model had been worked in a little, and it didn't seem dramatically more forceful than the OE2s. Noticeable, but not dramatic. The OE2 ear pads are much softer (more of a leatherette, rather than crumply vinyl on the Senns), and the headband fits more naturally. The Senns still fit nicely, but the ear cups were a completely different feel. Dare I say... the material seemed much cheaper.
Build quality / aesthetics: OE2
I've seen a lot of people complaining about Bose build quality on this forum, and praising the HD25 build quality. When I saw the Senns in person today, I was rather confused. Yes, both are made almost entirely of plastic, but the OE2s are just so much more 'elegant' about this fact. The the OE2 just felt like the pieces fit better together, and rotations and adjustments were much more controlled than the Senns. After hearing so much praise about how 'indestructible' the Senns were, I was pretty let down by what I saw in the store. The point where the ear cups connect to the headband (e.g. the length adjustment point) was just held loosely and flopped about when I was turning the phones around in my hands. The vinyl feel of the ear pads felt much cheaper than the faux leather on the OE2s. The Senns' joints felt somewhat loose, and the overall construction of the plastic pieces felt somewhat poor, compared to what seemed like precision-moulded pieces of the OE2s. Perhaps this may be attributed to the store model being so beat up - but didn't you all say that these were bomb-proof? But hey, like you guys, I'm not fixated on aesthetics. I even considered Koss Porta Pros, but turned away from the idea due to the poor isolation (open back). On that note, I can't exactly tell if the OE2s are closed-back either, as there is a vent in each ear cup that lets out a significant amount of sound.
Sound quality: HD 25-1 ii
Even to my untrained ears, the Senns sounded significantly better - though I debated whether this difference was worth $60, on top of the comfort and build trade-off. Low bass beats seemed much more controlled and tight on the Senns, and the overall clarity was much better. Highs seemed quite muffled on the OE2s, which I might attribute to the earpad design, as "Bilavideo" said in a similar thread called "Sennheiser HD25-1-II vs. Bose On-Ear Headphones":
This sums it up quite perfectly. I even noticed this on the Bowers and Wilkins S5 to an extent. As I noticed this and honed in on it more, the more dramatic the difference seemed. The OE2s are decidedly muddy when it comes to highs, when compared to the Senns - and this is a big difference.
This one was tough, so I'll have to leave it at a tie. I've used the OE2s on the bus for at least 4 hours, and while I can still hear the bus engine roaring quite clearly, it muffles it enough to not be distracting, and I didn't have to crank the volume very high. However, the volume consideration may have come about from my cautiousness regarding hearing loss, rather than being able to hear my music clearly. Since the Senns were tethered to the display table, I couldn't give it a fair test for isolation.
As a student, I need to lug around my headphones basically everywhere I go. This will usually mean that I'll be shoving them into my bag. The OE2s fold flat into a nice little case, which ends up being no thicker or wider than a 10-pack CD case. The Senns on the other hand, do not have any sort of compactability feature like this. Without a doubt, the Senns will fit much more awkwardly into my backpack. My worry is that having my bag pushed around may squish the phones in unfavorable ways, introducing stress damage.
I can't state strongly enough how crazy comfortable these OE2s are. I am also finding it difficult to get past how cheap those display Senns felt, especially for a $200 set of phones. However, those things aside, the HD 25-1 ii is the definitive winner when it comes down to what matters most: sound. However, I can't make a final decision until I am able to bring a pair of these home, and try them out on the bus to test for adequate isolation (Future Shop was out of stock today). I have no doubt that all the praise for these Senns on Head-Fi doesn't come unwarranted. In the end, it comes down to considering the portability+build quality+comfort+affordability trade off for sound quality.
The only alternative I have in mind right now are the Sony MDRNC200D active noise-cancelling on-ear phones. However, these have the same ear pad design as the OE2s, and subsequently, I'm a little worried that the sound may be muffled as such. I haven't had much time to test the Sony set, however. At $200, they're the same price as the non-Adidas-branded Senns, but with the added bonus of active noise cancelling, which I found to be pretty impressive, at least with the store demo of simulated jet engine sounds. I imagine this tech would hold up quite well on the bus as well. It was strange, however, from what little opinion I'm seeing on Head-Fi, it doesn't seem to perform amazingly well, as the NC system introduces its own hiss. The only other set of noise-cancelling phones I've had are in-ear Panasonics that cost me no more than $40. I'm beginning to believe that all the NC box is doing is create white noise, however. Despite this, the system manages to subdue external noise rather well.
Well, there's my opinion about these two headphones - also my very first piece of writing about any sort of audio equipment. Given my situation, usage, and listening habits, and all this rambling I've produced, what do you guys think I should go with?
Other alternatives are welcome, but ideally they should be available at retail stores (e.g. Best Buy, Future Shop) so I can easily return them if I end up not liking them (as I did with the Bose IE2, incidentally).
For those that don't have time to read an entire essay AND write one, I'll leave a poll open.
Thank you all in advance!
Edited by cys920622 - 7/17/12 at 3:04am