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What's your go-to headphone for Jazz and Blues?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Over the last 6 months jazz has become the genre I listen to most often. The headphones I have today I kept because I felt they all did something very well with a particular genre of music. Unfortunately, they are all getting a smaller slice of use as I use the HD650's > Zana Deux/B22 (3 chan) for swing, hard bop, bossa nova, free jazz, blues. Am I the only one that feels the 650 can compete with first-rate flagships when it comes to the likes of Bill Evans, Coltrane, Rollins, Wes Montgomery? What do you guys prefer? Is there any headphone I'm overlooking? Grado HP1000/2? LCD-3?

 

I've tried replacing the 650 before. The LCD-2 was originally praised as its successor, but I find this to be silly as I hear more differences than similarities and also find they excel at very different types of music. 

post #2 of 10
You did not mention your budget, which would be a factor if the S word comes up. Stax Omega series phones will be a strong choice if money is not in the equation.

My advice, as a Jazz head, fifty plus year high fidelity listener and long time Stax guy is to stick with what you have. Sure, go to a meet, hopefully local, get some quality time with other phones (with your music) and hear for yourself. Subjective impressions from other listeners, what you are asking for I know, will not be very helpful. You already have a nice sounding rig. The music you enjoy hearing is usually well recorded, a consideration more important by far than what you play it on. My subjective take on that is that good Jazz can be enjoyed on a car radio because it is very high end in musical content and while it benifits from truer reproduction, it is the music that matters far more than the equipment. In all genres of course, but Jazz is one of the poster children for illustrating that concept.

Another minefield to avoid in soliciting impressions is the preponderance of bass heads on these forums. They tend to want, in my experience, more bass than is on the recordings. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does not serve good Jazz positively IMHO.

Bottom line, if you want to spend money go ahead. But you may as well, in that case, cut the endless experimentation out and jump to Stax 007 series or 009 headphones. My advice, if you are not well to do, is still to enjoy what you have, which is already damn good.
post #3 of 10

Depends, but I think it comes down to the hp1000 and the sr007. The sr009 is the only can in the mix that I haven't heard.

 

For solo stuff, or small band -hands down the grado hp1000. The hp1000s have a very realistic fullness that the stats just can't match. The lcd2/3 has this too but the hp1000 is much closer to neutral and significantly more balanced... cleaner presentation.

 

However if were talking big band stuff, i'd probably put the sr007 over the hp1000s because the hp1000s soundstage gets a little crowded and it loses the edge in separation/speed despite an advantage in weight.

post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the advice and the recommendations. I enjoy my rig a great deal, especially when I consider the time and experimentation that ultimately led to it. It seems the leap over to Stax is one of those unavoidable inevitabilities for people who tinker as I do. I've thought about it, but I'm not ready for that on several different levels. I don't want my post to be mistaken for dissatisfaction. The HD650's and also the others supply a whole heap of joys on nearly an everyday basis and thankfully I've not reached the point where anything set beside a Stax sr009 is considered a consolation prize. 

 

post #5 of 10
FWIW, the Grado RS-1 do a good job with the little bit of Jazz that I regularly listen to (Coltrane, Simone, etc) - I don't know if I'd say "go-to" but they're very visceral.

Another consideration is the Koss ESP/950, which is where I ended up after the HD 580 (which I liked for a lot of the reasons you're praising the 650), but honestly I could live happily ever after with the Sennheisers. So as others have said - stick with what you have, enjoy, and know. They're good. More money doesn't always mean more enjoyment or quality.

Between the two, that's tough. I did a write-up if you care to dig it up though. The 950 are closer to the Sennheisers in overall balance, the RS-1s are...not. I enjoy the RS-1 more in this event, but figured I'd mention the 950s because I think that a lot of 580/6x0 owners owe it to themselves to try hearing them; it may be the "upgrade" you're itching for.

Also +1 on the bass-head comments.
Edited by obobskivich - 7/30/12 at 4:19pm
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 

I've never considered an ESP-950. I always thought (however mistakenly), that they were the electrostats of yore and that Stax eventually took the reins. There is nothing of substance behind that as I haven't heard either, but merely a confused idea taken from the collective impressions here on this forum. I'll definitely look into them and I have read your write up with the RS1's. 

 

I don't own the older RS1's, but I do have a pair of RS1i's. From the brief time I spent auditioning the buttoned RS1's, I don't really remember if they are different from the newer iterations. According to some on these forums, the newer "i" version takes a detour from the original sound signature. We may, therefore, be hearing different things. I also remember UnkleErik mentioning his use of RS1's (non-"i" I believe) with jazz. I'll have it try it again, but the spirited grado sound, from a hypothetical view, doesn't seem suited to the mellow, meditative state that a solid jazz recording puts me in. Then again this hobby has proven time and again that hypothetical synergy-matching is inconsistent and unpredictable.

 

What makes the HD650 so effective with jazz in my opinion are the combined traits of impressive "technicalities" (focused center image and overall transparency) and an unhurried, collected getalong. Where the Grados are often at a gallop the Senns are at a steadfast trot. Add to that a warmth that isn't overdone and upper frequencies that sheen and shimmer when called upon and you have the makings of a very good jazz headphone (for me at the very least). The UM Miracles rival the Senns for jazz enjoyment, but despite its superior technical know-how, is not as emotionally involving. Maybe it's the Zana/B22 pairing, but I have not heard a veil with the Senns and have never felt they were "dark" (a feeling I sometimes get with LCD's). I have to admit though that the Senns have become a one-trick pony. Once I move away from jazz and its offshoot genres the Senns are comparatively sub-standard to the others. 

 

I also may be sitting on an exceptional jazz performer in the HE6's. Over the short time I brought out my Marantz 2285 I was startled by how refined the HE6  was. I remember remarking that they were possibly the least "flawed" of my stable and also the most versatile. I need to spend more time with them to be sure, but darnit I just keep reaching for them HD650's! 


Edited by ericfarrell85 - 7/30/12 at 11:54pm
post #7 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by ericfarrell85 View Post

I've never considered an ESP-950. I always thought (however mistakenly), that they were the electrostats of yore and that Stax eventually took the reins. There is nothing of substance behind that as I haven't heard either, but merely a confused idea taken from the collective impressions here on this forum. I'll definitely look into them and I have read your write up with the RS1's. 

The 950s *are* relatively old as a product, they came out in something like 1992. At the time, the STAX competitor was the LNS (SR-Lambda Nova Signature), and since then we've seen the SR-Omega series (and now the SR-009) come to pass. I haven't heard any of those, mind you, but I would certainly say that STAX has stolen the thunder in the segment simply by putting out new products (the last Koss ESP before the 950 came out in 1977 and the 950 was released after they emerged from the bankruptcy). I don't know how STAX stack up (aren't I clever? tongue.gif), but I think the 950 are the solid upgrade path for "I love the HD 580/6x0 and want something musical and smooth but still very detailed and fast."

The 950s aren't quite historical enough to sit up at the table with the DT48 (what is?) or even the PRO4/AA, but those few models aside, they're certainly history compared to many current headphones, and probably the longest continuous-run flagship game on the block. I'm not sure why Koss has kept them alive so long, relative to their ancestors; part of me thinks it's just the quirkiness that is Koss, but the other part of me thinks they know they got it right the first time, and don't see the need to fix something that isn't broke (and when you consider how much STAX claimed the SR-009 to cost as a development project...).
Quote:
I don't own the older RS1's, but I do have a pair of RS1i's. From the brief time I spent auditioning the buttoned RS1's, I don't really remember if they are different from the newer iterations. According to some on these forums, the newer "i" version takes a detour from the original sound signature. We may, therefore, be hearing different things. I also remember UnkleErik mentioning his use of RS1's (non-"i" I believe) with jazz. I'll have it try it again, but the spirited grado sound, from a hypothetical view, doesn't seem suited to the mellow, meditative state that a solid jazz recording puts me in. Then again this hobby has proven time and again that hypothetical synergy-matching is inconsistent and unpredictable.

I'm lazy, and wrote RS-1 throughout, but mine are indeed RS-1i redface.gif. I did spell that out at the beginning, and I apologize for the confusion. I have not heard a pre-i RS series, but the pre-i SR and GS series were very good. Regarding the second half of this paragraph - I don't like the "match the genre to the headphones 1:1" idea - in other words, bassy music and bassy headphones is a recipe for a headache imho, when I want to listen to dubstep or hardstyle for a long period of time, I grab my F1s (which are one of the least bassy headphones I've ever heard, and perhaps ever made). When I want to listen to something that's fairly "thin" I'll reach for the RS-1 and their punched up bass/treble. This isn't absolute, of course, just an example. I think the RS-1 are a huge departure from the Prestige sound, they aren't a "wall of sound" - they're very 3D (if they weren't, they would not have lasted against the ESP and F1) and can do "mellow" quite well. I enjoy them very much with ambient/trance type material (Voodoo Child, AFX, etc). I think it's precisely because they AREN'T flat that they do this. The 950 is also good at this, but as I said in the comparo - the 950 are good because they put the effort in, the RS-1 because they don't.
Quote:
What makes the HD650 so effective with jazz in my opinion are the combined traits of impressive "technicalities" (focused center image and overall transparency) and an unhurried, collected getalong. Where the Grados are often at a gallop the Senns are at a steadfast trot. Add to that a warmth that isn't overdone and upper frequencies that sheen and shimmer when called upon and you have the makings of a very good jazz headphone (for me at the very least). The UM Miracles rival the Senns for jazz enjoyment, but despite its superior technical know-how, is not as emotionally involving. Maybe it's the Zana/B22 pairing, but I have not heard a veil with the Senns and have never felt they were "dark" (a feeling I sometimes get with LCD's). I have to admit though that the Senns have become a one-trick pony. Once I move away from jazz and its offshoot genres the Senns are comparatively sub-standard to the others. 

Based on this, the ESP/950 are probably the better choice for you. They have better treble impact/extension than the Sennheisers (it isn't harsh - they can reach higher and do it louder than the MDR-SA5000 or SR-325, but only when called upon, and even then, they're smoother and softer about it than the F1 (one of the least fatiguing headphones ever)). They're very "effortless" in their rendering of whatever goes through them - nothing becomes clashy, shrill, etc unless that's how it's meant to sound. The RS-1 aren't quite to that level - they can get a little uncouth with bad tracks, but it's not like the Prestige series or something like the SA5000 that can get downright abrasive.

The other advantage is that the 950s fit about the same as the 650s, just less clamp. They're really a logical progression imho (not just in sound, but functionally as well). And since you seem to be identifying with the strongest qualities of the Sennheiser flagships, I think the 950s are worth a shot. Expect the same good mid-bass and warm low-end, with better extension, and better mids and much better treble. They will bring up the emotion in material, but again, the Grados will put them to shame here (that's where I can't decide between the two of them - the 950 are technically better, but don't bring up as much of the emotion in music, the RS-1 do that very well - you don't listen to music, you experience it). I also think they've backed off on the pricing recently. smily_headphones1.gif

Quote:
I also may be sitting on an exceptional jazz performer in the HE6's. Over the short time I brought out my Marantz 2285 I was startled by how refined the HE6  was. I remember remarking that they were possibly the least "flawed" of my stable and also the most versatile. I need to spend more time with them to be sure, but darnit I just keep reaching for them HD650's! 

I'm not familiar with those beyond spec-sheets and anecdotes, but I'd certainly agree with plugging them into that big Marantz for power. Either on the front or on the back.
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the detailed response. Your high opinion of the ESP-950 has inspired me to research them more thoroughly. What I discovered in the process is an almost unanimous respect for their abilities. What I don't appreciate and likely the reason I won't buy them (provided I don't find a great deal) is the consensus that a high-end amplifier (BHSE, KGSSHV, Woo GES) is necessary to succor and nourish them.

 

Being somewhat privy to my own inclinations I'll become crazed knowing that a more complete experience lies in a different amplifier. I was prepared for the LCD's with a Taboo, the HD800's with the Zana/B22, HE6 with the Marantz and was not impressed with the HD650 before the Zana (previously used an Nuforce HDP). If and when I'm prepared to confer $1500 on another amplifier, I'll certainly wonder if an 02 mk1 isn't worth the extra expense. That seems to be the one major impracticality of purchasing an ESP-950. It's inexpensive at $650, but overextended at $2100 (when one considers that a Stax is within reach).

 

In all likelihood I'm being silly and probably overrate the collaborative role of an amp. Unfortunately, I have only to think back (or look at my depleted wallet) to see that this hobby has confirmed repeatedly that I am no model for intelligent spending. Quite the reverse actually as I  painstakingly go out of my way to squander the almighty greenback. It's a mousetrap to suddenly hold myself to the spending habits of healthy-minded people. I believe I'll stick with what I have until that next twinkle moment touts that $2500 is a perfectly respectable amount to spend on a pair of headphones. 

post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by obobskivich View Post


Regarding the second half of this paragraph - I don't like the "match the genre to the headphones 1:1" idea - in other words, bassy music and bassy headphones is a recipe for a headache imho, when I want to listen to dubstep or hardstyle for a long period of time, I grab my F1s (which are one of the least bassy headphones I've ever heard, and perhaps ever made). When I want to listen to something that's fairly "thin" I'll reach for the RS-1 and their punched up bass/treble. This isn't absolute, of course, just an example. I think the RS-1 are a huge departure from the Prestige sound, they aren't a "wall of sound" - they're very 3D (if they weren't, they would not have lasted against the ESP and F1) and can do "mellow" quite well. I enjoy them very much with ambient/trance type material (Voodoo Child, AFX, etc). I think it's precisely because they AREN'T flat that they do this. The 950 is also good at this, but as I said in the comparo - the 950 are good because they put the effort in, the RS-1 because they don't.
 

 

I'm beginning to revise my ideas on 1:1 genre/headphone matching. Previously I believed all headphones can be reduced to genre high's and low's, but this is not very practical when one considers the near infinite variations from recording to recording and also how moody we get when searching for a particular flavor of sound. I like the RS1's with some ambient like Carbon Based Lifeforms and Brian Eno, but sometimes just crave the expansiveness of the HD800 on these same recordings. It's a tossup if I'm doing LCD's, AD2000's or RS1's for Neil Young or Elliot Smith. Yet, with classical, jazz and bluegrass I seem to be more finicky. Perhaps I'm more determined to categorize a headphone and furnish it with master-of-genre ceremony, or maybe a particular pair just plays nice with my nuanced memorization of what, for example, a symphony sounds like. Heck, I don't know. If I can shake out a few smiles in the morning before I go to work because James Blake sounds phenomenal on headphone - A (LCD-2) and you can, similarly, from headphone B (ESP-950) than we both came out triumphantly. 

post #10 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by ericfarrell85 View Post

Thanks for the detailed response. Your high opinion of the ESP-950 has inspired me to research them more thoroughly. What I discovered in the process is an almost unanimous respect for their abilities. What I don't appreciate and likely the reason I won't buy them (provided I don't find a great deal) is the consensus that a high-end amplifier (BHSE, KGSSHV, Woo GES) is necessary to succor and nourish them.

Being somewhat privy to my own inclinations I'll become crazed knowing that a more complete experience lies in a different amplifier. I was prepared for the LCD's with a Taboo, the HD800's with the Zana/B22, HE6 with the Marantz and was not impressed with the HD650 before the Zana (previously used an Nuforce HDP). If and when I'm prepared to confer $1500 on another amplifier, I'll certainly wonder if an 02 mk1 isn't worth the extra expense. That seems to be the one major impracticality of purchasing an ESP-950. It's inexpensive at $650, but overextended at $2100 (when one considers that a Stax is within reach).

In all likelihood I'm being silly and probably overrate the collaborative role of an amp. Unfortunately, I have only to think back (or look at my depleted wallet) to see that this hobby has confirmed repeatedly that I am no model for intelligent spending. Quite the reverse actually as I  painstakingly go out of my way to squander the almighty greenback. It's a mousetrap to suddenly hold myself to the spending habits of healthy-minded people. I believe I'll stick with what I have until that next twinkle moment touts that $2500 is a perfectly respectable amount to spend on a pair of headphones. 

I've never tried them with another amp, but I'll say that I honestly think it's typical audiophile silliness that pushes "an amp" for all situations. I've yet to hear the "claimed benefits" of "improved" amplification for any headphone, I've only heard variations with the 580/6x0 (which are reactive) and changing Zout; none of it is bad though. The E/90 is designed by Koss to be the ideal match for the 950, but it doesn't cost $5000 and lacks a huge aluminum case, so of course it sounds bad. rolleyes.gif

Quote:
Originally Posted by ericfarrell85 View Post

I'm beginning to revise my ideas on 1:1 genre/headphone matching. Previously I believed all headphones can be reduced to genre high's and low's, but this is not very practical when one considers the near infinite variations from recording to recording and also how moody we get when searching for a particular flavor of sound. I like the RS1's with some ambient like Carbon Based Lifeforms and Brian Eno, but sometimes just crave the expansiveness of the HD800 on these same recordings. It's a tossup if I'm doing LCD's, AD2000's or RS1's for Neil Young or Elliot Smith. Yet, with classical, jazz and bluegrass I seem to be more finicky. Perhaps I'm more determined to categorize a headphone and furnish it with master-of-genre ceremony, or maybe a particular pair just plays nice with my nuanced memorization of what, for example, a symphony sounds like. Heck, I don't know. If I can shake out a few smiles in the morning before I go to work because James Blake sounds phenomenal on headphone - A (LCD-2) and you can, similarly, from headphone B (ESP-950) than we both came out triumphantly. 

Yeah, I agree with the thrust of this. There is no "glass slipper" for given genres, despite what many would have you believe. I've found that this understanding is only borne out of experience - a lot of people are deathly convinced that Grados (for example) can only play rock music (what, do they melt if fed jazz? and what actually constitutes rock music?), or that electrostats can only play "classical" or similarly absurd claims. Good is good imho - if a headphone (or speaker) has a flaw with a specific type of music or track, it's a flaw with the system, not an incompatibility with the music. In other words, I think the RS-1, ESP/950, etc can both do justice to AC/DC, but they don't sound the same. The difference is what I appreciate. But I'm sure there's plenty of people who would ardently insist that I'm "doing it wrong" and that only the RS-1 sound good with AC/DC (because "it's rock"), and the 950s should only be taken out for "classical" (which means?).
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