First off, I just want to say that I have been searching on the forum for years, but never really posted anything until now. So, please don't take my limited appearances on the forum make me seem like a know-nothing. I have over 20 years experience in hi-end audio. I have had big rig set-ups from levinsons, mcintoshes, jadis, etc. and what have you come and go over the years. So, my ear is quite golden in this game of hi-end. but, in the world of headphones is a reduced scale of the same concept.
That much said, I have recently moved into a smaller abode where my stereo rigs don't have much of a place anymore, so I have begun shopping into the world of headphones, this is where I stumbled upon the new PHONON SMB-02 while walking down SOHO in Manhattan and entering the famous Stereo Exchange Boutique.
but nevertheless, I have had my share of experiences with owning the sennheiser hd580's, AKG K501, Beyerdynamic DT880 and AKG k701, Shure 840, and the new AKG K550. I currently own: the hd650, AKG k701, and Denon CD 3000. Amps - using Headroom Cosmic.
Well, here it goes: inside the hi-end audio shop, the headphones section is shelved with Grados line for trying out, ok. sounds good, so, i tried them and did not like them a bit as I found them too dry and shrill sounding which is actually seen as a benefit to a lot of people because of the clarity, but the musicality is lost in the design. I'm sure the RS2 line and up sounds much better than cheaper stuff but that wasn't avaliable for testing. Now, The sales guy, Alan, says to me, listen. ...."are you ready for this pair that I'm going to bring to you from the basement? It's fairly new but it's going to blow your mind away." mind you, there are hd800, and hd700 lined behind the counter as well. So, I wasn;t too sure what the hell he was going to bring me. But, all in all he brings up this box that had the words PHONON SMB-02 SUBTONIC MONITOR BASIC HEADPHONES ON THE FRONT OF THIS MYSTERIOUS LOOKING BLACK BOX. the box was very basic and nothing that showed the marvels of marketing at play here. on the back it was completely written in Japanese and says made in Japan in small captions on the back of the box. So, I said OK.
The phones come out of the box and I swear to you I did not think much of the ugly looking phones upon first glance, it reminded me of those cheapo SONY STREET CLOSED BACK HEADPHONES THAT retail of about 40 dollars or what have you. really nothing special looking about them besides the silver finished 1/4 connecter. So, we plug it into his DECCO AMP and within 10 seconds I realized what was happening. THESE PHONES ARE VERY VERY VERY VERY SPECIAL. you know that analogy people throw out?
DON'T JUDGE A BOOK BY IT'S COVER? WELL, this is one of those very moments and i really mean it. they could have dont more with the understated looks but the money charged for them is all in the drivers and the technology and start-up of the business. which usually translates into quality as the company is new. back to the sound: I threw all types of music at it from classical, jazz, to pop, gregorian chants and i have to say that ALAN was not scewing me... these are very very special. THE SOUND WAS MASSIVE!!
Bass was some of the deepest and controlled that I have ever heard and separation of instruments and musicality was so cohesive yet so distinguished that I could not believe what i was hearing. i blasted the volume and never was it shrill. the upper treble sparkles with such tazz and finesse that only the finest of the finest hifi systems can produce. mind you it's not peaky at all just very airy and refined without affecting the mids. the mids are full and robust and chorus and background singers are absolutely clear when harmonizing - voice distinction absolutely marvelous. Cymbals decay with such a natural and seductive trail that makes you wonder why are these phones only 350.00. Overall, the sound is balanced, FULL, WARM, and full of details and very refined. It is a closed headphone so, soundstage is quite limited but nevertheless it does an amazing job at recreating spatial dimension around instruments. I had my AKG K550's with me to audition and i immediately put them away in embarassment because the sound from those were so thin and frail and shrill to listen - that's AKG sound for everyone. not enjoyable. so, I was sold, i picked up the PHONON SMB-02 and have not regretted ever since. I prefer these to the HD650's because of the neutrality of the sound. So, clear. these are TRUE STUDIO HEADPHONES. those other big name companies need to learn a thing or two from this small start-up in JAPAN. PHONON was created by 3 audiophiles/sound engineers, etc. to bring about new flavor to the hi-end game. everyone should check them out. I am loving these phones so much.
how do these fair against the other headphones i have?
here's what the consensus after 100+ hours of listening:
the PHONONs are so easy to listen to yet have so much power and depth to the sound when the source material and equipment can give it. they are low impedence so driving straight from an mp3 player can do but get an amp and it will do it better justice.
i love these phones so much that my denon and sennheisers don't get much play anymore since i've gotten the PHONONs.
The Phonons are a warm can without sacrificing details and upper range. the upper range again is so beautiful. what is especially beautiful and magical about these phones is the way they render acoustic instruments such as strings and piano so much texture and overlays and timbre that gives instruments life in 2 sealed cups around your ears. the phones do tend to get a little hot around the ears after about 1 hour but just taking them off for a little and re-adjusting helps much. but ultimately, strectching the band helps a great deal. btw they are not circumaural so they are smaller and thus sit snug right on top of your ear.
THE AKG K550'S ARE GOING BACK TO THE STORE. i cannot believe they call those can's reference. because they were so thin-sounding side by side with the phonons and not musical at all. the low end was better than the akg k702 but doesnt say much because the k702 is not a bassy phone to begin with. k550s are good and have a wider soundstage but there is not much musicality to the cans. builit like a tank but the sound does not do the military looking design justice. the k550s could have been better. but fails.
all in all, the PHONON SMB-O2 are a pair of phones i can honestly say are worth 3 times its price tag. It is 350.00 but it absolutely without question performs like a 1000.00 pair of headphones at least, hint hint.. hd800.. don't own but brother does and I got to A/B them. while the hd800 is an open air design it sounds more spacious but musicality is on par with the PHONONS are far as pacing, details, warmth, texture. how do I end this, ok.. here it does.. it's one of those phones where you put it on and listen to your most familiar and most favorite recordings and find yourself hearing new things and tapping your feet and SMILING!!! mind you, THESE ARE NOT AUDIO TECHNICA 30S AT ALL!! THEY MIGHT LOOK LIKE THEY HAVE THE SAME HEADBAND BUT THAT IS ABOUT IT. THE SOUND IS COMPLETELY I MEAN COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AND BEYOND THE AUDIO TECHNICAs. WHY DID PHONON CHOOSE THIS DESIGN I DO NOT KNOW PRIOBALLY FOR UNOBTRUSIVENESS, MORE PROFESSIONAL, CLEAN AND UNDERSTATED SO YOU CAN CONCENTRATE ON THE SOUND.
I WISH THERE WERE MORE DEALERS AND REVIEWERS FOR THE CANS BUT O WELL LET ME BE THE FIRST!!
HOPE THESE PHONES CATCH ON QUICK BECAUSE I KNOW THEY WILL. o btw.. i mean it when i said i prefer these PHONONS TO MY HD650 BECAUSE I THINK THAT IT DOES EVERYTHING BETTER EXCEPT SOUNDSTAGING.
go out and try them... STEREO EXCHANGE IN MANHATTAN NEW YORK CARRIES THEM BUT THEY ARE PROBABLY SOLD OUR FOR NOW.. gotta call them. wish everyone would try them and share opinions.