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What should be my first open back headphone?

post #1 of 44
Thread Starter 

So up until this point I have mainly dealt with closed back headphones and IEMs. I started out with the Skullcandy Titans (I basically made an uninformed choice based on my price range and what was popular at the time), I then bought a pair of Phillips/O'neill Stretch (they're decent, but not good enough since i've upgraded since then). Around the time that I started really doing research (read: lurking on Head-Fi ) I bought a pair of Sennheiser HD 380 Pros. The truth is, I actually love the way this headphone sounds; I just don't like the fit. I seem to have this OCD thing where I try to make it so that no part of my ear is touching the pad. It gets quite annoying. After that I began to think that maybe IEMs are the way to go, so I played it safe and bought a Klipsch S4i (I' not quite sure how I feel about them still, other than the fact that the treble response is quite uneven and I don't really like the way the tips fit). Finally I purchased a pair of Thinksound TS02s. I love the sound stage and for the money, I think it's a great IEM, but I'm wanting something with a completely different signature, mainly a more "open" sound. I also have a Fiio E17 which I use mainly through my iPhone 4 w/ a LOD. Occasionally I use it with my Macbook Pro, but I've noticed that with a lot of music the DAC has an extremely "reigned in"/ polite sound signature that I haven't quiter gotten used to yet.

 

I was in a Best Buy the other day and noticed for the first time that they had a "high fidelity" section in the back which included a pair of Sennheiser HD558. I was excited because I'd never heard a pair of open back headphones. After trying out the 558s I wasn't all that impressed, but I also knew that there could be a wide range of factors which may have contributed to my lukewarm reaction. I'm thinking about buying the 558s on faith and assuming that the combination of the ambient noise of the store, poor source/amplifiation, lack of sufficient burn-in, and just my ears being conditioned to an entirely different sound signature were the main reason behind me not being terribly impressed, but I'd like to get some experienced opinions, so I can figure out if maybe a different entry-level open-back earphone might better suit me.

 

I listen to a very diverse array of music genres, so it's hard to use that as a deciding factor, but I do find myself migrating from being a basshead to appreciating a more balanced sound.

post #2 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mandala View Post

So up until this point I have mainly dealt with closed back headphones and IEMs. I started out with the Skullcandy Titans (I basically made an uninformed choice based on my price range and what was popular at the time), I then bought a pair of Phillips/O'neill Stretch (they're decent, but not good enough since i've upgraded since then). Around the time that I started really doing research (read: lurking on Head-Fi ) I bought a pair of Sennheiser HD 380 Pros. The truth is, I actually love the way this headphone sounds; I just don't like the fit. I seem to have this OCD thing where I try to make it so that no part of my ear is touching the pad. It gets quite annoying. After that I began to think that maybe IEMs are the way to go, so I played it safe and bought a Klipsch S4i (I' not quite sure how I feel about them still, other than the fact that the treble response is quite uneven and I don't really like the way the tips fit). Finally I purchased a pair of Thinksound TS02s. I love the sound stage and for the money, I think it's a great IEM, but I'm wanting something with a completely different signature, mainly a more "open" sound. I also have a Fiio E17 which I use mainly through my iPhone 4 w/ a LOD. Occasionally I use it with my Macbook Pro, but I've noticed that with a lot of music the DAC has an extremely "reigned in"/ polite sound signature that I haven't quiter gotten used to yet.

I was in a Best Buy the other day and noticed for the first time that they had a "high fidelity" section in the back which included a pair of Sennheiser HD558. I was excited because I'd never heard a pair of open back headphones. After trying out the 558s I wasn't all that impressed, but I also knew that there could be a wide range of factors which may have contributed to my lukewarm reaction. I'm thinking about buying the 558s on faith and assuming that the combination of the ambient noise of the store, poor source/amplifiation, lack of sufficient burn-in, and just my ears being conditioned to an entirely different sound signature were the main reason behind me not being terribly impressed, but I'd like to get some experienced opinions, so I can figure out if maybe a different entry-level open-back earphone might better suit me.

I listen to a very diverse array of music genres, so it's hard to use that as a deciding factor, but I do find myself migrating from being a basshead to appreciating a more balanced sound.

For sure on your "basshead" side of preference the Beyerdynamic DT990 which can be had used for 180 dollars on amazon used from amazon warehouse.

The 558 are more neutral and just overall not in the same leauge. You could look up the 598 which might be more toward your liking but I have never actually tried em so I can't really recommend.

I really think the 990 will be a good first open phone. It is a bit V shaped but a very very capable headphone and you really experience that open feel that you are looking for. A lot more so than the 558 which has a rep of being closed in sounding for an open phone.
post #3 of 44
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doc-holliday View Post


I really think the 990 will be a good first open phone. It is a bit V shaped but a very very capable headphone and you really experience that open feel that you are looking for. A lot more so than the 558 which has a rep of being closed in sounding for an open phone.

That's certainly good advice. How would you describe the characteristics of the low end of the 990? As far as bass is concerned, it's an awkward predicament for me, because I tend to like prominent bass on tracks/genres that aren't notably bass heavy, (like older rock recordings and Motown), but I tend to crave a more analytical bass response when it comes to more bass-driven music and modern recordings.

post #4 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mandala View Post

That's certainly good advice. How would you describe the characteristics of the low end of the 990? As far as bass is concerned, it's an awkward predicament for me, because I tend to like prominent bass on tracks/genres that aren't notably bass heavy, (like older rock recordings and Motown), but I tend to crave a more analytical bass response when it comes to more bass-driven music and modern recordings.
The bass on the DT990 is not bloated at all and extends well. It is one of those cans that with my E11 you can turn off the bass boost or crank it up and in doing so you aren't going to entirely drown out everything. For me it has flexibility that I don't get with other headphones and IEMs I listen to or have tried. The quantity and quality are certainly present. When I want even more bass impact I switch to my DT770s.

Honestly I think you will enjoy them. They are great for a somewhat V shaped can. I can enjoy a bass heavy track and then switch over to Eric Clapton unplugged and still be amazed. Unlike other phones like the M50's I just traded away which leave that type of music sounding thin.
post #5 of 44
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doc-holliday View Post


The bass on the DT990 is not bloated at all and extends well. It is one of those cans that with my E11 you can turn off the bass boost or crank it up and in doing so you aren't going to entirely drown out everything. For me it has flexibility that I don't get with other headphones and IEMs I listen to or have tried. The quantity and quality are certainly present. When I want even more bass impact I switch to my DT770s.
Honestly I think you will enjoy them. They are great for a somewhat V shaped can. I can enjoy a bass heavy track and then switch over to Eric Clapton unplugged and still be amazed. Unlike other phones like the M50's I just traded away which leave that type of music sounding thin.

After searching for the 990 on Amazon, I have to ask if there's a notable difference between the Pro and the Premium? Also, they come in different impedances; is this an important factor beyond drivability?

post #6 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mandala View Post

After searching for the 990 on Amazon, I have to ask if there's a notable difference between the Pro and the Premium? Also, they come in different impedances; is this an important factor beyond drivability?

On impedance I've read endless discussions on the subject. Overall I determined the sound differs slightly but are all basically the same can. I ended up going with the 32ohm and I love them. My Dt770's are 250 ohm and I love them as well. It certainly isn't like each sound like a whole new set of cans as the differences are somewhat subtle.

In terms of the pro and premium. You can search that on here in terms of sound. I only own the premiums and have never A/B'd the two.

2 major selling factors for me on the premium were 1) they look much nicer and more durable 2) many people say the clamping force on pro is much tighter compared to the premium. They also in turn say it results in more bass, but I find the premium has more than sufficient bass capabilities without squeezing my melon to the point of irritation for long listening.
post #7 of 44
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doc-holliday View Post


On impedance I've read endless discussions on the subject. Overall I determined the sound differs slightly but are all basically the same can. I ended up going with the 32ohm and I love them. My Dt770's are 250 ohm and I love them as well. It certainly isn't like each sound like a whole new set of cans as the differences are somewhat subtle.
In terms of the pro and premium. You can search that on here in terms of sound. I only own the premiums and have never A/B'd the two.
2 major selling factors for me on the premium were 1) they look much nicer and more durable 2) many people say the clamping force on pro is much tighter compared to the premium. They also in turn say it results in more bass, but I find the premium has more than sufficient bass capabilities without squeezing my melon to the point of irritation for long listening.

Yeah, I'd probably follow your logic to a tee. I'm sure a lot of what I find annoying about my HD 380 Pro has to do with the amount of clamping force that the phone has. Either way, I'm a bit leary of used phones, but the asking price for a new one is still within my range for what I'd consider a worthwhile investment.

post #8 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mandala View Post

Yeah, I'd probably follow your logic to a tee. I'm sure a lot of what I find annoying about my HD 380 Pro has to do with the amount of clamping force that the phone has. Either way, I'm a bit leary of used phones, but the asking price for a new one is still within my range for what I'd consider a worthwhile investment.

Yea I had the 380 pro's and they are like having your head in a vice after a while lol. (And I am sure you are aware the 380 is the epitome of flat and neutral and these 990's are engineered to be a lot more "fun" sounding....)

Let me know how they work out.
post #9 of 44

HD600

post #10 of 44
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doc-holliday View Post


Yea I had the 380 pro's and they are like having your head in a vice after a while lol. (And I am sure you are aware the 380 is the epitome of flat and neutral and these 990's are engineered to be a lot more "fun" sounding....)
Let me know how they work out.

Okay, now what you've said intrigues me, because I haven't really been able to find a good consensus on what people generally think of the 380 Pro. From what I've read most people don't like them and I've never been able to figure out why. You see, I'm still in the process of figuring out what my preference is as far as sound signature is concerned, but when I bought my 380 pro I A/Bed them against about a dozen other closed cans, including 5 other Sennheisers. All of them were within my budget, but the 380 is what I walked away with. At the time I felt that they had the best transient response and the best bass impact and that was the rationale behind my decision, but I'm beginning to think that I prefer a neutral, flat response. The only thing that I'm really trying to avoid in that respect is the whole bass-light-for-the-sake-of-being-analytical type of sound signature. If I could say I wanted any part of a headphones sound signature to be more prominent, it would be the soundstage/layering/imaging aspect of its performance. I think it would be fair to say that I'm looking for something very much like the 380 Pro, except a lot more comfortable with an open design to maximize soundstage and imaging (plus to eliminate the whole sweaty ears issue).

post #11 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mandala View Post

Okay, now what you've said intrigues me, because I haven't really been able to find a good consensus on what people generally think of the 380 Pro. From what I've read most people don't like them and I've never been able to figure out why. You see, I'm still in the process of figuring out what my preference is as far as sound signature is concerned, but when I bought my 380 pro I A/Bed them against about a dozen other closed cans, including 5 other Sennheisers. All of them were within my budget, but the 380 is what I walked away with. At the time I felt that they had the best transient response and the best bass impact and that was the rationale behind my decision, but I'm beginning to think that I prefer a neutral, flat response. The only thing that I'm really trying to avoid in that respect is the whole bass-light-for-the-sake-of-being-analytical type of sound signature. If I could say I wanted any part of a headphones sound signature to be more prominent, it would be the soundstage/layering/imaging aspect of its performance. I think it would be fair to say that I'm looking for something very much like the 380 Pro, except a lot more comfortable with an open design to maximize soundstage and imaging (plus to eliminate the whole sweaty ears issue).

Oh I see. I loved the 380 for two things. Spoken word and for rock. I say rock because as an ex-drummer in my youth, I really loved the tightness and impact of the kickdrum, the impact in the tom toms and just real nice reproduction in that department. It was more of a boring sound to me overall and I often found myself EQing in the highs to get some semblance of sparkle out of them. Audio book type stuff it is great and especially men's voices sounded great. Any hiss or normally sibilance in a recording was well hidden. Based on my very limited studio recording experience, I would have chosen these over any other cans I have owned strictly for recording/mixing.

Now when you are getting into an open can, you are never going to get the same bass impact (okay I haven't owned the T1 or HD800 or anything at that level yet) as with a closed can just by virtue of the phsysics involved in having an enclosure vs. an open space.

That being said the 990 amazes me in it's ability to produce bass with impact for an open can. When I REALLY want impact I switch to my DT770 which has a suprisingly wide sounstage for a closed HP (prolly not for you even a tad more V shaped than 990). On the other hand they 990 is sparkly in the high end and if you don't like that then you might not enjoy these as much as I do.

The other beyer model I like but dont own yet is the 880. It is more neutral. It is "semi-open" and is not as airy as the 990 but the sounstage and separation is still excellent. Going from the 380 to these will be a significant difference in all the categories you have described but they are not considered a basshead phone like the 770 is. Again, and it has been 6 months since I heard a pair) you should be able to boost the bass and expect the 880 to respond competently when you are in the mood for that.

If you want you could go to the recommendations thread and ask about the Sennheiser mid-fi phones like the hd600 and hd650. I haven't owned them or heard them so I can only tell you I have heard they are much more neutral than the Beyer series. Also more pricey. Never really heard of anyone getting them for bass though. I think they are generally light in that department.

To me the 880 might be the best of both worlds for you with the semi-open design.
post #12 of 44
Thread Starter 

So I have a question that may seem like I'm detouring my own thread, but it is a question that has been on my mind lately. Are full-sized headphones better, in audio quality than IEMs? The reason why I ask this is that I always seem to read IEM reviews that have qualifying statements like " the imaging is great for an IEM", or "such and such is great, almost as good as a proper headphone". 

 

I feel like I've come to the conclusion based on my limited experience, that, all other things being equal, I'm more comfortable with transducers being in my ears than covering them. The only problem is I've gotten the unspoken impression that the natural progression would be for me to eventually graduate toward a "home rig", one that consists of a large pair of closed or open full sized cans and an expensive desktop amp and DAC. I guess I'm asking out of complete ignorance, but is it common for headphone enthusiasts to stay within the realm of IEMs and pursue high fidelity within that paradigm, or am I going to reach a ceiling at some point where in order to experience the truest of true high fidelity I will need to cross over to the world of closed or open circumaurals. Forgive me if it's a stupid question, but it's one I have really been curious about. Are there aspects of performance that an IEM can't deliver (not withstanding to some degree the soundstage of an open back headphone), but a full sized headphone can, or do most people just have a preference for full-sized headphones except when lack of portability and isolation make smaller headphones a necessity? 

post #13 of 44
Its very funny that you are asking me this right now. I just got my Westone 4's yesterday and I am absolutely enamored with them. Makes me realize I am destined to own one of these 6 or 8 BA $1300+ CIEM's out there one of these days.

That being said I love your question and your extremely honest approach to the subject. The answer I think could vary wildly if you ask on this site. For me it just boils down to personal preference. I don't profess myself to be some kind of expert in either direction either. I just like to try to speak from my own experience.

As to which one is better, as of 2 days ago before I experienced my W4's I would probably secretly be thinking full sized phones all the way no matter what I said. Now to me it is a draw. I will always use my IEMs at home, at the gym, on planes, etc. I will also always use my full sized cans and not just one of them. I change them based on my mood and my use. Some times for example I don't want something sticking in my ear. No matter how comfy it is. And I'll tell you when I am on the move or traveling, IEMs to me are going to get used 9 times out of 10.

There are IEM guys and headphone guys and there are "both guys" on here from what I see (I heard there is actually a female head-fi'er on here somewhere too). Some will swear by one and vice versa.

You can only really answer the question with your own empirical evidence. IMHO. Maybe I am "wrong" but I don't think there is a wrong answer, there is just your own answer.

In terms of gear, my use of an Onkyo TX-NR509 reciever as my headphone amp is neither exciting nor popular amongst the snobbish. Others have the same view I do. If it sounds good to YOU then it is good. My desk amp gets no use meanwhile. And honestly that will probably change too one day and I will think "wow this ACME200 dac/amp is so much better."

Anyway I think you are on the right track. And I am very, very, very sorry my friend about your wallet. It will not be your last purchase..... Leave this site while you still can smily_headphones1.gif
Edited by Doc-holliday - 10/8/12 at 6:25pm
post #14 of 44
Thread Starter 

Well, It's a question relevant to the thread (or at least I try to justify it as being relevant), because I'm at that point where all of my previous purchases have been fairly "safe", ( I got the 380 for $160 usd and so far that's the largest financial investment I've made). I'm at the point where I'm saying to myself, "Okay, you're serious about this as a hobby/pursuit. It's time to make a serious investment". There's a part of me that's completely uneducated on the issue that sees the implication being made by others that anyone who's a serious head-fier will at some point graduate to a home rig, but in all honesty, other than the fact that I love the sound of my 380 Pros, I don't really know why I would invest my money in a full sized headphone as opposed to an IEM. So I'm torn. Should my next major investment be an open back can, a closed cup circumaural, or a higher quality IEM (I'm currently eying the HiFiMan RE-262, The Monster Miles Davis Tribute, and the Heir Audio 4.ai), but regardless of what direction I end up choosing I plan on making a sizable upgrade. I'm just struggling with what direction I should choose in my pursuit.  

 

Edit: Now my interest in the W4 is peaked as well, lol


Edited by Mandala - 10/8/12 at 7:25pm
post #15 of 44

Heya,

 

From what is described, I would say the Beyer DT880 or Hifiman HE-400 would be great starting points. Both can present a balanced approach, but both can also be made bassy when you want that extra fun added to it. The HE400 is darker. The DT880 is brighter.

 

Very best,

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