I'd also point out that most listeners don't like a perfectly flat frequency response. Lots about this if you google "house curve." Even many theaters and auditoriums are adjusted to weight the bass more heavily and the treble less heavily than the mids. In fact, this might be why you like the HD598, which appears not to be flat, but has a tested signature closer to the characteristics of various recommended house curves.
Then the other factor is the volume at which people listen to music. Most people don't perceive low frequencies and treble as well at low volumes. So for listeners who listen to their headphones louder vs. softer, a different frequency response may be better suited. And then we all tend to hear different frequencies with some variation in volume. So a neutral headphone doesn't guarantee the listener perceives a flat response--they may not actually hear the music as it was intended to be heard.
But maybe you are right. For those that study classical music seriously and intend to incorporate what they hear into their playing, a more neutral sound signature that best approximates the recording might be better (assuming one can trust the accuracy of the recording). But I would imagine most people on head-fi are looking to enjoy their music, not study it. After all, isn't art meant to be experienced?
Never thought I'd be saying this, but +1. I'll add to all of that, that as Ultrasone and Tyll have demonstrated - ear shape influences the FR and response that a listener perceives. What comes across as "flat" to you may be "wrong" to me simply because our ears are shaped differently (yours being a mirror-inverted version of mine, of course).
I do a ton of comparative listening and the like since I actually study some of these pieces. I suppose this is a large part of why I prefer a flatter signature (whatever your compensation curve may be). I need a clear lens so to speak, so that I don't tint (much) all these interpretations of the same piece.
One point that I would bring up is that any live recording should sound like a live recording and a classical studio recording is supposed to emulate a live recording. This is not necessarily true for many studio recordings of other genres where after effects and filters may be added. To tie this all together, my main point is that classical music through more colored headphones is fine if you enjoy it. Just don't expect to get a particularly faithful reproduction of the recording if you do or be pleased for long if it is something you want to pursue with great seriousness. I learned this the long way, but I am glad I did. Now I can appreciate where I am and what I have much more.
And I'll tell you that in audio reproduction, that "flatness" or "perfection" is an illusion. It's a dragon you can never catch.
Okay! So I suppose that everyone at this point has forgotten all about me, the Original Poster. :P On this thread so far we've had some talk of Grados. Then some talk about Ultrasones and a discussion of their unique technologies, particularly as applied to mono recordings. And a comparison of Grados and Ultrasones. Then juantendo8 changed the direction a bit with his post, quoted above, recommending the HD598 over Grados and Ultrasones. We then had a discussion about neutrality and it's subjectivity. We also discovered a fantastic Rach recording - many thanks for this.
Unfortunately, I, the OP, am probably more confused now about my choice of headphone than when I started this thread. :P
It seems to me though that Grados and Ultrasones are rather subjective - some people hate their 'sound', some people love them. There was even a post explaining how Ultrasone technology works differently on different people.
To stay on the 'safe' side, since I'll only be buying ONE headphone in the next 2 years at least, I'm still leaning towards the HD598, which appears to be less controversial.
In the meantime, does anyone have an opinion about FA-003s for classical piano? They seem to be highly regarded.
I think the 500 series Sennheisers are best described as "boring." I also want to add, and this is just based on something I've seen noobies do, you *can not* know how something will sound to you until you get it on your head. So don't go trying to solve the universe here - expect to either try multiple products, either in-store or through returns, it's the only way to really get what you want.
Thanks. I'm a little concerned about buying from Jaycar or Brainwavz... as brands they are certainly not as well-known as Sennheiser, and since I'll be buying just one headphone I don't want to take a chance.
Still leaning towards the HD598.
In the meantime, what do you think of the Audio Technica ATH-AD900 for the purposes of classical piano (primary), symphony and concerto? They seem to be highly regarded as well, and in the same price bracket.
I don't like the 3D Wing support system for the ATs - it doesn't fit me right, and that's on the models where the cups can swivel *and* tilt. The AD900 cannot tilt. If you put a gun to my head and said HD 598 or AD900, and told me I can never return it or exchange it or whatever (for whatever reason), I'd get the 598 - because it's assured to fit more people more consistently. And what good is a headphone you can't wear? (And since you seem pretty adamant that you will not return, exchange, etc whatever you get, something that has potential fit issues like an AT should be ignored).
There is no AD900X that I'm aware of, there is an A900X (which is a closed-back headphone that costs about the same), but I think he's talking about the AD900 AIR Monitor, which is an older open-back design from AT (iirc they came out in ~2004 along with the AD1000 and AD2000). They're well regarded, but the fit issue is where I think most people have problems. I've also heard the microfibre/suede pads on the AD series are too thin for some people's ears (so their ears touch the drivers and it causes discomfort).
So my advice--and I do this--is order two different pairs and return one. For example if you use Amazon or Fulfilled by Amazon (but not shipped by third party vendors), you can RMA a pair through Amazon easily enough (use their return label). Just keep the packaging and phones in mint condition. In your budget range, it is definitely worth the $10 cost of the return.
This. A thousand times this. I'd also add J&R as another good retailer to deal with (they're authorized to carry some brands that Amazon isn't, like Grado). Best Buy sometimes has stuff that we on Head-Fi want too, and they're an authorized dealer for whatever they're selling in-store (they carry a lot of ATs online and in-store, and some Sennheisers).
Right. But realize your objectives for listening to music are what form your preference for headphones, and they will not be a good fit for everyone. One can be serious, but with different objectives.
For example, I have an MA in Literature. Reading fiction like an English professor (always applying a critical lens) is quite different from reading it for pleasure, and different again from reading like a creative writer (reading for craft and author aesthetic). And in fact, I find that those other two analytical ways of reading get in the way of strictly reading for pleasure.
Meanwhile, I'm not a serious student of music, but I'm "serious" aficionado of Beethoven's sonatas. I have a complete cycle of Kempff (1964-1965), three by Brendel (1996; 1984; 1962-64), and others (some of course did not quite complete the cycle): Schnabel, Gilels, Richter, Gulda, and Ashkenazy. I listen to these pretty seriously and compare them, but purely from a subjective perspective of enjoying the music, much like a wine tasting. And I like listening to them on different headphones with different responses because of the different nuances it brings to the experience. I really do not care which headphone experience is closer to the actual recorded performance.
So don't be quick to be so sure that your way is the best. It meets certain goals and values for listening to music.
And again, +1.