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Noise cancelling celebrity deathmatch - PSB M4U2 vs QC15 (and Sennheiser Amperior, but we'll get...

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

Hi, long time lurker, first time poster here. Just splodged an outrageous amount of cash on phones and thought my experience might help other newbies. This might ramble a bit, so I'll apologise in advance.

 

Before getting into the kit, this is the first time I've ever gone all-out on headphones, so it's been a real learning experience for me and I've loved it. I've learned a huge amount and I think this might be helpful for those starting out....

 

  • First, I've worked out now that headphones are site-specific. I guess Jedi level head-fi folk know this, but I sort of didn't. So it's pointless saying the PSBs are better than this or that; it all depends where and how you're going to use them. Ideally if you're auditioning them you should do it in the environment you'll use them (tricky for plane flights and stuff, but you know...)
  • Second, read the stuff on Head-Fi and elsewhere from experienced guys on headphone design, especially open v closed back, IEM v noise cancelling and all that. It'll save a bunch of time.
  • Third, do audition them. It's better (I think) to have a smaller choice and hear them properly than to hit and hope. I walked out with a completely different setup to what I intended to buy.

 

So that's good. My situation - I have a perfectly good pair of Denon in-ear 560R canalbuds, and I like the sound. But I'm spending increasing amounts of time on long train journeys and flights, and frankly I don't like having them shoved in my ears for more than about half an hour, even with Comply foam tips. So I'm in the market for noise-cancelling 'phones, or at least noise isolating ones. Preferably around-ear not on-ear.

 

That's job 1. Job 2 is that the rest of the time I do the bulk of listening at my desk, on Spotify Premium, through a Logitech Skype compatible on-ear headset. The sound is remarkably OK, considering. But I want better. No need for n/c in the office, but got to be closed back as no-one else wants to hear my 'eclectic' tastes.

 

I suspect this is not too different to what lots of folk want - something good and isolating for travel, and something that gives great reproduction for when you're sitting still.

 

So for job 1 I narrowed it down to the PSB M4U2 (£300) and Bose QC15 (£279), having tried and rejected Monsters, Beats and all the rest of the commonly available lot. Now, I hate Bose as much as anyone, but the n/c on the QC15s is like witchcraft, it's seriously impressive. However, I desperately wanted to like the PSBs given how nice everyone is being about them. I managed to track down a demo pair in Hifi Corner in Edinburgh, and did an A/B between them.

 

First thing to say is that the sound on the PSBs is better than the Bose. There's no doubt. The mids are fuller (except in n/c mode), the highs more refined and the bass a bit (only a bit) less muddy. I think the bass may sharpen up when they run in. I only ran them in active and n/c mode from an iPhone 4S with reasonably high bit-rate MP3s rather than Lossless files. The audition list was as follows:

 

  • Killswitch Engage - When Darkness Falls (massive, battering start which exposes the ability to separate bass, drums and geetar and a big chorus with high tenor vocals to pick out the mids / highs)
  • James Yorkston - Midnight Feast - acoustic folk with lots and lots of backing instruments and vocals. Bass is acoustic too and tests out articulation really well
  • Tom McRae - A is For... lots of top end woodwind, nice brushed snare, good test for spaciousness
  • Sigur Ros - Saeglopur - SR just throw everything at it including some huge bass along with piano and twinkly bits, so a good all round test

 

Right. So the shocker to me was that the PSBs were NOT that much better than the Bose. The bass still rolled off / wallowed a bit and the articulation in the barrage at the start of the KSE track was average at best. Plenty of bass (less than the Bose but no problem) but not well articulated at least to my ears. The mids were much better than Bose and the top end was a little restrained but fine. That's in active mode. In N/C mode the presence of some of the mids went away and it was much more V-shaped than the feted flat profile the PSBs are meant to have.  For the JY track I thought they struggled; too much bottom end, not enough separation through all the voices and instruments. I thought both these tracks were handled OK by both phones, with the PSBs edging it but not knocking it out the park.

 

Right now I was starting to doubt my own existence and was saying to the guy in the shop, 'is it me, or is the Bose not ****?' He was grinning...

 

The PSBs were definitely better on the more sparse, acoustic Tom McRae track. Lots more room, better sense of soundstage, but they still sounded a little too full at the bottom end and a lot closer to the bass-heavy celebrity-endorsed stuff we all love to hate. And on Sigur Ros the tops felt a bit lost as the cans struggled with the sheer breadth of what's going on. All of this is in active; switching on N/C made things slightly worse, but bearably so. The Bose handled both OK, but the highs were a bit harsh, especially considering that this was an ex-demo set that had been burned in. The PSBs were brand new.

 

In terms of N/C, if you want to have noise blocked without music playing, you need the Bose. The PSBs don't really do much. With music playing, both were good, but in quiet passages I could hear what was going on outside with the PSBs but not with the Bose.

 

The Bose do exactly what you'd think, but I was surprised at how palatable it was. The highs are shrill a bit, the bass is muddy a bit, the mids aren't as well developed, but the N/C is awesome. Sitting in a listening room or in your office or your living room - no way. On a train or plane - more than reasonable as long as you can shut your mind to the price.

 

Here's the thing that decided it for me. The PSBs are big. Really big. And heavy. Really heavy. They weigh 362g to the Bose 193g. That doesn't sound much, but it does make a difference. The travel case for the PSBs, while really nice, is about twice the size of the Bose. You couldn't fit 'em in a briefcase. And I reckoned that after maybe an hour or so the weight would get to me. The Bose, by contrast, are so light you really don't notice them.

 

So it's about the job they're there to do. I want my travel phones to be portable, light, good at n/c and have good sound reproduction. Bose wins on 3 of those 4. The last one goes to PSB by maybe 25%, if that makes sense, but honestly I can't see how I'd use them. The n/c is not that great, the sound is good but clearly taking on the Beats/Bose MP3 market rather than an audiophile market and they weigh a tonne.

 

So - and I hate myself for this - I bought the QC15s. I know, I know. But for travel, in a noisy environment, they have good enough sound, the n/c is good enough to help you sleep (esp with earplugs under the cans - bliss), and they are very travel-friendly. I am hugely ashamed of myself, but it had to be done.

 

So that was job 1, but job 2 was still there and neither the PSBs nor the Bose would do that job. Neither gave the faithful reproduction or sense of space I wanted.

 

Enter the Sennheiser Amperiors. We plugged these in and oh my goodness. What a sound. They look horrendous and I wouldn't take them from room to room, let alone on a train, but they KILL both the PSBs and Bose stone dead. I listened to an MP3 on my iPhone, and it was night and day with both the n/c sets. Then I listened to a Linn-supplied FLAC file at some ridiculous bitrate through the guy's laptop and it was sublime. But it still lacked something, felt like they could do more.

 

Enter the Arcam rPac - £150 for a combined headphone amp/DAC, and this lifted the Sennies to a new level on the FLAC file and also high-bitrate MP3 through Spotify. Amazing sense of the band being in the room with you, incredible separation of all the instruments, what felt like perfect sound to my untrained ears. I'm sure open-backed Grados or whatever do better, but this was a revelation to me in terms of headphones; the closest I've come to my speakers at home.

 

The Amperiors are on-ear, but very light and comfy. I think they probably are durable, but they just don't look it. In fact, they look like the work experience guy designed them, but who cares when they sound this good.

 

And this finally helped me understand - right tool for the right job. I'm a lot poorer, but I have the Sennheisers plus the Arcam rPac for the office. Everything I listen to there will be a joy. When cooped up on trains and planes I have the Bose and every time I feel the highs are too harsh or the lows too wallowy I'll enjoy the fact that the environment around me has become silent, and for walking around town I have my Denons so I don't look like a prick who's asking to be mugged.

 

I don't know if any of this is useful, but it's the review I wish I'd been able to read before walking in to the dealer today. Anything else folks want to know about the PSBs, QC15s or Amperiors, just ask. Cheers.

post #2 of 15
Nice impressions buddy, welcome to head fi. Your impressions echo mine as far as PSBs and Bose are concerned, still haven't auditioned the Amperiors though. Thanks for sharing.
post #3 of 15
Sounds like you are having fun.

I went through the same sort of process a few years ago.

I decided to go really budget with a set of goldring NS1000 for 50 quid. Amazing noise cancellation considering the cost.
They don't sound particularly good, but are adequate for the office. I now only use these on long train/plane journeys, as iems are better for the office.

I also bought a set of audio technica closed phones for home use.

I completely agree about tool for the job.
post #4 of 15
Thread Starter 

Hi vkvedam, thanks for the welcome, this is a great forum. Glad I'm not smoking dope.

 

Conkerman - I'd heard about the Goldring but never heard them, if you know what I mean. Maybe missed a trick there. I wish I could use IEMs more, probably you could find a set that would have done my job 1 and 2 with just one set of phones. But I'm one of these guys who just doesn't enjoy having stuff rammed down my ear canal, it gets sore quite fast and I feel a bit queasy after extracting them. This is entirely my weirdness...

 

...but you're right, I've had a brilliant time doing all this. Haven't told the Mrs how much I've spent, mind you...

post #5 of 15
I briefly checked out the amperions at the apple store last week and they definitely left a very good first impression. I'd love to see some comparisons between those and the B&W P3.
post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 

I tried the P5s briefly today (not sure how they compare to P3s) but to me they had a harshness about them and a lack of composition further down that made the Amperiors a better bet. That said, the B&Ws feel much more solidly built and they look ten times better if you're motivated by not getting pointed at in the street. No doubt the B&W are good but I just clicked with the Amperiors in a way I never expected to.
 

post #7 of 15
I love the Bose QC15 for travel. If you are using an IOS device as a source I highly recommend the Bongiovi DPS app. Makes the QC15 sound much better.
post #8 of 15
I own QC15 and the noise cancelling is indeed unmatched. I think you nailed it when you compared it to witchcraft. You can't even hear outside noise on a super low volume.
post #9 of 15

I agree too, the bose qc15 are indeed the best nc headphones in the market, offer somewhat decent sound but extreme comfort. Plus i tried dps app, i did not notice a difference

post #10 of 15

I have both the PSB M4U2's and the QC15s.

 

I use the PSB M4U2s for commuting to and from work - I have tried many other headphones for commuting but keep coming back to these so this week i'm back to using the M4U2s.

 

One thing nobody has mentioned: don't use the QC15s for commuting on a windy day - lol - the wind goes right through the phones and the sound of the wind, if it's blowing in the direction of the external microphones, is actually amplified.

 

Now this isn't normally a problem in aircraft of course :P but I wouldn't take them out skydiving.

 

The M4U2s don't suffer this problem at all. Now on buses/trains in most countries this isn't a problem either, but as soon as you step out into the street, you're going to want to keep listening and the M4U2s provide great isolation for me.

 

I do find you have to get a good seal on the M4U2s in NC mode, otherwise it's common for me to have great bass through the right earcup but a very bright treble through the left earcup and it's all uneven. I have to fiddle with them a bit on my head before the seal is just right. This doesn't bother me too often, because I only ever use the NC on the M4U2s on loud buses or trains.

 

The QC15s don't suffer from this problem at all - I can just put them on my head and since comfort in headphones is so hit and miss for me (mainly because i wear glasses and my ears are probably above average in size) i was extremely surprised to find the QC15s were so comfortable for such a compact headphone.

 

For the minor faults the QC15s have with the sound, I find these can be fixed with equalization, or by using an amp.

 

I do find the QC15s to be very quiet from most aircraft systems and tablets, but from my HTC One (and the One X before that) they definitely do not need an amp at all.

 

However my Fiio E6 now lives in my QC15 case, for those odd times when the source just doesn't give them enough juice. I might swap out the Fiio E6 for the iBasso T5 on my next plane journey though. :)


Edited by jjcoolaus - 6/5/13 at 10:52pm
post #11 of 15

I was wondering about the size and comfort of these cans. Are the PSBs' earcups smaller, the same size, or larger than the Bose? Is one more comfortable? I have larger than average ears. I have access to QC15s for trial but haven't found a pair of PSBs I could try yet.

post #12 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by thelangcat View Post
 

First thing to say is that the sound on the PSBs is better than the Bose. There's no doubt. The mids are fuller (except in n/c mode), the highs more refined and the bass a bit (only a bit) less muddy. I think the bass may sharpen up when they run in. I only ran them in active and n/c mode from an iPhone 4S

 

So the shocker to me was that the PSBs were NOT that much better than the Bose. The bass still rolled off / wallowed a bit and the articulation in the barrage at the start of the KSE track was average at best. Plenty of bass (less than the Bose but no problem) but not well articulated at least to my ears. The mids were much better than Bose and the top end was a little restrained but fine. That's in active mode. In N/C mode the presence of some of the mids went away and it was much more V-shaped than the feted flat profile the PSBs are meant to have.

 

I am familiar with both headphones and I find it surprising that you find the differences slight between the two. To my ears the PSB have a lot more resolution than the Boses. The QC15 to me sounded very muddled so that the details I enjoy in music were not clear at all. I found them frustrating very quickly because I simply couldn't hear things I was looking forward to in tracks I am familiar with. The resolution of the M4U2s is a whole other thing. I can use the PSBs as main headphones without feeling frustrated since they have hugely more detail than the Boses. I think the M4U2s compete against "real" headphones (headphones whose main purpose is the sound) while the Boses compete against earphones and fashion headphones. This is not to say that the Boses sound unpleasant - I was in fact pleasantly surprised the first time I heard them, after all the disparaging things people say about Bose. But while the QC15s have a pleasant enough sound it is far from revealing and so not satisfactory if you are an attentive listener.

 

I agree with what you say about the tonality of the M4U2s, except that I noticed a significant change over the first few days of use. I wonder whether some of the lack of control you noticed in the bass could have been due to their not being broken in. The M4U2s sounded boomy and lacklustre when I first got them, with bass thumps sounding like someone beating on a cardboard box. It was actually uncomfortable to listen to. But after a couple of days of continuous playing the M4U2s underwent a pretty dramatic change - far more than any other headphone I have broken in. The clumpy bass completely cleared up, and the detail of the sound emerged from behind a cloud. What remains is pleasingly open, musical and smooth, with no clear spikes or peaks and a very satisfying warm midrange. The bass is substantial but pretty well controlled and it has tone rather than just pitch (whereas less controlled headphones just give you a blob of pitch with no discernible tone). There's a real sense of space too that was simply not there at first. So after my initial doubts (wondering how on earth I could have liked them in the shop) I have really come to like the M4U2s, and see them as a viable alternative to my Westone 4Rs, which are faster, tighter, more revealing and better controlled but a little less warm and less flat in response than the M4U2's passive mode. I move between the 4Rs the M4U2s and am happy with both right now - it is really a question of taste (and convenience) between these (though the 4Rs still sound a bit more thrilling to my ears.) My other (surviving) headphones are Grado SR80s and ATH-M50s, and the M4U2s are warmer than the Grados and much more even, open and musical than the M50s (which really have a scooped, V-ish sound).

 

There are a few minor annoyances with the M4U2s: they are a bit tight and put pressure behind my ears (as do many other headphones), they hiss when you turn the noise cancelling on, and the sound quality with noise cancelling is harsher than in the other two modes (some of the warmer mids disappear). But I still prefer the M4U2s' sound in all 3 modes to the QC15s and I think it is a dramatic difference, not a slight one. The highs are smoother, the mids are warmer, the bass is more controlled and goes deeper, and the detail and space in the music is far greater. It's a completely different class of sound from the QC15s.

 

You are right that the Bose QC15s have the best noise cancelling though, and they're more comfortable too. For watching a movie on a flight (or other casual listening in noisy places) I can see how you could prefer them. For overall sound and versatility I'd choose the PSB M4U2s.


Edited by headwig - 10/24/13 at 3:04pm
post #13 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sonichaos View Post
 

I was wondering about the size and comfort of these cans. Are the PSBs' earcups smaller, the same size, or larger than the Bose? Is one more comfortable? I have larger than average ears. I have access to QC15s for trial but haven't found a pair of PSBs I could try yet.


QC15s are more comfortable, though the M4U2's ear cup is larger I think. M4U2s sound better.


Edited by headwig - 10/24/13 at 1:11pm
post #14 of 15

Thank you, for the very detailed analysis.

 

After reading your analysis and the comments, I am even more confused now :P

 

I am yet to try M4U2s but, after reading this, considering the fact that the drivers need to wear-in a bit, I would probably get myself the PSBs.

 

Key reasons (Feature based):

-I live in San Francisco and it get pretty windy here

-Can use it even when the battery is dead

-Love the monitor mode, where one could amplify the surrounding sounds with the headphones on

-Can amplify so my phone need not do the amplification draining less battery

 

I will still try them out for myself and see which one seems better.

post #15 of 15

I own the PSB's right now and I'm torn to keep them. 

 

I use my PSB just for gym use and yes they are heavy but it hasn't been that much of a bother.......

 

The BIG bother was when i tried to use them as a gaming headset. The PSB's are just to massive and heavy. My neck would hurt and they just weren't as comfortable. 


I'm sure the PSB's are the better sounding of the two but if i have to give a little in the sound department for comfort.....that is what I will have to do. 

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