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American Middleweights

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Okay, time for another review/comparison between a few headphones. This time I've picked a pair of closed-back cans that are fairly evenly matched in terms of “on the surface” specifications and features, and that I've wanted to write something about for a while now. I figured why not just write it. So up for comparison today are the Koss Tony Bennett Signature Edition (TBSE), and Bose Around-Ear 2 (AE2). Both come from American manufacturers (and both are outsourced to Chinese manufacturing), have an MSRP of $149, and are closed-back, around-ear headphones. Before going further, I do recognize that Bose seems to attract a lot of very passionate responses from a lot of people, and I'd like to ask people to refrain from starting a flame-war if they have a personal objection to the manufacturer. One of the biggest things I've come to appreciate about Head-Fi as a community, and owning a large number of headphones, is personal preference and personal difference being a large factor – what is great for one person, may not be for another, and so on. That said, there aren't really clear-cut “winners” - just degrees of difference – when comparing headphones (or lots of other things, I'm sure).

So let's get into it, with some overview of the packaging, ergonomics, fit, and finally the all-important sound quality, between these two cans.

Packaging and Ergonomics

The TBSE are more feature-rich here than the Bose, especially if you're a Tony Bennett fan. When Koss released these in 2011, they were introduced as a commemorative/signature product to recognize Bennett's (at the time) latest album, and as far as I know, his birthday as well. They come in a box adorned with pictures of Mr Bennett (probably one of the only headphones I've had where the box is worth mentioning actually). In terms of packaging and accessories, they include a hard-case (which they fold flat to fit within), removable coiled cable, 6.3mm adapter, an art-book/leaflet that talks about Tony Bennett and Koss (and has more pictures), and a download token for a copy of Bennett's album Duets II (which is, in my opinion, a good listen). The album is a 320k mp3 download and its very straightforward to access. Finally, as Koss headphones, they come with the famous lifetime warranty. Overall these are very equipped for home or mobile use. They are very articulated (they have a very wide range of folding options, the cups can flip around in pretty much anyway you can imagine (they can rotate 180* for DJ'ing, they fold-flat for storage, they can fold up like a number of studio headphones (like the M50 or Ultrasones) as well). The cable attaches with a standard 3.5mm jack on the headphones (and you can replace it with any 3.5mm male-to-male you have, and I'm guessing there'd be no problems if you had a ControlTalk cable from another pair of cans (I think V-MODA sells one separate, Koss does not though)) – I like this feature because it doesn't tie you into using replacements from the manufacturer only, and if you snag the cable it won't rip the headphones (or your ears) up (both because the factory cable is coiled, and because there isn't a “lock” holding the cable into the headphones, so it will break away). I've never had an issue with the cable coming out during normal usage, and it seems fairly secure. I won't talk a lot about the art-book and other stuff, because I don't think it influences the performance of the headphones for users who aren't interested in it, and I don't want to let the cat out of the bag for people who are.

Onto the AE2. These come in a fairly plain box that identifies them, and has a “window” on the front to let you see which colored version you've picked (they currently come in black/silver or white – the black/silver is a matte finish, the white is a combination of matte and glossy with milk-colored pads). The only thing I'll say about the packaging beyond that is that I really wish manufacturers would get away from sonic-welded clamshells that require multiple tools to open safely. The AE2 do include a case (it's a soft drawstring pouch (it appears machine washable, but I've never tested this)), but it isn't as robust as what the TBSE have. The AE2 also have a removable cable, but it terminates with a 2.5mm jack and has a molded end (which lets it blend in with their “egg” shape, but also makes it the only cable that will work with these cans); Bose offers a ControlTalk cable as an upgrade (you can buy the “AE2i” and it includes it instead of the audio only cable, but to my knowledge there is no way to get both cables in the headphone package). Overall the cable feels well made, it's very light and doesn't seem to tangle up – I also like the 45* angle plug (which is a nice compromise between mobile-friendly right-angles, and home-friendly straight plugs). Bose has removed the extension cable and 6.3mm adapter (both used to come with the original TriPort (or “AE1”)), however both are available on their website for relatively little money. One thing I find quirky is that if you use an extension cable, you still have the 45* plug on the AE2 cable, which will likely be a snag point for an extension. That said, I don't think many people are using the 20' extension for their headphones, so I don't know if this is a problem for too many people or not.

On replacement parts, both manufacturers have a relatively good commitment to customer service and parts availability – you can get spare pads, replacement cables and cases, and so on directly from both manufacturers. Koss, in their typical fashion, makes replacement pads available for $5/pr, while Bose charges something like $30/pr (remember to select the appropriate color too). In the defense of the Bose pads, they feel much more robust than those on the TBSE, so I suspect they will last longer. Cables and cases are fairly cheap from both manufacturers (I think under $10 for any single part). One side note, for those wanting a hard-case with the AE2, is the hard-case for the QuietComfort headphones – it will almost perfectly fit the AE2. The only issue is the interior “molding” to hold the QC15's cups, but the headphones will fit and the case will close just fine with no modification, and you could probably cut that molding piece out with a utility knife and they'd fit perfectly. That case is around $30 though, so keep that in mind. I haven't tried any other hard-cases with the AE2 or TBSE, so I can't comment on any after-market options or third party styles (like the Ultrasone cases).

Fit & Build

Both headphones are very light, and very comfortable. The Bose are somewhat lighter and somewhat more ergonomically shaped (they are “egg” shaped, while the TBSE are circular), but both are comfortable enough for hours of wear (if I had to pick one for all-day use though, it would be the AE2). The TBSE exhibit an odd “quirk” that they actually get more comfortable as you wear them – my only theory is that the pads get more pliant as they warm up. Neither is very clampy, and both have sufficient adjustments to fit a wide variety of head sizes and shapes.

On build, the Koss headphones have aluminum cups and a few metal parts here and there, while the Bose are almost all plastic (the headband appears to be metal under the plastic/padding though). Both feel well made, although I don't think either would survive a lot of abuse (neither is a good candidate for going to the gym, for example). I think the Koss would probably take a bit more “throwing around” simply because of how much articulation they have, but again, neither of these seem like world-beaters in terms of build quality.

Sound Quality

Now for the sound quality – which is probably what most people are reading this to find out about. Briefly, these two are fairly different headphones in terms of their tonal balance and presentation. The biggest difference you'll notice is in soundstaging. The AE2 have a wider, larger, and more 3D soundstage (which I attribute to their angled drivers), while the TBSE have a more intimate and narrow stage. Both are good at imaging and presenting a convincing stage, but the AE2 are better at presenting depth and height – which makes them better candidates for gaming and movies imho.

Now this staging does influence their overall tonal presentations, and the big “gotcha” is the mids here – the TBSE have intimate and forward mids that put vocalists and voice actors more or less right on top of you, while the AE2 have a wider and less intimate presentation that puts vocalists and voice actors more in front of you. The mids are not as romantic or sweet, but are still very clear and smooth – neither is harsh or grainy through the midrange, although the AE2 are probably the smoother of the two.

Regarding the top-end, both are relatively extended, smooth, but rolled-off. The advantage is neither is harsh nor sibilant up high (making them both very non-fatiguing to listen to), with the AE2 being the more pronounced of the two. For those of you seeking a very dry, analytical, bright headphone, neither of these is likely a good candidate as a result of this – however if you want a headphone that you can listen to all day with a wide variety of music, either is not a bad choice. The Koss have more forwardness and presence up high, while the AE2 are smoother and more relaxed sounding. This doesn't mean you won't get treble or will have a muffled sound from either – they certainly will relay the high-bits to your ears, it just isn't the most prominent component of the presentation.

Regarding bass, the AE2 simply have more of it – extension and impact. Neither will “boom” or “slam” but the AE2 will reach lower and hit harder if called upon by whatever you're doing (it makes them great for gaming/movies – it isn't overdone, but they certainly will reproduce LF effects). The TBSE have a very tight and somewhat dry low-end presentation (in contrast to the Bose's tight and wet presentation) – instead of a “thud” you get a “thwack” - and it extends fairly well (if I had to guess, I'd say the Bose are fine to 30-40hz, while the Koss are probably bottomed out at around 60-70hz). Neither overpowers the presentation with bass, and neither produces bloated or offensive bass (despite the Koss being originally marketed as a DJ headphone, and the Bose having a supposed reputation as bassy).

How all of this relates to music (which, at least for me, is easier to conceptualize) -

The Koss are absolutely great with Tony Bennett's music (and other similar performers within his genres) – the tight bass, smooth and slightly rolled-off highs, and intimate mids make them fantastic with vocalists and singers. They are also rewarding with various rock and metal performances (I've enjoyed them very much with Rammstein's Rosenrot, as well as Foreigner's 4 – as examples), but tend to be less satisfying with large ensemble pieces or material that has a lot of low-end content (as it just doesn't come through). That having been said, they are suitable and forgiving all-rounders, that will handle most genres of music fairly well (you can very much listen to hip-hop or trance with them, and if you preference an intimate and less bassy presentation they might be a perfect candidate there). I don't love them with gaming that relies on positional audio (like Fallout or Halo), but with strategy games (like SimCity) they will do just fine.

The Bose are more of a pure-bred all-rounder, and will handle the vast majority of content you throw at them very well. They don't really “master” any single genre or performance, but instead are good at handling very mixed-media environments (if you play a lot of videogames, watch movies, and listen to a wide variety of music, they will satisfy across the board). They're very relaxed and smooth sounding with satisfying bass punch and a convincing soundstage; if I had to pick a genre of music for them, I would probably pick large ensemble pieces (like orchestral music or soundtracks). They can certainly translate “epic” in listening, but they don't have the forward or aggressive qualities that many EDM fans will likely be looking for, and aren't romantic or sweet enough for many vocal jazz junkies. But again, they're very much a “jack of all trades – master of none” kind of headphone. Their sound-staging, comfort, and relaxed sound makes them good candidates for gaming and movies as well; they're very non-fatiguing and you can easily sit through a 6-10 hour gaming session with them.


Any direct questions you might have, or comparison questions, I'll try to answer – hope this helps someone in picking headphones out.
Edited by obobskivich - 1/2/13 at 12:24am
post #2 of 7

Nice to see Bose stepping it up. Great review, but you should add a Sound Quality heading like Packaging and Build. I tried to jump to it couldn't find it right away.


Edited by Slaughter - 1/1/13 at 10:11pm
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Oh snap! Yeah I'll throw a heading in - thanks for catching that! redface.gif

Thanks for the kind words too!
post #4 of 7

Great read! beerchug.gif

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 
Okay, added underlined headings. smily_headphones1.gif
post #6 of 7

Nice review. I actually read every word. I had the AE2 before along with the Creative Aurvana live and felt it wasn't bad. I ended up getting rid of it and getting an AE1 instead.

That thing seems really strange when I listened to it last. A bit too treble happy. I think when I used it back in 2004 it was with a very warm portable CD player.

 

I have to disagree about the bass on the TBSE. Especially about "probably bottomed out" at 60-70hz(!) There's low bass you can hear/feel on my pair with the Clip+ (that's ruler flat) that's barely audible on every headphone I have except for the KRK KNS-8400.

Koss rates them as 10hz, but you can feel something at 8hz and not just the driver clicking/popping or whatever. Of course people tell me this is virtually impossible. Ok, you do need to crank the volume pretty high and at normal listening levels it's probably not going to show up.

I should test the low bass again. I did every frequency down low and was pretty surprised. Some equipment/sources actually roll off before the DJ100 does, so it's important to use something that's extended very low. The Clip+ does, but the Ipod Video 5.5 I have rolls off the low bass. Not as much on my Ipod Touch 2G.

 

The 8400 actually has some of the best low-bass extension there is. It's very present too and not rolled off. The Koss and KNS-8400 are good at fooling people. Bass doesn't show up when not required. I mean it's pretty accurate. Actually I would say the DJ100 to my ears has a tiny bit more than neutral bass. The HD-650's bass (this new weird pair) is a bit more accurate. Not by much.

 

The Koss certainly isn't any bass monster like the DT-770 Pro 80 (thankfully). I never found it to have a mid-bass hump and a lot of people love their mid-bass humps. I hate it! Not even my HD-650 has one, which is a bit off the general consensus.

This TBSE actually has about the same bass quantity as my HD-650. It has a little bit more present low bass though. Obviously the HD-650 is warmer and has less treble.

 

I guess the wording got me a bit..when you mentioned it as "bottoming out" it kind of sounding as if that meant there was no bass under 60-70hz. I think that yes, it starts to slowly decline at a certain point.

 

$50 to the person that can find some bass that's gone missing on the DJ100/TBSE. I think this is impossible biggrin.gif Definitely less audible/present, but not missing.

 

Sorry, i'm a bit nit-picky tonight, so we can agree to disagree if you want normal_smile%20.gif

 

BTW do you think the DJ100 has forward upper mids? I think the graphs are not that accurate. Both the HD-650 and DJ100/TBSE to me sound like they do. Yet there is something making the DJ100 sort of forgiving of harsh material. I think maybe a small dip in the lower treble or something.

Strangely enough the DJ100 sounds more neutral in the mids with my Headroom Micro Amp + ODAC. With my new Magni, it's even more trebly, which could be because the amp is brand new..I won't go there.

 

I need to find another headphone that has ruler flat low bass all the way down. It seems this is nearly impossible. The 8400 sounds like it actually has slightly elevated low bass. Weird, I know. Not like the DT-770 Pro 80!

 

BTW it's amusing that everyone cries that Bose sells a $150 headphone, but yet they're ok with AKG, V-Moda and Shure selling overpriced headphones. Bose is certainly no Monster.

post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tdockweiler View Post

Nice review. I actually read every word. I had the AE2 before along with the Creative Aurvana live and felt it wasn't bad. I ended up getting rid of it and getting an AE1 instead.
That thing seems really strange when I listened to it last. A bit too treble happy. I think when I used it back in 2004 it was with a very warm portable CD player.

Yeah, the AE1 is more v-shaped for sure. They certainly changed things up with the second one - it's subtle but it's significant. I'm also thinking the second one is probably more durable (I don't intend on testing this rigorously, but it feels more solid - I know on the AE1 the yokes breaking off was a common complaint after years of use, and on the AE2 that part seems to have been redesigned (hopefully for the better)).
Quote:
I have to disagree about the bass on the TBSE. Especially about "probably bottomed out" at 60-70hz(!) There's low bass you can hear/feel on my pair with the Clip+ (that's ruler flat) that's barely audible on every headphone I have except for the KRK KNS-8400.
Koss rates them as 10hz, but you can feel something at 8hz and not just the driver clicking/popping or whatever. Of course people tell me this is virtually impossible. Ok, you do need to crank the volume pretty high and at normal listening levels it's probably not going to show up.
I should test the low bass again. I did every frequency down low and was pretty surprised. Some equipment/sources actually roll off before the DJ100 does, so it's important to use something that's extended very low. The Clip+ does, but the Ipod Video 5.5 I have rolls off the low bass. Not as much on my Ipod Touch 2G.

I don't have a single headphone that will hit 8 Hz at any usable volume - I have one or two that will try and do a very bad job of it (they both distort pretty bad below 30hz with pure tones). Koss' numbers are...optimistic (for all of their headphones, not just the TBSE). The TBSE extend well for music, but 10hz seems very optimistic for any headphone.

I also know if you get too happy with the tone controls or low-end equalization, they will sound very tubby, but they certainly seem able to handle a lot of input power conventionally (e.g. you can crank them and they don't get distorted).
Quote:
The 8400 actually has some of the best low-bass extension there is. It's very present too and not rolled off. The Koss and KNS-8400 are good at fooling people. Bass doesn't show up when not required. I mean it's pretty accurate. Actually I would say the DJ100 to my ears has a tiny bit more than neutral bass. The HD-650's bass (this new weird pair) is a bit more accurate. Not by much.

Haven't heard the 8400. I would agree that the TBSE don't over-power the bass though (the AE2 fit into this as well) - they don't add bloat and thump to tracks that don't need it.
Quote:
The Koss certainly isn't any bass monster like the DT-770 Pro 80 (thankfully). I never found it to have a mid-bass hump and a lot of people love their mid-bass humps. I hate it! Not even my HD-650 has one, which is a bit off the general consensus.
This TBSE actually has about the same bass quantity as my HD-650. It has a little bit more present low bass though. Obviously the HD-650 is warmer and has less treble.

Yeah, the lack of a mid-bass hump is VERY pleasant. Neither of these cans have that, but the Koss are probably more cleaned up in that regard (because if a track is very heavily bass EQ'd (some modern pop and alternative rock music is like this), the Bose will bring that through more fully, and they can "thump" while the Koss force everything to behave and you still get a "thwack"). Very civilized sounding. This isn't to say the Bose get out of hand, but if you like bass-light cans or have material that's over-blown on the bottom, they might not be the best choice.
Quote:
I guess the wording got me a bit..when you mentioned it as "bottoming out" it kind of sounding as if that meant there was no bass under 60-70hz. I think that yes, it starts to slowly decline at a certain point.

I'm meaning in terms of "usable response" - they just don't seem to be built for sub-bass slam. Great extension when it comes to music, but they don't reach super low and hit super hard while doing it. Perhaps "bottoming out" was a bit inaccurate though - it isn't a brick wall by any means.

Quote:
Sorry, i'm a bit nit-picky tonight, so we can agree to disagree if you want normal_smile%20.gif

No I understand - I think we're okay. smily_headphones1.gif
Quote:
BTW do you think the DJ100 has forward upper mids? I think the graphs are not that accurate. Both the HD-650 and DJ100/TBSE to me sound like they do. Yet there is something making the DJ100 sort of forgiving of harsh material. I think maybe a small dip in the lower treble or something.
Strangely enough the DJ100 sounds more neutral in the mids with my Headroom Micro Amp + ODAC. With my new Magni, it's even more trebly, which could be because the amp is brand new..I won't go there.

Forward upper mids - yeah I'd probably say they do. I disagree with the "n-shaped" claims about the TBSE - they get into the treble and put basically the entire vocal range forward; dragging the upper mids out. As far as forgiving - yes, OVERALL they are relatively forgiving, but compared to the AE2, they are less-so (the AE2 are *very* forgiving, they are probably the most forgiving cans I have). I'm not sure what exactly makes the TBSE behave this way - most Ti driver cans are characteristically unforgiving (I'm thinking of my PRO2900 that'll take paint off the walls if you feed harshness into them, for example), so whatever Koss did here, they did right.

If I had to guess, I'd say it's because they have a mid forwardness and treble roll-off (impact) but good treble extension; gives them a pleasing sound that will let details through without overstepping. And they're very clean up-top as well. The AE2 take this to a higher level though; they're very smooth, and very forgiving and non-fatiguing; at the expense of forwardness/"bite" when it comes to certain types of music.
Quote:
I need to find another headphone that has ruler flat low bass all the way down. It seems this is nearly impossible.

I think it is. I remember reading an article about it a while ago from a speaker design perspective, and generally you're describing the holy-grail. *shrug*
Quote:
BTW it's amusing that everyone cries that Bose sells a $150 headphone, but yet they're ok with AKG, V-Moda and Shure selling overpriced headphones. Bose is certainly no Monster.

beerchug.gif And thank you (and thank you Focker) for the kind words as well!
Edited by obobskivich - 1/2/13 at 1:49am
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