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A headphone shoot-out from a speaker listener - Testing eleven headphones from £ 80 to £ 1,200 - Page 4

post #46 of 119
Thread Starter 

Guess you what!?

I have here for a week two more fancy headphones, AKG K701 and Shure SRH1440...

So expect a report in the coming week. Cheers to John for lending them to me.


Cheerio Rich

post #47 of 119
I enjoyed reading the review/comparison - very honest.

Out of curiosity, have you tried any of the Ultrasone headphones?
post #48 of 119
Thread Starter 

Hi,

Quote:
Originally Posted by obobskivich View Post

I enjoyed reading the review/comparison - very honest.

Out of curiosity, have you tried any of the Ultrasone headphones?


Ultrasone - not yet, I will try to get some. No promises. Which would be a good model to try?

Cheers Rich

post #49 of 119

Thanks for the review, I really enjoyed hearing your opinions and your hands on experience.

 

I totally understand your stance on build quality, as I always take that into consideration, on every product that I buy.

 

I look at my Grado cans and think, how can something sound so damn good and look as cheap as they do.

 

I am not saying this as a knock on their quality, as I only own the 325i and the RS1i.....but they look so simply made.

 

The build quality is good compared to my buddys 125i....but still I look at all three of those headphone and think....damn, they could have done better.

 

I still chose these cans , because I just love the sound signature....but what is wrong with having great sound and a nice quality build.

 

At the end of the day, I guess they know what they are doing, as they are easy to work on and the sound is great, and even though I say they look cheaply made, I personally have never had anything break on mine.

 

That being said, I handle them with care and I am anal about  my cans.

 

I still recommend them to all of my friends that listen to rock and roll and most agree that these cans sound fantastic.....just understand when purchasing them that they sound better than they look.

post #50 of 119

A good review! From a thoughtful perspective.. Keep it up

post #51 of 119
Quote:
Originally Posted by bedlam inside View Post

Hi,


Ultrasone - not yet, I will try to get some. No promises. Which would be a good model to try?

Cheers Rich

I have the Pro 900s (closed back) and I love them. If you want a closed back that sounds like an open back (but with super tight punchy Bass), these are as close as you can get in my opinion.  If you prefer an open back design, the 2900s get good reviews too. They have a little less Bass than the 900s but are more open sounding, "like having speakers in the room" which would probably appeal to your tastes toward external speakers. 

 

Cheers,

Barry


Edited by bareyb - 2/10/13 at 4:02pm
post #52 of 119
Thread Starter 

Hi,

Quote:
Originally Posted by bareyb View Post
 

If you prefer an open back design, the 2900s get good reviews too. They have a little less Bass than the 900s but are more open sounding, "like having speakers in the room" which would probably appeal to your tastes toward external speakers. 


Yes, the Ultrasone 2900 looks like it may be right down my road.

I also noticed that many here seem to like the Fostex planar driver headphones, with what appear to be easy modifications.

Let me see what I can get next... 

Okay, to work and listening to the AKG and Shure phones.

Cheerio Rich

post #53 of 119
Yeah I would suggest the PRO2900 or HFI-2400 depending on budget and availability. The 900 aren't closed in sounding or anything, but the bass is certainly far beyond neutral. The 2900 are good all-around cans, the 2400 are less refined overall, but for the price are still good.
post #54 of 119
Thread Starter 

AKG K701 (£ 200) – Quincy’s signature missing?



So, AKG decided to rebrand the K701 as Q701 (after Music Producer Quincy Jones – who has produced more grammy winning albums than most people own CD’s) and change the colours, but otherwise they still are the K701 and let me tell you, that is a good thing, given my experience with the K701 here.

These headphones share some of the looks and ergonomics with the Audio Technica W-1000 and are also essentially self adjusting. Lacking the solid wood of the AT’s drivers they substitute shiny white plastic (shades of Apple here?). Ear pads are velvety and there is a more or less self adjusting padded head comfort strap made from real (apparently) leather in addition to the wire frame. Weight is neither Durex (I mean featherlight) so you don’t feel cheated, nor so heavy that you fear for yer noggin.

There is a lot of attention to detail, fit and finish is first rate, as you would expect from a Teutonic manufacturer. Despite having clearly been boshed around a bit, there are no obvious signs of wear on them. The cable is fixed and while seeming not bad, appears a bit generic, I wonder how much an upgrade is going to raise the game, I should have liked to see something more upmarket or replaceable. The looks overall are more “Princess Leia” with a 70’s DJ look, with very large drivers covering all around even large ears, maybe not a set of ‘can’s to wear out for a coffee in Soho.

Putting them on reminds me strongly of the Sennheiser HD-800, they feel light and free, yet sit securely enough to not fall off should you feel like a spot of headbanging (which you will). L3000.gif These ‘can’s prove to me again that headphones can be engineered to have good ergonomics if attention is paid, even on a modest budget. I feel incredibly comfy with them and adjusting them is easy peasy, put them on and slightly push against the head strap.

Initially, the sound is clean, balanced and resolved, quite natural, in many ways these ‘can’s sound like how they feel on your head. They do not have the sound staging of the HD-800, nor the rockin bass or ultra light touch with music as the HiFiman HE-500 planar drivers. After I kicked the bass boot (aka XBass) on the iCAN headamp up one notch and put 3D Sound on 3 much of these limitations are remedied. These Phones clearly sound more open and natural than my own Audio Technica’s and the bass, once brought up in level to match the mid’s has more impact than my AT’s. The treble is a touch brighter, not in a way that I ‘can’t get outta my head’ though.

All told, these are great dynamic headphones. To these ears what they miss is that absurdly non-mechanical, natural presentation that both electrostatic and planar headphones (and speakers with ribbon tweeters like my own) do so well. These are 60 Ohm headphones and are pretty efficient, needing settings of around  12 - 1 o’Clock for my preferred listening levels. Actually for me at least these ‘can’s invite me to turn up the wick and give it some extra welly, on some tracks I was up to around 2 o’Clock, like one track I added to the main audition list, namely “Rocket” from Allison Goldfrapp’s 2010 Album, which gave this Hi-NRG track extra push and energy – as if it needs it… k701smile.gif

In theory I think you could run them quite successfully with portable gear, if it was not for the 70’s looks, that makes you look like a BBC Radio 2 DJ and the 6.3mm only plug, which would need a bulky adapter. Not having one, I left things on the iCAN Headamp only, remember, this amp sounds comparably warm and smooth, with a touch of dark swiss chocolaty goodness that makes Thorntons seem like supermarket sweets.
 

One sonic highlight is the way the bass punches (with XBass on to 1st position) and puts especially electronic and classical music on a foundation that seems to elude many open back headphones. Where the Sennheiser HD-800 convinces with space, the AKG K701 convince with scale, a neat trick for a headphone, considering that many speakers are totally sheeeite when it comes to “scale”. The organ notes on Saint Säens #3 have a degree of wallop and the kettle drums have bang that is not easy with headphones. On Light my Fire the picked guitar strings and slaps on the guitar body are rendered really well, focusing on the Vocals they are probably not quite as breathy and open as on the HD-800, but they are smooth and realistic. Overall, I would class the HD-800 as more of a “Noggin decision” headphone, while the K701 targets yer nether regions, with more a “ballsy” presentation, projecting emotion in the music really well. They make listening real good fun, the longer I kept listening, the less critical I was of the sound and the more I was just getting ‘jiggy with it’ with the music. Can’t say fairer than that.

Putting on another addition to the main audition track list, Hugh Masekela’s “Coaltrain (Stimela)” specifically for the live recording and the audience shows the limitations of even these headphones and iFi’s 3D Sound. There is no way to render the scale of this recording it has via speakers on headphones, even the HD-800 with 3D sound fails miserably, as do most speaker based HiFi systems. But, the sound is involving, the handling of scale makes me turn up the volume a bit more, the Sax is as creamy and luscious as Vanilla Häagen Dazs, so who really cares? Well at least up to the end of the song, where the coal train does not pull up and come to rest between the speakers almost real-sized as it does on a good speaker based HiFi System… BTW, the K701 do leak a lot of sound, being open back, and given their balance which makes me turn it up more did catch me some furrowed brows at the office…when you end up looking a twit to people around you, it seems you have passed the test of getting into the music.


Sonically well above average, decent build quality and excellent ergonomics AND a real world price that is not mad price, these ‘can’s are ‘bad’, but in a good way. In absolute terms they are no match for the best Headphones I have come across, but they do so much right for relative sane money and are so much fun to listen to, these go for now to the top of my shopping list. Jack Wolfskin coat or these headphones? I’m gonna say sorry Jack, hello Quincy. I’d still like a pair of ‘can’s with ergonomics like these but with planar drivers and for less than a monkey, (<£500) please, but that failing, these I can live with on all fronts… Let me see if I can keep the loaner pair for a bit while longer, here’s to hoping John forgets I have them. normal_smile%20.gif


added 21/02

The Headroom site gives the frequency response of the K701 as follows:


We can see that the bass is attenuated but above maybe 70Hz these headphones are impressively flat for headphones, high treble is a bit AWOL, but overall I think these Phones are most like Speakers in the whole lineup. Correct the missing bass using XBass and no wonder I liked these so much.


Ergonomics:      4.5 out of 5

Build Quality:    4 out of 5

Sound Quality:  4 out of 5

Practicability:   4 out of 5


Edited by bedlam inside - 2/21/13 at 7:54am
post #55 of 119
Just as a little aside, the Q701 and K702 both have removable cables.
post #56 of 119
Thread Starter 

Hi,

Quote:
Originally Posted by obobskivich View Post

Just as a little aside, the Q701 and K702 both have removable cables.


That's great news. Maybe there is one of them in my very near future?

Cheerio Rich

post #57 of 119
Thread Starter 

Shure SRH1440 (£ 300) – Are you man enough?



Very recently released, these ‘can’s initially look solid and big. There seems a faint martial theme to the industrial design. If Dr. Dre and Mr. T (from the A-Team) donned ’Beats’, this is the headphone for any aspiring Rambo, looking tough, maybe even a touch mean, nearly all dark titan and black and mostly flat, non-reflective. With these on, you would look soooo at home protruding from the turret of a Chieftan tank. Made extensively from plastic mouldings with a spring steel band embedded in plastic, the velvet covered ear pads and memory foam headband padding promise a decent degree of comfort. Comfort matters even if you are lugging your M-16 through the jungle hunting Charlie to the strains of “All along the Watchtower” by Jimmy Hendrix (I know that this is from Forest Gump, not Rambo).


The sense of solidity and purpose is shattered instantly as you attempt to adjust the headband. For some reason someone at Shure’s design office decided it was a great idea to expose the metal spring parts when extending the ear pieces, so these heavy duty ear pieces seem suspended from razorblade thin metal strips. Was that guy or gal a speaker person so he/she never tried these Cans on or what? It works surprisingly well, belying the fragile looks, but honestly, what an odd bod design choice. Plus, if you are still in the jungle hunting Charlie, the glint of this metal will have every viet cong sniper within a mile draw a bead on you. This set of ‘Can’s had not done enough ‘tours’ for me to get a feel how they will age. Velour or velvet ear pads do not seem to age that well though. The cable is detachable (interesting looking gold plated plugs with a pretty nifty design for a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter as well), but it does not seem quite in-line with a premium product.


Ergonomics are decent, these headphones feel reasonably light on yer nut, though a bit of headshaking reveals them as rather loose fitting. If that vc sniper in the jungle starts laying the lead down in your direction and you hit the deck, you are likely to lose them. The clamping force could be a trifle harder for my taste. What is also odd is that you cannot adjust the headphones while they are on your head, the spring ribbons seem to lock down, so, you need to take them off, adjust, try again, take them off and adjust again and so on, until you get it right. The adjustment is detented and clearly marked, so at least once you found the right adjustment (if you can) you can get it back easily, if you can remember the setting. While more comfy than the Sennheiser HD-600, I never could quite find the right balance between too much pressure on the top of me noggin and some pressure on the top of my ears. Again my AT’s win on comfort.

My first impression of the sound after the AKG K701 was that these sounded flat (as in a little lifeless) with the mid-band emphasised, if played louder these get a bit edgy, making you want to back off the sound level if you are like me, a bit of a wuss, though I doubt it would trouble Rambo’s hearing (given how many big guns he shoots without wearing ear defenders). Without the iCAN’s XBass one might simply write these ‘Can’s off as being a bit pants, click XBass up to 11 though and you get the feeling that these headphones are quite well-balanced, though a tendency towards being a bit too bolshy with a slight forwardness that remains. Still, with XBass in I could start to appreciate music more and was not as chicken with the volume. These are not as “unconventional” in their balance as the Audio Technica W-1000, they left me wondering if they were broken, but they tend into the same direction.

The remaining mid-band prominence lends serious projection to female vocals, be it Constance Friend’s voice on “Light My Fire” or Allison Goldfrapp on “Rocket”. Turn it up too much and the sound becomes a bit shouty.  It also really made certain percussion elements like the rim shot’s in the O-Zone Improvisation jump out, with startling realism, but at higher volumes a wince inducing edge. The whole sound-staging, as revealed by the Tori Amos track, is pretty ordinary, lacking the ability of the two Sennheiser’s tested here to present the image. Then again, so does everything else and thanks to iFi-Audio putting the “3D” switch on the iCAN, which simply levels the playing field no end. So again, I have this on “3” for this set of ‘can’s, actually for all the headphones here.

While bass shy without XBass, the SRH1440 handle large scale classical, like the Saint Säens piece fairly well, being able to absorb the extra welly and lend some pomp and circumstance to proceedings, though they fail to reach the scale and impact of the AKG K701 in this. Overall they handle big dynamic swings well, but I always had a sense that these ‘can’s sound louder than they really are. And there is the fact that if you are a bit of a dweeb with the volume, midrange sounds can quickly turn from “startling real” towards “so real they bit me ears off”. Other than that and with the provision of using XBass, these are okay headphones, probably level with my AT’s or maybe slightly ahead in terms of openness, yet going back to the AT’s gave an instant urge to turn it up a bit more and was a comfortable for every day listening, smoother, more relaxed and dare I say more headbanging on Goldfrapp’s Rocket and without fear of losing the headphones. Given the price the sound quality just doesn’t do what it says on the tin…
 

I noticed that these seem to leak a LOT of sound, for the relative volume on the inside, more than any of the other open back ‘can’s I had here so far. These are fairly efficient ‘can’s, I mostly kept the volume on the iCAN below 12 o’Clock. Despite this they did not work all that good with my smartphone and directly from my laptop, only barely reaching satisfactory listening levels and sounding non-too pucker, the low volume did hold back the forward midrange from becoming problematic, but the lacking low end heft left not much to harp on about. So it seems these need an amplifier and one with a fair whack of bass boost and power, paradoxically is required. Also, as these already tend towards edgy and in yer face, avoid bright or edgy sounding electronics.

 

Build quality, excepting questionable design choices, is solid, ergonomics on the better end of satisfactory and if driven with the right electronics sound is pretty decent. If these cost maybe a ton (£100) they would be worthy of recommendation.  Given you have to lay out a full carpet (£300), I would take this Can of Ronseal back to Bollocks Quality for a refund. A ton less gets you the AKG’s. So unless you are a Jeremy Clarkson wannabee (or lookalike), prefer an aggressive sound with subdued bass and you drive a Shelby Mustang GT500 that was just on Top Gear the other nite, just don’t bother with these, too much aggro and not enough go. By the way, the GT500 is actually bloody nippy.

added 21/02

The Headroom site gives the frequency response of the SRH-1440 as follows:

 



Bass is AWOL, the upper midrange in your face, exactly what I heard, these will be unlikely to ever sound natural.


Ergonomics:    3.5 out of 5

Build Quality:   3.5 out of 5

Sound Quality: 3 out of 5

Practicability:  3 out of 5


Edited by bedlam inside - 2/21/13 at 8:02am
post #58 of 119

Very good work Rich. I think the takeaway for me is that I'm content to cap my headphone investment at approximately $400, which is about where I'm at in my HD-650s, plus a roughly equivalent amount on a DAC and amp. I reckon that's about 80% as good as head-fi could get for me. Rather than try to reach the next performance level by spending 3x-4x as much for something like HD-800s and upping the DAC/amp ante accordingly, I'm more inclined to start putting that money toward speakers. 

 

Clearly speakers have a much higher top end and price of admission, not to mention proper amplification and an acoustically sound room and no one around to disturb, but the $1,500 you'd spend on HD-800 certainly gets you in the door for a full-room set, and the $400 headphone baseline gets you respectable powered desktop near-field jobs that probably exhibit the fundamental spacial advantage over good cans straightaway. And the DAC investment crosses over between speakers and phones.

 

Once I settle on a DAC/amp (I skipped your iDAC and the Yankee Modi, but I have your compatriot Meridian Explorer coming for a shootout with the Dragonfly tomorrow), I'll probably start sniffing around for a nice set of desktop speakers myself. Unfortunately, my main living room rig is probably tapped out with budget kit, what with family in there watching Peppa Pig all the time, and speakers literally relegated to a bookshelf. Although Peppa sounds swell through the PBS Alpha B1s, a C1 in the center, and generic built-in rear channels. A set of PSB PS1s here in the man cave alongside the HD-650 should keep Daddy Pig happy. 

post #59 of 119

I really enjoyed reading your reviews, very honest and well written. Hopefully you test and share impressions of more 'cans' in the future.

post #60 of 119
Thread Starter 

Hi,
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerocraft67 View Post

Clearly speakers have a much higher top end and price of admission, not to mention proper amplification and an acoustically sound room and no one around to disturb, but the $1,500 you'd spend on HD-800 certainly gets you in the door for a full-room set, and the $400 headphone baseline gets you respectable powered desktop near-field jobs that probably exhibit the fundamental spacial advantage over good cans straightaway. And the DAC investment crosses over between speakers and phones.


Have a look at active studio speakers.

I won't let go of my Class A Tube Amp's and Floor Standing Speakers with 10" Woofers. However I have heard a few active speakers targeted at Studio's that are fairly affordable and was quite chuffed what get these days for little lolly.

 

For example, there was one discussion here about the Emotiva Stealth Monitors:

http://www.head-fi.org/t/642288/emotivas-new-stealth-8-powered-monitors-any-impressions

A pair comes in at 1,500, they have ribbon tweeters and 8" Woofer, active biamp'ed, fair bit of power, these for example should go a long way. Seems jolly decent value for money, if you want tubes you can always add a tube preamp.


We don't have these in the UK it seems, but in the US you should be able to try them. The same thread also has information on some other options, I am sure you can find something.

Cheerio Rich

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