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Here's my review of the Mad Dog version 3.2 + balanced headphone:
(Disclaimer – I am an unabashed and shameless fanboy of the Mr. Speakers Mad Dog, and Mr. Speakers’ business ethic – Mr. Speakers is all about great sound, great value and great service.)
I started my Mad Dog Journey with the Dog Pads. I upgraded to the Alpha Pads / 3.0 tuning as a beta tester for the Alpha Pads. I also kept badgering Mr. Speakers about a balanced wired pair, as I really didn’t want anyone but Mr. Speakers inside my Mad Dogs, as I believe they are pretty sensitive to any accidental internal changes. Eventually, I ended up with a pair that had a prototype of the balanced wires, and a tuning somewhere between the 3.0 and current 3.2.
Once I received word that the final version of the balanced wired Mad Dogs were shipping, I sent my prototypes in the next day for modification to the new connector, new balanced cable and the current 3.2 tuning.
I was afraid the 3.2 tuned bass would be even more prominent than the intermediate tuning I had previously. I was actually concerned about this - the intermediate tuning was all I wanted and more. The 3.2 tuning is actually much more refined, defined and true to the recording than either the 3.0 or the intermediate tuning that my prototype had. The bass is more prominent than the 3.0 tuning, but is not remotely fat, flabby or “one noted.” It is as I noted above, very true to the recording, very defined and articulate, and not overpowering. If it is in the music, it is represented accurately, right up to where it is REALLY IN THE MUSIC! The MD’s with the 3.2 tuning will then REALLY PRESENT THE BASS! This is the first area where the 3.2 steps it up from the 3.0. The 3.0 has excellent, well defined, taught bass, but just does not have the same level of extension and impact that the 3.2 does – when the music calls for it.
The second area that is a step up from the 3.0 tuning is the upper register. Top end is more present, less roll off, yet still in the style of the Shure SE530 and the Sennheiser HD650, and still perfect for my ears. I likened the treble of the 3.0 to a good silk domed tweeter in stereo speakers. I liken the 3.2’s upper end to a great silk domed tweeter in stereo speakers. The treble is clear, detailed and accurate, without being bright, harsh or brittle.
The 3.2 is less forgiving of bad recordings as compared to the 3.0. The 3.0 is sort of the "we're all winners" headphone. Everything sounded good, even poorly recorded, mastered or ripped music. The 3.2, on the other hand, rewards well recorded material with accurate, neutral to ever so slightly dark reproduction. The 3.2, to my ears, punishes poorly recorded, mastered or ripped source material a bit. It is more revealing of the flaws in poor source material. It is not brutal to poor material, but just more truthful. This is not a fault, but another improvement to my ears.
Sound stage is really recording specific. On Robert Plant / Alison Kraus “Raising Sand” for instance, the sound stage is expansive. On some 80's rock stuff, it is very "in your head". With well mastered and well recorded source material, the Mad Dog’s sound stage can be hugely wide like an open phone, but not with every recording. Still, the sound stage is amazing for a closed headphone, and astounding for a $299 ($399 balanced) open or closed headphone.
The balanced cable is aesthetically pleasing, and the craftsmanship of the cable and the jack modification to the headphone is nothing short of outstanding. The chosen connector is a really nice push on to lock, pull the collar to release connector very similar to the HiRose used on iBasso amps. The connection end is the semi-standard 4 pin XLR – in this case a nice black Neutrik. The cable itself is unassuming. The conductors are twisted copper inside a nice, very flexible mic cable like sheath. The cable is very unassuming and appears very durable. The cable lays well, and has little to no microphonics. The headphone end connector is readily available, which will facilitate 3rd party cables, for those that desire a “bling” cable. The easy cable change out also means one can have a single ended and balanced cable – an option I believe Mr. Speakers plans to provide.
I am just starting to experiment with balanced headphones. I have a fairly modest balanced amp at the moment – the iBasso PB2 amp coupled with the DB2 balanced Dac. I seem to hear a bit more control and authority with the balanced configuration over single ended. I have not tried going back and forth with a single ended adapter to balanced, to see what differences I notice. I will leave any further comparisons of balanced to single ended to other reviewers with better equipment than mine.
I will say that the new connector configuration available on the balanced headphone, paired with the new cable, is very, very worth the $100 premium. The craftsmanship of the modification is outstanding, and the cable is an upgrade over both the stock Fostex and the Vmoda cables that are supplied with the standard Mad Dog. I consider the balanced Mad Dog to also be a premium Mad Dog. If I had no need of balanced configuration, I would still opt for this version with a single ended cable. The standard Mad Dog is a terrific bargain. The Balanced Mad Dog adds a bit of style and upgrade that I still consider a bargain for what you get.
Ah, just get the balanced cable upgrade, but get a single ended cable, or a shiny bling cable from BTG or Moon... The new quick disconnect cable is nice. I'm having fun with balanced wiring, and needed it to fully utilize the HIFI-M8 whenever it shows up. I think that good single ended is just that - GOOD. Just like good balanced.
Anyway, it boils down the the 3.2 tuning being very, very good, and the new cable connector and premium cable being a really nice upgrade, well worth the price premium in my opinion. I know at some point, Dan will offer a SE cable as well. I'll buy one once available, as I then have both balanced and SE options. With an SE cable, you get the nice cable and connector, and don't have to start buying balanced amps. Or if you go my route, you buy a balanced amp, and then have to start buying balanced capable headphones...
111 and counting... I didn't check to see if there was a stack of pre "change" feedback as well. Nice!
I guess you can go ahead and try the balanced / new connector version then...
anybody found a good fitting hard/ hybrid case that fits the mad dogs? The velvet bag is nice but something that offers a little protection and discretion would be nice. Btw Love the Mad Dogs. I'm gonna let the rest of my return period expire. Right now I'm running them straight from a schiit bifrost unamped. The schiit doesn't really add much but I use it for a variety of things so it stays. I'm gonna make a trip to radioshack and get some a 3.5 jack to run them straight out of my lepai Ta-2020 amp I have laying around. 20w a channel at 8 Ohms. Hopefully I don't blow it all up, lol.
The bag that ships with it is great for protection around the house however bringing the mad dog headphones with you on the go requires a more sturdy and durable case
Nice write up!! One quick question: the Mad Dogs are often cited as a rather dark-sounding headphone, and you noted that the balanced 3.2 has a "neutral to ever so slightly dark reproduction." I saw that you were impressed with the treble overall, so I suppose my question is whether you find the overall balance of the 3.2 balanced to be slightly brighter (or less dark, if you prefer that) or if the tonal balance is essentially the same but with improved treble and bass performance.
Thanks in advance for any thoughts you care to share!!