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Comparisons: 22 of the Top Closed/Portable Headphones Around

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Thread Starter 

So with my main dynamic and stat rigs about "set", I decided to look for a great portable headphone. My requirements for this would be the ability to isolate out background noise (like my kids, or an airplane) and a great sounding headphone, so last year I started on a journey that now after a year I think I've found what I need.

 

I started off with the Bose QC15s for flying. Nothing, bar nothing isolates outside music better than them and on noisy flights with noisy kids (mostly my kids wink.gif), they really fit the bill. But sound quality wise, they were the weakest of the bunch and always left me wanting more. So I picked up a pair of DT1350s (based on Tyll's measurements, they looked very good indeed). Sonically I was very impressed, but as I wear glasses, the three-point bends they put my ears into made them effective medieval torture devices. So out they went.

 

Then I read the excellent review of the Ultimate Ears UE9000s on innerfidelity.com. They too measured very well, so on a trip to the Apple Store I picked up a pair. To my chagrin, they would barely stretch down over my ears. Now I don't have the largest melon out there, but come on...and with no padding on the top side, made them quite uncomfortable. Throw in their sense of just too much of a dark nature and noise cancelling that is sub-par, out they went.

 

Next up a pair of Sennheiser Momentums (got a black pair) and holy moly, sonically these were the best my ears had heard to date! Comfort is outstanding! Many have complained that the earpads make them somewhat more of an on-ear headphone than over-ear, but they clamp very lightly and have such luxurious earpads that they were the most comfortable of the bunch after the Bose QC15s. They isolate very well, look great and most importantly sound great!

 

Then in came a pair of the Sony MDR-1Rs. I was at the Sony Store buying a pair of headphones for my brother's birthday and they had them on sale $100 off. So I picked them up. Sonically they are very good headphones, I have a bit of issues with the "upper mids" being a bit grainy and their construction was a bit too plasticky. Comfort was among the very best and I can really see why so many like them. That said, my pair had the "clicking" issue on the right earpad frown.gif and the carrying case was only a bag. Though nice, I never felt entirely comfortable traveling with them as the carrying bag didn't feel very robust. Sonically they were great, just not on par with the Momemtums. So after a few weeks, I returned them to the Sony Store for a refund. I wanted to really like them (and for many parts I did), but they had some issues like the clicking earcup and lack of robustness for travel I didn't keep them.

 

Finally on a flight to Milwaukee to visit a customer a few weeks back (a prop plane) I decided that I needed better isolation. As over the years, my ears have worked less and less with IEMs (just sold my pair of fantastic Westone 4s for that reason), I was now looking for a pair of NC headphones that had great isolation, sound and could play without the NC being on. I came across the PSB M4U 2 thread and two of my good friends (Skylab and beagle) were big fans of them. So I picked up a pair....and WOW. They isolate much better than the UE9000s (though NOTHING is as good as the QC15s) and actually sound like a fantastic pair of audiophile headphones. They sound really good (better) with the NC off, so they work around the house or when my listening session isn't in a too noisy environment. But if I'm flying, then turn on the NC and you get actually very competent noise cancellation and the sound quality doesn't suffer that much either. Great to have the option.

 

So here I am with no real IEMs (given my others to my daughter) and a pair of Sennheiser Momentums and Bose QC15 headphones. I think I'm pretty happy to stand pat with these two. I've tossed around the ideal of keeping just one pair, but they both sound so good I can't really let one go. The Momentums (though isolate very well), aren't as good as the QC15s on a plane.

 

EDIT: So my buddy lent me his Beats Executive headphones that his wife bought him for Christmas and wow, I was surprised. These aren't your kids Beats with over bloated bass, totally sucked out mids and noise cancellation that isn't worth 50 cents and all made of a cheap feeling plastic. They are beautiful headphones indeed. They are extremely portably and fold up in a very small package. Great for travelling for sure. Surprisingly the noise cancellation worked very well...like PSB M4U 2 well; except for the constant HORRIBLE HISS that in the end ruined them for me. Sonically they're not bad. The bass has been toned down and the mids aren't so sucked out and the treble isn't bright in any way...though much more extended than the Beats Studios. The hiss from the noise cancellation is a downside as its constantly on, but beyond that, not bad...so I'm kinda shocked. They do not run with the top headphones here sonically, but a step in the right direction IMO.

 

 

UPDATE 1: BEATS EXECUTIVE:

 

After a full weekend with the Beats Executive (on loan), I've revised my scoring a bit. After a few days, the constant "hiss" from the NC circuitry and somewhat flabby bass made me revise them and score them down. For Beats headphones, these are the best I've heard and guess what? They're not horrible. Actually I find them quite descent sounding...and looks/construction wise they are amongst the very best. So if you just have to own a pair of Beats headphones, these are the ones I'd recommend. Otherwise, if you're looking for top notch noise cancelling, ultra comfort and pretty good sound, my vote would be the QC15s (for the traveller). For pure sound quality and overall beauty, the Momentums are my top choice.  However, there is a glaring (and almost fatal flaw with these headphones), the NC circuitry has an unbearable "hissss" that is so obtrusive that it actually leaks into the music. Sadly for this reason, they are hard to recommend. Otherwise very nice improvements by Beats...to bad they missed this issue.

 

UPDATE 1.5: BEATS EXECUTIVE (Newer All Black Version from 2014)

 

Well, today I got a pair of the newer all-black Beats Executives and boy am I happy to report that the "hissssss" from the older versions above is mostly all gone. It's now at a similar level as the Beats Studio 2013...which is to say, barely an issue at all. Nice to see that Beats fixed this very glaring flaw. Sound wise, they are fairly close to the Executives from above and the newer Studio (2013 version). Not the top 5 hear, but definitely a step in the right direction by Beats.

 

As a result, I am quite happy to recommend these headphones to someone who likes popular music, electronica, hip-hop, is looking for a beautiful pair of headphones (especially the all-black version...my favourite looking pair of headphones in this listing actually), with good comfort, noise isolation/cancellation and very portable once in the carrying case.

 

 

UPDATE 2: KEF M500 & BEATS 2013 STUDIOS:

 

So I've added the KEF M500s and new Beats Studio 2013s. In summary, the KEF M500s are the most neutral "high end" sounding headphones of the bunch. They are very well constructed and it I can't believe KEF has just started making headphones! I mean wow...they really know good sound. They are very small on the head, but the carrying case makes them about "average" for portability. Unfortunately you have to remove the headphone cable to put them in their storage case. Only the Bose QC15s and Momentums had their designs such that this wasn't necessary. I hope moving forward, more manufacturers fix this!  They image a soundstage that is the biggest of the bunch...very impressive for the only on-ear headphones listed! The only downside of the M500s is that if you're looking for isolation, look elsewhere as they don't do much of that.

 

The new Beats Studios 2013 editions keep up with many of the headphones here. I bought a pair to add to this review from the Apple Store with the intention of returning them after 1 week. As luck would have it my 5 year old kinda used the box for his superhero action figures...so they're now mine. Luckily I don't mind. If you're into how headphones look, these (along with the Momentums are the best IMO). They isolate pretty darn good and are pretty darn portable. They sound quite good. They're closer voiced to the warmer/bassier Momentums (though not as tactile), but that said, I'm quite happy to see Beats talking good sound seriously. They image very well are light and comfortable too. Who'd a thunk it?

 

 

UPDATE 3: SKULLCANDY AVIATORS:

 

As mentioned, I picked up a pair of Skullcandy Aviators for a heck of a deal. So after a few days with them, I agree with Jude's initial assessment. They are great headphones too. Now this is a big surprise too like the new 2013 Beats Studios. They are very stylish, though may be a bit too flashy for some. Not sure if this 41 year old Canadian conservative would go outside with them. tongue.gif Comfort wise they are very good too with my big head. That said, they are on their max setting for me.

 

The cable seems a bit thin, but serviceable. The little iDevice volume/song switcher is well built and unlike the KEF M500s has buttons that are easy to hit without too much fiddling. The carrying case is a nice (p)leather pouch that reminds me of my pencil case when I was a kid in terms of size....a very good thing IMO. No hard shell though to protect them like the other headphones (except for the MDR-1Rs).

 

Now onto the sound... The bass doesn't flood into the mids like every other Skullcandy headphone I've heard. Imagine that? Actually it's a little rolled off at the deepest octaves to my ears. Though not Grado rolled off. And like Grados, there is somewhat of a mid-bass hump there but it's not distracting. The treble extends very well and the imaging is very good. I would describe them as a very good mid-centric headphone with good bass (though a bit rolled) and good treble overall. Hard to nitpick anything else.

 

Bang for your buck these win. I picked them up for under $100. At their original price of $149 US (or $199 in Canada), they're even worth that IMO. Great sub $100 headphones that I'm happy to recommend. smile.gif

 

 

UPDATE 4: BOWERS & WILKINS P7

 

Well, the P7s arrived a week and a half ago and yes, they rocketed up the charts. I absolutely love them. As portable headphones go, they hit pretty much on all cylinders. First off, they sound great. The bass is deep, present and very well controlled/defined. The mids are balanced and quite nicely put into the spectrum. I find on the M500s, the mids are more pronounced/forward, so if that's more to your liking, then, I'd recommend the KEF headphones. But the mids seem a bit too forward and liquid (a very slight colouration IMO). While the P7s definitely balance out the mids a bit more "realistic" sounding to my ears. The treble thankfully has been greatly improved over the rolled-off P5s. It's extended, lively and never harsh.

 

The soundstaging is the best on these headphones of all the ones on this list. Actually only my much more expensive TH-900s image better for a closed headphone. But, I'd hardly consider the Fostex cans "portable headphones". ;) Simply put, along with the M500s and Momentums, the P7s are in the top three I've heard yet...and just barely come out on top for me.

 

Construction wise, what can I say? They're freakin' beautiful! Talk about some handsome looking headphones that are just as much art as they are functional. Kudos to Bowers and Wilkins for making such a stand out headphone. They isolate the best of the bunch (that is to say of the headphones WITHOUT noise cancelling circuitry). While the clamp is firm, I found it never uncomfortable with my big melon and the isolation was as good as any of the noise cancelling headphones save the QC15s.

 

Portability wise, the great looking leather case offers good (but not great) protection for them. This is one of my gripes. I would have liked a bit more mechanical support for these headphones as I stuff them in my travel bag. But while they are "full sized over ear headphones", they do fold up quite nicely and the carrying pouch is smaller than the Momentums' carrying case. The second gripe is that the headphone plug is at a straight angle. I much prefer the 90 degree plugs that we've come accustomed to. Or even better and adjustable one like on the Sennheiser Momentums.

 

I am really glad that B&W came out with these headphones. They work with every genre I threw at them (think every type of music EXCEPT for country/western....I'm not a fan :p). If I could had to pair down my collection to only 1 portable headphone, it would be the P7s I suppose. But that said, I'm still keeping my M500s and Momentums for a very long time.

 

 

UPDATE #4: MONSTER OVER-EAR DNA PRO

 

Well, I was lucky enough to be included in a test group for these newly released headphones from Monster. Just for clarification, these are not the currently released on-ear DNAs (which I do happen tolike), but instead their larger over ear sibling. First off, they are very stylish looking headphones. I really like the matte black colour they came in. And unlike the shiny new Beats 2013 Studios, finger prints don't show up all over them.

 

Their construction is pretty darn good. They look quite sleek, but they (like the Beats 2013 Studios) incorporate a lot of plastic. So unlike the most excellent P7s or B6s, don't expect high-end materials here. I found the comfort about average (or slightly under). The Beats Studios were actually more comfortable. The biggest issues I had were two fold:

 

1.) The earpads don't rotate so that they are parallel to ones head. Instead, they pinch towards the bottom of one's ears and over time this can be a point of pressure and discomfort.

2.) The headband is a bit small and I have to pull the earpads down to their maximum setting to get them to fully sit on my head. Not a real biggie as well they still fit with my head. But those with larger melons may have more serious issues.

 

Upon my first listening session with them I was shocked actually. I was used to a Monster Beats presentation from years gone by and what I was hearing was a remarkably well balanced headphone. The bass is actually more in-line with the most neutral pair of headphones here (B&O H6s). That is to say, deep, taught, well defined and not boomy or loose. For those who want a more basshead headphone, I'd recommend you look elsewhere. But if you're after a fairly balanced presentation, these headphones may be for you.

 

The mids are very well presented and thankfully unlike older headphones in this space, the bass blends in perfectly with them. I did however have some issues with the upper mids/lower treble. There was an emphasis in this area that with certain recordings made the DNA Pros sound "off pudding". I would liken this to the Sabre-shout that many higher end DACs that use the Sabre chipset suffer from. In the end, female vocals seemed a bit too nasal-like for my tastes and as a side effect, sibilances in recordings were emphasized more than I'd want to hear.

 

The treble is quite good and rarely harsh. It has good sparkle, definition and extension to the upper registers. Quite good. But as mentioned, the lower treble/upper mids has some issues that kept these headphones from really excelling. The imaging is about par for the course with closed/portable headphones. They don't offer the expansive sound staging of the very open sounding B&O H6s, but they do offer a realistic presentation that is quite acceptable.

 

With regards to portability, they're not bad. They fold up like the Beats Studios and don't take up much room. But unlike the Beats Studios, they only come with a carrying bag. The Beats Studios come with a hard-shell case that is much better for protecting these headphones when you're on the go. The carrying pouch that comes with the DNA Pro's is made of a thick fabric (and quite a bit better than the plain fabric bag that comes with the B&O H6s), but it does lag behind the competition in this regard.

 

Like with the new 2013 Beats Studios, I am very impressed to see Monster go the route of a more balanced/neutral presentation. Gone are any remnants of the horrible bloated, overly bassy and muddy Monster Beats headphones from years ago. Overall a very good option for audio enthusiasts.

 

 

UPDATE #5: BANG & OLUFSEN H6

 

So I was able to snag a pair locally for a killer deal that was too hard to pass up. I’ve got to say that I was really glad that I did. I have to say that these are the most "dead neutral" headphones I've tried on this thread. Their tonal balance is very close to the HD800s. Think deep/taught bass, linear mids, extended treble (while never bright/strident) and the best sound staging of the 11 headphones here.

 

First off their construction is fantastic. Beautifully built with soft and plush leather pads, the headband is made of more rigid leather and looks great. They are incredibly light and are definitely the most comfortable pair of headphones here. Just a joy to have on and listen to. I do have one major gripe though...the carrying fabric bag Really? Just a thin fabric bag to hold onto my $439Cdn MSRP headphones? At least the carrying bag on the Monster DNA Pros is made of a thicker fabric that would offer some cushioning in my carry-on luggage. But this one, I wouldn't even try. So I had to order a third party hard shell case of ebay for them. But for the price I paid, I would definitely expect better! Yes, the H6s fold up pretty well (and compact) and are extremely light, but this is a bit of a letdown for me.

 

Now on to the way they sound...

 

Thankfully what they gave up on the carrying bag, they more than make up for it in the sound. Seriously, I can't believe what I'm hearing. These are closed headphones that are very clean, neutral, transparent and open sounding…imagine that? As I prefaced earlier, these are definitely the most neutral headphones in my listing (to date). Which is surprising that a closed headphone can be made this way. Typically they are "thicker" and bassier...likely due to all the internal reflections inherent to closed headphones vs. open headphones. But B&O has been able to avoid this and offer an very open sounding product with outstanding instrumental separation and clarity.

 

While some may critique the bass as "bass-lite"; I would never. Certainly next to the Sennheiser Momentums or Beats Studios, the bass is lighter. But I would not classify the Momentum/Beats bass as "neutral". What you get instead is deep, quick and taught bass that doesn't over stay its welcome (like it could with the Sennheisers). Very nimble indeed. The mids are upfront in the soundstage and crystal clear and the treble isn't rolled off like say on the Momentums (which in the end is why I sold them). Actually I find the treble very satisfying and the shimmer of cymbals is unequaled by the other headphones here. It never comes off as bright either (unless of course the recording is bright/strident).

 

The sound-staging is impeccable as is the instrumental separation. Due to their light/quick nature, you don't feel closed in like some of the headphones in this thread (like the Momentums, Beats, M500s). Instead you get a very vast and open sound that sometimes has you thinking you're hearing things from outside, but instead it's these headphone's excellent ability to throw sounds at you from all over.

 

What can I say? These are definitely in the top 3 of my list here and if you're thinking of picking up a pair, I'd say go for it! But, if you're a bass head and like the hippity hoppity music, I might look elsewhere. In the end, these are definitely staying with me for the long term.

 

 

UPDATE #6: NAD HP50s

     

These are the latest headphones I've added to this listing and boy am I happy I did. Overall they are just outstanding headphones (regardless of being closed and portable). I was lucky enough to get a review pair from NAD (just down the highway a bit from me here in Toronto). I liked them so much, I bought them...there was no way I was going to send them back.

 

Construction wise they are very well built. The headband is covered in soft leather with a metal frame. They feel very sturdy as a result. Are they as snazzy looking as say the P7s or H6s? Nothing really is, but they do cost between $100-$139 less here in Canada. But I'll say this; they are certainly in the upper tier of headphones I've tried. They are not excessively plastic like the Beats or DNA Pros (though those headphones do appear to be very rugged regardless) and for the price range, I feel that they meet what I would expect (and then some).

 

Comfort wise, they are very good. I would put them just under the B&O H6s. I can keep them on my head for hours at a time without any discomfort. As well, they isolate very well. This is one thing that has hurt some of the headphones on this thread (like the KEF M500s). I feel this is one very important factor to have truly portable headphones. If I'm in a noisy environment, I don't want to have to crank up the sound to un-safe levels just to continue to hear the music. And thankfully NAD has not forgotten this very important factor.

 

The headphones do fold flat and the carrying pouch is a nice thick leather (or leather-like) material and offers good structural support for the headphones. Unlike the AWOL support offered for the B&O H6s or the massively large hard bodied case for the Momentums, the NAD carrying case manages to meet the requirements of both support and portability.

 

And how do they sound?

 

In one word: "natural". After watching the innerfidelity.com review of Paul Barton by Tyll, I can verify that the "Room Response" goal has been realized. These headphones sound like a good pair of bookshelf speakers. Very natural and real with a hint of warmth to mimic my home speaker setup. Overall, I would classify them as natural / neutral sounding headphones, but with a slight warmth to them (something that is lacking with the B&O H6s).

 

The bass presentation is outstanding. These headphones go down to the depths of my audible range. Measurements back this up with a flat response down to 20Hz with no roll-off. As well, there is no mid-bass hump that can cloud mids and obscure the presentation. The distortion measurements are also outstanding and compete with many $1k+ headphones. The presentation of the bass is true-to-life to my ears, deep, low and controlled with excellent definition.

 

The mids (like the bass) are equally outstanding. I don't feel that instruments in the sound stage are out of place like I did with some other headphones. At times, say with the Sennheiser Momentums, I would feel that the singer or some of the instruments were placed way at the back of the stage due to the quick roll off of the upper mids. The HP50s instead offer very linear mids that put everything in its proper place with a smooth liquidity that is very appealing. Just very well presented overall.

 

The treble offers great detail and a clean presentation. Strident, these headphones are not, piercing treble is nothing to be concerned with. I found this problematic with the Monster DNA Pros (and even at times with the B&O H6s, depending on the recording), but the NAD presentation seems to straddle between this one extreme and the Sennheiser Momentum extreme of treble that is rolled off too much and can get in the way of the overall presentation. I'm so impressed on the overall tonal presentation of the HP50s that I would definitely say they are my favourite in this regard...period.

 

The sound-staging is very much on-par with the B&W P7s and just behind the spacious sounding H6s. But that still puts them in the top 2 or 3 here and I have no qualms with their ability to render what I'm hearing spatially. From left to right and front to back, they are able to keep me more than satisfied.

 

Overall I am going to put these on top of my list. When the construction, portability, isolation and especially sound quality were all taken into account, these headphones fire on all cylinders. Just an outstanding job by NAD!

 

 

UPDATE #7: MARTIN LOGAN MIKROS 90S

     

Well, my good friend Dave (Beagle) very graciously sent me a pair of these wonderful little headphones. I'd like to thank him again for this great opportunity. So I've had them for several weeks and put them through their paces. All I can say is for the sub $100 offering, they will be my "go to" recommendation for headphones (open or closed). Talk about packing in a lot of headphone into such a small pair and low price! I understand that Martin Logan priced these substantially higher when they were first released, and even at that price, based on the performance that they offer, I think a good argument can be made to justify their purchase...but at $85 ish, it's really a no brainer.

 

Construction is very solid! They are very well put together and again, at this price, I'm amazed at the high levels of materials that went into these headphones. Just beautiful. The carrying case is also perfect considering that they are portable headphones for on the go. I guess if I have to nitpick, one has to remove the headphone cable to get them to comfortably fit into the case, but that's a small point for me. It's a big step up from the AWOL case for the B&O H6s. 

 

Comfort was one area that wasn't ideal with my large noggin. I found the clamping force a bit much and the earcups wanted to swivel forward towards the front of my face when on my ears. I also found some pressure with extended listening when I wore glasses. I found that the cartilage in my ears would be put into a 3 point bend and I needed to remove them for a bit of a break after 30 minutes or so. Without glasses, they're quite a bit more comfortable. Being on-ears, I'm surprised just how good they isolate outside noise. If the KEF M500s worked this well, I'd likely still have them.

 

Now let's move on to how they sound. In a word, clean. Bass goes deep (with a slight roll-off in the lowest registers) but is still very satisfying. The mids is where these headphones really shine. Very clean and upfront...crystal clear and they kind of remind me of my Shure SE535s in the mids. The treble is very well extended and not sharp (like say the SRH940s). Very well presentation indeed. Tonally, they are closer to the B&O H6s over the NAD HP50s. The imaging is surprisingly good; especially considering they're on-ear headphones. I didn't find them lacking at all in this regard. Overall, for the very low price tag, these headphones are a no-brainer...talk about outstanding value!

 

 

UPDATE #8: BEYERDYNAMIC T51p

     

I saw these for a great price a few weeks ago and decided to jump on them. My friend Frank I previously raved about them and while I was sceptical about the comfort issues (like the DT1350s where), he insisted that beyer fixed those issues with the T51ps. And well, I'm here to definitely collaborate Frank's comments...these are some of the most comfortable headphones listed here. Very surprising for on-ear headphones, but the people at beyerdynamics really pulled it off! And here's the kicker, not only are they VERY comfortable on-ear headphones, they isolate among the very best here too! WTH? :blink: Usually with on-ears, you have to sacrifice isolation (like the M500s), but not with these headphones. I am very impressed with being able to have it all...small form factor (these headphones are very compact), great comfort AND noise isolation. Wowza! The construction is very much like the DT1350s, which is to say....SOLID! Mostly made of metal, these headphones are sturdy and I have no issues with taking them on the go and not worrying about them falling apart. The carrying case is also quite nice too and thin (and portable). It protects the headphones quite well and due to its form factor, I have zero issues putting it into my carry-on or back-pack. 

 

Sonically, they improve on the DT1350s in every way. Not a night and day change, but a refinement that's apparent across the board. The bass is tighter (and not was wooly as the DT1350s could sound), the mids are upfront and natural and the treble has a very nice shimmer to it, but never metallic or fatiguing (again like the DT1350s could be from time to time on specific recordings). The imaging is outstanding for on-ear headphones. It's definitely not up to the standards of the H6s, but certainly more than say the Momentums or M500s. If not for the NAD HP50s sounding so darn good, I'd be very tempted (and I certainly was) to rank these at #1. Oh, and I was able to hear a total of 4 headphones that they had on had and I'm very glad to report that they all pretty much sounded exactly the same. Something the DT1350s couldn't do when I heard a variety of them. Great small size, comfort, isolation, construction and sound...they hit on all cylinders! If you're looking for a great pair of on-the go headphones, you really need to consider these fantastic headphones! 

 

 

UPDATE #9: AKG K545

     

I'd like to thank dweaver for his generosity of the loaner pair of K545s that he sent to to add to this review. Really appreciated! The first thing I noticed when I put the K545s on my head was that, wow, these are some really comfortable headphones! I could keep them on my head for hours and if not for the music playing through them, I'd totally forget that they were on my head. The next thing that really grabs you is just how "big" they sound. The soundstaging is very impressive (especially considering they are a closed headphone). They are most excellent with orchestral music, quick, detailed and large sounding. Definitely one of the best here in that regard (and could very well be the best on this listing).

 

The bass is certainly not lacking to my ears, it goes down deep and offers a very satisfying experience. It's not wobbly or un-textured, but clean. The T51p's have a bit more bass, but overall the K545s should satisfy anyone who isn't a basshead. The Shure SRH940s or K701s on the other hand have way too little bass in my opinion and suffer from sounding "real" as a result; thankfully the AKG545s don't suffer that fate.

 

The treble is very well extended and clean. It's neither strident or painful to listen to. Unlike say the Momentums that really rolled the treble too quickly, too far, the K545s offer a very neutral presentation as a contrast. The two issues that I had with the AKGs were the mids and lack of noise isolation. Unfortunately the mids seemed a bit too recessed to my ears. At times I wished that they were more flushed out and forward, but instead with some of my test tracks I found them too far back in the sound stage and not fully supported. As well, the noise isolation was slightly behind the KEF M500s. I'm not sure that I would take them on an airplane or subway as a result. But for general listening around the house, I have no issues with them in this regard. Overall I was quite impressed with the AKG545s of their open and clean sound; coupled with their incredible comfort, I can see why so many like them!

 

 

UPDATE #10: Music Fidelity MF-100

     

For the second time, I'd like to thank my friend Dave (Beagle) for this pair to add to this comparative review. I've had the MF-100s for several weeks now and got to really know them as they've been my defacto work headphone for the month of May. Before I continue, I wanna say that I like these headphones quite a bit, but are they perfect? No headphone here is, but when taken as a sum of the whole, these are very good, clean sounding headphones.

 

The construction is mainly plastic, but they feel solid, the earpads are actually quite luxurious feeling (MF states that they used leather and I believe them). As well, they come with a back up pair (very nice addition). Unfortunately, they followed B&O with regards to the same style of a fabric pouch. Not very protective when travelling or on the go, so I'd recommend a good aftermarket ebay headphone case for them. They're pretty small headphones and finding one shouldn't be too hard to find (on the cheap). Comfort-wise, I'd say they are neither uncomfortable, nor comfortable...kinda right down the middle. The biggest issue I have with my head is the clamping force can be a bit after an hour or so. But thankfully, unlike the DT1350s, wearing glasses with them isn't too bad. The other issue I had was their isolation wasn't the greatest, so if that's really important to you, I'd look at some of the other headphones here. But in my office setup, they were just fine.

 

Funny when I heard them, dweaver's K545s just arrived, and the similarities between these two headphones really struck me. They both go down low and the bass is never bloated or slow, but tight (very similar to the H6's presentation). Some might find this a bit bass-lite, but definitely not me...they sound fairly flat down to the lowest octaves and the attack is quick and fast. Overall, I find this one of their best traits. The mids however like the K545s seem to need to be flushed out a bit more. I'm not saying that they're "U" shaped, but the mids with certain recordings can sound a bit hollow...so a bit more presence in this range would have gone a long way. The treble reminds me of the H6s, but a bit (and only a bit) more ragged to my ears, but it extends very well and offers a great sense of air. The soundstaging is also quite good and open. I never feel like I'm closed in like I did sometimes with the Sennheiser Momentums. Overall, these are a very good sounding pair of headphones that are a great first pass for Music Fidelity! Let's just say, it looks like they'll continue to be my "go to" office pair for June!

 

UPDATE #11: Sony MDR10RNC

     

So in a moment of weakness (and after some A-Bing at the local Bestbuy with the QC15s), I picked up a pair of Sony MDR10RNC portable noise cancelling headphones. What amazed me initially about them was that they actually stood toe-to-toe with the Bose QC15s with regards to their noise cancelling abilities. Actually, I found the higher frequencies slightly better cancelled out by the Sony headphones! This is no small feat IMO as the QC15s have set the standard for a number of years in that regard. So looks like Sony has fully caught up to Bose in this regard. Construction wise, they are very similar to the QC15, but they do feel a little more firm. The styling is miles ahead of the pedestrian looking QC15s. They are as sharp as the MDR-1R headphones and I'm a big fan. Comfort-wise they are on par with the very comfortable QC15s, so score yet another big win for Sony.

 

With regards to portability, they are quite good. They fold up flat and come with a very nice carrying case...overall very nicely done. Both with regards to size and protection for your investments.

 

In the sound department they sound very clean. They are tilted towards the bass (but still fairly well balanced). But think of MDR-1R without the highs that can at times become a bit too much. They are better across the spectrum than the QC15s (bass, mids, treble) and they image better too. Throw in the $50 cheaper price tag, I think these headphones are really a no brainer over the QC15s (plus they look a whole lot better, so if you care about styling, you'll be quite happy with the improvements that Sony put into these headphones). A bit about the Noise Cancelling Circuitry, it comes with 3 settings, one for airplane, bus and office. I've only tested the Airplane and Office modes and I can say that I find them helpful. The Airplane setting does in fact work best for planes and the Office setting is really the best for the office setting. One area I am very happy with (or at least my wife is) is the leakage of these headphones. The QC15s vent quite a bit of the sound to the environment, while the MDR-10RNCs are pretty much dead silent to the outside world. Overall I feel that Sony has taken the best aspects of the Bose QC15s and improved upon them. A great option for a NC headphone!

 

 

UPDATE #12: V-Moda XS

 

Last week I swung by the Microsoft Store here in Toronto and in a moment of weakness I picked up the V-Moda XS headphones. And boy am I glad I did! First off, when I first saw the box, I thought: "how the heck did they fit the headphones in this small package"? Then I got it home and opened it up. Holy moly! :eek: I thought the beyer T51ps' were about as "portable" headphones on this listing that I'd come across...well, they have been left in the dust in this regard with the XS headphones. Seriously, they're like 1/3rd of the size of the headphones/case of the T51p's. They're almost IEM-like once in their carrying case. This is great design work on the headphones to allow them to collapse into such a small form factor. And the case is very sturdy, compact and easy to take with you! 

 

And I'm happy to report that they sound great too! Compared to the T51p's, they're what I consider more "neutral" and a bit more open/airy. The T51p's have phenomenal bass that goes deep down low and offers top notch details and control, the XS's in comparison have deep bass (though less of it) and it's not as defined as the beyers. However, the bass overall is still very satisfying and a tad more than what I'd consider as neutral. They do have more bass than say the BeoPlay H6's. The mids are up front and clear and the treble has a very nice sparkle that is somewhat missing on the T51p's (though a bit uneven depending on the recording). In terms of soundstaging, the XS's offer a wider sound scape with a bit more air and space than the T51p's. 

 

The one weakness is that they don't isolate as well as some of the better isolating headphones on this listing. I guess the good news is that they leak very little sound to the environment, so people around you won't be annoyed with your music, but you won't be as isolated from the outside as you would with the HP50s, T51ps or P7s. Comfort wise though they are very good. I'm surprised that the 2 on-ear headphones (beyer T51p and V-Moda XS) are among the most comfortable of the headphones listed.

 

Overall, these headphones are real winners. If they isolated like the T51p's, they'd be perfect, but I suppose we can't have it all! If you swing over to innerfidelity.com, you can see their measurements and for such tiny headphones they measure very well and boy do they sound "big". If you're thinking of a portable headphone, you need to consider the XS's.

 

 

UPDATE #13: Bose QC25

 

So on Wednesday I get an email from Bose about the new release of the QC25s. Being a big fan of the QC15s (also on innerfidelity.com's Wall of Fame), I swung by the next day to the Bose Store at lunch and picked up a pair. Right off the bat, the construction has been kicked up a notch by Bose. The headphones are better built, more sturdy, but still very comfortable. Actually even the comfort improved. That was a shock to me as the QC15s were already the most comfortable pair of headphones on this listing, but the QC25s are even more so. They are very well built and the styling has been improved up over the rather bland predecessors. They now come in black and white motifs. And on the US website, you can customize them every which way to Sunday. Though that's an extra $100 and I think the black ones look great as is. Another improvement is that Bose "borrowed" ;) the ingenious method of folding them in the case from the Beats Executive. What this has done is allowed Bose to reduce the size of the case by at least 1/3rd over the QC15s and even the T51ps. A very welcome feature for portable headphones as now they fold up and stow away even easier. But that has come with a small cost...you have to remove the cable in order to fit them in the case. As well, with the QC25s, you no longer get a second headphone cable without the iDevice/mic controller. As I never used that cable, its not an issue for me.

 

Now, being the King of the Hill of active noise cancelling (ANC), I bet you're all curious if Bose has improved this? Well, after a few days of A-Bing both side by side (I used my pool pump and air conditioner to mimic the background drone of an airplane), I can very safely say that the answer is a resounding YES! While I was able cancel out about 80-85% of the background noise with the QC15s, with the QC25s I was able to cancel approximately 95%. For me that's a substantial improvement! 

 

With regards to the sound, well, everything seems to have been improved upon too. The bass hits a bit harder, but is tighter and better defined, the mids are more upfront and the treble is more present while offering a smoother presentation. The sound staging / imaging is also wider and deeper on the QC25s. The sound signature hasn't been changed drastically, but the improvements are noticeable across the board. Now the one advantage the QC25s have brought to the table is that they can be listened to WITHOUT the ANC circuitry turned on. So if you run out of a battery (even though the carrying case has a specific holder for a back up battery :p), you can use them without it. They sound quite serviceable without being turned on, but compared to the ANC mode, they are a bit dull and lifeless in comparison. Some ANC headphones like the Audio Technica's sound very lifeless and almost unlistenable without the circuitry engaged, but the QC25s don't go down that road. They still sound good and lively, but the PSB M4U 2s sounded the best without the circuitry engaged. Those headphones sounded almost as good with it off as with it on. At least with the QC25s now, if you run out of a battery power, the music doesn't need to stop and you can still certainly enjoy it...but in the end, I'd still bring an extra battery and use the holder in the case. 

 

So in the end I think I'm going to rank these highly for the following reasons: a.) they sound pretty darn good, b.) they're very portable, c.) they isolate/cancel better than any headphone here, and d.) they are VERY comfortable. If you're on a plane/train and are looking for a great pair of ANC headphones, these would be at the top of my list.

 

Here is a quick scoring summary of all of the portable headphones I've tried over the past 14 months:

5 = Excellent

4 = Very good

3 = Adequate

2 = Not adequate

1 = Poor


Headphones

Portability

Construction Quality

Styling

Noise Isolation

NC Ability

Comfort

Bass

Mids

Treble

Imaging

Value

B&W P7

3.5

5

5

3.5

n/a

3.5

4.5

4

4

4.5

4

Beyer T51p 4.5 4.5 4 4 n/a 4.5 4.5 4 4 3.5 4
V-Moda XS 5++ 4 4.5 3 n/a 4.5 4 4 4.5 4 4.5
Sony MDR10RNC 4 4 5 4 4 4.5 4 4 4 4 4.5
Bose QC15 4 3.5 3 4.5 4.5 4.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3
Bose QC25 5 4 4 5 5 5 4 4 4 4 4.5

B&O H6

3

4.5

5

3.5

n/a

5

4

4

4

5

4

Momentum

2.5

4

5

3.5

n/a

4.5

4

4

2.5

3

4.5

AKG K545 3 3.5 3.5 2 n/a 4.5 4 2.5 3.5 4 3.5

MDR-1R

2.5

3.5

5

3.5

n/a

4.5

4

4

3.5

4.5

4

DT-1350

5

3.5

3.5

3

n/a

2

4

4

3

2

3

NAD HP50

4

4

3

4

n/a

4

4.5

4.5

4

4.5

4.5

Beats Studio

2013 Ed.

3.5

4

5

4

3.5

4

4

3.5

4

2.5

3.5

Music Fidelity MF-100 3 3.5 3.5 2.5 n/a 2.5 4 2.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Beats Executive (2014 version)

5

5.0

5.0+ 

(black ver.)

4

3.5

(2014 ver.)

3.5

4

3.5

4

2.5

3.5

KEF M500

3.5

4.5

4

2.5

n/a

4.5

4

4

5

4

4

Aviators

4

4

4

2.5

n/a

4

3

4

3

4

5

UE9000

2

4

3

3

2

3

4

4

4

3.5

3

Mikros 90 5 4 3.5 4 n/a 2 3.5 4 3.5 3.5 5

DNA Pro

3

3.5

4

3.5

n/a

3

4

3

2.5

3.5

3

PSB M4U 2

3.5

4

2

4

3.5

4

4

4.5

4

4

4

 

Rankings:

 

Headphones:

Sound Quality Ranking

Overall Ranking

Beyer T51p

2

1

NAD Viso HP50 1 2

V-Moda XS

4

3

Bose QC25 7    4

B&W P7

3

5

B&O H6 8 6
Bose QC15 13 7
KEF M500 5 8

Sony MDR-10RNC

12

9

PSB M4U 2

6

10

Momentum Over-Ear

9

11

MDR-1R 10 12
DNA Pro 11 13
UE9000 12 14

Mikros 9

14

15

AKG K545

15

16

Music Fidelity MF-100              16 17

DT-1350*

17

18

Beats Studio 2013 version

18

19

Beats Executive (2014 version w/ fixed NC)

19

20

Aviators 20 21

Beats Executive (older model with a lot of excessive "hissss"

21

22

* =  Due to severe inconsistencies in the 5 different pairs of DT1350s that I've heard. Luckily I've heard 4 different pair of T51ps and all sounded pretty much the same. But when I heard a good pair of the DT1350s, they were quite good.

 

 

 

 

 


Edited by MacedonianHero - 9/6/14 at 9:04pm
post #2 of 2526
This is extremely helpful. Especially for someone in the same situation, thank you!

I've always wondered this though ; are the QC15s the best sounding headphones, on an airplane?
Edited by lukEM22 - 7/17/13 at 9:33am
post #3 of 2526
Thread Starter 

The QC15s isolation outside noise like no other on an airplane. They're better than IEMs even in that regard. So if its peace and quiet your after, they would fit the bill. But sound quality wise, they are only adequate (though not bad sounding by any means).

 

UPDATE: The Bose QC20s are the best earphones for a plane that I've heard so far. They best the QC15s in both noise cancellation and sound quality. And unlike traditional IEMs, don't go deep in your ears....they're more like ear buds that way.


Edited by MacedonianHero - 2/2/14 at 8:55am
post #4 of 2526
Looks like what I want, unless I can get a good deal on the Momentums.
post #5 of 2526
I'd 100% agree that the PSB is the best. The momentum is only better than the 1r in certain aspects like detail, while the 1r has a better sound stage, better bass, and vocals.
post #6 of 2526

Nice comparison Peter.   Well done.

post #7 of 2526
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trunks159 View Post

I'd 100% agree that the PSB is the best. The momentum is only better than the 1r in certain aspects like detail, while the 1r has a better sound stage, better bass, and vocals.

Actually, I rated the Momentum's #1 and the PSBs immediately behind them at #1a. wink.gif The differences weren't that great, that's why I didn't feel the M4U 2s deserved to be at #2. Both are fantastic and why I kept them!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank I View Post

Nice comparison Peter.   Well done.

Thanks Frank!

post #8 of 2526

Nice work Peter. You examined and covered the merits of portable headphones for what they were intended for.

 

I was comparing a bunch of portables last night and wanted the MDR-1R to do well because they are so comfortable. But that "n" shaped midrange is the fatal flaw, because the frequency extremes just roll off each end and disappear.

 

I gained some more respect for the Momentum during my comparison. I found I had to crank them up a bit for maximum enjoyment. I still find the bass is thumping just a little bit too much and the extreme top lacks some air. Interestingly, I find the PSB bass slightly vague at times and the top also a wee bit soft. But I agree that these two get the most right out of the bunch you compared because the midrange/treble transition is smooth and seamless on both.

 

But I haven't mentioned the ones I liked the best biggrin.gifvery_evil_smiley.gif

post #9 of 2526
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Beagle View Post

Nice work Peter. You examined and covered the merits of portable headphones for what they were intended for.

 

I was comparing a bunch of portables last night and wanted the MDR-1R to do well because they are so comfortable. But that "n" shaped midrange is the fatal flaw, because the frequency extremes just roll off each end and disappear.

 

I gained some more respect for the Momentum during my comparison. I found I had to crank them up a bit for maximum enjoyment. I still find the bass is thumping just a little bit too much and the extreme top lacks some air. Interestingly, I find the PSB bass slightly vague at times and the top also a wee bit soft. But I agree that these two get the most right out of the bunch you compared because the midrange/treble transition is smooth and seamless on both.

 

But I haven't mentioned the ones I liked the best biggrin.gifvery_evil_smiley.gif

Thanks Dave. I also do share your findings with regards to the MDR-1Rs...comfort-wise and sonically too. As well, I agree with your assessments of the Momentums. I don't mind the extra rumble down low, but would prefer the PSB's more airy presentation up top. Between the Sennheisers and PSBs, I think they're quite close and personal preferences come into play.

 

So which ones do you like best? popcorn.gif


Edited by MacedonianHero - 7/17/13 at 7:17pm
post #10 of 2526

This is some very valuable info for somebody, in the market, and  not in the possible to test different phones.

 

 

 

well done and thanks for sharing

post #11 of 2526
Love the 1R. I use it around the house and it sounds great out of any source (laptop, ipad, X3). I found the Momentum's sound too V-shaped from the same sources (except the X3). I prefer the M100's V-shaped sound a little more (energy-wise, bass-wise)

The 1R's comfort can't be understated. The pads' softness, shape and clamp are very forgiving for the head and ears.
post #12 of 2526
Quote:
Originally Posted by MacedonianHero View Post

Thanks Dave. I also do share your findings with regards to the MDR-1Rs...comfort-wise and sonically too. As well, I agree with your assessments of the Momentums. I don't mind the extra rumble down low, but would prefer the PSB's more airy presentation up top. Between the Sennheisers and PSBs, I think they're quite close and personal preferences come into play.

 

So which ones do you like best? popcorn.gif

 

Last night, sonically I liked the MartinLogan Mikros 90 and the KEF M500. But on any given day, my preferences change depending on my mood and type of sound I am looking for. SO I'm no help here biggrin.gif

 

And the Mikros 90 and M500 (and Paradigm H15) have fit and isolation issues that factor in to the overall scheme of things..

post #13 of 2526
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Beagle View Post

 

Last night, sonically I liked the MartinLogan Mikros 90 and the KEF M500. But on any given day, my preferences change depending on my mood and type of sound I am looking for. SO I'm no help here biggrin.gif

 

And the Mikros 90 and M500 (and Paradigm H15) have fit and isolation issues that factor in to the overall scheme of things..

Those are two that I still need to hear. Good to see some great speaker manufacturers like PSB, MartinLogan, KEF and Paradigm getting into the headphone market.

post #14 of 2526
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by snapple10 View Post

This is some very valuable info for somebody, in the market, and  not in the possible to test different phones.

 

 

 

well done and thanks for sharing

Thanks!

post #15 of 2526
How would the 1350 rank without taking comfort issues in to consideration.
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