Originally Posted by ImperialBlade
So here are the last of my question:
What do tube provide me that solid state builds don't?
How often do you replace tubes? How expensive are they?
I hear the HE-400s have more bass, but it is not as detailed as the HE-500s. How is the mids and highs between the two? (I like want clean clear separation) Some people say the HE-400 are "bright" and because of this you want to make sure you amp/dac does not add to this, in other words find something that balances it out, is this true?
Of the combinations listed, I assume If I pick what ever could drive the HE-500s would keep me set for awhile, if that is the case which way should I go?
I will try to answer some of your questions. I use the HE-400 with a tube amp.
Edited by manbear - 10/6/13 at 11:54am
It's hard to be specific if we're just talking about tube amps in general, but tubes flavor the sound a bit. Whether you find that to be a positive or negative is a matter of preference. I use a Little Dot MK3, which takes a wide variety of tubes, most of which cost around $10 each. Some amps use tubes that can cost $100+ each -- cost depends on the tube type. I've never had to replace a tube due to failure; I like to switch them out to change the sound. I can put in tubes that put more emphasis on the highs and make the bass punchier, tubes that bring out the midrange, tubes that make everything smoother, tubes that change the soundstage, etc. I like it because it's a cheap way to experiment and add variety. So tubes give you the opportunity to try different flavors (though many of the differences are fairly subtle).
The other thing that tubes give you (in general, anyway -- the extent depends on the specific amp and tube type) is more of a "romantic" or "euphonic" sound than solid state. Compared to solid state, tubes can make the highs more silky and smooth, the soundstage bigger and airier, and the midrange and bass richer. People who like solid state would probably describe the same thing as coloration or inaccuracy, but it's a matter of taste. Think of digital photo filters -- some people like to increase saturation and contrast, some people like a more washed out and soft look, some people like to use as little processing as possible. A quality tube amp may emphasize certain parts of the sound in a certain way, but it shouldn't lose any more than the subtlest of subtle details in comparison to a similar quality solid state amp.
I haven't heard the HE-500, but I chose the HE-400 because there are enough people who have heard both and still prefer the HE-400 that I concluded the differences between them have more to do with preferences than absolute quality (at least, $300 worth of absolute quality). If this is your first set-up, I'd advise you not to listen to people who say that the HE-500 is more detailed. Maybe it is, but we're talking about levels of subtlety that are hard to really understand if you haven't heard this kind of gear before. You will be blown away by either one. The HE-400 has more detail than any of my previous headphones (Q701 and DT990), and more than enough to reveal the limitations of all but the best recordings. IMO, there is a point where detail starts to become a missed blessing. For every glorious sounding album in my music collection where I hear new details and nuances with the HE-400, there are two or three where I'm just thinking "This wasn't recorded well enough." Of course, this depends on your preferences and the type of music you listen to. People who listen to lots of classical don't run into this problem until further up the equipment ladder. I listen to mostly electronic, rock, and new age / world type music (e.g. Dead Can Dance).
To make an analogy, say you are comparing 70MP and 80MP digital backs for a medium format camera. Sure, the 80MP back has more detail, but you're only going to see it in your photos if you take pictures of things that are perfectly still while using a tripod, mirror lockup, and a lens that's sharper than the sensor. Conditions have to be perfect for that extra performance to really matter. Same thing with recording quality.
Anyway, I'd agree that the HE-400 are on the bright side. Not dramatically so, but yes. I EQ the treble down with a max of 3 Db at 9kHz, and they don't sound bright at all that way. But when I'm watching movies with no EQ, the brightness isn't enough to bother me. Compared to the other headphones I've owned, the HE-400 do clean and clear separation exceedingly well. They are very fast. I can't compare to HE-500 directly though. I will say that I get the impression that people who prefer the HE-400 over the HE-500 often mention the bass and the fun presentation, while people who prefer the HE-500 are more likely to mention the mids and highs and more balanced presentation. But it's not like the HE-500 have bad bass or the HE-400 have bad mids...
EDIT -- Also, I did seriously consider getting the HE-500, and I would have used an Emotiva Mini-X A-100 as an amp for it if I did. None of the amps you've listed are considered optimal (adequate, yes, optimal no) for the HE-500. This is only based on my research though, not direct experience.