The tonewood impression that I was fortunate enough to experience was a bit more rewarding than I had actually anticipated. I had planned to utilize a pair of liberated Grado SR-80i drivers for my testing, but along the way, I encountered some issues with one of my Grado gimbals where it had snapped. I then moved over to the Auvio headband from the pair of headphones that I purchased from Radio Shack. To me, that headband was the best solution in using for the testing being how the wooden cups have to be swapped out a number of times during the session. The wire sides that grab onto the cups and fit into the cup holes was quite secure and did exacly as designed to do - and, I didn't worry about snapping another Grado gimbal by applying extra stress onto that part. In addition, I made a last-minute decision to use the Sennheiser PX100 II drivers given my latest infatuation with their remarkable sound quality.
For the impression session, I used Foobard 2000, the WasAPI driver and did not apply any EQ at all. This fed into my Audio-GD Fun where it was fed an optical signal from my computer. For the DAC, I utilized the internal DAC (Wolfson-based) that is present within the "Fun" enclosure. I then had the drivers connected to a 4' section of headphone cable that repurposed after tearing apart the Auvio headphones. I then utilized the Ear Zonk L-Cush ear pads. These items listed were the "standards" that I used to listen to all four of the cups.
The music I utilized for the impression review was basically some female jazz by Roberta Gambarini, the album "The Three Kings" by Jeff Golub, which is a great blues album. Additionally, I also utilized some Leonard Cohen so I could get a grasp of how the various woods would behave with his somewhat deep male vocals. Finally, a little trumpet action was applied too by Arturo Sandoval.
Let the impressions begin.
Walnut. While the depth of the darkness in the Walnut cups along with the nice grain seems to attract a lot of sets of eyes due to it's beauty, one must also consider how it might perform, sound-wise, to ensure the looks and the sound will both be enough for you to consider a pair made from this species of wood. To me ears, was the sound of the Walnut cups equal to or better than the beauty of the cups? In a word, no. As I played through my favorite tracks, I noted the
"thickness" in the sound and somewhat equated it to the sound I experienced from the PS-500 Grados that I used to own. Believe me, I love bass, but in my configuration it really was just too much bass, yet it didn't seem like the bass was well-defined, but, to me, the sound was just a bit too thick - yet more articulate than the PS-500.
Birch. Against the Walnut cups, I felt that the Birch cups performed a bit like "Walnut-lite" cups. The bass wasn't as thick as with the Walnut, yet it was still a few degrees away from the balanced signature that I'd prefer when listening to my music. By no means do I want cups that are bass-lite either. I prefer wooden cups that present my music in a weighty manner yet not to the point of being overbearing. The Birch cups while being a bit more polite than the Walnut cups, I also feel that the bass from the this particular wood species wouldn't fall onto my short list of potential wood
types for a pair of cups due the sound issues I've noted.
Cherry. Ahh ... this is more like it. The cherry cups have a nice, medium and pleasing appearance, but enough about the looks. To my ears, when I ran though my regular assortment of tracks to put these cups through their paces, I felt that these cups were the "just right" pair of the four pair of cups used for this testing impressions session. I had a great experience with these cups and felt that the cups provided quite a step up in sound over standard, plastic cups, yet I
didn't feel like the wood was necessarily overwhelming any of the frequencies to emphasize them in one way or another. Just a smooth and pleasing presentation. These were not anemic when it came to bass ... but, far from it. These made my ears the happiest as I worked though the process of listening to all the cups.
Maple. Not far behind the cherry cups with respect to sound, I felt that the maple cups were some pretty good performers, too. Given the properties of maple, I wasn't really surprised at how close they sounded like the cherry cups. In the furniture business, maple is mixed with cherry in a lot of furniture. It can be stained to closely represent cherry, yet could also deceive buyers who think they they were buying true cherry furniture. However, the maple cups didn't overwhelm
my ears or music with excessive bass, but also handled the music in a nice, yet balanced manner. As a rule, I wouldn't pick the maple cups initially -- unless I had a few pair so I could work with a few stain colors to tweak them up a bit. However, in a pinch, I wouldn't totally pass these up either.
Conclusion. This was an enjoyable process. Initially, I was more taken in by the appearance of the wood, but after looking at the cups for several days, it was great to finally get some drivers in them and some music pushed through them. While I've always been a fan of the darker cups (e.g. walnut), I quickly realized that sound is very important and besides, you won't be seeing the features of the wooden cups when they are placed on your head. But, I'm also taking a
liking to the finish and color of the cherry cups as I feel there is some great beauty in them as well as some great sound that can come from them, too.
Rankings. I have stacked the cups in the order of preference that I would reach for these if given the cups were available in the following materials.
1) Cherry. Nice. Somewhat neutral yet balanced sounding.
2) Maple. Tied very closely with the #1 ranked cups (as ranked by me) - the cherry cups.
3) Birch. While these have a nice beauty to them, I feel that the slight bloat in the bass would keep me from opting for a pair in this material.
4) Walnut. Just too much bass for my tastes to rank this pair any higher. But, they do look very nice.
Edited by wje - 12/5/13 at 5:36pm