Just picked up the ATH-EW9. Had the others for years. ------------------------------
HP-X223 - Has bass, you can definitely feel some, but sound can become a touch muddy depending on the music. Voices can get lost among the boom - a touch recessed at times. Good for anything that needs a touch of thumping. Bass is smooth and decent - strong enough to feel a bit, nothing that'll make you rattle however. Pretty good isolation - you'll easy not hear who's talking nearby with the volume up. Comfy for hours - baby soft cuffs, but ears get hot and stuffy. Ok for editing to check excessive bass and for the isolation. Good with music like Stefy - The Orange Album, Gwen Stefani, Kuroki - Wired Life, type of electronic/synthetic music - exciting, nice bass, good. With music like Namie Amuro - Love Story, Miss Monday, it's a bit thin/recessed - voices don't get the treatment they deserve in these cases. ------------------------------
EP480 - No bass whatsoever. That said, surprisingly clean and clear for a cheap headphone, free with the Zen Micro. Lively and clean at higher volumes for the no-bass range it has for a cheap bud. Keeper for sure given the super-light weight and portability. Buds, so easy to stick in pocket and go. No worries about wear and tear. Good across the range of FM to vocals to ballads and jazz. t Has 112dB sensitivity, so you can't turn the volume down as far to almost silent like the HA-E3 for sleep at night - this is where the EP480 low end volume hits a limit of usefulness, but it's good everywhere else - library, study, etc. But both are easy to sleep with. Buds, so easy to wear for long periods of time. But shaped the way they are, have to turn and tilt them at times to get a good focus on insertion. High sensitivity means it can pickup noise when volume is near zero with some MP3 players and such. Fun putting the two earpieces next to each other and having the strong magnets repel both. ------------------------------
MDR-EX51 & 32 - both are similar running 9mm, but the voices on the 32 are more recessed and bass a bit more powerful. Bass won't move you about, but you'll feel your eardrums move about much like that annoying bass thump you hear in your car when the car next to you at the stop cranks it up. Voices are clear and forward in the 51, the better choice of the two given the more subdued by still present bass. 51's more balanced. Smoothes out some graininess in voices at louder volumes, so never annoyingly harsh at the higher frequencies. Anything touching the cord will be heard, and eventually, you're own breath. In-ears, so they eventually fatigue - you just want to get them out to let your ears breathe. Some sound isolation in both models, so you can use them to tone down the drone of a long 10+ hour flight a bit (although noise cancelling models would be even better). A bit touchy getting the fit right, so seal isn't always achieved perfectly the first time in. White cord and plug wears ok, but eventually frays and you'll see the metal wiring inside. Also, the white plug plastic eventually becomes 'sticky' like how other old plastics get. White cord attracts more dirt and grime than the black cords of the other headphones. Cord gets super tangled easier than most other headphones. Constant cleaning of the tips required to keep them clean before insertion - can't just stick them in your pocket and expect them to stay clean.
51 is fun for watching episodes of '24' - exciting and just enough stereo and depth to keep you in fantasy world. More environmental - keeps you in the world, like being at the movies. Good for jazz, ballads, FM, and various music. Just enough above average to make them worth keeping around though fragile. Not so much bass that my head rumbles like a Jurassic Park showing, which I find annoying. 32's one where it can go to the donation bin because of lost voices.
Can't sleep with either in - turn your head on the pillow and the pressure is too much to be comfy. Can't edit or listen with them too long moving about because you'll hear the cord movement and your own breath before long. The cheap plastic storage container is just annoying - asking to be lost, and no cord storage to boot. ------------------------------
HA-E3 - gentle, like a radio in the background. Nothing outstanding, but these are the easiest wearing clip-ons I've owned with solid sound and decently clear voicing at all volume levels. Easy to sleep in, nice 1.2m cord length, everything stays soft and smoothed out at louder volumes. No bass of note, but something easy to wear for hours listening to the radio or music while studying. Harsh vocals are smoothed out, hard bass is softened, everything's made gentle so you can listen for hours without fatigue. Volume up and they're still smooth and not harsh - like a latte. Probably the best wearing - pulled on them, dropped them, used them for years and the only thing that's gone are the foam. Hinges are solid and still clip on fine. Wish they clipped on a bit tighter - pushing them with the hands results in a touch better sound, but that's clipons for you. Voices are forward and clear enough that this places the HA-E3 ahead of the HP-X223 as a listening choice almost all the time, esp. with the decent stereo separation.
The pick for most times - works well regardless of most sources is putting out an acceptable (ie. not harsh) sound. Pray they'll never break, have extra pairs, but this one still is going strong after many years. Clipping on and off is reliable, hinge doesn't fall apart over the years, and stays on well. From low to high volume, voices are always easy to pick out - just no bass unlike the 51, X223, etc. ------------------------------
ATH-EW9 - Nothing 'amazing' regardless of what others have said and I've read, IMO. No real bass like the HA-E3. Even the EX51/32's have more 'boom', though that's not even up to the HP-X223 level. Think HA-E3 with more clarity, esp. in the higher frequencies. More detail at the higher frequencies, but you'll have to have the volume up above library quiet to hear the difference. Lower volumes, you could sub a HA-E3, etc. and still be ok. EW9, E3, EP480's are nice in that they wear easy and can play low volumes for sleep and the vocals are clear and clean at lower levels. A bit fussy regarding the adjustable band and height, but once adjusted, it clips on decently well. Sometimes, you'll need to squeeze near the hinge to get them to stay in the clipped on position (don't need this with the HA-E3's at all) A touch of EQ can help a lot. Minus a bit in the 4k range can help tone down the harsh highs in voices.
Some music is just horrible due to the detail this provides - eg. Ayumi Hamasaki - Wake me Up (original mix) is far too harsh esp as volume goes up- her voice just is terrible on this headphone! (Whereas this is perfectly fine on the HA-E3 - smoothed out, not harsh, fine even at high volumes) Hamasaki's Sweet Scar is fine, however.
But there is a plus of having better clarity in just about everything on th EW9 - great for editing and checking for minute details. The softest brush of clothing - easy to hear distinctly on this headphone vs the others. (eg. HA-E3 - everything's softened, so some fine details are hard to pull out. 51/32 - details are there, but not as separated.) For editing, a plus. At low volumes, great - you can still make out every word even at low volumes watching movies, tv shows, etc. Normal volume - you can pick out everything going on in the scene.
(but for enjoying a show, the 51's a bit more dramatic and smoother and preferred - wraps you in the sound like being at the movie theater. EW9 sounds a bit too harsh at times - not enough bass/power to make even gun shots exciting watching '24', high-freq can get harsh. The HA-E3 is smoother and more relaxed to listen to - doesn't detract from the show like the harshwer EW9 can at times - like watching '24' on a good TV.)
Another plus area? Language learning - those language tapes suddenly become that much easier to understand. Clearer, cleaner voicing vs. the others, although the 480/51/E3 would do decent as a substitute because they also bring the voices forward enough to separate them from the fluff. Everything's just a bit cleaner on the EW9.
Listening to jazz music is particularly nice on these - at times, some tracks startle me - did I suddenly transport into a live jazz performance?! These headphones can put you 'in the room' with jazz tracks - instruments are clearly located around the room, and voices forward enough so that they don't sound like they're in your head (which the 51's do).
Default cord length is so short, useless unless you've got a clipon MP3 player.
51 for dramatic TV shows, movies - decent bass and wraps you up in the sound environment just enough to keep you involved. Voices forward and clear. In-Ear so ears get stuffed up after a few hours - you want them out for a short break. HA-E3 for general use - can sleep in them and wear/listen to them for hours and hours all day long. Voices forward and clear enough, everything's softened, nothing's harsh.
My #2s: EP480s when you can't have the HA-E3 in a smaller package, but a touch more fatiguing over the hours ( just not as smooth as the HA-E3 ) X223 for certain types of music and some movies and TV shows - bass is smoother than the 51 and soft, soft ear pads make listening fun while getting rid of background noise. Gwen Stefani rocks nicely.
Still debated - probably nitch headphones for jazz and editing and language learning. EW9 - just got them today, so will have to see if they have a place here. Otherwise, they'll go back on the market. Sound is such that watching '24' and movies, you listen to the distinct, crisply rendered sound of clothes rubbing more than letting go and being in the enviroment (ie. so much detail, you're not able to let go at times). But the realism of a sax is just amazing for jazz music...
Edited by adorable - 11/9/13 at 1:04am