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KEF M500 vs Bowers & Wilkins P7

post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 

Hi everyone,

 

I've been in the market for some portable headphones, and I have been especially eying these two. First, I'd like to share some background about my subjective tastes. I'm not a big fan of mid-bass. I love sub-bass rumble, but in my experience mid-bass tends to drown out midrange and vocals when too excessive. Midrange and especially vocals is my favorite range. I love female vocals. I'm also a fan of treble due to the genres of music I generally like such as rock, pop, and electronica. Treble gives a sparkle and a sense of excitement for me, and since the music I listen to are generally fast paced, treble is important. One thing to note about treble, however, is much like mid-bass going into the mids, there's a range in the upper mids and lower treble that I find distasteful when elevated. I believe this is the range that also cause sibilance.

 

My setup:

 

I will be playing both headphones straight into my HTC One smartphone. The music player is Poweramp. I'm choosing to do this because the main purpose these headphones serve for me is for when I'm on the go, and don't have access to a DAC or amp. As a benchmark, I will be comparing both also to my Beyerdynamic T90 hooked up through Schiit Modi and Bottlehead Crack.

 

 

 

First impressions:

 

KEF M500:

These came in today and I've had them on all afternoon. Coming from around the ear headphones for so long, I found these on-ears to be quite uncomfortable. I had some co-workers who are used to on-ears try them out, and they say these are more comfortable than what they're used to. The clamping pressure on these are minimal, however, it still does distort the shape of my ears to the point where the upper tips and back edge of my ears are touching my skull. With low clamping pressure and memory foam pads, I'm sure these are among the most comfortable on-ears, and if you're used to on-ears, you wouldn't mind the comfort. But for someone coming from around ears like myself, it may take some getting use to. I'd like to note that my ears face outwards more than the average person, so that may play a role.

 

The discomfort for me was so much that during the first hour I really could not get into listening to the sound because I was too distracted by the discomfort. However, thanks to the adaptive qualities of the human body and our ability to zone out constant senses, it got a lot better. I found the sound to be surprisingly good for a pair of on-ears. The bass was punchy, the mids very clear and fluid, and the treble, while not as exciting as I'm used to, it's definitely there. I'd say much like the frequency graph advertised on the box, the M500 has a very flat sound with nothing elevated or lacking.

 

B&W P7:

I stopped by Best Buy and picked these up after work. I had demoed them for about a hour in the past. These are around the ear headphones, but barely, as they still keep it small and portable. Luckily for me my ears fit perfectly, and have no problems of sides being squished against the inner wall of the pads like I did with the Sennheiser Momentum. The clamping pressure is much more apparent compared to the M500, but since it's not pressed against my ears, it's still much more comfortable than the M500.

 

From memory I remember the P7 to have a very powerful and impactful bass. So much so that I was shocked at how close it came to my Hifiman HE-500 through a speaker amp in impact. And this is coming from a phone. This notion was reaffirmed today. The bass mentioned here includes both sub and mid bass. The mids are not recessed, much to my surprise considering the powerful bass. The vocals, from first impression are not as natural, in my opinion, compared to the M500. It sounds a bit congested and compressed. However, as I found, the M500 does not win hands down even in vocals. I found the M500 to struggle in the upper midrange when the volume goes above 70% on my phone on female vocals around the 3-4 kHz range (usually sung at the end of verses). When played at higher volumes, the highs of the upper midrange starts going uncontrollably piercing in nature, much like feedback in a mic. Of course, this could likely be fixed with proper amping, but that's outside of the parameters here. I found the P7 to not have this problem surprisingly. Perhaps only at max volume does it start getting a bit uncomfortable, and even then it's mainly due to the volume in general, and not a specific high midrange frequency. The treble of the P7 I remember to be it's weak point for me, and it still is. The M500 was already a bit on the light side for treble for me, but the P7 is even more recessed.

 

 

Honestly I have to admit my first impression putting on the P7 after an afternoon of listening to the M500 was wishing that the P7 had the M500 driver (this would be a hell of a mod, but dangerous and expensive too). While bass impact is nice on the P7, I find the mids and treble on the M500 to be much better. Especially in vocals, as long as I don't play too loudly, it beats the P7 hands down. The experience reminds me of how I found the MartinLogan vs Focal speakers and their presentation of vocals. It's like listening to vocals on 128 kbps on the P7 and Focals, as compared to 320 kbps on the M500 and MartinLogan.

post #2 of 31
Thread Starter 
I will be updating the post as I test various genres and songs. Be sure to check back periodically.

Note: All songs are played in either 320 kbps or 256 kbps VBR V0. I will test each headphone by listening first to the benchmark headphone, the T90, and then switching to either headphone. This way I can see how far away each is from the Beyerdynamic T90. The ratings listed are compared to the T90. Each test song and genre will have different metrics and rating categories catered towards what the song tests well.

Pop/Rock music (fast paced)

This is probably my most listened to genre. Growing up I listened to bands like Blink-182 and Rise Against. Currently, as I've gotten into anime recently, I've been listening to JPop, which I find very similar to the pop punk in many ways. Since it makes most sense to test with music that I'm currently listening to, I will use:

Smilife - Stereopony



This is pretty much my my go to song for measuring PRaT and how well a headphone handles fast transients. It has so much going on in a relatively narrow recording space with sounds of all frequencies, especially in the chorus where it gets really crazy. This song is one of the fastest recorded that I've played on a Guitar Hero like game called Audiosurf that lets you upload and play the song of your choice. It measure and tells you the beat rate of a song, and I think this song was in the 280s. For comparison, DragonForce's Through the Fire and Flames is only in the 290s.

KEF M500:
First impression on this song after listening to the T90 is it sound much slower. It was quite apparent from the first guitar stroke and then the vocals. The vocals are less forward but do surprisingly well. It's a bit veiled and lacks the energy that I hear through the T90. Overall, I find it to sound less exciting compared to the T90. Also, it is less transparent compared to the T90, and less revealing. Though somewhat less detailed, where it really gets burned is from the smaller soundstage. The details become congested especially in the chorus, and compound that with the slower transients, it's not great for this kind of music in my opinion. It's worth mentioning that one thing I find the M500 to actually beat the T90 is on sibilance.

B&W P7:
The transients on the P7, while not at the level of the T90, are definitely faster than the M500. That is the first thing I notice. The second thing I notice is what I mentioned in the intro section on how the vocals sound off. They definitely sound congested and compressed, even a bit nasally. There's definitely a dark sound here compared to the others. Because of this, I find it least transparent of the three. The instrument separation and soundstage is actually quite impressive, however I find it more lacking in details and reveal.

Ratings:

KEF M500:
PRaT: 3/5
Transparency: 3.5/5
Detail and Reveal: 4/5
Soundstage and Instrument Separation: 2.5/5
Overall score for this genre: 3/5

B&W P7:
PRaT: 4/5
Transparency: 3/5
Detail and Reveal: 3/5
Soundstage and Instrument Separation: 4/5
Overall score for this genre: 4/5*

*Note: While the overall score of the P7 is higher here based on metrics, I actually prefer the M500 mainly because the vocals on the P7 really kills it for me on this song.


Pop/Rock (slow paced)

For this genre, I will be listening to:

We Are Young - Fun.



This song has various thing I will be listening for: how the piano and drums synergize, how the vocals are. Fun. recordings are very sibilant in my experience, and it's quite apparent in the chorus of this song when he sings "tonight" as "tsssu-night". I want to mention that the T90 is a very sibilant headphone. Sibilance is probably its greatest weakness in my opinion. For the sibilance rating below consider the T90 a 2/5.

KEF M500:
Wow. I have to put this here first. I was listening and waiting for the chorus and the "tsssu-night", and it was a soft "tonight". My jaw just dropped. This is perhaps the least sibilant pair of headphones I've ever heard. They remind me of my MartinLogan speakers with the special folded tweeter that removes all sibilance. Truly impressed here. I found the male vocals to be almost as natural as the T90. It lacks some extra texture and details, but I would argue with the lack of sibilance that it's on par with the T90 on the male vocals as a whole. Of course for less sibilant recordings, the T90 would probably still win overall. The bass of the drums is very balanced and great here, compared to the P7 bass that I found boomy in this song. While the soundstage isn't large, the imaging and position of voices and instruments is pretty good.

B&W P7:
The boomy bass really is the Achilles' heel for this song especially during the chorus, which reminded me of dubstep almost. It drowned out the piano somewhat. The vocals, while still a bit off and compressed, is less noticeable than female vocals. There is some sibilance, but much less than the T90. I also found the imaging on this song to be lackluster considering the wider soundstage when compared to M500. It sounds as if it's not using the extra space.

Ratings:

KEF M500:
Bass: 4/5
Male Vocals: 4.5/5
(Lack of) Sibilance: 5/5
Imaging: 4/5
Overall score for this genre: 4.5/5

B&W P7:
Bass: 2/5
Male Vocals: 3/5
(Lack of) Sibilance:4/5
Imaging: 3/5
Overall score for this genre: 3/5


Orchestral

For this genre, I will be listening to:

The Ring Goes South - Lord of the Rings Soundtrack



For this song I will be looking more in depth at soundstage and imaging. For this song, I'm grouping those two terms together to mean how orchestra-like the playback is; how realistic it is. Also, this specific song has a great dynamic range so I will be looking at how the low and high volumes sound. Also, right before the crescendo, there is a fast vibrato on the violins, which I will be listening for the clarity of that.

KEF M500:
The smaller soundstage of the M500 really hurts it in this genre. There is little sense of realism. While the imaging is alright, it's much too two-dimensional for this genre. I thought it handled the dynamic range and volume pretty well, with the peak not hurting my ears unless I maxed out the volume on my phone. During the soft moments, I could clearly make out the violin and drums. However, the violin vibrato was a bit veiled compared to the T90, and was harder to make out each individual stroke. Finally I thought the tone was decent and sounded right, but lacked definition and body.

B&W P7:
The P7 definitely sounded better than the M500 here. The wider soundstage gave it a more realistic sound. I found the dynamic range and level of clarity to be about the same as the M500. The bass that was a weakness in other genres actually helped give body to the tone, and was welcomed here. I think just the soundstage and the bass for tone makes this a decent pair of headphones for this genre. I have to admit, the way it was going, I'm surprised the P7 pulled a major win in this one. Then again, perhaps when there are no vocals, the P7 doesn't sound so bad to me.

Ratings:

KEF M500:
Soundstage, Imaging, and Realism: 2/5
Dynamic Range: 4/5
Tone and Timbre: 3.5/5
Clarity: 3.5/5
Overall score for this genre: 2/5*

B&W P7:
Soundstage, Imaging, and Realism: 4/5
Dynamic Range: 4/5
Tone and Timbre: 4.5/5
Clarity: 3.5/5
Overall score for this genre: 4/5

*Note: Because I think realism in this genre is very important


Electronica

For this genre, I will be listening to:

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger - Daft Punk



This is one of my all time favorite electronica songs. I find it a good choice for this test because it has both bass and treble, and with a good headphone, you can hear the quality for both. Since bass is probably the most important frequency range for most people when it comes to this genre, I will give marks for both the impact and tightness of the bass. Impact means how much it moves you. Probably more sub-bass oriented here. Tightness means how the control and timing of the bass is and if it bleeds into the next note at all, which is bad. More mid-bass centric here. Finally, I've found this song to a repetitive background beat starting from 0:20 through 1:50 that ends with a metallic thud. For lower quality headphones, it almost always sound harsh and makes me cringe, especially at higher volumes. For better headphones like my T90 and HE-500, it rolls off very smoothly and is much easier on the ears. I believe this coincides with the upper midrange/lower treble range mentioned in the intro post that can tend to irritate my ears if peaks out of control.

KEF M500:
I want to start with the bass impact and sub-bass on the M500. Very impactful and I'm impressed. The tightness is not as good as the T90 and lingers a bit. This may be due to the M500 being weaker in PRaT as discussed earlier. For treble, it's not as apparent as the T90, but the T90 also has elevated treble. You can definitely hear most of the sparkle, though I have to comment on one thing. Also due to the weakness in timing, I noticed that during the beginning sequence with the metallic thud, there is a hi-hat played in quick succession from the left driver. With the T90, you can easily make it out to be three distinct hits (ts-ts-ts), but with the M500, you could barely make out two hits. I even went as far to plugging the T90 directly into my phone to make sure it's not too DAC dependent, but you can hear it with the T90 there as well. Once again this is probably more due to the weakness in timing and speed of the M500 than the treble itself. As for the harshness of the metallic thud, it's actually not bad at lower volumes. However, once it goes past 70% volume on my phone, it starts to sting. This could probably be fixed with proper amping.

B&W P7:
My first impression of the P7 was the harshness. But not at the metallic thud. The metallic part, it actually does quite well. The harshness comes in the beat from 0:05 to 0:20. And it was surprisingly irritating. Since harshness is judged against the weakest link, the score reflects the most harsh frequency range, which happens to be in this intro, rather than the metallic thud. My next impression was how cavernous the song sounded with this song. I feel there is definitely more reverberation and sounds bouncing around compared to the other headphones. The bass was very good in both impact and tightness. Not quite the rumble the M500 had, but more controlled in the mid-bass. The treble I feel is not as extended as the M500. While it is faster and I found it to be murky and less resolved. While you can hear the triple hi-hat, they don't sound as clean as the T90 or even M500, and can be described as fatter or bloated. This is especially more apparent in the decay of the metallic thud, where it does not linger and provide definition as well. As for quantity of treble, I have to say it's as neutral as the M500. I think the bass just overshadows the treble for the P7.

Ratings:

KEF M500:
Sub-Bass Impact: 5/5
Mid-Bass Tightness: 3.5/5
Treble: 4/5
(Lack of) Harshness: 3.5/5*
Overall score for this genre: 4/5

B&W P7:
Sub-Bass Impact: 4.5/5
Mid-Bass Tightness: 4.5/5
Treble: 3/5
(Lack of) Harshness: 3/5
Overall score for this genre: 4/5

*Note: 2.5/5 at higher volumes (>70% on my phone), 4/5 at lower volumes (< 70%)


Acoustic/Jazz

When I thought to do acoustic yesterday, I had intended to choose an acoustic rendition of a rock song. After more thought, I decided to choose a song that goes beyond just acoustic guitar. Thus, I decided on a jazz song with plenty of acoustic instruments. I'll be honest though. I'm not much of a jazz person. In fact, the song chosen happens to be from a soundtrack, rather than a jazz album. For this, I will be listening to:

Sazh's Theme - Final Fantasy 13 Soundtrack



Since I have pretty much covered most of the general metrics like imaging and transparency in the other songs, I chose to look at what appeals most to me about this song. That would be the how tactile the song is to me. This means how realistic the instrumentation is, whether it sounds like a recording or are you next to it. This is a bit different than the realism in orchestral music earlier, as the instruments are much closer together and recorded close to the microphone, so you can really hear the details of each instrument if the headphone permits it. As such, I will also be scoring the tone of the four of the main instruments in this song: the piano, the drum, the brass (not sure which instrument), and the acoustic (Spanish?) guitar. I have to admit the T90 does a really good job for this song, so scoring could get rough.

KEF M500:
The M500 far paled in comparison to the T90. First off due to its lack of soundstage, the tactility suffered. None of the instruments sounded as realistic. The piano lacked some depth that would be more realistic. The drums were more tactile than the other instruments by far. I found the brass to be a bit bright and thin, definitely recording sounding. The guitar was better, but once again lacked depth that would provide a level realism; too 2D sounding. Aside from the four instruments, the lack of realism was also very apparent during the rainstick/shaker part. This is probably more indicative of how great the T90 is for this song than how bad the M500 is.

B&W P7:
The P7 suffered a similar fate as the M500 when compared to the T90. While the M500's fate was sealed in its lack of soundstage, the P7 failed the tactile test with it's cavernous reverberations. About the same level of realism (or lack thereof). However, there were subtle differences in how each instrument sounded in comparison to the M500. I felt the piano was presented better on the P7 with more depth. The drums were a bit weaker due to elevated mid-bass and reverbs. The brass was a lot better on the P7 compared to the M500, as it sounded natural and not thin, but still far from T90 quality. Finally, the acoustic guitar was lacking and probably the worst sounding instrument in this song. The individual notes and strums were bloated and it was lacking clarity.

Ratings:

KEF M500:
Overall Tactility: 2/5
Piano Tone: 3/5
Drum Tone: 3.5/5
Brass Tone: 2.5/5
Guitar Tone: 3/5
Overall score for this genre: 3/5

B&W P7:
Overall Tactility: 2/5
Piano Tone: 3.5/5
Drum Tone: 3/5
Brass Tone: 3.5/5
Guitar Tone: 2/5
Overall score for this genre: 3/5

Note: For acoustic, I usually listen primarily to acoustic guitar with vocals, so the M500 really shines over the P7, and I can confirm this as I've tried listening to such songs with both headphones. I think an open headphone really shines in this genre to allow for some air. The M500 lacks soundstage and depth, while the P7 has that cavernous reverberation, and these qualities make both headphones mediocre for acoustic renditions. However, because I feel the T90 really excels here, it may be fair to curve the scores and add 1 point to both headphones, as the T90 is probably a 6/5 here.
Edited by Sonido - 11/30/13 at 5:45pm
post #3 of 31
Thread Starter 

reserved


Edited by Sonido - 12/8/13 at 9:44am
post #4 of 31

nice, thanks

post #5 of 31

Good stuff...keep it coming! :D

post #6 of 31
Thread Starter 

I'm done for the night. Didn't realize how tiring this would be lol. Three more comparisons tomorrow and hopefully the conclusion. I can tell you so far it's pretty tight for me. It's the comfort of the P7 vs the natural vocals of the M500 for me.

post #7 of 31

This is great, thanks Sonido!

post #8 of 31

I don't want to sound inflamatory but is using 128 kbps files the best

way to test and compare mid range headphones?.

post #9 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by KT66 View Post

I don't want to sound inflamatory but is using 128 kbps files the best
way to test and compare mid range headphones?.
Please read carefully. I'm using 256 or 320. I only said the vocals from the P7 sound like 128 quality to me. To me the lack of clarity and naturalness or at least a differing presentation from what I'm used to in the vocals of the P7 is its greatest weakness imo.
Edited by Sonido - 11/20/13 at 9:06am
post #10 of 31

Thanks for your views, Sonido. I've done three listening sessions with the P7s (my observations are on the P7 thread). I'd have to do another session focusing on vocals to determine if I agree. It's curious to me that B&W would blow it like this. I assumed that the older P5s were intentionally made to be a bit laid back for casual listening. I'm sure a large amount of R&D went into these new cans and the Bowers Boys must know their stuff. Of course, it's all relative (as you are demonstrating in your review). Please keep it up. I'm all ears. :D

post #11 of 31

Nice impressions so far. It sounds like you just got them though, so give them a bit of burn in. I think the P7 changes more with burn in than the M500.

post #12 of 31
Thread Starter 
Yeah I'll have 15 days to return them if I end up doing so. Today I brought the M500 to work to see how bad comfort is for an extended period of time. I'll run the P7 all night tonight and take it in tomorrow and then get some more burn in this weekend. I hope by the final conclusion section I'll have the final word for both on comfort and sound.
Edited by Sonido - 11/20/13 at 11:00am
post #13 of 31

Great review. More informative than those reviews who only talk about tonal balance (low, mid, and high). I also like reviews that talk about shortcomings.

 

Good work!

post #14 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by dlhen68 View Post
 

It's curious to me that B&W would blow it like this. I assumed that the older P5s were intentionally made to be a bit laid back for casual listening. I'm sure a large amount of R&D went into these new cans and the Bowers Boys must know their stuff.

 

Nicely said. B&W made their name (amongst other things) with their famously well reproduced mid frequency. Just treat yourself by auditioning almost any of their speakers (particularly the "Diamond" series)… Kevlar never was so well used!

 

Will wait for the after-burn impressions.

 

Keep your good work, Sonido!

post #15 of 31
Thread Starter 

Just updated with Electronica music. Should get the other two songs done later tonight as well. Stay tuned.

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