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KEF M500 versus Martin Logan Mikros 90

post #1 of 63
Thread Starter 

Have done some preliminary a/b-ing between the Mikros 90 and the M500.


Although the M500 are admittedly fine headphones, I prefer the Mikros 90 on several fronts.  


(i)   Sonically, it has most to do with the Mikros 90's superior high frequency extension/resolution--the department where the MLs summarily distance themselves from the M500 and better suit my individual listening tastes/genres   


(ii)  Practically, it has to do with the KEFs' unconventional cable input design (with an inaccessibly recessed 2.5 mm jack), which does not allow me to use the Pipeline ET-4 cable.  


(iii) Financially, the M500 cost three-to-five times the current selling price(s) of the Mikros 90.



The KEFs have very good bass, but with more midbass emphasis than the MLs.  The MLs have deeper bass extension and cleaner/finer deep bass pitch definition than the KEFs.



The KEFs have a sleek, smooth, liquid and alluring midrange that is fairly well integrated with the treble and bass.  By far, their midrange is the M500's strongest suit (and I confess to having often experienced its well-nigh mezmerizing effects).  In this department, I can understand the popular appeal for the KEFs on the Head-Fi forum(s) and elsewhere.  The MLs have a more open, clear, coherent midrange with excellent tonal differentiation and superior dynamic texturing/contrast.  The MLs concede a bit of warmth, density and elasticity to the KEFs in the midrange--male vocals sound more settled and have a more "yellow-orange glow" to them over the M500, although the KEFs' upper midrange/lower treble can sound a bit smeared and disjointed on some tracks compared with the MLs.  Overall, I find the Mikros 90 more resolving, nuanced and "vivacious" in the midrange than the M500.  The KEF's midrange is exceptional, but ultimately loses its upper connectivity with the treble, evidenced by glare, and also loses its lower connectivity with the bass, evidenced by a looseness or boominess.   



The KEFs high frequency reproduction is too reticient for my individual taste.  It is "there", but sparely, lacking the ultimate reach/presence of the MLs.  The M500 can sound comparatively blunted or subdued at the high frequency extremes; cymbal strikes, for example, seem neither to adequately bloom nor to adequately linger in space.  A similar analogy goes for the low frequency extremes as well, where the M500 lack the bass reach and firm deep bass grasp of the Mikros 90.  For me, the KEF's tandem lack of frequency extension (i.e. in either direction, treble/bass) translates into their noticably less airy, less open, less transparent, less 3-dimensional and overall less involving presentation.  This is where, for my ears, the Mikros 90 most significantly outperform the M500 in apparently transcending the source material, and in much better suiting my individual listening preferences.


The Mikros 90, in my ears, resolve large-scale orchestral works, sort out complex arrangements, delineate massed voices or instruments, etc. much better than do the M500.  Furthermore, the largesse of the Mikros 90's soundstage can be startling in its proportions.  The M500, being warmer and mid-centric, can sound sometimes congested/bulbous by comparison.  The Mikros 90, in my esteem, offer superior resolution of detail but without ever losing their sonic poise or their vital touch with the musical pulse/substrate of a recording.  To me, the MLs--be it the backroom acoustics of a Muddy Waters session or the Wagnerian ethos of a no-holds-barred Ring orchestral piece--simply sound more fresh, vibrant and consistently musical--full of pleasant surprises.  


My predilection for the HifiMAN HE-5LE over the HE-500, and for the Beyerdynamic DT880/2003 over the DT880/2005, fall along similar lines as my preference for the Martin Logan Mikros 90 over the KEF M500: favoring listeners who, like me, prefer the further frequency reaches to a more midrange-specific presentation.  I also think that HE-500 and LCD-2 devotees will likely prefer the M500; while HE-5LE and HE-6 aficionados will likely prefer the Mikros 90.  I am firmly in the camp of the latter.



I auditioned the Mikros 90 with AudioQuest's Pipeline ET-4 cable, the M500 with their stock (flat) cable.  Due to the KEFs' design, and inasmuch as I would have liked to, I could not connect the M500 with the ET-4.  That just might have been the M500's "undoing".  For me, though, this review is about the sound and associated configuration of the gear that I will opt to live with--and will have to live with--in the long term.  That said.  So be it.  Apparent inequity dissolved in my mind.



Associated equipment for this review:

RAM-modded Samsung DVD-HD841/Sony BDP-S580

Dakiom R203 feedback stabilizer (at RCA outputs from the disc player)

EVS IC-95 interconnect/Millersound digital cable

MAC power cords

KMF Audio headphone amplifier/Denon AVR-1905 (headphone out)

Dakiom F-273 feedback stabilizer and EVS Ground Enhancer (at headphone out)

SID disc mat



The Dave Grusin Collection (GRP)

The Beatles: Past Masters Volume 2 (Apple)

The Krueger Brothers: UP18North (Double Time)

Hank Williams Junior: Greatest Hits (RCA)

Fleetwood Mac: Behind the Mask (Warner Bros.)

Best of Eddie Arnold (RCA)

History: America's Greatest Hits (Warner Bros.)

Sir Edward Elgar: Overture Cockaigne (from Spirit of England/Nimbus)

Frederick Delius: Summer Evening (from Spirit of England/Nimbus)

Moments to Remember: Golden Hits of the 50's and 60's (Shout)

The Beach Boys: The Greatest Hits Volume 1 Good Vibrations (Capitol)

Brahms/Pogorelich: Intermezzi op. 117 (Deutsche Grammaphon)

4 Non Blondes: Bigger, Better, Faster, More (Interscope)

Neil Diamond: Heartlight (Columbia)

Annie Laurie, Songs of the British Isles (The King's Singers)

Al Martino: Great Gentlemen of Song series (Capitol)


Edited by pataburd - 1/8/14 at 9:58am
post #2 of 63

   Nice writeup. To bad the KEF's have such a weird cable connection, sometimes a small, not well thought out detail can spoil an otherwise good design.

   I have been putting a lot of time in listening to my Martin Logan's, and over and over I am amazed the the amount of low level detail these headphone reveal, I have been missing an entire octave compared to my Grado's. Your  description of the ML's  is very close to my thought's, you so skillfully put into words what has been rattling around inside my head. As you stated complex orchestration is a real joy to take in, every little detail revealed and savored. Thanks again for the writeup!

post #3 of 63
Thread Starter 


Thank you very much for your comments, affirmations and contributions.


Would really like to hear the KEFs with the ET-4--(how much more sensual could their midrange get?), although I don't believe it would turn the tide for my stated preference, because the Mikros 90 and the M500 are voiced differently, along what seem to be clear dividing lines between the general likes and dislikes of Head-Fiers (at least as far as I have surmised over the years).  In that respect, the ML and the KEF make a good complementary pair to own, each taking the listener in a distinct sonic direction.   


Your sentiments are mine, too.  These Martin Logans are a hidden gem.  And like you, I am experiencing the Mikros 90's particular "magic", delivered with a regularity, consistency and durability unlike every other audio product I have tried over the years.  THAT says a lot.


You know, I used to pine the loss of my DT880/2003 and D2000, but the Mikros 90 give me back everything I missed about those fine headphones--and much more.


Thanks again and Merry Christmas!



Edited by pataburd - 1/10/14 at 4:39pm
post #4 of 63
Thread Starter 

Have been listening predominantly to the M500 over the past few days.  Am using the PRE OUT from the Qinpu A-1.0X running into the KMF headphone amp.


To me, the KEFs definitely seem to have a hard spot in their upper midrange.  I really enjoy Julianne Baird's soprano voice, but it comes across with a pesky glare over the M500.  Same with baroque flute.


Will hook up the MLs and double check to make sure it is the headphones and not the recording or sources.  

Edited by pataburd - 12/21/13 at 7:21pm
post #5 of 63
Thread Starter 

The Mikros 90 resolve much more low level detail than the M500.  No contest here.  


Still hear that upper midrange/lower treble glare with the KEFs, too.  But not with the MLs.


(Back to the Sony S580 and the headphone out from the Denon AVR-1905, set at DTS Neo-6 surround.)

Edited by pataburd - 12/21/13 at 7:23pm
post #6 of 63
Thread Starter 

The MLs have deeper bass extension than the M500, and tighter bass. 

Edited by pataburd - 1/2/14 at 6:50pm
post #7 of 63
Thread Starter 

The MLs retrieve a LOT MORE information, too.  Going from the KEFs to the MLs is like breathing/moving about in an entirely different atmosphere: recording queues, room acoustics, vocal nuances, tonal complexities and a sense of airiness seize the listener.  The music comes to life with the Mikros 90, while sounding comparatively dark, veiled and lackluster with the M500.

Edited by pataburd - 1/3/14 at 2:36pm
post #8 of 63
Thread Starter 

Decided to put the stock cable on the MLs yesterday and "level the playing field" in that regard.  Moved to the Denon DVD-1940CI as source and the KMF headphone amp with Bob James in Hi-Fi on SACD.


The MLs lose just a bit of frequency extension, dimensionality, tonal richness and detail with the stock cable compared with the Pipeline ET-4, but my verdict remains the same--and for basically the same reasons.  Actually, with the stock cable, the MLs sounded a little more filled in at the midbass, while still handily beating the KEFs in detail retrieval, extension and the like.  


The opening measures of "Heads" has high-toned bells striking on either side.  The Mikros 90 render the bells much more completely: with more carry/slower decay, directed much further out into space and with a sense of tonal wholeness/"rightness" significantly lacking with the M500.  The KEFs give as-it-were a faint sketch of the background high hat taps; the MLs provide the full sonic picture, with bolder relief, more tonal definition and more dynamic texture: just plain MORE of everything. 


On "Blue Lick" the bass extends much lower and much cleaner with the Mikros 90.  The decaying vibrations of the string against the bass player's finger tip can be heard with the MLs, but not with the KEFs.  The sense of 3-D space is much more evident with the Mikros 90; the M500--although capable of spreading fairly high and wide--have always sounded decidedly 2-dimensional by comparison.


The Mikros 90 delivered all the funk from The Jeff Lorber Fusion's debut album, Water Sign.  And was my by far-and-away winner with Michael Jackson's Off the Wall.  The MLs seem to simply open up further at higher volumes, while the KEFs seem to close in and harden somewhat.

Edited by pataburd - 1/8/14 at 10:06am
post #9 of 63
Thread Starter 

The KEF M500 are re-packed, boxed, sealed, sold and ready to go!


Over the duration of my a/b-ing, for my ears, the Martin Logan Mikros 90 immediately took the lead, consistently held the lead and progressively out-distanced themselves from the M500.  I always had this feeling that I was "waiting for something" to happen from the KEFs that simply never materialized. To my ears the M500 fail comparatively--and significantly--in terms of frequency extension, overall balance and tonal balance/complexity alongside the Mikros 90.  The MLs might be the most musical and yet at the same time highly resolving headphones I can recount at this time.  I have come to regard the Mikros 90 as true thoroughbred, up to the demands of my best source gear.


Last night, I drove the MLs with the Fitz-improved [hybrid] Bada PH-12 (w/ 1x Sylvania 6SN7GTB & 2x Tung-Sol 6SN7GTB, crossfeed ON/Low).  The tubes bring some added weight, warmth and liquidity to the sound, and just nail the vocals (Al Martino, Cat Stevens, Karen Carpenter, etc.).  With tubes, the Mikros 90 more than make up for perhaps the only apparent advantage the M500 may have had previously.


 The Mikros 90 provide a clear window into the upstream equipment and help discriminate the effects of equipment changes very well.  To me, the MLs do what any good piece of equipment should do: get out of the way.  By contrast, to my ears, the KEFs seemed to impose their own static character or color to the sound and associated equipment.


From a practical standpoint:

(1) the Mikros 90 (163 gm) are 22% lighter than the M500 (208 gm),

(2) the MLs seal much better and leak much less than the KEFs,

(3) the MLs fit better than the KEFs.  Although some may consider the clamping force on the Mikros 90 excessive, the band may be worked/reformed to alleviate the force and customize/optimize the fit to the user's head.  I personally have had no comfort issue with MLs.  The M500 are comfortable, but excessively loose IMHO--like having saddle bags draped over your skull.  The machined aluminum frame is inflexible, so no customizing of the band is possible.

(4) style-wise, I prefer the simple, classy, understatement of the MLs, the comfort. smell and warmth of the padded leather, the chrome and black schema.  The KEFs look--and literally feel--cold, with a hard, edgy, sharp "techy" design which may work for some.  

(5) collapsability: Personally, the M500's three axes of rotation with metal-to-metal rubbing and scraping doesn't attract me like the more efficient and functional single axis-of-rotation design of the MLs.  And what the folded KEFs may reduce in storage volume along the length or width, they only enlarge with respect to storage depth.  

(6) The MLs' storage case is IMHO more elegant, has smoother zipper action and is better suited to my tastes as well.

(7) The KEFs come with an extra flat cable, sans iPod controls, and an airplane adapter, which are pluses.  The KEFs' flat cable resists tangling better than the MLs' conventional cable.  

(8) Neither of the headphones are "aftermarket-cable-ready/friendly".  I just barely managed to quasi-forcefit the [AudioQuest] Pipeline ET-4 into the Mikros 90, but just about all other aftermarket 3.5mm to 3.5mm cables are much too fat at the input plug barrel to fit the MLs.  The KEFs have a quirky, recessed and very narrow 2.5mm plug hole in the earpiece which is virtually impossible to fit with any aftermarket cable products. 


Our listening anatomies, sonic proclivities and musical tastes vary, that fact must always be kept in mind.  That said, for my ears, the Martin Logan Mikros 90 are in the top top tier from among all the headphones I have heard over the last 10 years.  Factoring in the purchase price (I paid $80 for the MLs on Amazon), the Mikros 90 take top spot for best bang-for-the-buck, too.  





Denon 1940CI

Fitz-Improved Bada PH-12



MAC power cables

EVS IC-95 interconnect

Pipeline ET-4 mini-to-mini

Belden extension cable

Dakiom R203 (DVD out)

Dakiom F273 (headphone out)

EVS Ground Enhancer (2nd headphone out)



Thompson Twins. Best of (Arista)

Kentucky Headhunters, Electric Barnyard (Mercury)

Erik Kunzel & The CPO, Time Warp (TelArc)

The Carpenters, Love Songs (A&M)

Rimsky-Korsakov: Suites/David Zinman, Rotterdam PO (Philips)

Wagner, Orchestral Music from The Ring cycle/Zubin Mehta, New York PO (CBS)

Gustav Leonhardt, Authentic Organs of the Netherlands (RCA Victor)

Enya, Paint the Sky with Stars (Reprise/Wea)

Eric Burdon Declares War (MGM)

Edited by pataburd - 1/10/14 at 4:43pm
post #10 of 63

Nice comparison! Weird how the Martin Logan's don't get attention here

At $90 it sounds like fantastic value!

post #11 of 63
Thread Starter 


The Mikros 90 are (strangely and disconcertingly) quite neglected on H-F.  

Too bad for all those who consequently will not reap the musical benefits of these fine, fine headphones. 

When I get back to my apartment, I would like to a/b the Mikros 90 and the HE-6 using my best source/amplification gear.

Edited by pataburd - 1/7/14 at 8:08pm
post #12 of 63
Thread Starter 

The KEFs ship out today or early tomorrow.

Will use the sale proceeds for a custom UPOCC silver cable for the MLs.  The beginning of what looks to be a long and fruitful time with the Mikros 90!  : )

Edited by pataburd - 1/8/14 at 1:48pm
post #13 of 63
Getting a pair soon hope to join you guy's 😊
post #14 of 63
Thread Starter 

All aboard!

post #15 of 63
Can't wait 😎 getting them Friday 😜
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