Ok now that I've had some pillow time...
Having been out of the Head-Fi meet loop for 5 years this meet was a real treat for me. I got caught up on some things that I had been missing opportunities to listen to.
I finally got to try the now-benchmark HD800. It was Chris' (Maxvla) slick looking custom black pair running off of a Violectric balanced amp. My thoughts pretty much mirror what I've read as far as it's characteristic sound. Bright, airy, detailed with a great sense of space. Excellent midrange tonality and neither too forward or recessed vocals. This headphone does a lot of things really right. Because of the speed of the drivers resolution is as close to electrostats as I've heard in a dynamic but this same speed leads to a lean bass presentation. The weight and comfort were totally acceptable but for the money I just can't see me ever owning one unless I came across a minty used one for a steal. Also, I can see how this headphone would show differences the source and amplification so having said that I might have a different view if I heard it in some other rigs.
HiFiman HE500 and Audez LCD-2 v2
I'm going to do these together because my thoughts were pretty much the same for both. No sense in saying the same things twice
Really nice cans with no glaring faults as far as sound goes. The reputation for thick and meaty bass response is deserved and the highs were natural and lifelike. But I honestly couldn't live with either of these planar magnetics because of the weight. When I decide to sit down and listen to my home rig, it's typically for a pretty long listening session and comfort is a big part of my overall enjoyment. I am very conscious of the fact that I am wearing a hefty headphone with both of these and I find that too distracting.
What a delight to be able to listen to these. Big thanks to Patrick of Nice Cans Austin for bringing these along.
My first thoughts upon picking these up were "wow...these look and feel like a flagship headphone". The AKG K701 was my very first headphone purchase when I got into headphone audio as a hobbyist/enthusiast. This new model really brings a more high-end look and feel with it's metal gimbals and new headband (I'll talk more about the headband in a bit).
Upon listening to these through a Benchmark DAC-2 (if i recall correctly) I really liked them. They sound to me fairly similar to the HD800 in it's overall presentation. Bright, detailed and fast...much like the K701. But there is more weight in the bottom end compared to the K701, but then that headphone was so lean in the bass that kind of goes without saying. I'd say the HD800's bass was slightly more visceral but as far as which has deeper extension and lower frequency detail would take a serious and lengthy A/B session on the same rig. At any rate this is another fantastic phone for folk/acoustic, chamber classical or vocals.
As far as comfort: I am soooooo happy to see AKG get the headband right after the disaster that was the K701's headband and suspension. For those that have never experienced the K701 first hand: The headband was a wide band of leather (or vinyl or both layered..I'd have to look it up) That had these stiff bumps on the underside that contacted your head. Worst part about this design was the fact that there were an odd number of bumps which meant that the center bump was sitting directly on the crown of your skull. And to make this even worse, the whole band was suspended by elastic bands that pulled the band snugly onto your head, rather than simply being adjustable. It was sort of a one-size-fits-all self adjusting suspension that felt like it was trying to bore a hole in the top of your head.
All that has changed and the K812 is a very comfortable headphone in my opinion. The band it sort of like the shoulder straps on a quality backpack with a nylon mesh on top and soft padding underneath. The suspension is adjustable with VERY positive detents that once set, are not likely to wander. The pads are vinyl, directional and rotate-able and once set, totally surround the ear with almost no contact with the ear. I kind of wish they had stuck with velour for the pads or gone with a synthetic suede material but I think I could be ok with these on the longer sessions, because of decently light weight of the headphone and the overall size of the pads that will let the skin of your ears breathe.
These are some nice headphones but I have to be honest, I think AKG may be shooting themselves in the foot by pricing it to compete directly with the HD800. As I said both of these offer a similar overall sound, but the HD800 has a couple of years in the wild and the K812 is the new model that has yet to establish a reputation. Therefore I think potential buyers when looking to spend $1400-$1500 on a flagship headphone are more likely to go with the Sennheiser. I'm sure that a decent number of these will sell among AKG fans who have been waiting for some time for the new flagship, but I really don't see them bringing a lot of new customers in at this level of headphone.
OK I feel like I just typed an encyclopedias worth of text with the AKG so I'm going to be more succinct here. I didn't spend much time with these but I liked them a lot. No glaring faults at all. Really nice top end sparkle and overall a good extension of the excellent Beyerdynamic sound that is really tight and refined. As a higher-end headphone it certainly holds it's own and for overall sound I think I would be hard pressed to decide between it and the HD800 although the Sennheiser does a few things better I think. In true Beyerdynamic style the T1 is nicely lightweight and comfortable, but as with all the Beyers I've tried It's really tough to get them positioned so that they aren't touching my ears either on the top or back edge. Another centimeter of diameter would cure that issue for me.
Bottlehead Crack with Speedball upgrade
I was super-glad to see one of these at the meet. I auditioned this amp with it's owners HD650's and I can see why this amp has such a stellar reputation. I have been seriously looking into the Crack as a DIY project since I love to build things and work with my hands (something I don't do nearly enough these days). I have a Millet Starving Student kit (yes I even have the now all-but-extinct tubes) that has been waiting for the case holes to be drilled for at least 4 years now. I think the Crack may be a better introduction to amp building due to the excellent guide/instructions provided and the case work already having been done. But hell, this amp sounds so good that even someone with no interest in DIY should really consider this amp as a pre-built option. The reputation it has for being an excellent performer is not in any way undeserved. I would place this amp among the top tube amps I've listened to and they drive the 300ohm Sennheisers extremely well I'm kicking myself for not bringing my HD580's over to mvrk10256's table.
Various Violectric components
Chris has several Violectric demo products set up at his tables. These small form factor solid state components are really nice. They have a cool look to them and even though I didn't really spend time evaluating them, I came away with a very positive impression of their performance. I've often thought that since my Little Dot is serving pre-amp duty in a Stax set-up I'd like to have another dedicated DAC/amp for my Sennheiser HD580's and that if I did decide to do that I'd likely go with solid state. If I do end up expanding my headphone audio system (something I've so far been reluctant to do) I'm certainly going to keep Violoctric in mind.
I had a good time today even though after noon I really started to fade (I work nights so normally I sleep during the day). I was really happy to get some time on some of the headphones I've thus far not had a chance to try out. Having been into headphone audio for a couple of years now and having been to another meet way back in the beginning (Jan 2009) I can safely confirm what I took away from that meet and that is this: You absolutely don't have to spend a lot of money to get excellent headphone audio. The Sennheiser HD600 still retains it's position as a phenomenal performing headphone that in this era of multi-thousand dollar cans is a true hifi bargain. DYI amps still offer spectacular performance to those that simply don't have the money (or desire to spend the money) for the more high-end audio bling-bling. That was one of the main things I took away from the 09 Dallas meet where I got to listen to Pete Millets original homemade Starving Student amp, and again listening to the Bottlehead Crack that only solidifies my opinion that high-end sound need not be out of everyone's financial reach.
My only true regret about the meet (other than the somewhat light Head-Fi membership turnout) was that I didn't get any exposure to other Stax gear. My home rig (that consists of a source into a Little Dot MKIVse as a pre-amp into a T-amp speaker amp into a Woo Wee driving my SR404) is somewhat of a hacked together system and I've always been curious to see how it stacks up against other Stax systems that have a dedicated electrostatic amplifier.