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Years of inconsistent sound in Sennheisers have left me utterly confused and disappointed. Am I doing something wrong?

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

SHORT VERSION 

FOR THOSE LIKE ME WHO SUFFER FROM ADHD


 

Owned Sennheiser MM 450 Flight headphones. Loved them to death; crystal clear sound, strong and powerful bass, and I loved the Active NC and wireless. Unfortunately, they got super uncomfortable after a few hours, making my outer ears ache.

 

Sold them and bought Sennheiser MM 550-Xs, expecting on-ear 450s. Similar sound quality and super-comfy, but they were deathly quiet and had virtually nonexistent bass, making those gorgeous tear-jerking orchestral swells sound hollow and lifeless.

 

This has been me and Sennheiser in a nutshell over the last 10 years: I either find something extremely uncomfortable (on-ear), or with ridiculously low bass/volume (over-ear). Which leaves me wondering:

 

  • Why couldn't Sennheiser just take the 450 guts and stuff them in the 550?! Is it that hard?! (It probably is...)
  • Why do on-ears make my ears ache so much?
  • Why am I always disappointed in over-ear bass performance? Is this just how headphones work? 
  • Is something wrong with me or the way I listen to music?
  • Am I just not using to the right brand?

 

Any help is massively appreciated. If you'd like to make a recommendation for another pair and need more to go on, I've included more details below.

 

 

LONG VERSION 

BECAUSE I'M A PENDATIC, LONG-WINDED BASTARD


 

If this is too long, feel free to stick with bold-faced text.

 

Below I'll list a bunch of information about my past listening experiences. For those of you willing to extend the patience to read all of this just to help me out, I very much appreciate it.

 

 

WHAT IS BEST IN LIFE

BESIDES CRUSHING YOUR ENEMIES AND SEEING THEM DRIVEN BEFORE YOU

 

Throughout the years I've learned that there are many things I value beyond just having clear sound quality.

 

PORTABILITY.
I'm outside a lot, and on the move way too much for something bulky.

 

POWERFUL LOW END
I love what many consider "excessive" low end. Be they low orchestral strings, drum-n-bass synths, or the heavy rumbling of taiko drums, powerful low ends truly help me lost in my music; at the right moments, it's often moved me to tears. Please don't take my audiophile card ;_; I don't even have one T_T

 

JUST ONE PAIR
Most important. I hate redundancy. Don't have the money for multiple pairs, don't want to adapt to multiple types of sound. Not one for studio, one for home gaming, and one for on the go; just one for everything.

 

COMFORT
A given, but mine is weird. On-ears seem to make my outer ears ache after an hour or two. Never have this problem with over-ears.

 

NOISE ISOLATION 
Active or passive irrelevant if it works. Noisy kids, roommates, engines, fans, AC units, noisy film studios, and running stage tech for concerts has made noise isolation a godsend.

 

(optional) WIRELESS / BLUETOOTH
Easier to cook, clean, go for a run, move in a crowded studio, or play a PS3 from far away without blasted wires tangling up everything. Plus I like taking calls on my cans.

 

 

MY PAST HEADPHONES

A HISTORY OF RAMPANT FIRST-WORLD CONSUMERISM

 

Here's a list of cans I've used over the years in the order that I used them, and how I've felt about them.

 

Sennheiser HD-280 Pro (over-ear) Disliked them. One brand new.
 - Crystalline sound,

 - Super comfy. 

 - Really weak bass. 

 - Quiet.

 - Made head sweaty after a while.

 

 - Not very portable. Too big. Bulky coiled wire

Bass was so low I thought they were defective when I first got them. Had to EQ adjust everything, and bought devices solely based on custom EQ support; hated iPods/iPhones since they didn't have EQ.

 

Sennheiser PXC-250 (on-ear) Liked themOne bought used, several brand new replacements. 
 - Great sound, lovely bass.

 - Active NC improved sound qualityhad it on all the time. 

 - Super uncomfortable; ears ached within an hour.

 - Too many wires/tangles due to external battery.

 - Flimsy. Broke easily, lots of replacements.
I owned these the longest. In fact, two are still sitting in my drawer. 

 

Sennheiser PXC-450 (over-ear) Decent...? Two bought used.
 - Comfy...? 

 - Weak Active NC...?
I must not have liked them much; all I remember is selling/returning them very quickly both times I bought them.
 

Bose QuietComfort 2 (over-ear) HATED them. Borrowed brand new.
 - Super comfy. 

 - Amazing Active NC.
 - Bad sound.

 - Bad bass.
With my uneducated non-audiophiliac lingo, I can only vaguely describe its sound as "fuzzy" and "staticky", not crystalline like the Sennheisers; turned me off Bose forever. 
 

Sennheiser MM 450 Flight (on-ear) LOVED them, favorite ones so far. Bought used.
 - Great sound.

 - Amazing bass. 

 - Super portable. 

 - Feature-rich. Wireless, phone talking, remote music controls, and (ironically) a wire option were magical. 

 - Passive NC was great.
 - Uncomfortable; outer ears ached mildly after 2+ hours.

 - Active NC = audible bass/quality drop, but I rarely used it beyond concerts and public transit.
They were so close to perfect, and I loved them to death, but I barely used them due to the discomfort... *sigh*
 

Sennheiser MM 550-X (over-ear) Decent but disappointing. Bought used, just got them today.
 - Crystalline sound.

 - Portable despite over-ear (yay wireless!)

 - Super-comfy.

 - Feature-rich, like the 450 MMs

 - Virtually zero bass. Music sounds hollow and lifeless. Upping lows in EQ distorts the sound.

 - Pretty quiet.

 - Constant static fuzz when turned on. Music doesn't drown it out.
What the Luna poop. This is exactly the same as when I bought the HD-280s nearly a decade ago. Huge disappointment. Lots of nostalgia (the bad kind) from when I despised Apple products for not having a custom EQ. 

 

Essentially, when it comes to Sennheisers, I always seem to have to pick between comfort (on-ears) or bass (over-ears).

 

I'm almost certain I'm gonna sell the MM 550-Xs. After that, I dunno what to do next. What would everyone suggest?

 

 

OPTIONAL: "IS IT JUST ME?"

IN WHICH I HAVE A PARANOID SELF-IDENTITY CRISIS AND OTHER METAPHYSICAL HORSE MANURE


 

So here I am, with a pair of brand new $400+ cans that I took out of the box literally just a few hours ago, completely baffled as to why I could despise the sound of something I spent so much money on, from a company that I've been buying from for nearly a decade.

 

Here's my real question: is something wrong with me? 

 

I know that the headphones I'm buying are not your average joe schmoe cans. They come with so many luxuries that people consistently tell me I'm crazy for spending this much money on them. So why is it that I'm so consistently disappointed in everything I buy? Am I just a picky bastard?

 

People buy on-ears all the time and love them to death. Why is it that they make my ears ache, even when they're well-padded like the MM 450s? I've always wondered if it's my glasses...

 

More importantly, how is it that venerable sets like the HD-280s have managed to disappoint me, yet so many around me continue to sing its praises? Is my obsession with pounding bass some kind of personal deficiency? Is the bassless nature of sets like these some kind of wine-like "acquired taste" that I need to get accustomed to? Is there some kind of frequency of bass that I'm simply unable to hear?

post #2 of 5

I'd recommend the VModa M-100 for what you seem to like. Portable, good isolation, sturdy, lots of fairly clean bass. And they look good. If the bass is a bit too much, then look at the Sony MDR-V6.

 

Sadly, they will not enhance the lamentation of the women of your enemies.

post #3 of 5
Well, if I was a Sennheiser product manager, I would be sending you a bottle of wine every Christmas, because you have certainly been brand loyal!

A couple of things jumped out at me from your post - the first being that you thought the HD280 was very bass light. That's interesting, because that is not how many people (including myself) would describe them. I would probably call them "neutral" in bass response, but a little too recessed in the treble region (some might say "warm" or even "dark"). For me, turning up the volume to try to get a bit more at the top made them a little bloated at the bottom. Of course, this is all IMHO and YMMV...

The second item was that you seem to hear more bass in on-ears, but they are uncomfortable. On-ears are typically not thought to have better bass than circumaural 'phones - I would have said the opposite was more typical.

So - what do these two clues tell us? Well, this is just a guess, but my thought is that it tells me you are not getting a good seal with over-ear headphones. No seal = No bass. With on-ears, a good seal usually means a high clamping force - which also makes those on-ears uncomfortable. If I'm right, then if we can figure out why you aren't getting a good seal, then you might get better performance from any over-ear cans. Conversely, if we can't get a better seal (assuming the bad seal is the root cause) then no matter what over-ear cans you pick the bass will suck.

OK - is any of this possible? If you press on the cups of the 550-X, does the bass get better? You mentioned glasses - that is another prime suspect for not getting a good seal - if you take your glasses off, is the bass better?

Reducing the clamping force of on-ear headphones can sometimes be done on *some* headphones by *gently* stretching or pressing down on the top of the headband. HOWEVER, you run the risk of cracking the headband, so proceed with extreme caution - you have been warned!
post #4 of 5

@TheAntiFanboy, first off let me commend you on your wonderful formatting. It really is refreshing to see someone who really types here like it's a .doc file for PDF conversion and printing rather than just write a huge block on Notepad. I'll just address a few of the points raised:

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by TheAntiFanboy View Post

 

...Unfortunately, they got super uncomfortable after a few hours, making my outer ears ache...

 

  • Why do on-ears make my ears ache so much?
  • Is something wrong with me or the way I listen to music?

 

It's the fit. The earpads are sitting on your ears, and the headband has to clamp them onto your head so as to keep them there, otherwise you might not even have to move for them so slide off. Ergo, there is pressure on your earlobe. When I had a pair of Grado SR225s what I do is move the earcups towards the front of my face so the rear half of the ear pads don't sit too much on the earlobe. This also has the benefit of keeping the headphone driver away from being smack on top of the ear canal, reducing the (I'm being threatened by Poseidon) "trident-shaped" imaging problem where the Left, Center, and Right are too strong with every sound happening between them moved off to the back of the soundstage, instead of a relatively flat soundstage panning Left to Right, which if any instruments are towards the rear, it is because it is part of the recording - such as the drums and an orchestra as accompaniment to a modern band for example.

 

I still do this with my HD600 by the way, except that with its circumaural design, it folds my earlobes a bit forwards when I want the drivers off a direct path into my ear canal.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by TheAntiFanboy View Post

 

  • Why couldn't Sennheiser just take the 450 guts and stuff them in the 550?! Is it that hard?! (It probably is...)
  • Why am I always disappointed in over-ear bass performance? Is this just how headphones work? 

 

Not necessarily, you have just not found the right headphones, and staying in the same brand doesn't always guarantee the same kind of sound. Sennheiser's product ranges are very diverse compared to, say, Audezee or Grado, and therefore they use a wider variety of drivers. Business economics has a lot more to do with it since they have to try and sell at such price points and they probably acquire some off the shelf drivers for some products, and depending on the engineer's tastes, some are tuned for a certain kind of compromise sound at that price point a lot more than when Grado for example does that (which at least succeeds in a consistent and easily recognizable sound signature for all their products). So while John Grado oversees all designs closely, Sennheiser's CEO likely does not, and chances are there are several engineers or teams of engineers working with different products.

 

That said, why not try other brands? I use the HD600 at home (and averse to using the HD650 if this breaks - knock on wood) and when I needed a portable headphone or in-ear monitors, it took me a long time to find the right match in terms of how much it sounds like the HD600, compatibility with a smartphone, isolation, comfort, and low price as this will not be my reference unit, just close to it. While it was easy to find reviews that compared a host of IEMs with the HD600, I knew I had to hear them for myself first, given how much the earpad condition can affect the HD600's sound and ear tip material can affect both sound and comfort. The problem was that at the time there were no stores that offered trials here, and when one did open, the more expensive IEMs are sealed in their boxes unless the owner had a pair of his own; buying online and returning them are out of the question since shipping cost and time are too much for trials they will just eat away at the funds for the IEM (plus the sharks posing as Customs Agents here), but of course your situation may be vastly different.

 

I eventually got to try a fellow headfi-er's/headphiler's Aurisonics ASG-1, which also happened to be for sale. It didn't have the treble extension of the HD600, and sounds a lot closer to how other people describe the HD650 (possibly on worn pads), but at least it didn't have the bloated bass and sharp treble of the HD600 on really old earpads, which my other IEMs have because 1) they're cheap and 2) being conventional IEM designs, they rely on deep insertion into the ear canal to keep them in place, which affects the sound. My Galaxy S3 was able to drive it well, loud enough at 20% volume for me (it's so efficient I can't use with the earphone jack on my PC speakers) and remains smooth as I go louder (the smartphone's headphone amp isn't stressed driving it). I liked it even better with my iPad. Changing the tips to a pair of clear Westone tips I had lying around also opened up more of the treble (without an analyzer I can't really tell how the curve is, but cymbals are clearer and female vocals don't sound too warm anymore). You might therefore have to do as much research and do a lot more trials - just consider yourself lucky you can return items over there and much easier than it is for me.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheAntiFanboy View Post
 

 

PORTABILITY.
I'm outside a lot, and on the move way too much for something bulky.

 

POWERFUL LOW END
I love what many consider "excessive" low end. Be they low orchestral strings, drum-n-bass synths, or the heavy rumbling of taiko drums, powerful low ends truly help me lost in my music; at the right moments, it's often moved me to tears. Please don't take my audiophile card ;_; I don't even have one T_T

 

JUST ONE PAIR
Most important. I hate redundancy. Don't have the money for multiple pairs, don't want to adapt to multiple types of sound. Not one for studio, one for home gaming, and one for on the go; just one for everything.

 

COMFORT
A given, but mine is weird. On-ears seem to make my outer ears ache after an hour or two. Never have this problem with over-ears.

 

NOISE ISOLATION 
Active or passive irrelevant if it works. Noisy kids, roommates, engines, fans, AC units, noisy film studios, and running stage tech for concerts has made noise isolation a godsend.

 

(optional) WIRELESS / BLUETOOTH
Easier to cook, clean, go for a run, move in a crowded studio, or play a PS3 from far away without blasted wires tangling up everything. Plus I like taking calls on my cans.

 

 

If you're not averse to IEMs, maybe the Aurisonics ASG-1 is worth looking into. First off, as mentioned above, it is not a conventional universal IEM design. Its shape is based on the average of the earmolds they received for their custom IEMs, with the soundbore needing eartips to helf anchor them to your ear. It is not as dependent on the usual IEMs as the outer shell does half the work, so no need for really tight ear tips acting as anchors, which means a lot of comfort. Prodigious bass too - easy to drive that my Logitech speakers go from silent to deafening without much movement on the volume knob. Get a tighter eartip than how the Westone medium-size clear tips fit in my ear canal and they are really quiet, like other universals; however like I said I'm not too fond of using an eartip as an anchor, not to mention I'd like to hear what's going on around me, but if I'm on a jet for example I do have the tighter-fitting stock ear tips in the carrying case.

 

It doesn't have wireless built in, but I got the Audiomate Wireless headphone amp/USB DAC from an event over here, and it's compact enough (amp even comes with a clip). Also because the earphone jack gain on my PC speakers are too strong, I just hook up the DAC to the USB.


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 1/19/14 at 7:38pm
post #5 of 5

Can't really help ya with a specific headphone, but it seems to me you just have to find the right headphone for you.

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