Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphones (full-size) › Paul Barton VS The World: VISO HP50 Review and Analysis
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Paul Barton VS The World: VISO HP50 Review and Analysis

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

At the intersection of philosophy, psychology and scientific analysis we find Paul Barton's standout creation: the VISO HP50's by NAD. These headphones represent homogenous mixture of technical excellence and a logical approach to human perception. Paul Barton's willingness to take strides forward in development based upon his decades of research on the subjects of loud speakers and audio perception presents an exciting opportunity for those who own headphones he has produced. By implementing a bleeding edge target curve (a curve that appears to largely parallel the findings of Harman researcher Dr. Sean Olive) Barton has given listeners an opportunity to literally listen to the future of the headphone design.

 

     To understanding what the HP50's were intended to accomplish is vitally important as it sets the tone for this entire review. The earth-shattering fact is that the HP50's were DESIGNED TO SOUND GOOD. As patronizing as that statement might have sounded, it is worth noting that these headphones are not pursuing perfect flatness, they are not attempting to match the HD800's for ultra-articulate treble response, and they are not trying to match Ultrasone for being pure crazy (Only kidding... I know they work hard on their product and people enjoy their headphones...). Paul Barton lets the concept that there are known preferences in how loudspeakers sound, and the fact a lot of music is mastered for speaker playback guide him to create a headphone that aspires above all else to deliver a listening experience that is pleasing to the human ear.

 

     Now, before your mind begins to fill with thoughts of headphones that color sound like a sugar-filled three year-old colors on walls, realize that what has been achieved in the development of the HP50's more closely resembles the fine colors and strokes of a master painter. Some of the finest works of art, such as frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, do not appear photo-realistic, yet we do not think of them “falling short” of the medium of painting because they don't look like photographs. Rather we realize that the artist may use their knowledge of physical appearance and human psychology to craft an image that is even more pleasing to the eye than a photograph would be. Just as there are certain measurements and ratios that must be present for a painting to look appealing there are certain ratios and measurements that have been proven to sound pleasing through headphones. Additionally, in a similar way to how a painter uses his understanding of perspective and the human mind to add substance to their masterpiece, so too does Paul Barton's approach to headphone design consider the variable of subjective perception when creating a target EQ. Together these core elements construct the framework for our how we will analyze the NAD VISO HP50 headphones.

 


 

Technical Review:

 

The technical measuring-stick will be SanjiWatsuki's set of criteria for flagship-level headphones. While these grading points might be controversial for some, they accomplish the task of giving us a general benchmark for the sonic capabilities of a pair of headphones.

 

1.  Bass linearity of +-5 dB from 20hz to 100hz.

 

 

The HP50's exhibit VERY flat bass response that lies within a 5db spread of amplitude.  This bests the requirement handily by sustaining a linear bass response that is twice as tight as is demanded for a flagship. PASS

 

2. 100dB distortion should not exceed 0.8% beyond the sub-bass frequencies.

&

3.  100dB distortion should not exceed 1% at 30hz.

 

 

 

Distortion is incredibly low for dynamic drivers and is a non-issue at every point within the audio spectrum.

PASS and PASS.

 

 

4.  Frequency response curve should be very smooth with any resonances being very minor -- no major dips.

Smooth for broad patches, but there is a dip at 6K and a definite fall-off after 10K. FAIL

 

5. Very small to absolutely no dip at 70hz-150hz.

Studying SanjiWatsuki's commentary reveals that the very small dip at 107hz is nothing to be concerned about. PASS


 

6. Air-level treble should be no more than -15dB relative to the mid-range.

There is no question that air-level treble does roll off and that this does impact their sound.

Technically the HP50's FAIL... However, the question then becomes: do these cans fail this specification by design? Paul Barton has used a target EQ that intentionally rolls of the treble and creates a very natural listening experience that is less fatiguing than would be experienced with a more elevated upper range. This creates a sound signature that is quite enjoyable, but may not please those who are addicted to the sound of violins slicing through their skulls. All sarcasm aside, I encourage the reader not to dismiss these headphones because of this attribute, as the HP50's are still capable of producing a well detailed sound. Paul Barton reasons that when speakers are used in an ideal setting the treble is attenuated by the room, thus naturally rolling-off the highs and creating a pleasing listening experience.


 

7. No "wiggle" in the impedance graph.

 

 

The HP50's have a fairly smooth impedance graph. There is a small bump between 5K and 6K but it is only slight and SanjiWatsuki passes other cans that have a similar minor deviance. The kind of variance is nowhere near what is seen on an impedance graph for something like the Fostex TH-900's. PASS

 

 

8. Nearly perfect channel balance.

Channels are matched very well. PASS

 

 

9. The headphone is open or semi-open.

 FAIL

 

Before I heard the HP50's I would have been more willing to ascent to this criterion blindly but having listened to the NAD's there is a clear and striking difference in their soundstage as compared with a typical closed headphone. When I listen to something like the Beyerdynamic dt770's I can hear the tonality that the plastic rear enclosure is imparting to the music. Interestingly, the enclosure on the HP50's does not impart a perceived change to the timbre of the audio. When this is combined with a large soundstage it firmly challenges conventional thought regarding what can be accomplished with a closed headphone. Of all the criterion found here, this is the most subjective and it ignores practical questions regarding whether insulation from other sounds or openness to room acoustics is preferable. Ultimately, I am going to side with Tyll Hertsen on this point and disregard it as a testing credential.

 

Total Score: 6/8

 

The technical successes of the HP50's far outweigh their shortcomings. While I will not make unwarranted extrapolations based upon these numbers I will let these figures stand as a testament to the competence of the HP50's to stand on their own as excellent performers at and above their price point.

 


 

Perceptual Review:

 

For perceptual analysis I am going to review a set of songs I am very familiar with and comment on how these cans perform at rendering that audio. Because it is extremely unlikely that we listen to the same music (I have varied taste... :P) I will provide a link for the audio to facilitate a better understanding of what I am describing. In the spirit of both not having very high-end gear and representing the average consumer/audio-enthusiast I will be playing lossless files directly out of my ipod classic for each sample.

 

 

Unfolding”, By Jerry Douglass on the CD, Glide.

 

http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Unfolding/4e2YCL?src=5

 

This jazz piece features resonator guitar, drums, bowed and plucked upright bass, violin, and electric guitar. The recording is of fantastic quality with an attention to properly using stereo to create separation between instruments. It is vital that I communicate how cohesive this song sounds on the HP50's. There is fantastic separation with a sense of exactness to where instruments are placed within the soundscape. Drums sound very realistic with cymbal crashes sounding tight and not at all splashy. Jerry Douglas' resonator guitar has an articulate tone that conveys the talent of the musician using a metal slide on metal strings. The details are not masked in order to create an illusion of clean playing, rather they are exposed with the details revealing the subtleties of the musician's technique. The violin is well placed and carries no un-natural harshness I would associate with an unbalanced EQ. Both the violin and bowed bass convey the sound of the musician moving the bow across the strings. Low notes on the bass are not inflated but retain the weight of the massive instrument that is producing them. When plucked you can hear the details of how the bass is being played as well as the notes that are being produced. The tonality of the electric guitar is exquisite and integrates into the mix very effectively.

 

 

I'm Not Ashamed” by Steve Camp on the CD, Taking Heaven by Storm.

 

http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/I+m+Not+Ashamed/2KKo4E?src=5

 

There are certain songs that just show off what a headphone is capable of. This is most definitely one of those songs for the HP50's. The bass is thumping good and hard while retaining texture and not overwhelming the other aspects of the song. The saxophone on this track is absolutely amazing as it is replicated with such detail that you can close your eyes and imagine its player directly in front of you (the imaging is that good). Vocals are clear and fall properly within the mix. The main vocal does not suffer from a sense of being withdrawn and the background vocals are presented very well tonally and spatially. Every element just works wonderfully together on this song. With so much going on constantly on this track the ability of these cans to articulate the position of each component is put to the test. Not for a moment is there an impression of muddiness or a suffocatingly cramped presentation. That is not to say that they sound as good as a top-tier open headphone in terms of spaciousness, but they deliver a very satisfying presentation with a wonderful musicality.

 

 

Over Hill” by Howard Shore on the CD, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

 

http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Over+Hill/50tksd?src=5

 

This track is chosen not because it is a favorite within my collection but because it provides a very high quality symphonic recording that can serve as an appropriate means of measuring the performance of the HP50's. The soundstage most definitely expands outside of my head yet retains a specificity in relation to instrument placement that creates a enveloping and cohesive sound. Strings are very accurately portrayed with a detailed, strident-free presentation that is very easy to listen to for long periods of time. The horns and woodwinds have a sweetness to them that avoids the trap of an artificial presentation. When challenged with a harder hitting, modern soundtrack like Hans Zimmer's Inception, these cans rise to the occasion and provide the best listening experience I have had for those tracks since I saw the film in theaters... all three times.

 


 

Conclusion

 

By creating the NAD VISO HP50 Paul Barton has added a potent weapon in his ongoing battle. This fight is not waged so much against other headphone manufacturers, as it is a positive struggle for progress and innovation that extends beyond mere production and seeks to provide an ever-better answer to the simple yet profound question: What sounds good? Time will tell if the future sounds like the HP50's, but my hope is that you will find immense enjoyment in finding out for yourself by purchasing a pair of these fantastic headphones.

 

Please ask me any questions you might have and let me know if you appreciate the review.

 


 

Resources:

 

Information obtained from Innerfidelity has been used with Tyll Hertsens' gracious consent. I strongly encourage you to check out his review of the HP50's.

 

Tyll's Review: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/i-love-these-headphonesthe-nad-viso-hp50

 

•NAD VISO HP50 Measurements: http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/NADVISOHP50.pdf

 

•Tyll's original article about headphone response: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/harman-researchers-make-important-headway-understanding-headphone-response

 

•An extensive interview with Paul Barton about sound design: http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/video-coverage/video-coverage/designing-better-headphones-with-paul-barton.html

 

SanjiWatsuki's analysis of flagship headphones: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1wi8M-HSeK0JF33P-5ypydQjQ4OshRQhvWM0IX2h0NQ8/edit?pli=1#slide=id.p

 

•Tyll's take on SanjiWatsuki's criteria: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/one-enthusiasts-take-top-line-headphones-state-flagships

 

 

 

 

 

post #2 of 12
Thread Starter 

Bumpin' this to the top if only to encourage others to look at these cans!  Might add pictures soon... haven't seen many shots of the white version on the web.

post #3 of 12

When I saw "The World", I thought it meant a bunch of other similar headphones. Good review though, these headphones are definitely awesome.

post #4 of 12

Damn. I may need to buy this now. Great review.

post #5 of 12
Thank you for this awesome review. I had a chance to listen to these and they are superb. The SQ is astounding for the price and for me the comfort was perfect. I am definitely going to be adding these to my collection. I will be replacing a pair of Sony ANC500 that I have had at work forever.

-Mike
post #6 of 12

I get mine tomorrow.   Hopefully, they well let me replace the Momentums - which do everything well but have failed to capture my ear.

post #7 of 12

Really nice review! i think i'll buy them at the end of the month. I wonder if you can do some comparisons with other cans at the same (or near) price (maybe momentums, some B&W or the PSB's, or some open...). 

post #8 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by new reformation View Post
 

 

6. Air-level treble should be no more than -15dB relative to the mid-range.

All sarcasm aside, I encourage the reader not to dismiss these headphones because of this attribute, as the HP50's are still capable of producing a well detailed sound. Paul Barton reasons that when speakers are used in an ideal setting the treble is attenuated by the room, thus naturally rolling-off the highs and creating a pleasing listening experience.

 

Great review. I wonder few things that will help to understand this headphone for the ones that have not tested it:

 

1.- How does the HP50 compare with the PM4U1 from PSB, also designed by Paul Barton. I tested the PSB headphone and albeit it was fine, I found it boring.

2.- Is the HP50 a dark headphone in timbre.  Many headphones with roll-off highs are dark in nature, most if they have some boost in the bass area. I strongly  dislike dark headphones.

2.- What is the frequency that dominates more the timbre, bass, mids or highs?

 

As a reference I just bought the B&O H6 and I find it a great well balanced headphone. Have you tried the H6 and is yes, how does it compare with he HP50?

 

Thanks again for your kind advice.


Edited by MrGuzmanWhite - 2/19/14 at 8:29am
post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback!  It definitely encourages me to invest the time into doing future reviews.  

 

To answer the questions of comparison, I am sorry to say that I have not been able to try the PSB models or the Momentum.  However, I would like to respond to MrGuzmanWhite's questions as they are a fair summation of what others have been asking. 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by MrGuzmanWhite View Post
 

Great review. I wonder few things that will help to understand this headphone for the ones that have not tested it:

 

1.- How does the HP50 compare with the PM4U1 from PSB, also designed by Paul Barton. I tested the PSB headphone and albeit it was fine, I found it boring.

2.- Is the HP50 a dark headphone in timbre.  Many headphones with roll-off highs are dark in nature, most if they have some boost in the bass area. I strongly  dislike dark headphones.

2.- What is the frequency that dominates more the timbre, bass, mids or highs?

 

As a reference I just bought the B&O H6 and I find it a great well balanced headphone. Have you tried the H6 and is yes, how does it compare with he HP50?

 

Thanks again for your kind advice.

 

While not able to compare based upon listening experience, frequency response measurements indicate that the PSB's are less smooth in their response overall so the HP50s should sound tighter in comparison.

 

In regards to the treble of the NAD's, I have to say that when I first started listening to the HP50's I had to mentally adjust to a more even response than I was used to coming from my modded Alessandro (which are currently being modded again to even out their response curve a bit... :tongue_smile:) .  The treble is not exaggerated at all, but I must emphasize that because of the fantastic resolution and balance of these headphones I can hear an incredible amount of detail in the music.  Just as an example, I am listening to the score to the Hobbit right now and I can very clearly articulate the breathing of those musicians playing the horns.  The attention to detail in tuning these headphones has resulted in a sound where one frequency is not sloppily overshadowing others.  This creates a cohesive sound where treble can be a bit rolled off (as it would be with a loudspeaker set-up) yet the detailing can remain fantastic with musicality in the forefront of the presentation.  All of that to say, the H6 is a bit more emphasized in the treble, so your preference in EQ might tend towards the brighter side.  From a technical standpoint the HP50 is a much more balanced headphone and should give you less withdrawn upper mids, tighter bass and a smoother, yet less emphasized, treble.  The HP50's are on the warmer side of neutral, but I cannot say that they are bass, mids or treble "heavy".  Part of the "cohesive" sound I talk about in my review is due to the balance that these cans deliver.    


Edited by new reformation - 2/19/14 at 1:47pm
post #10 of 12

I bought these to see what the hubbub was about despite trying them out a few times and not seeing what the big deal is. Here's their problem; they have no air, and the mids sound like they've been EQ'd to sound laid back (and have a deeper soundstage as a result). This makes their imaging very hit and miss, the walls of their soundstage very apparent; there's never an illusion that it melts away during music. In a bid to sound "good", they lack naturalness and realism. Consequently I find them dull and fatiguing for longer listening sessions. They improve with amplification, but driven directly from a smartphone (Note 2) or an ipod/iphone 5 (which I'd imagine is their primary intended application) they frankly struggle to compete with a Beats Studio 2013.

 

They have great bass characteristics (if looked on at its own, without considering that the lack of air really hurts its presentation, often making it sound plodding and too dominant in the sound stage). Fast Decay, great slam and control. Really not much worse than the TH900, and that's saying something. Upper, mid, and lower bass layers are well separated and not blurred. Instrument timbre is quite good with body and solidity to it, next to them my Amperior can sound almost shrill sometimes. But the gimmicky vocal placement is very distracting; it's not true to the source. Despite having a bigger soundstage than the Amperior, it sounds more closed in and not as dynamic. Dramatic swells in the music are blunted, it doesn't get the heart pumping.

 

What's bothersome is that it CAN sound great with a lot of songs ( because it has BIG strengths), but then you hit a song where its flaws are so evident;  I end up hating it a lot more than I should. Ultimately, its a question of what kind of sonic compromises you're willing to live with, and I certainly can't live with the HP50's.

post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 

I appreciate your input Kyle.  The question presents itself, have we been conditioned to desire an artificially boosted treble found in the FR curve of a large number of headphones in such a way that we now judge anything that does not match that improperly exaggerated curve as "less detailed" even if it more closely resembles the sound signature that was originally intended by whoever mastered the track with a pair of loud speakers?

 

Your response is very important as it communicates that how a HP sounds is very often down to personal taste after we reach a certain stage of technical capacity in the product.  I do have to disagree with your characterization of the mids as they measure warm but fairly even and, to my ears, sound pretty well integrated into the overall mix.  Vocals certainly don't feel distant to me.  I agree about the lack of upper level air, but these are closed cans after all and the increase in perceived SQ due to isolation may provide a net increase in quality depending on how they are used.  These cans obviously don't fit your desired sound, but I would say they aren't "dull" sounding to my ears. 

Your critique does reminds me of something though....hmmm....:deadhorse:  . lol.  In the end it really does come down to preference. 

 

Perhaps the fact that I listen to quite a few 80's/90's albums mastered with a bit of a bright treble results in these cans working with greater synergy for me. 

post #12 of 12

I have to say, my experience with the HP50s absolutely do NOT match Kyle 491s - not to say that his description is wrong:  it all depends on what one's expectations are.

 

To me, the HP50s present a really nice, full-bodied sound with rich mids and just the right amount of treble - not souped up to sound "airy", not too dark so that instruments lose the bite in their timbre.   Vocals sound fuller, pianos sound more full-bodied, etc.       Of the 3 closed headphones I own (TH600 and W1000X), these do the best job of reproducing the sound of live instruments - although they end up lacking a little bit in complex, dynamic pieces compared to bigger-sized cans.    

 

I've always taken the position that worrying about imaging/soundstaging on headphones is akin to polishing a turd - esp once you compare them to speakers.  That being said, the HP50 do a good job of sounding less "between-the-ears headphoney" than a lot of other headphones.    Better than the LCD2s, not as good as the HD800s.

 

My detailed comparison of them with the Momentums is here:

http://www.head-fi.org/t/706770/nad-hp50s-vs-momentums-a-short-review-comparison

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Headphones (full-size)
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Headphones (full-size) › Paul Barton VS The World: VISO HP50 Review and Analysis