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NAD HP50s vs Momentums - a short review & comparison

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

I have had the Momentums for half a year now, but havent been wild about them.   They sound nice, they dont do anything wrong, but for whatever reason, they dont excite me that much.  So I have been looking for a pair of mid-sized headphones for traveling.

 

When I heard about Paul Barton producing headphones that tried to re-create the sound of speakers, I decided to get them.   And my NAD HP50s were delivered on Tuesday, just in time for me to take them on a 2 day work trip.  Today, I came back and compared them with Momentums, listening to a selection of music.

 

I'll avoid talking about comfort as that depends on your noggin and preferences, and it really makes no sense for you to extrapolate anything from my experiences.     Also, if you want a list of what's in the box, specs, etc., plenty of places for you to find that online.   I'd like to talk about the sound only.

 

A word about my personal preferences - I am a single-ended triode and horn speakers kind of guy.  My reference is not a system that reproduces the recorded sound as linearly as possible, my reference is a system that comes the closes to reproducing the sound of a live concert (unamplified instruments).  I listen to classical (mainly orchestral works), metal, rock and occasional EDM/house/hip-hop.   Also, I am sensitive to bright/shrieky/fatiguing highs.

 

So my comments are based on the above preferences.

 

I used the following 3 rigs to compare the sound:

1/ iBasso DX50 / Alo National

2/ AK100 / Meier Quickstep

3/ iPod Classic / CLAS -R / Alo Continental V3

 

Quick summary of the sound:

Bass:   the Momentums go deeper in the last octave and also are a little more pronounced in the mid and upper bass

Mids:   the HP50s have a more pronounced mid-range, with an apparent bump in the lower mids

Highs:  this is tricky.  The HP50s are less rolled-off than the Momentums in the highest octave, but are more rolled off in the mid-treble area.   This means that how the treble is perceived really depends on what frequency it falls in

 

However, the above doesnt really tell the full story.   We dont listen to bass, mids or highs separately, we listen to them as an overall whole, and the characteristic of a headphone (or speaker) is defined by how the three are integrated.

 

Compared to the HP50s, the Momentums are notably darker in the highest octave, and this affects the timbre of instruments.    Listening to Solti's stirring rendition of Dvorak's 9th, the horn in the first movement was weighty and clear, but not bright, on the HP50s.     In Dutoit's performance of Danse Macabre, the improved high treble response of the HP50s gave the instruments a little more bite and realism, causing them to sound more 3-dimensional and lifelike (think about the audio equivalent of seeing a sculpture and a photo  of the sculpture).     

 

However, for  certain treble frequencies, the HP50 was quite a bit darker than the Momentums - eg, the prologue to Khatchaturian's Gayaneh, the brass is fairly bright (although tolerable) on the Momentums, but a lot better behaved and in-your-face on the HP50s.  In the  climax of Munch's Bolero, the trumpets were starting to get a little shrieky on the Momentums, but again, a lot more tolerable on the HP50s.     In Miles Davis's "So What" (from the high-res HD Tracks version), the trumpet was a little more piercing and the cymbals a little more forwards in the Momentum - the HP50s took away the shrieky edge of the trumpet and the cymbals were a little more shimmery.    I can imagine that someone who can handle a little more treble may actually prefer the Momentum's presentation, but not me.    

 

The treble dip in the HP50s falls pretty much in the exact range where I find many headphones to get unbearably bright (TH600s, I am looking at you).  I remember reading that this is also the resonant frequency of the ear canal, and if so, it makes sense to put a notch there, to compensate for the transfer function of the ear.    Whatever the reason, it certainly works.

 

For the same reasons as above, I found the HP50's presentation to be a lot better when it came to reproducing an orchestra going full tilt.   That being said, both these headphones sound congested compared to the HD800s or the LCD2, but the sound was smoother on the HP50s

 

In terms of slam and dynamism, no contest.  HP50s.   Whether it was the first movement of Dvorak's 9th, or Ozawa's hair-raising performance of Rite of Spring, the HP50s went "SLAM" while the Momentums went "Slam"

 

Taken by itself, the bass of the Momentums goes deeper, especially the last octave.    The organ in Saint Saen's Symphony #3 makes this clear.   The Momentums also have slightly more body in the mid and upper bass.     The drums on Metallica's "One" or Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" have more impact on the Momentum,

 

However, the better high treble of the HP50s actually improves the attack/decay of a lot of instruments and their timbre, causing them to sometimes end up being more distinct despite not being as forward.

 

The best analogy i can think of this - imagine making a drawing with a gray crayon on white paper.    The Momentum's picture is drawn with a darker gray crayon;  however, the HP50's picture has its boundary sketched with a fine-tipped black brush.   So it presents a greater contrast and stands out better.     That's what happens with these 2 headphones.

 

So the drums in Bolero were a lot more forward in the Momentum but felt a little more distinct with the HP50s.    Similarly, in "Run to the Hills", the overall sound was livelier, due to the better high-treble response.     The starting riffs of Metallica's One had more bite, as well.   Guitar notes in Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" had more air and attack/decay with the HP50s.  

 

On Byron Janis's solo  reading of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the treble on the piano was a little more pronounced on the HP50s, but had more overall body, and also, the notes seemed to hang in the air a little better.   Same thing with the initial 'tolling bells' in Danse Macabre.

 

The HP50s also have a more pronounced mid-range, especially lower mid-range.    Vocals, especially male, are a lot more full-bodied with the HP50s, while on the Momentums, they sound more lean.   Pavarotti's voice in "O Sole Mio" is extremely rich, sort of the way it would sound when listening in a room - in the Momentum's, it is probably a little more accurate and better balanced, but sounds a little leaner.     The same thing happened listening to "Comfortably Numb" by Floyd.    Even female vocals - eg, Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly - felt more treble-weighted with the Momentums vs the HP50s, although this was more a case of the former being more neutral.     

 

I think this is where the whole "sounding like a pair of speakers" kicks in.    Male voices sound richer in a room than in an anechoic chamber, and the HP50s approach the former ideal, while the Momentums are probably more accurate.   Which one you prefer is up to you - i certainly prefer the former.

 

From a soundstage point of view, I really couldnt tell a huge difference.   The different sonic presentation will probably affect perceived soundstage, but after listening to properly set-up speakers, I find that trying to obsess about soundstage in headphones is the equivalent to polishing a turd:  not really worth the effort (the HD800s are the only exception, but this isnt about them).

 

Overall, i think it is pretty obvious which of the two i prefer - the HP50s by a very clear margin.   Heck, I'd rather listen to them than the Fostex TH600s.    These are outstanding headphones.

post #2 of 17

Good writeup.  Nice and honest without the usual audiophile fluff. 

post #3 of 17

Really fantastic review. Thanks.

post #4 of 17

This deserves more attention. Great review.

post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the kind words :)

post #6 of 17
Very good review. Precise, thoughtful, and imaginative. Consider using some of the material as a separate HP50 product review as I think many would be interested in your approach. Thanks.
post #7 of 17
Thread Starter 
^^ Thanks for that idea. I'll do so over the weekend and post it here.
post #8 of 17
If you are not a professional writer you should be. If you are a professional writer please tell me where I can find a copy of your books.This review has humor,wit and a clear description of what this headphone is capable of. I enjoyed every word. Excellent review. The best I have read on these forums since I have been a member.
post #9 of 17

If you purchase the FiiO X5 let me know how they are with the HP50's .. I'm about to set myself for long trips with this type of rig and particularly with some of the recordings you tested it with ( be it classical ,rock, blues, jazz etc..) . I also have some IEM's from Shure which are subpar but work for what I do with them currently. Kudos for your nice review. I almost bought the momentums too here in the KSA.

:beerchug:

post #10 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Francki Conniff View Post

If you purchase the FiiO X5 let me know how they are with the HP50's .. I'm about to set myself for long trips with this type of rig and particularly with some of the recordings you tested it with ( be it classical ,rock, blues, jazz etc..) . I also have some IEM's from Shure which are subpar but work for what I do with them currently. Kudos for your nice review. I almost bought the momentums too here in the KSA.
beerchug.gif
I don't know if this would help you or not but I will receive delivery of my HP50 today. I will be testing them with my DX90. Presently I'm using grado G10 iem's but I want a set of headphones and the HP50 seems to fit the bill. I'll try to post the results later.
post #11 of 17

cool deal that'll work thanks!. I think the HP50's are  very promising considering some of the posts on them here and elsewhere.

post #12 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Francki Conniff View Post
 

cool deal that'll work thanks!. I think the HP50's are  very promising considering some of the posts on them here and elsewhere.

The HP50 was delivered to me yesterday. My first impression (without burn in) was not very good.

These babies creak like crazy as you're wearing them–you know that awful, hollow, terse hard plastic-on-hard plastic sound. Just clinching my teeth can elicit a groan from them. 

Definitely not that match made in heaven with the DX90. Considering the iBasso uses two sabre dacs instead of the warmer wolfson dac it sounds veiled and too warm. Not that detailed.

I might expect it from the warmer more analog wolfson but not the brighter sounding sabre. Maybe I have a bad headphone.

I’ll continue to use the G10 and the HD650 with the DX90 until I find the right portable headphone for this player. Does anyone else have this problem or does it sound like I have a defective HP50.

Would be willing to return these and get another pair to try. The G10's sound amazing. Killer detail monster with the DX90. Now where is that headphone.    


Edited by glockhit - 4/26/14 at 9:34pm
post #13 of 17

I just toyed around with mine and tried to simulate exactly what your describing. at first I don't notice it but once on my head what your talking about I hear only of course when no player plugged in. I tried to make them "Creak" at the point of almost breaking but I didn't get that to happen but I didn't get the hollow  effect like I said when they were without sound. Not sure if this will help you. I hope its that they are defective and not just poor design.

post #14 of 17

Yeah I am disappointed by HP50 as well, after reading all the reviews.

 

I also hear the creaky sound from the plastic. Even worse, they are more prominent from the side the connector is plugged in so they are not balanced. It is very annoying to me personally.

 

In term of the sound, they sound somewhat congested with small sound stage and bloated mid bass. They certainly sound alright with modern pops (those in Apple stores for example), but they are not good with classical or complex music as they have very little layering.

 

I was hoping to replace my T70p with these but T70p sound way more open and transparent. With some EQ, I can make my T70p sound warmer and richer, but there is no apparent way for me to make HP50 more open.

post #15 of 17

Join the club!

 

No heart feelings or disrespect to the maker of HP50 and everyone who adores them but I too was mislead by the numerous high praises online especially InnerFidelity. That just confirm one thing to me when it comes to sound..trust no one but only your ear. :popcorn:

 

My other post regarding HP50 would explain the situation.

 

Ps: if you decided to give it a go please  allow some time to burn in. It does get better ..than you decide.

 

Cheers

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