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.