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Recommend top SQ open headphone for iPod not needing amp?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

I found a few extra funds and want to get the "best-sounding" headphones possible, subject to the following constraints:


  • Open over-the-ear;
  • No amplifier needed if driven by iPod/iPhone;
  • Cord compatible with iPhone use (i.e. 3.5mm plug, less than 4 foot length, as bonus could have volume/transport control in cord).


I already have the Sennheiser HD 598 and have replaced its 10 foot 1/4" jack cord with the 3.5 ft 3.5mm jack one that Sennheiser introduced about a year ago for their HD 5x8 series.


I find I'm very fond of the open sound of the HD 598s, and in auditioning some HiFiMan H 400HEs, I found that they were even more enjoyable in that way.  I suspect that they require an amplifier.  If the step up to the HE 500s is even better, I'm willing to spend the funds for them (but not if they require a big amp).


Cost is not particularly an object, but convenience is... I want something I can listen to music while doing other things (modest household chores, not strenuous exercise).  Hence I do not want something requiring an amp (unless the postage-stamp-sized Fiio E06 is adequate) or even have to contend with a 10 foot cord and adapter from a 1/4 plug.  I am NOT looking for something where I dress up, sit in a chair, and Listen To Music through a corded ensemble of headphones, amps, and the like.


Is there anything better in this direction of openness than the Sennheiser HD 598s I already have?  Sennheiser HD 600s and HD 650s sounded attractive until I read that to really benefit from iPod input, I should add an amplifier (besides, I suspect that iPod cord that I have only goes on the HD 5x8 series... even has that designation in its part number).  The head-fi.org "Portable Headphone" reviews of 111 such headphones place Beyerdynamic DT 1350, the Audio Technica ATH ES-10, the V-MODA Crossfade  M/80 / V-80, and the Sennheiser HD-25 1.II at the top of the sound quality list.  However, inspection shows that at least some of these are closed not open, and none cost more than $400 (no, not looking to spend more if I don't have to, but I am willing to if it helps).


Thanks for any advice you can give. 


P.S.  I enjoy ALL types of music, from last week's new hip-hop to brittle classical from the time of Adam and Eve played on dusty original instruments .

post #2 of 10

Avoid the HD600 and HD650. When the power was out I needed my iPod Touch 3 at max volume to get to a good listening level on my HD600, and the treble was grainy, bass was either not there/lacked impact but bass guitar and double-pedal drums were blurred (slurred?) due to distortion. A CMOY doesn't help much and that's using a 9v battery larger than the E06.


If you're willing to spend on a top SQ headphone why not another $250 on a portable player like the Ibasso DX50? That has as much power as most portable amps in its price range; although I have to admit your saying you have an iPhone makes me apprehensive about how you can use this since it doesn't use iTunes. Why not an amp that's a little wider, not necessarily that much thicker, and use a closed headphone, that way it won't be trying to get loud over a higher noise floor of you doing chores instead of dressing up and sitting down just listening?


Or why not an IEM for that matter? Get the right tips for it and you usually won't really need an amp. My Aurisonics ASG-1 doesn't sound any better off my Ibasso D-Zero over my laptop's soundcard (although using the volume knob instead of Windows control makes it much easier to use), and in fact my preferred device to pair with it is my iPad.

post #3 of 10

Don't think you'll find an open headphone with a short cord.

post #4 of 10
Originally Posted by davidsh View Post

Don't think you'll find an open headphone with a short cord.


You can always replace the cable.

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by davidsh View Post

Don't think you'll find an open headphone with a short cord.
davidsh, I fear you are right.

After eliminating the Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 650 because of their need for an amplifier, I happened upon the HiFiMan HE 500, which can operate from an iPod source without an amp, are open, and are very well regarded. I had also enjoyed their sibling, the HE400, and the HE 500 were reported to sound even better.

Even better, my local audio store had just gotten a pair of HE 500, for which they apologized for only having them for two days and not having them burned in.

But in comparison listening against my own Sennheiser HD 598s open over-ear headphones, I could not reliably hear a difference, much less determine whether the HE 500 had better sound quality! I could tell a slight difference, but small enough that if I were subjected to a blind test, I would probably only declare a difference 75% of the time.

Well, maybe I need an amp after all. Let's go beyond the HE 500s by listening to something even better - top headphone in the store, the HiFiMan HE-6 ($1,399), powered by the HiFIMan ER-6 amp ($1,599).

Nope! side by side against my Sennheisers, I could not hear a reliable difference, much less perceive a quality advantage.

Drat! I was ready to buy, if only I could hear a marked improvement in the HE 500s over my Sennheiser HD 598s. Casting about for SOME higher-quality open headphone to buy, I even tried their Grado PS-500.

Not only could I not hear a difference and would likely need the amp I was trying to avoid, the HiFiMan 500 had a 10 foot cord with a 1/4" connector, requiring some sort of adaptation for the iPod.

So I conclude that for top-quality iPod sound, I cannot do better than my Sennheiser HD598s, no amplifier, with the Sennheiser 4 foot 3.5mm cord (the HD 5x8).
Edited by kayandjohn - 4/6/14 at 7:28am
post #6 of 10
Seems you are in a sweet middle spot then. That's good, though it would be interesting to see what'd happen after a month of ownership of a hi end headphone setup.
Enjoy what u got, we are not all alike!
post #7 of 10
The Hifimans would sound quite different unamped compared to normal (amped).
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 
Further introspection helped me understand what I was looking for in an upgraded headphone... I wanted to repeat the revelation I experienced when I heard good headphones for the first time. When I first heard my Sennheiser HD 598s, I first experienced the expansive soundstage of an open headphone, and the "transparency" of hearing my recordings through nearly clear glass, rather than the slightly-cloudy yellowish aged plexiglass of my prior headphones.

So my new headphones needed to extend further in the same direction pointed by the HD 598s - immersive broad sound stage with good localization, and even clearer glass, approaching an open window, through which to "view" my music.

In short, I was seeking improvements in both spatial and frequency resolution.

As I stated above, I could not hear enough difference between the HiFiMan HE 500 vs. the Sennheiser HD 598 I already had to justify paying three times as much. Furthermore, HE 500 was beginning to appear as a bit of a spoiled brat, having wires accused of microphonics and being fussy about just which preamp fed it (read somewhere at least 1 W per channel). So when I listened to its big brother, the ultimate HiFiMan system of HE 6 with the EF 6 amp and costing another 5 times as much as the HE 500 (and 15 times my HD598s), and when I could not hear enough of a difference against my HD 598s, I stopped considering the HE 500s.

Reading here and elsewhere suggested that the Grado PS 500s might meet my criteria of open, immersive, and transparent. And there they were at my audio shop, just a couple of slots over from the HE 500 I had spent well over an hour listening to. They were said to be bright, but not as bright as other Grados, and there were some folks stating they were the best headphones they had heard, even better than the Sennheiser HD 800s (who had their own reputation for fussiness!).

This time, I conceived a 10-point test regimen, including such macro features as transparency, ability to resolve positions of either musician in a duet, and volume from my iPod 5th Gen source, as well as acoustic "events" in my three test songs such as ability to actually hear the finger strike the bass string, ability to hear the actual pitch of notes of the bass part with sufficient precision to transcribe them, and the ability to hear the entrance of a particular instrument amidst the loud complicated sound of sustained organ with symphonic orchestra.

I tested my Sennheiser HD 598, the HiFiMan HE 500, and the Grado PS 500. For each test, I simply ranked each headphone against the others (e.g., PS 500 gave the most transparency, followed by the HE 500, with HD 598 being the least transparent. I awarded three points for first place, one point for last place, and two points for in the middle, for each of the 10 tests. Hence, a headphone winning all categories would get 30 points (3 x 10). (I plan to actually post the tests and results in more detail in a dedicated thread.)

My tests gave the Grado PS 500 24 points (out of a possible 30), the HiFiMan HE 500 got 19 points, and the Sennheiser HD 598 got 17 points. This kind of confirmed my earlier suspicion that for me, the HiFiMan (which in my test a few days ago was actually the big-brother HE6 with EF 6 amp) was not all that different from my Sennheiser.

I recognize several problems with these tests. The PS 500 had been on demo display for close to a year, probably accumulating over 100 hours of burn in. The HE 500 was less than a week old... negligible burn in. None of the headphones had an amp in this test... At least the HE 500 and maybe the PS 500 could have benefitted, as I was driving them with my iPod Touch 5G (iPod Touch 5G has about the lowest output impedance of the iThings, at 0.73 ohms, so it is quite able to drive headphones of modest impedance).

End result? I bought the Grado PS500, namely the burned in demo unit that I had tested. (Earlier, I had also bought the demo unit of the NAD hp 50 closed headphones, also burned in, and was fine with the concept of knowing what I got, at least until I read a phrase earlier on this thread about previously-worn headphones having grease from pimple hairs on their ear pads!).

I love them so far. Cannot even bear taking them off long enough to recharge my iPod (and it is complaining). I am adding more and more to this post, written as I am listening to them, to avoid the next thing I have to do for which I must take them off. I also purchased a set of the large (G, "bagel") ear pads that I will soon try. Eventually, I will purchase a portable amp and DAC for these as well (may be a good birthday present for my PS 500s in a year) but I am delighted with just the three of us... PS 500, iPod Touch 5G, and myself... for now.
Edited by kayandjohn - 3/4/14 at 8:24pm
post #9 of 10
Very nice. That's the way it's supposed to be.
post #10 of 10
And then you ended up with ps500 of all headphones... Well, some like Grado, some don't. Congratulations!
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