I have been seeking open headphones that have the qualities of transparency, openness, and immersiveness that my Sennheiser HD 598s do, but even more so. I also wanted them to shine on an iPod Touch 5G with no amp. I devised a set of 10 comparative tests (4 that are of an overall quality nature that do not depend a lot on the music being played; 6 that compare the clarity of specific acoustic "events" in certain music). I describe the test methods more fully here http://www.head-fi.org/t/704826/how-do-you-audition-compare-headphones#post_10340917 .
I chose the Grado PS 500 and the HiFiMan HE500 as candidates based on descriptions here and elsewhere indicating promise in meeting my desires. I used three pieces of music (Song 1 - rock with two singers, guitar, bass, and drums, Song 2 - jazz with very small group of vocalist, piano, bass, and shaker, and Song 3 - bombastic classical with organ and orchestra).
Rather than trying to give an absolute score to each headphone for each criterion, I simply rank ordered them, based on back-and-forth pairwise listening for each test and each pair of the three headphones (took between and hour and an hour and a half). The iPod Touch 5G was used without amplifier.
The overall, or "macro tests," were briefly (more detail in post cited above):
- Size, both horizontal and vertical, of sound stage;
- Resolution of position of two persons singing near each other;
- Volume of headphone with iPod turned up all the way.
The event-based tests were:
- "Twang" of drumhead at entrance to Song 1;
- Preservation of features allowing me to determine pitch of bass notes in Song1 Verse 3)
- Finger pluck at start of bass notes at start of Song 2;
- Clarity of shaker, preserving differences of each shake, in Song 2 Verse 3;
- "Ripping" sound characteristic of horns and medium low reed organ pipes at start of Song 3;
- Ability to hear additional echoing chord stacked upon a huge bombast of sustained full orchestra and organ four beats later, in about third "verse" of Song 3.
Here is the result of my comparison. A 3 indicates that headphone was the best of the three in that test and contributes 3 points to an eventual headphone score totaled at the end... a 1 means it was the worst.
|Test||Grado PS-500||HiFiMan HE-500||Sennheiser HD-598|
|Width of sound st||1||3||3|
|Bass pitch perception||3||2||1|
|Bass finger pluck||3||1||1|
|"Ripping" of organ/brass||3||1||2|
|Discern added chord||3||2||1|
So for what was looking for, which is what the test criteria try to measure, the Grado at 24 points was significantly ahead of the HiFiMan, at 19 points, and my reference Sennheiser, at 17 points.
An earlier qualitative test confirmed part of this... I had spent an extended time listening to both the HiFiMan and the Sennheiser, and though I entered the store planning to buy the HiFiMan, my listening convinced me that it was not really that different from my Sennheiser toward meeting my goals, so I ended up not buying it. I later learned of the PS-500, defined the test, performed it with all three headphones, and have now bought the Grado PS-500. One week and many listening hours later, I continue to be delighted with the PS-500.
Edited by ruthieandjohn - 4/5/14 at 7:33pm