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Finding the perfect starter headphones - comfort and balance

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

Hey all,

 

Been lurking the forums here for awhile and I figured it was high time that I pick up my first pair of "real" headphones. Gone are the days of accepting mediocre sound quality and letting myself get swayed by marketing techniques. Onward to hi-fi!

 

I've narrowed down what I'm looking for to the following;

 

Style: Over the head

Cup: Circumaural

Pad: Would prefer velour, not opposed to modding/swapping pads

Price: <$150

Usage: Probably 75% music (LOTS of techno/dance, alternative, and rock/metal), 25% PC videogames (onboard audio, ASUS motherboard), VERY occasional movie. 

Like to have: open/semi-open (so I can hear my coworkers), travel pouch, decent warranty (2 year+), SUPER comfortable (could wear them all day).

Sound: Large soundstage, natural with maybe softer highs as my ears are a bit sensitive to high frequencies. 

 

 

Phones under consideration;

Audio Technica ATH-AD700

Sennheiser HD555

Creatuve Auravana Live! 2

 

I can't find ANY of these locally to test out (with the exception of the ATH-M50s which did nothing for me). So I think I'll be buying blindly and just based on strong recommendations. I'm open to cheaper alternatives if they meet most of my requirements. The biggest thing for me is comfort. I have some piercings that tend to get bothered by tight fitting headphones and stiff ear pads; on-ear phones are pretty much out of the question. If I can find something that I can wear for 4-5 hours with zero discomfort, that would be a big win. 8 hour gaming sessions are also a definite possibility. 

 

I'll be completely honest here, I'm more than a little in love with the idea of getting some ATH-AD700s but they seem to be out of production? I can only find them on ebay and they're going for much more than their oft recommended price point. Are those things still worth consideration at $130-160 or should I be looking elsewhere instead? 

 

Ok, enough blabbing. Go ahead and hit me with all you got!

 

Oh, and thanks in advance!

post #2 of 25

How about the Philips Fidelio L1? They are over ear, semi open, and have a great sound stage. 

post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by halfinfinity View Post
 

How about the Philips Fidelio L1? They are over ear, semi open, and have a great sound stage. 

Those look like a solid contender. I will have to check out some reviews, thanks for the suggestion!

 

I am tempted to add some Monster headphones to the list of potentials. I'm used to Monster selling drastically overpriced accessories and cables but it seems that their DNA and VEKTR models are reviewing pretty nicely for the price.

post #4 of 25

They really are. Why not check out the innerfidelity review here. Or the headfonia review here. But it's always good to see what is being said around here, too. 

 

I've had a recent listen (on top of many others) of the Monster models. VEKTR was meh, and the DNA wasn't much better. Honestly, it's really a matter of opinion. The main thing is to get to listen to the headphones before purchasing them. 

post #5 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by halfinfinity View Post

They really are. Why not check out the innerfidelity review here. Or the headfonia review here. But it's always good to see what is being said around here, too. 

I've had a recent listen (on top of many others) of the Monster models. VEKTR was meh, and the DNA wasn't much better. Honestly, it's really a matter of opinion. The main thing is to get to listen to the headphones before purchasing them. 

I totally agree with the final sentence. Usually on forums or reviews on Head-Fi, you will see comparisons like this is better than that, or that is better than this. If you don't have or never listened to one of them, how would you know the other is better? Definitely try headphones out first before buying them, it helps save a lot of money.
post #6 of 25
AD-700s would not be a good choice for EDM. They are often perceived as bass light and do not have the deepest bass extension.

The HD555 is no longer in production. How about the HD558?
post #7 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote (me in OP):

I can't find ANY of these locally to test out (with the exception of the ATH-M50s which did nothing for me). 

 

I live in a rural-ish area and there are maybe 2 or 3 music shops within an hour's drive and they don't carry a particularly wide selection. I WAS able to test out a few models but unfortunately none of the ones that I'm really interested in. The ATH-M50s sounded nice but I felt like I got there was just no depth. Plus, they made my ears hot with only 10 minutes of usage, though they were comfortable enough aside from that. I've listened to a few Beats phones, and Skullcandy, Sony, Turtle Beach, and whatever else they tend to carry at Best Buy and Target. Believe me, I'd LOVE to test out these cans in person and try before I buy but that just isn't a real option for me, I'm surrounded by general consumer goods. I WILL, however, read the crap out of reviews and listen to the advice of folks who have been in the same situation. 

 

Quote:
 AD-700s would not be a good choice for EDM. They are often perceived as bass light and do not have the deepest bass extension.

Would EQ be able to compensate for the light bass? I'm not a big bass head, although I DO enjoy some dubstep now and then. Is the bass on the AD700s enough for most genres and some video games? 

 

I just noticed that the 555 was supplanted by the 558, still good phones by most reviews. I'll keep an eye out for those next time I'm shopping around and see if I can get a listen, seems a lot of shops carry Sennheiser gear.

 

Keep the advice coming! :)


Edited by ZionExpress - 4/8/14 at 6:56am
post #8 of 25
Um, from experience, the AD700s aren't good for anything bass intensive or requires bass. The Sennheiser 558 is warmer than the AD700.
post #9 of 25
Thread Starter 

So I've collected a number of headphones and figured out a bit more about my listening preferences.

 

I currently have,

ATH-AD700

Bose AE2

Creative Aurvana Live! 2

JVC s400

Monoprice 8320 (IEMs)

*Added Sennheiser 558 below*

 

What I'm looking for (in order of importance);

Comfort

Punchy bass

Separation

Decent sound stage

3.5mm plug that fits through my phone case

Portability

 

AD700s:

+ Crazy comfy ear pads

+ Nice overall sound and separation

+ Can easily hear coworkers when volume is at 1/4 or lower

- 3.5mm plug is huge

- Weak bass (as mentioned by others)

- Phones are HUGE and not portable in the least

 

AE2s:

+ Most comfortable of the bunch

+ Decent sound, more bass than AD700 but not that punchy

+ 3.5mm fits PERFECTLY with my phone case

+ FREE (from my dad)

+ Small and easy portability

- Cord is too thin for my liking, keep feeling like I'm going to break the thing

- Feel flimsy in general

- Sound feels a bit muted overall, have to crank the volume to hear details

 

Creative Aurvana Live! 2:

+ Very stylish

+ Fairly comfortable, second to Bose

+ Greater sound detail than Bose

+ Bass has good presence but lacks punch

+ Tangle-free cord

+ Built in mic/volume control might come in handy?

+ Folds flat for travel, carry pouch

+/- 3.5mm BARELY fits in my phone, maybe just a tiny bit too big

- No "plain" cord without mic/volume controls

- Borderline too big for regular travel/portability

- Fairly strong clamping, hope it loosens up a bit

- Totally unaware of what's happening around me, isolation is TOO good?

 

JVC s400:

+ Holy cow these things sound great!

+ Delicious, punchy bass, great detail, FUN.

+ Fold up very nicely, very portable

+ SUPER cheap!

+ Easily the best sounding in the bunch.

+ 3.5mm fits nicely

- Most uncomfortable of the bunch, also :(

- Cord is a bit on the short side

- White plastic scuffs easily (my own mistake)

- On-ear, more painful for me due to piercings

 

Monoprice 8320s: (these are really just my backups but I'll include for fun)

+ Great sound (especially for the price!)

+ Easy for travel

+ Mildly comfortable with the right tips

- Tangles like it's their job

- Lacking in the bass dpt

- Fabric covered cord is noisy and distracting

- Bit too shrill for my liking

 

TL;DR

I LOVE the sound of the s400s but they are too damn uncomfortable for me to use as my daily phones. My dream phones would sound like s400, fit like the Bose, cost under $150 and be good for travel between work and home.

 

I'm thinking of ordering some HD558s from Amazon to test out for a few days. How would they compare to the s400? I've heard folks say that the HD558s are lacking in the bass department (though not as bad as the AD700s).. :/

 

The adventure continues! Thanks in advance for the sage advice you guys! :)

 

ETA: I got a pair of Sennheiser HD558s to add to the comparison.

 

Sennheiser HD 558:

+ SUPER comfy! Ear pads are big enough to accommodate my piercings and the material is nice and cool

+ More bass than I expected, on par with my Bose AE2

+ Soundstage is much larger than on the other phones (except the AD700)

+ Removable cord can lock in place

+ Easy mod to make it sound more like a 598 (will try if I keep them)

- 6.3mm plug

- Included 3.5mm adapter is too thick to be practical (high quality at least)

- Clamping is a bit tight, hope it loosens up

- Cups do not fold, not portable

- Bass is adequate but not punchy like the s400, think I can adjust though

- Certain highs have a strange crackle to them, like turning on your VCR (if folks remember what that's like)


Edited by ZionExpress - 4/25/14 at 12:43pm
post #10 of 25
How about the JVC HA-S680?
http://www.head-fi.org/t/690493/the-jvc-ha-s680-s400s-and-s500s-big-brother-is-here
Based on what I have read, seems like they would be closest to the S400 sound, only with more comfort. Probably not as much as the Bose, but worth looking into.

I have not heard the HD558, but from what I understand about them, unlikely that they would have the bass of the S400.
post #11 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

How about the JVC HA-S680?

 

I just noticed that thread! Reading up on it now, they certainly could be just the thing! Any really comprehensive reviews on those phones? If they really sound like an upgraded s400 then I'll buy a pair off ebay before end of day!

:biggrin:

post #12 of 25
That thread is the main information resource I have found about them.

Check and see what they are saying in that thread about switching out for more comfortable pads in case you need even more comfort out of them.

Also, maybe the Phillips L1s? I don't know much about them, but they are supposed to have good bass, are warm sounding (seems like you like that), and they are semi-open (which should give them a good soundstage): http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/handsome-philips-fidelio-l1
post #13 of 25
Thread Starter 

Ugh! Looks like those s680s take their sweet time getting here from Japan (go figure). I might just put those on the back burner for now as I'm on a timer with these other phones and their return windows are closing faster than I like.

I checked out a couple reviews on those Philips L1s and I seems they were pretty hit or miss. I'll look into ordering a pair to test just in case they turn out to be just perfect but to be honest, I'm slowly getting more and more attached to the the CAL!2. I'll hold onto the s400 so I can pull them out when I need some bass in the face.

 

What sort of testing process do you recommend when comparing phones? I've been trying to listen to the same songs from the same source at similar volume levels (or whatever is most comfortable) and I fear I'm just confusing my ears. Should I try to stick to just one pair a day and then switch when I have a good feel for the sound? Switching frequently lets me compare obvious differences like comfort and isolation but I wonder how much of the finer differences are lost as my ears don't get much of a chance to fully adjust.

 

Also, burn in. Listening to these new headphones give me a certain impression but I don't really know what they'll sound like after a week/month+ of constant use. Reviews can shed some light on that but it's really subjective in the end and who knows if my ears will still be in love with the sound after 200 hours.

 

TIA

post #14 of 25
I can listen to my Grado SR225i (which I love) immediately after my HE-400s, and because the signature is so different, they don't sound so good. If I've just listened to one headphone, sometimes I need fifteen minutes or so to adjust to the different sound. This is particularly true of the S400s which are overly warm to me and a little dark; coming after other headphones, they can be very underwhelming to me. But after some listening for a short time, my brain psychologically adjusts to their signature.

I think it's sort of like wine tasting. A good merlot will taste weak and bland directly after a strong cab sav. And vice versa that the cab sav can taste too overpowering if you have been drinking a bottle of merlot. So I think my listening palette needs some time to "cleanse." Thus, I don't try to evaluate headphones against each other back to back, but rather individually on their own merit.
post #15 of 25
Thread Starter 

Wouldn't you know, I'm terrible at wine tasting also :P

Though I get what you're saying and that's what I was worried about. How long do you recommend listening to a pair of headphones to get a good feel for them? 15 Minutes straight? An hour? Same song over and over or a variety? Also, how long of a break should I have in between phones as a palate cleanse? I just want to be sure that get an accurate sample of what the phones have to offer and not have the experience "contaminated" by recent usage. I also don't want to wait TOO long and risk forgetting what the last pair sounded like!

I suppose it's a lot easier to compare a single pair of phones against whatever your current selection is, rather than multiple all at once.

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