Hi, new here. If you care to read how I decided on the DT-880 600 Ohm, then read on. Otherwise, if you can help with an amp recommendation (I'd appreciate it) you can just jump to the bottom. I know there have been exhaustive discussions about this already (and I think I've read them all), but the trouble is half of the amps mentioned either aren't made any more or seem impossible to find. I'd love to get some updated information of current or readily available amps.
I've been doing some intense research for a couple of months looking for a new pair of headphones, and all roads lead here. I'm loving the level of passion for audio here -- I'm a recording engineer (the "engineer" part used very loosely), so I share your passion.
The overall audio experience and requirements in the "pro audio" world are quite different from the audiophile, hi-fi world. It's about flat, accurate monitoring and not really about having a magical aural experience. There's a ubiquitous speaker in studios that you may be familiar with called the Yamaha NS-10. I'm sure you've seen them. They're not expensive, flattering, or fun to listen to, but they have a unique ability to make you work your ass off to get a mix sounding good, and when you play it on other systems you usually hear results for your effort. If everything just sounded great on your speakers, you might not hear (or care about) the deficiencies in a mix, and they wouldn't give you much direction.
That's the idea with "monitor" speakers and phones, but I've been listening like this for a long time and now I want a little magic -- something that sounds the way I'd [I]really[/I] like finished, mastered music to sound. So ideally, something "hi-fi" yet still useful in pro audio. I went through an audiophile phase years ago, but I backed away when I saw what a money pit it would become. I figure headphones are a way to get a bit of that experience at a fraction of the cost. These would mainly be for use in my modest home studio, not for mixing at work (I have a very nice Genelec system for that).
I've heard or had the usual studio headphones, and for the past couple of years I've been using ATH-M40fs and the M50. I won't go into too much detail, but the M40s are like having NS-10s strapped to your head. They sound small and midrangey, but I could trust the mids and everything cuts well when recording. I kept reading great reviews on the M50 as a "bigger" sounding phone, so I bought them blind. Well, they're kind of fun -- there's a nice high sweetness on some material -- but the boomy low mids and bass annoy the hell out of me. To me it's a muddy, murkey mess. Good fun with electronic drums though.
At first I thought spending about $200 US to find something different would be plenty, but I quickly discovered that was at the low end of the spectrum. I considered some pricier models, but after listening to about 6 pair and reading countless pages here, I zeroed-in on the Beyer DT-880s. They seemed to be the best balance of price and fidelity (or sound signature) I was looking for. The other reason I went with the 880 is simply because I was able to try them; I found out it's HARD to find places to audition headphones, and I'm in Los Angeles! I tried a well-known electronics store and they had a very nice headphone station with some great high-end stuff to try -- very surprising! And nothing worked. And nobody knew how to get them working, or seemed interested in fixing it. So I went to a different store of the same chain. And nothing worked. I took matters into my own own hands and got the Senheiser 650s working (they were impressive, but in the end not worth more than twice the 880s… and they had some of the sound I was trying to get away from) and Bowers & Wilkins P7 (which I really liked, but they're $400 and sounded a little consumer-ish). I had to use my iPhone though, so not a fair audition for either.
I then went to a high-end pro audio boutique who were nice enough to let me bother them for a headphone audition. They had about 9 pair, two of which I have, two I know I don't like, and two that were about $1000. That left three: DT-770 Pro, Focal Spirit One, and something from Ultrasone that was similar to the 770 but not as open or sweet. The Focals were really nice and if I were looking for headphones to mix/monitor with, I wouldn't hesitate to buy these. I really liked the 770 sound, but the high end, while beautifully detailed, was a bit much. I wasn't convinced and left empty-handed (big thank you to Chris B. at Vintage King and I hope to be back someday for those awesome Audeze LCD-2s.)
I then went to a popular music store, and it was, "No, we really don't have a way to do that, but here: two boxes are already open so you can try these." They handed me a DT-770 Pro and DT-880 Pro. I milled around a bit, waiting for the salesperson to come out from around the counter and direct me to the "listening station". "Did you listen to them, what did you think?" "No, I was waiting for you." "Oh, do you have an iPhone or something?" "Oh, I should use my phone?... uh, OK."
In the end it was a successful trip after all, since I was able to compare the two. I tried the 770s first, and as soon as I put on the 880s and felt/heard the open-ness, I knew they were more what I had in mind. Like the 770s, I also found them a little too bright, but the highs were smoother. They lacked the upper-bass of the 770s (and it's not like the 770s had an overabundance), but overall they just had more of what I wanted. So I bought the 880 Pro (250 Ohm), but thanks to head-fi I still really wanted to hear the 600 Ohm version, so I ordered them too. I've heard people say there's no sonic difference between them, and all I can say is they weren't listening to the 2 pair I had. The difference to me was much like the difference with the 770s: the 600 Ohm felt more open, a little smoother, but lacked the bass thump of the 250 Ohm Pros. So, right... now there's even less bass than the already deficient 250... but I had to keep them -- there was just too much I liked about them, and I sold the 250 to a friend. For what it's worth, he's a mastering engineer and I really respect his ears. When we compared the 600 to the Pro, we felt exactly the same about the sonic differences we were hearing. He preferred the slightly less spacious soundstage and thicker bass of the 250 Pro, especially since he was going to be using them more in the studio capacity.
The next day I was listening to iTunes with the 600s (iMac > Firewire > Pro Tools Digi 003 interface), and when I used the little iTunes EQ to add just a couple dB bump to the low end (starting at 125Hz), I thought they were close to perfect. Now, unless you're talking about tubes, "burn-in" always sounded like audiophile voodoo to me, but I don't know how else to explain this: over the last week the bass doesn't seem to be lacking as much and the highs are smoothing a bit. In fact, now if I listen to them for a while and then switch on the low-bump EQ, it seems like too much for most songs. I guess I might just be acclimating to them, but my gut tells me they're breaking in, and sounding better.
I would like to tame those highs though. I love the detail, but I'd like more silk. If you're familiar with Donald Fagan's, "The Nightfly" (often cited as a reference in pro audio), then you'll understand when I say that the high-end of the 880 is like that album: pristine, impressive, detailed, clinical, but not always enjoyable to listen to.
So I've explained what I'm looking for - tamer, silky highs and thicker lows. I imagine the soundstage can take a hit if need be since it's already so expansive. And yes, I guess I'm looking for an amp that will color these phones a certain way. If I'd been able to audition a pair that sounded exactly like I wanted them to, then obviously I would've bought those instead. I do really like these Beyers the way they are, but I think they have more potential.
For the record, I have a few different sources and chains I can listen through, and for the most part the sound has been the same:
• iMac > FireWire > Pro Tools Digi003 headphone out
• (or Digi003 S/PDIF out to PreSonus Central Station as DA and HP out)
• Denon CD player on-board headphone out
• Denon CD player S/PDIF out to Central Station
• Tascam DM-24 digital mixing console
• Adcom GTP-400 preamp headphone out
They all provide ample volume, except for maybe the Adcom and the Denon's headphone out, which require the volume to be fairly jacked.
I also have a Matrix Mini-i on the way, not so much as a DA upgrade, but for its flexibility (I have a lot of digital sources now and this will make a great switcher). If the DA is warm, as some people report, and if the headphone out is ample, I might be able to stop there, but I think I've read enough here to know I'm not going to find audio bliss with the Matrix alone. [By the way, there's $100 off on the 2012 model right now (so $210) at Tam Audio. I can't recommend them yet b/c I haven't received my Mini-i yet, but so far communication has been good.
Here are the usual suspects that keep coming up in my research. Some of these aren't in production any longer and I can't find them used. If there are new amps in contention, please pass it on. I need help because I really don't see a way to audition these amps. I'd prefer not to spend more than $300. (A friend of mine spent $400 on Beats a few years ago and I said he was crazy to spend that much on headphones. I've already exceeded that.)
Dark Voice 336SE (or 336i but hard to find)
La Figaro Dark Voice 336 (I gather it's a diff. company by a DV defector?)
Little Dot I+
Little Dot MKII
Build a Bottlehead Crack
Musical Paradise MP-301 MK2
Ming Da MC66-AE
Musical Fidelity V-CAN II (discointinued)
Earmax Pro (no idea where to find)
AudioTailor Jade (no idea where to find)
Woo Audio WA3 (really, out of my price range but if were that much better… maybe)
So far the Dark Voice 336 is my top contender. Really wish I could line them all up and compare. Apparently I just missed the SoCal meet.
Thanks for reading, I know it took a while!