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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 applied these tests as reported in an earlier post, here, http://www.head-fi.org/t/708912/comparing-grado-ps-500-hifiman-he-500-and-sennheiser-hd-598-quasi-objective-tests#post_10341007 ,  to compare the Grado PS500, the HiFiMan HE500, and (again) the Sennheiser HD 598.

 

This time, I chose the Beats Studio 2013 (agreed to be far better than the original Beats Studio) and the Beats Pro over-ear headphones.  Beats Studio has active noise cancellation; Beats Pro does not.  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):

 

  • Transparency;
  • 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 Sennheiser HD 598 Beats Studio 2013 Beats Pro
Transparency 3 1 2
Width of sound st 3 1 2
Positional resolution 2 3 1
Volume 1 3 2
Drum "twang" 3 2 1
Bass pitch perception 3 1 2
Bass finger pluck 3 2 1
Shaker variation 3 1 2
"Ripping" of organ/brass 3 1 2
Discern added chord 3 1 2
TOTAL 27 16 17

 

So for what I was looking for, which is what the test criteria try to measure, the Sennheiser at 27 points was significantly ahead of the Beats Studio 2013, at 16 points, or the Beats Pro, at 17 points.  However, the Beats Pro was better in different areas (transparency, sound stage width, bass pitch perception) than then Beats Studio 2013, which was better than the Pro in positional resolution (!), the "twang" timbre of the drum, and the attack of the finger on the bass string.

 

Though the points don't show it, for most cases in which the Sennheiser was 3 and the Beats Pro was 2 (e.g., transparency, sound stage width, bass pitch perception), the two were very close, with the Beats Studio clearly worse.  Hence, I would place more distance between the quality of the Beats Pro and the Beats Studio 2013 than the one point shown in the table.

 

All that said, I find that for "natural" music, i.e. recorded ensembles of acoustic instruments, I prefer the Sennheiser (and, from the other comparison, even more the Grado PS500s); however, for "synthetic" music, heavy in electronic and amplified instruments, in particular hip-hop and rap, I prefer the Beats.  For example, in "Throwback" by B.o.B., the deep bass that enters with the second repetition of the first section picks me up by the neck and shakes me with the Beats, as it should, but merely politely introduces itself with the Sennheiser.  I think that this means that for those whose tastes include hip-hop, as mine do, need some tests beyond the 10 indicated in the table to perform this assessment.  Either that or simply use special headphones for such music, e.g., Beats.

 

Next on my list is to perform a similar comparison with the Beats Pro (the better of the closed Beats headphones), the NAD hp50 (my more traditional high-quality closed headphones), and again the Sennheiser HD 598, as an anchor point to all tests.


Edited by ruthieandjohn - 4/15/14 at 8:14pm