I have been around head-fi to read opinions about headphones but never participate in any review. So today I decided to post my very first review on the vintage gear I have. Would be great if you could write something about your system as well.
This review is a comparison between Sennheiser HD540 reference, HD540 reference II, HD800, Yamaha YH-100, Beyerdynamic DT990 (600ohm), and Koss elctrostatic ESP9.
In this review, I use the Pioneer SX1250 as an amplifier, the Sony X707ES as source for CD.
The way I will describe these phone is going to be different from any classic review. Actually, I will try describe them as your experience with people around your daily life. Sounds weird but I think it will help a lot of people on making their decision on their purchase
First, to my ear, the difference between the HD540 and the HD540 reference II is very small if there is or nothing at all. I would say that the refernce II might be slightly bright, but the level of perception of this brightness is really really small that I personnally wouldn't worry to get one or the other if that makes you feel more confident. The only thing is that I like the HD540 reference better because it has the writing on the headband while the reference II only have a green square. Nowhere on headphone says HD540 except on the earcups but it doesn't affect its sound. Just a personal preference.
Anyway let's go ahead to the description of the sound. I would describe the sound of HD540 as someone that look simple, intelligent and someone with whom you would like to spend the rest of your life. You feel very comfortable with it and you really feel like you don't need anything else. Everything is accurate, no boomy bass, no overexaggerated frequency response. The sound is very impactfull and natural. Very details and clean at a level where you do not care to have more. No coloration, very firm. You can tell that it is a very serious headphone and very well engineered. It is like someone you have a good conversation with and someone you feel like you would love to build your future with....until the DT990 come across your way...
So when you meet the DT990, then you may forgot about the HD540 for a while. I would describe the DT990 as a someone sexy that comes into your life and distract you from your daily life and you will think it is the best thing. This phone will definitely blow your mind with its soundstage, very wide and with bass that goes deep. Yes it is fun, but you know what??, after a while, when you come back to the HD540, then you start to realize that something is missing. Something doesn't play right. You would wanna go back to your wife the HD540 to look for this comfort and this interesting conversation. The DT990 plays good with instrumental music but in my opinion that's all it does. It doesn't play it the right way it is suppose to be when someone is singing. I mean it really sound good if you listen to it but only it's when you compare the sound with the HD540 then you feel like it has this slight echo sort of sound that doesn't sound right. Some people may think that it is the reflection from the recording room but I think it is more related to the headphone itself, the way it sound. You might go out with it once in a while but, I am pretty sure you will come back to your HD540.
The yh100 is like a classic rich person who think is very important because someone say so or because he works with an important well known company. Everyone want to hang out with, very superficial. I mean it is an orthodynamic and it is an old yamaha so it must be good. My first impression is how small and congested the soundstage is. Yes, the bass goes deep, even deeper than the DT990 and definitely has different sound signature. The sound is not bad at all, it has its own character, it's not bright, and very clear but I feel like overall it sounds slightly muddy. I feel like you really have to make a lot of effort to like this headphones. If you read forums, they give you possibilities of damping to improve the quality of sound. It's like you go out with someone because he/she is rich and you want to be important and you try really hard to believe that this person is very interesting and you should stick with him/her because may be it will be worth it. It is good to try, you will have fun and a very different lifestyle (I refer this to different sound signature) but then after a while you will get tired of it because you tried very hard (you did some sort of mod etc. but then you prefer the original damping) but then when you see the HD540 then again you think you had a great time with the YH-100 but the HD540 is your home.
Now comes the old electrostatic ESP9. I would describe it like some sort of an handsome old rich and very charming person (riding in a convertible car during spring) with a very interesting personnality. It is physically built very well. He may or may not look ugly compare to someone young (modern headphones) but he has a lot of charm than most of the time he uses to attract young people. He will charm you with his stories and his great sens of humour. Stories you never heard before. This headphones will reveal all the details in the recording with clear and very clean sound. Its sound is very smooth and non fatiguing and you will hear everything during recording. It will knock down any bad recording for sure. Compare to the above headphones, the ESP9 has more details and is the more clean. It could be because it is an electrostatic. He will show you how important, superior and sophisticated he is. The charm of his sound will blow your mind, until again you try again the dynamic headphones (DT990 and HD540). Then you realize that you live in a different generation where the slam of the bass is matter. The bass in the ESP9 is very deep, even deeper than the YH-100, I have never heard headphones that goes as deep and very articulate and clean in my life. None of the dynamic or orthodynamic headphones above have such clean and deep bass. They might have deep but not very deep and ususally muddy compare to the ESP9. But the problem with the ESP9 is that it lacks this impact or may be loudness/boom of bass you would excpect from headphones. The HD540 is not bass heavy nor boomy at all but compare to ESP9, it has this wonderful impact of bass you want to hear. Another thing I do not like with the ESP9 is the clamping force and its weight. Dude, its is really heavy and not comfortable to wear. But again as the story goes, you feel like your home is still the HD540.
I also had a chance to compare the HD800 to my headphones on my system for less than three hours listening session. I can tell you that in term of details and clarity, I was surprised by the capacity of the Koss ESP9. This guy is very superior and goes really deep. However, like with the HD540, the HD800 has more life to my ears. But for analytical listening, I am sorry but ESP9 win long way. The acoustic is amazingly superiour with the ESP9 and all these headphones sounds grainy and muddy compare to the ESP9. Compare to HD540, both have their quality but I find the HD800 brighter. May be I am just so used to my HD540, but there is something with the HD540 that I like a lot. I don't mean that HD800 sound bad, it is just that there is something in the HD540 that is hard to describe. The HD800 is a great headphones but compare to my above headphones, I think it is overpriced. If I have to value the sound quality, to be honest, if the HD800's worth $1500 then the HD540's should be $1400, DT990's $1350, ESP9's $2000 and YH100's 1000. Anyway, I am not surprised at all if Sennheiser built the HD540 Gold. I never heard the gold but I bet it has the same sound signature as my HD540.