Originally Posted by Minge
I am in the throws of trying to decide what headphones to audition and I am wondering if my taste in speakers or my music taste drive the recommendations more?
Just to add to what billybob_jcv said about usign music genre vs specific characteristics as a basis, the thing is that not even people listening to the same genre (even the same artists) have the same idea of what it should sound like. The problem primarily stems from the fact that there is no transducer or combination of transducers that produce an absolutely flat response, so technically speaking even those who are talking about "flat and neutral" aren't actually listening through headphones or in most cases even speakers that are "flat and neutral" in absolute terms (some speakers get close, but then you have to deal with room modes).
Just as an example, the Sennheisers are always nominated for jazz and very seldom for rock, much less metal. However I find the HD6x0 and even the HD800 great for that kind of music because of the nearly non-existent imaging in Grados. Metal isn't recorded to the same standards as classical music, of course, however when you have a band playing with a synth if not an actual grand piano for the recording, plus choir, a quartet of strings if not also a small brass section (and sometimes, the full orchestra), on top of the basic metal music the Grados seem to be throwing everything at you. Imagine how Kung Fu or European fencing are depicted in anime with E.Hona-like fast stabs and jabs, then imagine watching those blows from a first-person receiver perspective. That's how symphonic metal with a lot of instruments and layers on the recording sounds like on Grados. Plugged into a less-than ideal amplifier though and I'd much rather have the Grados' more exciting sound than however the AKGs and Sennheisers sound like on that same device, like if we're talking about a smartphone. The e-series are even more efficient, not just in terms of loudness but perhaps also a smoother response (maybe also their impedance curves, haven't seen yet either) - i could go louder on my SGS3 driving these than the i-versions without getting peaky treble. Imaging is relatively a huge improvement too - not in any way 3D but at least it doesn't put too many instruments too far forward vs the rest (like the cymbals - they used to sound like they're in front of the vocalist, only dulled in loudness if you're using the closed earpads).
Originally Posted by Minge
I have dynaudio floor standing speakers which are in my opinion are very accurate but can be slightly sterile at times. I listen to mostly classic rock and have a nice marantz preamp and a parasound halo amp in my system.
I haven't heard the specific combo (I liked how the Audience 52 was like driven with my NAD304, with a Marantz CDP as source) but here's another example of how the differences are interpreted in various ways. "Sterile" can mean one of two things: either it lacks dynamic range, particularly with how the percussion is presented, or it lacks warmth.
If one looks at them in another way however it's more likely to be more "neutral with more accurate soundstage." What seems like a lack of dynamic range, particularly with percussion, tends to also image them farther back, where the drums should be; by contrast transducers that hae a lot of impact with the percussion might image them closer to the front, and the perception of the dynamic range is basically just a boosted response in the low midrange and upper bass. "Warmth" is sometimes not always accurate - in some cases for example some people's reference for warmth might be the instruments they heard playing somewhere that isn't an acoustically dampened environment (the opposite can happen also); in other cases, soem instruments may be close to accurate in warmth, but excessively so in others; in some cases it's just excessive all throughout the midrange. I've listened to a lot of systems where the primary recording that the owner or dealer likes using for demonstrating it is Norah Jones' first album, and they're always proud of how she sounds like she has a cold. Even car audio events aren't free of that - some people deal with the sibilance and peaks in that album by EQ-ing the hell out of the treble, when their problem is that the sibilance is actually caused by excessive reflections (they are effectively hearing the same note several times over, microseconds apart, which without the actual midrange that they are reinforcing will sound sharp - proper installation and time alignment DSP can deal with that a lot better than EQ).
That said however there is one critical difference when voicing speakers and headphones. Speakers that have a flat response but reach all the way down to 60hz at least before they hit their -3dB point will still give that "kick in the chest" sensation if played loud enough; provided the midrange and treble are generally flat as well, by the ear there is great response in the bass. With headphones, it's hard to get that "kick" that helps the overall perception of bass, thanks to the small transducers placed where they cannot pressurize enough air to hit the same surface area of one's body. That's why it's not surprising how many headphones have a boosted response between 70hz and 200hz - it's basically to compensate for the kind of bass we would usually perceive from speakers (it won't have exactly the same effect, but as per our ears, it will come close tonally). For many though it's never enough, or they need a lot more. Basically, just manage expectations with the reality of the physics in mind.
Originally Posted by Minge
I have done a bunch of reading and was all set on sennheiser 650s until I read that because of my typical listening material I may want to look at grado rs1 headphones.
The RS1 sounds great out of anything that doesn't have any issues with their output impedance for its 32ohm drivers, and also they don't have the same level of imaging issue as the older Prestige series (where some instruments are just pushed too far forward). It's not in any way 3D but I didn't find it to be as distracting. If you're listening to less complex recordings, and those that don't have much in the way of imaging as they were recorded, then you won't find much of a difference from the HD650 in terms of sound.
Comfort though is another matter. The HD6x0 once you loosen up the headband frame can stay on your head for hours with heat as the only issue; Grados' earpads fit differently, not to mention the texture. The ones on the SR125 and up (barring the 1000's) will sit on your ears (and to help imaging you have to wear them slightly forward). You have to do a similar trick for the headband frame to get it right, but mostly that will reduce the pressure on the top of your earlobes. Any headbanging will still dislodge them, and while they're cooler as they leave some space around your earlobes open, that causes a lot of sound leaking in and out - you have to make sure your room is very quiet or you'll compensate with the volume knob (even on my HD600 I can hear my A/C; if you don't use one, neither would be a problem). Also, as much you get some cooling with them, the rougher bare foam texture might irritate your skin - I get itchy with Grados a lot sooner than I sweat on the Sennheisers.
That said I'm still going to get an SR325i in the future; just waiting for one that I can get cheap, plus I'm mounting a circumaural earpad adapter on it so I can use Beyer earpads.
Originally Posted by Minge
I know I am going to need a dedicated headphone amp with the sennheiser 650 so I will be investing in that as well. I was thinking the maverick audio DAC/amp would be a good starter.
I found the sound to be borderline nasal when the earpads already have a bit of wear on them; didn't get them even though the local distro is a friend I know from the car audio club here. I don't think the sound even went through the tube yet (I think it's just for the preamp output? Don't remember exactly). I'm much more inclined to go with an AudioGD, or a Schiit (the former have a lot more inputs for the DAC at the lower price points though).