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Review: Commandos Monster Closed Headphone Test #2

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 
Monster Closed Headphone Review #2

It's about time I updated my review of the multitude of closed cans I currently own. My motivation is that I have far more headphones than I have ears, so it's about time to get rid of some of them. Everything here is as I hear it and i've done my best to avoid bias or preconceptions. YMMV, especially with different amps and/or sources.

Here are the details of the review setup:
- It was done in my lounge on a kitchen table, in a slightly darkened room. It was quiet around me, except for during the isolation test for which I turned on the TV.
- The media was CD (see below for details)
- The transport was a Pioneer DVD player, with an optical output. I have compared this with the optical out of my sonica, the only difference is the bass extension is better and the bass is slightly stronger.
- I used a good quality glass cable, I can't remember what brand it is.
- The source is an AOS Ally, a DAC that fits inside a PPA. http://www.aoselectronics.com
- The amp is a MisterX PPA, featuring bass boost (turned off) and using good quality components (but not black gates). The buffer is Uncle Phil's Discrete Diamond Buffer Triad Module, optimised for CD3K (ie low impeedence cans). I highly recommend MisterX as an amp maker, you can PM here at Head-fi.
- I also did a quick test with a MisterX standard Pimeta and my Sony diskman, using it's line out and a MisterX custom mini to RCA cable.
- Creative MX200 256MB mp3 player (short test late in the review)

Cans:
- Sony MDR CD3000, bought second hand. They're maybe a year old and are in perfect condition.
- Audio-Technica ATH-A900. These are maybe a month old, but have had lots of use and I think they're fully burned in.
- AKG 271 Studio.
- Sennheiser 280 Pro
- Sony MDR-V700. These are physically damanged (700s are prone to cracking), but the drivers are in perfect condition.
- All headphones are using their stock cables, and IMHO are fully burned in.

My biases and initial opinions:
- These biases have been made after owning most of these cans for some months, and the A900 for a few weeks.
- I will happily admit to being very impressed by the A900s before starting this test. I've only heard them unamped so far, and I think they will compare well with the CD3Ks.
- I believe CD3Ks to be the king of detail but a little bright and slightly lacking bass.
- I also think the 271s lack detail, the 280s are a bit bright and don't have enough bass, and that the v700s are crap but not as bad as people say.
- I don't really like rock music, but I listened anyway to see how the cans worked with it. I prefer Jazz and uptempo blues, and electronic music (ambient and trance).
- I have very mild tinnitus, but I have perfect hearing according to my audiologist.

Methodology
Basically I put on a CD track that I knew well and listened to it with each of the headphones, usually more than once. This was done for 5 different tracks spanning 4 genres of music. I made about 60 lines of notes as I went so I didn't forget things. I typically list the can revies in the order I listened, but I did chop and change around so it's not hard and fast.

Non-functional Tests
Comfort
If the cans aren't comfortable there's no point wearing them really.

CD3K - 10/10. I forget i'm wearing headphones with these on.
A900 - 9/10. I prefer a full headband to the 3D wings, as the wings put more pressure on part of your head. Saying that they're still very, very comfortable headphones.
271 - 7/10. These get a little warm after a while, and aren't in the same league as the CD3K.
280s - 7.5/10. They clamp quite hard to your head, but once you've worn them for a while they stretch and you get used to them. I can even wear them with glasses (I usually wear contacts, and all tests were done with contacts).
V700 - (no score). I used to wear them for hours, but in comparsion they don't rate. Their pads are too shallow so your ears get too close to the drivers. Mine are cracked and taped up so I don't think it'd be fair to give them a score out of ten. If I had to i'd say 4 or 5.
Sony EX71 canal phones - 7/10. Very comfortable.

Isolation
This is important for me as I wear headphones mainly at work, or in my lounge while people are watching TV.
CD3K - 0/10 These provide no isolation at all.
A900 - 5/10 Good isolation
AKG 271 - 4.5/10Not quiet as good as the A900s, but close.
Senn 280 - 6/10 These provide the best isolation, but with the music off you can still hear everything around you. Nowhere near as good as canal phones.
V700 - not rated


The Reviews

Before I start, let me explain about the V700s. During my first listening test track they were the last pair of cans I put on. The sound was so bad I threw them on the floor and didn't bother with them again. The exact notes I made at the time were "mids are too loud, bass is bloated and not very low, highs are quite recessed, and they're very veiled. I'm not going to bother with these now, they're not even in the same ballpark as the rest of the cans."

BT - Emotional Technology (CD) - Communicate (Track)
This is ambient electronic music, with strong lows and good detail

CD3K - Definitely too bright, but lots of detail and nice bass.
A900 - Highs are ballanced, they're not as bright as the CD3Ks. Bass is a little lower and a little stronger. The whole range is well ballanced actually. Clarity/detail is 95% of the CD3Ks.
AKG 271 - Bass not as deap as the A900, more like the CD3K. There's less detail than the A900s but it's not bad. There's a slight veil.
Senn 280 - Very low bass, with clarity/detail on par with the CD3Ks and similar highs. The bass is a little weak but very low. I actually took off my headphones to see if a large truck was idling outside, that's how low the bass goes - it's bass you feel.

Diana Krall live in Paris. Song "I Love Being Here With You"
A nice uptempo modern Jazz number.

CD3000 - The cymbals are WAY too bright, almost painful. The bass is noticable better than the 280s.
A900 - Very nice ballance, good bass, highs not too bright. Smooth.
AKG 271 - Veiled, but still enjoyable. It's rolled off highs are good for the too-bright cymbals of this song. Voice is nice and bass is nicely ballanced.
Senn 280 - Very nice overall. The bass is a little too quiet (just a touch), and the highs are a little too strong, but neither are too bad. The noice is nice and smooth.

Diana Krall live in Paris. Song "A Case Of You"
This is my favorite song on the CD. It's a soulful track with not too many instruments.

AKG 271 - Something's missing, I can't pin down what. I'm not impressed.
Senn 280 - Wow, the vocals come out compared with the 271s, and some hidden bass appears too.
CD3000/A900 - I can't seperate the two on this track. Both are very smooth and quite amazing. I got shivers down my spine when I listened to both.

Prodigy, Fat of the Land, Smack my Bitch Up
- This song is incredibly bassy, too much so. I preferred it live when I saw them a couple of years back.
- I'm not really into this, so my comments are quite brief

CD3000 - Good, bass not as strong as the rest which is a good thing on this track, and it's well ballanced.
A900 - Fine, a respectable performance
AKG 271 - Veiled, less bass, not so low. Not ideal for this music.
Senn 280 - Tinny and lacks bass.

Tool, Undertoe (album), Intolerance
This song has lots of electric gutairs and lots of bass.

A900 - Bass you can feel, maybe a bit too bright
AKG 271 - I like it. Good bass impact and depth, highs are about right, and it just sounds good. 271s are good cans for heavy rock.
280 - Too bright, and not enough bass, but good bass extension. Not ideal but not bad.
CD3K - Not good at all. Far too bright, ballance isn't right, and it's just not pleasent.

Coldplay, Rush of Blood to the Head, Clocks (song)
I call this quiet, mellow pop.

CD3K - quite bright but not unpleasent
A900 - Less bright, just as detailed, and slightly more bass. Highs aren't as strong as the CD3K, but this is a matter of taste not a good/bad thing.
AKG 271 - Way too veiled, bass not strong enough.
280 - Very pleasent. Highs between 3k and a9, bass is ballanced.

Other Tests
Pimeta/CDP test
Just for comparision I tried "I Love Being Here With You" by Diana Krall (live in Paris) on the CDP/Pimeta. For equipment details see above. I used A900s as my test cans.

This sounded less crisp and less like live music, and the bass was a little weaker. It was still better than a PCs onboard sound, but not at the PPA/DAC level.

I plugged the CDP into the PPA and it improved markedly. The DAC is better than the CDP, but the difference between the PPA and the Pimeta really is significant.

Sony EX71s
I've used these for music in the gym and also walking to and from work each day. They're not audiophile level canal phones, but they're quite good consumer level cans. The bass is too strong, but I wouldn't say bloated like others have said. The rest of the sound I find quite well ballanced, with the highs being maybe a touch too bright. I much prefer them to the Shure E3s I had briefly - I returned them because their rolled off treble reduced the apparent detail.

The cord is quite short (50cm maybe), and comes with a 1m or so extension. The weight of the plug on the cord is quite annoying. I hear the EX51s don't have it so they're a better option for the gym.

Canal phones in general aren't great for when you run, you can hear a thump every time you put your foot down. I've gotten used to it, but I only wear them about 50% of the time that i'm on the treadmill.

The comfort is very good, and isolation is just ok - better than earbuds but not as good as Shure canal phones I tried.

Conclusions
Overall in these tests, to my ears the A900 and the CD3000s are tied. The CD3Ks are too bright for my tastes and their bass is a little dissappointing, but this is personal taste. The A900 isn't as bright but has 95% of the detail of the CD3Ks but has better ballance, plus it has better bass extension and slightly stronger bass. At around half the price of the CD3Ks, the A900s are clearly better value.

The Sennheiser 280s are amazing value cans. They hold their own against the big boys, and lack only in bass impact, while bass extension is the best i've heard - see the truck idling comment above. Perhaps they're not quite as smooth, but it's close. For under $100 these are amazing value and are great entry level audiophile cans.

The AKG 271 i'm not impressed with. The bass leaves a little to be desired, and the rolled off treble often limits the detail they provide. They easily won the Rock Music test above though, so for that they get my thumbs up, but for Jazz and electronic they're not in the same league as the other cans.

The V700s are not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as these other headphones. See above for more details.

Notes
- I have found that the A900 does improve significantly when supplied with a good source and amp. The difference between running it from the line out of the AV710 and out of the DAC/PPA should be clearly audible to even the least musically inclined. These cans have great potential when properly sourced and amped, and value-wise are a CD3K killer.
- Remember these tests may not apply if you use a different source or amp.
- All my previous comments regarding Pimeta vs PPA should be disregarded. I suspect the diamond buffer wasn't inserted fully, so it wasn't behaving as it should. The PPA is a very good, very noticable upgrade to the Pimeta.
- I've just done a quick comparison of the Chaintech AV-710 with the AOS DAC in the PPA, and i'm impressed. The 710 holds its own against the DAC very well. It's a little louder, the bass is stronger and the upper treble is a little stronger too, which is a good match with the A900s. Which is better? Can't say yet. But which is better value? The Chaintech at $25 plus shippping beats the crap out of the AOS DAC at around $270 inc shipping. FYI I have flac running thru foobar in 32 bit mode, no resampling, using wave out, and high sample rate is disabled in the via control panel.
post #2 of 54
Very nice review. Thanks commando.
post #3 of 54
Thread Starter 
You're welcome I just added another sentence to the end too.

Now, mods, what are my chances of getting this moved to the "full reviews" section?
post #4 of 54
Excellent review, well thought out. In particular, it's very good of you to mention biases and make a point to mention that different source and amp combinations will vary results. I think this well be very helpful to a lot of people.
post #5 of 54
Good review Commando

Although a few things I like to point out... truthfully speaking I've never, ever been happy with CD3000 with the PPA's... PPA's tend to make the CD3000 way too bright. I think CD3000 is significantly better than A900's when paired with another amp that adds more warmth than the PPA's.

There are other set-up that works to tame the high-end of the CD3000 a little bit, meanwhile maintain the detail and clarity, giving it a definitive edge over the A900 in both the sound quality and soundstage. Yes, system matching with CD3000 is tough, but I don't think there's any high-end headphone where system matching isn't a long trial & error process (errr.. discounting custom IEM's, perhaps?).

I highly suggest you moving to some other amps.. perhaps a PPX3, MPX3, HR-2, or even XP-7 with AD797 opamp... I think a few of those are quite close to the price range of your PPA, no?
post #6 of 54
Nice review Commando,

Thanks.

I have Beyer DT880's which definitely opened up after a hundred hours of burn-in. I also have Sony MDR7506 (which everyone in film sound recording seems to use - I make documentaries), although they are not in the same league as the Beyers. I'm interested if you've ever heard the Beyers, and how the Audio Technica sound compares.

I'm interested in buying or at least auditioning the A900's - but in Oz and NZ they aren't widely available - where did you source yours?

Hey, this is my first post anywhere!
post #7 of 54
Thread Starter 
I only really listen to music at work, and the CD3Ks provide no isolation at all, so i'm going to sell them (no PMs yet please). I'd very happy with PPA/DAC/CD3K so i'm going to stop there... for now

Edit - puzzle - those are all the cans i've tried, sorry. The A900s I got from audiocubes.com just like everyone else And welcome to head-fi - sorry about your wallet
post #8 of 54
I auditioned DT880 before.. they're not my particular taste. DT880 has a very open and airy sound, everything sounds detailed, but very polite and distant. It wasn't quite exciting nor intimate enough for me, although the level of detail is very good. Some people has described them before as being sort of a full-sized ER-4 (albeit, I think DT880 has more bass "punch" than the ER-4).

A900 is much more intimate, and creates more dramatic sound imaging (because not everything is distant) along with a warmer sound signature. I can't compare them head to head, but I would recall from memory that the DT880 had a higher level of detail.
post #9 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by lindrone
A900 is much more intimate, and creates more dramatic sound imaging (because not everything is distant) along with a warmer sound signature. I can't compare them head to head, but I would recall from memory that the DT880 had a higher level of detail.
Thanks Lindrone.

I guess the trick is to have a few phones, so you can match the phone to the music and your mood. TonyTripleA kindly allowed me to audition his Allesandro MS-PRO and MS2 through his Talisman amp. So I'm thinking of getting some MS2's as well. The sound signature is so different to the Beyers - but are they better, more accurate, more enjoyable - depends on the music, and your mood.

Funny thing is - I have listened through the Sony 7506 to music and thought, "hey, this is nice", only to put the Beyers on and think, "Argh, I don't want to ever listen to music with the Sonys ever again!".

I'm sure the A900 would be better closed cans for music than the Sonys.

Cheers
post #10 of 54
I'm surprised that you found the K271 to isolate less than the A900, I must admit. Is that the general opinion, because I could use a pair of isolating phones...
post #11 of 54
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheMedic00
I'm surprised that you found the K271 to isolate less than the A900, I must admit. Is that the general opinion, because I could use a pair of isolating phones...
That was a pretty close call, given my strict testing methodology (turn on TV, put on cans). You might get different results.
post #12 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by lindrone
Although a few things I like to point out... truthfully speaking I've never, ever been happy with CD3000 with the PPA's... PPA's tend to make the CD3000 way too bright. I think CD3000 is significantly better than A900's when paired with another amp that adds more warmth than the PPA's.
What kind of PPA did you try? Did you try using bass boost and the OPA627's? They make the CD3K's sound much better.
post #13 of 54
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoide
What kind of PPA did you try? Did you try using bass boost and the OPA627's? They make the CD3K's sound much better.
MisterX PPA with 8210s (or something like that anyway). I wouldn't mind trying 627s but MisterX doesn't have any spare for me to have a listen to at the moment. Plus the CD3Ks aren't practical for me at work anyway. All test were done flat, I don't really like bass boost much, I only got it to try to help the CD3Ks, but it skews the sound too much. With A900 running flat is perfect
post #14 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by commando
MisterX PPA with 8210s (or something like that anyway). I wouldn't mind trying 627s but MisterX doesn't have any spare for me to have a listen to at the moment. Plus the CD3Ks aren't practical for me at work anyway. All test were done flat, I don't really like bass boost much, I only got it to try to help the CD3Ks, but it skews the sound too much. With A900 running flat is perfect
Oh, but bass boost is so good!

I would definitely say that the 627's are more adequate for the CD3Ks than the 8610s, though. But at least you're very satisfied with the A900s.

Though I'm still curious about lindrone's PPA...
post #15 of 54
Thread Starter 
What's Lindrome's PPA got in it?

I've just added some thoughts about AOS DAC vs Chaintech AV-710 at the end of the review in the notes section. Impressive performance from the much cheaper card.
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