Reviews by grizzlybeast


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Excellent craftsmanship, sensible price, open midrange.
Cons: No real cons


Special thanks to Forza Audioworks for sending me this cable for review. Admittedly when asked I kind of felt reluctant. I considered it not an easy task as while I have had several headphone cables over the years, I have not really taken them too seriously. Sure, I do like the slight increase of performance they offer but as a custom, they are one of the last components I worry about upgrading. I actually hear bigger differences between cables connecting my DAC and amps but there are a myriad of reasons why that can be so; none of which point to any conclusions of headphone cables making less of a difference. At the back of every enthusiast’s mind though is ‘what changes can I make to get the best out of my system and at what point does it make more sense to just buy new gear’. It is that thought that reasonably makes, in my opinion, spending uber amounts of cash on the fanciest headphone cable useless. Enter the Flagship headphone cable from Forza Audioworks; the Noir HPC, coming in at a sensible 250 USD.

I had the cable terminated single ended for my tube amps and made to be used for the Odin which also works for my ZMF Atticus. The Noir HPC Hybrid cable is made of UPOCC copper and silver, anodized CNC cut aluminum. From their website:

“- High purity, 8 strands of 26AWG cryo 7N UPOCC copper/silver hybrid wire in semi-Litz geometry with PE insulation. NOT silver plated (SPC), but true hybrid UPOCC silver/copper wire. Blend of the best materials available for superior sound experience and ergonomics.

– Proprietary 4x2 geometry for superior EMI reduction and reduced stereo crosstalk without the need for bulky screening braid altering flexibility of cable.

– Highly flexible thanks to custom formulated PE insulation, 56 individual strands in 7 groups in semi-Litz geometry. With addition of our proprietary braid the cable is pure pleasure to use both at home and on the go.

– Exquisite, elegant black design finished with black anodized, CNC aluminum splitter with laser engraved Forza AudioWorks logo. Just look at this beauty!

– 100% handmade in Poland with meticulous care and proudly covered by 3-year warranty.

– CUSTOMISATION: No matter if it is 1m or 5m, Switchcraft or Viablue, balanced or not, we can do it. Every cable is custom tailored to fit your unique personal needs. If you cannot find a setup for you, just write us email”

It is said to be their best product. Let’s see if it is now my best headphone cable (not much competition in my stable)…



This cable definitely feels and looks premium. It is flexible and the sleeving and brading is top notch. It far outclasses my other cables.


Words like PRAT and full-bodied are used on the website to describe the sound of the cable. I honestly don’t know if I hear it like that. It can’t call this headphone dense and punchy but it’s not laid back. The short and sweet story is that I did hear a positive difference with the Forza Audioworks cable but those words didn’t really stand out to me. However, I did hear the following:


What I noticed about the bass with the Forza Flagship is that it sounded slightly more textured but didn’t increase any presence. In fact compared to most of the other cables, the bass seemed only slightly less warm but a shade cleaner.


The nice thing about this cable is the midrange that seemed just a shade bigger and clearer. It is full in regards to “presence” not thickness, and a tad forward without ever darkening up the upper mids and lower treble. I kept wanting to say that I heard a smidgen and minute bit of grain in the midrange but that could be because my Peptide cable is smoother sounding yet less open and clear.


The treble follows suite of the midrange but while the midrange to me seems like what this cable allows to sound forward and a little open, the treble seems balanced without sounding dark. It is overall decently clear in the treble and detailed.


The Forza Flagship cable gives a decent soundstage presentation and made the headphones sound slightly more open compared to stock. While I didn’t hear an increase in dynamics, I did experience what sounded like more energy overall and I don’t find the cable to sound laid back and smooth. Clarity is good as well as detail but I did hear a larger difference when changing my stock HD650 cable and its upgraded Silver cable. That could be because the stock cable of the HD650 is pretty bad but in it’s case the differences were more dramatic than what I am experiencing with the Forza; all be them noticeable and appreciable nonetheless.



vs. Stock Kennerton Odin Cable:

The Stock Kennerton cable in comparison is very slightly V-Shaped with not much extension in the treble. The Forza opens up the midrange just a little bit and makes it sound more clear. The Forza sounds very evenly balanced without much warmth but decent clarity in comparison. Pretty easy to call the Forza the better cable on this one.

vs. Peterek Silver Peptide Fusion cable

Tough call. Actually they sound extremely similar in tonal characteristics. The bass seems slightly more focused on the Forza Audioworks cable while the Peptide sounds just a hair warmer. The Peterek modded cable is very close though. None of these differences are night and day but comparing the Forza to the Peterek Fusion cable makes me feel like it is only a very slight upgrade. The upper mids sound just slightly more open on the Forza. The Peptide fusion cable is a little thicker sounding but with the same midrange presentation. It does sound a little more laid back than the Forza flagship.

vs. ZMF Stock Cable

The ZMF cable is slightly thicker sounding. Also again the Forza sounds clearer in the midrange. The separation is very slightly less fuzzy on the Forza as well with better distinction. The ZMF Stock cable is just a tad bit warm sounding and I would kind of want an even brighter cable for the Atticus but that is due to the dark nature of the headphone itself. The Forza would most definitely be an upgrade cable here.


I would say that were I in the market for an affordable headphone cable that sounds good but doesn’t break the bank then I would definitely purchase this one. The differences are not transformative but they are easily audible.
Good review


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Excellent tonality
Good clarity
Wonderful for high impedance headphones
Cons: Hum
Awkward headphone jack placement



Thanks to Justin of AMPSANDSOUND for sending me this amplifier for review as well as always being super kind and willing to answer all my questions.

The Kenzie is a little but serious amplifier made by AMPSANDSOUND that is the company’s first foray into the headphone world. The company first began making speaker amplifiers where it added a headphone amplifier output to one of it’s amplifiers. Later on they decided to answer the call for a dedicated headphone amplifier and now we are here with the Kenzie. It’s bigger brother, the Mogwai, came full circle being made with the intentions of offering more power for other headphones that the Kenzie is not ideal for but also the ability to power loudspeakers.

In another review I covered the Mogwai which is an amplifier I purchased because while in my stable next to the Audio GD-HE-9 I found it more to my liking. The Kenzie amplifier aims at more specialty and less versatility. As of recently I have had quite a penchant for high impedance and low impedance dynamic headphones. I wanted to hear how the Kenzie handled those loads and what this little guy is able to bring out of my music. I am very pleased to be able to share my honest opinion of the unit with you.

Do note that no tube rolling has been done during the Kenzie’s time here so all impressions are from stock tubes.

Input impedance is 10K ohm with alps pot, .5v for full power
Input Sensitivity 520mV peek for full power out.

32ohm power: 200mWatts RMS @ 1khz, 20.5VRMS
Frequency bandwidth 20hz -3db to 12khz -3db full power
Frequency bandwidth 20hz -3db to 18khz -3db @ 160mw output
Noise on 32ohm tapp @ 500uV

600ohm power: 250mWatts RMS @ 1khz, 12.5VRMS
Frequency bandwidth 20hz -1db to 18khz -3db full power
Noise on 600ohm tapp @ 1.4mV


Finish and looks

The Kenzie is a no frills, simple wood and fire amplifier. It is not nearly as flashy and impressive looking as my Auris HA2 SE but the build is solid and the while I think a glossy finish makes wood look more sophisticated it doesn’t go with all designs and personally speaking in this case I think it looks just fine.

Volume control

The Kenzie pot is smooth as butter with excellent resistance to ease of turn ratio. The pot is located in front of the amplifier while the inputs and outputs are in the back. I had no issues dialing in my ideal volume.


600ohms output: This is where the Kenzie shines. A 300ohm output seems more logical but the 600ohm output worked beautifully with my HD650 and ZMF headphones. To spoil the review right here is fine to me as I am not sure you are here to read me carry about. Plugging my Atticus in revealed some of the best midrange tonality and realism I have heard under 2K easily. It opens the mids up like a uncaged bird with new wings.

32ohms output: Nothing to snuff at. Judging the Kenzie from using this output doesn’t really reveal what it is best at. It kept composure but sometimes I felt there to be a slight lack of dynamics and openness relatively speaking. For example I actually sometimes prefer the Mogwai with it’s 32ohm output, especially with planars due to it’s more powerful nature.


YouSupplied Tubes:
Input tube: 12SL7 or equivalent
Output tubes: 1626 or VT-137

The options and variety of the chosen type of tubes for this amplifier are somewhat limited. I am of the believe that other tubes can alter the sound but if you purchase a Kenzie I wouldn’t have high hopes of doing a whole lot of tube rolling.


The 600ohms output’s wonderful sound comes with a small price, some slight hum when no music is playing. This is less loud than my Auris when using it’s high impedance output but still audible.


Luckily there are a ton of headphones out there that the Kenzie can drive very well but with my HD6XX I am just a tad higher on the pot than I am used to, though there is plenty of headroom. Also I would stay away from hard to power planars like a T50RP Mod or HE500. Sure those headphones will sound good tonally with enough volume but they will also sound a bit compressed and flat in dynamics. My Odin is efficient but would like a little more power to allow it to open up. The Atticus and Eikon have no issues whatsoever, nor will your Utopia and Elear. I do believe LCD2, X, or 3 would do fine.


The more amps I come across the more I have come to terms with the fact that in order to get the ideal sound you want you have to be selective of each component and know what meshes. That is obvious but in the case of the Kenzie, had I not had a high impedance headphone to test it with, I feel I would have deemed it good, great even, but not anything special compared to what I have on my desk now.

The Kenzie is a beautiful sounding amplifier. During my testing I found the Atticus to pair best with it so that is where most of the impressions below come from. Some pairings were not punchy, some were not; some pairings were amazing and some decent; yet none were a failure unless they called for lots of power. Even then tonally the Kenzie could never be to blame, sans a dismissable tendency to highlight the upper midrange of my HD650.


The sub bass of the Kenzie has good extension. For EDM and such the Kenzie has enough reach and presence in the sub bass for one as my self with a health appetite for low frequencies to settle. I often listen to a lot of the less mainstream artists like MNDSN or Eric Lau. On Eric Lau’s ‘Rhythm King’ I find the bass kicks to have excellent focus that cuts through the sub bass sustain notes even more than my Mogwai and Auris. It has a natural but quicker decay than either of them sounding a little more dry yet not solid state dry. Still and so it rumbles and growls just slightly less than either of them. It has less heft and bang than the beefier sounding Mogwai and is a little less hard and dense than the Auris. I previously said in another review that the Mogwai is tight and focused but the Kenzie reveals otherwise sounding a little more precise and defined but a little less heavy and thick. The Mogwai is a little less focused and could stand to be just a little tighter like the Kenzie. The bass is linear to my ears without any accentuations to speak of; it sounds neutral without any of the baggage that usually comes with that term. If you are looking for elevated bass I don’t think the Kenzie is the one and may even call it a hair below my personal ideal amount. On the Kenzie’s 600ohms jack I find the Atticus to sound more controlled and punchy than it does on most other amps I have tried with it. Also it is exceptionally responsive.


Straight up…the ‘King’ of mids for me so far in its price bracket. That is with the following in mind: Trafomatic Head 2(now outside of its price bracket at over 3K), the SPL Phonitors, stock Mogwai, Apex Sangaku, my Upgraded Mogwai (better mids than stock], Auris HA2 SE, iFi Pro iCan, Cayin iHA-6, Wolf Ear Makoyi, Audio GD-HE9 and other lower tiered gear. Now I can’t make that statement without disclaimers. Firstly, that is with the high impedance output where I hear a distinct openness for vocals that I have only really heard before on one other amp: the Audio-GD HE-9. The Audio GD had this aspect under its belt with even more transparency and a much blacker background but it was not combined with the proper amount of tone density needed to make it sound as realistic as the Kenzie does. Swapping from the SPL Phonitor E and I hear the same amount of clarity if not just a little less than the SPL, similar ‘hear through factor’, a very similar tonality and resolution, but more depth, body, resonance, and organics. The Kenzie does not sound overly thick, warm or syrupy in the midrange but full, resounding, and open. The Mogwai (upgraded caps) has a little more sweetness to it in the lower mids with the stock tubes but is less clean cut with it’s edges; more round and just as clear but not as open and vivid.

Listening to Livingston Taylor “Isn’t she lovely” I hear good dynamic range and the guitars have resounding tangibility. His voice is more believable on the Kenzie than my other amps. Hand percussion sounds bold and resolute with tangible and solid leading edges.

Now using my HD650, I find that I sometimes prefer the heavier and denser timbre of my Mogwai. I personally like to throw some meat on the HD650’s bones which is why I love it so much with tube amplifiers and in this case the Mogwai. I can also swap tubes and reel in a bit of its tendency to sound a little shouty to me at times with the Mogwai. However, the 650 still sounds more open and expressive on the Kenzie, and while it has a little less body, it is sounds deeper and better projected. I am sensitive to the HD650s upper midrange though so at times it is a bit much for me even on other amps so I listen with the Senns at a lower volume because the Kenzie can lightly highlight this aspect.

The lower midrange sounds flat to my ears without any extra warmth. The middle midrange is spot on and the upper midrange or higher end of the middle midrange is just barely accentuated.


I find the Mogwai and Kenzie very similar in treble performance. The Kenzie has excellent resolution just as the Kenzie does but I feel the Mogwai is a bit more raw and resolving up top than the Kenzie. I can hear the echo trails of cymbals better on the Mogwai over the Kenzie just slightly. The textures of the Kenzie are not smooth or dull and provide decent bite even compared to some solid state amps. The balance is pretty even without any hard spots in the lower treble. Extension seems a very small bit better than the Mogwai which leaves me with no real complaints. I find the SPL Phonitor to have just a little better extension than the Kenzie. The upper treble has more presence on the SPL Phonitor E that sounds a little more neutral and evenly balanced to my ears but not by much at all.


The Kenzie is a less punchy and snappy sounding amplifier than my Auris HA2 SE that drives rhythm a bit better regardless of impedance due to its harder bass and excellent dynamics but with a high impedance headphone the Kenzie is not far behind and sounds more open with better depth to its images. I still feel the Auris is a better all arounder because it can do some planars decently and regardless of the pairing it exhibits these traits whereas the Kenzie is a little more finicky with the headphone you plug into it. But the right headphone into the Kenzie sounds like you are unlocking the paid for version of your favorite song instead of listening to Spotify it is also more resolving than the Auris.

The Micro-Dynamics are pretty good on the Kenzie but the way the midrange blooms, swells, and drops in volume makes it’s Macro-dynamics take precedence as one of it’s notable attributes. I found my Atticus, and HD650 to sound more dynamic in the mids on the Kenzie than my Auris, Mogwai, and the SPL Phonitor but the Odin and Meze to sound more expressive on the others over the Kenzie. Do note though that the Kenzie still had better hear through factor with them and still was decently charismatic with the Meze Classics as there is no sense of compression with the Kenzie.

Soundstage on the Kenzie is actually smaller than my tweaked Mogwai, mostly in width but depth seems to go to the Kenzie but just a hair. The Mogwai(with upgraded caps) soundstage is more even, with less height while the Kenzie has better separation since it sounds less wet and also has slightly better height. I prefer the soundstage of my upgraded Mogwai overall though. I feel my Auris is just a bit better at layering and making the images sound emboldened in their positions but the soundstage sizes between the two (Kenzie and Auris HA2SE) are similar. All on it’s own I feel the Kenzie is pretty good with staging that is naturally holographic.

Attacks and decay are fairly good having me wishing to re-evaluate my Mogwai which (again) is comparatively slower in decay and less sharp with attacks. The decay and tone density of the Mogwai give it a thicker, more lush, and full sound. The Mogwai sounds more round and smooth in the bass and midrange attacks.

Piano keys wallop with good timbre and body but have slightly less physicality to them than the Mogwai or Auris does but not by much. Tone Density is actually a little more on the Auris and Mogwai so they sound just ever slightly more visceral than the Kenzie. Specifically in the bass where the Auris HA2 SE sounds harder and the Mogwai heavier. While just slightly less dense the Kenzie never sounds thin to my ears, especially compared to solid state amps.

Resolution is pretty good on the Kenzie. Small details are something I find it to pull out better than Auris HA2 SE by just a bit. Given they are the same price almost I would have to say that the Kenzie has slightly better sound quality.


ZMF ATTICUS – The best I have heard it so far. Sure the Auris HA2 SE gives it more drive and a sense of nuance but it doesn’t make it sound as open and still the Kenzie is punchy making my Atticus sound crisp and defined. It is a very engaging pairing as well and is able to reveal how lively and potent the Atticus can be on the right amp.

SENNHEISER HD650 (MODDED) – While it plays a little less gently with the upper midrange of the HD650 it still sounds really good with it. It gives it good punch, an expressive sound, and highlights its strengths; taking it to new heights.

KENNERTON ODIN – This pairing has good tonality but is not really as dynamic as I am used to hearing it on my Mogwai. My Mogwai opens the Odin up more and gives it better body. Also on my Mogwai the Odin sounds really natural and just as clear as the Kenzie. I find the Odin easy to get it to sound loud with a lot of room on the pot left on the Kenzie at just 11 o’clock on the dial for those songs I want to turn up but it sounds compressed compared to the others on my desk.

MEZE 99 CLASSICS – While I find it a good pairing, I don’t feel the Classics reveal what the Kenzie can do, or vice a versa. It is natural and the drivers don’t sound like they lose focus but it is only average at making the Classics sound intense and I feel like the Mogwai and Auris make it snap a little harder

FOSTEX T50RP – My mod has a bit extra in the presence region and the Kenzie is not powerful enough to cut it. Sorry it’s just not.

It is possible that there may be some better sounding headphone amplifier at 1700 for my favorite closed back – The Atticus – but I haven’t heard it. The Kenzie has very good tonality and realism from pleasant tube distortion and is a little more clean cut when handling transients than some of the other tube amps I have heard around it’s price. I think it works well for high impedance headphones and does above average for low impedance headphones as well.

To put it this way may help understand the Kenzie. When I try low impedance headphones on the Kenzie it is not that I do not think they do not work well, in fact I find the Kenzie to be competitive with any amplifier around its price unless you need lots of power. But the way it opened up my 6XX and especially my Atticus was special in synergy. Upon first plugging my Atticus in the Kenzie I wanted to get rid of my Mogwai so I could have one but I prefer my planars on the Mogwai and to a lesser extent the Auris and since hardly any amplifier does it all then synergy is the name of the game. It’s obvious that I like the amplifier. It is tough for me to critique it’s sound quality and I have already been recommending it. If you are building a rig around anything like a Senn, Beyer, ZMF Dynamic, and even some low impedance dynamics I think the Kenzie is worth considering for sure.
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To really hear the Kenzie at its best you should replace the stock 12SL7GT input tube with a 1960 vintage Telefunken "Diamond Bottom" ECC801S using an adaptor readily available on eBay. If you can find them the rarer Tung Sol 1626 also better the NOS RCA the Kenzie ships with.


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Gorgeous tone and balance. Good performance
Cons: Could sound a little more controlled, Must read manual prior to use to avoid destroying the amp.




I was recommended the SPL Phonitor 2 when someone saw my posts in a forum regarding my preferences. When I decided to do some research I found that SPL released newer models and inquired where I could find a review. Sooner than later I was put in contact with a representative of who was not only happy to send review units but was enthused to let the units go on tour in the forums. 
Many thanks to Plurison for sending these units out and offering kind support along the way. 
Just to let you know, I have no reasons to fluff up or hide anything. I have no ties and here at earphiles we will not be posting disclaimers because there is no need. To follow are honest impressions of these units. 
SPL is not a brand that gets much coverage on the forums and more often than not I have been impressed by the less popular hands vs some of the more popular ones. I have been rewarded nicely by not being scared to try things. While this has bit me in the rear a few times I have discovered some cool gear in the process and the SPL's are of the latter. 


Phonitor E full specs click here
  1. 120 V Rail headphone amplifier
  2. Separate connections for headphones driven balanced and unbalanced 
  3. Suited for all headphones with impedances >10 ohms
  4. Balanced and unbalanced analog inputs (XLR and RCA)
  5. Optional digital inputs: USB, coaxial and optical
  6. Optional DAC: 192 kHz and 24 Bit, Win driver supplied, Apple Class compliant
  7. Phonitor Matrix with two presets for speaker-equivalent listening
  8. Volume remotely adjustable (learns any IR remote control)
  9. Maximum output power: 2 x 3.7 W (into 120 ohms)
  10. Frequency response: 10 Hz - 300 kHz
  11. THD+N: 0.00091 % 
  12. Dynamic range: 135.5 dB
  13. Standby/power on switch
  14. Linear power supply with toroidal transformer
  15. Front and Lid made from aluminum, housing made from sheet metal
  16. Made in Germany
Phonitor X full specs click here
  1. 120V rail headphone amplifier and preamplifier
  2. Separate connections and power amplifiers for headphone driven balanced and unbalanced 
  3. Suited for all headphones with impedances >10 ohms
  4. Balanced and unbalanced analog inputs (XLR and RCA)
  5. Optional digital inputs: USB, coaxial and optical
  6. Optional DAC: 192 kHz and 24 Bit, Win driver supplied, Apple Class compliant
  7. Balanced and unbalanced analog outputs (XLR and RCA)
  8. Innovative Phonitor Matrix: speaker-equivalent listening on headphones
  9. Laterality control: super-fine balance control
  10. Mono switch function
  11. Volume remotely adjustable (learns any IR remote control)
  12. Maximum output power: 2 x 3.7 W (into 120 ohms)
  13. Frequency response: 10 Hz - 300 kHz (-3 dB)
  14. THD+N: 0.00091 % (HP), 0.00085 % (Line)
  15. Dynamic range: 135.5 dB (HP), 136.3 dB (Line)
  16. AMP CTR connection with Performer power amplifier for coupled On/Off switching 
  17. Standby/power on switch
  18. Linear power supply with toroidal transformer
  19. Front and Lid made from aluminum, housing made from sheet metal
  20. Made in Germany


Upon receiving both units I went straight for the Phonitor X to unbox it. I wasn't expecting any fancy case or packaging. I really don't care about that stuff no matter how much it costs. Just double box it and don't ship me a 2.5k piece of equipment in a pizza box and I am fine. The packaging met my humble standards easily. Once I pulled the Phonitor X out I was slightly underwhelmed at the thin and hollow chassis but equally pleased that it didn't weigh as much as its size would lead me to believe. The unit from the front looked pretty nice to me. After I unpacked it and got it all hooked up on my desk it didn't take long for me to admire Vu Meters and aesthetics on the face-plate. Also the wonderful chrome feet that were secured under the unit gave it that high end look. What did take me long was to notice the gap between the face-plate and the chassis where you can see the lights of the meters shine through. No worries....Its all good. "So how does it sound?... I think it looks nice and even though it feels kind of cheap it doesn't look like it is" I thought. Well we will get into the sound later because there is some information in this section that is actually worth NOT skipping over this time. 
I enjoyed the Phonitor X's sound a lot so I unpacked the E unit to see how it would compare in sound quality. Well the E unit with the meter-less gray face-plate is obviously the less attractive but some of the lettering was kind of smeared. "Well this is a demo unit so It must have been the one the sent me because it could have been returned by an unhappy customer (as seen above)" I thought so ...No worries.... It's all good.
Well, as 'a first time for everything' would have it, I went to use the single ended jack of the Phonitor X and I heard pop, faint music playing, and the smell of burning metal emitting from the Unit. Ahhhh... man.... Well at least I got to thoroughly assess its sound quality. I only got to play with the Matrix / Cross-feed knobs a little bit though so the forthcoming section that describes the functionality of the X will be very limited.
I shipped the amp back and inquired about the problem. The rep told me that unfortunately users fail to read the manual and this problem has occurred before because you are supposed to mute the amp before plugging into the single ended jack. They didn't accuse me of misusing the product and were very polite and responsive. I can see how it does pay off to read the manual but it does not say that you need to mute it before turning the music on. It mentions that you must not plug in a mono jack (who in the heck has that for a headphone plug?)  into the single ended output. Apparently I may have failed to realize that if only one of the rings  of the stereo terminated plug makes  contact it can be considered mono for the split 10 milliseconds it takes to finish fully inserting the cable termination. I don't know... I am admittedly very shallow in my technical knowledge on how it all works but I can't rate the amp highly in this section due to my experience with it. The manufacturer is about the customers interest and am I. Please be careful with this unit and how you handle the single ended output jack. If I were to take this to an SBAF or Head-Fi meet I would tape the single ended jack so users wouldn't accidentally blow up my precious new toy.


Phonitor X

The Cross-feed of the X unit sounded very good with the HD6XX. The center image got pushed back and the midrange thinned out just a bit but the stereo image seemed more precise and easier to focus on. None of the fidelity seemed lost but the soundstage increased favorably depending on the setting. I preferred minimum and 1 on the crossfeed notch and found myself using the more acute angles (20 and 30) vs the larger ones. The effect was substantial but with less of the peakiness that the Pro iCan exhibited with its crossfeed. I did hear tonality change and the upper midrange and lower treble get a little more peaky but not as strongly as on the Pr
The Laterality is a welcomed feature that allows you to fine tune channel imbalanced with speakers and headphones.
Even though the face of the Phonitor has a lot of features on of them is hidden underneath the amp and is implemented in the form of Dip Switches. Dip Switches 1(headphone output +22 dB) and 2 (headphone output +12 dB) provide gain increases and were activated during use with no loss of fidelity during playback when boosting the signal.  Dip Switch 3 is for VU Meter Sensitivity. Dip Switch 4 and 5 make the signal paths direct and isolate the signal to either RCA or XLR output. It was very inconvenient to mess with these features under the amp though. I was always careful to not scratch it or the equipment around it while lifting it up to mess with the switches. 
As far as power goes, despite the X unit having much room on the dial the HE-6 exhibiting clipping when being brought slightly above normal listening volumes so that headphone is a no go with this unit in my humble opinion. 
The pre-amplifier I did not get to test as circumstances didn't allow me to have a go at it with my monitors.

Phonitor E

The Cross-feed presets of the E were far less effective but still proved useful. Hardly any of the tonality and sound quality was effected but the soundstage only expanded a little with the presets if any at all. It seemed less fatiguing listening with these presets which is what it is all about in the first place. The Matrix is not made to stretch the soundstage as much as it is made to reduce fatigue and provide a more natural soundstage where width far outweighs depth. That's what I heard and had no wows or complaints here for the E unit. 
There are two Dip Switches under the E unit as well that serve similar purpose to the first two under the X unit. However here is the other area that you see the E unit is not as souped up out as the X. They both have the same power ratings yet the way they reach that power and position of the volume knob differ quite a bit. I was trying to get the E unit to have as much headroom as the Phonitor X but it couldn't, even with both knobs activated. Let me take a step back to the X unit and cross my fingers in hopes that I don't confuse you. All of the knob of the knob of the X is not usable. You will either cause a hard to drive headphone to clip or you blow up your headphones before you get past 12 o'clock on the dial this is because the unit is also a preamplifier and the dial serves two purposes. Yet and still, even if you turn the E unit past 2 you won't get close to as loud as the X unit does before it clips.
  1. It is only boosting the RCA input signal with Dip Switch 2
  1. The soundstage depth decreases
  1. If you boost the output signal (Dip Switch 1) and boost the input signal (Dip Switch 2) then you will still not seem to have as much headroom as the X. Also If you boost both the input and output signal of the E unit the following happens
  2. The XLR output loosed clarity and becomes less refined 
  1. ONLY the RCA output becomes louder and and will sound better than the XLR output
I recommend only boosting the Output signal and you will have the same sound quality as the X unit without as much headroom. So a headphone like the HD650 sounded great on both amps. Also most planars don't need any more power than that anyway. Especially now. 
*Unit X does not have a selectable Input signal boost and does not need one. 
Unit E did not blow up when I plugged the single ended jack into the headphone output but it has the same warning as the X unit.

Internal DAC Option

It was a tough task to tough task to test the internal DAC with no other point of reference than my Pavane. They were light years apart in sound quality. In fact switching made me curious if others with a sub 1k DAC would appreciate the amps sound quality as much as I did (more to follow).  What I pulled away from it was that the DAC as well as the AMP were tuned neutral and non fatiguing with no detectable emphasis anywhere in the spectrum sans a hint of warmth. I would have loved to compare it to something of equal caliber but honestly you are just severely limiting the amps ability if you plan on using the internal DAC as your primary source. 




If an amp does poorly in this category it will be a deal breaker for me. The bass delivered by these amplifiers is not the best I have heard but it is most definitely not the worst. The amplifiers are not bass shy but sit pretty much at my targeted amount of what I believe is neutral in regards to quantity. My appetite for bass is a little more than your average enthusiast but I have come to like the amp itself to be neutral (true neutral, not bass shy) and my headphones to do the boosting. What I like the amp to do is make what ever bass is there slam. The Phonitor units deliver an average amount of slam so if you are looking for the most engaging experience these may not be for you. What I do hear though is  body, texture, and natural decay. 
It is neutral in the sense that it sounds unbiased in any direction and is neither emphasized, lacking, dry, or too wet, super controlled, or loose. ​
When it comes to bass control you will notice that while it's not necessarily loose, the natural decay gives the bass a more rounded presentation than a dry and technical. At first I thought they were a little rolled off in the sub bass because the organic sound can give that impression but listening to sub bass rumbles and tone sweeps show the sub bass is all there and deep even. The sub bass with EDM is rendered by the SPL units as bouncy instead of hard and fast with very linear sub bass rumbles that sound very well integrated into the music.
Personal preference in this area would be a smidgen tighter and more dense but as is still does the trick. Another listen would call that a nitpick. Why? because often times some solid states sound as if they do not let the bass resonate and the decay can often sound as if it does not have a realistic decline. I am I calling it wet? no… just slightly and tastefully bloomed with good extension and presence without sounding emphasized. 


First of all there is a markable lack of grit and grain. I have heard a blacker and more holographic background elsewhere but this amp is very refined and still has a nice black background with great clarity. Sure those are the technical aspects but... the midrange was laid across those traits with an almost perfect balance from the lower midrange into the upper midrange. It sounded round to me and slightly...minutely...boosted but that was only compared to my other amps. Spot on...When I first plugged my 650 into the Phonitor X I thought to myself "Well this sounds pretty good but nothing better than anything I have heard before". I should have known better than that because the first(short) moments of hearing the Utopia were a little similar. Comparison is an agent of revelation because it only took one swapping of amps to hear how natural and clean the midrange really was. I had to fight hard to find any digital facets while this amp was being fed by my Pavane and Rednet 3 and am still not convinced I did. The midrange only barely drew attention to itself but this is warranted since the midrange is the matter of music. But the bass is not left behind next to the pure midrange and neither is the treble. 
It could have been all mids and nothing else but the whole picture is well put together. You can say that the midrange is emphasized and I would disagree with you. If you said that the midrange was withdrawn, anyone who has heard anything would disagree with you. Vocals neither lack sweetness or sound overly lush. You get an honest window into the music all while knowing there is little flattery going on. Even compared to some tube amps the midrange is more realistic sounding but maintains good balance. The lower mids sound even. The midrange proper is full but neutral. The upper midrange has good presence without ever sounding honky. 
“Oh well Lee, that's because the 650 has a good midrange…duh” Nah…nope. The HD800 sounds a bit more natural but its thinness is still there. The Ether flows sound neutral and a little shouty albeit a tad less sterile than normal. The Ether Flow C’s still sound hollow (like on my other amps). The Hifiman Edition X sounds evenly balanced but still distant. Basically I am being bold in saying that most other solid state amps may be off in some area by comparison. First impressions led me to think there was emphasis here but that going back to other amps made them seem wrong and the phonitors correct. Realism is what this amplifier excels at. What does this amplifier emphasize? Reality. So the point is that the midrange will do maybe a little favor to your headphones but this amp is not to make headphone 'x' sound like headphone 'b'. 
A brief comparison to the Pro iCan (an amp that I was very impressed with) would affirm my sentiments here. The iCan had a sweeter, fuller lower midrange (that I find emphasized)  and even more so than  my Trafomatic Head 2 but the upper midrange was less present than the Phonitor E. Sure its blackground was possibly a tad blacker but the phonitor was not far behind and has better balance as well as harmonics and never sounds as weighed down. Also the phonitor X has a better soundstage display to help the midrange spread its wings.


I want to be short and sweet here. I am admittedly not a 'treble head' but I understand the role of treble in harmonics and at the same time do not like being distracted by harsh and metallic sounds. The Phonitors are not dark. They are not the most airy amplifier around but the air is present. The treble balance is neutral and I mean “true” neutral but it lacks the glare, grit, splashiness, and grain a lot of solid states are notorious for. Can you take an HD800  and hack away its 6-7KHz notch and turn it into an HD800S absolutely not but the treble of my modded HD800 was tolerable and much more refined than on my Cayin iHA6 with its more sparkly but offensive nature. Yet, tons of harmonics and overtones are rich and musical because of the treble that is there. Don’t get me wrong, I like my Cayin a lot but I have come to believe its a bit emphasized in the mid treble. Consequently the iha6 has good definition but relatively speaking definition(from 6-10kHz ) is not softened on the phonitors, it’s just not emphasized. The non-fatiguing aspects of the upper band is with a smoothness that therefore squelches a little bit of that snappiness and energy some look for so some may want more energy as well as body here. As for me, I am totally fine and in fact the distinct lack of plasticky sounding textures and digital like steeliness is very appealing to me. 
To sum it up and for the sake of simplicity I'm calling the treble smooth, present, realistic but not as snappy and energetic as some may prefer. Personally I'd pick this treble over 95 percent of the solid state amps I have I'm lying ... 100% of the solid state amps I have heard but I can totally understand if someone found it underwhelming as tastes vary. 



I have already covered this area briefly. The short story is that these amps do very well technically. If they are worth their asking prices based on technicalities alone, I would hesitate and say yes. Not a firm yes but a committed one. The features of the E unit are limited. With the X you are paying for more headroom, the full blown Matrix system, and a preamplifier that if it performs as good as the headphone amp is potentially a very good preamplifier. The E unit still performs admirably but this is what 1799 should sound like at minimum in regards to technicalities. For that price you can purchase the equally performing (in technical ties, relatively speaking) Pro ican and have features that compete with the X unit as well as even more power. I must make it clear though that merit by merit the features of the X outshine the PRO iCAN. I just rate the Pro higher in features because it costs less than he X unit by 700USD. However, the Pro iCan cannot touch this tonality even if it does possess a slightly blacker background and similar refinement. The iFi amplifier has a little more density and tonal weight, smaller soundstaging, snappier transients, a slightly blacker background, and more power. But as gear like the 650 proves balance and tonality go a long way especially when amps like the pro sound dark and the soundstage is narrow. That combination can be a turn off.  To find all around spot on tuning, along with the refinement, lack of grain and grit that the SPL units deliver is also pretty rare for solid state amps so that has to be considered as well. My Cayin iHA6 is equally detailed but less refined in the treble, less organic, less spacious, less dense, and less clean. The Cayin is 999USD but is also faster, has tighter bass, has more power, better control, and snappier transients but is the personification of what powerful neutral solid state amplifiers are usually considered to be and it doesn't possess nearly as much realism and tangibility. When I listened to the Pro iCAN or Cayin, I felt I was listening to equipment. The SPLs possess equal technical performance but more realism than any amp on my desk during the time of review and that aspect of performance was from the marriage of tonality and good technicalities.




There are those times when I ignore what I have read about a product and want to hear it for myself. The truth is that you can read so many reviews about something and once you hear it find that it is not for you. If you like an amplifier to play the music as it is and not add to it or take a way from it then you'd be at a loss to overlook the SPL units. Perhaps almost equally at a loss if you purchase one and overlook its warnings in the user manual. However, there is not one product launching with a 100% success rate in build quality, but these units come from a world where you would expect a more ruggedized build to take the abuse from a musical engineer. I will say though that if 'Pro-Fi' is a trend that SPL is trying to start, I'm with it. There ought to be more units built with that concept of tuning.
Can I fully recommend these products with a clean conscience? No. Only because at this point I have to conclude the review and the reasons for the amplifier blowing up remain to be known. But I will say that this is the best solid state amp I have heard the 650 with bar none and the sound quality is very rewarding to the discerning ear.
original review posted on
The explanation you were given for the x's failure is either bs, or if true is admission of a design fault, regardless of price. Should never happen, at any price. My 2 cents.
I agree. That's why it has 4 stars.  If not it would have had 5. On my website its laid out a little better because I can separate the aspects and give a better score. They sound great though. 


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Tons of power, very clean and deep. Black background, analog sound with good body.
Cons: May not be best for very dark headphones.



iFi audio Pro iCan Review

 I am part of a loaner tour that iCan has put together and am thankful to finally get to hear it. 
This is a very good piece of gear. I am impressed. 
Set up:
Imac>Focusrite Rednet3 via AES>Metrum Pavane balanced>iFi iCan Pro



  1. 0dB, 9dB and 18dB user-selectable
  2. Frequency Response:    0.5Hz to 500kHz(-3dB)
  3. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD, Balanced/Single-Ended):    
  4.               Balanced          SE
*Solid-State:     ≤0.0015%      ≤0.005%
Tube:                ≤0.002%        ≤0.005%
Tube+:              ≤0.012%        ≤0.2%
  1. Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR, Balanced/Single-Ended):    >147dB(A) / > 137dB(A)
  2. Output Power (16Ω, Balanced/Single-Ended):    >14,000mW / >4,800mW
  3. Output Voltage (600Ω, Balanced/Single-Ended):    >23V / >11.5V
  4. Input Voltage (Pro iCAN):    DC 9V/6.7A – 18V/3.35A
  5. Input Voltage (iPower Plus):    AC 85 – 265V, 50/60Hz
  6. Power Consumption:    ≤ 22W idle, 50W max.
  7. Dimensions:    213(l) x 192.5(w) x 63.3(h) mm
  8. Weight:    1.93kg (4.3lbs)
  9. Test conditions:
  10. Gain = 0dB, 0.775V(0dBu) with 300 Ohm load unless stated otherwise
  11. SNR Balanced re 23V, SNR SE re. 11.5V    


This little beast is quite small but is thoroughly and  thoughtfully designed with tons of little details. Something this expensive shouldn’t be showing bolts all over the place if its going for a modern look and the iCan is a clean and smooth piece of equipment that a beauty to behold.
The dial is smooth with with it’s resistance to ease of turn ratios nicely balanced.  No matter the gain settings I faced no issues trying to dial in my ideal volume. I must confess an epic fail. I did not try the remote. I had opened the Pro iCan and left the remote inside of the box thinking I would try it later and totally forgot it. 
Quad-Damped Isolation Base Mount
Underneath the amplifier is a rubber or silicone pad that is used instead of traditional feet. What a welcomed change of practice since I imagine it to not only provide isolation but also prevents scraping or rub marks on surfaces.  Ingenious really! I will mention that since the amp is small it will slide a little when trying to plug a headphone in. You have to use two hands. 
If someone were to want to compare DAC's at the twist of a knob you could easily do so. With the iCan you have three different single ended inputs as well as balanced inputs, balanced and single ended outputs and more. I don't think they can fit one more input or output on this amp. If they could have I am sure it would be there. It even has out put for an electrostatic amp to hook up to it. 


Single ended

Still more than enough power to drive my HE-6 to normal listening levels and the tonal aspects of the amp work very well with it but the sound quality takes a hit. If you try to go too loud the protection circuitry will kick in. The hit in sound quality is evident with the 650 and my Pioneer HRM-7 as well. 



Do trust the specs with this amplifier. It sounds cleaner, deeper, and more dynamic from the balanced jack.
[size=17.03px]XBass [/size]
This amplifier has a lot of features and not all of them work when trying to drive the HE-6 at moderate levels. When attempting to bass boost the HE-6 while on the third level of gain the amplifier turned red and then shut off. 
Yes… I did attempt to bass boost the HE-6 while it was at a moderate listening level on high gain. I emailed the ifi rep and his response was as follows.  
“The iCAN Pro is best considered like a racing car. It does not have most fluffy consumer system safeties. So it will allow you to combine settings (e.g. high gain, high volume setting, high bass boost added to a high 3D setting) that will cause a crash. Except in the iCAN Pro the protection circuitry will shut it off at the edge of crashing to avoid damage to either the Amp or Headphone. So take the foot of the gas and it will start up again.”
Turning the HE-6 to medium gain and the bass boost to 40hz and the amp turned off after half way through a song. But turning the amp to high gain with the bass boost at an average listening level had no issues. The bass boost sounds really good. Nice and solid with a bit of bloom added like you would expect but distortion seems minimal. 
The tube function must be used responsibly with the HE-6 as well as the added level of harmonic distortion can make the amp clip a little earlier. Now I will let you know that I listen fairly loud for my first few songs usually and then later settle in for the rest of the session at a lower volume. I am the guy at the meets that turns it up from the previous person usually listening before me but then I turn the pot down for the rest of my listening. At my normal listening levels I can engage the tube function, 40hz bass boost, and high gain with no issues at all. 
Other headphones had no hiccups and proved to be one of the best bass boost implementations I have heard. Nope no digital signal processing here... this is how it should be done! 


Since the amp itself doesn’t have the tonality to pierce through the 650 veil in solid state mode I didn’t enjoy it with the Senn. With the HE-6 it was a help in the needing to remedy the bright treble of the HiFiman but it makes the wonderful clarity of the 6 take a hit as is expected since tubes simply add 'useful' distortion. I became addicted to the super clear sound of the combination without tubes but and in this case though it dropped the level of transparency a bit with 'Tube+' , 'tube' mode made a slight difference but maintained most of the transparency while still providing a noticeably rounder treble. It doesn't change the overall nature of the amplifier but is a welcomed option. For the best results it is recommended to use the lowest gain setting. Unfortunately I can't use the lowest gain setting with my HD6XX to sound right, nor my HE-6 and my  modded Pioneer does not benefit from tubes except to help smooth out some of its graininess. 
It doesn't sound like the soundstage is actually wider when you listen for width but the center image seems pushed back and more speaker like. When engaged dynamics seem to take a hit as well as bass quantity (not quality). Vocals sound a little more hollow but overall still have a really good timbre with the exception of the upper midrange sounding a bit tingy or sharp. If you turn the knob all the way these negative aspects worsen.  Hi hats become a bit more tizzy and sibilants/ consonants  sound more stressed while the body of the voice takes a hit. The plus is that there is no extra reverb or lingering sound waves that make the music more cavernous. All of the technical aspects of clarity, resolution, detail and speed remain intact. So though it loses a bit of punchiness, overall fidelity is maintained. If you find the negative effects mentioned above to be bothersome you can select a lower setting. 
It did help make the 650 sound less congested and made it a little more competitive with my Trafomatic head 2. The He-6 got a bit too sharp for easy listening. With the HE-6 I used the 30/+(the first setting) with good results but overall found it unnecessary. I wish I would have had the Kennerton Vali on hand because that headphone would have actually benefitted from this option. 



The bass is solid with a balanced amount of presence. It has a very very slight bloom with good texture. Bass slam is satisfactory and macro dynamics are easy to perceive in the low band.  It has grip and control with good depth and detail. I personally won’t call it elevated or boosted but it does seem to have a very little bit more presence than those here present I have compared it to.  Bass quantity is very reminiscent of the Nuprime HPA-9. There is no extra mid-upper bass warmth but it is linear and uniform. Those seeking an amp that provide adequate slam will find the Pro sufficient especially with the bass boost engaged. It is acceptably tight but is more natural than clinical.  My initial impressions on the bass with the 650 in SE left somethings wanting. When used in balanced the bass is much better on my modded 6XX but still not as tight as I have heard it. 


The midrange is simply analog. I really like the bass of the iCan pro because its detailed and present with good punch but the midrange is what seems to draw the most attention to itself. It has what sounds to my ears as a warmth from the lower midrange to midrange proper without ever sounding muddy. The upper midrange is not withdrawn per se but it doesn’t sound accentuated. Tones resonate with a realistic strength and purity that justify its asking price. While this may not lift the breathe of the vocals high enough to make them sound like they project as convincingly as my TH2 which provides better harmonics, it does capture realism of tone and fullness of body exceptionally well. Body this amp has to spare without ever sounding too slow or syrupy. Textures are not smoothed over and instruments are a little sweet in timbre. I would be lying if I said that the iFi Pro doesn’t have a bit of sweetness to it and a welcomed dose of flattery. It is not flat or sterile by any means and is very tactful at displaying its musicality because this complimentary midrange fullness is not with the addition of any extra decay or soft tubey attacks. The sound is musical but accurate and insightful. Pianos, xylophones, strings, guitars, cellos sound as real as ever.  In fact even if I don’t end up buying this amp I have a new standard now as to how much realism I should be expecting at this level. If I had to make a gripe about the midrange it would be that I would like a little more upper midrange presence and harmonics to balance out the lower to midrange section for better linearity but as is the midrange is charming. 


The textures in the treble are crisp and solid without ever sounding splashy and the resolution throughout the whole frequency range is excellent. The details are all there but I would venture to say that this amp is a little more serene in the treble. It is non fatiguing and relatively insightful at the same time. It takes on a more ‘down-to-earth’ than aerial ambience.   The tuning seems deliberate as to show the audio world that you do not need to artificially boost the treble for high quality sound. While I appreciate this, it may be a departure from the screeching, lit up tunings of more sparkly gear. You would think that the tube engaged would be dark and the amp would be bright but its not so.
Compared to the Airist heron this amp will sound similarly balanced in the treble but less airy and extended and a whole lot more grounded in foundation. I often find my memory recalling the Heron because it has the best tonality of just about any amp I have heard to date but its lack of depth, dynamics, and bass slam held it back. The pro is sharper, more resolute, better separated and has much better density of tone than most amps so though the treble is not accentuated it always sounds organic, and realistic without any of that digital hash. Actually, in overall balance, this amp reminds me most of the Nuprime HPA-9 but in a whole other league of technical ability and realism. 


The Pro is a very clean sounding amp with good transients and realistic decay. Its depths are utterly aphotic and sounds emerge from below with clarity, body, and individuality. Separation is excellent but could stand to be assisted by a wider soundstage. Layering (which is  a consequence of body, separation, and depth) is very good. Textures are there as well. The tuning can make certain recordings sound a little more weighed down and saturated but the precision and holography keeps things from sounding (sorry to repeat myself) cluttered and thick. While not super fast, the Pro has some zip to it as well. 


I am tempted to make a reference to the Nuprime HPA-9. The pro is better by all accounts but the the Pro is pretty much like a Numprime HPA-9 on steroids. They both have much in common. Punchy bass, full mids, smooth treble, good body. Only the Nuprime is not as powerful, is slower, not as clean, nor as clear or as articulate but within its price tier holds its own. 
Vs Trafomatic Head 2 w/ 75 HG Reflektors NOS 6922 tubes.
  1. Instruments sound more free flowing and eloquent on the Trafomatic Head 2.
  2. Instruments seem to rise and decay with more intensity on the TH2
  3. Details are close but resolution seems negligibly better on the iCan Pro
  4. The vocals sometimes sound a bit too weighed down on the pro in comparison; just a little too heavy in the lower to middle midrange and they place the vocalist closer to you than the TH2 does. 
  5. Tones have more density  and body on the iCan and that is saying a lot because in my home the TH2 usually has more body compared to other amps and is far from thin. It is here that the ifi amp gains back grounds in realism. 
  6. Soundstage is very easily wider on the TH2. This is regardless of headphone and even with the HE-6. Its not even close... even with the 3D engaged. When the 3D is engaged the pro can come closer but the center image sounds more hollow than the TH2 and more peaky in the upper midrange. 
  7. Soundstage depth seems tied but the fact that the Pro is deep and has a much blacker background makes it seem better layered. 
  8. Even with higher impedance headphones the Pro has a heavier bass but the TH2 makes those headphones sound more dynamic and natural.
  9. Treble presence goes to the TH2 as well as airiness. I have never appreciated the TH2 in this aspect and really thought it to be only average but it handily bests the Pro. 
  10. Clarity barely goes to the ifi amp and it took a few days to come to this conclusion. I feel the Pro makes instruments resonate more strongly and even though the TH2 is very clear its sounds aren’t nearly as clean as the Pro overall. The trafomatic is a tube amp and when the "tube+' option is engaged on the Pro the TH2 takes the win but in solid state mode the Pro is ever so modestly clearer.  
Vs Schiit Jotunheim
So why compare a 399 amp to a 1699 one? Because the Schiit Jotunheim disrupts  all expectations of price to performance. However, in almost literally every area the Jotunheim shows a weakness the Ican Pro shines. 
  1. Soundstage depth goes to the Pro without dispute.
  2. Microdynamics go to the Pro.
  3. Nuance goes to the Pro. 
  4. Refinement goes to the Pro.
  5. Blackness of background goes to the Pro over any amp I have heard bottom line. However that instant perception of clarity we listen for in the first few moments of plugging our headphones into an amp is actually more instantly apparent on the Jotunheim because of the treble presence and its clean nature.  After a few songs it becomes apparent that the Pro is more refined, cleaner, and clearer. The Jotunheim has very low distortion, even lower than much more expensive amps but not the iCan.
  6. The lower midrange sounds more rich and wholesome on the Pro while the upper midrange to lower treble is more pronounced on the Jotunheim for better vocal harmonics.
  7. The bass is cleaner and a little tighter on the Jotunheim regardless of headphone.  
  8. Stage width may even go to the Jotunheim as the Pro lacks a bit of width but its barely discernible when comparing and could sound that way because the Jotunheim has very little depth. If it were not for my bias towards black backgrounds and depth of soundstage the Jotunheim would be my pick for the 650. However, to those less biased I would actually say the Jotunheim is the better pairing because it lifts the veil better and controls the bass a tad better. 
  9. The Jotuheim cannot properly handle the 6. It can get it loud but its a splashy, trebly mess of uncomfortable listening. The Pro is much better at taking on such a beast.
  10. Bass slam is stronger on the Pro as well as macro dynamics but only by a hair. 
Vs Cayin iHA6
 As far as balance goes the Cayin is very similar to the Jotunheim.
  1. Bass quantity goes to the Ican pro
  2. Bass control is mostly equal but slightly less boomy on the cayin. 
  3. The pro is a much cleaner sounding amp but is a lot darker in comparison. The iHA-6 has enough power to drive the 6 well but like the Jotunheim the treble is a bit too much and the pairing is not ideal for my tastes. 
  4. The iHA-6 sounds thinner than the Pro but is more airy and has better sparkle and overall would sound more linear apart from being more bright than I personally consider truly neutral. My idea of neutral treble lies somewhere in between the two. 
  5. Layering and depth is much better on the Pro and it sounds more holographic overall while the iHA-6 sounds more flat.
  6. I felt that when I compared the iHA-6 directly to the Airist Heron 5 that the iHA-6 when used balanced was more dynamic than the Heron but had a relatively small soundstage in comparison. Also that the Heron had better tonality but worse technicalities besides soundstage. The pro would sound stronger in the midrange than the Heron and less open but a lot better layered and realistic. 
  7. The Pro has a more realistic and full midrange than the iHA-6 and is more musical all while being a little better overall in performance. 


Pro and the HD6XX (modded)
Ifi's flagship amp controls the 6XX bass decently when used balanced. The 650 suffers no harm from the midrange warmth of the Pro but the veil is not lifted. The holography and soundstage depth is easily perceivable with the 650 as is the low distortion. Bass boosts, 3d, are fun with the Senn but the tube option is a little less desirable since it increases the ‘veil’ effect of the 650. The Sennheiser doesn’t sound slow but becomes richly musical; just less open than with my tube amp and the Jotuhheim. 
Pro and the HE-6 (modded)
This is a match made in heaven…well almost. The 6 largely benefits from how the iCan is tuned. Also, the 6 doesn’t suffer in the ways that it usually does when being under amped (treble sharpness, lack of dynamics, weak bass). The he-6 has been better served in the bass department by some speaker amps I have heard and I have heard the 6 slam harder but I still find the 6 to have body and decent dynamics through the ifi iCan Pro. The treble is still bright, after all its an HE-6, but the sharpness gives way to better articulation and a more controlled and enjoyable treble. On high gain the the HE-6 has more than enough power and I can’t go past 12 o’clock before cringing. The Pro does better with lower impedance headphones and the 6 is a testament to that as it sounds adequately fast, very clear, controlled, and holographic.  Were I to choose a desktop headphone amplifier for the sole purpose of driving the 6 I would most likely pick the Pro over the vast majority of dedicated solid state headphone amps. Compared to my Trafomatic the Pro still sells the 6 a little short on soundstage width but I find my modded HE-6 to have more than enough soundstage on the Pro. The low distortion of the 6 as well as the clean black background of the iCan Pro make an excellent way of hearing music as clean and as clear as the high standards of most audiophiles can demand. This pairing will be rewarded by a clean and balanced DAC.
Pro and my modded Pioneer HRM-7
It may not hurt to mention that my Pioneer HRM-7 has gone through several modifications, has been tested with many different amps, and has been in my stable for quite some time. When I got my Pavane DAC it was all I had and I easily noticed the difference of the Metrum in my system.  It has been the reason for me not missing much when I sell a headphone because it can suffice(for short a short time). Well with the  Pro the bass can be tight and punchy and the lower impedance of my HRM-7 worked much better with the pro than even the 50 ohm setting of my TH2 when it came to dynamics and speed.  On a few rare songs I still prefer the TH2 pairing  because of the tonality and spaciousness that seems to help headphones of this type sound more open. More often I prefer how the Pro grips the HRM-7 and drives it with better authority for more potency and articulation. The midrange warmth of the Pro helps with the HRM-7's  deficiency in the midband. I listen to a lot of old school hip hop and some of those recordings were… well downright low quality. The bass boost on the Pro and muscular sound of my bass modded 7 makes for the most fun I have had in a while, a little over the top but hey whatever…thats what I like sometimes. 



This little thing is a BEAST. Its got a lot of muscle, a lot of articulation and definition with a clarity and black background that few amps pull off. I have read previous reviews  of this amp and some of the negative reviewers must be tricked by the ‘more treble=more-fi’ foolishness. There is nothing wrong with bright equipment and it has its purpose but it doesn't equal high quality. Developers are pulling away from that ideology now and ifi is ahead of the curve in regards to the need of a turn around. More and more people are coming to expect balanced treble and natural mids as well as inner detail.
Initially I was very apprehensive about a small amp like this packed full of features being able to deliver true sound quality. My gimmick flag went up. But since I heard the ifi Micro SE I knew they could deliver sound quality. I wasn’t expecting this much inner clarity but am pleasantly surprised. This sets a new standard for me in a few ways. 
Will I purchase one… I don’t know but its now on my shortlist between only two other amps. I have scratched quite a few off and this is now number 2 on that list.  The Pro is an end game amplifier with its own flavor. Just don’t look at the features as its main attraction or detraction from what it is at it's core. An excellent solid state amp. The rest are bonus features and cherries on top. If you audition gear before you buy it… do yourself a favor and give this one a listen. 


One great information review. I really enjoyed reading the review and think the amp sounds like a great find.
Lovely review, thanks for your work!
Very nice review. Anyone compare it tot the OPPO HA-1?


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Tonality, Price, Audio quality
Cons: Needs to be modded and/or amp paired correctly for the best performance


Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX Headphones


Let me start of by saying this is not what I would call a real review. This is more like a Tribute to a headphone that, while controversial, has been and is irrevocably deemed a classic reference headphone. Not just my posts but many reviews have referred to it or used as a headphone to compare it to.  The disclaimer is that I have known about this release for a while now and have been sent  a pair. Even so, given my long relationship with several pairs of HD650's I have no reason to shill these along side the fact that they will sell out very quickly anyhow. 

Tribute / Appreciation
I have had 6 pairs myself with the HD6XX being my seventh pair. I have bought and sold this headphones for a myriad of reasons. It always seems to end back up in my stable because I have come to know it as consistently more spot on in tonality than just about every headphone I have heard. Some of the reasons for me selling them so many times was because I sold it them to help fund a new piece of gear or was in a honeymoon phase of something new that outperformed it in a particular attribute. Then later when I knew I had lost my bearings on how things were supposed to sound I would repurchase it again. 
Why were people asking if the Focal Elear was the super 650 they have always wanted?
Why do people ask if the the new ZMF Atticus are the closed back HD650's they have been longing for?
Why when the Audeze LCD 2 was released was it called the planar magnetic super HD650?
Could it be because  they are more expensive headphones with a darker than neutral signature? Well if so then why is it much less popular for someone to ask for a super Beyerdynamic DT880? or a super Hifiman HE-500 even? Such an opinionated and categorically diverse thing as music can't possibly have one tuning unanimously crowned as champion can it? Uhhh... well if it did, love it or hate it, like it or leave it, buy it or sell it, the Sennheiser HD650(or even HD600) is unequivocally the closest thing to having that crown as far as headphones go. Sure the HD800 is technically better but just because the prince is younger, brighter,  and faster doesn't make him king. The king would have to die first and as far as that goes the HD650 is apparently immortal. Relatively, the 600 is the more even tempered queen right by his side. 
Let's take a look around the web shall we:
This is without searching specifically for the HD650 but rather "best reference open back headphone". Some have their preferences but there is one consistently present.

[size=20.007px]"6. Sennheiser HD 650[/size]

If there is one pair of headphones in the World, synonymous with high-end sound…

It’s the Sennheiser HD 650.

A long time favorite in both audiophile, and pro audio circles…

These headphones have perhaps more great reviews than any model on this list." 



Studio / Professional usage:
"Lightweight aluminum voice coils are usually the standard for studio headphones in general, and with these being open-designed and holding a high reputation for an even frequency distribution, it’s the go-to for most professionals. " 

[size=20.007px]"1. Sennheiser HD 650[/size]


Sennheiser is a top audio company that produces numerous high end headphone lines in a variety of price ranges. While the Sennheiser signature sound is great across price points, their midrange open back Sennheiser HD 650s are a particularly great value.


  1. Balanced and natural sound
  2. High dynamic range
  3. Lifelike spatial imaging


  1. Open-ear design does not contain the sound
  2. Headband can be a little tight
  3. Requires a capable amplifier to drive"
"The 650s offer an extremely detailed sound with clear separation and timing, dealing equally well with all kinds of material. I particularly liked the bass response, which was very smooth, extended and full, translating well onto larger systems. I'm currently living and mixing in a temporary space (with poor acoustics), where monitoring has been a problem — and in this situation, I'm more confident mixing with HD650s than on my monitors, and have found that my mixes are translating better than ever. My pick of the bunch — which I've bought since trying them out."
Jules Harding

Thought this one was interesting  on the 600

[size=24.57px]"1) Sennheiser HD 600[/size]

Sennheiser HD 600

  1. MSRP: $509.00
  2. best price: check amazon! | check eBay!
  3. type: open back
  4. fit: circumaural (over ear)
  5. impedance: 300 ohms
  6. frequency response: 12 – 39000 Hz
  7. material: metal grilles, carbon fiber, velour ear pads
  8. color: speckled blue finish, black


What more can be said about these? Well I’ll tell you! For starters, they may be the best reference headphone that you can buy. This is across the board pretty much a consensus among-st audiophiles. I will never forget the first time I read this review on amazon. "


A quote from one of all of our favorite sources:
- "Well...they've changed their tune a bit with the just announced Massdrop Sennheiser HD 6XX because in this case they didn't change the headphone's tuning it at all. (Measurements show the HD 6XX and HD 650 essentially identical within measurement errors.) No, there is really no reason for them to re-tune the Sennheiser HD 650. They've done their homework. They know that this is widely considered amongst headphone enthusiasts the standard by which all other headphones are compared. I've reviewed them and love them. Yes, there are better sounding high-end headphones, but none deliver the price/performance ratio of this icon."


Looks / Comfort / Build

  1. Ear pads out of the box are slightly firm but deep and create a healthy distance between the driver and the ear.
  2. The ergonomics have proven to be timeless and are a succession of previous designs used by Sennheiser
  3. I won't mention the names of other manufacturers but I dare you to find a 650 that was delivered broken through shipping. If it does happen it is a lot more rare than with ____. You fill in the blank. 
  4. The clamp pressure can be a bit imposing out of the box. 


  1. Very dynamic and punchy without sounding aggressive. (Amp dependent so results may vary)
  2. Good Microdynamics
  3. Great Details
  4. Non Fatiguing
  5. A chameleon with down stream and upstream gear so heavily manipulatable. 
  6. The treble can be grainy and/ or slightly dark to some but is smooth in balance with good resolution and extension
  7. Wonderful midrange from the lower midrange all the way through to the lower treble
  8. The bass is a bit rounded with a slight mid bass elevation for healthy kick drums
  9. The sub bass can sound ill extended at times but for the most part is capable of handling even sub bass saturated genres(yet not effortlessly)
  10. Can be modded to have very tight and controlled bass, even better clarity and cleanliness (very easy to mod)
  11. Can sometimes sound slow and veiled to some when not properly amped or in stock version. 
  12. Very scalable and reportedly becomes competitive with Top of the Line headphones when used with uber quality amplification
  13. Soundstage can sound narrow to some but maintains adequate depth and layering for  relatively deep insight into recordings. However, in the grand scheme of open back headphones it usually sounds less wide and is said to have a small soundstage. Again, amping really helps the depth of soundstage increase. 
  14. Though some believe it is a darker sounding headphone, It really works well with OTL tube amps and is revealing of system changes and improvements. 




There is a coin mod to be done by using a quarter to cut out a portion of the foam covering the drive; a removal of the back cover and adding Dynamat in specific places; and a  removal of  the foam from the back of the driver. (please put the cover back on). Be sure to scour the internet for more specific instructions. Rest assure that these mods are all VERY VERY easy. There are all sorts of mods..even some to make it brighter. 
The mods can give the following improvements:
  1. Increase of bass control and perceived reach
  2. More satisfyingly visceral bass slam
  3. Increased speed
  4. Faster Decay
  5. Crisper and livelier sound
  6. More openness and clarity
There may be more improvements and mods to do so this is by no means exhaustive, and again just a little boost to get you started. I personally heard the HD6XX and thought that they changed the tuning until measurements confirmed that they actually are the same HD650. I had become acclimated to the tuning of my modded 650 so upon arrival I was very disappointed with the stock bass in comparison as well as felt the headphone sounded slower. For 199 the HD6XX is a no brainer and a modded 650/6XX one will become legend if it already isn't by now...the stock version most definitely is. 


Amps I have heard the 650 on and personal rankings (of the pairings not the amps themselves)

  • Apex Teton
  • Trafomatic Head 2
  • Ifi iCan Pro 
  • Bottle head Crack and Speedball upgrade/ Schiit Jotunheim 
  • Cayin iHA-6 
  • Airist Audio Heron
  • Nuprime HPA-9 (a bit dark for it but good body)
  • NFB - 28



The aesthetics and accessories are the only thing to compare here really. But eh..why not?
  1. The 650 comes with a longer cable terminated in XLR and an adapter for 1/8 jacks
  2. The 6XX comes with a shorter cable terminated in 1/8 inch and has a 1.4 inch adapter. Why... possibly to be more compatible with portable amplification and transportable systems. Because by no means is it competitive with 'Beats' since people with those headphones most likely wont be using any amplifier
  3. The 650 will still have the more luxurious or classy paint job as the 6XX is a plain midnight blue that can look black depending on the lighting used. 
  4. Through and through the build quality is the same and they measure the same as well 


When I started the "Massdrop Collaborations...What If?" thread almost a year ago I expressed how my choice would be for a 650 collaboration. While not quite black, I am sure Sennheiser had their reasons and I am very happy that this headphone is available at price lower than I have ever paid even for a used pair. These are good times to be an audio enthusiast. Not to mention the most recent release of the Schiit Jotenheim, now Music lovers can have a system I used to dream about for a lot less than a new 650 and Bottlehead Crack w/ Speedball upgrade would have costed you back then. I feel very humbled to have been able to witness this re-launching of an industry legend and know tons more people will be smiling from ear to ear as they listen to music "the right way" lol.. just playing anyway you choose is the right way for you.
Thanks for the great review. 
I want to pick your brains regarding the Jotunheim vs Bottlehead Crack+Speedball. Are they really that comparable? The consensus seems that with proper tubes, Crack + Speedball is the best setup you can get for the HD650/6xx but it's also rather costly. While I can't imagine the Jotunheim is on par with it, are they really that close in sound that you'd rank them together?
I'm curious as I also received my HD6xx and thought about upgrading my amp in a few months from my simple magni 2 as they seem to be holding these back.


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: punchy rich sound, decent soundstage, smooth tonality, wonderful attack and dynamics, visceral and engaging, built to last
Cons: flattering midrange balance may not be for everyone, heavy weight.


The Zealously Musical Dynamic Open Back

(8.16.16 updates in purple with production unit)




For some reason I find my self always curious about the headphones and gear that seem relatively new, not popular, upcoming, or developing. When I read of the Kennerton Odin I was very curious of it, even considering selling gear for it in hopes of it becoming available for purchase. I kept missing the production runs and after enthusiastically expressing my desire to hear a pair Kennerton Team obliged to my request, but could only send the Vali. I was very excited to hear the Vali.  Even though I would have, at the time, preferred to hear the Odin, this was a chance to hear the house sound of what is an exotic brand to a lot of us in the United states. It is no risk and this time if I didn’t like it I could just pass it along to the next person on the tour I initiated instead of having to painfully lower the price on a headphone I regret taking the risk on. The truth is though that if I didn’t like the Vali I wouldn’t have felt comfortable passing it along on a tour for a bash fest. So here I am writing a review about a headphone that I want to gush about but honestly, like most of my reviews I plan on simply laying out the aspects of the headphone in hopes that you can determine if it is for you or not.  From jump I will just say that I am impressed!
I have no ulterior motives, Kennerton is not paying me for a review(nor have I ever been paid since I am not really any special reviewer), I have no ties, nor do I sell their products or have been promised a discount or any of the likes for my efforts.




Price: 990.00 Usd   
Driver Unit: 50 mm
Frequency Response: 10-28000 Hz
Sensitivity: 100 dB
Impedance:  32 Ohm
Maximum Input Power: 500 mW
Cord length:  2 m detachable 4-pin mini XLR OFC cable (3.5 mm)


Let’s see what their website says about them.
“ With Kennerton‘s Vali, we succesfully achieved a lively, natural sound, that finely strikes in the balance of neither being too dark and congested, nor overly bright and sharp. Its sound signature is wide and open, yet clear and powerful, befitting the best qualities from a dynamic headphones.”
I mostly concur
Vali is equipped with unique 50mm drivers using ultra-lightweight paper composite diaphragms that are exclusively designed with award-winning manufacturer, Peerless® by Tymphany. They offer great sensitivity, while reducing unwanted resonance and distortion. Its audio performance is then carefully tuned by our Russian engineers to ensure that nothing falls below excellence.
The diaphragm is specially designed and made of a composite paper cone shielded in multi-layered laminated film. Composite paper has been well known and widely used in speaker manufacturing because of the following reasons which you can also expect from Kennerton’s Vali.
    •    Low mass: Increases the response time to an incoming signal, while minimising the decay time. The result is a rich and emotional sound.
    •    High internal damping: Minimum, almost zero additional resonances produced. The result is a smooth and vivid presentation.
    •    Excellent stiffness: Allows the cone to oscillate without bending. The result is a much reduced distortion.
The mulit-layered laminated film further reduces the distortion by allowing the cone to move easily in perfect piston motion”


“The materials we selected for Vali are very specific. The cups are made from naturally treated exotic Peruvian Walnut. Those beautiful wood grains are complemented by a strong yet lightweight structure made of aviation-grade aluminium and steel. To prevent any unwanted resonance, the honeycomb grille is made of cast zinc alloy which is acoustically inert.
Designed to reduce long listening fatigue, Vali has patented 3D adjustable headband, made of genuine lambskin leather, and coupled with large, soft leather earpads to provide a supportive and comfortable fit. High quality detachable 4-pin mini XLR cable with OFC USSR-military use litz wire further ensures that clear, undistorted audio signal from the headphones will be dutifully delivered.”
The muscularly hulking body of the Vali is of the built-to-last construction; weighing in at a solid 550grams of non-plastic mass. There are a lot of details in its rustic design that really reveals the pride of craftsmanship that went into making these headphones. The cups are held in place by metal yolks and have a large sliver knob that is used to secure the what position you find most suitable for a good fit. Both the headband and the headband strap are made of thin but genuine leather straps. 
The ear pads are perforated and slightly angled with a design that is very much responsible for the tuning of the headset. The pads are easy attached via a very smooth baffle that allows effortless pad replacement.
The cable has a sort of stiff nylon like sleeving around it which is terminated in 1/8th inch and an accompanied by a 6.35mm adapter. Any Audeze or ZMF cable will work fine with these headphones so picking a suitable cable will be a synch. 


Some people, unlike myself, have a tough time with the weight of headphones like Audeze, the older HiFiMans, now the Vali. As much as I particularly am not bothered at all by the likes, the Vali is undeniably part of the same camp. During the time of this review the Cocobolo ZMF Omni was the heaviest headphones in my stable and these are heavier and a little less comfortable. In order to get a secure fit you may have to get used to the adjustment mechanisms which may require a little patience. 
As you can see in the pictures above the the cups are fixed to the yolks with joints that allow them to swing up and down. The large knob on the riser is for tightening in place the headphones extension as well as the conforming swiveled position. I recommend finding a really good fit and tightening that knob to prevent the headphones from slipping loose from the sliders. Once worn, the weight seems evenly distributed with a reassuringly good clamp. The ear cavity is deep but not necessarily spacious. I swapped to some ZMF cowhide pads and the comfort was improved but at the expense of way too much bass… even for me.


Listening impressions:

DAC/AMP pairing:
These headphones are very easy to drive. It doesn’t take much to make them come alive. The bass is decently tight on it’s own but the wrong impedance of the gear chosen to amplify it can make the bass a little muddy. On my Trafomatic Head 2 the bass is actually more solid than on the Cayin iHA-6 (I reviewed it here)  but the more organic tuning of the TH2 makes pairing the full sounding Vali with the Cayin combination better for the most part. The TH2 (another risk I took that paid off) is very engaging but using the Kennerton Vali in the balanced socket of that iHA-6 made them almost as lively but better balanced since Cayin gear is neutral yet slightly bright in sound. My Nuprime HPA-9 even further enhances its sound signature which is a bit much for me and yet again the balanced jack of the Cayin iHA-6 is more punchy yet even cleaner. The iHA-6 brings out more details than the Nuprime as well. I initially preferred the Nuprime 9 for the Vali when single ended but further comparing revealed the iHA-6 to be best. 
The Metrum Musette is very much like the Nuprime HPA-9 in tuning. Full, clean, not too fast, musical and has some good depth, yet it warmed the lower midrange up too much and brought them even closer which made it overbearing for me. The Nuprime 9’ actually pushes the vocals back positionally and doesn’t give much air, neither does the musette. So as you can see the pairing is less ideal for this headphone but better for my HD800S. 
A few songs:
Lavender Diamond - “Dragonfly”
I love the way this lady's voice sounds. The presence of her voice is so soothing and the Vali pleasantly brings out the body of her delivery. Since her voice is so pure it sounds beautiful through the Vali even with it's hints of flattery. The bass line that pulses throughout the background in a unique arpeggiated rhythm cuts through the mix without touching that wonderful tone of her voice. The piano is resonating with a richness that few other headphones portray.  There is a clarity of this fullness that is without shrillness and grain. Sweet.. I love it!
Ben Harper - “Picture of Jesus”
Ben’s voice is very present, full and forward with some extra reverb to his singing. Positionally the background singers performing their african folk harmonies are rightfully behind him and not blended. There is great dimension to Bens voice on that song but it sounds a little too thick at times. A minor eq and trim from 200hz-500hz helped with the musette but none was required with the iDAC-6. This song has not much in the way of instruments as the theme of male vocals really are at play here.  On this song in particular I notice more boxiness due to the deep tones of  men singing and how the Vali portrayed it. 
Shigeto - “Miss U”
The bass isn’t the deepest I have heard but it is thoroughly enjoyable. If you are into EDM and like smooth music this may be up your alley. The Vali takes an IV line of each pluck, thwack, and hit of percussion and sticks it in the vein of your neck. If you like drums it is impossible to deny the Vali’s dynamics and nimbleness. Couple that with how full toned the electric piano is and you have what seems to be the epitome of rhythmic melody. Sometimes there is a little dulling of the shimmer in the synthetic high hats but they come through nicely in snappiness. 
Matt Corby - “Resolution”
He sings falsetto in this song and just like all of the others it is full in body and tone, even richer than the HD650. Yet unlike Ben Harper’s song above, this one is a better match and there is no boxiness in the vocals. There is a war cry like rhythm and pace to this song with a drive that builds to a climax. This intensity is maximized by the Vali and probably only beaten by a good set of speakers. The Vali leaves barely any left overs and squeezes out all of the emotion there is in this song. I would say that a little more crispness in the cymbals would be literally all this song has left in it after the Vali is done. Sure the HD800S has more details but a lot less emotion. 
I tested with other tracks  from Amber Rubarth, Beth Orton, Robert Glasper, Muddy Waters, some Jazz to several others. I found these headphones to be more song selective than genre selective, yet never boring. 
Playing Bob Moses - “Nothing at All” reveals a bass that is about as hard hitting and punchy as it gets for an open back dynamic headphone. Think 'Ortho' almost in solidity with good texture decent speed and a harder punch. Part of its musicality is owed to how engaging the bass is on this headphone. Compared to the Omni it hits even harder and is slightly more in quantity. The Omni on the other hand reaches deeper and is just as tight. There is a little bit of mid bass warmth going on here but not enough to cloud up the recording. It seems like Kennerton was keen on the wisdom of having a natural mid bass but slightly boosting the lower bass to give its melodic sound a proper foundation . Extension sounds slightly more than the HD650 because it has a lower bass hump whereas the Senn has a mid bass and upper bass hump. I largely prefer the bass of the Vali to the LCD2.2F(silent revision) as it is more focused and hits harder. There is not a lot of extra decay in the bass either so for the most part it’s very well done. 
*The bass now in the final production unit has slightly less decay and seems tighter overall. Not bringing it into a whole new level but the improvement is noticeable. I don't hear the extension improved however but it seems a little less round with a little less decay. Though cleaner, there is less slightly less rumble and force in the production unit actually. Yet and still the production unit is a beast. The improvement is very welcome especially since the Vali had bass to spare. 
I read sometimes folks saying that the HD650 is too full for them in the midrange. Please allow me to explain what I hear as neutral since everyone is entitled to their opinion I digress to mine. My point of reference for balanced most usually defaults to the Focal Alpha 65’s(studio monitors). The HD650 is not far from that reference of neutral, nor are most studio monitors and why the HD650 was used so much in professional environments. The Vali will sound richer than both of them yet texturally more smooth than most headphones. There is a thickness and a little reverb or trailing of resonance that adds to their timbral richness. For some songs it is a little much while others it creates a pleasurable euphony. 
It is here sonically the Vali requires some caution before confessing it to be an unwarranted recommendation to all. But even more caution since it is usually more welcomed for a headphone to be dry in the midrange than slightly overdeveloped like the Vali.  This overdevelopment is in the lower midrange and trimming couple of db or so in the muddiness area of 200-500hz may help relieve some of the thickness.
The audiophile realm has had a lot, I mean a painful lot of headphones in or around this price range that are tuned thin, sterile, or underdeveloped to boost the perception of clarity and precision. Take the HE560 for example, it’s bass is very tight, yet lean and the midrange is flat with a lower treble glare that is hard and unnatural. The Dharma, while very fluid in the midrange is bright as well as the Ether. My HD800S on the wrong recording and amp is down right prude even if it is my favorite open back at the moment. Those headphones do not have this slight reverb effect but they also are far less fleshed out in the midrange than this headphone which can be either good or bad depending on your tastes. For mine, personally I’d prefer that headphone manufacturers attempt richer and more realistic tunings that closer resemble what I am used to hearing in a mixing session. However these are more flattering than brutally honest no matter the application. 
These kind of remind me of the LCD3 in the midrange but have a less detailed mid section, yet stronger dynamics.  There is a bulge in the midrange making them the exact opposite of thin but huge Kudos for bucking the trend and reaching out to guys like me that search high and low for beautifully rich and full bodied tones. What makes the midrange so magical is not only the tonality but the dynamics, there is such a vibrant release of notes that grab you by your earlobes and pull you into the music. The upper midrange can sometimes sound a little laid back but not really overly so. 
The ZMF Omnis have this sweet roundness and weight in its tonal accent that up until this headphone was very hard to come by. However, positionally the Omni is more distant since it casts a concave like image around the head. When ever the Vali gets a bit much the Omni is a relief. Inversely,  when ever I wanted vocals closer and more intimate the Vali takes me there. This Kennerton now has seated itself among my favorite of midranges with the HE-6, LCD3, Omni, and HD650. 
This headphone while punchy, has a rounded sound because it’s treble lacks a little edge even though it has some energy in the middle treble it's smooth. Telling a good recording is very easy and so is hearing changes in your chain. I know I am going off topic but its because when speaking of the treble I am reminded of a certain aspect of transparency this headphone has. Just like how subtle changes in gear are easier to hear than say with most headphones, so are mastering and mixing issues even though it is still very friendly to poor and harsh recordings. To my ears the Kennerton does not sound either airy or suffocating. It also doesn’t have the lower treble bulge that the LCD-X does, or the treble prominence of the HE-6. Don’t worry about sibilance, splashiness, or glare.. the Vali is very well behaved up top albeit a little less fresh sounding than the average audiophile headphone. 
* I hear the bulge a little less present now than before but that is simply because the vocalist is a little less close to your ear positionally. To confess a preference, I may actually lean towards the previous revision on a song like Needtobreathe - " No excuses". The vocals are not as rich and forward. That makes them a lot less overbearing but since the bass is a bit forward and the vocals are relatively tucked backed, the vocals can face more interference from the bass now on some tracks, or at least the effect is more noticeable now. However, there is also now a more natural separation and the imaging is helped out a bit. The midrange now sounds a lot less like the LCD-3. I took the production unit to a meet and the upper  midrange seemed a little recessed to some but the pre-production unit sounds more lush around the middle mids so it may be less noticeable on the pre-production unit. The treble is still the same, without the air in the last octave but remains very smooth and non-fatiguing and definitely dark. Overall the tonality is still very similar. I will say that the wonderful rich and solid tones are intact.  
Soundstage and the likes:
The soundstage is okay in width and though it places vocalists really close to the listener, I get surprised at how sometimes sounds seem to appear from a more distant location than is usually the case for such an intimate sounding headphone. This has a sound stage acceptably wide but lacks a little bit of height. The depth is okay and the Omni is a lot deeper but because these are so dynamic yet rich, each note pops out of the recording like it’s in the flesh.  The imaging is proper and the instrument separation is what you would expect from something priced just under a grand, still I have heard worse priced higher. When people use the word ‘open’ to describe a headphone it has been mostly misused to describe soundstage size. I would like to say that in the true meaning of the word ‘open’ the Kennerton Vali sounds about 79% open back whereas the HD800S sounds 95-100% open and free of any enclosure. Likewise my modded HD650(some unnecessaries removed)   which has a much smaller soundstage, sounds like the air from the drivers is less restricted and thus is slightly more open. I do enjoy the sound stage of these headphones for the most part but I wouldn't call it the area it excels most at. 
* Biggest improvement is the imaging and separation. The revision gains grounds in the precision department quite a bit in my opinion. You can tell its still same headphone but sounds seem less blended. The soundstage still seems a little closed but it is more spacious than the production unit. Layering and depth is even better improved in comparison to the pre-production unit.
Details and resolution:
The Kennerton Vali is not going to take a recordings guts and lay them out for an autopsy. Rather, it will give you a fleshy image of what is there. The subtle fluctuations of small noises are really fluid as well as the macro dynamics but the resolution is not super high definition. What you do have is a purity of tone and smoothness of texture that is polished. A grainier but more detailed headphone in comparison is like seeing the pixels on a detailed image, whereas the Vali  has none of the pixel like view but is purposefully blurred like a photo edit to make a silkier and more polished image. 
* I have to make a correction to the above. The Vali has a lot more details than I originally thought. It seems polished and smooth still but both units show good resolution for their tier.  When comparing it to the HE5LE I found the Vali to have more inner detail but I was simultaneously confounded at the finding and shy'd away from sharing that. I will do more comparisons later to validate that. The new revision makes the details more instantly apparent  than the previous revision do to the better imaging. 
Punchiness throughout the Frequency Range(Updated section):
I wanted to call this attack, but its much more to it than that. A notoriously visceral headphone is the HE-6 and most of that has to do with how solid and dense its tones are. You can have all of the dynamics you want, but without solid tones it can pierce instead of slam. Every thwack, smack, punch, and kick is about as visceral as it gets with this headphone because it has wonderful dynamics but also solid tones for a dynamic. It's not as fast as an ortho and there is still that decay that dynamic drivers are known for but what makes the Vali so special is that it has that ortho like solidity and physical feel to the music that is very addicting to me. 
I will quote @SomeGuyDude who really put it in clear perspective:
Okay here's my final thoughts. No pictures because, c'mon, there's been enough.
First off, I apologize to Kennerton but these are NOT comfortable. The weight of the Vali is difficult to deal with, not to mention the way the adjustments work. Yes, okay, you put them on and then tighten the screws down once they're in place, but I'm not a fan of that. I find myself fiddling with them far too much.
Okay, that's fine, but what about the sound?
I've had many headphones in the $1000 range, from Audeze and Audioquest, Shure and also sampled Sony and HiFiMan. The "density" and sheer impact that Grizz mentioned is very real. If you're hoping to feel your headphones at a level that's like the instruments are actually being played? These are your headphones. Are the Vali warm? Yeah, a little, but not at the expense of the high frequencies, what's most apparent is I suppose the hard impact of the lows and mids. While planars have their low extensions, dynamic drivers are able to move air to an extent that the orthos can't, and that's what makes the Vali feel so visceral.
I would argue that's the primary characteristic of the Vali: visceral. I feel the punch, the hit, the slam of my songs in a way I've never experienced them before. I'm a drummer, so percussion is VERY important to me when it comes to listening. I'm not impressed with neutrality or hearing flatness in extension over hearing dynamic impact of the drum kit. I'd rather hear hard hitting percussion over delicate strings and vocals any day of the week. To that extent, if you're like me? The Vali is very much your nirvana. LCD-2 pre fazor, Nighthawk, HE560, Th900, the list goes on of headphones I've dealt with. These are the best. They hit so hard, the air is physically moving against your head, but not in a false way of bumping bass to be Beats-level. It's just moving air heavily.
I apologize if this feels gushing but the reality is that if you are under $1000 but want headphones as far under $1000 as you can I'd say get the Nighthawks. However, if $1000 is an easy cap, get the Vali. The refinement makes them such heavy hitters that despite the discomfort, the heaviness, the awkward fit I'm so ******* happy to listen to the Vali through my Vali (oddly enough) that none of the physical difficulties matter. They're warm, they're bassy, for most they are not "accurate" in a flat response sense. However, the sheer impact of the Vali overrides all of that, to my ears. 


If you are like me then the Kennerton Vali will be a rare find for you of musicality, dynamics,  and tonal beauty. On the more subjective and experiential side of things, I had some friends over and out of all the headphones here ( HD800S, Omni, modded Pioneer HRM-7, Vali, DX1000, Audeze LCD2.2F) They wanted to listen to the Vali the most. Mind you they had never even seen any of these headphones before. They were impressed by the 800S but found them too bright and loved the richness, bass, and tone of the KV’s. They would play a song on Tidal and say “Lee… listen to this!” as they placed the vali in their fact that is how I found the Matt Corby song above… no lie. I feel the same way as they do but didn’t tell them my opinion because I appreciate it when people aren’t influenced and genuinely express what they feel. My wife, however likes the HD650 for some of the voices more than the Vali, but loves the Vali’s rendering of percussion. She doesn’t care about graininess, soundstage, placement and all of that other stuff I do. She also listens to Salsa y Merengue for which the Vali is king. For me, I give them a tie with my Omni’s since they trade off equally in different areas and price to performance are about the same in value, though  the Omni is more comfortable, detailed, and deeper in soundstage, the Vali’s are even more musical, tone driven,  and punchy. 
I  sincerely conclude the Kennerton Vali to be an outstanding headphone for the right person and personally can’t wait to own one.
*  I own one and have become addicted to its visceral, wholesome sound. I have yet to hear a headphone quite like this one. 
Gear used during review period:
Nuprime HPA-9
Trafomatic Head 2
Metrum Musette
27"iMAC 5k retina display
HiFiMan He1000 (from TTVJ)
Kennerton Vali 
ZMF Omni
Pioneer HRM-7 Modded
Audeze LCD2.1
JVC DX1000 
Solid Silver RCA interconnects
Solid Silver Pailics XLR interconnects

I really liked your review, very informative and to the point. No caramel coating and bias. I had a look of these magnificent cans and totally hooked along with the 'odin'. The craftsmanship alone made me fall in love with these. Just don't have money for these right now. I thought saving up for HD800 but these are giving me butterflies in the stomach. Lol
Btw, thanks for those tracks. 


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Lots of inputs and outputs, detailed and clear sound, great build and aesthetics, wonderfully thought out options
Cons: balanced is tube only.




While Cayin to westerners have been more known for their portable gear lately, they have been making serious DAC’s, CD players, and speaker amps for a very long time. A while ago I had purchased from a website the Cayin HA-3. It is a DAC/AMP combination with tons of power and a small tube inside. I had really enjoyed that piece of gear and it lasted in my stable for quite some time. I wanted to review it but didn’t believe it was appropriate because I had the the wrong voltage and had to use a step up transformer. Without being aware of how much of it’s sound quality was being affected by the situation I just kept most of my impressions under wraps. Quietly, I was very much on the look out for new desktop equipment from Cayin and since they had won me over with their portable C5 I had really nothing but high hopes for the Chinese manufacturer. If I could place a house sound on them, I would pretty much say they like clean, and clear, but musical which is something most of us can appreciate. Fast forward to now and I have been privileged have a chance to hear their latest desktop solutions. 
These units go so hand in hand, with so many similarities, that a separate review for each one would seem a little repetitive to me so I would rather combine them.  
Both units are meant to be reference quality. As with the previous products, they intend to punch high in performance without raping your wallet; yet this time they desire to add value in features as well as sound quality. Are they successful? Well before I make a judgement call on such serious pieces of gear, let me be acquitted from any thoughts you may have of me being a seasoned “know it all” audiophile. While I have been fortunate to try a lot of gear, I mainly go for what sounds right to me as most of us should, since personal audio is so…personal. 



These little suckers don’t take up much desktop space at all but are imposingly dense little masses of solid construction. The substantial chassis is made of an aluminum alloy with all of its bolts and screws (the few that there are) hidden underneath the units and in the back where all of the interconnection takes place. Conveniently, the power buttons are on the front which is a  simple but no-brainer placement that for some reason a lot of manufacturers refuse to incorporate. Around the power button is a neon-whitish-blue light that lets you know the units are powered on but have a safety feature of blinking first before its ready. The knobs are both wonderfully sized and similar to all of the buttons on the faceplate are of a shiny finish. They rotate with a polished and smooth resistance on the i HA6. Dialing in your ideal volume is as easy as it gets. The i DAC -6, though similar in appearance, has a knob that rotates with less resistance but soft clicks to enable exact option selections since it is a dual functioning component.


The DAC uses two AK4490 chipsets and each chipset will work for for a single channel. It is a truly balanced DAC that fully exploits the potential of both chipsets, which when researched is supposed to have less distortion and yeild great results compared to ESS sabre chips etc. More can be found on the matter here ( There are 5 digital filters that you can use. Inside are also 4 6N16B vacuum tubes at the buffer stage that work when using the DAC in balanced mode and RCA mode. While using balanced outputs it only uses the tube out put stage. 
It is highly versatile allowing one to select just about every option of inputs. The OLED display will reflect your choice of options. 
From left to right - 
You have the previously mentioned power button. There is a OLED screen that displays your various selections. Underneath that LED screen is a Source button, Timbre button, and Line/Pre button. To the right of that button is a volume control if you select the ‘Pre’ function.
Source buttonUSB, OPTICAL, COAXIAL, and AES 
Timbre button (RCA only)Transistor, or Vaccum Tube
Filter knobSharp, Slow, Short Delay, Short Delay Slow, Super slow
Phase knob buttonNormal, Inverted
Price$999.00 USD
Output levelRCA 2.2V RMS
Frequency Response20Hz~30Khz
THD+N Tube - 0.8% ; Transistor: 0.004%
USB CapabilityDSD - DSD64, DSD128 /  PCM - 32bit/384khz
AES/EBU/CoaxialPCM: 24 bit/192kHz
Optical 24 bit/176.6kHz


The amplifier is of a quadruple circuit with fully discrete components and a fully balanced design with independent power supplies to each channel. It is designed to not only be capable of powering any headphone with a lot of headroom, but also properly match various impedances making it an excellent all-in-one solution. Even sensitive earphones will yield little to no noise when music is not playing. The iHA-6, simlar to the DAC-6 has been designed with practically everything taken into consideration. Literally all I could ask for would be a bass boost button on it but that is not really standard on desktop gear this serious. It’s small footprint size, solid build, and tons of power make it  almost the ideal amp for just about any situation on paper and in practice. 
Left to right-
The power button is on the left and right next to it are the source (balanced and unbalanced), Current, an Gain buttons. In the middle are three headphone jacks: Balanced left (also for low impedance headphones), a Balanced Right (for High impedance heapdhones), and a 4pin balanced connection. To the right of that is the volume pot which rotates with a very smooth resistance that enables you to easily find your listening level. 
Price$999.00 USD
Power SE     1100mw + 1100mW (High Current, RMS,RL=32ohms), 2200mW + 2200mW (low current, RMS, RL=32ohms)
Power Balanced 5000mW+5000mW  (High Current, RMS,RL=32ohms)
7000mW + 7000mW  (low current, RMS, RL=32ohms) 
Frequency Response10kHz~80kHz(0.5dB)
THD+N≤0.02% (1kh, RL=32ohms)
S/N ≥105dB (single ended), ≥ 110dB (balanced)
Input Sensitivity 620mV (High current, High gain)
Max Output60W



During my listening I did get to pair the DAC with some other amps, but for the most part I had the iHA6 hooked up to the i DAC to get a really good impression of thier performance together. These units are obviously intended to be paired together and sonically they match each other in what seems to be an inseparable marriage until the end. The high-end or 'reference class' market is a tough place for a manufacturer to enter into. Not only are most audiophiles buying gear to get the most from the recording but undeniably find pleasure in picking apart the sonic attributes of the gear before them. I recently had some close friends over for dinner and as I explained to them how much the headphone gear costs on my table they had a hard time pulling their face muscles into conforming to their normal expressions. They were not only surprised by the price but also the sound. The reality is that to the already underwhelmed but ‘high-fidelity’  acquainted listener who usually has a lot of high maintenance demands, being wowed is a rare treat. Needless to say, the stack has it’s work cut out for it. But just as the above build quality is very much to and possibly above standard for its price, so is the sound quality and I pretty much place bets on it not wowing the listener but bringing them into the reality of what they should be expecting their gear to sound like should they venture to or beyond this Cayin stack. 
Basically, a great point of reference is what this set up is. The moniker ‘reference’ denotes a standard of fidelity and tuning that can be used to judge others by. Plugging my headphones into them for the first hour was a relief because I was hoping it not only looked clean and professional but sounded so. Have you ever seen a person walking a dog and the dog looks just like the owner? Well I picture Cayin representatives to be dressed up in a suit but with a cocktail in their hands. Sharp (acute), slightly edgy with pizzaz, serious, but able to take a joke or two. 
Listening to Flying Lotus’ - “Until the quiet comes” through the balanced out and HD800S was about as thin, splashy, and non-pleasant as it gets but either switching the song or the headphones made a lot more sense. That song is poorly mastered with way too much sibilance but switching over to a more forgiving headphone like the Kennerton Vali’s  and they owned that song with a very tight and clean bass hits, lovely midrange balance that is neutral but not too thin with a precise timing that while a little on the fast side is neither too offensive or high-handedly harsh in tonality. 


Most recently I have had the revelation of the transparent yet analog sound of non oversampling DACs. In a recent shoot out between my Geek Pulse Infinity in the 1.0 chassis and matching LPS vs the Stockholm v.2 I found the cheaper NOS DAC to out perform it in realism. It brings the vocalist not only closer, but clearer with better dimension. I quickly sold my pulse infinity DAC and purchased an MHDT Stockholm v.2 because there seemed to be something of a digital wall in between me and the music where as the Stockholm freed up the music to be more realistic. I will not confess the ‘6’ to sound more euphonic or natural. In fact both of theseCayin units are on the more neutral and precise side of the coin, however the music sounds unhindered and clear. So much so that I would count on it winning me over just as much as the Stockholm did but in a different way. While the NOS R2R DAC warmed me up to the music it lacked a bit of precision and the bass was not nearly as controlled. Though I can depend on the iHA-6 to produce a solid low end the iDAC-6 is just as responsibly free of trimmings usually associated with over-extra warmth. Looking back at that set up and the MSRP of the pulse infinity and LPS vs the i DAC here with me during this time, I can say with full confidence that this is the more complete set up. The i-HA6 will literally laugh at the balanced headphone amp of the pulse gear and the iDAC is more transparent overall and from memory when I used the Stockholm as a point of reference. Please forgive me in advance for not separating the inseparable through-out this review. 
The iDAC-6  in comparison to my similarly (slightly more expensive ) metrum acoustics musette: Like mentioned before and after this I do really appreciate what R2R DACs bring to the table in regards to natural tonality yet in this case I actually prefer the iDAC-6 for a few reasons. If a DAC is too warm or a little overdeveloped in the midrange and not fast enough by even just a little, it can mask the intelligibility of a voice or texture of an instrument. I personally prefer the Metrum musette’s smooth treble but even more so prefer the Cayin’s speed and neutrality in the midrange. Ideally I would prefer somewhat of a middle ground or the marriage of their individual strengths but when forced to pick it is the i-DAC 6 just slightly. The Cayin renders music less biased and  sounds more flat but forces the details more with a slight tendency towards edgy in comparison while never really crossing over. The cayin also also gives a little more  ‘hear through’ factor for the recording but does sound a little less analog. Part of the reason the metrum may sound slower though is because it is reported to improve with a better power supply.  Pairing the Musette with the Cayin iHA6 did make for a more inviting sound and is less fatiguing overall and with the HD800S it was more ideal than the Cayin duo all things being considered without losing too many details. Take the Kennerton Vali  though, and the iDAC-6 basically made that headphone a dream whilst the Musette added that extra midrange warmth that for even a midrange lover like myself found to cripple the headphone.
The DAC is decently spacious but don’t expect a super deep or wide image. Instead expect to hear a clean and transparent rendering of your music that is a little less warm and graceful than it is tidy and resolved. It has a good, clear treble, neutral midrange, and tight bass.  


I did take the HD800S and use the timbres and filter adjustments to try and mimic what plugging it into my tube amp would do. DAC filter settings usually yield small differences. The differences were sensible yet subtle enough to be practical. Of course it is not enough not turn it into an HD850 or anything close. No matter the current setting, the timbre setting, or the filter setting you still have a bright set up. Even though the treble texture is neither hard, glaring, or grainy yet clear with all of the details present. I much prefer tubes on this headphone and would love to see how the Cayin HA-1A MK2 would pair with it. I would say that Cayin’s new desktop solution is very detailed but not brutal. I recall when I had the HA3 receiving a pm from a gentleman who asked me if it had the signature “CAYIN Sparkle”. I told him it did a little bit but this may be more up his alley and If I were him looking for a total package I would not look further. 


The iHA-6 amp is very much in line with that kind of tuning. It is a powerhouse of clear and neutral sound that does everything with a touch of purity yet nothing in excess and as well performs with a neatness that matches its counterpart.
 The dynamics from the single ended out put of the iHA-6 are fair and it is a lot more punchy than the Airist Audio Heron 5(an amp I find too soft in attack) but less full bodied and meaty than my Nuprime HPA-9. Take a double leap up in price to my Trafomatic Head 2 and I have a slower sound that is a lot more natural, less engaging, less bright, with a similar transparency yet better with higher impedance headphones than the iHA6. The iHA6 has a lot more power, and while less dynamic and punchy, it has a slightly tighter bass with a faster, flatter, slightly edgier solid state sound. Neither are lush but they still sound vastly different. Comparing the two together really shows me how capable the iHA-6 is in some areas technically, especially in clarity. 
The reality is that plugging just about any headphone I had here into the balanced jack offers better pop and dimension bringing it to really gripping level of  punchiness yet still being clear with focused transients.  I have learned my lesson about a nicely built single ended amp sounding a lot better than a poorly designed balanced amp, however it truly is the case here where I believe the balanced section sounds better to my ears. I will go on record saying that this is pretty much about as transparent as I have heard an amp. My memory cannot legitimately conjure up a more  transparent piece of headphone powering. To make a ‘winner takes it all’ kind of amp Cayin would simply need to add more depth, tonal density, and attention to micro-dynamics to flesh out the recording more realistically. To recap what I have mentioned earlier about the Nuprime having more body, I neglected to mentioned in the same frame of mind that the iHA6 is the more clear and vibrant sounding amp and can awaken sleepy headphones. Surprisingly though, and for the price I would place the Nuprime as an excellent piece of gear, just outdone overall by the sincere efforts of Cayin on this one.
To forewarn,  I can see how someone will be fatigued during long listening sessions with the wrong headphone though as again, it is not the lyrically waxed and romantic kind of sound. There is much to appreciate about the this amp being slightly airy with good space and a benevolently graceful treble. Honestly, for a solid state amp this should be highly considered as a good endgame purchase at a great price, given you find this tuning up your alley for what headphones you have. 


Another thing to note is that switching the inputs via the source button on the DAC reveal the RCA from the iDAC-6 to sound just as good, if not a little cleaner at times than the balanced output of the iDAC-6. I have two solid silver interconnection pairs made by the same manufacturer with practically the same specs except for the RCA cables being a little longer so simply pressing the source button enables me to hear the tube output stage of the balanced section vs the single ended transistor stage of the DAC. To my ears the tube warmth is noticeable and welcomed with certain songs. It was able to slightly trim off some fatigue during some sessions. But as to be expected, the transistor stage is audibly free of that tube distortion. Also the single ended RCA’s to the balanced jack of the amp showed no loss of fidelity or volume because of it’s thorough design. This effect, though it reads like I am describing the DAC mostly, is due to the way the iHA6 takes the RCA inputs and phases the signal properly to balanced in away that will suffer no loss of sound quality. 
Small but noteworthy gripe: The DAC’s balanced output is tube output only.. The RCA output is the versatile output stage allowing you to use both tube and transistor. When you look at the specs above it seems that it would be more logical to have the lower distortion on the balance output stage. Based on that I would have rather had the RCA outputs be vacuum and the XLR outputs be the transistors. If  someone wanted to use a tube amp they could be possibly doubling the distortion. Though tube amps are usually single ended this may not be as much of an issue and again RCA makes sense there but some amps, like mine, have XLR inputs though they are not truly balanced. For this reason I send the RCA’s to my Trafomatic Head 2 via transistor mode. Usually a balanced amp, (not the Cayin iha-6) sounds best when being fed from a truly balanced DAC via the XLR’s but in this case you will have to hear the tube sound.
Someone reading this is going to think “ well get to the part of what timbres etc you used and with what headphones”. I must confess here in a little bit of a let down that though I found the slower filters to be more aggressive, I really liked to just set it and forget it at either the slow filter or the sharp one because again, while they work and do change the sound, I heard more significant changes from plugging my headphones in the appropriate socket with the correct current setting. The filters to me are more like slight changes in the mood of the same person. The individual still will be who they are but they may give the same answer with a different way of saying the same thing…close to reference. I did noticed while listening that when I had it on  the super slow filter I wanted to turn it back to slow because I felt a little more listening fatigue. 

CAYIN iDAC-6 sum-up: Extremely versatile and precise piece of gear that is honest and is of the neutral and balanced way of listening. It is clear with and transparent with the filters and sound adjustment options slightly modifying the listening experience. It has pleasant and slightly spacious sound with good resolution and details. Slightly flat and a little bit bright for someone coming from the NOS camp but it is appreciably a clear, and no nonsense piece of gear with tight bass, and good treble texture. 
CAYIN iHA-6 sum-up: Very powerful and transparent piece of gear that gains some attack when used balanced. At a meet, the HE6 had ‘nuff headroom and the HE1000, while still airy didn’t sound to harsh in the treble. Since that bass is tight and controlled, it’s sound is clean without too much harshness, and it is musical without too much aggression,  you gotta respect it as a very serious piece of gear. For a solid state it has a decent soundstage and can great details, and a fast sound. 



because the iHA-6 DAC is made for this and this alone!
Audeze LCD2.2F
Loosely preferred: Balanced, High gain, low current, slow filter, transistor mode.
The Stack adds an untarnished sort of presentation to the LCD where it gains some control but for some reason loses a hint of it’s enchantment.  I felt the pairing was decent but largely preferred my Trafomatic Head 2 for adding some emotion and body to the LCD2 as well as depth. Probably not the best idea to compare a 2500 tube amp to the i HA6 but I am reaching for a reference to describe my preference(that rhymed yo!). Most will find the LCD2 to be engaging but I got a little bored of it sometimes no matter the amp pairing, wanting more macro and micro dynamics. I feel the extra helping of speed from this combo makes me loose a bit of body weight. I believe the LCD2 is balanced very well but can sound a little meshy, especially in the treble on busy songs and I didn’t really hear the Cayin helping this out. I sometimes find that while the LCD2 sounds very nicely balanced it can use a bit of attack from an amp but a lot of extra power usually doesn’t help as much as the right amp itself. Hearing the LCD2 on the Decware Taboo MKIII at put a smile on my face that would be the definite choice over the iHA6 for the Audeze. This pairing is good, clean, tight and airy yet not so magical because it doesn't assist the LCD2's lack of layers. When used balanced I experienced less of a leap in performance than with the other cans. Let me admit that most of these impressions are for a couple of reasons: One I don’t find the LCD2 super scalable as much as I find it picky, and 2 because I really had hard time preferring this combination to the Omni and i HA6 pairing which in short won my appeal even though the midrange of this combo is still the more believable.  Since the Cayin Stack isn’t a meaty, full bodied sound it is a decent pairing but I have heard better. Not really bad though and works fairly well on most songs, especially since the bass firms up a bit and the transients are clean. 
Mostly preferred: Balanced, High Gain, High current, slow filter, transistor mode.
Excellent pairing here. However, the Omnis have a tendency to sound a bit forward in the upper midrange all while placing the vocal a little distant positionally. Well, the Cayin has a slight tendency to make the upper midrange prominence of the Omni more noticeable. Where the paring excels is in the bass performance and speed. The Omni needs a lot of power for the bass to pick up in speed, and also not just power but the bass of the gear feeding it needs to be relatively quick and precise. The IHA6 and DAC6 combination deliver on those fronts without leaving any scraps behind.  Also this pairing really opens up the Omni to show how technically capable it really is. Previously, and on lesser DAC’s I found the Omni to only be decent at details, plug them into these babies and you will most definitely hear a high fidelity sound worthy of the close to 3k total(for all three pieces). Since the Omnis have plenty of tonal weight the overall richness of timbre with this combination is as lifelike as I have heard them, albeit with the aforementioned upper midrange boost. Listening to the Omnis through the balanced out of the iHA6 and the Nuprime is night and day. Furthermore I find it a much better pairing than the Airist Audio Heron 5 which has a smoother treble, and wider soundstage but is less detailed, has even less tonal weight, and much less punchy. The Heron had a preferable balance from mids to highs but the textures seemed to disappear  when going to it from the IHA6. 
Kennerton Vali
Mostly preferred: Again better balanced. High Gain, low current, low impedance jack, S.D. Slow filter for a hint of crispness.
The Kennerton Vali is an excellent sounding headphone on most fronts. It is pretty fast but has a little bit of extra decay so though an amp a little slower than the IHA-6 would work fine, it still needs to not not add any extra decay and be quite precise. A dry amp will actually work fine with this headphone. Dry simply means no extra decay or that the decay is unnaturally cut short and there is some trimming to be done with the Vali. The Vali has a tunefully pleasurable amount of bass that can be held back by other amps and the IHA-6’s tightness plays favorably for the Vali. The three together (6,6,KV) perform admirably in the bass with solid slams and punches. I initially thought the Nuprime HPA-9 was a better pairing, but that was for a few songs and also when the Vali is used single ended. Balanced however, the Cayin is clearly the better amp for the Kennerton. It helps it image more precisely and doesn’t hinder the soundstage, yet doesn’t really stretch it out either. I would say that amp/dac matching the Vali is pretty important and you could stop right here and have a wonderful 3 piece rig. With my Musette NOS R2R DAC feeding the IHA-6, the already euphonic Vali becomes too thick while the IDAC-6’s clean and slightly poised nature brings the Vali into a more perfected tuning, that while slightly fatiguing for the long haul in force and vibrance, is a lot harder to fault. 
High impedance, low current, right jack or balanced, slow filter, tube timbre. 
I actually like the clarity of this pairing and find it to do best balanced. The separation is better as so is the dynamics when used balanced. The balanced jack of this amplifier and pairing bring the dynamics up quite a few notches. I actually don’t prefer the transistor section over the of the iDAC-6 when paired with my Trafomatic HEAD 2.  It is most definitely not going to take the bright sound and finesse it up like a TOTL tube amp does but all of the spaciousness and details are not by any means held back. I would more like to think that amps that are more spacious are enhanced spaciously (to my liking) and this stack is a good reference.   I could see some calling this pairing a little thin compared to a top of the line OTL tube amp, or even my trafomatic head 2 being a better pairing since it adds more body to the lean and spritely sounding S.I personally prefer a darker sounding pairing since I think the HD800S is a bright headphone. The iDAC6 transistor mode has sharper details and when switching to vacuum, the tones still sound very similar but are less fatiguing for extended listening. 
Modded Pioneer HRM-7
Sounds best balanced again and does great with lo gain.
 This is by no means a popular headphone. It is fairly sensitive and easy to power. When turing the music off and the volume very high I heard no noise from either pieces of gear. If I can toot my own horn a little bit I would say that it is the best sounding headphone for my tastes under 300 usd. It is supposed to be able to take a lot of power before distorting and it can for sure but also at 45 ohms and a decent sensitivity it shouldn’t need high power to sound better, yet it very much does sound better balanced through the cayin IHA6. The bass is very tight, the midrange is flat and I get to hear my mod from a very neutral amp and DAC combination with absolutely no hiss or distortion enabling me to trust what I am hearing when modding these headphones.




After having the Heron 5 here, the Nuprime HPA-9, the Cavali Liquid Carbon, and the Infinity all around the same price and performance expectations. I can easily say that I only can legitimately say my Trafomatic HEAD 2 is above it in performance for most areas. As for the rest mentioned, this amp is the executioner; the slayer of all before it in performance and at 999USD gets a whole hearted recommendation. When reviewing things I simply say “I prefer” and don’t carry on about it being the best of this or that; or carrying on about it  taking me to another place etc etc because by nature I am more of a realist. I am really considering how, after my most recent purchase I can fit this amp into my stable as an ‘end game for now’ solid state amp since it performs so well and so clearly. I conclude it to be very much reference and is most definitely able to reach at a higher MSRP than it is listed for making it an exceptional value. 


This DAC is very much transparent. While it doesn’t offer the deepest and most lyrically warm and natural sound it is very impartial and paired well with every amp and headphone I had it with. I am very glad to admit it doesn’t have that digital wall that my other DACs have had. It is vibrant without the hard and unnatural glare and when paired with other TOTL gear I hear still a wonderful clarity and a neutral, no bull-crap sound that is able to reveal most of what that gear can do. An individual was interested in my DAC that I had for sale and I recommended to them this one instead based on his gear. That isn’t to talk about my honesty but the iDAC-6’s because it's worth a recommendation even at my own expense. 



cannot, with a clear conscience, not recommend this  gear since they performed flawlessly for the two months they were here. Their build, price, features, design, and sound quality should earn CAYIN a solid foot hold in this tier of audio gear as I believe these entries should be referred to when people make comparisons. After waiting to hear the new Cayin desktop gear for some time I can honestly say the did not disappoint. Excellent gear for sure. 
Gear used during review period:
Nuprime HPA-9
Airist Audio Heron 5
Trafomatic Head 2
Metrum Musette
27"iMAC 5k retina display
Apex Teton (from TTVJ)
HiFiMan He1000 (from TTVJ)
Kennerton Vali (tour unit)
ZMF Omni
Pioneer HRM-7 Modded
Audeze LCD2.1
JVC DX1000 not mentioned but actually a great pairing
Solid Silver RCA interconnects
Solid Silver Pailics XLR interconnects
Excellent and very comprehensive review. Thanks so much.
I'm looking for a new dac for my HDVD800 and HD800S.
What do you think of going with the iDac-6 this setup? The HDVD is a very transparrent amplifier.
Sorry for the late response. I am unable to comment on the synergy of those two devices but I will say that it DAC-6 is a very neutral piece of gear, meaning no matter what amp I paired with it, it sounded good. That is not always the case. You should enjoy it. 
where can I order the idac-6?
Anywhere in the USA?


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Great price, tons of power, very transparent, neutrality and speed, matches literally any headphone (except electrostats), power to spare!
Cons: May not be forgiving enough for some (which is not really a flaw)

CAYIN iDAC-6 & [size=24.57px]CAYIN iHA-6 [/size]



edited review dedicated to the iha6 alone here

Great review! Had both for a while and liked them very much. The amp is still up for sale if anyone is looking for one inside Europe.
Excellent review!
Really like how nice the dac and headphone amp look together. 😀


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Bass, mids, soundstage, durable and comfortable pads, pad rolling, can be retuned, customizable, high fidelity, detailed,tonality, balance
Cons: not competitively dynamic but still engaging.


Zach and Luke are Ortho Docs
No mercy… though the Omni is merciful I really think the Omni can hold up to scrutiny very well. While I have been a long time customer of ZMF, I really don’t see the need to be dishonest and am confident that my opinion will be void of bias.  
I may have given my opinion on a prototype but this Omni is a lot different than what I heard and I can’t really consider myself a contributor to its tuning. I ordered another pair after selling my blackwood Omni but Zach allowed me to use a pair for review while my pair was being made hence the pics of two different models through out the review. 
Gear/ Software Used  w/ Omni and a description of each:
iMac 27 inch late 2015 model 5k retina - “better to hear you with my dear”, “better to see you with my dear” usually I never have to use cd’s etc to use my DAC’s and even the headphone out is better than some audio gear out there. I have used the optical out and usb for different DACs below and choose to use what sounds best to me. 
Cables - 
Solid Silver Pailiccs XLR Interconnect Cables
Single ended peptide fusion cable with Audeze connectors
Makes me want to get into cables because I can hear a difference. My TH2 was sounding less transparent than the Cayin IHA6 loaner all because of a cable. At first I thought it was because of the balanced configuration until I got the RCA cables in the same solid silver. Those emotiva RCA cables do the job but better is …better. 
Tidal - Great streaming of CD quality music that while not as clear as High Res may eliminate the need for all of my MP3 files
Audirvana Plus - a little glitchy and I have no plug ins for a good EQ but sounds great!!!
Amarra SQ2 - doesn’t work with Audirvana Plus but provides usable eq for Tidal
GEEK Pulse Infinity 1.0 chassis (means not the new chip that is in the 2.0 chassis and this is now gone) - I used this balanced with the Omni and while it did get enough headroom it was missing that natural sound and made the Omni bass slam less desirable than some of the below. Kind of bland for me. 
MHDT Stockholm V2 (gone) -

Nice and natural sounding NOS R2R DAC that almost eliminates that digital wall you get with most DACS. Bass is not the tightest but the warm mids, spacious soundstage, and transparently fleshed out sound is everything natural. The stockholm feeding the Cayin Iha-6 is my preference over the Cayin IDAC -6. The Stockholm V2 feeding the TH2 is borderline too musical, if there is a such thing and the bass control suffers slightly but realism and natural timbre and body is about as musical as it gets. 
Metrum Acoustics Musette (not here yet or used during this review) - Another NOS R2R DAC to replace the Stockholm V2. when it comes in I will update this review. 
Nuprime HPA-9 (450mW into 50 ohms but very much a different design that gives a lot of headroom with the Omni) -

Warm, and controlled sounding amplifier with good space, mellow and relaxed mids, very good body and punchiness, and smooth highs. Surprisingly more than enough power to drive the Omni’s because it has more current than the usual amp. I only need to go slightly past 12 o’clock for it to play the Omni’s really loud, all while never really taking away from the soundstage. I do think that other solid state amps would make a better pairing though for those seeking a faster sound but body, tonality, transparency,  and dynamics are all there. This is a very dynamic sounding amp that is not bright or airy or fast with a slight warmth down low.  
JDS LABS Element  (gone) - Not here during the review period but memory recalls it being a very musical pairing with enough power to make the Omni sing. Punchiness, musicality, and balance were all there even if it lacked some of the technical performance of the other gear mentioned. 
Trafomatic HEAD 2 (2W into 50 ohms) 

A little overpriced and maybe not the best pairing with the Omni because I prefer solid state with the Omni to help it pick up in speed, but some may really like this pairing. I probably need some better tubes to help the Omni’s bass sound a little tighter and it pairs better with the LCD2 and HD800 (with which the bass actually does sound controlled) but its still the best amp I have had/heard. Very good space and dimension on all axis’. Neutral tonality with a touch of tube warmth yet not overly lush or dark and not particularly airy. Good body and easily the best dynamics of the amps I have used for the Omni.
Cayin IDAC-6 ( on loan from Cayin for an up coming meet and review) -

Very good and balanced DAC with tuning filters such as sharp for which I used with my gear to help the musical pairing of the Omni and Nuprime, or Trafomatic HEAD 2 have the slightest increase in its perception of crispness. Clean, nuetral with good soundstage and similar to the infinity from memory but more to my liking.
Cayin IHA-6 (7W into 32 ohms balanced in the pic above.  On loan from Cayin for an up coming meet and review) 
GREAT power and pairing with the Omni. Maybe not as dynamic and full bodied in the midrange as the TH2 but it is tight in the bass, opens the Omni up and is never sluggish to further slow down the Omni. I find this an exceptional solid state pairing for the Omni and if I wasn’t curious about what my ordered Black Widow sounds like (hopefully I have the dough when the time finally arrives) I would definitely buy it right away and just for the Omni. Good soundstage, transparency, and tonality albeit on the lighter-brighter side of neutral just a tad. 
AIRIST Audio HERON 5 (5w into 32 ohms, tour unit) -

For tonality this pairing is quite the treat. It is extremely open sounding for a solid state amp and has tons of power on tap. Once you get past the design issues of the pots volume  and occasional static when turning the knob you have a very balanced amp that can be used with the Omni for tirelessly long listening sessions of smooth and open sound. The Heron is a bit lacking in slam, dynamics and a little lacking in separation. It is not thick or lush sounding either but has exceptional balance, good clarity and it’s power gives the Omni what it needs to open up in the mids to not only compliment the Omnis soundstage but really spread it out. 


The Omni is the result of two minds coming together. Zach get’s the wood housing from Luke Pighetti of Vibro labs who uses his expertise to create the ideal housing for the spacious and semi open sound of the ZMF Omni. If Vibro labs didn’t provide the housing to properly support the accoustic qualities of the Omni’s tuning it would no doubt sound a lot different in other cups. I recall having the ZMF Blackwood and sending it in to be revised and with the same driver modifications it still couldn’t come close to the Omnis spaciousness. Inside of the beautiful wooden cups are T50RP drivers that have been heavily tweaked in ways I do not know to create  its unique sonic flavor that is a lightyear beyond its original sound. The headband design, sliders, gimbals are salvaged to keep it in the context of a modified Fostex and can be customized in several different ways. 
The ZMF brand is one that is built around customization which is extremely unique in the realm of Full sized headphones. If you do not like the tuning you can send it back in one time for free to add more bass, tame the highs, make them brighter etc. Upon ordering you can also choose the wood, slider colors, cable configuration, headband type and even choose to eliminate the cost of its case. 
I truly hope that when this brand expands its wings into proprietary drivers and headband components it will maintain its disposition on customizable full sized headphones. No doubt he will find it a struggle to keep up with the labor and demands on his own but for now I really appreciate this aspect. If you don’t like a wood then keep your eyes peeled for what is coming around the corner because  Zach is always obsessing over what he can get away with for his headphones.

Build / Comfort:

To be blunt right up front… The Omni will most likely have varying opinions on how comfortable it is. I find the ergonomics to be a little hindered by the bulky (yet purposeful) cups and original housing yet in the same breathe I hold them, grab them, stare at them, and wear them with full satisfaction. The weight is quite substantial and to get a good seal on the bottom of most guys heads  the headband is slightly molded by Zach to get the pads to be flush on the bottom of the ears. The first time I took them to a mini meet one of the gentlemen expressed how they sounded phenomenal but the fit was awkward for him. He continued to exclaim “ those *@# ing things sound amazing…wow…I just wish the fit was a little easer….How much do they cost?…well they sound like it!!!” This is coming from a gentleman who prefers treble and doesn’t really care about bass. He also loved the pads as do I. They are extremely soft, plush, and are of exceptional quality.  Once I have a good fit on I am jamming with the ideal clamp force and pressure all around my head. The LCD2.2f w/ Vegan pads do provide even better comfort around my ears and are softer to the touch but the Omnis aren’t far behind. Both are heavy headphones and can’t compare to the comfortable design of my HD800S but I really am not the picky kind when it comes to this kind of stuff.  
The pads I mentioned can be stretched, pulled, and handled without any real worries. I loved the Alpha pads ZMF used to use but they ripped and showed signs of wear in no time. The Lambskin pads are REAL leather and soft with a very deep and open cavity. The alpha pads were nice and soft but I always wanted my earlobe to fit inside like the ZMF pads do. The pilot pad is of the same quality. If you have seen videos of Luke from Vibro slamming the housing down on a table while the Omni’s stay intact you can’t help but be persuaded to trust its built to stand the test of time. I won’t dare do that with these beautiful cups but I definitely have confidence in their durability which is partially due to Fostex’s excellent utilitarian components. 
This think does leak a copious amount of music and isolation is not the best since it is semi - open. Yet and still playing music into it at loud volumes will be a lot less annoying than an open back would to those around you. Sound does get in a bit as well but it does provide a useful amount of blockage to your surrounding environment. If my wife is talking I have to take them off when music is not playing to really understand her. 
The Omni benefits from gobs of power. It can sound great with under a watt into 50 ohms but it picks up in pace, energy, dynamics, and grace with more power. I believe that the Omni can take tube warmth to some degree without sounding too syrupy as the most important amping specs are to be in impedance, power, and low distortion. Please refer to how I feel the Omni gets along with the few amps I have tested it with above for more gear specific ideas. I will  say that the Omni can be hindered by an amp that has a slower sound to it because it appreciates speed. As an addendum to the above, the reason that the Nuprime HPA9 does well in musicality for the Omni is because it has enough current, is very dynamic and full bodied with great tonal density that takes nothing away from its physicality. However the Nuprime is a little slower than Cayin IHA6 and has less raw power so it’s not as successful in opening it up and “lifting the veil” as they say. 

Sound Signature/Frequency Response summary:

The short story is that what you get from the Omni is a wonderfully musical sound of rich, dense and pure tones that are never fleeting but ever planted in a robust foundation. There is a rise in the sub bass a slight hump in the mid bass for weighted kick, and an even and smooth midrange that is followed by good presence in the upper mids and neutral/slightly tinted highs. 
The guts: The bass of the Omni is pretty unique in that it anchors every song down to earth but doesn’t really hinder its sound quality by being too intrusive into other frequencies. It is always controlled, a lot of times slams pretty hard, but is never lacking. Whilst the Omni does have a good amount of mid bass it’s closer to the lower end of the mid bass in the spectrum. Upper bass is pretty flat but the Sub bass is elevated. I listen to my music a lot of the times around my family and whenever I play my bass heavy songs (which is becoming less often lately) I crank the music up without ever feeling the need for more or less bass. The Omnis definitely allow me to rock out but if they are underpowered the  macro dynamics that are responsible for producing those hard thumps won’t be as strong. Below are some comparisons for further impressions and as you will see I believe the Omni’s bass presentation is exceptionally well. I have had a pair of Alpha Dogs, Mad Dogs, heard the Nickerfields, tried the Vibros and Blackwoods and not only do the Omni’s pull off more in quantity but quality is better as well. Bass fanatics can rejoice with the Z.O’s for sure! But I won’t trick you into expecting a super fast , clean, and snappy bass. Instead expect a weighted, controlled, and firm foundation that despite not being super fast can still keep up in speed when needed to so you can hear those double drums properly. Is it basshead levels of low end? I am not quite sure. I would be more apt to say its not bass head in level but I doubt anyone can genuinely say it needs more without including “for me” in the same sentence. 
The glory: If the Omni’s didn’t have a good midrange then you can be sure it would have a lot more negative reviews. I am definitely not going to call the midrange perfect but there is a lot of treasure exposed in your recordings by how the Omni does the midrange. There are antonyms that come to mind while describing the Omni in the midrange; thin, dry, and boring would be some of them.  The opposite is true of these headphones. While playing Ben Harper’s “Picture of Jesus” I thoroughly enjoy the African harmonies of the back ground singers with these headphones. There is such a richness and serene wholesomeness that really pulls out the  essence of the song without contention. Positionally I find that sometimes the vocals can be a little more distant than average which materializes the impression of a venue a little more than other headphones in its price range do. The upper midrange is fairly present and a tinge of aggression can come forth but never with any real concern of fatigue. The meat of the recording is “matter of fact” with the ZMF Omni, and while I do hear that one of the headphones below in my comparisons section best it in tonal balance, the Omni is weighted, rich, and has a sweetness to its timbre that is the golden nugget of it’s characteristics; unique to it alone. The separation of these rich and full-midrange notes is a real treat as well. I do get some reverberations from the cups and bit of extra decay compared to my HD800S which is quite dry in comparison (and a little out of context in this review) but even that contributes to the Omni’s articulation of naturalness. Sometimes that adds to the inviting sound of these cans because they not only sound really open and spacious but also intimate and inviting in its own paradox of sonic performance. Open but intimate; precise transients but with a more natural decay; colorfully balanced; smooth but confidently assertive and bold. I will confess though that at times I prefer the non-ortho assortment of headphones for micro and macro dynamics. The Omni sometimes doesn’t sound as nimble or nuanced in the flickerings, clicks, and snaps as is often the case with traditional dynamic drivers. Luckily for these headphones they have a really good weight, texture and body to slot them among the best in musicality. 
The the grace: The lower treble is a little tough to push into a territory of splashiness and most usually the transients respond consistently clean, fast, and intelligible even on busy passages. The tuning sometimes sounds as if it brushes up on the territory of sibilance encroachment. This may be because I get a little sensitive in that area at times, yet I definitely conclude the Omni’s to be revealing and balanced in the lower treble all while not being really offensive if offensive at all. In fact, it would be better to attribute any problems to the recording itself. I won’t call the textures of the treble soft either, nor really hard and the glare has been tempered into naturalness though there still remains an inkling of flare. The Omni’s, would for some, belong to the darker side of neutral while for me I actually believe them to be closer balanced to a pair of monitors. Subjectively speaking and from personal experiences in studios etc (listening to playbacks of mixes) I often find a lot of audiophile gear to be unnaturally boosted in the treble and sensibly so since most audiophiles crave to be stunned by the most minute details that usually occur higher up in the frequency range. My HD800S has the treble peak tamed to a pleasurable balance but sometimes I still ( again my personal perspective) find it to sound a little thin since the treble for me still keeps it in the bright category of headphones. The Omni is tuned to have a solid amount of precision up with it’s slight peak in the mid treble but would still cater more to the natural and warm crowd who would prefer to hear high definition without excessively boosted treble. The treble extension is decent especially considering most t50 mods struggle in treble extension. Sometimes while listening I hear the treble as cleaner than the midrange even but this could just be a feeling more than an observation during listening. 
Headstage: Soundstage in spades…Call a spade a spade yo… The Omni has you covered here and can cast an image in front of you and around you like few others in it’s price range.  Of course it’s no HD800 and the Dharma sounds more spacious as well but for a semi open back headphone it seems as if I can hear unusually deep into the layers of the recording with separation that is effortlessly discernible. It is more wide than deep and there is only a slightly cavernous effect from the reverberations of the cups. Coming from the ZMF Blackwood, those reverberations in these Omni cups are a lot less pronounced and makes it even easier to hear the instruments in their own space.  Despite the Omni being so robust in nature it is able to be very holographic. Me likes!
Comparisons:(Build will be left out since I find the Omni's more premium  built than all of the below, yet comfort is only bested by the LCD2.2F's for me. Those who don't like weight will prefer some of the below over the Omni)
VS LCD2.2F (modded):

The LCD2.2F places the vocalist closer and it sounds more open(less restricted from the housing which is not to be confused with soundstage size). The omni has more of a smooth and silky texture. The LCD2 is slightly less thick. The bass is less solid on the LCD2.2F w/ vegan pads. Resolution is very similar with the LCD2 maybe having slightly more in the mids but a less textured treble. The Omni has way better separation of instruments and imaging. Vocals on the Omni have more space around them as well even if the midrange is a little more even with the LCD cans. Listening to  “John Henry “ by Harry Belafonte you can hear how his voice is more believable as the textures and rasp of his voice is better revealed on the LCD2.2F. However, like mentioned above there is this smooth, dense, and inviting tone on the Omni that the LCD2’s don’t have. Some of the old remastered songs tend to have audible air in  them and the Omni kind of makes it more dismissible because the added depth makes it seem more atmospheric whereas the LCD puts the air/hiss closer to the singer because dimensionally the LCD produces a flatter image. On the Omni male vocals have more weight but never sound flabby. With Amy Winehouse’s  “Back to Black” - both reveal the poor mixing of her vocals on that track. Its a remastered album of 24/96 kHz Stereo  and with that song there definitely is something off with her mic or and how she was recorded or maybe they made the recording to have an old school sound to it. It is nasally even on the Omni but less so than on the 2F. I kind of like to hide this with the Omni when I listen to that song. But also there is less blending of the higher pitched instruments which can sound more of a mess on the LCD2. The Omni helps the recording out a bit and not just because her voice is less annoying but because the separation is better and the instruments keep their boundaries and tonal weight. I give midrange purity slightly to the LCD2.2 but bass cleanliness, texture, and soundstage to the Omni. The Omni has better slam and rumble for EDM when it is called for and also less decay. 
VS THX00: 

(loaned of member Soundsgoodtome)
The Omni is more revealing of upstream gear than the THX00 which shows less changes to different gear but sounds great out of anything. Without a good DAC in place the TXH00 comes a lot closer to the performance of the Omni that is not as snappy but a little more detailed. Give the Omni a clean background and  it will be  more revealing while the THX00 shows only little improvement. This does mean that the THX00 sounds good out of more gear than the Omni though and actually sounds worse with too much power. The Massdrop champion is brighter and has more roughness and splashiness  in the highs that the Omni doesn’t exhibit which can make it a little more annoying than the Omni when handling sibilants. They seem to trade off qualities and merits and give grounds to each other in a lot of areas. The Fostex seizes the song with a fast and forward (positionally) sounding midrange, that while a little v shaped can still sound nicely clear, clean, and fast. The Omni on the other hand is a lot more seductive. The Omni is similar in balance and portrays a more even-handed mature and developed timbre that is slower but more resolute and full-bodied. The Fostex THX00 has a wide soundstage but is not as close to as wide or deep as the Omni. Even though the TH can do better at engaging the listener with speed and dynamics it has an even flatter image than the LCD2.2F and also is less detailed. The imaging separation differences between them is almost night and day with the Omni being the morning sun. The Omni can still get a little frustrated on busy passages but its better transient response and imaging keep it in check. In comparison the THX00 can quickly get a little messy. Drums snap and kick with more intension on the THX00 and is a very coveted quality of mine when I listen to headphones. The Macro dynamics and bass presence on the Fostex help it slam harder. The THX00 has a more pervasive rumble and while not as focused as the Omni is a bit quicker and rumbles harder. There have been a couple of songs where I felt the Omni gave me a just about the same amount of thump and rumble but it was still consistently the THX00 that proved to hit harder. Extension down low is a toss up. THX00 is more dynamic overall and aggressive but I usually find dynamics to out do orthos here anyway. The Omni is easily the more controlled, articulate, high fidelity,  and textured sounding headphone of the two though. 
VS Beyer DT1770:
gelocks loaner pair of dt1770's
COMFORT: TOSS UP (because I have the heavy wood, the other woods beat the dt1770 with a solid win for the OMNI)
LEAKAGE: DT770 (easy win)
BASS EXTENSION: ZMF OMNI (only by 1 1/2 db @ 20-30 hz )
BASS TIGHTNESS / SOLIDITY: ZMF OMNI ( easier to make rumble but distorts quicker )
MID RANGE: ZMF OMNI (easy win but would be tough for any closed/semi closed back I have heard to date beat)
LEAST LOWER TREBLE GLARE PROBLEMS: DT1770 ( For some reason, probably the treble peak being boosted as well as the presence region,  the Omni is being outshone here. I have my hand on the volume knob a bit more often then I do with the dt1770, this made my joy of the Omni take a little hit. When bells and things swell in volume through a recording the Omni is more resolving of dynamic range yet also more relentless and penetrating)
MID TREBLE: ZMF OMNI (solid win for clarity)
SOUNDSTAGE: ZMF OMNI (easy win, mostly wider than the DT770)
IMAGING: ZMF OMNI (not so easy)

VS DX1000:

(please note that the JVC has more bass in one cup than the other. Below has some speculation based on what I am able to hear with the JVC in this condition)
Both sound similar in speed with the Omni having better texture and precision. The DX1000 is just as organic sounding if not just a tad more so. The JVC also is the only other headphone in this comparison section that has a comparable soundstage. Sometimes when I switch from the JVC to the Omni I hear how the Omni has a tighter and slightly more compact presentation. However, the Omni has better instrument separation. The JVC on the other hand is more dynamic and punch. It's probably more comparable to the THX00 in dynamics yet without the odd balance in the treble and the glare that the THX00 has. While this comparison exhibits yet again the differences in dynamics between orthos and planars I prefer the Omni’s higher resolution. The JVC has even more reverberations than the other two in its soundstage but is larger than all of the others in size, inching out the Omni just a bit. Transparency goes to the Omni as well as bass control. While the JVC is the more fun sounding headphone, The Omni is the more High fidelity listen. I would definitely rank the JVC closer to the Omni’s than the THX00 though and consider the DX1k's easily one of my favorite headphones I have had here. I will probably revise this section with better impressions once the bass is equal in both drivers.   


I am not going to call the Omni’s a bargain or affordable high end sound. They are a little bit expensive but in my opinion fit exactly where they should in price. I have bought and tried so many headphones that I am a little ashamed of my finicky personality but as a consequence I have had the opportunity to really get a grip on price to performance ratios and where the Omnis sit. I would say that at the current price of the HE560, a used HE-6 and a used HE-4, that those have to be the best performing cans for the price. However, the Omni’s are not only tuned more to my liking but are very sensibly priced and especially for not being fully open backs. I have yet to hear a closed back or semi open headphone in its price range perform better and closer to my tastes. I am certain that the price of the Omni has a lot to do with the exotic wooden cups. If we weren’t paying for wooden cups and could get the same sound (not possible) then the Omnis would be a real bargain. Truly the Omni is priced just right and you get what you pay for. 



I love to have beautiful exotic wooden cups in my stable. I feel like I have one of the most premium made headphones out there. Luke of Vibro labs @taiden  seems to have designed the perfect enclosure for the T50 driver to sounds its best.  Beware though, you most likely will see another kind of wood pop up that makes you wish you had that wood instead. No worries, the Omni’s have become a popular and coveted headphone with good resale value incase you want to switch. Also, I can send these bad boys in to be tuned to my liking. Some qualities of the t50rp drivers cannot be overcome but some who have become familiar with T50rp headphone modifications have been totally surprised by how good ZMF can make them sound after hearing the Omni’s. What is there to conclude but to only hope that the Omni’s are not the conclusion of ZMF and Vibro labs collaborations. I hope they make even more headphones with their own drivers and gorgeous wood enclosures. 
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Great review of the ZMF Omnis. I especially liked your comparison with other headphones. See you at the Portland, OR Head-Fi Meet.
Thx! See you there
Question: what wood type were the Omni under review?


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Nice bass, not harsh or sibilant, Great sound, Excellent Value, versatile functionality, Organic,
Cons: could use a little more airiness(for some headphones), no other cons really.



Knowing that diminishing returns is such a reality it can be a bit heartbreaking to climb up the latter and experience so little change in sound quality. For the most part we want something that brings us the most realistic sound we can get for our money. Even if that reality is something we have shaped by our personal tastes for bright, lean, full, aggressive, or smooth. Even though some qualities can be explained technically, our personal value of each quality will vary. So what does an amplifier need to do to punch well above it’s price and humble the top of the line amps out there that yield great disproportionate results? Well based on diminishing returns, not much. From my previous experience with Nuforce, and now this Nuprime HPA-9 I really believe that NuPrime really understands this concept very well. Maybe a little too well (if there is a such thing).  They continually seek to engineer their products to punch high for their price. 
With bold statements such as “HPA-9 is the ultimate headphone amp capable of competing with any headphone amp at any price.” or them boasting how it measures like a $3000 dollar amp, you would think they are biting off more than they can chew. I only have one TOTL amp at the moment and got to shoot it out vs the Audio Heron H5 to put these claims to test… Feel free to jump to the sound section to read how it faired in my opinion. Just make sure you come back to the headphone pairing sections, functionality etc so you can get the whole picture because despite its stature it offers quite a bit for your buck. 


The Nuprime is capable of being a phono amp; has three headphone outputs that can effectively be used simultaneously without any real loss of Fidelity or power; the ability to plug three sources in at the same time (one being a turn table) and toggle between the sources via the knob on the left and a low, high gain setting to properly provide juice to your headphones. 
The only thing it really is missing is balanced ins and outs. 
Concerning its powering ability and internal design, allow me to simply quote the Nuprime Representative because I am admittedly incapable of explaining this adequately. 
“FET Input Stage: The single-ended JFET (Junction Field Effect Transistor) structure is powered by voltage with the characteristics of a solid-state semiconductor very much like a vacuum tube. The HPA-9 therefore produces a sound very close to a triode's. The high 2nd harmonic also contributes to the sound's warmth and neutrality, with an especially rich midrange.
The amplification circuit: The HITACHI 2SA872 and 2SC1775 transistors are no longer in production. However, we managed to acquire sufficient inventory for HPA-9. We have chosen these transistors because of three important features of a small-signal amplification transistor: high HFE for high current capability to power hard-to-drive headphones, wide bandwidth (FT) and low output capacitance (low COB). The result is a natural, high-resolution, detailed and wide-bandwidth sound.
Non-feedback, pure Class A output stage design: Non-feedback design with very low nonlinear distortion is difficult to accomplish, but when achieved, provides a smooth sonic characteristic. The design's best example is the Swiss darTZeel NHB-108 amp priced at about $20,000USD. The HPA-9 uses a 40W transistor specification for the output stage and an extremely precise KOA 0.1R.13W resistor with ideally quiet current consumption. Such an innovative design makes the HPA-9 a one-of-a-kind headphone amp.
World-class power supply: HPA-9 uses twelve 2200uF capacitors to form a capacitor bank array, and when the auxiliary capacitors are included, provides 30400uF of reserved power capacity. We are not aware of any other headphone amp using such a design, typical rather of high-end power amps. The massive capacitance array provides abundant power to drive any high-impedance headphone. 
To drive high impedance headphones properly by simply increasing headphone-amp power is insufficient. A brute- force, high-power design can cause the headphones to be played too loud, often resulting in long-term hearing loss. By providing large, instantaneous amounts of power through 30400uF capacitor array, a pure, Class A design of a high current and low impedance output stage, the HPA-9 is able to drive high-impedance headphones with ease while providing just the required amount of power for high efficiency earphones.”
The amp is fairly deep, not really wide, but shallow in height measuring 9inches wide, 2 inches tall, and 11 inches deep. My unit arrived in black (different than my request) with silver nuprime labelling and faint grey lettering to identify volume, gain, and input selections. It weighs an solid  and compact 5 lbs which is not really heavy at all for its price. 
The volume knob doesn’t have much resistance but is very easy to dial in your ideal listening level. For the whole time I have had this amp it has worked flawlessly in every way. Something I can’t say about my last amp, the Liquid Carbon but I also can’t say which one overall represents the better value. 
Even though the aesthetics from the sides reveal all of the little bolts, and separate plastic and metal parts that make up the chassis, I kind of like its modern design and isolation feet underneath with the rubber pods that keep it from scratching my white desk.



2015 27 inch iMac 5k retina display
LHLABS Pulse Infinity DAC and headphone Amp.
MHDT Stockholm 2
Audirvana Plus
Amarra SQ
Airist Audio Heron 5 (tour unit)
Trafomatic Head 2
Sennheiser HD800S, Fostex THX00(on loan from member Soundsgoodtome) , ZMF Omni, LCD2.1 (not much time with it though)


I wanted to breifly cover how well the HPA-9 is able to drive every pair of headphones with ease despite its meager Max 450mW @ 32 ohm / 100mW @ 600 ohm rating. This is the first and probably the only headphone amp with a rating that low that can grab my Omni by the balls and make them sing. It is not the best pairing here I will admit but for reasons mentioned above something is definitely going on in the design that makes them hesitant about listing that spec on their website. It will mislead you for sure because this baby has plenty of juice on tap that has more to do with current than your average amp. The NuPrime  provides enough current for me to feel that listening to the Omni with the knob halfway will be fatiguing for long sessions. I  usually like to listen loud for two minutes of my favorite song and then turn the pot down for the rest of a play list to avoid fatigue yet 12 o’clock is pretty loud on high gain. Dear reader, if you were once puzzled by the 12 o’clock etc terms like I was let me help. I look at the volume marking like a real clock . This amp turns on at 7:30, 12:00 is dead center and I don’t know what all the way is and won’t try it!!). I have yet to go past 1:30. One thing is that low gain is almost as loud because for the same volume it is only at 1 o’clock on the pot. However I loose a little bit of dynamics in comparison to high gain with hard to drive headphones as it sounds slightly more compressed. 
At first, at high volumes my experience was that past 12:30 the ZMF Omni began to distort however as more time went by (burn in) I noticed a lot less distortion to the point that now I can play it painfully loud and its all clean…. Later on I will talk about headphone pairings but I had to clear up any and all perceptions that this amp can’t drive almost any headphone, because it can!!! Any other headphone amp rated such would not be able to. 
Lets get to the sound now…



I don’t recall the Nuforce ha-200 sounding like this, nor having this much headroom even though rated more powerful in mW’s. Neither do I recall the Nuforce I-DAC sounding like this either. I may have a faulty memory but I was expecting a bright and sheeny kind of signature with some digital grain reminding me I was listening from my computer. I am not saying that is what the other Nuforce gear sounded like but I do recall some of that going on with the Nuforce I-DAC. The 9 is down right incomparable. 
While I wont call the sound liquid or silky smooth, the amp is a bit different in almost every way than I was expecting. It certainly has it’s own signature that will impart a bit of it’s flavor into your music but the for the most part bleeds and inviting warmth down low and lack of glare and airiness up top. I find it neither forward or laid back but a really good middle ground of aggression. Musically natural is what this amp is.  



The NuPrime at first seemed slightly less tight in the bass than my infinity amp, but that was only in perception because the 9 is actually more solid. It's just that the pulse infinity amp section is a bit dry and pushes a perception of being technical, whereas the Nuprime bass is actually just naturally integrated into the music. Down low there is a slight warmth that doesn’t necessarily sound like a bass boost is on but more like there is a gentle raising of the bass overall. The texture is excellent and the punch is controlled, solid, and weighted. In comparison to the Airist Heron 5 it is head and shoulders above it in slam, punch, control, and presence. Even compared to my Trafomatic HEAD 2 the bass seems more solid for Orthos and lower impedance headphones such as the Fostex TH series. The Trafomatic HEAD 2 has an impedance switch and is a 2500 dollar headphone amp furthermore it is a tube amp. However the bass isn’t as detailed as the T2 and when I use the HD800S the bass becomes more solid on the Trafomatic by just a little. The results seem to be that it is better controlling lower impedances regardless of the volume on the pot but make no mistake, the HD800S still sounds controlled and solid with the HPA-9. Its bass performance is most apparent with the Fostex THX00 and really makes for a satisfying experience…well there is a spoiler for you. 


I find the midrange to be smooth, not thin in texture but not really forward. There is a barely noticeable but larger distance of the vocalist when comparing to the Heron 5, infinity amp section, and especially the Trafomatic Head 2. Yet there is still that warm hue that lends itself well to male vocals but overall there is a tiny bit of airiness missing for me (depending on the headphone/HD800S shows no signs of this) that can help lift the veil of darker headpohnes. This is a little different that I was expecting but I actually would consider it very close to neutral. The Heron 5 sounds a lot more airy and pushes the perception of clarity a little better. Yet, I find the HPA-9 to have better body and sound a tad more refined and wholesome overall. The timbre of the 9 is a slightly tinted but very tangible and pleasant. This sounds pretty even through out the frequency range, yet just pinch darker than the other amps I had here leaving the female vocalist a little un-pampered but true to the recording. The Trafomatic HEAD 2 is not dark or bright, maybe just a little sweet in the midrange and lower treble, yet magically without any glare. In comparison to that amp this one is only a hair darker, almost as full bodied in the middle mids, but not as present in the upper mids as the T2 or airy. For airiness the Heron 5 takes the cake, yet it is not bright either and is relatively smooth but sounds kind of more open with good treble extension. 
For the Nuprime, still I find the mids to have adequate details and good resolution with a warm sound that, while not like a tube amp, is great in realism. If you are looking for that crisp and laser sharp sound, the HPA-9 is probably not the one for you. If you are looking for your midrange to be even like the recording probably intended with no flattery than maybe you will appreciate the Nuprime HPA-9'S tuning like I do. 


Depending on the pairing it can either be great with Macro dynamics or 
decent. Planar magnetic headphones never really fully become as animated like a dynamic driver does and this will not be the amp to make it do so. What I do get with my Omni is a reinforced body, firm and dense / weighty tones that orthos are known for. In comparison I felt the Lhlabs headphone out to sound as if it was faster but a bit more forced and digital sounding.   I do find this amp to be nicely punchy, not super fast, but musical without unnecessary aggression. 
The head stage of this amp is spread out with limited boundaries but it is more developed than the pulse infinity amp section. Both of the other amps here have more spread out sound stages than the HPA but it’s not really a fair fight because the Heron 5 is exceptionally wide for a solid state and the T2 has the most 3 dimensional sound I have heard yet from an amp. I would say the 9 is still above average, especially for its price. It has great separation, even better than the wispy heron 5. One of the things I love about this amp is how all of my instruments sound distinct, separated, imaged, and fleshed out. The Nuprimes ability to sound cohesive is supreme as nothing ever feels disjointed and my music always has a good foundation and tone. Lots of toe tapping here because the good separation along with the dynamic sound makes for an immersive experience. 
The amp is very clean sounding overall and despite me thinking the Heron 5 sounds more airy, I prefer the body and emotion of the 9 as well as the separation and definition of the individual notes in the end. The Heron sounds just as detailed but because it lacks tonal weight the music seems more blended than this.  I also love how the 9 does bass, and is more even tempered than my Trafomatic Head 2. They compliment each other very well. 
This amp seemed to have  a blacker background when using the Infinity as a DAC than the Infinity headphone out. Sometimes the Pulse infinity amp sections accentuations make sound higher in  resolution.  Especially because it is a little brighter, and more aggressive, but it sounded like it was less refined, a little more hashy and raw. While I sometimes preferred the raw sound of that amp…in the end the heavier toned and warm sound of the Nuprime made a better pairing with that DAC. Fast forward to my MHDT Stockholm2 and I have a really musical combination. Also the Stockholm 2 reveals the Nuprime to be a better performer on female vocals than it did with the Infinity DAC albeit equally behind the Airist and Trafomatic 2 in that regards since they all improve in that area with the S2. 


  1. with the HD800S
The bass is pretty tight. Instantly agreeable in tonality and balance. The Dynamics are decent though I would rather have something with a more spacious sound to compliment the HD800S. This could be because leaving the Trafomatic Head 2 socket for the Nuprime never seems like a good idea no matter the song. For adding a little warmth and punchiness to the relatively thin Sennheiser the Nuprime is hardly useless.  High gain is heaps better for the HD800S as the bass firms up substantially and adds tonal weight overall
  1. with the Omni
Again bass seems controlled but probably not optimal for getting the best dynamics and punch from the Omni. A bit too warm in the lower mids at times and doesn’t add any speed to the heavy and rich sound of the Omni. Again it is really surprising how much power it has to get it that loud but it still isn’t an effortless listen with the Nuprime. The thing is though is that neither are any of these amps I had here in comparison. The Heron is too smooth in attack.The trafomatic sounds good but Id like to try a better and faster solid state amp with gobs of power to exploit the Omnis potential because it truly does like tons of power. Halfway up on the pot and the Omni can get above normal listening levels but I am in consistent want for a bit more air like the Heron provides and sometimes I feel like it is held back a tad as the ultimate pairing. Yet and still I choose the Nuprime over both of those amps for listening to Electronic and bass driven music. The Heron again is the easy choice for vocals and openness by a long shot. And at the new price of 999 USD the heron 5 is still within range of being a competitor to the Nuprime. 
  1. with the THX00
YEAH…. this is golden right here. This sounds better than all of the other amps for the THX00 on exciting songs. My infinity is now gone because I felt satisfied with the Nuprime and wanted the MHDT so I can’t really say with certainty that it is better than the infinity amp for the THX00 but Id be very surprised if it wasn’t. Sometimes the THX00 can sound like it needs to be kept in check when songs get busy, and while the nuprime doesn’t totally stop the blending it definitely helps. The bass on the Fostex compared to the Omni is a little uncontrolled but boy does the Nuprime hold its reigns and brings out very nice slam and punchiness. The warmth of the 9 and linear treble balance of its tuning, gently buffer the glare of the THX00 but only slightly as to not hinder its perception of a forward and breathy vocal run. If you are looking for an amp for your THX00 I would say stop right here. 


I really believe the Nuprime offers supreme value and is never the worst pairing for any headphone. Does it punch as high as the Nu entity claims it will in price to performance(besting amps 1k and up)? In some areas yes but in my opinion if it was tuned to be slightly more airy it may have tricked the average listener into thinking they have the best amp out there. However, I am not a fan of boosted highs in gear and that may be a bad thing for already bright headphones. Overall it has a lot going for it and is an easy recommendation for someone looking for an amp that can play with most headphones and then some. My Trafomatic Head 2 has an impedance selector of 25,50,100,300, and 600 yet it seems and sounds less versatile than this amp. Good clarity, refinement, and musical tonality make this headphone amp a real winner in my book. 
~ Grizz

update and addendum 6/17/16
After burn in and more time with this amp I have to make several points. I have recently paired it with my Metrum Pavane, a DAC that costs 4,999 brand new. I am absolutely floored by how this amp changed when being fed a signal from it.

  • the midrange became a lot more forward and clear
    the airiness of the pavane and speed came through marvelously
    and it is now practically flawless sounding to my ears. DAC first is really key
    During the time of this review I was using the Stockholm v.2 and the Geek Pulse infinity. I have also had the opportunity to try it with the Cayin iDAC 6 and heard a slight improvement in sound quality with the Cayin but I had no idea that pairing it with a TOTL Dac would yeild such drastic changes and be able to produce such transparency

Further impressions with the Hifiman HE-5le

  • This amp is very capable of driving the most demanding orthos without skipping a beat. I still don't think it makes something like the Omni slam harder but it definitely has tons of headroom. The HE-5lE is a bright headphone with sibilance problems yet has a very beautiful midrange tonality and transparency. Paired with that headphone I am only at 2 o'clock on the dial and my hearing is very much in danger. Its also very dynamic and snappy with that headphone. Even more snappy than with my TH2. It seems more and more like my TH2 shines on high impedance headphones and this one shines on lower impedance headphones however it doesn't make ortho bass slam harder, yet it does make lower impedance dynamic drivers slam harder in the bass. I compared it to the new WOF Cayin Iha-6 headphone amplifier and noticed that when using that amp it was able to make the ortho bass slam harder but dynamic headphones sounded similar in slam and punch to the Nuprime. The nuprime sounds more meaty overall.
Anyone (including the author) have experience with this amp and Grados?
I can only speculate. but here are my findings... First of all from what I know Grados are forward sounding. This has a midrange that is not so forward but nuetral yet is a punchy sounding amp. As far as control and dynamics it has done wonderful with dynamic drivers that aren't hard to power. The Kennerton Vali, of which is on tour, has an excellent synergy with it as well as did the THx00, JVC DX1000, and others dynamic headphones not hard to power. I am sensitive to treble but would pretty much bet on this being a great pairing since it is not a bright sounding amp. 
Long time ago, but how does this compare to the Schiit Jotunheim, which seems to be in the same price range?


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: balanced sound signature, great treble texture, clean sound, high quality build, detailed and revealing sound, good dynamics
Cons: soft bass impact, high frequencies can make some recordings sound bad.


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Excellent attack, cohesive, easy listening, nice midrange, decent soundstage
Cons: looks may be a bit flashy w/ the gold version for some. Not fully over ear




I signed up for the tour that Meze solicited for after being approached by them to give their headphones a listen. I have no ties or any personal bias so as always below is my honest opinion of these headphones. I just want to give a run down of the usual categories. I will start by saying that this is a very good headphone by Meze. 

Design/ Comfort ​

The Meze 99 Classics have a sturdy and practical build that looks like a headphone for home usage but functions like a portable. The suspension strap provides effortless adjustment even for larger heads like my own. The headphone cups don't fold or bend but there is a pivot point under the gold plated joint caps that give enough way for an easy fit on various head shapes. It did take a little finagling to get a good fit but once I have a good seal I rarely find the need to reposition the headphones. While I wish every single headphone company in the world would avoid the half over ear, half on ear design I find these decently comfortable. The padding is somewhat soft yet my ears touch the inside of the cloth covering the driver and my ears are a little crammed inside.
The isolation is pretty good and sound leakage is minimal. This would make an excellent work tool. Especially considering its sturdy, modular build. 
The cables are detachable and are dual entry. The cups are of a non glossy wood and everything else is metal. I find no plastic parts anywhere in the headphone. The 99's are of a premium build with good attention to aesthetics.
From the Meze Website:


We aimed for perfection in every component it designed. CNC carved wood ear cups, cast zinc alloy hardware with electroplated coating, stamped manganese spring steel headband, memory foam, soft PU leather are the materials your hands and eyes will get to enjoy. No plastic here for you to see.

Besides the usual warranty everybody is offering we guarantee that the 99's are endlessly serviceable if any parts would ever need to be replaced because we did not build this headphones for them to break after 2 years so you can go buy new ones. No glue, just nuts and bolts."

Specs / Accessories

PRICE 309.00_USD



Transducer size: 40mm

Frequency response: 15Hz - 25KHz
  1. Sensitivity: 103dB at 1KHz, 1mW
  2. Impedance: 32Ohm
  3. Rated input power: 30mW
  4. Maximum input power: 50mW
  5. Detachable Kevlar OFC cable
  6. Plug: 3.5mm gold plated
  7. Ear-cups: walnut wood"
Portable cable w/mute button
Extra long cable
Airplane adapter
1/4 inch adapter
Cable pouch
Headphone travel case



Gear used
2015 iMac 27 inch 5k
Geek Pulse Infinity
Sound Cloud
Personal library of electronic, Hip hop, Soul, and many others of various formats

Frequency response summary

The Meze is a very musical headphone with a slightly elevated bass response, even natural midrange, and smooth unoffensive high end. Think HD650 with a better reach down low, less extension in the treble, less upper mids, and possibly slightly rougher in the treble but about the same quantity. This is a very agreeable headphone and overall I would say it is tuned very nicely for my tastes. 
The classics have a slightly fast decay on the bass but the attack, while punchy, is a bit murky at times yet still adequately solid. It's ability to sustain a deep rumble is fair but it's punchiness is very good. The bass slam is fairly weighted but not like a planar. The sub bass reaches pretty low to my ears. Even though the sub bass sounds elevated and the mid bass hump isn't really overdone, the kick drums are where this headphone displays it's tactility. 
The midrange of the Meze is very cohesive, full in the middle mids, not overly thick in the lower midrange, and a bit tapered in the upper mids. Sometimes I want a more airy sound with sharper presence region but unlike the MH40 I had a while back I rarely feel like its too overcast / murky sounding. There is enough clarity in the midrange to keep me satisfied and vocals sound great to me. There are only a couple of closed back headphones I have heard in it's price range to best it in overall transparency but the midrange on the 99's is a believable one. 
I find the headphone to be a little tinted with the ability to reveal sibilants and treble detail. The treble doesn't sound really airy but sparkle is present with high hats and cymbals being aloud to have their freedom without making you squint. You will be able to tell the poor recordings fairly easily vs the bad ones with this one. 



This headphone has one of my most sought after qualities in music...punch. This headphones transient response works like a well lubricated set of pistons as the music drives the transducers into a very engaging performance. Everything pops, snaps, flickers, clicks, and sings on these set of cans. The instrument separation is great as well as the imaging for such a little headphone, while not the best in its price, it is still exceptional. 
The soundstage is pretty decent as well. It sounds as if the music is decently spread out on the sides with a little bit of depth too. This is not just the flat and wide soundstage but a wholistic picture of soundscape. If the headphone had better treble extension it would really showcase what it has here. While I don't feel like I am listening to an open back headphone, I also don't hear too much clutter. This is a very nimble headphone with sounds being easily drawn out of the recording to dance in their own spaces. 


At 309.00 the Meze proves that good things do come in small packages and at a good value. I also have become aware that Meze will have different color schemes for those not so keen on a flashy look and want a more low profile piece of gear. This headphone earns an easy recommendation for those seeking good sound that offers some mobility and hours of fatigue free listening. In fact, this headphone will be on my shortlist when the time comes again for me to need a portable headphone... which may be soon. 
Two thumbs up!
Kinda jonesing for these.
You're kind of reinforcing my point.  The better loudspeaker manufacturers don't use solid wood cabinets, like you seem to believe.  Solid wood, especially hardwoods, tend to be extremely resonant, making them great for building instruments, like drums, but horrible for making speaker cabinets.  Manufacturers like Wilson Audio use acoustically inert materials like MDF for the cabinets in order to eliminated resonance within the cabinet.  My Paradigm Studio Reference 100s have a beautiful rosewood finish, but it's just a veneer applied to the MDF the cabinets are made of.  I'd hardly call my Paradigms 'cheapo.'  Certainly not the $200,000 Wilsons I listened to last week.  The loudspeaker designers I've personally spoken with include Clayton Shaw of Spatial Audio, Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen and Sean Casey of Zu audio.  They would all disagree with pretty much everything you just said.
Bottom line:  exotic woods impress neophytes and charlatans, but are a sign of inferior design for those of us who actually grasp the nuances of hi-fi audio.


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Very well balanced. Deep/ Present foundation. Open vast sound. Amazing comfort
Cons: Lacks emotion too soft and lacks drive. Price should be lower.


H I F I M A N    E D I T I O N    X 

I have received this pair of headphones for audition for a weeks time as a part of the loaner program. I am grateful for the opportunity to audition this headphone but have no ties with HiFiMan.  
Gear used:
  1. Late 2015 iMac Retina 5k
  2. Geek Pulse Infinity 
  3. Cavalli Liquid Carbon
  4. ifI micro iDSD
About me:
My listening tastes vary depending on my mood but overall I prefer a sound that most closely mirrors your average studio monitors in being engaging yet honest and full from one end of the spectrum to the other. I’m not in the lean, thin and bright camp but can tolerate bright music for short periods of time if the bass gives a foundation to the music. 
I simply just want to offer my impressions of this headphone based on my limited time with them. I will get into the sound first and then the other aspects later if you don’t mind. Right off the bat I will tell you that my impressions of this headphone are generally positive. Yet, as with all things it boils down to personal preference. 


F r e q u e n c y     R e s p o n s e 
The Frequency balance is extremely linear from the deepest bass through to the upper mids where  later on in the lower treble near the sibilance region there is only a minor, inoffensive peak. I have yet to hear something sound as linear as this headphone from the bass all the way up until the upper treble where there seems to be a little smoothed response to my ears but nothing too dark. 

B a s s 

While I personally prefer slightly more impact, I am certain that the amount of bass here is spot on in quantity. Its relatively tight, solid, moderately textured, and controlled and a slightly not dry.  The bass easily reaches to the lowest octaves and pulls out all of the substance there without too much lingering decay after the notes attack, though I can see some wishing the decay was quicker. Some may prefer a cleaner and sharper bass but it'd be hard to deny it's wisely tuned amount. While the attack is a bit soft it’s still tangible and keeps from being overly thick, or diffuse. There is absolutely no muddying of  the midrange. There is simply not enough mid bass in this headphone for it to murk any part of the frequency response. It’s not slow as much as it is just lacking the assertiveness in it’s leading edge(attack) when compared to the best bass in the business. I recall the he560 to be a tad faster with a harder, tighter, harder  slam yet less in quantity and similar in density. The difference  is that the HiFiman sounds really natural and round while still being mostly everything you imagine of planar bass instead of dry and overly technical. I did find my LCD2.1 to be slower, fatter, a shade more intense, with a longer decay and less detail. However the LCD2.1 had a harder punch (its not hard to me to begin with), slightly more body and dimension. Coming from the LCD-X you will immediately notice your loss of bass density and punch in the sub octaves in exchange for a more gentle presentation but not at the expense of much quantity and foundation. Again, the bass in quantitative presence is supple. 
When I used the iFi Micro iDSD to boost the bass, it didn’t respond well at all. I noticed a subtle change but nothing worth mentioning. Also, I don’t feel it really needed a bass boost to begin with. I am a bass head but at the same time I’m not the most committed bass head. Sometimes I like my bass just like the heX in balance; nothing more and nothing less. Personally I prefer the LCD-X bass in almost every way but prefer the HEX bass over the LCD2.1 on certain songs because it has less unnecessary fat around it even if LCD punches harder. Since the foundation is substantial and overall signature is melodic it supports a generic impression of musicality. My favorite price to performance headphone, the  ZMF OMNI, hits harder, is tighter, faster even, and stronger but may be overbearing for some in comparison.  
I would like to use Reggae ( born Jamerican here ) as an example. Reggae ( particularly roots ) music needs that rumble and foundation but doesn’t really need a lot of that hard impact as long as it's available. Reggae needs a strong, slightly dense presence down low;  a deep reach with an instantly agreeable transition into the lower midrange of the male dominated music genre; and a sustaining rumble that resonates under the singers voice. The HEX does perfect here. I absolutely want for nothing when listing to reggae. Damien Marley’s voice is another story but almost as equally as spot on. Reggae drums are usually pretty soft and the drumming style lends to the riddim (rhythm) being a second nature element of composition where you don’t even think about it. If I only listened to Reggae I could be totally satisfied with the HEX. 


M i d r a n g e

Linear. This headphone is absolutely even from the lower mids to the upper mids and even a bit beyond in my opinion. Like most HiFiMan headphones, the Edition X never sounds very thick in the lower midrange despite its warmer hue. There isn’t the very strong upper midrange presence of the HiFiMan He500 and my LCD2.1 has a stronger upper midrange as well. The midrange response is as smooth, if not smoother than any headphone I have listened to that isn’t an Audeze  and possibly right there in smoothness. Sound ideal… well yes if balance is the only thing a headphone needs to make it sound good. No, its not all about balance. There is more than meets the ears and I will describe those aspects later on. The tones though are very pretty and sound carefully tuned, yet stop just a bit short of delivering the breathtaking realism it’s price suggests. The 900 dollar ZMF Omni has a stronger upper midrange and more aggressively exposes the inner details of the tracks I am used to but some who like a soft and relaxing sound may prefer the less lively, but smoother HeX. This is a specifically natural sounding headphone when judging by it’s balance alone. I rarely feel like I want more upper mids or lower mids except for a rare desire of a stronger presence region to provide a greater sense of purity. Male and female vocals balanced. Quite a feat if you ask me. Through out this week the roundness of the midrange kept my head swimming in some of the  most soothing listening sessions I have had. 

T r e b l e

While I prefer only a  dash more energy in the upper treble, and only on certain songs, I don’t think its balance is entirely the reason behind me feeling its a tad too relaxed for me at times. I would be lying if I didn't say it contributes to the impression though. The treble in my opinion does not make this headphone sound dark. In fact, I don’t think its a dark headphone or a bright headphone. The LCD2.1 is definitely darker and while the EdX offers some relief, its not like I am listening to a whole  different category of headphones based on it being bright or something though. To more directly counter the chocolatey dark nature of the old Audeze you would need something like the He6 instead. The extension is okay if not only a hair rolled of in the extremes but it sounds sufficiently extended to me, just not exceptionally airy.  The Edition X is most definitely darker than my all time favorite HiFiMan HE-6 but I honestly prefer the Edition X’s overall treble quantity just a little. It won’t take the crown of the HE-6 for me because I prefer a more physical listen, just to clarify, but if based on balance alone I prefer the Edition X's treble quantity because I gravitate towards headphones that don't excessively boost the treble. However the He6 well amped probably still wins in quality.  I think when cymbals, electric guitars build the X can sound a bit blended and sometimes messy but that's because its treble is not that solid in texture. When I owned the he560 I felt its treble was too hard sounding and biting on the ears. The LCD-X is rougher in the lower treble and even though the HEX isn’t dark its still less fatiguing. The treble texture is smooth and "lite" while avoiding sounding veiled. 

T e c h i n c a l t i e s


S o u n d s t a g e   [size=17.03px]9/10[/size]

I think the sound stage is very large. This is the largest sound stage I have ever heard on a planar, actually since I haven’t heard the HD800 or yet ( scared of thinness ) or HEK, it has the most wide open sound I have heard yet on a full sized open back. Its not particularly deep, has some width, and a lot of air around the instruments that give the perception of the music being spread out above and below the ears. There is a good center image but it’s not really forward sounding to me. There is a flatness and openness at the same time. It’s almost as if all of the instruments are panned out to a set limit where they cap off on a wall of sound around the ears. I believe sound stage lovers will thoroughly enjoy the HEX despite this minor effect I am hearing.  

I m a g i n g / Sound Separation   [size=17.03px]7.5/10[/size]

I must admit that while the sounds seem placed in specific locations in a spread out field I am left to wonder if this is world class sound separation or not. When things get busy and full there is a meshing of sounds it seems to me. The softer than normal transient action is what I am thinking is the culprit. Because it lacks a bit of pop and snap the instruments don’t maintain as much individuality as they would on say the he6 so they can sometimes sound overlapped. On the most relaxed songs with quiet pauses and subtle builds the HEX excels with pin point spacial cues and tantalizing soundscapes that place you in another realm. For these songs I am sad that I am not the personal owner of these headphones especially since I don’t have to touch the eq… like ever. However, those songs are few and rare for me as I am consistently on a search for passionate vocals and the quibbles I have here don’t offer much support when honing in on them to be captivated. This can doesn’t seem to be that incisive at dividing sounds from one another possibly due to its somewhat lazy decay as a drier sound would make it seem more precise. 

E n g a g e m e n t   f a c t o r   [size=17.03px]6.5/10[/size]

I wanted to call this section attack but its not that simple so I’d rather describe the technical aspects as a whole picture. Let’s take the amazingly smooth LCD2.1 for example with it’s out of date technicalities and lush, sexy midrange: 
When listening to horn sections swell to fullness in the song to take front stage, the LCD2.1 utterly decimates the HEX in its ability to convey their presence and dynamic push. When a vocalist belts and the band pick ups their speed and volume to the pace and energy of the drummer, the HEX strains to make that energy emotion as if it caps out and gets boxed in or flat. Even better would possibly be to say there is a clipping of energy as if its governed to a set limit. 
Vocals lack a bit of depth to them because they are emerging from a grayish background and don’t get fully carved out of the recording. What you do get is a beautiful surface image of the vocalist and instruments but its like you can’t hear around them. As mentioned previously they aren’t popping out of the recording. If HEX were like the iMax theatre screen, sans 3D in sonic image, the LCD2.1 would be like watching the same movie at a cheaper theatre but in 3D. Sure the IMAX(HEX) is more spread out and colorfully accurate but the cheaper 3d theatre (LCD2.1) attempts to reach out and grab you. I noticed the LCD2.1 to have a rounder and more realistic bodied tonality. The HE6 I remember to have better transparency, micro and macro dynamics with a gorgeous nimbleness around and about each note that played. The he6 has less mids and more highs so the balance has nothing to do with it. The HEX, with its glossy and effortless nature,  quits its efforts when things get dramatic and keeps it’s cool nature at the expense of emotion and realism.
The HEX can be appreciably smooth from the right perspective and lend itself to a really swell non-fatiguing session. It is just that I prefer just about every full sized headphone I have had for excitement. I cannot call such a spacious and well balanced headphone boring though… It’s got too many good eggs in the basket to go there. 


D e t a i l    Re t r i e v a l / R e s o l u t i o n    7.5[size=17.03px]/10[/size]

Detail retrieval and navigation through the miniature nuances of the recordings are better revealed by the LCD3F which is the best I have heard when it comes to that aspect. But if you are looking at the HEX you aren’t looking for superlatives in any specific category if you have read many of the impressions. You have become interested more possibly because it is said to be a good all around’er and that it is. Resolution is of the less vivid and sharp type but broadly colorful and wholesome. There is never the pitch black aether of space for the sounds to emerge from but what comes forth is refined and grain free. I am aware that the upper treble is very much responsible for revealing details as the tinkles, scrapes, ruffling edges and zips are high up there but as we know there is more to details than balance and the HEX, while not being the stunning here, doesn’t leave too many crumbs on the plate. The decay is not abrupt and the headphone doesn't sound as dry as some of the other headphones I have heard. I want to use creamy to describe the overall texture of the sound but it wouldn't be a thick kind of creamy but like a silky runny kind of response where precision is less important than flow. 

B u i l d    [size=17.03px]6.5/10[/size]

The HiFiMan Edition X is one of the sweetest looking headphones I have seen. The shiny, black-iridescent paint is quite the stunner in person. I expected a purple tinted headphone based on the pictures I have seen but it’s black coating can take on a few different colors under lighting. The major gripe I do have is a respectable, and commonly shared one. I absolutely do not think an 1800 dollar headphone can share the same plastic parts of a 299 model in the same company. The Edition X headband gimbals are of the cheap n’ easy to break plastic of all of the lower tiered HiFiMans. Other manufacturers are well aware of avoiding such a tasteless mistake and help you justify the fact that you spent a ridiculous amount of money by offering you the luxury your money has paid for. The grill is of a solid chrome finished  metal that offers some quality and appeal to a most uniquely designed headphone of oval shaped cups. 
The cords plug into a firm gripping mini connector that is flush finished to the bottom of the cups.   I really like what HiFiMan has done with the connectors and have to deem it my favorite cable connection to date. 
The cable doesn't kink up and coils easily. It's more of a commercialized look than the previous models and much longer as well. 



E f f i c i e n c y   10

Very efficient yet at the same time it didn't change in sound much when switching between gear as much as my LCD2.1 did. I really don't expect this headphone to scale up well on better amps but I have to remain non-conclusive. The liquid carbon offered a blacker background than my Geek infinity or Loaner iDSD but that's all I could really detect. It is very efficient. This is the plug and play headphone that HiFiMan has been aiming to make for quite some time. I can get very loud volumes straight from my iPad Air and it sounds great!

C o m f o r t    [size=17.03px]8.5/10[/size]

While the ear cups seem shallow, my ears never became irritated from rubbing too much up against the driver. The pads are slightly angled and there is ample room from top to bottom on the inside. The only reason for me not giving it a perfect score here is because I am not certain if people with smaller heads won’t find it a bit too big. I have a huge head and am only on one click up from the smallest position. HiFiMan is wise for sticking with the soft velour, yet leather outside for the most comfortable pads I have every worn. 


V a l u e    6/10

1799 should have some superlatives running all throughout this review and if not the build should be absolutely luxurious and refined. Audeze is already overpriced and HiFiMan maybe coming out of their price to performance track record with this entry. Would I pay 1799 for a headphone? Yes. Would it be a headphone of this build and technicalities? I am not quite sure. However, Value is most subjective. Here is the thing though. Currently I am unaware of any fully open back headphone to combine a good low end foundation (deep at that), well balanced frequency response, and spacious, somewhat clear and refined sound. All while providing endless spans of non-fatiguing listening. This makes its price seem like as if its worth it because it is a one of a kind… for now …because manufacturers are actually wising up with their tunings. But even so others probably wont be nearly as efficient and easy to play on all sources as the Edition X. One thing that may be invaluable is that the HEX doesn't trap you to your desktop, grab your phone, tablet etc and go. However I very much prefer the ZMF Omni, LCD-X, HiFiMan HE-6, and LCD3F over the Edition X because they are all relatively more soul gripping, and technically better performing in some areas. 


O V E R A L L 

While not the best value I have known, it is the best sounding headphone I have heard that doesn't need special amping.  Kudos to HiFiMan for making good sound that plays well with everything. Because of it's agreeable nature, special ability to be so efficient, and amazing comfort it scored a hesitant but earned 7.9. The balance is gorgeous and I would have given this headphone a 9 if it were priced closer to it's technical performance at a solid 1100 but what I am getting for 1800 is not going to excel against the most technical or luxurious headphones out there. I also would like to say that continual rise in the prices of Flagships seems frivolous to me and this headphone very much contributes to that silliness.


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Great write-up. Nice to see the 2.1 in a comparison with a $1700 HP.
How do you feel these fair against the Omni's my friend? 
The Omnis are more engaging and slam harder. Other than that these are prob a little better. These aren't built as sturdy though and feel cheaper in the hand. 


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Perfectly executed design. Comfortable lightweight fit. Fun dynamic sound thats not too harsh. Full satisfying bass
Cons: Not for the midrange purist. Bass can be loose and lack control depending on setting. Sound quality is not for the critical listener.

TORQUE t402V supra/circumaural headphone - Review

I was eager to get my hands on a pair to hear such innovation but have no personal ties with Torque. 

I N T R O  ​

 I have received what is a pre-production unit for review. I was told the following things about this headphone. 
  1. Only some of the accents in the aesthetics will change
  2. The sonic attributes are final
  3. “One thing to note is that these headphones are intentionally tuned for “consumers” or the “masses” _ chief designer and Engineer for Torque. So to be expected is a V shaped headphone with booming bass and an engaging sound signature.
  4. Its MSRP is 399.00 USD. 
Like others I saw the solicitation for reviewers and jumped on the opportunity to review them. I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew because this headphone is complicated, simple, unique, and innovative all in one sweep. They market these headphones as customizable and may be the most customizable over ear headphones I have ever heard of.  
I have decided to stick to certain genres in my listening tests and occasionally going outside of those genres to see how well rounded they are. I listen to a crap ton of hip hop instrumentals, experimental hip hop, electronic, chill trap,  underground glitch hop, with bass drops and all the exciting climaxes etc, hard drums, with synths and modern sounding instruments. I also listened to reggae, and pop remixes by underground artists. There were little dabs in post rock and contemporary christian music.  I don’t think most of the masses will have portable DACs etc( and neither do I) so I tested a lot of this from the normal headphone out of my Samsung. At home I listened from my desktop which expectedly sounds a whole lot better. So lets get in to the review. 


D E S I G N  ​

Geez where to start with this thing!!!. I will be upfront and say that I thought they looked pretty  dope in the pictures etc. In person they do not disappoint. I try to stay away from superlatives and saying my favorites etc but I can’t help myself from blurting out my personal tastes. I love the design! Compared to the slew of portable offerings out there, I find this design almost perfectly executed. If there are design flaws then you will need a microscope to find them.
The cable is a detachable 1.4m reinforced mylar shielded wire that is a slightly longer than most portable cords but remains kink and tangle free during use. It is terminated in the standard apple connector with the extra ring for mic which makes a lot of sense for its portable application. I just wish there was a compatible 1/4 inch adapter to use with it so I can jam out at home. A simple solution is to use the cable backwards and that works fine. I also don’t think these are android compatible for android. Using Spotify from my phone, the middle button (Torque logo) can go to the next song (instead of muting it ) but there is no ability to control the volume. When listening from my iPad Air , which sounds better than my phone, I can turn the volume up and down, and the Torque logo mutes the song. iOS system … check. Android system… half check. 
The cups are square shaped and the “40mm proprietary bio-cell membrane diaphragm transducers” are housed in plastic surrounded by a brushed metal. The very pliable steel spring headband has a small bit of memory foam but seems to be very durable. In my hands this feels like a supremely solid product with a minimalist, yet highly practical design. 
The headphones come with a set of over ear and on ear pads that each have 4 different bass settings for a possibility of 8 different sound options. No matter what pad you put on they look great on the head with its sleek design. The pads detach and re-attach to the cups in with magnets. This reminds me of the MH40 in that regards but is even easier if that is possible. They can pop off a little too easy at times but for the most part I had no issues with the pads staying on the housing.  To change the bass settings you simply place the color setting of your desired bass level over the bass port in front of the driver. Please see my amateur video below. I wasn’t expecting it to be that easy.


C O M F O R T​

(pad depth,  pad opening compared to the dt1770)​
They do great in this area as well. I got to try the Momentum 2 over ear headphones and these are equally comfortable if not more so. My ears barely touch the the ear pad cloth covering the drivers and fit inside with minimal tucking of my lobes. I just have to do a quick adjusting to get the pads around my ears right and I am good to go. The headband adjusts with clicks (sorry for you OCD guys) but there are no lines to enable you to match both sides. I guess you can count the clicks if you want to : ). This thing is mostly metal but those sensitive to weight fret not. Its a relatively light weight set of cans
Once the headphones are in place there is reasonable amount of clamp force to keep them secure. I have a big head and find the clamp force just a tad strong. Soon after the music plays and gets my toes tapping I am ignorant of any comfort issues. Actually it barely crossed my mind when I thought of how to describe it in this section. Don’t worry no death lock on your cranium. The spring steel flexes enough not to juice your melon.
DJ’s may find this headphone practical for a few reasons including the fit. Much moving around doesn’t flip these headphones off of the head and they easily twist to allow one cup to stay on. They don’t fold but they do swivel and can lay flat as in the picture above. 
Both pads are equally soft. The foam inside of the pads are far from stiff yet they offer good support and padding. I can’t ask for more from a portable headphone. 


A C C E S S O R I E S ​

These headphones come in a white box that have everything packaged inside. Please see the pics below for the unboxing. 
The pads are in the pouch with the ear openings facing up. If you are concerned to be exact then above is how the pads were in the foam. ​
^This would be upside down where the drivers show their customizable options. ​
Then simply let the magnets on the cup frames do the work when applying the pads. Very easy and ingenious. ​

You get a set of on ear and over ear pads, a black headphone pouch, manual, and iOS  compatible cord. 


A M P I N G​

The Torque t402v needs no amping whats so ever. It gets very loud straight from my weak phone and I haven’t even maxed out the volume of my iPad or phone yet. I get a little annoyed when playing music from my phone because it always gives me a warning that listening above the recommended volume can cause ear damage. My other headphones don’t need to obey that warning but these might. I play it right at the recommended volume and find it plenty loud. 
Sourcing may be another story. I can detect the differences in sound quality between devices but nothing super fancy is warranted here. 


I S O L A T I O N   /   L E A K A G E​

They are portable headphones with all kinds of bass setting options. There seems to be a little vent on the side of the headphone housing. The pads also come off of the housing so easy. The odds seem stacked up against any hopes of them performing well in this area and yet they do fairly well. I was sitting here jamming out and my chair was creaking. Well my wife got annoyed and said I was making a loud noise. I said “what babe, whats making a noise”. She said “the chair from you moving so much”. So she wasn’t complaining about the headphone noise and I couldn’t hear the chair creaking so loudly. I have had other cans that perform a bit better in both areas but these do above average and are truly portable using either pad. Just don’t go to a pub and compare them to iems like I did and you will be fine. I got the chance to listen to these while my wife was driving us on our commute and I had no issues with the road noises disturbing my listening.



Since I have the chance I will describe this headphones total package, sound and all with one word I choose… Entertaining. Excuse me for those who hate boxing, but allow me to make an analogy. There are those boxers that dance around the ring and rack up points as they display their tactfully, polished, and athletic ability. They are precise but sometimes make for a boring fight. The majority of the crowd, even the biggest boxing fans, want to see a fight with heavy punchers that have enough skill to make it look like something they can’t do themselves. This headphone is like those heavy hitters and brings the entertainment to the masses. It’s heavy hitting nature brings your music to life. Either you can look at it as holding back no punches, or casting a spell on your limbs as they move to the music with the snake charming sound signature of the Torque that is no doubt V -shaped. Lets get into describing each section of the spectrum for further insight.


H I G H S / T R E B L E​

The treble of this headphone sparkles, shimmers, and dances with what I believe to be an appreciably solid texture. There is little hissing but tons of plucking, snapping, and popping. It’s crisp in distinction with good dynamics even though it can sound a little grainy. It’s pretty much a non factor and probably not worth mentioning as that slight bit of graininess is to be expected at this price range. While I think the treble is boosted, it rarely ever hurt my ears. In all honesty the treble is probably my favorite part of the sound signature. It’s extension is adequate and it has an acceptable amount of detail. The treble seems to be tuned as to allow the total package to appear well separated and have a good amount of space in the music. When I owned the HD 8 DJ I felt its bass was too dominant and I now realize this experience was only heightened by its relative lack of treble. I should have known that I couldn’t expect the midrange to weather the bass storm but I was naive and complained about the midrange too. The boosted treble on the Torque t402v now makes much sense to me and I have come to appreciate the purpose of these sound signatures. I distinctly remember the Vmoda M100 piercing my ears more than the Torque does but noted how its sound was spread out with some help of its treble. The same thing is going on here in the Torque yet its not a super spread out headphone. Its dynamic top end helps its sense of instrument separation and renewed my appreciation of how important treble is for rhythm keeping. I rarely found it to be harsh, piercing or too sibilant.  Those high hats and snares sound electric. I think Torque did the tuning here spot on. The fidelity and transparency in the highs aren’t going to wow, in fact its not for critical listening but its dynamic vitality gives it a good amount of tangibility while rarely being offensive. Its a bit lack luster over all because its not all glossed up, clean and airy but its transients are fun and it its just a hair above or at neutral. 


M I D R A N G E​

I want to leave this section short. Even when browsing over the review you will see it sandwiched between the lengthy descriptions of the opposite ends of the spectrum for a reason. The midrange is not all lost but it is either overwhelmed by the bass ( irregardless of tuning) or outshone by the treble. I don’t expect this headphone to be praised here because it is a little dry and withdrawn. When peering into the guts it will be hard to find the glory. To be fair the glory in the midrange isn’t all gone and I found it quite enjoyable on some songs, particularly females. I just had to make a conscious effort to focus on them. Not too bad in my opinion. Even when playing a bass light song you hear how its not for the midrange purist. However, I can still easily enjoy the vocals in the songs I selected since I know my relationship with the t402v is casual. There is some crowding and a lack of clarity here that keeps me from calling it a transparent phone no matter how much I appreciate the treble. It is without a doubt that there are tons of headphones that have a way bigger dip in the midrange than these. So I totally understand this as  mostly practical. I found some of the pad settings to bleed more in to the midrange than others so lets get into that in the next section. 

B A S S ​

This section is highly dependent on what setting you select. I personally found that some settings offer better sound quality for the headphone overall. Without a doubt some peoples opinions will differ from mine, or they will find what I selected as my favorite setting to be the worst one or unlistenable. So this section will be even more subjective than the others. It is clear to me though that no matter what bass setting you select the bass is going to be boosted. On all settings the kick drums have a very solid punch and the mid bass is consistently present. This should satisfy those that like a dynamic and fun sound. This is with no mistake a bass head set of cans. 


B A S S   S E T T I N G S 

The following description is from testing with the over ear pads. ​
The black setting while the least in quantity seems to be the least controlled to my ears.  I am not going to conclude this setting as bass head in quantity though, its not quite there but intentionally flirts near that line of crossing over. It consistently provides weight but sometimes sounds as if the sub bass is lacking relative to the upper and mid bass. I believe this setting performs the upper bass better than it does the mid bass and sub bass. I can still hear the sub bass but it leaves me the impression that the all important 30 - 50 hz is very bloated and loose. I started to hear its strength and focus from 80 hz and up. Also there is a lost sense of transparency with this setting. 
This setting has my favorite balance of bass quantity. It’s above neutral like I desire, more in quantity than the black setting, and starts to gain control. I still find this setting kind of loose but its a bit easier to enjoy the sub bass on this setting. For me the red setting renders the black setting useless. Even some lower priced headphones may have a tighter focus than the red setting but it bangs and bucks with modest physicality. I can most definitely enjoy most of my music with the red setting. 
This is my favorite setting. In my opinion most of the weight and focus is more apparent. It could be all placebo and bias but traces of overall clarity seem to reappear. Yes the bass increase is very noticeable but the rumble sustains of bass lines sound the most satisfying and controlled to me here. I would take the quality of this section and have a purple color in balance if I could (blue quantity and red quantity). I do reiterate that this is my opinion as some may find this setting awful. My inner bass loving soul was gravitating towards this setting the most. It just felt right to me.
I am guilty of liking this setting an ignoring all of its fidelity destroying qualities. I told you I came here to be entertained. Not some technically astute and polite finger strokes of a faint violin being lured out of a recording while the bass is on vacation. This setting definitely looses control again as if the blue was the threshold of its maximum amount of fidelity. But it does make its uses in noisier environments. It was funny that when these cans were listened to on yellow at the somewhat noisy pub, one listener thought it wasn’t that much more bass than the black setting. I gave them a listen myself as if I had been hearing them wrong all along and low and behold, I did find the yellow setting to have more bass than the black but only barely. I think all of us found it to sound better than the black setting. When I came back home to my much quieter listening space it was extremely easy to hear the yellow as the loudest thumping setting. It has a pleasurable amount of weight but could go for a tighter composure. 
The bass overall to me is bass head level and about average in quality compared to other offerings like the p7, momentum and others. I think it offers more physicality and dynamic action than most of them with good weight but its not going to be your tightest, or loosest either for that matter. 


O N   E A R   P A D S ​

I hope an on ear lover does this section more justice than me. The on ear pads are very comfortable even though I prefer the over ear pads more. The looks are quite admirable in person with the on ear pads and would win my admiration over any on ear I have seen. 
The sound is very similar to the over ear obviously but the treble is a bit less in quantity and sounds less more constricted in sound stage. You can loosely follow the descriptions above for the various bass settings available. The midrange however in this setting seems more forward at times since the highs are tamed and may offer a more relaxing listen. I do find the sound quality better on the over ears for sure.
The even shorter story is that both options make for a solid portable entry. I suspect people will be swapping pads morstly based on their sound signatures. For those that love on ear headphones this should be a solid consideration. 


C O N C L U S I O N​

While this headphone may only give a little for those that want to listen critically and accurately, it has tons to offer elsewhere. As a bass head I would want my bass to be just a little bit more controlled at those high volumes but that is usually found in higher priced offerings or in ear headphones that give little soundstage satisfaction. The few other over ear bass head options I have tried with slightly tighter bass have hole punched my ear drums with razor sharp treble. This headphone isn’t a total sonic package that can play all genres but is a package full of useful, non-gimmicky, down to business options. You will be hard pressed to find a better design in or around $399 that is as comfortable, durable, and as option assorted. I wouldn’t mind having this headphone, no doubt it would get some use. There is a lot to like here from these headphones that directly connect me to my musics rhythm right out of my phone jack.  I can dig it. 
Subjective  Ratings
Treble quantity - way too dark(+),  way too bright (+++++)+++-
Treble quality+++
Mid range quantity++-
Mid range quality+++
Bass quantity ( ++- is neutral)ranges from +++ to ++++
Bass quality+++
Bass control++-
Instrument separation+++-
Good review thank you.  These just dropped on Massdrop so was trying to figure out if worth price or not and I think I will pass.


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Price to performance is outstanding. Very controlled
Cons: bright not too musical.


The Pioneer HRM-7 is what seems to be Pioneers first entry into the professional studio realm. Previously Pioneer has been very involved in providing almost everything a DJ needs to be successful and has earned a great reputation for strong performing gear. I myself have had the Pioneer HDJ 2000, when I lost them on a plane my headphone journey began. Lets dig into what the Pioneer HRM-7 has to offer the curious, the casual listener, and the professional. I have yet to read any detailed reviews covering the sonic attributes of this unpopular headphone so I hope to provide some valuable insight while not being too long-winded.
UPDATED 9/5/2015( I am totally sorry I misinformed people about certain aspects like leakage and the connector type. I only wanted to provide a quick run down of the sonic aspects of this headphone since I couldn't find any prior to buying this headphone. But it turns out that many people have read this review with questions unanswered or answered incorrectly as a result.) Please browse over sections like isolation, accessories, fit etc for better details.


For its price or class
+(POOR) ++- (OKAY doesnt mean bad) +++++(AMAZING)
BASS QUANTITY (+) = light, (+++++)=bass canon++-
MID RANGE QUANTITY (+) = recessed, (+++++)=too full+++
TREBLE QUANTITY (+) =dark, (+++++)=extremely bright++++
BUILD ++++-



This headphone is what I would call polarizing in its balance. Not everyone is going to put it on and appreciate what it does right away. I just recommend you keep reading further to understand what this headphone has to offer and if it suits your needs. This headphone is a budget friendly device that can provide a high fidelity experience at the cost of musicality that most consumers consider to sound natural. 


This headphone is recommended for you with some caveats. Those being that you already understand how to under and over compensate when things are not balanced as flat as your average monitors, or over mix bass etc when listening for balance. Overall I find this headphone an exceptional value for you if you can't stretch for an open back that provides the same qualities. So let's get to it...


The bass of this headphone is very well controlled. It is one of the stand out features of this headphone. Its tightness exceeds that of its former closed back DJ cousins and offers a considerable amount of insight in regards to textures. However this is the first headphone with bass as tight as this that did not take well to eq boosting. It is a very stubborn bass that sounds a bit trapped like it needs to let loose a little bit in bloat to sound natural. There is a quick decay for a headphone of this price and it is almost dry sounding but fairly true to source. I have had the HE-400S here and just as an example, I found this bass to dig deeper, faster, and tighter but with a very similar punch and attack. This headphone is absolutely not for the bass head. It is quite neutral and doesn't add much warmth. It is also without much mid bass hump either, though that will be a smidgen more than the sub bass. Some may prefer this however, as you will find me saying throughout, I hope a true modder gets a hold of this thing and cuts some ports or something to let it flow. I suspect they will be greatly rewarded. I really did not expect the bass to be this lean, undercooked, and tough but maybe more burn in will let the bottom roast become more tender. I have found though, that in a similar fashion to the more pricey and open HE-560 (not comparing just referring) that the bass may be enjoyable on the right song where the bass was mixed in excess.  Compared to other headphones like the Yamaha HPH Mt220 this bass is less in quantity, faster in speed, less in impact, tighter in composure, and similar or better in texture. Extension is supreme, I promise I have heard as low or lower with this headphone as any other. 


I usually like to combine tonality/ timbre here because it has so much to do with how the midrange is done. I find the music to play effortlessly in this band section with a slight lean towards being reserved yet present and realistic. The midrange doesn't sound as carved out as it does like it is soaring by a kite string under the ever present treble lift that I will describe later. The midrange does not sound hazy, grainy, or distorted, but is of a very realistic quality that is smooth but reserved without sounding hard. The lower mids don't seem out of balance in this kind of headphone. I could wish for more but it wouldn't sound right. It would end up sounding like a dip in the middle mids. Instead the middle mids seem to be in linear balance with the lower mids and have no breaks in sweeps. I would simply say the midrange section is flat and neutral with a realistic tone. Voices aren't bad. I honestly haven't studied them much through this headphone... just don't expect to be all buttered up in your hammock with lemonade while Otis Redding whistles and sings. Actually skip the whistling all together for reasons below.
Update: Vocals sound pretty good through these headphones, the "S" on certain songs can sound a bit splashy at times as well as cymbals but I find vocals to have good projection and overall don't sound too thin. They have a pure and clean sound to them but female vocals sound pretty good.


I was expecting this headphone to be slightly dark, dark, or rolled off. That is not the case. The treble has extension, presence, and a nice clear tone. Treble heads might find this headphone to their liking. Producers and professionals will have all of their details and some. Sibilance will make its appearance very easily with these headphones. There are some headphones that I have had that are brighter like the t90. I am also not the best judge of treble but I am certain that this is not a dark headphone.The sibilance revealed by this headphone is song dependent more than most other bright headphones. I find the treble to be of a good quality even though its a bit much for my tastes. It doesn't seem to be just boosted for details because there are details all over this headphone... top to bottom. I have placed a bit of dampening in my cups and still find it a little too bright. The treble brings the overall balance towards the thinner side of things but the tones are wholesome and dense enough to make it sound realistic.


This headphone shines here for sure. There is a cavernous quality to it but I was also not expecting it to have a sound field this spread out. It doesn't sound distance but very three dimensional as sounds appear almost unnaturally in their purposed locations. The cup reverberations keep it from being the image king of its price... well wait for 199???it is the imaging king of its price and for closed backs the soundstage king as well. I would like to hear the k553 or 550 again to confirm this but I doubt it will be beaten. I really enjoy this part of the headphone and believe that further modding can even better what is here. Its decently wide, deep, and relatively tall with a strong center image. Definitely bigger than the Yamaha HPH MT220, or Focal Spirit Pro. 
Update: The k553 sound stage is easily beaten by the Pioneer Hrm-7. Sound stage heads rejoice! Its a nice size stage and sounds more natural on acoustic music than electronic where its less expected for sounds to image as far out.


As you can read below in the comment section I have neglected to cover this area accurately. Initially I put these on my head and asked my wife if they leaked a lot. She said they sounded fine and couldn't hear much at all. I think it was a wet day with the window open and I wasn't blasting them. If you decide to use these headphones for tracking do not blast the headphones they will spill all of your sound out on to that precious recording. They can be usable at lower volumes for tracking and when at normal listening levels they can pass average standards leakage. I doubt at normal levels your significant other will be bothered much. The beats studios leak more than these, the Yamahas are close as well but I would trust these a bit more If my memory is right. They have ports for their bass design and sound kind of semi- open so some leakage is a result.
Isolation isn't that bad to me. I am listening at normal levels right now and cant hear my fingers snap until the music calms down. I can hear typing while the music is soft or off.




These headphones need softer pads in my opinion but are fairly comfortable. The opening is large enough for big ears to fit snugly inside. I have an average ear size for a male(been told my ear shape is perfect and not big or small) and my ears have plenty of room inside without touching the drivers. I sometimes wish for just a bit more clamp and have to adjust them for a good seal in the back of the ear but this is easily done. I do have a large head and so I placed them on my sons head (11 but short for his age) and they seemed to fit pretty well on him also, even though they look huge on him. Pics may lead you to think these things are small but do not be fooled. They are FULL sized headphones and much bigger than the Pioneer DJ series.
Worth mentioning: If you decide to use other pads than the supplied ones you may need to bend the headphones inward. There is not much play in the headphones and it can be tough to get a good seal around the front of the ears if the pads are angled. Another head-fier shows which part to bend HERE


Nothing fancy and sorry for the crappy pics. The headphones come in a regular box with two cables and extra pads.
The cable plug is proprietary and twist locks into the cup jack via a 2.5mm plug. While the cable will most likely be useful for only this headphone. I am pretty sure other cables can be used with this headphone. The provided non coiled cable can be used for jump roping. The coiled cable is just as long when stretched but way less cumbersome. I find the long one useless.
Headphone comes with an extra set of pads that are very easy to take off and put back on. I have tried the shure 1540 pads and they do not fit. Alpha dog pads and ZMF pads will fit with a bit of patience.

DURABILITY - Though all plastic I have no fears



Simply put, this headphone is flat all the way up to the boosted treble but remains natural in tone and avoids stridency. Its technicalities are a very rare find at this price and will prove to be a useful tool for the professional. I only take a half of a star away because of the treble boost. The bass, though less than I like, actually serves its purpose in neutrality.
Thanks for reading
~ Grizzlybeast
How did you like the Alpha pads replacement?  Did it change the sound a lot?  I'm thinking about grabbing them for these and the MT220's.

Going to see which I like better, you seem to go back and forth with your decision on your likes :).

can't wait to try them both out!
I do go back and forth on my decision. You are right. And right now I appreciate the hrm 7 more. I have ZMF pads on these, not alphas. I had alpha pads on the Yamaha. Alpha pads on the Yamaha made the Soundstage bigger but made the mid bass more bloated. The ZMF pads on the pio help tame the highs but don't help the sound stage out.

The focal pro has better isolation, less leakage, smaller Soundstage, more strident. The pioneer has tighter bass of similar quantity, sounds more open, maybe a bit brighter.
Mario GS
Mario GS
Thanks for your excellent review. I found a nice deal for this headphones, I'm tempted.However, I already own a Sennheiser HD-25-II 1 and an Audio Technica ATM-50x. I like the isolation, portability and low impedance of the HD-25, but I prefer the ATM-50x because is flatter and nicely balance, in my experience. Can you give some insights, perhaps, how they are similar or different? Do you think it worth the investment?  


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Cons: sub and treble roll offs


by grizzlybeast


With all of my trying of headphones I have to admit the He-400 was the gateway headphone into open back listening. I couldn’t help but to get excited when I saw that they were releasing the HE-400S. So I immediately started a thread out of pure excitement in anticipation of its release. I then received a review unit from HiFiMan and viola here I am about to attempt to describe to you another addition to HiFiMan’s strong and unbeaten track record of providing high performance at a very reasonable cost. 


Of course people tend to break this reading down into the ordinary categories so that the reader is able to quickly jump to the areas of description that most concern them and later peruse through the rest of the review. So lets not break tradition in a useless attempt to try and be something I am not… A good writer. 


+(POOR) ++- (OKAY doesnt mean bad) +++++(AMAZING)


Let’s get right to it. The bass of the HE-400S is most certainly not the center of attraction here. Instead it sounds as if the tuning was aimed at not allowing it to be a distraction. The bass of the HE-400S is relatively flat with a slight upper bass curve (not hump) that is very easily transitioned into the later described midrange. Extension, thump/impact, tightness, and control is not what I hear to be on its list of points to prove but it does have that planar magnetic quality of being weighty yet not extremely dynamic and engaging. There is a roll off but I wouldn’t call this headphone bass light instead of bass neutral. If the recording was mixed  to rumble you will get it with an acceptable amount of presence. For those who have studio monitors and know them to roll off before your sub sonic diving headphones then you know what you will be hearing here. Though it is a little less dramatic and even more flat than the average studio monitor. If these were akin to 65 inch studio monitors in frequency response I wouldn’t necessarily be always wishing for a sub so I can hear lower.  The bass has a bit of euphony to it and is still tangible. Not overly wooly but somewhat atmospheric with decent texture for its price. I don’t want to create an amping section but I will say that plugging this headphone in to the headphone out of the Pioneer vintage amp I had made a dramatic difference in quantity. I have never heard a headphone respond to current like that before other than the HE-6. If you attempt this then listen responsibly. I only crept up on the vintage pot and while not even loud the headphones ability to recreate rumble increased dramatically. I only liked it on certain songs though as I believe my amp was a bit too dark and the bass energy dominated over the enjoyable details of the song. The drums that reside in the mid and upper bass have somewhat of a “putt putt” instead of a knock. In all honesty this is a definite continuation of the departure HiFiMan has made with the HE-400 bass. The lows of this new rendition are not as much of a contribution to its exceptional price to performance as its other aspects.  


I have read someone say that these are a bit recessed in the midrange. I swear that has to be a typo or something. If there is one thing about this headphone that is present then it is the midrange (upper mids, lower mids, middle mids all of the mids, guts and all). I can get a pleasurable volume straight from my Samsung but the midrange notes sometimes would sound a bit plucky and invasive. Like as if there was no refinement in the midrange, and a bit peaky with dynamic snaps that sometimes sounded a bit surprising. This would throw my listening off at times while I was zoning out. However on my desktop the midrange, while still the same in balance, sounded tons more cohesive while still retaining much of that snap. The midrange is fairly well balanced and doesn’t sound too forward to me. There is a tonality that is a bit unique in the midrange. I am uncertain how this coloration is to be described but it was first noticed on a male spoken word artist. However different it sounded it wasn’t a problem to me nor did it cripple the midrange in anyway. It was kind of welcomed.  The lack of a big mid bass hump keeps things sounding collected and not too muddy. Voices are upfront but not too aggressive though they have a short ceiling with not too much breathe. This band section though is smooth as well as the treble. On a first listen it will be hard to tell what is wrong with the midrange if anything at all in the price range because it is not grainy and has a wholesome sound to it. It does sound a bit smokey though and leans towards the thicker side of things. The midrange is what this headphone is all about. It is fairly transparent as well for its price. Male singers sound very full with a good body to them and when a vocalist belts it lets you feel/ hear the intensity. Female vocalists take on a more intimate , seductive sound rather than a clear, and modern sound almost as if the headphones have a tube already in them. Personally I would pick a solid state amp with these, or something clean and transparent. 



The highs of the HE-400 were the main reason for me going back and forth with it so much. Of course Fang reads impressions. Of course tons of people have complained about its treble peak. It is a well-known aspect of the HE-400 and despite that it will be remembered as a game changer. The newest addition totally decimates that problem and offers us a smooth, yet not overly dark headphone that is quite possibly the most neutral HiFiMan to date (I haven’t heard the he-400i or HE1000 YET!). I will say that the HE-500 highs extend a bit further but are also not as free from peakiness as the HE400S. There is a tiny lack of air but I don’t find the headphone suffocating or relatively veiled either. The consequence is an inviting, inoffensive listen. This tuning neither tires the listener, nor lulls them to sleep. The highs are of a good quality. They never sound splashy, diffuse or too soft but have weight and personality. While I know that a little more sparkle can be appreciable, I quickly forget that I am analyzing a headphone and enjoy what I am doing, ie writing this without taking them off because of an annoyance. 


This is an intimate headphone in most regards including its sound field. This headphone has an acceptable amount of space in between notes but it will be less spacious overall than the HE-400 and HE-4. Part of the HE-400’s balance that was missing actually added to its slightly more spacious sound. Take your pick but in a headphone of this price I will rather have my music sound realistic like the HE-400S. I don’t feel cluttered by the music by any means though. Separation is not bad either. I just don’t believe the soundstage heads will rave about this headphone or place it in any high regards here.  The field, while not large, does have a bit of height and dimension to it. It’s not just flat and center. I think I would be a bit naïve to expect a huge soundstage at this price and from a planar anyway.


What I like about it is the texture and tonality. Smooth fairly textured, with that planar magnetic weight. It’s not fast or slow but is natural and nimble. The music doesn’t sound strident or metallic to me. This can be a fairly sweet and pretty sounding headphone in the mids. I can easily play certain genres and forget anything critical for simple and pure easy listening. I won’t call this headphone a genre master though. I would give that title to the HE-500 over this headphone. The HE-400S fails to have that presence and extension down low to give you that ear touching rumble so Hip Hop and EDM lovers look elsewhere.  These do fairly well with experimental hip hop, and glitch hop, or electronic music that is atmospheric because these have a euphonic quality to them but it will be at the expense of bass slam. While I find myself not wanting to take these headphones off, I also don’t find my feet and head moving as much as with other headphones. Still, I am very serious when I say that sometimes I dont want to take them off. I can listen with them for hours without any fatigue. I would looooovvve this headphone as a studying tool because I am neither engaged, nor bored, nor distracted but rather placed in the exact mood of the less bass demanding songs. I feel like I am existing in the theme music of the moment with these. 



I truly do not remember the HE-560 being this comfortable. I distinctly remember it having more clamp than this. I like the soft pads and velour material regardless of its lint collecting properties (who cares about that). I do wish that they had a longer chord. Maybe the review unit is shy of one. I am uncertain but I am bound to my desk yet in agreement with my phone. 
The headphones look just like the pictures, nothing more nothing less. I find it a good and practical design that is unique, yet purposeful. AND you can’t forget about the mini plugs into the cups instead of the screw on thingies ( don’t know the name and don’t care THEY ARE GONE yayyyy!)


 As you may have already ready, the simple way to put this headphone is as a smooth and easy listen that benefits from power though not totally necessary. A phone will get you good volume. The roll off of the extremes keep it from being my favorite headphone at this price but this headphone over all is a good value. Thanks for the unit HiFiman. Now lets get an HE-400 in pink or whatever color you want but with that bass that made it famous! You know its unanimous! lol
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meant to say wooly
I am amazed how reviews can be, in some cases, drastically different.


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: full mids, punchy sound, sturdy build, replaceable pads,good bass,decent soundstage,tangle free cables, smooth rich sound,scalable
Cons: upper mids could use some presence, needs some air in its balance, a little too much leakage,fit can be awkward.
While I believe that this price range is crowded, I don't believe that there are many headphones that cover enough bases all at once out there. Questionable build qualities, over coloration, small ear cups, gaudy designs, weird cables, and tons of predictable company house signatures. 
Enter the Master & Dynamic MH40 that takes a crack it with the loaded bases for a home run and knocks it into the bleachers. While I do have some minor gripes, this headphone is an easy one to recommend for a number of reasons.


I have to admit where confession is due that these do not appear to have any weak spots in the build of the headphone.  To quote the back of the box... "Forged aluminum body with stainless steel components in all high strain areas. Heavy-duty woven cables and replaceable lambskin ear pads. All metals are anodized or PVD coated, not painted." Well I'll be impressed because there is an exceptional amount of thought put into the construction of these headphones. Everything feels heavy duty. 
Oooh Ooooh and the pads come of via magnets!!! So you simply pop them off and pop them back on with no issues at all. Why didn't anyone else think of that!!!! Id imagine if Master & Dynamic decided to provide different color pads, it would become somewhat of a personalized headphone. 
The headphones swivel about 120 degrees and can lay flat on a table. They have dual entry for the cables.  The fit is adjustable with numbers on the sliders for those wishing to match slider heights. There is also a mute button on the right cup that works fairly easily.
Ooooh the cables again. They are tangle FREE and very pleasant on the eyes in a simple way. It comes with two cables. One longer one for home use and the perfect length of cable for mobile use with volume control, mute, and microphone that works fairly well for phone conversations where peers affirm me sounding clear to them. 
The headphones are packed decently. It comes in a box that has the has an outer cover that the headphone packaging slides out of.  I like the presentation when you open them though. The headphones lay flat in a foam insert that has a cylinder leather case in it for the cables and 1/4 inch adapter. Underneath is an canvass carrying pouch for the headphones and a manual incase someone doesn't know how to use them, or wants to understand the warranty.


Hmm. Well They are not uncomfortable and do better than a lot of other compact models. My ears tuck inside without fuss even though the opening isn't that big. They are fully circumaural and my ears aren't crammed up against the driver housing. The padding is actually pretty good as well. The headband is pretty thin but contrary to what I assumed its not bothersome. It has a very practical and simple design that fairs well in comfort.


*member gelocks loaned pair
Of course this is purely opinion but I think they look stunning. I had a *pair of the brown and silver on loan and they looked great in my hands but undesirable on my head. The black ones look less impressive in my hands but stunning on my head. They have the letters M&D etched in unexpected places to remind you how much they care about detail. They look and feel their price. 




While these headphones isolate fairly well, I will make a gripe about leakage. As easily as these seal around my ears I would expect them to leak a little less. They leak a little more than average without striking them out from being portable. If I was on a loud bus I would be able to enjoy my music easily but the person next to me would be hearing much of my music if it was loud. I wouldn't say you would be obnoxious though. This is not deal breaking leakage but also not ideal.

*update 10/25/14: FIT

The ear cups require a good seal for optimal performance which fortunately isn't hard to get. However when laying down if you are not careful the cups will swing open and you will have to readjust them. The clamp isn't too tight or too loose but I did notice a little less of a seal at the bottom. Dropping the cups down a little more than normal will give better seal at the bottom. While adjusting the fit you will notice the sound change drastically in volume, almost sounding like you turned them off and on due to pressure changing which is pretty unique. Once you have a good fit you are ready to rock.




The bass on this headphone is somewhat addicting. I wouldn't go so far as calling it bass-head level in quantity but I would say that it has some of the qualities that most bass-heads covet. It is a pretty fast bass that keeps a decent amount of texture in it. It is not planar magnetic driver-tight, but among the dynamic drivers I have heard this headphone keeps an ideal composure. It is a very dynamic bass that for its quantity will hit extremely hard. You would be hard pressed to find a more impactful bass than this that isn't extremely boosted. The Vmoda m100 for example will hit harder but is also a lot more in quantity.  If eq'd to have the same quantity the MH40 will hit harder. The MH40 bass has a very focused and enjoyable punch that is very hard to find. Honestly its hard to find punchy cans like the MH40 that aren't super bloated. While Vibro with all plugs open can hit as hard as this can and a shade harder with better resolution, the MH40 will take better to bass boosting and has more of a focused punch. I have guiltlessly  eq'd the bass on occasion to be senselessly consumed by it and found it to take very well to eq'ing and boosting.  I think the words smooth yet punchy would apply here. The bass is not the tightest I have heard but I find it to be closer to the tight side of the spectrum than loose. 
The extension is not wanting by any means and though I can see some wanting more sub bass, this headphone goes low and clear.
My 808's sound weighty and strong. My drum and bass kicks knock with authority. I can feel the pressure of the pulsating baselines. Hey, I am satisfied!!!  
*updates 10/25/14: bass impact is seal dependent like most headphones but even more so with this one. 


If anyone says the midrange is recessed I will be very surprised. It is actually the opposite and I sometimes wish for a slightly less heavy presentation in the midrange which is unusual for me. Master & Dynamic describes this headphone as having a rich, warm sound profile. That statement is 100% accurate. The tones sound really sweet and sultry with what sounds to be a nice amount of fidelity to them. I personally desire to eq them to be a little airier. The Focal Spirit Professional for example sounds airier and less rich than these but are more dry and less musical. What is funny is that when A/Bing them side by side I preferred the MH40 instantly even though I recognize this headphone as skipping out on the Focal approach in neutrality. This doesn't become tiresome because the headphone is not shouty by any means. No way.... its far too smooth sounding to be called anything close to shouty, harsh, or abrasive in the midrange. I believe that this level of richness I am not used to. This is due to there being what I perceive as a dip in the lower treble or somewhere close by, namely the upper midrange, that takes the lightness out of it.  Male vocals sound full and weighty but miss just a tiny bit of presence and projection that fully convince you they delivered from their diaphragms.  This may be perceived differently by others but it is not that bad of an issue for me. 
The music doesn't sound too dry or too wet. My pianos sound pretty convincing and it has a little bit of reverb to the notes while staying clear.  How ever each individual tone is very realistic and non metallic. It has good texture to it as well. 


I like these highs a lot. Sorry to start this section that way but I really do apart from the lower treble that would help the mids some, the highs here are not sibilant yet are fairly detailed and make a case for its price tag. I read elsewhere that these were considered sibilant but I have to respectfully disagree. The area of sibilants ("s") is emphasized compared to the rest of the upper mids to upper treble section but its not painful.  The Yamaha hph mt220 for example was more sibilant than these, as well as the k545, k550 and Denon D2k, to name just a few. The headphone can come off as dark and rich sounding but the treble is snappy and smooth as is the rest of the headphone. There is a very steep roll off in the upper highs though that may be the reason I feel it is missing some air in the vocals. When I eq +4 db in the upper treble, this up along with the lower treble dip at 4khz it awakens the sound a bit.  It has a good amount of response in the mid treble by itself as to not miss too many details. This headphone can be called relatively detailed. The reason why I like them a lot though is because they are not splashy or mushy, but rounded and straightforward with a smoothness about them.



When I leave the bass right where its at, take down the middle mids just a decibel or so, bring the area of sibilance down a bit, and raise the upper mids and high highs up a few decibels then I am met with a lifelike sound that is very convincing. My eq setting can be a little fatiguing for long listening so I often just set it back to flat . This headphone takes to eq'ing extremely well. ALL BY ITSELF, its a colored listen, but a very likable one with a slight bass bump, full mid range, and dark treble. I could def leave it alone and listen for a long time. This headphone reminds me of the Sennheiser hd8dj in the fact that it has a steep treble roll off after 10 kHz and needs some upper mids. BUT its far less extreme in its coloration and the more enjoyable.  Its close to being a genre master but those that listen to Jazz and classical music may wish for a slightly less colored sound. I however enjoy these very much so with jazz and acoustic music. 
Quick eq in Audirvana plus (clarity eq)


I like this soundstage. I have come to not expect to much in terms of soundstage from a headphone of this kind(portable). To say this headphone has a small soundstage would be inaccurate. To say it has a good sized one is more like it. It has some height to it if not much depth and a decent amount of width. The panorama of this headphone is a breathable one that isn't cluttered, nor compact, or extremely wide. It has respectable imaging capabilities that are really good but don't boast too far beyond its price category into Alpha dog territory. Possibly less wide than the akg k550 but far more natural sounding. Also these have a far bigger soundstage than the momentum, and maybe bigger than the Focal Spirit Professional.  I do prefer its scene to the Pandora hope VI however because the instruments have good layering and are bold/soft against each other, whereas the Pandora Hope is bigger and sounds more open but less clearly layered(this MH40 headphone doesn't sound as good overall though, the Pandora is in another class above it by a good margin).  
*updates 10/25/14:
The more I listen I find it to have very good instrument separation and placement. This would be one of its stand out qualities. It never sounds like mush but has great focus to the notes. 


This is a very admirable quality of these headphones. A lot of its musicality resides here. simply put, though the music is a bit rounded, it pops and snaps with intention. It has some decay to keep it from sounding dry and harsh while its doing all of this action. I find it quite enjoyable. 


None required though I find it very scalable. I would say its more source dependent than amp dependent. My iPhone gets them fairly loud and sounds fine but they deserve more than just an iPhone out. Once I plugged them into my Bushmaster MKII they sound excellent and the clarity is night and day.


Just like my other favorite closed back this has the moniker "Musical" written allll over it. I would say it is the most musical closed back I have heard under 500 dollars. It only lacks a tiny bit of neutrality to make it a genre master. Some may want a little more bass or air but it has a very good punch and snap too it that keeps it from sounding dull. With a couple of tweaks can be a swiss army knife to a playlist. As it is I recommend it for ambient electronic, hip hop, jazz, reggae, soul, country, blues, acoustic and anything modern(honestly it will work well with most genres). This would go into the sennheiser hd650 category of warm, smooth, but potentially potent. The fact that they got the cables the right length, the fit to be fully over the ears, the build to be practical and easy to carry around, and the sound quality worth its penny, makes this headphone a worthy recommendation. I feel like I am listening to a high quality headphone that will scale up with what you plug it into. It has a good amount of fidelity to it and the gripes aren't deal breakers. 
Thanks a lot! I do like them a lot. Pretty good cans!
Are these a noticeable upgrade over the momentums?
in my opinion yes


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Details, clarity, instrument separation, bass extension, accuracy, controlled highs, pure sound, great fidelity
Cons: a tad bright, mids are somewhat reserved, bass is a little timid sometimes, clamp, pad warmth.

HiFiMan HE 560 - CoNtRoL FrEaK


Since I have these here and they are very much earning their keep in my limited stable of headphones, I figured I would add my perspective of this headphone to the many already existing impressions. It has been very well described by others already and these cans have a ton of hype around them. I personally was leaning towards selling them to go for something else but every time I consider it I look around at its competition I know I will lose something that the he560 has for only incremental improvements in other areas.
First thoughts:
  1. Detailed
  2. Tight bass but a bit reserved
  3. Distractingly bright
  4. Too fast, thin, and sterile
  5. Mids even balanced but reserved
  6. Wide soundstage with no height or depth(especially the no height part)
  7. Good dynamics but light toned(not heavy or bold like the he6)
  8. Not as transparent as the he6 


Though I have personal preferences, I understand that they are not ideal for a headphone that needs to be universally appealing to the average audiophile. So below are my preferences along with what I believe to be an honest description of this headphone.
HA HA don't we all like to talk about or read about the bass!!!  This bass is very unique to me and of exceptional quality. On the right song it will punch like a nail gun with dead on targeted precision. The songs that it will reveal to you as having a strong amount of bass in the mix will make you want to try the he560 on them again and again. It will shock you on the right song and then hide away like a shy second date that kissed you and then took her hand away from yours as the night continued. I admittedly listen to a lot of atmospheric, chill, and complex hip hop instrumentals like Flying Lotus, Submerse, 14KT, Kaellin Ellis and tons of others that won't ring many bells around here. There have been few but definite times where the gritty textured bass lines sound pleasantly deep, full, pungent, and visceral.  It however is not consistently strong and is a rather flat sounding bass that is almost too controlled for me to call it anything close to natural. It is however consistently fast, detailed, textured, deep, controlled, and TIGHT..... Never overpowering but ever honest of the mix.  I do personally prefer a bit more of a bass boost than this hp has to offer as well as a smidgen more of the the lingering decay that would make it a bit more of an immersive experience for me. 
I very much recommend this bass for the professional producer and engineer. I am not saying that it will translate to the monitors very well but that it will reveal to you your bass shy mixes. This headphone will reward you when you mix the music right to slam and punch.  It would be pleasurable for me to hear a slight boost around 70-120 hz.
I would like to go into comparisons but my memory is failing me of the lcd2 and others in its price bracket so take this with as many grains of salt as you need. This bass is a lot tighter and a little deeper than my ZMF x Vibro but with a little less quantity. However on specific songs it hits harder. The bass here is faster than the he500 and also a cleaner and more controlled.  I am having a tough time recalling the he6 but I would say that this is tighter with the he6 being a little slower, heavier, and almost as tight.
Verdict: Where else would I find bass this tight, deep, fast, and textured at a price I can afford because after this to me Its throwing money away for little improvements. It's quality is the best I have heard yet even if its a little shy for me.
Hmmm. Look, let me just say right up front that I am would very much hesitate to list this headphone among the others of the "Midrangehead" list. I haven't quite gotten this part fully figured out yet and maybe I should have waited until I did to post this. Here is the thing: I can't tell if it is the lower mids that I am hearing as a little recessed or what... but that is what I am leaning towards. EDIT: Nothing is recessed just kinda flat for me but pure none the less and for that they may be able to qualify the midrange list.  They DO sound even to me without being too distant but like others have mentioned this will have less mids in qty compared to the he500, hd650 and others. The lcd2 is similar but seems fuller because its dark and actually is a more lush sounding headphone in the midrange. The balance is not bad in the mids and the dynamics of this headphone help the instruments in the midrange thrust properly but I keep gravitating towards the word thin or dry while feeling really uncomfortable the moment I want to deem them dry or thin.  I can expect to read different perspectives here. My reference of a dry sounding midrange for me is the th600 and the he560 has a midrange more robust,transparent, and true to life than that, but less full than my ZMF x Vibro without even being a whole level more transparent.  I do prefer these mids to the Beyer t1 that I briefly heard and would say that the he560 is more transparent. Also I prefer these mids to the he6 but would say the he6 is more transparent. It is again controlled and slightly reserved but not so much so that I cant escape in the mids. They have a touch of sweetness to them but not much extra. These mids are very clear though as well as everything else in this headphone. The more I listen to them the further away I get from calling them undesirable in any way. 
This is the area that made me have a hard time during my brain burn in period and I am not sure I'm fully accustomed to the sound. This presentation makes the highs seem even more pronounced then they really are. Props are due in the midrange though, and I believe they are smooth and very well mannered. 
Verdict: exceptional quality but like the bass not my ideal quantity.


Uh oh... this is the place of controversy for me and an issue of a tiny debate. Even though the graphs I see posted show this headphone being downward tilted I maintain the opinion that this headphone IS north of neutral. The highs have a lot of commendable qualities. They are very detailed with enough sparkle to please the treble head and steer far away from any hint of veiling. They are also not extremely boosted, shrilly, or abrasive with good extension of the treble. I will say that I hear the area of the essiness only a little boosted and the cymbals on busy passages a tad hard but nothing out of the ordinary.
After my brain burned in a bit I didn't find it way brighter than other headphones I remember. It's prob darker than the he6 for sure. I think my initial impressions of it being really bright was because of the the more even midrange and bass. I used to love dark headphones a ton. I then found myself boosting the treble to get a more lively sound than what I was used to, going back and forth depending on my mood. I do reach for the Vibro on some songs because of the highs but that is only because of the balance. Thats a bit of a shame because the he560 satisfy's that open sound desire, and to put a closed one on just to properly enjoy a song is somewhat of a sacrifice (even though overall I get my target balance so its a sacrifice in terms of technicalities not overall satisfaction)These highs are of cleaner and more controlled display than any headphone I have had.  This is an occasional sacrifice though. To its credit the he560 has really smooth highs that I find only a bit more than ideal in quantity, while not a far stretch form ideal either.
Verdict: Again amazing quality but slightly distracting depending on the song. Some will fault improperly mixed songs and I'd say its a close call either way.
I could be wrong but I believe that if a headphone measured a perfectly flat line on a FR graph then it would sound weak in the bass, full in the mids, and very bright in the highs due to what frequencies the average ears are most sensitive to. Though it may have a downwards tilt on a graph (like most headphones anyway) its still a tad bright with everything else pretty much either even/flat to the ears or borderline shy. I'm not saying this headphone is way off but that its not quite there to perfectly flat but almost. Tilt the bass up only a db or so, push the mids up just a little in qty, and bring down the highs a smidgen and I would call it perfect for a target balance and  little more musical but this headphone is flat with a little emphasis in the treble.
Verdict: IMO even/flat balanced  except for in the highs which are only a little north of nuetral. 
The soundstage is the widest I have yet to hear from any planar simple and plain. Planars usually don't have a very wide soundstage to begin with so this would put it at a good size but not super large. This part doesn't take much effort from memory to declare. It is very enjoyable for all sorts of genres with a very strong center image. I will mention that when first listening I thought it was very short with little to no positioning of the instruments above my head. It reminded me immediately of the AKG q701 I had here for a short time, though less wide. I think that initial impressions are a bit exaggerated as we expect so much from a pair of 3"speakers that we strap to our heads. I am more firm in my impressions now of it being really good in soundstage and imaging even though it has little depth and height. It takes no effort to separate the instruments from each other. I would desire the instruments to be a little more bold and heavy against each other but the speed of this headphone prevents such juicy imagery and I am now happy with it being fast to draw me a clear picture of position from left, right, and center without getting much from top to bottom, and in front. The overall result is a fast, clear, and open soundstage with some out of the headphone experiences left to right.
Verdict: fairly wide, exceptional imaging, not much height or depth but definitely satisfying with a very open sound.
These tones I am getting from this hp are pretty much gorgeous. Before I said that I would prefer the tones to be bold on top of each other but that is only because I was spoiled by the he6 with its heavy, pure, and bold tones. This headphone is fast but its not brittle or too thin, and has some really pure tones that seem unhindered and like a very real rendition of what the actual tone would sound like live. There is not much wanting here and its better than the he500 IMO for sure. The decay is fast but still very lifelike and accurate. 
Verdict: second to one
I never feel like this headphone is hindering or not revealing anything to me. Rather that I am hindering it. I am eagerly waiting to now spend more time to improve my chain to see what It can do. It is a very detailed headphone that has made me hear things I was missing in any other headphone before it(can't say for sure on the he6). I have had some of those "oh my what was that noise, let me rewind that" moments with the he560. It goes and retrieves for me all of the information of my music and for that I am very grateful. 
Verdict: Unless you listen to mainly classical music where nothing is detailed, or resolving enough, then this is TOTL and fast.
This part is definitely making it an exciting headphone. It is a little bit aggressive, yet not overpowering. It can punch and shout with clarity and force, yet chill when its time to. Again I get surprised at times and there is a huge difference here for me than the he500. One of my gripes with the he500 is that a lot of things sounded a bit meshed and it didn't communicate to me the different levels of sound with as much vindication as I'd like. This is not the case here and I have no complaints.
Verdict: Dope dynamics
Even though the headphone feels light and demanding of a headphone stand, I am actually growing to understand the build of this headphone and have yet expose or worry about any weak spots on it. It seems okay in durability. My cups match color and I have no complaints here. I will admit that the heavier something is for me the more expensive it feels. This is the lightest open back I have had and the design makes a lot of sense.
Verdict: Its aiight, but pretty good ergonomics/comfort-design.


Nother power hungry HP. Skip what ya heard my Yulong A28 balanced gets em loud but the headroom is only a bit above ideal. These things need some power. Def harder to power than my Vibros or any T50 mod yet not far from it. They sound good at lower volumes though so there will be some debate here.
ind the headphone to be fairly good. Because I don't mind weight  I find the x1 to be more comfortable but other than that headphone I can't think of many other headphones to be more comfortable. I have to get used to the warmth of the pads but other than that and a little tightness of clamp I have no complaints.
Verdict: Pretty Good


Honestly I am nitpicking a lot but I confess this to be an AMAZING HP. I was just spoiled by the he6 on certain areas but this does other things to make up for it. I prefer its balance to the he6 but prefer the abilities of the he6. I think the reason for it only gelling with me 90% is the balance which is not far off. I would agree with someone that called it a respectively  balanced headphone. I just have my preferences of fuller mids and more bass quantity. For a while my favorite closed back was the ZMF v.1 and I wanted more bass from it as well. That is the same case here where I totally understand its tuning but desire more of the things that make me happy, all the while knowing it would sacrifice some of its overall fidelity.
For some reason the he500 and he400 hurt my hears when I listened to music for a while but these don't. They can be used for a variety of music genres and have a very controlled, tight, clean, and even sound signature. I look to the left and the right from my He560's and know I will come up short if I sell them for something else. If I do it will be for some new monitors not new headphones.  The thing I would like to mention about these headphones is that they are close enough to balanced that the supporting gear can make or break them. You can definitely build a rig around them to make them get close to what your ideal is. Add what I just mentioned and all of its speed, dynamics, genre bandwidth, extension, details, resolution and comfort and you have got your self a winner. I do recommend these headphones for a wide variety of applications over the competition that I have heard so far. The above impressions is me being myself... honest of its shortcomings and achievements from my opinion.  
In control!
-The bass is amazingly tight and controlled
-The mids are slightly reserved and far from shouty
-The highs yet a little north of neutral don't sound all peaky and abrasive and are exceptionally well mannered
-The imaging is not sloppy, but well defined(though missing some height its not blurry)
-The dynamics are very good yet fast and punchy
The balance is kinda flat yet still musical and these hp's sound like they are in control, whereas a lot of other headphones kinda let loose a little too much in other areas (I like that sometimes though)
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How do you rate this in comparison to the Vibro you owned, I mean I know this is mroe expensive and open headphone. I am just wondering though
This is the overall better quality headphone for sure. Its faster with better soundstage and sounds more open. The bass reaches lower  or at least sounds that way on the 560 but is less in quantity yet on the right song can hit as hard(kinda rare though) The Vibro however is a lot closer to my ideal balance of FR with the balance of mids, highs, and bass being spot on for me.  The Vibro is the fuller more true to life listen whereas the he560 is the more thin and reserved listen. The Vibro also had good enough technicalities to not leave me wanting for too much when swapping. BUT If I had hardware EQ for music, ie. a vintage receiver, the he560 would be the easy choice. The Vibro is still my favorite closed can. Unfortunately I haven't heard a higher tier than the he6 so there may be others out there that I would pick over the he6 or he560. 


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: Price, Sound, Options, Comfort,PRICE, mids
Cons: HM5 pads can want in firmness, isolation/leakage slightly below average for closed back


custom color with shure 1540 alacantra pads
For those that may not be familiar with the Fostex T50 RP, it is a headphone with an orthodynamic driver that was originally made for professional use. The driver is famous for its untapped potential and magical midrange. Almost as wide as the spectrum of headphone tastes is the range of modifications to this headphone with no two sounding identical. Everyone has opinions of what their ideal headphone should sound like and its amazing how many of these ideals become reality through a variation of a modified T50RP.
The ideals and musical tastes that contrive the modification specifics of the ZMF headphone come from a cool dude named Zach. From listening to the headphones, briefly chatting with him, and reading the details of his website I gather that at the core of his modification efforts is a desire to expose the magical midrange of the T50RP in its totality without distastefully slaughtering and enjoyable/natural balance. 
Not to boast on his behalf but to be straight up... you will not find another headphone with more available options in both sound, aesthetics, and comfort.  The trippy part is that after all of the below mentioned he is still taking suggestions 
. I'm not hatin' but that is an open mind for sure that works in our favor! Others may not have the time or patience to offer the same thing. 
The ZMF can be had in classic v.1, bass v.2 with the following options(not specific here but visit the site for in-depth details):
internal re-wiring(ZPEX)
practically any color paint (sliders too)
carbon plates
carrying case
These options are all at a price so it all depends on what is worth it to you. If I am correct the bass model is the modification without added pads left for the buyer to add pads they desire. At 199 its a bargain because the stock cable isn't bad itself though the earpads suck.
options old site


My first v.1 basic and my second v.2 with various options selected came with the original T50RP box. Then a month or less later the other b-stock v.2 I ordered came in a white cardboard box with a 4x7" carrying pouch and my cables selected. I am of the opinion that the packaging of a modded T50 RP isn't to be given much expectation. These dudes are after the sound first and foremost and extravagant packaging is a waist of efforts for a small company. It would add unnecessary costs to what should remain an affordable product. Not much to expect here nah mean.

Update: I received my master model v.1 with a similar color to the first pic and it came with a heavy duty Seahorse carrying case and bag for the chord. The case is super solid like I can literally throw it or drop it from a ladder with no issues. In short I love this case and much more than my HifiMan cases. 


These things are pretty comfortable. The Brainwavz HM5 pads are above average in comfort. I would welcome a pad that wasn't as soft as the HM5 and gave about a 1/4 inch more distance from the driver. The pads are deep enough in design but the softness of the foam gives in very easily to clamp force of the cups. Zach tries to rectify this with the inner lining of the pads with bungie chords that lay inside. If one loses these then they can easily find something else to give it support. Now the ears fit perfectly inside of the pads and they prove to give the ears enough breathing room to keep from getting clammy. Of all the headphones I have worn these get the least hot on the ears. The pads serve comfort in an average capacity but sound is where they make a lot more sense in my opinion which will be discussed later. The headband cushion is good to get because it is the perfect density and feels really good on the head. The dog strap isn't half bad either but without either that rubber headband feels unwelcomely distracting. I am bald though so I need a decent headband. I am very insensitive to weight so I will allow someone else to chime in there. The stock T50 RP is 330 grams so that is nothing to complain about as that seems about average despite its bulky build. 
Shure 1540 Alacantra pads Update:
Basically the perfect hm5 replacement and every pair of ZMF should have them. So much so that I wouldn't be surprised if the HM5's get phased out. The pads are dense enough to keep the cups from touching the ear. They are thick and comfortable and allow the ears to breathe while giving them superb isolation and minimal leakage. Shure knocked it out of the park with those pads. I even prefer them to the Mr. Speaker Alpha pads sometimes because these breathe a little better but they still dont have the soft and supple feel of the alpha pads.
So how do these sound? While I have recently become a fan as well as other t50 mods like the Mad Dog3.2(another great mod), I can clearly hear from jump why there haven't been any revisions of the ZMF. NO REVISIONS. Options yes!!! REVISIONS NO! He nailed it! So lets get into why and how.
Firstly I would like to talk about my impressions of the ZMF v.1 from memory and even to quote my early noob impressions of them from the other thread in the spoiler below should you choose to read it.


I recently purchased a pair of these modded t50RP from ZACH:  ZMF MODDED T50RP's
I am using an Emotiva mini x a-100 speaker taps and an aune t1 as a DAC. While using a WAV files
I compared these next to the Sennheiser hd650's. Mine are the ones with the Pilot pad and Brainwavz ear pads. Though I do prefer the look of the previous version (because these earpads dont fully encompass the cups) They are really comfortable. I am a big guy so they don't seem heavy to me. 
Though the hd650's sounded more full on acoustic tracks to my ears the ZMF's were not far behind. They(ZMF's) have clearer instrument separation and an overall clearer presentation of the music while still being dark. They sounded actually more similar than most other headphones that I have had. The hd650's seem to have more depth but the speed on both with my set up was good.
With electronic music they sounded really similar. The hd650 had a more slam but didnt reach as low as the ZMF's. The ZMF's had more clarity.
My brother a/b'd them together and said that he prefered the ZMF's. He said that the ZMF's were less fatiguing than the famous smoothness of the hd650's(those are his ears though but I didn't argue or have any strong disagreements with his assessments at all) They do need a little more volume than the hd650's so at the same volume and switching headphones that could play a part in it. To me fatigue is absent on both. 
In all honesty I have a slight preference towards the hd650's but the preference is soo slight that I cannot justify having the hd650's with this set up because the emotiva a-100 is a very strong amp that I am not going to upgrade anytime soon. So I would much rather sell the hd650's and keep the ZMF's to get another headphone.  I am a midcentric headphone kinda guy at times and the ZMF do the trick. Sometimes the hd650's sound too full or lush. 
Compared to the philips x1's ZMF's sound fuller and more natural except for the bass. Though I do prefer the air of the x1.
Actually when I think about it in a lot of ways I prefer the ZMF's.
Better intrument separation.
Stronger build
just as dark
deeper bass.
nice mids
even better mids
more bass impact
deeper soundstage
slightly more comfortable but I mean to me only slightly.
The 650s have a stronger center image but the ZMF's have a more neutral sound and have a strong presentation as well. 
I haven't heard any other modded T50RP's but these were well worth my purchase and pretty much made me think that to have these and the hd650's together were pointless because they can fall into the same category: Dark, nice mids, bass shy, full sounding, non-fatiguing, comfortable, natural, detailed. 
So yeah I know I may get some slack and people may disagree but for me I am selling the hd650s to get a headphone that will compliment the ZMF's because for professional uses these seem more suitable.
For the price all I can say is GREAT JOB AND GREAT BUY.
Some of the impressions are a little different now but to add some specifics from memory, I recall it to have a similar balance to the focal spirit pro but a little darker. Also, I wouldnt call them clearer than the hd650 well amped, though they do have better instrument separation. The lower mids were thicker than the v.2 I have right now. But it was natural sounding and very inviting overall. Leaving the midrange presentation of the v.1 to try other headphones will quickly leave one underwhelmed. I loved the headphones and eventually sold them both only to find myself currently going for a ZMF flagship and HD650 and Bottlehead Crack w/Speedball upgrade as my end game. I know I derailed but whatever... lol. The v.1 is very balanced and detailed. I went and got an Mad Dog with dog pads (NOT 3.2) and was so upset because I expected it to have the magical midrange of the ZMF v.1. For me the only thing I wanted from the classic version was a little more bass for my listening tastes as I could hear it but it was what I would call close to bass light.
update: VS V.2(V.1 and ZMFx Vibro is what I have now)
V.1 = less forward, tigher bass, less upper mids, slightly darker maybe but not as dark as I remembered, more even balanced. V.2 is simply a little more bassy and forward overall. My preference goes to the v.1 but not by a whole lot. I could see myself picking the v.2 over the v.1 on some songs for sure. 


iMac>Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo>Audirvana Plus/Spotify/Youtube>Nuforce HA - 200>ZMF ZPEX v.2 Alo Cryo Silver Plated Copper
So after being around the block and trying different headphones I wanted to get the ZMF again but since I wanted more bass I reached for the v.2 which is the bass version. So since I have this one I will do a review of the sound on it.
update: currently possess v.1 and zmf x vibro
The mids of the v.2 are still very well rendered. Compared to photography they would be like an up close portrait with natural sun for lighting in that they are right up on the object of focus with great detail, texture and an upper midrange emphasis that provides the vocals with the energetic projection they need to sound very convincing. The lower mids are not sucked out but give a little bit of precedence to the upper mids. The male vocal sounds spectacular on this headphone. The dynamics of the midrange are average because though I can hear the breaths in between words and pronunciation clearly they almost sound at the same level. There is a little bit of nasal character to stressed vowels where a tiny bit of resonance can be heard. The midrange clarity and overall presentation apart from those issues sound extremely convincing and still way above the average closed back in its price range! I heard the same projection as the Pandora hope VI which is very forward but the v.2 had a little more weight to it. The lower midrange is without thickness and also ill effected by any mid bass hump. 
It is extremely clear that Zach untapped the midrange of the Fostex T50 RP. To best anything I have ever heard in preference, it would only need a little more dynamics and space around the instruments. Even though the LCD2 is more balanced overall,and still sounds more natural and detailed, the v.2 has the projection to get your juices flowing. I would be lying if I said I would take a v.2 over an LCD2 if they were the same price, but equally lying if I said the LCD2 was more engaging. 
I may have forgotten to mention that the ZMF is modded to be a closed partner to the HE-500. Well he succeeded because the same comparison of the v.2 to the lcd2 can be said for the he-500 vs lcd-2. The vocals on the he-500 are expectedly more airy but with a similar balance overall. I would say the v.2 is easier on the ears than most headphones out there, but still not as smooth as the classic that I remember(I welcome corrections btw cause that was a while ago).
lcd2.2>he-500> HD 650> Pandora hope VI >/= ZMF v.1> ZMF v.2 = Focal Spirit Pro> Sony 7520 > Mad Dog Pro> MD 3.2>
The bass of the v.2 is neutral to for my tastes which means that it would be slightly above neutral to most. It definitely has the ortho sub bass extension and texture. Its pretty tight with average impact. I call it tasty not filling. It reminds me of steak bites vs a full cut. But listen, I am a BASSHEAD second to a midrange head so take that in context. For writing sessions I used to take my open back hd650 and listen with my speakers bass cranked up cause wanted to feel the bass. Well I will just say its very tastefully done and its not bass light. For the best bass, amp pairing and keeping a good seal is important. It is not a one note bass and has enough for hip hop etc which is what I listen to a lot of. I only boost the bass slightly in eq. It can punch when called for and the HM5 pads keep it tight. The v.2 bass resolution is very detailed. I have read elsewhere that the v.1 is tighter.
personal preference for bass:
lcd2.2>Mad Dog Pro>He-400>JVC DX700>Mad Dog 3.2>He-500>ZMF v.2> Sony 7520> M-Audio q40>Sennheiser hd 8 dj> Focal Spirit Pro> Yamaha hph Mt220>AKG k545>Sennheiser Momentum
Lcd2.2>He-500>he-400>MD Pro>ZMF v.2=MD 3.2
Sennheiser hd 8dj>Pandora hope VI=M-audio q40>Yamaha hph mt220>MD Pro = MD 3.2>7520>ZMF v.2>he-500=Focal Spirit Pro
He-400>MD Pro>ZMF v.2>MD 3.2 = Focal Spirit Pro>M-Audio q40
The highs of the V.2 are smooth as butter. I also feel that it doesn't lack in sparkle. Its smooth but not smoothed over. I dont feel they are emphasized nor subdued. They are not bright headphones nor are they dark. The extension on the highs are decent as well. I must admit that I failed to do any extension tests on the treble but I don't hear any issus. A buddy of mine told me that the MD 3.2 sounds less bright but extends a little further than the v.2.  I do recall them being brighter than the v.1(again a long time ago) and less bright than the Yamaha hph mt200. They are far from sibilant and are very pleasing to my ears becasue I never feel offended. Neither do I hear the highs splashed together like some headphones sound with a wash of treble boost. The balance of the highs kind of remind me of the M-audio q40,yet in a higher class for sure. 
The soundstage is more than satisfying. Its not soundstage head in width or depth. I would say its more wide than deep and though the instruments are forward its not congested at all by any means. Its more of an intimate listen than most headphones known for their soundstage but the imaging if pretty darn pinpoint as well as the instrument separation. One of the clear things I remember is that the instrument separation is better than an hd650. 


It takes a bit of headphone swapping to notice the differences because they don't pop out at you right away.  I used a splitter to test the differences by switching headphones and pausing and starting at the same spot on different songs. The sound signature stays the same but what is noticeable about the ZPEX Alo Cryo SPC is that though its less warm than the ZPEX Alo copper, it has a little less thickness and sounds less open. I almost want to use the word more murky but thats not right. Its heavier sounding than the SPC while the SPC is a little more light sounding and open. I welcome the added bass of the copper because its even more bassy which I like but overall my preference goes to the slightly clearer sound of the SPC rewiring. The midrange is just a tad more heavier on the copper rewiring. The kick drum however is a tad more punchy than the SPC and is slightly more assertive.
Before I stuck my neck out to try these, I was a bit skeptical of the difference wiring can have on sound. I never really got into it. Well for me this myth is totally reality now and I kinda wish I was still ignorant about it cause I dont want to spend money on cables
 but can easily see myself doing so now. Just like with any time I compared headphones, the differences became more and more noticeable after I first caught it.  
ZMF ZPEX vs MD 3.2
The song and my mood would often dictate my preference for either but overall I lean towards the ZMF. The reason being is that I love the midrange of the ZMF ZPEX v.2 and the bass isnt far behind in qty. I think it would be best to break it down in to the strengths they have over each other.
  1. louder
  2. more reverb(barely)
  3. stronger center image, 
  4. easier to drive,
  5. less murky at the same volume
  6. a lot more close and intimate 
  7. more realistic
  8. better for acoustic music
  9. great midrange focus, the vocals even preferred at times to the MD PRO with a very striking presence, as well as pianos etc
  10. loud music less tolerable
  11. slower / not quite as fast as the MD 3.2
  1. more even balanced across the spectrum
  2. less sharp in the cymbols easier on the ears
  3. slightly more grainy and less smooth
  4. a little more bass and better impact
  5. lower mids less prominent as well as upper mids
  6. more sound stage depth
  7. more comfortable
  8. better for hip hop
  9. drier or less wet and less resonance
  10. slightly more plastic in timbre
  11. better on loud music
  12. more comfortable
  13. cleaner mod
I use the ZMF ZPEX over the MD 3.2 to get back the fullness of instruments I feel like I lost to the Mad Dogs. The Mad Dogs however come back on when I want the vocals to be more in the background in comparison as sometimes it can be overwhelming to have everything right upfront in raw form. Also the MD 3.2 would have more toe tap factor while the ZMF have more of what I would call escape factor(getting lost in the music).Both are awesome.
Please pair it with an amp/source that isnt bass light and can hold the legs of the ZMF up. If you find it bass light then check your source. I had them into my Universal Apollo Twin alone which got them plenty loud enough but the bass was lacking. Then once I plugged them into my nuforce ha 200 I said "tadahh!" I would recommend atleast 1W. Sure less can make them satisfactory but these truck through songs with good headroom.
I only heard the two pads on the ZMF and that is the HM5 and Alpha pads. I will be brief here but I personally had likes and dislikes about the results of the Alpha pads on the ZMF V.2. They may be an ideal upgrade for the v.1 which I never tried together but on the v.2 they sounded more distant which some may say is a better soundstage. They also lost a lot of the intimacy I relish with the HM5 pads. The HM5 pads have slightly tighter bass and are more forward. I do really like the comfort of the alpha pads though and wish I could readily swap them depending on the song because the difference is very noticeable. 
Shure 1540 Alacantra pads: Like mentioned above they are the most comfortable and durable option. It does change the sound just a little bit and IMO for the better. Those that feel like the ZMF's are dark should give these a try as they are a little more bright, airy and detailed sounding. I personally find those welcoming changes in sound. The other good report is that the bass doesn't suffer at all from the change of pads. 
I usually wouldnt be so firm on a suggesttion yourself a favor and get the alacantra pads, there is no better upgrade on the ZMF no matter what version.
I would go so far as to say that the ZMF V.2 could be considered genre masters because they lack nothing that every genre needs. Yeah I find the soundstage to be above average and yes the bass is enough for hip hop. But lemme put it this way... for the price that these can be had at you WILL NOT find better vocals, clarity, detail, instrument timbres and options than the ZMF period. The closest thing I can think of is the Focal Spirit Pro but I would still put the ZMF ZPEX above it easily and would arguably call it smoother and more detailed. Yeah other headphones do somethings better but every headphone has its weaknesses. The cool thing is that this headphone doesn't have many at all. I am simply posting this as an enthusiast because I like what I hear. I have to record vocals sometimes and you better believe that on every song I record I want to hear it on some kind of a ZMF.




Great review, and in fact, I purchased this set from Grizzly. They were very well cared for and in nearly perfect condition. I was very impressed with the sound and overall balance, especially the midrange. In the end, I wanted a touch more air and sparkle at the high end and shipped them back to Zach for some tweaks. He did these free of charge and shipped them back and I am VERY happy.

I also have NAD HP50, Fidelio X1, and V-Moda M80, M100, and XS in my collection. What an addictive hobby this is!!!
Indeed it is Jim!


My name is grizzlybeast and I'm an audioholic.
Pros: bass, sound quality, accessories,priced right though expensive
Cons: balance

Sennheiser HD 8 DJ Review

I am NOT a DJ so I dont fully understand this product in the light of its intended application SO I am hesitant to call this a review because I am not a DJ. I am an individual who listens mainly to every music genre that the modern DJ is known to produce/mix etc including but not limited to EDM, Hip Hop, R&B,glitch hop, Dub-Step, Reggae, Electronic Music and similar. For those who are curious about buying this product for portable or home listening then maybe this will provide some useful insight.


The HD 8 is a headphone that was tuned specifically for being able to listen at loud volumes without being piercingly bright but capable of providing sufficient bass and attack for the beat matching needs of the modern DJ. If you are browsing the internet and looking through various DJ websites for headphone recommendations it wont take long for you to notice the specific needs of Dj's and the conditions their headphones should be able to weather. They are not going to take these pretty little things and place them on a lacquered up headphone stand like the one in my pics. They may or may not be treated like they are are expensive but that money had better have been put into sound quality, DURABILITY, and functionality. I can without hesitation say that from an outsiders view that Sennheiser delivers on those three fronts and that this product was very well thought out. For the audiophile looking for balance, or the music enthusiast looking for enhanced details , spritely life like vocals that give you goose bumps then I would say.... Nah, this isn't really for you. 
Personally speaking, it's hard for me not to want it all. So lets get into specifics to see what all of it is and isnt. Or better yet from a personal and subjective point of view, where I am and am not impressed. 


Straight up from JUMP Sennheiser does it again. The only other packaging I can think of that can match it is VMODA.  I received  the Pandora HOPE VI and it has this cool hexigon box with fur on the inside but IMO it still doesn't touch the practicality of the HD 8 DJ box and carrying case. I can actually use it and it it feels more sturdy than the Focal Spirit Pro box. It has the sweet bright blue trim inside of the box with blue ribbon to keep the lid from opening all of the way. I will just leave it at that for packaging because honestly I am not really good at describing it. I will just say that of all of the headphone packaging that I have had to get through to get to the headphones, this is my favorite.
Included with the HD 8 DJ is everything that you can ask for. It comes with:
- An extra pair of velour ear pads
- Two cables coiled and straight
- A box that can be reused
- A carrying case
- Ofcourse the headphones
-1/4 inch adapter(with pretty blue rings!!)
So how do these headphones feel? Do they feel like 389 dollars? In short, yes. I cant find really any cheapy plastic parts on them. The headphones are metal crafted and feel reinforced/supported by metal on every part. The headband is a thick rubber. The swivel joints, which turn 210 degrees,  are metal as well with what looks like a sterling silver ring(I'll let someone else figure it out). I also cant think of another headphone besides VModa that feels as sturdy. Now, I also wouldn't stomp them and throw them on the ground like the German Maestros that I used to have but they do feel like they can take a beating more than any other headphone that I have had besides them. They are slightly heavy and chunky but, fold very easily. The ergonomics are outstanding! I often have grabbed a pair of headphones and immediately ideas come up on how I would have done it a lot different. These are the opposite; they may me wonder how they designed them and drew the sketches of them. I don't feel like me folding them and unfolding them is going to damage the set. They were extremely thoughtful in the development of the build. The owner should have little worries here. 
Minor Gripes:
I have done enough praising of the amazing job that Sennheiser has done in designing the headphones. If I could have somehow thrown my two cents into the design of these headphones I would have asked for a couple of things to be a lil' different. Namely I would have suggested the cord not to be proprietary, or only for the hd 8 dj, so that I could swap cables. The cable has a twist lock connection into the headphones. Though the connection can be plugged into either cup I don't imagine that someone will be able to try or upgrade cables with this design. I also would have been like"YO shorten the cord a little bit, or a lot bit, and hook  it up with some volume controls". I have to use the straight cord and tape or tie a bundle of wire that would only look decent close to end of the jack. They probably would have told me to buy a momentum or they wanted this to be officially for DJ's alone so I need not apply. Any way, those are basically my only gripes with the design.
I will mention here that I have read a couple of people complaining about creaking. I have yet to hear one creak at all but that is not to say their complaints aren't valid. 



I will admit that  I am not picky here and only have had two headphones I couldn't live with. My ears snuggle up inside tightly, but way more easily than with the Momentum and Focal Spirit Pro. It's actually a great fit and the closest thing to my ideal fit of the Sony 7520. The velour pads are basically an upgrade that comes in the box. So Sennheiser IMO shipped these with an upgrade.  The velours feel better, sound better(could be just me) and isolate just as well. It takes some getting used to putting them on the right way but its no problem. When I turn the one cup up to hear my surroundings it feels just right and I can move around without feeling like they are going to fall off. I actually can wear it with both cups turned off the ears and they stay on while moving about. 
Decent sized gripe:
I didn't know where to put this gripe at. One thing for sure is that Sennheiser may have some confusion about what to call their headphones. Lets do the math:
- the box says elliptical circumaural
- the site says HD 8 DJ on ear(atleast at the time of this review) hence the reason I listed them that way
- they definitely will fit over most ears
- they list the Momentum as over ear which have a smaller opening than these. 
= confusion
Well I dont know what is going on there. To me these are OVER EAR.


Another home run. Let me put it like this:
German Maestro GMP8.35d>Sennheiser HD 8DJ>>>>.....then a moderate gap in between >Focal Spirit Pro>>then a less decent gap>>>all the rest I have heard. That is for isolation and leakage. I am satisfied there to say the least. 


dun dun dun....
I dont mind telling you ahead of time if I was impressed or not. Just be sure to do yourself a favor and not magnify my complaints or praises into deal breakers or trigger pullers. There is no perfect headphone and I have learned that some wow you right away and others grow on you. This definitely belongs to the latter. I was initially unimpressed from jump. I will say that the sound quality has a ton of really great things about it but to be blunt is not balanced anywhere and wasn't meant to be. What I thought I was listening to out of the box was a lot different than I expected. People posted graphs of them and impressions etc. but I was so zealous for these that I ignored them. No one could tell me not to get them because I was thrilled at the thought of having these.  I placed all my eggs in one basket so hopefully this will spare you from doing the same thing. The preface of this impression in the beginning of this thread, should be a good reminder of its intended design. 
I read or heard(can't recall) that Sennheiser tuned these to have deep and strong bass, full mids and smooth treble. So lemme break it down:
The bass is very tasteful yet alpha male-type dominant in the mix. It sounds like how I used boost my bass with hardware eq settings on a fiio x3, e11, or any EQ software that I have when I am not really caring about whats going on in the music. Of course software EQ can make anything distort but if you are planning on trying to test this thing to see how loud you can turn it before the bass distorts then retire from your ventures and save your ears, straight up. The housing of this headphone does not give way to much rumble or vibration. Sometimes I really enjoy rumble and to be honest I love impact. These do fairly okay in impact but the volume of bass is definitely boosted. This is not one of those headphones that shows you it has bass and then backs off when its time to. It does impart its dominance into every track. It doesn't do it with rumble or distorting everything with vibration etc, it doest it with its balance. The bass anchors the music in a way that makes the rest of the FR feel tethered to it unwillingly. I also don't think it's the tightest bass even though it's not sloppy. The bass is very unique in experience to me. On bass heavy songs like Flying lotus Zodiac sh*#(i hate that title) it is very satisfying and I allllmost feel the impact I desire. This IS basshead certified. I would argue someone 'till I am blue in the face that said otherwise. The bass resolution down there is decent. Its not like the focal pro or not even close to the 7520. Its kind of like the yamaha mt220 in sub sonic resolution which is not bad at all.
Now this is the part that was most challenging to me. The mids are there. I can't quite say they are recessed even though they tuck behind the bass. They have a dip in the lower mids but its not as audible as I thought I first heard. I would like to express my reasons for tying them together with the treble. When I have eq'd vocals after recording or watched the guy at the studio do it I learned that putting too much bass in the vocals makes them sound muted or weird and too much of a boost at the wrong part of the lower treble can make it sound nasally. Well the dip in the treble around 4khz or something along with the boost in the bass takes the life out of what could be a spectacular vocal presentation. Male vocals are effected by the dip in the treble severely. While the mids have a round and smooth sound to them, they don't have that realistic breathe in the projection during the vocalists run. "Veiled" would surely apply here. The treble doesn't sound ill extended as much as it is too subdued. Sennheiser is known for treble roll off. Them aiming at making the treble smooth for high volume listening for DJ's makes a lot of sense but they also may have not taken it into account that they default to smooth treble anyway and this may have been over kill.
The instruments have a really good timbre in general. They don't sound fake or plasticky but wholesome and sweet. Despite the fact that they miss some bite to them, the instruments in the mids don't sound distant or flat. These headphones demand that you take them and crank them up. When you do they keep their cool and truck right through the song without making you squint once. I can enjoy the treble parts of the song and can still tell when a song is mixed with too much treble but I would imagine that a little sparkle would help beat matching as well because high hats, cymbals and snares are all valuable to rhythm keeping. I will say that I prefer the balance of the Pioneer HDJ 2000 minus the bass roll of. Both have a dark signature that is enjoyable but the Pioneer doesn't have the same treble dip at the same spot. On the other hand the sound quality of the HD 8 dj technically whoops the hdj2000.
The details in the HD 8 DJ don't pop at you but nothing is missing. There obviously is a difference between a headphone that adds treble to boost detail perception and one that lets you hear low level noises without blending the instruments together. This headphone belongs to the latter. Though they are very smooth and rounded, they still provide adequate details. The background is blacker than the momentum or Yamaha hph mt220 but nothing really to boast about. The HD 8 DJ is also not grainy at all. There is nothing fizzy or fuzzy about the sound. If it lacks details compared to anything it would only be because its more blurred than blotchy. Kind of like out of focus vs big pixels, or smooth over instead of messy. I honestly find it pretty good with details and enough so that I wouldn't argue with anyone that said it was a detailed headphone.  
I will admit that the lack of air and bass dominance persuaded me that it was closed in sounding. Closed in and closed(vs open) are two different things. The positioning of the instruments, width and depth  are satisfactory for this kind of headphone and after listening more made me regret complaining about the soundstage. They sound fine to me there. The 7520 for example is very narrow IMO and can be a bit overwhelming with too much going on despite its resolution. I don't get that feeling here. Its just that the veil and lack of air gives it a thick sound. The Spirit Pro has a thick sound in the mids that I really enjoy and isn't really airy but its soundstage is actually pretty good. This headphone is a bit smaller in soundstage but nothing to complain about. Because it has decent separation it can handle busy songs VERY WELL. I cant think of too many other headphones in its price that I have listened to that handle floods of instruments as well without overwhelming you. Yet another reason to crank it up.
Veiled but not congested.
I wish I could write a full review as a DJ that took these to a club and tried to beat match vs some other well know headphones. Then I would feel like I would be doing them justice. They do sooooo many things really well but the balance isn't what I am used to after coming from the Yamaha, Pro, Q40, MD 3.2, Pandora VI, ZMF and others that have been here lately. Coming from the midrange and vocal presentation of those may leave you a bit underwhelmed in a way that can make you over look some of the other amazing qualities and package of this headphone. I think that the plan was well executed by Sennheiser apart from the treble dip. I would like to say that it is more of the dip in a part of the treble than a complete treble roll off that is bothersome. Later I hope to post some of my eq settings from Audioforge that I found to help problem a little bit. If you take the isolation, sound quality with some EQ, comfort, build and ergonomics into consideration then it would be extremely hard to find a better BASSHEAD portable headphone. Its not a genre master but those that listen to what most modern DJ's play then this headphone does very well. I was initially very upset with the vocal presentation and the way the bass dominates a bit too much in the balance. I also would like a little more impact and rumble but I can be happy with this headphone with some eq when I want to listen to vocals. 
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Nice job buddy.  I keyed on the following two gripes that the HD7 had as well - a cord that was not only way too long but proprietary and the bass on the 7 was so DOMINANT nothing sounded good, and I'm a basshead. 
"For those who are curious about buying this product for portable or home listening then maybe this will provide some useful insight."  - Yes your review does just that; very useful, thanks!  
BTW I thought I read somewhere that people where using another Senn HP cable without problem . . .