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10-point comparisons of trios of 35 headphones (Grado, Sennheiser, ...) - Headphoneus Supremus Inaugural Post

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by ruthieandjohn, May 22, 2015.
  1. ruthieandjohn
    This post is my 1,500th, elevating me into the rarified stratosphere of Headphoneus Supremus. While others celebrate with parades, speeches, and shopping across the United States this Memorial Day weekend as a result, I will serve my public by doing more of what got me here... POST!

    Over the 16 months on head-fi.org, I have developed a method of comparing groups of three headphones according to 10 acoustic features that are important to my listening. Here, I summarize 18 such comparisons, embracing a total of 35 headphones and amplifiers, and (most importantly) provide references to the detailed description of each of the 18 comparisons, each with its own post (and often its own thread).

    Test Method:

    I used four songs, all encoded in Apple Lossless Format at CD quality (I actually bought the CDs and ripped them... no internet download involved) and played by my Apple iPod Touch 5th Gen. Because each of the 10 acoustic tests used a limited segment of music (2 - 10 sec), an infinite loop was used to repeat the appropriate segment of each song while headphones were switched in and out.

    • "You're Going To Miss Me When I'm Gone," by Band of Heathens, from their album One Foot In The Ether (used for fidelity of drum sound, positional resolution of two vocalists, and ability to discern pitch of string bass passages);
    • "Spanish Harlem," by Rebecca Pidgeon, on The Ultimate Demonstration Disc of Chesky records (used to assess female vocals, transparency, the attack of finger on bass string, and high resolution discrimination of differences in shaker shakes);
    • "Symphony No. 3 in C Minor Op. 78 (Organ Symphony) - IV" by Camille Saint Saens played by Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symph
      ony Orchestra (used to assess the "ripping" sound of well-rendered lower brass and organ reed pipes, and the ability to hear a very small entrance amidst a bombastic chord of orchestra and organ at full tilt);
    • "Throwback" by B.o.B. on Underground Luxury (used to assess ability of a bass tone, specifically lowest C on piano at about 32 Hz, to pick me up by the throat and shake me!)

    The 10 tests were as follows:

    • Transparency: What is between me and the music? A felt cloth? A "Sennheiser veil?" A frosted window? Dirty window? Clear Saran wrap? or nothing? At its best, makes me forget I am listening on headphones and am in room with musicians.
    • Width of sound stage: How far to the left and to the right, (yes, AND up and down in best cases) does it seem the musical sources are arranged?
    • Positional resolution: Can I distinguish a difference in position of two singers in Song 1?
    • Bass visceral: Does the bass in third verse of Song 4 actually shake me? Or do I just hear it?
    • Drum "twang": At start of Song 1, do the bass and tom tom drumhead have a tone and a pitch, rather than just a thump?
    • Bass pitch perception: For the complicated bass runs in Song 1, do I hear a pitch with sufficient accuracy to sing or transcribe the part?
    • Bass finger pluck: Do I hear the actual impact of fingers on the bass string just before hearing its sound on Song 2?
    • Shaker variation: In Song 2, verse 3, do the various shaker shakes sound a bit different from each other, as they should?
    • "Ripping" of organ / brass: In Song 3, is there the sensation of hearing each vibration of the French horn and low organ reed tones (sort of the tonal counterpart to hearing a "pitch" from a drumhead in Test 5);
    • Discern added chord: About 1:38 into Song 3, after the full orchestra and organ hold a chord at the top of a passage, can I hear a small number of orchestra instruments join in, as sort of an echo, in the second measure of that chord?

    These tests generally emphasize what I find most pleasing in a headphone, namely high-frequency-related features including transparency, upper harmonics of sounds from drum-head, brass, organ pipe, and string bass, and high-resolution effects such as fine detail of each shaker sound and the finger on the bass string.

    Headphones and Amps Tested

    Here are the headphones and amps tested, listed first by manufacturer and within manufacturer, by model.


    Summary Test Results

    Here is an example of one three-way comparison, which can be found in a post dedicated to the comparison here.

    The Grado PS1000 is compared to the Grado HP1000 and GS1000e for each of the acoustic features noted in the left-most column and elaborated upon in the right-most column. For each feature, the headphone of the three performing the best is given 3 points and its cell is colored blue; 2nd place at 2 points is red, and 3rd place at 1 point s red. Ties are either for first place (blue + red = purple, 2.5 points) or second place (red + yellow = orange = 1.5 points). Rather than being hypersensitive to differences before declaring a ranking, I tried to be confident that I could repeat the ranking most of the time in a blind test. Hence, some ties still had subtle differences.

    The last line of the table shows the total preference points for each headphone, summing the numbers above. This gives a ranking that is also color coded. It is this row, for each of the 18 three-way comparisons, that is shown in the tables below. The final row from the table above, for example, is found in the 12th comparison below.



    Links to Detailed Comparisons

    The links below attempt to follow the order of the comparison above. Click on the trio of headphones to be sent to the full-length post that I made over the past year and a half to view the 10 detailed comparisons and learn more about the headphones.

    Klipsch S4i / Apple In-Ear / Apple Ear Pods
    Senn HD 598 / Beats Studio 2013 / Beats Pro
    Grado PS500 / Stax SR-5 / Klipsch S4i
    Senn H 598 / NAD VISO hp50 / Beats Pro
    Parrot Zik / Beats Studio 2013 Wireless / Sennheiser PXC 300 BT
    Grado PS500 / HiFiMAN HE-500 / Shure SE535
    Senn HD 598 / AKG K712 / Philips Fidelio S2
    Beats Pro / Yamaha Pro 500 / Beats Studio 2013
    Sennheiser HD 800 / Grado PS1000 / Grado RS1i
    Parrot Zik 1.0 / Parrot Zik 2.0 / JayBirds BlueBuds X
    Grado PS1000 / Grado HP1000 / Grado GS1000e
    Grado PS1000 / Grado PS500 with G CUSH / Grado PS500 with stock L bowl
    Grado PS500 / Grado SR325e / Grado SR225i
    Grado SR225i / Grado SR125 / Grado SR80i
    Grado SR80i / Grado SR60 / Grado iGrado
    Grado RS1 / Grado RS1i / Grado RS2i
    Sony PHA-1 / CEntrance HiFi M8 / Senn HDVD 800
    Grado HPA1 / Grado RA1 / JDS Labs CMOY BB 2.03
    HiFiMAN HE1000 / Sennheiser HD 800 / Gradp PS1000 (added June 10, 2015 - not included in summary charts above)
    Joseph Grado HPA1 / Sennheiser HDVD 800 / CEntrance HiFi M8 (on HE1000) (added June 10, 2015)
    Joseph Grado HPA1 / HiFiMAN EF-5 / HiFiMAN EF-6 (on HE1000) (on HE1000) (added June 10, 2015)
    Grado SR325i / Grado SR325is / Grado SR325e (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado SR325i / Alessandro MS-2 / Grado PS500 (added May 18, 2016)
    Grado GH1 / Grado Bushmills X / Grado RS1i (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado GH1 / Grado GH1 with G Cush / Grado RS2e (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado SR80e / Grado SR125e / Grado SR125 (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado HF-1 / Grado SR125 / Grado PS500 (added May 1, 2016)
    V-MODA VAMP VERZA and M-100 / M-100 / Sony PHA-1 and V-MODA M-100 (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado PS1000 / GradoPS1000e / Grado GH-1 (added May 1, 2016)
    Schiit Bifrost Multibit / Stockholm MHDT (added May 1, 2016)
    Sennheiser HDVD 800 / Stockholm MHDT (added May 1, 2016)
    Joseph Grado HPA1 /Stockholm MHDT (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado RS2 vs. Grado RS2i vs Grado RS2e (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado RS1 (buttoned) vs. Grado RS 2 (buttoned) (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado GH1 w G Cush / Grado GS1000e (w > 250 hrs use) / Joseph Grado HP1000 (added May 1, 2016)
    Beyerdynamic T 5 p / Ultrasone Edition 8 (Ruthenium) / V-MODA M-100 w/ VAMP VERZA DAC-amp (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado GS1000i / Grado RS2e / Grado GS1000e (added May 1, 2016)
    Grado GS1000e / SR 325 / SR325e
    HiFIMAN HE-6 / HiFiMAN HE1000 / Grado GS1000i (added May 26, 2016)
    Grado PS1000 / Grado GS1000i / Grado GH1/G (added May 29, 2016)
    Grado RS1e / Grado Rs2e / Grado GS1000i (added Dec. 8, 2016)
    Grado RS1e / Grado RS1i / Grado GS1000i (added Dec. 8, 2016)
    Grado RS1e / Grado HP1000 / Grado SR325i (added Dec. 8, 2016)
    Grado GS2000e / Grado GS1000i / Grado PS1000e (added Dec. 8, 2016)
    Grado GS2000e / Grado GS1000e / Grado GH1/G (added Dec. 8, 2016
    Grado GS2000e / Grado PS1000 / Grado RS2e (added Dec. 8, 2016)
    Grado GS2000e / Sennheiser HD800 / HiFiMAN HE1000 (added Dec. 8, 2016)
    Schiit Lyr 2 / Lotoo PAW Gold / Joseph Grado HPA1 all with Grado GS2000e (added Dec. 8, 2016)
    Hugo 1 / Hugo 2 / iPod Touch 6 (added July 24, 3017)
    Hugo 2 / Lotoo PAW Gold / Schiit Bimby (added July 24, 2017)
    Grado PS2000e / Grado PS1000e / Grado PS1000 (added September 27, 2017)
    Grado PS2000e / HiFiMAN HE1000 / Sennheiser HD800 (added September 27, 2017)
    Grado PS2000e / Grado GS1000i / Grado RS2e (added September 27, 2017)


    These ratings, as well as the 10 acoustic rating criteria, simply reflect my own tastes in headphones. I value transparency, large sound stage, impactful bass, and treble detail, but do not particularly care about male or female vocals, so no features concerning vocals appears on the list. Your own preferences will be different; your own ranking will be different.


    In preparation for the status of Headphoneus Supremus that I will attain when I press "return" on this post, I have already paid the nice man with the leisure suit and slicked hair in the parking lot the H.S. membership fee. I have completed the addition of the new wing on my house to accommodate the headphones that companies and individuals will be sending me in the mail, seeking my approval, in accordance with what that nice man told me. I have introduced a reviewer price list, with higher prices for good reviews and lower prices for poor reviews. I think I am all set! Indeed, I learned that my first headphones are in the mail!

    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
  2. DarthFader
    Thanks for compiling all of these reviews in one location! Some really interesting comparisons and an impressive amount of work on your part. Thanks and congratulations on elevation into the lofty ranks of Headphoneus Supremus, haha!
  3. Sefelt103
    Thankyou for your headphone comparisons. This must have taken a lot of time and effort. It is quite difficult to compare Hi-Fi products like DAPs, amplifiers and headphones because you become atuned and used to a piece of equipment and have to atune to the new item before you get any idea of a comparison. It is also very rare that you ever get two pieces of equipment that sound identical. With headphones the difficulty is also compounded by burn-in. Two comparisons surprised me in particular. The first was the Grado PS500/HiFiman HE500/Shure SE535(IEM) comparison and second the Sennheiser HD598/AKG K712/Fidelio S2(IEM) comparison. In both the IEMs came out with the highest scores. I have always found IEMs to be lacking in the bass region compared to full size headphones which although they might lack bass extension give a much more realistic and deep portrayal of the bass frequencies. IEMs also tend to have poorer soundstaging and imaging compared to full sized headphones. IEMs do obviously have advantages like noise isolation and greater portable capabilities etc. I am just surprised overall you rated them more highly than some rather well regarded headphones.
  4. ruthieandjohn
    In general, when IEMs were compared with over-ears, they would come out ahead at least according to these measures.  While they often suffer in sound stage, that is only one of 10 criteria.  They often do better in high-frequency detail (several of the 10 criteria, including transparency, bass finger pluck, organ/brass "ripping," and drum twang) and (for the ones I had, even the SE 535s) do better at bass.
    For example, the Shure SE535 IEMs are NOT known for bass... it is their big brother, the SE846, that adds the fourth channel of driver to give you that extra bass.
    However, a look at their frequency response as compared to over ears., e.g.,

    (Shure SE535 is blue)
    ..shows that its subbass exceeds everything (including bass-renown Beats, the orange) except the V-MODA M-100 (red), which exceeds the Shure by about 2 dB. Other headphone (green) is the HiFiMAN HE-500, which I know from first hand experience has strong, palpable bass.
  5. Sefelt103
    Interesting curves, I like the Monster Beats curve. As most people realise these curves are approx. indicators of how a headphone will sound. Comparing curves of different types of audio gear eg. earphones/IEMs/Headphones/Speakers in my view reduces the accuracy of the approximation further. Comparing IEMs with full size headphones is not comparing like with like. Would it not be better to compare the Shure SE535s with the Fidelio S2. Just a thought, anyway thanks again for the information, it's useful for non owners of this equipment.
  6. Saad Abdul Aziz
    hi i saw your post and was curious as i have the HD 800's and the major factor i love it is because it has the best soundstage and the most wide  along with its positional cues and separation
    i saw your review and you rated he 1000 higher than the HD 800's just confirming if my interpetation of your post is correct and you believe that the HE 1000 has a bigger sound stage and better separation and positional resolution
  7. ruthieandjohn
    Yes, I felt that the HE1000 had both a wider sound stage and a better ability to resolve the position of two singers side by side than did the HD 800.

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