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7/26/14 Seattle Redhook Meet impressions

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  1. Dragonzeanse
    I'm glad I got to meet a lot of knowledgeable people at Kirkland. Came all the way from Vancouver, WA and it was worth it. There was a ton of gear that I never had the chance to demo before like the Little Dot MK III and Objective2, as well as the Sennheiser HD 600 and up. It was a real treat.
     
    Here's a few of the highlights I'd like to post my impressions of.
     
    1. Abyss AB-1266: I'm going to go against the grain here and say that these headphones... were not good. At all. That is, of course, given the five kilobuck price. This headphone is easily the worst price-to-performance headphone I've ever tried. It's not that I expected a whole lot for how much it cost, but I expected it to at least sound better than headphones that were a tenth of the price and lower. A Sennheiser HD 600 is not ten to eleven times worse than this - and in fact, I think it might actually be better. These headphones were described as sounding like a pair of speakers, which I'm not prepared to agree with. It sounded like any pair of headphones, doing nothing to stand out, and having one of the worst fits I've ever seen in a headphone. Maybe it's not supposed to seal properly, but it bothered me having the headphones hang the way they did on my head. I'm not really disappointed since I knew no matter what, it would never sound worth its ludicrous price. Any expectations that could be placed on it would have been unfair. But I at least expected it to do better than headphones a tenth of the price.
    2. AKG K1000: Oh my. I've always kind of dismissed this headphone as a bit gimmicky. That's not really as bad as it might sound, it's just that I didn't think it was really that impressive a headphone. I was skeptical because of the design. What surprised me was how much like a headphone that these earspeakers actually sounded like. I enjoyed listening to them; they had a sound signature I'd describe as fun, in spite of its odd design. If anything, I have to admire the technical prowess. Would I buy one? Probably not. But if you already own this piece of audio history, it's worth hanging on to for when you want to enjoy its massive soundstage and fun sound.
    3. Beyerdynamic DT880 Premium (600ohm): This was amplified by the Little Dot MK III that I mentioned prior, and it sounded fantastic. With a full-bodied sound that I'd almost describe as euphonic, this was one of the headphones I just wanted to keep listening to. I don't know if the tubes were stock or not - and the owner didn't seem to remember, either. All I know is that I enjoyed my time with this headphone. I've heard the DT880 before - the Pro, specifically - and enjoyed it thoroughly, like a less-bassy but more detailed Fidelio X1. This sounded similar, but more refined.
    4. Focal Spirit Professional: "Professional" is right. I don't know if these are the right choice for monitoring audio, given that it seems to have a design geared towards the general user, but they sounded pretty much flatter than anything else I tried - to the point of sounding kind of boring, actually, and I enjoy neutral sound signatures. It was a comfortable headphone with quite a lot of clamp. I don't mind clamp, but I can see why this would bother a few people. If someone were looking for a sound as flat as possible without frills, these are the headphones I would recommend. Probably with an asterisk.
    5. Grado RS2: To those who have seen me on the forum, it's no secret that I have a distaste for Grado products. They are remarkably uncomfortable, and even if you can tolerate the poor ergonomics, the sound is just not worth it. The high-end Grado headphones, I could never wear for more than a few seconds, and the low-end ones were almost as uncomfortable - saved only by the S-cushes. Yet they were also some of the worst-sounding headphones I've heard. The bass on low-end Grados is non-existent; they sound like answering machines circa the 1990s. THAT ALL SAID: I managed to wear these for some time and I actually did not despise the sound signature. While I'm anything but converted to the Grado house sound, if I had to rate my distaste for Grado products on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being the lowest), I went from a 3 to a 6 with these. The bass was there and it still maintained the sound signature Grado headphones are known for. These have been described to me as the anti-Beats, and yes, I am inclined to agree. Not worth it to me, but I can respect these products a little more now.
    6. HiFiMAN HE-500: The star of the show for me. Powered by the new Bottlehead Quicksand amp, these were the most surprising thing I heard at the meet. It's no secret that the HE-500s are famous for providing an excellent value, but I never got to hear them until now. When I heard an applause at the end of a track that I didn't think was actually playing, I looked around to room to see who was clapping. That is how crystal clear this setup sounded. The source was reel-to-reel, so if you're someone who thinks analog is the ultimate source, well, I certainly can't prove you wrong with a setup like this. I was pretty dead-set on getting the Sennheiser HD 600s when I had the money, but I'm inclined to change my decision now, after hearing these. A headphone that sacrifices nothing and does well at everything: comfort, detail, impact, and so on. A+, HiFiMAN!
    7. HiFiMAN HE-6: What gives? This sounded worse than the HE-500. I don't remember what was amping it, but it was this giant beast of electronic prowess that - upon looking at it - you'd think was powerful enough to drive these. I think you could count the number of reliable pairings with this headphone on one hand. Having listened to it, it was everything the HE-500 had, but worse. I refuse to believe this was properly amped. There's just no way, unless it really is worse. It didn't sound bad, but when compared to a much cheaper headphone that sounded leagues better, yes, it is - strictly speaking - "bad."
    8. Sennheiser HD 600: No, there is no Sennheiser veil. Moving on: these sounded incredibly close to neutral, yet did not forgo the lush sound that the HD 650s had. It wasn't quite as warm and full-bodied, but the trade-off was that it sounded closer to neutral, with a little more detail. I hated the plastic build; it actually did not feel that sturdy, to me - particularly in the hinges. That said, it probably won't break after extended use - and replacements (EXPENSIVE replacements) are available for the headband assembly.
    9. Sennheiser HD 650: Again, that Sennheiser veil is a fairy tale. I know it's been beaten to death to the point of having an emote on this very forum, but I did not hear a veil. Okay, maybe compared to the HD 800s, they sound veiled, but that's a completely unfair comparison. Would you compare the HD 598s to the AKG K701s? Probably not. The HD 598s are - to me - the poster child for warm sound. This was a little bit like that, but sounded thoroughly detailed all the same. At $500, I don't really recommend it unless paying for less detail at the expense of more refined mids and mid-bass is worth the extra $100 to you over the HD 600s. I like both headphones, though; while I prefer the HD 600, I don't think either one is better. It boils down to preference. If they were the same price, I'd easily see these as twin brother headphones.
    10. Sennheiser HD 800: JC on a pogo stick, these are bright. I hate how the term "analytical" has become synonymous with boring and fatiguing. To describe a headphone as analytical these days almost seems to be an insult. But wow, these headphones do deserve that designation - to an extent. That, however, does not make them bad. In fact, of all the headphones I tried, this consistently sounded like the closest to real life. The source was an Astell & Kern AK120 - and while I'm not entirely sold that sources make a massive difference in sound (unless they're colored) other than to draw the signal away from a noisy environment like a computer, this setup sounded amazing. The guitar resembled a real guitar, cymbals had that timbre you would expect from actual cymbals. I'm not a fan of the massive enclosures, given that it just feels too loose. I actually like a bit of clamp to my headphones. However, these were incredibly comfortable, and just as fun to listen to, when my young ears weren't tired out by the highs. The owner was playing it at a slightly louder volume than I would normally listen to, but I can see why he liked them. He was older than me, and with age, the frequencies you can hear shrink. He said these didn't sound as tiring to him, and I think that might be why. I'm only in my twenties. Still, as good as my hearing is, if I had the money, I would buy these headphones. Of any "summit-fi" headphone I've tried, these are the closest to being worth their full street price - assuming you don't count the HE-500s.
    11. V-Moda M-100: Someone once told me that the V-Moda XS (which I tried at the meet) didn't sound anything like this, and I really have to disagree. I might have changed my mind if I wasn't busy trying out several different headphones and setups, but yes, they sounded identical to me - although one was, of course, a supra-aural, and came with the advantages and caveats of such a design. I've only heard one other V-Moda headphone before this meet: the Crossfade LP2, a headphone that I downright hated. Although the LP2 sounded like a fart cannon with the most recessed mids and highs I've ever heard, and wasn't very comfortable, and was not worth its street price, I knew that if the M-100 was earning a lot of accolades and praise, that I wasn't hearing the really good stuff from V-Moda. I was right: these sounded great. Without a doubt a basshead's delight, these had deep, impactful lows, somewhat recessed mids (but I wasn't really uncomfortable with it), and highs with enough brightness to underpin the bass. The bass and treble gave this headphone a v-shaped sound - although I'd probably describe it as more of a backwards checkmark. I tried these with the XL pads on, so I don't get why people would say that they're uncomfortable, but I wouldn't know either. The XL pads definitely made these comfortable, and my ears fit in them properly. The enclosures weren't tiny to the point of not deserving to be almost falsely advertised as a circumaural (which I can't say for the Sennheiser Momentum or V-Moda Crossfade LPs, although my fit issues aren't as pronounced as other peoples'). The XS was, as I said, pretty much the same, but in a smaller form factor. The XS is to the M-100 as the Momentum On-Ear is to its big brother. Although you get less with the cheaper one, you still save money and get to enjoy about 70-80% of the same sound.
     
    I also tried out the MrSpeakers Alpha Dog, Ultrasone Edition 8, and Stax SR-207. However, these headphones didn't make much of an impression on me. When I heard the Alpha Dogs, I was hoping for something better - although I wouldn't say anyone has described their sound erroneously. I just wasn't really "blown away," for lack of a better term. Other than that, none of these headphones really impressed me. I don't even really consider myself to have listened to the SR-207. These all sounded good; clear and detailed. But I can't really say anything about them that nobody else can.
     
    I also got to try out a couple of Ultimate Ears IEMs, but I'm not really the IEM guru. I did enjoy the In-Ear References, which sounded close enough to earning their "Reference" moniker, though I was less impressed with the 7 Pros, which had an almost wooly sound.
     
    I'm probably going to save up for a Bottlehead Quicksand or Crack and pair it with an HiFiMAN HE-500. The Quicksand blew me away with its fidelity, despite its entry-level price.
     
    Again, thank you everyone for making this meet so enjoyable. I don't get a lot of opportunities to hang out with people that share my interests in real life, and that made this all the more exciting. The event may have been somewhat low-key, but the fun wasn't.
     
  2. Soundsgoodtome
    The HE6 is getting a bad wrap, honestly I think the massive amounts of audio devices to 1 outlet could've been the culprit here unless something's changed in the chain since the last 2 meets. I found the he6 on what I'm assuming is the same setup to meet my expectation as a flagship Hifiman (in the past two meets). Didn't get to listen to it this time round....With Doc's Bottlehead rigs on one extension and the entire he6's table running from a daisy chain extension cable on that, there might've been some power issues when the Cyclops was getting it's power.

    My table was in between but we were on the outlet directly with a Furman power conditioner distributing between the two rigs. Our systems sounded fine..

    Has the HE6 owner checked in yet? I forget his name (he also won the iem raffle).
     
  3. alpha421
    Strange.  I heard the same HE-6/Cyclops setup at the April meet and came away very, very impressed with the sound. One of the best I've heard - at least for the rock tracks I was listening to it on. If the lack of outlet power is indeed the culprit, that's a shame.
     
  4. Dragonzeanse
    I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case. I've heard underpowered headphones before and this just fit the bill, especially considering the HE-500s were right next to it. Honestly though, if a headphone is that much of a power hog, I don't think I can recommend it to anyone even if it sounds fantastic. It just takes too much to drive.
     
  5. Soundsgoodtome
    The he-560s were next to it, the 500s on the quicksand was one table over.

    I don't think dirty power is the same as underpowered, the Cyclops is a speaker amp and should have enough to drive the he6. This is where my knowledge ends so someone correct me if I'm wrong.
     
  6. Ham Sandwich
    I didn't listen to the HE6 at this meet.  I've heard the HE6 at several other meets.  But not with the Cyclops amp.  I don't know if something was wonky with the HE6 setup at the meet.  They can be a finicky headphone.  I've heard them be both good and not so good based on gear and setup.
     
    Where the HE6 should clearly better the HE500 is in detail retrieval.  Hearing more of the low level details in a recording.  What music did you try with the HE6?  Maybe the music you tried didn't have a lot of low level detail in it to make the improvements over the HE500 more obvious.  Beyond the performance of the HE500, and other headphones in that tier, you are up into another level or two of price to performance tier.  The law of diminishing returns kicks in again and again for each tier.  The HE6 also tends to the bright side.  If you're listening strictly to tonal balance rather than also factoring in detail retrieval you may be missing much of what the HE6 (and HD800) have to offer.  Meet setups are also difficult settings to hear low level detail since there is a lot of ambient noise to contend with.  Not the best environment to really hear the true benefits of some of the higher tier headphones and amps.
     
  7. Dragonzeanse

    Well, I used the sources from each setup. I listened to grunge rock from the likes of Nirvana, and some progressive and metal - The Mars Volta and (I think) Metallica, specifically. The sort of thing I usually listen to. Also, I don't think the ambient noise had anything to do with it. It was a cause for concern for me at some points in the meet, but no other headphone had that issue. I actually did listen to the HD 800, and I didn't have that problem. While you might be right that I wasn't listening to them "properly," if you heard them at this meet, I doubt you'd say they were properly amped. I'm not that surprised to see that I'm not the only one reporting the issue.
     
  8. Ham Sandwich
     
    The Mars Volta aren't going to be good for listening to low level (or mid level) recording details.  There's none to be had in their recordings.  With Nirvana and Metallica you need to be careful about masterings.  The old releases can be good and have some details to listen to, but the remasterings are horrid.  You need to be careful about what masterings and versions of recordings are on different setups.  If the HE6 setup had "bad" masterings of Nirvana and Metallica that could explain things.  There's no such thing as a good mastering of The Mars Volta.  That's one of the tricky details about listening to other gear with their music and without your own.  You can't be sure that you're actually listening to the same things since the recordings and masterings can be quite different.
     
    It's OK to demo headphones with grunge and metal and rock.  I listen to grunge and metal and rock, along with other music.  There's details to be heard in that music.  Details that can differentiate a HE500 from a HE6 and other headphones.  But you need to be careful about the qualities of the recording and the qualities of the particular mastering.  Two of the tracks that I cycled through when I listened to the Abyss on the Eddie Current setup was AC/CD Hells Bells and part of a Deadmau5 track (both are albums and masterings I own). However, when listening for low level details I prefer acoustic recordings.  Solo violin works very well for that.  Lets you hear low level details (eg. fingerings on strings and bow sounds) along with tonal balance through the midrange and treble.  Vocal recordings are also good.  Even recordings like "Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine can be useful for auditions.  There's lots of layers to be heard and differentiated in "Loveless".  Listening to layers in "Loveless" can reveal differences between headphones like the HD600 and HE500 or LCD-2 or Grados (Grados are not good with Loveless).  There's more to auditioning music than just audiophile favorites like Diana Krall.
     
  9. Doc B.
    Not sure if the K1Ks you heard were mine. If so, I thought they sounded like s**t on the Quicksand. I brought them as an emergency backup and had not tried them with the Quicksand until the meet. A bad match. However K1Ks with a S.E.X. amp or Paramounts in particular are a completely different sound and probably my favorite headphone setup. Anyway, the plan was to use Bob's HE-500s with the Quicksand, as we were wanting to demo the effectiveness of the Q with orthos and when he brought them over the K1Ks went back in the headphone box.

    I did feel this was a meet where it was nearly impossible to get a reliable impression of open backed cans because of the noise floor. I kept finding myself liking any inexpensive closed can over even the great open back ones. I will suggest that the meets are getting big enough that it may be time to look into a venue with more than one room to drop the background sound a bit.
     
  10. Soundsgoodtome
    I thought the noise floor at the Bottlehead meet was easily the best out of the last 3. Fwiw my spl meter showed 60-70db for the room on Saturday.

    +1 on bigger venues/multiple rooms
     
  11. gefski

    Wow. What would a "normal" quiet room (without tvs etc. turned on) be on your spl meter?
     
  12. Soundsgoodtome
    I'll measure tonight with my windows closed but I'm guess it doesn't even register which would make it under 40db and that's living near a busy road! I measure my headphones when listening to them and they're usually around 65-75db. The volume pot being usually at 10 o'clock was about 1-2o'clock at the meet lol. I remember first cranking up my rig and saying to Eric wow this is way louder than where I normally have it.

    Btw Glenn, the SR80 it turns out was built by JoeDoe who happen to have a thread on the front page for the SennGrado tour.
     
  13. Doc B.
    Our upstairs room is even better now than at the past meet. We put 6" thick Bonded Logic cotton insulation batts over the windows and drapes in front of them right before I recorded a show here a few weeks ago. I think we are finally up to around the level of absorption we calculated that we wanted in the room when we moved in four years ago. It's starting to feel more like a mastering room though we certainly don't have the isolation I would like.
     
    cb21ea63-965b-4db5-b5cb-7e47bd83b874.png
     
    QAshowsetup.jpg
     
  14. gefski
    We just have to do our best at the meets. I'll stick with crawling under the table and covering my head with a quilt. That probably gives me at least a 20db improvement.:D
     
  15. gefski

    They sounded as good as they look! Smooth and not upper midrange pushy.
     
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