Applied Headphone Comparison-Koss, Senns, and Grados- Oh My!
Jul 22, 2015 at 11:43 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 2


New Head-Fier
Sep 12, 2014
Introduction and Premise
So, I am a 17 year old who’s been into headphones for about a year and a half now. Head-fi is a forum filled with people with a lot of experience and a lot of expendable income, two things I don’t have. So, most of the lingo used to talk about headphones is made for people to know a lot about headphones (People have different tastes in signature and in music, so they know what terms make their music sound the best to them). This is a really informative way to talk if you’ve tested a lot of headphones, but newer people don’t know what “punchy bass” is, or how a “rolled off treble section ” sounds. They might picture what those terms mean, but you don’t really know what they actually entail until you hear the cans being talked about.
This gave me an idea; Why don’t I skip the middleman that is lingo and tell you exactly how they sound in specific situations? As in, I give a track in a very specific context (usually Spotify Free, sorry), and compare and contrast how each headphone represents it. I will link every song I use, so you can follow along at home. I will cover a lot of areas (Acoustic, electronic, high and low bitrates, portable usage, etc.), so this will take a while. I call this format, “Applied Comparison.”
This project will do several things
  • Compare three headphones in a (way too) detailed manner. (Koss Sportapros, Grado SR60i, Sennheiser Momentum (1) Over Ear)
  • Give newbies a way to see how sound signatures perform in specific situations.
  • Show these headphones in use in more consumer friendly situations.
  • Give me some practice in articulating how headphones sound.
It’ll also give some exposure to some of the music I listen to. Maybe you’ll find something that you like, who knows.
First of all, we need a quick keyword roundup of...
The Headphones
Koss Sportapro: “Bassy” “Dark” “Muddy” “Mid-Centric” “Forward”
Grado SR60i: “Crisp” “Aggressive” “Mid-Centric” “Punchy” “Bright”
Sennheiser Momentum (now known as “Senns”): “Smooth” “Warm” “Clear” “Rich” “Well-Balanced”
In summary, Koss is mid-centric with bass emphasis, Grado is mid-centric with treble emphasis, and Senn is the most balanced of the three, but still has a slight to moderate emphasis on the bass and mids (which is what makes them warm.)

Note: I’m comparing a budget pair,an entry level pair, and mid ranged (expensive for normal consumers) pair here. Most if the time I’ll be looking at sound signature rather than sound quality, but keep the price difference in mind when I talk about these.
Introduction to the Format
Pink Floyd “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” (Popular song. Expect more obscure songs, as well as better descriptions as I cover material I’m more familiar with.)
Koss: Bass takes center stage, with vocals and guitar behind it. Drums and bass guitar have a lot of oomph, vocals are clear and have nice body. Cymbals have a good sizzle to them, and individual guitars are distinguishable and sound smooth. Vocals have nice detail, but the choir is heard as one entity, not a bunch of voices at once. Sound is placed on either side of your head, but is only a few inches off the driver at most.
Grado: Noticeably less bass tone, allowing for you to hear the bass being picked. It sound more like an instrument being played instead of a note ringing. Focus on drums shifts from bass drum to the snare, toms, and cymbals (which has much more sparkle to it.) Vocals have nice body, and consonants are easily heard (you can picture how the mouth is moving.). The choir sounds a lot more detailed, and you can pick out individual voices. You can hear the pick hit the guitars, which sound equally smooth. Sound is much more easily distinguishable, with everything being evenly placed in a certain spot around your head.
Senns: Bass has more oomph, but it’s not the main focus. You can hear the bass being picked as well. Cymbals have noticeably less sparkle, but all other drums are equal in impact and focus. Vocal effects become easy to notice, and are extremely clear to listen to. I can hear Roger Water’s voice in the crowd (a first here), as well as follow all instruments all the way through. The guitars have a very nice body, and subtleties of notes can be easily heard. The keyboards during the guitar solo have the most presence here, and small details in the music are easily heard.
Summary: I enjoyed the song greatly through all of these. The Koss gave it nice impact and a good beat to follow (what more can you ask on the go), the Grados had some nice detail and fun guitar tones, and the Senns gave the whole song a really lifelike tone.

So, that’s my long intro to the applied comparison. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any feedback and advice for me, you are more than welcome to leave it below. I am still a newbie in the grand scheme of things.
Jul 25, 2015 at 12:08 AM Post #2 of 2
Okay, let’s get into the meat of the comparison!
Mountain Goats: “1 Samuel 15:23” (Really sparse song when it comes to instrumentation, even those Apple Earpods handle it decently.)
Koss: Nice detail overall. The guitar has a weird resonant  effect to it, making it sound unnatural. The bass overshadows a lot when it comes in, it’s supposed to be a bit buried in the mix. Turning the volume down diminishes this effect. The vocals have a good amount of clarity to them, but they seem a bit constrained. Words and emotion can still be conveyed easily, though. Drums are still impactful, and the sparkle of the cymbal can be heard, but the bass resonance really drives attention away from that. It really detracts from the song, turing something intimate into something suffocating. The positioning is good, though, Guitar on left, vocals and drums to the right, and other instruments behind you.
Grado: Can immediately tell that there’s static in the mix, which is a bummer, but shows how detailed these can be. More detail on the guitar, you get an idea on how he’s strumming. Pick and string noise as well as cymbals are enhanced, instead of lower end guitar and bass, and I like that focus a lot more. These tend to breathe life into John Darnielle’s vocals, as he’s in the higher range and likes his hard consonants. You can hear breathing. These also have a bit more separation between the sources of sound, allowing for the music to breathe.
Senns: The static is mostly gone, and the guitar has a bit more resonance to it. The weird bass resonance from the Koss is present, but it isn’t crazy. Vocals are extremely clear and highly detailed, but consonant detail has been slightly muted in favor to subtleties in notes. Cymbals ring well, but do lack a bit of shimmer compared to the Grados. The presentation is similar to the Grados when it comes to the soundstage.
Summary: The bassy Koss headphones weren’t horrible, but they definitely did not perform well compared to the other two. Personally, I liked the song better with the Grados (because it’s a treble heavy song, which is complemented by a treble heavy can), but the Senns also did very well with it.
Now let’s do something a lot more intricate. Sun Kil Moon: “Pray for Newtown.”
Koss: This guitar does have that resonance to it as well, but it’s dealt with much better due to the more mellow tone of nylon strings. Enough detail to tell that there are two guitars being played, but not enough to follow them individually. Mark Kozelek's voice takes center stage, and you can tell when his voice subtly breaks. The overdubs add power, but they stay in the background. When the full band kicks in, it does bleed together, and the only thing you can substantially hear is the guitar riffs and (barely) the drums. However, the overall whole is still emotive and powerful.
Grado: There’s a harsh addition to the whole thing. The guitars sound a lot colder (but are more detailed and can be told apart.) Kozelek’s voice has a bit more edge to it as well (but things such as breaks and breaths are much more apparent.) The overdubbing is much more effective here, the second voice is in the foreground with the main voice. The full band kicks in in a much more cohesive way, and everything is clear and on equal footing, and what I think is a glockenspiel comes in. The whole mix also sounds wider and more precisely positioned, as the drums are around my right shoulder, and the second Kozelek is right above the first one. A different presentation, but not one without merit.
Senns: The mellowness of the Koss plus the detail of the Grados here. The guitars have a lot more detail than the other two, and they sound just as resonant as they should. Kozelek’s voice both packs a punch and has that gruff edge here, and the overdub bleeds with it slightly, but you can hear it better that way. When the full band kicks in, it’s very cohesive in detail, but has a lot more warmth and friendliness in it. You can also distinctly tell that other people have join the main singer.
Summary: The Koss handled this more mellow song a lot better, and I have to give that credit. However, I think it’s a tie between the Grados and the Senns. Different but equal presentations, both having different effects on the way the song feels. My personal preference is the mellow and warm presentation of the Senns, but someone else could like the grit added to by the Grados.
Standard Rock
Let’s go Norwegian, with Kaizers Orchestra: “Resistansen”
Koss: The upright bass sounds a lot louder than the oil barrel, but both have nice body and detail. The vocals do sound a bit suffocated, but the detail is nice on them. If I was learning Norwegian as a second language, I could translate them easily. Background vocals are nicely separated as well. Brass has a nice reedy quality to it, but lack a bit of power. Guitars are the same, and take a backseat in the whole song. Drums have a lot of resonance and are quite fun to listen to. Nice separation is going on, with every instrument is one place, making for a nicely textured experience.
Grado: Bass immediately lacks impact, but vocals and brass sound a lot more textured and thick. Guitars are much more prominent, and vocals sound a lot more lifelike and are filled with energy. Things like clapping are much louder as well. The mix is still richly textured, but that seems much more lifelike as well. But I do miss the impact that the Koss had.
Senns: Best of both worlds, I think. Bass has heft, and barrel has resonance. Some echo effects can be heard now as well. The voice has a very natural quality to it, and there’s a nasally styling that’s on heard distinctly here. Brass is as good as the Grados, I think. Guitars do have a bit less presence here again. The mix is so precisely separated that it’s positioned like the band would be, making it sound just a tad lopsided in the quieter moments.
Summary: I had equal fun in all of these. The Koss kept a really nice beat going, the Grado’s added nice detail to the brass and guitars, and the Senns had the most natural vocals and the best positioning. I don’t think I can pick a clear winner here.
Let’s do some modern blues with: July Talk: Paper Girl
Koss: Okay, the vocals are nice and detailed, and everything does come in clear and has nice overall detail to it. However, this commits a sin in regards to the presentation: This song relies on coordinated clashes of instrumentation. The bass provides a hit of impact, and the guitars provide a sense of texture to said impact. This makes it so that the bass is louder than the guitars, so said texture is lost. It muddies up the whole song, and I can’t stand it. Next.
Grado: Ah... That problem is definitely fixed. Anyway, Those clashes are done perfectly, the verse vocals have a load of delicious rasp, and the vocal effect on the clean voice of the chorus is very well done. Drums and bass have nice heft, without being overbearing. Everything comes together as nicely and cleanly as can be. A band that prides itself on grit is going to sound delicious on a set of Grados, that’s just a fact.
Senns: There’s definitely an upgrade in detail across the board. Echo effects can be heard a lot better, everything is a lot easier to hear, and those clashes are very nicely handled, and have a lot of heft to them The vocals sound a lot cleaner as well, and drums have a newfound oomph to them. However, there is a bit more distance to it. The Senn’s presentation isn’t bad, it’s as far as you can get from it. However, there is a lack of excitement here that the Grados had in spades.
Summary: Grados win, hands down. You can taste the grit in your ears, and they place you right in the action like no other can did. Senns had a much more refined sound to them that was still great, but being in the middle of chaos is what I want when listening to music like this. And the Koss... Bleh.
Up Next: Heavy Stuff and The Weird Bin. 

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