Audition of Sony R10 (and Grado HP1)
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Joe Bloggs

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It's me meeting Gino again. This time he has bought the Sony R10 (US$1795) and the Grado HP1! (both second hand, broken in I assume?)

Audition equipment
Source: Shinco DVD player
Better than last time though
Amp: HeadRoom Cosmic Reference
Other headphones used: Senn HD580, Ety ER4P with P->S converter

This time I visited him during working hours so for much of the 2 1/2 hours that I was there I was left to listen to the two phones. All the better
That the other guy I wanted to meet didn't come until about the time I had to go also helped -.-

Grado HP1--listening time: ~4 min.
I actually auditioned the R10 first, but since I have much less to say about them, I'd rather put this on top. These have the characteristic Grado punchy and aggressive sound without sounding sibilant and completely off the mark of real-life sound like the SR125 I heard last time. These may or may not be a whole lot better than the Senns and Etys, but I was too busy trying to evaluate the R10 to listen to these enough to say much about them beyond their general tonal characteristics. I need to go back and listen to them some more at the upcoming Hong Kong Head-Fi meet (stay tuned at the Meetings forum
)

Sony R10--listening time: ~1 hour
These just don't sound right! That was my first impression on putting them on. Vert and markl said that these may fail to impress at first because no part of the frequency spectrum stands out, but my attention was immediately caught by what sounded like a hollow sound, caused, as it turned out, by a lack of heft in the midrange and bass. The feeling of oddness was alleviated (sp?) a lot by positioning the phones correctly--whereas most phones are best worn with the centre of the earpiece pointing towards your earhole, corresponding to a lower down and more forward wearing position, the R10 earcups are made to fit around the curvature of your skull and the phones should be positioned according to this curvature before anything else--but did not go away for a long time. They are very airy and open at the top end but at times I found this to be just a constant sound of empty air--almost like recording noise--and it is hard to pin the airiness down to being associated with one instrument or another. (If this airiness goes on even with no instruments playing, what's its difference from noise?) Perhaps I'm just not used to this airiness.

Comments by album:
Miriam Yeung's My Favourite Collection (Canto pop / vocal)
This was the first album I listened to and the feeling of oddness was the heaviest here. At the end of the session I still felt like I was still painfully aware that I am listening to headphones, and queerly voiced ones at that. (I mean, with my low level of suggestibility, I haven't and don't think I will ever find a pair of phones that make me forget I'm listening live, but seldom since getting into high quality headphones did I fiddle around with the earcups all the time to see if I was still setting them wrong on my ears like I did with the R10 listening to this album...)

Star Wars 'The Best Collection'
Track 4: The Droid Invasion / The Appearance of Darth Maul
I was worried that a modern 'pop' recording may not do justice to the R10s and that the oddness I heard was actually in the recording itself and not the phones--although the composition of that album puts heavy emphasis on vocals, puts Miriam's beautiful voice on its own centre stage almost as much as classical opera, and I also hold very high regard of the recording quality of the album--so I thought it would be a good idea to find audio that was recorded in a real acoustic environment. Hopefully this track is an example of this.

The track starts off with an assortment of peculiar low-frequency percussion (i.e. drumlike) instruments that I cannot put names on. The R10 IMO does not give enough emphasis on these relative to the occasional hi-hat. (I am SURE they are not called hi-hats in classical recordings
) The HD580 by comparison brings them out with authority and even etys have more bass than the R10s... The R10s may or may not have sounded better to my ears in other areas, but I can't remember--all I remember is that I was still at the stage of 'I guess I could get used to them if I paid $14000 for them...'

Iron Maiden: Live After Death (
kelly)
Here is where the R10s really shone for me. As I went on listening I found it revealing detail and soundstage that I did not hear with other phones I owned...

Powerslave
At last these phones started sounding natural. Not VERY natural, mind you, but I could stop wondering what's wrong with them. They seem to convey the aggressiveness of rock sound very well, like the Grados, without being TOO aggressive.

What really made me start to sit up and take notice was the applause at the end and leading into the next track--that was the first thing that I felt sounded more lifelike on the R10s than anything else I heard.

The Trooper
Before today's audition the etys held the performance crown for playing this song to my ears. Revealed tons more detail than I heard with anything else. The R10s did everything the etys did and more. Things that the etys brought out into the open, the R10s further defined. The singer's voice at times had a 3D effect, the pronunciation sounding to come from the front and resonances coming from the back. Musical lines suggested themselves. All these things--reveal new detail, further define existing instruments / voices, bringing out musical lines--were things that the etys did relative to other phones I heard, but the R10s did it again relative to the etys.

FOR THIS SONG. The problem with the R10 was that its performance so far to my ears is very spotty. It sounded from acceptable to stellar on this album, and acceptable to mediocre on others... whereas the etys always sounded good--there are songs where I feel the etys leave something to be desired--usually visceral bass impact--but the etys come across as very balanced headphones with few sonic weaknesses. The R10s don't sound like that. On this audition equipment at least, the R10s seemed to sound best with tracks that have all its energy piled up in the upper mids to highs, where its frequency response is relatively even; instruments on the low end are recessed, while instruments that step across the midrange boundary sound distorted.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Good sound throughout. The narrative voice in the middle lacked body because of the R10's lack of mid and bottom heft, but the bird flapping by sounded realistic.

As my listening session went on, I found that the best setting on the Cosmic was to turn off the brightness filter and maybe leave the crossfeed on. This helped a bit with the R10's bass, and avoided excessive glare.

I also came up with a little theory to explain the top-heavy sound of these expensive phones: you would reckon that only older people with a proper career and savings can afford these uber-expensive phones, so the sound of these phones may be tailored for older ears--that is, ears with rolled off top end response...


Also, I wonder if a 120Ohm Corda impedance adapter would do these phones good...

Gino agreed with me that the bass is the R10's weak point, but I don't know what he thinks of the sound in general. Is he satisfied with them? Anyway, we are both looking forward to the upcoming Hong Kong Head-Fi meet, where ASL's whole tube amp lineup will be available
 
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bootman

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Run, I think Mark just read this.
 
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Hirsch

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The assessment of the R10 is in agreement with my own, with most amplifiers. The R10, however, is capable of very deep and accurate bass representation with the right amp. The weakness is not in the bass response of the headphone, per se, but rather the demands it places on a source and amplifier to produce the bass response. It's a very picky headphone in that regard. With the right amp, source, and cables, the accuracy that you hear in the midrange and highs can go very deep indeed.

My suspicion is that the R10 produces current demands that vary with frequency, and that the actual impedance of the headphone may be lowest at bass frequencies, requiring maximal current to produce an accurate response. So far, I've had my best results with the Fisher 400 receiver (which diverts the output of a speaker amp to the headphones, attenuated by a resistor), and the EAR HP4 (which required some experiments with different tubes before it sounded right).

IIRC one of my less expensive amps had some good results as well, but I want to try it again before posting.
 
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andrzejpw

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Hirsch: Are you speaking of the X-Can?
 
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jatinder

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I've used the R10 with a number of headphone amps as well as directly from the headphone sockets of integrated amps and headphone sockets of various CD/DVD players.

Not once has the R10 "performed badly" (uneven tonal balance, no bass, too bright etc). The R10 has always sounded natural and balanced regardless of what I plugged it into.

That's not to say that there weren't any differences between the components - just that none of them sounded "broken" or "bad".

I suspect that either the R10 you were using was either damaged in some way or was simply not receiving a good enough signal from the source and/or amp.

I've no idea how well the Cosmic Reference performs with low-impedance headphones.

And a correction: The only time I felt that the R10 was performing badly was when I had it and the AT-W2002 plugged into the EAR HP4 at the same time. When they were both plugged into the low-impedance sockets, the R10 sounded pretty bad. Moving the W2002 to the high-impedance socket (leaving the R10 on the low-imp socket), fixed everything. From this, my conclusion was that the W2002 was having a large effect on the R10 and that the R10 was very "finicky".

--Jatinder
 
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Nik

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Sorry to those are finding “problems” in the R-10 sound: bass, treble or what else I don’t remember… but I think that this cans is so excellent that many listeners do not have experienced before with others headphones. Please continue with your tests, not only one hour or one day, stay with the R-10 for a week and then go back and try to listen with any others headphones, I wait for yours comments!!!

I totally agree, as I said many times, that for the quality of this cans you cannot use something before them that is not in the same class, you can to find in the market sources in the same class of the cans, but IMO you cannot find today any amp for the R-10 that gives them justice. With the R-10H you can to listen how is the best headphone in the planet.

I even agree (and I wrote this) about the correct position of the cans in your head, if not correctly the performance goes down dramatically.

The last experience with the “R-10 System” is something that never I had before. I was listening sitting in my chair and unexpectedly I heard someone knocking at the door, I stopped the Player for open the door, but no anyone was there, three times … and always the same: no any!
…guys the “knock” was inside of the R-10…. INCREDIBLE!!!!!
 
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Hirsch

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Quote:

Originally posted by jatinder
Not once has the R10 "performed badly" (uneven tonal balance, no bass, too bright etc). The R10 has always sounded natural and balanced regardless of what I plugged it into.



I'm starting to wonder if it's an age issue after all. McGino has #17, and I have #13, so these are two of the first R10's off the line. I had been bothered a lot by the lean bass component in the R10. Fortunately, the EAR has been up to the challenge, and the R10 has come to life. The sense of balance that had been missing is now present.
 
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Vertigo-1

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I don't think it's an age issue. Vka once mentioned to me that he thought the R10's bass was much too polite, and he had bought a fresh new pair of R10s, right off the line apparently.

The R10's bass issue could probably be solved if the original matching adaptor to hook it up to a speaker amp could be found. I thought about going above and beyond for a headphone amp for the R10s to solve its polite bass and treble, but the problem is that puts you square into Stax Omega II territory combined with the R10's price...and it was a gamble I didn't feel confident going for.
 
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kelly

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Wonder what # Edwin's R10 that I heard was. Worth checking into, I guess.

One comment though: If Jatinder truly meant that the R10 could never be made to sound bad no matter what was behind them, then it doesn't say much for the headphone's transparency.
 
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shivohum

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Joe, thank you for the insightful review! It's refreshing to hear a good review from a non-owner for once.

The R10s sound like the W100s in many ways--somewhat inconsistent, a little lacking in the bass, a 3D effect that sometimes emerged, etc. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising, though, since a post around here suggested that the W100 (and perhaps others in the ATH wooden series) was built to be a poor man's R10.
 
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jatinder

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Hi Kelly,

I'm not saying that the R10 isn't transparent. It quite ruthlessly allows you to hear the differences in your components - from interconnects to powercords to source components etc.

I've just never heard it sounding bad except in the one case.

--Jatinder
 
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Hirsch

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Quote:

Originally posted by andrzejpw
Hirsch: Are you speaking of the X-Can?


Yep. It's been awhile since I listened to that combo, and I wanted to listen again before posting. But, I've got the X-Can going now, and IMO it's the equal of the SHA-1 with the R10. It doesn't quite have the low end extension of the EAR, or the totally smooth natural presentation of the EAR. Then again, the source and cables are completely different, so a real comparison is not going to be meaningful. Still, it's a very satisfying amp with the R10.

The person who sold me the EAR is now using an X-Can/CD-3000 combo, and likes it a lot. He also has the W2002 (but may sell it). He's also searching for an R10...
 
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Has anyone tried the R10 with either the Earmax Pro or the Headroom Max?
 
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kelly

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Quote:

Originally posted by Calanctus
Has anyone tried the R10 with either the Earmax Pro or the Headroom Max?


I heard it with the Max, but then I was one of the people saying it had adequate bass. I think too often people aren't comparing the same cables, source components or even recordings. *shrug*
 
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Vertigo-1

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Quote:

Originally posted by Calanctus
Has anyone tried the R10 with either the Earmax Pro or the Headroom Max?


I've heard the R10 with the EMP and MOH. Neither combo impressed me much.
 
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