Best headphones for jazz
Aug 10, 2015 at 10:30 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 116

levap

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Recently I tried to google keywords "best headphones for jazz" and results were depressing... (No less depressing than results on the best headphones for metal were, try to google it now and top result will be much more rewarding http://www.head-fi.org/t/715478/headphones-for-metal-music-ultimate-solution). As I listen jazz rather much, for some periods of my life, actually more than any other genre, there is a desire to understand what headphones "play jazz" and why they are more capable than others. Well, and just to talk about different cans + jazz matters.

So, what we can call "must have" for outstanding performance on jazz material? Definitely, absolutely mandatory are excellent mids. If headphones possess ability for extraordinary middle frequencies reproduction - on the jazz we can forgive them some imperfections. Powerful bass (fashionable recently among TOTL cans) is not a necessity, actually the excessive emphasis on low frequencies can be rather inappropriate. Highs could positively be and "bright", and "comfortable" if they fit into the overall conception of cans. If soundstage have moderate, or even "chamber" size - it doesn't matter, or even could be a feature, not a flaw.

For myself, I identify the following concepts that let me get maximum emotion response from jazz
- Honey and warmth. Champions of this enveloping, endorphine-generating approach today are Audeze LCD-4, they are able to issue a record number of enveloping sweetness without falling into syrup. Honorable mentions - non-fazor Audeze LCD-3 (LCD-4 budget alternative for this niche), Audio-technica W5000 (lots of classic AT sweetness), Grado GS2000e (large-scale Grado strain with AT-sweetness injection).
- Purity and air. The electrostatic transparent mids, purity of the outer space and absolute ease, the trembling shivering nerve. Not-dull neutrality and naturalness. From what I thoroughly listened (but alas I don't own yet) champions definitely are Abyss, Focal Utopia and Stax 009. While it was not possible for me to reach uncompromising solution yet, I am humbly content in this category with Stax 409 and if not to start to be capricious, I am quite satisfied with them.
- Intimacy. And nevertheless most of I dive into this concept. Proximity to the music, to the singer, feeling of participation, transfer of emotions without intermediary. These fantastic effects on jazz most surprisingly realize Grado RS1i – their mids submerged into the listener, a modest soundstage, juicy highs and a delicate bass, having passed a lot of incarnations in younger models, reach balance ideal for a genre in Grado RS1i.


Following - a summary table with my personal impressions about how different cans (that I had opportunity to listen at least for two weeks in my system) perform on jazz. If the topic will be of interest, I will gradually decipher notes on separate models.

gallery_11574_186_31678.png



Notes on some cans on jazz.

Mr.speakers ETHER
Stunning. Honestly. The combination of an intimate chamber signature of Grado. And purest, neutral electrostatic quiet air. Alloy of two of the three most delicious for me approaches to transfer endorphins of jazz to listener. Stunning. Goosebumps on my back, a silly smile on my face while listening 100 times already heard tracks. New tracks go under the skin like old friends. Electrostatic Grados )

Hifiman HE-1000
Definitely among the best, but among the very best. Mids are so good, that they can not play "not great" or "not outstandingly", compared to most of the competitors on jazz. But if we compare to some of the very best TOTL cans... And because I listened to HE-1000 in parallel with the ETHER, I'm forced to recognize the superiority of the ETHERs. Mostly because of the Cyclopean wide soundstage of 1000's, it gets somewhat strained, unnatural on mostly chamber jazz, the material moves away from the listener. And ETHERs transfer material more directly, reducing distance to the listener.

Pioneer SE-MASTER1
Good, but not great. "Good" - technical level is extremely high, nothing special to complain about. Well, may be except that "the materiality of sound" feature and powerful bass add corporality to a piano and that's impressive. But same factors unnecessary add weigth to female vocals and a more ephemeral instruments. And final "not great" - they're too cool and detached, cans don't give feeling of participation to the heard, death sentence for jazz reproducing device.

Rosson Audio Design RAD-0
Initially, there are good prerequisites for resonance with the genre - quite natural timbres of musical instruments and voices, light sadness. But the impression that musicians and instruments play in fur coats does not allow us to treat them with due respect and dive deep in music. Jokes aside - if you switch your mind to the image of a club filled with thick tobacco smoke, impression gets much, much better. Overall, it's great at jazz (if you don't think about fur coats).
 
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Aug 10, 2015 at 11:12 AM Post #2 of 116

Hansotek

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So are you going to get into subgenre breakdowns with this one like you did with the metal thread? Swing, bop, hard-bop, post-bop, modal, fusion, jazz-funk, contemporary vocal, latin, afro-cuban, avant-garde... I could go on & on here. It could get a little crazy... but there's a lot to talk about. Here are a few cans I like with different subgenres: 
 
The AKG K701 & K7XX, when appropriately powered, rock for latin & afro-cuban genres.
 
HE400 w/ velour pads is great with 70's fusion bands like Weather Report. 
 
 
Beyer DT880 and T1 are great for live post-bop jazz recordings.
 
Sennheiser HD800 & HiFiMan HE500 are great with vocal & piano stuff, but with two totally different sound signatures.
 
Grado SR80i & Sennheiser HD650 sound both really great with avante-garde piano trios, and those have completely opposite presentations.
 
Aug 10, 2015 at 12:03 PM Post #3 of 116

deafdoorknob

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any Rudy Van Gelder recordings (95% of all Blue Notes from the 50s to early 70s, impulse!, prestige, and CTI labels.) all benefits from a slight or moderate U shape as they are very mid centric, the bass hump should not extend past 60 Hz tho, but needed as he didn't mike the bass drum until the late 60s. avoid treble peaks around 3-7 are they are always recorded into the red. :)

ECM and ACT sounds transcendental with summit Fi German (and some Japanese) cans

Japanese Jazz labels like Venus and TBM are better with Sennies due to their own treble peak.

Golden era singers that use the Neumann mikes like Satch and Billie also sounds better with darker cans to minimise the sibilant peaks

my 2 cents
 
Aug 10, 2015 at 1:12 PM Post #4 of 116

Music Alchemist

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Add "All Or Nothing" by Naoshi Mizuta from the Final Fantasy XIII-2 Original Soundtrack to your test tracks! It's my favorite jazz song.
 
Aug 10, 2015 at 1:19 PM Post #5 of 116

flipper2gv

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  So are you going to get into subgenre breakdowns with this one like you did with the metal thread? Swing, bop, hard-bop, post-bop, modal, fusion, jazz-funk, contemporary vocal, latin, afro-cuban, avant-garde... I could go on & on here. It could get a little crazy... but there's a lot to talk about. Here are a few cans I like with different subgenres: 
 
The AKG K701 & K7XX, when appropriately powered, rock for latin & afro-cuban genres.
 
HE400 w/ velour pads is great with 70's fusion bands like Weather Report. 
 
 
Beyer DT880 and T1 are great for live post-bop jazz recordings.
 
Sennheiser HD800 & HiFiMan HE500 are great with vocal & piano stuff, but with two totally different sound signatures.
 
Grado SR80i & Sennheiser HD650 sound both really great with avante-garde piano trios, and those have completely opposite presentations.

 
Yeah I really like my he-500 with more modern stuff like Snarky Puppy, recent Pat Metheny stuff and some of the 80's fusion.

But, they are terribad with older stuff like old Bill Evans trio records (vanguard village stuff with Scott LaFaro).
 
Aug 11, 2015 at 6:38 AM Post #6 of 116

levap

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  So are you going to get into subgenre breakdowns with this one like you did with the metal thread? Swing, bop, hard-bop, post-bop, modal, fusion, jazz-funk, contemporary vocal, latin, afro-cuban, avant-garde... I could go on & on here. It could get a little crazy... but there's a lot to talk about. Here are a few cans I like with different subgenres: 
 
 

No, I have no plans for jazz subgenres synergy reseach ) Alas, but I have limited range of subgenre preferences here (mostly contemporary stuff - piano trios, post-bop, female vocal, some fusion, crossover and avant-garde) and most important - no chance, that I'll be able to carefully listen through all these cans again on different jazz subgenres.
 
So the goal is more limited - to provide reliable source of information on generally jazz-talented headphones (naturally, take a look what's recommended as best jazz cans on some of the first page that google gives on "Best headphones for jazz" query).
Well, and as a written above, just to talk about jazz + headphones is welcome here )
 
Aug 11, 2015 at 10:42 PM Post #8 of 116

markm1

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I have a modest of collection of classic jazz-mostly 50's-60's essentials. I've always liked my RS1i with this genre. I do think they benefit from a tube or tube hybrid amp such as the inexpensive Little Dot 1+.
 
Great thread!
 
Aug 12, 2015 at 10:14 AM Post #9 of 116

levap

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  I have a modest of collection of classic jazz-mostly 50's-60's essentials. I've always liked my RS1i with this genre. I do think they benefit from a tube or tube hybrid amp such as the inexpensive Little Dot 1+.
 
Great thread!

Absolutely agree on special synergy of RS1i +  tube amplification for jazz. I personally keep relatively inexpensive tube amp, that use for a long time with Grados only.
 
Aug 14, 2015 at 5:34 AM Post #11 of 116

levap

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Is there anywhere to find the ATH-W2002?  Not finding much on the net - just the ATH-W5000 ... 

Japanese aftermarket. W2002 is a vintage model and I'm not sure if it was sold internationally. I would call it a TOTL if line is drawn through W1000X. It's not so sweet as W5000, more neutral, but is fully loaded with AT magic on mids. Also they are not high-tech-super-cyborg, no, they charming-vintage-atmosphere cans. And AT mids + this type of atmosphere work stunning on jazz.
W2002 is definitely worth trying if you are fan of AT headphones. 
 
Sep 2, 2015 at 7:08 AM Post #12 of 116

levap

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Notes on some new TOTL cans on jazz.
 
Mr.speakers ETHER
Stunning. Honestly. The combination of an intimate chamber signature of Grado. And purest, neutral electrostatic quiet air. Alloy of two of the three most delicious for me approaches to transfer endorphins of jazz to listener. Stunning. Goosebumps on my back, a silly smile on my face while listening 100 times already heard tracks. New tracks go under the skin like old friends. Electrostatic Grados )
 
Hifiman HE-1000
Definitely among the best, but among the very best. Mids are so good, that they can not play "not great" or "not outstandingly", compared to most of the competitors on jazz. But if we compare to some of the very best TOTL cans... And because I listened to HE-1000 in parallel with the ETHER, I'm forced to recognize the superiority of the ETHERs. Mostly because of the Cyclopean wide soundstage of 1000's, it gets somewhat strained, unnatural on mostly chamber jazz, the material moves away from the listener. And ETHERs transfer material more directly, reducing distance to the listener.
 
Pioneer SE-MASTER1
Good, but not great. "Good" - technical level is extremely high, nothing special to complain about. Well, may be except that "the materiality of sound" feature and powerful bass add corporality to a piano and that's impressive. But same factors unnecessary add weigth to female vocals and a more ephemeral instruments. And final "not great" - they're too cool and detached, cans don't give feeling of participation to the heard, death sentence for jazz reproducing device.
 
Sep 2, 2015 at 9:32 AM Post #13 of 116

Hoagie

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I agree with your discription of the characteristics of a good headphone for jazz. My preference

At home with a cd as my source 1. K701 with a hybrid amp. 2 Senn 600 with solid state.

Semi portable. ie. Full sized used at library, coffee shop etc. 1 akg 550. 2 hd 25 (forget the full model number. ) My source is an iPod classic using a line out and portable amp.
 
Sep 3, 2015 at 6:59 AM Post #14 of 116

dwayniac

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I am an avid jazz listener (50' & 60's era jazz) and a Grado SR125i with wood cups,coupled with an iFi iDac,has me in a sweet spot. I have tried the Grado 60,80i (underwhelming resolution),225i,325i (too much bass) and AKG Q701 (not a good fit and it sounded bland to my ears). 
 
Sep 3, 2015 at 10:52 AM Post #15 of 116

levap

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  I am an avid jazz listener (50' & 60's era jazz) and a Grado SR125i with wood cups,coupled with an iFi iDac,has me in a sweet spot. I have tried the Grado 60,80i (underwhelming resolution),225i,325i (too much bass) and AKG Q701 (not a good fit and it sounded bland to my ears). 

I have nothing to disagree, as a long time SR125i user (actually, I joined head-fi 10 years ago to ask the question about 125). For me 325 does not excell 125 on jazz also.
 

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