Best-sounding open & closed headphones... with no EQ-ing or mods!
Jun 8, 2020 at 11:57 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 86

ADUHF

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Curious to know what you think are the best-sounding full-sized headphones "out-of-the box", without any EQ-ing, tone adjustments, or other modifications.

Sound quality is the sole criteria here, whatever that means to you. If you want to break them down by price though (e.g. low, high, very-high), or open vs. closed, or in some other way (e.g. planar vs. dynamic), please be my guest. I leave that up to you though.
 
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Jun 8, 2020 at 4:11 PM Post #2 of 86

Mink

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I am not going to be useful, but I want to reply anyways. I never EQ and have never modded any of my headphones and I still like all of them. So to me it comes down to the pair my ears take the least time to adjust to. And that would be the AKG K550 MKIIs. Their tonality is the most neutral and natural of any headphones I have ever heard, just like the sound my ears hear in my surrounding, inside and outside. The K550MKIIs are/were very affordable closed-back headphones.

And then there are these remarkable headphones I can listen to for a very long period without any fatique, because of their excellent bio-cellulose drivers and tuning. They have a natural timbre, smooth (grainless) texture, a very rich/thick euphoric sound and no annoying peaks. Their tonality isn't exactly neutral or natural (yes there is huge dip in the upper mids) so it always takes a bit of time to get used to their sound, mostly after listening to other pairs that is. But musically they are way more satisfying than the K550s.
These headphones go by the name AudioQuest Nighthawk and NightOwl. Once seriously priced at 699 USD, they (the Nighthawks) can be had for a measly 250 USD or less.
 
Jun 8, 2020 at 5:59 PM Post #3 of 86

audiobean

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I’d have to throw my hat in for the Ananda. Out of the box, no serious amp...just solid even on a phone. Price has dropped but punches well above its $1k retail price. From pinpoint imaging to great detail through the frequency spectrum, the Ananda can play through various genres with ease. It remains neutral without feeling dry or lifeless. Analytical but doesn’t try too hard. Energized when energy is needed. Although not perfect it is a headset that makes you want more time to listen to your favorite playlist.
 
Jun 8, 2020 at 6:16 PM Post #4 of 86

ADUHF

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I am not going to be useful, but I want to reply anyways...

On the contrary. I think you gave a great first response, Mink. So thank you for that. I don't know much about the bio-cellulose drivers you mention. But vaguely recall reading about a Sony(?) headphone that may have used something along those lines.

Thank you audiobean for giving your 2c as well.
 
Jun 8, 2020 at 7:33 PM Post #5 of 86

Mightygrey

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The most 'correct' sounding headphone to me right out of the box is the venerable Sennheiser HD650. It just sounds so pleasant.
 
Jun 9, 2020 at 10:52 AM Post #6 of 86

SilverEars

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I think issues of right out of the box might be that your auditory system would depend on what your ears were listening to prior. To be honest, Sennheisers took me time to adjust even if I regard them high in terms of value for the 'correct' tonality you get out of the box. I'm referrring to 650/6XX/600. Bass is another story however.
 
Jun 9, 2020 at 12:09 PM Post #7 of 86

ADUHF

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I think issues of right out of the box might be that your auditory system would depend on what your ears were listening to prior. To be honest, Sennheisers took me time to adjust even if I regard them high in terms of value for the 'correct' tonality you get out of the box. I'm referrring to 650/6XX/600. Bass is another story however.

You make a good point, Silver.

Just to clarify... What I mean by the phrase "out-of-the-box" is simply as it came from the manufacturer, before any equalization, user modifications, and what have you.

I'm not necessarily looking for the "most accurate" sound btw... unless you feel that equals the best sound. I am deliberately leaving the definition of "best-sounding" and "sound quality" open to interpretation, so you can make them as subjective (or objective) as you like.

All I want to know is what headphone, or headphones (if you want to list more than one type) have the best sound to your ears without any EQ-ing or other modifications.
 
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Jun 9, 2020 at 12:25 PM Post #9 of 86

SilverEars

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You make a good point, Silver.

Just to clarify... What I mean by the phrase "out-of-the-box" is simply as it came from the manufacturer, before any equalization, user modifications, and what have you.
I find that it's a bit more complex than that when assessing headphones. Sometimes, headphones can sound fine initially, and then later you start to discover things you many not like. AKG KK371 would be an example. I discovered upper-mids to be too much with certain tracks. Intially, it sounded pretty impressive for the price.

Just out of the box, people tend to having something called 'honeymoon phase,' and then they find things they dislike in the long run. This is quite normal I presume.

Most important thing to do when it comes to assessing a new headphone is to try various genres, and only when various genres sound fine out of it, can you say it's balanced or sounds toward neutrality. If one tends to focus on a single genre (or always listen to the same thing), not likely they will detect oddness of the response.
 
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Jun 9, 2020 at 12:38 PM Post #10 of 86

ADUHF

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I find that it's a bit more complex than that when assessing headphones. Sometimes, headphones can sound fine initially, and then later you start to discover things you many not like. AKG KK371 would be an example. I discovered upper-mids to be too much with certain tracks. Intially, it sounded pretty impressive for the price.

Just out of the box, people tend to having something called 'honeymoon phase,' and then they find things they dislike in the long run. This is quite normal I presume.

Most important thing to do when it comes to assessing a new headphone is to try various genres, and only when various genres sound fine out of it, can you say it's balanced or sounds toward neutrality. If one tends to focus on a single genre (or always listen to the same thing), not likely they will detect oddness of the response.

All valid points. Fwiw, I'm less interested in impressions made during the initial honeymoon phase. And more interested in your assessments after doing some serious listening, and possibly some comparisons with other headphones you own.

I've also added a little more clarification on what I mean by "sound quality" in the previous post above.
 
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Jun 9, 2020 at 1:55 PM Post #11 of 86

Kammerat Rebekka

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Open-backs:
HE500
HD600
R70x

Closed-backs:
D7200
K371

Edith: I thought about mentioning the LFF Code X as it hands down is one the finest sounding headphones I’ve ever listened to...but it is/was after all a modded HE-5:wink:
Oh and my preferences sound signature-wise is neutral/warm without a dagger in the treble.
 
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Jun 9, 2020 at 2:08 PM Post #12 of 86

Malevolent

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Well, I have an off-center opinion on things, since I'm neither a fan of a balanced signature nor of open-back cans in general.

With that said, the best-sounding headphones, IMO, are -

Open: Audeze LCD-3, Audeze LCD-4, Focal Utopia
Closed: Audeze LCD-XC, Fostex TH900 Mk2, Sony MDR-Z1R
 
Jun 9, 2020 at 3:56 PM Post #13 of 86

DivineCurrent

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I value mostly naturalness of sound when it comes to sound quality and not as much technical performance. In my opinion, the whole Sennheiser HD600 series (including the 580 and 58X) don't require any EQ to sound great out of the box. They are the most tonality correct headphones I have heard without a doubt. A close second is the Hifiman Sundara, but a little bright for my taste, and the Focal Elex is very good too but not as tonality correct as the Sennheisers.

Closed back, the AKG K371 sounds the most natural to me, but that is the only true closed back I own right now.

Sound quality is very subjective of course, but I really think headphones that resemble the tonality of a good hi-fi speaker will sound the best to most people. That is what the Harman curve attempts to get close to, with mixed good and bad results.
 
Jun 10, 2020 at 5:39 AM Post #14 of 86

Kernmac

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Sound quality is very subjective of course, but I really think headphones that resemble the tonality of a good hi-fi speaker will sound the best to most people.
That suggests that all good hi-fi speakers have the same tonality. I suspect that there is as much subjective variation in speakers as headphones.

On topic - Abyss Diana (Open) and Ultrasone Signature pro (closed). Albeit I will add that I personally find the word "best" to be one of the most over used misleading terms available in choice selection. Without best defined, it is almost meaningless.
 
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Jun 10, 2020 at 10:21 AM Post #15 of 86

ADUHF

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That suggests that all good hi-fi speakers have the same tonality. I suspect that there is as much subjective variation in speakers as headphones.

On topic - Abyss Diana (Open) and Ultrasone Signature pro (closed). Albeit I will add that I personally find the word "best" to be one of the most over used misleading terms available in choice selection. Without best defined, it is almost meaningless.

How would you define it, Kernmac?
 

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