Closed-Back Planar Magnetic vs. Open-Back Dynamic Headphones: Which One Wins Out?!
Mar 15, 2021 at 3:19 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 61

RockStar2005

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What do you guys think about this topic? We know that the general consensus is that planar magnetic headphones are considered superior to dynamic headphones, but what about when you have a CLOSED-back planar magnetic vs. OPEN-back dynamic headphones?!

Planars are generally open-back, but now we're seeing more closed-back version emerging, like the Blue Ella for example.

I've read reviews where at least one pro reviewer stated that the Ella had better instrument/voice rendering and separation than the open-back Grados do (though perhaps not AS wide a soundstage, but still very close). I am intrigued by this b/c I have the open-back AKG K702 (dynamic speakers in these headphones), which I absolutely love, but I wonder if perhaps they would sound better still? The Ella has a built-in 250mW analog amp, while to power my K702, I use the iFi xDSD portable amp/DAC.

I have decided to do a comparison (review coming!) of these 2 setups to see what the results would be. Just ordered the Ella on Amazon, so it'll prob be a couple weeks before I'm ready. But here you have multiple aspects to consider.............a smartphone DAC with the Ella's amp vs. smartphone + xDSD amp/DAC + K702. They say the headphone quality/type matters most, followed by the quality/type of amp, then lastly the DAC. IF this is true, then perhaps the Ella has a shot w/o needing the xDSD to assist it (since using the xDSD would be redundant due to both having strong analog amps with about the same output).

Anyway, what do you guys think about just those 2 headphones themselves? Can a closed-back planar match and even outdo an open-back dynamic?
 
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Mar 15, 2021 at 9:28 PM Post #3 of 61

RockStar2005

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Not sure that's the general consensus. High end planars and dynamics are both pretty stellar and are distinct enough to make it hard to lean one way altogether

Never seen that blue Ella though. Looks wild!

I guess everything "high-end" sounds good. lol I get what you mean though.

Haha yeah, right?! It came out a few years ago. I tried the Lola (which had dynamic drivers, and no built-in analog amp). Sounded really good, but this is their flagship. Was $700. But just saw it on sale on Amazon for $400. Figured why not? Got a lot of strong reviews out on it too.
 
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Mar 16, 2021 at 4:01 PM Post #4 of 61

bigshot

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There are great quality cans of all different kinds of designs. It’s how the design is implemented, not the design itself.
 
Mar 16, 2021 at 4:33 PM Post #5 of 61

RockStar2005

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There are great quality cans of all different kinds of designs. It’s how the design is implemented, not the design itself.
Sure. I will agree with that.

I'll be comparing a $200-$300 headphone (K702) with a (formerly) $700 headphone (Ella), so that's another factor to consider. Also, I will only use my iFi xDSD amp/DAC on the K702, not when using the Ella since I want to test out its built-in analog amp. So I guess I'll also be comparing DACs and amps here too. lol
 
Mar 16, 2021 at 6:14 PM Post #6 of 61

bigshot

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We recently had a thread here on a study on headphone quality where they found that aside from lack of bass in very inexpensive headphones, they could find no correlation between price and quality. https://www.head-fi.org/threads/study-headphone-price-and-sound-quality.956469/

The takeaway from that test is that instead of judging by price, it's best to determine your ideal response curve and choose by that.

I realize that advice goes against everything that is said outside of Sound Science on Head-Fi...
 
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Mar 17, 2021 at 4:30 PM Post #7 of 61

RockStar2005

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We recently had a thread here on a study on headphone quality where they found that aside from lack of bass in very inexpensive headphones, they could find no correlation between price and quality. https://www.head-fi.org/threads/study-headphone-price-and-sound-quality.956469/

The takeaway from that test is that instead of judging by price, it's best to determine your ideal response curve and choose by that.

I realize that advice goes against everything that is said outside of Sound Science on Head-Fi...
Very interesting.

Well over the years I've concluded that my true favorite responsive curve or "sound signature" is def more straight neutral, which means NO EQ'ING REQUIRED! lol With respect to bass, just as long as the bass level is rendered properly and NOTHING is added to it, I'm happy. When I hear or read reviews where people say headphones like my current AKG K702 are too "weak" on the bass. No, it's not. lol It just doesn't add anything to the original sound is all.

I def agree though with that statement. I used to have the $600 Grado RS2e (which were actually $660 cuz of the upgraded Grado over-ear "G" pads I'd bought for them), but vs. my K702, it was both less comfortable and didn't sound as good either. I'd gotten my K702 for only $165 (now $200-$300), so that was a pretty surprising discovery to make! We'll see if that applies here, or maybe the Ella really will sound better?! :thinking:
 
Mar 17, 2021 at 5:07 PM Post #8 of 61

bigshot

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Neutral and nothing added are relative statements. Each person hears a little different through headphones because of differences in the shape of their ear canal, so neutral to one person may not be neutral to another. The optimal curve is a range, not an absolute. Once you know what curve works the best for you, you can look at measurements and have a good idea which cans you'd like.
 
Mar 17, 2021 at 7:29 PM Post #9 of 61

RockStar2005

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Neutral and nothing added are relative statements. Each person hears a little different through headphones because of differences in the shape of their ear canal, so neutral to one person may not be neutral to another. The optimal curve is a range, not an absolute. Once you know what curve works the best for you, you can look at measurements and have a good idea which cans you'd like.
Well yeah of course. What I was saying is of course relatively-speaking. But when someone says neutral, there's of course more to it, so that's not intended to be an all-encompassing statement by any means.

I don't really read into that stuff or really fully understand it (though I'm pretty good at EQ'ing, but not an expert), so for me it's just gonna be like most people..........trial and error, and reading reviews. lol
 
Mar 17, 2021 at 8:52 PM Post #10 of 61

bigshot

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I find that a lot of people on audiophile sites don't know what neutral is. They have a million definitions... to some, neutral means boring. To others, it needs a roll off or a bass boost. The reason for the confusion is that headphones are different than speakers. With speakers, you EQ for the room. With headphones, there is no room, just your ear canals. There's a published curve called the Harman Curve that is the average response that most people like. That is the closest to neutral that you can get, but it still isn't neutral in the same way that speakers in a room can be adjusted to flat response.

But none of that matters... It's pretty simple actually. If you find a set of cans you really like, google up the response curve measurement and print it out. When you go shopping, compare the measurements of the headphones you are considering to the response curve of the ones you know you like. That way, you'll find what you like.
 
Mar 18, 2021 at 12:20 AM Post #11 of 61

RockStar2005

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I find that a lot of people on audiophile sites don't know what neutral is. They have a million definitions... to some, neutral means boring. To others, it needs a roll off or a bass boost. The reason for the confusion is that headphones are different than speakers. With speakers, you EQ for the room. With headphones, there is no room, just your ear canals. There's a published curve called the Harman Curve that is the average response that most people like. That is the closest to neutral that you can get, but it still isn't neutral in the same way that speakers in a room can be adjusted to flat response.

But none of that matters... It's pretty simple actually. If you find a set of cans you really like, google up the response curve measurement and print it out. When you go shopping, compare the measurements of the headphones you are considering to the response curve of the ones you know you like. That way, you'll find what you like.

Yeah I've heard and read about the Harman Curve. But I thought it had to do with Harman Kardon. lol

That makes sense though cuz like when I'm in my car, I'll just use the "Rock" EQ preset on my Poweramp app to play music cuz it sounds much more clearer than one of my headphone custom EQs like what I use for my Samsung Galaxy (AKG) Buds+.

I think I'd prob like that curve. Or something close to it at least.

Yeah I could do that. But I know that even what appears to be a slight variation can make a noticeable difference in sound, so it's hard for me to really know for sure based on that alone. I guess in the end it's always best to just try as many out as you can.
 
Mar 18, 2021 at 1:37 AM Post #12 of 61

bigshot

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The way to do it is to take a recording that is well engineered and you are familiar with and listen to it through several different sets of headphones. Borrow them from friends. Listen carefully and judge which ones you like the best and which ones you don't. And try to figure out what about the sound signature you like or don't like. Improvement comes from listening and analyzing what you hear. Organize yourself to do controlled listening tests and take notes. Then apply what you learn and take your analysis and careful listening to the next level to improve even more. You aren't training your ears when you do this. You're training your brain to think critically.
 
Mar 18, 2021 at 8:26 PM Post #13 of 61

RockStar2005

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The way to do it is to take a recording that is well engineered and you are familiar with and listen to it through several different sets of headphones. Borrow them from friends. Listen carefully and judge which ones you like the best and which ones you don't. And try to figure out what about the sound signature you like or don't like. Improvement comes from listening and analyzing what you hear. Organize yourself to do controlled listening tests and take notes. Then apply what you learn and take your analysis and careful listening to the next level to improve even more. You aren't training your ears when you do this. You're training your brain to think critically.
Yeah I've done many comparisons on here over the last 6-7 years, so I know what you mean about thinking critically. I try to do at least 2-3 listening sessions on multiple days with Hi-Res recordings (downsampled to 256-320 kbps AAC). I find this approach works best for me.

The Ella 'phones just came in earlier today. I may check them out tonight, or else this weekend. Hopefully within about 2 weeks I can have enough to post a brand new comparison. They do look pretty damn nice in person (as does the packaging they come in)! Def very premium w/o a doubt!!
 
Mar 22, 2021 at 6:45 AM Post #14 of 61

Blackwoof

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Closed back headphones suffer from a lot artifacts that open backs don't. Planar headphones are infamous for being very wonky where EQ is a must, Open back planar biggest strength is that they can take +15db boost under 90Hz without distorting at all. While stuff like the HD600 can bottom or distort at 6db at moderately loud volumes. But above 6db?, nope it just gives up with it distortion at 20 ~ 35Hz reaching 10%.
 
Mar 22, 2021 at 1:10 PM Post #15 of 61

RockStar2005

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Closed back headphones suffer from a lot artifacts that open backs don't. Planar headphones are infamous for being very wonky where EQ is a must, Open back planar biggest strength is that they can take +15db boost under 90Hz without distorting at all. While stuff like the HD600 can bottom or distort at 6db at moderately loud volumes. But above 6db?, nope it just gives up with it distortion at 20 ~ 35Hz reaching 10%.
Hmmm wow. Didn't know all that.

So far, I've gone through 2 of 4 trials b/t the K702 and the Ella (each about an hour long). Def hearing some pros & cons from both. The 1st trial fared better for the Ella, while the 2nd was better for the K702. This isn't going to be easy. lol
 

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