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Discerning Bass-Head can't decide which sub-$300 closed full-size / IEM 'phones to get.

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by bourbonhoova, Feb 16, 2012.
  1. bourbonhoova
    hi, yep - it's another fresh new-comer holding out his cap and calling out for some free advice.
    I'm trying to decide which headphones will be a really good choice for listening primarily to electronic music, they must be suitable for use outside of the house (so no open-back types) and I have a budget limit of $300.
    (...yes, I know I could pick up a pair of cans that would literally change my life for around $400, but I really can't afford to spend more than $250 - $300).
    I have done quite a bit of reading up on headphone reviews on various sites but I'm still not feeling confident about which brand to go with. Initially I liked the look of the BlueAnt 'Embrace' but then I decided against them. I am now probably trying to choose between the following 'phones:
    Shure SRH840 (with the intention of buying a budget portable amp in the fairly near future)
    Sennheiser IE60 (really like what I've read about the IE80s but unfortunately they're a bit pricey for me)
    Audio Technica ATH-M50
    Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro-80 (again planning to buy amp later on). 
    I am a bit of a bass-head I guess (I have a nice quality sub-woofer in my stereo system) I mainly tend to listen to alternative kinds of electronic music - not the 'minimal' more like acoustic art kinda stuff but either the pretty, atmospheric kind of thing (usually female vocals), laid back stuff with a good chilled-out beat or kind of darker electronica. I would also like the headphones to cope well with dance (eg. breaks), rock and hip-hop. (have Grado's for classical - so not worried about that).
    ***IMPORTANT*** They've got to be capable performers in the bass department (even if I'm going to have to get a portable amp to get the full benefit). But, I want to hear the music as close as possible (budget permitting) to how the musicians, producers intended it to be heard. I love my electronic music - so quality, powerful bass is high on my priority list, but I don't want headphones that make the low frequencies more dominant than they were meant to be.
    When I started researching I was really just looking for a good deal on a set of cans to replace my Ultimate Ears Super-Fi 5s, ie: that I could wear at the gym. (I find the UE's get itchy in my right ear after about 40 minutes). But as I got more and more into reading the reviews I started to realise that maybe my Bose 'Quiet Comfort 2's weren't quite the beez-knees in the mid-range market of headphones I had thought they were. So, ideally it would be good if I could wear them at the gym ...(I might look like a bit of a muppet wearing the DT 770s at the gym) but I'm willing to forego that if they excel in playing the music I like much better than my Bose QCs.
    But they need to be at least averagely durable and have adequate sound isolation to be suitable for wearing out of the house (I'm not talking sub-way trains or in-flight though).
    I'm not in the kind of income-bracket where I can just go 'oh well' and go straight out and buy another pair if I make a bad choice, and music is a big deal to me (as I'm sure it is to all of you head-fi-ers out there in the community) so I would really, really appreciate any sound advice any of you guys can offer). 
    Thanks,  Toby (Australia)
  2. MalVeauX
    Based on what you've said, it sounds like you should just go with some IEM's. The Shure SE215's are pretty bassy and sound great and are well under your budget with nice accessories (detachable cables, etc).
    My first full-size thought for you was a Denon D2000 (call up J&R, get a deal for like $220). But it wouldn't be good for the gym. The D2k is a great bass-head can for someone that also likes to hear more than just bass, who prefers supreme luxury class comfort, and a sleek profiled look with plush everything including a sheathed cable.
    You could get both... it's right around $300 for the two if you get a deal on the Denon.
    Very best,
  3. Redrider469
    If you want bass and don't want to spend a lot. Get the Ultrasone HFi-580s ~$150. Great punchy bass with still good quality. If you want to push your budget though, go for the pro 900s.
  4. bourbonhoova
    Thanks heaps Redrider469 and MalVeaux for taking the time to read my message and offer some advice. -Wow MalVeaux, you appear to be the High Priest of the Church of Headphones!
    I did read up on the Denon D2000's, the Shure IEM range and the Ultrasone Pro 900's... and in the end, I decided to wait a little longer until I can spend $400 and most likely get myself a set of Sennheiser IE 8's / IE 80's (if I'm lucky). However in the meantime I will still think about changing my preference to the Ultrasone Pro 900's or Westone 3's.
    MalVeaux-  I did really like the sound of what I read about the Denon D2000 and I'm sure I would really enjoy them but in the end I am really looking for something for out of the house (as I am still pretty happy to use my QC2's in the house - yes, ironic perhaps given that they are noise-cancelling headphones but anyway...). As for the Shure 215's... it's just a characteristic of my personality than when I'm shopping for something that's important to me, I feel compelled to go for something that's pushing the boundary of where my budget can stretch (maybe irrational but I guess you know what I mean). Also, by nature of the way I'm going about deciding which product to invest in .... I mean in my city there is one or possibly two shops that I could walk into and try out these headphones but of course then I would have to lower my expectations considerably because they aren't able to offer a bargain price so many of the 'phones I'm keen on would be out of my price range... so I choose by reading the opinions of others. But I really want to see several contributers concurring with the same rave review before I necessarily accept is as being reliable. Consequently I decided that I'm not sure the Shure 215's would have quite the frequency low-end I'm looking for.
    Redrider-  Thanks, I did actually get really keen on stretching my budget even a bit further still to pick up a new pair of Ultrasone Pro 900's... I think I would love to have a set of these 'phones, they sound like they would provide a lot of enjoyment for someone who's seriously into electronic music. But then I reigned myself back in by telling myself that what I really want is headphones that I will wear to the gym, occasionally walking around town etc. Now those Pro 900s do look maybe a bit more durable than the D2000s but some might say you would look like a bit of an attention-seeker wearing those walking around town so I think I'm going to go for the Sennheiser IE8's.
    Anyway, sorry for waffling / rambling on and on .... and thanks again for taking the time to 'share your knowledge'. It would be nice if I could afford to order either the D2000 or the Pro 900 and IE 80, but I can't do that so yeah, I'm leaning towards the IE80 as I reckon I'll get a lot of enjoyment out of them.
    cheers guys - happy listening
  5. bourbonhoova
    Decided it would be best to go into a good shop and try out the headphones before buying.
    After spending a considerable amount of time listening to various headphones I decided I would wait until the shop had some Beyerdynamic T70Ps in stock and available for demo. They should be in mid April aparently.
    I guess the problem with trying to find a new 'all-time favourite' good for everything type of headphones (max. $500) is you kind of want a model that does everything very well - which is asking for a lot (if not the impossible).
    In the shop I listened to:
    Beyer DT250, Beyer DT 770 Pro, Beyer DT 880, Beyer DT1350, Beyer P50(?), Audio Technica ATH-EWS9, Ultrasone HFI-780(something like that), Shure SRH 840 and 940, Aiaiai TMA-1... I think that was all
    I loved the sound of the EWS9, but was a bit put-off by their relatively delicate-looking construction - to me, (and my less-than-perfect hearing) they had the well-formed, deep bass that I'm looking for and yet also conveyed something like David Gilmour - Wish You Were Here (live) with gorgeous clarity. And if I did buy them, I could afford to buy a desk-top amplifier as well. (been talked out of going for a portable amp).
    I was impressed with the SRH 940, but although there's nothing wrong with how low its bass extension reaches, for me it was lacking mid-bass punch (well documented on here I suppose). Ie. that would indicate a very neutral, studio reference type of cans is probably not for me. The 840s didn't impress me with the same level of detail.
    The Beyer DT770s of course, certainly had the Wow-factor with anything electronic, dark and bassy - big time. A lot of fun, to my ears ... but then you're sacrificing a noticeable amount of suitability to other brighter genres of music.
    No surprises based on everything I had read on this site with regard to the Ultrasones so I have made my mind up to steer away from them. Ie. cool if they are going to be joining a collection of cans that you use for different music but not a great choice for a do-everything solution.
    Anyway, cutting to the chase...
    when I go back I'm going to be choosing between the following....  (unfortunately the shop didn't deal with Denon, so they are out of contention).
    > Beyer DT990 Pro (open so obviously completely off the track of what I originally set out to buy, but if I love the way they sound with all my types of music I might choose them anyway - though they will be BAD news for my bank balance cause then I will have to buy a half-decent amp before I can enjoy them)
    > Beyer T70P (though I expect the bass will be lacking for what I like)
    > Audio Technica ATH-ESW9 (the ones with the wooden cups)
    > Sennheiser IE80 (I will not be able to try these out, so this will be a tough choice to make, but going on what I have read... these do sound very good, I just wish they weren't made in China - I don't care what anybody says)
    I don't really have anything major against IEMs, except that I can't imagine ever wanting to wear them for more than about an hour cause I've found my Ultimate Ears Super Fi5s get itchy in my ears (the foam comply(?) tips were pure joy - if somewhat labour-intensive, but they only lasted about 3 or 4 uses before falling apart).
  6. bourbonhoova
    So for my final entry on this thread...
    A month ago I decided I had read enough to make a choice without having a pair of the T70Ps to listen to. I got the impression they wouldn't be a good choice for someone who listens to fairly bass-centric music most of the time. So I went back to the shop to make my mind up from a selection of A-T, ATH-ESW9, a couple of models of Beyerdynamic, the Shure SRH-940 and the Sennheiser IE 80. (I think I missed out my opinion on the Beyer DT1350s in my last post... I really wanted to like these as they looked like just the sort of thing that fit the purpose for me: not too big, rated very highly for their sound quality, obviously really nice build quality and durable... but I just wasn't able to get even close to the sort of full, powerful sound I was hoping for out of them - maybe I didn't fiddle about long enough to get the positioning right or perhaps the pads neaded a little 'bedding-in' on my ears, but that was my impression).
    I could have quite happily bought the ESW9s, but their fragile-looking design and only 1 year warranty put me off. Sound-wise I thought they were supremely good value for money, but I was shopping for something that would hopefully last considerably longer than a year. (I know from past experience that sooner or later, chances are I will subject them to some accidental abuse at some stage). So even though the very helpful guys in the shop thought the little wooden-cupped Audio Technica's would have been a great choice for me given my taste in music etc. I decided to rule them out to avoid future heart-brake. I decided to go with the Sennheiser IE80s at a retail price of $529 (had a go at negotiating and knocked them down to $500). After-all I really liked what I had read about the IE80s. The guy in the shop told me that in his opinion they were over-priced (thanks to Sennheiser cranking up the prices they charge to supply the Aussie market). But I had reached the conclusion that all the other headphones that I had auditioned had one or more draw-backs so I may as well take my chances with the pricey Sennheiser IEMs apparently well-suited to both audiophiles and bass-heads.
    I have had these IE80s for about a month now and I can confidently say that I am happy with the choice. They do everything that I wanted them to do. I won't attempt to submit a comprehensive review on them here (firstly because there are other threads with reviews on them already, and secondly because my hearing is definitely not perfect) but I will make a few comments as my attempt to 'contribute' something to the site.
    I find them very suitable for being worn at the gym, as others have mentioned the isolation is not excellent but I find it perfectly adequate for public / moderately noisy places, and I prefer the shallower penetrating tips to deeper-fitting types of IEM. I personally don't have any comfort issues with them (while at the gym I use the over-ear hooks and on other occassions I remove the hooks and wear them ear-bud style). I will say that I think Sennheiser could've included one spare pair of the ear hooks given the price of the product and how easy they are to lose.
    The soundstage is impressive (as it claims on the box). You certainly do get the sensation that certain sounds are coming from points further away than the little ear-pieces sitting in your ears. I have the bass dial set to '1' out of 0 - 5. I am only part of the way through re-ripping my CDs at 320kps so that will also be a factor in my impression of the 'phones. Yes, they do improve over the first 30 or whatever hours of use. Today was one of the first times I have listened to really super-hi-fi music on them in a very quiet environment... I really enjoyed it, seems that hearing the music loud and clear without any ambient noise to push you to turn the volume up to bordering on causing slight discomfort - I could listen with my iPod classic on about 50% volume and the sound is awesome. (In this example I was listening to Blonde Redhead). My single little gripe is that I don't find them especially satisfying when the music gets seriously 'busy' and 'loud' like in the more full-on parts of rock. Also I doubt I will ever listen to them on low volume, to my ears they don't sound all that special unless they're turned up to say 45%-55% volume -but admittedly this could be something to do with my not consistently great hearing. I'm not even sure if it's possible to achieve that 'big speakers turned up loud pumping out a wall of sound you can almost feel sensation with any IEMs, I'm just not sure, maybe you just need full-size headphones to get that. correct me if I'm wrong.
    I've started considering ordering a portable amp. - either a FiiO E11 or an Audinst Amp-Hp to give the sound a little more power and control during rock music. Any advice on this would be much appreciated. But if the difference will be negligeable than obviously I would rather save my money.I tend to like to listen to music turned up fairly loud but never for any longer than about an hour and a half- two hours absolute max.
     I don't listen to all genres of music by any means but in my opinion ... probably all types of electronic music sound really good on these IE80s, acoustic, vocal / more stripped-back music also is reproduced impressively and I reckon they are an excellent choice for classical music listeners as well. I agree with others that have made the comment that the protective case that comes with the ear-phones is far, far too fiddly to use as an everyday method of carrying them around.
    Going off on a tangent, while I was in the shop I was persuaded to have a listen to the Beyerdynamic T1s and the Audez'e LCD-2 just out of interest and yeah - wow. The LCD-2 was it for me - the Holy Grail of headphone pure joy - they offered everything you could possibly wish for in terms of bass and the rest of the sound was faltless to me as well. The T1s were far more comfortable but the bass wasn't quite as thrilling as on the Audez'e in my view. One slightly random illustration of their outstanding quality: I had included a 'The Kills' track on my headphone auditioning CD but after listening to it a few times had decided it was a useless track for determining which were my favorite headphones, as although I like the song, the more raw, rock type of music didn't seem to sound any different on any of the headphones... but even that song sounded quite a bit more live and natural (as though actually being performed in front of you) on both these 'phones. So if you can stretch the budget I would definitely recommend trying one of these out before you make a choice. (bit too expensive for me).
    I also did eventually go and check out the Beyer T70. Amazing clarity / seperation of instruments, and you really feel like you're holding a set of $500 headphones in your hands - obviously a seriously good quality piece of kit that would most likely last half a lifetime but yeah, I'm happy with my more bassy IE80s even though anyone who didn't know better would probable guess they would set you back about a quarter of that price. I don't think you could really call them a bargain, but they come with a 2-year warranty - which I think is a very good sign and they certainly are good for portable use (and at home use for that matter). 
  7. Malevolent
    If you are able to spend on the Westone 3s, then you should go for it, if IEMs are your choice. The bass is tight and plentiful, and they're really comfortable. I auditioned the IE8 before, but ended up going with the Westones as I preferred the bass impact it produced. With the IE8, I had trouble getting the right bass level, and I kinda gave up altogether. :)
  8. barid
    I think you should go with an IEM.  Those full size phones you listed I find unwieldly for walking around.
    The IE8's and W3's are both nice and bassy, I prefer the IE8 but really both are nice.  I hear good thinks about the futuresonic MG7's bass, and they can be had for $100 new with that coupon code.
  9. lee730
    I sent you a PM regarding the IE80s. Good luck :).
  10. bourbonhoova
    Just a quick follow-up... a few months down the track, I am really enjoying my IE80's and happy with the choice. I did however get hooked on the idea of getting myself an audiophile quality pair of full-size headphones for at home use. I guess, looking for that more like- home hi-fi speakers effortless power, also in the hope that they may convey busier/heavier music more transparently, with better separation of different instruments etc. I bought the Beyerdynamic DT990 (250 Ohms). I've only had them for a week, so I wouldn't want to pass too much comment on them at this stage, but I'm pretty excited with them. I can understand the criticisms that people level at them, with respect to the mids and therefore vocals being recessed and the treble and percussion being 'sparkly bright' and 'strident'. But I know I didn't want something very neutral, I wanted something with a little more of the 'wow-factor' with electronic music. I guess if I do feel the need to soften the brightness of the beyers, maybe I'll go for a tube amp in a couple of months when I order an amp. (At the moment I'm just running them off my Yamaha stereo receiver, and they sound pretty damn impressive alreadt). Currently I'm thinking of going for the Matrix M-stage which appears to be fairly unanimously lauded as a very good value basic amp, but if I do end up deciding I'd like to 'soften the spikes' of the DT990 sound a little bit maybe I'll go for something like the Schiit Valhalla. Any suggestions / comments from experience (with these 'phones and amps) would be much appreciated. 
    ...as they say "welcome to head-fi ...and sorry about your wallet"    [​IMG]
    Oh by the way.. I do wonder a little tiny bit occasionally whether I should've gone with MalVeaux's advice and got the Denon AH-D2000, but I just came across too many accounts of the things breaking or falling apart on a regular basis, as well as the fact that I didn't come accross a pair that I could try out anywhere.
  11. bourbonhoova
    Well I think I've spent enough time reading through the threads on this site for now... just wanted to up-date the sentence in my last post about which amp and DAC I'm going to go for. Most likely it will end up being the M-stage - partly because I can try it out before I buy it in a (bricks & mortar) shop, and partly because I only intend to buy the one amp in the foreseeable future and although there are some really compelling remarks about how well DT990s go together with tube amps, I'm not sure I would be satisfied with a relatively budget tube amp as my only amplifier. I have now ruled out the Valhalla. It appears as though Asgard would be a sound choice but I think if I do go solid state it will be the M-stage. When I listen to the M-stage I will probably be deciding between that or taking a bit of a risk and ordering a Little Dot MKIV. (The 'crack' - what-ever-it's-called evidently has an impressive reputation, but I'm not interested in assembling the thing myself). I might have a look for a second hand Woo WA3, but to be honest blowing $300-400 on a little amp for my headphones is quite an extravagent purchase for me, so I have my reservations about risking going for a second-hand unit. I understand I will 'need' to buy a DAC in order to have a good set-up (I am not totally clear about the rationale behind this, as at the moment I play my ipod classic through a line-out dock, through a Yamaha receiver, into my beyers ... and that sounds very crystal-clear and detailed to me. So I don't totally understand what improvement to expect from a decent DAC - but that's ok- I've decided I will order a HRT music streamer 2 - so that should be quite adequate I imagine). I am not in a position to be able to justify spending upwards of 8 or 9 hundred dollars on a DAC / amp combo.  
    So if any of you Beyer DT990 or DT880 owners (or previous owners) who know what you're talking about when it comes to amps happen to read this, any advice would be much appreciated. (Will probably only be buying around Christmas time). Music I listen to... mainly quite sort of 'highly polished' electronic (not so much dance music these days), dub (more at the contemporary end of it), alternative (when it has beautiful vocals usually), then to a lesser extent some rock, 80's & 90's stuff and a little classical.      
  12. RushNerd
    Can't we just give this guy a D2000 and be done with it?
    EDIT: Oh I see you bought the 990 premiums like I did for the bass, lol that was a huge mistake on my part.
  13. bourbonhoova
    Not really sure what to say about the last post... I'm sure the D2000 is an excellent choice if you handle it with care but I'm also pretty sure I will be satisfied with my DT 990s. Anyway... [Edit] also now considering the Bottlehead Crack with Speedball up-grade as a friend has offered to help me out with assembling it. Seems like this would be a very good way to go in terms of value for money.
  14. bourbonhoova
    Late up-date. I decided to sell the DT 990s pretty quickly. They could be fun to listen to. I thought the base was great on them... for example: the grande-finale of Pulse, Pink Floyd - at the end of the track 'Run Like Hell' with the drums (ending with a big firework, I think) sounded really good - definitely had that sub-woofer power to the base. But my disappointment was that to have the volume up at a truly satisfying level - you know when you can feel immersed in the music, I would end up with tinnitus afterwards. Keep the volume at a restrained level and the mids were just too recessed for me to be able to enjoy the music.
    So yeah, I sold the Beyers off, went to the headphone shop... and bought myself the HiFiMan HE-400. Then two weeks later I was getting a bit concerned that I was going to continue having the same problem with these mid-fi, open headphones ... ie: that I want to turn them up louder than is safe for my hearing. I returned to the shop (thinking I might take advantage of their 20 day exchange for store credit policy). And decided to up-grade to the HE-500 ($699). I made my mind up to stretch the budget and shell out the extra $300 for two reasons...  1). I thought if I'm going to possibly have to be more careful with restricting volume than I had previously expected, it might pay to go for a headphone with a more balanced, neutral sound signature rather than one with bumped up base. 2). I have been doing quite a bit of reading here on head-fi. Having only had the HE-400 for a week or so, I was starting to wonder what I might end up buying next that would do the genres very well that perhaps the 400s don't excel at so much (maybe something like Fostex Mad Dog)... so then I just thought - this is ridiculous, bite the bullet, up-grade to the HE-500 now while I still can without losing money. Then I will have a great do-it-all headphone and will be done with buying headphones (for now, at least). I've had the 500s for about a fortnight now and am satisfied that I've made a good choice. Using them with a Matrix M-stage and just an iPod classic (120G). I haven't really given them a lot of listening time yet, and as I'm enjoying them right now with my iPod on shuffle ...I'm sure I'm going to continue to be impressed with them as they 'settle in with me'. Didn't really think they would benefit noticably from burn in, but now I've read more of the threads I'm thinking I will leave them on play a few times. Also now every time I use my IE80s (with comply tips & base adjusted to 2 out of 5) I get a real buzz out of their warm, bassy sound.
    I know the HE-500 will benefit from a more powerful amp, and being a bit of a bass-head I most likely will invest in something like a Lyr sooner or later. But for now, I am pleased that all the time I've spent pouring over this site has eventually helped me to choose a really nice set of headphones.   
  15. musiclife
    I have the SE215 and it's exactly as you described. Only thing, you need a good quality source with it because at the higher frequencies it has some precision trouble.

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