Entry-level audiophile full headphone recommendations
Aug 11, 2016 at 11:56 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 18

Joel Eckert

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Thanks very much for your time.
 
I'm in the process of evaluating full headphones, which will mainly be used at an office job without totally breaking the bank. These would be powered by a USB headphone amplifier with tube preamp and class A amp, probably a watt or two output, in an office with four walls and relatively limited noise. I had a position for ten years which was mobile, and I am somewhat scared to be at a desk for the entire day, although the role will be interesting, project-focused, and consist of software and web development.
 
I grew up in a family where my father ran a pro sound shop, and carried home and car audio products for ten years. My ears are sensitive, particularly to smoothness, and I most likely have high level relative pitch or somewhere on the absolute pitch spectrum. My audio equipment consists of a legacy set of Polk Audio S4 speakers and 10" Energy powered subwoofer (not a bass head), on a legacy Denon DRA-565RD 65 watt RMS stereo receiver. I own a set of IEMs, the Etymotic HF5, and am very fond of them, but they could use more depth and imaging. I own a pair of Yamaha EPH-100 but find them bright and coloured. I have a set of Monoprice 5 studio monitors, and am very pleased with them, but they need to be driven a bit louder than what is reasonable in an office in an academic environment. My vehicle has Morel Maximo speakers and a Pioneer head unit, AVIC-Z150BH, 45 watts RMS, speakers sounded coloured and had to EQ the treble down by -3.
 
Some of the reviews of the AKG products look promising, and some locals have recommended Denon products, which I have yet to audition. The Sennheiser products seem out of my budget to get the quality, but please correct me if I'm wrong.
 
On the budget end, I debated saving for a used pair of Hifiman HE500's, but it's still a significant investment, especially without hearing them, and some have mentioned that they are tight on the head. I've read about some other entry-level Chinese products such as the Takstar and the Superlux, but was somewhat concerned that they would sound coloured and bright. I've read some positive reviews of the 1More MK801.
 
The debate is, whether to go full out (@ $500), or purchase something more entry-level (@ $150) and save for something when I can appreciate it more. (A friend invited me to Costa Rica for two weeks in the winter, so this is a competing financial priority, ha.) I listen to all genres of music, from indie pop, to select metal, to complex electronic, to rock, so looking for a nice smooth response that performs well with all genres, and could potentially be listening for much of the day, and fatigue is definitely a concern.
 
All the best, and I post this after scouring the forums for about a month and still not feeling any one direction -- other than blowing the budget and spending $500+.
 
Aug 12, 2016 at 12:13 AM Post #2 of 18

ProtegeManiac

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  Thanks very much for your time.
 
I'm in the process of evaluating full headphones, which will mainly be used at an office job without totally breaking the bank. These would be powered by a USB headphone amplifier with tube preamp and class A amp, probably a watt or two output, in an office with four walls and relatively limited noise. I had a position for ten years which was mobile, and I am somewhat scared to be at a desk for the entire day, although the role will be interesting, project-focused, and consist of software and web development.
 
I grew up in a family where my father ran a pro sound shop, and carried home and car audio products for ten years. My ears are sensitive, particularly to smoothness, and I most likely have high level relative pitch or somewhere on the absolute pitch spectrum. My audio equipment consists of a legacy set of Polk Audio S4 speakers and 10" Energy powered subwoofer (not a bass head), on a legacy Denon DRA-565RD 65 watt RMS stereo receiver. I own a set of IEMs, the Etymotic HF5, and am very fond of them, but they could use more depth and imaging. I own a pair of Yamaha EPH-100 but find them bright and coloured. I have a set of Monoprice 5 studio monitors, and am very pleased with them, but they need to be driven a bit louder than what is reasonable in an office in an academic environment. My vehicle has Morel Maximo speakers and a Pioneer head unit, AVIC-Z150BH, 45 watts RMS, speakers sounded coloured and had to EQ the treble down by -3.
 
Some of the reviews of the AKG products look promising, and some locals have recommended Denon products, which I have yet to audition. The Sennheiser products seem out of my budget to get the quality, but please correct me if I'm wrong.
 
On the budget end, I debated saving for a used pair of Hifiman HE500's, but it's still a significant investment, especially without hearing them, and some have mentioned that they are tight on the head. I've read about some other entry-level Chinese products such as the Takstar and the Superlux, but was somewhat concerned that they would sound coloured and bright. I've read some positive reviews of the 1More MK801.
 
The debate is, whether to go full out (@ $500), or purchase something more entry-level (@ $150) and save for something when I can appreciate it more. (A friend invited me to Costa Rica for two weeks in the winter, so this is a competing financial priority, ha.) I listen to all genres of music, from indie pop, to select metal, to complex electronic, to rock, so looking for a nice smooth response that performs well with all genres, and could potentially be listening for much of the day, and fatigue is definitely a concern.
 
All the best, and I post this after scouring the forums for about a month and still not feeling any one direction -- other than blowing the budget and spending $500+.

 
 
If you can spend $500 and you prefer a very smooth sound, you might as well get the Sennheiser HD650. It has no sharp peaks that go too far above where 1000hz is and even then it's never a narrow peak. As well everything above 1000hz is slightly weaker, basically rolled off (except that of course it isn't literally downhill from there). By contrast every AKG has a sharp spike at around 8500 to 9500hz, and some have a smaller spike between 4000hz to 6000hz; the same is true (though to a lesser extent) of equivalent Sennheisers.
 
Quality amplification is a must for the HD650 (as with the HD600, and the equivalent AKGs, although it's easier to get a decent amp for the Sennheisers) however. While you can get it up to a loud listening volume out of a tablet, a good amplifier with a high voltage output level will open it up well. 
 
Since you have that trip in the works though you could just buy a cheaper but quality IEM for less than $100 so you'd have a bit more set aside for the headphones as you save up.
 
Aug 12, 2016 at 12:32 AM Post #3 of 18

Joel Eckert

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Thanks ProtegeManiac ! That's great information, especially on the frequency response. I'll have to demo the Sennheiser HD650, and possibly stick with the Etymotic HF5 IEMs until after the trip.
 
Aug 12, 2016 at 1:10 AM Post #4 of 18

cel4145

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On the budget end, I debated saving for a used pair of Hifiman HE500's,


They are also some of the most difficult headphones to drive, which means investing in a powerful headphone amp. HD650's will be a bit easier to drive. Still could use an amp, but easier to drive.
 
Aug 12, 2016 at 1:31 AM Post #5 of 18

Joel Eckert

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They are also some of the most difficult headphones to drive, which means investing in a powerful headphone amp. HD650's will be a bit easier to drive. Still could use an amp, but easier to drive.

Thanks, appreciate the information on amp requirements. The amp I have isn't high end by any means, trying to more less reach that sweet spot before prices explode, but still decent quality.
 
Aug 12, 2016 at 1:40 AM Post #6 of 18

Orestes1984

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If you will be traveling regularly, such as using them too and from work, I suspect you will not be happy with the volume output of a 300ohm headphone. It's well worth trying to drive the headphones you want by themselves first if you want them to be convenient without amplification through a regular media player such as an iPod/iPhone that is the territory where those sorts of headphones begin to sound nasal and thin. I also wouldn't recommend an open back in that sort of environment to be honest. Anything less than true over the ear closed phones wont give you the degree of noise cancellation you need and open backs will leak sound in your office.
 
You do the maths from your own background.
 
Aug 12, 2016 at 10:35 AM Post #7 of 18

Joel Eckert

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  If you will be traveling regularly, such as using them too and from work, I suspect you will not be happy with the volume output of a 300ohm headphone. It's well worth trying to drive the headphones you want by themselves first if you want them to be convenient without amplification through a regular media player such as an iPod/iPhone that is the territory where those sorts of headphones begin to sound nasal and thin. I also wouldn't recommend an open back in that sort of environment to be honest. Anything less than true over the ear closed phones wont give you the degree of noise cancellation you need and open backs will leak sound in your office.
 
You do the maths from your own background.

Thanks, appreciate the feedback. Most of the listening I do will be at the desk, and if mobile, it will be IEMs. I bought a portable headphone amp and it doesn't offer much more headroom before clipping, compared to the stock amp in my Huawei Nexus 6P, will probably splurge and get a better headphone amp with tubes and much more power at some point.
 
Aug 12, 2016 at 3:53 PM Post #8 of 18

DangerClose

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If you don't have your own office, your coworkers may not appreciate headphones that leak, and you may not appreciate hearing office noise.
 
Basically, at a certain point everything sounds good, and it's more about figuring out what headphone has the sound signature you prefer.  And what DAC and amp synergizes with it to get that sound signature.  And if wearing them for many hours, what fits comfortably.  
 
Aug 13, 2016 at 3:24 AM Post #9 of 18

DangerClose

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I missed that you said the office has four walls.  
 
Headphones tend to retain a good portion of their value unless they are broken or become unpopular, so testing the waters to figure out what you want can be fun and often not overly costly.  Something like SHP9500 doesn't sound as hi-fi as something like HD600, but it's still very good, might actually be a preferred sound signature, and are arguably more comfortable.  They leak a lot of sound.
 
Depending what country you're in, DT880/DT990 can be priced at practically a budget level for what they are, relative to others. Though their sound signatures may not line up with what you're looking for.
 
As you alluded to, it's hard to spend a lot on headphones if you aren't even quite sure what you're looking for.
 
Aug 13, 2016 at 7:58 AM Post #10 of 18

Orestes1984

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You can get headphones such as the Focal Spirit Professional now for around the $300 mark which will sound as good as any other headphone that costs $500+ and some that cost $1000+ Your problem is they're not open backs. They do have a very true frequency response however and little colouration, though the driver is quite punchy, so you might mistake that for being a little warm, but its really not. If I were to be looking at an open back right now that has a sort of similar sound with detailed clear sound and punchy bass, but a slightly wider stage I'd go for the Shure SRH-1440, both are low Ohm headphones so wont require much to drive them at all. If you want a bit more clarity you can step right up to the Shure SRH-1840, and its worth it, but you would have to max your budget out at $500.

It's really not about how much money you spend, but what you spend that money on instead. I thought long and hard about the Shure alternatives, the problem for me is that I face using my headphones  when I am walking around so I need some degree of noise cancellation and open backs don't do that. On top of that I also don't like broadcasting to the entire world what I am listening to.
 
Personally having tried most things between the Sennheiser HD25 which sounds like an axe grinder in comparison to my Focals and HD650s as well as Momentum IIs in between I don't like the current Sennheisers they're too forward and bright, and in order to level out the sound stage it gets to the point where you have to listen to them too loud. That's another problem with open backs though, and I don't really want to wreak my ears any more than what I did when I was a teenager.
 
I used to be able to hear the noise of the vacuum tube from a television when it was turned off as a young child. Good luck if I'd be able to do that now, the thing is you will end up having to listen to open backs on your head louder than closed backs and after 8 hours at 70db+ you can start to have ringing in your ears.
 
Aug 13, 2016 at 9:52 AM Post #11 of 18

cel4145

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Thanks, appreciate the feedback. Most of the listening I do will be at the desk, and if mobile, it will be IEMs. I bought a portable headphone amp and it doesn't offer much more headroom before clipping, compared to the stock amp in my Huawei Nexus 6P, will probably splurge and get a better headphone amp with tubes and much more power at some point.


What make/model portable amp do you have? Doesn't cost a bunch to add a headphone amp that a good bit more power than a phone.
 
Aug 14, 2016 at 4:22 PM Post #12 of 18

Joel Eckert

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  You can get headphones such as the Focal Spirit Professional now for around the $300 mark which will sound as good as any other headphone that costs $500+ and some that cost $1000+ Your problem is they're not open backs. They do have a very true frequency response however and little colouration, though the driver is quite punchy, so you might mistake that for being a little warm, but its really not. If I were to be looking at an open back right now that has a sort of similar sound with detailed clear sound and punchy bass, but a slightly wider stage I'd go for the Shure SRH-1440, both are low Ohm headphones so wont require much to drive them at all. If you want a bit more clarity you can step right up to the Shure SRH-1840, and its worth it, but you would have to max your budget out at $500.

It's really not about how much money you spend, but what you spend that money on instead. I thought long and hard about the Shure alternatives, the problem for me is that I face using my headphones  when I am walking around so I need some degree of noise cancellation and open backs don't do that. On top of that I also don't like broadcasting to the entire world what I am listening to.
 
Personally having tried most things between the Sennheiser HD25 which sounds like an axe grinder in comparison to my Focals and HD650s as well as Momentum IIs in between I don't like the current Sennheisers they're too forward and bright, and in order to level out the sound stage it gets to the point where you have to listen to them too loud. That's another problem with open backs though, and I don't really want to wreak my ears any more than what I did when I was a teenager.
 
I used to be able to hear the noise of the vacuum tube from a television when it was turned off as a young child. Good luck if I'd be able to do that now, the thing is you will end up having to listen to open backs on your head louder than closed backs and after 8 hours at 70db+ you can start to have ringing in your ears.

Thanks for the advice on the Focal's, and on how you feel about various sound signatures. A family friend swears by the Focal studio monitor speakers. I didn't consider the difference with open back headphones and sound leakage, and this will be a concern in the office environment.
 
So much great information, thanks!
 
Aug 14, 2016 at 5:27 PM Post #14 of 18

cel4145

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Get a Fiio A3. Very good for the money. And you can get it from this international vendor: http://penonaudio.com/FiiO-E11K%20. Prices may be better.
 

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