Everybody loves a 3-way
First post a 3-way review. I may be crazy for doing this, but here goes. I’ll view this like an experiment. The three interventions are the KRK KNS 8400, Shure SRH440, and the HiFiMan RE0. I know the RE0 is an IEM, so the comparison isn’t completely fair, but I love that IEM. I’ll view the RE0 as the sort of control group as I’ve had them for three years.
I’ve been lurking here for about three years, and you guys have served me well. You lead me to lossless audio, the COWON D2+, Media Monkey, burn-in, WASAPI, and my first set of real IEMs, the RE0. I came on here to find a full-size set of cans comparable to my beloved RE0s, which in spite of their beautiful presentation and clarity aren’t comfortable to wear for an 8 hour day at work. Thanks to Marximus, TDockweiler, FlySweep, electropop and others for helping me find my contestants.
My equipment is meager. My home setup is a laptop running with Realtek HD audio, all audio is FLAC, unfortunately no 24bit/192k audio on the chip, so it’s WASAPI 16bit/48k. At work, I have a more current Realtek HD Audio, but this one outputs WASAPI 24/192k. My portable sources are a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 with Poweramp and Cowon D2+; unequalized on both. I made an effort to play the tracks at the same volumes, which required some adjustment due to the.
KRK KNS 8400
I threw Dragonforce Ultra-Beatdown at these puppies to start it off. Ultra-Beatdown is a great album to test out headphones, as the album hits all over the frequency spectrum, moves the instruments around the soundstage and across channels, and has incredibly fast and precise instrumentation. The resolution is exceptional and the drums are the best I’ve ever heard. These things are faster than the RE0 right out of the box, which is incredible. Drums sound absolutely incredible. Soundstage is good, compared to the RE0, haven’t tried open cans except GRADOs in store, and these beat the 80i soundstage with ease. Excellent instrument separation, decay is right on the money. They really understand Ultra-Beatdown. I don’t find the highs sibilant at all. The highs extend more than the other two headphones. Bass sounded good to me, could use a little more quantity, but quality is excellent. Just listened to Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Diablo Rojo; I have never heard headphones perfectly reproduce the sound of knocking on a guitar case, reverb, tone, decay, everything. The song Country Mile from Camera Obscura has all the space that the song should have. The female vocals were lush and the violin sounded like it was being played 3 feet in front of me. On a little-bit of a sad note, they exposed some recording noise and what sounded like computer keys clacking in the background that I had never heard before in one of my favorite Feist songs, Inside + Out (Apostle of Hustle Unmix). These expose static that is on older recordings, Like the Louis Armstrong track below. The Arcade Fire sounded almost as good as when I saw them live, but with the strings a little further back on stage. Good three dimensional sound on all the tracks that are mastered to have that kind of sound, which is most on the list below. These things are gorgeous, can’t wait to hear them after some pink noise and white noise burn-in. These things are really hard to take off, but I have to test out the Shures.
Comfort: top bumps are weird but the cups are really delightful and light. If they are memory foam it is pretty low density foam. I wish the headband bumps were the same material. These feel pretty light on the head.
Isolation: I don’t hear too much, pretty good.
Price: Bought from Thomann.de while living in the UK for €125 ($170/£109). Thomann ships to the UK for €10 (£9), free on orders over €199 (£173).
Interjection! Time for a formal track list:
Dragonforce – Heroes of our time
Tool – Parabola
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Diablo Rojo
Aesop Rock – Food, Clothes, Medicine
Sage Francis – Underground for Dummies
Arcade Fire – Wake Up
Belle and Sebastian – Lazy Line Painter Jane
Camera Obscura – Country Mile
Cults – Never Heal Myself
Feist – Inside + Out (Apostle of Hustle Unmix Live at the BBC)
Miles Davis and John Coltrane – Straight, No Chaser
Louis Armstrong with Bing Crosby – Gone Fishin’
I had a tiny listen to these before I put on the KRK KNS 8400s, and they sounded good, if a little bit midbassy. The next sentences are following a good listen with the KRKs. The Shures also handled speedy guitar well, though the notes are a less distinct. Notes blend together much more on the Shures. Some sibilance came through on really high notes. Biggest difference so far is the soundstage. The Shures don’t have much depth or width, it’s almost a wall of sound effect. The treble doesn’t extend as far and isn’t as clear; it has a kind of sweet character to it, while I prefer a more precise sound. The Shures really paired well with Feist’s voice, and caught the same background noises. The Shures are louder than the KRKs with all the settings the same, though their impedance is higher. In fact, I’ve had to turn them down. They hurt a bit at the volume they are outputting. The bass is more present in the Shures, but less extended and less refined. I am not really digging the bass on these. I tend to prefer a more analytical sound, and the forward midbass is bothering me and making my ears hurt. These are more forgiving of flaws in sound. This might be due to the more compressed soundstage, but is also due to lower resolution compared to the KRKs. I have to say, though, if I hadn’t listened to the KRKs first, these would sound nicer than they do. They have a nice overall sound, just not as balanced as I’d like. We’ll see if they show more realistic characteristics after some Binkster burn-in.
Comfort: The headband is awful. It is hard and heavy with metallic feeling corners. I’ve been wearing these for 20 minutes and I already want to take them off. I’m also feeling a little pressure on my jaw. Your results may vary. The coiled cable is heavy, which causes complications for portability.
Isolation: I can hear outside noise fairly decently, it seems like female voices are easier to hear.
Price: Bought from Thomann.de while living in the UK for €77 ($105/£67). Thomann ships to the UK for €10 (£9), free on orders over €199 (£173). These headphones are great value for money.
Head Direct RE0
First, some background on these headphones. These phones were burned in using the XLO Reference CD followed by TARA Labs Cascade Noise. I burned them in for over 50 hours in this way. The burn in actually made the treble harsher than out of the box, at first, but music smoothed it out over more time. Bass was enhanced by burn in. I remember listening to songs with these and hearing layering that I never knew about, and having soft backing vocals and the sound of the recording room appear with wall accurate reverb distance. However, the stock tips did not work well with them, in fact, they were very mediocre. Many people recommend Shure olives, but I like the flex and feel of silicone tips. I ended up with fake Sony hybrid tips bought off of ebay, and they really brought out the bass, with a very small treble sacrifice.
Before my two full-size cans arrived, I gave these about 3 hours of Binkster Pink/silent/white/silent noise burn in. It did very little; these do have about 2000 hours of music play on them, after all.
To the comparison! For IEMs, these RE0s have good soundstage depth, but the stage is narrow. Instruments are separated with a nice bit of air in between them. The bass extends very well, but isn’t forceful in any way at the sub-bass levels. You have to listen for it on some tracks. Dragonforce’s Heroes of Our Time has a low rumbling bass, that you have to work to hear, but it’s there. Electric guitars have a nice crunch. Drums are fast and well defined. These sound a lot like the KRK KNS 8400s with less bass and less soundstage. Both have a feeling of the instruments floating in the ether with their great instrument separation. I can still listen to songs and think WOW! I think imaging on these RE0s is better than the other two headphones, the channel identification is brilliant. The RE0s have more soundstage depth than the Shure SRH440, but not more than the KRK KNS 8400. On Lazy Line Painter Jane, the female vocals sound best on the RE0. In fact, female vocals sound best on the RE0. RE0s are less forgiving of source and bad/old recordings; on Gone Fishin’ the static is loudest on the RE0s.
Comfort: I wear these over the ear with press on ear guides, so I’ve never had any microphonic problems. I just cinch them behind my head and go. My ears are sensitive to having things in them, so after a couple days with these in for more than 2 hours a day my ear canals start to hurt, which is why I ordered the full-size cans.
Isolation: The world outside the headphones does not exist at normal playing volume.
Price: I got these in the USA, for $80 (£50/€65), and they are still a steal.
Overall, I like the KRK KNS 8400s most at baseline, but it will be interesting to see how these do after burn-in. The RE0s held up really well to the two full-size cans. A consideration that I will have to look at in the future is sound leakage as I share an office.
I’ll have updates after burn-in and office use.
Sorry for the double post. When I submitted the other post site maintenance was going on, and I was told to come back later, so I didn't think that the post went through. Guess it did. If a moderator sees this, one of the posts can be deleted.
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