How and why should I spend more than $200 on reference headphones?
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Margse

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I like my sound balanced, neutral, and detailed. I'm not an audio professional, just a listener, but that's what pleases me. At home I listen with a pair of Genelec 8050 monitor speakers and adore them. Now I need closed headphones for office use, and am looking at options.

It seems AKG K371 is an obvious great candidate. Hits the Harman curve accurately, great sound for money, bonus points for decent portability. At their price of $150 they aren't maxing out my budget, but the question I'm asking myself is, what more can I get if I spend more?

This is where I turn to you. Given my preferences, what models should I consider if I go up to say $300-$600, and how would they improve over K371? What about something like $600-$1200?

The source will be a Corda PCSTEP DAC/amp.
 
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gimmeheadroom

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I haven't heard the AKGs but I got a pair of DT1770s recently and if you need a set of closed cans I can recommend them. But I would recommend upgrading your amp. Jan has the Corda Jazz-ff on sale for ridiculous low money. It does a great job with my Sennheiser HD 600s. What I didn't expect is that it drives my LCD-2C fantastically.

I don't have the Jazz in the same country as my Beyers but based on how it drives the HD 600 I fully expect it will drive the DT1770s perfectly.
 
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easo91

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I like my sound balanced, neutral, and detailed. I'm not an audio professional, just a listener, but that's what pleases me. At home I listen with a pair of Genelec 8050 monitor speakers and adore them. Now I need closed headphones for office use, and am looking at options.

It seems AKG K371 is an obvious great candidate. Hits the Harman curve accurately, great sound for money, bonus points for decent portability. At their price of $150 they aren't maxing out my budget, but the question I'm asking myself is, what more can I get if I spend more?

This is where I turn to you. Given my preferences, what models should I consider if I go up to say $300-$600, and how would they improve over K371? What about something like $600-$1200?

The source will be a Corda PCSTEP DAC/amp.
I mean, couldn’t the same question be asked regarding the difference between a $200/speaker presonus vs your $1800/speaker genelec? As you move up the ladder it’s subtle improvements of transient response, lower harmonic distortion, detail retrieval, etc. I imagine if you’ve been primarily a speaker guy primarily to this point, moving up the headphone ladder might not be as satisfying because you will never get the 3D stereo imaging you can get with a good near field pair because you aren’t getting the natural cross feed like you are with stereo speakers and crossfires circuits for headphones and binaural stuff is not nearly as convincing.
 
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I like my sound balanced, neutral, and detailed. I'm not an audio professional, just a listener, but that's what pleases me. At home I listen with a pair of Genelec 8050 monitor speakers and adore them. Now I need closed headphones for office use, and am looking at options.

It seems AKG K371 is an obvious great candidate. Hits the Harman curve accurately, great sound for money, bonus points for decent portability. At their price of $150 they aren't maxing out my budget, but the question I'm asking myself is, what more can I get if I spend more?

This is where I turn to you. Given my preferences, what models should I consider if I go up to say $300-$600, and how would they improve over K371? What about something like $600-$1200?

The source will be a Corda PCSTEP DAC/amp.
1. Maybe you'd want it more Harman Curve-y, that's up to you. Maybe you'd want it less. That might be perfect for you now, that might not be true after you hear others. That said, don't blow a chunk of your budget on return shipping and repacking fees if those are perfect to you now, wait for an opportunity to go listen to them in one place when the pandemic has died down.

2. You can get an absolutely flatter response from 1000hz to 10hz on a HiFiMan - no boost to the lowest bass range. Problem is that usually trade some scalloping on the midrange, but then again that might actually just give you more of the Harman curve in some ways ie reducing the midrange instead of just boosting either end.

3. Maybe you'd want more spacious imaging.

4. Note that whatever you get aim for sensitivity above 96dB/1mW and impedance well below 150ohms as a rough estimate so you don't need a Jazz FF to go with it.
 
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Margse

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I mean, couldn’t the same question be asked regarding the difference between a $200/speaker presonus vs your $1800/speaker genelec?
Absolutely, and I don't mean to doubt that there is a difference in headphones as well. But as indeed I'm more familiar with speakers, I'm wondering about things like whether one starts to hit diminishing returns (in terms of money spent) faster with headphones, or if there's some clear transitions like "if you go up to model X at ~$600 you'll get a significant boost to imaging/detail/whatever, but beyond that you have to go up to the thounsands to get further notable improvements".

Also very welcome would be some notable models at different price points, that I could then go read more about, or if I'm lucky, find a local pair to test listen. (I appreciate @gimmeheadroom's mention of DT1770, will check.) I've been browsing a bunch of reviews and recommendations, but it can be hard know if the people judging the 'phones have the same ideal in mind as I do. For instance, yesterday I spent a while reading reviews on Aeon 2 Closed, but in the end got frustrated with finding all kinds of touchy-feely descriptions of "smoothness" or "liveliness" or whatever, but not being able to find a decent frequency response graph.
 
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gimmeheadroom

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Measurements are usually not very important. If a headphone has a particularly bizarre response it will be well known. Otherwise the correlation between measurements and how good something sounds is far from causal. Not to say "the facts" aren't important but there are a lot of variables in measurement and there is no one correct chart for all seasons. In the end, how it sounds to you is what matters.

There is some difference at price tiers but that's usually about materials and extras rather than sound quality. Some inexpensive heaphones are difficult to beat at any price and there are occasionally very expensive headphones that have sonic flaws.

Headphones sit on your head and touch your ears. There are more variables in headphones than in most audio gear. Nobody can say what is comfortable for you or what sound signature is best. You have to get to it over years of experience. Sometimes you get lucky. Other times it could take years and cost hundreds of lives :D

Because of that, probably the most useful observations you can get from other people is their feelings about this or that pair of headphones.
 
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Margse

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There is some difference at price tiers but that's usually about materials and extras rather than sound quality. Some inexpensive heaphones are difficult to beat at any price and there are occasionally very expensive headphones that have sonic flaws.
This sounds like exactly the kind of insight I'm looking for. Would you be willing to elaborate on this? For instance, I assume there's some bottom price level that's the cheapest at which you start finding these inexpensive headphones you mention, that in terms of pure sound quality compete with the best. Where would you place this price level?

I agree with your point about the short-comings of measurements, but they do sometimes allow to overcome the flip-side, the short-coming of subjective reports, which is that there's a lot of psychology going on with people hearing what they want to and expect to hear, and also simply having different preferences, which presents quite a challenge for communication. Ideally I would just go test listen to everything, but I just did a tour of the local audio stores yesterday, and the selection was pretty abysmal (it's not a big city).
 
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You write that you love the sound of your speakers but need closed back headphones, so your here asking questions. Makes sense being this is a headphone forum with people who chose headphones, maybe more than speakers? Those Genelec 8050 look pretty nice, but I’ve never heard them. And yes, there are ways that speakers can excel at reproduction of music that’s difficult and different for headphones. Your thinking about the $149 AKG headphones but want to know what spending maybe $600 would get you.

I have way less experience with full-size headphones but do own a number of pairs, but mostly I’m an IEM person now. Still the basic concepts are the same. The main trick here that I’ve not seen posted is knowing your tone. It’s “OK” to try and replicate the “tone” you like from the Genelec 8050 speakers, but it’s probably going to be more complicated than that. Meaning yes, we all the time say, these IEMs sound like these full-size headphones or that these full-size headphones sound like speakers. Still there will be way more noticeable things just by demoing gear. And when you are trying out gear, it may be confusing as it takes time for our brains to adjust. Meaning your brain respects the Genelec 8050 response and it doesn’t question it. For the time being you have gotten comfortable with your speakers tone as well as their detail, and maybe even used to the speakers imperfections. You don’t question your system but jump into the music.

So it’s a level of detail as well as one character and overall technicality which will make you happy when you find this new headphone. Though keep in mind it’s the synergy of the whole system. With that said everything affects everything. Amp power, DAC detail, damping factor. Due to these variations there will even be some headphones which just seem more correct than others. It doesn’t always mean those correct headphones are the best but they are matching your tone and your upstream system. I say this because it’s at times easer to look at whole systems. It’s actually less confusing to look at whole systems at times.

Also because we have $200-$300 THX amplifiers and small powerful DAPs that may be better than what you already have. So in hindsight it may actually be better to get both a headphone and DAC/amp combo?

I say this because you could spend a ton on an expensive headphone and not only not get the full potential from it, but have your investment be hindered by what’s up stream. Going to a Head-Fi meet or finding other systems to hear will offer a view into the alternative possible paths to go than just buying the $149 AKG.

Also (not to complicate things...but) what is correct as an artifact for some is what people actually view as wanted color to others. Also just to slightly complicate matters you may want to try some IEMs, as they are a great deal now.......and have become a real problem solver due to the sound quality to price value. IEMs are the biggest changing area of Head-Fi.

I recently purchased an open box of the aging Sony Flagship MDR-Z7 for $360. Also you may want to look at other AKG full-size headphones. Sony has done great work with closed backs. Also I would suggest any of the Foster line. That would be the Denon AHD-7000 and AHD5000 in the past.....and the E-MU Teak now!

I have always leaned more toward closed backs as I am one of the few people who really think they are better. I just like the bass sound. So at this time I enjoy the Denon AHD7000, the Sony MDR-Z1R and Sony MDR-Z7. Sony has also just come out with a MDR-Z7 MK2, which is insanely popular on the forums right now.

So probably I would suggest trying the Sony MDR-Z7MK2 yet I have not heard it. I do pretty much know how it sounds. It’s actually a combination of my Z7 and Z1R headphone. They are easy to drive and really comfortable to wear.

But you may find them too colored? That’s the thing, is finding your tone should be the ultimate goal at this point. Also keep in mind it may take a month before you truly know what will work. At times, and especially since your used to speakers, you will need time to adapt, with music (from your new headphones) continuing to sound off at first.

https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/e-mu-teak-headphones.21741/reviews



https://www.amazon.com/Sony-MDRZ7-Hi-Res-Stereo-Headphones/dp/B00NBMHT7Q
 
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gimmeheadroom

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No question that many times if somebody pays big money for something it's difficult to admit that it's crap or even that it is good but he doesn't like it. Fortunately, there is a lot of info on this site and there are expensive cans that not everybody likes.

A lot of people feel the Sennheiser HD 600 is difficult to beat for any amount of money in terms of smoothness and accuracy and just enjoyability factor. I'm among them. They have a strong clamp and it takes some dedication to break them in or get over it.

Another great set of cans for all-around listening is the Audeze LCD-2C (classic, not closed). They are just a wonderful sounding pair of headphones that do a lot well with no obvious flaws. However they're heavy and while many people find them comfortable, many people do not.

There are too many variables to list all the possibilities but if people need a place to start and they listen to mainstream music both these headphones are unlikely to disappoint other than comfort-wise which is difficult to know until it's too late. And although the HD 600 is broadly useful and so is the LCD-2C they're not tops for classical although the HD 600 is better than the LCD-2C in that area.

There are other headphones that are known to do one specific thing well. For instance the Fostex variants (not including tr50/60rp) do percussion incredibly well.

The more you can say about the kind of music you like and about what you want and don't want in the sonic signature (flatness, emphasized bass, treble etc) the more people can think of suggestions.
 
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The more you can say about the kind of music you like and about what you want and don't want in the sonic signature (flatness, emphasized bass, treble etc) the more people can think of suggestions.
My taste in music is pretty eclectic, anything from classical to rock to hip hop. In terms of sonic signature, I like them flat and detailed. That's what I love about my Genelec's, what I perceive as a "natural" and balanced sound (they are meant for studio reference use).

Thanks for the suggestions. It gives me an idea of the price range I was asking for, but unfortunately I do need the headphones to be closed. I'm currently listening on my old AKG K601s in the office, and my office mates are listening with me whether they like it or not...
 
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gimmeheadroom

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There is a thread lately on closed cans, if you can't find it let me know and I'll try to.

I have only two closed headphones, (Mass)drop Fostex TR-X00 and Beyer DT1770s.

The DT1770s are a nice all around set of closed cans with a flattish signature. I don't hear it, but a lot of people say they pick up every detail. To me, and I have not compared them back to back, they feel like a closed set of HD 600s.

The Fostex are kings of percussion. They're lightning fast, drums, snares, sticks, everything percussion sounds lifelike. But they have a strong V and for me are unlistenable without EQ for almost anything other than Latin instrumentals. And I don't like using EQ...

Some people like the LCD-XC enough to have sold their 2Cs. I haven't heard the XC but if you want a closed set you should look for threads on those here.
 
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I like my sound balanced, neutral, and detailed. I'm not an audio professional, just a listener, but that's what pleases me. At home I listen with a pair of Genelec 8050 monitor speakers and adore them. Now I need closed headphones for office use, and am looking at options.

It seems AKG K371 is an obvious great candidate. Hits the Harman curve accurately, great sound for money, bonus points for decent portability. At their price of $150 they aren't maxing out my budget, but the question I'm asking myself is, what more can I get if I spend more?

This is where I turn to you. Given my preferences, what models should I consider if I go up to say $300-$600, and how would they improve over K371? What about something like $600-$1200?

The source will be a Corda PCSTEP DAC/amp.
There's no reason to spend more if the 371 suits you. I had the Nightowl, AKG K872, Sony MDR Z7 and the Fostex TH900 here and prefered the 371 over them all. 371 is an excellent allrounder with no weaknesses. It can't match the details of higher end models but in contrast to all the above mentioned it's tuned really good (at least for me) with a neutral slight harman tuning. So no reason to spend more if you like the tuning.
Unlike a HD600 the 371 does not scale high in my experience. 371 on low end or mobile setups sounds really good. Plugging it into a highend setup doesn't change much. 371 on a low end setup is a sweetspot for price performance that you won't get anywhere else.
 
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