May 14, 2011 at 9:44 AM
- Dec 13, 2009
- Reaction score
- Dec 13, 2009
[size=16.0pt]Impressions and comparisons: Pioneer Monitor 10; AKG K240 DF; Pioneer Monitor 10R; Philips N6330; Sony DR 6A; Sony MDR CD900 ST; Beyerdynamic DT48E.[/size]
As the title suggests this work is devoted to summarize impressions and to compare the headphones based on these impressions. Everything I write is subjective so please take it with a grain of salt. I will try to approach these headphones as if they are new for me although after a year of experimenting with set ups and listening you do learn.
Set up: CD690 + Little Dot Mark V + headphone
The CD690 CD-player made by Philips. From the headphone out it sounded dull but connected to the Mark V it becomes a very suitable transport.
The Little Dot Mark V needs no introduction on Head-Fi. I connected the CD-player and headphone amplifier with some HQ Silver Series RCA cable, it has a better build quality than most stock RCA cables I have seen and is not very expensive.
All test tracks will come straight from the CDs compiled on two discs in WAV. I ripped the tracks via Windows Media Player and burned the playlists on the CDs. Before actually listening with the headphones I first ‘warm up’ the headphone drivers with heavy Trash Metal à la Gore (Hart Gore) and the Isotek disc (Full System Enhancer & Rejuvenation Disc). My experience with burn in is that is sometimes works, sometimes it does not.
Dire Straits – Money For Nothing (Brothers In Arms) Disc one!
Yes – Roundabout [Early Rough Mix] (Fragile)
Suzanne Vega – Cracking (Book & A Cover)
Florence + The Machine – Dog Days Are Over (Lungs)
Kate Bush – Sat In Your Lap (The Whole Story)
Norah Jones – Creepin’ In [With Dolly Parton] (Feels Like Home)
Lynn Collins – Think [About It] (James Brown’s Original Funky Divas)
Kyuss – 50 Million Year Trip [Downside Up] (Blues For The Red Sun)
Rush – YYZ (Moving Pictures)
The Academy Of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, Marisa Robles, Iona Brown – Beethoven: Six Variations on a Swiss Song (Harp Concertos)
Weather Report – Birdland (Heavy Weather)
Ton Koopman – Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor (J.S. Bach Organ Works)
Run DMC – Rockbox (Run DMC)
Massive Attack – Angel (Mezzanine)
King Crimson – Larks’ In Tongues Aspic Pt. 1 (Larks’ In Tongues Aspic) Disc two!
King Crimson – Larks’ In Tongues Aspic Pt. 2 (Larks’ In Tongues Aspic)
Charles Mingus – Better Get Hit In Yo’Soul (Mingus Ah Um)
S. Richter, Wiener Symphoniker, H. von Karajan – (Tschaikowsky!) Concert for Piano and Orchestra Nr. 1 in B minor, op. 23: Allegro (Klavierkonzert Nr. 1 & Preludes)
Idem ditto – 2: Andantino (“…”)
Idem ditto – 3: Allegro (“…”)
Skinny Puppy – Assimilate [R23 Remix] (12 Inch Anthology)
King Crimson – 21st Century Schizoid Man/Mirrors (In The Court Of The Crimson King)
Pioneer Monitor 10
Specification: 4 - 16 ohms, SPL 100 dB, frequency range 20 – 20.000 Hz.
Set up: CD690 + Mark V (20/100)
Impressions: the track list kicks off with “Money For Nothing” and the intro sounds right, just right. What immediately grabs my attention is the loudness since I keep playing with the volume, I settled on 20. For volume settings I focus on the low notes and the vocals. The music is presented very directly yet still sounds as the artists intended it to sound. The vocals have a ‘realness’ that surprises me. “Cracking” just began. I am temporarily lost for words with this track. The harp and hand claps welcome Florence. Here comes the bell and at 2:15 the pace picks up again. Kate Bush’s games with sound also work out. Norah Jones and Dolly Parton on a swinging Country track followed by Lynn the preacher Collins, I love the drum break. Kyuss follows with an epic intro that turns into a groovy Trash Metal groovy work of art, I love the fade out. “YYZ” is just pure fun. The bass and the percussion up to now did not sound ‘too light’. Marisa Robles and the harp sound as if in the room, quite typical with the old Pioneer. The dynamics in this solo piece sound clear without lacking warmth and weight, especially noticeable in the lower notes. “Birdland”, pure fun again going full blast with Bach. I can follow the melodies and little transitions but I have my doubts about the low notes, church organs. Thing is “Rockbox” just rocks with heavy beats and screaming guitars. My head hurts but listening to “Angel”: a scary bass groove with hovering vocals followed by heavy beats; I cannot take this heavy thing off. Time for a break and disc two. King Crimson’s epic work of musical/sound art for which I have little to no words but with the Pioneer not one little sound escapes. I almost feel like I am the microphone save for the fact the volume is too low for that actual sensation. Mingus follows with a jazzy adventure, the drummer and horn section are having so much fun. Richter and an orchestra, reality just changed into bliss. Bombastic/large scale music definitely becomes an experience. Flute and piano just after the 10:05 on track 4, magic. The low end is appropriately present, I cannot complain. What surprises me is how Skinny Puppy does not sound ‘bass light’. If anything the Industrial sounds better than expected. The vocals are quite easy to follow. The 21st century is next, King Crimson as dessert. This track is a challenge on its own.
Summary: clear with a tendency towards brightness; very even presentation combined with an emphasized midrange (so it seems); the low range is present but reserved for when challenged, so it seems even though the bass quantity does not disappoint; bass is very tight; instrument separation and sound stage work, I have heard better but the orchestral tracks did not sound smeared and the last track was easy to follow.
AKG K240 DF
Specification: 600 ohms, SPL 88 dB, frequency range 15 – 20.000 Hz.
Set up: CD690 + Mark V (35/100)
Impressions: the DF is known to be a ‘precision instrument’ among headphones, that is very apparent. Vocals also have a ‘realness’ but it sounds as if there is a direct emphasis on the vocals but there is no hint of brightness. “Roundabout” started and posed me for a problem: the DF sounds right on volume with “Money For Nothing” (40) but too loud with “Roundabout” which is annoying so volume was set to 35. Whilst being a ‘precision instrument’ the DF does sound ‘fun’ if the music was intended to sound ‘fun’. The DF is a chameleon in that regard but the precise definition of each little sound is something that still surprises me, especially the bass lines on “Roundabout”. I love the drum without snare on this track, the contrast with the high hat is striking. Suzanne Vega sounds without equal. The sense of space with the DF is unreal with acoustic tracks like these. The instrument separation and immersive sound stage combined with the precise definition of each sound add to a sensation of realness. Kate Bush sounds busy but she does not confuse you. Bass is present, tight though and more to my liking than the old Pioneer. The DF sounds less fun and overall clearer and better defined: a subtle but striking difference. “You’d Better Dance” is easier to understand, JB on “Think”. For now I am stunned by the brilliance of the DF. Marisa Robles on harp sounds as if she is playing behind me. Bach, church organs in a good recording either sound good or bad through the headphone. The DF sounds as if it was made for church organs and still “Rockbox” sounds like it should. The energy in the in the kick drum and guitar solos sounds focused. “Angel” sounds less intimate and less bass driven on the DF but the clarity and detail are better for it. King Crimson follows and I cannot find anything wrong. Thankfully there is Charles Mingus to cheer you up. The trumpet solo sounded wonderful. Tschaikowsky time for now and the DF now reveals the source of this recording, either tape or vinyl since there is a gentle but audible hiss. Despite the hiss I enjoy the music more through the DF. The better clarity makes a difference. The attack and decay of the piano and build up from the string sections sounds more energetic and precise. The orchestral percussion sounds anything but weak. The Industrial sounds flawless, the vocals are easier to follow too. King Crimson, the clarity and detail really add to the vivid sensation of listening to “21st Century Schizoid Man/Mirrors”. I feel as if I am in the midst of the performance of the track yet I can still hear the slight hiss that comes with this recording.
Summary: clear with a very precise definition of every sound in the recording; great instrument separation and immersive sound sound stage; Jazz, Classical music and more acoustic tracks sound ‘special’; slight emphasis on the midrange and still a chameleon with all types of music; unexpectedly musical sometimes.
Pioneer Monitor 10R
Specification: 35 ohms, SPL 106 dB, frequency range 5 – 28.000 Hz.
Set up: CD690 + Mark V (20/100)
Impressions: synthesizers and Sting, then the drums announce themselves while the sense of space of this particular recording absorbs you. The guitar and bass welcome Mark Knopfler and the anti-MTV song kicks of lyrically. There is an added brightness to the precise definition of every sound. The lesser sense of space compared to the DF is not bothering me since the instrument separation is outstanding. I will often mention the DF since it is my benchmark headphone. Again “Roundabout” is a problem with volume; I am going from 30 to 25 on the Mark V. The bass lines sound a bit more muscular and clearer compared to the DF, a very subtle difference. The thing with this headphone is the subtle way in which everything I hear has a ‘directness’ that adds to the sensation of ‘realness’ when listening to the music. Despite the ‘directness’ nothing sounds boosted, just a tad brighter and that is why I often feel the DF sounds a bit polite. The sounds effects and echos are easier to distinguish and now I am closer to heaven with Suzanne Vega. “Dog Days Are Over” sounds too loud, volume is set to 20. The 10R is sensitive for volume settings. 20 is good. Preach Lynn, preach: “You’ld better think!”. I am having trouble sitting still. The sense of space and background vocals on this track is amazing. Kyuss, the attack in the intro from the drummer followed by the build up into the groove just made me lost for words. “YYZ”, the bass sounds more present until the guitar steps in. Drums with the 10R have an edge, slight but in a good way. Marisa Robles on harp, as if she is playing in my room. Too bad the subtle hiss of the Mark V is audible, the vinyl sensation I guess. “Birdland”, I am having an eargasm. Bach time, the DF sounded a smidge warmer but again it is subtle and subjective. I prefer the 10R for Bach since the tone and sound stage sound a bit more precise for me. “Rockbox” rocks hard and “Angel” sounds as if I am in the recording. King Crimson to resume service after some fruit and listening to birds. “Larks’ In Tongues Aspic” keeps fascinating me. The lonely violin making way for intriguing strings fading out to return energetically sounds like a whisper in my ear. After the sensation of part two Jazz, cheerful Charles Mingus. “Oh Lord I know what I know”, indeed and clap your hands if you enjoy the trumpet too. The magic of Richter and the Vienna orchestra just grabbed my attention. The sound stage seems just as sufficient as the DF, less immersive though. The DF sounded a bit warmer and the old Pioneer more ‘fun’. The hiss is revealed and little sounds are more present. But no more, with thumping beats, synthesizers and weird samples Skinny Puppy enters my ears. The sound stage gives room to the many sound effects. From disturbing to distorting as in King Crimson when the train arrives. Another musical chase for audio adventurers.
Summary: clear with a definite brightness; again a very precise definition of every sound in the recording; great instrument separation and a flexible sound stage; chameleon type headphone with subtle characteristics that still surprise me.
Specification: 600 ohms, SPL 94 dB, frequency range 16 – 20.000 Hz.
Set up: CD690 + Mark V (30/100)
Impressions: the music begins, one of my favourite intros just went by. Vocals, this old headphone has a way of emphasizing the voices. “Money For Nothing” sounds spacious yet limited in its sound stage. There is a more muscular bass with the N6330; I think a mid bass bump, a pleasing one at that. The presentation is warm and detailed. The Yes track, volume is set to 35 (from 40). This headphone has a quality that is special: within a short time listening with this headphone becomes addictive since – for instance – “Roundabout” sounds genuinely ‘fun’. Forget about revealing clarity. The vocals take you away; drums sound energetic; the bass buzzes like a bee and the others happily join. Add to that the tonality and timbre when Suzanne Vega and the acoustic guitar work their magic on me. I am lost for words now since harp strings, hand claps and the mighty bell accompany Florence with such convincing presence. I should lower the volume to 30 but I prefer loud bliss over softer precision. In short: this is fun. Volume is set to 30, after some audio indulgence. Marisa Robles on harp, the intimate presentation of her solo is a pleasure. Bach time, wonderful music but the sound stage could be better and the low notes lack the more linear extension. For all that I have already written, the precision is not gone from this old beast. “Rockbox” rocks hard yet ‘boomy’ with a slight emphasis on the guitars. I love the vocals. “Angel” demonstrates the bass bump, the weird sound at 0:43 sounds a bit softer. I am still in a state of audio bliss so a break is in order. King Crimson time! Listening with the N6330 sometimes feels like sitting front row in a small performance room with a ‘warmer’ sound adjustment. The DF and 10R sometimes cause the same sensation but on the more ‘clinical’ side. Charles Mingus, the bassist sounds a bit too present otherwise this track is a joy to listen to. Tschaikowsky, there is a subtle lack of detail but Richter and the Wiener Symphoniker sound so present and lifelike. I am under the spell of the N6330 for now. The old hiss sounds a bit softer. The mid bass bump adds to the ‘adventurous’ nature of this recording. Skinny Puppy sounds very pleasant; I like the thumping beats and emphasized vocals. King Crimson again, the more muscular sounding bass sounds very pleasant. I love the bass lines.
Summary: clear yet not as revealing as the DF and 10R; detailed and warm; mid bass bump, pleasing at that mostly; good instrument separation and flexible sound stage; bass extension is good; definition slightly loose; still very precise yet intimate and ‘fun’ in its presentation, the midrange and vocals have an edge.
Sony DR 6A
Specification: 8 ohms, SPL ??? dB, frequency range 20 – 20.000 Hz?
Set up: CD690 + Mark V (20/100)
Impressions: time for an obscure studio Sony. SPL should be high since even my phone can power it, jay for efficiency. Back to the music, vocals stand out as if you are in the studio when the vocalists are doing their thing. Sound stage sounds limited. I do not get the sense the sound stage is of the expanding type. There is a ‘dry’ or as I prefer to call it, neutral to cold sound signature but not a typically bright one. The 10R sounds bright, this old Sony sounds rather midrange emphasized and less spacious. “Roundabout” sounds too loud, volume on 20 (from 25). I do not think the bass sounds boosted. There is either a bass roll off or bass is very linear, but I am not sure yet. Something strange, this headphone sounds rather mono. I have its consumer oriented sibling called the DR 5A which sounds very spacious and stereo. Despite the different presentation and rather mono sound; sound effects and echos within the studio are very audible. For my senses Suzanne Vega sounds so ‘real’ that I cannot escape the notion of how dull her vocal delivery comes across. The dramatic Florence sounds more engaging. Kate Bush; time for games in sound. I really have to compare this oldie with my 10R, CD900 ST and DT48E-25. Instrument separations is great, if the Bach and the Tschaikowsky tracks work out this could be a very interesting headphone. Bass is tight and extended, just the way I like it and not too present. I like the sound signature of this headphone. Kyuss, the attack is good and yes this headphone is stereo. The groove is there but you really have to listen to be able to follow it. The highs sound a bit less emphasized/present but it is subtle. Volume set to 15 for Marisa Robles on harp sounded almost ear piercing, I did not expect that. The tone and weight in the plucking of the snares, also in the faster parts sound good but there either seems to be a hint of congestion or the microphone reacted weird to the harp. Dynamics and highs are a problem? Break time, the clamp of this thing is almost unbearable, impressive isolation though. Volume back to 20 after the harp music. Bach sounds good and the sound stage sounds rather small. The low organ notes are quite something through this Sony. “Rockbox” rocks, the smaller yet flexible sound stage makes for an engaging listen. Time for the angelic bass test and this old Sony impresses me a lot. The old Pioneer does not sound as tight as this old Sony. Time to get fascinated again, King Crimson is back. The Sony sounds just as detailed as the DF. Charles Mingus sounds present in the room, this is fun. Break time, terrible clamp. Piano and orchestra sound very pleasant and the hiss is there. The sound stage is sometimes a bit too small for the recording. The piano really shines. Break time, clamp! More Tschaikowsky, there is a musical yet dull tone to the music. Industrial sounds good. The beats, samples and sounds effecs sound clear. Last track: King Crimson enters the 21st century and the chase begins. The Sony is at least as ‘neutral’ as the DF with a serious discomfort issue.
Summary: clear with a revealing sound signature; detailed, very precise definition of every sound in the recording; ‘neutral’ as in ‘dry presentation’; good instrument separation combined with a limited yet flexible sound stage; the headphone sounds flat with an emphasis on the midrange and vocals.
Sony MDR CD900 ST
Specification: 63 ohms, SPL 106 dB, 5 – 30.000 Hz.
Set up: CD690 + Mark V (15/100)
Impressions: what first stands out when listening is the detailed presentation combined with scarily realistic voices and in a compact yet spacious enough sound stage. It feels as if the details are directly heading at you, Sony brightness. The hiss from the Mark V is there too until the music starts. Yes sounds too loud; volume set from 20 to 15. Listening to the music feels like listening to chopped bits of music at which my 10R is even worse, I am having fun. Clarity abound, ‘neutral’ in a bright yet airy way. The tones and timbres though this headphone are a sensation to listen to. Harp, Florence and hand claps, as if they are performing in front of me. Even if for me the 10R is slightly better overall the clarity and brightness through the CD900 ST are a silencing sensation. The being there sense is a joy, especially if you appreciate the many clues you get about the music. Lynn time, the sound stage sounds quite large. Drums, guitars, bass, Kyuss! The bass lines are easy to follow, bass sounds tight. Marisa Robles on harp sounds wonderful despite the Mark V hiss just. If I would set the volume even the slightly higher the harp tones would become unbearable. There is a rushed sensation while listening to music, music sounds faster. Bach time, the precision with which each note in the church is being presented is captivating. This Sony is a match for my DF on Bach. Clinical beauty comes to mind. The DF is a smidge warmer, very subtle. I have a hard time believing what I am hearing. The lowest notes are there, yet lack a bit of weight, subtle bass roll off I guess. Run DMC rocks loud and hard, Sony brightness and energetic music have an edge. “Angel”, the bass sounds textured with a tendency towards one note bass, a slight tendency at that but it is present. King Crimson, through the CD900ST there is a very likeable directness to “Larks’ In Tongues Aspic”. Part two is no different. The CD900ST is revealing of both recording and listening set up. Charles Mingus, the Sony has an edge for Jazz and acoustic recordings. The drum solos sound breath taking. Time for a piano and full orchestra; the sound stage does not sound too small and the piano is the central instrument but the positioning of the instruments further away is not as good as on the the DF. The little sounds in the recording are very audible. I am in a state of bliss and all that remains is to close my eyes. Low end response sounds very good without overbearing impact from the percussionists. Skinny Puppy sounds intense with good bass and magical vocals. From weird to weirdness; King Crimson announcing itself by train.
Summary: clear to bright, revealing of both recording and listening set up; detailed with very precise definition of every sound in the recording; great instrument separation combined with a compact yet flexible sound stage; sounds flat with an emphasis on midrange and scarily realistic vocals; the music sounded faster.
Specification: 25 ohms, SPL 105 dB, 16 – 20.000 Hz.
Set up: CD690 + Mark V (20/100)
Impressions: there are few words that describe what goes through my mind at the moment but the word ‘lifelike’ crosses my mind often. If a magnifying glass improves your vision on all small things, the DT48E improves on your ears on whatever you can hear in a recording, even recordings you know very well. The Mark V hiss is there too. Voices sound so present you are bound to look around. Midrange and highs are a sensation. The low notes are present but in a subtle way; bass is very tight. “Roundabout” has the muscular bass lines and kick drums. The detail and speed are almost overwhelming. Music sounds much faster, faster than the already fast CD900 ST and 10R. Suzanne Vega, whispers energetically with her half singing vocals in my head followed by harp strings and Florence. The moment you become fully aware you are listening to music with a DT48, the DT48E-25 in my case music becomes a sensation you do not just listen to, you feel you become part of the music. Forgive my subjective writings but I have just entered a new kind of reality, music. I might be more objective later on. Norah Jones and Dolly Parton on a Country tune, this is a pleasure. As overwhelming as my DT48 sounds on the clarity and detail; I cannot call it bright. Preach Lynn preach! Kyuss sounds awesome, this DT48E-25 and Mark V might be a match. The sound stage is limited but I will be sure after I have listened to the orchestral piece. Instrument separation is great. I could set the volume to 15 but I prefer the extra loudness. Marisa Robles on Harp, the plucking of the snares and the tones just sound right. Bach, the sensation of softly feeling your heart pumping blood through your vessels while the glorious “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” enters your head is weird. Despite that the sound stage and definition of every note is of such precision I can only enjoy the analytical beauty of Bach’s work through the analytical DT48E-25; there is a sparkle, a notion of energy my DF and 10R do not seem to posses. Rock Box, I should lower the volume but I prefer not to. “Angel”, this old thing has massive amounts of accurate bass. After a short break time for King Crimson. I am fascinated beyond any expectations by this music. Time for Jazz, joyful Jazz. Orchestral music sounds like it should. There is noticeable more hiss, old recordings. The sound stage is good enough for orchestral works yet sounds a bit limited. Skinny Puppy just went by in a rush without emphasizing the heaviness in the thumping beats and extra ordinary vocals while King Crimson remains a musical chase without equal.
Summary: clear to revealing of both the recording and set up; detail can overwhelm you; detail is at least as good as the CD900ST and 10R; great instrument separation combined with a flexible yet limited sound stage; sounds flat with an emphasis on the midrange and vocals are on par with the CD900ST; the music sounded slightly faster than the CD900ST and sometimes it was hard to keep up.
Comparing these headphones, right? I already compared the headphones somewhat in the ‘impressions’ but regard these as indications. Comparing these headphones for me is not as easy as it seems since I have to work with aspects that matter to daily life.
Ease of use: of all the headphones I tested the 10R and CD900ST are the easiest to use in daily use. The 10R does sound weak from a weak headphone out though. The DT48E-25 requires some adjustments before use, perfect seal is of great importance! The DF is easy to use in a quiet environment with a capable amplifier and that also counts for the N6330. The Monitor 10 is a heavy beast and can be uncomfortable but the DR 6A is just a pain on the head.
Listening: with regards to listening I emphasize this aspect because ease of listening matters in daily use. All the headphones except the DT48E-25 are quite easy when it comes to ease of listening. The DT48E-25 does not just require you to adjust for perfect seal. In addition to that you also need to stay focused when listening to the DT48 because you have to keep up with its presentation of the music. If you do the reward with great recordings can be an addictive and involving listen; it just does not come easy.
Sound: how one perceives sound and its ‘presentation’ is subjective. In my opinion the most likeable headphones are the DF, 10R and CD900ST. The Monitor 10 and N6330 have their charm but you have to like them. The DR 6A sounds dull and somewhat limited and then I am left with the DT48. The DT48E-25 requires getting used to in just getting started listening and both in staying focused listening but you will only understand that if you actually take the time for the DT48E-25.
Rewards: I mention this because this aspect is a deciding factor in whether you keep a headphone or not. The generally more pleasing headphone is the N6330 for its warm and involving presentation. The others are more or less more clinical and sometimes even dull in their presentation. The Monitor 10 and DF are more analytical where the DF takes the cake for precision with still a smidge of warmth. The 10R, CD900 ST and DT48E-25 go one step further and work like analytical tools to listen with. Of the three for me the DT48E-25 is one of the most demanding and merciless headphones you can find but with that good recordings and any emotional tour de force in music can become a sensation on its own. The DR 6A is dull and brutally honest as well but the pressure on my head was close to unbearable within half an hour.
I originally intended this ‘Impressions & Comparisons’ to find out which headphone was a keeper since I have to decrease my headphone collection. Finishing the track list was particularly challenging but now I have a set of reference tracks. The set up consisting of the CD690 and Mark V surprised me. I quite like it.
In the ‘impressions’ I often mentioned the words ‘clear’ and ‘clarity’ since the first thing I judge a headphone on is on how easy I can distinguish everything that is going on in the recording I am listening to. Second is bass and vocals. Overall I prefer the more studio oriented headphones and as such prefer the analytical presentation of a more boring sounding headphone.
The headphones? Well the 10R and DT48E-25 are definite keepers for me. The DF is a maybe and the others have to go.
P.S. Pictures will follow.
Edit 22/05-2011: just a clarification actually. The 10R, DT48E-25 and Monitor 10 are keepers while I will replace the K240 DF for a CD1700. A DT480 will also be added. As for the DT48E-25 I have at the moment; I prefer it with amplification.
Update 19/07-2010: after much thinking and considering what I want in my future set up - if all goes well - I have to let go of my Pioneer Monitor 10R and Monitor 8. I hardly use the 10R and I can miss the 8 as well. I prefer to stick to my K240 DF. I think it is better to sell or trade the Pioneers combined, also for the collectors.