is high detail and resolution possible at low volumes?
Mar 14, 2006 at 9:20 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 33

davidhw

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First, let me thank everyone who helped out with my previous DAC question. As I stated there, I came here a week ago to sell my headphones, not predicting that the more I read, the more it renewed my interest in the price/performance ratio of the "headphone lifestyle".

Here's my problem. I have Meniere's Disease, which, without going into all the gory details, means that I have 24/7 tinnitus, ear pain, and compromised hearing. It is in no way related to my listening habits; it's purely one of those things that some people get and it's incurable.

What this means in practical terms is that headphones (my old Senn 580s) seemed to cause my ears to hurt after only a few minutes of listening. Now, I'm not sure if that's because I didn't have an amp or any fancy equipment to drive them and thus had to have the volume higher than necessary in order to hear the nuances of my musical genre (classical, specifically chamber and solo keyboard) or not. But I'm guessing it might have been part of the reason.

So my question is, is there a headphone out there that, with modest additional equipment (say, a Micro Amp and DAC from Headroom) would be able to present very clear, hyper-detailed, breathtakingly nuanced music at a LOW volume -- my theory is that if I could keep the volume low it would (1) not cause my ears to hurt, and (2) do no further damage to my already damaged hearing. If there is such a headphone, maybe I might be able to make an educated purchase and re-enter this crazy world you all seem to inhabit. :)

Does this sound reasonable? Or are there no headphones that meet this criterion, even with proper amplification?

TIA.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 9:36 AM Post #2 of 33

fewtch

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Perhaps a canalphone (IEM)... Etymotic ER-4? Seems to me if it blocks out external noise, it's gonna sound much better at a low volume. They also have very high sensitivity.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 9:51 AM Post #3 of 33

catscratch

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I wouldn't suggest the ER-4S, since to my ears it has a treble spike, and the treble/upper midrange frequencies will be quite loud while the rest of the music won't be, defeating the whole purpose. I think that custom-molded canalphones will give you good fidelity at low volumes, but I also think that electrostatic headphones are an even better solution. They simply hang together at far lower volumes than dynamic headphones, and don't need as much juice to sound open and detailed.

I'd say go with the Stax SR-404 (SRM-006t or third-party amp preferably) if you want a brighter presentation, or with the SR-007 (Headamp KGSS or Blue Hawaii for good synergy) if you have deep pockets and want a fuller sound with more body. A used Lambda Pro with the SRM-1 Mk II amp is probably the best deal in this whole hobby, if you can find one in good condition.

You can also use EQ to give a subtle boost to the upper treble and deep bass/midbass, since your ears will not perceive a linear headphone as being truly linear until dB levels start getting quite high, and both frequency extremes will feel attenuated at low listening levels.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:08 AM Post #5 of 33

fewtch

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How about a combo of both (canalphones and 'stats)? Stax SR-001 Mk2
smily_headphones1.gif
Maybe someone who owns them can say for sure whether they have great response at low volume levels.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:09 AM Post #6 of 33

Carl

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Another vote for electrostatics. You can really go quite low with them.

If you need dynamic headphone, the Audio Technica W5000 is suprrisingly suited to low-volume use, IMHO.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:12 AM Post #7 of 33

davidhw

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OK, I've googled this Stax SR-404 headphone, and I must say I've not seen anything like it before. Electrostatic? Hmmm. I'm not up on my technical knowledge. (I should just google "electrostatic".
smily_headphones1.gif


I do know a 1.35 micron diaphragm sounds like an expensive heartbreak waiting to happen should an errant finger press too hard.
eek.gif
Or is not as fragile as it sounds?

I'll do some searches here at Head-Fi for more information on the Stax SR-404. What does it normally go for pricewise in the U.S.?
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:13 AM Post #8 of 33

catscratch

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Quote:

Originally Posted by fewtch
How about a combo of both? Stax SR-001 Mk2
smily_headphones1.gif
Maybe someone who owns them can say for sure whether they have great response at low volume levels.



This system is a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to volume. On one hand, it's very smooth and not fatiguing, but on the other hand it can play really loud, and it's smoothness means that you'll often underestimate just how loudly you're listening to it. I hurt my hearing with this very system by blasting it at stupidly loud levels over and over.

Still, it's not expensive and sounds fabulous, so it makes for a good way to try out electrostatics.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:14 AM Post #9 of 33

smeggy

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Quote:

Originally Posted by fewtch
How about a combo of both (canalphones and 'stats)? Stax SR-001 Mk2
smily_headphones1.gif
Maybe someone who owns them can say for sure whether they have great response at low volume levels.



The 001 should be ok as long as you can adjust the treble up on them, ie. computer media player. They certainly have the detail but are rolled off at the top, tinitus would make it worse.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:15 AM Post #10 of 33

davidhw

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That is something I've not considered. My only concern there is the intrusion into the ear canal, something I'd prefer to avoid. I'd like to keep a little air between my eardrums and the sound source. But maybe I'm wrong; I definitely will study up on this option as well.

Now I'll take a look at this Audio Technica W5000 . . .

[on edit: OK, these are a bit out of my budget, i.e., translation: "I would be out of my marriage if I bought these" LOL]
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:20 AM Post #11 of 33

smeggy

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Quote:

Originally Posted by davidhw
That is something I've not considered. My only concern there is the intrusion into the ear canal, something I'd prefer to avoid. I'd like to keep a little air between my eardrums and the sound source. But maybe I'm wrong; I definitely will study up on this option as well.

Now I'll take a look at this Audio Technica W5000 . . .



The Stax 001 doesn't go right into the canal, it rests at the top of it. Like putting your fingers into your ears, they really don't go in very far. Your eardrums are still a good distance away.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:21 AM Post #12 of 33

davidhw

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Sorry smeggy, I didn't quite catch the meaning of that.

But you're right, aggravating the tinnitus is something I want to avoid, and high-frequency sound played too loudly can do it. My hearing loss is (for now) in my left ear (starts fading out at 7000 Hz and cuts off at 8000 Hz with the tinnitus frequency right around 9000 Hz). So when the good right ear (fine up to 15,000 Hz) hears a high-frequency tone normally, the brain (or so the theory goes with tinnitus) tries to match it with an equally high tone in the damaged ear, a la an aural "phantom pain" thus causing a painful feedback loop.

These options you all are presenting however sound like they might solve some of this if the high-frequencies can be met without a correspondingly high volume.

[on edit: point noted about the Stax 001's lack of total canal invasiveness -- thanks]
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:25 AM Post #13 of 33

fewtch

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Quote:

Originally Posted by davidhw
But you're right, aggravating the tinnitus is something I want to avoid, and high-frequency sound played too loudly can do it. My hearing loss is (for now) in my left ear (starts fading out at 7000 Hz and cuts off at 8000 Hz with the tinnitus frequency right around 9000 Hz). So when the good right ear (fine up to 15,000 Hz) hears a high-frequency tone normally, the brain (or so the theory goes with tinnitus) tries to match it with an equally high tone in the damaged ear, a la an aural "phantom pain" thus causing a painful feedback loop.

These options you all are presenting however sound like they might solve some of this if the high-frequencies can be met without a correspondingly high volume.



Sounds like you don't want the high frequencies at all. Have you considered getting a digital equalizer like Behringer DEQ2496 and just rolling things off below 8 KHz for both ears?
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:29 AM Post #14 of 33

smeggy

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Quote:

Originally Posted by davidhw
Sorry smeggy, I didn't quite catch the meaning of that.

But you're right, aggravating the tinnitus is something I want to avoid, and high-frequency sound played too loudly can do it. My hearing loss is (for now) in my left ear (starts fading out at 7000 Hz and cuts off at 8000 Hz with the tinnitus frequency right around 9000 Hz). So when the good right ear (fine up to 15,000 Hz) hears a high-frequency tone normally, the brain (or so the theory goes with tinnitus) tries to match it with an equally high tone in the damaged ear, a la an aural "phantom pain" thus causing a painful feedback loop.

These options you all are presenting however sound like they might solve some of this if the high-frequencies can be met without a correspondingly high volume.

[on edit: point noted about the Stax 001's lack of total canal invasiveness -- thanks]



Rolled off treble means that the high frequencies are less prominent than the mids or lows and it's a gentle slope, hence the term 'rolled' this may be good for you as they are very detailed but lack the piercing highs you fear. They are a very musical and gentle sounding 'phone. Completely absent of harshness and very smooth. Also very cheap. See my current Stax SR-003 thread for a more detailed view, it's the same headphone.
 
Mar 14, 2006 at 10:29 AM Post #15 of 33

davidhw

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You'll have to explain this "rolling off" concept. I apologize for the ignorance. Do you mean just adjusting the +8KHz "sliders" "down"? (How's that for beginner-speak?)

Could such a "rolling off" be done with, say, the EQ on iTunes if I wanted to use my computer as primary source?

[on edit: thanks, smeggy. I'll check out your thread.]
 

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