K501s and HD580s: Comparative thoughts
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afogs

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Hi,

I bought the HD-580s (my first pair of high-end 'phones) about 2.5 months ago on Ubid for under $100 (it was just about the last of their HD580 auctions, as far as I can tell) and have been very happy with them.

I'm powering them from a Creek OBH-11se (off of a Sony NS500V) and have been happy with the combination. The problem was that since this was my only system for a large portion of my apartment, listening was strictly a solo activity, which was no good for me, my girlfriend, friends, etc. especially when I wanted to share some great music.

So since I didn't want to spend the 130-140 which was then the best price on 580s, I went in search of lower-cost 'phones that would be close enough to the 580s in efficiency to be run at the same-ish volume at the same volume setting.

I initially decided on lower-cost Sennheisers (212s), but then realized that what I really wanted to do was to try the AKG K501s. My music is exclusively classical/jazz/blues and so from what I read it seemed I was an ideal K501 customer and I remember trying a pair of AKGs years ago and finding them extremely light and comfortable. So I took the plunge: $150 at Headroom (so much for saving money on the second phones!), comforted by the fact that if I didn't like them, I could send them back.

So I received the 501s and tried them on Brahm's Clarinet Quintet, a piece I had been listeing to the day before on the Sennheisers.

WOW!

The clarinet sounded so sweet and clear, beautifully musical. The whole quintet was more inviting than I remembered it from the night before, though I had thought it terrific even then.

Over the couple of weeks since then, I've tried to AB these phones a bit, without letting the "equipment check" get in the way of enjoying the music. Even with an OBH-11se, it is not trivial to AB them, because the K501s play quite noticeably (though not hugely) quieter than the 580s at the same volume setting and because the K501s sound much better plugged into the OBH-11se solo, without the 580s plugged in. (I think it is because the sockets change impedances when two phones are plugged in, but maybe it's just an issue of power/volume.) Here are the observations I've made/opinions I've formed:

1. The 580s do have a darker, mellower sound than the brighter 501s. Some people who've made the comparison say that the 580s sound "muffled" in comparison, even to the point of saying that it sounds like the music is in the next room. That last strikes me as a crazy overstatement. But I do think that there seems, in comparison with the 501s, to be something like a (minimally helpful simile incoming!) sheen of oil over the music from the 580s. It gives the music a pleasing shine, but also can take away a bit of freshness and "involving-ness." That is an effect that is very nice sometimes, but really doesn't work very well (I think) for something like John Lee Hooker's raw early music. I wonder if this is what people mean when they talk about the 580s having a "laid back" presentation?

2. At the same time, there is no doubt that there is something more insistently present about the 580s. As my girlfriend put it, the music with the 580s is just more *there* (cupping her hands around her ears.) I think it may be something as simple as its level of isolation. When the 501s are on and play, you can hear just about everything in the room around you. The sound is airier in some way, but it can also seem to be just one of the things that are entering your ear. The 580s have more of a (Mr. T incoming!) "Here's the music, fool." kind of feel, where the music is really the only thing that you're hearing.

3. The bass. There is no question that the bass is heavier in the 580s and lighter in the 501s. I do have to say that at the moment, I prefer the 501's bass. I think after comparing to the 501s, the 580s felt like they had a "fatter" bass than I liked (though I certainly was not dissatisfied until I'd made the comparison.) It does seem like bass on the 501s is "tighter" and on the 580s the bass somehow seems to take up more sonic "room," kind of smearing out somehow. (Boy, if there is one thing writing these comments has convinced me is that English (or maybe us I) doesn't (don't) have as good a sonic vocabulary as a visual/spatial one.) I don't think it is by any means obvious that one ought to prefer the 501 bass, especailly if bass quantity is more important in the music one listens to than it is in what I listen to. But there is something crisper, if lighter, about the 501s in the lower registers, and that's a sound I seem to prefer.

In sum, I'm glad I have both 'phones. I think if I had to keep just one it would be the 501s, but it's better to have both.


Anyway, I'd be interested to know what other folks think.
 
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jpelg

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Quote:

But there is something crisper, if lighter, about the 501s in the lower registers


That's because there ARE no lower registers on the 501's!

 
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lextek

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I also found the 501's a little thin in the bottom. Awesome mids/highs.
 
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Nick Dangerous

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Keep in mind that amp synergy is playing into this.

The behavior you described is similar to the experience I had with my Creek long ago... something the X-Cans and especially the MG Head OTL drastically improved upon.
 
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andrzejpw

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Keep in mind, that I LOVE jazz. Before the WOH tour, I was quite ready to trade my 580s in for 501s, because I heard they are magical with jazz. Then, when I listened at the WOH tour, I was VERY surprised. The 501s just didn't do it for me. The bass wasn't there, and, from memory, I think they might have bit a bit shrill.
This is all from memory though. I'm not making this up now. I can't exactly describe their sound from memory, just that I preferred the 580s.
 
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lextek

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I recently reaquired a pair HD600's and am using them with a Creek OBH-11 with the upgraded power supply. Even with the stock cable the Creek might be adding some zip the the HD's. I found the Creek a little edgy with the 501's. The HD/Creek is a very , nice mix.
 
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jerikl

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andrzejpw - same thing for me too. I love jazz as well... thought the 501's would be cool, but turns out... they weren't. Oh well, I still love my Senn 600/MG Head combo.
 
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lextek

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Tough combo to beat. With the right tubes....Ah glowing glass tubes. Solid state is just a black box.
 
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legoman

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to each their own
and when you find that special amp/headphone combo
STOP READING HEAD-FI
 
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lextek

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Easier said than done.
 
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daycart1

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Quote:

Originally posted by afogs
2. At the same time, there is no doubt that there is something more insistently present about the 580s. As my girlfriend put it, the music with the 580s is just more *there* (cupping her hands around her ears.) I think it may be something as simple as its level of isolation. When the 501s are on and play, you can hear just about everything in the room around you. The sound is airier in some way, but it can also seem to be just one of the things that are entering your ear. The 580s have more of a (Mr. T incoming!) "Here's the music, fool." kind of feel, where the music is really the only thing that you're hearing.


One person's "air", "separation" and "huge soundstage" can be another person's "lack of presence, cohesion and focus". I enjoy the Senns focus and (the one time I heard them) the AKGs soundstage.

BTW: Brahms Clarinet Quintet is great test music (great music period!). I've got nine different performances!
 
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lini

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daycart1: Interesting method, btw - thus you can always chose the right music to provide the right sound with your daily choice of equipment. Good trick! Now, where will I get nine different mixes for all my CDs?


Grinnings from Munich!

Manfred / lini

P.S.: Oh, never mind....
 
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nick danger

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There are not too many headphones better than the two you mentioned. I like them both very much.

I appreciate the job that has been done with the 501s. To my ears they sound just like my speakers. Well balanced - detailed - musical and a great headstage.

I think that when I compare the speakers to the headphones the tonality is very similar. Not so with the 580s, they are a bit muddier in comparison. I think that the sound of the 501s just gets clearer and clearer as you progress up the amp-chain.

I just picked up a Headroom Little and will try the 580s with it to see if they get clearer and clearer.

I might like to hear more bass with the 501s, but I'm not sure if that would be a headphone that I would like. I'll just turn on the subwoofer if I need to feel bass. I'm not convinced that headphones are too be the final say in the lower frequencies. Too close to my ears for comfort.
 
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pigmode

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Funny, I thought the AKG 501 reminded me of my speakers (LS3/5a).


Great summary, afogs, I used to own the 580 and still have the 501. The 501 is just a bit forward for my taste, but its sweet midrange makes up for it. In terms of bass, the 501 goes a bit lower than it might seem at first, because it starts to roll off at about the same point that the Senn starts booming away like crazy.
 
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