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Looking for a good pair of open-back headphones under 300

  1. JellyJason
    Hello! I am look for a good pair of open-back headphones.

    I am not much of a audiophile. I haven't listened to many systems. I don't lose sleep over High-Res or redbook lossless, either. 320 kbps streaming sounds perfect to me. I had the Sennheiser HD800 with the HDVD800 amp. I absolutely loved the large sound stage, the transparency and the clearity. However, I found it to be a quite tedious to use: I had to plug the amp into a power supply, and plug my computer into the amp. When I went home every summer, I had to bring everything with me on the flight. All these things kind of took the fun out of the experience. So I opted for a pair of Sony WH1000MX2. It is wireless, so I found myself laying on my bed listening to music a lot. They certainly are much more user friendly than the HD800. I love them and take them everywhere. There's only one thing wrong: I often found myself missing the sound of the Sennheiser.

    College is very expensive! I want a pair of quality hi-fi headphones that don't break a bank. I'm going to drive it with a dragonfly red, or another portable DAC/amp, if you have better suggestions.

    I liked the openness of the HD800, so I mainly researched about open-back headphones. Here's the ones I heard good things about (sorted from cheapest to most expensive):

    Hifiman HE400i ($186)

    Beyerdynamic DT880 ($198)

    Edit: AKG K702 ($225)
    (Forgot to include it when I posted.)

    Phillips Fidelio X2 ($240)

    HD 600 ($286)

    Grado SR325e ($295)

    I really should listen to all of them and pick my favorite. However, I am at State College, PA, the archetype of a college town, and cannot find a hi-fi headphone store around me. So I have to relay on your advice! So thank you a lot.

    I meanly listen to instrumental music (classic, jazz, contemporary), and some vocal. Sound quality is my top priority, but I also take comfort and price into consideration. It has to be suitable for mobile listening, means I can drive it with a smartphone or laptop with a USB amp/DAC like the Dragonfly Red. (The HD600 and DT880 250 ohm seems hard to drive. But DT880 is also available in 32 ohm impedance.) Low impedance that I can drive with a smartphone/laptop without an amp is preferred, but by not required. Other suggestions not on the list are welcome. Close-back is fine if it provides the same openness.

    (I may sound like a Sennheiser fan, but that's actually because I have not listened too many other headphones before.)
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2018
  2. Me x3
    Quality source is a must in order to get quality sound, no matter how sensitive/efficient the headphone is.
    I understand what you mean when it comes to big desktop setups lacking versatility, that's why I use a quality DAP instead.

    With regards to the headphones, the AKG K701 will give you the bigger stage and the most forward sound, followed by the AKG K702 which is slightly warmer. These two headphones have a strong character (upper mid forward), if you're picky with sound signature don't buy them without a listen. Keep in mind HD800 is slightly recessed in the upper midrange instead of slightly boosted, so these AKGs are very different headphones in that regard. Both AKGs are harder to drive than HD800 and HD600/HD650. Fidelios are bassy and not particularly detailed headphones, night and day coming from HD800.
    DT880 is very similar to the HD800 when it comes to sound signature, but it's not as open sounding (still more expansive than HD600/650). Beyerdynamic DT880 (600 Ohm) is the best DT880 variant and can even best my Sennheiser HD800S in some regards, but not soundstage or layering of course. I've owned DT880 Pro (250 Ohm) in the past and it's still a very good headphone, slightly harder to drive than the HD800 I had at that time. From memory the 250 Ohm version wasn't as resolving or natural as my current 600 Ohm version, but I've sold my DT880 (250) before getting my DT880 (600) so take that with a grain of salt. I've never seen someone recommending DT880 (32). HD600 is compact and forward sounding, slightly warm, slightly dry and not very airy. It's great at vocal rendering, but very different from HD800 in terms of balance. Grados are not known for providing a big soundstage, they are typically intimate sounding instead. HE400i is not known for having a big soundstage either, although HE560 could work (but it's also considerably harder to drive - just a tad harder than AKG K7-series which is harder than HD800/HD600). You can also read about the AudioTechnica AD900X which is very sensitive and should provide an open soundstage.
    johnnyb likes this.
  3. johnnyb
    I too have been seeking that natural sound for acoustic, classical and jazz. I have DT880 in the 250 ohm version, and always found it wanting in the classical arena. A bit depressed in the mids for my taste. The HD650 is a step up however. Very natural classical music presentation. A little laid back (and some don't like that), but it sounds natural to me. After becoming sold on the Sennheiser, though, I did give the DT880's another try with jazz and found that they do nicely there. The depressed mids work well with solo instruments like sax and trumpet and the heavier low end makes the bass player stand out.

    I agree with Me X3's comment on quality source. I rather like the idea of a battery in my dac/amp, as I want reduce computer noisiness in the power supply, so I went with Topping NX4DSD and it's good for my purposes.

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