REVIEW: 5 sub-$150 sealed headphone compared
Jul 27, 2007 at 1:00 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 159


Reviewerus Prolificus
Apr 30, 2005
The Court of the Crimson King

I decided to review 4 popular closed headphones that cost less than $150, and one far less known: the AKG K81DJ, Audio-Technica AT-ES7, Denon AH-D1000, Equation Audio RP21, and the more obscure Koss MV-1. I used the Sennheiser HD25-1, re-cabled with Headphile V2 Blackmax cable, as the reference.

I compared the headphones on Sound Quality, Isolation, Comfort, and Portability (which I define more as durability than as smallness).

Most of my listening was done with a Meier Audio MOVE portable amp and the iMod iPod, but I also listened to each with the Meier Audio Opera (with my PC driving the Opera’s DAC).

Note also that almost all of these headphones have been described in gory detail on head-fi, and my aim here is to compare them, not fully describe each.

All headphones were purchased by me. I used both the K81DJ and HD25-1 for a lengthy period of time (almost a year) and know them extremely well. The others I bought for this review, and broke in for 150 hours before evaluating.




The HD25-1 was the best sounding of these headphones, but only by the narrowest of margins. The Senn’s mids are the purest of the bunch, and that’s what won it for me. By comparison, the mids of the Denon are a little cloudy, the AT’s a little harsh, and the RP21’s a little dry, but all of those have enjoyable mids in and of themselves. The Koss’s mids are HIGHLY colored, and the K81DJ’s are far less transparent than the others.

Midrange Ranking: HD25-1, D1000, RP21, ES7, K81DJ, MV-1

In the treble, the HD25-1’s also excel. But the Denon is also very good. Both have nicely detailed, smooth treble, although the HD25-1 has more extension, and more treble energy than the D1000. The ES7 has a little too much treble energy and is a little edgy, but if you like that “hot treble” sound, you will like the ES7 perhaps most of all. The RP21’s treble is decent, but it has a kind of dry, “chalky” sound that I found to be less than involving, and a little annoying (although not harsh-sounding). The K81DJ’s treble is a little soft, but it isn’t too bad. The Koss MV-1’s treble is SEVERLY rolled off and shelved down compared to the rest of the spectrum. It’s got the least amount of treble I have ever heard from a headphone that claims to be a hi-fi headphone. What’s there is reasonably smooth, but it’s just way too recessed.

Treble Ranking: HD25, D1000, ES7, K81DJ, RP21, MV1

These cans are ALL strong bass performers. A hallmark of closed cans in general is bass performance, I suppose. They all have ample bass, and their bass is generally very enjoyable. The HD25-1 actually has the least amount of bass, and the MV-1 has the most. The MV-1’s bass is actually very good, but it’s so screwed up in the rest of the frequency spectrum it’s hard to get much benefit from it. The D1000 has fat, punchy bass that has nice weight but lacks a little depth and definition. Same with the ES7 and the 81DJ. The RP21 hits deep, tight, and has good weight. It wins this category.

Bass ranking: RP21, HD25, D1000, ES7, MV1, K81DJ.

Soundstage is a mixed bag with closed cans. In general they are more closed off than their open brethren. Still, most of these had a decent soundstage. The ES7 benefits here from that extra treble zip, and the MV1 suffers big time from its lack of it. The HD25 is strong, and the D1000 and RP21 are decent. The 81DJ is only fair.

Soundstage ranking: ES7, HD25, D1000, RP21, K81DJ, MV-1.



The MV-1 is just far too colored to take seriously or to recommend. The K81DJ is pleasant enough, but isn’t in the same league as the top 4. All of the top 4 are quite satisfying, and on pure SQ alone, the HD25-1 isn’t worth the extra scratch versus the others. But with this category of headphone, there are other considerations:


What matters here is how well do they isolate from outside sound. All of these are sealed enough that they won’t be heard by other people when you use them. And this varies WIDELY, from the HD25’s which isolate well enough to be used on many airplanes in lieu of IEMs, to the D1000, which basically don’t isolate at all.


So as well as the Denon does in every other category, if you want a isolating sealed can, it’s not for you, and the ES7 really isn’t either.


Once again, there is a huge change-up here. The Denons simply BLOW AWAY the rest. It’s no contest at all. You can make the RP21’s very close if you replace their stock earpads with Beyer “pleather” pads (or real leather if you can score a pair).


I did reconsider my “bottom of the barrel” comfort rankings after spending some time doing more comparisons. Fact is, only the top 3 can really be considered “comfortable”. The others have to be judged on the level of the un-comfort.

It’s worth pointing out that with the exception of the ES7, relative isolation and comfort appear inversely related. The ES7 disappoints by being fairly weak at isolating AND pretty uncomfortable. Not a good combination.


Do my main criteria here is this: if I throw them in a briefcase, will they be OK?

The HD25’s are without peer here. Light, crazy-strong-durable, and while the stock cable sounds kinda bad, it’s made of steel. The RP21, MV-1, K81DJ, and ES7 all have earpads that swivel so they can “fold flat”, which is of some convenience. However, the ES7’s have a easy-to-mess-up mirror finish, and lose points. The MV-1 and RP-1 are fairly big. The K81DJ has WAAAAY too long a cord. The D1000’s would benefit if their earcups swiveled, but they are pretty tough and very light. So while all of the cans below the HD25’s have issues, here is how I scored them:



So, is an overall ranking fair, or even possible? I’m not sure. There are SO many factors involved here, and there are so many differences. But I am not shy, so I am offering my opinion, but you should pay more attention to the factors above than the overall ranking below.


Yes, this mirrors the SQ rankings, and I do put a huge premium on that. And for airplane use, the rankings would basically be 1. HD25-1; 2. Use an IEM/NC can. And if you like a REALLY WEIRD sonic signature, you might put the MV-1’s at the top, since they are pretty comfy and isolate pretty well. If you don’t need isolation the D1000’s probably win, with their “are they even still on my head” comfort level. It you like a very forward sounding spectral balance, and don’t have an issue with vice-like supra-aural headphones, then the ES7’s might be for you.

As for me, nothing dethroned my HD25-1’s, although I am going to keep the D1000’s for times I want an on-the-go can but don’t need isolation.

Comments, counter-claims, and general discussion welcome!
Jul 27, 2007 at 1:10 PM Post #2 of 159
That review was just what I and probably many other forum members have been looking for!!
Excellent review skylab!!
Jul 27, 2007 at 1:14 PM Post #4 of 159
Fantastic read as always. Thanks for putting the time and effort in to do this review. It is nice to see some feedback on the less expensive cans out there.

Quick question, I see that you are a fan of the HD25 but you rank it fourth on the comfort scale. You also indicate that the only the top three can really be considered comfortable, and the others ranked on the uncomforatble level. So is the HD25 really that uncomfortable?
Jul 27, 2007 at 1:15 PM Post #5 of 159
This really makes me want to try a pair of D2000--I know, he reviewed the D1000s, but the step up is just so tempting.
Jul 27, 2007 at 1:29 PM Post #6 of 159
Fantastic review....might force me to upgrade from the ES7's.......eventually.
Jul 27, 2007 at 1:48 PM Post #8 of 159
Thanks everyone.

Digihead, the HD25's aren't Super-uncomfortable, but they are nowhere near an comfortable as a circum-aural can IMO. I can wear them for about 2-3 hours before my ears start to hurt.
Jul 27, 2007 at 1:51 PM Post #9 of 159
Well written as usual Sky.

I like your choices for category rankings and glad you included a section for soundstage.
Jul 27, 2007 at 2:28 PM Post #11 of 159
Thank you, Skylab. But now it's frustrating as all I want to do is try these phones for myself. I just wish my wallet would quit its dieting regiment, doesn't seem to be helpin' anyone!
Jul 27, 2007 at 2:29 PM Post #12 of 159
Interesting. No one ever mentioned RP21's chalky signature, before. Good to know.
Jul 27, 2007 at 2:40 PM Post #13 of 159

The ES7 has a little too much treble energy and is a little edgy, but if you like that “hot treble” sound, you will like the ES7 perhaps most of all.

I can vouch for this, I think AT's treble is really set to that. Sometimes I cannot handle the treble of my A700s because I cannot stand it sometimes, it feels like it's piercing my ear drum.

Too bad the D1000 cannot isolate well enough, I might be looking into the RP21s it that bad? I have my A700s and it's terrible whenever I take it for my bus rides (or commuting). I can hear outside noise like I have some open cans on.
Jul 27, 2007 at 3:19 PM Post #15 of 159
Thanks for the review, it inches me closer to the HD25. Really too bad that the D1000 does not isolate
To be fair, the HD25 is not sub $150, especially after adding the Blackmax cable!

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