Tested and compared: Ultrasone PROline 550, 650 and 750 + the HFI-550 and 650.
Oct 3, 2004 at 8:50 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 44

JensL

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A friend of mine got some contacts within in the business, and I’ve been nagging him lately to get me some headphones for testing. This time he got hold of some of the new Ultrasone PROlines, and now I got them.
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Also, I got a few HFI’s, which I haven’t heard before.

Ultrasone have released many new headphones lately, so I was eager to test some of them.

As always, I think a direct comparison is the best way to find the nuances and differences between headphones, and what sound I prefer. Therefore, I've tested the Ultrasones against an assortment of my own phones. I left out the HFI-15G, as it is a very different class. A shootout with the Beyerdynamic DT231 is further down.

[size=small]The Contenders: [/size]

Ultrasone PROline 550 (64 ohm) List price: $235
Ultrasone PROline 650 (75 ohm) List price: $285
Ultrasone PROline 750 (40 ohm) List price: $370

Ultrasone HFI-15G (32 ohm) List price: $85
Ultrasone HFI-550 Beatmaster (64 ohm) List price: $172
Ultrasone HFI-650 Trackmaster (75 ohm) List price: $198

My own headphones:
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro (250 ohm) Headroom: $229
Beyerdynamic DT880 (250 ohm) Meier-Audio: $265
Beyerdynamic DT231 Pro (32 ohm) Headroom: $59
Audio-Technica ATH-W1000 (40 ohm) Audiocubes: $459

The PROlines have been burning in continuously for almost 3 days, so they should be good to go. The HFI’s have less than 10 hours, so I guess they’re not adequately burned in.

[size=small]Sources: [/size]
CD-player: T+A CD 1230 R (Costs $2000 new)
Portable: iRiver H320 ($400)

[size=small]Amplification: [/size]
MAD Ear++ with Auricaps, Alps Blue Velvet and an excellent 5-star GE triple-mica 5751 tube. ($435+)

[size=small]Cables:[/size]
Just some Cardas 300-B Micro interconnects. Headphone cables are all stock.

[size=small]Music used:[/size]
Mark Knopfler: "Sailing to Philadelphia" (2000)
Rage Against The Machine (Their debut album from 1992).
Massive Attack: "Protection" (1994)
Nick Cave: "No More Shall We Part" (2001)
Roger Waters: "In The Flesh - Live" (2000)
Nils Petter Molvær: "Khmer" (1997). A Miles Davis inspired Norwegian trumpeter, who sometimes includes hard techno rhythms.
And misc. MP3's on the iRiver.


[size=small]How I tested:[/size]

Nothing exhaustive, just listening a few hours with each set, to get the feel for them, then trying to switching between them all to the same piece of music to hear the subtle (and not so subtle) differences, one CD at the time. I listened to the phones in the same order, HFI-550 first, then HFI-650 etc. No 120 Ohm adapter was used.
All MP3's on the iRiver is ripped by me using EAC+Lame VBR at 224 kBit/s, as found here: www.bestmp3guide.com.



[size=small]Comparisons:[/size]


Mark Knopfler: "Sailing to Philadelphia" (2000)

HFI-550: First impression: Good bass, but maybe a little dark in the highs.
The presentation is quite upfront and energetic. Its good midbass give the male voices the body needed. The soundstage isn’t the largest, but for a reasonably priced closed phone, it isn’t bad, there’s just not so much room between the musicians. Details are ok, but not very refined or airy, there’s also some grain. The highs are often drowned by the slightly lower frequencies, and can sound a little cramped and close. The bass is bloody deep and hard-hitting, just a tad slow and bloated sometimes, but this is definitely the Beatmasters strong point.
HFI-650: Larger soundstage and not as upfront as its little brother. The highs are better defined and details are easier to pick out, but still a little grainy. The bass is less pronounced and more balanced, but still hard-hitting and deep. It’s slightly faster with less bloat, overall a good, fun bass. The Trackmaster seems to be a very nice closed headphone.
PROline 550: The soundstage extends slightly and seems more coherent. Things are more balanced and refined, especially the highs, although I can’t say they are silky-smooth. Hmm...it’s actually bassier than the HFI650! However, the difference is slight, it seems like the PROline 550s deep-bass is more prominent. I can imagine the bass being overpowering with some music. More on this later.
PROline 650: Smoother highs and a slightly larger soundstage than 550. Bass is more controlled and not as prominent, makes It’s easier to pick out low-end details. The midrange seems smoother and more focused. Overall a more balanced presentation. Not bad.
PROline 750: Hmm…a more noticeable change than going from 550 to 650. The 750 feels more open and airy. It’s easier to pick out details all over the frequency range, there just seems to be more resolution power. The slight graininess seems to be gone. The amount of bass seems to be same as the 650, but quality is better as it is faster and tighter. All this makes the 750 sound very balanced and coherent. It’s a pleasure to listen to.
DT880: Definitely a more neutral approach to bass-presentation. Soundstage is not surprisingly larger, but for a closed headphone, the PROline 750 impresses. The Beyer manages to pick out even more details, and does so with less effort. The biggest difference in the higher frequencies is the smoothness the DT880 has. Voices sound a little clearer and more natural on the Beyer. For this CD, I prefer the DT880, but just barely, so I’m very impressed by the Ultrasone PROline 750.
DT770-250 Pro: Matches the bass-response quite easily, and seems to go even deeper. The Beyer undoubtedly got more bass, but the 750 isn’t far behind and got slightly better control. The DT770s recessed midrange is apparent, but makes the soundstage large and comfortable. The PROline 750 picks out more details all over, and is more balanced and “correct”. I pick the Ultrasone this time, but the DT770 can still be more fun sometimes.
W1000: Feels a bit closer and the bass doesn’t extend as deep. The W1000 is quite engaging and lively. The details in the midrange and highs are fabulous. Voices are rendered with great detail, body and naturalness. There are more bass-slam in the 750, but the W1000 got slightly better control. I guess the Ultrasone is larger and more robust in its sonic presentation, but the A-T is more refined and detailed. Which I prefer for this CD depends on my mood. I suspect the W1000 would win more often, it’s also more comfortable to wear.



Rage Against The Machine (Their debut album from 1992).

HFI-550: Oh man, lots of bass, but fortunately it is of fairly good quality. The upper midrange and highs seems a little recessed. The soundstage isn’t the largest. The Beatmaster is quite energetic and upfront with this CD.
HFI-650: Less bass, but slightly faster and more controlled. Soundstage is larger. The upper frequencies seem a little distant, but there’s an adequate amount of detail. Isn’t as energetic as its little brother, but more “correct” and balanced, which makes it less tiring. A good outing by the Trackmaster.
PROline 550: Yup, actually more bass than the Trackmaster, but is very nicely controlled. The bass is also more coherent and attached to the rest of the range. The bass isn’t overpowering here, but it’s on the verge sometimes. The soundstage is larger and more natural sounding. More refined and smooth all over, a little warmer too. There are more details, especially in the midrange. I can’t say it’s neutral, but it’s great fun with this CD. Also, The 550 got no problems when you turn up the volume.
PROline 650: A more balanced bass-response, but still good fun. It’s easier to pick out bass-details, and it isn’t so close to be overpowering. The soundstage is slightly larger. Highs are a tad more refined and smooth, but it’s difficult to hear with this CD.
PROline 750: Again, a bigger leap than from 550 to 650. A great, natural soundstage with more space between the sounds. The bass seems to be the same amount as the 650, but with even better control and depth. Also, there’s more control when the music gets busier, which often happens on this CD. The 750 is brighter, but also smoother and airier. The fast drums on this CD are reproduced excellently. This is very impressive.
DT880: At first, you feel that the bass is lacking, but it is just less pronounced. The soundstage is larger and airier. The more balanced frequency-response makes it easier to pick out details, but it isn’t very important on this CD. The Beyer is less tiring, but also less intense. I think I prefer the PROline 750 with RATM, the hard-hitting bass just do this kind of music more justice.
DT770-250 Pro: The subwoofer-like bass of the Beyer goes deeper than the PROline 750, but it isn’t as noticeable with this CD as there are mostly midbass. The Beyer got a darker and more distant midrange, but I still find it quite intense with this music. The PROline is more in-yer-face, where the DT770 goes for the guts. Both phones are great fun with RATM, but I think I would prefer the Ultrasone on most occasions.
W1000: Again, closer and less bassy, but the W1000 can be really intense, actually. Zack De La Rocha seems angrier than on all the other phones, and he’s REALLY in-yer-face. The midbass-punch is quite good, and the lack of deep-bass extension isn’t as noticeable, but the 750 is definitely got more bass and is harder-hitting. This time, the Ultrasone should be less tiring, but the W1000 digs up amazing details and intensity, especially in the midrange. Yet again, which I choose depends on my state of mind, but this time I think the Ultrasone got the upper hand, as I’m really not an angry person.


Massive Attack: "Protection" (1994)
(This CD is mostly used to determine the bass-response, but there are some fine female vocals too).

HFI-550: Definitely some deep bass here, it’s apparent that this is the Beatmasters main focus. The smallish soundstage also makes the bass more noticeable. It IS quite controlled, but sometimes it feels a little bloated and slow. I don’t think I will go so far as to call it overpowering, but with different systems, it definitely could be.
HFI-650: The bass is more controlled here, and other frequencies don’t suffer as much. I can’t remember thinking the bass was overpowering with this CD. The female voices sounds better, but still aren’t as smooth as with some other headphones. I still think the Trackmaster is a good closed phone.
PROline 550: The bass sounds a little like the HFI-550s, but is slightly faster and more controlled. The upper frequencies are more refined and balanced than the two HFIs. The females sound better here than on the Trackmaster. I still won’t say that the bass is overpowering, but I suspect that some frequencies do suffer from the heavy bass. Also, some setups with less bass-control, might find the PROline 550s bass too much.
PROline 650: Ah, this is better. A slightly leaner, more controlled bass, which lets the midrange come more into focus. Most people will still regard this as a bass-heavy headphone. There’s less grain, so the voices sound smoother. The 650 is actually darker sounding than the 550, but this makes it more pleasant.
PROline 750: The bass is as plentiful as the 650s, but manages to seem less prominent. Maybe because the rest of the frequencies are better defined? The voices are exquisite. This is still very impressive.
DT880: No surprise; the Beyer lacks the visceral bass of the Ultrasones. But this also makes it easier to pick out details all over, and no one can touch the DT880s amazing reproduction of female voices (or any voice, for that matter). The DT880s soundstage is again larger.
DT770-250 Pro: Again, easily matches the 750s amount of bass, and extends it even further. I think the DT770s bass might be slightly slower, but not by much. The 750 is undoubtedly more balanced, but there is something about the DT770s sound that appeals to me. However, I think I would mostly prefer the Ultrasone for this CD.
W1000: Brighter and more detailed, but also a smaller soundstage. As before, there are less bass, but more of everything else. The midbass is good, but lacks the low, hard punch of the 750. The W1000 treats the female voices slightly better than the 750, but still not as good as the DT880.



[size=small]Shootout:[/size]

Ultrasone HFI-15G ($85) vs. Beyerdynamic DT231 Pro ($59)

I had to add this quick shootout, as the two are fairly equally priced, and I was curious how the cheapest Ultrasone would compare to my sub-$100 favorite.
Both are light, and very comfortable to wear, but the HFI-15G should stay more securely on the head if you’re jogging and such.
The bass and the lower midrange are fairly comparable, the Ultrasone probably got a little more bass, but the highs belong to the DT231. It’s brighter and more detailed. The Ultrasone seems to have a warmer upper midrange, which is pleasant to listen to, but misses a few details. I guess it is a little kinder to bad MP3’s, but I didn’t bother testing that. Both phones respond well to EQ-adjustments on the iRiver H320, especially some added bass.
If you don’t mind losing some details, and like a warmer, smoother presentation, then you might prefer the Ultrasone. The same goes if you are really active, because the HFI-15G really sticks to the head. If you don’t jump around too much, and like details, the Beyer should suit you better.


[size=small]Ergonomics:[/size]

HFI-15G:
Very light, but seems quite sturdy. This is a totally open construction. The pads are made of the same foamy stuff as the PortaPro, but covered in soft fabric. I find them very comfortable to wear, because they’re so light and doesn’t clamp too much. They will stay securely on most skulls, so jogging shouldn’t be a problem at all. The headband is covered in padded pleather. The cable only goes to the left side, which is very practical. Cable is thick enough, seems solid and isn’t very microphonic.
I also think they look kinda cool. Dark, discrete and stylish makes them wearable outdoors even for the most self-conscious of us. Excellent for portable use.
Placement: They’re quite sensitive to placement, the highs will be better if the driver points directly into the ear.

HFI-550/650:

The only difference I can find between these two, is the color of the cups. They’re fairly heavy at 265 grams, but not too bad. The pads are smaller than they look, but most ears should fit. The pleather is actually quite smooth and soft, it feels good on the skin. There’s some clamping, so people sensitive to this, take note. I could use them for at least an hour without feeling the need to take them off. Your ears will get a little hot because of the pleather pads. The cable is quite thick and solid, but is a little microphonic.
The isolation is good, I think it is slightly better than my DT770Pro, but strangely enough, the Beyer seems to block computer fan noise better, the Ultrasones feels a little hollow when no music is playing.
And then there’s the dreaded headband. I guess most people are a little apprehensive when they see it, it’s a little big and clumsy, but it gets the job done. The issues of cracking seems exaggerated, as there are sold a lot of these headbands, and if they really were that bad, they wouldn’t be used. However, I would like to see a redesign soon.
Overall a good construction, nothing fancy or new, but it works.
Placement: The sound doesn’t seem to change much when the driver housing is moved around.

PROline 550/650/750:
They are all identical except for the labels on the sides of the driver housing, and the 750 has velour pads instead of the 550/650s pleather.
Actually, the PROlines are quite similar to the HFI550/650, much because of the headband. The driver houses are round and bigger, which gives the ears some more room. The pleather used for the pads on the 550/650 is similar to the Sennheiser HD280 Pro. The velour pads of the 750 are nice, but not quite up to the standard of the best Beyerdynamics (DT880). All the new PROlines come with an extra pair of pads, and they are very easy to change. Clamping is a little better than the two HFI’s. Isolation is ok, about the same as the DT770 Pro, but got the same hollow feel as the two HFI’s, so the Beyer might be perceived to isolate better, but it’s difficult to say.
The cable seems solid and it is detachable, which brings me to the biggest ergonomic problem with the new PROlines: Cable microphonics. The two included cables (straight and coiled) screws into the left housing with a 1/8” mini-plug, but this mini-plug is quite long and it is angled slightly backwards. This makes the cable rub against the shoulder-area, and it is very noticeable, especially when sitting down and/or leaning backwards. A damned shame, but is it a deal-killer? If you listen to music with many quiet parts or just are very wary of this; yes, it might be. If you like lots of volume and never have a quiet moment, or just don’t care about the noise; you won’t notice it.
Anyway, it’s a little disappointing. I’m very interested to hear other opinions on this issue.
Placement: The drivers got an unorthodox placement on these new PROlines; they’re down and to the front. This makes these headphones quite sensitive to placement. If I push them up and backwards, they sound brighter, but the soundstage seems to suffer a little. Quite interesting to experiment with this.




[size=small]Conclusions:[/size]

Ultrasone HFI-550 Beatmaster ($172)
A dark-sounding, bass-heavy headphone which is a little unrefined, but not half-bad. The bass is deep and hard, but lacks some speed, which makes it bloated and on the verge of overpowering sometimes. I definitely see that the Beatmasters bass can bee too much from some systems, and for some people. It’s great fun when used for gaming, though. Also, when used from my iRiver H320, the bass wasn’t as prominent, but still a little slow. It’s a practical phone that is easily driven by portables and soundcards with good results. I think it can defend its price, but just barely when you take the sub-$100 Sennheiser HD280 Pro into account.

Ultrasone HFI-650 Trackmaster ($198)
I quite liked the Trackmaster, with its more balanced bass and larger soundstage. As with the HFI-550, there are some issues with the midrange. At times there’s just something missing. Maybe the transition between some frequencies isn’t as smooth as they should? The highs are a little grainy and not very refined, but this is nitpicking. The Trackmaster also sounds great directly from my iRiver. When you take everything into account, the HFI-650 is quite impressive, but should cost $20-30 less, much because of the Sennheiser HD280 Pro.

Ultrasone PROline 550 ($235)
Man, this is a bass-beast. Fortunately the bass is fairly well-controlled, but it may very well be too much for some people. You can tell it’s a relative to the HFI-550, but the midrange is much improved, and the highs are smoother and more refined. Directly from the iRiver, the PROline 550 sounds very good, and the bass isn’t as brutal as from the MAD Ear++. This is definitely one for the bass-heads out there. It won’t outdo the Beyer DT770, because that one can go even deeper, but it is damned close.
So, is the PROline 550 worth its price? Hmm…I think it should be below $200, but it is worth the extra cash over the HFI-650.

Ultrasone PROline 650 ($285)
Fortunately, the PROline 650 is a close relative to the HFI-650 Trackmaster. This means less bass, which is better controlled. Interestingly, the 650 is darker-sounding than the PROline 550. This is a good thing, because the highs of the 550 can be a little unrefined at times. Overall this is a more balanced and refined version of the PROline 550, which makes this a very good closed headphone. Is it worth its list price? No, I still think they should be $20-30 cheaper.

Ultrasone PROline 750 ($370)
Now we’re talking serious cash. Fortunately this is a serious headphone. I am very impressed by the 750. It’s quite a leap from the other two PROlines. More balanced and a great soundstage for a closed construction. There’s more resolution, smoothness, refinement, control, space and air. The bass is very deep, and fast. Not as brutal or deep as the Beyer DT770, but more controlled. I think this is one of the best bass-responses I’ve heard.
It loses some authority, refinement and airiness when used directly from the iRiver, but it is still very impressive.
This may well be the best closed headphone I’ve ever heard, even if the W1000 comes close, it isn’t as closed as the Ultrasone.
What about the $370 list price? Well, that’s a tricky one. When you take sound, design and ergonomics into account, I think it’s hard to justify the price. Granted, you get two cables and an extra pair of pads in the box, but I think the cheap feel (headband) and the microphonic cable(s) will be a problem for quite a few people. I hope people disagree with me, because the sound is exceptional.



[size=small]Final thoughts:[/size]

Phew, another exhausting, yet very interesting, headphone-weekend. Especially considering I’d never heard an Ultrasone before.

The PROlines sound very good, and should satisfy the bass-heads out there, but it’s a shame about the headband and the microphonic cable. Especially the PROline 750 deserves better, because they sound extremely good. I can’t imagine the Edition7 feeling very exclusive, and that sucker is ridiculously expensive. Did they even sell any of those? Well, it came in a nice box…

Well, that’s my views on some of the Ultrasones, please don’t take this too seriously. Please consider that these findings are mainly based on one persons taste and one headphone rig. Your taste might differ.
I hope someone else tries out these new Ultrasones, a second opinion is very valuable here.

Hope this is helpful for someone.
Oh...sorry about the lenghtiness of this review.
tongue.gif


Let me know if you have any feedback.



 
Oct 3, 2004 at 9:05 PM Post #3 of 44

skitlets

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Awesome review comparing the old line of headphones to the new, with a dash of some of your own familiar headphones. If only you had other closed headphones to compare it to, such as the a500/a900, or the newer 770-80 ohm. Nonetheless, it was an excellent comparison!
 
Oct 3, 2004 at 9:53 PM Post #5 of 44

saint.panda

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Great review, concise and to the point. I really enjoyed reading it. Further, you to took the plunge for all these headphones just for writing a review. That's very cool of you.
 
Oct 3, 2004 at 10:08 PM Post #6 of 44

JensL

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Quote:

Originally Posted by saint.panda
Great review, concise and to the point. I really enjoyed reading it. Further, you to took the plunge for all these headphones just for writing a review. That's very cool of you.


Hehe...sorry to say so, but I'm not THAT cool, as I didn't buy any of those Ultrasones, I just borrowed some test-models for a few days.
biggrin.gif


Thanks for the kind words, anyway.
280smile.gif


Quote:

Originally Posted by skitlets
If only you had other closed headphones to compare it to, such as the a500/a900, or the newer 770-80 ohm.


Yeah, it would have been nice to have some more closed phones to compare with, especially the A-T's, but those are a little hard to come by.
However, I have listened briefly to the DT770 M, which is 80 ohm, and that sounded good. Maybe I'll try to find one...
tongue.gif
 
Oct 4, 2004 at 6:19 AM Post #7 of 44

NeilPeart

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Thanks for the great review, JensL; I'm really interested in finding a great home-based sealed headphone and the 750 may be the one to try (but the price is a bit high for me). The pads look almost as nice as the DT770/880 ones - what are the differences between the two? You rock, JensL!
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Oct 4, 2004 at 7:04 AM Post #8 of 44

JensL

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Quote:

Originally Posted by NeilPeart
I'm really interested in finding a great home-based sealed headphone and the 750 may be the one to try (but the price is a bit high for me). The pads look almost as nice as the DT770/880 ones - what are the differences between the two?


The 750 is really, really good, but it is a little pricey. Note that the prices is taken from Ultrasone.com, and converted to USD.

The pads are fairly similar to the DT770 Pro's, which are a little harder than the DT880s and DT531s. The Ultrasone pads are slightly coarser, but nothing too bad. It's better than the pleather ones of the other PROlines.
 
Oct 4, 2004 at 4:53 PM Post #10 of 44

johang

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Hello.

Good review. Especially like the comparison to the DT231, a favourite of mine as well.

What do you think of the 750 ultrasone against the dt660 from beyer ? I've got this phone now, and I'm farily happy except for some rattling in the driver (sendt to beyer for testing).

I find the DT660 can do anything you ask of it. Haven't come across any type of music it does worse than other. It's an even phone across everything from fine jazz music to pop or rock. Predictable.

I still like the dt231 better than the dt660 if you take price into the comparison. It's just unbeatable as a portable phone.



johanG.
 
Oct 4, 2004 at 6:03 PM Post #11 of 44

JensL

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Quote:

Originally Posted by johang
What do you think of the 750 ultrasone against the dt660 from beyer ? I've got this phone now, and I'm farily happy except for some rattling in the driver (sendt to beyer for testing).

I find the DT660 can do anything you ask of it. Haven't come across any type of music it does worse than other. It's an even phone across everything from fine jazz music to pop or rock. Predictable.



Unfortunately I didn't have a DT660 available for comparison, but I think the 750 have a sound that more people would like. Mostly because of the larger soundstage and prominent bass.
However, I really liked the DT660, and think it would be able to present more details than the 750. Also, the DT660 is quite lively and engaging. I like that.

Please note that this is by memory only, and isn't totally trustworthy.
Quote:

I still like the dt231 better than the dt660 if you take price into the comparison. It's just unbeatable as a portable phone.


Yep, the DT231 is a great phone, offering fantastic value for money. It's a shame that it isn't appreciated more. Maybe it's the looks?
 
Oct 4, 2004 at 7:15 PM Post #13 of 44

johang

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Yeah, I know, the DT660 are a livley set of headphones. I think you are making a good point when you are saying that the 750pro would be a phone for a wider audience due to the heavy bass and large soundstage.

I use my DT660's for audio software work (liquid edition/sony soundforge), and they are fine for that. If I require more soundstage, like when using them for standard music, I, and I can't belive I'm saying this, -ACTUALLY like the SRS WOW expanding effect. I've got mine on the lowest setting and it creates a wonderful soundstage on the DT660's.

It's also funny to see the construction of the DT660 and the 750Pro to be quite similar. I belive the hinge between the holder for the earcup and the headband is the exact same, or am I wrong ?



johanG.
 
Oct 4, 2004 at 7:44 PM Post #14 of 44

00940

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Impressive review
smily_headphones1.gif


Quote:

Originally Posted by JensL
When you take everything into account, the HFI-650 is quite impressive, but should cost $20-30 less, much because of the Sennheiser HD280 Pro.


Could you elaborate a bit on that ? To be honnest, I find the HD280 rather awful (boring and dull)
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Oct 4, 2004 at 7:48 PM Post #15 of 44

johang

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WOW, you actually find the HD280Pro boring. I think that is a mistake, maybe you listned to a poor example or an example that wasn't burned in ? I find the HD280Pro one of the most enganging headphones ever to listen to. They isolate well, and they have SUPREME dynamics. The top end isn't the most refined, but except for that I think they are excellent.



johanG.
 

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