The 2013 Closed Headphone Shootout in the $300 Class
May 12, 2013 at 6:22 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 12

Rolen_it_Up

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I had the opportunity to acquire several pairs of high quality headphones through my job, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back into the headphone game in a big way. As you can see, I've been a member here for a long time, but I haven't had the itch for the last couple of years. Well now it's back, and so this epic shoot out was born.
 
One of my good friends, Mark, is a musician and an audio engineer, but not a gear obsessed audiophile like myself. The combination made for a fun afternoon as we hear music differently. But as you will find out, we came to very similar conclusions.
 
I wanted this to be as much of a fair fight as possible, so at the outset I chose 4 headphones that should be as evenly matched as possible. MSRP range is $280-$350, and all 4 are closed back, circumaural designs. All are easily driven from portable sources, but were tested out of an amp as well.
 
So the field:
 
AKG K550
Focal Spirit One
Sony MDR-1R
Sennheiser Momentum
 
And the test:
 
Sources - Mac Mini running Amarra with AIFF files. All 44/16 except the Dark Knight Rises Soundtrack which is 96/24. Denon 4310ci receiver fed via AppleTV over HDMI with the same iTunes files.
 
We chose to run the test by sampling the following songs, listening all the way through with all 4 cans, before moving on to the next track.
 
Perth &
Calgary - Bon Iver
My Girls - Animal Collective
All the Trees in the Field will Clap their Hands - Sufjan Stephens
Ready to Start &
Sprawl II - Arcade Fire
Staralfur - Sigur Ros
Knives Out &
Like Spinning Plates - Radiohead
Gotham's Reckoning - Dark Knight Rises OST - Hanz Zimmer
 
We both ranked the headphones for each song. And I will summarize our impressions below, with a conclusion at the bottom.
 
Perth:
 
Me:
 
AKG is smooth, with deep bass, but no impact - which kills it. Focal has lots or sparkle, good detail and a small soundstage. Thick bass. Senn is smooth and relaxed. Very neutral, with deep bass that has a nice impact. Sonys have the most highs, most bass, most detail. Incredible instrument separation and good vocals.
 
Sony and Senn (tie) 1. Focal 3. AKG 4.
 
Mark:
 
AKG is most accurate, best vocals. Sony was most comfortable listening experience. Senn really opened up when amped.
 
Senn 1. Sony 2. AKG 3. Focal 4.
 
 
Calgary:
 
Me:
 
Sony had strong bass with exceptional vocals and great detail. Senn was again smooth with great vocals. Bass didn't hit hard enough, though very deep. Focals were very bright with good detail. AKG had the best soundstage and vocals but almost no bass.
 
Sony 1. Senn 2. AKG 3. Focal 4.
 
Mark:
 
Senn had the most spacial texture. Constantly have to adjust AKG to get right fit. Sony has the most bass.
 
Senn 1. Sony 2. AKG 3. Focal 4. 
 
 
My Girls:
 
Me:
 
Sony has incredible bass, transients, and instrument separation. Senn is good at first, then I turned up the volume and it got great. AKG is 2/3 of a great headphone here. Highs and vocals are stunning. Bass impact holds it back. I noticed terrible cord microphonics from the Focal here for the first time. Bass has quantity but not quality.
 
Sony 1. Senn 2. Focal 3. AKG 4.
 
Mark:
 
Sony has the most bass. Maybe too much. Last place vocals. Senn has excellent bass and good vocals. Very rhythmic. AKG has amazing vocals, bass lacking. Focal is decent all around but never excellent.
 
Senn 1. Sony 2. AKG 3. Focal 4.
 
 
All the Trees:
 
Me:
 
AKG was built for this. Vocals, minds - specifically guitars. Stunning. Focal sounds very closed. Senn is a bit sibilant at times on vocals. Airy with great piano. Drums have nuance and texture. Sony is brighter than Senn. More separation and detail but lacking texture.
 
AKG 1. Senn 2. Sony 3. Focal 4.
 
Mark:
 
The AKG was like being in the room. Sony was very balanced. Senn was good but became exceptional when drums kicked in. Banjos sounded best on Focals.
 
AKG 1. Senn 2. Sony 3. Focal 4.
 
 
Ready to Start:
 
Me:
 
First - this song is not a good recording. Very flat. So much so that I don't really enjoy the track anymore. Sony - good bass, great vocals. Fast, with good detail. Senn had less bass but more texture. Better vocals. AKG was bright and flat but with great vocals. Focal was more impactful than AKG, but not enjoyable.
 
Senn 1. Sony 2. AKG and Focal (tie) 4.
 
Mark:
 
Focal was unimpressive. AKG handles guitar well with great vocals. Drums and bass are weak. Senn is very balanced. Sony sounds great with a bit too much bass.
 
Senn and AKG (tie) 1. Sony 3. Focal 4.
 
Sprawl II:
 
Me:
 
AKG sound fuller than ever before. Great vocals. Very pleasing. Sony has the best bass, good vocals, and speed. Awesome. Senn is too smooth for this track. Focal sounds good but doesn't lead anywhere.
 
Sony 1. Senn and AKG (tie) 2. Focal 4.
 
Mark:
 
AKG needs a bit more oomph to be a class leader. Sony makes the synths sound warm and deep. Great vocals. Senn most balanced. Focal is outclassed but not bad.
 
Sony 1. AKG 2. Senn 3. Focal 4.
 
 
Staralfur:
 
Me:
 
Sony's bass a tad thick and maybe too bright. But they still sound mesmerizing. Senn has rolled off highs. Deepest bass. Most texture. Focal was surprisingly solid. AKG had he best highs with bass impact being its undoing. Strings just sound transcendent.
 
Sony and Senn (tie) 1. AKG 3. Focal 4.
 
Mark:
 
Senn has low end precision and amazing warmth. AKG vocal and mid sparkle is so enjoyable. Lack low end presence. Sony is too bright with too much bass. Focal has distant vocals but good clarity.
 
Senn 1. AKG 2. Sony and Focal (tie) 3.
 
 
 
Knives Out:
 
Me:
 
Focal sounds very good overall. Bit thick in the bass. Lots of highs. AKG just sounds incredible. Good enough bass, incredible highs, vocals and soundstage. Seen has strong and textured bass. Good, not great detail. Sony sounds smoother than expected. Too much bass. Sparkly up top.
AKG 1. Senn 2. Sony 3. Focal 4.
 
Mark:
 
Sony's bass overpowers the mix. Focal is outclassed. Senn sounds great. AKG has everything you'd want except impact in low end.
 
Senn 1. AKG 2. Sony 3. Focal 4.
 
 
Spinning Plates:
 
Me:
 
Sony has incredible bass. Maybe too much. Good detail. Senn has better bass for this track. Better detail. AKG's highs are intoxicating. Needs oomph. Don't want to take them off though. Focal has too thick bass, but slight less than Sony.
 
Senn 1. Sony 2. AKG 3. Focal 4.
 
Mark:
 
Sony doesn't work here. Bass overwhelms. AKG is good but bass is usual Achilles. Senn is the winner for sure. Focal squeaks by the Sony due to the Sony having too much bass.
 
Senn 1. AKG 2. Focal 3. Sony 4.
 
 
Gotham's Reckoning:
 
Me:
 
I assumed that this song would cement my winner. I was right. Focal has big bass and nice detail. AKG has good, deep bass, missing slam. Everything else is spectacular. Sony has deep bass that lacks texture. Snappy highs. Huge sound overall. What most people would prefer. Senn simply wins. Crazy good bass. Amazingly deep. Rolled off highs, with excellent mids.
 
Senn 1. Sony 2. AKG 3. Focal 4.
 
Mark:
 
The Sony is the people's headphone. And by its own merit, a winner. It just can't match the Senn. AKG has a mid/high that's world class. Focal good, never great.
 
Senn 1. Sony 2. AKG 3. Focal 4.
 
 
 
Wrap Up:
 
So the Momentum is victorious. But it's not quite that simple. Nor should it be.
 
These headphones are all so good in so many ways; the biggest thing I took away from this is just how capable the $300 closed class has become. Most people would be very happy with any of the 4.
 
I would like to highlight some general thoughts of each can, as there are a few things that didn't get detailed in the song breakdown above.
 
Focal:
 
Last place, but by no means flawed.
Relatively neutral with a mid bass emphasis.
The best isolation of any passive headphone I've encountered. Better than some IEMs.
Good detail, with somewhat bright top end.
Comfort just ok.
The red colorway is awesome looking.
Nice travel case.
Most portable by far.
If you want a portable can from this list, choose the Focal without hesitation.
 
AKG:
 
The headphone we both wanted to love, but couldn't quite.
By far the best mids and highs of the group.
Very little bass impact, though bass goes deep.
Extremely fit dependent. If you have a larger head, you may get more bass than I.
A good seal is a must.
Not portable at all.
Wants to be amped.
Opened the most with amp of any can here.
The choice for the non bass head who craves mid and high magic.
 
Sony:
The people's headphone.
Incredible with pop, electronic, and female vocals.
Most bass impact, with good, deep bass.
Most highs, without being overly bright, and the most detail.
Slightly recessed mids.
Doesn't really care to be amped.
Semi portable. Some isolation. Folds up nicely.
The most comfortable headphone in the world.
Many should consider the Sony for this alone.
Best looking of the group.
For many people, and for genres that are not super revealing, this headphone is the winner here.
I absolutely love these, just not enough to keep them.
 
Sennheiser:
 
The winner.
Best bass. Just as deep as the Sony, but the amount is perfect.
2nd best mids to the AKG.
Highs a bit recessed, but we both loved the top end.
Comfort is 2nd place.
1st place build quality.
Occasionally sound slow, but still great for rock.
Amazing with classical, orchestral.
Great amped or unamped.
Good isolation.
 
 
So I am keeping the Momentums. The other 3 will be sold. But my search isn't over. I will find another contender to challenge the new king.
 
I hope you enjoyed the shootout.
 
Enjoy the pics. 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
May 12, 2013 at 7:03 PM Post #2 of 12

kobetastic

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Awesome pictures. I'll  check back on this thread, when I start lookiing for a pair of closed headphones. You should compare the momentum to the V-moda m100, Soundmagic hp100, and Mad dogs next!
 
May 12, 2013 at 8:27 PM Post #3 of 12

wolfetan44

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I listen to almost all your music
size]

 
May 12, 2013 at 9:55 PM Post #4 of 12

inasafeplace

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I have both K550 and Momentum. Curious about the build quality of the Sony... how is it compared to the Momentums?
 
May 12, 2013 at 10:32 PM Post #6 of 12

Rolen_it_Up

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I have both K550 and Momentum. Curious about the build quality of the Sony... how is it compared to the Momentums?


The Sony build is a bit plasticy, but very good overall. IMO, they are built better than the AKG, but not quite to the level of the Senns. I do think they are much better looking than the Senns though. For comfort and style, they are my favorite headphones I've ever had.
 
Jun 1, 2013 at 8:09 AM Post #11 of 12

Jepu

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Quote:
How does the bass quantity compare senn vs focal


Having recently listened to the Momentum, I'd say that it's the one that feels like is the bassier one in comparison to the FS1. Might be because of the slight bass emphasis towards mid/upper mid bass in comparison to Focal's faster bass response and lower frequency emphasis.
 

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