World of Headphones Tour: Salt Lake City
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slindeman

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Where to begin?

About a dozen or so people showed up, enough that I was kept busy helping out at the Etymotic table, but with free time to listen to much of the gear and talk a lot with the two Todds and Tangent. Todd's a very nice guy, Headroom is lucky to have him. A lot of hard work and care has gone into this tour and it shows. This tour is something special that only Tyll and Headroom could dream up.

Headphones

The expected

The Orpheus was head and shoulders above the rest. The HD600 didn't come close in my opinion, even out of the Blockhead or EAR. The veil is made obvious when A/B'ing with the Orpheus. I could find no fault with the Orpheus other than price and portability.

The best affordable headphone system was the Stax Signature. I recently bought a 20 year old Stax SR-84 electret system that does many things better than my HD580s, although overall it is no match for the Senns. However, I have since suspected that the current Stax offerings such as the Classic or Signature, would have a sound to dethrone my HD600, and I was right on the money. Now I must save the money. I would take these over the HD600 + Blockhead/EAR/YOUR NAME HERE anyday. I guess I'm an electrostatic fan now.

The K501 and DT931 sounded just like they've been described here at Head-fi. The K501 was nice enough, but offered no advantage over HD580 in my opinion, and was not as well built, nor as comfortable. It would be a great starter headphone if only it didn't require a headphone amp. Since it does require an amp I would just spend the extra cash for the HD580 which sounds better. The DT931 lacked bass, other than that it was a good rival to the HD580. It was not as comfortable.

The HD590 sounded similar enough to my HD570 that I would not recommend considering it at all.

I'd heard the Grado SR-60 through SR-225 before, so there were no surprises there.

The unexpected

The Stax Omega had something weird going on. I'm not sure if I got the pads rotated wrong, or the earpieces rotated wrong or something, but I couldn't get these to sound better than the Stax Signature. They sounded sort of hollow with a bizarre soundstage. I still liked them a bit more than the dynamic headphones, but I thought something must have been wrong. I had Todd check them and he said they were fine, so who knows. Maybe they interacted weird with my ear shape.

The Etymotic ER4 is the best dynamic headphone. I didn't expect to like these more than the HD600 but I did. They are better in every way, except for convenience. The sound is the most neutral I have heard from any transducer. I wish I could justify buying them, but I can't right now because I don't listen portably more than a few times a year. Maybe if I get a big bonus next year (yeah right!). These are my second favorite affordable headphones behind the Stax Signature. I thought their bass was much superior to that of the HD600, and not thin at all.

Grado SR-325 and Grado RS-1. The SR-325 is the absolute worst $300 headphone I have ever listened to. It was painfully screechy. Much worse than even the SR-125 that I owned for 6 months. Anyone that says the SR-325 are smooth or neutral has got to be a loon.
On the other hand, the RS-1 was fabulous. Smooth, punchy, very good sounding. I would rate it at the same level as HD600, just a different flavor. Not my favorite flavor, but certainly worth auditioning. They were also the most comfortable Grados I have tried. (I've also tried the HP-2). The RS-1 or perhaps the RS-2 would be the only Grados I would own. Too bad they are priced about 2 times what I would pay for them.

The Sony MDR-CD3000 was not bad sounding at all. I figured I would hate it but I did not. I would put it in the top tier of affordable headphones which includes the ER4, HD600, RS-1, DT-931, and K501. It had the best soundstage of any closed headphone I've tried. It was a little bright, but nothing too harsh. I wouldn't pay more than $200-$300 for it though.

The Beyerdynamic DT-250 sounded average, with a terrible soundstage. Not worth $150 in my opinion. They did block sound well. Note that I had no other closed, sound blocking headphones to compare to since I've never heard MDR-V6 and I didn't get around to trying the HD280 or HD212. If these are the best of the closed headphones then I know closed headphones are not for me. I was expecting to like these based on the reviews.

Quick thoughts on the rest

The DT-831 sounded very thin. The HD497 performed well with DVD + DSP pro, but were uncomfortable. I didn't get a chance to try the Senn HD280 or HD212 which I was hoping to do. AKG K-501 was better in every way than K-401. I didn't get a chance to compare HD600 cables, but it doesn't matter since HD600 isn't going to be my main headphone once I save another $1000 and buy the Stax. I didn't get around to trying the AKG K1000.

Rankings: Orpheus > Stax Signature > Stax Omega > ER4 > HD600/HD580 > RS1/RS2 > DT-931 > K501 > CD3000.

Amps

Under $1000

I didn't compare amps as much as I did headphones, so I don't have as much to say here. The MG Head DT sounded a bit slow and thick compared to my reference, the Corda. Not my cup of tea. I thought the McCormack was better than the Corda, and I also liked the two Wheatfield amps very much. I didn't get to try the Porta Corda, JMT, or Total Airhead. I did look inside the JMT and he sure does have great soldering and assembly skills. My skills (if you can call them that) in comparison are pathetic.

The Cosmic made a big difference with the ER4 vs. the headphone jack of the Panasonic 470. I liked the Cosmic a lot. I wanted to, but didn't get a chance to try the Little or the MOH. I liked the Corda a bit better than the Headroom Home, but again I didn't spend enough time comparing them to make any definite conclusions. The differences between amps were small compared to the differences between headphones. I doubt I'll upgrade from my Corda any time soon, but we will see.

Rankings: Wheatfield > Cosmic > McCormack > Corda > Home > MG Head DT > Creek
Not listened to: MOH, Little, Porta Corda, TAH, RA-1, JMT, X-Cans

Over $1000

I compared these even less than I did the cheaper amps. For the most part, these all sounded excellent, more than adequate for my needs. I thought the Blockhead was the best dynamic amp at the show, with the EAR HP4 not far behind. I only briefly tried the Holmes Powell and the Max. The Cary is still MIA.

Rankings: Blockhead > EAR HP4 > Max > Holmes Powell

META42

None other than Tangent himself came to the SLC show (and hand delivered two META42 boards I ordered, thanks!) He brought with him a maxed-out Meta, in a Hammond aluminum enclosure, powered by an internal brick o' batteries, with Cardas RCA's and upscale components including the AD843, his favorite opamp at the moment. How did it sound? Marvelous. Wow! It is surely the best sounding portable amp I have heard. I only auditioned it for 10 min or so, but that was enough to know that it sounded at least as good (and probably better, I didn't get to do A/B testing) as the Cosmic. I thought it sounded better than the Corda, but once again it was not ideal conditions for coming to any hard conclusions. If you spend $200+ on parts and build it well, the META42 will rival any amp under $1000 in my opinion. He had it configured with the Linkwitz crossfeed, which is a great circuit, and one I have tried in the past and liked a lot. I can't wait to build my own admittedly non-upscale META42. USPS should come calling with a package from Digikey tommorrow and then I'll be ready to go.

On a side note, Tangent is a very nice guy and those META42 boards look awesome. Hats off to everyone who worked on the META42 project!

Conclusions

Thanks again to Headroom for the show. I feel lucky to have auditioned all of that gear. It saved a heck of a lot of time I could have wasted in searching out the right headphone/amp for me, and I've already been buying stuff for nearly two years. I've now been freed from indecision and uncertainty. I know I want the Stax Classic or Signature, I just have to take a year or two to save up for it. Meanwhile I can enjoy my HD600/Corda, build a few DIY amps, and spend the countless free hours I have working on a dissertation entitled: "Why my wife ought to buy me some Etys."
 
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Eagle_Driver

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slindeman, I agree with most of the findings of the "affordable" headphones. Though I'm no big fan of the Grado SR-225's or the SR-325's (I found them too bright to my liking), I love the Etymotic ER-4S's (I thought the ER-4P's had a bit too much bass to my liking, even if that bass is tight and clean) so much that I ordered a pair of them from Headroom a couple of days after the Chicago stop on the WOH tour (and later added a TAH 4.5V amp). But I didn't like the Sony MDR-CD3000's much (I heard tinny, ringing resonances that are all too typical of cheaper closed-back headphones) - and thought the Sony MDR-CD2000's were $200 headphones with the sound quality of $100~$120 'phones.

OTOH, I found the Sennheiser HD497's rather comfortable (in fact, I bought a pair from CC two days ago) - but I sometimes had to fidget around with the earpad positioning on my ears. Also, the 497's sound quality reminds me of a miniaturized, gutless-portable-friendly version of the highly-touted HD580's. In other words, these (not the HD5## series, not the older HD490's and HD495's, but the HD497's) are the Sennheisers to buy for a gutless portable player - but they will still sound better when powered from a dedicated headphone amp.

About the Sennheiser HD590's: I own a pair, and thought I loved that 'phone - until I heard the HD580's and the HD600's at the WOH tour. Only then did I notice the added brightness of the 590's (though not as painfully bright as the Grados nor as tinny as the Sony CD3000's). The 580's and 600's are so much smoother.
 
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kelly

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Quote:

Originally posted by slindeman
The Stax Omega had something weird going on. I'm not sure if I got the pads rotated wrong, or the earpieces rotated wrong or something, but I couldn't get these to sound better than the Stax Signature. They sounded sort of hollow with a bizarre soundstage. I still liked them a bit more than the dynamic headphones, but I thought something must have been wrong. I had Todd check them and he said they were fine, so who knows. Maybe they interacted weird with my ear shape.


I'm glad I'm not the only one to notice this. Most people seem to only hit on the Omega's "harshness" (in my opinion--Stax==flat, BAT==bright). There were, as far as I can tell, at least two things wrong. One involved the earcups. Flumpus noticed in Dallas that the R and L drivers of the Stax 007 had been switched and we were afraid of disconnecting the wires ourselves so we weren't able to fix it. Since the drivers are, I believe, situated somewhat at an angle, simply wearing the headphone backward won't do it for you. In any case, sounding "weird" with a "bizarre" or "sort of hollow soundstage" is pretty much what I thought too and since I've heard other Stax headphones and heard nothing but positive reviews from people who heard the 007 in other environments, I'm inclined to think the switched drivers was a problem here.

Secondly, the amp itself had a problem of some sort. I suspect the tubes are just old or haven't survived the movement so well. The amp to me sounded somewhat sluggish, a quality I wouldn't think to associate with an electrostatic headphone. Most people at the show preferred the 006t (Signature) to the 007t (Omega) which is somewhat indicative to me.

This aside, our tastes seem to run not so far apart, slinderman. With the exception of my not caring for the Wheatfield amps and not quite ranking the BlockHead so high, my impressions were pretty similar to yours.
 
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slindeman

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Quote:

I found the Sennheiser HD497's rather comfortable (in fact, I bought a pair from CC two days ago) - but I sometimes had to fidget around with the earpad positioning on my ears. Also, the 497's sound quality reminds me of a miniaturized, gutless-portable-friendly version of the highly-touted HD580's.


Supraural headphones just don't work for me very well with my stick-out ears. I can get grados comfortable with comfy pads, and the super-light RS-1s seemed like they might be comfortable enough. The HD497 though just wouldn't work for me. I thought they sounded good though.

Quote:

I'm glad I'm not the only one to notice this. Most people seem to only hit on the Omega's "harshness" (in my opinion--Stax==flat, BAT==bright). There were, as far as I can tell, at least two things wrong. One involved the earcups. Flumpus noticed in Dallas that the R and L drivers of the Stax 007 had been switched and we were afraid of disconnecting the wires ourselves so we weren't able to fix it. Since the drivers are, I believe, situated somewhat at an angle, simply wearing the headphone backward won't do it for you. In any case, sounding "weird" with a "bizarre" or "sort of hollow soundstage" is pretty much what I thought too and since I've heard other Stax headphones and heard nothing but positive reviews from people who heard the 007 in other environments, I'm inclined to think the switched drivers was a problem here.


Thank goodness it wasn't just me or my strange ears. Every review I've read of the Omegas is glowing so I thought something had to be wrong considering how much I liked the Signature. The only bad reviews I've seen are from the tour, so that does seem to point to some problem with that particular setup. On a side note, halfway through the show I noticed the Signature headphones were plugged into the Normal jack rather than the Pro on the 006t. I switched it to the Pro and then they really left the HD600s in the dust IMO.

Some other random thoughts from the show that I forgot to post:

Tangent told me he could clearly tell the HD600 and HD580 apart and he preferred the HD600, which is similar to my findings.

Another guy (don't know his name) found the Cardas cable to sound nearly identical to the stock, and thought the Clou sounded worse than stock.

A few people preferred the ER-6 to the ER-4. I don't recall anyone saying they disliked the ER-6.

While taking the Orpheus headphones off (or putting them on, I can't remember) one of the guys there had the horrible misfortune to have the left earpiece fly off and land on the floor! It sure was funny to see the look on his face as he scrambled to reassemble the headphones. I wished I had it on video.
 
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geom_tol

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Quote:

Originally posted by slindeman

While taking the Orpheus headphones off (or putting them on, I can't remember) one of the guys there had the horrible misfortune to have the left earpiece fly off and land on the floor! It sure was funny to see the look on his face as he scrambled to reassemble the headphones. I wished I had it on video.


Yeah, the same thing happened at the Washington DC stop.
PANIC.
Poor guys.
 
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Mcrmouse30

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I stopped by at the tour last night. It was a lot of fun and gave me a lot of chances to line up future buys
. Anyways here are my brief conclusions of last night.

Amps:
I listened basically to amps only in my budget since that is my next purchase.

MG Head- This was the amp I was expecting to buy since I thought I would have liked tubed amps better after reading these forums. First impressions, I really liked how it looked those tubes are just cool. I liked the sound but overall it sounded a little too veiled and laid back for me.

The Headroom Little- This is the one I think I will be purchasing here in a few days. I really liked how that sucker sounded to me. I felt it sounded much cleaner and really enjoyed how it sounded.

BTW I was listening to these with stock HD-580's. This is what I happen to own, so I was really happy to audition the amps with those suckers.

Headphones:
I mostly concentrated on amps but I did listen to some headphones I was dieing to hear.

Grado SR60- I was considering buying these over the V6's but I got the V6's instead. I am glad I did, I really didn't like them at all.

AKG 501- These were good headphones but I will have to agree with the above post, I like the 580's better.

Etymotic ER-6- I listened to these and I really liked them. I wasn't expecting much and I was blwon away by these things. They sound geat and are completely isolated. All I didn't like with these was how far you had to push them in to get a good seal.

The Granddaddy Orpheus- What can I say? They blew everything else away and they better for the price.

Overall I had a lot of fun and Todd is an awesome guy. I am glad I went because I made some important discoveries about the amps.
 
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Mcrmouse30

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Oh yah I forgot about one other amp. The Creek OBH-11. At $199 I thought it was a great amp. Almost on par with the Little and the Head. It sounded great but just not as good as the Little.
 
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Tim

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I was at this stop so i'll add my two cents.


First of all HeadRoom did an awsome job! I commend Tyll on the headphone cases. They design was ingenious. I thank Todd and Todd jr. They are some cool fellows. And thanks to HeadRoom for touring the nation.

It was a lot of fun. If it's coming to your city DON"T MISS IT. It's a great way to audition some really good headphones and amps.


ok on to my opinions of headphones and amps.

I found the Sony CD2000 to be the most comfortable headphones ( on the ear pads that is) but the sound was not so grand.

There is definetly a difference between the HD580's and HD 600's. Conclusion - the 600's are better.


I really enjoyed the X-CANS V2 amp as well as the Antiqie Audio labs amps.


The Sennheiser Orpheus. The electrostaticness. The shiny silver surfaceness. The tubeness. The legendness. The Sound!!

Ah Yes, the Orpheus. Sennheiser's lengend of old. Wonder of Wonders and all that jazz. It sounds great, but how does it stand up to the Blockhead?? The answer is simple: IT DOESNN"T.

The Blockhead out performed the Orpheus easily. The Blockhead (which was hooked up to HD600's and a Cardas replacement cable) sounds more real and up front. It has that little bit of detail that the Orpheus lacks, and at a fraction of the cost (even though you can't buy a brand new Orpheus any more).

Now the Orpheus does sound good but is over rated in my opinion, and i'd rather invest in a Blockhead after comparing the two.

So the WOH tour was very cool. I took some pictures with a digital camera but accidently deleted them when I tried to get them on my computer. I had a great one of Todd too. Oh well.

later

Tim

 
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