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Wow! Sennheiser HD 540 Reference are so good.

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by hairspray, Jun 29, 2013.
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  1. sennsay
    Ah yes, I see now. Hmm, have you considered any of the Meier Corda DAC/amps? Actually, now that I've said that, I will have to check that they do a smaller DAC/amp now. I have used my Corda 2Move DAC/amp with the 300 ohm HD250 Linear 1s and it works rather well, with superb clarity and excellent timing. It doesn't have the sheer bass drive to have a really deep bass, but it does remarkably well with the built in DAC. I run the volume about 7-8 out of 10. Some folks used to drive the HD650s with it too when the 2Move was released.

    Addendum: Meier Audio no longer have DACs in their portable amps. So, I reckon I'm pretty fortunate to have kept my Corda 2Move, it's a very handle little critter! There might be second hand versions around, dakanao, they are very well made and easily portable, I've taken mine on many a journey, it's less than the size of a cigarette packet and a bit thicker, versatile in it's settings and takes a 9V alkaline battery to power it, or a small power pack up to 12V. Great sound, smooth AND lively and had great reviews in this very web site. Mine is staying with me until it dies and even then I will send it back for refurbishment if possible.
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2018
  2. sennsay
    Speaking of the Corda 2Move, I am having a bit of a session with it right now on the famous Dave Brubeck album, 'Time Out'. I was further inspired after reading a review of this little cracker of an amp a short time ago that I had downloaded from a huge review of many portable amps in Head-Fi some years previously. The HD250s sound remarkably fine, alive and very clean. I'm using it's own built in DAC too, it might not be ultra sophisticated, but it is far more than just serviceable, being very tuneful, clean and rhythmic and overall with the amp, the results still astonish me after several years. If you don't mind me sharing this, I have copied the guts of the review and added it here :) It's an amp well worth keeping an eye out for second hand. The brilliant 'Take Five' track is on at the moment and I don't really feel like I'm missing anything I've heard on my bigger amps other than outright bass dynamic slam with the HD250s, which are harder to drive than the Denon and Sony cans, they are much more efficient at 25 and 32 ohms. Mids and top end are cleaner than the tubed Schiit Valhalla 2 I used to own! Lots of detail, yet smooth too. No harshness, no edge.
    The review is for the Corda Move, mine's the 2Move, an updated version with a rubber ring grip around the volume control and the in-built DAC. Same amp section. Best with reasonably efficient cans, but still remarkable with the HD250s. I am able to use another DAC section though, if I wish, through the front input. If I pop the MusicStreamer II+ DAC into it, the width and bass power increases and it becomes a punchy combo.
    I have no idea what your 300 ohm HD540s would sound like, I'm told they are a little different in balance from the 600 ohm versions, but I don't really know what that means. They might sound great with the 2Move ... or might not. For contrast, I've just popped the 25 ohm Mogami'd Denon AH-D1000 cans on and surprisingly they have a little more forward energy on the piano, top end is still good though and they are, again, surprisingly open, very rhythmic, very good stage depth and clean and focused bass attack on the kick drum. It's actually the DAC that lacks the ultimate bass impact, but what it does do is very clean and natural, just without some of that sheer weight of a full sized DAC, like the Mimby or R2R.
    It might be an option for you if it suits what you need. Cheers.

    Here's the review excerpt:

    I think the Meier MOVE is a phenomenal headphone amp. Stunningly good. Better than any amp in this review aside from the Larocco PRII, and in some ways better than it. It combines a natural, warm sound with incredible detail, an outstanding soundstage, and very extended frequency extremes. It's also built like a tank, is very well featured, and is bargain priced. It's impossible not to recommend with great enthusiasm.

    Build Quality: A: Awesome metal case. I'm certain it could survive being thrown against a wall at high velocity, although it's so pretty you wouldn't want to. I'd give it an A+ except for one thing - the volume knob, while attractive, is very difficult to grip, and thus hard to turn. It's my one complaint about this amp.

    Treble: A+: Treble is amazingly clear. Smooth, open, liquid, and detailed ZERO grain. Highly transparent, and neutral. Very much like other Meier amps. Great extension and air. I doubt there has ever been a portable amp with better treble than this.

    Midrange: A: Beautiful, wide open sound. Inviting, clean, open, and engaging. Grain-free. Just gorgeous.

    Bass: A+: Excels in pitch, attach, and definition. Also punchy as heck. ZERO bloat or boom, but great weight.

    Neutrality: A: There are simply no issues here - very, very impressive.

    Soundstaging: A: soundstage width is excellent, depth is just short of the best. Image specificity is very good. The soundstage is top-shelf.

    Transparency: A: This is a strong suit to be sure – all Meier amps I have ever heard are jaw-droppingly transparent, and the MOVE is no exception. I was prepared for it not to be, since there was some talk that the choice of op-amp wasn't going to mean a transparent sound. That isn't the case. It's very transparent.

    So now we have a terrific Meier portable amp that also looks nice. I preferred the sound in high current but low gain mode. Basically noiseless in this mode. Dynamic, lush, detailed - it's hard not to gush. I listened over and over again to it to be sure - I am sure. The MOVE is the best bargain in portable headphone amps right now on the market, based on all that I have heard.
  3. jon parker
    I use this amp with my 540's - super sweet sound. On normal the volume pot at 7-8pm. If I put the volume on full it is too loud to listen too
    The amp also has a High gain boost if you need it so yes it is certainly loud enough
    The only criticism I have, and its not a fair one! is that it doesn't have quite the same 'meat' or body as my desktop amp but when you look at the size difference between them!!
    Also this is probably indicative of the sound of the opamp. The DAC gives it a divinely sweet detailed and 3D sound that has, for the first time, made my Cowon X9 sounds really good!
    I bought it as an 'Audiophile travel amp' and its perfect for that but it also punches way above its weight
    I would always recommend Necosoundlabs - The guy is the real deal. He is a very qualified engineer who had builds all his amps. Most reviews I have seen indicate his amps sound as good as $1000 desktop amps . .
    I should add, Im using the upgraded OPamp version - so the £170 version
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2018
  4. StephenJ
    Hello all - brand new newbie (please be gentle). Presently trying to put together a plan to end with a shiny new hi-fi and some general hi-fi related goodness after a long sabbatical (read skint!).

    I've an old pair of HD540's which I pulled out of storage not so long ago and have since been runnning around the net trying to find useful sources of info on them... eneter this thread, it's a bit of a goldmine, not to mention all the other awesome stuff hereabouts (now wondering if I don't really want to mod a pair of Grado's too!).

    They suffer the usual battle scars and deflated pads. The pads I'm 'refurbing' - got hold of some likley looking foam, cut it to shape, and using it to stuff the old cushions. I've gone a different route to most having sliced the vinyl at the rear, pulled out the old foam, stitched around the seams of the cushion from the inside (they were parting in places). The foam's in and working great, next step will be to cut up a big margarine tub to make stiff rings to go between the foam & vinyl on the inside. I'll adhere / glue the backside of the vinyl down to the plastic - should be pretty seamless providing I don't screw it up.

    That leaves me one potentially big sticking point (excude the pun), one of the cans is dead... those little skinny wires that connect the driver to the contacts for the cable are missing!

    Has anyone successfully found a fix to reinstate the wires? There are some very small stubs of the originals still sticking out from under the diaphragm.

    Many thanks
    Malfunkt likes this.
  5. dakanao
    I actually purchased a Chord Mojo as an upgrade amp for these
  6. hernandoco
    Good choice. I have a Mojo too and as small as it is, it can power even my 600 ohm HD430s no problem. It's also sensitive enough to be silent with 16ohm iems. Amazing little DAC/amp.
  7. sennsay
    After an amazing night of revelations a couple of evenings ago, I will not be looking for another amp for the Ref1s anytime soon!
    I'd had the new a-gd R2R well warmed up all day and after an evening of movies etc, I went into headphone mode, jacking in the HD250s and HD6xx, music was the superb recording by Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis called "Two Men With The Blues", recorded live at Carnegie Hall. I enjoyed the rhythms from the HD250, the evenness of the mids and top end and the clarity and detail that came with it ... there was also the slightly boosted mid bass which I eventually grow tired of, as it distracts me from dissolving into the music. The HD6xx ... good but also a bit meh, quite fun and relatively tuneful, forward mids, fairly open though the soundstage is NOT as wide as the HD250s. All quite good in various ways but not riveting. Time to turn to the Mimby/Magni 3 and the Ref 1s, all warmed up for hours previously and ready to go. A brief revisiting led to only 10-15 minutes with the 250s & 6xx. The HD6xx astonished me yet again with an instant V-shaped s/stage, maybe 90-100 degrees max, with some small ambient information out to the sides, quite stark and I was a bit taken aback at how obvious it was.
    Ref1s go on my head and it's instant bliss, actually shockingly so in comparison to the other two cans. Total immersion is the only way I can describe it. Whenever I go back to the HD540s after a day or two away from them, I'm always delighted at the instant involvement and relaxation at the same time.
    The Nelson/Marsalis album was a revelation, why can't the other headphones do this! Gone was any semblance of hifi, truncated soundstage, limiting bandwidth and lack of linearity. Just the usual vanishing act by the gear and the always delightful 3D soundstage, there's no V-shape here! Height, depth, width, well outside around and in front of my head. The absolute ultra fine focus may not be there as with the very best headphones, at vast sums of cash more in spending, but what the Ref1s do so well they do incredibly well and I'll take that over any other compromises and detail at the expense of pure balance any day ... or night.
    Imagine, if you will, the wooden stage in the Carnegie Hall, assembled musicians, Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis, Mickey Rafael on harmonica, Walter Blanding on sax, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Enriques on bass and Ali Jackson on the drum kit. The audience stretches from far left to far right and is tiered in height by the sound of it. The wooden floor beneath the double bass and drum kit can easily be heard. What the Ref1s can do brilliantly and which eludes the others, is to layer the musicians like one of those 3D pictures which look flat and 2D until you defocus your eyes a tad and another picture layers itself in front of you in 3D, with clear separation between the layers. It's quite remarkable to hear, it's completely relaxing and my mind's eye can just roam around the soundstage, taking in the whole soundscape or focusing in on some details. Each instrument has it's own ambient space and I find it amusingly uncanny how I can hear Willie's voice centre and present right in my head space, yet a very slight shift back and the drummer, who is clearly well behind Willie on the stage, is playing a rhythm where his sticks and the drums skins have their own ambient space. As well, each strike of the sticks on the skins has it's own variable dynamics, some soft and the next one much firmer with an accompanying change in ambience that spreads out from the skin in a different way than a softer stroke. Same for brush strokes, the High Hat and kick drum. Meantime, the same thing is happening to vocals, sax and trumpet solos, which are loud at times, yet not edgy and pushing forward as with the HD6xx. They get louder and more dynamic, yes, but don't change their place on the soundstage and sound like the real thing. I grew up with pianos, cornets, trumpets, violins and other instruments constantly playing in our household, as my mum was a piano teacher and accompanist for many other musicians.
    All I've just described goes the same way for the fabulous Rickie Lee Jones live concert, Naked Songs: Live and Acoustic, I'm sitting IN the audience, very close to Ricki and her piano and guitar, surrounded by people in rapture at this stunning performance. No matter how loud her voice gets ... and she has quite some dynamic range! ... it does not change from being that of a flesh and blood female vocalist, no edge, harshness or peaky forwardness. There are some members of the audience that cough very gently at times from far out in front of me, totally pinpointed in space, there's literally air between my position and the coughee. The sense of being there is so realistic that I have no need to question it, it's a given. I just AM.
    So what leaves me in awe, is that the Mimby and Magni 3, totalling a mere $600AUS and connected with admittedly some very fine pure silver ICs (they were around $420+NZ some years ago), with a 29 year old pair of slightly upgraded headphones that can transport me so thoroughly into a different world every time I join them for an evening session.
    I don't pine for Utopias or exy Audeze models, as soon as those Ref1s go on my head, I'm relaxed even while dancing, moving, singing, enraptured, involved and immersed in new worlds of music. For me, THAT's what our whole wonderful Head-Fi universe is about, sharing it with others and if possible, helping others to come to whatever level of joy they want from their own experiences.
    humzebra, Narayan23 and Malfunkt like this.
  8. sennsay
    Fun and games and revelations with amps and headphones! After today's mixing and matching I finally gave up on the HD6xx. They sold within hours of going on-line, complete with the HM5 and Dekoni EV pads. The money will now go towards a year long desire to build the Elect TU8500 tube preamplifier, a much more creative pursuit :) The HD6xx today were out-performed by the Sony MDR-1Rs with the a-gd R2R-11! Brubeck's Take Five showed how dynamic and generally improved the Sony's are with this meaty DAC and amp, drum kit dynamics trounced the HD6xx for clarity and 3D focus, also being more open with better ambient detail, quite a surprise to me. Right at this moment, the Ref1s are playing Daft Punk's Random Access Memories via the R2R, gee, this is one earthy, well controlled amp. It's an interesting contrast to the Magni 3, a little warmer and with well grounded punchy drive. With the Ref1s, it's extremely pleasant, smooooth, weighty, very clean. What it doesn't create, as the Schiit system does just so effortlessly, is 3D immersion with that virtually holographic separation between instruments and musicians, where I can shift focus from one to the other and revel in the individual life and ambient detail and the way it relates to the other instruments. The expression of intent in the way a musician might accent certain notes is a given with the Schiit system, I have to work at it with the R2R and Ref1s. Stage width is excellent, no problems there.
    The best way I can describe the two systems with the Ref1s from here is to say that the R2R reminds me of a meaty 250W amp in a main system, always controlled, powerful and smooth. Take that amp out and replace it with a really cracking good 80W amp that is truly alive, a soundstage with real depth and three dimensional images that makes the speakers and room vanish. The bass end is not quite as meaty/warm, yet at the same time has an organic life that can, when required, plummet below the floor and retain it's dimensional nature. There is free ambient space between layers of instruments and voices sound alive and very human.
    On the R2R, Lucinda Williams' Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone is very solid, rhythmic and grounded, warm, lacking a little top end sparkle, but that's common to everything played on the Ref1s with this amp. I can still hear everything that's being played.
    The big revelations came with the HD430s! Wow, are they revealing! No real density and weight to them, yet though a little bright they are never peaky, as if although the bass is rolled off from the upper bass on down, the mids and treble are actually pretty even in balance, despite the elevation.
    ....... As an aside, East Side Of Town sounds really good! Very communicative, although solid and weighty it's never blurred .....
    Back to the HD430s. Stunning transient speed! Without the bass weight, everything can be heard ... in fact you don't miss anything! The subtlest dynamic shifts on a single drum beat are so expressive, the ambient decay of a drum skin or the tiniest ting of a triangle in an orchestra, I've heard things that were simply not apparent to me previously, even on well played material. Brubeck's Take Five is simply astonishing, as is the drum solo at the end of the Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis concert, Two Men With The Blues. The speed of the drum sticks is riveting, as is the skin sound, the wooden floor beneath the kit resonating ... fantastic. True, you get the attack and ambient decay without the weight, but what a perspective! It doesn't suit all music, that's for sure. What it doesn't have is any form of coarseness or grain. Transparency, speed and superb focus it certainly does. It helps that the R2R has run in sufficiently well already to show the differences between the headphones so easily, the sonic signature with all of them is very different. The HD540s are easier to drive than the HD430s, even at the same overall impedance.
    I've had to order a new set of the DT880 pads, as the foams that come with them that are so perfect for the Ref1s have had to be shared with the HD430s. Thicker foams just smear that fabulous focus and sound stage clarity. It's great to find and amp that goes well with the HD430s, they are good with the Magni 3 too, but strangely, even though that amp has more power on paper, it's the R2R that has more sheer grunt. I guess a proper linear grunty power supply makes a difference.
  9. dakanao
    So I'm looking at something like this headphone design with the same neutral signature, but with a softer tone in the upper end (like the HD 650). Would the HD 560 Ovation suffice?
  10. sennsay
    You have just described the top end of my Ref1s ☺I've just sold my HD6xx because I couldn't get on with them overall. I tried so often but they just couldn't cut it. Ref1s cream 'em.
  11. dakanao
    The HD 540 are really smooth with natural instruments, however they're a bit unrefined with synthetic sounds, which the HD 650 for example, or the Beyer DT 250/150 are totally smooth with
  12. jon parker
    the Ovations I found to bit more hifi sounding / fun than 540
    The Beyerdynamic 250 (250ohm) certainly have a softer top end
  13. dakanao
    Do you find the Ovations softer in the top end than the 540?
  14. jon parker
    not sure, its been a while. I guess it also depends on what you personally feel is 'softer'. From memory
    I dont think so, if anything I think there was a bit more sparkle on top
  15. dakanao
    The top end of the DT 250, while sparkly, was very soft in texture. HD 650 was even smoother in texture.

    HD 540 is also smooth with natural instruments, however they don't do well with synthetic produced sound, something the DT 250 or HD 650 have no problems with.

    I guess it's because in that era such sounds were unknown.

    Also, if the seal falls a bit with the HD 540, I'm noticing a bit of sibilance sometimes with 's' or 'v' vocals.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2018
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