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Headphones advice and Open/Closed question, Which headphone set is the best for my needs?
KyleG
post Nov 20 2012, 03:55
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tldr; Sennheiser 650, Ultrasone Pro 900, or other at similar cost for someone who likes rock/alt/pop/metal/ etc. but who doesn't need to be portable and who gets headaches pretty easily? Also amp pairing suggestions? total budget. ~$750

Hello, I'm new to this forum and and to high end headphones in general. However I have some experience with high end stereo systems and am a performing musician, so I hope I can provide enough information to ask my question adequately. I recently changed living circumstances and it has become much more difficult to listen to my home audio system, so I am looking into getting a nice set of headphones with an amplifier/dac in order to improve my daily listening experience. In general, in audio equipment I would say that I'm less concerned with purchasing a product which perfectly reproduces the source material and more concerned with something I can really enjoy listening to and in this case which is good about audio fatigue and headaches (I'm using software crossfeed at the moment which helps some but I frequently get headaches with my current headphones, a Koss ProDJ100 set that is fairly good overall but uncomfortable and with sound quality obviously reflective of its more budget price range). As I've done some searching, I seem to be split between my desire for something easy to listen to and something which sounds really great for aggressive music, and in my price range the Sennheiser 650 seems to be ideal for the former and the Ultrasone Pro 900 for the latter.

Obviously the 650 is open, which seems like it would be really nice (some audio bleed is no big deal), but many people seem to think it isn't well suited for the music I listen to most frequently, and I am a little concerned about the 300 ohm impedence, meaning I would have to drive them pretty hard for a really nice sound? I'd prefer not to do that on a regular basis (I listen to music while I work and also alone for relaxation/whatnot and I'm trying not to absolutely destroy my ears).

On the other hand, the Ultrasone Pro 900 seems to be great for a fun listening experience for edgier music, but its closed back and some people even specifically claim it is more fatiguing than most. It does have an interesting technology which claims to broaden the soundstage and to reduce effective decibel pressures, which seems nice, but I don't really know how it works firsthand.

Unfortunately its extremely impractical for me to hear any of these headphones before I purchase them sad.gif Any suggestions? Thanks so much and I hope I'm following forum guidelines correctly!
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dhromed
post Nov 20 2012, 10:44
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I have a Sennheiser 555 and it's been absolutely wonderful.

QUOTE
some people even specifically claim it is more fatiguing than most.


Given that I find headphones almost intrinsically non-fatiguing (provided they sit comfortably around my ears!), crossfade a muffling tool of the devil, and that loose speakers in a room are guaranteed to give me slight discomfort after an hour or two, you can see that these things are so subjective that I personally wouldn't put any stock whatsoever in claims like the above.

You could opt for the 650 because A) the padding is the same as the 555 and I promise you that you will be able to wear that baby for hours and not feel a thing B) it looks $#! awesome.

This post has been edited by dhromed: Nov 20 2012, 10:50
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KyleG
post Nov 20 2012, 16:30
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Thanks for the response! That sounds like more sensible advice than most but I did make sure that people seem to think both the ultrasone and the hd650 are very comfortable physically, so I'd rather make the decision based on the sound difference between the two. Do you know if a higher impedence in headphones translates to a higher volume level before they really start to sound good? My biggest reservation about the 650 is that I'm worried it wouldn't sound that great until it was at higher volume levels. Or does gain compensate for that somehow? I know for instrument amps you generally don't want a system capable of handling far more wattage than you plan to put through it, but I have no idea if this applies to headphones. Also, I could stretch my budget a little and get something like a beyerdynamic (t90?) or a grado rsi1, but I just don't really know if those headphones are much better, minutely better, or just different, or if I could even notice the quality differences. It seems like you are right about everything being subjective when it comes to this stuff, but then how do I pick the best set for me? Thanks again-

Also I was using crossfeed, not crossfade. Tbh with the particular plugin I have I can't possibly imagine saying it muffles the sound, so maybe I don't even realize that people are talking about differences so minor to my ears that Ill be ecstatic with anything this high end? I certainly don't claim to be a hyper-critical listener or anything of the sort.
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yourlord
post Nov 20 2012, 17:04
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I have a pair of HD-280's, which are about 1/3 the price and which I've found to be an amazing pair of cans. They are closed circumaural and have a stronger than average clamping force so they take a little getting used to. But, I'm very used to them now.. They weigh a bit, but the padding makes them comfy and they are VERY good at isolating you from room noise. They actually weigh slightly less than the 650's. The audio quality IMHO is absolutely phenomenal. My first reaction to them was a little bad because my other Sennheisers all have much stronger bass response than the 280's, but after about a week of using them I came to realize the bass was there, it was just evenly weighted. They've shown me just how uneven the frequency response on my other phones are.

If I had to sum up the 280's in 1 word, it would be "accurate". The sound is exceptionally even, and even the lows have a crisp, sharp, accurate feeling to them. All my other phones now sound boomy and muddy to me, and those are all phones I used to think sounded awesome.

I've not had a chance to try any of the super high priced Sennheisers yet, but I personally have a hard time believing they can improve the audio quality enough over the 280's to make the expense worth it.
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markanini
post Nov 20 2012, 18:44
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I'd look at Sony 7506, Senn HD280 and Senn HD600.
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IgorC
post Nov 20 2012, 18:58
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HD 650.

They are really great for rock, metal, pop styles. Great bass and balanced sound.
I can wear them for days and don't feel tired or even notice them at all.
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KyleG
post Nov 20 2012, 19:32
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Everyone seems to be in favor of Sennheiser headphones; what kind of amps are you guys using with them or would you recommend using with them? I've heard good things about fiio amps as far as amps that are really great price/performance wise, is there a reason to spend more than that on an amp right now? One thing I was considering was getting a really nice set of headphones and using them with an e10 right now, then upgrading just the amp later if I still wanted a better sound, to potentially save money in the long run. Or would I be better off splitting the cash between the headphone and the amp more evenly right now? Also you seem to think the extra cost is entirely not worth it yourlord, which I definitely don't mind hearing, its just that I would rather spend more right now and enjoy it for longer than slowly increase the quality of my setup over time, spending more in the long run. Of course, if I'm never going to want anything more than HD280's and an e10 or e17/e9k, then I'm obviously just best off purchasing that and being happy. I wish I had a better idea of what level of quality I'm really expecting from the headphones and amp so that I could know if I had the right budget. Thanks for all the responses guys!
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dhromed
post Nov 20 2012, 20:01
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QUOTE (KyleG @ Nov 20 2012, 17:30) *
higher impedence in headphones translates to a higher volume level before they really start to sound good?


Higher impedance means you have to open up the volume knob further to get the same level. Refer to The Fine Manual of your output hardware for more details.

Sound quality has very little to do with it unless you hit the extremes. If you plug in a very high imp heaphone into your sound card, and it can't drive the phones, you'll have reduced volume. If you plug it into an amplifier that can't quite drive them, and you open up the volume, you also amplify the noise of everything in the audio chain before it, which may or may not be audible. In some cases, you even risk overheating your amplifier.

If you use a very low impedance headphone, you have to keep the output volume low or risk distortion and possibly damage. Box speakers generally have 4/8/16 Ohm impedances because they can take it— and need it to produce sound, but headphones are relatively fragile.
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DVDdoug
post Nov 20 2012, 20:18
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I'm not going to attempt a recommendation... There are too many personal preference factors, and I have not tried that many different headphones. Certainly, your budget is high enough. But without auditioning, it's hard to predict that you will be satisfied.

QUOTE
Also amp pairing suggestions?...

...so I am looking into getting a nice set of headphones with an amplifier/dac...
What are you plugging the amp/DAC into? That will determine what kind of interface you need on the digital side.

I wouldn't go too crazy with the amp/DAC. It's really not expensive to build one with good performance. Except for the cheap ones, which may be perfectly adequate, more expense goes into the packaging/case and marketing/distribution than into the actual electronics. And of course, audiophiles like to pay a lot!

You may not even need an amp. (But, if you're buying a DAC, you might as well get one with a headphone amp.) Higher impedance headphones generally need more voltage (not more power/milliwatts). But, you really can't tell if you have enough volume 'till you try out the headphone/amp combination. I would assume any headphone amp that's powered off the AC power line will have enough voltage. It's not easy to get voltage-out with a small battery or 5V USB power.

In some cases, some soundcards (and some portable players) may have too-high of an output impedance for low-impedance headphones. That can cause un-even frequency response, and different frequency response with different headphones because headphone impedance varies over the frequency spectrum. Any decent headphone amp should prevent that potential problem. Ideally, you want (relatively) low output (source) impedance from the amplifier, with enough voltage to get the volume you need. With high-impedance headphones, that's not an issue.

QUOTE
Do you know if a higher impedence in headphones translates to a higher volume level before they really start to sound good? My biggest reservation about the 650 is that I'm worried it wouldn't sound that great until it was at higher volume levels. Or does gain compensate for that somehow?
There should be no change in sound quality when the volume is increased/decreased, until you drive them into distortion. If someone says some headphone sounds better when driven loud, that's their opinion, and it might have something to do with the frequency response... But, the frequency response is not changing with volume. i.e. Maybe if the bass is a little weak, you have to turn it up to get good bass and therefore they sound better at high volume, etc.

QUOTE
I know for instrument amps you generally don't want a system capable of handling far more wattage than you plan to put through it, but I have no idea if this applies to headphones.
No. Generally, you'll damage your ears before you damage the headphones. With headphone amps, I wouldn't worry about power as long as you can get the volume loud enough for your taste.

Guitar amps are routinely driven into distortion (because particular kinds of distortion can sound good with a guitar). So, the general rule is to use a speaker than can handle twice the amplifier power. The rule for high-quality P.A. systems (where you have occasional full-power peaks) is the opposite... Use an amplifier with about twice the power rating of the speaker.

QUOTE
...but I just don't really know if those headphones are much better, minutely better, or just different, or if I could even notice the quality differences.
I'd guess just "differences" and personal taste/preference. Yes, you will probably hear a difference, and different headphones will fit/feel different. I would guess that once you get over about $200 USD, you'd find some people preferring some lower cost (~$200) headphones over higher-cost ones in "blind" tests where they are not told the prices.

Again, when you get into the "audiophile" market, low manufacturing & distribution quantities can dramatically push-up the cost, and a high selling price tends to make the product more appealing.
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yourlord
post Nov 20 2012, 23:04
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QUOTE (KyleG @ Nov 20 2012, 13:32) *
what kind of amps are you guys using with them or would you recommend using with them?


You may not *need* a dac/amp unless you get headphones with really high impedance, and then it's more for compensating for the impedance mismatch than anything else. In real world use you'll find that even the on-board audio on your average mainboard has sufficient audio quality to eliminate the need for a dac/amp for most purposes and cans with common impedances.

I drive my headphones from the headphone outputs on my computers, portable digital audio players, and smart phones. This is purely personal preference, but *IF* I was able to even perceive a quality difference between those outputs and a DAC/amp (I've tried and I personally can't) then it would be so slight as to be easily dismissed, and certainly not worth the added complexity and expense.. Again, this is just my opinion.

QUOTE (KyleG @ Nov 20 2012, 13:32) *
Also you seem to think the extra cost is entirely not worth it yourlord, which I definitely don't mind hearing, its just that I would rather spend more right now and enjoy it for longer than slowly increase the quality of my setup over time, spending more in the long run. Of course, if I'm never going to want anything more than HD280's and an e10 or e17/e9k, then I'm obviously just best off purchasing that and being happy. I wish I had a better idea of what level of quality I'm really expecting from the headphones and amp so that I could know if I had the right budget. Thanks for all the responses guys!


Therein lies the rub. Every set of phones are different, and they sound different to different people. I bought the HD-280's for my wife because her beloved pair of Sony phones fell apart. She swore by those headphones and thought they sounded like the best things in the world. I tried them and to me they sounded like 2 shredded pieces of cardboard glued to a voice coil. I mean they were TERRIBLE.. She likes the 280's as well, but to her they sound about the same as the Sony's, but I'm telling you those Sony's were bad.. I'm not even talking subjectively.. I'm convinced the things were blown or dry rotted because they crackled and buzzed so badly, but to her they were fine.

There really isn't a substitute for listening for yourself. I bought the 280's based on reviews. I'd never touched them, and as I indicated in my last post I was initially turned off when I listened to them and thought I'd made a bad buy. But, after listening to them for a couple of weeks the prejudice I had from using bass heavy phones for so long started to wear off and I realized I was hearing the bass, just that it was well balanced with the other frequencies and was clear as a bell. I had become so used to muddy thudding bass from my phones that initially my ears rejected the 280's because they lacked that mud and thud, but after a bit of listening I found a whole world of articulate sound at the low frequencies that the rest of my phones would drown out. I've pretty much switched to using the 280's anytime my wife isn't..

As for the higher end phones being worth it, that's hard to say. It depends on what it's worth to you.. I wouldn't shell out several hundred on a pair of phones I haven't had on my head and compared to other sets. For me, I'm pretty much convinced that the 280's surpass the limits of my ability to hear details. Spending more money in that situation is just playing with my audiopeen.

If a $300, $600, or $1200 pair of phones actually sound substantially better to you, and you can justify the expense in relation to your level of wealth, then by all means. I'd just caution against jumping on board the "it costs more therefore must sound better" train. I have a pair of HD202's which cost about $30 which, to me, sound better than many headphones that cost 3-6 times as much.
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KyleG
post Nov 21 2012, 23:56
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Thanks guys. I decided the only good option was to try to find some headphones to listen to, even if they weren't of the price range I was originally looking at. I was able to hear a Sennheiser HD595 and a Grado Sr225, both from my iPhone dac to a decent home stereo receiver. I was really impressed with both sets. I'd never listened to an open back set before and I definitely really liked that in both of them, the grado was more open I think and I liked that even better. I had also been a little wary of grados previously because of complaints about comfort, but to be honest I though both headsets were extremely comfortable, far more than what I am currently using. Sound-wise they were definitely different, but I liked both sounds. Neither seemed perfect for everything (at least before eq, etc.). I liked the grado more for heavier music in general, I thought it handled a really heavy mix well. Conversely I liked the sennheiser better for less dense tracks, I thought it sounded great for anything that benefitted from a more full sound. I think honestly a middle ground would be perfect, like a sennheiser that wasn't quite as heavy. What set does it sound like would be good for me? Based on that experience I see very little need to spend considerably more but I am still willing to do so if it were worth it.
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markanini
post Nov 22 2012, 14:26
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You might like Fostex TH7 for dense mixes, they're open phones. But based on what you have said so far I'd recommend taking a good look at Senn HD280 or Beyer DT250-250. But if you really want to be sure you made the right choice you have two options: #1 Find a store with a large stock of headphones that will let you demo them. #2 Buy a bunch of headphones online and sell the ones you don't like on eBay/craigslist.

This post has been edited by markanini: Nov 22 2012, 14:30
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mzil
post Nov 23 2012, 09:36
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Not sure how long this deal lasts, (Black Friday only? or just part of the day "lightning deal"?) but I just ordered (another) Sony MDRV6 for $39.99 USD, shipped.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00001WRS...d=ATVPDKIKX0DER

They have very good accuracy according to Consumer Reports, which top rated them (some years back) against many more expensive Sennheisers, Beyers, etc. [I believe they use a KEMAR dummy head to get a HRTF corrected "diffuse field" curve, so they know their stuff.]

Look at the curve at Headphones.com and you'll see what I mean. Compare them to HD-650 ($499.99 USD), etc, and I think you'll see they are similarly, admirably neutral, and at this price a great bargain.

Note sure if my graph posting skills work, but here goes:


http://www.headphone.com/headphones/sony-mdr-v6.php

http://www.headphone.com/headphones/sennheiser-hd-650.php

http://graphs.headphone.com/graphCompare.p...;graphID[]=1513

OK, I think that last one works to show both at once. [Based on the curves, I'd take the Sony! ]

There's a reason Sony keeps making them for decades now and they (along with their twin sister pro version called the MDR7506) are considered film and music studio standards. This to me means there is a strong possibility the recording engineers that made my media were using them, so I'm hearing exactly what they intended me to hear.

They are so inexpensive though, they fly under the radar of most snobby headphone people, so they don't have a lot of internet chatter, but they are great in almost all regards, and you can even mod them by buying alternate ear pads, as I do.

This post has been edited by mzil: Nov 23 2012, 10:32
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IgorC
post Nov 25 2012, 00:15
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QUOTE (mzil @ Nov 23 2012, 05:36) *
...
Look at the curve at Headphones.com and you'll see what I mean. Compare them to HD-650 ($499.99 USD), etc, and I think you'll see they are similarly, admirably neutral, and at this price a great bargain.

...

http://graphs.headphone.com/graphCompare.p...;graphID[]=1513

Actually the graph shows that Sony MDR-V6 and Sennheiser HD 650 have different signatures.

While HD650 is pretty neutral at highs the MDR-V6's will sound pretty ear-piercieng because it has quite strong peak at 9 kHz like Superlux HD668B. And bandwidth extension, not great.

But I'll agree it's a good pair for that price.
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saratoga
post Nov 25 2012, 00:43
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QUOTE (yourlord @ Nov 20 2012, 18:04) *
QUOTE (KyleG @ Nov 20 2012, 13:32) *
what kind of amps are you guys using with them or would you recommend using with them?


You may not *need* a dac/amp unless you get headphones with really high impedance, and then it's more for compensating for the impedance mismatch than anything else.


You don't compensate for impedance mismatch on a headphone amp, since you *want* to have as large a mismatch as you can get. An ideal headphone amp has zero output impedance, and thus an infinite load/source ratio. Usually the reason you want to use a headphone amp with high impedance headphones is just that they're too quiet, either due to low sensitivity or very high impedance.

For example for a typical 500 mVrms on a good sound card, with 32 ohms you'd get P=.5^2/32 = 78 mW max power output (assuming an ideal source). But at 500 Ohms, that drops to 0.5 mW, a decrease of 12 dB. So in this case you might want an amp if the sensitivity is very low on the headphones (or not, 12 dB isn't a huge difference in volume).

Usually though, its low impedance headphones that make an amp worthwhile. A lot of good sound cards have 30+ Ohm output impedance. This is a big problem if you try to listen with a pair of 32 Ohm headphones, since your headphones will actually have a lower impedance then the amp driving them, resulting in increased distortion and uneven frequency response. A good headphone amp will have <1 ohm output, allowing good quality with a low impedance headphones. But i agree with you, usually they're not really needed.


QUOTE (yourlord @ Nov 20 2012, 18:04) *
There really isn't a substitute for listening for yourself. I bought the 280's based on reviews. I'd never touched them, and as I indicated in my last post I was initially turned off when I listened to them and thought I'd made a bad buy. But, after listening to them for a couple of weeks the prejudice I had from using bass heavy phones for so long started to wear off and I realized I was hearing the bass, just that it was well balanced with the other frequencies and was clear as a bell. I had become so used to muddy thudding bass from my phones that initially my ears rejected the 280's because they lacked that mud and thud, but after a bit of listening I found a whole world of articulate sound at the low frequencies that the rest of my phones would drown out. I've pretty much switched to using the 280's anytime my wife isn't..


Its not just you. The bass on the 280s definitely dips a little. But if you add a little EQ they're a great pair of headphones. I've been using mine for 10 years now and still like them.

This post has been edited by saratoga: Nov 25 2012, 00:48
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mzil
post Nov 25 2012, 03:29
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QUOTE (IgorC @ Nov 24 2012, 19:15) *
While HD650 is pretty neutral at highs the MDR-V6's will sound pretty ear-piercieng because it has quite strong peak at 9 kHz like Superlux HD668B. And bandwidth extension, not great.

That narrow bump at 9 kHz seems very common with headphones he measures, across many various brands, so I ignore it as an artifact of either his coupler, his placement of his microphone within the coupler, or the correction curve he applies. Here are four non-Sony headphones, all from well known headphone companies, and they all exhibit a similar bump at 9 kHz (and a mild dip just before it):

http://www.headphone.com/buildAGraph.php?g...pare+Headphones

The Sony MDRV6 have a flatter, more neutral frequency response than the Sennheiser 650 where it actually counts, in the musically significant 30Hz to 12 kHz range, barring that measurement artifact. The deviation from 0 dB is smaller even though they cost less than a tenth the price! Their bass extension is rock sold to 30 Hz, down just a few dB, and even at 20 hz they are only 7 dB down. Not perfect, but considering the JND level at that frequency, I'd say pretty much transparent for most music, and absolutely in no sense "bass shy".



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