Headphone Neutrality, At What Cost To This Hobby? Page 2

While our nature as hobbyists is to be a bit picky, these concerns are largely being addressed in new headphones. But if we need to spend $700 or more to reap the benefits of these new headphones, we’re still falling back on the old ‘welcome to the headphone hobby, sorry about your wallet’ adage. The situation is improving, but $700 is still a lot of money for a headphone. When I was 13 years old and just discovering the hobby I would have been floored by both the price and performance of an HD589. An HD600 was something truly aspirational and just hearing a pair of HD800s was nothing more than a pipe dream. All I had to go by was internet commenters’ impressions, but man would I have gone through some hoops to get 30 seconds listening time. Sounds kind of funny now, doesn’t it? The HD800 is nearly pedestrian by regular forum poster’s current standards.

So that’s where we are, we’ve come a long way, but what about where we might be headed? Well, as I mentioned above, while I don’t think ambisonics or VR are ready for prime time quite yet, they present some interesting ideas. As these ideas become more fully formed, you can be sure designers of games and movies will begin paying more attention to sound. Could there be a new home-theatre craze of sorts centred around headphones? The gaming market seems to be heating up with new software-based surround options, for VR as well as non-VR titles. Concerning ambisonics, rather than speculating, I’ve linked a couple examples you can check out and decide for yourself.

Example One

Example Two

Example Three

This is the place where a lot of new people enter the hobby, and the playground where the last 10 years of advancements will make the most difference.

From a recording perspective, it takes such a long time to capture and mix a recording for ambisonics that the audio quality is fairly high. This is new technology, and it remains to be seen if, as the tech trickles down to the average user, the audio quality from the high-budget productions will remain, or degrade. In any case, I’m interested in your reactions to the links I’ve provided – I encourage you all to comment, I really do read them all.

In closing I’d like to say that I feel we have accomplished something pretty spectacular as a community – and it really was the combination of community feedback and experimentation, manufacturer-driven research, persistence and receptivity to that feedback and a lot of risk-taking that got us here. We aren’t at the end of the road to a neutral response, or the perfect headphone, but I do think we are on the cusp of a new price revolution, where the strides that have been made can enhance the quality of the headphone experiences we take on the go, or into emerging entertainment experiences. To me, the prospect of more neutral, comfortable, thoroughly-designed headphones at lower price points brings the same sense of excitement I felt as a 13-year old reading about HD800’s, T1s and other cans I could only dream I would one day get even a few minutes of listening time with. Call my tastes plebian, but after all these years, there’s still something thrilling to me about finding that HD589, that’s just within reach if you save a little and that channels even a small slice of that magic listening experience of the ‘Mount Olympus’ headphone Pantheon.


paulicca's picture

Hello, maybe something escapes me... Which model are the HD589: I haven't find anything on Sennheiser's site. Personally I've the HD600 and the HD 598CS; I've bought the hd 599 too but I return them because weren't so "airy" even if open-back.

Grover Neville's picture

Dur, sorry!

In any case, my point about them was only a personal point of reference.

Ortofan's picture

... (just) under $300.
Or, there's the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX for $200.

Grover Neville's picture

Nowadays it is. Back when I started it was closer to 400-500.
And regardless, I maintain what I said in the article - my recommendations for this price range are old. The HD600 is VERY old by headphone standards. Its remarkable that its stood the test of time so well, but its also fussy. It is sensitive to amplification, open back, kind of midbassy, not as much detail or clarity as newer headphones at a similar price point. It says a lot about how good it is that we still recommend it, but it’s certainly not pushing any boundaries.

Ortofan's picture

... what do you usually recommend to friends seeking a pair of headphones in the $300-and-under price range?

Simply Nobody's picture

I can make 3 headphone recommendations in the $300 price range :-) .........
All 3 'phones are available at Amazon and Music Direct .......
All 3 'phones have measurements available at Inner/Fidelity ....... All 3 are easy to drive 20 to 30 Ohm impedance ........ All 3 have better measurements than HD 600 ...... All 3 were very favorably reviewed on-line including Amazon and Inner/Fidelity ......... HD 600 measurements are also available at Inner/Fidelity ........

Meze 99 Classics .... $309 ...... Closed-back design ........
AudioQuest NightHawk and NightOwl ..... $300 to $400 ....... Semi-open and closed-back designs ......
AudioQuest 'phones have better measurements in bass frequencies than Meze 99 Classics .........

Simply Nobody's picture

One more ...... Master & Dynamic MH 40 ...... Closed-back design ....... Under $300 ....... Available at Amazon ...... Measurements available at Inner/Fidelity ....... They also have better measurements than HD 600, with low impedance easy drive capability :-) ........

castleofargh's picture

first thing first, it's "Sean" Olive ;)
about ambisonic, while such a demo on utube is cool, it's still very much the half baked stuff we're always being sold as "3D" or "surround" solutions. not Ambisonic, that's a solid system. but the delivery in this case where the signal is processed through some reference HRTF that's not our own. in my case, having a head that's clearly not acoustically similar to the dummy head, position cues rapidly turn into crap for me while using such demo, both in altitude and distance depending on direction.
I just tried to run the first video through my DIY crossfeed deluxe(with convolution of subjectively ok-ish HRTF at 30°. and even then, I rapidly get issues for side and back sounds. if I was receiving the actual Ambisonic record, I could decode it using some HRIR for all angles and hopefully get the real experience.
I agree with you that it's probably not going to be democratized anytime soon, if only because I've seen nobody trying to offer quality HRTF measurements while waiting at the DMV or inside our favorite shopping mall. and until we do get that(or a really effective system based on cellphone videos of our head making a 3D rendering), no 3D stuff is going to really work for all. meaning most people won't even see the point of acquiring such solutions because to them, the demos keep sucking.