Katz's Corner Episode 10: Mid-Priced Sealed Headphone Survey

Editors Note: About six months ago, Jon Iverson (Stereophile's DAC reviewer and web monkey extraordinaire) was in need of evaluating headphones for his home studio. I accumulated a box of what I thought were the best $200-$500 sealed headphones and sent them off. The box at that time did not contain the Oppo PM3. Jon's comments were similar to Bob's that follow here, though his pick of the litter was the NAD VISO HP50. One wonders what his response would have been if the PM3 was in the box?

I felt Jon's experience was interesting and felt Bob would be a great person to repeat the trials on these potentially useful studio headphones and offer his thoughts here. It's interesting to note that though this box has taken me quite a few years to accumulate, and I think all the cans therein are worthy of merit in the context of what's available out there, Bob came to feel some of the cans in the box were pretty poor performers. Oh, if he would only have the need to listen to all the stuff that crosses my doorway---that would be a rude awakening.

At any rate, I find Bob's article a breath of fresh air...a transparent peek into the mind and ears of a master listener; a picture of incisive audio evaluation as done by one intimately familiar with the sound of music. Enjoy!

Mid-priced Sealed Headphone Evaluation
Tyll has sent me an assortment of riches, a box full of midpriced headphones for my perspective. I want to be as objective as possible about these headphones so I will not look up any prior reviews (including Tyll's own), no manufacturer's blurbs, or even price lists. Why should I care if a headphone costs $200 or $2000? What counts is the sound, and secondarily the comfort, functionality and to some extent the look and feel. The only headphone in this bunch that I am mildly familiar with is the Oppo PM-3. I once skimmed a review long ago and have long since forgotten the details.

For all these tests I am using my custom M3 amplifier, which has the poost (that's a technical term) to drive any impedance headphone to its full potential. I will not apply any equalization. The player is JRiver Media Center, dithered to 24 bits into my aging (but highly regarded) Slim Devices Transporter DAC. I will use mostly 2496 master files that I know intimately, all of which I have mastered myself and some I have recorded as well, many of which are available as CD releases if you'd like to check them out. You might wonder if this is a fair approach compared to using "standard recordings": Well, I'm using excellent recordings at 2496, the 1644 CD releases of which are available to you, which I am thoroughly familiar with, mastered with and auditioned on my calibrated loudspeaker system. That's my standard. Even if you disagree with my premise, at least you will agree that my judgments are potentially as objective and consistent as a subjective review can get! I know what these recordings should sound like.

The M3 has a 1 dB/step monitor control, so I can subjectively compare the sensitivity of the headphone under review against my Audeze LCD-X cans, in case this is a help to you. The thing about sensitivity which most people choose to ignore: It's a pretty loose spec! Because the brighter the headphone, the more likely it will sound louder than another headphone with identical sensitivity at 1 kHz. Louder is part of the game that manufacturers play to make a headphone seem to sound "better". So the subjective judgment of sensitivity probably means more than the electrical measure. In my case, I adjust the M3's gain till the headphone under test sounds as loud as the reference headphone.

If I like the headphone under test, I'll listen to more than one reference cut to see if the impressions hold up. I must admit that many of these cans weren't worth a second listen. But a few of these are worthy gems, especially at the price.

Alright, let's have a listen to the headphones...

COMMENTS
Beagle's picture

Thanks Bob, for the honest insight and opinions. I like the fact that, even though these are more on the budget end and not flagship headphones, you did (again) use the absolute as the reference point, and didn't just spin off the usual "good for the money" type of reviews. I would agree with the NAD and the Oppo choices in the overall ratings.

johnjen's picture

Ah, Stabilant 22 a magic potion if ever there was one.
Well there are a few others with similar, but not identical usefulness.

But for any size of TRS it along with Caig Labs DeOxitGold is the go to stuff for sure.

But for xlrs I much prefer the much messier silver 'paste' type of contact enhancer. SST (big bucks) or Mapleshade's SilClear (low buck's).
Yeah they are or can be a mess to deal with but the results can be WELL worth the effort.

Contact enhancement usually always helps, no matter the connector, signal type.

JJ

tony's picture

I've heard many of these phones, I even bought the AT ( which I gave to one of my neighbor's kids ). I agree the Oppo is the nicest of the bunch, I heard them at one of the Meets, they didn't inspire me to replace my Sennheisers but could have been a full on purchase if I didn't already own what I have. ( I suspect my brain is calibrated to the Sennheiser Voicing ).

Quite a few of this group have wonderful "Curb" appeal, I was at Best Buy looking at a 4K TV just as a customer was buying the B&W P7s ( they are lovely to hand hold ). Some folks in Austria made me promise to own an AKG which are lovely looking, I have plenty of time so I'm holding off indefinitely.

I made polite comments about the Focals,Shures & HP50s I heard, I didn't mean what I said.

The OPPOs are wonderful, that guy owning them was quite proud, he seemed to be one of those folks that own scads of audiophile phones. I wonder how they'd be in the "Long Haul" ?

A nice OPPO bonus is their efficiency, betcha they'd work well from the iPhone.

Nice work,

Tony in Snowy Michigan shopping for a new Kitchen where Microwave Ovens cost $1,200 ( Sharp microwave in a drawer ) and faucets start at $500!

--- Headphone stuff is Cheap! ---

TMRaven's picture

Oppo's great customer service and closeness with the enthusiast community shows in their headphones. They had a beta test for the pm3, and we helped them create a nicely balanced headphone for the production model. The creator of the headphones was eager to talk with us as well in regards to feedback. The comfort and build quality is icing on the cake.

More companies should take after Oppo.

Bob Katz's picture

That's great news about Oppo's approach to the design and thank you for being one of the beta testers of this great model! I'm a Johnny-come-lately to the Oppo headphones. I am so intrigued by the prospect of finally having a great PORTABLE headphone to take with me that I'm planning an indepth review of the Oppo portable with its HA-2 portable amplfier and my iPhone, using their playback amp for true high res playback. Yes, I bought the PM-3s after this review, I couldn't help myself.

OldRoadToad's picture

I prefer what some might call "brutal honesty" over being fed Sugar Frosted Flakes with maple syrup instead of milk. I too, despise short cords on my 'phones and at the very least they should include one each of appropriate lengths.

Perhaps those that included only a short cord did so to prevent the reviewer from using it to hang himself in frustration and disgust. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, the representation of quality that is assigned a corporate name is easier kept that recovered.

Excellent reviews done with style and wit. Huzzah, indeed!

The Toad

ADU's picture

I was lookin forward to hearing Bob rip into those like he did the AKGs (kidding). Kudos though for putting some other suggestion out there in the same price range for folks to consider.

I recently picked up a new pair of AKG K553 Pros (the successor to the K550's, which Bob gave an "F" rating), after trying the M50x, Beats Solo2, and a couple other headphones/brands discussed in the review. And I'd agree the AKG's have a few issues. Getting a consistent seal and good left-right balance is a bit of a challenge with these headphones.

I'm not ready to give them the boot though. (Not yet anyway.)

If anyone's still interested in the K553 after reading Bob's rather scathing K550 review, I'd be glad to post a brief list of some of the issues I've encounted, and attempted to fix on my set. If you're not the "hands-on" type though, then you may just want to pass, and try the other suggestions here, or on "the wall".

@Bob K... How can you be an audio geek, and not be familiar with the AT M50? ;)

tony's picture

Bob seems to have plenty of Steak on the Table, why bother with cheeseburgers?
Geez, I bought an emergency pair, they weren't good enough for me with "tin ears", why would someone with perfectionist aspirations want to try em?

Tony in Michigan

ps. I'm not trying to speak for B.Katz, the M50s didn't measure up to my Sennheisers, not even close! but my teenage neighbor likes em.

ADU's picture
Quote:

Bob seems to have plenty of Steak on the Table, why bother with cheeseburgers?

Well put. Though I'm not sure AT would appreciate your analogy. :)

I was just a little surprised Bob had never run across the M50's before in his various audio adventures. They're so ubiquitous in the music and sound industry.

I gave the M50x a fair shake (before going with AKG), and they weren't my cup of tea either, sound or fit-wise. They may be good for monitoring purposes. But they sounded wooden to my ears, and depressed in the low-treble (noticeably muffled on female vocals), and dropped too many notes for my taste. EQ-ing helped a little, but not enough to deliver the kind of sound I wanted. Plus, they were just damned uncomfortable on my ears.

My AKG K553's have issues too. But I'm likin the fit and sound much better on them, after a few tweaks here and there.

I'd like to hear what Tyll and/or Bob think of the new AT R70x though. This raw FR plot posted on a Korean review site looks rolled off in the bass due to the open design, but otherwise rather promising...

http://ko.goldenears.net/board/files/attach/images/783981/808/845/005/c1...

tony's picture

these guys make price-point, mass market stuff. They know fully well what makes up a great headphone system, they could offer one if they choose to do so. It costs them about $15 to manufacture their range of headphone flavors, it's a nice "Money-Tree" for them. If they're hungry for anything it's market share!

I think they do indeed "appreciate my analogy", they love being the hamburger people, it's where the money is!

Tony in Michigan

laurentglodt's picture

First, the NAD Viso HP50 : they are very neutral sounding, incredible airy, but the fit on the head is incredibly rubbish.. I had to tune the pads with foam to close better and I'm happy not having to big ears.. Also : due to their neutral sound, they desperately need an EQ for mainstream/top40/everyday music.. Without EQ, I could only get my Fiio X3II to play acceptable. On nice recordings however, you can tune your listening experience by changing the source. On an Audioengine D3 it is airy, with an enormous soundstage, on the Fiio it is darker, not so airy, but some reproductions seem more accurate.
But because of the fits, I would never recommend them. A shame, because they are well made. Without fit, the sound is unusable. Unfortunately, if you have glasses, especially with modern, chunky ones, you have to put them of to listen. Everyday use, while working for example, is not possible. I got it reasonably cheap, almost at launch, so I think it should be the first version.

To the B&W P7, I have a slightly different meaning than Bob. I could try them out, also from the first version shortly after their launch. They were played in and I tried them on several USB DACs (Dragonfly, Audioengine D3, MeierAudio PC-Step) and on the Fiio X3II. On fits I agree with Bob : too heavy, to bulky, doesn't fit my ears well.. but they smell good (I don't think that should be too much a criteria ;)). On sound I have to disagree: Colored, but they sound a bit like B&W middle range Speakers (600er series, or the old CDM series) which is good. This sound is typical, and quite nice and warm. It gives voices a nice timbre and distance, even if the soundstage is quite small on the P7. And the thing, I found awesome on the P7 : the bass. This thing has, like an old B&W CDM7se, a very deep strong full bass. Not the fastest though. I don't know what has happened to the Bob's P7, but even the deepest audible notes, no problem at all (try Daft Punk - Tron OST, or Malia - Convergence). And I mean without any EQ, even on standard sources like a mobile phone. It is really powerful on the Fiio X3II or MeierAudio PC-Step. You can feel it when there is a real attack (downside: you can actually feel the cans vibrate some times). In a longer listening session, it could be too much. But due to fits, most won't have very long listening sessions.. a shame, because the sound is really nice. Good : it doesn't need to close well around the ears to have this massive bass, at least the P7 my brother owns (good when wearing glasses).

One headphone I would recommend however: for around 150$ there is the quite new Sony MDR-1A. I bought them because I was missing an all-rounder which is comfy in longer listening sessions, even when you fall asleep. My bassmodded Sennheiser HD439 (bassmodded for use with glasses) isn't that great in sound (flat, no soundstage). I think the Sony will fit almost every head, the pads are very soft and accept also glasses. They may warm a bit (synthetic leather). They are also very light. And then there is the sound : a bit a bathtub frequency curve, plenty of bass (I agree, sometimes a bit overpronounced), nice midrange, clear high-range. Soundstage not that precise, but for a closed headphone in that pricerange very airy. The music is on a nice distance and not directly in your head. The non-neutral setup isn't bad for me if the balance is right. The only thing I found a bit intriguing is, that it won't play that good with the Audioengine D3. It seemed, that the Sony couldn't resolve all the information the D3 gives. On the other hand, it makes a great combo with the Fiio and the MeierAudio PC-Step.

Best regards, and Tyll, Bob, keep up the nice content coming on this incredibly nice site, which is always a pleasure to read.

Laurent

ADU's picture

Thanks for your write-up, Laurent. Always enjoy seeing some other folks' takes on these cans.

Bob Katz's picture

Bonjour, Laurent. Perhaps in a perfect world I would have had the time to listen to each of these many headphones with a ton of recordings and you might have found a greater nuance in my response. But I think that for a short survey/review I'll stand with my ratings.

Even if the price/performance ratio would change a bit with a more nuanced longterm review, I hope the value of the phone to the readers based on the review would more or less stay the same. But is it really worth putting more nuance on a review of an under $400 headphone that obviously has some flaws? Especially when I found a $399 phone in the bunch that is so far above the rest that it's the only one worth spending more time with, and I did!

drWho2's picture

"incisive opinion" .... it says so in the thumbnail for this blog entry and that's ALL these 10 "reviews" are.
Can't say I've heard all these cans, but I wasn't impressed with Katz's opines during the 2015 Big Sound fisaco. What a confusing mess that wuz ... and not just Katz, but all the other participants of that sh*t-from-Shinola shindig.

All that said ... Katz:
I like your book, but never made it to the end ;) I don't think I've even illegally downloaded one of your albums. It's not you, toots ... it's the bottom-of-the-barrel artists you engineer for --- they SUCK!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I expect people commenting here at InnerFidelity to bring content. I have no problem with contrary opinion, but just bashing shit doesn't cut it. I see it happen much more and you're outta here.
Cheche's picture

I do think these cans were on your Wall of Fame for a reason. I do agree with you that it is one of the best mastering headphones out there: dynamics, correct frequency response - no over accentuated low end frequency. Resonance in a closed back headphone is unavoidable - don't you think?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I do like the FSP, tonality is quite good in my book. Ear cups are a little small making them uncomfortable for some. I like the NAD VISO HP50 and PM3 better though.
Bob Katz's picture

Dear Cheche: I bet you didn't know that there is a resonancy requirement? (ba da bum).

But seriously, I agree with you, closed back headphones are going to require some damping, and no amount of damping in that small space is going to be completely neutral, especially in the bottom end. It's kind of like the car that pollutes and then they fix it by throwing on the PCV valve. The stuffing in the sealed cans is not a cure for the disease, though it helps.

The Audiotechnica 50x are a perfect example of a tuned headphone that takes advantage of resonances, helps to make them euphonic and covers up the bad ones. The semi-closed Astell & Kearn that I just reviewed is another perfect example of taking the technology very far and reducing resonances. I would love to hear those with just a little bit of compensating EQ. The Oppo PM-3s have incredible potential, with just a hair of EQ. In an upcoming review I will review these in depth and let you know if I think the residual resonance in the bass is still detectable by the ear with some EQ on those cans. They are definitely very well-controlled. I suspect the Planar-magnetic has some bearing on that.

Anyway, the only open headphones that I'm in love with are the Audeze and the Stax, and they cost a fortune. The Sennheiser HD600 which I own proved to be a disappointment in the long run, too murky. The HD800's too brittle. Can you name an affordable open headphone that can compete with the Oppo PM-3's in purity of tone, bass extension, and accurate midrange?

RazrLeaf's picture

They're a fairly recent release I've read a lot about, and would honestly like your opinion (incisive or mundane), Bob. MSRP $300 open planar magnetic headphones.

Tyll may have a pair?

Cheche's picture

Dear Mr. Katz,
Thank you for your feedback - I do agree with you on most of these topics.
Few thoughts correlated or not with this thread, which are puzzling me for some time:
- resonance/echo/reverb are bad for the THD. Even if euphony is great, it is not the real thing
- in an open back the mechanical driver resonance is damped to the maximum extent, no echo/reverb should happen due to the open back design. The electrical resonance damping is correlated with the high resistance value.
- in a closed back presuming that we use big cups, stiffed with the best dampers possible, capable of absorbing every echo/reverb on a broad spectrum, while the size, mass and rigidity of the cup would lead to natural frequencies of the system outside the audible spectrum - this would result in a similar audible results in both closed or opened. I was not able to find a closed back headphone better than HD800 (I think for jazz and classic, this can is terrifically good). My question is: do you think that Sennheiser would not have a sister HD800-C in all these years?
- to me controlling the resonance is far easy than controlling the reverberations that not only affect the magnitude of the sound pressure versus frequency but can be also associated with some kind of a group delay of sound pressure versus sound velocity - affecting the sound perception in a bad manner.
- controlling the frequency spectrum in this complex resonance echo/reverb mix is for me more of a business of creating a driver (diagram and motor) that will take into consideration the imperfections of the cup than the other way around. On top of this there are things like phase and dynamics.
I'm young, I will improve on this. I may be talking nonsense - I'm not a headphone designer or a psychoacoustics expert by any means.

Bob Katz's picture

You are a thinker, I like that! You are not talking nonsense, just a slightly biased point of view towards open cans. And before I heard the PM-3s I would have been more on your side!

--- agreed, potentially resonance/echo/reverb are bad with euphonic phones. But I didn't find any of my personal music that I liked less because I was listening on the M50x. It's a very entertaining euphony. I wouldn't buy it for reference purposes, but I really appreciate what Audio Technica have accomplished
---Yes, closed headphones are always a potential compromise. But at least Oppo have done a marvelous thing with the PM-3... the resonance is extremely well controlled. In my upcoming detailed review I'll tell you exactly how well controlled I think it is! I have a detailed review in the works now that I've bought my own PM-3 and you can decide if I'm full of hot air. I really am unimpressed with the HD-800, even with the mod... the Sennheiser curse bothers these sensitive ears. Some other manufacturers (Oppo) seem to be making far better closed phones than ever before. Really good sounding closed phones are very rare, but they used to be non-existent. They are few and far between, of course, and typically as you point out, the open phones are usually more neutral, but each manufacturer has learned to optimize and improve upon the weaknesses of each technology. Open headphones used to be REALLY weak in the bass. I think the Planars have really changed that.

All things being equal, I was always prejudiced towards the very best open cans. Then I fell out of love with the Sennheiser HD600s (it didn't take me long). Then of course i have my Stax, which I think beat everything out there, with a little bass boost EQ, of course. And second runner up, the open Audeze LCD-X (or 3 if you prefer) sounds real real good without EQ and even better with EQ. After that, what affordable (under $600) open headphone would you nominate for complete sonic neutrality, no ugly HF rise, no ugly presence boost and sufficient bass???? Where is this unit... .and can someone send me one for review?

I haven't auditioned the Audeze low-priced can, but at that point I was convinced I wouldn't be able to find a small, portable closed headphone with the neutrality and quality I was used to with my top of the line big cans.... until the Oppo PM-3 came along and blew all my preconceptions about boxy, resonant, ugly closed phones. They've really got something going. Including "phase" and "dynamics" to use your buzz words. Imaging and soundstage are excellent, and dynamics are impressive.

As with all technologies, good manufacturers seem to find ways to make the very best of each one, minimizing their weaknesses. That was the case with the closed PM-3s, which totally changed the landscape for me. And I do bet that maybe Sennheiser will be making an HD-800C with fewer HF problems, because they've been rammed in the press about them. So the landscape is guaranteed to change again, within 12 months, I'll bet. We are living in interesting times.

guerillaw's picture

You've got a million things to do so the community appreciates you taking the time to keep these forums productive. Cheers!

tony's picture

because :

1). It resulted in giving a clear view and understanding of DACs and their performance.

2). It provided a consistent ranking of the Top 4 Headphones!

3). Perhaps most importantly it proved the significance and importance of Equalization in Direct Axis headphone devices.

Setting up "Big Sound" was a considerable amount of work, the kind I had to do to set up my 1985 Esoteric Audio Salon's product range. I'm still making Headphone gear choices and continue to find Tyll's and Katz's work valuable.

I can't imagine a person not benefiting from Tyll and Katz's work, unless you are a John Franks or Jason Stoddard who have gone over all this in your own Company's lab or you are Universal Studio's Mastering Engineering Team producing Movie Soundtracks ( with decades of experience to guide you ).

Big Sound demonstrated a range of other important issues :
like how difficult it is to find differences in amplification performance & cabling. Plus how a "loose" knob on a device will put people off.

I was happy that Tyll didn't select a Tube Amp with a row of various "Audiophile" Tubes, confusing everything else with the Audiophile "Nervosa" of Tube-rolling.

All and all, I'd say the only civilian that couldn't benefit from Big Sound 2015 would be Helen Keller, it was the Greatest headphone Journalism of the year!

Tony in Michigan

ADU's picture

I didn't get to all the articles. But the bits I read seemed thoughtful, and well-considered for the most part. And I look forward to the next chapter in that series, if there is one.

When I read about higher-end gear like that, I try to imagine how I can scale the ideas and concepts down, and apply them to my own low-cost setup. So instead of standard Hosa XLRs, maybe I get the Pro Series with Rean connectors and silver contacts instead, for a buck or two more, or a cheap Monoprice cable with gold contacts. And maybe I bug the landlord a little more to ground the outlets in my apt... That sort of thing. :)

We all have to start somewhere with this hobby, don't we.

I'm slightly intrigued by the contact grease discussed above. :)

Jim Tavegia's picture

Bought them off a good review and the on-line Pro Audio Store sales engineer recommendation. The only audio purchase I really regret and at $350 that is quite a hit for me. They are dull and lifeless to me, but can work on some music that is very, very bright. The bass that was supposed to be a big deal seems absent to me. Not that comfortable either.

I wish I had bought 2 more pair of the AKG K271s that I really like for what I paid for the Focals. I also like my AKG-K701s very much as well.

I hate making $350 mistakes and I've tried to sell them, but would take too big of a hit for what I was offered.

Live and learn. I will not buy any more headphones without hearing them first.

Bob Katz's picture

yeah, that's a good idea! But it looks like if you had read my review of the Focal Spirits you would have passed on them without the stress and strain. So I almost saved you $350! Sorry I was so late :-(.

Greyfossil's picture

I didn't see any longer cord on the NAD site. Do you have any recommendations commensurate with its price range?

Thanks,

DavidG.

potterpastor's picture

Hi Bob. I respect your work a lot, you've got a golden ear. I think the PM3 is a great choice, no issues with what you said there.

I've never heard anybody describe the original Sennheiser Momentum as "fatiguing," though the M2 is a little boosted in the presence region. The original Momentum was better.I would give it a treble boost at 4500 kHz and everything was great.

I don't think the M2 needs an amplifier, it is pretty sensitive already, but it definitely scales up when you connect it to a top notch receiver.

You said the M50X was colored but enjoyable, but I think it is pretty balanced on the whole. But the headband is not comfortable on my bald head.

I like what you wrote about the HP50, it is a solid performer.

I was surprised by what you wrote about the Focal Spirit Professional, I like that headphone a lot and I think it is nicely balanced. Not the most comfortable, though.

I agree about the Shure 1540 being overpriced and not as good as some of the lesser expensive phones.

I thought the AKG 550 was decent.
Someone mentioned the MDR1A, that too is a very good headphone. Sounds a lot like the Momentum.

Never heard the ATH MSR7, so I cannot give feedback.
The B&W P7 has a little bit of a recessed mid range to me, did you hear that also? It is harder for me to eq headphones with wonky midranges, they often end up sounding gritty.

how do those Chinese Zoro on ear headphones match up soundwise to the ones you wrote about here?

Excellent work and a very thorough and well done job.

Bob Katz's picture

Hmmm.. What is this M2? I don't know the reference. As far as the Momentum goes, I think I must be hypersensitive to the Sennheiser curse (the 7k resonance). It must be endemic to their driver design, though I never heard it with my HD600s, which sound too dark to me anyway. I think there are Sennheiser lovers and Sennheiser haters. There doesn't seem to be much in between. I really admire Tyll's and other's efforts to dampen the resonance with tricks, but gosh oh golly, I was underwhelmed by the modified HD800 at Big Sound 2015. I feel like I still hear the residual problem even after the mod, only less so, and it would pick at me, pick at me forever if I bought those cans. So if I over-reacted to the Momentum and called it fatiguing, it would still not be on my "jump up and buy" list, but read the last line, I did say they might be just fine with a warm-sounding DAC and amp!

The Focal, being a sealed headphone, could be a bit variable in reactions due to the seal or lack of same on different heads. Clearly more bass would help to counter some of the excess highs that I heard. I heard what I heard, and maybe you heard something different. Some day we should do some measurements sticking microphones in our individual ear canals. Bob Schulein has had some success measuring headphones in his own ear canal! Crazy, huh?

The only review that I could give you with more credibilty would be to bring in the same team that I used to evaluate the "world's best headphones" in an earlier Katz's corner. One individual like me could come up with a wrong impression despite my strong objective stance, but 5 of us at the same time might not. But that was not in the cards, and do you think I could attract my team again saying, "hey guys, let's listen to some under $400 headphones, please." Not.

KK22's picture

Bob, Firstly great writeup on the HPs. Certainly a very high sale volume and hotly debated (on online forums) price segment.

The M2 is the common reference for the Sennheiser Momentum Ver 2.0 headphones, easily distinguished by their FOLDING EARCUP DESIGN. Other differences include the steel 90 degree turning hinge on the M1s cable and a smaller ear cup (uncomfortably small for some) on the M1s as well. I own a pair of the M1s, which to my ears are more natural sounding with a tighter mid-bass than the M2s which I auditioned at an airport with a portable amp. My Momentums serve as my casual throw in the bag headphone that i tend to drive directly from my iPhone6 with Tidal HIFI.

When I travel for work, my HA-2 and PM-3s get the most ear time. With the Oppo 105D DACed Liquid Carbon driven LCD-Xs saved for long listening sessions at home. I certainly seem to gravitate towards similar equipment as you Bob, and hence will be following your recommendations very closely :-)

potterpastor's picture

I pretty much agree wih KK22. I have both M1 and M2 and agree that M1 is more natural and more balanced, less shouty and boomy. But M2 is more comfortable, and it still gets ear time, with eq

Three Toes of Fury's picture

Howdy Bob .n. Tyll,

This is an outstanding comparison..thanks Tyll for setting it up and big time thanks to Bob for spending the time and sharing your findings.

The midrange sealed category is the most important for me. My primary listening is in an office setting (sealed) and my budget for headphones doesnt allow drifting into the high-cost high-end cans. Ive experimented alot within this range, with several headphones included in this article, may thanks to the wonderful wall-o-fame, but I am always interested in others reviews, findings, and suggestions.

From an industry standpoint, I think we're going to continue to see manufactures focus on new releases for this range. Especially with technologies that previously were untouchable at this pricepoint (ie: planars).

Its both great and disheartening to read Bobs final findings....great because ive really been interested in hearing more about the PM3's since their release...disheartening for my wallet as Bobs review might be the last little push i needed to pick up a pair.

Keep up the great work sirs. Its appreciated.

Peace .n. Living in Stereo

3ToF

DT48's picture

Interesting comparison.

I'm surprised about the evaluation of the PM7 response, in my experience it has an unbearable bass boost.

Bob Katz's picture

DT48: Heya! Given the very weird rectangular shape of the B&W I would not be surprised that on some ears it would exhibit a big bass boost. I should have pointed out in my review that the shape and size of these cans would mean great variability in bass response among listeners. Sorry that I did not.

tony's picture

Oppo PM-3s are selling between $300 to $400 on Ebay.

Used Sennheiser HD 600s sell for about half that!, they can be closed by covering the backs with painter's tape and re-equalized to decrease the increased Bass impact. A Win-Win situation ! ( just a thought )

Tony in Michigan

veggieboy2001's picture

A truly engaging read for me, thank you. I was able to spend some time with the Oppos from a Head-Fi listening tour and I absolutely loved them. The ONLY thing that gives me pause is non-removable ear pads (non-customer-removable anyway). A true bummer that (I may get them anyway...they're awesome).

I plan on volunteering my AT M40x I bought myself for Christmas for measurements...I was pleasantly surprised at the performance of the 50s little brothers...I hope you'll enjoy them too.

This is an exciting time to be "into" portable audio, for sure. (I'm looking forward to your take on the Meze, if you still think that they're still up to snuff...I'm on the list to listen to them, too.) Hopefully Audeze will create some more musical magic with their upcoming on-ear Sine...same MSRP, they seem to be some direct competition for the PM3 (you really can't tell from pics, but they don't look much smaller then the Oppo...)

But Tony...I'm hoping you're joking...the more I re-read your post (painters tape!) I'm convinced you are....

tony's picture

That tape works, I've done felt too, anything to isolate-off the outside is worth trying, painter's tape is just a ultra-quick "try" when you have contractors in-house.

Tony in Michigan

veggieboy2001's picture

I see...quick try...makes sense. I was always under the impression that you couldn't just take an open back HP & close the back to make it sound good. A lot more goes into the tuning (so I thought), but hey, if you can make it work, more power to ya! I definitely don't have the DIY chops to chime in here...

thx Tony.

tony's picture

is probably what Manufacturers do. In my case I love the Sennheiser Voicing that the HD580/600/650 offer, so I worked with EQ and various closing-off materials to good result. I could simply resort to using Etymotic In-Ears that are the Gold Standard for Isolation. Tinkering with simple craft stuff is an easy and creative thing to dabble with and I already know what the Headphone "should" sound like so I have a nice "known" target to shoot for.
Humans have brilliant qualities if a person can "free himself" to adventure in things like this, and I only have to "please" me, not a hyper critical consuming public that might be fussier than me. ( or technical Reviewers, for gods sake)
And Headphone stuff is dirt cheap for very good gear systems, I'm spending $1,500 for a Festool RO90 Sanding System this weekend. ( my little DAC & Asgard2 & outboard EQ & Sennheisers have a total investment of around $650.00 )

Tony in Michigan

veggieboy2001's picture

wrong about the Sine MSRP... $100 more.

hero5jungle's picture

Wow, I was going to get the MSR7 because Zeos recommended them.

Bob Katz's picture

Sorry to spoil your fun. I think the M50x would be a much more entertaining choice. And pretty darn accurate considering everything. Or... spend the extra money and go for extreme accuracy.

drWho2's picture

The opines of the 10 seal jobs are all over the map. (Keep in mind: Hertsy boy SELECTED his 10 best (??) to ship off to Katzy boy. And, then, Bobby boy took an axe to most of 'em (some that are popular and otherwise favored elsewhere).

So why are opines all over the map?

Just saw this in AAAS's famous journal, Science, this week:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/humans-mated-neandertals-much-ear...

WTF does this mean--and what does this have to do with this cans-compare? Merely that humans are more individually varied based on evolutionary history -- so the broad and much-contested opines are all "valid". We don't need no steenken "pros" and 'viewers tellin' us what is and isn't crap.
Toodles!

drWho2's picture

...meaning you can claim a lot of cause/effect in the name of science and get away with it 'cause no one can challenge with DEFINITE facts.
And that's what most headphone reviews are, even rigorous ones "backed" by charts/graphs/data and/or experts/reviewers/"pros".
The science of the ear/brain system and psychoacoustics is mostly a huge unknown. Add to that: Psychosomatics, logical fallacies and confirmation bias enters creepingly; and then there is the momentum/inertia of herd mentality (Amazon stars and all those gazzilion-page Appreciation threads on head-fi.org -- hey it's gotta to be good if all these dudes are discussin' it, right? I want what Jude's got! I want all those goodies at CanJam! I wanna show of my rig on H-F Gallery or Facebook. I'm bored --- I need somethin' new to Tweet the next 15mins).
Yep: I've got my 1967 Senn 414's -- and that's all I need ;)

Bob Katz's picture

.... you might get decent bass response.

I'm not one of those reviewers you cite with the "review flavor of the minute" or the "latest flash". I try to pick and choose what I like and review those.

By the way, Steve Guttenburg was a best man or at least a witness at my wedding at the court in Brooklyn in 1986 so we've been friends for a long long time! I brought Steve into Chesky Records as an associate producer so he is also intimately familiar with many of my recordings. For reviewers you can trust, I recommend the ears and unbiased reviews of this triumvirate: Tyll Hertsens, Steve Guttenburg, and (humbly), myself.

Yet we all make mistakes, and I'm more than willing to admit my own, so I promise to respond to some of the contrary reviews from you good readers in this thread. I promise not to act too defensive :-)

ultrabike's picture

I wouldn't waste too much time with drWho2. From what I can tell he is 13MH13. A troll who actually managed to get banned from IF sometime ago for being disrespectful to other members of this site.

Keep up the good work. As a reader, I really enjoy and value your contributions.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Bye-bye drWho2. His contributions here are way more noise than signal. Pretty harsh, staticky noise.
roguepp88's picture

A solid review overall, i.e. I think your comment on the PM3 is accurate.
But I really have to question Katz's comments on the MSR7. I owned the M50x, and basicly threw them away after hearing the MSR-7 which was vastly technically superior, and bought the MSR-7 to replace it instead.
No offence intented. I know you are well respected, however your comment on them worthing $50 is completely wrong. Test the M50x with the MSR-7 side by side and you will know which one is superior (unless you are a bass-head).

I could put it down to your small collection of music tested with, but I see you gave a similar listening note to the B&W P7s (slightly light bass and a slightly elevated high) and you recommended them, so I can only conclude that this batch of reviews is biased when placed together.

Bob Katz's picture

Dear Rogue: Sorry, but my comments on the MSR7 stand. If "I must be a bass head", then you must be a treble head. :-). The only thing is then your argument becomes de gustibus, while my approach is based on accurate comparisons with a loudspeaker system which is flat within + or -1 dB. Hmmmmm....

UnityIsPower's picture

"Dear Rogue: Sorry, but my comments on the MSR7 stand. If "I must be a bass head"

When I first started my search, I was having some issues with "hi-fi" phones being recommended to me that I just didn't find represented the really nice speakers I've heard in the low end. I've come to the conclusion the lack of bass leaves the mids and highs more prominent and people who helped me took this to mean it was true hi fidelity. Yeah, I think I'll be a basshead if that's what hi fidelity sounds like.

I felt those speakers. If i can barely feel, let alone hear the low end, I'll pass. The ATH M50 really sound good to me. Signature trumps technicality in my book once you hit good gear, the last bit of refinement cost too much and is hard to find in a complete package.

This is also why I've fallen back on to GR07BE even after trying more hi end in-ears. They sound great, aren't too expensive, and are well built and designed. Now I really just want to get rid of the wire. Wireless ATH M50X/GR07BE, I await you. Maybe Bluetooth 5 will bring us some nice gear on top of Apples move to remove the headphone jack, which I really think they should have included the Airpods for free in every box but that's another conversation...

Bob Katz's picture

Rogue, I think you missed some important differences between the M7 and P7 reviews. Basically, the ATH-M7 hit me hard with their weaknesses while the B&W only slapped me on the wrist. I also said the B&W's have no obvious colorations, at least above their bass rolloff point: All I heard was some bass rolloff. While with the ATM7 I heard an exagerated and potentialluy fatiguing treble. That's a bigger difference than Rogue took away from these two reviews.

After that it's not possible to be more objective. My rating is based on the importance I place on accuracy in the midrange. The B&W's seem much more neutral to me in the critical midrange than the ATH-MSR7. I place great importance on midrange accuracy: Everything comes from the midrange, if it's not right, then nothing is right. And to my ears the B&Ws were a bit more neutral in that critical range, than the ATH MSR7. But ultimately as you saw, I downgraded the B&W's. But placed them several points better than the ATH. So we're arguing nuances, and Rogue's priorities for accuracy in certain ranges obviously do not coincide exactly with mine.

The selection I chose to review the ATH is a real acoustic/electric big band so if there are problems in the upper midrange they would reveal it quickly. Perhaps if I had chosen the same Daddy's Cash selection to initially listen to the B&Ws I might have come to the conclusions about the fatiguing treble a bit sooner. But I doubt I would have changed the ranking, since after listening to several selections I began to discover the upper midrange flaws of the B&W as well.

This should not be an argument between us... it is a matter of nuance, and you seem defensive that I gave a real low grade to a headphone that you like so much. I'm sorry... these things happen.

roguepp88's picture

No offence taken at all.
I respect your taste for music and your opinions just as much I respect everyone else's as much as my own.

My quelm was not on your dislike of the MSR-7 sound but your conclusion its only worth $50.
Its a comment that I felt was not fit to be taken after you tested with such a small batch of music.
After all the strength of the MSR-7 lies in its clarity and imaging,
Its not qualities that jump at you after listening to it for a short while with a small collection of songs.
Its because of these qualities that it lies on Tyell's wall of fame currently.
I simply thought your comments were too critical of a headphone well loved by many others.
I guess its because we all listen to different music and we all have a slightly different perspective in terms of sound quality we look for.

I understand where you are coming from,
Everyone has their own opinions and I hope you are not offended by mine.

Bob Katz's picture

...Rogue and I'm glad you took my comments in the spirit of good dialogue!

keanex's picture

Bob,

Thanks for your time in sharing your thoughts but I had some comments or concerns.

1: The B&W P7 are objectively a bass leaning headphone. This is shown among popular opinion, my personal experience, and measurements. You have come to a different conclusion and my only thought is that you must have not had a good seal with the P7 - the pads can be a bit stiff/rigid if not thoroughly broken in. The mention of roll-off points me further in this direction.

2: "My rating is based on the importance I place on accuracy in the midrange." This is something that is necessary to disclose in your opening statements. You're looked at as an authority figure and are posting on one of the most popular/trustworthy audio sites in the world. If you're going to inject bias that's fine - Tyll does so, but his is disclosed in such reviews. That makes it easy to understand where Tyll is coming from. You liking the PM3 the best makes sense if you were focusing your listening on the midrange - it's beautiful in the midrange. It's potentially dangerous though, to inject this bias without disclosing it openly at the start of the review as it could lead to many misconceptions and wasted money from consumers.

Anyway, thanks for your opinions.

Bob Katz's picture

Dear Keanex: I think that our differences of opinion only point out the variability of how a sealed headphone seats on the ears. Open headphones probably are more consistent. Your judgment of the P7 does not change my observations of this headphone as I heard it. Frankly, these are not expensive headphones, It's not worth taking the time to dig deeper into the reasons for the differences noted.

#2: Accuracy in the midrange. That's a standard ---- not a bias!

It should never be necessary for any reviewer judging a transducer for accuracy to have to tell you that the midrange must be correct first! The midrange is literally the reference that the ear/brain uses to judge all the other ranges! It is also literally the standard which respected reviewers have used for years. For example, J. Gordon Holt was known to say, "If the midrange isn't right, then nothing is right." (I'm paraphrasing as I do not have the exact quote).

So midrange accuracy is a priori. Translation: This goes without saying. You are way off base by feeling that it needs to be said!

My review of the PM-3 states several times that the headphone is "nearly perfect" with some perceptible loss at the high end and some inconsequential increase in bottom. How do you think that high end is judged???? How do you think that bass is judged? --- With reference to the midrange, of course.

As for my biases, by this point I think you should know that they are very much towards accuracy. I try not to listen to inaccurate transducers, unless they are so euphonic that it can overcome my preference for accuracy, like the Audiotechnica M50x.

Frankly, no one can rating in-accuracy with a numeric or letter rating... if one frequency range is not accurate, we can only give an opinion as to how significant the anomaly is. Which is exactly what I did in the PM-3 review. For example, I said that I felt the bass is a little bit exagerated, and I even gave decibel values as to how far it will still be off after doing a 1 to 1.3 dB rise in the high end. Where else but here at Innerfidelity can you get such an exacting review? Regardless of whether you agree with my findings! So, please count your blessings!

I try to express myself in terms that are easier for a reader to translate than many other reviewers. I'll bet a lot of my readers have gotten a very accurate impression of what the PM-3 sounds like to me! Then, knowing their own impressions of other headphones that we share, they can interpolate how the unknown headphone might sound to them.

You should do the same.

I can't teach you how to ride a bicycle by writing about it. Similarly, I can only do my best to convey to you how a headphone sounds. And I've done a pretty darn good job of that! So quitcherbellyaching!

As for stating reviewer's biases, if someday Innerfidelity includes a section on Reviewer's backgrounds I'll be happy to put in a paragraph, but I think that with ten "Katz's Corners" already up there, you would pretty much already have that picture.

Next :-).

keanex's picture

"Frankly, these are not expensive headphones, It's not worth taking the time to dig deeper into the reasons for the differences noted."

Yikes - This is elitist and comes off very negatively. So it's okay to not properly ensure a fair opinion because they only retail for $400?

"Accuracy in the midrange. That's a standard ---- not a bias!"

That's one way to consider a headphone and that's what you hold most value to. That's not a standard, there are many facets to a headphone other than the midrange.

"Where else but here at Innerfidelity can you get such an exacting review? Regardless of whether you agree with my findings! So, please count your blessings!"

Estimating dB variations to your preference is not exact, and regardless, many reviewers do this. I'm not even sure you realize how pompous this statement sounds - so I'm going to leave it at that.

"So quitcherbellyaching!"

I provided some constructive criticism and you go off on a defensive and elitist rant.

Frankly I thought my reply to you was rather cordial, while you take a defensive and elitist approach. There's nothing left to be said in our responses.

Good day.

Bob Katz's picture

...That didn't go well. Some days no matter how you write, someone else is going to take you wrong.....

Bob Katz's picture

Yeah, some $400 headphones are worth the trouble to review very deeply! Car and Driver might spend 10 pages reviewing a good-performing $15,000 car, but remember thousands of people are going to buy that car. While I do get paid (a very small amount, it would shock you to know) for doing this review, it's literally an honorarium, so this review, and the time that I'm spending here, is a labor of love. As it is with you guys also posting on this site! I devour each of your posts. We all love this hobby. I fortunately I use headphones in my profession, which helps me financially.

Folks, I spent a day writing the review and perhaps a week listening and reviewing to these cans. You may not know this, but the truth is that It's impossible for a reviewer on this site (except possibly for Tyll) to make a living exclusively writing. The days of big payments from magazines are nearly over and websites cannot financially support more than a very small crew, of which I am not a part... I'm an outside contributor.

That's what I meant when I said in this thread that it's not worth taking more time to get into the possible reasons for sonic differences in some of these headphones. There is a practical financial limit. Yes, we would love to do it, I would love to spend a week analyzing and tabulating the bass differences among users. But it would be purely a labor of love, I would not be able to put bread and butter on my table and my wife would divorce me. So it's not worth it, not for a $250 headphone and some of the $400 models as well. That's exactly what I meant when I said that it's not "worth the time" to further evaluate these inexpensive headphones.

Still, it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth to hear the misinterpretation of my well-meant words and I'm sorry that part of the thread had to end that way.

Beagle's picture

"If the midrange isn't right, nothing else matters."

Bob Katz's picture

Wow! I can't believe how popular this site is. We just put up this review and comments are pouring in. Here are my general responses. In the next few days I'll give specific replies to each of the points you all brought up.

1) De gustibus non disputandum est.

2) The troll has lost his credibility as soon as he dissed some of the finest and most respected acoustic musicians on this planet.

3) I agree that it's a potentially valid criticism that I used a very small set of recordings to evaluate some of these headphones. But just like these cans are Tyll's pick of the best of the best mid-priced, the recordings I picked are the best of the best from my collection of high res masters. I know the music intimately, more intimately than anyone else out there except the creator of the music itself. And I am the mastering engineer, I produced their sound. I know my sound, I know how I create it. I can put a headphone on my head, play something I have mastered and usually know within seconds if this sounds like something that "Bob Katz would not have produced" --- then the headphone under test must instantly be inaccurate by definition because it is unfaithful to my sound standard. This is a powerful evaluative tool. The only way you can approach this degree of accuracy in judgment is to listen to the headphone using many recordings (at least 25 to 50 I would venture) that you are familiar with and gain an average. If many of the recordings you listen to seem to have a boost at 60 Hz, then the problem must be the headphone and not the recordings! So you can reach valid conclusions too, just not as swiftly or as efficiently as I can with very few recordings.

So, for efficiency, if I found that if I put on just one of my finest recordings and it sounds bad to me, then I'm just not interested in wasting my time hearing more music on that set of cans.

4) All the above said, Tyll, with his superior knowledge of how these things are made, made a very telling point about the AKG and their controversial seal. So we have to take into account how well (or how poorly) a particular can fits on my (or your) head in regard to the bass response. I tried to point that out, at least indirectly, when I started describing any headphones in the set whose diaphragms did not sit well around my ears. Any cans sitting kind of "on top of my ears" are bound to get a poor bass review from me. The AKGs, however, sit around my ears, but it did not occur to me what Tyll pointed out, that the jaw opening is particularly problematic with them.

5) Yes, this is an incisive review, with arrow sharp definition I've given you my own picks and pans without beating around the bush. In future reads of this comment thread I'll try to respond to the differences in opinions that some of you have about certain of the phones and if it finally amounts to "de gustibus", that's not a problem either, we can agree to disagree. Even if I am the one who's right :-). But seriously and contrary to one remark in this comment thread, I did find considerable areas of agreement between Tyll's review of the AT-x's and my own. Enough agreement so that our two reviews taken together should be very synergetic for anyone considering a purchase. Same with the stuff from Big Sound... there were many areas of agreement and even when one of the participants disagreed I was able to take many of their remarks as two sides of the same coin. There is considerable value here if you read carefully, and also read between the lines.

6) Regarding my unfamilliarity with the ubiquitous Audio Technicas, despite my being a studio cat, I have to say that I spend little working time in other people's studios these days. I haven't recorded a band in a number of years, I prefer to stay in my sanctum santorum and master records. When I do venture out to record it is a special experience with clients who are looking for my record touch and so I bring a lot of gear that I own and don't look very often at the Audio Technica headphones lying around. I don't even use the studio console most times, bring my own custom console in, so my recording world is very different from the studio world you imagine I participate in. It should therefore not be a surprise that this was my very first experience with the Audio Technicas. So let's hope my inexperience, innocence and freshness provided a less-biased look at them!

Lastly, I know what I know and I don't know what I don't know. Hopefully by now you have learned to read between the lines of my own reviews and extract whatever weaknesses you perceive and just enjoy the good parts. That's how you should evaluate any critical review anyway. That's what I do with movie reviews.... You've got to read and think... take my thoughts into account and then listen for yourself as well! Like the reader in this thread who vowed never tg buy a headphone without auditioning it first himself. Hip Hip Hooray! Good idea. That's why I rented my Audeze choices from the Cable Company before purchasing them. And why I feel grateful to Tyll for introducing me to the PM-3's as part of this marvelous package. I might never have had the opportunity to discover what I believe to be the very best price/performance headpohone on the planet.

I'll be back... enjoy.

RazrLeaf's picture

Perhaps I'm in the minority in that I really appreciate you using recordings you know intimately well in evaluating headphones. Instead of comparing how the recordings sound on one headphone versus another, your knowledge of how the recordings sound gives me faith in your short, efficient assessments.

Seth195208's picture

I love them more than Donald Trump and Ted Cruz put together.

Beagle's picture

We all need a good laugh.

Seth195208's picture

I can't believe how fortunate we are to have you be a part of this site. Years ago, I would go to your website and imagine what it would be like to pick your brain about all things audio. You can imagine how surprised I was when you showed up here! Thanks! :-)

Bob Katz's picture

You are a gentleman and a scholar! And you have good taste, too!

Seth195208's picture

The Lipinski's in your studio look very similar to my Dunlavy SC-1's. How similar are they on the inside? Is the impulse response similar?

Bob Katz's picture

I used to have all Lipinskis but I sold them to get the Revels. That was at a time when I was not using any digital correction and the Lipinskis sounded too bright to me. But now that I have digital correction, the high end of the Lipinskis could have been easily tamed, and their superior polar response and much tighter impulse response compared to the Revels would have given the Lipinskis the edge. I don't at all regret getting the Revels, but they are basically a one-man speaker. It's an MTM configuration much like the Dunlavy. I gave them rave reviews in Pro Audio REview when they came out, and then struggled with high frequency rise issues for years before I gave up.

Seth195208's picture

..1khz and up. They have the best imaging I've ever heard, but the spotlight on the performers was just too bright. I permanently loaned them to my brother and started making my own speakers at that point.

Bob Katz's picture

I'll bet that you could have tamed that Dunlavy rise easily in Acourate Convolver and make an A-grade speaker into an A+. I've done that with the Revels and PMCs as well, both of which to me sound just a little bit too bright. I have no objections to EQ as you guys know. After all, a crossover is an equalizer, so what's the objection to moving the components and response curves of that crossover into an equalizer and changing the virtual values of inductors and capacitors, but with an equalizer.

Yeah, I know, the devil is in the details :-). That's why it took me years to decide which digital correction system to use and reject many of them until I found the one which is audibly transparent and as good-sounding as the old analog crossover.

deckeda's picture

LOL Thanks for taking (several) for the team, Mr. Katz! The drama was nearly palpable.

The value/budget conundrum will forever be a consideration for most of us. When I couldn't afford the ATH-M50x for some remote recording, and was not at all impressed with the Sony MDR7506 for that task (I heard Jim T's above when on location with him once ...), I picked up the Monoprice 8323. Paid a whopping $35 or so for them and today they are $16.

Yes they have real problems with response and comfort and everyone has their baseline limit of what they're willing to put up with. But I dare you to try them, just to see. After I learned what they were doing they let me hear what my mics were picking up while isolating me from the live sound, my only requirements.

Don't read the above as a recommendation for the 8323 being great monitoring cans, but rather, damn worthy for some of us on an extreme budget. All things in context.

Core's picture

I hope your Guttenburg is a lot better than this Guttenberg: http://www.cnet.com/news/39-gold-plated-fuses-improve-sound-quality/.

Mr. Katz, please review some of your favourite headphones—e.g., Sennheiser HD 280 PRO and Sony MDR-V6. Thank you, Mr. Katz, for the survey.

Bob Katz's picture

I haven't looked at Steve's review about the fuses. Well, Steve and I agree to disagree on some things, no harm done. We're still good friends and we usually agree on the sound of speakers when the two of us are in front of them at the same time.

Anyway, aren't we all past the HD280 Pro and the MDR-V6 by now? Jeez, both of these headphones are pretty colored, have been exceeded by far better later models... Personally I have no interest in revisiting them. It was torture enough for me to listen to the inferior models in Tyll's collection of best mid-price cans. :-(. Tyll said to me, "Bob, I saved you a lot of grief by not including a lot of the other phones in that box." Thank you, Tyll.

Though In summary, from recollection: The HD 280 Pro is a pretty decent phone. Hey, I own three pairs so they must not be that badf. Just a bit murky-sounding overall, but it has bass at least which is nice. I like it as a quicky to take on location, but not to judge absolute accuracy. I still take them with my iPhone to listen to music cause the Audeze LCD-X are just too darn heavy (and expensive to lose, too!). I am hoping that my new pair of Oppo PM-3s which are in the mail right now will replace these Sennheisers and be a big step up.

In contrast, the Sony's as I recall them are a lot thinner in the bottom. They represent technology that's long been superceded. The Audiotechnica M50X kill both the Sennheiser HD280 and Sony's so much that it's not funny, and in my opinion well worth the price.

zobel's picture

You might try the HD380 pro by Sennheiser. For those of us with above average size heads and ears they are wonderful! Most reviewers prefer the sound, isolation, comfort, portability, and build quality over the ATH M50X, or the Sen HD280 pro. This comparison is pretty good;

https://www.quora.com/Which-should-I-choose-among-Sennheiser-HD380-Pro-A...

I did not own the HD280 pro, but almost all reviews say the HD380 pro are a much better phone, and they are comfortable, and compared to the ATH M50X, isolate better, and for recording purposes, don't leak anywhere near as much sound. Size matters. Circumaural should be around the ear, and as you state, many of these cans are, more or less, on-ear.The Oppo PM3 are too small for larger heads and ears, which is a drag, because I believe you when you say they sound good.

Speaking of on-ear cans that are comfortable, sound great, very efficient, look good, and are cheap: Thanks for the recommendation of the Noontec Zoro II HD....I love them for portable use!

Thanks for your reviews here!

Michael Gunin's picture

It's really terrific to read such a well-thought comparisons. I like on-ears and lightweight portables, it's just great to be able to move around with such a high fidelity units. Been using ATH-ESW9 myself for a long time and OPPO does seem like a worthy upgrade to my good old pair.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I can't expect you to save my bacon all the time. I thought Focal would have to build at least a very good headphone, but for me and with my 68 year old ears that lose something over 6-7Khz not such a good choice.

I think your comments about EQ being the "real deal" in cans is spot on. I did buy a an ART headphone 6 that has bass and treble controls for each headphone output in my studio that works pretty well in tailoring the sound to what my friends and clients like and those younger folks with still great hearing like the Focals, so all is not lost...just MY loss. I still use them as I can't just let a $350 investment sit idle. I would surely recommend the AKG K271's for someone with some slight hearing loss like me. I also recomend Grado's for the same reason. The K271s are way better than my 2 pair of 7506's, but I still use the 7506s for singing practice. Enjoyed your reviews.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I found that there is a -3db loss at 45 hz and at least -6db at 30 hz. I also think they have a huge dropout between 3khz and 8 khz in comparable level below those points. It could be me, but it is as though the HF divers in my pair are totally absent. At least -12db in level. Much of that could be my hearing, but they are so dull sounding that even at $150 it would be no sale if I had heard them first.

Here is a link to the test I use:
http://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/hearing.html

veggieboy2001's picture

I've enjoyed everyone's comments, even, to an extent, drWho2. But when you say "you can claim a lot of cause/effect in the name of science and get away with it 'cause no one can challenge with DEFINITE facts." and "...logical fallacies and confirmation bias enters creepingly; and then there is the momentum/inertia of herd mentality..." I think you're missing the point a bit.

I'll quote Bob Katz: "...Enough agreement so that our two reviews taken together should be very synergetic for anyone considering a purchase."

This, to me, sums up why I read reviews. Not because "hey, he does this for a living, he must be right". I read because, the better I understand a reviewers POV, the better able I can gauge how much we agree (or disagree) about headphones I'm familiar with. If we have that sort of baseline, then I can better value (or disregard)reviews of headphones I haven't heard...and any reviewer worth their salt has access to and heard wayyyyy more headphones than I have (or likely ever will).

Another aspect no talked about much, is that these reviewers (Tyll, Bob, Steve, and a few others I respect)have PRACTICE listening. They are able to hear flaws much quicker than I likely could. IDK about anyone else, but I've made some headphone purchases I've later regretted. Not that Tyll Et Al don't make mistakes,(of course they do, Bob said as much in one of his responses). It's just that they have a lot (A LOT) of experience in auditioning 'phones. They can tell in a few minuets if something will be fatiguing (for example) whereas it would likely take me a week.

I hope I don't sound as if I'm putting them (reviewers) on a pedestal, that's not my intent. I do understand (to an extent) and value the skills (and I do think listening is a skill, among others involved) that they've acquired. I can then vicariously utilize their skills (filtered by my experience agreeing or disagreeing with them) to inform the purchases I will or will not make.

So thanks to the reviewers for, in essence, allowing yourselves to be tools for us to use when considering a purchase.

warpdrive's picture

Hasn't anybody caught the fact that the B&W P7 actually retail for $399? I checked Crutchfield and even their refurb stock goes for $319

I've never seen them as low as $199

Mauro's picture

Ciao Bob,

My two cents:
Turn the NAD HP 50 of 180 degrees. The tilting mechanism allows to get a better sealing on the neck. Isolation and bass will be improved.

Tell me what you think...I am curious!

Beagle's picture

Just my take Bob, but you might want to try the PSB M4U1. I think you might like it, based on your conclusions on the others.

Ranstedt's picture

Hi.

I'm on the market for a pair of cans for studio use only. Primarily for mixing during the night time hours when I can't use my monitors.

Budget is $400 (max).

I'm looking for a good accurate all-rounder. Since I work with bass heavy music, I'm looking for a set of cans that are "fairly" spot on in the lower octaves - nothing hyped.

I've considered the Focal Spirit Pro's, AKG K702, etc.

I'd use the cans with an Audient ID22 audio interface.
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/iD22

Would the Oppo PM3's be a good choice? Are they too hifi?

Thanks.

Pianist's picture

Honestly, I think there are too many issues with Bob's impressions in this review. So many in fact, that I could spend a day arguing and wondering... Below are some of my thoughts relating to some of Bob's impressions that I found questionable:

How can SRH1540 have dull highs when measurements and most people's impressions clearly tell otherwise? In fact, most people seem to think that SRH1540 has a somewhat V-shaped response with recessed mids and boosted bass and highs, and graphs also show this. Is it possible that all these people and measurements are wrong? Highly unlikely. I think it's far more likely that there's something wrong with Bob's impression here.

Same story with Focal Spirit Pro... Most people, including Tyll describe them as quite neutral and well balanced... and then I read this review where they are described as colored with a lack of bass and a boosted treble. What's up with that? In this case, I think it's probably because Bob didn't get a proper fit with the headphones.

Bob HP50, MSR7 and Focal Pro could all use better bass extension, which I found puzzling because it's clear to me from measurements than all three of these headphones have good bass extension. They all extend well down to at least 40Hz and you can see it in their frequency response and 30Hz square waves. In fact, HP50 and Focal Pro clearly show a rise in their low end response with increased energy in the sub bass...

MSR7 has a boosted high end in the sense that there's a peak between around 500Hz and 2 kHz. If that area can be called high end, I guess I agree. However, to me high end means treble and MSR7 doesn't have emphasis on the treble, because it doesn't have a boost above 2 kHz.

If bass quality on the MSR7 is indeed lower than on the M50X, can I see it on measurements? I own MSR7 and I owned the original M50 and heard the M50X briefly. In my opinion, MSR7 has higher quality bass than M50/M50X- noticeably tighter, cleaner, more neutral and accurate. How is it more accurate? Well, look at the measurements - M50 clearly has a boost in the low end and it's far from linear with quite a bit of unevenness in the frequency response. MSR7, on the other hand, clearly has a more linear low end on the graph... I suppose M50 bass may be more natural sounding, as it's more prominent and more satisfying in level. However, in terms of bass quality and overall sound quality, I firmly believe that MSR7 outclasses M50 and I am sure measurements will back up my opinion.

MSR7 for $50? Give me 10! Seriously though - there's no way such a great sounding headphone deserves to be priced that low. I own MSR7 and NAD HP50 right now and I think that overall, MSR7 has the edge in sound quality, although it's a close call. I have no doubt that they are at least in the same league, however.

I am sorry, but I consider Bob's Focal Spirit Pro review to be overly harsh, inaccurate and misleading. No, Focal should not stop manufacturing good sounding headphones and just because one thinks they sound bad, that doesn't give the right for the person to make such statements. If most people agreed with Bob on this, or at least if measurements could back up his view, I wouldn't argue, but it's exactly the opposite - most think the Focal Pros are at least good sounding headphones and measurements also show them to be good... Enough said.

Just my 2 cents...

Beagle's picture

Pianist, you make some very astute points. I often wonder how much time is spent auditioning. I'm sure Bob gave them equal time, but if one is to judge a headphones sound on the immediate contrast that occurs when you take one off and put on another, that would give erroneous results. I've always found a "new" headphone sounds awful after having adjusted to the previous one. It often takes days/weeks/months to pin down what you really hear.

Bob Katz's picture

Dear Beagle: We've discussed this issue of the ear's being accustomed to one sound and changing headphones causing a deprivation syndrome a while back here in response to one of my reviews. It's definitely a problem, and I am not immune to it either... Sometimes this happens to me. But I'm trained to deal with it. As a mastering engineer I have to deal with it, or I wouldn't be able to get any work done. Part of my job is making the sound of one song in an album compatible with the next, matching levels, EQ if desired, compression, expansion, distortion.... you name it. That's what I do for a living, since 1972. When I hear an EQ anomaly, I know which knob to go to and adjust for it. When a song sounds real bad to me, I do question myself to ensure it's not just the accomodation issue, I do guard for it as a matter of course.

So when comparing headphones, it's instinctive to me to guard against the phenomenon you described. If a new headphone sounds awful, I question myself first. Just as I do when equalizing an album for a client. So when in doubt, one thing I do is play the reference loudspeakers. Another thing is to play my LCD-X with the special Harman compensation curve that I've worked on in conjunction of Tyll's measurements of these cans. I use these as absolute comparison points. So the differences to the headphone-under-test become clearly obvious.

Did I make any mistakes in these observation? Let's play the odds here: Hmmm... if I gave a headphone a zero, chances are it must have some serious flaws. In that respect,someone in this thread tried to defend the Shure, but I think it's hard to defend a phone that's so dull on top and so costly.

If I gave a headphone a so-so rating, then I think it would be good advice to anyone to take a very careful look at the phone themselves to see if any of the points I made have merit. If I gave it a big thumbs up, then I hope you would be intrigued to try it yourself. But if you try a phone or two which I give big thumbs up to and you disagree with my observation, then obviously our ears are not congruent. I guess you'd have to stop reading my reviews, or buying my records!

Also, keep in mind that several of the headphones under review are problematic. One model's earcups are so small that it barely fits on top of some ears... so when it's not circumaural as intended it will be subject to greatly different impressions from different listeners.

Finally, if a headphone sounds good to you, it is good! You don't have to justify your choice to anyone, especially me! Hopefully you were entertained and somewhat informed by this series of reviews. And hopefully we can have good, productive discussions here on Innerfidelity and we all can learn something from them. I've learned a lot already from these discussions!

Beagle's picture

Thanks Bob. I have experienced some strange phenomena with headphones. Some initially sound bad, bassy, trebly...then after a while begin to sound good, not so bassy, not so trebly. Others start off bad and get worse, others sound OK at first and then get brighter or 'bassier' as I go on.

Where you have the advantage over us is that you have the ultimate reference, your recordings. You can immediately write off 'phones that do nasty things to them (after extensive listening).

Odd thing is...for me, this never happens with speakers, phono cartridges or CD players, amps etc. I don't have to adjust with them like I do with headphones.

Bob Katz's picture

All I can tell you is what I hear.

Pianist's picture

Sorry, I missed the second word in the fourth paragraph of my previous comment.. There should be a word "wrote" or similar between "Bob" and "HP50" there.

norb's picture

Hi there,

I´ve got a complete different question:

What about a portable EQ? Is there any?
Because the amplifier from OPPO HA-2 only has a bass boost. What about the treble? Because seriously, I don´t want to by the Astell & Kern flagship to be able to EQ the audio.
At the moment I´ve got the Calyx M portable audio player, but they don´t have any EQ possibities ...

Thanks for any help,
Norbert

Bob Katz's picture

I'm currently evaluating the Oppo HA-2 DAC/headphone amplifier. When playing music on the iPhone, you can definitely equalize to your heart's content. And it's a great-sounding solution. I should have completed this review within a couple or three weeks.

norb's picture

Dear Bob,

thanks, but my problem with the HA-2 is, that there is only a bass boost, but no treble boost for my OPPO PM-3, which are on the way. In addition I think, that I won´t need amplification, because my audio player (Calyx M, http://www.calyxm.com) is as nearly at the same level as the Astell & Kern AK240 (at least the critics claim it). But anyways, I´m looking forward to your HA-2 review (I hope I won´t need them) and thanks for your PM-3 review. (I have bought them because of your recommendation!)

Bob Katz's picture

Enjoy your purchase. I hope you are as thrilled with the PM-3's as I am! I sent the review pair back to Tyll and immediately bought a new pair from Oppo. This new pair is just as thrilling as Tyll's that I reviewed. I also got a reviewer's loan sample of the HA-2 and I'm deep into it. I regret to tell you Norb, that personally I would never buy a player that did not have an equalizer. I hope the Calyxm has an EQ, and if not, you should lobby to the company to include one. After all, there are no perfect set of phones, and even if there was one, you might want to match up different headphones to the player at different times. And, when driving with headphones (is that legal?) the motor noise masks the bass so you want to turn the bass up. Or when listening more quietly you want to turn the bass up. And so on.

Maybe I'll change my mind, but so far I find the HA-2 to be the best of possible worlds: With a dedicated player you still need to carry two boxes, one of which is your cell phone. Because what music player do you know that can give you driving directions, book hotels and answer phone calls? The Pono is bulky and doesn't fit in your pocket. When you're jogging or for non-critical listening, you can just plug your cans direct into the phone and leave the player at home. Convenience!

So, where to put the player when you do want to carry it? I'm trying to find the perfect belt pack, where I can reach in and grab the phone if I need to, etc. The belt pack of my dreams has not appeared yet, but I haven't given up hope.

If you get the HA-2 (hopefully managing to sell your Calyxm) you get to use the wonderful Onkyo HF player, which has all the features of iTunes and more, namely: full high res playback, and a very flexible, sweet-sounding and refined equalizer. More in my report in a week or two or three.

norb's picture

I think I will stick to my audio player, even it is bulky too, but I love its sound-signature. My phone has got too less storage so that won´t work for me. But I wrote the Calyx company to update the system with an EQ. Let´s see. If not, then maybe I´ll purchase the HA-2 and carry another item with me when on the run. Fun!

norb's picture

The funny thing is: You were not happy with the EQ possibilities of the Astell & Kern AK 380, too. Even the AK 240 only has an EQ preset. So it seems that not even those flagship products are there where they should be concerning EQ. Maybe most of the listeners don´t care? Strange.

Bob Katz's picture

I simply could not get the A&K EQ to work because of a bug... I might have been happy with the A&K if it would work. Most listeners don't care. Many people watch their TV sets with green-looking faces. The vast majority of the public does not care about the things we care about. That's why Apple hasn't enabled high resolution playback in the iPhone. I'm pretty sure it will happen. In that case it will be very hard for after-market manufacturers, like Oppo, to convince people that their DAC/amp sounds better.

norb's picture

True! And when that happens, an iPhone will have a storage of about 100 TB instead of 16 GB. Until then we have to be happy with "mastered for iTunes" - what does that mean anyway?

norb's picture

Hey Bob, I just wanted to say, that it would be nice, if you could also tell in your review about the HA-2 if it makes sense to use them with a (upper class) Hi-Res Player such as Astell & Kern. I´m pretty sure the HA-2 is very good in combination with iPhones etc. but should anyone, who listens with a Hi-Res player (that has enough output anyway) also consider using the HA-2 ... especially in combination with the OPPO PM-3´s? Is there an extension of the treble? Do the PM-3´s sound more open when using the HA-2 with an Astell & Kern player? Thank you in advance, Norb

Bob Katz's picture

Dear Norb: You may recall that I loved the interface of the Astell and Kearn sotware, but it kept on crashing. Maybe they've improved it. But I think you're up with several obstacles and some impracticality thinking of mating the A&K player with the HA-2, and my bottom line is: Why do that? First of all, the A&K player has a fantastic built-in DAC and headphone amp. I don't even know if the software would permit taking a USB output and feeding that into the HA-2 instead. But that's kind of like buying a high quality audio receiver and just using it as a preamp... What's the point? It sounds to me like overkill. And let's say for the sake of argument that you can feed a digital out from the A&K player into the HA-2 and after some comparison you feel that the PM-3's sound somewhat better with the HA-2 than they do with the A&K. In that case, what I would do is exactly what I'm doing in this HA-2/PM-3 review: Chuck the A&K... . sell it....

I'm using an iPhone with a $9.95 application by Onkyo called "HF Player". It's actually recommended by Oppo to use in conjunction with their HA-2 in portable use. I know there is an Android version of HF Player, but a) You'd have to hack the A&K to get it to play foreign software and b) If you have an Android phone, will the HF player version deliver the same 32-bit fixed quality to the HA-2 as it does with the iPhone? Answer: I don't know.

Anyway, in my upcoming review I've found that the combination of the iPhone, HA-2 DAC/amp, and the PM-3 cans is really synergistic! It's a killer combination. You get a 32-bit fixed point connection to the HA-2 DAC, which drives the Oppo cans incredibly well, and high resolution playback from the iPhone of the same quality (or maybe better?) than what the A&K player offers you. At maybe 1/8 the price of the A&K player alone and you get cell phone service, driving directions and more.

So I respectfully feel that what you're suggesting, even if it can be implemented, is total redundancy and kind of silly. If you already own an A&K player, enjoy it... it will drive the PM-3's just fine and sound terrific. If you don't own one, then I suggest not getting one, saving a lot of money and kicking ass with the combination of iPhone (my recommendation over the Android)/HA-2/PM-3/HF Player. The ergonomics of this lashup are VERY VERY easy... it is comfortable and not the least bit cumbersome.

Hope this helps,

Bob

norb's picture

Yes, that makes sense! ;-) Thank you!

norb's picture

Dear Bob, one last question. Do you think a silver cable would provide a treble "extension"? Many audiophiles say "yes", others say "nope and safe your money". What do you think? Have you tested (or can you test) the OPPO PM3´s with a silver cable (if you have one at hand)? Or don´t you "believe" in cable upgrades?

Best,
Norb

Bob Katz's picture

...a silver cable for headphone connection. But I have not done any shootouts of headphone cables so I can't say for sure. For analog interconnects there's nothing more neutral and better in my mind than plain ol' Mogami balancdd AES/EBU cable used as analog line cable. It's got exremely low capacitance, wide bandwidth, it's got the buzz words "oxygen free copper".... I don't think resistance is much of an issue for interconnects into a high impedance so I doubt anyone anywhere would hear the difference between two otherwise identical interconnects with the same geometry with one being silver and the other being copper wire.

However, for loudspeakers, which require current, if you can afford silver, I guess get it. It might make a sonic difference but be VERY hard to objectively prove. Any special geometries and impedance b.s. on it just disqualify it in my book. I do just fine doubling up the 2.5 mm squared diameter cables in a Mogami speaker wire, making an effective 8 or 9 gauge wire. It's also "oxygen free copper" so it's buzz-word compliant :-). You can save a lot of money making and terminating your own cables.

norb's picture

... for your evaluation. Tyll testet aftermarket cables for headphones in 2013 and he said that he "might" have heard a difference:
http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/headphone-cable-measurements-part-one
http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/headphone-cable-measurements-wrap
I think, that if I have enough money I "might" give them a try ;-)

warpdrive's picture

I mentioned above that the P7 are actually $399

You said "Bottom line: I look it up, and find $199 at Crutchfield, so I nailed the price! Price/performance ratio is good if they fit your ears better than they do on mine."

I think you misread the price on the Crutchfield site.

The P3 model is $199
http://www.crutchfield.com/S-cHHoSnYlSsU/p_749P3B/Bowers-Wilkins-P3-Blac..., not the P7. Wouldn't the P7 being $399 completely change your opinion of them?

Bob Katz's picture

Sorry about that. Well, yeah... They don't even have the look and feel of a $399 headphone so yeah, it would change my opinion. I'd cross if off my list.

joneson's picture

...to add the Sony MDR-1A to the list. Btw, why isn't Tyll reviewing these?

ADU's picture

Tyll did the original Inner Fidelity reviews on most or all of the headphones in the article. And most can still be found on his "wall of fame" for sealed (aka closed) headphones, located here...

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/innerfidelitys-wall-fame-full-size-...

Just follow the links there or in Bob's article to the full reviews.

There are other wall of fame lists for open cans, and also on-ear and in-ear headphones as well...

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/innerfidelitys-wall-fame

elfary's picture

Dear Bob,

I'd rather make a dumb question than making a dumb mistake.

When you talked about Steve Guttenburg you meant Steve Guttenberg?

This Steve:

http://www.soundandvision.com/content/shure-se846-ear-headphone

Thanks and sorry everybody for asking such a weird question.

Beagle's picture

Is it Steve Guttenberg from Police Academy movies?

Bob Katz's picture

Sorry.... Definitely not the Police Academy actor. Steve has a regular column on CNet.

ADU's picture

Posted here, for any who may be interested...

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/akg-k553-tweaks-discussion

tony's picture

I just wanted to add one to get over the top of 100 comments.

And mention that people seem to be realizing the significance in a person creating, owning, and knowing Music Standards.

I can only judge things in a subjective manner. For me, everything sounds different but I have no idea what it should sound like.
I own Sennheiser because I love the singing voice of it's transducers, I have no idea how accurate they are.

I kinda have empathy for those lost souls who are buying up numerous headphones, looking for what?

Our Tyll provides a goodly amount of help with his "Wall of Fame"
but there are numerous "New and Improved" offerings out there to temp us "still searching" hopefuls.

Tony in Michigan

ADU's picture

Condolences for your lost brethren in MI, Tony. Too many days of sadness like this for America in recent years.

As far as some of your above comments are concerned, I'm a little on the fence.

Upgradeitis is definitely a problem for some folks. If you have the bread though, and want to support new products and innovations by buying a new phone, TV, headphone, or some other gadget every year or so, then more power to you, I suppose.

Just try to be as green as possible about it, and recycle what you can't easily sell, so it doesn't go to waste. My 2c fwiw.

Quote:

I kinda have empathy for those lost souls who are buying up numerous headphones, looking for what?

Better fit?... Better or more accurate sound?... More gadgety goodness?...

Perhaps you can get some of that by tweaking what you've already got or buying 2nd hand though, if you're on a tighter budget.

warpdrive's picture

I love these kinds of reviews/articles. No holds barred comparos.

For me, I’ve been bought/tried many different headphones, and too many of them fall short. Sometimes they are just overpriced for mediocre sound. Paying more doesn’t guarantee anything as there are a lot of high priced cans that have deal breaker flaws (as this article shows, paying a lot more for something like the AKG or Shure doesn’t guarantee goodness). Articles like thus help me filter out the garbage.

Based on Tyll’s previous review, I went out and bought the NAD HP50 and it gets a lot of things right that some of my previous headphones couldn’t do at twice the price. Considering that I didn’t like the AKG much either, and the NAD came in 2nd place, maybe I should try to seek out the Oppo to try next

ADU's picture

Fwiw, I paid only $130 for my AKG K553 at Guitar Center, when it was on sale. And it was around the same price in the Massdrop deal.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this headphone to an average user though, for many of the reasons stated here...

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/akg-k553-tweaks-discussion

After a few tweaks, it has a very comfortable fit, and it also EQ's quite easily. If you're not a tweaker though (in the generic sense of the word), then you may want to pass on the AKG K553.

I was aware of most of the AKG K553's weaknesses when I bought it btw. It was a lot more comfortable on my ears than the Beats Solo2 and AT M50x though (the main contenders I could find in the same price range). And I figured I could sort most of the other issues out.

I also liked the overall sound quality better, except for the brightness, which I think can probably be corrected with an EQ.

Quote:

Considering that I didn’t like the AKG much either, and the NAD came in 2nd place, maybe I should try to seek out the Oppo to try next

I haven't heard the Oppo, but it looks a little mid-centric (which is probably why Bob likes it), and slightly tame in both the bass and treble to me on the graphs. So I'd probably try to EQ it as well, to add a bit more depth to the sound.

Planar-magnetics are "in" right now though, because of their low distortion and detailed sound. And there are several other mfrs releasing versions of this technology at competitive prices. So if I had $300+ to spend on some new cans, I'd be taking a very close look at all of the new P-Ms.

Bob Katz's picture

The PM-3s are accurate... not "midcentric". I wouldn't call "perceptually flat from 20 to about 5K" midcentric, would you?

They're a little depressed in the high treble (no more than a dB at 20k) but the bass goes down accurately to at least 30 Hz.

tony's picture

I may never quite understand the person that needs to own everything of a type.

Last Friday, I went to my Local Festool Dealer ( Glen Wing in Birmingham Mi) to purchase a detail Sander ( RO 90 Eq ), where I happened to meet a Gentleman who claims to own every single Tool that Festool Make! He isn't alone in this manner.

I know a fellow that builds very large garages to house his vast Car Collection.

One relative of mine, owns a Ranch with Horses that need daily attentions, he also own 7 Boats ( stored behind the Barn, very nice boats ) but hasn't been boating since he bought the Ranch.

I know an Elderly Lady that still has all the Gerber Baby food jars her only child consumed 5 Decades ago.

One of my past neighbors decorated his entire house with his vast Coca-Cola collection ( he even had a Red Coke vending Machine on his front porch, one of those small bottle types ). I live in an Upscale Area.

I know a Cement Contractor that collects Outboard Motors,
he's on the hunt for the scarce models, he too has a collection of boats that may never see water again.

And even "I", once owned 6 or 7 Koetsu Phono Cartridges and a sizable record collection. ( nothing like TTVJ's 12,000 though, but I did own one of VPI's best players )

Still, I don't understand the need some people have to keep buying. Even my Wife's shoe needs. ( she thinks she needs some Brown Lined Snow boots to go with… ) I heard her saying into her little phone.

If I look at Profiles of Head-fi posters I'll find folks that own every Grado type ever made ( a man I met at a headphone meet, nice fellow ) and plenty of folks that own 30 or more headphones. ( I myself own 4 but I've sold-off a few )

I've looked for help from my Psychiatrist friend and past Audio Salon Customer in understanding all this Collecting business. He suggests that since I can't seem to understand it : I don't have it to worry about, I don't have the condition!

I bring it up now because it seems a person can simply own one of "Big Sound 2015's top 4 and be done with it.
Or, go to Tyll's "Wall of Fame" and select.

Now we have Engineering talent helping us with useful assistance. ( Bob Katz )

I suppose that looking foreword to buying is one of life's little pleasures and one of the perks of "Winning Life's Lottery" in the USA!

Tony in Michigan

Franc's picture

I would love to see Innerfidelity rate more low-mid range headphones.

Ranstedt's picture

I need a pair of headphones for working on my music, such as: composing, arranging, eq'ing, etc.

In the $400 or less range, would the PM3 be a good choice? Or are these primarily just headphones for enjoying music?

I need headphones for critical listening.

Thanks.

norb's picture

Hi Ranstedt,

I´m a musician, too. And I spent many many hours of my life in the studio. The PM3´s are really accurate. I´m shure you won´t be disappointed with them!

Best,
Norb

Ranstedt's picture

Norb, thank you for your reply.

I was going to get the spirit pro, but due to comfort and quality control issues, I passed. The K701 / K702 interested me. And others in that price range.

The 1540's were another contender in the $500+ range.

Would love to afford the HD800 + a matching amp. But that's much more than I'm willing to pay at this time.

So after reading reviews of the PM3 again, I think this will be a good choice in this price range.

Thank you for your feedback :)

Bob Katz's picture

If you need accuracy, get the PM-3. If you want to hear the music well, without spending $250 more, I recommend the AudioTechnica M50x. Both of these cans would be more than sufficient for critical listening for a composer as well as enjoyment. When you say "eq'ing" this implies that you are trying to make a recording that sounds right. Why not leave that to the mixing and mastering engineers... pass your music on to an expert producer or engineer and leave the "Eqing" to us. I don't think any headphone is really suitable for mixing or "eqing" unless you are trying to produce a binaural recording. However, I do recommend the PM-3s as a secondary reference for accuracy. Surprisingly, They go down deeper than the loudspeakers which many musicians can afford. But again, I would NEVER recommend any headphones as the primary reference to mix or equalize or produce material that is going to be listened to on loudspeakers.

Sal1950's picture

Nice reviews Bob.
As for the source, what could be fairer and give more accurate results than High Def files you recorded yourself thru the gear you use every day. That the cat's meow approach to a subjective review IMHO.
Be Well

Sil's picture

The review would have been more interesting if you heard the same recordings on all.

I especially wonder if you really gave the Focal a chance and took enough time to hear them.

To the point where I 'm wondering if we talk about the same product, as I paid about 150 $ for them and I know there were multiple batches over the years, the latter ones fixing notably sturdiness problems.
While I don't like their styling, they have proven to be quite confortable to listen for an extended period of time. At the price, they seem very decent to me.

I've used the ATH-M50 for many years, often many hours daily, and I also find they are a steal, although they did tend to hurt the temples after a while, at least on my big head.

Bob Katz's picture

You couldn't pay me enough to listen to the same recording 50 times over on different headphones... I'd get bored. I know these recordings so well that I'd say my performance and judgment would be 90% or better even though I'm using different recordings for each headphone. Besides, you wouldn't get as many great ideas for recordings to buy if I used all the same cuts :-).

Pianist's picture

I understand that Bob is a sound engineer with years of experience and great reference gear and recordings that he can use for comparison, but when his impressions contradict objective evidence (measurements), as well as the opinions of most people, some of whom are also audio pros (on sites like Gearslutz), I think it's fair to assume that there is very likely something wrong with Bob's impressions. So why is it that Bob doesn't even seem to consider this fact in his review or any of his comments, at least those I've read, in the comments section of the review? Why doesn't Bob mention that his inability to get a proper fit with many of these headphones could have affected his impressions of their sound?

If Bob is so confident that his impression are accurate, I think that he now needs to take a careful look at the measurements and Tyll's reviews for the headphones in the review and to compare those with his impressions of the headphones. He then needs to provide explanation of why it is that some of his impressions, particularly those of Focal Spirit Pro sound or the muffled treble on the SRH1540 completely contradict the measurements and Tyll's reviews where Tyll clearly explains what he heard through the measurements? What is it that measurements and reviews of Tyll or some of the audio pros over at Gearslutz don't tell us/are doing wrong? If they are all inaccurate, then there must be some evidence to back up this claim. Otherwise, am I really supposed to believe Bob just because he's an experienced audio engineer with great reference gear? Bob already explained why he believes that his impressions are quite objective, but can he now explain why the other reviews and measurements are wrong? Ok, maybe that's too much to ask for a single comment, but for now let's consider these questions: What could be wrong with the measurements if they show that, say, the Focal Spirit Pro extends flat down to 20 Hz, but in reality doesn't have good bass extension, according to Bob? Or that the SRH1540 has neutral to somewhat emphasized highs relative to the mids, but in reality sounds muffled in the treble? Also, Tyll's reviews on the two headphones seem to be largely in line with the measurements and Tyll provide extensive explanations of what he hears through the measurements. Because Tyll's reviews of the two aforementioned headphones also contradict what Bob is hearing, can Bob explain what Tyll may have gotten wrong with his interpretation of the measurements? Thanks in advance Bob.

What I wrote above may sound harsh, even rude and may even be interpreted by some as trolling, but believe me, I am not trying to be nasty and I am certainly not trolling. I just believe that a well known, respected and experienced audio pro like Bob Katz should be able to critically assess what he hears and to compare it extensively and carefully with any strong contradicting evidence. If he's unable to do that, how can he be taken seriously?

Rillion's picture

Wow! The comment list is getting huge on this article and I am sure Bob does not have time to respond to everything. I think Pianist makes some good points but we need to keep things in perspective. Bob's experience and reputation leads me to believe that he accurately reported what he heard. However, he does not have access to a measurement head (which is supposed to be somewhat representative of an *average* person's hearing physiology) and he also does not have the amount of experience writing headphone reviews that Tyll does. The Pianist is curious about possible reasons that Bob heard some of the headphones differently than other respected sources. Most readers that frequent this site are well aware that how a headphone fits does affect its sound and Bob did clearly state how well or poorly each headphone fit him. As someone who has measured headphones using in-ear microphones and also read some of the AES articles on the subject, I also know that each person's Head Related Transfer Function (HRTF) is different and there is a great deal of individual variation above 2.5 kHz. When listing to external speakers, this is not a big deal because each person's brain is adapted to their personal hearing physiology. Headphones, on the other hand present a more complicated system for getting sound to the ear -- the HRTF changes with the angle of incidence of the sound and frequencies above 2.5 kHz can form resonances. Headphone manufacturers have the unenviable task of designing headphones that sound right for an "average" head but also that do not do anything egregiously wrong for most other listeners. My own measurements and listening tests have found 6 kHz and above to be particularly troublesome and that some headphones that measure very well up there on a standard measurement head simply do not sound or measure right with my own head. Bob mentioned that the SRH1540 sounded muted to him above 6 kHz and I find no reason to doubt that, but we should all be cautious in assuming that others will hear the same thing -- and I am not talking about *subjective* opinions here but *objectively* measurable differences in individual physiology. I am really amazed that that there are not more headphone lending libraries and places where people can audition headphones for an extended period. Even very well designed headphones can be flawed for some listeners, while working well for the majority of listeners.

On a related topic, I like the fact that Bob has "broken the ice" for allowing the discussion of equalization because one of the main things I ask myself about a headphone now is "How well is it likely to respond to equalization?" and "How easily can this headphone be equalized?"

Pianist's picture

... I think there's just too much difference between Bob's and Tyll's opinions on the Focal Pro and SRH1540 to be able to write it off as being the result of variations in HRTF. Consider the following quotes from Tyll's and Bob's reviews on the Focal Spirit Pro:

Tyll: "The Focal Spirit Professional is simply one of, if not the most, "neutral" sounding headphones I've ever heard. It's not just me either, check out this thread on Head-Fi, or this one on GearSlutz.com (a pro audio gear forum). Most listeners have the same reaction: "O.M.G! These headphones are sooooo neutral!... the Focal headphones can PUNCH!"

Bob: "Colored... High frequency boost... Bass is thin... No bottom to speak of."

So does HRTF also have a large effect on the perception of low frequencies as well? Oh BTW, in regards to possible fit issues with the Focal Pro, here's a quote from Tyll:

"Raw measurements of the headphones show little difference in response with positional changes on the head. These cans should reliable provide a good seal."

Now, let's consider some quotes from Tyll and Bob on SRH1540:

Tyll: "... a tad too bright up top... remarkably airy and open sounding... the treble, though a bit too emphasized at strong levels... a slightly "U" shaped EQ..."

Bob: "Everything above, say, 6 kHz sounds muted. The music has lost its depth and extension. These cans are just too dull."

Rillion's picture

I honestly skipped over Bob's comments on the Focal Spirit Professionals because the headphones look too uncomfortable to me based on the Spirit One that I tried (clamps too strong and gets hot). I agree that I have not heard anyone else characterize Focal headphones as lacking bottom, in fact just the opposite. Normally this could be chalked up as due to a poor seal but I am under the impression that Focal headphones usually seal very well.

There are differences in individual HRTF of roughly +-5 dB standard deviations above 6 kHz according to http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=10274 . This makes it hard to design headphones that work for everyone up there. Fortunately the bulk of music content is 5 kHz and below. The variations are much smaller at these lower frequencies.

Wick's picture

I'd love to hear this bluegrass album in 2496 you mentioned in your Momentum review. I couldn't find it anywhere online. Is it available?

tony's picture

I just returned from Venice Florida, in-love!

I discovered Paradise!

Tony in Michigan

Jim Tavegia's picture

Interesting in that it seems that the HF driver in the FSP is about -10db down from the bass driver output and would account for their lack of HF energy compared to another highly regarded model.

Focal Spirit Pro Measurements :

Freq Focal Spirit Pros comparable model
2khz -7 db 0 db

3 -10 db -5 db

4 -10 db -10 db

5 - 20 db -15 db

6 -17 db -5 db

7 -17 db -6 db

8 -17 db -8 db

9 -17 db -8 db

10khz -10 db -10 db

15 -3 db -10 db

17 -15 db -5 db

30-100hz + 3 db + 2 db

Clearly there is much less HF energy starting at 6 khz from the FSP than another well known and well liked set of cans and probably why I feel they are dull sounding to me. Clearly the output of the HF driver is not well matched to the output of the bass driver which is much stronger. The FSP square wave response is much better with little overshoot and more control.
I also looked to see if the “material” covering the drivers inside the ear cups might be an issue, but it appears to be very open weave and seemingly pretty transparent as you can see the drivers quite easily.

FYI,

Jim Tavegia

redrpm's picture

Is this the mkII version?

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