Just tested loads of headphones and...

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by russraff, Dec 15, 2013.

  1. russraff

    russraff Well Balanced

    Aug 8, 2010
    I thought I'd post these thoughts to help folk that may be in a similar position to me.

    My search for some 'phones started a week or so ago as a replacement for my Beyerdynamic 250 DT880's (which I bought from Hifi headphones as well as my Westone UM2) that are starting to fall apart after years of abuse. I do listen to music through the 'phones but I guess 60% of the time it's playing games on the PC. Some folk may think this a tragedy to "waste" good cans on gaming. Such are the production values of good solid single player games (I don't do multiplayer) like Bioshock Infinity, Dishonoured or Deus Ex, however, the tragedy is to not do the music and sound justice by listening through a gaming headset (more on that below).

    So I want a ~£300 headphone at least as good as the DT880, maybe a bit more bass and better realised midrange. To this end I started a thread here ( http://www.hifiheadphones.co.uk/forum/ask-experts/3913-help-confused-over-300-headphone-gaming.html ) but as I have listened to several sets I thought a new thread was in order to put some sense of perspective in place.

    Firstly, I rashly decided that if I use the 'phones as a gaming bias then surely I ought to get a gaming headset? My budget allowed me to try the well regarded, in gaming circles, Turtle Beach XPSeven @ £250. Out of the box these are very quiet and I had to use the horrific software control panel to adjust all volume sliders to max to get any kind of volume, and no I don't listen to things at ASBO levels as a rule. I could go on about the schizophrenic control module that sits on your desk or the skull crushing clamping force but these all pale in comparison to the big elephant in the room called “sound quality”. These were awful. I mean, really truly bad. Some major tweaking had to be done in the aforementioned control panel's EQ to get the XPSevens anywhere near anywhere near acceptable. Even then the sound was boxy and harsh and seemed very false. Needless to say they went back. Even a £100 pair of Senns would be comfortably better than the XPSeven headset and that's, quire rightly, without any EQ malarkey. I consider this a lesson learnt.

    So I went to my local store and began a proper process of listening to headphones, Namely Sennheiser HD598, Sennheiser Momentum, Sennheiser HD700 (see a trend?), Yamaha PRO500, Grado 325is:

    HD598: I thought that these retailed for £200 and that was the thought in my head when I tried them. The HD598’s are good, better than the DT880’s midrange but the upper mid and treble are weak in the same comparison. The 598’s midrange is smooth and listenable, with a nod towards warmth. The bass is not super extended but remains natural and has more hit than the DT880’s I have. The higher up the range you go the more issues I find. The treble becomes kinda hollow with a false splashy ring to it. This isn’t to say that the treble is poor; rather in comparison I can hear where the compromises have been made to hit a price point. Very comfy and light, the 598’s are a lesson to some others (Grado) on how to make an ergonomically acceptable headphone. Given the choice I would choose the incumbent DT880’s over the 598 but only by a hair. Of course once I found out that the 598's are £150, I would likely choose have chosen the Senns if I were starting again as the extra on the DT880's ins't worth it.

    Momentum: How can something so small make so much noise? Of all the ‘phones I listened to these have the most full, rounded, well realised bass. The mids are superb with only the high freq having too little detail and too recessed in nature. Easy to drive from my Cute Beyond amp, The momentum’s seem to have nearly everything going for them. Some may find the earcups too small, certainly they are supra-aural on my head, but the materials used and ultra light design mean that I have none of the comfort issues I had with the Grado’s. For such sombre looking ‘phones in austere brown/bronze they are fun to listen to with none of the clinical seriousness of the HD700. Closed back design means that the soundstage is more restricted (compared with an AKG550 for instance) but is still spacious enough to allow classical and full on Rammstein tracks to breathe. Overall a fantastic set and probably better than the DT880’s for everything but fine acoustic work or solo vocal work. If there is one thing I could criticise is that the bass, while full is not as well controlled as it could be. Extended listening may fatigue some folk as a result.

    HD700: Such is the price of the HD700, expectations are high and not met. Maybe its an amp issue, or maybe its the law of diminishing returns, but in almost all cases I prefered the Momentum to the HD700. Only the higher frequencies gave the HD700 the edge alongside a more forward open presentation. Nothing the DT880’s can’t do, never mind the Grado’s. I really can’t see why anyone would want to get the HD700 over the momentum, or even the DT880’s. It’s not that the ‘700’s are bad, just overpriced. If pushed I would say that the soundstage is quite airy and open but so are the DT880's. Still, they do come in a nice box…

    Yamaha PRO500’s: If you want things to sound like they are coming from an ill advised car install where 90% of the money has gone into the subwoofers and the tweeters have all been wired out of phase, then get these. Otherwise, consider them horrific and move on. Compared to the Senn 598 these are a joke.

    Grado 325is: I love the way these sound. I think they are sparkly, detailed, fast, and have rhythm other marques could only dream of. Even the bass response wasn't too bad which I thought was impossible looking at the very open, small design. The highs are extenuated but are almost oily smooth at the same time - very sweet and listenable, almost Cyrus like in nature. Dull the 325is’ are not, though, so those who like the Senn house sound may find these too forward. Ignoring the donut tray packaging and cheap feel as quirks of the brand, one thing I really can’t ignore is the way the 325is' feel. They’re awful. Why a company would deliberately make something feel so cheap and rough on the ear I have no clue. So much so that no matter how good these sound, and they sound great, I couldn’t buy them. Shame as otherwise, these would be the ones.

    So that’s it. I still haven’t found my replacement. The DT880s are still a fantastic headphone and it is testament to Robin that he got things right enough to sell me something that worked so well without a demo. Maybe lightning can strike twice with another suggestion, looking at the thoughts above? Currently the nearest are the momentums but a slightly tighter bass and a bit more treble sparkle and I’d have my head phone! I just don't know which that would be...

    Thanks for reading,

  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    When sound quality is the big consideration and £300 is the budget, then for open-back headphones get the Sennheiser HD650. I can't say any more than a hundred other people have said about the HD650:

    Sennheiser HD650 Audiophile Headphones

    For closed-back headphones, here's my short list and what I know about them. The Momentum is near perfect, or may be perfect for you. I found the upper treble a bit relaxed, but other users love it. The Beyer T51p I use every day now - a perfect portable, and with a spot of EQ tweaking** excellent at home too. The Shure 940 is as close as I've ever heard to the Sennheiser HD800 in a medium priced closed headphone, and I have some testimonials to that effect. The Beyer DT1350 'refresh' version may be the best bet (or not), since I had two of the old version and couldn't get along with the stiff earpads. The new version solves that issue (same as it did for the T51p), but I can't confirm the final sound as yet, although I expect it to be nearly as good as the Shure 940, if not better.

    **I know many people who are seeking the perfect headphone, but I believe I've already found it, several times over. The very high-quality headphones listed here can be tweaked with very simple EQ settings that don't corrupt the sound, and in fact will get most people much closer to their ideal sound than they will ever get by repeated buying. The trick is to not try for perfection - just apply enough of an adjustment to fix whatever calls attention to itself, so that the headphone 'disappears' into the music.

    Sennheiser MOMENTUM Closed Back Audiophile Headphones in Black
    Beyerdynamic Tesla T51p Premium Portable Closed-Back Headphones
    Shure SRH940 Professional Closed Back Studio Headphones (SRH 940)
    Beyerdynamic DT1350 (Facelift) Portable Closed Back Monitoring Headphones
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2013

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