Marantz MPH-4 Around-Ear Stereo Monitor Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jul 10, 2019.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Youtube review:

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone_XsMax/Headphone_Marantz_Mph4_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Marantz_Mph4.jpg

    Sources: iPhone XsMax with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red/DAC-amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the Marantz MPH-4 headphone ('MPH-4' hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (Full-size closed-back 'Studio Monitor'), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the MPH-4 (i.e., my objectives and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

    Disclaimer: The basic tonality of this headphone is somewhat light in the bass and bright in the upper treble (for audiophile purposes). This judgement is based not on hearing per se, nor on personal taste, but on direct comparison to many other premium headphones and the sound of live acoustic music. With just the right EQ (for those who might be skeptical about my impressions), the clarity, impact, and tonality of the MPH-4 is very impressive. After some burn-in and 40 hours or so of listening, the adjustments I've made with an equalizer are as noted in the above linked chart, or on my website under Hi-Fi Misc/Headphone EQ with Audioforge Equalizer.

    This kind of tuning isn't unusual for Monitor-type headphones. I'd guess (since I no longer possess it) that the Sennheiser HD800 has about 3 db more bass and 3 db less treble than the MPH-4, and since I find the HD800 slightly light and bright as well, I've increased the MPH-4's lower bass by about 6 db and reduced its upper treble by approximately 8 db. My result is a very good hi-fi sound with plenty of detail and clarity, although (perhaps) you could do better starting with a good $900 USD headphone. It's doubtful that you could better this result with an under-$200 headphone, given that I paid $60 for the MPH-4 brand new from a major hi-fi dealer.

    Before writing this I did some research on the MPH-4, and several complaints were made that since "The MPH-4 is just a cheap OEM headphone, that's why there are no 'real' reviews". Well this is a real review, for audiophiles no less, and best of all it's not a monetized (commercial) review. The soundstage is really good (again, bear in mind a proper EQ) - unusually so for a closed-back headphone. That, coupled with excellent accuracy and tonality make the MPH-4 an excellent value. The drivers are stated as 50 mm, and the left-right matching at different frequencies is very good with my copy of the MPH-4.

    The MPH-4 came with plastic-covered foam earpads installed, which are among my favorites because they don't tend to accumulate sweat and oils that can change the sound over time. The downside for some users is that the earcups can get rather warm, and sweat may accumulate in the earcups. The MPH-4's earcups are oval-shaped, and my average-size ears fit into the openings with room to spare. The MPH-4's isolation is moderate - good enough for most home use and outdoor use where it's relatively quiet, but shouldn't be relied on in very noisy environments. Leakage is pretty low, and playing music moderately loud in a quiet office might work, unless someone sitting very close by hears the sound faintly and objects.

    The MPH-4 comes with a straight 10-ft non-detachable cable. The headband is very well padded, but the headband's range of adjustment is odd - less than 1/4 inch larger on each side than where I set it for my head, but a good inch smaller on each side - obviously for very small heads. The MPH-4 can be worn around the neck all day if needed, but it cramps my chin even when the earcups are fully extended. The MPH-4 came in a nicely printed thin cardboard box, with only a 1/4 inch (6.35 mm) screw-on adapter. Despite the low cost and inexpensive build, the quality control seems excellent and the aesthetics are good, so if users treat it well and don't bang it around or sit on it, it should last a long time.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the MPH-4 compares with each individual track. These tracks were evaluated using EQ settings as I noted above. Note that this EQ is not to "personal taste", but rather to approximate the headphone sound to the sound of live acoustic music.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Charleston South Carolina
    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The MPH-4 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the MPH-4.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel the weight they carry with the MPH-4.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The MPH-4 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the MPH-4.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The MPH-4 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are bright, crisp, and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The MPH-4 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the MPH-4 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The MPH-4 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The MPH-4 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The MPH-4 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the MPH-4 plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The MPH-4 plays this track extremely well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the MPH-4. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The MPH-4 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the MPH-4 plays those extremely well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The MPH-4 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel some of the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the MPH-4 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is impressive with the MPH-4.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the MPH-4 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The MPH-4's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is almost perfect.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The MPH-4 provides some of that experience, but the leaner low bass lessens the drama. The tympani have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the MPH-4 renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The MPH-4's reproduction is excellent, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The MPH-4 delivers the impacts with good weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Charleston South Carolina
    I just published my latest EQ curve and settings (my estimate of freq. response, inverted of course) for the MPH-4.
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Marantz_Mph4.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Headphone_Audioforge_Eq_App_Review.txt

    The amazing thing is how bright this headphone is in the upper treble, especially when you consider how many pricy headphones like the Focal Elear, AQ NightHawk and NightOwl, etc. are just the opposite, with treble recesses. Then again, the original Beyer T1/T90/T70 were pretty bright as well.
     

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