Music Hall DE-BE On-Ear Portable Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Sep 5, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with Oppo HA-2/Beyer A200p DAC/amps, various computers using the HRT Microstreamer/Audioquest Dragonfly2/FiiO E17k/FiiO E07k DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Music Hall DE-BE (MH-DEBE hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the MH-DEBE (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    The MH-DEBE out of the box sounded midrange-centric, with very little high-end detail. Once I equalized it to get the signature to a minimum hi-fi level, with treble a few notches down** from headphones like the Sennheiser HD600, AKG K712 etc., I realized just how far from hi-fi this headphone is (and BTW after a good burn-in period, the sound didn't change significantly). So this review will incorporate the EQ I applied as shown in the link above, or on my dalethorn website. Users who don't believe in or subscribe to EQ should skip the rest of this review, but for those who continue reading, the main question will be how much of the sound quality of a hi-fi headphone can the MH-DEBE produce, and can it do so with negligible distortion or roughness due to the introduction of small peaks and dips adjacent to the EQ center frequencies.

    **I appreciate the reference sound of Sennheiser's better headphones, and a few other brand/models like the Grado SR325e or Musical Fidelity MF200, but my target hi-fi signature is for a treble just a few db shy of those.

    I've reviewed more than 130 headphones, and I purchased this headphone out of curiosity about its sound, because I now use the Apple i-device Audioforge Equalizer app to make a determination of the headphone's signature or frequency response. Although the maximum resolution I get from the i-devices is 44 khz (CD quality) using Apple-compatible DACs such as the Oppo HA-2, that resolution is more than sufficient to determine a headphone's signature, which is its basic sound quality. I rarely need to go beyond basic sound quality unless the headphone is criticized elsewhere for tonality problems or unusual distortions etc. In the MH-DEBE's case there are no tonality issues or notable distortions outside of the recessed treble, however, with no EQ applied the tonality of many instruments is skewed.

    Music Hall is in the hi-fi business with turntables and so on, but I'd guess that they outsourced the MH-DEBE, design and all, to someone who produces low-cost on-ear headphones for the mass market. There seems to be a consensus among audiophiles that manufacturers of hi-fi components will sometimes produce low-fi headphones "just to get their name into the market" for portable music players and associated gear. I can't comment on that, but I can say that there are several respected hi-fi manufacturers who put their name onto headphones that are far below the quality (sound quality at least) of their mainstay gear. If the only issues with the MH-DEBE were the un-EQ'd sound quality or the $200 USD price, then all would be good. Unfortunately for my average-size head (not large-average, just average at best), the earcups tilt outward away from my head from the bottoms of the earcups, and making it worse, the cables going to the tops of the earcups force the bottoms of the earcups even farther away.

    The closed-back MH-DEBE has a very modest isolation - far less than headphones like the B&W P5 for example. The leakage seems low enough to be playable in public libraries etc. if the volume is reasonable - i.e., not too loud. The weight is slightly more than average for a small on-ear headphone, probably because the earcups are partly metal, and because of the strong metal headband. The headband is covered in a leatherette material, but there's almost no padding underneath. The earpads are covered in a 'pleather'-type material and are somewhat spongy, and I'd rate them about halfway between a really soft earpad like the Beyer T51p uses, and a stiff earpad like the Beyer DT1350 'Facelift' version uses - in other words, good IF the earcups would rotate just a tiny amount to fit my outer ears properly. For comparison, less than 10 percent of the many on-ear headphones I've had don't fit my ears squarely.

    There are no issues for me wearing glasses, since the earcups contact only the outer ears. The MH-DEBE is an ideal portable headphone in the sense that it can be pulled off the head when not in use, earcups pulled all the way down, and worn around the neck with no discomfort. This is important to me since I don't like to have to carry a headphone bag or case when I'm on walkabouts. The range of adjustment is another interesting issue - it's about 1.5 inches on each side (which is excellent), but where my average-size head fits in the middle of the adjustment range of most such headphones, it goes only 1/4 inch or less on each side smaller and 5/4 inch larger from where I wear it. In effect, the MH-DEBE seems to be made for very large heads, on average. The ~4 ft flat-ribbon cable is single-entry and detachable, with a microphone and 'clicker' control for music players. I'm able to start/stop with Apple i-devices and skip to the next track (2 clicks), but I haven't been able to back up to a previous track.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music examples 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 MH-DEBE compares with each individual track. Note my comments above about using EQ for this review, since all of the tracks below were evaluated with the EQ on.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Music Hall DE-BE Review part 2 - music tracks

    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 MH-DEBE plays this 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 well by the MH-DEBE.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Distant 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 where most other comparable headphones reproduce those with good impact, the impact is very light with the MH-DEBE.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The MH-DEBE plays this music 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 well by the MH-DEBE.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The MH-DEBE reproduces the space and detail 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 that have a full treble, but the MH-DEBE renders the deliberate instrumental distortions softly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The MH-DEBE plays this high treble energy recording softly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not edgy - in fact quite musical.

    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 recognizable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The MH-DEBE reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are normally very extended and detailed, but the MH-DEBE requires a treble boost to reproduce the cymbal's harmonics accurately.

    Ed Palermo - Crazy (Pop Vocal): A dose of big band, pop, country, and jazz with a unique vocal is Ed Palermo's Big Band, and this track is a good demo for the EQ'd MH-DEBE - for instrumental tone and ambiance, and a perfectly-recorded vocal. The saxophone lead at 2:51 is especially gratifying.

    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 MH-DEBE plays this music very well.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 should have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a good deep-bass response, but the bass is light here. Overall the MH-DEBE plays this music 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 lightly with the MH-DEBE. 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 MH-DEBE reproduction is soft. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail. I want to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the MH-DEBE does not delineate these instruments as well as most of the headphones I have.

    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 MH-DEBE plays this with a rather light fundamental tone, but more importantly, there is little or no distortion.

    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 MH-DEBE 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 Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Jazz): The voice is prominent but well-recorded, the massed instruments are fairly distant, and the bass line is pretty clear and detailed. The MH-DEBE plays this music very well.

    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 extremely light with the MH-DEBE.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the MH-DEBE renders this music as good as I've heard given the headphone's recessed treble.

    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 MH-DEBE reproduces the 'clop' portion of that sound fairly well.

    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 MH-DEBE conveys only a little of that drama due to the recessed lower bass, but the tympani have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, but the MH-DEBE misses some of the tonality due to the recessed treble.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and has a significant "bite". The MH-DEBE's reproduction is good and the close-miked piano is 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 somewhat light, but still work pretty well with the horns and other instruments. The MH-DEBE reproduces the impacts with light weight but good detail, and while the horns have a distinctive kind of bite, the recessed treble mitigates some of that.

Share This Page