Very low budget headphones - opinions

Discussion in 'Ask The Experts' started by adriank2200, Aug 19, 2011.

  1. adriank2200

    adriank2200 New Member

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    Hello! My name is Adrian and I live in Romania. In my country incomes are pretty low in general. The minimum salary is 109 £ in hand per month, while the medium one is around 310 £ per month. I am a student (at present time) and I've always looked for the cheapest things to buy in general, not just headphones and you can guess why.

    I may not be an audiophile but I am tired of lack of sound quality. If you have little time to read my post, jump to the very last paragraph, because the next ones are my background experience (blah blahs...).

    First of all, my audio experience begins in 2003 when I bought my first computer which came with a pair of speakers which lack bass. Although I played a lot with software equalizers I learned they have limitations and they just couldn't play sound below 200Hz.
    I bought my first pair of headphones (portable open) for exactly 1 $. They were so cheap I said I'll give it a try. The sound was loud and the quality was below average with emphasized mids, not so loud highs and the bass I was hearing was in fact low mids, mabie as low as 130-150Hz (from Winamp eq I deduced). But they were pretty robust and served me for 3 years and I has happy with them. They still work today but the right earpiece is 2x louder as the left one.
    In 2005 I bought a scan radio for 3 £ which came with some earphones with volume control which I found very useful. Sound was OK, little bass, but it was there. Lifetime: ~3-4 years.
    In 2006 I bought a Sony Ericsson K700 which came with a pair of good earphones. Sound still is balanced, bass is present, but the higher the volume, the worse the bass would creak. Major drawback: it can only be used with the phone - custom connector. SE K750 also has good earphones :) and custom connector :(
    My next phone was a SE W810 Walkman which came with a pair of in-ear headphones HPM-70 HPM-70. The sound is the best I've ever experienced. The drum bass is too loud, but that is solved with a custom eq in the player. Major, fatal drawbacks:
    1) the in-ear system is not comfortable for me, after 30 minutes of listening to music my inner ear hurts - nasty feeling.
    2) the earphone cable is just 5 inch long (being plugged in the 3.5mm connector adapter 38 inch long).
    So, I was forced to buy another pair of ... you guessed it... cheap earphones, this time, 1.8 £. The cable was beautiful, transparent, with a nice spiral of black and silver wires and it also featured volume control, again extremely useful. The sound quality is very close to average, but still below. I was pleased with the mids and highs, but the bass was very low, so the equalizer saved the day, bringing the bass with no distortion to a level that just passed the exam. Lifetime: ~2.5 years. One wire doesn't make contact inside the earphone anymore so only one earphone works.
    I breafly owned a SE Elm, but its earphones were rubbish and I was dissapointed. Both W810 and Elm were stolen from me. I won at a contest a Nokia 5230. Its earphone's sound quality is above average with the clearest sound I've heard, but there is little to no bass and it can only be used with the phone even though it has a 3.5 mm connector. Plugged in any other device the sound is missing most frequencies - awful and non listenable. The Symbian's "Emphasize bass" eq doesn't solve the lack of bass and also the sound gets a bit distorted and stuffed.
    I also tried some friends' full size headphones both open and closed from various not-so-known brands and the general impression is that sound is either with a small echo, either it has too much mids or non defined highs.


    Now I'm looking for new pair of cheap earphones. As described above, my typical earphone budget was below 3 £. In local shops where I live you can find Phillips, Sony, Panasonic, JVC.
    Question #1: Are these guys so bad at manufacturing earphones that no website recommends buying headphones from them?
    Maybe I'll find Koss in one shop which sells this brand on the net.
    Question #2: If I push the budget towards 16-18 £, meaning 9x times higher than my last buys, will the sound quality be at least 3x better and will they last 6 years compared to my previous 1.8 £ earphones which lasted 3 years?
    I've been wondering around in a shop and all headphones have almost the same specs - 20-2000Hz, around 100 dB sensitivity (not sure what this is), 13-16mm speaker, 16 ohm impedance - but prices vary from 3 £ to more than 20 £. Question #3: How come the same specs generate such a variety of prices.
    Question #3: Are any of these decently qood enough:
    (they are ordered by the price in an online shop)
    PHILIPS SHE1350/00
    KOSS 149067
    PHILIPS SHE2550/10
    SONY MDR-E10LPH
    PIONEER SE-CE10
    PHILIPS SHE2660/10
    KOSS PTX6
    PANASONIC RPHS46EK
    KOSS 149095

    P.S.: Hopefully no one will curse me for such a long post
     
  2. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    Hi adriank2200

    It isn't really possible to make a headphone sound good for £3. It is tempting to believe that you are always being conned and goods cost far too much - actually once you remove cost of transportation and tax and a bit of profit for all the people who help the earphones from the factory to market - what is left for manufacturing is not that much. Materials that help to create beautiful sound use copper, gold, titanium and silver - it is the unique properties of these materials that allow the best headphones to create their sound. If the headphones have a cheap steel cable they will never sound as good as slightly more expensive headphones with a copper cable.

    My two tips for in-expensive genuinely great sounding products would be these -

    SoundMAGIC PL11 In-Ear Isolating Earphones in Gunmetal (PL 11)
    £19.96 - I have never heard an earphone perform this well at such a low price.

    Koss PortaPro Headphones (Folding Headband)
    £26.95 - Still yet to hear the a budget headphone beat these, again shocking quality at this price.

    I know these still work out expensive in your situation but as stated previously there is a minimum build quality and a minimum price for the materials necessary to get a "good" sound:)
     
  3. adriank2200

    adriank2200 New Member

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    I understand. It makes sense about using the right materials. You may also put it this way "Quality below a price/level isn't quality anymore", right? I realy don't know what to do.
    As a fun fact, my mother saw me searching for hours on the net for quality earphones, reviews, opinions etc and she said "They're just earphones. Why don't you just go and buy something instead of wasting time? If the cheapest in one store costs £4, then buy a £8-£10 and that's it!" I can afford a £40 one, beacuse I have some money put away for tough times, I'll think about it.
    Thanks for answering my questions!
     
  4. adriank2200

    adriank2200 New Member

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    I decided I'll go for the PortaPro, but if I don't find it in a local shop, here are 4 quick questions:

    1) do you ship in Romania (in Botosani or Suceava citys) and if yes how much would it cost?

    2) roads around my city are bad, almost acceptable. what happens if the headphones get damaged in transport?

    In one of my local shop the Koss PortaPro costs almost £41.45
    3) how come you sell them for £26.95?

    4) lifetime warranty is available if I buy from you?
     
  5. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    Hi adriank2200

    Answers in order -

    1 - You can order through Google checkout, if Google accept the order we can send it.

    2 - I am sorry to hear about the roads, although all are shipping methods are protected against damage, in practice I have to say it is normally difficult to sort out across borders - I'm sure something could be done.

    3 - I would say there are several reasons for the price difference - The UK is one of the biggest markets for the PortaPro, I assume this would mean more are imported and therefore at a cheaper rate. The UK is a very lively market and the PortaPro has found the price at which they sell well her which is normally just under £30.

    4 - The first years Warranty is supported by the retailer (2 years in some countries) after this Koss look after their lifetime warranty.

    Hope that helps - :)
     
  6. adriank2200

    adriank2200 New Member

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    On topic I have another issue on my mind: if I "plug-and-play" my current $1 headphones into any device they will sound muffled, with a bit of bass, almost no highs, and the artist's voice isn't clear, so I would rate them with 1.5 out of 5 and you would immediately jump and say "what would you expect from $1 ?!"
    But when I use the computer's audio driver's (Realtek) equalizer Soft plus the "Dobly Natural Bass" and / or player eq things change a bit. Highs can be heard, the voice is somewhat clearer and bass is almost decent. My new rating: 2.5 out of 5.

    What's your opinion: do higher priced headphones perform well without eq help even at playing songs at 128 kbps? I mean you don't use equalizers? Will a PortaPro for example score 5 out of 5 (source - your site) without eq?

    P.S.: My mother has an LG mobile phone which came with a really nice pair of earphones. The sound is relatively clear. Bass is weak by default, but some eq tweak brings some nice bass and highs which makes me give it a 4 out of 5 :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2011
  7. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    Sound quality is directly related to 2 things - Design and Materials - Copper is a better conductor than steel but it is more expensive, therefore copper cabled headphones are more expensive and sound better. Just like building a car, the more money you can spend on materials the faster you can go.

    Ultrasone Edition 8 Palladium Closed-Back Headphones (Edition8)
    £1,249.04

    There is a temptation to believe that the above headphones are pointlessly expensive - that they do exactly the same job as a £10 pair and sound only a bit better but this is completely false.

    The Edition 8 are capable of producing 6htz - 40,000htz, more than twice the human audiable range. They have been painstakingly designed to accurately reproduce everything that is there and to do that they need titanium, gold, silver and copper to perform.

    Cheap headphones are simply not capable of producing everything that is there - the big cliche when trying really nice headphones for the first time is that people suddenly realise they have not heard half of the things that are happening on their favourite records - They have literally never heard their favourite albums as they actually are!

    At the moment you cannot hear how bad the 128kbps MP3's actually are but with Koss PortaPros you would be re-ripping all your favourite records in higher quality right away. Unfortunately nothing will make very lossy files sound good - a bit of EQing just makes them bearable.

    What I am trying to say is that better headphones will reveal what is there for better or worse:)
     
  8. adriank2200

    adriank2200 New Member

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    After buy impressions - Koss PortaPro

    I'm back, now after purchasing the Koss PortaPro. Up until now I used less-than-three-pounds earphones and the sound lacked quality, but it was almost bearable and a very good buy for that price.

    So I wanted to finally bring quality sound in my life. Reading positive reviews, I bought the Koss PortaPro.

    The Koss PortaPro has great bass for my standards, I'm highly impressed. But the artist's voice isn't clear and highs don't seem crisp enough. Actually, I was disappointed because I hoped I wouldn't need a software equalizer anymore and I also thought the sound would be a lot better than cheapies, but for me it's just better, thanks to the bass. Moreover, no eq preset on my mobile phone solves my problem :( . I listen to pop, dance, urban, rock, hip-hop, but everywhere the artist's voice is muffled, similar to my £1 earphones. I also tried listening to lossless CD audio but it made no difference.

    For comparison I have three earphones bundled with mobile phones: Sony Ericsson K700, W810 and LG KP 320.

    Conclusion: I will try to tune with software eq, but my ratings for now are (sound quality):
    SE W810 - 4.75 out of 5 - no eq
    LG KP320 - 4.5 out of 5 - with eq, 4 out of 5 - no eq
    SE K700i - 4.75 out of 5 - with eq, 4 out of 5 - no eq
    Koss PortaPro - 3.5 out of 5 - no eq
    cheapie £1 - 2.5 out of 5 - with eq
     
  9. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    The Bundled earphones with the SE W810 and SE K700i are Sennheiser CX200 I think. I hope you warm to the Koss Porta Pro, they really are about as good as it gets for £30. I really want you to hear the Grado SR 60i which I am sure you would love.
     
  10. adriank2200

    adriank2200 New Member

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    The Porta Pro seem to have died

    Hello there hifiheadphones,

    It's me again ;) Happy holidays!

    I am sad to say that the Koss Porta Pro I bought almost 3 years ago (end of August 2011) from you guys just ended their service life yesterday. The right earpiece has died all of the sudden, without any previous warning (the other day it was working perfectly). These were the first expensive headphones I ever bought (I previously owned extremely cheap ones).

    Impressions
    The overall experience I had with them was above average, almost good. Reviews on the net say they are great for the price and I totally agree with them. The bass is good, the upper mids are a bit muffled, the highs are kind of ok. When I say muffled I mean the volume of the singer's voice is lower than the bass and highs (I used an eq preset boosting 4 to 5 Khz frequencies to get a clearer voice and sometimes lowering a bit around 150Hz so that I don't feel like in a tube or hallway). I was just hoping these brand headphones would last at least 3 years, just like my other 3 pound no-name headphones did.
     
  11. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I had many Koss headphones from 30 years ago, and all failed. From what I see on numerous headphone forums, little has changed. OTOH, here's what I use now:

    Beyerdynamic DTX501p Foldable On-Ear Headphones Black (DTX501p)

    These are the same (I think) as the Soundmagic P30, but there may be a better warranty with Beyerdynamic, depending on where you're located.
     
  12. john-hifi

    john-hifi Super Moderator Staff Member

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