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Playback because music matters

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Introduction Playback Full-Size Headphones Reviews


Models Under $200
Headphone Buying Tips from Playback Denon AH-D1001
NuForce UF-30
Choosing Between Over-the-Ear vs. On-Ear Headphones Shure SRH440
Urbanears Plattan
Choosing Between Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones Models From $200 - $650
AKG K702
On the Horizon: New Headphones Headed Our Way Audio-Technica ATH-A700
Beats By Dr. Dre Solo HD
Beyerdynamic DT-880 PRO
Beyerdynamic DT-990 Premium
Grado RS2
Grado SR325is
Playback Noise Cancelling Sennheiser HD 650
Headphone Reviews Sennheiser RS 180
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b Shure SRH840
Beats By Dr. Dre Studio Ultrasone PRO 2500
Creative Aurvana X-Fi Models Over $650
Denon AH-NC732 Audio Technica ATH-W5000
JVC HA-NC250 Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla
Sennheiser PX 450 Denon AH-D5000
Sony MDR-NC500D Grado GS1000
Grado PS1000
HiFiMAN HE-5LE
HiFiMAN HE-6
Sennheiser HD 800
Ultrasone Limited Editon 8

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Playback because music matters

GUIDE TO R-0
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EDITORIAL creative advertising


PUBLISHER CREATIVE DIRECTOR ADVERTISING REPS 
Jim Hannon Torquil Dewar Cheryl Smith
Art director (512)-891-7775
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Shelley Lai
Chris Martens production manager Marvin Lewis
Aaron Chamberlain MTM Sales
SENIOR Editor designer (718)-225-8803
Tom Martin mikki Bullock
Scott Constantine
CONTRIBUTING WRITERS  (609)-275-9594
Neil Gader,
corporate office
NEXTSCREEN, LLC, Inc.
Associate Editor, The Absolute Sound To sign up for Buyer’s Guides
CHAIRMAN & CEO 
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Tom Martin
Arnie Williams, Playback
Address letters to the Editor:
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INTRODUCTION

W
elcome to the Playback Guide to Full-Size Headphones. Interest in high-quality, high-
performance headphones is growing fast and for all the right reasons. After all, great
headphones arguably offer more musical enjoyment and sonic refinement per dollar
than any other class of audio product, which may be why unprecedented numbers of audiophiles
and music lovers are making headphones their personal “hi-fi systems” of choice.

As always, our aim is not so much to tell you what to buy, but prize sound quality, but who require headphones with active
rather to make you aware of options and to equip you to make noise-cancellation features that will enable them to listen in
savvy, well-informed choices. With this thought in mind, we noisy and potentially distracting environments). This Guide
open the Guide with four articles we think you’ll find useful: includes expert reviews of seven active noise-cancelling
models ranging in price from $200 to $400.
• Headphone Buying Tips from Playback (a short, sweet list
of essential usability factors and performance parameters to • High-Performance, Full-Size Headphones (geared for
bear in mind when shopping for headphones). listeners who have made sound quality their highest priority,
• Choosing Between Over-the-Ear vs. On-Ear Headphones and who typically will be able to enjoy music in fairly quiet
(a cogent discussion of the pros and cons of both popular listening environments. Listeners seeking headphones in
headphone formats). this class are often seeking sound quality that—apart from
• Choosing Between Open-Back vs. Closed-Back headphones—could only be achieved through extremely
Headphones (a careful look at the benefits and tradeoffs of costly loudspeaker systems). This Guide provides expert
these two major design themes). reviews of 24 high-performance models ranging in price
• On the Horizon: New Headphones Headed Our Way (14 from $59 to $1499. As you’ll soon discover, there are excellent
headphone manufacturers give you a sneak peak at soon-to- options to fit almost any budget.
be-released new models).
We hope you have as much fun reading this Guide as we
Recognizing that many listeners want candid, professional did preparing it, and that it takes you forward in your quest for
guidance in sorting through available options, this Guide to better sound. Enjoy.
Searching for great address two important classes of headphones:
Headphones lets Chris Martens,
you experience the
“thrill of the hunt...” • Noise-Cancelling Headphones (geared for listeners who Editor, Playback

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Headphone
Buying Tips from Playback

Chris Martens

A
s long-term Playback readers know, go listening, while others do not. Similarly, some It’s important to ask
our policy is to treat all headphones— designs are suitable for use in relatively noisy yourself how much
regardless of price or type—like the environments, while others mostly intended for performance you
serious high performance audio components use in quieter listening spaces. Carefully think really need, want, and
they truly are. through your real-world requirements before are willing to pay for.
When we listen to headphones in the course making any final decisions, and make sure you
of doing review work (or to consider as models pick a model that can fit the kind(s) of listening
we might want to buy for our personal use), you hope to do.
there are certain points we typicallly consider
and qualities we invariably look for. We would 3. How much performance do you really want?
like to share these with you in hopes of helping The standard answer to this question is
you make good, informed choices that will, we “as much as I can get,” but in practice the
hope, lead to years of musical satisfaction. question is subtler than you might think.
Be aware that, in headphones as in sports
First, Three Very Important cars, high performance can sometimes be a
Questions to Ask “double-edged” sword. Understand that the
1. How will you power your headphones? very same qualities that enable certain high-
Some of the headphones in this Guide can end headphones to reveal the subtlest aspects
be powered directly from an iPod, iPad, of recorded music can also make them expose
iPhone or other personal digital music players, even minor flaws in your ancillary equipment or
while other should ideally be driven by good, music. Our point is to be careful what you ask
powerful, high-performance headphone amps for, because today’s best headphones can be
(whether they are portable or desktop units). incredibly revealing—for better or for worse.
Before you make any purchase, ask yourself Think that point over carefully as you weigh the
how you want to power your new ‘phones. If, pros and cons of different models.
for example, you dislike the idea of lugging
around a portable amp, then it doesn’t make About Playback Reviews
sense to look at models that require such As a general rule, Playback reviews are
amps. You get the picture. not written with a “shootout” mentality, in
part because we believe that listeners are
2. Where will you use your headphones? individuals who have different needs and
Some headphones lend themselves to on-the- musical preferences, so that typically, there is

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Headphone
Buying Tips from Playback

no one “right” choice or “best” product. reverberations heard within recording spaces. like ’phones that let them hear household best performance. Now more than ever we all
Instead, we hope you’ll consider our reviews Details matter, so that we look for headphones sounds (e.g., doorbells, phones ringing, family appreciate products that deliver lasting value.
as fact-finding missions where the goal is to that can resolve even the most subtle, so- members calling out, etc.). To help you find
explore the sonic character of each headphone called “inner details.” models that will fit your preferences, we’ll
under review, talk about the strengths and indicate whether the phones under review offer
weaknesses of each model. In a broader high or low levels of noise isolation.
sense, our reviews also aim to give readers
an idea of what levels of performance can be
achieved at various price points (though as
Dynamics—The ability to reveal contrasts
between loud and soft passages in music $$$ Dare to be Demanding—Don’t stop looking
until you find headphones that fully satisfy your
you will soon discover there are exceptional without audible stress or strain. Also, we look Value—Are you getting your money’s worth? personal standards for musical realism. After
performers in almost every price bracket). for headphones that can capture very subtle Ask this question early and often, because all, that’s the whole point of choosing high
low-level variations in dynamic emphasis, such high prices don’t necessarlily guarantee the performance headphones in the first place.
Essential Qualities to Look For as the way a singer uses vibrato or momentary
inflections to add impact to a particular
musical phrase.

Tonal Balance—The ability to produce


smooth, evenly balanced bass, mids, and
highs, with nothing exaggerated, and nothing Comfort/Fit—Does the headphone
left out. In particular, we look for neutrality; that accommodate a wide range of listeners
is, the ability to faithfully reproduce the sounds and fit easily on your head without applying
captured in your recordings (for better or for too much (or too little) pressure? Does the
worse) rather than imposing a particular sonic headphone feel secure on your head, or does
“color” or “flavor” on the sound. it perhaps feel as if it might slip off? Finally,
does the ‘phone enable you to relax and
listen, or does it distract you (or make you feel
claustrophobic) in some way?

Clarity—Accurate reproduction of transient


sounds and musical textures—such as
the sound of a pick on guitar strings, the Isolation—Some people prefer ’phones
shimmer of cymbals, or the subtle echoes or that block out external noises, while others

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Choosing Between
Over-the-Ear and On-Ear Headphones

Tom Martin

T
here is a saying in the world of photography to the effect that “the best camera is the On-ear headphones generally offer:
one you have with you.” The underlying point is that if a camera is too big or too heavy • Smaller size, lighter weight, and—in some cases—available, built-in cell-phone mics/controls
and you leave it in your hotel room or your car, you can’t take a picture at all, so all those • Avoidance of ear claustrophobia
fancy features go for naught. A similar thought might apply to headphones, modified to “the best • Less pressure on top of head and around the ear
headphone is the one you have on.” In the case of headphones, sound quality matters a lot, but so • Potentially uncomfortable pressure on the outer ear
does usability. Let’s compare on-ear and over-the-ear headphones with the latter in mind: • Lower isolation from ambient noise

Over-the-ear headphones Of course all of these parameters can vary quite a bit from headphone to headphone, but you may
generally offer: want to try several pairs of each just to develop a general sense of which are acceptable.
• Better isolation from external sounds Sonically, it is quite hard to generalize about over-the-ear headphones compared with on-ear
• Higher comfort for the outer ear headphones. There are many makes and models of each, and manufacturers offer models with a
• Greater security (less of a feeling that variety of sonic characteristics. We would say that bass response is generally different between
the headphone might slide off) the two types, with over-the ear headphones more likely to deliver correct bass depth and weight.
• Potential sense of ear claustrophobia Finally, we should consider that many on-ear headphones are designed to be driven by
(an unpleasant feeling of being shut in) portable players or small amplifiers. By contrast, more than a few over-the-ear headphones are
• Greater weight and size comparatively power-hungry and thus require robust headphone amps to sound their best.

AKG’s over-the-ear NuForce’s UF-30


K702 headphone headphone is a light,
features appropriately compact, on-ear design.
large earcups.

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Choosing Between
Open-back and Closed-back Headphones

Tom Martin

E
their intentionally thin driver diaphragms in
xperienced listeners generally feel that noise. Whether it is obvious or subtle, noise is
enclosure frames that, by design, are open
there are two major differences between not only a distraction, but it also reduces your
to your ears (on the inside) but also open
open-back and closed-back headphones: ability to hear low-level sounds as instrumental
to the world at large (on the outside). Noise
sonic differences and usability differences. notes decay. This is not simply a matter of
permeability is an inevitable by-product of audiophiles splitting hairs, because noise
Usability Differences: these designs. Closed-back headphones, by can dramatically impede your ability to hear
Usability differences are fairly easy to contrast, have solid plastic, wood or metal subtle sounds that would ideally help convey
characterize. Generally, open-back driver housings to help provide additional the vibrancy and ambience of the music. In
headphones allow more external sounds to isolation from external sounds. addition, higher levels of background noise
pass through to your ears than do closed- Like all generalizations, however, this one make it more likely that you’ll crank up the
back headphones. This should come as no has its limits. Specifically, it is important volume to restore a sense of dynamics, but at
surprise, since open-back models suspend to understand that the seal between the the risk of potential hearing damage.
headphone and your head
can also a pathway for Sonic Differences:
external sounds. Consider When it comes to sonic differences, two
this: a closed-back are commonly mentioned. Closed-back
headphone that fits loosely headphones are thought to sound more closed
will offer no more isolation, in and compressed, though we would hasten
and perhaps less, than to point out that there is as much variation
HiFiMAN’s open-back HE-6
features an open-weave mesh
an open back headphone in this aspect of sound between models of on the back side of its earcups
with a good circumaural headphones as there is between closed-back
seal. and open-back designs in general. Let your
All of this matters ears be the guide there. designs. This may be coincidence or it may be
because external sounds Closed-back headphones also can have that open-back design is technically superior.
are noise sources. Those more resonant sounding bass. Generally It may also mean marketing departments are
external sounds could this means you’ll hear more powerful but simply catering to customer tastes, knowing
come from office workers potentially less articulate bass, but In some many headphone enthusiasts assume (or
talking, urban street designs it could mean the opposite—i.e., more believe) that sonic differences generally work
sounds, jet engines, studio lightly balanced bass (perhaps as a way to in favor of open-back designs. Whatever the
Audio-Technica’s ATH-W5000 “Raffinato” musicians, or merely an camouflage the additional resonances). reason, judging solely on overall sound quality,
is a classic closed-back design HVAC system in operation, Finally, we should note that all of Playback’s the best-performing headphones Playback has
but in all cases noise is top-rated headphone designs are open-back tested thus far are open-back designs.

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on the horizon: new headphones headed our way
Chris Martens

B
elow, 14 leading headphone manufacturers Audez’e
www.audeze.com
give Playback readers a first look at new Audez’e Audio Research Labs LCD-2 Planar
Magnetic Headphone
full-size headphones that are soon to be The LCD-2 is the top of the line Planar Magnetic
Headphone from Audez’e Inc. Each component of
released, or that recently have been. Enjoy. the LCD-2 has been purpose-built with one goal in
mind: to create the most gorgeous sound possible. It
combines leading edge technology and development
with knowledge, feedback and suggestions gleaned
from an on-going dialogue with sound engineers and
audiophiles. With extremely fast response, the LCD-2
reproduces every single detail in any recording with
amazing clarity. The retail price is $945.00 and the
LCD-2 available direct from the manufacturer.

Audio-Technica
www.audio-technica.com
Audio-Technica ATH-W1000X Closed-Back
Headphones
Audio-Technica’s ATH-W1000X high-end over-
ear headphones combine refined sound quality
with luxurious design. Black cherry wood ear cup
housings not only given an elegant appearance,
but offer natural properties that contribute to the
headphones’ superb audio reproduction.
Highlights include large-aperture 53 mm drivers
with neodymium magnets, plus a unique floating-
mount, 3D Wing-Support system that automatically
adjust to any wearer. The signal cable is a special
tangle-free design that features a thermoplastic
elastomer jacket and PCOCC conductors.
The headphones provide smooth and extended
frequency response (5Hz – 42,000 Hz) and promise
a natural tonal balance with audiophile sound quality
(Pricing to be announced, availability early 2011).

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on the horizon: new headphones headed our way

Beats Pro by Dr. Dre


www.beatsbydre.com
Beats Pro by Dr. Dre from Monster
The Beats Pro by Dr. Dre headphones combine
sophisticated construction and sonic technologies to
deliver the power, durability and sound isolation that
until now has been lacking in professional headphones.
Tailored for use by producers, engineers, musicians
and DJ’s both in studio and onstage, Beats Pro
headphones feature a variety of ambient noise-isolation
capabilities, allowing users to hear their music clearly,
even in the noisiest environments. Built from strong yet
lightweight aluminum, with tough all-metal hinges for
rugged use on-the-go, Beats Pro’s flip up ear cups let
DJs monitor the room without taking the headphones
off. (MSRP: $449.95)

Beyerdynamic
www.beyerdynamic.com
Beyerdynamic T5p Headphones
With its recently released flagship model, the high-end
T1 headphone (see the full-length review in this Guide),
Beyerdynamic succeeded in achieving what many
considered to be impossible: a quantum leap in terms
of sound quality and audiophile sound processing. The
results: a full series of “Made in Germany” engineering
accomplishments with the new T1 driver. which offers
an intrinsic magnetic flux density of 1.2 Tesla (a feature
only available from Beyerdynamic). This provides the end
user with unequalled headphone performance. “Tesla
technology” is now available with the T1, T5p and T50p
models. With the new full size T5p portable headphone, the
Tesla innovations are now available for mobile use.
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on the horizon: new headphones headed our way

Denon
www.denon.com
Denon AH-A100 100th Anniversary Headphones
Denon’s luxurious AH-A100 headphones are part of the
100th Anniversary Product Collection, a limited special-
edition product line that offers discriminating consumers
an opportunity to become a part of Denon’s century-old
legacy of innovation and craftsmanship. Handcrafted
and sporting striking, piano-finished mahogany ear cups
that enhances the headphone’s natural tonal balance, the
AH-A100 features a high-grade driver for superior sound
quality, newly designed skin-soft ear pads and headband,
as well as a luxurious storage case. For high-quality audio
performance, the AH-A100s feature the class’s largest
50mm (1.97”) diaphragm with Acoustic Optimizer for
dynamic, clear sound. (MSRP: $499).

Head-Direct
www.head-direct.com
Head-Direct/HiFiMAN HE-6 Orthodynamic Headphones
Head-Direct is proud to introduce the hand-built HiFiMAN
HE-6 orthodynamic headphone as its flagship model. The
HE-6 features a gold diaphragm, and a highly efficient
magnetic-circuit to help make the headphone easier to
drive. Orthodynamic designs combine some of the best
aspects of both dynamic and electrostatic headphones.
Like the best electrostatic models, orthodynamic designs
have lower distortion than conventional dynamic ‘phones,
yet like traditional dynamic designs the HE-6 can be driven
by regular headphone amplifiers (whereas electrostatic
‘phones often require costly dedicated amplifiers or adapter
boxes). (MSRP: $1199; available in late October, 2010).

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on the horizon: new headphones headed our way

Koss
www.koss.com
Koss ProDJ100 Headphone
This fall, Koss Corporation, the US-based high fidelity
stereophone innovator released the highly anticipated
ProDJ100. The full-size ProDJ100 is designed for DJs
and music enthusiasts alike. “Strength, function and
great sound,” is how Koss describes the flexible, spun
metal stereophone that folds flat and swivels 180° for
single-sided DJ applications. Soft isolating ear cushions
cradle the ears while creating an extremely comfortable
seal that helps block outside noise. Whether you’re a DJ on
the move or looking for the perfect full-size stereophone,
the Koss ProDJ100 is the answer. The Koss ProDJ100 is
available now, priced at $79.99.

Moon Audio
www.moon-audio.com
Moon Audio Custom-Modified High-End Headphones
Moon-Audio is an authorized dealer for many popular
brands of high-end headphones including AKG, Audio-
Technica, Beyerdynamic, Denon, Grado, HiFiMAN,
Sennheiser, Ultrasone, and more. The company also
specializes in developing high-performance headphone
signal cables.
Moon-Audio proudly offer both standard and customized
versions of many top-tier models, with modifications
that include retrofitting extremely high-quality single-
ended, balanced, or portable signal cables fitted with
connection plugs to suit almost any application. (See
the accompanying photo of Moon’s Dragon Series VI
headphone, which is a modified Beyerdynamic DT-990.).
Moon is also developing detachable cable solutions so
that, whatever connection opportunity may arise, users will
have a solution with a simple swap of the cable.

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on the horizon: new headphones headed our way

Phiaton
www.phiaton.com
Phiaton MS 400 “Moderna Series” Headphones
Phiaton’s “Moderna Series” MS 400 headphones are an
entirely new class of luxury listening solution that combines
an adrenaline rush of bold styling, opulent red accents
and world-class sonic performance. Also available in sleek
black, the MS 400s are built for extreme strength, and this
strength is matched by an ultra lightweight, carbon graphite
fiber design (the same material found in many luxury autos,
watches and other products) that offers unprecedented
durability. Phiaton has taken the concept even further by
encasing the carbon in a high polymer enclosure. The result
is better resonance, rich bass, full-bodied midrange, and
sparkling high notes. (MSRP: $249).

Sennheiser
www.sennheiser.com
Sennheiser HD598 Headphones
Sennheiser’s new HD 598 open, dynamic headphone
combines style and sound quality at the highest level. The
attractive, high-end headphone features cream-colored
surfaces, dark wood grain effect and glossy metallic trim.
Sennheiser’s specially developed E.A.R. (Eargonomic
Acoustic Refinement) technology ensures a top-quality
stereo sound experience. Powerful neodymium magnets
and proven Duofol diaphragms guarantee natural, lifelike
reproduction of even the finest musical details.

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on the horizon: new headphones headed our way

Sony
www.sonystyle.com
Sony DR-GA500 and DR-GA200 PC Gaming Heaphones
Sony’s new DR-GA500 and DR-GA200 PC gaming
headphones are ideal for PC gamers looking to enhance
their experience with premium audio and improved comfort
during game play. The DR-GA500 utilizes Sony’s Virtual
Phones (VPT) technology and Dolby Pro Logic IIx decoding
to create virtual 7.1 channel surround sound, resulting in an
ideal audio environment. The signal processing hardware
of this flagship model is contained in a small external unit.
Sony’s new PC Gaming headsets will be available this
month for about $200 and $80, respectively, at the Sony
Style Website and retail stores, and at other authorized
retailers nationwide.

Ultrasone
www.ultrasone.com
Ultrasone Edition 10 Headphones
Ultrasone’s long awaited open-backed headphone is
here—the Edition 10. With Zebrano wood ear cup inlays,
Ethiopian sheepskin leather ear cup pads, Titanium plated
drivers, Kevlar coated cables and a limited number of
2010 units available. Ultrasone’s Edition 10 represent the
company’s most lavishly appointed and highly coveted
specialty headphones ever created. The Titanium-plated
40mm drivers have been specially tuned for open back
headphones and feature a 10% more powerful magnet
for enhanced sound pressure levels. The Edition 10s are
balanced input ready and feature the company’s patented
S-Logic for reduced sound pressure levels. (MSRP: $2,749).

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on the horizon: new headphones headed our way

Urbanears
www.urbanears.com
Urbanears Plattan Plus Headphones
The newest Urbanears headphone is the Apple exclusive
Plattan Plus. Available in an array of stylish colors, the
Plattan Plus offers superior sound quality, noise isolation,
and a 3.5mm jack compatible with all Apple devices. It
also has a remote and mic to allow users to answer calls
while playing their favorite tunes. The Plattan Plus will be
available in Apple stores for $60.

V-Moda
www.v-moda.com
V-Moda Crossfade LP Headphones
Developed by renowned artists, DJs and producers, these
fashionable and luxurious V-Moda over-ear headphones
deliver juicy sound. Highlights include:
• Durable yet lightweight frame features the revolutionary
and signature “V” design
• Patented 50mm dual-diaphragm high-definition drivers for
vibrant and immersive sound
• Plush memory foam ear cushions reduce ambient noise
and allow for hours of comfortable wearing
• Long (69 in.) audio cable with 3-button remote and high-
fidelity mic for adjusting volume, controlling playback and
more
• Jet-black exoskeleton case for transporting in style
• Available in White Pearl, Phantom Chrome, Gunmetal
Black, Nero, and Rouge

The V-Moda Crossfade LP is available at Apple stores,


Best Buy, Radio Shack, Amazon.com and other fine
retailers worldwide. (MSRP: $249.99).

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Playback
noise
cancelling
headphone
reviews

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noise cancelling headphones
go to: noise cancelling headphones | full-size headphones

Audio-Technica
ATH-ANC7b
Chris Martens

overview
O
ver a year ago Playback published a series of reviews of active
noise-cancelling headphones, collectively called the “Sounds of
Silence”, and one of our favorite models at the time was Audio- Consider this active noise-cancelling
Technica’s “Quiet Point” ATH-ANC7. Though it was neither the most headphone if:
expensive nor the most elaborate of the designs we sampled, the ANC7 you want one of the most sophisticated
represented one of those “less is more” scenarios where everything about and musically satisfying noise-cancelling
the headphone just plain worked as intended, giving excellent levels headphones on today’s market—one that
of noise reduction and very refined sound without any fuss, bother, or combines very significant levels of noise
superfluous gongs or whistles. From off-the-record conversations I had with reduction with the kind of sonic refinement
manufacturers of competing noise-cancelling phones, I learned the Audio- approaching the sound of today’s higher-
Technica had attracted their attention, too (so that some regarded the ATH- quality passive headphones.
ANC7 as a worthy competitive benchmark to try and surpass).
Now, however, Audio-Technica has replaced the ATH-ANC7 with an Look further if:
updated model called the ATH-ANC7b ($219.95) that is said to offer you want the very highest levels of noise
incremental improvements vis-à-vis the original model. Since the audio reduction possible (or perhaps multiple
universe is littered with examples of products that supposedly offer noise reduction algorithms each optimized
improvements but that in fact sadly represent steps backward, I decided to for handling different kinds of noise) and are
withhold judgment until I heard the ANC7b in action. Having now lived with willing to trade away some of the Audio-
the new model for several months, I’m pleased to report that it really does Technica’s sonic sophistication to achieve
take meaningful steps forward from the original ANC7, yet with no increase in that goal. But that said, be aware that no
retail price and no sonic downsides whatsoever. In short, the ATH-ANC7b’s other noise-cancelling headphone we have
motto could well be, “All gain with no pain,” which certainly works for me. yet tried offers a better overall combination
And as with the original ANC7, the new model represents a simple, elegant of noise cancellation and sonic excellence.

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noise cancelling headphones
go to: noise cancelling headphones | full-size headphones

solution that works to deliver unexpected ANC7 in several noteworthy ways. To supply Ratings
levels of quietude with genuinely sophisticated
sound.
When you get right down to it, active noise
some background context for my remarks, let
me mention that I described the original model
as offering “a slightly warmer-than-neutral
tonal balance
specs/pricing
clarity AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-ANC7b
cancellers have to balance a delicate and sound with a touch (but only a light touch) of
difficult design set of design tradeoffs. To midrange forwardness.” By comparison, the dynamics Accessories: two detachable signal
remove background noises, they must produce ATH-ANC7b offers more neutral voicing with cables (1m and 1.6m, ¼-inch adapter,
sounds precisely calculated to cancel out slightly deeper and more robust bass and more comfort/fit airline adapter, carrying case with built-in
environmental noises from without, while at extended highs working to balance out the accessory pouch,
the same time reproducing the finer points and original design’s midrange strengths. The result noise isolation/cancellation and a AAA battery.
Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 25kHz
nuances of well recorded music—all without is a more evenly balanced sound from top to
skipping a beat. It’s a tall order to fill, yet one bottom.
ease of use Weight: 7.4 oz.
Sensitivity: 109 dB/mW
that Audio-Technica’s ATH-ANC7b addresses As with the original ATH-ANC7, the ANC7b
value Impedance: 300 Ohms
with rare grace and sophistication, which is does a remarkably good job of capturing the Frequency response: 10 Hz – 25 kHz
what makes this headphone so special. sometimes very subtle distinctions between Warranty: 1 year, parts and labor
good, better, and best recordings, giving the 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Price: $219.95
FEATURES: listener insights into delicate textural and
AUDIO-TECHNICA U.S., Inc.
• 40mm drivers with neodymium magnet transient details in the music. Let me be very knock background noise levels way, way
(330) 686-2600
structures. clear on this point; more so than any other down, so much so that you may marvel—as audio-technica.com
• Headphone operates in passive mode in the noise-cancelling headphone that I’ve yet I have at times—over how much quieter and
event of battery failure. heard, the ATH-ANC7b could pass for a high- more relaxing things seem once the QuietPoint
• Detachable signal cable means the quality passive (that is, non-noise-cancelling) circuitry is engaged. which Ries and a brilliant cast of musicians
headphone can be used for noise headphone, which is saying a mouthful. One very real improvement in the ANC7b create world music/jazz reinterpretations of
reduction only. The fact that it can deliver this kind of sonic involves its noticeably quieter amplifier circuit some of the Rolling Stones’ greatest songs.
• Quiet Point noise-cancellation circuitry sophistication while also eliminating tons of vis-à-vis the earlier ANC7. Of the original model A particular favorite is Ries’ explosive Latin
promises 20 dB of noise reduction, while background noise is what makes the Audio- I wrote that listeners could “hear a faint bit of take on “Under My Thumb”, which positively
reducing “environmental noise by up Technica so desirable. amplifier hiss when the noise cancellation/ froths and sizzles with dynamic energy.
to 90%.” I’ve used the Audio-Technicas in a number amplifier circuit is switched on.” With the new What makes the track a tough test for any
• Compact, “fold-flat” design that allows of different environments, but would observe model, that hiss is essentially gone—a small headphone is the fact that it combines densely
earcups to swivel in both vertical and that they can seem almost revelatory in touch, true, but one you’ll appreciate every time layered instrumentation, complete with wildly
horizontal axes. two very different settings: genuinely noisy you use the headphones with volume levels syncopated Latin percussion and bass, a
• Powered by single AAA battery with environments, such as jetliners in flight, and turned down low. blistering horn section, rollicking keyboards,
projected battery life of 40 hours. seemingly quiet environments, such as the and vocals fairly dripping with attitude and
interiors of homes where the only apparent MUSICAL EXAMPLE machismo (as in, “Yeah, Mommy, I got you
SONIC CHARACTER noise sources might be HVAC equipment in use One of my favorite test records is Tim Ries’ where I want you/under my thumb.”).
The ATH-ANC7b improves upon the already or the soft sounds of a television in a distant intricate and exquisite Stones World – The Most ‘phones stumble on this track, at
very good sonic qualities of the original ATH- room. In both cases, the Audio-Technicas Rolling Stones Project, Vol. 2 [Sunny Side], in least to some degree, either making it sound

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compressed, muddled, or indistinct, or COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS noise). Interestingly, though, the results Technica’s case, simpler is indeed better.
perhaps all of the above—but not so with the One of the other strongest competitors for a achieved by Audio-Technica’s much simpler • In terms of sheer sonic sophistication
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7b. It just wades “best of breed” noise-cancelling design would QuietPoint technology do not fall all that far and purity, both designs are very good
right in and owns this track in all of its glorious be Sony’s flagship MDR-NC500D digital noise behind the Sony’s. performers, but if push came to shove I
dynamic richness and detail. The ANC7b’s cancelling headphone ($399.99), so that I felt • The Sony offers two power options: a would give the nod to the Audio-Technica
capture, for example, the elastic “bounce” of it would make for an apt comparison with the rechargeable onboard Lithium Ion battery, or because its sound seems more effortless,
the bass and the slightly off-kilter rhythms (and ATH-ANC7b. Here’s how I would draw the lines an outboard conventional battery pack. While natural, and unforced, whereas there are
counter-rhythms) of the percussion instruments of comparison. the Sony solution exudes a certain measure moments where the Sony can sound just
that drive the song forward, while doing a • The Sony uses a so-called “Artificial of techno-coolness, it is also inherently slightly “processed” in its presentation. Sonic
spectacular job with the horn section. Indeed, Intelligence” system to select from among complex (given the outboard battery pack, purity is one of the hardest things for any
brass instruments have that just right touch three different digital noise reduction whose wiring is surprisingly intricate, the noise-cancelling headphone to achieve, and
of “bite” as notes first begin, yet without any algorithms to choose the one that’s most charger for the Lithium Ion battery, etc.). By it is one the ATH-ANC7b’s greatest strengths.
edginess or underlying glare. Best of all, the appropriate for the listener’s environment. comparison, the Audio-Technica’s single
ATH-ANC7b seem to “breathe” with the music, This level of adaptability arguably makes AAA battery seems a much simpler way to BOTTOM LINE:
letting the dynamics flow without exaggeration the Sony the all-around champ when it go (and you can easily stuff a few spare AAA With the ATH-ANC7b, Audio-Technica has
but also without any apparent compression. As comes to noise reduction (especially in tricky batteries in the accessory pouch without taken one of Playback’s favorite noise-
a result, the Audio-Technicas make it easy to environments that have lots of low frequency taking up much room). SIn the Audio- cancelling headphone designs and made it
be drawn deep inside the music—a claim not even better, first by giving the ANC7b more
all noise cancelling headphones could make evenly balanced and extended voicing, and
with a straight face. second by fitting the headphone with an even
quieter amplifier/noise reduction circuit. This is
COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES a delightfully simple and easy to use product
The ATH-ANC7b’s come with a good mix of that offers a great combination of effective
accessories including: a detachable signal noise reduction and sonic sophistication.
cable, a ¼-inch adapter, an airline adapter, a
carrying case with built-in accessory pouch,
and a AAA battery to get you started.
The ATH-ANC7b is light, compact, and
comfortable, applying firm (but not overly firm)
clamping pressures. Still, after about a 1 ½-2
hour listening session, you may find you’re
ready for a break. The earcups are on the
smallish side, so that some listeners might find
them just slightly confining, though I personally
found them to be an almost perfect size.

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BEATS BY
DR.DRE STUDIO
Chris Martens

M
ore than three years in development, the lacking in conventional headphones.” Do they
Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones are succeed? In many respects they do.
the result of a three-way collaboration
between artist and producer Dr. Dre, Interscope Features
Geffen A&M Chairman Jimmy Iovine, and the • 40mm drivers.
engineering team at Monster Cable. Described • Active noise isolation circuitry said to reduce
by Monster as “high definition powered isolation” environmental noise by up to 14 dB.
headphones, the Studios have set for themselves • Detachable signal cable allows the headphones
the ambitious goal of providing “a brand new level to be used purely for noise cancellation.
of headphone audio performance with extreme • Mute button lets listeners temporarily suspend
clarity, deep bass and full power which had been playback to focus attention elsewhere.

overview
Consider this headphone if: Look further if:
you want a headphone that is exciting and you want maximum noise cancellation (the
dramatic to listen to—though with tonal balance Beats Studios do an adequate but definitely
that is more colorful than accurate. This is not great job in this area). Also look further if
one of the few headphones that can capture you’re a fan of natural, neutrally balanced sound
the deep, throbbing bass you might hear in a (the Studios deliver an intense, almost hyper-
club. Note that this headphone that can serve vivid sound, but in the process they take some
as a headset for music-enabled cell phones. liberties with tonal balance that you may or may
Gorgeous industrial design, too. not appreciate in the long run).

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• Multi-color power-on light indicates battery SONIC CHARACTER Ratings


status: red = “batteries are good,” amber =
“batteries are due for replacement.”
• iSoniTalk cable (included) with built-in mic
From the moment you first power them up,
the Studios sound dramatic, exciting and
evocative—though not necessarily accurate.
tonal balance
specs/pricing
clarity BEATS BY DR. DRE STUDIOS
and call-answer switch enables the Studios To explain what I mean, let’s look at what the
to serve as a headset for music-enabled cell Beats do with bass, mids, and highs in music. dynamics Accessories: As listed in review.
phones (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.). For the most part the Studio’s bass is
Frequency response: 20 Hz - 20kHz
• Gorgeous industrial design developed by powerful and well defined—just what you’d comfort/fit Sensitivity: 110dB
Robert Brunner. what. But as notes descend lower, the Beats Impedance: Not specified
begin adding an extra measure of “va-va- noise isolation/cancellation Battery Power: Two AAA batteries
Weight: Not specified
ACCESSORIES voom” low-end punch, whether the music calls
ease of use Price: $350
• Gold-plated mini-jack-to-1/4-inch adapter. for it or not. This coloration sometimes sounds
• Detachable signal cable (with high-quality exciting, but can also make music sound value Monster Cable
Monster Cable wiring, of course). inappropriately bass-heavy at times. (877) 800-8989
• iSoniTalk headset adapter cable. In the midrange, the Studios have plenty beatsbydre.com
• Cleaning cloth with Aegis “Microbe Shield” of definition and clarity, but they tend to pull 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 monstercable.com
• Padded travel case. middle frequencies back in the mix, making
them sound slightly subdued or withdrawn
relative to bass and highs. But higher up, in MUSICAL EXAMPLES
the upper midrange/lower treble region, the Put on “The Lesson” from bassist Victor
Beats reverse course and actually push higher Wooten’s Palmystery [Heads Up] and you’ll
frequency sounds forward in the mix. As a hear a jaw-dropping slap’n’pop-style bass
result the sounds of cymbals, guitar fingering guitar solo that’s tailor made to show off the
and picking noises, high notes on pianos, things the Studios do well. Wooten slaps low
and vocal sibilance fairly jump out of these notes with the side of his thumb, creating
headphones. While this treble boost initially profoundly punchy low-frequency thumps,
seems to enhance clarity (and can potentially then tucks his fingers under the bass’s high(er)
help enliven dull-sounding MP3 tracks), it strings and snaps them upward, releasing
also puts a bright, penetrating edge on higher hard, bright, percussive counterpoint notes.
quality recordings, which can prove fatiguing Adding to the mix are bright handclap- and
over the long haul. castanet-like rhythm accents. The whole
The Studios offer a modest amount of noise song works because both the low bass notes
cancellation (or “powered isolation,” to use and brighter accent notes fall in regions
Monster’s term), but noise reduction isn’t really that the Beats emphasizes, and the effect is
this headphone’s strong point. Drama and spectacular, though perhaps overly bright.
excitement is. But listen to the opening of “The Difficult
Kind” from Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions

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[A&M] and the downside of the Studios away from the vocals. Second, the overtones
becomes apparent. The song opens with of Crow’s voice get pushed so far forward
Crow’s voice accompanied only by an electric that, as she sings higher up in her range, her
guitar, and through the Beats two things voice sounds progressively more imbalanced,
happen. First, the twang of the guitar becomes strident, and shrill. The point is that the voicing
unnaturally aggressive, drawing attention of the Studios complements some tracks, but
not others.

COMFORT FACTOR
The Studios large earcups and plush earpads
make them super-comfortable, even for long
listening sessions.

EASE OF USE
The Studios are extremely easy to use, and
we found their easy-access Mute button a
touch we wish other self-powered headphones
offered. The iSoniTalk cable is a welcome
feature for those who wish to use the Beats
with music-enabled cell phones; it’s a feature
that no other noise cancelling headphone in
this Guide includes.

BOTTOM LINE
The Beats By Dr. Dre Studios sound dramatic
and exciting, but not necessarily accurate.
They can seem terrific one moment, but
become somewhat overbearing the next,
depending on whether their colorful voicing
matches well with the track you’ve chosen.
Because this headphone’s voicing is not
neutral, I recommend a try-it-before-you-buy-it
approach to see if the Studio’s characteristic
sound suits your tastes on a broad range of
musical material.

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CREATIVE LABS
AURVANA X-FI
Chris Martens

T
he Aurvana X-Fi is Creative Lab’s enhanced.” The second is the X-Fi CMSS 3D
premier headphone, both for audiophile mode that is said to expand “stereo MP3s and
and noise-cancelling applications. digital movies into virtual surround sound.”
Unlike most of the headphones in our survey,
however, the Aurvana X-Fi not only provides FEATURES
switch-selectable noise-cancelling functions • 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets.
but also offers two other user-selectable sound • Active noise cancellation circuitry said to
enhancement modes. The first is the X-Fi reduce environmental noise by up to 20 dB.
Crystallizer mode that, according to Creative, • Headphones can continue to function in
“restores the detail and vibrancy to your passive mode should battery power run out.
compressed music and movies” through a • Detachable signal cable allows the
process where “highs and lows are intelligently headphones to be used purely for noise

overview
Consider this headphone if: Look elsewhere if:
you want a model that provides superb noise you crave a vibrant, dynamically alive sound
cancellation and a smooth, natural, evenly that is rich in low-level sonic details; while
balanced sound. Sonic resolution and detail the Aurvana sounds very good, its strongest
are very good, too, though not quite best competitors narrowly edge it out in terms
in class. Also consider this model if you’d of sonic performance. Also look further
like to sample its X-Fi Crystallizer and X-Fi if you’d rather not pay for digital “sound
CMSS 3D sound enhancement modes— enhancement” modes you’re not inclined
modes that will suit some (but not all) tastes. to use.

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cancellation with no audio. SONIC CHARACTER Ratings


• Illuminated on/off switches for power, noise
cancellation, X-Fi Crystallizer mode, and X-Fi
CMSS 3D mode.
Before I discuss the Aurvana’s signature
sound, let me point out that its noise
cancellation circuitry is simply first rate. In
tonal balance
specs/pricing
clarity Creative Labs Aurvana X-FI
• Thumbwheel-type volume control. noisy environments this headphone is quiet
with a capital “Q”—as good as the best I’ve dynamics Frequency response: 20 Hz - 20kHz
ACCESSORIES ever heard. Sensitivity: 105dB
• Gold-plated mini-jack-to-1/4” adapter plug. Sonically, the Aurvana X-Fi is an comfort/fit Impedance: 420 ohms
• Airline adapter plug. accomplished all-rounder that offers Battery Power: Two AAA batteries
• Detachable signal cable. wonderfully neutral voicing and a smooth, noise isolation/cancellation Weight: 8.6 oz.
Price: $300
• Extension audio cable evenly balanced presentation that is easy
• Padded travel case. to listen to for hours on end. The X-Fi also
ease of use
Creative Labs Inc.
value (408) 428-6600
us.creative.com

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

provides very good levels of detail and clarity of a gimmick than a genuinely useful feature.
without ever sounding edgy, “sterile,” or It imparts a spacey, phase-shifted, and slightly
artificially vivid. While the best competing brittle-sounding pseudo-surround effect whose
models offer slightly deeper bass and more appeal quickly wears thin—largely because it
expansive highs, plus a somewhat greater robs the Aurvana of some of its characteristic
sense of sonic purity, focus and resolution, smoothness and unforced clarity. My advice:
the Aurvana can hold its own in all those Try out the CMSS 3D mode when you’re in
areas—and without adding “impressionistic” the mood for sonic novelties, but turn it off for
colorations. serious music listening.
I had mixed reactions to the X-Fi Crystallizer
and CMSS 3D modes. As advertized, the MUSICAL EXAMPLES
Crystallizer mode adds a measure of extra “Stormy Monday” from the late Eva Cassidy’s
bass punch and treble “snap” that can help Live At Blues Alley [Blix Street] makes a perfect
perk up severely compressed or dull-sounding showcase for the Aurvana X-Fi’s strengths. The
tracks. The tradeoff, however, is that the track has a hearty, energetic, recorded-before-
mode also tends to undercut the Aurvana’s a-live-audience feel that the X-Fi’s capture
ordinarily smooth sound, making higher quality quite effectively. Two notable high points are
recordings (especially uncompressed tracks) Cassidy’s heart-wrenchingly intense vocals
sound artificially pumped-up and brash. (which can, through some headphones, sound
The X-Fi CMSS 3D mode struck me as more a little raw at times) and a blistering electric

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guitar solo heard midway through the song (a the last word in terms of resolving low-level
solo that, though wonderful, can sometimes textures and details. The X-Fi Crystallizer and
sound a little too “blistering” for its own good). CMSS 3D modes are, perhaps, an acquired
But what impressed me was the way the taste; I did not find them appealing over the
Aurvana X-Fi’s caught the energy and punch long haul, but I can see how others might.
of the performances while at the same time
taming (yet not erasing) their occasional rough
edges. The Aurvana X-Fi finds a sweet spot
of sorts where it reveals the good qualities
in well-made recordings while tempering the
flaws in less-than-perfect tracks.

COMFORT FACTOR
Though it is neither the lightest or smallest
headphone in this survey, the Aurvana X-Fi is
supremely comfortable thanks to capacious
earcups and earpads that offer a just-right
blend of cushioning and support.

EASE OF USE
The Aurvana places all user controls (four
switches and one volume control) on its right-
side earcup. On one level this is convenient
because it allows one-hand operation, but
it also means the noise cancellation, X-Fi
Crystallizer mode, and X-Fi CMSS 3D mode
switches are packed side-by-side, which
can be a bit awkward for the fumble-fingered
among us.

Bottom Line:
The performance fundamentals of Creative’s
Aurvana X-Fi headphones are excellent, with
noise cancellation as a particular strength (this
is a headphone I’d want to have along on a
really noisy plane flight). Core sound is smooth,
rich and natural, though perhaps not quite

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DENON AH-NC732
Chris Martens

I
n this review I’ll take a look at Denon’s latest entry in the noise-
cancelling headphone marketplace—the AH-NC732 ($300). Unlike
many of the noise-cancelling headphones reviewed in this Guide,
the AH-NC732 is a light, compact, on-ear model (most of the other
competing noise-cancellers I’ve sampled have been over-the-ear
models).
The little Denon comes with a useful though by no means extravagant
set of accessories, and while the AH-NC732 tips the scales at a feathery
5.1 oz., its sound—as you’ll discover in a moment—most certainly packs
a heavyweight punch
overview
Consider this headphone if:
FEATURES: you want a light, simple-to-use, on-ear
• 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets. noise-cancelling headphone that offers
• Denon Acoustic Optimizer circuit is said to improve sound quality while very good noise suppression and sound
cancelling up to 99% of ambient noise. quality, with a pleasing mix of clarity and
• Lightweight (5.1 oz.), collapsible design with rigid, vibration resistant neutral tonal balance tempered by a just-
aluminum connector cover. right touch of natural warmth. The Denons
• High-grade “protein” leather-covered earpads with low-repulsion can collapse to fit in very small spaces—or
urethane foam ear cushions said to provide enhanced comfort for to be packed up in their compact carrying
longer listening sessions. case (included).
• Detachable signal cable allows the headphones to be used purely for
noise cancellation with no audio. Look elsewhere if:
you would prefer the somewhat different
ACCESSORIES feel and potentially better acoustic isolation
• Gold-plated mini-jack-to-1/4-inch adapter plug. that over-the-ear headphones might afford.
• Airline adapter plug. Also look further if you want a headphone
• 27.5-inch and 59-inch detachable signal cables (different lengths for that offers switch selectable sound
different listening settings). enhancement or simulated surround sound
• Padded travel case. processing modes.

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SONIC CHARACTER terribly noticeable degree (in fact, I think some Ratings
Denon’s AH-NC732 is one of the better-
balanced noise-cancelling headphones I’ve
encountered, combining much (though not
listeners would interpret those slightly subdued
highs as freedom from edginess and glare).
Two particularly appealing aspects of the AH-
tonal balance
specs/pricing
clarity Denon AH-NC732
all) of the clarity and sonic transparency of a NC732 are its solidly weighted bass (some
headphone such as Audio Technica’s ATH- of the best I’ve heard from an on-ear design) dynamics Frequency response: 5 Hz - 28kHz
ANC7b (reviewed elsewhere in this Guide) and it’s gentle, just right touch of natural Sensitivity: 105dB
with the natural, uncolored tonal balance of a warmth, which makes the headphone sound comfort/fit Impedance: 40 Ohms
headphone such as Creative Lab’s Aurvana inviting and engaging. At 105dB, the Denon’s Battery power: One AAA battery
X-Fi (also reviewed in this Guide). Extreme sensitivity is decent, but falls 4-5dB below that noise isolation/cancellation Weight: 5.1 oz.
Price: $300
highs are just slightly rolled-off, but not to a of the class leaders, meaning you’ll need to
ease of use
Denon Electronics (USA), LLC
value (201) 762-6500
usa.denon.com

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
for the song has near-ideal low frequency
turn up your iPod to get optimal output from weight and punch. Later, higher percussion
these ‘phones. But overall, the AH-NC732 instruments join in, followed by Bill Frisell’s
offers a pleasing mix of virtues. haunting electric guitar, which picks up and
The AH-NC732’s active noise cancellation then carries the melodic theme, putting forth
circuit is quite effective, though I felt its on-ear evocative lines that float like question marks
design offered slightly less acoustic isolation above the bass and percussion commentary
(that is, the ability to block out rather than going on below. The Denons do a fine job of
“cancel out” incoming noise) than some of the expressing the lush and sumptuous vibe of
better over-the-ear models I’ve tested. the track, and especially of expressing the
soulful, melancholy lilt of Frisell’s guitar. But
MUSICAL EXAMPLE that said, the headphones also come up a
Put on “Split Window” from jazz/bluegrass/ bit short in that they cannot quite capture the
country bassist Viktor Krauss’s debut album finely filigreed treble percussion and guitar
Far From Enough [Nonesuch] and the Denons details and harmonics that can and should
will immediately reward you with a warm, give this track an air of mystery, suggesting a
rich rendition of the brooding and highly giant, wide-open recording space. The good
atmospheric track. Through the AH-NC732’s news, here, is that the AH-NC732’s strengths
Krauss’s opening acoustic bass solo has an are compelling and self-evident, while its
appropriately deep, sonorous growl while the shortcomings are relatively minor “sins of
bass drum that provides a rhythmic foundation omission.”

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COMFORT FACTOR passive mode if battery power runs out, though


The AH-NC732’s are extremely light, compact, I found that sound quality was much, much
and very comfortable, although the feel of on- better when the ‘phones were powered up.
ear headphones may not suit all tastes. The
seal that the Denons achieved on my ears BOTTOM LINE
was good, but perhaps not quite as good Because its overall sound is well balanced and
as that of some of the better over-the-ear clearer than most, Denon’s AH-NC732 is easy
models I’ve tried. The trade-off, of course, is for us to recommend, especially for listeners
that the Denons weigh roughly 2-3 oz. less who will appreciate its compact, lightweight
than competing over-the-ear models do—a design. In particular, this Denon does a bet-
difference you can really notice over time. ter than average job of cancelling out ambient
noise while offering solid and well-defined bass
EASE OF USE and smooth, revealing mids.
The AH-NC732 offers simple, foolproof, single-
switch operation. There is also a back-up,

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JVC HA-NC250
Arnie Williams

M
y favorite coffee hangout noise cancellers, including those from
and Wireless hotspot is in a Audio-Technica, Creative Labs, Beats
college town and so attracts
the raucous crowd you’d expect. I
like to go for a 16-oz. triple latte and
by Dr. Dre, Sennheiser, and Sony. In
my opinion, the JVC’s compare most
closely with the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio
overview
then sit with my laptop and surf the headphones within this test group. Consider this headphones if:
’net while I plug into my selection of you find your iPod ear buds produce
iTunes favorites. But frankly, between FEATURES anemic sound and your desktop PC
Becky at the next table talking loudly • 40mm drivers or Mac speakers just don’t come near
on her cell about her disastrous date •A ctive noise-reduction circuitry that producing a satisfying sonic envelope
with Bernard and Mr. tattooed-and- claims an 18dB reduction and/or you find yourself often sipping
pierced wanna-be rocker humming (at 150Hz) lattes at your favorite (but noisy) Internet
and, gasp, actually singing bits from •O n/Off button and detachable cable café and can’t seem to shut the racket
his in-progress Goth-inspired downer (note that the headphones do block out. (The JVCs also work well with higher-
song lyrics . . . well, it can be a bit out some noise even without noise- end audio gear.)
disorienting, to say the least. cancellation circuitry activated)
That’s why when Editor-in-Chief • Cushioned ear pads Look further if:
Chris Martens asked me if I wanted you actually like listening in on loud
to evaluate JVC’s HA-NC250 noise ACCESSORIES conversations nearby. Also look
canceling headphones, I jumped at •H andsome zipper/canvass carrying further if you want more sophisticated
the chance. The blurb on the product case with inner zip-bag for adapters earphone features, such as digital sound
box said the NC-250s cut out up to • Gold-plated 1/4-to-mini adapter enhancement modes or more elaborate
85 percent of ambient noise. Wow, I •T wo-prong-to-mini airplane adapter noise cancellation circuitry. (For digital
thought: 85 percent less of Becky and plug enhancements, however, you can “cheat”
Tattoo Boy. Sign me up! • Detachable cable by using add-on software programs such
By the way, you’ll want to check • Earphones twist to fold flat as iWOW.).
out the reviews in this section of

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Ratings used to inhabiting. I didn’t take them on a DVD I’m Your Man [Verve Forecast], is a nice

tonal balance

plane ride (we’re in the middle of an economic
downturn, don’t you know), but I’d venture
to say that they’d do swell in cutting out your
test song for midrange frequencies. Batalla’s
full-bodied alto, complete with a touch of
vibrato edginess, evokes the kind of sadness
specs/pricing
clarity JVC HA-NC250
chatty neighbor’s life story while you tune in Cohen meant for the song to convey when
dynamics to the in-flight movie or audio selections. I he wrote it. I’ve heard that vibrato edge given
Frequency Response: 8 Hz - 24kHz (power
also tested them with standard DVDs on my more definition by other headphones. On
on)
comfort/fit Mac’s video player, and they performed well the other hand, when Batalla soared high, as Noise Reduction: 18dB at 150Hz
in that environment, too, given that I live in a she does at the end of the piece, and when Sensitivity: 102dB/1mW (power on)
noise isolation/cancellation noisy household. For high-end stereophiles, some of the higher chords of the simple guitar 100dB/1mW (power off)
Power Supply: AAA Battery (DC 1.5V) x 1
however, pricier (and more neutrally voiced) accompaniment came along, both the singer’s
ease of use Battery Life: Approx. 50 hours (using
earphones may be the way to go. voice and the guitar chords rang true, helping
Alkaline AAA battery); Approx. 20 hours
value to make the listening experience enjoyable. (using Manganese AAA battery)
MUSICAL EXAMPLES Cord Length (detachable): 3.9 feet
Did you know that Dirty Harry’s (aka Clint COMFORT FACTOR Weight: (incl. battery) 5.30 oz.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Eastwood) son Kyle is a talented jazz The ear pads of the HA-NC250s don’t Warranty: One year, parts and labor
composer and skilled bassist (both standup, completely envelop your ears, which I like Price: MSRP $200 (Half that on some
discount Web sites)
electric, and fretless electric)? I often use Kyle because it avoids that kind of sweaty, suction-
SONIC CHARACTER Eastwood’s Paris Blue [Rendezvous] as a test cup feel you get with some ’phones. The JVC Americas
If you can visualize a smiley face (and who disc because its content spans the enitre audio soft foam pads allow extended use without (800) 252-5722
can’t), you have a pretty good diagram of the spectrum, and well, because I like it. pronounced ear fatigue and the headphones are jvc.com
frequency response curve of the HA-NC250. The ambling laid-back tune “Sulferino” has so light you might forget you’re wearing them.
This headphone likes bass and it also gloms a nice cross-range medley of electric piano,
on to high voice and upper instrumentation. fretless bass, and sax, with the whisper of EASE OF USE and all that some folks may need, especially
The middle frequencies, however, seem a brushed snare and cymbals underpinning the Once you’ve assembled the NC250s, they if most of their listening is done through an
little subdued. But even with this shortcoming ensemble to make this track a good test for couldn’t be easier to use. But there is one iPod or a laptop in noisy settings. In fact, the
(and many wouldn’t necessarily call this full-range headphones (and speakers). The small catch: the JVCs’ battery compartment is ability to fold the earphones flat and the nice
a shortcoming—especially those whose electric piano has delicate runs in the middle hidden beneath one of the earpads, meaning reinforced case make them an easy product
tastes favor the frequency extremes over range, the sax soars up high, and the fretless you’ll have to remove the pad every time you to transport unscathed into some bustling
the middle ranges), the JVCs perform well in bass holds down the bottom end. The HA- install a new battery. Getting the ear pad off environments (think college kids gone wild).
many application settings. For example, they NC250s handled the upper and lower extremes the enclosure in order to insert the battery isn’t But if your musical tastes call for high levels
win hands-down in comparison to standard well, but less so the middle frequencies. And for the faint of heart. OK, it’s not that bad, but of detail and definition, or more neutral tonal
earbuds for an iPod (I tested them with an the “whispers” tended to get lost. Even so, I enough of a challenge to deserve a mild ding balance—especially in the critical middle
iPod Nano; worth the price of admission found myself listening to this track again and in the ease-of-use category. frequency band, then you may want to move
alone if standard earbuds are your current again and enjoying the experience each time. up to a more sophisticated model, perhaps in a
iPod gateway). They also perform well with a Perla Batalla singing “Bird on a Wire” from BOTTOM LINE higher price range.
laptop in the kind of noisy environments I’m the soundtrack of the Leonard Cohen tribute The JVC HA-NC250s are decent performers

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SENNHEISER
PXC 450
Chris Martens

T
he German firm Sennheiser is a fierce competitor in all segments
of the headphone and earbud marketplace and the PXC 450
is the company’s flagship noise-cancelling model. From the
moment you first unpack these phones you begin seeing and sensing
overview
various visual and tactile cues that remind you of their German heritage. Consider this headphone if:
There’s a certain fineness of fit and finish about the PXC 450’s—a you simply like objects that evince old-
precision in the way their ear cups fold out and click into position before school Germanic precision, fit and finish.
use—that is reminiscent of the detail touches you might find on a fine Also strongly consider the PXC 450 if
German automobile. What’s more, the PXC 450’s leverage Sennheiser’s you think you’d enjoy a headphone that
NoiseGard 2 circuitry and wealth of know-how accumulated through offers decent sound and good noise-
decades of experience in building award-winning audiophile cancellation capabilities in active or Normal
headphones. That said, the PXC-450 is also one of the most expensive mode, but that “shifts gears” when used
noise-cancelling ‘phones in this Guide. Does its sound justify its price? in passive or Bypass mode to behave more
like a serious audiophile headphone.
FEATURES
• Earcups provide patented adaptive baffle damping, while drivers Look elsewhere if:
incorporate Duofol diaphragms—both features said to enhance you want a headphone that sounds its
sound quality. best with noise cancellation circuitry turned
• Proprietary Sennheiser NoiseGard 2.0 technology is said to eliminate on (frankly, the PXC 450 sounds best in
up to 90 percent of environmental noise. passive mode). Also look further if you seek
• Headphones can continue to function in passive mode should battery maximum bang for your bucks; though
power run out. undeniably well made, the PXC 450 carries
• Detachable signal cable allows the headphones to be used purely for a premium price for what it is and does.
noise cancellation with no audio.

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• TalkThrough mode temporarily amplifies green = talk-through mode engaged, LED off Ratings
room sounds and the sound of your
voice, allowing users to participate in in-
= headphone is in passive mode.

ACCESSORIES
tonal balance (noise-cancelling on)
specs/pricing
room conversations without taking off the clarity
headphones. • Gold-plated mini-jack-to-1/4-inch adapter Sennheiser PXC 450
• Control switches for Volume -, Volume plug. dynamics
+, TalkThrough, headphone On/Off, and • Airline adapter plug. Frequency response: 8 Hz - 28kHz
comfort/fit Sensitivity: 108dB
NoiseGard 2.0 Normal/Bypass. • Detachable signal cable. Impedance: 750/150 ohms (active/passive)

• LED status indicator: red = headphone on, • Padded travel case. Battery Power: One AAA battery (but note,
noise isolation/cancellation unit is supplied with two batteries)
flashing red = battery needs replacement,
Weight: 8.5 oz.
ease of use Price: $400

value Sennheiser Electronic Corp.
(860) 434-9190
sennheiserusa.com
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

SONIC CHARACTER back just a bit, leaving you with sound that is
What we have here, really, is a tale of two better balanced and more musically rewarding
headphones in that PXC 450 exhibits two overall. Unlike any of the other noise-cancelling
different sonic personas, depending on ‘phones in this Guide, the PXC 450 actually
whether it is used with its noise-cancelling sounds better in passive mode than when its
circuit turned on or off. Used with the noise cancellation circuitry is turned on.
NoiseGard 2 circuit turned on, the Sennheisers Noise cancellation is very good, but not quite
exhibit tonal balance that seems skewed in up to the standards set by the best ‘phones in
a subtle way, with bass that is somewhat this survey, in part because the NoiseGard 2
recessed, mids that are about right, and highs circuit allows a bit more high-frequency noise
that are just slightly too prominent. The net to come through than the best systems do.
effect is of a headphone that offers bright,
crisp clarity but that is lacking somewhat in MUSICAL EXAMPLE
terms of natural warmth and appropriate bass One of the coolest records Playback has
weight and punch. reviewed in recent months is the Conspirare
But flip the NoiseGard 2 switch to its (Craig Hella Johnson and Company of Voices)
Bypass setting and a different sonic persona performance of Tarik O’Regan’s Threshold of
emerges. In a subtle but significant way bass Night [Harmonia Mundi, SACD]. One of my
comes forward in the mix, while highs pull favorite compositions (and one of the choir’s

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favorite concert pieces) is the third movement set of raised nubs so to make them easier to
of O’Regan’s Triptych, entitled “Tryptych identify and use by touch alone. Finally, the
III. From Heaven Distilled a Clemency.” The NoiseGard 2 Normal/Bypass switch is buried
composition takes an at once serious and yet under one of the ear cup hinges, meaning you
joyous and enthusiastic look at our inevitable have to take the ‘phones off to access the
transition from the here to the hereafter, so switch; a more accessible location would be
that the choir and its accompanying orchestra better.
simply “swing” on the piece. The Sennheisers
did a fine job of presenting small treble BOTTOM LINE
details and textures that revealed the smooth, We had mixed reactions to the PXC 450. The
powerful unity of Conspirare’s ensemble core, passive sound quality of the headphone
singing, an area where the choir excels. But is very, very good, but that sound quality took
at the same time, the PXC 450s lost some a subtle but audible turn for the worse once
of the desirable “swinging” quality of the the NoiseGard 2 circuitry was engaged. The
piece, because their tonal balance undercut NoiseGard 2 circuit, for its part, does a good
the propulsive thrust of the lower voices and but certainly not state-of-the-art job of noise
strings, robbing the piece of vital energy. reduction. While the PXC 450’s apparent build-
On this track and many others, I felt the quality is very high, I don’t think that fact fully
PXC 450’s sounded better balanced (that is, justifies the headphone’s steep asking price.
richer and more full-bodied) once their noise-
cancellation circuit was set to Bypass mode.

COMFORT FACTOR
The PXC 450 is a relatively large headphone
(the ear cups are bigger than most) with thick,
cushy ear pads. I found the Sennheisers
extremely comfortable, but I am a relatively big
guy, which means the PXC 450’s big ear cups
weren’t a problem for me. I could see how
individuals of smaller stature might find the
Sennheisers a bit bulky.

EASE OF USE
The PXC 450’s many flush-fit control switches
and buttons look cool, but they aren’t easy to
use from an ergonomic perspective. I would
suggest that Sennheiser give the switches a

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SONY MDR-NC500D
Chris Martens

S
ony’s MDR-NC500D noise-cancelling optimal noise reduction for the given context.
headphone is chockfull of advanced Add in high-tech drivers and amplifiers and
technologies—so much so that you’ll need you’ve got one of most advanced noise-cancelling
to read the manual to appreciate all it can do. For headphones yet built, or at least that’s the theory
starters the headphone offers true feedback-type But how does it work out in actual practice?
noise-cancelling, where noise-sensing microphones
are located inside the headphone ear cups, not on FEATURES
the outside as in most designs. This approach is • 40mm dome-type drivers with neodymium
said to yield superior noise cancellation. Sony uses magnets.
a sophisticated DSP-driven system to compare • BTL (bridged transformer-less) amplifier is said
audio and noise signals and then to apply noise to produce “a powerful sound with a wide
filters and EQ as needed. What’s more, when the dynamic range.”
headphone is first powered up, an AI (artificial • Unique “feedback-type” noise reduction system
intelligence) circuit analyzes noise and then selects places noise-sensing microphones inside the
one of three available noise filters to achieve headphone ear cups—not on the outside as in

overview
Consider this headphone if: Look elsewhere if:
you want noise-cancelling headphones that can you seek optimally accurate tonal balance (the
apply specific noise filters for different listening Sony puts out a little too much bass to qualify) or
environments (airplanes, trains/buses, offices/ maximum clarity and transparency (the Sony is
study rooms). Also consider the MDR-NC500D good in both departments, but some competitors
if you seek a lively, highly dynamic sound, but do even better—and for less money). Note that
with a certain amount of bass enrichment. there is some learning curve involved in figuring
Finally, check out this Sony for its its built-in, out how to tap the Sony’s many advanced
rechargeable Lithium-ion battery. features.

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Ratings most other noise-cancelling designs. The


tonal balance

feedback-type design is said to be more
effective and to have greater perceived specs/pricing
clarity impact than other, more traditional types of
noise cancellation systems. Sony MDR-NC500D
dynamics • Sony’s proprietary AI (Artificial Intelligence)
noise cancellation circuitry, used in
Frequency response: 5 Hz - 24kHz
comfort/fit Sensitivity: 102dB
conjunction with DSP-driven equalization, is Impedance: 40 ohms

said to eliminate up to 99% of environmental Battery Power: Built-in Lithium-ion battery,
noise isolation/cancellation or two AA batteries in external power pack
noise. The AI system can automatically
invoke, or users can manually select, any of Weight: 6.9 oz.
ease of use Price: $400
three noise cancellation modes:
value - NC Mode A (for use in airplanes), Sony Electronics
- NC Mode B (for use in buses or trains), or sonystyle.com
- NC Mode C (for use in offices or study
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 environments).
• Detachable signal cable allows the SONIC CHARACTER
headphones to be used purely for noise This headphone offers a lively, expressive
cancellation with no audio. sound with serious dynamic clout, and it
• Headphones come with built-in, rechargeable delivers—over most of the audio spectrum—
Lithium-ion batteries (charger included), plus pleasingly neutral tonal balance. The only
a back-up external battery pack powered by deviation from accuracy occurs down in
two AA batteries. the bass region, where the MDR-NC500D
• Monitor mode lets listeners temporarily consistently pushes low frequency notes too
suspend playback to focus attention far forward in the mix (a characteristic some
elsewhere. might enjoy, but others might find overbearing).
• Control switches for headphone On/Off, AI The Sony offers good measures of clarity and
On/Reset/Mode Select, monitor mode On/Off detail, though it is narrowly edged-out in both
respects by at least one other headphone in
ACCESSORIES our Guide (namely, the Audio-Technica ATH-
•G old-plated mini-jack-to-1/4-inch adapter plug. ANC7b). Noise cancellation in highly noisy
• Airline adapter. environments is as good as I’ve ever heard,
• Two detachable signal cables (.5M and 1.5M). but the MDR-NC500D also offers the benefit
• AC charger for Lithium-ion battery. of being able to apply different noise filters for
• Back-up battery pack (2 x AA) with different listening contexts—a feature no other
detachable signal/power cable. headphone in this Guide offers.
• Padded travel case.

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MUSICAL EXAMPLES pushbutton switch, the other a slide switch),


Tim Ries’s Stones World [Sunnyside], as and especially to understand how to operate
reviewed in Playback Issue 14, is a superb the multi-mode AI noise cancellation control.
world music/jazz adaptation of some of the Be aware, too, that the headphone provides
Rolling Stones’ most evocative songs and as separate jacks for its audio signal cables and
such it makes a good test disc. One of my power/charging cables.
favorite tracks is the exuberant Puerto Rican
rendition of “Under My Thumb” where a red- BOTTOM LINE
hot Latin rhythm section sizzles and drives the Sony‘s MDR-NC500D is a headphone
song forward with wildly syncopated beats. Playback is proud to recommend despite
The Sony’s do a great job with the track, partly its tendency toward a bass-forward sound,
because they cleanly delineate the voices because it is in so many other respects a
of the various instruments—especially the wonderful headphone. It is fun to listen to,
percussion instruments—and partly because sounds dynamically alive, is well-balanced over
they capture the unstoppable, locomotive- most of the audio spectrum, and offers much
like energy and dynamic drive of the whole better than average clarity and detail. Throw
rhythm section. The only catch is that the Sony in the fact that the Sony offers the highest-
makes the electric bass and low percussion tech noise cancellation circuitry around, plus
instruments, which play a big role in the mix, the convenience of rechargeable Lithium-ion
sound excessively prominent. Fortunately, this batteries, and you’ve got a winner.
bass-forward characteristic isn’t too distracting
on “Under My Thumb,” but it sometimes can
be on other kinds of material.

COMFORT FACTOR
The Sony’s are light and compact, and
provide a very good seal over your ears. The
outboard backup battery-pack cable is a bit
cumbersome to use, though, partly because
the headphone end of the cable has two plugs
(one to supply power, the other for audio
signals) and partly because the 2 x AA battery
pack is relatively heavy.

EASE OF USE
It takes a bit of learning to master the Sony’s
Monitor mode and On/Off switches (one is a

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DENON AH-D1001
Chris Martens

T
he AH-D1001s are among the lightest and • Driver “motors” feature neodymium magnets.
smallest headphones in this Guide and for • Connecting cables that use oxygen-free copper
this reason are among the most comfortable. conductors.
They are arguablyone of the few ’phones in this
group light, compact, and sensitive enough to be ACCESSORIES
worn comfortably outdoors and on the go. As it turns • Soft fabric carrying bag.
out, the Denons are alsoone of the least expensive • 1.7-meter extension cable with oxygen free
’phones in this sub-$200 group. Truth to tell, we conductors.
originally requested Denon’s more expensive $350 • Mini-jack-to-1/4-inch adapter with gold-plated
AH-D2000, but that model was unavailable for review jacks.
in our timeframe, so that the PR folks suggested we
try the much less costly AH-D1001s instead. I worried, SONIC CHARACTER
at first, that the little Denons might not be able to “run The AH-D1001s may not sound quite as “big,”
with the big dogs,” but they soon put my concerns to revealing, or transparent as the top $200-$650
rest, proving themselves to be real overachievers— models,but they are so well-balanced you would
and a very good deal. never think of them as having “shortcomings” at all
unless you compared them side-by-side with much
FEATURES: higher priced ‘phones. The Denons deliver a smooth,
• Light, thin, responsive 40mm micro-fiber driver suave, sophisticated midrange sound supported by
diaphragms. warm, nicely weighted bass. Highs are reasonably
• Earpiece design features an “Acoustic Optimizer” clear and extended, but trade off the “Nth” degree
said to adjust “the sound pressure in front of and of definition and resolution in order to achieve a
behind the diaphragm. pleasing quality of natural “sweetness.”

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MUSICAL EXAMPLE BOTTOM LINE


The Denons sounded downright seductive
on Marilyn Mazur and Jan Garbarek’s aptly
named “Joy Chant” from Elixir [ECM]. The
Denon’s AH-D1001 is a delightful headphone
that combines sonic prowess with great
versatility, comfort, and value. Though not a true
specs/pricing
AH-D1001’s refined midrange did a great job top-tier performer in any one area, the Denons Denon AH-D1001
of revealing the bouncing, exuberant sound get close enough in all areas to make things
Design: Circumaural, closed-back,
of the steel drum-like percussion instrument interesting and at a more than fair price. One
dynamic headphones (note: Denon
highlighted on the track, while also giving final point: the Denons are so easy to drive that, literature describes these as “on-
Garbarek’s light, dancing sax lines plenty of in a pinch, you could power them directly from ear” headphones, but in fact they’re a
room to play. While high percussion may not an iPod (though only at moderate volume levels). circumaural design).
have quite shown as much treble detail and Frequency response: 8 Hz - 37kHz
“air” as on the premium price ’phones, the Sensitivity: 103dB@1mV
Impedance: 32 ohms
presentation was still very satisfying. Beyond Weight: 6.3 oz.
trying to reproduce the sound of instruments in Price: $150
a strict, accuracy-oriented sense, the Denons
strive (successfully) to capture their overall feel Denon Electronics (USA), LLC
or “vibe.” (201) 762-6500
usa.denon.com
But the Denon’s can really rock out, too, as
I discovered when I put on “Reckoner” from
Radiohead’s In Rainbows [ATO Records]. The
track opens with a potent, expressive drum last word:
kit pattern that the AH-D1001s rendered with Ratings • A $150 headphone that in many
energy and snap. More importantly, though, ways “runs with the big dogs.”
tonal balance
they captured the song’s giant, almost • Suave midrange, nicely weighted
otherworldly soundscape, which gives the clarity bass, sweet highs.
sense that the song is being performed in a • Very light and comfortable.
garage the size of an Olympic gymnasium. dynamics • In a pinch, an iPod can drive
them (to moderate levels, at
COMFORT FACTOR comfort/fit any rate).

The light, compact AH-D1001s are among the • Great value.
noise isolation/cancellation
most comfortable phones in this Guide. One
small caveat is that their earpads are covered value • Not as transparent-sounding as
in a faux leather material that does not wick more costly open-back models
away perspiration the way fabric covers do. from the next price class up, but
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 still in the hunt.

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NuForce
UF-30
Tom Martin

T
he Playback editors have come to protection from the bump and grind of city life.
respect the designs we’ve reviewed from The UF-30’s claim to fame is the use of
NuForce. Their amps and D/A converters driver technology licensed from Ultrasone.
consistently offer good value. Not only that, Ultrasone is a somewhat below-the-radar
NuForce seems to have a guiding vision that, German headphone company, whose costly
in a short phrase, might be captured as “sonic but exquisite Edition 8 model left a serious
clarity top to bottom”. positive impression on us. The UF-30s, like
Recently, NuForce sent us their UF-30 the Edition 8s, use a patented Ultrasone
headphones. In keeping with the NuForce technology called S-Logic. While it sounds like
value orientation, these retail for $59. They are something digital, S-Logic in fact involves the
lightweight, on-ear headphones designed for acoustics of using an offset driver to make the
mobility, since they fold up and store neatly headphones sound more spacious and less
in a small oval case that actually offers some “in your skull.” Ultrasone’s Edition 8 retails

overview
Consider this headset if: Look elsewhere if:
you want headphones with a balanced sound you need maximum refinement and
and good bass and treble detail. smoothness in the midrange.

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for around $1500, though, so having similar balance seems very good, while on others the Ratings
technology in a $59 headphone is interesting
to say the least.
bass seems somewhat reticent. In the case of
the UF-30s, I came to think that this happens
because the mid-bass is well balanced and
(compared to similarly-priced headphones)
tonal balance

specs/pricing
SONIC CHARACTER controlled, but the headphones don’t have clarity NuForce UF-30 Headphones
The UF-30s provide a sound that immediate much deep bass. As a result on real bass
Accessories: carrying case
strikes you as detailed and perhaps just corkers, the UF-30s sound less balanced dynamics Frequency Response: Not Specified
Weight: 85 grams
slightly bright (emphasizing the treble range). than they do on more normal material. In my Sensitivity: Not Specified
comfort/fit
This sense of detail holds up in the midrange, experience you’re going to have to pay a lot Impedance: 35 ohms
where guitars and voices are very articulate. more to get (good) deep bass, so this isn’t a sensitivity Price: $59
Even the bass is tight, with excellent rendition huge loss. Still, if big punchy bass is one of
of plucked bass lines. your fervent desires, look elsewhere. value NuForce Inc.
(408) 890 6840
Most people notice overall balance of bass, I was impressed with the efficacy of the nuforce.com
midrange and treble more than any other S-Logic technology. The UF-30s do a nice job
characteristic of headphones and speakers, of moving the sound outside of your head, 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
so it is useful to talk about this in detail. With whereas many headphones make you feel
the UF-30, on some tracks this top-to-bottom like singers and guitarists have replaced your

brain. Now, to be clear, S-Logic doesn’t put beautifully on the UF-30s, but the resonant
the band or orchestra in front of you, as they body sound is reduced in volume. Small issues
would be you heard them in a live setting. to some, more important to others.
Instead, S-Logic simply creates of pleasant One final note is that the UF-30s are on-
sense of the sound coming from the outside ear headphones. As a result, they do little to
world. isolate the listener from outside sounds. This is
For $59 you get a very usable sound with not ideal in an airplane, but in an office it can
the UF-30s, but you don’t get perfection be an advantage if you need to hear people
(heck, for $1500 you don’t get perfection). address you. In addition, the design of the UF-
You should know about the limitations of 30 seemed ideal to me for quick removal and
the UF-30, not because they’re knock out replacement.
factors in general, but in case one of these
is of critical importance to you. With the UF- MUSICAL EXAMPLES
30, the treble is clear and very listenable, but On Neko Case’s song “Dirty Knife” [Fox
to live up to the sound of live music it could Confessor Brings the Flood, Anti], the bass to
be smoother. Lower midrange seems slightly treble balance is excellent and instrumental
under-represented, with the result that some definition is quite good, particularly on the
instruments sound clear, but “thin.” Acoustic electric bass. Case’s voice, however, shows a
guitar strings, for example, come through bit more shrillness than normal. Through the

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UF-30, voice and instruments have very low more balanced though with a lower treble
grain, which often is not the case with a lot of emphasis. The Grados, while comfortable,
headphones in (or even above) this price class. are not quite up to the comfort level of
On Nora Jones’ “Chasing Pirates” from the UF-30, which is so light that it almost
The Fall [Blue Note], top to bottom balance is disappears.
lovely, with solid rendition of the bass guitar.
That said, the track “Young Blood” from the COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
same album seems a little light in the bass, Thanks to low weight and light ear pressure,
even though string definition is very good. the UF-30s can be worn for long periods
“Lucky Gilchrist” from The Unthanks’ Here’s almost without noticing them. They also fold
the Tender Coming [Rough Trade] shows how up to fit in a travel case, though the earpads
the UF-30’s midrange voicing can reduce vocal don’t swivel from side-to-side (as the earpads
resonances, making the singers sound slightly on some headphones do) so that even when
distant—almost as if they weren’t really in the folded up the UF-30s remain a few inches
same room where the rest of the recording was thick. This means the included NuForce case
made. At the same time clarity is superb. is somewhat larger than the cases for some
“Le Bien et Le Mal” from Souad Massi’s competing headphones. The case is molded to
Deb [Wrasse] reveals a similar pattern where offer more protection than average.
the UF-30s sounds clear, but where the body
sounds of Massi’s acoustic guitar are reduced BOTTOM LINE:
(or recessed) to some degree. NuForce’s UF-30 is a clear and comfortable
headphone with a lively sound. Apart from
COMPETITIVE COMPARISON a bias toward the treble, errors are mostly
Given the relatively low price of the UF-30s, subtractive, which is an advantage helping the
let me help place it in context by comparing it UF-30s to be quite listenable.
both to similarly priced and to more expensive
headphones that will likely be familiar to our
readers.

• The Shure SRH440 is a little more expensive,


and offers a similarly midrange and treble-
focused sound. But the Shures are smoother
while sacrificing some of the lively sense of
the UF-30s.
• The Grado SR60i is about the same price
(on the street), but is more midrange
forward, while the UF-30s sound perhaps

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Shure
SRH440
Tom Martin

P
layback was suitably impressed The 440s are difficult to distinguish from the
when we reviewed Shure’s SRH840 big brother 840s, since they have the same
headphones last year. The 840s set look, same driver size, same impedance and
a benchmark for under $250 headphone the same magnet technology. The 440s are a
performance, though of course Grado ‘phones, bit more sensitive at 105db/mW (vs. 102dB for
for very different sonic reasons, also hold a the 840s). This means that they should work
warm spot in our value-oriented hearts. When with some portable devices that have limited
Shure recently introduced the even lower output. The 440s have closed backs, though
priced SRH440, at roughly 60% of the price of the fit is loose enough that these might not be
the 840s ($125), we wanted to get them into ideal if isolation from external sounds is what
the lab as soon as we could. you want.

overview
Consider this headset if: Look elsewhere if:
you want headphones with a clear and you prefer a sound that is either neutrally
clean tonal balance with good rendition of balanced or tilted somewhat toward the
detail—even if that comes at the expense of warm end of the spectrum, or if you demand
somewhat light or bright sound. the punchiest dynamics on wide bandwidth
music.

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In any event, Shure doesn’t go overboard in But before we discuss shortcoming, let’s first Ratings
specs/pricing
hyping the 840s or the 440s, perhaps because catalog this headphone’s strengths. (compared to similarly-priced headphones)
they let the products do the talking? Clarity without edginess is tough to achieve, tonal balance
but the 440s pull it off. They sound very flat
SONIC CHARACTER from about 1000 Hz up to around 10khz, which clarity Shure SRH440
Accessories: mini-plug to phone plug
The SRH440 offers a sound that can be means that instrumental overtones are rich and
immediately beguiling and involving. This is an the sound of acoustic spaces is highlighted.
dynamics adapter (screw on)
Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 22kHz
important achievement, and one that may work Dynamics avoid splashiness, though I would comfort/fit Weight: 11.2 oz.
well for many listeners. Like every headphone say that the 440s sound a bit overly crisp from Sensitivity: 105dB@1mW
we’ve heard, the SRH440 has its limits, and time to time. sensitivity Impedance: 44 ohms
in the case of the Shures these are obvious. The 440s also sound smooth from the mid- Price: $125.00
value
Shure Incorporated
(800) 257-4873
shure.com
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

bass up to the lower midrange. Bass can MUSICAL EXAMPLES


sound slightly reticent, but most instruments On Alison Krauss and Union Station’s song
have their fundamentals present and “Never Got Off the Ground” [Alison Krauss
accounted for. & Union Station – Forget About It, Rounder],
The issue, if there is one, is that the range Alison’s voice occasionally gets into a range
above about 1khz is elevated compared to the where there is some slightly sibilant stridency
bass and lower midrange. This is particularly from some other headphones, but where the
noticeable on vocals, where singers often 440s sound clear and smooth. Through the
sound a bit light or thin. This discontinuity Shures, Alison’s voice, which is pretty light to
isn’t very big, so the results remain musically begin with, sounds a bit too thin in comparison
involving, but this isn’t the most neutral with the real thing.
headphone you can buy. Interestingly, On Kate Rusby’s “Sweet Bride” from 10
neutral tonal balance is a strength of the [Pure], we have another singer whose voice
SRH840, so give Shure a gold star for market sounds a bit younger and less mature through
segmentation. the Shures than in real life. I really enjoyed this
One pleasant side effect of the SRH440’s track on the 440s, though the sound wasn’t
balance is that music often sounds lively and quite accurate. It almost sounded like an older
rhythmic on these headphones. Combine that recording captured on vinyl, though in fact this
with excellent clarity and lack of harshness and is a modern (2003) CD.
you have an engaging choice that isn’t perfect Another example of information re-
but is musical. proportioning comes on the Brandi Carlile

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song “Turpentine” [The Story, Columbia], Shure SRH440 vs. Grado SR60i
which opens with an acoustic guitar that is • The Grado SR60i is just a bit less expensive
beautifully clear with excellent attack. But you (on the street), and comes from a design
might also notice that, through the SRH 440’s, philosophy that seems to parallel the
this small guitar is presented as mostly having approach Shure has taken with the 440s.
string sounds, but with the deeper, fuller, • The Grados have a mid-range emphasis as
lower-frequency sounds of the instrument’s compared to a mid-treble emphasis on the
body de-emphasized—so that there is much Shures, which means the Grados sound
less body sound than on a real guitar. richer but perhaps not as lively (though the
On Jack Johnson’s On and On [Universal] Grados will never be accused of sounding
the song “Dreams Be Dreams” has a solo dead).
bass that can and should be powerful and
well defined. On this track, some headphones COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
deliver a rendition that sounds very much The SRH440s are very comfortable, largely
like what one hears from a bass on stage, because the ear cups are soft and the
so this is a good test of balance, dynamics clamping force is low.
and resonance control. The Shure’s don’t get The SRH440s come with a three-meter cord
the rising edges of the bass notes quite right and a phone plug/mini-plug.
and so deliver less bass power and depth
than is fully realistic. Even so, the sound is BOTTOM LINE
nevertheless tight and controlled. Shure’s SRH 440 is a clean sounding
headphone that delivers admirable smoothness
COMPETITIVE COMPARISON and a lively, dynamic sound that is reminiscent
Given the relatively lower price of the of classic vinyl.
SRH440s, it may help to place it within
both similarly priced and more expensive
headphones:

Shure SRH440 vs. Shure SRH840


• The Shure SRH840 is more expensive, and
offers a more linear and extended sound,
especially in the bass and lower midrange.
• It isn’t obvious that the 840s give up
anything, but of course the tonal balance of
the 440s does tend to keep the focus on the
midrange and lower treble.

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Urbanears
Plattan
Chris Martens

N
ot long ago I wrote a blog about
a recent discovery of mine: the
Urbanears Plattan headset/on-ear
headphones, priced at $59.99. In my blog, I
overview
said the Plattans reminded of the first set of Consider this headset if:
really good headphones I ever owned—the you want a product that offers very good
classic Sennheiser HD414s that arrived on sound quality, great flexibility, and a pleasing
the scene way back in the 1970s. In truth, you sense of Scandinavian design--all at a very
could draw a number of parallels between modest price. Consider the Plattan if you
the two products, because the Urbanears, respect designs that have chosen their point
like their precursors, the HD414s, are of compromise well--almost always erring in
affordably priced (even for college students the direction of flattering the music, rather
on tight budgets), sound better than they that deliberately and ruthlessly highlighting
have any right to for the money, and offer an its rough edges.
unmistakable touch of style. Back in the day,
you could personalize your HD414s by buying Look elsewhere if:
foam earpads for them in various colors, but you don’t really need or want the Plattan’s
Urbanears ups the ante in two ways: first, iPod/iPhone/cell phone-friendly features. If
by constructing the Plattans of astonishingly you’re willing to invest another $20 or so, you
upscale materials, and second, by offering can potentially get more sophisticated sound
them in fourteen different colors. with an option such as Grado’s SR-60i,
Of course, beauty is as beauty does, but the though it will mean sacrificing the Plattan’s
attractive Plattans offer a warm, sophisticated, cool headset features and collapsible design.
and compelling sound, which means their

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appeal runs more than skin deep. While they from the Plattan owner’s guide, which reads,
Ratings
are not, by any stretch of the imagination, state-
of-the-art contenders, their sound is rich and
evocative, flattering most types of music you
“Urbanears is a collective out of Scandinavia,
motivated by a common interest in global
relationships and shared involvement in the
tonal balance

specs/pricing
might choose to play. In turn, their sonic “sins,” relevance of the living brands. Urbanears clarity Urbanears Plattan
per se, are mostly those of omission meaning promotes a deeper connection to color, form,
dynamics Accessories: two extension cables (one
that the Plattans have both a welcoming and and people while providing the freedom to
with a four-conductor plug for use with
also somewhat forgiving quality,sp that they transcend individuality and unify the sound Nokia cell-phones, one with a three-
have an almost uncanny knack for revealing the experience.”
comfort/fit (varies from user to user)
conductor “playback only” plug for use
good stuff in most recordings—even those that “Urbanears makes headphones that fit your with earlier-generation playback devices).
sensitivity Weight: Not specified.
tend to be a little rough-edged. everyday life. With a legacy in functionality, we
Sensitivity: 112 dB/mW
But two of the slickest aspects of the supply the perfect listening device for anyone value Impedance: 32 Ohms
Plattans, which are very much 21st-century with a pocket full of music and a wish to make
Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20kHz
products, involve their iPod/iPhone/cell-phone the most of it…” Warranty: One year premium replacement
friendly design. First, the Plattans are very “We designed Plattan to be the perfect 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 warranty
sensitive and can be driven to satisfying volume classic headphone, utilizing innovative functions Note distinctive “Zound Plug” in the base of the
Price: $59.99
levels by iPod or cell-phones without the use and performance with today’s technology. It is a upper earcup
of outboard amplifiers of any kind. Second, the full size headphone allowing for rich, secluded
Urbanears/Zound Industries AB
Plattans can function not only as headphones sound. You can fold it down to the size of your urbanears.com
but also as headsets, because they incorporate fist for maximum mobility. Plattan also comes
a handy inline mic module with a built-in send/ with a “zound plug” on the earcap, allowing for
end button. Third, though the Plattans are a friend to plug in and enjoy your music.” use special “soft feel” materials that impart • For those who have always wished for a
full-sized on-ear headphones, they offer an an upscale feel. Earpads are upholstered in clean and simple mechanism through which
ingenious collapsible design that lets them fold FEATURES what we presume is faux leather, done up two listeners could enjoy an iPod (or cell-
up into a compact, fist-sized package for in- • Low impedance 32 Ohm 40mm drivers with incredibly finely detail stitching. The phone) simultaneously, the Plattan provides
pocket carrying. represent an extremely easy load for iPods, Plattan’s padded headband is covered in two an answer in the form of its “Zound Plug.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Urbanears, etc., to drive. types of fabric: a close weave on the outside The “Zound Plug” is, quite simply, a 3.5mm
let me mention that the firm is based in • Includes in-line microphone module for sleek good looks, coupled with a coarser audio signal pass-through jack mounted
Stockholm, Sweden, but manufacturers its with built-in send/end button said to be weave in the inner surfaces to help hold the on the Plattan’s right-side earcup; via the
products in China in order to contain costs. It’s compatible with “Nokia, Blackberry, HTC and headphone in place as the wearer moves Zound Plug, you can “daisy chain” two
one of those serendipitous marriages where iPhone.” around. The consensus among Nextscreen set of headphones to be driven by one
the consumer gets to enjoy Scandinavian • Headband design affords good range of size staffers was that the Plattans look far more source device. It’s an idea so simple and so
design and sonic sensibilities coupled with the adjustments and incorporates distinctive costly than they really are which speaks ingenious that you’ll wonder why someone
precision and cost efficiencies that have, of late, earcup hinges that allows “the headphone to volumes for the Urbanear team’s attention to hasn’t thought of it before now.
made Chinese manufacturing options (or at fold down to a fraction of its size.” details. • The Plattans come with two small extension
least well-executed variations on that theme) so • Very high quality materials are used • The Plattan is supplied with a 47-inch signal/ cords, one optimized for the special four-
popular. By way of introduction, allow me quote throughout. For example, all plastic parts mic cable that is fabric covered. conductor plug used for most music-capable

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Nokia cell-phones and the other designed to of the limited power output of the iPod or of fact that the highest upper midrange and treble MUSICAL EXAMPLES
provide a basic three-conductor “playback cell-phones. More so than most mid-priced frequencies are somewhat rolled off. While One of the very best live blues recordings I’ve
only” plug. Urbanears points out that most designs I’ve sampled, the Plattan seems to this characteristic is not, strictly speaking, ever heard is Long John Hunter’s “Let’s Set the
playback-only devices will work just fine with work well within the iPod’s constraints, rather accurate, it does have the side-benefit of Time” from Untapped Blues Festival: 2004 Live!
the Plattan’s standard four-conductor plug, than constantly making you wish you had softening raw or rough-edged recordings (of [Bluestopia]—a track that, for the most part,
but that some older devices may require sprung the extra cash needed for an outboard which there are far too many these days) to plays right into the strengths of the Urbanears
the three-conductor plug, which is why it is headphone amp. In this way, the Plattan is an a point where they become more listenable. Plattans. Part of what makes the track “click”
included. example of good, solid, practical real-world Accuracy mavens may be a little disappointed, with the Plattans is the unmistakable energy
• Offered in fourteen different colors: white, design at its best. but music lovers will, I think, find this minor and “bounce” of a live performance where a
grey, dark grey, black, red, chocolate The only noteworthy sonic drawback of the flaw very easy to “listen through.” well-rehearsed band has latched on to a tight
(medium brown), yellow, sallad (an intense, Plattans, though a “drawback” some listeners groove and is working it for all it is worth. The
bright green, and yes, they spell “sallad” with might potentially regard as a plus overall, is the dynamic liveliness of the Plattans really helps,
two L’s—go figure), army (olive drab), ocean here, letting the material breathe in a natural
(medium blue), light blue, navy (dark blue), way, by allowing the bass guitar, drums, and
purple, and pink. initially choppy guitar riffs to propel the song
forward with tremendous force and vitality.
SONIC CHARACTER The Plattan’s midrange and bass prowess
Three specific qualities define the sound of plays its part, too, doing a nice job of capturing
the Plattans. First, they offer rich and warm the saturated and slightly overdriven sound
though perhaps just slightly forward-sounding of the guitar amp, the deep and very well
mids. This characteristic gives the Plattans an controlled growl of the bass, and the incisive
engaging and sophisticated feel, since they “pop” of the snare drum keeping time. Long
seem able to tease out a fair amount more John Hunter’s voice is handled well by the
midrange detail and nuance than most other Plattans, too, so that you can hear and feel
low-to-mid-price headphones can. not just the general shape of his notes and
Second, the Plattans serve up taut yet very phrases, but also the attitude with which
nicely weighted bass—especially mid- and they’re delivered.
upper bass. While the Plattans can’t plumb The only drawback is that some of the
the subterranean low-frequency depths the high harmonics of the various instruments
way that certain state-of-the-art contenders (especially the cymbals, which are extremely
can (we’re talking about ‘phones ten or twenty well-recorded on this track) and of Hunter’s
times the Plattans cost), they more than hold voice sound overly subdued—not so much
their own within their price class, offering unclear, but simply too recessed in the
plenty of “oomph” for bass guitars, kick drums mix. This is, of course, due to the Plattan’s
and the like. characteristic upper midrange and treble
Third, the Plattans are dynamically rolloff. Still, I think this flaw is far preferable to
responsive, so that they really make the most that of headphones that exhibit the opposite

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problem: namely, hard, biting and this already very good design. BOTTOM LINE:
overly prominent mids and highs. The Urbanears Plattan would make
Generally speaking, sins of omission COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS a great first headphone for an iPod/
are much easier to overlook than sins Perhaps one the Plattan’s nearest iPhone/cell-phone user who wants
of commission, which tend to intrude competitors will be the popular and vastly better sound quality than
on the music in more overt ways. critically acclaimed Grado SR-60i, stock earbuds can provide, yet who
which, at $79.99, sells for about a doesn’t have a huge amount of money
COMFORT/ACCESSORIES third again more than the Plattans do. to spend. The Plattans are solid
As noted above, the Plattan are Here’s how that comparison plays out: performers, cleverly conceived and
supplied with two small accessory • While both headphones arguably executed (with real-world features
extension cords, one providing offer a slightly midrange-forward that actually work), and both styling
a special four-conductor plug as sound, the SR-60i offers better and apparent build quality that make
required by some Nokia cell-phones, balance overall, with better upper them seem more expensive than they
and the other providing a three- midrange and treble extension, and really are.
conductor “playback only” plug as somewhat more resolution.
needed for use with some earlier- • The Plattan offers a somewhat
generation playback only devices. warmer and slightly darker sound
On the whole, I found the Urbanears overall, with very well-integrated
Plattans very comfortable to wear bass.
for extended periods of time. The • The Plattan is the more sensitive of
faux-leather earcup pads are very the two designs, making it great for
comfortable, and the clamping use with iPods/iPhones, etc.
pressures provide a just-right blend of • The SR-60i design allows better
low pressure with adequate grip. overall fit (because the earcups
The only caveat I must point out can swivel both vertically and
is that is that the Plattan headband horizontally), though the Plattan is
design allows earcups to swivel in the still quite comfortable.
vertical axis, but not the horizontal • The SR-60i offers “any color
access. To achieve a good fit, then, you want as long as it’s black”
some listeners need to rock the styling, where the Plattan comes in
Plattan headband strap either far multiple colors and exudes a sleek,
forward or far to the rear in order to Scandinavian design vibe.
get the earpads to seal firmly on their •The Plattan provides clever and
ears, which can be a bit of a pain. very useable iPod/iPhone friendly
For this reason, I would suggest features, including headset
that Urbanears look into adding a functionality and the handy “Zound
horizontal swivel feature to improve Plug,” where the SR-60i does not.

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$200 – $650
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AKG K702
Tom Martin

P
layback has reviewed quite a few headphones this year with
a focus on well-known or highly touted models from major
manufacturers. Continuing in this vein, we wanted to get the AKG
K702 into the lab because, as the successor to the K701, it has a strong
reputation to live up to and comes from a venerable manufacturer.
The K702 is a new addition to the Austrian manufacturers’ Pro line,
though it is basically an improved version of the much-loved K701
(some say the main purpose of the re-design has been to change the
headphone’s color so it shows less studio dirt). In the high-quality
headphone market, the K702 claims uniqueness in its use of flat wire
overview
technology along with a patented Varimotion 2-layer diaphragm driven Consider this headset if:
by neodymium magnets. In keeping with modern marketing practice little you want headphones with an even tonal
suggestion is made by AKG about how these things might impact the balance, just a touch of warmth in the treble
sound delivered by the K702s, other than to make a nod to accuracy, and you want to avoid the edgy or harsh
agility and spaciousness. One understandable feature is the easily sound that often comes with headphones
removable cable, allowing upgrades or length changes as needed. The that emphasize transparency at the
K702 also has several features aimed at ensuring comfort, an area where expense of sonic rough edges—rough
technology often offers more hope than reality–but which work in this edges that the AKG simply doesn’t have.
case, as we shall see.
Like many other headphones, the K702 is an open back design—a Look elsewhere if:
feature that clearly makes them less suitable for use on airplane or in an micro-dynamic detail is at the top of your
office. Some listeners, however, insist that open-back headphones are list of sonic desires, or if your musical
consistently more natural sounding. needs demand the punchiest dynamics.
So, we have here a (slightly) new headphone based on a storied, time-

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proven design. But how does it fare in the rigors controlled and damped on transients. Cymbals Ratings
of the Playback lab?

SONIC CHARACTER
or guitars rarely sound ragged or splashy,
while vocals sound unfailingly smooth. This
could be characterized as low distortion (that’s
(compared to similarly-priced headphones)
tonal balance

specs/pricing
The K702 offers a sound that manages to certainly how it sounds), an important quality clarity AKG K702
seem almost faultless to the casual listener. made even more important because it yields

This is an important achievement, and one that excellent instrumental separation. That sounds dynamics Accessories: mini-plug to phone plug
adapter (screw on)
bespeaks smart design choices that may work kind of analytical and geeky, but it means
comfort/fit Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 39kHz
well for many listeners. Like every headphone complex music doesn’t get all congested and Weight: 8.3 oz.
we’ve heard, the K702 has its limits, but first muddled. sensitivity Sensitivity: 105dB@1V
let’s catalog some of its superb performance At the same time, this smooth, well- Impedance: 62 ohms
attributes. controlled transient behavior also points, at value Price: $539.00
The core strength of the K702 is the artful least indirectly, toward two limitations of the
AKG Acoustics US
frequency balance that AKG’s engineers have K702. First, micro-dynamics, while not exactly (818) 920 3212
delivered. The K702 sounds very flat from MIA, are less vividly reproduced than they 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 akg.com/personal
about 150hz up to around 10khz, which means are with some competing headphones, such
that instruments in a band or orchestra are as the similarly priced Grado 325is or more These limitations are mainly subtractive, (then click on AKG Pro on the bottom right)
consistently reproduced in proper relationship expensive Sennheiser HD800s. The result is so without direct comparison to other
to each other. Not only that, but also most that the sense of the acoustic space in which headphones you might not notice them. lacking the full resonator ring and attack that is
instruments sound natural on an individual the instrument or band is playing can get lost, That’s because the even tonal balance and intrinsic to the Dobro.
basis. as can the small but significant sonic details smoothness of the K702 sounds realistic, and On Betty Olivero’s “Neharot Neharot” (Kim
Just as important, the K702 seems to that give music its character and life-like feel. the K702s lack the obvious distortions that Kashkashian–Neharot, ECM), the chamber
roll off the upper treble very slightly. This It is tough to say whether this loss, or the shout, “This isn’t real music.” Given that many orchestra sounds like it is recorded in a
characteristic might at first glance seem a gain from the sense of low distortion is more headphones do have additive or distracting studio, with very clear and lovely sounding
drawback, but in practice it may in fact be a important. Ideally one would like both, though distortions, this fact alone might make the instruments, but little sense of the acoustics
blessing in disguise. Let’s face it; a lot of music over the long haul—assuming one has to K702 a top choice for many listeners. of the recording venue. But in fact this piece
signals are a bit distorted or noisy in the treble choose—the AKG approach makes sense. was recorded in the Himmelfahrtkirche (I’m not
region, so that it is not necessarily a bad thing Next, when we come to macro-dynamics, MUSICAL EXAMPLES making this up), a church in Munich. If you’ve
for a headphone to de-emphasize those flaws. we’re also in an area where the K702s are On Alison Krauss and Union Station’s song been in European churches, you will know
AKG’s choice fits well with the realities and good but not great. On drums, power guitar “Never Got Off the Ground” [Alison Krauss well that they typically offer rich, resonant
quality limitations both of modern recordings and vocal swells, the K702 sound reasonably & Union Station – Forget About It, Rounder], acoustics—not the comparatively “dead, ”
and of some D/A converters. In short, the lively judged against reproduced music we Alison’s voice occasionally gets into a range studio-like sound the K702s presented on this
K702s reproduce treble problems in music or often hear, but they don’t quite capture the where there is some slightly sibilant stridency track. You might not miss the acoustic cues
associated equipment, but without rubbing punch of the real thing (and there are other from some other headphones, but K702s the AKGs have omitted (again, we are talking
your face in them. headphones that get closer). The 702s can sound clear and smooth. Maybe too smooth, about subtle, subtractive errors) because the
In addition to their slightly warm upper sound reticent in the bass, which may be the because in the introduction to that song, Jerry orchestra itself sounds lovely (or pained as the
frequency balance, the K702s sound very well reason for these observations. Douglas’ Dobro sounds too much like a guitar– case may be).

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Another example of information loss comes may help to place the AKGs in context with
on the Brandi Carlile track “Turpentine” [Brandi respect to higher, lower, and similarly priced
Carlile – The Story, Columbia], which opens headphones:
with an acoustic guitar (a Collings 01SB) that is • The Shure SRH840 is less expensive, and
rendered clearly but with the emphasis mostly offers a similar sound (in terms of basic
on string sound. In short, the AKGs give you smoothness and level of information
less body sound than you would hear from retreival). The K702 is a bit more evenly
a real guitar, meaning you miss out on some balanced, but slightly less dynamic.
of the resonance and the ringing sound of • The Grado 325is is similarly priced (on the
the top of the instrument. Later in that song street), but sounds rather different. The 325is
a cello enters and once again we hear more has a mid-range emphasis that means it
string, with fewer low-level body and overtone is less evenly balanced than the K702, but
components than you’d hear with live sound offers more micro-dynamic detail and macro-
(or than you can hear on this recording through dynamic punch.
some other headphones). • The Sennheiser HD800 is substantially more
Going back to Forget About It, the song expensive. It offers more micro-dynamic
“Maybe” has a solo bass drum that can be detail, deeper bass and similar smoothness.
startlingly powerful and well-defined. On this But the HD800 can sound a little uneven in
track, some headphones deliver a rendition the treble.
that sounds very like what one hears from
a bass drum in a concert hall, minus the COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
pressure in the gut. The AKGs don’t really get The K702s are very comfortable. The ear cups
the rising edge of the drum “thwack” quite are big and the clamping force is low. The
right and so deliver less bass power and headband adjusts the earcups automatically
depth than is fully realistic or technologically to fit your head—a feature that worked well in
possible. Even so, the sound through the our tests.
K702s is rewarding enough that you might not The K702s come with a ten foot cord and a
miss the sonic information that’s been left out phone plug/mini-plug.
until you hear headphones that come closer to Note: The K702s are relatively inefficient.
the absolute sound. But remember this: those This is a headphone that simply must be used
hypothetically more revealing headphones with a high-quality amplifier to get the best
won’t always sound as smooth or well results.
balanced as the K702s do.
BOTTOM LINE:
COMPETITIVE COMPARISON AKG’s K702 is a very well balanced headphone
Assuming you are looking at the K702 as a that delivers admirable smoothness and
reference headphone, my comments, below, warmth without obvious artifacts.

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AUDIO-TECHNICA
ATH-A700
Chris Martens

A
udio-Technica describes its mid-priced ACCESSORIES
ATH-A700 headphones as a models • Gold-plated mini-jack-to-1/4-inch adapter.
designed to deliver “audiophile-quality
acoustic performance with full, rich balanced SONIC CHARACTER
bass.” At $299, the ATH-A700 is less expensive Though a bit bright-sounding straight from
than many of the ’phones in this group, and it is the box, the ATH-A700 quickly loosened up
also—unlike many of the ’phones we’ve tested and settled into a rich, engaging, and slightly
in this price bracket—a “closed-back” design, warmer than neutral sound that complements
meaning that its earcups are fully enclosed, not most types of music. Bass is full-bodied
vented. Given these differences in price and without being overblown, while mids and
technology, I wanted to see how the Audio- highs are smooth, expressive and quite clear
Technicas would compare and now that I’ve sounding—almost as open sounding as those
heard the ATH-A700 in action, I’m especially of the top-tier $500+ ‘phones we’ve sampled.
glad we invited it to the party; it acquitted itself Importantly, the ATH-A700 is exceptionally
very well—especially so in light of its price. easy to drive, meaning it doesn’t demand a
particularly powerful headphone amplifier.
FEATURES One further point: the comfortable sound of
• Closed-back design with “Double Air Damping the ATH-A700 combines with unusually good
System” said to promote “deep bass.” physical comfort and fit in a synergistic way,
• Proprietary, large-aperture 53mm drive units making you want to listen to these ’phones for
with neodymium magnets and voice coils hours at a stretch.
wound with copper clad aluminum wire.
• Oxygen free copper, cloth-sheathed MUSICAL EXAMPLE
connecting cord with gold-plated jacks. Producer Gunther Pauler has made some
• Self-adjusting “3D Wing Support Housing” spectacular sounding records for the German
promotes comfortable support. Stockfisch label, and one of my favorites is

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last word: Ratings headphone seem to “float” in an optimally


• Smooth, nearly neutral tonal
balance provides a touch of
natural warmth.
tonal balance

comfortable position. One small caveat: Audio-
Technica’s earpads are covered in faux leather
material that squeaks a bit as you move and
specs/pricing
clarity Audio-Technica ATH-A700
• Surprisingly good clarity and that does not wick away perspiration the way
robust, punchy bass. dynamics fabric earpad covers do.
Design: Circumaural, closed-back,
• Very comfortable and extremely dynamic headphones
easy to drive. comfort/fit BOTTOM LINE Frequency response: 5 Hz - 35kHz
• Good value. The oh-so-comfortable ATH-A700s are Sensitivity: 102dB@1mV
isolation eminently likable headphones whose just Impedance: 64 ohms
Weight: 10.2 oz.
• Not the last word in terms of slightly warmer-than-neutral tonal balance
absolute transparency, though
value sounds fine on well-recorded material while Price: $299

not too far off the standards of making the ’phones at least somewhat Audio-Technica U.S., Inc.
the best open-back designs. forgiving of less-than-perfect records. The (330) 686-2600
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
• ATH-A700s sometimes create the Audio-Technica offers surprisingly good audiotechnica.com
sensation of “pressurizing” your backing instruments—especially the growling clarity, too, while serving up bass that is
ears—especially on loud, low bass, which sounds potent and positively robust and punchy. Though not the very last
bass notes. subterranean at times. word in transparency, the ATH-A700 comes
Like all closed-back headphones, the ATH- surprisingly close to the better $500+ ’phones
Sara K’s jazz-inflected folk album Hell or High A700s can sometimes pressurize your ears and for hundreds less. Note: the easy-to-drive
Water [Stockfisch, SACD]. The album opens (especially on loud, low bass passages), and ATH-A700 can even be driven by an iPod,
with the track “Stars,” which highlights Sara they will occasionally remind you that they though only to moderate levels.
K’s airy-sounding yet also full-bodied voice enclose your ears in what is an essentially
backed by closely mic’d acoustic guitars, sealed chamber. But unlike some closed-
delicate South American flutes, chimes, back designs I’ve tried, the Audio-Technica
percussion, and bedrock-solid fretless never gave that oppressive, trapped-inside-
electric bass. The ATH-A700s hit this track a-diving-helmet sensation. Instead, it rests
out of the proverbial ballpark for two reasons. lightly around your ears while gently but firmly
First, they are clear enough to capture the blocking out most room noises.
articulate, breathy quality in Sara K’s voice,
yet they also offer sufficient warmth to reveal COMFORT FACTOR
the deeper, richer body of the voice down Audio-Technica’s 3D Wing Support Housing
below the breathy overtones (something not makes the light ATH-A700s one of the most
many headphones can do so well). Second, comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. The
the Audio-Technica offers an across-the- “Wings” are a set of two padded, articulated,
board quality of richness that draws out flaps that can tilt in two directions to conform
the intense tonal colors and textures of the to the contours of your head, making the

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Beats By Dr. Dre Solo HD


Tom Martin

T
he Playback editorial staff has been driven by a portable music player or phone.
increasingly impressed with the They also have Monster’s ControlTalk
efforts that Monster is applying to its system to integrate phone and music usage.
burgeoning line of headphones and earphones. ControlTalk provides music playback control,
The Monster Turbine Pro Copper Edition and including volume, play/pause and tracking, as
Miles Davis Tribute in-ear models in particular well as a microphone. This feature works with
have captured our attention. Meanwhile, iPods, iPhones and some Blackberrys.
the Beats By Dr. Dre headphone line has Monster claims that the Solo HD is designed
been entertaining, if not exactly the thing for for highly accurate music reproduction.
maximum accuracy. Titanium coated drivers are employed, and
Recently, Monster sent us the Beats Solo a good level of sound isolation is claimed.
HDs, which are on-ear headphones priced just
under $230. On ear headphones slot into the
market between full circumaural (surrounding
We admit to having some doubts about
headphones co-branded with a rap star, even
one with extensive studio production credits.
overview
the ear) headphones on one hand and in-ear But, proof is in the listening not the label on Consider this headset if:
‘phones on the other. Some people find that the box. you want headphones with a
circumaural models feel oppressive. They may warm, relaxed sound yet you
also find in-ear headphones uncomfortable SONIC CHARACTER don’t want to give up much
or too hard to insert and remove (especially The Solo HDs provide a sound that can be in the way of resolution or
in an office). On-ear headphones have neither characterized as smooth, warm and inviting. balance.
of these problems, and so they have their If you listen to them without comparison to Look elsewhere if:
proponents and a niche in the market. In other headphones you might conclude that you need maximum detail
addition, on-ear designs can be much more there is little room for improvement. This and ambience, or if you
compact than full-sized headphones, making unobtrusive aspect of the Solo HDs can be a demand the punchiest
them more suitable for use when traveling. big deal if you listen to a lot of music, because dynamics on wide band-
In keeping with the mobile usage them, it equates to a lack of listener fatigue. However, width music.
Monster has designed the Solo HDs to be like every headphone we’ve heard, the Solo

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HDs have limits, and in the case of the Beats The beauty of all this is that we’re mostly Ratings
these are subtle, but may be very important to
music lovers.
First let’s catalog the strengths of the Solo
talking about small subtractive errors that
don’t really annoy. Of course, what is minor
to one listener can be aggravating to another,
(compared to similarly-priced headphones)
tonal balance

specs/pricing
HDs. As we noted in our recent review of so you’ll have to judge this for yourself. But, clarity Beats By Dr. Dre Solo HD
the Shure SRH440s, clarity without edginess importantly, the nature of the Solo HD’s errors

is tough to achieve. The Solo HDs focus is unobtrusive. The downside here is that dynamics Accessories: carrying case
Frequency Response: Not Specified
resolutely on controlling edginess while music sounds somewhat less dynamic than Weight: Not specified
comfort/fit
sacrificing only a bit of clarity. That’s because you might hope for, though not so diminished Sensitivity: Not Specified
they have excellent instrumental separation in this regard as to be even remotely boring. sensitivity Impedance: Not Specified
and thus avoid the musically disastrous We would add that the warmish frequency Warranty: One year, parts and labor.
muddle that can be imposed by some balance is beneficial in the real world for value Price: $229
headphones in this price range. Add to that masking external sounds. Put another way,
Monster Cable Products Inc.
a tonal balance slightly tilted to the bass end headphones without this balance often sound (415) 840 2000
of the spectrum (imparting a slightly warmish amusical and overly lightly balanced when 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 monstercable.com
sound) and you have a musical presentation heard in the noisy environs of an airplane or on beatsbydre.com
that matches what many people can intuitively the street.
connect with the experience of live music.
The Solo HDs also lack the more obvious MUSICAL EXAMPLES
frequency balance bumps and plateaus of On Jen Chapin’s song “Visions” [Jen Chapin –
some of the competition, which is very helpful Revisions, Chesky], the bass to treble balance
in avoiding distracting unnaturalness. is excellent and instrumental definition is
A more analytical exploration of the tonal quite good. Chapin’s voice, however, seems
curve reveals a few small issues. First, some overdamped and so we don’t get the feeling
of the sense of smoothness results from a of being present with the singer in a real room.
small upper midrange dip. This makes voices The voice and instruments evince very low
sound a little closed in at times. Second, the grain, which you realize is not the case with a
mid and upper treble seems slightly rolled off. lot of headphones (which have a slight feathery
This means that cymbals, for example, don’t distortion when played at very low levels).
shimmer as much as they do in live music. On Beth Ortons’ “Worms” from Comfort of
More importantly, it removes some of the Strangers [Astralwerks], top to bottom balance
sense of ambience from well-recorded music. is lovely and well proportioned. That said, here
Finally, bass on the Solos lacks the ultimate we have another singer whose voice sounds
articulation and depth. Balance is good and a bit hooded if you listen carefully. This is a
the sound isn’t bloated, but definition and studio recording, to be sure, but when you
impact aren’t quite up to the sound of the hear the modulated attack of the snare drums
real thing. through the Solo HDs you realize that the

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transient edges of sounds are being headphone that has earned a reputation in fact low enough that they may not be
slightly polished off. as a bit of a “giant killer”—the Grado ideal for use in workout situations.
Another example of information SR60i. The Solo HDs fold up and can be
management in the service of carried in the small cloth case that
smoothness comes on the Radiohead Solo HD vs. Shure SRH840 is included. A detachable 52” cord
song “Paranoid Android” [OK • The Shure SRH840 ($200) is nearly terminated with mini-plugs is also
Computer, Capitol], which opens with the same price as the Solo HD, and included.
an array of high frequency sounds that makes for a useful comparison.
could easily be harsh and gritty, but are • Overall, the SRH840 offers a more BOTTOM LINE
not on the Solo HDs. You can argue linear and extended sound, especially Monster’s Beats by Dr. Dre Solo HD is a
about the artists’ intent here, but the in the bass and upper treble. smooth, low distortion headphone that
Solos make the track very listenable • It isn’t obvious that the SRH840s give delivers admirable warmth. Errors are
and clear with excellent instrumental up anything, though the tonal balance mostly subtractive, which leads to an
separation. of the Solos may be preferable in inviting musical experience.
On Jack Johnson’s On and On noisy environments (and the on ear
[Universal] the song “Dreams Be design may be preferred as well).
Dreams” has a solo bass line that
can be (and should be) powerful and Solo HD vs. Grado SR60i
well defined. On this track, some • The Grado SR60i is much less
headphones deliver a rendition that expensive, both in terms of MSRP
sounds very like what one would hear and street pricing, but comes from a
from a real bass on stage, so this is a very different philosophical camp. The
good test of balance, dynamics and Grados have a mid-range emphasis
resonance control. The Solos present and a quite lively sound.
the bass in balance with the rest of • By comparison the Solo HDs seem
the instruments, but they don’t get the more balanced, warm and smooth.
rising edges of the notes quite right and • The Grados are on-ear headphones
so deliver less bass power and depth but with an open design that provides
than is fully realistic. In short, some less isolation than the padded
definition has gone missing. coupling that the Solos offer.

COMPETITIVE COMPARISON COMFORT FACTOR/


Below, we’ll try and put the ACCESSORIES
performance of the Solo HDs in context The Solo HDs are comfortable within
by comparing them first to a strong, the obvious limitation of putting
like-priced competitor—the Shure pressure on the outer ear. The ear cups
SRH840, and then to a less expensive are soft and the clamping force is low,

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BEYERDYNAMIC DT-880 PRO


Chris Martens

B
eyerdynamic has been building ACCESSORIES MUSICAL EXAMPLES
headphones and microphones •C
 anvas-covered, heavily padded carry As I listened to the DT 880 PROs, I found
since the company was founded in case. myself enchanted by their tonal neutrality,
Berlin in 1924, and today the semi-open- •G
 old-plated mini-jack-to-1/4-inch accuracy, and versatility; they bring a
back DT 880 PRO headphone is amon adapter plug. balanced, even-handed presentation that
the top models in the firm’s lineup. In a complements musical material of all kinds.
sense, the DT 880 PRO combines design SONIC CHARACTER For example, they have enough definition,
elements of two sister models, the closed- My first and most lasting impression of the dynamic moxie, and punch to handle the
back DT 770 PROs and the open-back DT DT 880 PROs is that they offer wonderfully crunchy opening electric bass and guitar
990 PROs (also reviewed in this Guide). smooth, neutral tonal balance, meaning lines and deliberately raucous vocals of
For this reason, many knowledgeable that they’re very “honest” ’phones that the title track of Nick Cave’s Dig, Lazarus,
enthusiasts consider the DT 880 PRO show you how recordings really sound, Dig!!! [Anti Records]. Yet they can turn on
a “best of two worlds” design ideal for without adding colorful embellishments a dime to capture the suave sonorities
listening at home. As Beyerdynamic of their own. This is the sort of ’phone of the London Symphony Orchestra
puts it, the DT 880 PRO combines where it’s easy to get lost in the pure, as it creates a foundation above which
the “strengths of open, transparent clear sound of individual instrumental violinist Hilary Hahn crafts sweet, soaring
headphones with those of more powerful, and human voices. The Beyerdynamics solo lines in her performance of Vaughan
closed headphones.” also offer quite good levels of clarity and Williams’ The Lark Ascending [LSO/Colin
resolution, although they do fall a couple Davis, Deutsche Grammophon]. No matter
FEATURES of clicks short of the best models in this what kind of material I chose to play, the
• Semi-open-back design featuring what this price bracket in terms of absolute DT 880 PROs rarely put a foot wrong.
Beyerdynamic terms an “innovative bass openness and transparency. One caveat I One small shortcoming I noted,
reflex system.” should mention, though, is that the power however, was that the DT 880 PROs
• Spring steel headband. hungry DT 880 PROs required much generally could not capture extremely low-
• 3-meter coiled connector cable. higher amplifier volume settings than other level details or the sense of high-frequency
• Gold-plated connector jacks. ’phones before they would truly “sing.” “air” surrounding musicians as well as the
• Soft, velour-covered earpads. best phones in this class do. But even so,

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Ratings
specs/pricing tonal balance

clarity
Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro
dynamics
Design: Circumaural, semi-open,
dynamic headphones
Frequency response: 5 Hz -35kHz
comfort/fit

Sensitivity: 96dB@1mV
Impedance: 250 ohms isolation

Weight: 10.4 oz.
Price: $380 value

Beyerdynamic, Inc.
(631) 293-3200 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
beyerdynamic.com

these ’phones offer a good measure of clarity last word:


and great overall balance. • Smooth, accurate, neutral tonal
balance.
COMFORT FACTOR • Imparts a pleasing quality of
The DT 880 PROs offered better than average sonic “purity.”
comfort. Hint: take time to adjust the DT 880 • Very good (though not quite best-
PRO’s sliding earpiece carriers to achieve a in-class) clarity.
comfortable, relaxed fit. When you get the
earpiece positioned right, you should feel very • Not the last word in ultimate
little pressure on the sides of your head. openness, though using a stout
headphone amplifier improves
BOTTOM LINE perceived transparency.
The DT 880 PRO is a very well balanced • Notably power hungry; wimpy
performer that offers neutral tonal balance, an headphone amps need not apply.
enchantingly “pure” sound, and a measure of
clarity that falls only a few clicks short of the
performance of the best $500+ models. But
plan on buying a gutsy headphone amp if you
want to hear these ’phones sound their best.

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Beyerdynamic
DT-990 Premium
600 Ohm Audiophile
Version
Chris Martens

U
ntil Beyerdynamic’s mighty T1 Tesla arrived on the help answer that question.
scene, the DT-990 Premium ($369) was one of the In describing the DT-880, the catalog emphasizes that the
firm’s top two audiophile models (the other model headphone offers “very neutral sound” (or as the original
sharing on of the top slots was the DT-880 PRO, reviewed German puts it, the DT-880’s sound is “Sehr klangneutral”),
elsewhere in this guide). Now that I’ve heard the DT-990 which is exactly the case. The DT-990, on the other hand,
in action, I can see how it earned its place on the team, is characterized as offering “analytical and high-resolution
though it is significantly different in character from the DT- sound” and as providing “strong bass and treble.” While I
880 PRO. How is it different? As it happens, Beyedynamic’s think Beyerdynamic’s assessment is directionally correct, it
Consumer product catalog gives some interesting clues to also inadvertently puts up flags of caution for audiophiles

overview
Consider this headset if: Look elsewhere if:
you want an exceptionally light, comfortable, and you require tonal balance that offers textbook neutrality,
beautifully made open-back headphone, one that or if you require a closed-back or semi-closed-back
sounds open, alive, and very revealing (in the best headphones (if those are your priorities, the DT-880 PRO
sense of that word). is the better choice).

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that aren’t necessarily warranted. matte texture. Now consider how a projected Ratings
For most audiophiles in the US, the term
“analytical” is a pejorative one that implies
a cold, sterile, and perhaps edgy sound that
image might look on the first screen and then
on the second—especially when viewing from
up close. With the coarse-grained screen
tonal balance
specs/pricing
frequency extremes Beyerdynamic DT-990 Premium 600-Ohm
sucks all the beauty, life, and warmth out of the you would reach a point where, while the
music. But for German audiophiles, I believe image was still discernible, so too would Audiophile Version
clarity
that the term analytical (or “Analytische”) has a be the comparatively rough texture of the Accessories: as above.
different and much more positive connotation; screen. With the second, more fine-grained dynamics (noise-cancelling on) Frequency response: 5 Hz – 35kHz
it suggests you have a product that enables screen, textures would basically fade into the Weight: 290 grams
you to hear how all the elements of a piece background so that you could focus all your comfort/fit Sensitivity: Not specified
Impedance: 600 ohms
of music fit together, so that you come away attention on the image.
with a deeper understand of what you’ve just Sonically speaking, the DT-990 is like that
sensitivity Price: $369

heard. Seen in that light, the DT-990 is indeed fine-grain screen, so that sounds—even very
value Beyerdynamics Inc. USA
analytical—or as American listeners might put subtle, low-level sounds that might ordinarily (631) 293-3200
it, “revealing.” But it also offers, as you’ll see in get buried in the playback mix—suddenly beyerdynamic.com
a moment, a wonderfully open and dynamically unfold against a grain-free background and are north-america.beyerdynamic.com
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
alive sound. made plain as day. This factor alone makes the
For this test we tried, at Beyerdynamic’s DT-990 a joy to hear.
recommendation, the 600-Ohm Audiophile Second, the DT-990 has an open and of tonal emphasis are both relatively tasteful MUSICAL EXAMPLES
Version of the DT-990, and found its sound dynamically alive sound, which I feel sets it and not garishly exaggerated. As a result, the To appreciate the subtlety, purity and
beautifully controlled and precise. apart from the DT-880. Except when driven by DT-990’s bass, though somewhat forward openness that the DT-990 brings to the party,
very powerful amplifiers, the DT-880 can have sounding, is consistently taut, punchy and well listen to “I Cry Everyday” from Shelby Lynne’s
SONIC CHARACTER an ever-so-slightly constricted sound (as if controlled—not loose, boomy, or overblown. Suit Yourself (Capitol). This record offers
First, as mentioned above, the DT-990 it’s not being fed with quite enough power to Similar, the DT-990’s extreme highs (roughly myriad small but significant sonic details, and
Premium is a very revealing (or analytical) really throw back its head and sing properly). 10kHz and up) are upturned in response, but the DT-990’s fine-grained sound enabled it
headphone, and I think this has much to do By contrast, the DT-990, perhaps because it is for the most part sound smooth and sweet— to capture all (or nearly all) of them in a very
with the fact that it may be one of the most an open-back design, has a more expressive not edgy, strident, or brittle. revealing way. On the track I’ve referenced,
fine-grained dynamic headphones in its character that takes large-scale dynamic shifts While proponents of strict neutrality (and for example, Shelby Lynne uses occasional
price class. in stride while also effortlessly revealing subtle under most circumstances I am one) might vocal overdubs and the DT-990 offers enough
“Grain” is a tricky concept for some small-scale shifts in dynamic emphasis. ultimately choose a headphone other than resolution to show that the textures of the
audiophiles, so let me provides an analogy The tonal balance of the DT-990 is not, this one, I think prospective buyers would overdubs are similar—but not identical—to the
to help explain the term as I use it here. strictly speaking, neutrally balanced. The do well to listen to the DT-990 with an open main vocals (among other things, the amounts
Consider two movie projection screens, one headphone does, as Beyerdynamic’s literature mind, and then to decide how they feel about of reverb used are, I think, slightly different).
with a comparatively coarse, sand-like texture suggests, offer “strong bass and treble,” which its frequency response characteristics. After Similarly, the DT-990 lets you hear the delicate
(where, from up close, you might actually be will lead many to pose this question: just how I listened to the DT-990 on a few favorite and relatively high-pitched sounds of the kick
able to see small grains of reflective material), strongly are the bass and treble emphasized? recordings, I personally found its sound quite drumhead ringing for a split-second after the
and the other with an almost perfectly smooth The answer is that the DT-990’s two regions easy to embrace. drum has been struck. But one of the coolest

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details is the initially faint sound of an organ models in its class, let me compare it to two roughly $280 higher than that of the DT- plus a Nottingham Analogue Systems Space
that enters the track at about the 1:30 point. noteworthy competitors I had on hand: the 990—a gap that narrows somewhat at the 294 turntable/Ace-Space 294 tonearm fitted
Even with the organ playing at very low levels, Grado SR325i and the Sennheiser HD650. ‘street pricing’ level. with a Shelter 901 MkII phono cartridge and
the Beyerdymanic ‘phones showed that even • The HD650 weighs more than the DT-990, fed through a Fosgate Signature phono stage.
sustained notes were not absolutely constant Beyerdynamics DT-990 Premium ($369) vs. but otherwise offers comparable comfort. When using the DAC/Port, as above, I listened
in pitch, but rather were gently modulated in a Grado SR325i ($295) Build quality for both these German-made to CD quality WAV files from a Windows-
very subtle way. These are the kinds of subtle • The Grado carries an MSRP that is roughly ‘phones is exquisite. equipped laptop.
sonic delights you can expect to hear on a $75 lower than that of the DT-990. • The HD650 offers levels of resolution and
regular basis if you acquire a set of DT-990s. • The DT-990 is significantly lighter and more openness comparable to the DT-990, with COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
To hear the DT-990’s regions of tonal comfortable that the also open-back but on- notably more neutral tonal balance. This The DT-990 is extremely light and comfortable,
emphasis in action (and in a good way), check ear SR325i. The primary difference is that the superior tonal balance is, I think, what the and it offers beautiful fit and finish. Those
out “Wasting Time” from Jack Johnson’s On SR325i provides mid-size earcups that are Sennheiser’s higher cost buys you. By who like highly personalized products may
and On [Universal]. The track opens with Adam made of a relatively stiff foam material, and contrast, the DT-990 does show its two want to note that Beyerdynamic offers a
Topol establishing a punchy beat on his kick uses higher clamping pressures than the DT- signature tonal balance elements; namely, program called DT-990 Manufaktur where—at
drum (supplemented with snare accents), 990. By comparison, the DT-990 seems a real somewhat elevated bass and upper treble extra cost—you can order you DT-990’s in
while Merlo Podlewski soon joins in to add a featherweight, and one whose earcups are response. customized colors and finishes.
big, rubbery, elastic-feeling reggae-inflected very soft, compliant and finished with a plush • One subtle sonic difference between the two The DT-990 ships in a well-padded,
bass line. The DT-990’s enhanced (but subtly material that wicks away moisture. ‘phones is that the Sennheiser’s upper mids rectangular leather case. The headphone
enhanced) bass makes both the kick drum and • The SR325i offers Grado’s signature and highs can sound a bit overly analytical comes standard with a mini-jack plug, and with
especially the electric bass sound right—rather midrange, which sounds simply gorgeous, at times, whereas the DT-990’s upper mids a threaded, screw-on ¼” phone plug adapter
than like anemic imitations of themselves. though the SR325i does seem somewhat and (admittedly emphasized) highs tends to (which was already installed on our review
But an element of even greater sonic beauty rolled-off at both frequency extremes. By sound sweet and pure most of the time. samples).
enters the mix during the choruses of the song comparison, the DT-990’s midrange is no • Both products are good mid-priced offerings,
as Topol tastefully inserts gentle timekeeping less revealing and evocative than the Grado’s so that which you choose will mostly be BOTTOM LINE:
beats played on his ride cymbal. The sound is, but it positively excels at the frequency determined by your budget (given that the Beyerdynamic’s DT-990 premium is a very
of the cymbal is strangely uplifting and, as extremes (though its response is elevated DT-990 is a fair amount less expensive) and fine mid-priced headphone, and one that
it shimmers and glows under Topol’s steady in almost exactly the same areas where the tonal balance preferences (given that the offers plenty of sonic resolving power and a
beats, it seems to elevate the whole mood of Grado seems rolled off). HD650 is the more neutral-sounding design). compelling quality of dynamic expressiveness.
the song. The DT-990’s touch of upper treble • The net result is that the DT-990 comes The DT-990 does provide touches of bass and
emphasis serves, here, to make the sustained, across as the more well rounded, do-all ANCILLARY EQUIPMENT upper treble emphasis that some will enjoy, but
ringing/singing qualities of the ride cymbal performer that conveys more musical For the bulk of my tests I used HiFiMAN’s that will not suit every taste. Those who favor
more lifelike and compelling, and without information overall, and for only a bit more tube-powered EF5 headphone amplifier, but strict neutrality in tonal balance but otherwise
veering into edginess or harshness. money. also did some listening through the CEntrance appreciate the signature, high-purity sound
DAC/Port combination USB DAC/USB- that Beyerdynamic headphones provide might,
COMPETITIVE COMPARISONS Beyerdynamics DT-990 Premium ($369) vs. powered headphone amp. however, prefer the firm’s DT-880 PRO.
To give readers some idea of how the DT-990 Sennheiser HD650 ($649.95) Source components included a Musical
Edition stacks up in comparison with other • The MSRP of the Sennheiser HD650 is Fidelity kW SACD player and A5 CD player,

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GRADO RS2
Chris Martens

T
he RS 2 is the number four model in Grado’s SONIC CHARACTER
headphone lineup, but among headphone If I were grading the RS2, I’d give it a “V” for vividness.
aficionados it enjoys a reputation for capturing much When I listened to music through these ’phones, I
of the essential goodness of the moreexpensive, top-tier sometimes had the uncanny sense that my brain had been
Grado models (the RS1, GS 1000, and PS 1000), yet at a magically hard-wired straight into the mixing console. The
more accessible price. The RS 2 is an open-back, on-ear, glory of this headphone is its pure, ultra-lucid midrange
dynamic (that is, voice-coil driven) headphone. Grado’s sound, which sweetly melts upward into silky smooth, finely
higher-priced models are famous for their engaging, wide- textured highs. Bass is taut, dynamically alive, and offers a
open midrange sound, smooth highs, and taut bass, and good measure of natural warmth, but is somewhat reticent
the RS2, which Grado describes as a “miniature RS1,” relative to the mids and highs. This is a highly detailed
followed right in their sonic footsteps. Thought the RS2 is headphone, though never in a showy, “hey-look-at-me”
one of the lighter headphones in its class, it certainly proved sense; instead, small textural and transient details just
capable of heavyweight sound. happen—without undo effort, drama, or sonic histrionics.

FEATURES MUSICAL EXAMPLES


• Open-air design with tube-shaped earpiecesСor as Grado The RS2 is one of those headphones that can reveal in an
would call them, “air chambers”Сhand crafted from solid instant the difference between recordings that are truly well
mahogany. made versus those that merely pretend to be. One track
• Drivers feature low-mass polymer diaphragms, that falls squarely in the former category is “Split Window”
neodymium magnets, and UHPLC (ultra high-purity, long from bassist Viktor Krauss’s Far From Enough [Nonesuch],
crystal, oxygen-free copper) voice-coil wires. which opens with a delicious and evocative acoustic bass
• Left and right drivers matched to with .05 dB (wow!). solo but then moves on to include soaring and highly
• UHPLC connecting-cord wires. atmospheric accompaniment from Jerry Douglas (on lap
• Foam earpads. steel guitar) and Bill Frisell (on electric and acoustic guitar).
Tying all the elements together is some exquisite percussion
ACCESSORIES work from Steve Jordan, featuring delicate press rolls on
In what may be the ultimate statement of purist simplicity, a snare drum punctuated with occasional soft kick drum
the Grado RS 2s come with no accessories at all—not even accent notes. The RS 2s give you an up-close, zoomed-
a mini-jack adapter. in view of the upper register of the bass and let you savor

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the timbres and reverb tails of the guitars and see what new sonic discoveries you can make. Ratings
percussion instruments. What really sets the
RS2 apart, though, is a quality of breathtaking
openness and intimacy, through which the
How much resolution do these things offer?
About as much as a $16,000+ pair of speakers
I recently had in my home for review. That’s
tonal balance
specs/pricing
clarity Grado RS2
‘phones pull you deep into the inner details of amazing.
records, making music—any kind of music— dynamics Design: Over-the-ear, open-air, dynamic
much more enjoyable. headphones
However, on the same track, I found the comfort/fit Frequency response: 14 Hz - 28kHz
RS2s somewhat underplayed the lower last word: Sensitivity: 98dB@1mV
registers of Krauss’s bass as well as the • Remarkably vivid, vibrant and isolation Impedance: 32ohms
Weight: 9 oz.
deep, low frequency “thwomp” of Jordan’s engaging midrange.
periodic kick drum notes. My point is that • Sweet, silky-smooth highs and
value Price: $495

while the RS2s achieve a tight and lively bass taut, lively bass. Grado Laboratories, Inc.
sound, they typically do not deliver the fullest • Gobs of resolution and inner (718) 435-5340
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
measures of low-frequency weight and power. detail. gradolabs.com
This slight degree of bass-shyness is the RS2’s • Truly breathtaking openness
only noteworthy sonic shortcoming, though it
is a comparatively minor one. • Slightly bass-shy/midrange-
forward tonal balance—could use
COMFORT FACTOR more low-end weight and punch.
As one of the headphones in this class whose • Slightly stiff feel of over-the-ear
earpads rest directly on the ear, rather than earpads takes some getting
fitting around the ear, the RS2 falls about mid- used to.
pack in our test group in terms of comfort. But
though the Grado’s earpads do feel a bit stiff,
that factor is offset by the fact that the RS2s
are quite light and don’t put much pressure on
your ears.

BOTTOM LINE
The RS2’s slightly bass-shy/midrange-forward
tonal balance won’t be to every listener’s taste,
but once you put these babies on and let them
work their sonic magic, you may find—as I
did—that you’re willing to overlook minor tonal
imbalances. You’ll be too busy murmuring the
word “wow,” and dragging out favorite discs to

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Grado SR325is
Tom Martin

M
ost audiophiles who’ve been around for a while respectively (both reviewed elsewhere in this Guide).
retain fond memories of at least one Grado The SR325is is an open back headphone, which makes
product. Over the years, the Brooklyn-based it less suitable for noisy environments or offices where
company has carved out a niche in phono cartridges and you don’t want to disturb others. Technically, the SR325is
headphones that combine musical excellence and value. At seems straightforward, but as usual God is in the details.
the same time, that musicality often gets associated with a Grado pays attention to the basics of getting the diaphragm
certain “Grado sound”—a sound that sets Grado apart from mass and compliance right so that bass response is
other companies, and is held in reverence by Grado fans. solid and highs are extended. They also emphasize the
The SR325is is the top of Grado’s entry-level Prestige importance of diaphragm and enclosure design to minimize
line. While that almost sounds contradictory (tall short and control resonances. Beyond that, the SR325is has
people?), it helps to remember that Grado’s reputation is a voice-coil wound from ultra-high purity, long crystal
built on delivering high performance products at entry-level (UHPLC) oxygen free copper. Grado claims that ultra-high
prices. The Prestige line starts with the $49 iGrado, but conductivity copper yields the clearest transmission and
really hits its stride with the justly famous SR60i at $79. In lowest coloration possible. Grado applies very high power
such company, the SR325i has the premium price of $295. neodymium magnets to provide maximum efficiency and
We were naturally curious to see what Grado could do better dynamics. Drivers in the SR325is are pair-matched
with all that financial headroom, given that their $79 effort to within .05 db. All metal work for the SR325is is machined
is pretty darn good. We’ve previously reported on Grado’s from a special non-resonant, very hard alloy using a special
higher end GS1000 and RS2 efforts at $1000 and $500 Grado process.

overview
Consider this headset if: Look elsewhere if:
you want headphones with excellent transparency but you need state of the art performance at the frequency
you want to avoid the edgy or harsh sound that often extremes or if you need/want closed-back ‘phones due
comes with seemingly transparent headphones. to your environment or as a matter of preference.

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The SR325is is an interesting headphone observation carries more weight than might Ratings
given its’ provenance, but can it compete with
offerings from Sennheiser, or for that matter
Shure or even Grado itself?
be readily apparent. The fundamental tones
of most instruments are in the mid-range. Get
the midrange right, and you’re 80% of the way
tonal balance

specs/pricing
home, though in praactice this is something
clarity Grado SR325is

SONIC CHARACTER much easier to say than it is to do. Check out dynamics Accessories: None
The thing that immediately strikes you about my Sennheiser HD 800 review for a discussion Frequency Response: 18 Hz - 24kHz
the 325 is the clarity and smoothness of the of a high-end headphone that struggles just comfort/fit Weight: unspecified
midrange. For those not raised from birth on slightly in this area. And, yes, I am saying Sensitivity: 98dB (1mv input)
audiophile Kool-Aid, I should be clear that this you can validly compare and cross shop the sensitivity Impedance: 32 ohms
SR325is and the HD 800 (assuming your goal
Price: $295
is musical accuracy). value
Grado Labs, Inc.
The mid-range clarity of the SR325is shows (718) 435-5340
up in its’ natural portrayal of the tonality and gradolabs.com
timbres of individual instruments. When we
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
think of tonal balance in an audio product, we scale recordings, not just solo or ensemble
sometimes mean that overall bass/midrange/ material. Fortunately, handling more complex
treble evenness that allows a band or orchestra music is another strength of the SR325is. My is that the bass, mid-range and treble are very
to sound right. But it is also very important listening notes are full of references to the well balanced, but that the 325s sound as
for audio products to render the distinctive, excellent sense of instrumental separation if they have a slightly “n”-shaped response
“signature” voices of individual instruments the headphones give. In other words, when curve (in other words, the levels of low 40Hz
well. This latter idea is a critical test of smooth you’re listening to a band, you not only hear frequencies fall slightly below 1kHz mid-band
and balanced midrange, because that’s where the overall mix, but can also pick out the frequencies, as do high frequencies above
most instruments produce sound. contributions of each individual performer, 10kHz). This would contrast with, say, the
Take the voice of an acoustic guitar as an just as you can when listening to a good Denon AH-D5000s, which have a definite “u”
example. Fundamentals on acoustic guitars live performance. In short, the 325’s deliver shaped response curve (where the levels of
range from about 80hz to 3khz, and most both smooth response and low distortion 1kHz frequencies fall below those of sounds
of what we hear, including overtones is in throughout the midrange. in the 40Hz or 10kHz range). At the very
the 200Hz-4kHz range. This is a midrange When it comes to overall frequency balance, highest and lowest frequency extremes (20Hz
instrument (so are voice, cello, clarinet, etc). I I found the 325s to be somewhat chameleon- and 20kHz, respectively) the 325’s frequency
listened to track after track of acoustic guitar like. The Grados sometimes seemed slightly response continues to show a slight degree
recordings on the 325’s, and was impressed forward in the midrange, and on the light side of rolloff. But let me emphasize that these
with how natural the sound was, particularly in the bass and upper treble. No sooner did I broad response shapings don’t consistently
the way the body sound and overtones were make this note than I’d play something with come across as “light bass” or “mellow treble”
clearly defined and in balance. powerful bass and be surprised at how solid in the case of the 325, since in truth they are
That’s all well and good, but we also the low frequencies of the 325 could be. After not dramatically far off from the ideal of “flat”
want a headphone to be able to play large- going over lots of recordings, my conclusion or dead-neutral response. Instead, these

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shapings tend to make you feel that the 325’s texture. Kim Kashkashian’s viola on “Three of the Grado sound, with deeper bass and a that seems to have been voiced by musicians.
sound more “clear” and “natural,” rather than Arias” from Neharot [ECM] is similarly well smoother mid-range and treble presentation. This headphone will make you think very hard
“rich” or “extended.” balanced and clear. • The highly regarded Shure SRH840 provides about why you would spend more, particularly
Given this discussion of tonal balance, I Going back to “Stay”, Alison’s voice, a closer price point alternative. The Shures if musical accuracy is your goal and if
want to comment on treble performance. which is rather light, occasionally gets into seem more extended in the bass and about frequency extension isn’t at the top of your list
Every headphone I have tried has some issues a range where there is some slightly sibilant as well balanced, but lack the “Nth” degree of needs.
in the treble range. The issue with the 325 is stridency from the 325’s. Fortunately, this is of transparency and openness of the Grados.
that it can occasionally sound a little splashy low enough in level that it isn’t too distracting, • The Sennheiser HD 650 is more costly than
or sibilant. This can make the 325’s sound a something I can’t always say about competing the Grados. It has a warmer sound with
tad brighter than my comments above might headphones. more powerful response at the frequency
indicate. I felt this was a smaller issue with Later on Forget About It, the song “Maybe” extremes, but arguably offers less overall
the 325’s than iwith most headphones, but it has a solo bass drum whack that is startlingly transparency and smoothness than the
is a point to bear in mind. At times this may powerful and well defined on the 325’s. SR325is. With many amps, the Sennheisers
simply be a matter of the 325’s revealing quite This is, given the air pressure limitations of could be considered the more polite and
well what is on the recording, but sometimes headphones, a rendition that sounds very forgiving headphone.
there is a slight peakiness to the sound. Still, much like what one hears from a bass drum in
the 325’s sound both better balanced and a concert hall. I commented on this same drum COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
less uneven that the Sennheiser HD 650s when I reviewed the Ultrasone Edition 8s. The The Grado ear cups are spongy, so the metal
or the Denon AH-D5000s, both very good Grados, at one fifth the price have a little less driver housings touched my ear. Fortunately
headphones that sell for nearly twice the bass power and depth than the Ultrasones, clamping force is low, so this isn’t painful.
Grado’s price. but they better definition, which is high praise Over time, I did develop a pressure point that
Finally, I like to consider the overall indeed. required moving the 325’s around. I thought
vividness of a headphone, which is ability of On Brandi Carlile’s song “The Story”, from they were comfortable for about an hour.
the headphone to make music sound intense the album of the same name [Columbia], we The SR 325is comes with a one-meter cord
and realistically alive. The 325’s are quite get to see how well the 325’s hold up with and a phone plug. If you’re using them in
good in this regard, thanks to their excellent power pop. The impressive thing here is that portable mode (with an adapter), or next to a
transparency and natural midrange frequency with drums, guitars (acoustic and electric), PC, that’s good; for everyone else an extension
balance. They don’t have quite the “slam” on bass, and vocals going full tilt, we still can hear cord is in order. With an extension cord, I didn’t
some macrodynamic material that, say, the each instrument distinctly. like the fact that the plug would sometimes fall
Denons mentioned above have, but overall the off my lap, yanking the headphones sharply.
vividness of the 325s is very good. COMPETITIVE COMPARISONS I didn’t find the SR325is to be particularly
The Grado SR325is merits comparison amplifier sensitive, though I slightly preferred
MUSICAL EXAMPLES with a wide range of headphones. Here are the sound of the 325 with a solid state amp
On Alison Krauss and Union Station’s song a few samples to give you an idea of how (Luxman P200) vs. a tube amp (Woo WA22)..
“Stay” [Alison Krauss & Union Station – Forget competitive we found the 325 to be:
About It, Rounder], Alison’s violin has a superb • When you step up from the Grado SR60i to BOTTOM LINE:
sense of body, overtones and string/bow the SR325i, you get a more refined version Grado’s SR325is is a transparent headphone

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SENNHEISER HD 650
Chris Martens

U
ntil the release of the impressive new HD 800 ACCESSORIES
flagship model, the HD 650 was for many years • Tasteful, flip-open presentation case.
Sennheiser’s premier audiophile headphone, and • ¼”-inch-to-mini-jack adapter with gold-plated jacks
its heritage as a top-tier product really shows. Sennheiser
has been building very high-performance open-back SONIC CHARACTER
headphones for years, so in a sense the HD 650 is an When you first put on the HD 650s you might feel a little
evolutionary design that leverages insights and know- like Indiana Jones discovering lost treasure because the
how gleaned from the classic HD 580 and the critically Sennheisers manage to dig up delicate, extremely low-
acclaimed HD 600. Even so, Sennheiser says the HD 650 level textural and transient details that most other ’phones
breaks new ground by offering a sound that “captivates simply miss. Tonal balance is almost perfectly neutral and
your senses where you used to be a mere observer” and dynamics are highly expressive and—where appropriate—
that “allows total immersion in an ocean of music,” and I explosive. If there’s any downside to this headphone,
would agree. it might be a tendency for upper mids and especially
highs to sound analytical at times, meaning the HD 650s
FEATURES occasionally expose rough edges in records that other
• Drivers matched to within ± 1 dB. ’phones would probably gloss over.
• Driver magnet structures optimized for low distortion. Note, however, that the HD 650’s sound is highly amplifier
• Acoustic metal mesh damping elements help control the dependent. It can sound lively and transparent with some
entire surface of the driver diaphragm. amplifiers (e.g., the HiFiMAN EF5), but overly subdued with
• Low mass aluminum voice coils promote faster transient others (e.g., the PS Audio GCHA).
response
• ’Phones come with a detachable, Kevlar-reinforced MUSICAL EXAMPLES
connecting cord with oxygen-free copper connectors. As you might expect, the HD 650 proves particularly
rewarding when listening to well-recorded material that’s

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last word: Ratings


• Highly transparent sound, from
top to bottom.
• Tons of definition, with excellent
tonal balance
specs/pricing
clarity Sennheiser HD 650
resolution of low-level details.
• A great do-all headphone with no dynamics Design: Circumaural, open-air, dynamic
significant weaknesses.
headphones
• We got your “gold standard” right comfort/fit Frequency response: 10 Hz - 39.5kHz
here Sensitivity: 103dB@1mV
• Expensive, but worth it. isolation Impedance: 300 ohms
Weight: 9.2 oz.
value Price: $500
• Finicky listeners might find highs
sound more “analytical” than Sennheiser Electronics Corporation
“sweet” (860) 434-9190
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
• HD 650s grip your head more sennheiserusa.com
firmly than most other ’phones do. close-and-personal view of the music.
Sometimes, though, this means getting more
detail than you bargained for. On “You Were BOTTOM LINE
Always There” from Lyle Lovett’s My Baby The HD 650 must be considered one of the
rich in textural detail. A perfect example Don’t Tolerate [Lost Highway], for example, the benchmark products—if not the outright
would be Holly Cole’s performance of the Tom HD 650s reveal that both Lovett’s voice and “gold standard”—in it price class, because
Waits song “Take Me Home” from Temptation Russ Kunkel’s cymbals are so closely mic’d it does all things well while exhibiting few if
[Metro Blue]. The track opens with Cole softly that their sound can momentarily become any weaknesses. While there are a handful
whispering “here we go” to her sidemen hard-edged and aggressive—problems that of ‘phones that can perhaps outperform
before the music begins—a detail the HD other ’phones won’t always expose (probably the Sennheisers in one or two areas, few if
650s rendered with exceptional clarity. As because they can’t). My point is that the HD any offer a more balanced and refined set of
the whispered phrase fades away, the song 650s are sonic truth-tellers, at times almost to sonic virtues overall. Indeed, the HD 650’s
quickly expands and unfolds as bassist David a fault. only “shortcoming”—if you can call it that—is
Piltch and pianist Aaron Davis join in. The a tendency to sound almost hyper-revealing
acoustic bass is recorded at high levels that COMFORT FACTOR at times, owing to its accurate but slightly
can be tough to handle, but the HD 650s kept At first I found the HD 650s squeezed the analytical-sounding highs. But it’s better to
the low end perfectly but powerfully under sides of my head much more firmly than other have too much clarity than not enough, right?
control. What really floored me, though, was ’phones did, but after experimenting with the
the way the Sennheisers nailed the subtlest Sennheiser’s sliding earpiece arms, I eventually
of inflections in Cole’s voice, making the found a position that was more relaxed, yet
whole track come alive in the process. The not overly loose. Hint: if the HD 650s grip your
Sennheisers consistently provided an up- head too firmly, try lowering the earpieces. \.

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Sennheiser
RS 180
Tom Martin

A
ll other things being equal, I’d guess most FEATURES
of us would rather have wireless than The Sennheiser RS 180 under review here is the top
wired headphones. It is pretty obvious that of Sennheiser’s RS line of wireless headphones, and
cords get in the way, cords require you to remove seems to be the model most oriented to accurate
headphones to get up and find an old CD, and cords musical reproduction. The RS line uses RF (Radio
restrict your dance moves. Of course, cords are Frequency) wireless signals to transmit sound from
so much a part of headphones that we don’t think a source (CD player, iPod or PC with DAC and line
about the limitations they impose. Sennheiser has, out) to the headphones. Sennheiser claims that the
however, thought about it, and they’ve produced RS 180s work up to 100 meters from the transmitter
a broad range of wireless designs—ten different (a small vertical box that sits next to your source). In
designs in all, to cater to various budgets and tastes. practice, I found the RS 180s worked up to about 75
Are these a valid alternative to their wired brethren? feet, which is still substantial in the context of most
normally-sized rooms.

overview
Consider this wireless headphone if: Look elsewhere if:
you crave the freedom of movement a wireless you want the last word in clarity and bandwidth, or
headphone offers, but also want a balanced, low- if you prefer to fine-tune your headphones via amp
coloration sound. selection.

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The RS 180 wireless headphone system comment on the placement of the RS 180 Ratings
utilizes Kleer’s uncompressed digital wireless
audio transmission technology, operating at
2.4 GHz. The transmitter can serve up to four
controls and here is their reply. “The button
layout was placed where it is after years of
feedback from customers who used the RS
treble
specs/pricing
midrange Sennheiser RS 180
pairs of headphones, so you can listen to 130 and RS 140 and complained that, when
movies or music with friends. The transmitter leaning back in an easy-chair, the volume knob bass Frequency response: 18 Hz – 21 kHz
module also serves as both a headphone hit the chair and was raised or lowered without Transducer: open, dynamic
stand and charger. The input to the transmitter the user desiring the change. Although the soundstaging Ear coupling: circumaural
is analog, via a supplied cable terminated with layout is on the underside of the headphone, Impedance: 32 ohms
RCA male connectors. The connector on the it best prevents the controls from being dynamics Weight: 204 g
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 85 db
transmitter is a 3.5mm stereo mini jack, so you accessed accidentally.”
could also connect the line out of an iPod with While on the subject of ergonomics, I
value Wireless Range: 100 m
Price: $379
the appropriate cable or docking station. found the earcup design to have moderate
The RS 180 headphones themselves have pressure and good long-term comfort. The Sennheiser USA
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
controls for mute/power, volume and balance, headband, however, is a bit stiff and needs to (860) 434-9190
so that you don’t have to return to base for be readjusted periodically. the worst coloration you’ll hear on headphones www.sennheiser.com
these adjustments. The controls are on the Okay, enough hardware description, (including those costing many times what the
right earcup, and seem to have been designed already—what about the sound? RS180’s do).
without reference to actual human bodies. I think most people would also enjoy the your cup of tea. First off, the RS 180s aren’t
The buttons are on the bottom of the earcup, SONIC CHARACTER bass that the RS 180s deliver. Mid-bass is the most vivid or dynamic headphones you’ll
which pretty much forces thumb operation Let’s get right to it: these are pretty darn good ample without being bloated and string and hear. You get the feeling that you’re listening
(or contortionist use of the right hand fingers). headphones, wireless or wired. Unlike many drum definition is quite good. You don’t get the to music through a thin, almost unnoticeable
But even my smallish thumb was much larger headphones, the RS 180s sound basically sense that the lowest octave is as strong as veil. This is usually a function of limited
than the buttons, making accurate operation a balanced across the broad frequency range. the rest of the bass range, but like the upper microdynamic depth. You also get the feeling
bit difficult. Not only that, but the combination By that I mean that bass, midrange and treble, this probably won’t be of maximal that the headphones are holding back a bit to
mute/power button is between volume up and treble are presented at roughly even levels in consequence for many listeners. avoid losing control. It reminds me somewhat
volume down, which invites scenarios where comparison with live music. Many headphones In the midrange, I liked the RS 180s better of the difference you hear between a good
you accidentally silence and/or turn off the have an obvious bass or treble boost, or a big than many other Sennheisers. Balance within headphone amp and a great one. The balance
RS 180s, when in fact you wanted to raise dip somewhere in the midrange. Sometimes the midrange seems mostly even, and this is mostly remains the same, but on the great amp
or lower volume. Recognizing that the power this is euphonic, sometimes not, but in any key. Vocals sound smooth with a level a clarity everything just seems more “there” without any
button also doubles as a mute button makes event the RS 180s avoid these issues. that won’t have you wondering why things deleterious side effects.
its position seem more logical, but even so Treble smoothness is the second aspect sound muffled. I’d also say that the bass performance could
I’d rather have it in a different place. After of the RS 180’s performance that I found With all those good qualities in mind, the offer more definition and clarity. You might
some use you get more adept at running the laudable. Cymbals are rendered cleanly with RS 180s don’t strike me as state of the art. not notice what’s missing, of course, until
controls, but they require more thought than is good definition. Vocal sibilants are kept in At this price, you shouldn’t expect that, but you listen to better (and likely more costly)
ergonomically ideal. check, too. I would say that upper treble is it may help to know how they deviate from headphones, because the RS 180 bass is
Incidentally, we asked Sennheiser to somewhat down in level, but this is far from perfection to determine if they’re likely to be quite good.

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The great thing about these Sennheisers is instrument well, which is impressive, but you
that you have to look to find the flaws—they can’t hear into all of the music’s subtleties.
don’t hit you over the head. And with a On Paavo Jarvi’s brilliant rendition of the
list price of $379, which for all intents and Beethoven Third Symphony [RCA Red Seal],
purposes includes a headphone amp, the RS the orchestra has lovely warmth, with bass and
180s offer a good value. Grado (SR 325is) cello admirably balanced against the active yet
and AKG (K 702) offer headphones at around smooth strings. The definition of instrumental
this price point on the street that are quite lines is also well preserved. The only issue
different as well as very good (more midrange you might have is that the hall sound is a bit
focused, more vivid). Shure offers a less diminished.
expensive and superb headphone (SRH840),
which has broad similarities to the RS 180s. BOTTOM LINE
But all these headphones need an amp, so The Sennheiser RS 180s have fundamental
the price difference isn’t what you might think, sonic strengths and relatively subtle
and in some cases favors the Sennheisers. weaknesses. As such they would be very
And of course none of these conventional competitive with wired headphones in their
headphones is wireless. price class. Since they add to this sonic
package the undeniably useful wireless feature,
MUSICAL EXAMPLES they must be considered a special value.
On Shelby Lynne’s “You Don’t Have a Heart”
from Suit Yourself [Capitol], the drive and
punch of the rhythm section comes through
pretty well and instrumental separation is
good. Vocal and guitar clarity is slightly
shaded.
On “Times Like These” from Jack Johnson’s
On and On [Universal], the bass is warm
without covering up the rest of the mix at all.
The bass has a good sense of air, with some
loss of definition and depth. On “Gone” from
the same album, the cymbals sound clear and
very clean, but there is more sense of “stick”
and less of “shimmer” than one would hear
from live cymbals.
On the power pop in “No Good in Goodbye”
from Jewel’s Sweet and Wild, the whole mix
seems slightly distant. You can hear each

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SHURE SRH840
Chris Martens

M
any Playback readers associate the name response” and are “optimized for studio recording and
Shure with high performance microphones critical listening.” Earcups are carried on collapsible
and in-ear headphones, but the Niles, IL- “arms” that allow the headphones to fold up to fit neatly
based company has recently entered the market for within their included drawstring carry bag.
high-performance over-the-ear headphones with Although many consumers would consider $200
a lineup consisting of three models. Playback was headphones “expensive,” the fact is that among very
fortunate enough to obtain a sample of the flagship high-performance models the price of SRH840s falls
model of the group: the SRH840, which sells for $200. near the lower end of the scale. Knowing this, we were
The basic specifications for the SRH840 seem curious to see how the SRH840 would fare in direct
straightforward enough. It is a mid-weight (318 gram), comparison not only with like-priced competitors but
closed-back, circumaural (over-the-ear) headphone also when evaluated against the standards set by
with 40mm dynamic drivers that feature neodymium headphones in the $400+ range (or even beyond). The
magnets. Shure says of these drivers that they are short answer, we soon discovered, is that Shure’s new
designed to deliver “reference-quality frequency top model not only holds its own versus higher priced

overview
Consider this headphone if: Look elsewhere if:
you crave the sound of $400+ headphones, but have only you want to reach for the absolute heights of sonic
about half that amount to spend. For $200, these Shures openness, transparency, and neutrality. While the SRH840
sound fully competitive with ‘phones in the $400+ class— comes surprisingly close to true top-tier performance, the
better than some, not quite as good as others, but always fact is that, if you are willing to push the envelope (and
in the hunt. The SRH840 is sensitive, offers a rich and your wallet) far enough, there are even higher levels of
vivid yet well-balanced sound (with perhaps a touch—but headphone performance to be had at the top end of the
only a light and tasteful touch—of mid-bass emphasis), scale. But at the $200 level, the SRH840 is a steal, pure
explosive dynamics, and an uncanny ability to sound at and simple. It’s all the headphone many listeners will ever
once highly detailed, yet smooth. need or want.

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competitors but also surpasses them in many underlying quality of smoothness. Some Ratings
respects. In short, Shure’s SRH840s offer
terrific value for money and are high-end ear-
openers, extraordinaire.
pundits say there can be “no gain without
pain,” but the SRH840s prove them wrong by
showing it is possible to enjoy low level sonic
tonal balance
specs/pricing
clarity Shure SRH840
details without subjecting yourself to painful
SONIC CHARACTER edginess, etching, or glare. dynamics Type: Closed-back, over-the-ear
One of the most striking qualities of the Shure Bass: the SRH840s are exceptional bass (circumaural) headphone
SRH840 is that it sounds more sonically performers, combining low bass extension, comfort/fit Driver complement: 40mm dynamic driver
refined, revealing, and involving than its excellent bass pitch definition, and sheer low- with neodymium magnet assemblies
price might lead you to expect. Three areas end power and weight (when the music calls sensitivity Accessories: mini-plug to phone jack
adapter, 9.8-foot extension cord, spare
where this is readily apparent involve overall for it). I’ve heard many headphones that give
resolution and definition, bass performance, you one or two of these bass attributes, but
value earcup pads, carrying bag.
Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 25 kHz
and dynamics. Let’s briefly examine each of rarely have I heard ones that combine all three Weight: 318 grams
these points in turn. as effectively as the Shures do. The only caveat Sensitivity: 102dB/mW
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Resolution and definition: many I might mention is that the SRH840s exhibit Impedance: 44 ohms
headphones in the $200 class are well- a touch, but only a very light touch, of mid- Price: $200.00
balanced performers that generally sound bass emphasis relative to strict neutrality—a more costly headphones). Perhaps as a result
Shure
good, but that fall just a bit short of characteristic that, in my view, is musically of all three of these advantages, the Shures
(847) 600-1212
expectations because they somehow lose grounded and that can, on many recordings, seem, in a sense, to expand the apparent shure.com
(or perhaps gloss over) certain essential low- enable headphones to sound truer to the overall dynamic range of many recordings, making
level textural and transient details that could feel of live music or of studio performances. both large and small-scale dynamic contrasts
potentially help pull us deep inside the music. Dynamics: many headphones, even some stand out in sharp relief. an incredibly intimate view of the performance.
But few such limitations apply when listening quite high-priced models, have a slightly I could hear, for example, the sound of
to the Shure SRH840s. Instead, they dig compressed sound that seems to quash MUSICAL EXAMPLES Fredriksson’s brushes gently rustling over
deeper—a lot deeper—than other headphones dynamics—especially subtle low-level To hear the terrific clarity of the SRH840s in the matte-textured head of his snare drum,
in their price class to retrieve small, delicate variations in dynamic emphasis within or action, I put on “Just Her Weekend Fling”—the creating an ethereal percussion wash against
bits and pieces of musically relevant between notes. I attribute this, first, to the fact first track from Ludwig Berghe’s gorgeous which the rest of the song could unfold.
information that some ‘phones are relatively insensitive (and pristinely recorded) jazz album Weekend Similarly, I could take in the crisp, sure-handed
In practice, this means you hear the edges or otherwise difficult to drive, and second, to [Moserobie Jazz]. The track features Berghe percussive beauty of Berghe’s note choices
of transient sounds more clearly through the fact that some ‘phones cut corners on the on piano and sidemen Daniel Fredriksson on and hear—to borrow a phrase coined by my
the Shures while also enjoying a clearer quality of the signal cables they provide. drums and Mattias Welin on bass. The song colleague Jonathan Valin at The Absolute
presentation of essential textures and timbres But when it comes to revealing dynamic unfolds slowly, giving each of the highlighted Sound—the “action” of the piano at work (that
of instrumental and human voices. True, the contrasts, the Shure’s enjoy several instruments plenty of room to breathe, allowing is, the subtle, almost subliminal sound of keys
Shures will expose overly “hot” or harsh- advantages: they’re very sensitive (102dB/ the listener time to drink in and savor each actuating hammers, hammers striking strings,
sounding recordings for what they are, but on mW), extremely easy to drive, and come instrument’s voice. What floored me was the strings beginning to vibrate, and vibrations
the whole these headphones do a remarkable with cables equipped with pure, oxygen-free way the SRH840 effortlessly revealed even the setting in motion rich resonances within the
job of revealing details while preserving an copper conductors (just like those used in smallest intricacies and details of timbre, giving frame and case of the piano, and so forth).

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The effect was not unlike hearing a piano from to do. than through the SRH840s. Here’s why. The imparts a vigorous howl of expression. The
very close range—perhaps from only a few feet To evaluate the Shure’s bass performance, I movement presents low frequency instruments point, I think, is that the Shures offer you
away. Finally, the Shures showed the masterful played the very demanding third (“Landscape: played both delicately and vigorously and at extra measures of expressiveness that make
restraint of Welin’s bass playing, revealing the Lento”) movement of Vaughan Williams’ high and low volume levels, in the process dynamic contrasts sound vivid and alive—
way he caressed and held individual notes, Sinfonia antartica [Bakels, Bournemouth; exposing listeners to a very wide range of bass leaving lesser hi-fi systems and headphones
rather than succumbing to the temptation Naxos], which features tympani, concert bass timbres and pitches. Speakers often have a sounding somewhat “faded” or “washed out”
to overcomplicate things. My point is that drums, and a pipe organ. I have heard this hard time keeping up with the demands of this by comparison.
the Shures give you an accurate insider’s recording many times through superb full- track and room interactions can be a problem,
view—indeed, almost a performer’s view—of range loudspeakers and through systems too. Through the Shures, however, I had the COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
high quality music recordings, which is exactly equipped with world-class subwoofers, but I sense of hearing the bass content of the track The SRH840s feature generously-proportioned,
what you would want a monitoring headphone don’t think I’ve ever heard it better rendered as it was meant to sound—low key in some leather-covered earcup pads that help
passages and almost overwhelmingly powerful distribute the headphone’s moderate clamping
in others, yet always presented in perfect forces for long-term wearer comfort. Another
control with clearly delineated pitches, even on plus is a wide, padded headband that helps
the lowest organ pedal notes. This is how bass distribute the weight of the Shures across a
was meant to be enjoyed. broader area at the top of your head.
Finally, to test the dynamic clout of the The Shures come with a high-quality 9.8-foot
Shure, I tried an old favorite: the track “You extension cord with a bayonet-type locking
And Your Friend” from Dire Straits’ On Every lug that cinches the cable firmly to the body of
Street [Warner Bros.]. This track, more than the left earpiece. Other accessories include a
many, shows how dynamically compressed gold-plated, threaded mini-jack to phone jack
most hi-fi systems sound and, in contrast, how adapter, a spare set of earcup pads, and a
dynamically expressive the SRH840’s can be. leatherette drawstring-type carrying bag.
Through most systems Mark Knopfler’s guitar
sounds smooth and lush on this track, but also BOTTOM LINE
a bit subdued relative to the sound of a real Shure’s SRH840 is a wonderful general
electric guitar. Through the Shure’s, however, purpose headphone that is good, not just “for
one has the eerie but very exciting sensation the money” (though it is certainly that), but also
of being “hard-wired” directly into the pickup in a broader sense. These headphones set a
circuitry on Knopfler’s guitar. Some notes are benchmark in terms of value for money. To do
indeed smooth and creamy-sounding, but on better, you’ll have to spend much, much more.
others you can hear Knopfler dig in just a bit,
making the leading edges of notes explode
with bursts of energy. Similarly, you can hear
variations in the way Knopfler bends notes,
gently pulling some to higher pitches while
sharply tugging others upward in a way that

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ULTRASONE
PRO 2500
Chris Martens

U
ltrasone is a German firm that makes headphones for DJ, hi-fi, and
professional applications, though it is perhaps best known in the
United States for its pro-series models. I debated whether to sample
one of the hi-fi- or pro-series models for this survey, but ultimately settled
on the firm’s flagship professional phones: the PRO 2500s. I was influenced,
admittedly, by the following teaser description found on the Ultrasone Web
site:
“You prefer open-back headphones? The PRO 2500 model provides, due
to its open-back design, the most airy sound within the complete PRO line.
Accuracy and the finest sound reproduction is guaranteed.”

FEATURES
• Open-air design with MU-metal-shielded earpieces said to reduce
electromagnetic radiation by up to 98 percent relative to conventional
headphones.
• Titanium-plated drive units.
• S-Logic Natural Surround technology, which is said to help create the
illusion that has sound moved “out of your head and into the room around
you,” and that Ultrasone claims to allow “a reduction of sound pressure
levels by up to 40 percent (3—4dB) for the same loudness sensation,”
thus promoting safer hearing.
• Easy-to-switch, velour-covered earpads.
• Extensive set of accessories, as noted below.

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ACCESSORIES
• Heavily padded, canvas-covered PRO-series
carrying case.
specs/pricing
• 3-meter straight connecting cord Ultrasone Pro 2500
• ~3-meter coiled connecting cord
Design: Circumaural, semi-open, dynamic
• ¼-inch-to-mini-jack adapter
headphones with MU-metal shielding for
• Spare pair of speed-switch earpads. ultra-low emissions.
• S-Logic demo CD. Frequency response: 8 Hz - 35kHz
Sensitivity: 94dB@1mV
SONIC CHARACTER Impedance: 40 ohms
The Ultrasone PRO 2500 produced what I Weight: 10.4 oz.
Price: $389
think many listeners would consider a “big”
sound, and exhibited considerable sonic Ultrasone Inc.
potential—albeit potential I felt was not fully (951) 678-9091
realized. The PRO 2500 offers excellent bass— ultrasone.com
some of the deepest and most powerful bass
I’ve heard from any headphone—and lively
upper midrange response that is generally
Ratings
clear, but that sometimes sounds excessively
“splashy” on hard transients. The weakness tonal balance
of the design, however, is that its overall tonal
balance is considerably more uneven than that clarity

of many other ‘phones in this price range. As
dynamics
a result, bass and upper mids sound overly
prominent, while lower mids and extreme highs comfort/fit
tend to sound somewhat recessed.
isolation
MUSICAL EXAMPLES
“Take Me To The River” from Eva Cassady’s value

Live At Blues Alley [Blix Street Records] shows
both the strengths and weaknesses of the
PRO 2500. The song opens with a spectacular, 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
plunging electric bass glissando, which the
Ultrasones reproduced with real gusto (when
you hear that bass fire up, you’ll want to
jump out of your seat and boogie). And when

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Cassady belts out the familiar opening line of makes listening to the ’phones a bit of an
the song—“I don’t why/I love you like I do”— unpredictable sonic “roller coaster” ride.
the upper register of her voice falls within the
PRO 2500’s upper midrange emphasis region, COMFORT FACTOR
so that her vocals at first sound powerful and The PRO 2500s offer very comfy earpads, but
dramatic. nevertheless fell about mid-pack in terms of
But as the song unfolds and Cassady starts comfort for two reasons. First, the ’phones
to draw upon the lower register of her voice, feel heavier than their specifications would
problems cropped up. The PRO 2500s made suggest and carry a good bit of their weight up
the lower register of Cassady’s voice sound high—in the headband. Second, the headband
somewhat subdued and withdrawn, which is not padded across its full width, but only
is really not how the record should sound. in a 3—4-inch wide strip in the middle, which
At the same time, the Ultrasone’s made concentrates pressure on the top of your head.
the ride cymbal pings that pace the song’s
chorus seem overly brash and splashy, while BOTTOM LINE
paradoxically rolling off the cymbals’ delicate, The bass and, to a degree, the upper mids of
silvery, high-frequency overtones—again, not the Ultrasone PRO 2500 show great promise,
the way this record should sound. but uneven tonal balance keeps these ‘phones
My conclusion is that the Ultrasones’s very from realizing their full potential. Even so, the
real sonic strengths are undermined by the PRO 2500s manage to produce a big, bold
unevenness of their tonal balance, which sound. We applaud Ultrasone’s pioneering
efforts to reduce electromagnetic radiation
last word: and to minimize the need for excessive volume
• Excellent bass performance. levels—both steps taken in the interest of
• Upper mids are lively and consumer safety
expressive.
• Ultra-low emission design gives
users peace of mind.
• Thoughtful accessories add value

• Tonal balance is too colored;


bass and upper mids overly
prominent, lower mids and highs
too recessed.
• Upper mids, though expressive,
can sound overly “splashy”
at times

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overview
Audio-Technica Consider this headphone if:

ATH-W5000
you want a closed-back
headphone with an emphasis on
transparency and instrumental
separation, while retaining a
basically balanced sound
Tom Martin
Look elsewhere if:

A
s long-term Playback readers know, we special features in keeping with its elevated you place unbending priority
are in the midst of a program to review positioning: on frequency extension and/or
top-tier models from all the well- • The earcups are made of Ebony wood. smoothness
respected headphone manufacturers, and • Leather earpads
thus far we haven’t yet tested a top model • Neodymium magnet systems
from Audio-Technica (though we’ve covered • “Eight nines” oxygen-free copper voice coils
several other A-T models, as you can see • Double Air Damping System for deep bass
from the table of contents for this Guide). In a reproduction
way that’s fitting because the Audio-Technica Those of you who’ve read my reviews in
brand lies somewhere away from the center the past will know that I’m skeptical about the
of the radar screen. Nonetheless, Audio- ability of reviewers and consumers to relate
Technica has long-standing expertise as a these feature lists to sound quality (years
headphone manufacturer and has won a loyal spent in E.E. and systems labs will do that to
following among those in the know. you), so we’ll leave the technology behind and
Naturally, we chose A-T’s top-of-the-line get on with listening.
model—the ATH-W5000 “Raffinato”—for
this test. Nominally this model is priced at Associated Equipment
$1199.95, but you should check actual street For this round of tests, I used the Esoteric
pricing before crossing these off your list, DV-60 universal player as a source, and as
even if you are shopping in the $600 range. always I ran the player’s DAC in PCM>DSD
mode since previous testing has revealed
FEATURES that to be the highest resolution mode for the
The ATH-W5000 “Raffinato” offers some Esoteric. The DV-60 was connected to a PS

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Audio GCHA amp and a Grace m902 amp/DAC in the upper mid-range and quite flat in the Ratings
via Audioquest Sidewinder interconnects. All
the electronics were connected to a PS Audio
Power Plant Premier on a dedicated 20 amp
remainder of the mid-band. This forwardness
is a smidgeon too strong (you’ll hear elevated
levels of midrange and upper midrange
tonal balance
specs/pricing
clarity Audio-Technica ATH-W5000 Raffinato
line. energy, at least with some amps) but it gives
an excellent sense of transparency, albeit with dynamics Accessories: hard shell carrying case
SONIC CHARACTER some loss of naturalness. I think that a little Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 45kHz
With the A-T 5000s your initial impression is extra midrange energy (as observed in some comfort/fit Weight: 12.1 oz.
one of balanced transparency. You generally Grado headphones and in these A-Ts) is less Sensitivity: 102dB/mW
feel that you’ve moved a step closer to the distracting from the sense of musical realism sensitivity Impedance: 40 ohms
Price: $1199.95
music with these headphones. It is almost like than is the reduced (or slightly recessed)
moving closer to the stage, not because the midrange common on other ‘phones (e.g.,
value
Audio-Technica U.S., INC.
music gets louder, but because instrumental some Sennheisers). You may feel the opposite (330) 686-2200
delineation improves just as it does when you (this is not an issue of taste, per se, but more audio-technica.com
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
are able to listen from up close. about how you perceive sonic realism triggers
The A-T 5000s also have good macro tonal and inhibitors). the 5000s is never a strong point—because
balance. What I mean by this is that bass, The 5000s also have excellent instrumental these ‘phones just tend to roll off the deep from The Story [Columbia], I found that
midrange and treble are present in about the separation. You hear each instrument clearly, bass. each instrument in the band could be heard
right amounts. I would add that the 5000s even when listening to bands that featured I also sense that treble frequencies aren’t clearly through the 5000s, which in this post-
have what I’ve described in the past as an complicated layers of instruments all playing at quite as extended as with some other modern mix is an accomplishment. The AT’s
“n” shaped perceived response—low bass once. headphones (and in real music). You notice render the kick drum/bass combo as a tight
and upper treble are reduced and mid-range A few areas of the 5000’s performance are this most on cymbals, where the 5000s simply accompaniment, but these instruments don’t
is slightly emphasized, at least relative to the small issues for me. The most obvious of these don’t quite have the air or extension of the real have the slam or depth that they would have
sound of live music. is the A-T’s bass definition. Bass is served up thing. when heard live in concert. Brandi’s voice,
Over the course of my listening tests, I in adequate quantities, but there may be some Finally, I get the sense that the A-T’s have which has an edge when she cranks it up to
noticed a possibly endearing quality behind peaks, dips or resonances that make plucked some kind of dynamic distortion, meaning that 11, still sounds a little too brittle when she’s
the A-T 5000’s sense of balance. Across most bass instruments sound less clear than they on loud passages, the 5000s simply sound just belting out vocals at about level 9.
of the midrange the 5000s sound quite vivid do in real life. In any event, this is what I heard like they have a little bit of harmonic distortion On Dire Straits “When It Comes to You”
(delivering even octave-to-octave balance with the PS Audio GCHA headphone amp (44 somewhere in the upper midrange or treble from the CD On Every Street [Warner Bros],
without major dropouts). When you switch ohm output impedance). With the Grace m902 region. This correlates with the headphone’s the overall impression is of admirable clarity.
to other headphones (I used the Sennheiser (1 ohm output impedance), however, problems upper-midrange prominence (remember, the The only real issue is that cymbals are a bit too
HD800s and the AKG 702 for this part of with upper bass definition were significantly 5000s do sound a little midrange forward), so splashy. This track also shows the sensitivity
the test), the other headphones may seem mitigated. Bass sounded pretty tight through that I think they emphasize certain overtones, of the 5000s to amps: the bass isn’t quite as
roughly as well balanced, though they often the 5000s, though at times it seems too which can make vocals sound a tad “sharp”. defined as one would like with the PS Audio
(almost always) sound as if something is lightweight (you may wish to read my AVguide. amp, but with the Grace 902 things resolve
missing in the midrange. In contrast, the 5000s com blog about amps and headphones for MUSICAL EXAMPLES nicely at the cost of some desirable bass power.
sound quite present, maybe even forward, clarification on this). Frankly, the deep bass of On Brandi Carlile’s “Good Morning Lullabye” Listening to Darden Smith’s “Midnight Train”

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the distinction lies in the listener’s perceptions amp selection.


of realism triggers and inhibitors. Dynamically, the W5000s seem more alive.
A headphone like the Sennheiser HD 800 At the same time, they let the instruments
has better mid-treble definition and a more stand out in the mix. If you like hearing detail,
natural amount of energy. Fortunately, this is and without being punished for it, you’ll prefer
a subtractive error on the part of the 5000s, the A-Ts. If you like the band or orchestra to be
and so it doesn’t really annoy or grate. At the a unified fabric, you might prefer the AKGs.
other end of the spectrum, the low bass on the
A-Ts never seems as extended as it does on COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
the Sennheiser HD 800s (or the bass champ The Audio-Technica 5000s are mostly
Denon 5000s). comfortable, with a few reservations. First,
On the other hand, on the A-T’s most they have very light pressure, and so feel like
instruments sound natural and open— they might slip off. They’re not ideal if you
something that the Sennheiser HD 800 can’t dance to the music. Second, the earpads
always pull off because the HD 800s have a partially rest on your outer ear (at least they did
dip in the upper midrange that affects the tonal with my ears). This puts some pressure on the
qualities of voices and many instruments. At outer ear, which you feel after a while.
the same time, the HD800 generally sounds The 5000s come with a very nice hard shell
more relaxed. carrying case. For the home, I don’t know
why you’d need this, but if you travel with
ATH-W5000 vs. AKG 702 headphones, it could be useful.
The A-Ts and the AKGs share an “n” shaped
perceived response curve and thus are broadly BOTTOM LINE:
similar. That said, however, the A-Ts are more When a reviewer gets analytical about a
about midrange clarity, while the AKG’s major product the reader can often come away with
from the unfortunately hard to find After All shaped perceived response curve. In contrast, in smoothness. In particular, the ATH-W5000’s the sense that the product is “damned with
This Time [Darden Music], the A-T’s ability consider the Sennheiser HD 800s, which have upper-mid/lower treble range doesn’t seem faint praise.” That certainly wouldn’t be the
to sound natural shines through. Many other less relative midrange output, and more low quite as smooth, something you notice on right for Audio-Technica’s ATH-W5000s. These
headphones either sound more confused or bass and upper treble. I would characterize the vocals. The AKGs sound more relaxed, but are very good headphones whose strengths
imbalanced on this track (and others with a HD 800s as having a very slightly “u” shaped less exciting, because they have a less forward in some ways they show up limitations of
moderate amount of instrumental action). By curve. The HD 800s sound warmer and more midrange. competing models, and without making the
contrast, the A-T’s keep the pace up without distant as a result, and offer much better deep The 702s and the W5000s share a somewhat listener suffer a host of tradeoffs while they’re
introducing distracting distortions. bass. This will be immediately obvious to most lightweight bass quality. The bass isn’t bad, at it. Like every headphone we’ve tried, the
listeners and I think could form the basis for but it sounds like there is a mild roll off below ATH-W5000 does have weaknesses, but even
COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS viewing one as more accurate than the other 100 Hz. The A-Ts are more sensitive to amps so I think a lot of people would come away
ATH-W5000 vs. Sennheiser HD 800 (note that the average deviation from true flat on this score, which could be a virtue or a vice from a comparison session choosing the A-Ts
I mentioned above that the A-Ts have an “n” response might in fact be identical for both— depending on your interest in fine-tuning via as their favorite all-around headphones.

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Beyerdynamic
T1 Tesla overview
Consider this headphone if:
Tom Martin you are frustrated by the obvious
imbalances of lively sounding

B
eyerdynamic recently introduced engineers say their objective in the offset headphones and are equally
a new top-of-the-line headphone, driver placement was to avoid creating frustrated by the tepidness of
called the T1 Tesla. These showed reflections from the outer ear—the headphones whose balance
great promise when we heard them at CES opposite of the objectives of other offset sounds neutral but whose overall
2010, so naturally we phoned the people designs, it would seem. The earpads have presentation sounds strangely dull
at Beyerdynamic and asked for review been designed to reduce reflections as and lifeless. The T1s offer the best
samples. We’ve had our test T1s for about well. combination of midrange neutrality,
a month, and have engaged in extensive Beyerdynamic says the new transducer vividness and transparency we’ve
listening tests. in the T1 is the first model to break through heard.
Priced at $1295, the T1 is a semi-open the one-tesla level of magnetic flux density
back design. The T1 involves several (hence the T1 designation for this model). Look elsewhere if:
departures from Beyerdynamic’s standard Measured in tesla (T), magnetic induction maximum low bass extension or
practice. The driver is an entirely new is an indicator of the strength of the the ultimate in bass definition are
design, with a multi-layer diaphragm, magnetic system in headphones (or other paramount among your needs.
machined metal structure, and new dynamic drivers). Beyerdynamic claims At the other end of the audio
magnetic geometry. The drivers are also this system generates currently unequalled spectrum, note that while the T1’s
placed at an angle to the ear, a strategy impulse performance. While they don’t treble balance is generally accurate
we’ve also seen with the Ultrasone Edition go into much detail, a stronger magnetic the headphones can sometimes
8 and the Sennheiser HD800. The idea structure could allow a somewhat heavier emphasize (or overemphasize)
there is to capture some of the outer ear and therefore stiffer driver design. certain treble transients—a quality
reflections that one experiences with live At our request, Beyerdynamic also that some listeners won’t mind, but
music and loudspeaker. But in the case loaned us its new A1 headphone amplifier, that others will.
of the T1, interestingly, Beyerdynamic’s which is said to be ideal for the T1s. While

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we used other headphone amps during our live music). In that context, I’d say that the T1s Ratings
testing, we did make ample use of the A1
and you’ll find comments on this combination
below as well.
are actually pretty close in overall balance to
what you hear live. In this regard they seem
more accurate than the lightly balanced AKG
tonal balance
specs/pricing
frequency extremes Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla Headphones
702s or Audio-Technica ATH-W5000s, or the
SONIC CHARACTER bass-heavy Denon AH-D5000s. The Shure Accessories: padded presentation case
clarity Weight: 350 g (12.3 oz)
Over time, I came to view the Beyerdynamic SRH840s, the Sennheiser HD 800s, Grado PS Sensitivity: 102 dB (1 mw input)
T1s as the most satisfying headphones 1000s and the Ultrasone Edition 8s, while not dynamics Impedance: 600 ohms
we’ve had in the lab to date, at least with balanced in quite the same way as the T1s,
the amplifiers we normally use. However, the are all at a macro level trying to do something comfort/fit Price: $1295.00

T1s take a while to appreciate so it is worth similar to what Beyerdynamic is up to.
understanding this conclusion. Even more But bear in mind that the comments above
sensitivity Beyerdynamic
(800) 293-4463
important, since my satisfaction isn’t really are about overall bass/midrange/treble
value www.north-america.beyerdynamic.com
relevant to you, it is worth understanding what balance. We also have to consider deviations
the T1s do well do see if that might be your within the narrower portions of the frequency
cup of tea/coffee/wine/water. spectrum (particularly in the midrange region 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
My experience is that the frequency from from about 200 hz to around 8 kHz).
response variations of even top-of-the-line Midrange deviations in the don’t necessarily exhibit minor deviations from neutrality in a T1s come through. And, because these
headphones are generally significant. These register as problems with overall tonal balance, few places. First, there is a bit of upper bass characteristics are inter-related, the excellent
become obvious over time, though it takes but they can lead to colorations that affect emphasis that can lead to some smearing micro-dynamics that come from the T1’s good
many recordings to show off the entire range the sounds of many common instruments. of plucked bass, for example. Second, there low level signal handling also contribute to
and to form a basic impression of this aspect Thus, achieving smooth, uncolored midrange appears to be a very slight upper midrange a sense of vividness and aliveness when the
of a headphone’s character. response can be more important to a realistic depression that smoothes out vocals music is full of subtle expression.
Overall, the T1s sound very slightly warm, presentation than overall tonal balance. (especially female vocals) a little too much. While I’ve praised the vividness of the
in part because they have ample but not As you might expect from this preamble, Finally, the treble region probably has a tiny T1s, I should add that the T1s don’t sound
excessive bass output, but also because the T1s do offer terrific midrange smoothness peak that emphasizes some transients more as lively as some other headphones do. If
vocalists seem to be placed a little farther back meaning that their levels of coloration— than others. that’s confusing, consider that each of these
on the stage than they do with many other top- especially on revealing instrumental There is, of course, more to life than ostensibly more lively-sounding headphones
flight headphones. Along with this impression material—seem lower than in most competing frequency response. The magic of the T1s achieves apparent liveliness at the expense of
goes the observation that the T1’s do not headphones (even quite good ones such ast comes from their basically balanced and even one or more colorations. What the T1s do so
emphasize treble in a way that would make the AKG’s, Shures, and Ultrasones mentioned presentation combined with a high level of well is to sound vivid without sounding ragged
you call them bright. If anything, you hear less above). The big point is that the T1s have few transparency and vividness, which is—trust me or exaggerated in any way.
low-to-mid treble energy than on other top if any significant midrange dips or peaks that on this one—a pretty tough order to fill. In thinking about how the T1s combine so
headphones—a quality that contributes to the would constantly remind you that you arre Vividness requires good dynamics, and many good properties, I came to think that
sense of a somewhat warm sound. listening to recorded music. the T1s succeed here while retaining a sense the T1s are rather low distortion devices. This
We have to consider these remarks in the That said, let’s acknowledge that no of control. Transparency requires excellent sense is conveyed as an overall smooth and
context of the absolute sound (the sound of headphone is perfect, so that the T1s do handling of low-level signals, and again the fine-grained character. Instruments just seem

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more “of a piece” and less made up of bits the AKG 702). I suspect the T1s are something Since there are winning musical attributes of switched to the Beyerdynamic A1 headphone
than they do through many other headphones. special because they seem to combine the each of these models, it is worth remembering amplifier. The A1 has a 100 ohm output
strengths of many of these competing models. how far we are from reproducing the absolute impedance, which is on the high end of the
MUSICAL EXAMPLES The T1s seem to be quite balanced, like the sound via headphones. For example, you spectrum of available amps. The fact that the
On Mary Black’s “By The Time It Gets Dark” Ultrasones or the Sennheisers. They seem have to remember that there is no common m902 and the A1 sounded broadly similar
[By The Time It Gets Dark, Gift Horse], the to be low in coloration like the AKGs and the agreement among headphone engineers on is a testimony to the benefits of the high
vocal is slightly recessed (set back in terms of Ultrasones. They seem very transparent, like what constitutes flat frequency response as impedance of the T1 headphones. With a high
the image plane) but clear. Adding to the sense the Audio-Technicas and Grados, and they perceived by the listener. This leads to widely and relatively flat impedance curve, the T1’s
of clarity is the observation that the overall seem to have wide bandwidth, almost like the varying frequency response curves among will exhibit less variation in sound from amp to
sense of continuousness (or lack of graininess) Denons and the Sennheisers. models designed by competent engineers. amp. Normally, this is a very good thing (I don’t
is very, very good. The colorations of some other high-end Such a situation doesn’t exist in, say, the field have to put in as many “your mileage may
On Alison Krauss’ “Forget About It” [Forget headphones are noticeably larger than those of amplifier design. But every time we write vary” comments), but also it means listeners
About It, Rounder] the intro electric bass is of the T1s by comparison. The upper midrange about the resulting deviations from the sound have less of an opportunity to “fine-tune” the
deep and airy. But then on her “New Favorite” dip on the Sennheiser HD 800s, for example of live music, several readers write in horror T1’s sound by subsituting different amplifiers.
[Alison Krauss + Union Station Live, Rounder] is quite a bit larger than the one I hear on that “for this price, these should be perfect!”
the drum skin sounds good but not great (a the T1s. The treble blip of the T1s is tiny in I suppose lots of things (cars, cameras, COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
little thick, as if there is a resonance in the mid- comparison more aggressive one you can hear relationships, software, etc) should be perfect, While the all around comfort of the T1s isn’t
bass). on the Denon AH-D5000s. but they aren’t in practice, and that’s certainly bad, it isn’t their strength either. I thought the
On Brandi Carlile’s “Caroline” [Give Up The Similarly, the Ultrasone Edition 8s and true of headphones. And to give credit where headband padding was too thin, leading to a
Ghost, Columbia] the cymbals are less bright the Shure SRH840s sound at least as well- credit is due, high-end headphones cost no pressure point on the top of the skull. You can
but cleaner than on the Sennheiser HD 800 balanced as the T1s, neither can match the more than what a fairly basic pair of speakers shift the band to address this, but still, this
(which is a bit splashy). The T1 gets more of sense of transparency that the T1s deliver. would. They key point is that, given inevitable seems like an unnecessary miss. The earcups
both the “metal” ring and better “shimmer” The AKG 702s also have excellent midrange, deviations from perfection in any real product, are also smallish in diameter, so you may have
during the decay, whereas HD 800 mostly but don’t offer either the bandwidth or the the listener has to judge what combination of some pressure on your outer ear. This is not
captures just the initial “crash.” transparency of the T1s. attributes gives the best approximation of live a big deal in my experience, but it is not a
On The Decembrists “The Tain” [The music at a price he/she can afford. perfect situation, either.
Tain, Kill Rock] we have a very complex mix The T1s come in a fancy metal box. The
where the T1 shows excellent instrumental ANCILLARY EQUIPMENT attached cable is 3 meters long and terminated
separation. The bass drum is a little low on For this test session, I used the Esoteric DV-60 with a phone plug.
impact, but the snare drum is spot-on. universal player as the source. Cables were
Audioquest Sidewinders. AC power came BOTTOM LINE:
COMPETITIVE COMPARISONS from a dedicated 20-amp circuit via PS Audio Beyerdynamic’s T1 is that rare and elusive
The Beyerdynamic T1s sound different from Power Plant Premier and Shunyata Python CX “brilliant all-rounder”—a headphone that
most of the other high-end headphones we’ve AC cables. The primary headphone amp was does everything well. Other headphones may
had in the lab recently (mainly the Sennheiser the Grace m902, which has very low output outperform the T1 in one area or another, but
HD 800, the Ultrasone Edition 8, the Audio- impedance (1 ohm) for a headphone amp. you will be hard pressed to find better overall
Technica ATH-W5000, the Grado PS1000, and The sound did not change a lot when I performance.

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Denon
AH-D5000
Tom Martin

D
enon is a storied company with a appear to be conventional headphones
historically interesting technical with a twist or two. They are closed-back,
position stemming from its early over-the-ear types, with 50mm drivers.
partnership with Columbia Records. Denon Things depart from convention slightly
was both a recording company and a when we get to the driver material, which
hardware producer from its early days. This is microfiber. And the driver housings are
kind of business integration arguably makes
sense, with Sony as the current exemplar of
the approach (accomplished via acquisition).
made of mahogany—a material Denon
references for its favorable qualities for use
in musical instruments (a reference that
overview
In the U.S. key companies like RCA were apparently appeals to the Japanese but Consider this headset if:
not able to sustain excellence across such seems inscrutable to more logic-constrained you long for headphones with
a wide front, but Denon—at least from the Westerners who think of musical instruments rich, musical bass and yet refuse
perspective of audio enthusiasts—has and audio transducers as fundamentally to give up mid-range and treble
created some very high quality products different kinds of objects). transparency. Vivid, engaging tonal
over time. This was especially true of phono Despite this minimal story line, the AH- colors are the AH-D5000’s greatest
cartridges and other products related to D5000s have developed something of a cult strength.
recording and LP production. following. I’ll try to shed some light on why
It is hard to say whether the ongoing that is so in this review. Look elsewhere if:
recording arts culture at Denon is small colorations offend you,
responsible for the AH-D5000, but the SONIC CHARACTER or if you cannot tolerate even
idea seems credible since Denon has built The most obvious, hit-you-over-the-head small traces of high frequency
something special in these headphones. aspect of the 5000s is their bass. The 5000s brightness.
At the specification level, the AH-D5000s have strong bass that goes unusually deep

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for a headphone. After weeks with Ratings


the AH-D5000s, I’d say they have
a bass bump, as judged against
live sound. But so far I’d say it
tonal balance
specs/pricing
frequency extremes Denon AH-D5000
is also a pretty artfully judged
bass bump that doesn’t get in Accessories: Mini-plug to phone jack
clarity adapter
the way of the music. Compared Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 45kHz
with headphones (many) that are dynamics Weight: 370 grams
somewhat reticent in the bass, the Sensitivity: 106dB/mW
Denon version of bass generates comfort/fit Impedance: 25 ohms
Price: $699.95
a sense of life and punch that is
welcome on a lot of material. Put
sensitivity
Denon Electronics (USA), LLC
differently, if you like bass and
value (201) 762-6500
feel cheated when speakers or usa.denon.com
headphones sound a little rolled
off, then the Denons could be your 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
cup of tea. only slightly. It shows up less as a shift in
To be clear, while the sound can and the whole-body sense moving air that you overall tonal balance, but rather as a tendency
get a little heavy on the bottom get in fromlive music or from a good stereo to make sibilants and high frequency transients
with the AH-D5000’s EQ curve, system. I think Denon might have taken things a little “sharp” sounding. This doesn’t happen
the bass doesn’t get thick and just slightly too far in the bass domain, but on all transients, which is what makes
inarticulate. Bass boost can be that may be preferable to not taking things me believe the issue is in a pretty narrow
more articulate in headphones far enough (a common error in headphone frequency band. Some modern recordings
because you aren’t dealing design). accentuate this, so the fault isn’t entirely with
with (as many) unpredictable So, the 5000s are special because they Denon. Nonetheless, this tendency to make
resonances. You can hear this in have intelligently and musically tuned bass. certain treble transients a little too hot is in
the Denons, which have much But that wouldn’t be nearly enough, if the my view the make-or-break issue that will
better bass definition than would a midrange weren’t equally good. But it is. The determine whether these headphones are for
high-end speaker with some low- midrange on the Denons is relaxed, clear and you (or not).
end boost. These are bass-lovers’ well-balanced. In particular, Denon doesn’t roll As you might expect, very neutral-sounding
headphones. off the upper mid-range as some other models headphone amplifiers (such as the Luxman
I’d also hazard to say that in this class do. The result is that the 5000s and PS Audio units that I had on hand for this
without some judicious bass boost sound more open and life-like than competing review) tend to expose both the Denon’s mid-
a headphone just can’t sound as headphones such as the Sennheiser HD 650s. treble strengths and weaknesses. It is possible,
real as great loudspeakers can. Overall, the treble is well-balanced with the however, that different and less neutral amps
Something in a headphone has mid-range and bass. There is, however, a mid- could optimize the Denon’s sound by softening
to substitute for the lack of slam treble edge that occasionally grates, though treble transients to some degree.

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To keep things in perspective, bear in and the treble edge I mentioned above results
mind that the AH-D5000 is all about serving in the guitar sounding a little more metallic
up a sound characterized by rich and vivid than it should. You can hear a similar, slightly
tonal colors. The minor sonic excesses I’ve unnatural effect on Alison Krauss and Union
described above may well be the price you Station’s song “Maybe” [Alison Krauss &
pay to enjoy the concommitant richness and Union Station – Live, Rounder/UMGD]. The
vividness—a tradeoff many listeners will, I AH-D5000s handle the voices transparently,
suspect, happily embrace. but the chorus of that song has a multi-part
The other issue that I’d raise is that the AH- harmony where the differences between voices
D5000s have a slight tendency to divide music yield overly pronounced overtones and/or
into Bass/Midrange/Treble segments. Each ringing.
region sounds good (mostly), but overall this By contrast, though, I found that on Paavo
presentation isn’t entirely natural. Classical Jarvi’s version of the Beethoven 3rd Symphony
lovers may notice this more than lovers of [RCA Red Seal] the Denon’s had a very
other musical styles. listenable treble presentation with good clarity.
The AH-D5000s present an interesting The cellos were, however, under-emphasized a
contrast to the Sennheiser HD 800s, which are bit. In this case one might say the sound was a
also reviewed in this Guide. The Sennheiser’s little cool, though thanks to the strong bottom
major in naturalness (sonic errors don’t end, the sound isn’t thin.
call attention to themselves and the overall
sound is relaxed and smooth), but have some COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
subtractive errors that mean they aren’t the The AH-D5000 ear cups are soft and the
most vivid (fresh; intense; alive) headphones clamping force is very low. As a result these
on the market. The HD 800s are good in ‘phones are comfortable for long listening
the vividness department, but not great.The sessions (because they don’t aggravate
Denon’s, on the other hand, are quite vivid, pressure points). However, the Denons
though at the expense of naturalness at times. are slightly heavy so that the headband
The Denon’s colorations are small enough that occasionally needs to be shifted.
you would say they are good (but not great) in
terms naturalness and overall accuracy. BOTTOM LINE:
Denon’s AH-D5000 is a very musical
MUSICAL EXAMPLES headphone, but one that is somewhat
On Mary Black’s song “Trying to Get the colored—although in beguiling ways. Careful
Balance Right”, from By the Time It Gets selection of ancillary source and amplification
Dark [Gift Horse], Mary’s voice is very clear. components will be necessary for best results.
The accompanying acoustic guitar is plucked
emphatically on the initial beats of the chorus,

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GRADO GS1000
Neil Gader

R
iddle me this—name a speaker system whose drivers, driver housings, and ear
that comes with its own built-in cushions are unique to the model.
listening room. Give up? The answer
is any set of headphones. Whether they are THE ROLLS ROYCE OF
closed-back models that fully enclose the HEADPHONES?
ear for the ultimate in isolation or open-back/ It’s big and retro—the Rolls Royce Phantom of
on-ear designs, which allow room sound headphones with colossal wooden ear pieces
and ambience to mingle with your music, that contain vast air chambers. The foam ear
headphones are not as simple as they look. pads are a completely new cushion-design
As with a great set of speakers, you’ll hear for Grado and they don’t just rest upon your
the recorded signal plus the ambient cues of ears as supra-aural (that is, “on top of the ear”)
a miniaturized soundspace complete with its pads do. Rather the earcups and pads are
own acoustic boundaries, reflection patterns, circumaural, enclosing the entire ear like a pair
and time delays. These issues couldn’t have of hollowed-out coconut shells. The genuine
been more vividly illustrated than during the leather headband is large and adjustable and
time I spent road-testing the Grado GS1000 distributes weight evenly and comfortably
headphones—first with its own headphone across the top of the head. The transducers
amp, the RA1, and later with the Cayin HA-1A are wound with Ultra High Purity Copper
headphone amp. (UHPLC)—the same wire material used in the
Although it shares family similarities with Y connecting cord with 1/4-inch stereo plug. A
its high-performance stablemates, the RS1 fifteen-foot cable extension is included, along
and RS2, Grado’s next-to-the-top-of-the-line with a 1/4-inch to 1/8-inch adapter for portable
GS1000 is an open-back, dynamic headphone players.

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The sonic character of the GS1000 (with a bit more transient pop to Telecaster solos back presentation to the Grado that is neither
RA1 headphone amp) is unmistakably Grado,
meaning that, as with its fine series of moving-
magnet phono cartridges, there’s a prevailing
and rim shots, but doesn’t turn aggressively
etchy. The sound of the cello (Kol Nidre, Bruch,
Wispelwey [Channel Classics]) in many ways
unpleasing nor overstated.
The GS1000 is big on bass, and it’s
particularly appealing in lower-level listening.
specs/pricing
warmth factor, a rich cushion of sound that encapsulates the GS1000’s signature. It’s But it also feels like it’s been contoured Grado GS1000
stretches from the midbass well into the dark and ripe and the area in the immediate to sound its best at lower, more civilized
Type: Vented diaphragm, wooden air
upper mids. The treble is detailed with a slight proximity of the instrument seems filled with volumes. Definition and dynamics can quickly
chamber headphone, with circumaural
push forward in the presence range between air, an attribute that underscores the powerful thicken when the volume is punched up into ear cushion
2–5kHz. This adds articulation to vocals and box resonances of the cello. There’s a laid- rock-concert territory. Frankly, true low-bass Transducer: Dynamic
reproduction never really sounds entirely Frequency Response: 8 Hz - 35kHz
natural over the majority of headphones SPL 1mV: 98dB
I’ve used. It’s an issue that goes beyond Impedance: 32 ohms
Driver matched dB: 0.05dB
specifications to the seat-of-the-pants reality Price: $995
of bass reproduction in a large hall. The
reduction in concert hall realism is partly due Grado Labs
to the psychology of listening in our head (718) 435-5340
versus our instinctive familiarly with the direct gradolabs.com
and reflected information that we encounter
everyday. There’s the sense in a headphone
that the air in the long, long wavelengths of artifacts or resonances. Many headphones
deep bass doesn’t entirely miniaturize for the confine the sound between what sounds like
short throw distances between the transducer hard reflective surfaces, like the walls of a
and eardrum, so what you hear in a headphone small untreated room. This is a problem that
is a greater proportion of the overtones of the dogs an otherwise highly midrange-neutral
fundamental rather than the fundamental itself. headphone like the AKG K501. The GS1000,
on the other hand, is closer to a large well-
MIND EXPANDING SOUNDSTAGES damped hall. The music seems to be traveling
By far the GS1000’s most alluring trait—the towards the listener the way we experience it
carrot that kept pulling me back in to listen live, as opposed to sounding mainlined into
to “just one more” recording—was its mind- your ear drum. This factor is perhaps the most
expanding soundstage. It’s a stage that seductive aspect of the GS1000 and separates
extends well outside the ear’s boundaries. it from many of its competitors.
Not just limited to the proscenium of a stage, Adding the Cayin HA-1A into the mix was
it takes in the wings, as well. And it has a an exercise in unalloyed hedonism. Never
defined height and depth component that adds at a loss for gain, the HA-1A also offers the
to the realism. This expansive soundstage I pleasure of switching between triode and
think is directly related to a lack of enclosure ultralinear settings, which, when shuttling

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among musical genres, grows habit-forming. and hard-panned cymbals that play non-stop in a drawer collecting dust if you don’t like
Triode became my preference for orchestral through Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life wearing them. The GS1000s are certainly
music. The sound it conveyed was smoother, Tonight” (Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt comfortable and distribute their weight lightly
the mids a bit warmer, and the string sections Cowboy [Island]). They are more liquid and over the ears, but the full-coverage foam
more continuous and layered. For the bass nuanced in triode mode—more finely wrought ear pads can get warm during extended
punch and midbass dynamics that underpin than the slightly etchy character they have in listening. Anticipating this, Grado offers
most rock recordings, ultralinear was the ultralinear mode. other replaceable and less restrictive ear-pad
easy choice. Two recordings remastered The Grado RA1 headphone amplifier is a designs.
to SACD exemplified this none-too-subtle specialist, built with a knowledge of Grado
difference. The opening drum vamp during designs that other head-amp companies aren’t BOTTOM LINE
“Murder By Numbers” (Synchronicity, The privy to. This gave it an advantage with the The Grado GS1000 is a luxury headphone
Police [A&M]) can be incredibly forceful and GS1000. In contrast with the Cayin, the Grado built for comfort and long listening sessions. It
on a conventional playback system should RA1 controlled the bottom end of the GS1000 may not be a mastering engineer’s choice for
compress your stomach and box your ears on better than the Cayin, without reducing the the nitpicking precision of studio work, but for
the downbeat. A great set of headphones— characteristic richness of the GS1000. If I sinking into a favorite chair and enjoying a visit
even one as bass-strong as the Grado—can’t had to guess, it sounded as if the RA1 was with a beloved symphony, headphones don’t
body slam like a full-range loudspeaker, but in effect EQing the GS1000 and making it sound or feel much better than this. Caveat
ultralinear mode provided plenty of pop and a more neutral component. The Cayin, on emptor: The GS1000s are utterly habit-forming,
drive. Triode mode attenuated this impact the other hand, increased micro-dynamic so audition at your own risk.
and energy and reduced the thrust of Stewart detail and dimensionality and opened up the
Copeland’s fiendishly manic playing into soundstage considerably. In a nutshell, the
something akin to a Howdy-Doody drumkit. Grado amp made the GS1000 a more tonally
Another comparison, but at the other end of accurate unit, even if, taken on the whole, the
the tonal spectrum, was the shimmering hi-hat Cayin brought out more emotional excitement.
The Grado is a bargain. It’s also the perfect
last word: choice for high-end road warriors who demand
• Mind-blowing soundstages— portability without compromise. However, for
especially so for a headphone. flexibility with an assortment of headsets, the
• Articulate, but never aggressive. adjustable, stay-at-home, and oh-so-sexy
• A welcome touch of natural Cayin is pretty hard to beat.
warmth with powerful bass. There is one other ancillary issue that is often
• Comfortable for long sessions. not given enough attention. Since headphones
are essentially worn like an article of clothing,
• A little too dark and ripe- it’s important to take the time to audition them
sounding for its own good? at length for comfort. Like a crummy pair of
• Dynamics and definition can shoes, ill-fitting headphones, no matter how
thicken at high volumes. good they sound, are ultimately going to sit

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Grado PS1000
Tom Martin

H
aving recently reviewed the Grado SR back headphone. That clearly makes them less
325is for Playback, which I thought suitable for use on airplanes or in an office.
were exceptionally good headphones, Some listeners, however, insist that open-back
I was thrilled when Grado offered a chance headphones are consistently more natural
to review their maximum supreme PS1000 sounding.
headphone ($1695). Given what Grado does Technically, the PS1000 seems relatively
at the $300 price point, I was curious in this simple and straightforward, but many an
review to see what they could deliver at 5X unassuming audio product has proven to be
the price. spectacularly accurate. Grado has paid much
Like other Grados, the PS1000 is an open attention to the driver housings, which consist

overview
Consider this headset if: Look elsewhere if:
you want headphones with excellent macro-dynamic slam is at the top of your list
transparency and tonal balance and you of sonic desires, or if you need closed-back
want to avoid the occasionally edgy or harsh phones due to your environment.
sound that often comes along as part of
the package with other headphones that
promise very high levels of transparency.

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of an inner mahogany section and an outer exactly right. Moving beyond speculation, I am Ratings
frame of a very hard metal alloy. Actually to call
it a frame is a misnomer, because this hunk of
metal resembles a puck more than anything.
an audio equipment reviewer, and I can say
from experience that almost no headphones
seem to hit the curve. The Grado PS1000
tonal balance

specs/pricing
Grado also says they worked long and hard to comes as close as anything I’ve heard to
frequency extremes Grado PS1000

get the air chamber behind the drivers properly getting the treble region right. clarity Accessories: Extension cord
shaped to minimize transient distortions. That This means, first, that the treble region Frequency Response 5 Hz - 50kHz
is a claim we’ll return to. Finally, the engineers sounds balanced. The PS1000s have a treble dynamics Weight: n/a
on the PS1000 project utilized new, even more region that seems appropriate (measured Sensitivity: 98dB (1 mw input)
pure, copper in the drivers and the supplied against the sound of live music) in relation to comfort/fit Impedance: 32 ohms
cables. the midrange. That’s good, though I think this
Price: $1695.00
We have here a seemingly simple headphone is the easiest item on the treble checklist. sensitivity
Grado Laboratories
from a value-oriented maker, but at a premium, To have great treble, though, one also has to
value (718) 435 5340
high-end price. Can it compete with top-tier make headphones whose treble response is www.gradolabs.com
offerings from Sennheiser, Ultrasone, or even smooth and very evenly balanced up. This is
from Grado themselves? Let’s see what this where most headphones fall apart, to a greater 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
test revealed. or lesser degree, because they will have subtle
(or not so subtle) dips and/or peak somewhere the instruments. Micro-dynamics are well the midrange and the treble. While many
SONIC CHARACTER within the treble region. It can take a while to done too, so that the decay of voices and headphones use a single driver and thus have
Let’s start with the elements of the PS1000 hear these repsonse deviations, because some instruments can be heard very easily. no mechanical discontinuity, this doesn’t
that make it the real deal and a contender driver resonances are in a very small region A note of caution is in order, though. Many if prevent them from having sonic flavors that
among the very best, because this is a very and thus aren’t triggered by most music (or not most modern D/A converters have treble differ across these frequency regions. Not so
fine headphone to be sure. It isn’t perfect (no you miss it in the mix). Well, folks, I’m here problems, particularly with transient sounds, with the PS1000s.
headphone is), and I’m going to eventually to say that the Grado PS1000s have fewer of and as you might expect the PS1000s can and When we come to macro-dynamics, though,
offer some criticisms. So, I want to be sure these treble problems than most of the other do expose the splashy/hashy treble sounds we get to an area where the PS1000s are good
readers understand Grado’s achievement here, headphones I’ve heard. On disc after disc the that some modern digital source components but not great. On orchestral tuttis and power
which is impressive indeed. PS1000’s treble simply sounds clear, and the produce. Conversely, standard issue DACs guitar the PS1000s never put a foot wrong,
The bugaboo of most headphones lies in the tonality of each instrument comes through. you may not be sufficiently refined for you to but in this conservative approach they also
treble region. If you look at the target frequency That is, each treble-heavy instrument sounds fully appreciate the treble achievement of the don’t quite capture the punch of the real thing.
response curve (the one that psychometricists like itself. ‘Sounds easy to pull off, but it isn’t. PS1000. I did use my two favorite headphone amps
say sounds flat or balanced or accurate to Finally, treble performance needs to be Happily, the PS1000’s refined treble with the PS1000s, and found that the all-tube
the human ear), you’ll see that it isn’t flat. And clean, with good dynamics. The PS1000s qualities extend right on down into the mid- Woo Audio WA22 yielded better results largely
you’ll see specifically that the target curve come through here as well, by offering a very range. Instrumental separation is excellent, because it allowed these dynamics to breathe
calls for a pretty big response rise in the treble low distortion treble sound. You particularly and instrumental tonality holds up well. One a bit more. With great headphones ancillary
region. I’m not a headphone designer, but I’m notice this via the superb instrument-to- indicator of the midrange excellence of the equipment will matter.
guessing that this target curve isn’t that easy instrument separation on offer here. Grain, PS1000 hits you when you notice that there is That said, I think that the transition to the
to hit. I also suspect the curve is old and not hash and noise are missing, so you just hear almost no discernable discontinuity between bass region and that bass performance in

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general is the weak spot of the PS1000s, and slightl (or perhaps not so slight) touches competitor. Some key differences between the
is partly if not mostly responsible for my less of sibilant stridencywhen reproducing Ms. PS1000 and the HD 800s are noted below:
than complete endorsement of their macro- Krauss’ voice. • The HD 800s are a little more accurately
dynamics. Grado has built a slightly warm bass For a sense of the instrumental separation balanced in the upper midrange, while lower
balance into the PS1000, which is musical if that the PS1000s can deliver, go no farther midrange body on the PS1000s seems more
not precisely accurate. Bass instruments are than Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s version of “Stairway natural.
present and accounted for in the mix, so the to Heaven” [Rodrigo Y Gabriela, ATO Records]. • The HD 800s are slightly brighter than the
the balance between band members generally As a bridge out of the slow intro gets going, PS1000s, though the difference is relatively
sounds right. But bass transients can seem there is a lot of fast chord work happening on small.
a little soft at times, as if there is a resonance acoustic guitars and through the PS1000’s • The PS1000s have somewhat more mid-bass
somewhere in the bass region, or perhaps you can hear every string clearly. In fact, the than either live music or the slightly reticent
there is an upper bass dip. The bootom line Grado’s sound on this track was so amazing HD 800s.
is that, if you are a bass detail fanatic, these that I had to play it twice. • The HD 800s seem to have better deep bass.
might not be the optimal headphones for you. Going back to Forget About It, the song • The PS1000s have smoother yet more
Finally, as readers of my past reviews will “Maybe” has a solo bass drum whack that detailed treble.
know, I like to consider the overall vividness is startlingly powerful and well defined—or • The PS1000s are slightly softer or more
of a headphone, which is ability of the at least can be if your headphones are up to damped sounding; they are also more
headphone to make music sound intense and the task (though the air pressure limitations of forgiving of bad recordings (a strength of
realistically alive. The PS1000s are quite good headphones may limit ultimate dynamic impact both models, actually).
in this regard, thanks to their excellent micro- to some degree). Even so, some headphones
dynamics and ability to render complex mixes deliver a rendition that sounds very like what COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
without getting muddy or confused. They don’t one hears from a bass drum in a concert hall. The PS1000 ear cups are very big and the
have the “slam” on big material that some The Grados, however, don’t really get the rising clamping force is low. I thought the Grado’s
‘phones do, and their transient sounds are well edge of this drum whack quite right and so were comfortable for long periods, though they
controlled (some might say overly controlled), deliver less bass power and depth than is fully are heavy, which means they might aggravate
so the sound isn’t as exciting as some realistic. pressure points after very long listening
competitors. Nonetheless, the transparency of On “Icky Thump” from The White Stripes’ sessions. If you move around, the PS1000’s
the PS1000 creates a sense of realism that, for album of the same name [Warner Brothers/ weight can make them feel tippy.
may listeners, will get to the soul of music. WEA], the pounding drum/bass combo sounds The PS1000s come with a one-meter cord
damped enough through the PS1000s that it is and a phone plug. Grado also includes an
MUSICAL EXAMPLES more a bumping beat than a pounding force. extension cord.
On Alison Krauss and Union Station’s song No offense to Grado, but when Jack White
“Stay” [Alison Krauss & Union Station – Forget pounds or hammers, the PS1000’s struggle to BOTTOM LINE:
About It, Rounder], Alison’s voice, which is keep up. Grado’s PS1000 is a well-balanced headphone
rather lightly balanced, sounds remarkably that excels at reproducing the details and
clear and distortion free through the PS1000’s. COMPETITIVE COMPARISON subtleties of music.
By contrast, many competing ‘phones exhibit The Sennheiser HD 800 is an obvious direct

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HiFiMAN HE-5LE
Planar Magnetic
Headphones
Chris Martens

O
ver the past year or so we’ve seen cost well over a thousand dollars—a price
the arrival of a new uber-class of point that may place these models beyond
high-end headphones such as the reach for some listeners. But what if someone
Beyerdynamics T1 Tesla, the Grado PS1000, made a technically innovative headphone that
and the Sennheiser HD800s. These are all could go toe-to-toe with these acknowledged
great ‘phones, but one catch is that all three class leaders, but for a bit less than half

overview
Consider this headphone if: Look further if:
you want to explore true top-tier headphone you favor light, compact, and relatively
sound quality at a price that falls comfortably easy-to-drive headphones. The HE-5LE
below $1000. The HE-5LE offers balanced is comfortable, but also relatively large
and effortlessly extended frequency and moderately heavy. Look further too if
response, with an exceptional degree of you require a headphone that offers good
sonic transparency and detail. Unlike some isolation from external noises (or that does
‘phones that convey an aura of detail but not put much sound into the room when in
at the expense of an artificial layer of treble use). The HE-5LE is an open-back design
“sheen,” the HE-5LE offers resolution that lets room noises through, and that can
without unpleasant artifacts that detract from faintly be heard from the outside when it
the music. is in operation.

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the price? Well, someone—in this case, the course executed on a much smaller scale. Ratings
firm HiFiMAN—has done just that with an
impressive product called the HE-5LE Planar
Magnetic Headphone ($699). $699 is not, of
In an orthodynamic driver, the diaphragm is
a thin, light membrane whose entire surface
is covered with a conductive coating whose
tonal balance
specs/pricing
frequency extremes HiFiMAN HE-5LE Planar Magnetic
course, “chump change,” but for the level of “conductors” are arranged in a specific
performance on offer in the HE-5LE it is an pattern. The conductive driver membrane is Headphones
clarity
undeniable bargain. in turn suspended near an array of magnets Accessories: as above.
HiFiMAN is a Chinese firm headed by a arranged so that, when an audio signal is fed dynamics (note: performance in this area is Frequency response: 10Hz – 60kHz
gentleman named Fang Bian, who is a high- to the driver, the entire diaphragm surface is amplifier dependant)
Weight: 402 grams (without cables) (12.3 oz)

end headphone enthusiast extraordinaire. alternately pulled toward or pushed away from Sensitivity: 87.5 dB (1 mW input)

comfort/fit Impedance: 38 ohms

Accordingly his company makes a range the magnet array. In theory, the benefits of this
of performance-oriented headphones and approach are twofold. First, the diaphragm can Price: $699
sensitivity
headphone-related products, including the be very light and responsive (lighter than the HiFiMAN/HEAD DIRECT
HE-5LE’s, various headphone amplifiers, voice coil/diaphragm assembly of a traditional value (the phrase “off the charts” comes (347) 475-76733

specialty headphone cables, several very cool dynamic driver). Second, driving forces to mind) hifiman.us
head-direct.com
high-end personal digital music players, and act over the entire working surface of the
a range of in-ear headphones. In this country, diaphragm, potentially offering more precise
HiFiMAN products are sold through a related control with greater freedom from unintended
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
distribution company called Head Direct resonance or vibration. Interestingly, the HE-5LE is not the first offers very wide-range frequency response. In
(www.head-direct.com). Is there a catch to the orthodynamic orthodynamic headphone that HiFiMAN has practice, this means two things. First, up high,
Most of today’s top-tier headphones use approach? Apart from the cost and complexity made. Instead, it is the direct successor to the headphone delivers a full measure of treble
ultra-high quality piston-type drivers, where a entailed in building orthodynamic drivers, one the firm’s earlier HE-5 model. According to detail and easily captures the elusive sense of
traditional voice coil powers a circular (often drawback is that planar magnetic drivers tend HiFiMAN, differences include a “driver coating high frequency “air” surrounding instruments.
cone or dome-shaped) diaphragm. This is a to be less sensitive than dynamic drivers. (that) has been made thinner with the aim Second, down low, the headphone is simply
time-proven approach and one that can give HiFiMAN addresses this fact forthrightly, of improving bass frequencies, while driver fearless with respect to reproducing very
superb results. Still, some might argue that stating that, “potential customers have to be cups are now made of plastic with a hexagon low frequency information (pipe organs, the
one weakness of traditional dynamic drivers aware that the HE-5LE is not easy to drive. mesh.” The signal cable is a removable design lower reaches of synth bass passages, etc.).
is that the voice-coil motor is attached to the It will not be used on most portable devices with gold-plated, threaded connectors, so that Together, these factors along with the HE-
diaphragm only near its rim, so that driving such as an iPod. Customers need to have a users can experiment with cable upgrades, 5LE’s generally neutral tonal balance give the
forces can not—for obvious reasons—act decent headphone amplifier with a powerful if they wish. On paper, the HE-5LE certainly listener the keen sense that these headphones
upon the entire surface area of the diaphragm. output to drive the HE-5LE to get its full sounds promising, but what is it like in real leave no parts of the audio spectrum
In the HE-5LE, HiFiMAN tackles this potential.” But assuming you power planar life? Let me simply say it is one of the finest unexplored.
issue head on by using a planar magnetic magnetic headphones with an appropriate headphones I’ve heard at any price, and a But there is more to the HE-5LE than
(or so-called “orthodynamic”) driver that is amp, performance potential is very high. For remarkable performer for the money. good frequency response, per se. Two other
conceptually similar to the planar magnetic our listening tests, we used HiFiMAN’s own crucially important characteristics are the HE-
drivers used in Magnepan’s famous recommended EF5 tube-powered headphone SONIC CHARACTER 5LE’s sonic coherency and overall levels of
Magneplanar loudspeakers—but that is of amp ($399). More so than many headphones, the HE-5LE resolution.

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Let me say a bit more about the idea of the quality of coherency, as the HE-5LE does, headphones let you “view” recordings as if not only hold their own in such comparisons,
coherency. With some headphones one has you have the sense that drive units sound through a magnifying glass, so that details that but also actually surpass their more costly
the sense that drivers perform particularly well almost perfectly consistent from top-to- are hinted at by lesser headphones suddenly counterparts in some important respects.
in some frequency bands (which represent bottom, with a smooth, sharply focused quality become clear and explicit, yet still natural That is a remarkable achievement in light of
sonic “sweet spots”, if you will), but perform throughout. Coherency, I think, is one of the sounding. One of the beauties of the HE-5LE is their price. As my colleague Tom Martin put it
less well in others. Often this can be due to HiFiMAN’s greatest strengths. that it conveys a lot of musical information, but after getting a taste of the HE-5LE’s, “I’m not
subtle textural discontinuities, where drive This is also a very high-resolution never in a forced or overdramatized way. necessarily saying this is the best headphone
units sound smooth and finely focused at headphone. When fed with high quality If your reactions are anything like mine, you’ll out there… but it certainly might be.” The HE-
some frequencies, but perhaps sound rougher recordings, it is astonishing to hear just how find yourself instinctively seeking to compare 5LE is that good.
(or softer) and less finely focused at other much information the HE-5LE’s can retrieve. the HE-5LE’s to competing models roughly The only ‘phones I’ve heard that could
frequencies. But when a headphone exhibits To use an optical analogy, the HiFiMAN twice their price. Surprisingly, the HE-5LE’s demonstrably outperform the HE-5LE’s have
been ultra-costly electrostatic models driven
by four-figure, dedicated tube-type amplifiers,
or a tiny handful of dynamic models in the
roughly $1500-to-$1700 range that were
custom modified so that they could be driven
by specialized balanced-output headphone
amplifiers. (But note: Even in those cases, the
differences I heard might be more attributable
to the amplifiers used than to the headphones
themselves.).

MUSICAL EXAMPLES
To experience the richness and beauty of the
HE-5LE in action, try putting on the title track
from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s well-recorded
Come On Come On [SBME Special Mkts.].
First, note the sheer delicacy and purity of
Chapin Carpenter’s voice and the way those
qualities hold up even when, as happens in the
song’s chorus, she chooses to half sing/half
whisper the lyrics. Part of what’s impressive
about the HE-5LE is that the detail levels
remain constant, no matter how loud or soft
a given passage might be. Next, listen to the
backing vocalists, especially on the chorus,
where they carry the song’s signature vocal

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phrase, “Come on come on…” Notice how Distortion of Love [Island Records]. Note, broader range of amplifiers (though both HE-5LE, though again both headphones
distinct the individual voices sound, rather for example, the powerful and distinctively headphones require good amplifiers to give require high quality amplifiers for optimal
than collapsing into a muddled mosh of vocal elastic feel of the bass lines and the soaring of their best). performance.
sounds. Finally, listen closely to the timbres arc of Barber’s vocal lines above. Through the • The HD 650 is backed by Sennheiser’s time • The same comments I made earlier about
of the backing instruments—especially the HiFiMAN ‘phones, the sound of reverberations proven customer support organization, Sennheiser’s customer support organization
piano, and note how pure and harmonically from Barber’s voice seems to perfectly which implies that many years from now apply here, too.
“right” they sound. Some headphones complement and even extend the vocal lines, spare parts for the HD650 will continue to be • The HD 800s are, as you might expect,
make the fundamentals and harmonics of themselves. Then, for a real treat, pay close available, should you ever need them. As a a much closer match for the HE-5LE’s
instruments sound as if they somehow don’t attention to the sharp, pointed textures of the relatively new company, HiFiMAN’s long-term than the HD 650s are, and there are some
quite belong together, but not so the HE-5LE. jazz guitar solo and the almost eerily liquid customer support capabilities are as notable similarities between the two. Both
It presents instruments with a very desirable tone the guitarist manages to achieve. Where yet unproven. headphones offer a dynamically expressive
kind of “cut-from-whole-cloth” integrity that some headphones get flustered as the textural • The HD 650 offers a lively and articulate sound with good measure of midrange detail.
greatly enhances realism and the listener’s complexity of music increases, the HE-5LE’s sound, and offers decent low frequency In back-to-back listening sessions through
involvement in the music. almost seem to relish textural challenges response. Relative the HD-5LE, however, the the same amp and using the same musical
To appreciate how refined the HE-5LE’s bass (which they pass with flying colors). HD650 gives the impression of a somewhat selections, however, several important
can be, listen to Christian McBride’s “Night more midrange-forward presentation with distinctions became apparent between the
Train” from Getting’ To It [Verve]. The song, COMPETITIVE COMPARISONS slightly truncated response at the frequency Sennheiser and HiFiMAN ‘phones.
performed on solo acoustic bass, features To give readers some idea of where the extremes. • First, the HE-5LE enjoys a subtle but clear-
alternating lines played with a shuffle feel and HE-5LE fits within the broader price/ • Relative to the HD 650, the HE-5LE offers cut edge over the HD 800 in terms of upper
played first in pizzicato and then arco style. performance spectrum, I compared the superior extension at both high and midrange/treble clarity and smoothness. By
The result is a veritable showcase of almost HiFiMAN headphones to two sets of excellent low frequency extremes (but especially comparison, the HD 800 sounds rougher and
every imaginable sound and voicing of which Sennheiser headphones I had on hand: the noticeable in the bass region), higher less well controlled up high, occasionally
an acoustic bass is capable. Through it all, the Sennheiser HD650 and the flagship Sennheiser levels of resolution, and a more focused imparting a “spitty” or overtly “splashy”
HE-5LE not only captures the basic timbral HD800. and coherent presentation overall. If your quality on sibilant “S” sounds.
and textural distinctions between one musical headphone amp is up to the task, the fact is • Second, the HiFiMAN sounds more
phrase and the next, but also conveys the HiFiMAN HE-5LE vs. Sennheiser HD 650 that the HiFiMAN ‘phones offer much greater harmonically coherent and all-of-one-piece
inherent size, weight, warmth, and power of ($600) performance upside than the HD 650s do. on many instruments—qualities most easily
McBride’s bass with a kind of “you-are-there” • The Sennheiser HD 650 is roughly $100 less heard on female voices, plucked guitars,
realism. The HiFiMAN’s quality of coherency, expensive than the HE-5LE. HiFiMAN HE-5LE vs. Sennheiser HD 800 bowed violins, and the like. In contrast, there
as mentioned above, really comes into play • The HD 650 is more compact than the ($1595) seem to be very small yet audible textural
here, so that you don’t so much think in HE-5LE and therefore somewhat more • The Sennheiser HD 800 costs a whopping discontinuities that keep the HD 800s from
terms of hearing “great hi-fi,” but instead feel comfortable, though some listeners might $896 more than the HE-5LE. snapping into sharp focus the way the HE-
tempted to listen more intently and intimately— prefer the HE-5LE’s significantly larger • The HD 800 is essentially a hand made 5LE does.
as you would to a live performance. earcups. product, and it shows; while apparent build • Third, the HE-5LE offers slightly better low
Finally to enjoy the sonic sophistication and • The HD 650 is easier to drive than the HE- quality on the HE-5LE is fine, the HD800 frequency extension and drive than the
versatility of the HE-5LE, check out Patricia 5LE, which suggests to me that it could more nearly reminds me of a Swiss watch. HD800, though both are markedly better than
Barber on the classic tune “My Girl” from A potentially be used successfully with a • The HD 800 is easier to drive than the most competing headphones in this respect.

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• Although the comparison is a close one, I would encourage HiFiMAN either to consider
I would say the HE-5LE is the stronger changing headband dimensions, or to provide
performer overall, which is impressive when a thicker headband pad.
you consider how good the HD 800 is to The HE-5LE ships in a padded presentation
begin with (many listeners rightly regard the case with detachable signal cables with
Sennheisers as a benchmark product). OFC conductors and a 4-pin balanced XLR
connector, plus an XLR-to-phone jack adapter
ANCILLARY EQUIPMENT cable.
HiFiMAN’s tube-powered EF5 headphone
amplifier ($399) was used throughout these BOTTOM LINE
tests, in part because HiFiMAN recommends HiFiMAN’s HE-5LE is one of the most
the EF5 as suitable for powering the admittedly technically innovative and best-sounding
difficult-to-drive HE-5LE. However, my headphones on the market today. It demands
practical experience was that the EF5 (which a high-powered, high-quality headphone
will be the subject of a later Playback review) amplifier to sound its best, but if you can meet
also gave good results with a variety of other that basic requirement you will be in for a
headphones, including the Shure SRH840’s, sonic treat. At $699, the HE-5LE can and does
the Beyerdynamic DT-990’s, and Sennheiser’s stand tall in comparison to competitors twice
HD 650’s and HD 800’s. its price, making it one of the best high-end
Source components included a Musical headphones values we’ve yet found.
Fidelity kW SACD player and A5 CD player,
plus a Nottingham Analogue Systems Space
294 turntable/Ace-Space 294 tonearm fitted
with a Shelter 901 MkII phono cartridge and
fed through a Fosgate Signature phono stage.

COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES
The HE-5LE is generally comfortable, though
it is a relatively large and moderately heavy
headphone, which may be a problem for some.
The earcups are well padded and comfortable.
One small problem I noted, however, is that
the earcups tend to ride quite low relative to
the top of the headband. Thus, even with the
earcups raised as high as they could possibly
go, I found the headband only just barely
contacted the top of my head. For this reason,

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HiFiMAN HE-6 Planar


Magnetic Headphones
Chris Martens

S
everal months ago Playback
reviewed HiFiMAN’s superb HE-5LE
Planar Magnetic Headphone ($699),
concluding that not only could it hold its
overview
own versus competitors roughly twice Consider this headphone if: Look elsewhere if:
its price, but that it could also in some you want a headphone that offers five you favor light, compact, and relatively
respects surpass them. Obviously this powerful benefits: ultra wide-range easy-to-drive headphones. The HE-6
meant the HE-5LE was a bargain, a product frequency response, accurate tonal is comfortable, but also large and quite
with performance so good you might think balance, blindingly fast transient speeds, heavy (about 100 grams heavier than the
it would be pointless for HiFiMAN to try extraordinary resolution of low-level already hefty HE-5LE). Also look further
and improve upon its design. But happily sonic details, and serious dynamic clout if you require a headphone that offers
for us, the folks at HiFiMAN aren’t ones to (provided, of course, that you’ve brought good isolation from external noises; the
rest upon their laurels, which is why they’ve a good enough headphone amp to the HE-6 is an open-back design that lets
just introduced an even more impressive party). Let me put it this way; even if you’re room noises through, and that can faintly
flagship, called the HE-6 ($1199). familiar with the sound of great, five- or be heard from the outside when it is
HiFiMAN is a Chinese firm headed even six-figure loudspeakers, there’s a playing. Finally, look further if you’re not
by Fang Bian, who is passionate about good chance the HE-6 will unveil elements prepared to spring for a high-powered,
high-end headphone and headphone of familiar recordings that you’ve never high-resolution headphone amp. If
accessories. His company offers a growing heard before. It’s that good. Once you you’re committed to using low-powered
range of performance-oriented full-size and get used to these ‘phones, you may have headphone amps, be aware that there are
in-ear headphones, a series of headphone the unnerving sense that almost all other other good headphones that are much
amplifiers, several high-end personal headphones are guilty of leaving valuable easier to drive.
digital music players that can handle musical information “on the table.”

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Ratings
(compared to similarly-priced headphones)

tonal balance specs/pricing



frequency extremes HiFiMAN HE-6 Planar Magnetic
Headphones
clarity Accessories: as above

Frequency response: 8Hz – 65kHz
dynamics (note: performance in this area Weight: 502 grams (without cables)
is highly amplifier dependent)
Sensitivity: 83.5 dB (1 mW input)

Impedance: 50 ohms

comfort/fit Price: $1199

sensitivity HiFiMAN/HEAD DIRECT
(347) 475-76733

value (though certainly not cheap, the HE-6 www.hifiman.us
is priced below most—though not all www.head-direct.com
—of its legitimate competitors)

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Early-generation HE-6 prototypes sounded


great, but were so inefficient that they required
full-size audio amplifiers as would normally be
high-res digital music files, and a range of used to power loudspeakers. Fang Bian and
specialty headphone accessories (e.g., high his team realized customers might not accept
performance signal cables, adapters, etc.). In such a constraint, so they felt it necessary
the U.S., HiFiMAN products are sold through to improve the HE-6’s efficiency to a point
a related distribution company called Head where the headphone could be driven by
Direct (www.head-direct.com). conventional headphone amplifiers (albeit
Readers will surely ask how the HE-6 is powerful ones). The achieve this objective,
different from and/or better than the HE-5LE, the HiFiMAN team has given the production
and Fang Bian provides several answers. version of the HE-6 what Fang Bian terms a
First, the HE-6 is an entirely hand-made “super efficient magnetic circuit.” Putting all
product built with the utmost attention to these factors together we have a new flagship
detail. Second, the HE-6 features an incredibly headphone that, while admittedly difficult to
light and thin diaphragm whose conductive drive, offers even wider frequency response,
surfaces are made of gold. The HE-6 also higher resolution, and lower distortion than the
uses a very different magnet assembly than the already excellent HE-5LE.
HE-5LE, as I’ll explain below.

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About Orthodynamic control with greater freedom from dynamic drivers. The HE-6, in turn,
Technology unintended resonance or vibration.” quotes an even lower sensitivity rating
The vast majority of full-size, high- In my HE-5LE review I also pointed of 83.5 dB (1 mW/input), despite the
end headphones on the market out two possible drawbacks to fact that it is equipped with a “super
use traditional piston-type dynamic orthodynamic designs: namely, efficient magnetic circuit,” which
drivers, but the HiFiMAN HE-6 is relatively high construction costs and means it’s not an easy headphone to
different in that it is a so-called low efficiency (or low sensitivity). Let drive.
“orthodynamic” headphone that uses me elaborate on both these points. In practical terms, there are several
planar magnetic drivers, which are If you ever have a chance to see things prospective HE-6 owners need
conceptually similar to the drivers an orthodynamic driver taken apart, to understand. First, the HE-6 cannot
used in Magnepan’s award-winning you’ll discover (as I mentioned above) be driven directly from an iPod,
Magneplanar loudspeakers. In my that the thin driver diaphragms feature iPhone or any other low-powered
earlier review of the HiFiMAN HE- fine-pitch conductive traces arranged digital device. As New Yorkers might
5LE, which is also a planar magnetic in specific patterns; during assembly, say, “fuhgeddaboutit.” Second, while
design, I provided the following the diaphragms must be very precisely the HE-6 can be a phenomenally
nutshell description of orthodynamic aligned vis-à-vis the driver’s magnet good-sounding headphone, it
driver technology: arrays. Getting the alignment spot-on absolutely requires an adequately
“In an orthodynamic driver, the typically requires specialized assembly powerful, high-resolution headphone
diaphragm is a thin, light membrane tooling plus extra quality control steps amp to give of its best. Lesser amps
whose entire surface is covered to ensure that tight tolerances are can, of course, get the HE-6 to
with a conductive coating whose maintained. While precision tooling produce sound, but the fact is that
‘conductors’ are arranged in a and extra assembly work add costs, they cannot and typically do not reveal
specific pattern. The conductive driver you may find—as I have—that the the terrific sonic subtlety and nuance
membrane is in turn suspended near sonic benefits of good orthodynamic of which the HE-6 is capable.
an array of magnets arranged so that, designs more than outweigh whatever But know this: once you invest in
when an audio signal is fed to the extra manufacturing costs may be an appropriately good headphone
driver, the entire diaphragm surface entailed. amp (or full-size audio amp), the
is alternately pulled toward or pushed The second point, relative HE-6 will deliver heightened levels
away from the magnet array. In theory, inefficiency, is potentially a more of performance that are well and
the benefits of this approach are serious concern. Orthodynamic truly breathtaking. In fact, the HE-6
twofold. First, the diaphragm can be ‘phones tend, as a general rule, to be stretches the sonic performance
very light and responsive (lighter than low in sensitivity. The power hungry envelope even further than the HE-
the voice coil/diaphragm assembly of HE-5LE, for example, carried a low- 5LE does, which is saying a mouthful.
a traditional dynamic driver). Second, ish sensitivity rating of 87.5 dB (1 In the process the HE-6 establishes
driving forces act over the entire mW input)—a sensitivity rating much itself as one of the finest headphones
working surface of the diaphragm, lower than ratings for typical top-tier now available at any price.
potentially offering more precise headphones that use conventional

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SONIC CHARACTER just-right amplifier match.


At the outset, let me say that the HE-6 basically The HE-6 offers exceptionally wide-range
builds upon the strengths of the already very good frequency response, meaning that it never sounds
HE-5LE. Specifically, the HE-6 offers improved as if it is working hard to reach the highest or lowest
extension and definition at both frequency extremes frequency extremes. HiFiMAN’s HE-5LE was already
and conveys a significantly greater sense of top- very good in this respect, but the HE-6 is even
to-bottom clarity and coherency—almost as if you better. You’ll appreciate this difference especially
are listening to an HE-5LE whose power, focus, and when listening to the HE-6 navigate the very highest
resolution have been dialed up to “12.” overtones of treble instruments (percussion, strings,
Tonal balance between the two HiFiMAN models etc.), as it makes even the subtlest distinctions
is similar, but not identical, with the HE-6 offering between “overtone signatures” plain as day.
slightly more prominent low bass, and somewhat Down at the other end of the frequency spectrum,
more forward-sounding upper mids and highs— the HE-6 offers a terrific combination of low
differences that many listeners (and I am one of them) frequency extension, pitch definition, and dynamic
interpret as giving the HE-6’s a greater sense of clout, though the latter quality is, for obvious reasons,
transparency and openness. Other listeners, however, somewhat amplifier-dependent. Synth basses,
sometimes find the HE-6 sounds almost too revealing pipe organs, concert bass drums and the like are,
for its own good. Those listeners will typically quite simply, child’s play for this headphone. In
acknowledge the new flagship’s sharply focused and the bottom octave and a half, the HE-6’s bass is a
finely resolved sound, but then gravitate back toward touch more powerful than that of the HE-5LE, but
the HE-5LE’s warmer, more midrange-centric and more importantly its bass transient speed and pitch
admittedly more forgiving presentation. definition are better, too—qualities you’ll soon notice
It is important to understand that the HE-6 is very if you listen to good recordings highlighting either
sensitive to the amplifiers with which it is used. acoustic or electric bass. From time to time I’ve
Thus, it can sound slightly bright or “analytical” with heard some audio pundits complain that headphones
some, yet sound smooth and perfectly well balanced can’t do “real” bass the way that great loudspeakers
with others. The gist of things is that the HE-6 is, by do, but the HE-6 emphatically can, reproducing low
design, capable of lightning-fast transient speeds frequencies with better power, precision and control
and extended frequency response. But the “price” of than all but the most capable (and costly) full-size
this speed and extension can be—at least with some loudspeakers.
amplifiers—a subtle tendency to overemphasize What differentiates the HE-6 from the HE-5LE is
sibilant “S” sounds or the leading edges of treble the sheer ease and suppleness with which it probes
transients. With other amps, however, these problems the top and bottom octaves of the audible spectrum,
melt away, so that the HE-6 simply sounds clear and although this might seem like we are splitting hairs,
transparent, yet free of even vestigial traces of treble since we are basically talking about the difference
edginess or glare. The point is that this headphone between an excellent headphone and one that goes
will richly reward the time and effort it takes to find a even further up the performance ladder.

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Coherency was one of the HE-5LE’s more often than not the additional information the HiFiMAN ‘phones handle large scale offer more performance than the HE-6’s do.
strengths, and it is a strength even more fully is a good thing). Nevertheless, some listeners dynamic swells without any apparent sense of
realized in the HE-6. There is an all-around hear the HE-6 and acknowledge the things it compression or of “running out of steam”— MUSICAL EXAMPLES
evenness and self-consistency about the HE- does well, but then immediately gravitate back shortcomings I’ve observed from time to time I’ve spoken, above, about the HE-6’s superior
6’s top-to-bottom presentation that is a real toward the slightly warmer, more comfortable, with some electrostatic designs. Second, bass extension and pitch definition, and of
joy to hear. The HE-6 never gives preferential and more “forgiving” sound of the HE-5LE (or the HE-6’s can be powered by conventional their terrific transparency and finesse. To
treatment to one frequency band over another; of other competing high-end headphones). My headphone amps, whereas electrostats seem experience all of these qualities in play within
instead, the HE-6 is—across the entire audio point is that the HE-6’s ultra high-resolution to work best when used with exotic, purpose- one gorgeous track, listen to the Jim Brock
spectrum—one of those rare transducers of sound can be a double-edged sword, at least built, high-voltage tube amps that tend to cost Ensemble perform “O Vazio” from Reference
which you could truthfully say, “Hey, it’s all for some. However, if you love to wring the last a small fortune. Recording’s Jazz Kaleidoscope [HDCD]. The
good.” few drops of nuance and subtlety from your Dollar for dollar, few high-end headphones track opens with a variety of percussion
Perhaps the one area where the HE-6 favorite recordings, the HE-6 will give you what
most clearly distances itself from the HE-5LE you seek and more.
involves resolution of low-level details. While I’ve found that an interesting side effect of
the HE-5LE was and is a very high-resolution the HE-6’s superior resolving power is the
headphone, the HE-6 takes resolving power to sense that this headphone makes it easier and
a whole new level. Interestingly, though, this more relaxing to do critical listening. I believe
is a difference that impresses some listeners this is because the HE-6 makes it incredibly
favorably (I’m one of them), but that leaves easy to see and hear how the inner workings
others a bit cold. Here’s why. of pieces of music fit together. There is none
With the HE-6, it is almost a given that the of that sense that one is almost but not quite
headphone will consistently show you things catching the critical details as the music flows
about recordings—even familiar recordings— past, almost too fast to comprehend. Instead,
that you didn’t know beforehand. On one level, with the HE-6 in play, everything is made
this can be quite exhilarating—kind of like explicit, clear, and easy to grasp—almost as
finding a wealth of sonic treasures “hidden in though time has slowed down, so that you are
plan sight.” In fact, once you get acclimated to able to grasp the subtle, intellectual or “inner
the HE-6’s, it can be almost painful to switch game” aspects of music even as you allow
back to most other headphones because you their emotional effects wash over and through
realize that the finest levels of detail, which the you. For me, this has become one of the
HE-6’s capture so effortlessly, have suddenly greatest joys of listening through the HE-6’s.
gone missing (at least in part). The HE-6 invites direct comparison with
But others listeners sometimes react best headphones you can find, regardless of
differently to the HE-6’s heightened powers of price or technology—including electrostatic
information retrieval, perhaps because not all headphones.
of the new information that the HE-6’s convey Vis-à-vis electrostats, I do think the HE-
will necessarily be pleasing (although I find that 6’s offer two compelling advantages. First,

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sounds produced by various sizes of gongs, Even further in the background you can hear for Violoncello and Piano,” Live in Concert COMPETITIVE COMPARISONS
chimes and drums--some high-pitched and fellow band members start to groove on the [Artek, CD], as recorded at New England To give readers some idea of where the HE-6
quite delicate, others low-pitched and capable lines Garson and Bromberg are crafting, urging Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston. fits within the broader price/performance
of abrupt, sharp-edged transient attacks. the players onward with murmured words Right from the opening measures of spectrum, I compare it below to three
Finally, as the track unfolds, an enormous, ultra of appreciation and encouragement. As the the Hungarian Dances you can hear in an competing modes at or near its price: the
low-pitched drum is struck, filling the whole song develops, Garson shifts gears to take instant that the cello and piano are being HiFiMAN HE-5LE, the Audez’e LCD-2, and the
soundstage with deep, shuddering columns of an extended solo where the entire tone and played on an open stage in a concert hall, Sennheiser HD800.
air. tenor of his piano is transformed, taking on a and with an audience presence. The HE-
The HE-6’s navigate this demanding material faster paced, smoother and more exploratory 6’s deftly reproduce the resonances of the HiFiMAN HE-6 vs. HiFiMAN HE-5LE ($699)
with surprising ease and grace, making the quality, almost like the sound of water rushing instruments’ voices reflecting off the stage • The HE-5LE is $500 less expensive than the
chimes and higher-pitched gongs jump and over the twists and turns of a stream bed. surface, the reverb characteristics of the hall, HE-6.
shimmer with the wonderfully realistic sound Later, Garson pulls back to give Bromberg a and—between the four dances—the subtle • The HE-5LE weighs about 100 grams (or
of metallic instruments being struck and turn and Bromberg responds with a brilliantly sounds of both the performers and of audience roughly 20%) less than the HE-6.
left to resonate in open space, while also agile, angular bass solo that probes the upper members shifting in their seats. These are the • The HE-5LE is 4 dB more sensitive than the
capturing the depth, power, and weight of registers of the instrument. kinds of low-level sonic details that all top-tier HE-6, which is a significant difference.
the low frequency instruments. In particular, At moments like these in great jazz headphones can handle well to some degree, • The HE-6 comes with much a higher-
the HE-6’s captured the fast-rising pressure recordings, where creative energy is on the but that few can pull off with such enchanting quality signal cable harness than the HE-
waves of the bass percussion instruments, so boil, some headphones try but fail to keep realism. 5LE does. Moreover, the HE-6’s signal
that I could actually feel the pressure gradient pace with the musicians and the sheer, But the best part comes when the HiFiMAN cable harness comes with two different
change within and around my ears. Few other delicious complexity of the sounds they are ‘phones reveal the blinding virtuosity of sets of terminations—one configured
headphones can reproduce bass pressure producing. But things are different with the Tsang’s cello performance and the wonderfully with a ¼” phone jack plug, and the other
waves as realistically as the HE-6’s do. HE-6’s in play. Because they have ample controlled, perfectly paced lyricism of Wel’s configured with left/right set of banana plug
There are also qualities of effortless reserves of transient speed and timbral control piano work. The HE-6’s give you an amazingly connectors so that the headphone can be
suppleness and fluidity in the HE-6’s to draw upon, they are able to track with the up close, personal, and believable view of the plugged straight into a conventional power
presentation—qualities I associate with the music, measure-for-measure, note-for-note, performance, so that you can almost sense amplifier of the type normally used to drive
sheer transient speed of the headphone’s and nuance-for-nuance. In other words, the the intensity of Tsang’s concentration during loudspeakers. But don’t feel pressured to
orthodynamic drivers. To appreciate what HE-6’s never sound as if they are trying to play the more challenging cello passages, or the connect the HE-6 to a big, beefy power amp;
I mean, let’s look at the track “Nothin’ To “catch up” with the music; instead, they stay in way the players listen intently to each other the fact is that a good, powerful conventional
Do Blues” as recorded by the Mike Garson sync with the song, every step of the way. and then make minor adjustments in pace headphone amplifier will drive the HE-6 quite
Quartet [again from Jazz Kaleidoscope]. The Finally, let’s look at a fine classical music and timing so as to stay exactly in sync with adequately.
track opens with a bouncy, syncopated piano recording for a great example of two more of one another. Through the HE-6’s you aren’t • There is a strong, family resemblance
line played by Garson—a line that is quickly the HE-6’s most musically satisfying qualities; “just listening to music” (as in hearing the between the sound of the HE-6 and the
taken up by master bassist Brian Bromberg, namely, its timbral purity and remarkable general shape and flow of the notes); rather, HE-5LE. That said, however, I think most
who keeps pace with Garson note-for-note. In ability to convey the acoustics of the recording you’re allowed to go deeper and to hear the listeners would say the HE-6 offers more
the background, you can hear percussionist venue. The recording I’ll cite here features performance—complete with all of the deep powerful and deeply extended bass, more
Billy Mintz softly keeping time, gently working cellist Bion Tsang and pianist Anton Wel back-and-forth communication that word fully fleshed-out upper mids, and more
his brushes on the surface of his snare drum. performing Brahms’ “Four Hungarian Dances implies. extended, forward-sounding highs.

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• While both headphones offer lots of resolution relative ultra-revealing, super-focused sound that is the HE-6’s
to like-priced competitors, the HE-6 ultimately takes hallmark, it nevertheless produces a very richly detailed
resolution, transient speed, and overall definition to a sound, and one that is consistently accessible and
higher level. The bottom line is that the HE-6 is noticeably comfortable to listen to for hours on end.
more revealing, while the HE-5LE offers a slightly more •W
 hich of these two great headphones you might prefer
“forgiving” and thus, for some, a more comfortable sound. will have much to do with what you are looking to take
away from the listening experience.
HiFiMAN HE-6 vs. Audez’e LCD-2 ($945)
• The Audez’e LCD-2, also a planar magnetic design, is HiFiMAN HE-6 vs. Sennheiser HD 800 ($1595)
$254 less expensive than the HE-6. •T
 he Sennheiser HD 00 costs $396 more than the HE-6.
• The LCD-2 is one of the HE-6’s strongest competitors for •B
 oth the HE-6 and HD 800 are hand made products, but I
three reasons: first, it offers higher apparent build quality would say the apparent build quality of the HD800 is a bit
and better overall fit and finish; second, it offers levels nicer—reminiscent in some respects of a fine Swiss watch.
of resolution close if not equal to those of the HE-6, and •T
 he HD800 is far easier to drive than the HE-6, though
third, it is significantly easier to drive than the HE-6. The both headphones require high quality amplifiers for
Audez’e also comes in a lovely rosewood presentation optimal performance. Even so, the more sensitive
case, which is an appealing detail touch. Sennheiser will arguably work well with a broader range of
• The earcups of the LCD-2 are extremely large (larger, in amps than will the very low-sensitivity HE-6.
fact, than the earcups for the HE-6). Nevertheless, the •T
 he HD 800 is backed by Sennheiser’s time proven
LCD-2 offers noticeably better ergonomics than the HE- customer support organization, which implies that many
6, meaning that it is more comfortable to wear for longer years from now spare parts for the HD800 will continue to
periods of time. be available, should you ever need them. As a relatively
• The sonic differences between the HE-6 and the new company, HiFiMAN’s long-term customer support
Audez’e LCD-2 might best be described by way of an capabilities are as yet unproven.
analogy comparing them to two of the world’s greatest •S
 onic differences: First, the HE-6 enjoys a decisive and
electrostatic loudspeakers; namely, the MartinLogan CLX clear-cut edge over the HD 800 in terms of top-to-bottom
and the Quad ESL 2905. resolution, detail, focus, and freedom from grain. By
• The HE-6, like the MartinLogan CLX, offers an almost comparison, the HD 800 sounds rougher and less well
hyper-revealing sound that is extremely tightly focused controlled up high, occasionally imparting a “spitty” or
and capable of teasing even the smallest of fine details overtly “splashy” quality on sibilant “S” sounds.
out of the music. Also like the CLX, the HE-6 can strike •S
 econd, the HE-6 sounds more harmonically coherent
some listeners as sounding a bit “bright,” at least on some and all-of-one-piece on both human and instrumental
recordings. Unlike the CLX, however, the HE-6 produces voices. Good though the HD800 is, it occasionally exhibits
powerful, punchy and very deeply extended bass. very small yet audible textural discontinuities that keep it
• The Audez’e LCD-2, on the other hand, produces a from achieving the finely focused, hyper-revealing sound
wonderfully natural and “organic” sound, as does the that defines the HE-6.
Quad ESL 2905. While the LCD-2 may not achieve the •T
 hird, the HE-6 offers noticeably better low frequency

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extension and pitch definition than the conduct their own listening experiments and to that the earcups tend to ride quite low relative
HD800, although both are markedly better form their own conclusions. to the top of the headband. Thus, even with
than most competing headphones in this HiFiMAN’s Fang Bian also passed along the earcups raised as high as possible, the
respect. several potentially helpful amplifier-matching headband only just barely contacted the
• Although the HD 800 is arguably one of tips. First, he suggests that tube amp users top of my head. For this reason, I would
the finest dynamic driver headphones on may want to try various tube substitution encourage HiFiMAN either to consider
the market (many consider it a benchmark options, since the HE-6 can and does show changing headband dimensions, or to provide
product), the HE-6 offers significantly greater even minute differences between tube types, a wider and thicker headband pad (a change
performance upside, provided that you where some tubes will give more pleasing that HiFiMAN’s Fang Bian told me he might
drive the HE-6 with an adequately powerful results than others. Second, he advises that consider offering in the form of an extra-cost,
amplifier. HiFiMAN is now in the process of developing snap-on auxiliary headband pad).
• With lower-powered amplifiers, however, its new EF6 headphone amplifier, which is The HE-6 ships in a padded presentation
the situation is reversed. The HD 800’s can a class A, single-ended design specifically case. Included in the case is a detachable
“sing” even when driven by smaller amps, intended for use with the HE-6. Third, he signal-cable harness featuring very high-
where the HE-6’s cannot. encourages HE-6 owners to consider using a quality signal wires in a braided configuration,
full-size audio amplifier (perhaps something in terminated with a 4-pin balanced XLR
ANCILLARY EQUIPMENT the 50-100 Wpc range), since the HE-6 often connector. The HE-6 also comes with two
For my listening tests I used several amplifiers responds well to full-size amps (I got excellent adapter cables: an XLR-to-phone jack cable
with the HE-6, including: results, for example, when powering the HE-6 and an XLR-to-dual-banana-jack cable.
• A tube-powered HiFiMan EF5 headphone with Peachtree’s iDecco integrated amp).
amplifier ($399), Source components used in my listening BOTTOM LINE:
• A solid-state Burson Audio HA-160 tests included: HiFiMAN’s new HE-6 is a world-class
headphone amplifier ($695), • A hybrid tube/solid-state Musical Fidelity kW headphone that, though certainly not cheap,
• A hybrid tube/solid-state Peachtree Audio SACD player, is reasonably priced for the quality on offer.
iDecco integrated amplifier/DAC ($999), and • A solid-state Musical Fidelity A5 CD player, Enthusiasts seeking the very best of the best
• A solid-state/class D Wadia 151 PowerDAC and would be wise to include this headphone on
Mini integrated amplifier ($1595). • An Apple Mac Mini loaded with lossless files their “must audition” lists.
and feeding the USB DAC inputs of both The one caveat with this design, however,
All four amplifiers offered sufficient power the Peachtree Audio iDecco and Wadia 151 is that the HE-6 is not easy to drive so that a
to drive the HE-6 to satisfying volume levels, PowerDAC Mini. high-powered, high-resolution amp is a must
but each amp exhibited its own, distinct sonic for those hoping to optimize this headphone’s
signature (signature that the HE-6 of course COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES performance.
revealed in great detail). On the whole, I felt The HE-6 is generally comfortable, though
the Burson and Peachtree amps yielded the it is a relatively large and heavy (502 grams)
best overall combinations of clarity, resolution, headphone, which some may find problematic.
smoothness, and neutral tonal balance, but The earcups are well padded and comfortable.
prospective HE-6 owners will no doubt want to However, one problem I noted with the HE-6

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Sennheiser HD 800
Tom Martin

S
ennheiser is a bit like its German compatriots BMW and Mercedes-
Benz. Sennheiser doesn’t produce the largest number of
headphones or the most exotic designs, but the headphones it
makes consistently start with a strong engineering foundation. When such
a company ventures into the top level of headphone pricing (in this case
$1399), it draws attention.
Sennheiser’s attack on the “best headphones possible” category is called
the HD 800. That bland nomenclature belies the effort Sennheiser has put
into the design of the HD 800. This isn’t just a slightly better HD 650 (their
previous top of the line and a reference for many reviewers). No, the HD 800
is a new concept of how a headphone should work.
With the HD 800, Sennheiser reexamined the way it makes headphones. The
first fundamental change was shifting to a much larger driver in each earcup.
A larger driver makes it possible to deliver low bass with less distortion. But
Sennheiser’s design is aimed at reducing distortion across the frequency
overview
spectrum, quoted as 14 Hz – 44.1kHz (-3dB) or 6hz – 51khz (-10dB). Consider this headphone if:
The second major innovation is the orientation of the drivers vis-à-vis your you like a smooth, neutral sound
ears. Since your ears detect the sense of space through timing differences that is clear but not aggressive.
as sound waves strike your ear from the front, Sennheiser has angled the These will be a good choice if you
HD 800 drivers to enhance the sense of space that the headphones provide. have previously owned high-end
Sennheiser has also paid attention to comfort by using special ear pad Sennheiser’s and like them but
materials and by employing new light but very hard plastics. All in all this is wish for more extension at the
an aggressive attempt to deliver the best. frequency extremes.

SONIC CHARACTER Look elsewhere if:


I’m sure Sennheiser worked overtime to try to remove sonic character (as you prefer a vivid sound with
in, discernible colorations) from the HD 800s. As a result, it took me a while either rich bass or the ultimate in
to get a handle on what they do. For example, at first I thought they were transparency.
simply on the light side in terms of bass balance (which they are, slightly).

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But more listening revealed excellent deep sense that they offer truly low distortion, rather Ratings
bass and enough warmth to not feel deprived.
Similarly, high frequencies are there in proper
than sound that is tweaked to fake your ear
into thinking it is hearing true clarity. So we’re
(compared to similarly-priced headphones)

tonal balance specs/pricing


balance to the midrange, but you don’t initially talking about excellence, here, though there
get the sense of being directly coupled to the are variations on excellence. Even so, some clarity Sennheiser HD 800
microphones that you do with some other people will love the HD 800’s, while others may Accessories: Mini-plug to phone jack
adapter, Satin-lined storage box
top-of-the-line ‘phones. When headphones be left unmoved by their sonic character, for dynamics Frequency Response: 14 Hz - 44.1kHz
get frequency balance right, it can take a few reason try to explain.
Weight: 330 grams
weeks to fully appreciate the benefits. Over The bass of the HD 800s is slightly soft. You comfort/fit Sensitivity: 102dB

time, you realize the love/hate frequency don’t hear the air of plucked bass or the punch Impedance: 300 ohms
sensitivity Price: $1399.95
anomalies of some headphones are just that, of kick drum to the degree that you would
whereas the HD 800 simply doesn’t have many with live music. I can imagine certain listeners value Sennheiser USA
anomalies. This is high praise indeed. wanting a little more bass to make up for the (860) 434-9190
While the HD 800s have a generally neutral inevitable lack of the visceral impact you get sennheiser.com
frequency balance, they are also clear in the with live music but can’t get with headphones. 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I would say that the HD 800s are more offer will be attractive to some listeners and
natural-sound and less analytical than some may amerliorate some of the inevitable high
top ‘phones. This is a good thing, especially frequency imperfections in recordings.
when combined with the excellent treble This brings us to the question of whether the
performance on offer here, which exhibits HD 800’s spatial engineering helps with the
only very small errors. The HD 800s seem to sense of soundstaging that is often a problem
have a small dip in the upper midrange which with headphones (a Sennheiser claim). In a
makes them seem slightly soft, dynamically word, I’d say no. The performers don’t seem
s[ealer. The treble is extended, and is smoother to be on stage in front of you much more than
than on many headphones. I’d say the treble with traditional headphones or earbuds. And
of the HD 800s is very slightly warmer than is with a standard amplifier, you still lack the
perfectly neutral. Despite that, on occasion, crossfeed of left sounds into your right ear (and
vocals can sound slightly “sharp” rather than vice versa) that is part of normal listening.
completely pure (this may be the HD 800 Don’t get me wrong; the HD 800s are no
revealing decoding errors, though I believe worse in this area than other phones. In fact I
something else is going on as well). think they offer significantly more of the sense
Each instrument seems more diffuse than that instruments are being played in real space
it can with other headphones and many than other headphones do, and that is an
speakers, which I would guess is due to the important advantage. But with the HD 800s
spatial engineering of the HD 800. In any those instruments in real space are positioned
event, the slightly more diffuse sound on to your left and right. In short, the HD 800

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soundstage is not truly comparable to listening things headphones inevitably take away.
to live music or even to good loudspeakers, From some perspectives this vividness might
where you would typically hear performers be considered a coloration. Maybe. But the
positioned in front of you on a stage. declaration of coloration refers to reasonable
All of this may seem like damning with faint though arbitrary notions of “correct”. All I
praise, which isn’t really what I intend. My know is this: live music is vivid. The HD 800s,
remarks above are meant to explain subtle at least with the amps I used initially (primarily
aspects of the HD 800’s character and need the Luxman P200 and PS Audio GCHA), are
to be viewed in the context of the general not vivid, which is what keeps me on the “like”
neutrality these headphones offer. Most side of the line. I have since tried HD 800’s with
headphones are pretty obviously flawed, if the prototype Woo Audio WA 22 amp (which
we’re honest. With the HD 800, Sennheiser is tube rather than solid state apm that has
has gone a long way toward reducing those variable output impedance). The WA 22 takes
flaws, which makes this a very special pair the sense of vividness up a notch, mostly by
of headphones. This also means that a making the midrange contrast level higher,
description of the character of headphones while introducing minimal if any deleterioius
as good as the HD 800 is likely to make small side effects. The mostly subtractive errors
flaws seem bigger than they really are. noted above are still there, but they are
Because the flaws in the HD 800 are in diminished in the overall presentation. This
fact quite small, my colleague Alan Sircom gets me to the level of really, really liking the
was enthralled with the HD 800s when he HD 800s. The HD 800s are so good that I
reviewed them in our sister magazine Hi-Fi+ could easily live with them over the long haul.
from the UK. He compared them with $25,000
loudspeakers to give you a sense of how much MUSICAL EXAMPLE
he loved them. “Cheek to Cheek”, the opening track on Eva
I’m more in the camp that likes, but doesn’t Cassidy’s fantastic Live at Blues Alley [Blix
love, the HD 800. I believe that has less to do Street], tells you a lot about the HD 800’s.
with outright flaws in the HD 800, and much First off, all the instruments from string bass
to do with what I want a headphone to do. I to cymbals are well represented and in
want a headphone to provide an alternative appropriate balance (a lot of headphones fail
listening experience. I want to hear things this test). Second, Eva’s voice via amplification
on recordings that I don’t hear as well via has a very slight shrillness to it, which the
speakers. This partially comes from my sense HD 800’s faithfully reproduce. That’s good in
that headphones just can’t do the virtual reality this case, because experience with this disc
thing that traditional speaker-based audio can. says that some shrillness is inherent to the
At the same time, I need a certain vividness in recording. Headphones that soften the edges
my headphone listening that makes up for the of the singer’s voice too much will typically

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sound foggy and drab on most material. But COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES


conversely, ‘phones that sharpen Eva’s voice No two heads are alike, so your mileage may
too much and are likely to be unlistenable on vary. I like circumaural headphones, and within
the many bad recordings we get these days. this genre I thought the Sennheiser HD 800s
Happily, the HD 800’s find that “just right” were quite comfortable for long periods of
balance point in the middle. time. The special alcantara material on the
The other thing “Cheek to Cheek” shows is pads is very nice. Clamping pressures are a
that the HD 800s, with their somewhat diffuse little high, but the pads are so big they are well
sound, don’t quite nail the rhythm of this track. distributed.
When the band kicks in, you hear everything
clearly, yet the drive of the rhythm section BOTTOM LINE:
is slightly more reserved than would ideally A truly excellent headphone, the HD 800 will
be the case. Nonetheless there is a nice air appeal to those who want a smooth and balanced
around the instuments. sound with ample but not punishing clarity.

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Ultrasone
Edition 8
Tom Martin

F
or those of you unfamiliar with Ultrasone, more suitable for noisy environments or offices
they are a German headphone company where you don’t want to disturb others.
(as are Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic, In addition to careful attention to design
with AKG hailing from nearby Austria). Founded detail (e.g., Ethiopian sheepskin earpads), the
in 1991, Ultrasone is focused exclusively Edition 8s have a technology called S-Logic
on headphone design and manufacture and Plus. The idea is similar to the concept that
has many patents in this field (whereas the Sennheiser has employed on the HD 800: place
other Germanic brands also manufacture the drivers so that your outer ear is involved
microphones among other audio products). with the result that you get a sense of space
The Edition 8s are Ultrasone’s top audiophile that is closer to that of live music. If you’ve read
model and are priced like it at $1499. They are my HD 800 review, you’ll know that I found that
sealed back headphones, which makes them the Sennheiser technology does indeed add

overview
Consider this headset if: Look elsewhere if:
you want headphones with very even you want the absolute last word
frequency balance and excellent tonality, in transparency and dynamics (and you
without making major sacrifices in any other might be willing to sacrifice other sonic
sonic parameters. parameters to get these two qualities).

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a sense of space around instruments but that different ear shapes, different listeners perceive Ratings
it doesn’t simulate the imaging of speakers or
of live music. I’d say the same thing is true
of Ultrasone’s S-Logic system, though I think
headphone frequency response differently. All
other things being equal, a headphone would
be better if there were a smaller variance in
(compared to similarly-priced headphones)

tonal balance

specs/pricing
the HD 800s do a bit better job of conveying a perceived response across listeners. S-Logic clarity Ultrasone Edition 8
sense of airiness. In any event S-Logic is good Plus is the latest version of the architecture
dynamics Accessories: Mini-plug to phone jack
technology backed by (somewhat) inaccurate that Dr. Koenig found to minimize perceived
extension cord, leather carrying bag
marketing claims. response variances. Frequency Response: 6 HZ - 42kHz
But before you get the impression that I So, the Edition 8 is an interesting comfort/fit Weight: 260 grams

think S-Logic is a minor thing, I need to tell you headphone, but can it compete with top Sensitivity: 96dB (input unspecified)
sensitivity Impedance: 30 ohms
about one other important design goal behind models from Sennheiser, or for that matter
the technology. Ultrasone’s Dr. Florian Koenig Denon, Audio Technica and Grado? Let’s find Price: $1499.00
value
has done detailed experiments that were out. Ultrasone Inc.
conducted to find the headphone architecture (951) 678 9091
(closed, open, centered driver, offset driver, SONIC CHARACTER 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ultrasone.com
offset geometry) that most effectively minimizes Disc after disc, the first impressive aspect of
perceived frequency response variations the Edition 8’s is their neutrality—their ability
between listeners. It seems that, partly due to to render instruments and ensembles without obviously emphasizing (or de-emphasizing) as I’ve argued in the past, this is a musically
certain frequencies. This strikes me as one grounded choice.
of the most basic design requirements of The Ultrasone’s bass is not perfect, however.
any transducer, but with headphones as with Drums and bass can be slightly indistinct. In
speakers, it seems that truly neutral tonal addition, I didn’t get the impression that the
balance is something very hard to achieve. bottom octave was as powerful as on, say,
Most headphones have some range of treble the Sennheiser HD 800s. These are small
emphasis, however narrow. The Ultrasones problems, however, and overall the Edition 8’s
mostly avoid this problem, though I did have very good bass.
occasionally feel that the upper treble was Beyond frequency balance, it is important
slightly stronger than is purely neutral. This is a to think of headphone performance in terms
masterful achievement. of some broad overall parameters. The first
Bass is a potential strong point of of these can be called naturalness, which is
headphones (because unlike speakers, the ability of a headphone to avoid distortions
headphones face a mostly known acoustic that call attention to the fact that music is
environment). But you still hear rolled off bass reproduced rather than live. In this, I rate the
and bumps or dips from many headphones. Ultrasones very highly—a bit higher than the
Again, the Edition 8s are almost as neutrally Sennheiser HD 800s (which also excel in this
balanced as I think a headphone should be. performance parameter).
They might be slightly mid-bass heavy, but I also like to consider the vividness of a

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headphone, which is ability of the headphone as clearly as it should. On that same disc, the
to make music sound intense and realistically song “Maybe” has a drum thwack early on that
alive. Again, the Ultrasones are quite good the Edition 8s deliver with startling power. Only
in this area, though they don’t quite reach the slightly clouded definition of the drum skin’s
the highest rank because they simply don’t vibrations keeps the sound from perfection.
seem as purely transparent or dynamic as live On Mary Black’s song “Leadboys Lassie”,
music does. The Denon AH-D5000s, of the from By the Time It Gets Dark [Gift Horse],
headphones we had for direct comparison, Mary’s voice is very clear, as are the
were a bit more vivid (though there is a price surrounding instruments. The accompanying
for their vividness—namely, somewhat more acoustic guitar sounds like a complete
colored tonal response). guitar—strings and body. If anything, the
Finally, the Edition 8s make instruments body might be over-represented, but this
sound quite natural, though the Ultrasones natural warmth seems just right because it
don’t sound completely openm as one might doesn’t call attention to itself. “Trying to Get
wish. Instrumental separation is very good. the Balance Right”, also from that disc, has a
But instruments sound more like they are piano accompaniment that sounds almost real,
being played in a studio than in a live space. with left and right hand tonal accuracy plus a
Since this is often the case, the Ultrasones pleasing lack of dynamic brittleness.
may mostly be rendering what is on the
recording, but you also sense that overtones COMPETITIVE COMPARISON
aren’t as well rendered as the main body of an The most obvious direct competitor to the
instrument. Another way of saying this is that Edition 8 would be the Sennheiser HD 800.
the Ultrasones can sound slightly over damped, In side-by-side comparisons, here are some
which I think is preferable to having obvious key differences I observed between the two
ringing distortion. Still, the Sennheisers have flagship headphones:
the Ultrasones bested in terms of openness. • The Edition 8s are a little more accurately
balanced in the upper midrange.
MUSICAL EXAMPLES • The Edition 8s are slightly brighter than the
On Alison Krauss and Union Station’s song HD 800s; the difference is small, but I prefer
“Forget About It” [Alison Krauss & Union Station the Ultrasones.
– Forget About It, Rounder], there is a solo • The Edition 8s have somewhat more mid-
violin playing during the introduction. The violin bass than either live music or the slightly
has gorgeous tone and as the dynamic trails off reticent HD 800s; the Edition 8;s bass
you can hear it down to a very low level, which balance seems better, though I think taste is a
is very good performance. But ideally you’d like factor here.
to hear even more low-level overtones from the • The HD 800s seem to have better deep bass.
violin—overtones the Editon 8 doesn’t present • The HD 800 balance yields a more mid-range

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focused sound, which some might prefer. portable mode, that’s good; for everyone else
•T  he HD 800s are slightly softer sounding; an extension cord is in order. With an extension
they are also more forgiving of bad recordings cord I didn’t like the fact that the plugs would
(a strength of both models, actually). yank the headphones if they fell off my lap.
• Instrumental “air” seems more audible on the I didn’t find the Edition 8s to be particularly
HD 800. amplifier sensitive. I used the Woo Audio WA22
prototype for much of my listening, but the
COMFORT FACTOR/ACCESSORIES Luxman P200 gave similarly good results.
The Edition 8 offer soft ear cups and
moderate clamping forces. The Ultrasones are BOTTOM LINE:
comfortable for long periods, helped by their Ultrasone’s Edition 8 is a well-balanced
low weight. They might, however, aggravate headphone that gets out of the way of the
pressure points after very long sessions. music. You’ll have to look long and hard for
The Edition 8s come with a one-meter flaws.
cord and a mini-plug. If you’re using them in

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