Hands Full of Big Sound Impressions (And Other Goodies)

Discussion in 'The Meeting Place' started by Hands, Oct 13, 2015.

  1. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    First off, wanted to send a huge thank you to Tyll and his corporate overlords for making this Big Sound Pyrate visit a reality this past weekend. I had an amazing time meeting Tyll and Mike in person, finally, and Tyll was a wonderful host! I hope to have a more formal article ready for InnerFidelity within the next 2-3 days with more talk about my "experiences" and "industry thoughts," but for now, I listened to a ton of shit and wanted to report back. Many of the headphones listed below weren't part of the event, but you can't NOT dig from Tyll's wall of headphones while visiting. Also wanted to break away from the "Mike at InnerFidelity" thread because A) psh, who cares about that guy? [​IMG] and B) I felt a separate impression thread would be more appropriate and easier for anyone to reference in the future. That said, here is my impression dump.

    -----Headphones-----

    HE400S - Somewhat warm in the low end and polite overall, but a surprisingly agreeable sound. Decent sense of space and not too much of that hard left/right like some planars. Lacks in the very low end and slam depending on the track, but not lean like the Ether. That's the only thing that keeps me from really loving these. However, given the low price, it's pretty hard to complain. Did not seem to be quite as easy to drive as the OPPO planars), but can still run off a phone without too many complaints. They just got a bit thin on my phone. With different pads and other slight tweaks, these might be even better overall. Definitely recommended and a good deal.

    Ether (Open) - Not bad. Not particularly offensive. Slightly rough, scratchy, and with a slight glare in a relatively narrow treble spot, but nothing too bothersome unless on harsher tracks or at high volumes. For the most part, it's easier going than the HE1000. My main complaint is that they sound a bit lean in a way that isn't necessarily track dependent, nor do they have the impact even a modded HD800 can give with a good amp (a headphone that already sounds a bit lean to me). Ether stage is a bit two-dimensional and has that hard left/right planar quality. Funny thing is, Mike brought over a stock HD650 and said, "Here, listen to this now." Ah…well, there really isn't a whole lot the Ether does better than the HD650 save for perhaps better low-end bass clarity. Tyll did say these should EQ pretty well, though, if you're into that. They are certainly comfy and look nice, but very underwhelming for the price. More listening on day two had me thoroughly bored with this particular Ether. I’d rather take the HE400S regardless of price, if I’m being perfectly honest.

    Abyss - Amazing how much these differ depending on the level of seal you get. They actually sounded a bit thin and bright to me with a full seal. Break the seal a bit, and it's almost like an entirely different headphone. Powerful, slamming bass. Good sense of space and air and not quite as 2D as the Ether. Surprisingly articulate and incisive. Somewhat rough and bright up top regardless of fit, and looking at measurements, I think I can see why. Keep in mind these are not modded. My main complaint is that the ergonomics are laughable. I couldn't get them to seal whatsoever below my ears without applying pressure because of how they're design. So rigid and weird. Too expensive. But that leaky pad bass is addictive, and I can see why people dig these.

    HE1000 - This is the third pair I've heard. While they've all clearly been the same headphone, they do have slight variances. But, again, bass and mids are good. Nice sense of power, though not quite as sharp in the low end as a good HD800, and mids are full and pleasing. Treble has this slight rise that peaks around 7KHz, but isn't particularly out of line. Overall a pleasing tone, but the treble is just a bit rough and dry without enough refinement. Actually, refinement seemed to be lacking across the board, and these didn’t seem to scale as much with different amps as I expected. Weird mixture of good tone, strong presence, slight politeness, and yet rough treble. I expect much more for the price. Don't care for the looks either, but they do fit nicely and are comfy.

    Dharma - Well, this is certainly an interesting headphone. Not as hard left/right as other planars and has a decent sense of air and staging (yes, I get it isn’t a straight planar). Has a pretty decent low end and mid response, but depending on the track, it can sound both lacking in slam and somewhat bloated in the bass. Treble is brighter than the HE1000, which can work well for some tracks if you want something sharper sounding. Other tracks make it sound U-shaped to a slight extent. Not the most cohesive headphone I've heard from bass to treble, which I suppose isn’t unexpected. Tyll and Mike said it was the most coherent dual-driver, full-sized headphone they’d heard yet. Overall, not too bad...just some small things here and there that are off about it. Pre-production unit, so anything could change!

    LCD-3 (Fazor, I think) - Overall on the polite side of things but muddy and veiled throughout. Slow. It's weird, because it clearly has a shelf somewhere in the upper-mids and treble, yet there are spots in the treble that are rough and peaky. This makes them sound both dark, veiled, and rough in a way that is probably even weirder than the HE1000. Nice sense of warmth, and good balance in bass and mids. Less bass slam than I expected.

    LCD-X - Brighter than the LCD-3 overall, but even rougher and sharper in the treble. Shares that weird upper-end but makes it worse. My least favorite of the LCD line. (Well, save for that horrible EL8 model I heard at a recent meet, but I don't want to talk about that.)

    LCD-2 - Interesting. Clearly the slowest and least technically capable of the LCD headphones I heard, yet also the most pleasing. Had the best balance across the spectrum despite being even murkier than the LCD-3. Similar house sound, just with smoother treble. OK at best, I suppose. I'm not sure if this was a 2.2, fazor, or what.

    Audio Zenith PMx2 - It was really interesting getting to compare the PMx2 to a lot of other headphones in the same room. I still love the neutral, generally easy-going tone on these. Hell, these might have been the most neutral or flat sounding headphones there with the least tonal issues. They certainly don't have quite the speed, incisiveness, or power of other TOTL headphones (even compared to the HD600/650 from a good amp), which doesn't bother me near as much as it might some others. What I wish is that it had more power and air to the sound. This is what really stuck out to me compared to other headphones. Not nearly as overdamped as the stock PM-1 or PM-2, but it might be a tradeoff between being neutral and slightly overdamped, in this case, or having a bit of extra bass and being damped where I'd prefer.

    Nighthawk - Certainly a low point in the headphones I tested, despite AudioQuest's wonderful marketing...I mean scientific article regarding the design and measurement...things. Honestly, not as bassy as I expected. I thought it would be very powerful and thick sounding. Nope. Bass and lower-mids were actually pretty good. Maybe a bit wooly sounding due to the frequency response. Otherwise, surprisingly clean and balanced down low. But the headphone is definitely on the dark side of things, don’t get me wrong. It has a massive upper-mid and lower-treble suckout that makes them sound so veiled, so muffled, and so boring. I guess they're easy going? Even then, there is some grain to the treble. The funniest part was the soundstage. Pretend you're trying to demonstrate the size of a headphone's stage by using your hands around your head. Now put them on your face and block your vision. That is the Nighthawk's stage size. Even weirder than the stock PM-1 in that regard.
    Beats Solo 2014 - Bassy, fun sound done right. Bit too tizzy and too bassy or stuffy for my tastes, but surprisingly good for the targeted sound. Sad part is that these were like a death clamp for me, and the top headband had almost no cushion. Painful to wear. Oh well.

    Noontec Zoro HD II - Surprisingly neutral sounding, though very fit dependent. Could use a bit more slam and is slightly congested in the upper mids, but good for the price and being a portable, on-ear headphone.

    MEElectronics Air-Fi Matrix2 AF62 - A bit tizzy and bassy, though not as bassy as the Solo 2014. U-shaped sound done tastefully. Very nice for the price. Then when you consider they work as Bluetooth headphones as well...yeah, hard to complain. Not a bad deal! Might be some mod potential here.

    Master & Dynamic MH40 - The sheer amount of bass on these is on the level that nearly liquified my brain. It's not that is was boomy or muddy. It actually seemed quite clear and textured. Just...So. Much. Bass. Couple that with a claustrophobic stage, and it was like being smothered with bass that was melting me. Otherwise, the mids and treble really were pretty decent and at a good level.

    Accidentally Extraordinary 51st Studio - Some random HP Mike pulled off the shelf. I think we were both pleasantly surprised by this. Sure, the response wasn't perfect. They were a bit too thick and a bit too veiled, but I can say they were very smooth and easy to listen to. Once you got beyond that, they were surprisingly articulate and resolving. He mentioned they might have good mod potential, and I agree. I went back and read Tyll’s review, and he too thought they had mod potential. Too bad it doesn't seem you can find the wired versions for sale anymore, and they were only $100 new. Mike stole Tyll’s pair, and we’re going to swap it back and forth for dirty purposes.

    ATH-M70x - No thanks. Smiley face signature. Bad treble (bright, rough, artificial...you name it). Didn't listen to the M50/M50x there, but I know it's better.

    Onkyo ES-FC300 - Mike wasn't quite as pleased with these as I was, but I thought they were quite good in the $100-150 price range. I don't think the driver had as much inherent capabilities as that used in the AE 51st Studio, but the response right out of the box was better. A touch heavy in in the bass and a touch artificial in the treble, but I was pretty pleased with these. If nothing else, I found them easier to get a good fit than the Zoro II HD, but the latter might still be the better headphone depending on what you're looking for. On the other hand, and entirely going off memory, I might have preferred these to my old M50. Hm, don’t want to drop $150 on them, but I am always curious about modding.

    Fidelio L1 and L2 - Neither of these were particularly memorable. Overall response curve wasn't too bad, but too thick and artificial sounding in the treble. Did not have a natural quality to the whole sound. Can't say I'd recommend these.

    Stax 007 and 009 - Unfortunately, my time listening to these was VERY brief. Mike said the amp wasn't doing them any favors, but the 009 was not my thing. Bright, thin, weird staging and imaging. It just did not sound right. The 007 was closer to the mark tonally but still had some weird characteristic that bothered me. I would love to try these at greater length with other amps to be sure. Perhaps they're amp picky.

    Two HD800s, Two Mods - Tyll's mod consisted of some adhesive foam on the HD800's outer metal driver ring and the plastic trapezoidal area in the back of the cups. He had real felt layered on top of the adhesive foam along with the stock dust cover in place. Mike's mod, which is still in the works (i.e. don't assume it will necessarily sound just like this when it's ready), was, well, not that. Won't say any more. [​IMG] Tyll did some measurements, and we all noticed both stock pairs measured slightly differently. So, they already weren't directly comparable down to the smallest aspects, though we're not talking planar level of product variation. That said, Tyll's modded pair sounded a bit more laid back in both attack and staging. Mike's sounded more direct and incisive as if you were thrown right in front of the mix. That said, when the music called for it, Mike's offered up a larger stage and air. Otherwise, Tyll's mod always seemed to impose some extra staging. Very interesting. Imaging all the way from left to right, including center, was great on Mike's pair. Vocals on Mike's pair sounded more forward and also more "complete," though it was also less forgiving of recording and mastering flaws. Modded measurements showed Mike did a great job, almost ideal, with the curve in the 200Hz-2KHz area vs. the stock pair, and his mods may have even slightly lowered distortion in that area. I learned a lot from the objective and subjective look at the stock and modded pairs, and I'm very curious to see where Mike takes this. I know a lot of you are waiting for his mod, but just hang tight for now. Hell, why not try your own experiments for kicks?

    Honestly, I can't rank them. They all had their strengths and weaknesses. PMx2 for neutral tone and easy-going nature, HD800 for sheer technicalities and you-are-there feel with the right track (used this for a lot of amp and DAC impressions, mostly), and HE1000 was ALMOST the best all-rounder save for the slightly rough, somewhat unrefined sound.

    For what I'm looking for, and kind of putting the HD800 to the side, I'd still take a properly amped HD650 over basically all the headphones there regardless of price

     
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  2. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    -----Amps and DACs-----

    GSX-Mk2 - Had a good sense of power and body, though not quite what was offered from the nice tube amps, but it really just had this weird, harsh, artificial sound to it. This aspect was evident on strings. I didn't have a desire to listen to this very long.

    Woo Monoblocks (WA234) - Keeping in mind we didn't do any tube rolling while visiting, the monoblocks were a bit thicker sounding than both the Teton and GSX-Mk2, yet that's not to say they were warmer. I actually found them to be a bit drier, rougher, and less clear than the Teton, though, again, I can't speak for how much of that was the amp and how much was the tubes. Slightly artificial compared to the Teton.

    Teton - Ah, now this was an amp I quite liked. Not as tubey as I expected, but it was clean, clear, added some oomph and sweetness to the HD800, and overall was just quite pleasing sounding. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm kicking myself a bit for not plugging my HD650 into the amp! I was too used to using balanced headphones on everything, and there were no balanced HD600/650 cables to be found at Tyll’s place. I can't say how the Teton might directly compare to other tube amps I've heard, like the (wonderful) modded Super 7, but this was probably my top pick over the weekend.

    Black Widow - Such a nice, solid state amp for the price! I preferred this to the Ragnarok, though one thing I didn't check to see was which had more power and slam. Ah, well, maybe some other time. The BW has a slight hint of sweetness to it, not too unlike a tube sound. It wasn't quite as large, lush, or powerful sounding as the Teton, and the treble was a bit sharper and less natural as well, but damn if this is not an awesome amp. Actually, I think some of these traits I mentioned depend on the headphone, including treble sharpness. The fact that I didn't find myself too worried going back and forth between the Teton and BW with the HD800 says something, I think. I found the BW paired better with orthos and even the HD650 compared to the HD800. I should clarify that while it was not quite as sweet sounding as the Teton, it did not have the sort of edge the Ragnarok did and was very pleasing because of this. Highly recommended.

    Ragnarok - Only spent time with this on the HD800, but if I had to pick, I'd either rather have a good tube amp or the Black Widow. Don't get me wrong, it has great power, overall nice toe, and is technically quite competent. It just has a slight bit of edge or sharpness to it that made me want to go back to the Black Widow. One thing the BW can't do, though, is drive speakers. For an all-in-one amp, the Ragnarok seems great.

    Bakoon HPA-21 - I only really listened to this during my blind listening tests, so, not ideal. That said, I have to say I was fairly pleased with the amp. It had a surprising sense of space and width to it, perhaps more than the Teton, but not the same level of air as the Teton. It had a bit of warmth and thickness and treated the treble quite nicely on both the HD800 and HE1000. Overall, though, it did lose out on some articulation and clarity areas compared to the Teton, even if very slight during blind listening tests. For example, during blind listening on the HE1000, one thing I looked for was how clear and resolving the strings sounded in the right channel compared to the Teton and Bakoon. The Teton had a very slight edge, and while not always a big enough difference for me to get the test right, it was there. That said, given the fact the Bakoon didn't give a whole lot up on the HE1000 compared to the Teton was impressive. If I remember correctly, it gave the HD800 even more warmth and thickness over the Teton and Simaudio Moon 430 HA, though I can't remember much beyond that.

    Simaudio Moon 430 HA - Not particularly my amp of choice. Yes, it was airy and had a large soundstage, and it had a clean and clear sound. Well, mostly. It did not have the same thickness and heft compared to the Teton and Bakoon, nor was the treble quite as sharp and articulate. The best way I can describe it was that the amp was a bit polite from top to bottom. It didn't do anything wrong or offensive outright, but it wasn't particularly engaging for me.

    Yggdrasil vs. Antelope Zodiac Platinum DSD DAC - Anax was the one that subjected himself to the DAC blind tests. He used a music sample he was not familiar with the first day and only performed on a 50-50 level. He did start to feel a bit more confident as he became familiar with that track, but by then, the day’s test was over. The next day, he tried material he was more familiar with. He picked out the Yggdrasil most of the time, and given the stress and general weirdness that is blind testing, I'd say that's quite good and shows they did have audible differences. Anax had me do a quick blind test, just one (vs his multiple), and I was able to pick out the Yggdrasil as well, though not as easily as expected. What I can say is that the Yggdrasil seemed to have a more powerful, harmonically rich sound with a better sense of 3D elements and natural decay. The Zodiac sounded a bit more strained during complex passages. After we added the clock to the Zodiac, it brought some noticeable changes. To me, the Zodiac gained some thickness with the clocks, but I do not mean slam. The Yggdrasil still sounded more powerful and richer. Interestingly enough, the Zodiac seemed to take a step back, sound less strained, and be slightly easier going with the clocks in place. The Yggdrasil then became the more forward, lively sounding DAC, where as they were more similar in that regard without the clock. The Zodiac was a fine DAC, as it should be at its ridiculous price, but the Yggdrasil still won in the end. (If anything, the fact that a D/S DAC could get so close to the Yggdrasil might be impressive...if not for the price. And, again, we had a lot of variables with different cables, amps, and so on compared to what we were used to at home.)

    Pictures to come in the near future.
     
  3. Bill-P

    Bill-P Level 42 Mad Wizard

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    And I will (again) be among the first to post in this thread! Hah!

    Good job, Hands!
     
  4. The Alchemist

    The Alchemist MOT: Schiit - Here to help!

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    excellent posts Hands!
     
  5. Tyll Hertsens

    Tyll Hertsens Grandpappy of the hobby - Special Friend

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    You're welcome....and thank you for participating so heartily!
     

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