In Quest Of Neutral Headphones [Reviews / Measurements]

Discussion in 'Audio Science' started by Magnetostatic_Tubephile, Dec 30, 2018.

  1. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Since both HD650 and HD600 are now covered, HD660S review is incoming to get a complete overview on the Senn HD6XX series. Stay tuned. :)
     
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  2. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Fostex TH-7 (stock)

    NOTE: Fostex TH-7 is commonly recognized as a solid entry-level headphone with semi-portable closed-back design and relatively balanced take on tonality. Depending on where you are located, it can be obtained for 2x less than Audio-Technica ATH-M50X, Sennheiser HD55X/HD58X series and the likes.

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:
    • Due to rather on-ear nature of the headphone and stiff dummy ears on the measurement rig, some manual side pressure had to be applied on cups to achieve proper seal.
    • Published data assumes realistic (good but not perfect) seal, meaning roughly average bass presence. As usual with on-ears - the better the seal, the more pronounced and deeper the bass response.
    • Channel balance is acceptable for an entry-level headphone, especially an on-ear one. Your results may differ depending on how you position the headphone on your head though.
    • The overall tonal balance is really quite nice. Subjectively, the broad emphasis around midbass dominates over the emphasis in low treble.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Slightly U-shaped but overall balanced frequency response. Connect this with quite boomy ('entertaining') bass and you get an interesting headphone that can turn many randos to headphone hobby.
    2. Good materials used, incl. the protective case.
    3. Very affordable for what you get.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Compromised timbre - boomy in bass, a bit hard and flat sounding in mids, splashy and at times even screechy in treble.
    2. Unless you have very small ears, consider TH-7 as an on-ear headphone with insufficient comfort level for long listening sessions.
    3. Very flat, in-your-head soundstage.
    4. Quite ambivalent design - not ideal for home listening (small ear pads, short cable), not ideal for portable listening (quite large in size, non-foldable, dual-entry cabling, very large protective case).
    5. Technically speaking not quite an audiophile-level experience. You only get a hint of a truly good sound.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-02-16): NO...
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2019
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  3. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Sennheiser HD660S (stock)

    NOTE: The first time I heard new-in-box HD660S, I did not enjoy it very much. The second time, after the recent purchase of a brand new pair, the Senns again did not impress me right away. Anyway, I gave them time to settle in a bit and allowed myself to get rid of 'HD600/HD650' expectation bias. While still being quite far from perfection, my view on the headphone has changed considerably since then. The headphone feels like a hybrid of sorts between HD600/HD650 and HD700/HD800 series.

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:

    • Channel balance is excellent, as expected from Sennheiser.
    • While incorporating different drivers, the characteristic tonal smoothness of HD600/HD650 is observed here as well. Ignore measurement artifact around 50Hz caused by interaction of the headphone with EARS.
    • Deepest bass is somewhat muted. While this headphone is missing some bottom fullness compared to HD650, it is subjectively not as problematic as with HD600s due to much less present upper mids.
    • Wow, no more emphasis on upper mids! This area, along with the new drivers, is behind the core differences of HD660S compared to its precursors. Mind the fact the comparo graph is precisely aligned at 1kHz.
    • The delta of 8-9kHz and upper mid presence translates into pronounced zinginess.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Clear and clean across the spectrum (bass included) and, at the same time, not far from neutral.
    2. While not quite as smooth and composed as HD600/HD650, the characteristic smoothness can still be heard to some extent.
    3. Reminds me a bit of HD800/HD700 in terms of sound dimensionality, improving on its precursors. This is probably due to a combination of increased sound clarity, cleaner background, a bit roomier ear pads and HD700-like drivers.
    4. Simply clever design - very light, solid ergonomics, easily replaceable parts.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. At times can sound muted, thin or hollow in upper mids.
    2. While clean and punchy, bass ultimately lacks some depth even when compared to HD650s.
    3. Some tendency for zinginess and artificial intensity ('brightness'). Reminds me a bit of HD800/HD700 in that regard.
    4. Clamping force might be too high out of the box. It gets better over time though due to pad wear (see below).
    5. Pads tend to deform over time, resulting in decreased sense of sound clarity.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-02-17): NO...
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2019
  4. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    General indicator is now included at the end of every review, specifying whether the headphone made it among the top recommendations from me, or not. The indicator also servers as a link to the original post where all Top Contenders are listed. Exact date of the review is now visible too.

    Anyway, I like to keep my reviews short and balanced, as it serves the specific purpose of this thread well. The thread is more about identifying top picks for your consideration and less about exhausting details on every assessed headphone.
     
  5. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Verum Audio Verum 1 (ether angled / stock)

    NOTE: Verum 1 is a first foray into over-ear headphones by Verum Audio found by @Garuspik in Ukraine. Given many promising impressions of pre-production samples throughout the last year, I acquired a production pair in near-mint condition for assessment.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:

    • Considering large thick ear pads and no driver-matching procedure in place (as explained in related Kickstarter comments section), channel balance is impressive.
    • Bass extension feels bottomless, limited only by ear pad seal. One of the channels extend ruler-flat down to 10Hz and the other is not far behind!
    • Some wiggle around 1kHz in frequency response and distortion graphs (also visible on waterfall CSDs not posted here) probably account on slight haze heard over mid-range. Verum 1 reminds me a bit of Hifiman Edition X in that regard.
    • Subjective tonal profile is balanced but somewhat zingy and splashy treble can introduce unnatural brightness. Hints of this phenomenon are observed in the frequency response graph.
    • Ignore exaggerated peak around 4.5kHz caused by interaction of the headphone with EARS.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Very clear, smooth and dynamic sounding.
    2. Extraordinary deep, clean, linear and punchy bass. No bass bleed into low mid-range.
    3. Overall balanced-sounding tonally.
    4. Enormous value for the price.
    5. Ear pads made of top-notch materials and attached to cups via removable magnetic metal rings.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Somewhat splashy and zingy treble, leaning overall balance towards unnatural brightness with some music.
    2. A slight haze over mids.
    3. Compromised ergonomics: Very large (pillow users beware!), a tad heavy on my head (imperfect weight distribution), a bit too small ear pad openings (oval instead of circular shape would be preferred), only 2-meter-long cable and no protective case included.
    4. Only ~8 ohm impedance might not be a good match with all audio chains.

    EDIT 2019-10-23: Most of my concerns connected to sound and comfort with stock configuration are mitigated by Mrspeakers Ether Angled pads and felt applied over magnets.

    [​IMG]

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-02-23): YES!
    The headphone replaces Sennheiser HD650 as a Runner-up in TIMBRE category.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2019
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  6. Garuspik

    Garuspik Tovarisch Ukrainian Terminator MOT - Verum

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    @Magnetostatic_Tubephile thanks both for praise and criticism!
    Last one is VERY important for manufacturer. Will try to improve!
     
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  7. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Sony MDR-MA900 (stock)

    NOTE: The reviewed pair has been used infrequently over the last years and therefore the pads are still in a very good condition. While not sold anymore, I still consider MA900 to be an impressive headphone due to its natural tone and unique open construction. In that regard, to an extent, it might be the HD650-HD800 hybrid many audiophiles have been searching for.

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:

    • The headphone seems to be particularly sensitive to ear pad symmetry and positioning on your head. To achieve best channel balance, rotating the pads a bit or taking the time to find optimal placement is advised.
    • Bass lines are present but do not extend very deep given the super-open cup design.
    • Compared to several other MA900s I've heard and measured in the past, mine is more laid-back in 1-3 kHz region and therefore a bit less grainy-sounding overall.
    • Despite the measured emphasis around 4-6 kHz region, MA900 sounds smooth and non-aggressive.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Balanced tonality with tastefully present midrange and inviting smoothness.
    2. Extraordinary light and comfortable to wear.
    3. Effortlessly open sounding, with good imaging given angled drivers.
    4. Sounds pretty much the same out of any audio chain.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. While smooth, gets splashy and uncontrolled in treble with faster or complex musical passages.
    2. Not exactly bass-shy yet lacks a bit more depth and fullness.
    3. Not the last word in terms of detail and cleanness. Tendency for graininess.
    4. Somewhat flat dynamically.
    5. Rather in-your-head than HD800-like soundstage.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-03-02): NO...
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2019
  8. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    MA900 with the resistor mod is a subtle change, but worthwhile. Ideally I would like to find a way to directly wire up to the drivers, split cable to each channel, to remove the built in crossfeed. Yes, they have crossfeed built in even with the resistor mod implemented.

    They sound great from the ZDT Jr, which has a higher output impedance. With the resistor mod, this gives them a noticeably concentrated mid-bass boost. It isn’t neutral or accurate, but a tasteful “fun” coloration. Makes them sound a bit more at ease up top too, like a Sennheiser. I’m not talking bullshit “fun” to give a pass to bad sound, but something legitimately worthwhile.

    I think I also put some damping in the cups and in front of the driver to add a bit more control overall, which then synergizes with the ZDR Jr. I imagine some resonance control and mass loading would do the enclosure some good.

    I theorize that a breathable mesh or film at the large rear vent may aid in bass extension without negatively affecting the top end response. Totally closing the vent has interesting effects to suggest this but sounds not so good overall. I’m thinking of the sort of material Focal uses at the open area to the side of their drivers.
     
  9. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    NOTE: Unlike usual practice, this post is focused on few models from past inventory that sounded 'balanced' enough to warrant mentioning. The short reviews are based on my notes, memory and even some former graphs. Please excuse the lack of EARS measurements as I do not have access to the headphones anymore and do not see the value in acquiring them again. HE-500 are described with stock velour pads as the pleather ones cripple the sound too much (warm tonality, nasal vocals, pronounced cavernous effect). ESP950 were always used by me with the stock energizer. The Slants had Alpha pads installed.

    Hifiman HE-500 (stock velour)


    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Subjectively balanced tonal profile with deep impactful bass, linear mids and smooth treble.
    2. World class midrange - personal timeless favourite along with HD650s.
    3. Quite natural timbre with admirable level of physicality.
    4. Very durable construction.
    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Kind of hollow and zingy sounding due to a trough in low treble combined with an elevation in mid treble.
    2. A bit 'hard' sounding in upper mids (emphasis around 4-5 kHz) due to the earpads.
    3. Tendency for fuzziness. Not the last word in cleanness and resolution especially in bass region.
    4. Imperfect outer (grill) damping, leading to slight cavernous effect and lack of openness.
    5. Compromised ergonomics - insufficient weight distribution, controversial connectors, too stiff and rather small ear pads.
    6. Already surpassed in price/performance ratio by newer models. (Verum 1, LCD2C w/ vegan pads, ...)

    Koss ESP950 (stock)


    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Extraordinary clear, fast and smooth character.
    2. Good tonal balance with pleasing mid presence.
    3. Solid imaging and soundstage dimensionality.
    4. Energizer (incl. adapter for battery power!) already shipped with the headphones.
    5. Lifetime warranty from Koss.
    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Too ethereal sounding - subjectively lacking in tactility and sustain.
    2. While not bass shy per se, the deepest registers are clearly not there.
    3. Some tendency for nasalism and sibilance. A bit greyish sonic background.
    4. Crappy ergonomics - cheap plastic materials, poor quality pleather pads, too wide headband (impossible to get proper seal), frequent occurrence of the squeal/static issue.
    5. Not possible to run ESP950 from typical sources. You need an electrostatic amp with the right connector.

    LFF Paradox Slant (stock)

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Smooth and clean sounding. Surprisingly so for a closed-back headphone based on T50RP drivers.
    2. Interesting blend of reference and fun in its slightly U-shaped sonic profile.
    3. Good sense of dynamics.
    4. Impressive soundstage dimensionality. Especially the depth is quite convincing.
    5. Comfortable to wear given suspension headband and soft pads.
    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Despite the expansive soundstage, music always sounded suffocated to me because of too closed-back nature. I suspect this is partially caused by pads being attached to cups in unusual way, blocking energy leakage to an unnecessary extent.
    2. Broad artificial emphasis on mid-bass to upper-bass area.
    3. Tendency for plastic timbre.
    4. Very large form factor, therefore far from typical (portable) closed-backs.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-03-16): NO...
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019
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  10. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Verum 1 review slightly adjusted due to discovery of Mrspeakers Ether Angled pads that mitigate most of my concerns about its sound. Overall ranking still stands, though PMx2s now leads the TIMBRE category only by a small margin.

    ZMF Auteur currently under evaluation.
     
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  11. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    If we may ask, when you think you'll publish something about these?
     
  12. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    I usually only need about three days or so to get a solid understanding, given the specific focus of my journey on natural sound. Will allow myself few more to be perfectly sure. By the end of the coming week, my review should be up. Might very well be even sooner.

    Honestly, I am surprised so far about the Auteur. Reading a lot of impressions over the last two years or so, I feel some points about the headphone are generally maybe overstated and some rather understated. Some also rarely highlighted if at all. But let's see, too early to make a definite call. :)
     
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  13. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    Interesting :)! Looking forward.
     
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  14. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    ZMF Auteur (stock eikon)

    NOTE: The evaluated headphone is made from Sapele wood, a very limited edition not sold anymore as I was told. Based on average dried density and Janka hardness values, Sapele is somewhat harder than the default Teak wood but not to the extent of something like African Blackwood. From the two included sets of earpads, the eikon variant got picked as the auteur option makes the headphone sound too nasal and synthetic to warant inclusion here. Overall, I feel the inclusion of wood in the design is a blessing and a curse, making Auteur quite an atypical headphone compared to what people are typically used to.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:

    • Given the really thick earpads, channel balance is solid albeit not perfect. You can rotate the pads a bit or adjust clamping force on either side through the headband in case of issues.
    • Bass extension is fantastic for a dynamic headphone. The slight gradual emphasis towards subbass is very tastefully executed.
    • Tonally, the way Auteur responds in a flat manner even after 1kHz while slightly muting 2-3kHz area translates into natural listening experience really well. However, distortion graph can serve as an indication of potential timbre issues, probably connected to the wooden nature of the headphone. (More on that later.)
    • As the measurements show, treble is extended but reasonably controlled. Tonal presence and treble airiness are spot-on. Not as smooth and soothing frequency response as something like PMx2 though. Bear in mind that proper fit on your head is very important with Auteur for optimal treble response, therefore experiment with placement and clamping force.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Extraordinary balanced tonality, subjectively in between HD650 and HD600 = pretty much ideal.
    2. Slightly longer decay (wood enclosure) leading to fantastic sense of depth and layering. Auteur reminds me a bit of the diffuse nature of HD800 but with a more correct tone and deep resonant bottom. It's like turning a subtle 3D space enhancer on.
    3. Very good headstage dimensionality, especially in terms of depth and height.
    4. Neat sonic balance between smoothness (wood enclosure) and bite (fast and precise driver).
    5. Versatile headband design (allowing large adjustments) that has proven very useful to me.
    6. Two sets of ear pads included by default to better fit everyone's preferences.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Timbre is overall believable (very good) but not quite perfect. Auteur reminds me of few Audio-Technica headphones I heard due to its tendency to sound a bit synthetic and hollow. (Not to the same extent but still.) As with Audio-Technica, I suspect enclosure design/damping is the root cause. At times, some graininess can also be heard.
    2. The prolonged decay leads to an impression of slightly greyish sonic background with fast paced music.
    3. While the perforated leather pads help, the headphone still feels quite closed in terms of natural airflow.
    4. Not the most ergonomical design - very bulky (not the most compact and secure fit on your head), strange yoke rod adjustment mechanism, too short stock 6.3mm cable.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-11-01): YES!
    The headphone replaces Audeze LCD2 Classic (vegan) as a First place in TONALITY category.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2019
  15. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Frequency graph of Verum 1 with Ether angled pads added to the review for comparison. I really like what the pads do for the headphone and can imagine some would prefer Verum 1 over PMx2 timbre-wise that way.

    A small comparo that came to my mind yesterday:

    Verum 1 with the pads makes me feel like being at a live concert outside (open air festival / stadium / ...), due to its openness and timbre.
    PMx2s rather represent listening in an extremely well-damped room with a potent subwoofer. They are simply a bit more closed-in and damped quite significantly.
    Auteur, given the large resonating wooden cups, are very studio or club like.

    All the headphones are great. I would just wish more manufacturers try hard to push pricing closer to that of Verum 1. Verum 1 is no less fantastic than the other two while costing much much much less.
     
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  16. Forza AudioWorks

    Forza AudioWorks MOT: Forza AudioWorks

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    I hear about those cans more and more. Are they worth it?
     
  17. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Depends on what you are after. My review attempts to cover their potential pluses and minuses in a concise manner but feel free to check other opinions on SBAF.

    For me and my tastes, an absolutely clear choice regardless of cost. This is what Tyll from InnerFidelity was talking about - high fidelity headphones can and should cost much less than they typically do nowadays.
     
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  18. b0dhi

    b0dhi Rando

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    May want to consider how realistic it is that you find a headphone that matches your individual HRTF given the incredibly large variability in HRTF between people:

    [​IMG]

    That's a variability of 50dB (!). A tool like the MiniDSP EARS is designed to be close to the average of a set of measurements similar to those above, and a headphone being close to neutral through the EARS won't result in the same neutrality to yours or anyone else's ears (unless incredibly lucky and you happen to match).
     
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  19. elmoe

    elmoe Friend

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    Thus what he said "for me and my tastes", "depends on what you're after", etc. Welcome to the wonderful world of personal audio where one size never fits all.
     
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  20. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    The variation in geometry doesn't mean a variation in perception as the brain is able to compensate.
     

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