Massdrop x E-MU Purpleheart Headphone Review Massdrop and E-MU have collaborated to bring the E-MU Purpleheart to the market. If you’re familiar with the Creative Aurvana Live! or the E-MU Walnut, you should already feel familiar with the Massdrop x E-MU Purpleheart. The name gives it all away. This version in the line of headphones uses matte-finished, purpleheart wood cups. Massdrop is offering these for $74.99 in their drop, which I think is a fantastic price point for the sound you get. (From here on out, I’ll use the terms CAL, Walnut, and Purpleheart to refer to the headphones. Also, credit to Massdrop for all photos of the headphone.) You can find the drop here (goes live 12/20/16 at 6AM PT): https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-e-mu-purpleheart Looks and Comfort The Purpleheart keeps the basic design and overall look of the CAL and Walnut. No surprises there. The design is functional, lightweight, and makes for a set of headphones that is not particularly large. However, there’s something about the deep, purple color of the wood cups that sets it apart from its brethren and most other headphones on the market. There is a sort of understated, yet somewhat bold, way the matte, purple cups stand out by themselves yet perfectly accompany the otherwise matte black finish of the headphone. You might confuse the cups for a matte plastic finish with a vinyl overlay, yet I can assure you, you can see wood grain on close inspection, and if you open them up, it’s clear the cups are wood. The Purplehearts don’t have the immediate flash of the glossy finish seen on the TH-X00 variants, but damn if the Purplehearts don’t look calm and sophisticated in their own way. I wasn’t entirely sold on the way the Walnuts looked with the matte finish, but the Purplehearts look absolutely wonderful. I think comfort will vary from person to person. For me, they are lightweight and do not clamp too hard. While the ear pads for work as on-ear pads for me, those with smaller ears can get away calling them over-ear. Some may find the pads too small and thus uncomfortable. The ear pads are not particularly plush, but they give just enough cushion to get the drivers close to your ear without having them and the plastic baffle pushing on your ear. Those with wide heads may need to stretch the headphones out a bit to reduce the mild clamp even further. For the most part, I find these easy to wear and comfortable, with minimal fuss to get the fit right for the best possible sound. One downside I noticed is that the top of the headband becomes a bit painful over time. I believe this is a mixture of the shape of the headband, the minor amount of cushion in the headband, and how that all fits on my head. As I mentioned, the headband is quite malleable, so anyone can fiddle with it to get the headphones to fit perfectly on their head and dramatically improve long-term comfort. You could also buy some aftermarket cushions meant to wrap around the top of the headband. It might look a bit out of place, but it would certainly relieve any discomfort. Sound Quality The Purpleheart follows in the footsteps of the CAL and Walnut, yet the choice of purpleheart wood does seem to introduce its own set of sonic characteristics. Still, the overall tonal balance is the same among the line. The Purpleheart, like its siblings, is a very bassy and warm headphone with a little bit of edge and excitement to the treble. Let me dive into these attributes a bit more. The bass on the Purpleheart is rather elevated. If you’re familiar with the HD650, it’s not unlike taking its mid-bass boost and taking it up a big notch. If you’re familiar with the TH-X00, it’s like taking the low-bass emphasis from that but shifting it more to the mid-bass area. Yes, it’s a very bassy headphone, but I’d say in a tasteful, fun way. The bass emphasis actually works great at low volumes and should help in noisier environments. The major downside to the bass is that there’s a lot of harmonic distortion thrown in the mix. While not immediately unpleasant, as you crank the volume up, you’ll notice the bass takes on a sort of soft, fuzzy, and loose characteristic. At lower volumes, bass distortion is better kept in check, so if you turn the volume up on the Purpleheart, you’ll hear the bass lose some of its definition and tautness. On the upside, the bass has a relatively smooth transition into the midrange and treble. The midrange and treble transition and balance, in combination with the bass emphasis, provides for that bassy and warm sound. The midrange in particular is quite good, with its cohesive integration and fairly low distortion. The biocellulose drivers give the midrange and treble a surprisingly organic quality even when the frequency response isn’t totally perfect. Treble is where things start to break up just a bit, but just shy of enough to cause any listening displeasure. The Purpleheart keeps its sonic composure through it all. Still, there is a bit of roughness in the upper-midrange and treble on the Purpleheart. It’s overall less bright, and arguably more even, than the TH-X00 variants, but it’s not quite as smooth and effortless as the HD650. You can hear this as a slightly etched, ragged, or edgy characteristic when listening. Thankfully, it’s very mild subjectively and does not impede on listening enjoyment. In fact, it might be preferable on recordings with softer edges or at low volumes. Besides, the bass emphasis and overall warm sound of the headphones keep any treble irregularities in check. I doubt many will even notice this trait and, again, it actually seems to help keep a sense of excitement at lower levels. Compared to the CAL and Walnut, I think I prefer the Purpleheart so far. It sounds the most organic and tonally balanced out of the bunch to me. The midrange in particular sounds very well integrated, and the treble is slightly more neutral and smooth on the Purpleheart compared to the Walnut. Both the Walnut and Purpleheart sound a little more natural than the CAL to me. The more I hear various wood-cupped headphones, the more I realize how much wood, and various types of wood, actually can affect sonic characteristics. The ability of the headphone to pick out subtle details and sound clear (i.e. not veiled or slow) is really quite good, save for the bass presentation at high volumes. I would say it performs well above its asking price point in this regard overall, though, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t quite match the level of performance from top of the line headphones. I did not find myself wanting in technicalities with the Purpleheart, but when switching over to my HD650 with my desktop setup, it was clear the HD650 took greater advantage of better sources and amps. The TH-X00 variants should also sound a little more technically competent than the Purpleheart, but you may actually prefer the tonal signature of the Purpleheart and its siblings. After all, sometimes you do get what you pay for. Lastly, staging is surprisingly good for the Purpleheart. No, it doesn’t sound like an open headphone, and, no, it’s more closed sounding than the TH-X00, but, honestly, it sounds “bigger” than its small size would suggest. The usual closed-headphone coloration is kept to a minimum, if noticeable at all, and there’s a surprising size to the stage and sense of air. It strikes a nice balance. Conclusion Given all this, where do I think the Purpleheart excels? Who would I recommend this headphone to first? I think it’s best used for casual, low-volume listening from portable sources. These sound great right out of my phone, and thanks to the tonal response and closed nature of the headphones, I can listen at a very relaxing volume and be met with a very good, enjoyable sound. This is a great introductory product for newcomers or a great headphone to keep on the side for tenured audiophiles. The CAL would often go on sale for $70-80 a few years back, and it was, and still is, considered an excellent value in that range. I often recommended it. The Walnut and Purpleheart added a nice level of refinement in terms of looks and some subtle sonic changes due to the wood cups. For what Massdrop is offering at $74.99, I think the Massdrop x E-MU Purpleheart is an absolutely wonderful headphone to have on the market. I think you will be in for a pleasant surprise!