Massdrop x Koss ESP95X Electrostatic Headphone Stream of Consciousness Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Headphone Measurements' started by purr1n, Sep 28, 2018.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-koss-esp-95x-electrostatic-system

    A while back, @CEE TEE in phone conversation spoke with me about trying to sell the ESP950 electrostatic headphone from Koss. We talked about pricing, tweaks, etc. Well now we have it, at a rather unexpected $499. I actually thought the price would be more like $599 or $649, but $499 is a steal. Keep in mind there is this thing called inflation too.

    The major difference with the Massdrop ESP95X version is that the pads are different. The regular ESP950 has very comfortable pads. The only downside is that the pleathery material gets all icky with sweat - really quickly. In fact, I am suffering from this as I write this post in SoCal (switching over from ESP950 to ESP95X now). Here is a photo ot the ESP950 pad. We can definitely see how these pads can be a sweat magnet.

    IMG_20180928_143616.jpg

    Massdrop x Koss ESP95X pad is foam. In this warm weather I'm currently in, it's actually quite nice.

    IMG_20180928_143645.jpg

    The pads do change the frequency response, which I will post later. My subjective sense is that there is also a bit more openness with the foam pads. Other than the pads, we just have a few details changed, like the lettering on the headphone and the amp. The ESP950 has "ESP/950" in a red background at the top of the cups (not shown). The ESP95X has "ESP/95X ELECTROSTATIC".

    IMG_20180928_143724.jpg

    Just like the ESP950, the Massdrop x Koss ESP95X comes with an amp too. So for $499, you get a legitimate electrostatic headphone and a dedicated amp (energizer or whatever) that goes with it. All we need is a source. I know that a lot of the STAX aficionados may poo-poo this Koss amp, but it's actually pretty good. (I prefer it to some lower end STAX amps). I mean, if you are running modest Schiit or Topping gear under $800 or so, you are not going to be missing anything, so don't get neurotic. At this level in the game, spend the money on the best transducer that you can get your hands on. You'll need to spend at least $1200 for a STAX amp to do better than the included Koss amp. Get any STAX amp that costs less, and all you are doing are side-grading or worse.

    On the other hand, if you are a audiophile with deep pockets, the ESP95X will scale up to bigger and badder amps. Try an SRM-727 or BHSE. Heck, I immensely enjoyed the ESP950 on my T2DIY during the time I had it. Sure the ESP950 didn't scale as much as the SR009, but it still did scale - and in any event, I hated the tonal presentation of the SR009 anyway, so the ESP950 got way more headtime - but I digress.

    IMG_20180928_143817.jpg

    Keep in mind what else $499 can buy yo: A Grado RS2 or an HD660S (both without a amp), and neither of these headphones really better than the ESP95X. I am heavily psyched because the ESP950 had always been very well respected at the predecessor site www.changstar.com and I am glad to see it selling at a price which if affordable to many hobbyists. I kind of feel that even if we don't want to go down the STAX route, we should at least pick this up to get something truly complementary to our dynamics or orthos.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
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  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Massdrop x Koss ESP95X Frequency Response
    ESP95X FR.png

    Massdrop x Koss ESP95X CSDs
    ESP95X L.jpg
    ESP95X R.jpg

    Massdrop x Koss ESP95X Distortion
    ESP950 L HD.jpg
    ESP950 R HD.jpg
     
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Differences in frequency response between ESP950 and ESP95X (from pads)

    LT GREY = ESP950
    LT BLUE = ESP95X
    ESP950 vs ESP95X.png

    ESP95X has smoother mids. There is a little bit of attenuation around 30Hz to 40Hz in the sub/low bass. I do actually prefer the sound of the ESP95X. More open and a little bit less congested and boomy. Going to get measuremnets from the EARS instead of the flat plate here to see what results we get.
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Here the the difference results from the EARS (proposed compensation 2.0)

    T GREY = ESP950
    LT BLUE = ESP95X
    EARS ESP950 vs ESP95X frequency response.png

    This probably lines up with more of what I am actually hearing, especially the small bump at 5kHz. Overall the ESP950/X is tonally dark, but with a bit of edge and crunch. The ESP950 was more boomy subjectively compared to the ESP95X. Maybe a looser seal on the EARS would have shown a mid-bass bump better.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    For the sake of completeness, L and R channels using EARS ((proposed compensation v2.0)

    EARS ESP95X Frequency Response.png

    Could use more mid-treble and last octave air, but the frequency response is fantastic IMO. This is mitigated somewhat by the transient response of the ESP95X - it's an electrostatic headphone after all. IMO, the ESP950 (ESP95X even more so) should be a reference along with HD6xx and a few others for good frequency response.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2018
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  6. Lyer25

    Lyer25 Too sensitive for SBAF

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    So the 95X has a bit more in the bottom octave on the EARs rig? Since you posted it and all I rather doubt it's placement error so I'm wondering if it's something to do with the materials used for the pinnae; I'm wondering if hybrid flat-plate and EARs rig measurements might not prove most accurate, much of a PITA as that'd be, like how La Cenric proposed a dual-graph for in-ear measurements

    FWIW I got to briefly demo the original 950 and the v2 comp looks about right, except I think there should be a hair more up top? Can't be totally sure until I get my head between em again.
     
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The flat plate coupler doesn't show this, but the EARS coupler (which is more finicky and I think is probably more similar to real people) does show more bottom end extension. This is really a matter of seal and I've seen this with other stats. Bad seal results in mid-bass and rapid rolloff. Good seal results in flatter mid-bass and greater extension.

    As for the top-end, it doesn't roll off (on EARS), but I do think it's muted just a little bit.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2018
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  8. zerodeefex

    zerodeefex Grumpiest admin

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    This looks like a must buy. The ESP950 had some issues and it looks like the new pads really fix the complaints I would have had on tonality.

    Having started working at a startup I've really started to cut back and I've been slowly selling random gear. The only new thing I've added in months is the JVC and even I'm going to have to pick one of these up now.
     
  9. westermac

    westermac Friend

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    Welp, I was on the fence... Now I'm sold.

    I had a SR-L700/SRM-353X combo awhile back which I enjoyed quite a bit, but ultimately sold because I couldn't justify a $2k+ setup that had such wimpy bass. A full estat setup with great FR (and from my hometown no less) for a fraction of the cost is a no brainer.

    The further I get into this nonsense the more I care about FR as opposed to all the technical bells and whistles... To pull from Marv's book (generally not one to compare headphones to women but I'm most of the way through a bottle of Gulden Draak so what the hell) there's no shortage of hot women in the world but at the end of the day the real satisfaction is found in the one that's good wife material. All that to say, I'm very happy with my wife and HD6xx.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2018
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  10. jexby

    jexby Loves propane and propane accessories

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    can confirm that nothing surpasses a Gulden Draak.
     
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  11. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    *weak to authoritaeh, obeys*

    I must admit that I've always wanted a stat system having heard a few, but my perception has always been that if I wanted one that a) sounded good b) was comfortable and c) looked ok I had to spend megabucks or get super lucky at finding used gear.

    I only do the former for wood headphones, and I'm plain too lazy for the latter.

    Anyway, its gonna be a long wait till february.
     
  12. roscoeiii

    roscoeiii Acquaintance

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    And what are your subjective impressions of the bass? Do you feel like you are getting a good seal on your head with these new pads? Electrostats are often criticized for being light in the bass. A valid criticism here?

    BTW, one of the things I love about my Shure KSE1200s is the surprisingly good bass compared to other electrostat speakers and headphones I've heard. Their isolation combined with an e-stat clarity makes them detail monsters.
     
  13. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Acquaintance

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    The MrSpeakers VOCE disproves the “electrostatics can’t do bass” theory. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it.
     
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  14. Azteca

    Azteca Friend

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    When you have a chance, I would be interested in how they respond to EQ. That is one of the lovely things about the HD6xx: the lack of distortion makes EQ (Sonarworks or otherwise) a great option. Lesser phones reveal where the designers worked around limitations.

    Thanks for all the measurements and impressions.
     
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    With these ESP95X pads, it's decent. Perceptually, the mid-bass is more controlled and there is more extension than ESP950. Bass is not as soft as say from the SRS-2170 /SR-207 system or as boomy as SR-507.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
  16. maverickronin

    maverickronin Friend

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    No matter the frequency response, an electrostat will always have weaker bass impact than a dynamic or planar. This is simply because the electrostat's diaphragm weighs much less than in a dynamic or planar so there is less vibration mechanically coupled to your head.

    I decided to stick with 'stats because IMO no headphone can do proper bass impact anyway. OTOH, this is an inherently unsolvable tradeoff and other preferences are perfectly valid since even in theory there isn't really a perfect solution.
     
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  17. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    SR007 can do bass. So can OG Orpheus. So can the new $55k Senn stat. Heck, so did the HFM Jade. They just don"t have the heft, slam, and tactlity like a properly powered LCD3, HE-6, or HD800.

    As @maverickronin said, it's all related to the diaphragm. It's like how the newer HFMs such as HEK with their thinner diaphragms sound faster but also lose heft and are softer when compared the vintage HE-5/6. Or how Orpheus 2 is actually pretty hefty in the bass (in a electrostatic context) because they chose to NOT chase the nanometer thickness film.

    But the bass discussion here is really in the context of the sub $1000 electrostatic systems.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
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  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Can you be more specific? I'm loath to EQ bass because trying to EQ against bass rolloff without spare driver excursion only results in rapidly increasing distortion. The distortion measurements in the bass show there might be not much room left. On the other hand, the ESP95X doesn't seem to roll off but rather is shelved down below 55Hz. I'd bump up 35-45Hz a few db to try to extend the bass before the low shelf.

    As for EQ, there isn't much to do here IMO. Well behaved headphones (good FR) without strange cup designs always respond well to EQ.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
  19. Azteca

    Azteca Friend

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    You mentioned the last octave was a little shy so I was thinking a light 10k shelf boost. Perhaps it is too slight to be worthwhile.
     
  20. AllanMarcus

    AllanMarcus Friend

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    anyone know if MD will sell the pads a la carte?
     

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