The Worst Sounding Headphones You've Ever Heard And WHY

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by E_Schaaf, Aug 24, 2021.

  1. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    As stated in the title, I'd like to read about what you consider to be some of the worst-sounding headphones. I'd like to focus specifically on sonics and acoustic implementation, not ergonomics, build quality / durability, or value (though I know laughably bad value is hard to ignore). I don't want this thread to feel like a smear campaign, but rather a constructive, knowledge-seeking discussion. Mega bonus points if you can really dig into the potential cause of why the headphone sounds bad - is it the driver, the pads, the damping, the shape of the enclosure, etc (this is what I'm really interested in). Here are a few limits I'd like to impose on this thread so we have a bit of focus:

    1. Headphones must be wired, not bluetooth/wireless
    2. No IEMs or earbuds
    3. Modded, one-off, broken/defective headphones don't count

    If you're wondering why I thought this would be a good thread topic... I think there's a lot to be learned from failure. I'm interested to see if we can discern certain patterns about design choices and how they are sonically manifested... and I'm curious about just how far 'off the mark' those choices can be - if they can be fixed with a simple tweak or are fundamentally flawed. Are there any headphones that seem intelligently designed/implemented that still sound like shit? Or inversely, any designs that seem like a 'bad idea' that are somehow sonically pleasing? I guess that latter question could be a separate thread, but a meaningful tangent if anyone has examples.

    Of course there's no accounting for taste and upstream gear synergy blah blah blah, so hopefully this thread doesn't turn into a dumpster fire. Not looking to argue, just looking to learn.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2021
  2. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    In recent memory:
    Sennheiser HD560s - how the heck did they take the good sounding 558/598 and turn it into a weird hollow/plastic sounding can? this was a no steps forward 3 steps back kinda moment
    Audeze LCD-XC - heard this back when it first came out and it was a hot mess with cup resonances and uneven FR; then heard it again a few weeks ago and it was only marginally better with less honk but still wobbly FR and upper mid suckout
    Audeze LCD-1 - heard this at a meet and some people really seemed to like it but I felt like I was in a tiny box, zero staging, reminded me a bit of playing with SFI drivers back in the day after transplanting into raw undamped cups

    Brief thoughts only since I'm tired. I'll add more later if I remember.
     
  3. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Good thread. But kinda challenging than you may think. This topic may seriously suffer from selection bias as nobody is willing to spend much time with whatever is suck in 10 seconds.

    That said, I'd list several design choices that the worst product in my wall of fame took (abbreviated WP henceforth), rather than specifically name the product title. If I understood correctly, it's not OP's intention to start a hatred contest.

    1. Smaller driver size (<=40mm): I believe this generates all kind of bass limitation. In theory this would result in better performance in highs and mids. Indeed not to take too large diaphragm can be one design option for full-range drivers. But.. I didn't feel WP sounded competitive in any freq range. It's very possible that my taste is just weird tho (many gave it high praise as having the best treble response).

    2. High resonance frequency driver: Kinda correlated to #1. I am clearly in the camp to think any sound generated by drivers below their resonance frequency is compromised in quality. WP is a textbook example in my audio history.

    3. Non-rigid material use in dynamic drivers: This per se isn't bad. Particularly bio-cellulose changed my thought a bit. But I still prefer rigid material (either metal or modern synthetic material).. 'Softer' ones often seem to fail delineation and articulation to my liking. Again, WP has been a typical example to present such traits.

    Note that my WP is not indeed literally the worst..
     
  4. señorhifi

    señorhifi Friend

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    Oh good topic, I have a bunch:

    - T60RP: bass extension is good, but still drops at around 40Hz. Mids are terrible. A small bump at 1Khz gives them a nasal tone, then the presense region is dipped (and a lot!) and right after that, the sibilance region at 6Khz has a bump again. Voices have that weird nasal tone to them, then they disappear and reappear again as sibilance. Really bad for voices, be it male or female. I have seen mods here though (I think you @E_Schaaf modded it too) and it looked way better.

    - DT770 32Ohms: although boosted, great bass extension, but voices are oddly cold on it despite the bass boost. There is this odd separation between bass and mids, the opposite of the problem of "bass bleeding into mids" basically. Peaky fatiguing treble too, but oddly enough, my unit wasn't all that sibilant. I also had an 80Ohms version and that one was extremely sibilant, this one though, not really. The 80Ohms version had also a really strong bass boost. Stronger than the 32Ohms version, to the point where it actually did bleed into the mids. Detail retrieval is also pretty poor.

    - Grado sr125i: ouch, like a DT880, but way brighter with even less bass extension. Also what's up with the cable? That ain't no cable, that's garden hose.
     
  5. sheldaze

    sheldaze Friend

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    Hopefully, fulfilling the objective of this thread - not taking this too far away from the intent - I would offer more of an on-target versus off-target perspective. Listed below are headphones I have owned, which I felt met their objective goals. And listed below are headphones, I have owned, similar and from the same manufacturer, which did not:

    - On target, and a headphone I still today is the AKG K702. It is a light headphone, meaning it doesn't have a lot of deep bass. But it offers some reasonable high frequency details and spaciousness. Off target, was the Q701. It tried to compensate for the lack of bass, but just was not as good. I tried with multiple setups to adjust to the Q701, but its lack of true higher frequency resolution made it more punishing than the bass-light sound of the K702. Throw me DNA Sonett (1 or 2) and I loved the K702.

    - On target, NAD VISO HP50. This is the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the headphone above. It is dark, but once my ears adjust, there was good sound in the darkness. Having enjoyed this (and I was kind of on the hype train of the shiny-shiny sites like Head-Fi) I purchased the VISO HP30. I don't know why anyone ever built that headphone, and I cannot describe it. It was a 30-seconds, and done.

    - On target, and wanting to show an example of an on-ear headphone that works, I liked the Grado SR60i. It is sort of the anti-Sennheiser that did not cost a fortune. Punchy and a little bright. I still own a HF1 when I want to show Grado some love. But when I wanted to upgrade from the original, the SR325is was just horrible. Having heard a few Grado, some seem to upgrade just one frequency, which just doesn't work. You cannot scream highs and forget the rest.

    - On target, Sennheiser HD 58x. Though I personally still like the older driver of the HD580, the 58x was a good implementation of the 150 ohm (I think that was the impedance) driver. Easier to perform well than the harder 300 ohm driver. 660S had some traits I liked too, but it was definitely off target with respect to the 58x. It cost too much, and it wasn't a better overall sound. 58x was a hit. 660S was a miss.

    Other headphones from my past start to get much more subtle, but these are definite reference points for me among the dynamics.
     
  6. señorhifi

    señorhifi Friend

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    oh K702, I don't see much talk about this headphone around here. Did you ever try to listen to the K712? I like that one more than the K702. It fixes for me the issues I had with the K702. It's not as bright and does have deep bass. Staging is less wide, but better defined and layered. The driver is also more resolving and zippier. Honestly, I find it really impressive. Interesting HD6X0 complement for sure.
     
  7. Beefy

    Beefy Almost "Made"

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    Going back almost 15 years to the Sennheiser HD555. Dull, slow, muffled, congested. Didn't hold a candle to the KSC75, SuperFi 5Pro or the AD900 I had at the time. I even preferred some old iBuds.

    I doubt this serves the purpose of this thread, but it feels good to let it out. Group therapy FTW.
     
  8. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    Going by the delta between hype and experience, kinda sadly have to say it was the Campfire Cascade. Granted this was store demo settings but I had a lot of familiar gear at hand and managed to spend a lot of time just comparing it to a lot of other cans I was already familiar with. It was... passable? From a technical perspective things weren't too bad but factoring the price in nixed things for me.

    Massive shame since the build quality was properly tankish and they were great for me ergonomically, but even being a gigantic basshead at the time (moreso one than I am now anyway-- the Klipsches I'm rocking have less bass than stock) the voicing was untenable.

    They're far from being the worst headphones I've ever heard but they came immediately to mind for disappointment.
     
  9. obsiCO

    obsiCO Thai Fish Experiment Gone Wrong

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    Audeze EL8C. I was in love with Sine back then so I thought I couldn't go wrong with a bigger, full-sized version of it. Couldn't be more wrong. It screeched so much that my ears hurt while sounding dull and stuffy at the same time, had to take off my ears after 20 seconds which was the first for me. I didn't stop there and try out the open version right after, which somehow sounded even worse -- more screech.
     
  10. OldDude04

    OldDude04 Friend

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    I've heard plenty of cheap bad headphones from the usual suspects, Skullcandy, House of Marley, Beats, etc. The worst pair I've ever heard from a what I'll call a "respected" brand was the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro Plus. It was a hot mess of sound, the bass was horribly flabby to the point of making me think the drivers were blown out of the box. The mids were extremely recessed, and the treble was shrill. I got a replacement pair in case they were damaged only to get the same result. I figured out later that the COP+ was Beyer's attempt to get a piece of the Beats market. Sadly the Beats of that era were better, lol.
     
  11. Inoculator

    Inoculator Friend

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    Stock Fostex TH900 has to be up there for me. I found them unlistenable and had to remove them from my head after 10 minutes of trying them. Just about the only headphone (that is not just total trash) that I remember feeling I had trouble identifying any redeeming qualities. From what I have not blocked from my memory...ice pick level fatiguing, weird suckout/hollowness in certain regions, bass a boomy flabby mess. Luckily @E_Schaaf already knows what is wrong here and how to remedy.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2021
  12. Philimon

    Philimon Friend

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    Hifiman HE-400i

    I took a break from the headphone hobby (to play with speakers because bought a home) after last having had the Hifiman HE-500 and HE-4. Coming back years later without researching I immediately looked at Hifiman store for my first purchase. I wondered how much better they mustve become in these years passed. Ooh that 400i is pretty and on discount, lets go! Upon first listen: wtf is this boring, meh-fi, weak bass, sharp highs, pos?

    HFM started as a darling rebel that helped bring planar headphones back to hifi mainstream. Amazing sounding products at reasonable prices. I came back and they were slimey product priced like Grado. Giving up the adoration of headphone community for more dollars apparently. Cant blame him. I think its possibly our fault. Too hard to please this crowd.
     
  13. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    I think you're more interested in over-ears than on-ears - but chiming in on the latter just in case and following @sheldaze 's approach of hits vs misses:

    AKG K403 (miss) vs Koss PortaPro & Sennheiser PX100-II. Disliked based on tonal balance, mainly because of an upward slope from bass through middle mids topped off with a peak at 2-3k. This just sounds really wrong.

    The contrast shows up on measurements: this is on a flat-plate coupler, compensated along the lines of SBAF FPC2.1 with a B&K-style ~1 dB/octave downslope above ~200 Hz (black line). Ignore the bass rolloffs below about 70 Hz, they're overstated; relatively though I think everything else is not bad.

    [​IMG]

    Even though the PortaPros and Senns are peaky around 5k, I found their overall balance far preferable to that of the AKGs.

    Not sure what aspects of the design are really responsible. The AKGs do have bigger drivers with deeper enclosures than the other two, and (like other AKGs) a notably flatter impedance profile, the resonant peak in the bass being very subtle (impedance and other measurements and more comparisons are here).
     
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  14. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    I find this topic interesting for two reasons. First, it is all about headphones that are wonky or way off and simply just bad, and two, it highlights our preferences and what we find most offensive about certain headphones. As long as we remember: no headphone is perfect - they are all flawed in some way, we all have our preferences as well as synergies with our gear as well as needs (closed, open, portable, etc.), and some prefer some of these wonky nature of things.

    HFM HE500 - I will start by saying the headphone I had a love/hate relationship with was the HE500. Loved it for it's speed and layering, hated it for it's weak bass withought a really good source and amp, and that 8K treble peak that cannot be tamed, yet destroy what good is there it. Not to mention the pad install/removal and the stock cable. The closest I have found to the sound of this headphone that addresses these two concerns is the PMx2, just for reference.

    Grado SR325i - my first real headphones after MDR-7506. My ears are still scratching. Can you design a more uncomfortable cup and headband, then top that off with no bass and piercing highs and scratchy grainy highs. I convinced myself it was all for the glorious detail for way too long. Bring on the HD600's or 650's.

    Focal Elegia - I could not get these headphones off my head fast enough. The timbre of a closed headphone should not sound like this at all. Harsh, and the timbre is just way off. I have not heard many Focal headphones, but their speakers do not sound anywhere close to this.

    Audeze LCD-1 - I still don't understand the target market of this headphone. Just weak sauce all around.

    I will also say as you go up the Audeze line, the drop off in treble and muted sound just not for me. I know some like a refined sound, but I like something a bit more lively.

    Others are fine that just do not suit my preference. Like HD58X, LCD-2C, and I will also agree with the Beyer 770. I have always tried to like 770, then they just disappoint with their lack of low-mids, lots of sub-bass, and nasally mids. I can see it not being that offensive to some, and maybe the older higher impedance versions were better.
     
  15. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    The HE400i 2020 was my worst. Anemic bass (though it did go down low), bright, fatiguing. Probably other problems as well but I couldn't be bothered to pay attention to other attributes while the above issues were going on.
     
  16. Jh4db536

    Jh4db536 Friend

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    Mr Speakers now DCA - Ether (open ones). Sounds Dead, dull, lifeless, muffled, muddy. Heard it many times with different setups paired with very expensive equipment at shows. I listened this can because that's what they were auditioning the equipment with and i was interested in the equipment

    Focal Elear - gross...just fukt sounding. a huge Hole in the middle of the FR. Major (forward and backrow) disconnect between the mids. Had this on loaner right after the Utopia. Whatever, they did to make this headphone sound like this, please avoid. I think someone would have a hard time diying something with more Wonk than this.

    I dont like any Audeze or HFM except the og HE5 and HE6. Recently heard an HE4 and that was okay as well.
     
  17. M3NTAL

    M3NTAL Friend

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    The most disappointed I've been was when I paid MSRP on a Sennheiser HD485. I give the Sony MDR-V700DJ a pass since it has sentimental value to me. It probably kicked off the +$100.00 headphone game for me. Ultrasone PL650 wasn't great, but honestly better than both. Same with the PL750/PL2500 (Open/Closed Variant) - They might not have been correct in any sort of way, but man were they a clear step up from my MDR-V700DJ and Shure E2C.
     
  18. A Child of the Jago

    A Child of the Jago Facebook Friend

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    I can't give a single reason as to why, but if bad is also underwhelming then the Audeze LCD-2 Classic was sold within a few weeks for its total insipidness, and remains the most unremarkable headphone I've ever listened to.
     
  19. jnak00

    jnak00 Friend

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    (Mass)Drop (Mr. Speakers) Dan Clark Audio Ether CX. I really wanted to like these but they were so dull and lifeless. They did get better with more volume but I had to push them beyond comfortable listening levels to get any kind of engagement.

    Really a huge shame because they are gorgeous, well-built, and supremely comfortable.
     
  20. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Please, let's shit on bad headphones, and explain why. I want to bring a little bit of that immature Changstar spirit, e.g. "fucking ringing", "seek out and destroy", etc. We should rename this thread "Fucked Headphones And Why" or maybe I should start an alternative thread once enough candidates have been identified here.

    HD800 aka the face tweeter
    So good in so many ways. But so obviously bad in one way. I stick with it for a few years, until I realize I would never listen to about 30-40% of my music collection. Yes, I was a fucking moron. This is why I caution to others: listen to music, do not listen to gear, and most certainly do not listen to tubes. Was it @rhythmdevils who coined the term "face tweeter".

    IER-Z1R the fucked IEM
    Lots and lots of peeps love this. By SBAF standards, this is absolute shit. Implements a variant of Dr. Sean Olive P H D or China regional FR target. The frequency response can be fixed via EQ. However, what cannot be fixed is using three different kinds of drivers which sound totally different for the lows, mids and highs. The worse of it is that piezo tweeter (marketed as some LCP bullshit) which sounds like ass. How does one define "sounds like ass"? It sounds like two cats fucking. But hey, what do I know. I'm an American who doesn't have IEM stores at every corner that sells 1000s of different IEMs (most of which over $1k sound like shit). The IER-Z1R is the poster child for everything that is wrong in the IEM world: ever higher prices, weirdo bizarre experiments which result in shaper edges and fucked timbre instead of truly better resolution, crap tech marketed under special terminology, adherence to Sean Olive's target, and overreliance of frequency response graphs from dweebs who are getting any.

    1MORE Triple Driver
    40 mm graphene dynamic driver + ceramic tweeter + bass reflector. That says it all. Laudable effort, but run away.

    Grado Vixen
    Many of you guys don't know this, but Darth Beyers were a little bit of a rage back in the day, especially for bassheads. I wanted to Darth my Grado RS2. It's a Grado right? So moar bass with Grados transients and mid-crunch will make Grados even more awesome right? Back then I was new and dumb. I should have gotten TTVJ or Grado HP1 flat pads. I paid hundreds of dollars and when I got my RS2 back in a Vixen package and listened to them, I cried. That was well over a $1000 down the toilet and I didn't have much money back then.
     
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    Last edited: Aug 25, 2021

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