Headphone Comparison Observations (Audeze, Senn etc)

Discussion in 'Headphones, Earphones & Portable Music' started by shug4476, Nov 5, 2017.

  1. shug4476

    shug4476
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    Had an opportunity this weekend to listen to some cans for comparison and took a few notes. Thought it might be of use to somebody to reproduce them here.

    I am indebted to Oxford Audio Consultants for their generosity with their time and equipment.

    Phones compared were:

    Audeze LCD-2
    Audeze LCD-3
    Sennheiser HD-700
    Sennheiser HD-800S
    B&W P9 Signature
    Audioquest Nighthawk

    Equipment used was my own Graham Slee Solo SRG-II with PSU-1, and a Chord Hugo 2 DAC with high def media server (don't ask me which - know nothing about these things).

    Preliminary remarks. I know people are hooked on the HUGO but I was not keen. I don't like the look of it. I tried it as a direct headphone amp, bypassing the Slee, and it had that "in your head" sound which I always try to avoid with headphones. The variable level output was fiddly to use (the multicoloured dome thing doesn't make identifying a reference volume very easy).

    The other thing is, I am a reluctant joiner of the headphone brigade. I cannot blast music out of speakers where I live, so have had to settle. I know some people swear by headphones, but I should add up front that not one of these cans really impressed me that much. A decent £1k pair of speakers will give you far more involvement with the music. There are two deficiencies for headphones which I found to be irredeemable. The first is bass response. It is just poor compared to loudspeakers. Nothing has "presence" through headphones (an illusive but essential quality). The second is imaging. Even the best headphones here could not escape the "in your head" sound.

    So I would say if you can accommodate them, even modestly priced stereo loudspeakers I find much more musically involving (I say this as a musician).

    HD-800S

    These were first up. They are extremely comfortable headphones. First impressions were "studio-like". Listened to Norah Jones (a CD I have used as demo material for many a loudspeaker setup). Her voice came across as "in your head". All the instruments were present & correct, but not that musically communicative. I did not get the sense of a professional band playing together (which mid-range loudspeakers can give). My notes say that there is a modest bit of glare to her voice, in that it had a slightly "shouty" quality at moments, but I should make clear that all of the headphones exhibited this quality to greater or lesser extents, perhaps because of the proximity to your eardrum. The Senns were the best in class for this, and kept it to a minimum.

    The Police's 'Roxanne' my notes simply say "no bass!". Anybody who has heard the remaster of this knows how much kick the drum and bass of this track can have through a decent speaker system. It sounded somewhat washed out through the Senns. Buena Vista Social Club had good timbre to instruments and voices, but was emotionally uninvolving. I should add that the 800S easily had the best imaging of all of the 'phones I listened to, but was still no match for loudspeakers.

    LCD-2

    These were second. They are much heavier than the 800S, but were still comfortable on my (rather large) skull. My notes say "much better bass than the Sennheisers, but can also be a bit lumpy at the low end - like a pair of speakers interacting badly with a room". Roxanne had more 'presence' here, and Sting's voice sounded rather more passionate and forthright than with the Senns. Norah Jones was less successful, with glare in her voice which had a slightly shouty quality, and some colour to background instruments that simply wasn't there with the Senns.

    LCD-3

    Heavy, but again comfortable for me. The best way to describe these is a sort of marriage between the HD-800S and the LCD-2. It kept all of the 2's qualities of emotional engagement and presence, but ironed out its problems and took on an overall more neutral tone akin to the 800S. A song by Damien Rice, 'I Remember December', has a slow, almost sweet opening, and then builds to an orchestral and electronic crescendo at the very end. Good speakers can handle this in a way that doesn't make the track start to sound like noise. The LCD-3 presented Rice's voice as if he were physically millimetres away from the studio microphone (whereas the 800S, he sounded further back). When the crescendo began, the LCD-3s fell apart, where quite a lot is going on in the soundtrack. Another song by the same artist, 'Cheers Darlin', was much better handled. Roxanne was superb through the 3's. It is a weird song in that it has quite a peppy, engaging rhythm, but here String's voice gave the song an altogether more emotionally disturbing meaning - a sort of melancholy that none of the other headphones quite matched.

    Nighthawk

    These were easily the most comfortable headphones of the group. Very light on the head. Sadly in all other respects they were outperformed by all the other headphones. Instruments and voices alike were coloured with glare, music was not very engaging.

    B&W P9

    These were the only closed backs I listened to. The build quality was truly beautiful to behold - they had the most impressive in-hand feel of all those here. They were a little tight on the head, so maybe not ideal for long listening. Also they seemed a bit heavy. Sound-wise, they sounded different from all the others, rather more 'in-ear' sounding. Voices appeared to be between your ears rather than in a room. I never really got the impression of a soundstage from these - more a series of instruments playing along a plane. If you need closed back, then obviously they are Hobson's choice.

    HD-700

    All that really needs to be said about these is that they sound very similar to the 800S, but with a smaller soundstage They had a studio-like neutrality, and you get the impression that the headphones are simply communicating to you what is in the signal. They were also extremely comfortable. If you like these, you will like the 800S and vice-versa. They had all the benefits and shortcomings of the 800S.

    Conclusions

    I cannot hide my disappointment overall with all of the headphones - but perhaps I was hoping for the impossible (i.e. something to displace the need for decent loudspeakers).

    The Sennheisers do give you the almost subliminal impression that you are hearing exactly what is in a recording with no interference whatsoever. I can see why they are trusted for mixing. However, I also subjectively felt like they were achieving this by taking their foot off the gas, so to speak. Instruments and voices sounded further away, something that could not be remedied with volume control. The 800S clearly have the edge on the 700, but they are so easily identifiable as from the same 'stable' that if you like one, you will like the other. I have not heard the famous HD-650, but I expect that sounds similar again.

    The Audeze. I am very apprehensive of these having read about quality control problems from various sources online. There are some truly glowing reviews from the press of the 3's in particular. I could not quite figure out how, between the import tariffs, lambskin leather, bamboo wood etc there could be much budget left for the much-vaunted planar technology, when the Sennheiser 800S with its altogether simpler construction retails at an almost identical price to the 3. However, I cannot deny that they do some things very well that the Senns don't. Bass response in particular was far better.

    The B&W are beautifully built and very different to everything else, but I felt like they were appearing to the top end of the Spotify user market, than the genuine hi-fi buff.

    The Audioquest are comfortable to wear but rather less comfortable to listen to. I would not recommend these.

    The Slee more than held its own in this company. I greatly preferred it to the Hugo. I would much rather have not had the Hugo in the signal chain but this was unavoidable due to the way things were set up.

    On rankings, done purely on sound quality:

    1st - LCD-3
    2nd - HD-800S
    3rd - HD-700
    4th - LCD-2
    5th - P9
    6th - Nighthawk

    Which one will I buy? But for the widely reported quality control problems, I would buy the LCD-3's. However, I have pretty much settled on the HD-700, which offer most of the performance of the 800S, at a fraction of the price.
     
  2. shug4476

    shug4476
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    Another brief rant. When I last was into hifi, a great deal of expense was spent on the purity of the signal path. The advent of the media server seems to have meant people have totally put these issues to one side, and they are happy to now stream signals from an overseas server in realtime and assume an expensive DAC can remedy this.

    I was not enamoured with the sound of this way of doing things. I much prefer a decent CD player, and a decent DVD-A/SACD can outdo these again.
     
  3. theogulland

    theogulland
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    Interestly well thought out post here.

    Very different selection of headphones put together.

    I was going to say that going from traditional hifi to headphones is initially disappointing, but soon grows to be very rewarding. I don't know exactly why but I guess the ears / brain etc are so used to listening to speakers / natural sounds etc that headphones seem initially a little unnatural. That being said, I see you have some ATH-AD900's, so I assume you have been listening to headphones for a while?

    What stopped you going back to Audio-Technica as a brand out of interest?
     
  4. droidlike

    droidlike
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    If I were in you, and since you tested all those cans and being not fully satisfied
    then
    I'll test a beyerdynamic dt880 pro 250 ohm with a beyerdynamic amp a20

    after 20min of warm up of the amp you'll be blown away ...

    ;)

    have fun
     
  5. theogulland

    theogulland
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    True. You a fan of the 1990's / 1770's?
     
  6. theogulland

    theogulland
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    Back to what headphones @shug4476 was listening too, he may find the beyer ranges to be a little intense (correct me if wrong @shug4476). If he were to explore that brand, perhaps look at the Amiron Home side by side to the others (880, 990, 1990, 1770). The Amirons are very different in comparison to standard 'house sound' so to speak. Much warmer, more laid back etc. Very good in my opinion.
     
  7. shug4476

    shug4476
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    I hope you are right about the transition because ultimately I have no choice! The AD900s saw little use over the years until they were slowly destroyed by SWMBO. It was going to cost a packet to get them repaired so began looking further afield.

    The dealer made the short list for me. I don't know whether they had Audio Technica or not, but I would have gladly listened to them. I was very keen to hear the Audeze and the 800S but, beyond that, left it to his discretion.

    I am not looking to buy another headphone amp.

    I will say this is the one area where I have been easily able to spot large differences - between the standard headphone out on an amplifier, and a dedicated headphone amp.
     
  8. invisiblekid

    invisiblekid
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    Good write up.

    I have to disagree a little bit about the AudioQuest. I have the NightOwls (closedback) and love their sound. I had a quick (sadly) try of the NightHawks and while they did have the sound you described I found them to reveal sound quite excellently...and the NightOwls. They sound, different. The best? Of course not, but they do something different and I like that.

    I think your problem about being disappointed about them all is a real outcome for many. I remember a Home Theatre Geeks podcast where a very knowledgeable guy do a huge test with some invited listeners.

    He had $1000's upon $1000's of gear all set up to try. Same amps with different headphones and vice versa. The most common reaction to some quite amazing audio combinations was a surprised "oh, ere I was expecting audio nirvana"

    People read reviews about people who can pick up on 0.1% difference and write about it. They've think they will fall to the floor with the impact of delicious sound.

    All you can do is audition phones, don't expect real sound to be injected into your ears and pick what you think is right for you at the right price.

    Sadly most people cannot have 10-30 sets of cans to keep and can pick what they want on a particular listening session.
     
  9. shug4476

    shug4476
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    This is a very fair reflection I think. The ordinal ranking (which comes first, which comes second etc) is a difficult exercise and is really not very useful. It really depends what people want to use the headphones for and what their personal tastes are.

    I would say I could very easily spot the differences between the headphones. Having heard those differences I would be fairly confident now in a blind listening test in being able to spot a pair of Senns etc. However, identifying a preference is much harder.

    I have an inkling, from just two hours of listening, that the Senns might be better over the very long term, as their almost total absence of subjective 'character' would seem well suited to extended listening periods.
     
  10. Steven

    Steven
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    The beyerdynamic treble is too acquired to be a universal recommend without demo. Best bang for buck is Sennheiser HD600/650 or the import only Fostex TH-X00 imo (pre devaluation in £GBP moreso). Not heard the HD660S to comment
     
  11. droidlike

    droidlike
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    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
  12. shug4476

    shug4476
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    Another thing I noticed is that the 800S seems to sell invariably at or close to RRP, but substantial discounts are available on the 700 and 650.

    Annoyingly the 650 seems to have shot up in price since Brexit? I remember it used to go for under £200.
     
  13. Steven

    Steven
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    I was more referring to the Fostex TH-X00 value proposition being impacted by the worse exchange rate due to the lower £.

    I do not recall the HD600 / HD650 regularly being below £200 this decade. Not sure why that is on twenty year old models - although once purchased there is no reason to sell as they scale so will get monies worth
     
  14. shug4476

    shug4476
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    I definitely saw them scraping in at under £200 when I bought the ATs many years ago. This must be close to 10 years ago now though!
     

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