InnerFidelity April Update
Lots and lots of new headphones measured since the last update. I'd like to thank Joker for shipping me a bunch of in-ear monitors for measurement, a very interesting collection. There were so many headphones to be measured in fact, that I didn't get a chance to listen to them all, so my comments will be brief, and some I won't comment about at all---though I will add a list of those not mentioned at the end.
- AKG K267 Tiesto - Boy, I think I like this headphone. It has three settings on the earpiece that control acoustic changes in the capsule. I found the sound tasty, if a bit uneven and closed in---like all sealed cans. I'm looking forward to some serious listening sessions. These cans are getting a review. Also measured were the Tiesto K167 and K67, which I found unsatisfying.
- Sennheiser IE 800 - Argh, what a troublesome little pair of headphones. They simply refuse to seat properly in my measurement head. And their tips are quite unique, so I can't use alternate ones to try to get a better fit. Bottom line: You can't trust the measured data for this headphone. I've now measured an early pair and a current production pair, and it does seem like bass response improved and the ringing has been reduced a bit. I also suspect that some of the ringing seen may be due to acoustic interactions between the cans and the poor fit in the artificial canal that might not actually exist in use with a real human ear. They fit nicely into my ears, and I felt the sound pretty darn good, though I did hear some funny sparkle that might have been this resonance. At any rate, don't take these measurements as representative of these cans, pretty sure Joker will be reviewing them. Sorry, I wish I could have gotten a better measurement.
- Mr. Speakers Mad Dog - Dan Clark has been working diligently on his Mad Dog modified Fostex T50RP headphone and good headway has been made. Response from 10Hz to 1kHz is pretty darn good, but roll-off after that point is a bit to steep and deep for me, making a somewhat unresponsive sound to my ears. Most measures are quite good otherwise, but THD is up quite a bit from last time I measure a version of this can. Gotta hand it to him though, squeezing performance out of this decades old design is quite an accomplishment.
- Yamaha Pro300, Pro400, and Pro500 - Finally got my hands on the new Yamaha Pro line of headphones. I found the Pro300 pretty poor, but the Pro400 and Pro500 were okay, and sounded better to my ears than the measurements would indicate. Five years ago they may have ranked right up with contenders, but recent stellar entries into the field of full-size, sealed cans push these well into the pack of also-rans. Measurements show pretty uneven response, in particular the humpity-bumpity impedance plots indicate a lot of uncontrolled resonances around the driver. Also, 20 Ohms seems just way too low to me. I really wish manufacturers would stick to 50 Ohms and above to take advantage of better damping factors. I won't be reviewing these.
- Philips Fidelio S1 and S2 - A couple of months ago I measured the pre-release versions of these dynamic in-ear cans and thought them pretty good. Philips sent the final production versions and measurements show only modest changes...a bit for the better as I see it. I enjoyed them on brief listen, and sent them off to Joker for further evaluation and possible review.
- Torque t103z - Another tunable in-ear, the Torque t103z is a handsome and nicely designed in-ear with screw on filters quite similar to the AKG K3003. This is a great concept, but all too often fails to impress. Sadly, this is the case again. Best I've heard of this type of IEM is the now discontinued Audeo PFE 1XX series, and the Sleek SA7.
- Thermaltake Isurus - Wow! For $29 bucks this little gem measures spectacularly. This is on of Joker's IEMs that didn't make it into my ears, but after perusing the measurements I wish it had. Pretty stunning.
- V-Sonic GR07 and GR07 Bass Edition - I regularly get folks asking me if I've heard these, and boy am I glad Joker's pile-o-cans came with examples of this fine little headphone. What a treat! This $180 dynamic IEM just goes to show you that dynamic drivers hold as much promise for high-end IEMs as balanced armature based products---in some ways more, as you don't run into the wild impedance swings of BA IEM crossovers.
- Unmentioned but Measured - Astrotec AM90; Audio Technica ATH-CKM50, ATH-CKM500, ATH-W5000 2013; HiSound Audio Crystal, Hiphone HP4, Wooduo; Monoprice 8320; Panasonic HJE120; Philips Construct, SHL3000, SME3580; RHA MA150; RockIt Sounds R30, R50; Sony MH1C; Soundmagic E10; TDK MT300; V-Sonic VCO2; Westone UM1, W2, UM3X, and 4R.
Ultimate Headphone Guide - My parent company, Source Interlink Media (SIM), is the largest men's enthusiast periodical publisher in the United States, producing titles like: Motor Trend, Powder, Surfer, Motorcyclist, Stereophile, and over a hundred other magazine and website special interest journals. For the last few years, the Automotive Group have been publishing a special interest publication (SIP) called, "The Ultimate Wheel and Tire Guide". While not associated with any one particular brand in the group, editors in the group rally to produce the most comprehensive guide to wheels and tires available, and it has become a very popular and profitable publication for Source Interlink. As such, SIM management has been looking for another topic that may duplicate that success, and believe they have found one in headphones.
A project called "The Ultimate Headphone Guide" has been initiated, and I've been asked to help as copy editor for the publication. The guide will be about 250 pages and is projected to be on sale at newsstands this fall for $9.99. You can think of it as a yearbook for headphones, which will contain hundreds of pictures with short descriptions of the headphones displayed, intended to give readers a sweeping overview of this year's products. It will be break headphones down into three broad categories: around-ear; on-ear; and in-ear headphones, and I'm happy to say, will also include a category for headphone amplifiers.
The beginning of each section the guide will include some editorial content providing readers with a overviews of each category helping potential customers orient themselves and their needs within the vast array of products available. But there will also be articles in the back of the book on such topics as: "How Headphones Work"; "Hearing Safety", "What is a Headphone Amplifier"; "How to Properly Insert and Use In-Ear Monitors", and a number of other headphone related articles.
While this will take away some of my time from InnerFidelity writings, I think it is a great opportunity to reach out to the broader consuming public and provide them straight talk on the values of headphones and how to approach a headphone purchase---something that they're not getting much of right now. As time goes on I will likely be posting some of my initial thoughts on the various articles in the guide eliciting comment from InnerFidelity readers. I've got a pretty good grip on the information that should appear in the guide, but I'm constantly impressed by the breadth of knowledge of IF readers and feel like I'd be missing out on an opportunity to produce a truly complete book if I didn't include a chance for IF readers to make suggestions. You can expect posts on these subjects a couple of times per month. I hope you'll participate in the process.
Headphone Measurement Tool - Part of the Ultimate Headphone Guide will be an on-line buyer's guide tool for folks wishing to search through headphones on their iPads and smartphones. This effort has put the headphone measurement display tool at a lower priority. However, it is still very much alive because as time goes on headphone measurements will become part of that guide. So while you shouldn't hold your breath for InnerFidelity measurements in an on-line tool, you can rest assured that the future does promise a really terrific way to browse through and evaluate huge numbers of currently available headphones. Patience will pay off in spades, the headphone measurement tool is still on the "must have" list.
The High-End Show, Munich - May 9-13 I will be traveling to Munich for The High-End Show. John Atkinson and Stephen Majias are unable to attend the show for Stereophile, so they've asked Michael Lavorgna of AudioStream, Michael Fremer of Analog Planet, and myself to attend the show and to report for Stereophile's website. I've heard this is a terrific event and am very much looking forward to it. I will no doubt produce a few posts for InnerFidelity, but the bulk of my effort will appear on Stereophile's website. I'll be sure to remind IF readers when the time comes; I'd love to hear your comments on Stereophile's website as my reports appear.
T.H.E. Show Newport - Richard Beers and crew have invited me to attend the THE Show in Newport (So Cal) May 31-June 2. The are making a big effort to highlight headphones at the event and have reserved a large area of the show for headphones and related products. There will also be some panel discussions on headphones that I will sit in on. I heartily encourage Souther California readers to come for a visit and enjoy this effort. And if you see me (I'll be the guy wearing an Hawaiian shirt), please tap me on the shoulder and say "Hi!" I'll post a reminder again about a week before the show.
I'll be on Home Theater Geek this Monday! - My dear colleague Scott Wilkinson over on TWiT.tv's "Home Theater Geeks" has asked me to guest on the show this Monday, April 8th, at 5PM EST, 2 PM PST. We're going to chat about audio virtualization, head related transfer functions, and all manner of spacy in-your-head-audio stuffs. I hope you'll join in to view. If you log into the chat session you can ask questions and watch people comment on the dialog as it happens. Quite fun, I really enjoy doing it.
That's it for the April update. My condolences to all the allergy sufferers out there, but I'm sure glad spring has arrived---time for oil changes on the motorbikes!