InnerFidelity's "Wall of Fame" Full-Size Sealed

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Full-Size Sealed Headphones
These headphones encircle the ear and are sealed to isolate you from outside noise. This is a good type of headphone for people looking to do their listening in moderately loud environments where some isolation is needed, and where the comfort of a full-size headphone will permit long listening sessions.

The downside of sealed headphones is that because of the partially or completely sealed acoustic chambers between the ear and driver, and behind the driver, acoustic resonances that color the sound can occur. The sound of these headphones are generally more "closed in" and "uneven" sounding.

Good sealed headphones generally provide less isolation from outside noise than noise-canceling and in-ear headphones, but will usually provide better sound quality than noise-canceling headphones. If you are listening in very loud environments (airplane, subway, factory floor) a noise-canceling or in-ear headphone is likely a better choice.

Shure SRH1540 ($499)
A wonderful sealed headphone with an open, spacious sound, complemented with a terrific build quality, smashing good looks, and superb comfort. Designed primarily with audio pros in mind, the headphone comes with spare ear-pads and cable, and appears quite durable. It has no folding features, but does come with a nicely protective hard case for transport and storage.

An important note: while these headphones sound extraordinarily good at low listening levels, they tend to fall apart a bit at higher volumes—bass can get bloated and loose; treble can become a little over-emphatic. Those who want a headphone that will perform more consistently mat want to consider the Focal and NAD headphones below.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Focal Spirit Professional ($349)
This is an absolutely fantastic headphone for audio professionals. Supremely neutral with just a tad of elevated response in the 600Hz to 2kHz region for a bit of excitement and a deep bottomless bass, these cans are ideal for sound engineers. Dynamics are superb, and the music is effortlessly presented as a coherent whole.

Ear-cups on these are slightly small and headband caliper pressure is slightly high, but these will ease a bit with time. None the less, those with large ears or head may want to look elsewhere. Finish is a durable black spackle; comes with both short cable with remote and long coiled cable; includes fabric carry/storage sack.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Focal Spirit Classic ($399)
Slightly more relaxed sounding than the Spirit Professional, the Spirit Classic is a headphone that audiophiles will love for long listening sessions. Extraordinarily neutral and wonderfully even sounding, the Classic is a terrific headphone for home and office. Dynamics are superb, and the music is effortlessly presented as a coherent whole.

Ear-cups on these are slightly small and headband caliper pressure is slightly high, but these will ease a bit with time. None the less, those with large ears or head may want to look elsewhere. Finish is a durable black spackle; comes with both short cable with remote and long coiled cable; includes fabric carry/storage sack.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

NAD VISO HP50 ($299)
This outstanding headphone was designed with the philosophy that a headphone should sound like good speakers in a good room...and boy does it succeed! This somewhat warm sounding can does deliver slightly emphasized bass, but in so doing doesn't forget to care well for the rest of the music. Mid-range and treble response are very well proportioned, and quite coherent and open sounding for a sealed headphone.

The goodness doesn't stop with the sound quality though, these cans are stylish, comfortable, nicely accessorized, and very importantly, fairly priced. One of the best over-ear, sealed headphones for general purposes; these will be very difficult to best.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

V-Moda Crossfade M-100 ($310)
WoF_photo_VModa_M100For just about any one I know under the age of 35, the V-Moda M-100 is at the top of my recommendation list. The thump and drive and sparkle are irresistible with any form of contemporary popular music. Whether from an iPhone, computer, or high-end amp, as long as I was playing youthfully exuberant music the V-Moda M-100 flat out rocked. The V-Moda M-100 are a basshead's delight.

Audiophiles looking for faithful reproduction should look elsewhere for a full-sized sealed headphone (Sennheiser Momentum, Logitech UE6000), the M-100 simply not transparent. But there are plenty of audiophiles, both young and old, who want something fun for popular music, and these cans will satisfy that itch. I know I'll definitely be keeping the M-100 in heavy use for a slammin' good time when the mood strikes.

Add to the good time fun sound of the M-100 the fact that you're getting great styling, superb build quality, good isolation from noise, and uniquely useful accessories in an amazingly small package, and you've got yourself a candidate for the headphones with the broadest possible appeal in todays young market.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Audio Technica ATH-M50 ($159)
WoF_photo_AudioTechnica_M50This may be the most commonly recommended headphone among headphone audio enthusiasts. A terrific value at this price point, the ATH-M50 delivers on all fronts.

Sound quality is quite good, but somewhat uneven. Bass is slighly accentuated, and is very well extended into the lowest octaves. This is a good headphone for bassheads. The treble does have a slightly hard edge to it, but it's audio performance remains head-and-shoulders above other sealed headphones at this price.

Isolation and comfort are fair, and build quality and durability are good. Pros and avid enthusiasts would do well to spend the extra to go for the SRH 840 above, but as a good consumer headphone, or general purpose studio can, the Audio Technica ATH-M50 is a competent performer.

Full InnerFidelity review here.

Creative Aurvana Live! ($60)
WoF_photo_Creative_AurvanaLiveEvery time I put these cans on I'm surprised at how good they sound! Overall the sound quality is very well balanced with a slight warm tilt. Low bass is slightly rolled-off and a bit loose, but the treble is very nicely proportioned and not harsh in the least.

This is a great general purpose headphone for around the home or office, but somewhat poor isolation prevents them from being very useful for listening in loud environments.

While the build quality is good, I would not consider these a durable headphone. If you're looking for headphones for kids and college students where time in a backpack is likely, I'd suggest the less expensive Monoprice 8323 ($21) or more expensive Sony MDR-ZX700.

Full InnerFidelity review here.

Monoprice 8323 ($21.59)
WoF_photo_Monoprice_8323I can't imagine how anyone can produce a full-size headphone for $21, much less how they could do so and make one that sounds good as well. But by golly they sure did! If you're looking for a cheap beater headphone that will see duty in a backpack, playroom, or be bashed around in the back of the mini-van, these are your go-to choice.

The one downfall of these headphones is a somewhat uncomfortable fit due to poor padding on the headband. The cable is very long at 10', and is removable from the left earpiece and is terminated at both ends with identical straight 1/8" mini-plugs.

Wall of Fame Full-Size Sealed Retirees

Sony MDR-1R ($299)
WoF_photo_Sony_MDR-1RThis headphone was displaced by the NAD VISO HP50 and Focal headphones.

While a little over emphatic in the upper-bass and upper-mids, I find at low to normal listening levels these cans sound much better than one would expect from the measurements. Warm and clear, with good imaging, I find them terrifically pleasurable for a mobile headset. Add to that its very good looks and terrific comfort, and you've got a headphone that's bound to please.

A slight warning to those with ears that stick out a lot: the cups are a bit shallow, and you may find some discomfort after a while with ears touching the baffle plate. And those who listen to music loud may be off-put by a bit too much bloom in the bass, and a forward upper treble. But for most folks, this is likely the nicest mobile headset you can find.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Sennheiser Momentum ($349.95)
WoF_photo_VModa_M100This headphone was retired from the "Wall of Fame" due to the release of the NAD VISO HP50, which is less expensive, more comfortable, with somewhat better sound.

Let me get my one gripe out of the way, these cans are slightly small for circumaural headphones, and folks with larger than average ears may want to test fit a pair before committing to a purchase. Aside from that...

The Momentum is simply one of the best balanced headphone offerings I've ever experienced. They're very good looking, very good sounding, have excellent isolation, are easily driven from portable players, and are supremely comfortable. This is an ideal headphone for home, office, and listening on the move, but its sound is so good that I'll happily recommend it to audio professionals and audiophiles for all but the most demanding applications.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Denon AH-D5000 ($499)
WoF_photo_Denon_AHD5000This headphone is retired due to being discontinued in mid-2012. Denon replacement headphones were not up to snuff, in my opinion.

While the significantly more expensive D7000 ($799) sounds slightly better, I feel the D5000 delivers far more value for money. This is a luscious sounding headphone that delivers audio fidelity that will satisfy audiophile and audio pro alike. Though the bass is slightly loose, and highs slightly bright, these are minor quibbles given the poor performance of most sealed headphones.

The big problem with the Denon AH-D5000 (and D7000 and D2000) is that they don't isolate very well at all, and while the build quality is quite good, they are not a rugged headphone. As a result, I do not recommend these cans for studio musician and portable applications where isolation and durability are likely important. But for home/office use where some isolation is useful, and were very good performance is desired, the D5000 is an excellent headphone.

Read ful InnerFidelity review here.

AKG K550 ($349)
WoF_photo_AKG_K550This headphone was retired due to the introduction of the UE6000, which I feel is a significantly more balanced sounding headphone. The slightly artificial sounding treble in the K550 became quite obvious in comparison.

A great all-around performer! While not quite having the sonic finesse of the Denon sealed cans, the AKG K550 has a very well balance sound across the board. Some will complain they are thin and strident, but I've found that difficulty getting a good fit and seal on the head is the likely culprit. Once fitted to your head properly these deliver very good sound quality, indeed.

The isolation is also very good on these headphones, which are well suited to listening in moderately loud environments. The comfort is excellent, as is the build quality and styling.

For most audio pros, musicians, and audiophiles who are in search of a great all-around sealed headphone, the AKG K550 would be my top recommendation. I love these cans!

Full InnerFidelity review here.

Denon AH-D2000 ($349)
WoF_photo_Denon_AHD2000This headphone is retired due to being discontinued in mid-2012. Denon replacement headphones were not up to snuff, in my opinion.

For a long time this was my top recommendation for audio professionals needing some isolation. While the AKG K550 mentioned above is better as an all-around sealed headphone, the Denon AH-D2000 bests it in terms of clarity in the treble. These headphones are wonderfully resolving and coherent, with a slight tendency to be a tad bright.

Comfort and build quality is excellent, but due to their somewhat fragile design should not be used in rough-and-tumble applications. Isolation is poor, so those listening in louder environments should look elsewhere. But if you're looking for excellent performance with some isolation at this price point, the AH-D2000 is an excellent choice.

Read ful InnerFidelity review here.

Logitech UE6000($199)
WoF_photo_Shure_SRH840This headphone was retired from the Wall of Fame due to the Sennheiser Momentum coming out with a better sounding sealed headphone (the 6000 is a bit lacking in mid-to-upper treble), and the Sony MDR-1R arriving with roughly comparable sound quality, but better looks and ergonomics at the same price. Original copy follows.

With a slightly warm, but very well balanced character, the UE6000 has rapidly become one of my favorite full-size, sealed any price. The styling, build quality, and isolation are excellent. It's also a noise canceling headphone, but the noise canceling is not particularly effective, and makes the headphones sound too bass-heavy and loose, and somewhat withdrawn in the mids. None the less, this feature may come in handy in loud environments where a little extra bass and treble presence may make movies and videos a bit more enjoyable.

I'd also recommend this headphone for audio professionals as the balance is so good, and it seems to be well built. I don't recommend using the noise canceling circuit in pro applications.

The headphones come with a soft carry case and headphone splitter. The cable has a three-button, Apple compatible remote.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Shure SRH840 ($199)
WoF_photo_Shure_SRH840This headphone was retired due to the better sounding UE6000 becoming available at the same price.

With a warm and comfortable sound, good isolation, and tank-like build quality, the Shure SRH840 is a top performer at this price point. Semi-pros, musicians, and audio enthusiasts looking for a headphone that will satisfy in moderately loud environments will love the SRH840.

Recordists should be aware of the slightly warm tilt to the sound of the SRH840 so as not to overly compensate with eq. Treble response is likewise slightly emphatic, giving these cans a slightly "happy," U-shaped listening experience.

While these headphone apear rather large and bulky, they are quite comfortable and appropriate for long listening sessions, though they can get a bit warm.

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