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What's the Most Important Headphone in the History of Headphone Enthusiasm?

I'm wondering, what's the most important headphone ever made for headphone enthusiasts?

Not necessarily the best sounding, or highest price, or most popular, but the headphone that was most influential in spurring on the hobby of headphone enthusiasm. In your mind, the most important audiophile headphone.

Here's the choices I came up with; if you feel I missed one you think more important, feel free to write in your choice in the comments.

What's the Most Important Headphone in the History of Headphone Enthusiasm?
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COMMENTS
Justin@HeadAmp's picture

Unfortunately, history will probably say it's Beats.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...that's why I addad the bit about being important to the hobby. 

Of course, Beats has done more than any one else to raise popular interest in headphones, that's for sure.  But I'm not putting them on the list, not going to do it, nope.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Tyll, I was also thinking "Beats," until you added, "the most important audiophile headphone."  (But what's the difference between the "best-sounding" headphone and "the most important audiophile" headphone?) 

With the exception of perhaps the Etymotic, most people who own $100-and-up headphones have never heard of any of these models. How, then, are they important? And why isn't Beats important to the hobby?

On Stereophile's Hot 100, we include products that weren't exactly "high-fidelity"—the Crown DC300A and Polk Cobra Cable come to mind—but nevertheless blazed a trail for others to follow and improve upon. It seems to me that Beats' success represents a massive opportunity, not only for headphone brands and enthusiasts, but for all high-end audio manufacturers to reach a wider audience. That alone makes them important.

I just can't ignore the significance of Beats to the overall headphone market and overall headphone enthusiasm.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I tend to use the words "headphone enthusiasm" as a synonym for the "headphone hobby." So I don't think the title is as clear as it should have been.

I might argue that Beats have done as much harm as good to the headphone hobby.  You spend enough for really good sound...but don't get it. And worse, most people don't know they're not getting it, so are likely to say to themselves, "Wow, what's the big deal with high-end sound?  I don't get it."

There's no doubt that Beats and Monster hugely raised headphones in the popular consciousness. But they're also taking a huge chunk of that market share of over $100 headphones (64%).  I think the problem there is that they're keeping the other, more legitimate in my view, competitors from having the resources to improve/develop product. Beats is also dragging people to compete in the area of fashion and style as opposed to good sound.  They act to drag everybody's eye off the ball.

In sum, I don't think Beats is good for the hobby other than by providing a Goliath to revile together.

Hard to argue with success, though.

Justin@HeadAmp's picture

if you wanted to change headphone hobby to headphone nerd-dom id go with Grado SR-60

Stephen Mejias's picture

I might argue that Beats have done as much harm as good to the headphone hobby.  You spend enough for really good sound...but don't get it. And worse, most people don't know they're not getting it, so are likely to say to themselves, "Wow, what's the big deal with high-end sound?  I don't get it."

Hey Tyll. I think that's a great point, and I agree to an extent. But, while I understand that Beats is selling the idea of "good sound," I doubt whether people are actually spending their money on Beats for good sound. Like with any portable headphone purchase, people are spending their money for comfort, durability, appearance, and sound. All those things considered, I think Beats headphones are actually competitvely priced. It just so happens that the aspect most important to our needs and lifestyles—sound—is where Beats comes up shortest. 

Beats is also dragging people to compete in the area of fashion and style as opposed to good sound.  They act to drag everybody's eye off the ball.

Hmm . . . That's another interesting point.  I hadn't thought of it that way.  I've been (perhaps naively) hoping that other brands would use the Beats model to their advantage, designing products that appeal to young peoples' senses of style but that also offer outstanding sound.  I think the Sennheiser Momentum achieves this balance, as do, to various degrees, the PSB M4U, B&W P5, and Skullcandy Aviator.

ultrabike's picture

"But what's the difference between the "best-sounding" headphone and "the most important audiophile" headphone?"

I would argue that many (if not most) audiophile headphones (classified by target market segment) are not necessarily the best sounding ones (by subjective perception statistics and technical merit), so there are differences.

"With the exception of perhaps the Etymotic, most people who own $100-and-up headphones have never heard of any of these models"

I may not be understanding your sentence, but most people I know that own headphones $100-and-up have heard quite a few of the models in Tyll's list. Specifically the HD600, HD800, Grado SR60, Denon AH-D5000, Fostex T50RP, and AKG K701 are fairly popular. I have heard all but 4 in the list (haven't heard the Etymotic BTW.) Note many of the headphones on the list are north of $100 (some way north)

"And why isn't Beats important to the hobby?"

Among headphone enthusiasts, Beats (Solo) are not well regarded, and considered an example of poor sound quality at inflated prices. Note that the headphones in Tyll's list imply a positive impact connotation. 

Stephen Mejias's picture

Hi Ultrabike.

I would argue that many (if not most) audiophile headphones (classified by target market segment) are not necessarily the best sounding ones (by subjective perception statistics and technical merit), so there are differences.

I'm not sure I understand. So, what makes an "audiophile" headphone if not the sound quality? I'm used to judging a product's audiophile merits by its sound quality.

I may not be understanding your sentence, but most people I know that own headphones $100-and-up have heard quite a few of the models in Tyll's list.

I guess I'm thinking of the question differently—from a more pedestrian point of view. Most people I know don't know much at all about hi-fi or sound quality, and have either never heard of the brands mentioned or are only vaguely aware of them, and they certainly aren't familiar with the particular models. But they have heard of Beats.

Among headphone enthusiasts, Beats (Solo) are not well regarded, and considered an example of poor sound quality at inflated prices.

I agree.

Note that the headphones in Tyll's list imply a positive impact connotation.

I understand that, but I still like to think that Beats' success can be turned into a success for all high-end audio manufacturers and enthusiasts. Every person wearing a set of Beats headphones is, to my eyes, a potential audiophile.

ultrabike's picture

"I'm not sure I understand. So, what makes an "audiophile" headphone if not the sound quality? I'm used to judging a product's audiophile merits by its sound quality."

Well, I think it would be ideal if a headphone with stellar presentation and sound quality was given the "audiophile" label. Unfortunately, that is not always the case (by their own manufacturer.) Here are some examples:

Beyerdynamic T1 Headphone: "Audiophile Tesla Hi-Fi headphones, semi-open" . An audiophile headphone according to Beyerdynamic's site. However, based on (mine/others) impressions and measurements I would argue that their "Premium Studio" DT880 headphone provides better sound quality.

Sennheiser HD700 Headphone: While it belongs to the "Sennheiser Audiophile Line", I don't think it outperforms their HD518/558/598 in any department (much less their HD600/650 products.) It is an audiophile headphone in the sense of it's target market, but IMO it is not an audiophile headphone by it's merits and sound quality.

Grado GS1000 Headphone: Highly acclaimed, but I would still favor an SR-225 modded by Kojaku which is arguably a better headphone in terms of merits and sound quality. A stock PS-500, with all it's limitations, might be more enjoyable too.

My point is that when a product is priced and labeled as an "audiophile" headphone, it does not always means better sound quality (as defined by subjective evaluation, and technical merits such as linear and non-linear performance.)

Again, I definitively agree that in order to be given an "audiophile" label, a headphone should perform accordingly. But, this is not always the case.

"I guess I'm thinking of the question differently—from a more pedestrian point of view. Most people I know don't know much at all about hi-fi or sound quality, and have either never heard of the brands mentioned or are only vaguely aware of them, and they certainly aren't familiar with the particular models. But they have heard of Beats."

I understand. I believe the success of smart phones is partially and strongly responsible for the success of personal audio. I actually think that most people have only heard music through their brand-x earbuds. Many stores offer Monster and Bose products of their shelves as alternatives to what comes inside the cell-phone box, but Sennheiser, Fostex and others IMO remain under-represented in the stands. This includes headphone amps/dacs. This is unfortunate and hopefully something that will change.

I regularly go to Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and so on. I almost always see dedicated stands for Bose and Monster properly taken care off and attractive. Next to them I see a nearly dismantled demo rig for the rest of the products. I would be lucky if I find anything in that pile other than Sony, Phillips, JVC, ... rubber ducky. I believe department store marketing is partially responsible for brand and product awareness (take Target - scroll down to see a typical personal audio stand)

warrenpchi's picture

to not list Beats.  I don't think they did nearly as much to advance headphonedom as some others (both on and off your list).  What they DID do was get the populace to accept to a much higher price point.  And regardless of how you feel about them personally, setting a new price point is a good thing.  Once people become accustomed to the cost, it will be much easier for them to shift to something resembling fidelity.  smiley

cdwinans's picture

How about the Koss SP3?

sszorin's picture

The history has decided, the most important headphones were and are the Beyerdynamic DT- 48. First manufactured in 1937; after the Second World War, especially from the 1950's on, these truly the first mass produced electro-dynamic headphones brought [together with the transistor radio] first the portable music room and later the portable stereo room to the masses. These headphones were the most instrumental in creating the 'headphones tribe' and its culture.

sszorin's picture

xxxx

bigdave56's picture

Unfortunately Justin is probably correct.

I notice a "high end" tilt in the list and would suggest the Sennheiser 414, the "VW Beetle" of headphones and the first that broke the "two teacups in a vise" paradigm. The first open headphones and still unchallenged for comfort IMHO (although the sound has been bettered by any number of cans since.)

Tyll Hertsens's picture

The Sennheiser HD 414 was definately an important headphone. Don't know if it had much infuence on the hobby, exept in a setting the groundwork sort of way. 

Another can similar to the 414 in laying groundwork, which I did think of but decided not to put on the list, is the Koss Pro 4AA...the original one with liquid filled ear pads. It was sure influential for me...my first real headphone.

Limp's picture

I'll have to agree with this. 

And if you want to take a step further on in time, to a headphone that was truly one for the masses, the Koss PortaPro is too big to miss.

But of the ones presented above I chose HD600. It was, excluding the HD580, the first headphone that made audiophile sound available to the common man.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

....if I'da thought of the Porta-Pro I might have put it on the list. A great sounding headphone...just doesn't quite make the jump into audiophilia.

Humble little bugger.

I was tempted to do some of the headphones as families. HD 580/600/650; Denon D2000/5000/7000. But I decided to keep it simple...I figured you guys would get it.

Limp's picture

Yes, it might just be a bit too common to join the club proper, but as a stepping stone there is no doubt it was of great importance.

Odd concept, audiophilia. SR60 makes it, PortaPro don't.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...many in the know still say, "Just get a Porta-Pro or KSC75 and you'll be happy."

"But they're ugly!," unfortunately is the most common answer.

I'm with you though, I think they shoulda been on the list.

Friggen dumbass editors.

Impulse's picture

The KSC50 & 55 were much sleeker and had the same driver, I'm not quite sure why they got such a brief production run before Koss went back to the 35/75 design with the butt ugly grill and the weaker clip.I agree tho, either the 75's or the Porta Pro's deserved a spot, proof positive that price isn't everything and enjoyable sound can be had on the cheap.

DS-21's picture

The 50 was a lot less comfortable than the 35. Also, the 50's clips were a lot more fragile. Just a brittle wire in rubber I broke mine in short order, but I'm still putting my old KSC-35's clips on successive KSC-75s over a decade later. (I replace the drivers every year or so, because some combination of hair and workout sweat invariably destroys them.)

FWIW, I voted ER-4, because it's the only one of the bunch that created a whole new category of devices (IEMs).

DT48's picture

I would say headphones that took one important step forward from earlier generations, and three lines come to mind:

AKG K400/K500

Yamaha HP1/HP50

Sennheiser HD580/HD565

My criteria? That they are still able to compete with present day models and provide listening pleasure on an elevated level with high resolution listening sources. And most importantly: were designed to be produced at reasonable cost. Few can, these cans can.

ProTofik's picture

 

"...but the headphone that was most influential in spurring on the hobby of headphone enthusiasm."

I prefer HD600 however for many people HD650 were first serious headphone.

I suggest to add them or change HD600 option to HD600/HD650.

catscratch's picture

Not a good idea in my opinion, any poll like this is just going to degenerate into a popularity contest.

 

Out of all of the above, the Stax fanboy in me would say Omega 2, but realistically I'd say none. I'd pick the Sennheiser HD414, or maybe the HD580, or the Stax SR-1 - in other words, a headphone that was really instrumental in showing people that headphones could be a legitimate tool for audio reproduction instead of just a convenience.

 

Sadly, I'd put the Beats up there too. Whether we like the effect they had on the hobby or not, they have had a profound effect, and on the whole, I would say for the better. At the very least, they helped propagate the idea that it's ok to pay more than a few dollars for a pair of headphones. On the other hand, they also helped spread the idea that more money invested into headphones doesn't really buy better sound - and of couse the idea that it's perfectly fine to sell a headphone based on looks and marketing alone - but at the very least you have more people interested in the high-end side of the market, as a spillover from celebrity headphones, than ever before. Besides, in the long term, quality usually wins out (though as a rule it also fails to make the bulk of the money) and once the celebrity headphone trend has been miled dry and has gone, increased interest in headphone quality should remain. Or so the hope goes.

Seth195208's picture

 Balanced armature designs have allowed us to do something that the high end had never allowed us to do before..Be mobile. And that all started with the ER4S. In comparison, everything else on the list is just another headphone.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

....that's why I put it on the list.

I remember vividly having a customer call way back in the day when Ety ER4S were new. It was an old and stodgy sort of guy who was all excited. 

He said, "Oh my gosh, it was amazing. I was sitting on the plane listening to the Cello Suite #1 by Bach and I could not only hear the cellist breathing through his nose, but I could hear he needed to clip his nose hairs. Just amazing!"

Seth195208's picture

Back in 95, when I learned about these(ER4S), I was blown away at the idea that you could do any type of exercise(Except in traffic. Also, cable microphonics was pretty bad, come to think of it) and still get the high end experience. It was so revolutionary. Easily fifteen years(Does that sound about right?)ahead of their time. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

..I'd say that's about right.

 

One guy in New York said they had done so much to lower his blood pressure commuting, that he should be able to get them prescribed and write it off in his medical expenses.

I agree frankly, properly used in-ears can lower the overall sound level you're exposed to, if careful.

mikeaj's picture

High-end sound through IEMs was pretty much a new class of device and opened a different usage model, so that got my vote as well.

Aside from that, I would join the crowd saying HD 600 (HD 600 and family).

kingu's picture

Beyerdynamic DT 990 pro

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