Adjustments to the $1000+ Circumaural Open Wall of Fame

The new Mr. Speakers Ether Flow and Focal Utopia and Elear have rocked my world...and the Wall of Fame. All three of these headphones have very good tonal balance. At this point, I see no reason to leave any headphones in the Circumarural, open, $1000+ headphone category that don't have excellent tonal balance and are free of serious flaws. Even though I think the headphones being removed are very good headphones, I think the bar has been significantly raised, and above $1000 the headphones should remain competitive or be removed from the Wall of Fame.

The Sennheiser HD 800 S is being removed for lack of bass extension and response. I think Sennheiser did a good job updating this headphone, but its somewhat thin and analytical nature significantly detracts from its otherwise exemplary characteristics such as its deep, wide imaging or superb transient response.

The HiFiMAN HE1000 remains a charming headphone and provides a very relaxed listening experience, but in the end it fails to have the tonal balance and dynamism of the new headphones.

The Mr. Speakers Ether is being replace by the new Mr. Speakers Ether Flow.

The Stax SR-009 will remain on the Wall of Fame until such time as I am able to properly survey again contenders in this area.

That is all.

EvenR's picture

Since Tyll's review of the Ether Flow and his new found opinion on the 800S, there has been quite some disagreements on the head-fi 800S thread.

Personally, i find the 800S to be balanced throughout the entire frequency range, it holds the crown in imaging and it's a very enjoyable listen.

I don't know what headphone Tyll is listening to. He clearly has a preference towards warm headphones.

With that said, i'm very excited to try the Ether flow or Focal Elear and see if i prefer them overall. Either way, it's a controversial decision to pull the 800S from the WoF given it's uniqueness and unmatched strengths.

I'm can't wait for the "Big Sound 2016" write up, if there's one planned. Should be very interesting with the new headphones released this year.

ar's picture

I don't mind "analytical" and I haven't heard anything equal in imaging to 800... BUT I don't disagree with Tyll on how it sounds.

It is, however, an outdated headphone, imo.

Perhaps they'll hear the call, face the music (p.i.),drop the price so more people can afford it and get into the lab.

It's a huge firm. They should be producing every kind of driver imaginable. Pushing limits of science that others can't afford to. Computer simulations Ether can't afford to do - they should be all over that!

Instead they have an ancient line-up of outdated headphones going back 20 years ago. Every time they release something "new", I yawn and go back to sleep.

They are opening stores to stay relevant when everyone is closing stores. Sad.

I say: drop 40 headphones to 5-10 core ones. Go spend some bills on R&D. Fire the lazy (people and products).

Or be a footnote on Wall of Fame. Something has to occupy that space also.

GimmeCans's picture

Seems like Sennheiser is missing the boat in some ways. Case in point: The planar revolution. Except for the ridiculous Orpheus reboot, Sennheiser is not playing in this space at all. You KNOW that if Audeze can put a great planar out for $700-$1500- which they've shown they can do- Senn could do it with their deep pockets and R&D muscle. This design concept obviously isn't going away, so why is Senn ceding the market?

potterpastor's picture

I think it's your Wall of Fame and you have the right to have whatever headphone up there you want to have up there. If we don't like it, we can make our own wall of fame.

Maybe someday you can do a "hot 100" of the 100 greatest headphones of all time regardless of category or whether it is open or closed.

Keep up the good work. When you come out with a new article, it is always a must read for me.

IgorC's picture

I fully agree with statement about Sennheiser HD 800/HD 800S. I use HD800 systematically and got used to their sibilant signature. However a switching to phones with neutral response like HD650 or speakers quickly reveals the difference. HD800 is a great phone but it's 2016 and a competition did its work.

Each 5-6 years Sennheiser releases new flagship. But the last time they prefer to concectrate on a very expensive headphone instead of something more affordable (HD 900?). And of course a competition filled this gap.

Thanks to Tyll for all his work.

tony's picture

Feels like Nov 8th bringing a new President!

I'm rather pleased that Manufacturers have a person of integrity recognizing their achievements.

There'll be toil on Head-Fi's soil for the next year, let the posters begin.

Tony in Michigan

Dadracer's picture

Yes its your WOF so you can make the rules and decide the outcome. On the other hand it doesn't make sense to keep the Stax when it was bested in your Big Sound event by the HD800. Also reading the HD800S old WOF entry for last week makes no mention of these issues with which you have damned it for all eternity.

Scubadude's picture

Yip, your wall to do with as you please. However the WOF always represented for me the best performers in a price class by some (if not all) measures. Now it's more like the Top Gear Cool Wall where the presenters choose based cars on whatever criteria they feel to be important at the time (and typically a good dose of newness bias), with little regard for real people buying and driving real cars in the real world. Great to campaign for a shake-up in the headphone market; not so great for a would-be enthusiast turning to the WOF for a range of options in a chosen price class. I liked the old version of the wall with focus on fame rather than cool just fine, thank you.

tony's picture

WOF is very a useful tool for someone considering a 'Used' purchase on Ebay!

Geez, look at all those headphones that are worthy of owning, all from the recent past. We even have the original review and the original descriptions.

WOF is a great resource! with it's documented History.

A person starting out can buy a 'Used' pair of HD580/600/650 on Ebay for $150 to $300, they can avoid costly mistakes and even re-sell later as they decide to 'invest' in another 'higher-up the WOF' model. Everything manufactured has a "Second" owner ( maybe not toothpaste ), WOF insures these headphones will have value to future owners.

I recall a Flight Layover where I had free time to visit an Audio Event where a headphone Seminar was in-progress. Tyll was showing a book of headphone data ( that he himself collected ). I can recall the realization I felt, that I'd just discovered ( by accident ) the encyclopedia Britannica of the entire headphone world ( and it's Editor ).

There exists thousands of headphones to choose from, WOF presents us with a tiny group of pre-selected 'Best of the Best', it removes the Chaos, our little world would be far worse without it.

Tony in Michigan

OldRoadToad's picture

Hello the house!

Just because a headphone is off the "Wall" does not mean it should come off someone's list.

Congratulations to the newest additions and best of effort to those working on making it back.


Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Tyll Please consider my thoughts,

Years have past, many products been released, but you've yet to replace the hd600 with something more lucrative (which there is) and there's zero headphones/suggestions within the 400-900$ category.The He 400I is around 450-550$ and it's much better than the Hd600, I understand it may be somewhat bright to you but measurements and general consensus suggest otherwise. The Akg K712 is the same price as The hd600 essentially, an improvement over the Akg Q701, but you've yet to review it, The akg k612 is less than 200$ an is an absolute steal, and sound just as good as the hd600, and in my experience has better tonal balance yet you've yet to review them, the hd600 is nearly two decades old, it's pasts it's prime, though a revelation at the time, it's been down since and BETTER, it's time to remove it .

I actually think that the Dt880 600 ohms is better and far more comparable too the likes of the Hd800 than the HD 600 or 650, it measures better to as well. sand again in my experience it's the closest thing you can get to the high end for 300$ it's also inherently cheaper than the HD600, though I don't want to get involved those flaming wars people over at head fi have over this, that's a long long dead horse beating argument so apologies for sharing these thoughts haha.

The Mr speakers Alpha prime is phenomenal sounding and measures spectacularly yet you've yet to review them, same goes for the Alpha dog which two years ago you said you would, which you didn't. The alpha prime is 1000$ and there has yet to be a good 100$ sealed can posted ion this category, My suggestion would be this great headphone. The Emu Teak, which is essentially an upgraded version of the Denon dh5000 is yet to be reviewed.

Also it's a genuinely flabbergasted that you removed the NAD hp50 viso from the wall of fame, I really disagree with the assertion that the meze 99 Classics are better, and even if the oppo pm3 is better than the Nad hp50viso, it IS 100 $ more and will be more than that once you apply taxes. I have similar thought for the audio technics msr7. Also i recently heard the Akg k553 which is a solid improvement over the k550 which mitigates it's past problems with the treble, plz check it out when you have the time. Also check out the new fostex Th 610, it's in all likelihood it probably very similar to the mass drop headphones that they released, which you apparently really liked.

I also am highly curios why you haven't given the Stax 009 a proper review like all the other Wall of fame headphones, this seems to be a rather odd exception. Speaking of electrostatic headphones Stax has a whole myriad of GREAT headphones in various price ranges, it's a genuine mystery why you haven't reviewed them, my guess is that you think there too bright, which doesn't surprise me, though other than that stax's collection of headphones are solid in every other regard.

While I do agree with your removal of the Audeze headphones and other subsequent headphones such as the HE1000 which IMO is more of a luxury can than a reference high performance can from the wall of fame i disagree with your removal of the Oppo pm2 which is great AT it's respective price point, I also diagree with your removal of the Audeze lcd x, which in the past you've criticized Audeze for have an uneven treble or a muffled sound, the LCD X fixes that, so it's somewhat odd to me that you've removed such a great headphone, despite it being a just a hair grainier and less resolving than the headphones currently on the wall of fame . I Don't think that the Ether is better than the LCD X, The X has better imaging, is more resolving and has better extension on both ends, has better dynamics and authority in the bass as well, I also thought that the HD800 was handily better than the ether, there also the same price as well.

My biggest problem is your removal of the original HD800 in favour of the HD800s, which through my personal observation did NOT fix the 6-7khz problem you've been griping about (see measurements) and is actually even more recessed in the lower treble (2-4khz) than the hd800. This kind of reminds me of the Hd600 and 650 problem which arose 3-4 years ago when you first reviewed them, you removed the HD650 in favour of the HD600 because it was more neutral, with less of a murky sound and since it was cheaper, now you've done the opposite ? With the the Hd800 and HD800s. I laughed hysterically at your logic , but hey that was 4 years ago and people change so whatever floats your boat. I also want to emphasize that paying 300$ more JUST for more distortion in the bass is laughable, and I don't understand how that leads to a objectively better bass response, in reality your latest measurements of stock HD800 that you've provided with the Anaxalius mod pdf shows that the HD800 has better sustain and compression on lower notes and bass extension than the hd800s just look at the fr chart and square waves.

I won't disagree with you that the HD800's sounds warmer, though Id think IN general the Hd800 is a better Price/performance headphone, the hd 800s is NOT a gross improvement over the hd800, it's a series of compromises that makes the hd800 more listenable to some, but sacrifices some of it's inherently great features such as low and linear distortion and a neutral response, you also mustn't forget that the hd800s is 250-300$ more. You can't honestly look anyone in the eye and say that the HD800s is an overall improvement, because it's not. Again I want to emphasize that like hd650, it's a series of compromises that makes it more subjectively listenable to some, but doesn't actually improve it's actual ability or proficiency regarding sound reproduction. Also why would i pay 300$ more when I can just add distortion by getting a tube amp and/or softening the treble and dampening the overshooting with a 5$ anaxalius mod?

Regarding the Focal Utopia and the Utopia alone, IT's a great headphones, with a great build and is a true luxury experience, though sound wise I think it's still at the same level as the hd800, and if it is better, Not by 3000$ rofl. I think your way too lenient and forgiving to manufactures jacking up the price, I have similar thoughts on your opinions about the Lcd2 and lcd3. I Was incredibly shocked that these headphones made it to the wall of fame since the Audze lcd4 did not, though the Utopia is mildly better, there's so incredibly similar sounding, intact the same reasons you complained about with the audeze lcd 4 is the same, actually worse problem I had with the utopia and that's the lower treble and high treble balance, both headphones have the same dip, and similar peaks in the treble, though it's worse on the utopia, and both have a lot of high frequency enegery above 10khz, I'm absolutely flabbergasted that you raved over focal Utopia pretty much not mentioning a single issue regarding it's sound and hammered the audeze lcd 4 for problems that both of these headphones have. not to mention they are the same price and sound almost the same, though the imaging and soundstage is different for obvious reasons. I'm calling Over-hyping on this product, not to take away from it's great performance or anything, they sound phenomenal but they don't sound like 4000$. You can't honestly look anyone in the eye and tell thyme to save 4000$ and invest in those headphone over another product. MAYBE if it's 3000$, better yet 2500$ or 2000$, 4000$? forget it, it's an insult to the WOF and completely counter intuitive to why you created the wall of fame in the first place, which was in your own words trying to find the best performance within each price category, unlike the Stax 009 with a good amp, it does not best all comers or other headphones at lower price points. The elear and listen are great however and deserve spots on the wall of fame as they both are very well priced.

Anyways those are my thought that I've had over the past couple years here at innerfidelity. None the less your list is still great, and covers lots of products, though if I was in your positions, I would've done things somewhat differently regarding the wall of fame.

Thanks For Your Time

m8o's picture

This is the only place I know where something (or someone) elevated to a 'wall of fame' status, can be demoted. Kind of contradicts the very definition of it, no?

Please consider, the baseball, basketball, rock & roll, et al halls of fame would be pretty empty and uninteresting if the addition of a newer candidate necessitated the removal of someone that had achieved greatness years earlier.

I would suggest a categorization methodology where former top tier performers maintain their WOF membership, while still calling-out / labeling newer subhectively 'better' additions somehow.

Johan B's picture

Considering the great products Focal has in the High End Speakers segment and in the Professional Audio, I am not surprised that Focal has taken top spot. I sincerely hope that Sennheisser will respond with better and cheaper products. I am sure they will as this is about Germany vs France LOL

tony's picture

Betcha these guys are more interested in Market Share and Units Sold. Both these outfits sell to the ProAudio folks ( at the Global level ), both have Active Monitors ( though not as extensive or pervasive as Genelec ). Both maintain competent Research Departments and both seem to develop products needing few revisions. Seems like owning either Focal or Sennheiser products is like being happy for life. ( I own 20 year old Sennheisers that are still on Tyll's WOF ). The cars my company made 20 years ago have been melted down and 'hopefully' forgotten! ( we pay people for not mentioning our 4-6-8 Caddy engine, what a nightmare, ugg ).

Sales data for the $3,000,$4,000 and $5,000 Headphone Segments will inspire more outfits. Sennheiser's HD900 & HD1000 seem logical. I know of folks owning Chord's $13,000 DAVE for headphone use. The headphone Escalator is continuing up & up & up... doesn't look to be stopping.

However, I still listen to music recorded 45-60 years ago, I need headphones that do a bit of 'softening', I need my older Sennheisers and a bit of Tube'y sound.

Just around the corner is LG releasing their V20 Audiophile Phone, it will have a 'Proper' headphone jack and the capability of driving Focal Utopias. If this convergence works out, we'll have a whole new Market to sell Headphones to, fingers crossed. RMAF may end up looking like Winter CES in Vegas, phew.

Tony in Michigan

Johan B's picture

Interesting "analogy" is that the 4-6-8 engine had one of the first car IC,s with too slow response. These rare engines are now vintage. The latest LT1 has 4-8 switches with very advanced motor management. Most of the basics stay but the stuff that integrates improves through increase of response. We are now in a world where CAD and 3D printing go hand in hand. Engines and Headphones take the benefit of fast design, testing, simulation and component integration. Costs will come down and quality will improve.

tony's picture

Should I presume you have a Corvette?

I agree on your summary about improvement and Cost.

I'm becoming suspicious that our transducers feature greater capability than our Ears, I also think that my grandchildren will have phones with as good sound as my Schiit/Sennheisers ( in the next few years ).

Tony in Michigan

ps. I can envision the Grannies looking at my gear and say'n: geez, Grampa Tony is sooooo old-school!

Imusicman's picture

Hi Tyll,
I have always been a fan of your reviews and on more than one occasion they have been a direct influence on my purchases. I have had the pleasure of owning the Focal Spirit Classic and for the last year the Oppo PM3.
I am very interested in upgrading to either the Focal Elear or the Ether C Flow. Based on what I have owned would you say one is a better candidate over the other? I don't have a dedicated desk set up but I do play most of my music through my QP1R which I really enjoy. I appreciate you must get inundated with requests like this but if you do me the honour of replying I would really appreciate it. Thank you

Magoo's picture

It's funny how "the world's finest Dynamic HP...after less than 6 months gets dropped but a Headphone developed before the Internet still stays???? Consistency ???

Magick Man's picture

It's your wall and you should put on it whatever you want, but I do disagree WRT the 800S. While the Elear, which I've heard, is a great headphone, it's not as good as the 800S in the areas that matter most to me when listening to open cans: soundstage and imaging.

elmura's picture

That's a big call to remove the HD 800 / HD800S from the Wall of Fame when it has continually been your reference, your go-to, your recent high-end comparison winner and the subject of thousands of threads & articles the world over.
I'm shocked.
I don't doubt that the new Focals are great sounding. But they are in different price points. The Senn's flaws are easily corrected with EQ and / or a couple mods.

You can't easily (if at all) correct for transient speed, articulation, detail, imaging, comfort, and quality of construction.

For those reasons, it deserves Wall of Fame. Tonal balance is not everything

knife republic's picture

I don't know what headphone Tyll is listening to. He clearly has a preference towards warm headphones.

knife republic's picture

I don't mind "analytical" and I haven't heard anything equal in imaging to 800... BUT I don't disagree with Tyll on how it sounds.
It is, however, an outdated headphone, imo.
Perhaps they'll hear the call, face the music (p.i.),drop the price so more people can afford it and get into the lab.

sasha1961's picture

Damn, how I wish I could get one of those monsters. Yes, Blenders, they are outdated but what matters most here is the quality which never gets old, imho. Now if you want to brag about more on this stuff you'll find me at my crypto site anytime, mate :)