Comparing World-Class Headphones

It's not often one gets to set-up $37,000+ worth of the world's best headphone gear on the dining room table. I should do a little comparative listening test and report my findings, methinks.

Wasn't easy to write with all the good music going on in my head, though.

Splitting Hairs
I need to preface this article with the observation that these are all great headphones. In this article, I'm testing these cans in a comparative manner. If you're not careful you might walk away thinking there's more difference between these cans than I actually heard. In the end, these headphones are all very, very good, which means the differences between them are actually relatively small.

In addition, I will have just a couple of days listening to this set-up. The differences I hear will not be drawn from months of experience. All of these products deliver nuance that is simply inaccessible --- and somewhat indescribable (like dancing about architecture) --- in an article of this type. My intention here is simply to get a basic read on the general character of each headphone relative to one another, and offer it to you as a first pass sorting of the gear. From there on, you'll really need to do the listening yourself to find gear that suits your taste.

Gear List
HeadAmp Blue Hawaii ($4995); Apex Audio Pinnacle ($10,000); Wadia 861SE CD Player ($9,950); Stax Sr-009 ($5200); Stax SR-007, Mk1 late version ($2600 for current MK2); Sennheiser HD 800 ($1499); Audez'e LCD-2 late Rev 1 ($995); HiFiMAN HE-6 ($1199); HiFiMAN HE-500 ($899); Cardas Golden Reference interconnects ($840); and Audio Power Industries Power Wedge Ultra line conditioner.

Woot!

Testing Proceedure
I did the listening tests one track at a time listening to each headphone, but will present the data here one headphone at a time to make it easier for you to read.

Almost all the tracks I listen to are short (10-30 seconds) snippets of music with which I am intimately familiar --- I use these tracks exclusively on all my evaluations, and have done so for approximately the last 5 years.

Pink Noise/Overall Balance - I almost always start my listening tests with pink noise. If there's such a thing as objective listening, this is it. Pink noise is broad hiss/shhh/rumble sound that has equal energy in each octave. To our ears, it should sound like static that doesn't have any particular frequency that draws attention. It should just sound like broad, smooth noise.

Listening to pink noise is especially helpful in picking out peaks in the frequency response --- dips are much harder to hear. Pink noise mainly allows me to readily identify hot spots in the treble range, and the overall balance between bass, mids, and treble.

Bass Texture and Extension - These tracks help me identify how well articulated the texture of bass notes are.

For this test I use Hans Thesink's "Late Last Night" which has a tuba playing a bass line. In it, the tuba's texture and lip smacking juiciness is groovy. Poorly reproduced it turns into a murky blur.

I also use the Ray Brown Trio's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be." During Ray's solo on the acoustic bass there's a section in which he hits a number of really low and growly notes. The masterful and raw texture of his playing are evident.

Lastly, the opening bars of Tiger Okoshi's "Color of Soil" feature some of the lowest notes I've heard on a string bass. The second low note is an Adam's Apple wobbler. Great for hearing extension.

Bass Slam - Because so many listeners these days want bass slam, and it's not easy to get low bass with impact, I have special tracks for hearing bass slam.

MC 900 Foot Jesus "If I Only Had A Brain" has plenty of percussive notes with a slammin' bass line on a synth, which has a couple of really low notes in the section I use.

Medeski Martin and Wood's "Chubb Sub" includes an unusually course sounding stand-up bass and big loose drum section. If the system doesn't have bass impact, it can sound a bit thin.

Massive Attack's "Be Thankful For What You've Got" intro is percussive and swinging. All the bits need to gel above the electric bass line or your head will not bop.

Midrange - Here, it's mostly about the human voice. If you don't get it right, you won't have the sense of the physical presence of a person standing in front of you. It's important to note the enunciation of the mouth combining with the resonance of the nasal passage and heft of the chest. Both male and female voices should be heard to complete the test as both have differing character. Things should sound natural, rich, and easy; our hearing is particularly in tune with the sound of another's voice.

The Persuasions "Oh! Darlin'" is an a cappella group of men singing this Beatles tune, and recorded with Chesky Records' famously realistic sensibilities. Completely unaccompanied, we hear a dense and rich blending of male voices; when well reproduced, they surround you with their honey rich realism.

Anna Caram "The Telephone Song" (another Chesky recording), is a lovely Brazilian lady happily serenading you and a mild Sunday morning. Her voice is rich and clear; you can almost hear the tones emitting from her neck and head along with her mouth.

Treble - Again, with the David Johansen track from the opening notes, we hear a laid-back electric guitar intro supported by the drummer using brushes on snare and cymbal. Here I listen for the naturalness and organic sound of the high frequency components of the cymbal and brush work. You should almost be able see the cymbals struck and vibrate, and feel the skin of the drum.

Tiger Okoshi's "Bootsman's Little House" has a shouting trumpet line. When poorly reproduced it can be very harsh; with high-fidelity the attack is powerful without being piercing.

Dynamics - The title track of James Carter's "J. C. on the Set" opens with a ripping sax line and amazingly dynamic drumming by Tani Tabbal. The impact can be eyeblinking when well reproduced.

Carlos Heredia's "Chachipen" (on Chesky again) is a fiery Flamenco number. Here, guitar strumming, clapping, foot stomping, and castanets are all done with great vigor and dynamism, but, because there's so much high frequency with little deep lows, it can sound quite thin when poorly reproduced This track readily separates the dynamite cans from the pop guns.

Imaging - Imaging is a contentious subject with headphones. I'd argue there really isn't a legitimate audio image there unless some form of crossfeed or HRTF is involved. But I know what we're talking about here: a sense of breadth and depth, with tightly focused placements of the instruments in the soundstage. With very good fidelity, and ample listening experience to accustom your brain to the sound, a good sense of space can be achieved with headphones.

Todd Garfinkle at M•A Recording produces not only some of the best quality, audiophile-grade recordings I've heard, but also has one of the most eclectic mixes of music on the planet. Peter Epstines "Crowd Theory" on "Staring at the Sun" by M•A Recordinds is a stunningly spacious modern jazz recording. The sense of space and place is palpable; the layering superb. You are there when reproduced well.

Not surprising that another M•A Recording is in my imaging test tracks: Santiago Vazquez' track "Quejas de Bandoneon" is a beautifully layered and exquisitely arranged tango on the album "Sera Una Noche." Penny whistle, tablas, accordion, guitar, cello, and goodness knows what else populates this marvelously recorded track. Recorded in a church 100 miles from Buenos Aires, the sense of space is spectacular.

Let's have a listen to the headphones.

COMMENTS
arnaud's picture

... not about the efficiency of the drivers your tested but that of the reviewer... Pretty amazing you managed all that over a couple of days including a write up! The video did show signs of someone ready to crash to bed though ;). Very concise yet informative, I like it!
arnaud

JAD's picture

Perhaps the Rev. 2 would have been a more fair comparison, specially in the highs (top octave) department.

Anyway, terrific article. Just a pair of Sony MDR-R10's, Beyer T1, HE90 and the Ergo AMT + Ergo AMP 2 to the table and the meeting of the world's best beasts had been completed. Not an easy task, hehe.

wink's picture

Add Qualia O10 and Taket H2.

I like my Ergo AMT powered by my Class A amp.

JAD's picture

That's true. TakeT is a new contender.

donunus's picture

Beautiful! I would really love to see what senn does next to perfect the hd800s sound.

I don't think I will have the budget for the 009 anytime soon though but it sure sounds tempting!

dalethorn's picture

Me too. I'd love to have the emails and recording of the discussions behind closed doors at Sennheiser. i.e....

Joe: "It's too damn bright, don't you guys get it? C'mon, the whole world's leaving you behind."
Sally: "Well, Joe, there is such a thing as accuracy, don't you think?"
Miguel: "Yeah, Sally, let's build an altar to accuracy and sacrifice the firstborn thousand or so 801's to the god of accuracy."
Jeff, the Practical Project Manager: "All right team players, Jeff has got your solution. We'll produce a better sounding headphone and we'll say it's the most accurate, and if any of those Grado/Beyer fanboys give us a hard time, we'll post reams of data from our own tests to prove it."

That's my optimistic view.

Jazz Casual's picture

Thanks Tyll for this enlightening comparative review. I hope that it finds its way to Head-Fi where it will undoubtedly ignite skirmishes between the tribes.

khaos's picture

You probably meant white noise instead of pink noise. The power spectral density of pink noise follows a 1/f rule (equal power given any octave regardless of bandwidth) while white noise shows a flat power spectral density (equal power for a frequency band of the same bandwidth).

Tyll Hertsens's picture
You're right, of course. I changed it back to what I had initially. It may be a little more comfusing to non-enthusiast readers, but it's more technically correct. Thanks.
arnaud's picture

Humm, while I can take pink noise, white noise is pretty awful to listen to, regardless of headphone. Reason it that - although flat in lin scale - this turns into increasing loudness as frequency goes up make it very unbalanced. Conversely, pink noise does sound more balanced... So, Tyll, maybe you're using pink noise after all...?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
It was pink noise ... stereo pink noise (each channel different) so that you don't get any bass build-up. I changed it back to "equal energy per octave", for pink noise. White noise is un-listenable. Brown noise ... well I get that in the morning.
JAD's picture

What I too see is that the dynamic ones ran in SE with the stock cables. Stax phones go obviously balanced. That is a disadvantage for the dynamic ones, probably worse for the HE6's if the 1/4 jack adapter were used.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Both amps were driven by the same unbalanced signal. Certainly can't take out the variable that the two amps were different...not much I can do about that.
Voltron's picture

Fantastic job, Tyll. No comparative headphone review I have read before (and I admit to having given up on them on other sites) has ever delivered so much information, so concisely, and so objectively. Plus, we get your trademark humor! You have a unique ability in this regard, and the objectivity of the InnerFidelity Lab has put you into a unique position. Thanks for being here! :)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks ... I'm humbled, kind sir.
drn's picture

Thank you for the comparison Tyll. Would you mind giving us catalog numbers for the CDs of the non-Chesky albums? The reason I ask is there could be different masterings of the other CDs, and I would like to hear these same version.

Cheers!

Lunatique's picture

Very enjoyable and informative review. I had always secretly cheered the fact you are no longer focused on selling headphones as in your previous job, because I always felt you were being limited in what you can say or do by your position for various reasons. Now without those limitations, I'm enjoying your unfiltered and more ambitious explorations much more.

I was hoping you'd do the Rev.2 of LCD-2 too, as well as the 007mk2.5, but this is already far more than what anyone else has ever done. The Sony R10 and T1 would've been welcome in the group too I think?

LFF's picture

As others have said...enjoyable and informative...but I have come to expect that from you Tyll!

Awesome write up and I agree with your listening impressions as far as the headphones I have actually had time to listen to and demo carefully. Keep up the awesome work.

Can't wait to hear to the 009!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Dude, I'd be careful. You listen to the 009 and you'll be spoiled forever. I can't tell you how STUNNED I was at the clarity and dynamics. You could not only hear the cellist breathing through his nose, you could tell he needed to clip his nose hairs.

LFF's picture

Looks like I need to start saving some serious dough....

Currawong's picture

Thanks for the great summary analysis of all those headphones. :)

While I don't have a Blue Hawaii, I did feel when I received the 009s that they may well be the king of vocals over the Sony R10, Stax 4070, LCD-2 and HD-800s, but I don't have the others here to compare, though they were the headphones that impressed me most in this regard. Also your thoughts on the 009's bass -- I was thinking the same thing, that they are unusually great. I was used to associating 'stats with "this is how treble is done right" and orthos with "this is how bass is done right", but the 009 seems to me to deliver bass with the same brilliance as they deliver the rest of the frequency range.

Comparing them to the 007 v2.5 and LCD-2 r2 would be interesting.

dalethorn's picture

This makes a good starting point and reference for anyone who uses reviews to help select their next purchase.

DaveBSC's picture

Awesome comparison test Tyll, thank you so much! Just curious, how would you compare the Thunderpants to this crew? I was planning to buy an LA7000 as a sealed complement to my 007 Mk1, but am now leaning towards the Thunderpants instead.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

The latest Thunderpants are indeed the best sealed cans I've heard, but I don't think they'd quite match up to the performance of these cans. I suspect the best of sealed cans will never quite match up to the best of open cans.

LFF's picture

I agree. It's tough to get a great sounding sealed can to match up to these world class open cans. Apples and oranges really....

ericohgb's picture

Dear Tyll,
Nice review!
Totally agree with your 007 and 009 review.
My 007A is an Mk2 who recently got the diaphragm changed to the MK2.5 so they indeed sound forward and seem easier to drive.
Loving my 009. It's not perfect, but it's a great step over the 007.
Could you compare the 009 to the HE90 if you get the chance?
Thanks,
Erico

plin's picture

What can I say, your reviews and articles are getting better and better. You are a very valuable source for headphones info!
I am very intrigued by the significant - but not audible- THD rise on the one channel at 100dB for HE-500. You wrote that you were not listening to those levels, but you are neglecting that 100dB peaks are not hard to reach even with moderate levels on HQ recorded music, so I think it would be still audible.
Could it be that something changed on the HE-500 *after* you measured it (which is some months before you done this comparison - and I don’t imply burn in -)? Maybe there was a hair, or some dirt, near the driver on one channel only, which did not really vibrate till the 100dB level? It would be very interesting to repeat the THD plot now and compare the results.

Thank you again for all your valuable info!

Captfantastic's picture

What a significant, lengthy review of many of the world's greatest headphones and equipment. The good comments of several readers lead to further discussion and food for thought. However, no one has addressed the beams of lights coming down and illuminating the equipment and Tyll's review in the video!!! Don't be fooled for a minute that these beams were from the lamp bulbs above the table. Oh no! These light beams are proof that alien intelligence, advanced civilizations are monitoring Tyll and Inner Fidelity! And no wonder! Click around this website and see what treasures are there for discovery. "They" have finally found something worthy enough on this crazy messed up planet that they have aborted their invasions plans. Tyll you are doing work that is so great, really, and all of us appreciate your efforts. (Note that most of the beings were seen wearing Sennheiser HD 800s as they flew off, which I thought was fascinating). Keep up the Universally good work!

mward's picture

Great piece. I know it was a huge undertaking, so thanks for all the hard work for providing this great resource.

I was fortunate enough to have a loaner set of the Audeze on hand for a while, and I thought they were absolutely fantastic—although with nothing of comparable quality to compare them to, I wasn't really able to identify the ways in which they fell short of perfection. But still, wow. Such pretty sounding headphones. If only they weren't so heavy.

Milton's picture

"Bass Texture and Extension - These tracks help me identify how well articulated the texture of bass notes are.

For this test I use David Johansen and the Harry Smiths' "Somebody Buy Me a Drink" on the Chesky label, which has a tuba playing a bass line."
------------------

Hi Tyll,

I have this disc, and I am pretty sure there is no tuba on it. Could you have referring to another disc, such as Ry Cooder's Jazz?

Thanks,
Milton

Tyll Hertsens's picture
By golly, you're right. Unfortunately I can't identify the song. Can anyone help? Here's the 15 second wave clip.
The Monkey's picture
Tyll, According to Shazam, that song is "Late Last Night" by Hans Theessink. Sorry if someone already got this.
Tyll Hertsens's picture
Shazam! Thanks mate, somebody already did ... but you just turned me on to Shazam. Thanks!
Beagle's picture

Excellent job, Tyll.

Too bad you couldn't have included the HifiMan HE300 dynamic headphone in your comparison. Would have been interesting to see how it fared in each category.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Very poorly, I'm sure. I heard them the other day and found them severely lacking.
Beagle's picture

Yes, the HE300 is an odd headphone in that it seems to have problems in all three major FR areas (bass, mids, treble)

It's also the first $300 dynamic that sounds (to me) like it was "mixed for AM radio".

dalethorn's picture

I would think the best candidates to include if this were expanded would be a top of the line Grado and Beyerdynamic. I'm not familiar with other brands but there may be others worthy.

The Monkey's picture
Frankly, with the exception of a couple of discontinued Grados, I don't think either manufacturer has an offering that belongs in this particular lineup.
HeadphoneAddict's picture

Tyll, I own and have heard all of these headphones except for the SR-009, and I agree with your findings - I have taken a bit of flak in the past over similar comments I've made about the sound of the SR-007 or the LCD-2, made by people who seem to feel that they were close to flawless.

Those are great phones for sure, but I've always felt the HE-500 were a little more balanced and lively than the LCD-2 for example, especially when driven by my Eddie Current ZDT headphone amp. However, with my DACmini amp the LCD-2 seem to become tighter with less bloom and the highs don't seem as recessed to me. So, there is a lot to be said for system synergy as well. Most of what I write below is to share with the readers, as I certainly can't educate you when you are the master and I am but a grasshopper.

I'm one of those people who prefer the discontinued Sennheiser HE-60 electrostatic headphones' sound to the Stax SR-007, regardless of whether I'm using my WES amp or DIY KGSS amp. Admittedly neither of my amps are on the same level of the Blue Hawaii SE you used, but I just think that the SR-007 are too hard for most amps to drive reasonably well, and even you are hearing the same flaws as I when you use the best ES amp out there.

Everything I've read says that the SR-009 are a much better match for the WES amp than the SR-007 are, so that may be the direction I'm going to go next because even my KGSS isn't optimal for driving the SR-007. I'd be more willing at this point to get the SR-009 even if using with an "average" amp than adding the best amp ever to my SR-007.

The problem with the HE-6 is that they require a fairly stout speaker amp to drive them, and even my ZDT with 8-watts at 8 ohms (3 watts at 32 ohm according to manufacturer) can just barely drive them adequately. I find that using them connected to a vintage Marantz 2240 receiver with the HE-adapter box (converts speaker output to a 4-pin balanced headphone output) produces better results with these phones than a headphone amp that costs 10x more. But even the 2240 leaves me wishing I had a 2270 or higher. And using them on an even lower power amp like my DACmini or HDP can leave them sounding a little thin and bright at times.

With both HiFiMan phones on the ZDT amp I find the HE-6 are a better low volume listening choice, which I've posted before, but at more realistic listening levels the HE-500 come into their own and seem to be the better choice, while the HE-6 fall flat and can't get enough power. And lately the HE-500 out of the ZDT are still a little more pleasing to me than the HE-6 out of the more powerful Marantz. The HE-500 remind me a lot of my Stax Lambda Nova Signature headphones, but the HE-500 have a tighter, faster and better controlled bass; and the HE-500 have a more precise soundstage or imaging. I've been recommending the HE-500 to others because they are easier to drive from a wider variety of amps than the HE-6, but I'd still take the HE-6 over the LCD-2 *IF* given enough power. And certainly the HE series of headphones are more comfortable to me for longer listening sessions.

The main reason I've kept the LCD-2 is that they are beautiful and pair up well with my DACmini and balanced SR-71b amps, and don't seem to be as dark and bloomy as they did before I got those amps to use with them. I've also kept them for comparisons in reviews, as a reference standard that many others will have heard and can relate to (like keeping an HD 600 around for that as well). And, they're still not a bad headphone.

The HD 800 sound like a dynamic version of the HE-60 to me, with a little more warmth and impact, but the same great 3D soundstage. One thing I've found to make the HD 800 sound just right is to hit the right combo of amp and tubes, and also to use a good quality aftermarket cable with them. My ZDT amp was a great match right away, and I NEVER thought the HD 800 were bright with it, but with the majority of my other amps I did think the highs needed a little bit of taming. I was able to improve synergy with my Woo WA6 by changing the rectifier from a Sophia Princess to an Amperex Bugle Boy. I've used a wide variety of DACs like Apogee mini-DAC, PS Audio Digital Link III and PS Audio Perfectwave DAC, and thought the amp/tube choice was more important.

I don't think cables make a big difference anywhere. But once the best combo of source and amp/tubes are found, if the sound is still straddling the fence I think the cables can make a small difference that nudges the sound one way or the other. In my case my Locus-Design Hyperion cable seems to take the "edge" off, making them more enjoyable with other amps. I have no scientific evidence to show that cables make a difference, so I'll leave things at that.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks for the lengthy and interesting post, mate. I agree and think the HE-500 doesn't get enought love after hearing them in the context of these other great cans. They certainly hold their own very well.
wnmnkh's picture

Very nice review to read.

The Monkey's picture
Is that a BHSE or an older Blue Hawaii?
grokit's picture

I've been enjoying your Youtube videos and reviews for a while now, and I just want to add my appreciation to the chorus. You have amassed quite a database in a short time and I thank you for that, you are a great resource to our community.

I agree with your assessments of the LCD-2 and HD-800, and that the HE-6 needs more power to correct its imaging, and to bring out its midrange while taming the highs. The Pinnacle is only rated at 1.75 watts and that is not enough for the HE-6 to shine. Skylab's assessment seems to agree with your comments when he said: "Thin and bright is almost always a sign that the HE-6 are being underpowered".

Since you liked the HE-500 so much I believe that you owe it to yourself to listen to the HE-6 out of at least a 6 watt (into 50 ohms) headamp or 40+ watt speaker amp taps even if they aren't on the same quality level as the Pinnacle. When properly powered the HE-6 really does deserve its place at the top of HiFiMAN's lineup.

I use a modest balanced pro audio near-field monitor amp that pumps 7.2 watts into 50 ohms with the HE-6, and they are my overall favorite headphone although I do really enjoy above-referenced flagship cans out of a more prestigious but lower-powered headamp.

It would also be nice if you could round out this comparison with a supplementation, so we could have all of the currently available top-tier headphones compared directly. I am thinking of the T1, LCD-2 rev.2, and GS-1000 as have been mentioned, as well as "lesser" flagships like the D7000 and Edition 8.

I searched out the Edition 8 on your site and it doesn't seem you have had a chance to judge them yet. I think that you would like them much better than you liked the Edition 10 at least, and they could well become your new favorite closed headphone.

jeffreyfranz's picture

Tyll:
I kind of doubt that you are still following this conversation, but just in case: Might we see a set of measurements for Rev. 2 and LCD3 anytime soon?

Thanks,
Jeffrey

Tyll Hertsens's picture
LCD-2 rev 2 should be on the download list. LCD-3 coming up in next month's update.
JRT's picture

My compliments to Tyll Hertsens on his review, nicely done, and an interesting read. The readers' comments were also interesting. This is my first visit to the website, and I am pleased with what I am seeing and reading.

One argument... I would suggest that the AKG K 1000 remains the standard for comparison in the the category of imaging, by presenting a far more believable illusion of soundstage, regardless how it compares in other categories. In that category, as good as the HD-800 is, it is still a big step down from those now obsolete AKGs, and the wonderful sounding Stax don't come close. ...in that category.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'm not so sure the K1000 would be the best reference for imaging. While I'll agree they do it extraordinarily well --- possibly better than the HD 800, but I haven't compared them side to side --- I think it my be unrealistic to compare what amounts to two speakers hanging off your head to a traditional pair of headphones. In other words, I'm not sure their imaging performance would have enough similar characteristics to regular headphones to make a sensible comparison. Though the HD 800 has possibly inferior imaging to the K1000, at least it's similar in acoustic coupling principle, and make make for a more legitimate comparison.

Doesn't much matter since I don't have a pair, but again, I'll agree they image marvelously. (Could use a top and bottom octave, though.)

TheDude's picture

Hi Tyll, first of all, great reviews. Been reading/watching them for a while and find them very informative AND understandable for a headphone noobie like me.

about this review; you said that the HE-500 are also very good for professionals. Do you mean that they are good for doing mixdowns because of the natural balanced sound? And are these in your opinion better than the LCD-2 for this kind of usage?

The reason why I ask this, is because I'm on a look for studio headphones. The LCD-2 seem to get good responses from professionals but I can't find anything about the He-500 regarding studio use.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I really think it boils down to personal preference with the 500 being a tad brighter and the LCD-2 a bit warmer. They both sound fairly similar otherwise. The HE-500 might take a bit more of a beating. And the HE-500 is about $300 cheaper right now. I do prefer the sound of the LCD-2 though.
TheDude's picture

Thanks for the reply. The HE-500 is a really sweet deal, especially with the recent price cut. And sound preference seems like the deciding factor here indeed. Did have a chance to hear the HE-500 with the new velour and pleather pads btw? I read that especially the pleather pads give the HE-500 a different sound.

Jeff Graw's picture

HD 800's are an amazingly advanced set of cans with a rather unfortunate tonal balance. Second to none in terms of transient response, headstage, and comfort.

I see a lot of people who search for cables, dacs, amps, mods etc. to fix the HD 800's flaws. If you aren't afraid of some EQ though, you can fix things quite a bit faster :P

StudioGuy's picture

Hi Tyll, great review!

1) I was wondering, what would be your pick for a sub 1000$ pair of the most balanced HP for a studio guy like me, who wish to make EQ and other mixing decisions using them?

2) Same question, but for a 500$ pair.

Thank you very much, I really appreciate your help!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'd say the Sennheiser HD 650 for an open can. It's a bit polite in the treble, but probably the most neutral under $1000. For sealed cans, the Denon D5000 is a tad warm overall, but still quite good. The Denon D2000 can be a tad bright but otherwise fairly neutral. Both the Denons are sealed, but they seal very poorly. The AKG K550 lacks resolutions slightly, but otherwise is quite good and does seal well. See the "Wall of Fame" is the top nav bar.
StudioGuy's picture

Thank you for your reply,

In the end of this article, you wrote the HE-500 are a "great headphones for professionals who want something more pleasantly listenable than the HD 800"

Would you say the HD-650 will be better suited for mixing\mastering purposes then the HE-500?
Where are the LCD-2 in this debate? they are pretty flat and goes deep into the sub-bass territory. 995$ is technically sub 1000$ :)

Edit: Forgot to mention, I mainly work with rock\metal bands\projects so I'll be using the headphones to mix\master those genres almost exclusively.

Thanks for the advice!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I think the HE500 will get annoying in the highs, especially for rock/metal. They're a bit zingy up top. The 650 would be very good, but it has the opposite problem of being a bit laid back---veiled is the word most often used. You might end up mixing a bit bright with them. Same for the LCD-2, but Audeze have been making some changes, so I'm not sure about the current headphone. If an open headphone will work, I think I'd strive to get the HD 800 ... but remember to do the "Anaxilus mod." Search for Anaxilus in the search box to see the article.

Bottom line: I think I'd go for the HD650 under $1k, but be carefull of mixing too bright.

Also, I've been listening to the Denons quite a bit for a review, and it seems like they have changed over time. Current AH-Dx000 cans are more similar to each other than in the past, and sound very good indeed. Still just a tad zingy, but very good.

StudioGuy's picture

Thanks A lot,

One thing bothered me since I'v read the "Wall of fame" post regarding the HD650:

"With an easy and sonorous sound, the HD 650 is a forgiving headphone and will do well with poor recordings."

The term "forgiving headphone" doesn't sound like something that will help me make objective (if such a thing really exists) mixing decisions, so I thought I'll ask you - what did you mean by it?

Thanks!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The thing is their balance is good relative to other headphones at this price. So for mixing they should do well. But if you're mastering and need to listen for tweets and clicks, they may not be as revealing as, say the Denon D200, AKG K701, or the Beyer DT880 600Ohm, which all sound a little bright.
StudioGuy's picture

Great, Thanks, so I'll get the HD650 for mixing applications.

For mastering, what's your favorite in the sub 1000$ realm, which will complement the HD650 best?
(Guess the HD800 will be great for both mixing\mastering, but its too expensive...)

Thank you.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Hm. Maybe the AKG K701. Very revealing and precise leading edges.

But there's another avenue, which would be a good amp and recable for the 650. That gets a bit complicated though with a wide variety of advice I don't feel comfortable giving yet on sources and amps.

The other thought I have is to bite the bullet and get the HD 800s. you're gonna end up close enough in the price of two cans that it may be worth while.

Also, you might have needs for a more portable can with lots of isolation (I don't know your exact needs, just throwing things out), in that case I'd be looking at the Sennheiser Amperior maybe.

StudioGuy's picture

Thanks,
So you believe a good amp\source will make the HD650 revealing enough for mastering as well?

I'm going to buy the Objective2 amp that was designed by NwAvGuy (or the new ODA desktop amp by the same designer), after reading about the concept - transparent\honest as possible.
Also I have a very good mastering grade D\A.

Will it be enough, or are you talking about a 1000$+ amp?

Thank you.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I reckon that's a good start. THe 650 will be plenty good for you to get down the road and see where you think you're at.
StudioGuy's picture

Great, thank you for the advice!

quochuy0202's picture

Dear Sir,
I am interested in your usage of pink noise. Would you mind to tell me a little more detail about the pink noises you used ? their frequency for example. Thanks in advance!

jasonlingard's picture

To be honest, iv'e heard many stax earspeaker models and they should really be classed in a section of their own. You really need supporting/source equipment far more expensive than the stax itself. Get the combination right and you will never buy a concert ticket again. The SR 009 is as far in front in sound reproduction from the rest of any other can it would be like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Fiat 500.

theaudiorefinery's picture

Greetings Tyll,

Sorry to resurrect this question again but I have similar needs to Studioguys' that you commented on in April in this thread. I was just wondering as to how the hd650 & HD800 would stack up against Dan's Mad Dog headphones. Thank you for any help with this question.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I don't find the MadDogs up to the HD 650 or HD 800 level ... yet.
Des's picture

Coming in a bit late on this one, but I refer to your quote from the Stax mafia that:
"SR-007A/SR-007Mk2 - S/N SZ3-xxxx, often called the Mk2.5, Stax supposedly change the diaphragm which results in a much more forward sound signature."
This is quite misleading. I live in Australia and have very recently bought a second pair of SR-007As, through Amazon US marketplace as a direct Japanese import. On account of the above quote, I was expecting an SZ3 serial number and a somewhat different sound. Nothing of the sort. They had an SZ2 serial number and were in every way identical to my 5yo existing pair (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). So I queried the seller (thinking I'd been fobbed off with old stock) and he very promptly contacted Stax to obtain the following information:
- The SZ2 series is still current for the export market (except presumably US domestic sales)
- The SZ3 series is the black version as sold in the US (and presumably Japan)
- Most importantly, any difference between them is "only color, other content is the same".
So this "Mk2.5" stuff appears to be just audio folklore. I also recall seeing some comment that the Mk2 had changes to accommodate some US (health?) regulations, but that may be folklore also.

daydesiang's picture

I once heard SR009 once...

just once with my Xperia z output to the STAX SRM-007tII + Sr009...

I cant forget the sound.. the bass slam and so real! And its only from a Xperia Z which for me sounds Ok-Ok only!

money saving time~~

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