Innerfidelity February 2013 Update

Deer leave the mountains in the middle of winter for the comfort of the suburban life. There's commonly 10 to 15 in my neighbor's yard.

Wow! I spend a week at CES mingling with folks from all over the world, and get rewarded with a flu-like crud that bows to no drug. Sheesh, that was no fun. Feeling better now after having rested up a bit and it's been fun running some of the new headphones received through the test gear.

As usual I've updated the AllGraphs.pdf of course, and added the cans to the measurement datasheets page. New additions include:

  • Finally got my hands on the AKG Tiesto K167 and K67. With all the hoopla on Head-Fi I was really expecting better. The K167 is okay, but somewhat uneven sounding with an odd sounding bass emphasis and a modestly harsh edge. The K67 is more of the same, but with a pretty big mid-range suckout. Oh well.
  • The NuForce HP-800 went through the ringer. This headphone has a warm and polite sound. The bass overwhelms the mids a bit, and they're somewhat uneven as a result. But a full-sized, sealed headphone at $149 makes them look like they might just be a good buy. I'm gonna have to look around to see if there's much better at that price---I don't think there is---these may just get a review.
  • In hopes of finding some classic headphones for measurement I decided to do a little rummaging around in HeadRoom's back room where lots of old headphones lie dormant in boxes. I was almost giddy to find a pair of Sennheiser HD 560 Ovation II headphones. The bass was a bit anemic, and the treble a tad sharp, but overall they seemed to have decent coherence and a fairly musical presentation. 'Course I remember 20 years ago when they were the greatest headphone I'd ever heard.
  • Speaking of old headphones, Dinny FitzPatrick sent me his pair of Sennheiser HD 580 cans with HD 600 headband so that I could include some notes about it in my upcoming HD580/600/650 review (yes, it's still in the works). Pretty amazing how well these headphones hold up, makes me wish they left them in the line-up.
  • I really like these guys attitude. They keep sending me headphones, and I keep responding with a bit of a yawn. So, I wasn't expecting much when I mounted the Reid Heath Acoustics S950i ($59) on the measurement head. I was taken aback to see the measurements looking pretty good, and when I had a listen I was pleasantly surprised. I still think the Noontech Zoro is the better sounding headphone in this price range, but the S950i was quite nice. A bit rolled-off on top, but still a satisfying listen.
  • I received a pair of the Noontech Rio in-ear headphones. After my enthusiastic review of the Noontech Zoro, the U.S. distributor was very excited to get this new model off to me. I told him not to hold his breath, companies don't usually get that lucky twice. And so it is in this case, the Rio has overwhelming bass response, rolled-off treble, and a mid-range that's...well, between the two ends. Meh.
  • An enthusiast sent me a pair of the Apple In-Ear earphones for a measurement session. Boy-oh-boy did they measure good. Unfortunately, they didn't sound quite as good as the numbers would suggest, somehow edgy and dry on quick listen, and some significant distortion between 2kHz and 6kHz. But my interest is peaked, I'd like to give these a second chance at some point.
  • Axel Grell gave me a pair of the new Sennheiser IE 800 at CES, and I did get some listening sessions in on the way home. There were some things I liked quite a bit: nice coherent sound; and a sense of clarity. But somethings were a bit disturbing: they didn't have a powerful bass; there was a tinkling brightness to them that was pleasant in some ways and odd in others; and at $999 they'd better be amazing or I'd be buying some JH13s. This is a single dynamic driver headphone that has some unusual acoustic filters to combat ear canal resonances. I've sent them off to ljokerl; he'll be able to make better sense of these, I reckon.
  • Along those lines, I also got a chance to measure the AKG K3003 in-ear. At $1299 these are more expensive than the Sennheiser IE 800, so the bar is even higher for this universal fit IEM. Sadly, I don't think it's made the jump. The treble is almost painfully bright, and the bass lacks punch. It does have some tuning filters for treble and bass boost profiles (hence the three spec sheets), and they do seem to work fairly well according to the measurements. But I think I'll recommend a pass on these...and the move straight to the JH13. (If it sounds like I like the JH13 Freqphase, then you've been listening.)
  • Lastly, Philips sent me some cans after the show, and I managed to get the two in-ear models measured, the Fidelio S1 and S2. Wow, did these little dynamic IEMs do well both on the measurement head and on my head. I didn't have too much listening time with them as I had a box of stuff to send off to ljokerl, but they were very promising. One thing to note however is that these are early production units, so I may have to get my hands on final production product before any review gets written.

As I mentioned the Sennheiser HD580/600/650 review is still in the works. I've confused the issue by getting a number of after market cables for them and the HD 800. I'm going to do some separate articles on the measurability and audibility of improvements by aftermarket cables, and I want to get some of that listening under my belt so some replacement cables can be mentioned in the article.

I've received the Sony MDR-1R and while I don't think it sounds quite as good as the Sennheiser Momentum and Focal Spirit One, I do think they sound fairly good and the comfort and styling is simply out-of-this-world. I'm awaiting the Bluetooth and noise canceling versions to make a family review out of it.

The Philips X1 is in the house! Haven't gotten around to measuring them, but they sound fairly good. Not quite sure if they'll make the cut for review, but I'm listening.

Right, that's it for this month. Hopefully by next month it will start to warm up a bit. Maybe the deer will start heading back up to the mountains.

Impulse's picture

Looking forward to the MDR-1R review, hopefully the Fidelio X1 review too!

Seth195208's picture

to the enthusiast for sending them in, and to you for testing them. It is sad that Apple came so close to nailing it with the "New in ear" just to drop the ball on the high frequency BA units. Amazing measurements otherwise.

If you want to trip out on something, compare your fr measurements with apple's own fr measurements on the "apple in ear" website. You obviously both use the same measurement gear.

citraian's picture

Will you get the AKG K267's for measurements? I'm curios of how they compare to the K550's and the Momentums.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I don't think they're quite available yet. I'll keep trying.

jupitreas's picture

Hi Tyll, you mentioned some time ago that you would measure some 250 Ohm Beyerdynamic DT250's. I'm wondering if this is still on the agenda as measurements of these cans are quite rare.

Keep up the good work!


Tyll Hertsens's picture

....I've contacted them and they say they'll send me some...then nothing.  I'll try again.

donunus's picture

Why do I get the strange feeling that Beyer doesn't want to give Tyll a pair so that the other models will still keep on selling well LOL. Once I heard the dt250-250, my cravings to get other headphones suddenly dropped and was replaced with just pure musical enjoyment. Its like I'm back in those days where I would be super excited to go to record stores and not be thinking about equipment anymore.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

Tyll...quick question for you...I have an opportunity to pick up a pair of HD650...i wanted to wait until reading your review but may have a short window.   soooooo, while i fully understand i'll have to wait for all the details,  any chance you can provide a brief thought on far as open air cans go,  are they a solid option?


Tyll Hertsens's picture

...I like 'em. Especially with a OTL tube amp. I like the HD 600 better, it's a little better detailed and neutral to my ears, but there's a lot of controversy about whether the difference in sound between the two has changed over the years.  The pair I have are brand new. Anyway, they're both good to my ears. 

Marcello's picture

I still use my 15 year old HD580 with original everything on a regular basis. I love the sound signature of this headphone (with adequate amplification) and I wish it was still made. I know the HD600 sounds quite similar, but I prefer the HD580 - maybe for sentimental reasons. I will make sure to wear them when I watch the review.

Jazz Casual's picture

It seems that we hear the K3003 quite differently Tyll. I had no issues with its treble. I can relate to your description of the IE800's pleasant treble tinkle however, but not its bass, which I found more than ample. I'll be interested in joker's assessment. He rated the K3003 highly by the way.

LAmitchell's picture

Hey Tyll, I'm another IF-reader looking forward to the Sennheiser review/comparison. I hope you leave the HD800 out of the write-up. To me, the 580/600/650 represents a FAIR PRICE for good headphones.  When I first got into this hobby I thought $500 was too much to pay for 'phones, but now I totally understand the value... and I think it is FAIR, not GOOD, but fair for the ammount of sonic fidelity and fun a listener can get. 


I actually used to own the 650's, and I am considering the 600's now because of the comments on head-fi about the 600's being the most neautral. And I think it is so much FUN to upgrade the cables on this trio.


p.s. love your write-ups, so genuine and honest, much appreciated brother!

DS-21's picture

The HD600's are cans that need to be tried before buying, I think. The reason is that their headband squeezes tight. Maybe my head is just too large for them, but the clamping force was just too much. By contrast, I find the HD580 (which I've owned since the late 1990s) and Denon D2000 (owned since ~2009) to be extremely comfortable. (And as an aside, in an A/B test I markedly preferred the '580s driven by a Total AirHead to the mighty Sennheiser Orpheus 'stats. Though that tube amp does look super cool.)

donunus's picture

Still no dt250-250 review in the works Tyll? I've yet to find a person that has listened to these beyers that didn't like them.

EDIT: Whoops Jupitreas beat me to it

ultrabike's picture

That looks like two female rocky mountain mule deer.

I think we have more black tailed around here in California, and have seen very few. I see mostly coyotes, raccoons, and opposums.

Where I was raised we were lucky to see a lizard frown. But away from the desert and towards the mountains there is white tailed (aka Bambi.)

Nice to see HD580/600/650 in the horizon, intrigued about the S1/S2, and looking forward for the s950i. Also getting very curious about the DT250-250.


Stefraki's picture

Any idea when you'll have those Harmon Kardon models in to measure?

thekash's picture

I'm actually waiting for Tyll to get his hands on the NC versions, but i may just have to pick them up either way cause at $200 on sale right now it might be $130 in reasons to not wait.

- kash

Cami's picture

sent you after his early january review?
I was under the impression you were going to measure them, and I was kind of really looking forward to that.
Is there any chance that you will get to measure them in the future?


Laurence Wayne's picture

Geez Tyll, when I read your take on my AKG K3003 (i)s I thought you were describing my Senn HD800s: "the treble is almost painfully bright and the bass lacks punch." Exactly what I fought with custom cables, a Ray Samuel OTL and your DIY MOD-all to no avail.  The fatigue factor resulted in my going Fostex TH900 paired with the new Glacier+Solo-db from Todd.  Ah the lushness!  I am also in alignment with Jazz Casual. Here's an interesting review:

For out-and-about the AKG K3003 is amazing even without amping plus great comfort without a custom fit.

RPGWiZaRD's picture

What's the case on Yamaha PRO 500, any plans to check them out or have you even demoed them somewhere already? A few people who have tried it (who also are experienced listeners) are giving it very good feedback, it's well balanced throughout lows to highs (been explained as a slight bass emphasis with slightly forward mids) with even better stereo imaging, separation than K550 even. I do think it's a headphone you might appriciate sound wise.

It's definitely one of the cases where "looks" may decieve. Should be easy to write a review on these if you were to like them that much. I mean they are new, they look almost like a Beats copy (hey, Japanese modern styling in action here which tend to be sleek & glossy) but whose purpose is to sound natural for serious listeners.

Guitarist9273's picture

Any experience with HiFiMan's new IEM, yet?

Audioaddict's picture

Tai at has a review of them.

DS-21's picture

I wonder if the elevated distortion at higher levels is intentional. That is to say, Apple's "soft paternalism" to encourage listening at lower levels. Given issues they've had with EU regulators complaining about iPod output levels, it seems plausible to me that they'd do something like that. (On the flip side, if they're SPL-limited why dual drivers? I say it's because at lower levels they still manage sound better than well-executed single-driver standbys such as the Ety ER-4S/P.)

The good thing about IEM's is that is it possible to enjoy music with good dynamics at lower levels, simply because the noise floor is so low. 

Seth195208's picture


I feel the problem may lie with the custom BA Tweeter unit. The bass distortion levels are the best I have  seen from any BA unit. Amazing performance for a single woofer. The tweeter extends higher than any Other BA unit (20khz)but also seems to be crossed over too low, at least for the 100db test. I just think they (Apple) just said hey, if someone is going to listen to an iem that loud, that's what they get! Heh heh.. I agree with you that they sound more accurate than the etymotics. I own both (Ety -er4p's)and also prefer the Addiems.

DS-21's picture

I guess I disagree with you in characterizing the observed measurements as a "problem." I think they do exactly what they were designed to do, which is sound good until the soft paternalists (i.e. the "we know better" folks) at Apple think you're listening too loudly. Then they're designed to get harsh and fatiguing, fast.

As for harmonic distortion generally, don't pay too much (which is to say any, really) attention to it. As Dr. Floyd Toole points out in his lit survey on audio, Sound Reproduction,

"The end result of this is that traditional measures of harmonic or intermodulation distortion are almost meaningless. They do not quantify distortion in a way that can, with any reliability, predict a human response to it while listening to music or movies. *** In loudspeakers it is fortunate that distortion is something that normally does not become obvious until devices are driven close to or into some limiting condition. *** In the general population of consumer loudspeakers, it has been very rare for distortion to be identified as a factor in the overall subjective ratings. This is not because distortion is not there or is not measurable, but it is low enough that it is not an obvious factor in judgments of sound quality at normal foreground listening levels."

Sound Reproduction, at 452-3

Seth195208's picture

I think both would agree that 10% thd in our most sensitive auditory region is not a good thing. Otherwise, I see low distortion in loudspeakers and headphones as a "side effect" of great engineering. Loudspeaker designs overseen by toole(Before retiring from Harman group) and Geddes are typically designs of extremely low linear and non linear distortion.  

Sometimes I wonder if ear tips made from different materials can start singing along with the music at certain resonant frequencies and volume levels. These vibrations would probably be of a higher frequeny than your skin(But not eardrums, obviously.) could detect.. 

riker1384's picture

According to this site, the distortion on the Apple in-ears goes down if you add source impedance. That's odd, I wonder how that could happen.

I just got a pair. They're better than any other in-ears I heard, but I haven't heard any of the big shots. Ive had the UE Super.Fi 3, Creative EP-630, Ety ER6i and cheap Sony EX-71 and EX51. But they don't sound as good as a good pair of open headaphones from Sennheiser and the like.

Some people on head-fi are saying these are the same acoustically as the previous apple in-ears.