Katz's Corner Episode 16: The Smoking Gun

Looking Back
Episodes 13 and 14, The Big Shootout, generated a lot of controversy in the headphone community. As you may recall, in Episode 13, I picked the Audeze LCD-4 over the Focal Utopia, and it was a very clear victory. The Utopia sounded bright, thin, and edgy, especially compared to the smooth and natural-sounding LCD-4. I knew that Focal fans would not take this result sitting down and that was certainly true. So I decided to bring in a panel of listening experts in Episode 14, to express their reactions to the same phones. The amplifiers we used remained the same as I used for my shootout, but I did have to replace the DAC since I learned the Oppo portable DAC could not be run and charged at the same time. Bummer. Regardless, the consensus of the expert listening panel was very much in line with my own opinions.

After those episodes, conspiracy theories have abounded: Was it valid for Bob to use different amplifiers for the two headphones? First of all, it's necessary in this kind of comparison to match the loudness of each can for an A/B comparison. Not having two matched amplifiers, I used a custom-built AMB to feed the Focals and the Audeze Deckard to feed the Audeze. You may recall that my assistant and I did some careful comparisons of the two amps using the Focals and concluded that the amps seem to sound identical. But since I was not able to get enough driving voltage to feed the LCD-4s with the AMB, the AMB fed the Focals, and of course Focal fans on the net have complained that the AMB I used must be a bright amp.

The next controversy centered on my Svengalian "influence" on my assistant and friends as I administered the test. Somehow my brainwaves have managed to influence five strong-minded individuals in my direction. But don't forget that Paige Coley actually preferred the Focal for some purposes although she agreed with the rest of us on the nature of the sonic differences. Other than the few complainers around the net, most of you have accepted the results of this shootout. Some of you cited your experiences with different samples of the Utopias, one sample a reader auditioned mirroring our judgments. Keep your cards and letters coming, guys, we do appreciate them!

My shootout has awakened the attention of a couple of behemoths: Focal (the company) and Audeze (the company). Obviously, Focal is very concerned, and Audeze is very pleased. But we have to dig further, to be fair to both companies. For example: What's going on with Tyll's Utopia on the Wall of Fame? What's going on with his not-so-favorable review of the LCD-4s? What's going on with the estimable John Atkinson's rave LCD-4 review?

In this episode I intend to get to the bottom of this controversy! Here's how: Focal has asked Tyll if he would be willing to measure the Utopia that was used in the shootout. Ostensibly, if the shootout sample measures like Tyll's initially reviewed pair, then we would just have to accept the opinions of my six expert listeners as another data point in a long line of data points. Likewise, I think it important for Tyll to measure my LCD-4s which I sent along for testing.

The Test Results
Frequency response is not the only objective criterion we should pay attention to. And it's very subject to interpretation...we're very early in the science of headphones. Besides, the ears smooth out a lot of the ratty anomalies we can measure in headphones. So what parts of the measurements do we pay attention to? What parts do we ignore? Tyll and several other researchers are currently attempting to advance that part of the science. But I think that if we find some correlation between a measurement and an audition, that can buttress both the objective and the subjective evaluations. To be fair, we are biased ourselves, because we have to interpret the complex measurements. As you and I and Tyll examine the following measurements of the controversial headphones, keep in mind that I'm interpreting them through my own rose-colored glasses. Therefore I invite you, my readers, to present your view of these same measurements. I'll also be happy to analyze the data in a different way if you request it. All in the interests of science and progress.

Tyll has kindly provided me the raw data from three Utopia sample measurements: his initially reviewed sample (probably from the very first production run), a second Utopia sample he recently received from Focal, and the Utopia used in the shootout (both of which are likely from subsequent production runs. He's also given me the measurement spreadsheets of the LCD-4 sample that he initially reviewed and was not too thrilled with, and of course that of my own LCD-4. Let's look at some very revealing frequency response measurements. I have taken Tyll's average of 5 different headphone positions, then smoothed these with 1/6 octave smoothing.For example, here is a comparison of the left and right ear of Katz's LCD-4 averaged and smoothed:


Fig 1: Katz LCD-4 left channel (red) versus right channel (green). Average of 5 different headphone positions. 1/6 octave smoothing

As you can see, the measurement shows that the left ear is brighter, sometimes by more than 2dB, from 2 kHz through about 8 kHz. To be honest, my listeners and I did not notice that in any listening test, though I'll be on the lookout for it when I get the cans back from Tyll. It appears that Audeze's manufacturer's tolerances ear to ear are not that great. For a $4000 headphone I would expect better L-R matching, at least up to 10 kHz.

Here's a similar measurement of the shoot Utopia:


Fig 2: Shoot Utopia left channel (red) versus right channel (green). 1/6 octave smoothing, average of 5 headphone positions.

These two phones measure distinctly differently! We should not expect them to sound alike. In addition, the right channel of the shootout Utopia is consistently louder than the left by as much as adB over a wide range of frequencies, which I noticed in listening and which I compensated for during the shootout. So this measurement confirms one subjective judgment. Fortunately, I believe that the brain integrates the response of both ears (somewhat). Well, at least it's easier to interpret a single reading than a pair! Here (figure 3) is a comparison of the combined (average) response of both ears of the Katz LCD-4 versus the shootout Utopia:


Fig 3: Shoot Utopia (blue) vs. Katz LCD-4 (green). Average of both channels, 1/6 octave smoothing

If this is confirmation bias, then I'll eat my hat! I think this comparison speaks for itself. It clearly confirms the sonic differences that we noted between the Katz LCD-4 and the shootout Utopia. I urge you to re-read Episodes 13 and 14 to see how eerily Figure 3 mirrors our subjective judgments.

Since "measures flat" is not the goal, I'll redraw this comparison between the two headphone models with 0dB representing "perceived flat." My compensation curve is definitely in progress. It's based on the Harman curve plus some fudging I did by comparing a set of LCD-X with my reference speakers until they matched as close as humanly possible. It's far from an accurate curve, but it's the closest I can come at this date. I took both of the headphone measurements, normalized each one's gain to match the Katz-Harman curve in the midrange, and then determined the difference between the measurement and the Katz-Harman curve. In theory, the closer each trace comes to the 0dB line the flatter the perceived response of the phone:


Fig. 4: LCD-4 Katz (brown) vs. Focal shoot (green). Katz-Harman curve represents 0dB. 1/6 octave smoothing, both ears combined.

This compensated measurement also seems to correlate with the perceived responses. 0dB would be the "optimum" perceived response, provided that the compensation curve is accurate. The first thing we notice is that the Focal has a distinct steep rolloff below 200 Hz, while the LCD-4 stays a lot closer to flat. This correlates very well with the shootout descriptions of the Focal's weak bass response.

In the lower midband the Focal is boosted compared to the Audeze, which further increases the audible difference between the midband and the bass. From 1.2 to 2.5kHz both cans dip, but the Focal begins with a steep peak circa 1.3 k and a steeper dip while the Audeze's is a lot smoother and gentler. In general, sharp peaks and dips translate to a less smooth and ragged sound quality.

The real tattletale is in the 2kHz to 10kHz range, where the Focal trace is distinctively brighter and more ragged (bigger ups and downs) than the Audeze and in some ranges, significantly brighter than the 0dB line, brighter even than the compensation curve. Tyll is more of an authority on this but I suspect these ups and downs represent comb filtering inside the headphone cavity. These measurements correlate extremely well with our subjective judgments in the shootout.

The Smoking Gun
Now we compare various samples of the same model headphone. Below we compare the Katz LCD-4 sample against Tyll's review sample. Here's a left-right combined, 1/6 octave smoothed amplitude difference display:


Fig 5. Amplitude difference between Katz LCD-4 and Tyll LCD-4 sample #1. Both ears averaged, smoothed 1/6 octave.

Below 1kHz the two samples are extremely close, far less than adB for the most part. The slight bass difference means that the Katz sample is about 1dB hotter than Tyll's sample below 60 Hz. Above 1kHz there is a significant difference between the two samples of the same model headphone. The Katz sample is depressed from 1kHz to about 4kHz by as much as 2dB compared to Tyll's sample. But what I think is significant is that the Katz sample is distinctly brighter than Tyll's sample from 4k to 10k. This could easily explain why I and my listening panel really liked the LCD-4 while Tyll felt it sounded closed in and not clear enough. The narrow difference circa 10k could be Fazor design? Fortunately, it's a narrow dip and above that we hope the differences are not that significant to the ear.

Editor's note: I hope Bob doesn't mind me jumping in here for a moment. While his plot above does a good job of showing the the differences between the two headphones, I also think it hides the balance of the headphone in and of itself. For clarity I'm going to add the raw frequency response plots of the two LCD-4 headphones reviewed.


In my review I wrote:

"Well, the problem is the LCD-4 to my ears does so well in the bass and mid-range run-up to this frequency that when it all of a sudden goes missing (it's about 8dB down from where it ought be) it begins to stick out like a sore thumb. I have to say that all my commentary on the bass and mid-range performance was burdened by having to evaluate while being very conscious of this missing octave. When I switched form the Sennheiser HD 800 S to the LCD-4 it was like someone draped cloth over my ears...sort of."

I followed that by saying I also thought the top octave between 10kHz and 20kHz was too bright in comparison. Looking at the plots above, you'll see the very steep descent on my pair at 4kHz, followed by a rough descent to 8kHz that is overall steeper than Bob's unit. You can also see that the top octave is higher in level relative to the midrange on my review unit. The response between 3kHz and 20kHz is more "U" shaped in my review unit, and falls more evenly and closer to the shape of the Harman target response with Bob's LCD-4.

After this I compared the shoot Utopia against Tyll's early Utopia...the one he has on his wall of fame:


Fig. 6: Tyll's Utopia sample, green. Utopia shootout unit, blue. 1/6 octave smoothed, both channels combined.

Figure 6 tells us that the shootout Utopia may be literally - defective, except that it closely resembles Tyll's sample #1 from 3 kHz on up. But the depression below 2 kHz would clearly make the shootout Utopia sound thin and bright compared to Tyll's early sample. This is a giant manufacturing discrepancy. Tyll has measured a third sample of the Utopia sent to him recently by Focal. Let's compare the shootout Utopia to that third sample:


Fig 7: Utopia sample #2 (brown). Utopia shootout (blue). 1/6 octave smoothed, both channels combined.
To quote Groucho Marx, "Who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes?" Utopia sample #3 and the shootout Utopia are for all intents and purposes, identical. Bravo for manufacturer's consistency, except that we now know these sound different than Tyll's Wall of Fame sample. Fig. 16-6 shows a big difference between Tyll's early unit and the latter samples.

Furthermore, the shootout Utopia has a weaker bass below 80 Hz, which would exacerbate our subjective judgment of the weak bass range of this can. Will Tyll audition Utopia sample #3? Does the Utopia still merit the Wall of Fame? If possible, Tyll needs to audition my LCD-4 sample, and if possible I need to audition his early Focal. (Sorry, Bob, Long gone.) But I'd rather wait till Focal send him a few more samples to determine consistency and which direction they may be trending. If they trend more towards the early version, so much the better. Likewise with the Audeze: Tyll reports that Audeze are sending him a few more LCD-4s for measurement and review.

We are living in interesting times. This comparison between headphone samples is the real smoking gun: evidence of manufacturer's inconsistencies. My friend has already contacted Focal for a replacement headphone and they are being very cooperative. For his sake, I hope he receives something more like Tyll's initial sample. For those of you considering the lovely LCD-4s, I hope you receive one like my own golden reference! Caveat emptor.

Editor's Note: Well then...wowie zowie! Past little while as Bob has been publishing his findings, I've been shaking my head wondering if we were even listening to the same headphones...turns out we weren't. Glad I'm not going deaf.

Thought I'd post this graph to put it all in one piece.


The thing that strikes me most strongly is how much Bob's Utopias deviate from the rest of the pack. It's got a 4dB hotter peak at 3-4kHz; it's got the most uneven run-up to the peak; and the spike at 6kHz and 10kHz are about 8dB hotter.

I've got three LCD-4 coming in from Audeze. I'm going to do some more listening and measuring, and then I'll probably post up some adjustments to the Wall of Fame and notes in past articles.

Thanks for digging into this one, Bob.

[Editors Note: See this post for Focal's comments.]

TMRaven's picture

So the tldr moral of the story here is that these 4000 dollar headphones are grossly overpriced, badly manufactured boutique products?

pieman3141's picture

Kinda what I'm wondering as well. Do well-established players like Sennheiser, AKG (Austria), Beyer, and A-T have such inconsistencies as well, especially in their high-end offerings?

Beagle's picture

That was fun as well as revealing.

It would be nice if the headphone designers/manufacturers would go to the same extreme effort to find out what's bugging their $4K products BEFORE they release them.

Magoo's picture

Reading about Audeze HP's for a while but never had the chance to try a pair. Last month I visited the CanJam in LA. Tried on a pair of LCD 4's to hear what $4K sounds like...OMG....I don't care how good they sound as they slide off my head at almost any look down...I was flabbergasted that this rarely seems to get mentioned.

Also tried the Utopia's ...again was not blown away by what costs $4K! These are at least comfortable.

After all that premium listening, I am still way happy with my HD-800S's as none I listened to was 2X+ as good....not even the electrostatics. Which proves to me the diminishing returns of extreme priced gear.

I must say I though the TOTL Sony's Z1R's sounded pretty good for sealed phones!!

Inconsistencies for HP to HP of the same model must mean you have to actually listen to a few samples before buying. You would not think that would be the case considering their cost.

Maybe's picture

That's really funny.
To think that Focal would send Tyll a warmed up Version of their 4000$ headphone so he would like it more would be mischievous. However that would mean that their QC is rather underwhelming... Kinda like Audeze's. Guess they aren't so different after all.

kais's picture

Comparing the Audeze LCD4 to the Focal Utopia is like comparing Apples to oranges:
The LCD4's driver covers the whole ear, the Utopia's much smaller one's only a part of it.
Therefor the pinna isn't fully contributing to the received sound with the Utopia.
Every listener will have a different experience due to that fact.
Even variations in the placement are much more critical, you can see that in the measurements:
The Utopia has deviations of up to 8dB in the important midrange for different placements.
The LCD4 does not have this problem.

Bob Katz's picture

Kais, if I'm not mistaken, both the Utopia and the LCD-4 are big enough to cover the whole ear including the pinna. I am curious about the placement variations. From my point of view, the 1/6 octave smoothing really helps reveal the differences in response a lot more easily than Tyll's raw data, which he's been looking at for so many years that he can average them in his head. But not me, not yet. Give me a few more years. If you guys like and if Tyll approves, I'll graph Kais' claims about the varying Utopia response with placement with 1/6 octave smoothing.

kais's picture

The Utopia driver has a size of 40 mm.
According to a study of Mr. Rubin from 1962 the average pinna size is 65 x 35 mm, so even centered the driver does not cover it completely.
A lot is going on inside the cup of most headphones.
I by myself use this as an equalizer to my taste by placement, which works for most headphones.
Specially the up and down parameter is reproducible. Even back and forth can be used for this.
For the Utopia you can see the huge deviations in the raw plot for 6 positions.
So which one to judge on?

Headphone4life's picture

I don't know if the Elear has the same production problems but I love the way mine sound. I got one from the first batch which I think is the same as what Tyll reviewed because I think it sound exactly has he described.

I really don't see the need for a $4000 headphone as they wont sound even twice as good as a $1000 or $1500 headphone. The fact that Hifiman is going to have a possible $6000 headphone is just laughable.

pieman3141's picture

It's simply unacceptable. Very few other industries have such QA issues for their top-end products. Even Lamborghinis, as much as they often need repairs, can be reliably driven to their marketed top speed. Here we have two mfrs. (if we don't include Hifiman), touting their flagships as being made by first-world magical wunderkinder, sending bad products to reviewers and customers alike.

Journeyman's picture

Focal must be soooo happy with these tests. The engineering and manufacturing departments are going to feel the burn for sure.
Heads will roll but I'm sure something good will come from this.

tony's picture

gets past you guys!

I can't recall how any Audio Gear Manufacturer ever had to face scrutiny like this.

Bob Katz owning and using his own Music "Standards", he gets "Highest" Credibility Status, an unimpeachable resource.

Tyll & Bob were the high point of Big Sound 2015.

Combined, I give this Team my first ever "Earned Confidence" Award.

Focal and Audeze will figure things out. They'll discover their causes of inconsistency, keep improving and the "beat goes on".

Tyll & Bob have raised the Bar to new heights! JA must be swelling with Pride!

Well done

Tony in Michigan

Bob Katz's picture

Tyll wrote: "Well then...wowie zowie! Past little while as Bob has been publishing his findings, I've been shaking my head wondering if we were even listening to the same headphones...turns out we weren't. Glad I'm not going deaf."

I feel the same way! - Bob

JVG's picture

Alright, guys. Thanks to you both for your efforts to get to the bottom of this strange and disheartening mystery. It is clear that both of these companies are dealing with significant QC/consistency issues—something we already knew about Audeze but did not know about Focal. I agree with most of this analysis, although I have a couple of niggles, namely that I think you are unfairly evaluating the channel matching issues. I agree that the shootout Utopia channel imbalance is an issue and unacceptable for this level of headphone. However, I think the same is even more true of the shootout LCD-4. It would seem to me that the Utopia’s less-than-1db, relatively consistent mismatch would be less problematic than the LCD-4s roughly 3db discrepancy between 3k-7khz, an area where problems and extra energy seem to naturally stand out. But you noticed the Utopia mismatch and not the LCD-4 mismatch, so perhaps not. I also think, as Tyll pointed out, that you undersold the overall balance discrepancy between the two LCD-4 samples. His annotated graph tells the tale there.

All that said, the difference between the two Utopia samples is huge. Extremely huge—so big that Focal had better get ready for a rough stretch if this turns out to be a widespread issue. And though I stand by most of the criticisms of the methodology (and tone) of the original shootout that I posted in my comment to that article, it is clear now that the main cause of the shootout result is the massive difference between the shootout Utopia and Tyll’s Utopia. Furthermore, the difference between those two is so huge, and yet the shootout Utopia and the third sample are so consistent, that this seems to point less toward unit-to-unit manufacturing inconsistency and more toward a significant change of voicing between batches, whether intentional or unintentional. This is obviously just as worrying as unit variation, if not more so.

This brings me to the next obvious topic. My subjective listening impressions of my Utopias jive much more with Tyll’s original review and measurements than with Bob’s shootout results and the measurements of those Utopias. But of course, I don’t have any other pairs of the headphones to compare them with, nor measurement equipment. So, let’s talk serial numbers. It would be very helpful, Tyll, if you could tell us what the serial numbers (at least up to the last couple digits) are for the three Utopia samples you tested. This is something you’ve done in the past when product variation crops us, and this is obviously a case of that. And if others could chime in with their serials/experience, perhaps that will allow us to figure out where the different batches begin and end and get some more data points from people’s impressions of samples from different batches. (LCD-4 serials would of course be helpful too.) Also, Tyll, did you run a complete set of measurements on these additional Utopia and LCD-4 samples? If so, it would be very helpful if you could add full measurement sheets to the database so that we can more easily and completely compare the samples.

The bottom line is that this investigative work has revealed problems and concerns that a customer spending this kind of money of state-of-the-art, TOTL, statement-level headphones should never have to worry about. Unless Audeze is willing to start sending people 4 samples of every headphone and picking the one that functions properly / they like the best, and Focal is willing to refund anyone who purchases a headphone based on reviews that don’t describe the product they may actually receive, then both companies have some real engineering and consumer-relations work to do.

thefitz's picture

This is unbelievable. The channel matching between these two >$4k sets is unacceptable. Forget how one set sounds relative to another - they sound different relative to themselves!

This is Trump's fault, amirite? His rhetoric made headphone manufacturers feel unsafe and therefore butcher channel matching.

sszorin's picture

Please no mentioning Trump on this forum whatsoever. The Trump comparison/analogy/swatting has become very worn out and tiresome. What's next ? ..selling baby nappies with Trump pictures ?

24bitbob's picture

This is an excellent piece of investigative work, your efforts have to be acknowledged for the thoroughness and persistence in getting as far as you did. Where this leaves the high end headphone industry is anybody's guess, since neither Audeze nor Focal come out of this in a good light. Any consumer paying $4,000 for a headphone has a right to expect that what they are buying will perform to a level commensurate with that cost. Neither Focal nor Audeze pass that threshold.

Could it be that headphones at this end of the market are so leading edge that manufacturing control simply can't match the engineering that evolved during their development, or is something else at play? How about other TOTL headphones on Tyll's Wall of Fame, are they subject to the same variability in performance across individual units? How many samples of a headphone need to be tested to confer Wall of Fame status? Maybe the Sennheiser HD800 still reigns supreme, since its performance may be flawed, but it consistently produces the sound that it does? So many questions, and not just about Focal Utopia or Audeze LCD-4.

I just checked the Focal Utopia website. It declares:

They are the result of 35 years of innovation, development and manufacturing of high-end speaker drivers and loudspeakers. Equipped with exclusive technology, they offer striking realism, neutrality, dynamics and clarity, for sound with unrivalled purity. They are the result of 35 years of innovation, development and manufacturing of high-end speaker drivers and loudspeakers. Equipped with exclusive technology, they offer striking realism, neutrality, dynamics and clarity, for sound with unrivalled purity.

I hope Focal loudspeakers perform more consistently than their headphones appear to. I also hope that Dynaudio speakers show the level of consistentcy required for a ToTL reference (It was Dynaudio loudspeakers that were used as the benchmark, to recall). One wonders.

Focal also claim a frequency response of 5 Hz to 50 kHz. THD is quoted as: <0,2% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL . With the level of variation you detected in your testing those specifications have to remain suspect. The same has to be asked of Audeze and their LCD-4. Could it be that you, Bob, struck lucky with a good pair of LCD-4's and many others haven't?

I also note that on the Focal website, the Utopia headphones are shown alongside numerous quotes from reviews, every single one being fulsome in their praise for the headphone. But every single one is dated June or July 2016. The same headphone, or each produced from the same batch?

From a Quality Assurance perspective the headphone industry has a lot of questions to answer, particularly for flagship headphones. The level of variability is not acceptable. It's not acceptable from Focal, and it's not acceptable from Audeze. How do other flagship manufacturers compare? As consumers, can we trust HiFiMan or Mr Speakers or Sennheiser or Stax, any more than we can Focal or Audeze?

I think the work done for this article is very revealing and very, very important for those who enjoy headphone listening. The smoking gun is not just about Focal, there are wisps of smoke coming from Audeze's direction too. Perhaps the smoke is even more widespread.

MRC01's picture

This is excellent investigative work. You set a great example for the audio community. This will listeners better understand products and help manufacturers improve their products.

What happened to episode 15? Katz's corner jumped from 14 to 16.

avens's picture

I'd like to know if these huge inconsistencies also happen in the manufacturing of factory-made quality headphones, such as the HD600's.

--------------'s picture

They do.

HD 580 was a limited version of the HD 600, so they're the same headphones. The HD 600 has a bass hump that blends into the mids - the HD 580 does not. HD 580 is down by an extra 2 dB at 20 Hz relative to 1 kHz. The treble dip of HD 600 is wider than that of HD 580. And as you can see, the channel matching is quite terrible, especially for the HD 600.

Measurements from other websites show an identical lack of proper quality control.
Poor channel matching: http://www.seeko.co.kr/measurement/phones/HD600/df.png (raw measurement can be found here, but it's channel averaged: http://www.seeko.co.kr/measurement/phones/HD600/raw.png)
Poor channel matching and bass hump: https://clarityfidelity.blogspot.com/2016/05/sennheiser-hd-580-over-ear-...
Decent measuring, but showing treble on the brighter side, contrary to the other measurements showing it as laid back (this may be attributed to the coupler): https://clarityfidelity.blogspot.com/2016/04/sennheiser-hd-600-over-ear-...
Another measurement with forward treble and susceptible channel matching (again, the coupler in question could be the cause of the hot treble): http://www.0db.co.kr/xe/files/attach/images/179/534/b39f6afb5ad689b080cf...

PAR's picture

" HD 580 was a limited version of the HD 600".

Are you sure of this? It seems unlikely as the HD580 preceded the HD 600 by a few years. I own both and bought them in the sequence that that they entered the market (now a long time ago).

--------------'s picture

"the HD 600 appeared first as the HD 580 Jubilee 50th Anniversary Edition, and then subsequently as the HD 600"

"The Sennheiser HD580’s are the slightly cheaper version of the flagship HD600 headphones."

PAR's picture

The HD 580 preceded the HD 600. The introduction sequence was: HD 580, HD 580 Jubilee etc. edition, HD 600.

The HD 580 was the top of Sennheiser's range at the time of its launch and the other models assumed that position latterly in sequence up to the HD 650.

As the HD 580 was top of the range and the HD 600 did not exist it was not a limited version of the HD 600 and can only be regarded as such retrospectively. However the HD 580 Jubilee edition was an improved version of the HD 580 which then achieved permanency in the range by becoming the HD 600. There were certainly cosmetic differences between the latter two and I seem to recall some change to the diaphragm thickness but memories are not reliable at this distance.

Of course in regard to the current Sennheiser range where the HD 580 is still available it may be seen as a lesser HD 600 but that was not, nor could it have been, its origin.

tony's picture

These are phenominal transducer systems all!

Of course, gripes are common and sort-of acceptable but there isn't a bigger "bang for the buck" on this Planet. I'm based from owning an incredible amount of HighEnd gear spanning 5 decades.

People seem to be chasing the latest great stuff but I think the pursuit isn't practical.

Still, I'll probably own a Focal but I could easily live with the Sennheisers. I'm not itch'n to fix something that isn't broken.

The Audeze stuff is waaaayyyyyyyyy tooooooooooo heavy on my old head.

My Sennheiser / Schiit Asgard 2 are Audiologist tuned to my two differing ears and I've learned how to tune "any" headphone to greatness.

Tony in Michigan

Magoo's picture


OMG...tried on LCD-4's at the SoCal CANJAM last month...they were so heavy that any look downward would causer them to start to slide off my head....I don't care how good they sound, I could not stand them on my head for more than a few moments.

After listening to them, Utopia's, ZR-1's and some Stax, I've concluded that the ultra high priced headphone are laughable with even any type of value.....diminishing returns??? Are you kidding me?

This is an area where Schiit Audio is bring a whole new pricing paradigm that's should be welcomed by anyone with half a brain...

tony's picture

That's exactly what people say about me.

I might even have: half a hearing ability.

Even so, I'm enjoying a "complete" happiness, as far as my half-brain is able to discern.

Tony in Michigan

sszorin's picture

The best bang for the buck in the headphones' world is Beyerdynamic T1 [the original model]. One can get it for 600 USD [used, in like new condition] or at about 800 USD as new old stock. With its excellent price to performance ratio T1 flatten any headphones in front of them.

avens's picture

Also I would like to know if inconsistencies as huge as those are present in top of the line speakers, and also in factory-made speakers. Thanks.

Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Stick with the Sennhieser Hd800's -1 db tolerance ;), 2500$ less as well,
Even hd650 also has a 1db tolerance, only sells in the neighbourhood of 350$.
I may understand Audeze, due to them being relatively new and are working with planar magnetics,
(though if your selling a 1000$+ headphone that's no longer a good excuse) but for Focal this is unacceptable, since they decades of experience in the speaker industry, is working with dynamic transducers and is selling a headphone for 4000$+ that doesn't measure better than even an HD800, which was released nearly a decade ago now and costs substantially more.

They may not be the most shiny and new headphones, but at least they can actually can guarantee their sound quality of their products, pair to pair. Sharing my own personal anecdote, i don't think the hd800 should have ever been removed from the wall of fame, since the hd800s only did 1 thing better, and that was a smoother treble response, though it has looser bass transients and more coloured and uneven harmonics (THD) and it was 300$ cheaper. In terms of accuracy, which what people bought the original Hd800 for was worse. People wanted better bass extension/transients as well as a more ben treble. Sennhieser fixed one issue (treble issue) but introduced several small ones and priced it 300$ more expensive. The bass had noticeable less extension and tightness, the harmonics (THD) were higher and were more uneven and the general response as a whole was had more dips and hills. While more subjectively pleasing maybe yes, but I feel they could have improved this headphone in other ways that didn't compromise the strengths of the original to make a true successor, to me it's Hd650 and HD600 deja vu all over again.

The Hd800 may perhaps be a little worse than the Ether's currently on the wall of fame, though we have to take into account that the hd 800 as of right now only sells for 1499$ USD retail, while they cost significantly more. I use my hd800 for a lot of things, hours on end, mostly for movie's and t.v and I can say that it is almost unparalled by any other headphone in terms of sheer accuracy and imaging capabilities, other than the 009 + other stax offerings or maybe some Hifiman offerings, this is irrefutably evident in the dozens of measurements from Tyll, Golden ears, or even sennhiesers own measurements . For 1499$ USD in terms of imaging and accuracy, this headphone is unbeatable at it's price point for those looking for solely for accuracy and a tool to work with. To top it off, it's the most lightweight and comfortable flagship headphone in it's class, unparalleled, though the Ethers come close respectably. In this world of the rise of planar magnetic headphones, the comfort on the Hd800 is completely unique to Sennhieser and can't be found anywhere else. In some of my most gruelling work sessions while editing video and recording, which can last even beyond 10 hours straight, never once has the hd800 ever made me feel the slightest discomfort. The HD 800 is not the best headphone for music enjoyment, unless there is little tampering with the recording, such as symphonic and acoustic based music, or simply well recorded music. Though it's headphone that truly excels at Movies and T.v (Since what you hear is essentially is just what goes into the microphone and out and the less jumbled and complex nature of recordings. Rather you hear far more real life sounds doing with regular dialogue, ambient sounds and room acoustics) and of course professional work such as editing and recording.

Not gonna argue with people that the HD800 is bad for quite a bit of music, since it is, since most music today is not well recorded by any means, and is festered with altercations having to do with DNR (The loudness wars) equalization, poor mic-ing, and digitalized synth effects, which is why in the 80's and 90's people hated cd's and digital recording s in general, since it exposed all the recording flaws studio's actually had. But for recordings with little tampering such as film materials, T.v shows or symphonic/acoustic based music, nearly unbeatable in it's price range. If you have truly well recorded materials (Think modern Japanese music recordings) the hd800 is an incredibly rewarding experience with such material, when your source material is clearly produced well, the headphones can sound far more incredible than other headphones that may colour the sound for enjoyment purposes.

it remains the cheapest way to have a Flagship level headphone that actually has the Qc control, unparalleled ergonomics/comfort, and unparalleled accuracy at it's given price point. You can also take it a step further and improve it even more to somewhat fix it's treble problem with a mod that cost less than 5$ and is completely reversible, which is why the hd800 was the most favoured headphone in the polling data gathered in Big sound 2015, and it would be a mistake to think that the HD800's didn't have any worthy competition.

It's not the best headphone for music listening for most people, heck lots of people find it unenjoyable, but for professionals who want the highest level of accuracy and comfort at the lowest cost, and a headphone to use with source material that's not tampered with to much such as movies or T.v (Microphone in and out) it is irreplaceable.

Along with that there IS a decently sized community of people who find this headphone pleasing for music listening, flaws and all. This "peak" that's constantly bashed about, is only 5db high.

To this day, I'm seriously wondering why Tyll removed it from the wall of fame, it baffles me.
I have to remind myself this is Tyll's personal website and those are his beliefs, but I just cant help but think this was a mistake. Tyll in my opinion needs to draw a line and he may already have but i'm just going to throw this out there - Is innerfidelity's "wall of fame" a resource for Tyll's personal bias and subjective, or is it a resource representing both him the writer, the industry and it's professionals and us consumers and customers. Tyll has done a relatively good job over the years, though his ability to represent and identify with readers to accurately represent the industry and it's professionals, us customers and consumers and the line between the objective and quantifiable, to the subjective and qualitative has been growing quite vague over the past few years, and innerifdeilty while the single most engrossing resource for measurements and data, still somewhat leans towards Tyll's subjective and bias. To me what separated innerfidelity from all the other publications ranting on about with fancy adverbs, was his sole and unique professional experience with the actual raw technical data and mechanics, which allowed him to quantify subjective impressions and separate the two well.

The biggest representation of this problem it the wall of fame, if you care to read the daily comments within articles regarding Wof picks, quite a handful, myself included don't agree with a lot of Tyll's picks and choices.

I still don't know why the HD600 remains on the wall of fame when they're are clearly better more modern alternatives, and I don't know why the AKG k7xx or Dt880 was shafted in favourability towards the hd600, this includes the HD650 as well, I still am confused with the Utopia wall of fame induction, why the Hd800 was removed in favour of the Hd800s, the huge gapping hole remaining in the 400$ to 900$ price point on the wall of fame and some great headphones removed in the sealed headphone category. The wall of fame needs some kind of update, seriously, I don't get this behaviour about removing similarly performing headphones at a lower price point in favour for newer more expensive models. If the wall of fame is or was intended to represent the best buys at certain price points, the wall of fame certainly has trouble doing so, both in representing general consensus around products as well. I know this publication covers a lot more audio hobbyist related material, but that certainly doesn't mean people don't value their money and can just slap 4000$ to buy the "next" gadget,
a byproduct of that is why so many hobbyist visit conventions, to actually audition potential purchases,
instead of buying it blind because they do care about their savings.

I've already in the past voiced my suggestions regarding headphones that should get a consideration for the wall of fame, so please read some of the suggestions made by others such as myself or anybody willing to offer them in the future.

MRC01's picture

I agree the HD-800 is a great headphone in many ways. But it has a spike in response around 5-7 kHz that makes it unnaturally bright and throws off the voicing of natural acoustic instruments. It sounds "detailed", but it's artificially amplified detail. That may be great for mastering professionals who need a scalpel of a headphone. But live acoustic music doesn't sound like that. The detail is subtle - it's there but you have to listen for it. And while the HD-800 has excellent bass response for a conventional driver headphone, good planar magnetics like the LCD-4 (even the LCD-3 and LCD-2) are superior: cleaner (lower distortion) and more linear (flatter frequency response).