Sunday, December 27. 2009
Finally we are actually seeing something show up with some potential! As I go through them, one thing keeps coming to mind. How in the heck can all these headphones have these amazing specifications of 20 to 20K, 5 to 30K, 6 to 42K with each one inferring that it is flatter, wider and more accurate than the last when there is almost no relationship whatsoever in the way they sound? Without a +- db spec and some hint as the the measurement methods, those numbers are junk. The state of these audio specifications is so pathetic and deceptive that they are all but useless. I guess that is a subject to address at some future bloggery date.
Ok, so why do we want a flat response from the headphones anyway? And what is flat? Where do we measure flat? Though the frequency responses of these headphones are all over the map I am seeing some potential trends with both bass boost and double dip high frequency responses. Perhaps some manufacturers are imbedding a Fletcher-Munson response, the new standard ISO 226:2003 equal loudness contours or some other form of compensation?
Perhaps it is arbitrary or there is a lot of heavy thinking is going on? Well, well actually there are plenty of mind clustery debates about how to massage the response of headphones to be perceived in certain ways and sound in some form of corrected correct by ears in comparison to some other form of whatever. My friend Ferrit sent me this article which goes into some deep Stereophile depth of some of the whatevers they are trying to figure out. To get a taste of some of that take a gander at this:
Ha!, well I am sure that discussion can and will go on forever and never have a definitive winner of rightness, so lets take a slightly different approach and try and keep this a simple, repeatable practical path to a productive outcome.
I set out on this bloggery quest to find some currently manufactured headphones that are close to as accurate, loud and fidelic as the Sony CD3000's I have relied upon for the past decade or so, before they irreparably die. What I did not know when I started the testing is that when I run pink noise and place a measurement mic near my ear inside the CD3000 headphones, that I would see a response that is much flatter than many of the other headphones I am testing. Wow, that is so cool and makes things much easier as I have a simple logical starting point that makes a bit of logical sense.
Another really interesting aspect is that other highly regarded and popular live headphones such as the Sony MDR-V6, Sony MDR-7506, Denon AH D2000, Beyer 770, and Sennheiser HD280 would also measure much flatter responses than many of the headphones that are less favored by live engineers. So it appears that coincidentally many live engineers are naturally attracted to headphones with a response that shows up as relatively flat on my simple measurement method. Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is not a coincidence and the headphones that put out a fairly flat 'equal energy per octave' response are truly a useful reference point for live engineers while headphones with tailored responses are less than optimum.
So armed with the observations that popular live headphones show up fairly flat with my overly simple measurement system, I continue to listen and measure and narrow the field and bang out the rest that I have, first the sad goodbye's:
Oooh, the Grado SR60's are lower line Grado but since they are all open ear and these are the most popular of the line, I bought these just to hear them. They actually do sound quite nice and pretty much like you see below, smooth, a bit top heavy and not much in the sub lows.
May as well dump my old broken MDR 90's or whatever they are. Oooh, they look good and actually beat the spec but are discontinued, are on the ear types, look like tiny little toy headphones and wont get near loud enough to clear the next round. That said, it was sort of cool to find that that flat is not a pipe dream.
Here is my least favorite of the cans that almost meet the +- 4db 30hz to 12.5K spec. If it was not for the dips at 6.3 and 10K, they would make it at least looks wise. These Sony MDR-V600's show up pretty good but do not sound that great. Harsh top end and sub low weak. I am going to drop them as they are not quite up to par sound wise with the V6 and 7506's cans which I am also going to drop. We are not looking at re discovering the average run of the mill utility cans, we want something better.
The Sennheiser MD280's actually showed up better than the Sennheiser MD380's. The sub low on the 380's was more impressive but I really want to hear that smooth midrange. These do fall off a bit in the low mid, and the top end is a few db too much to the dark to make the spec. I have never owned these personally but, based what I see and hear their popularity with live engineers does make sense. But, again, going to drop them, looking for better.
These Equation Audio RP 21's were a pleasant surprise, never heard of them before this test. Yes, bass heavy and they have that spike up top, a bit out of spec but perhaps another option for something with more ULF and UHF than V6's in the $100 street price range that have a removable cable as well.
And now we step up to the true hot shot finalists, now we are talking! Check out these Beyer DT770 (not 770M yet as they are on their way still). They do have a bit of a rounding hump with 1K in the center that just barley puts them outside of the spec at we set at 10K. To be honest, I would like see more low end push and less HF droop, but oooh, can you say "nice cans!"
Take those Beyer's and bump the comfort level up a full notch, add in a the absolute most bad ass cable I have ever seen on headphones and you have these gorgeous Denon home Hi-Fi units. I still have some volume testing to do and yes, they do drop out of our spec at 1.6K due to the solid low end bump from the 50mm drivers that gives the D2000's a bit of that smiley curve home Hi-Fi sound. Ideally they would be a bit more edgy but these are really nice, well built and solid.
And now out of the 29 headphones I have spent the last month or so and maybe a hundred hours testing I have come across some that actually meet the huge gaping hole of sloppy loose +- 4 db from 30hz to 12.5K spec I set long before I knew how challenged the contenders would be. Really? Plus/minus 4db? Think about it, 10 db is twice as loud so our spec says that no frequency can be close to twice as loud as an other frequency. Anyway, these Ultrasone HFI-680 and HFI-780 headphones made it. Imagine my glee after all the time spent to actually have something that not only did not fail what seemed to be such an achievable goal but actually beats it by grabbing 25HZ as well..
And they do sound really good. Would love to see a removable cable, with a straight or coily option. P. S. I hate the coily headphone cables! Break away straight cables that unplug when you step on them are the way to go IMHO). Also of note is that these have offset drivers that do not shoot sound directly down your ear canal. They say in the literature that this is less intrusive to our beloved ears longevity. These babies sound tight, smooth, full range, and were the 'aaaah, I am not crazy' entrants that have made this worthwhile.
Note: I did an edit here. I originally postsed the HFI 780's a second time in error.
Here is the CD3000 reference pair read out I am seeking to match or beat. Going back to them they do sound a ULF light now that I have the new exposures. The slightly thicker sound of the 680'sand 780's is welcomed though the CD3000's still sound more natural though a bit pushed high end wise now.
And while we are at it, I am going to drop the Sony MDR V6 and MDR 7506's from the running.
Though the Mighty Headphone Test is not done yet, these Ultrasone's have scored high enough to make the Dave Rat Recommends list. Plus I am impressed enough that maybe I should have Rat buy a pile of each and put together bloggery sale of them? What do ya think, anyone interested in a Mighty Top Dog Headphone Sale?
Next blog up, I am going to hit the top level units with some juice and see how they handle being on the back end of a power amp, bypassing those resistors they put on headphone outputs. This will allow us a look at the effect of the headphone resistor on the response, if any and I hopefully will be able to find any weaknesses in power handling.
Rock on and Happy Holidays!
Tuesday, December 22. 2009
And on and on we go. I had no idea this would be so time consuming. I also had no idea it would be so interesting to hear how varied headphones can be in side by side comparisons..
So here are few more to gander at. Lets hack away a few more and find a keeper or two as well.
The Koss MV1's has a some dips and is tilted toward vocal inteligeability but we really need a smoother response.
Check out how flat these upper level Audio Technica ATH W5000 phones are until the 10 and 16db dips at 3.15K and 6.3K respectively. Good stuff but not quite good enough.
Ohh, and on these Ultrasone HFI-780 we have that double HF dip as well..
This HF dip pattern is showing up in several headphones. My guess is that some of the headphone designers are actually tailoring the responses a bit to account for the percieved loudness effects as described in the Fletcher Munson Curves to provide a sound that is desirable to listen to.
Here as well in the Sony MDR-7509HD cans we see an even more exagerated but similar pattern. I must admit this was a shocker. I really had high hopes for these. Especially with the 50mm drivers, I was hoping to hear something close the Sony CD3000's. The 7509's were both a bit dark and low-end light. Keep in mind I have not really burned in these cans and the burn in could warm the low end up a bit but it is highly that burn-in will fix this huge HF hole. Say bye bye 7509's. Darn!
Another EQ pattern is the 'smiley curve EQ' that tends to be pleasing to listen to and often described as Hi-Fi sounding. While this may be a desirable trait for listenability and offer a sound that is not harsh, for our purpose of having a live sound reference point, we want a flat response. The most 'Smiley Curve' sounding headphones I tested so far were the Ultrasone PRO 900's below:
And just to show another reference point, here is the graph of those same headphones on headphone.com
So while I have been hacking away at thinning I also have been finding some few with potential. Right off the bat it became apperent that the Sony 7506's are popular with live engineers for a good reason. Oooh, look at this: With the exception of the HF rolling off a bit early and a slight droop in the sub lows, these are darn good and flat.
And here is a look at the V6's. Again really flat and I hve heard that the V6 and 7506 have the same 40mm drivers or at least nearly identical and these RTA measurements are within 2 db of each other. Nice cans, not as nice as the CD3000's though. At least we not have a lower end of the spectrum of acceptability.
Now lets take a look at the measurements headphone.com got on the V-6's
Wow, a wide gentle hole at 250 a small peak at 320, gradual dip into slight peak at 3K, dip at 6.3K, peak near 10K and then rolling off from there into a 20K bounce that my RTA cant read.
One of the big hopefuls I had was the Shure SRH-840's
Unfortunately though, the Shure 840 demo ended before I figured out the analyzer snapshot idea and I had already sent the headphones back. But I did get a good amount of time listening to them. So, sorry about no RTA photo but I do have a read out from headphone.com that lines up very well with what I was hearing
Notice how well they emulate the response of the Sony V-6's from 500hz on up! Then notice the 6db bass boost. I can see it beeing a well liked response for DJ's and such but for our accurate live sound reference purposes that bass boost is going to be a considerable issue. In fact it looks like they grabbed the best parts of the Sony V6 and 7506 designs and added a removable cable, spare ear muffs and made a nice set of cans that fold up like the Sony's.
Due to the fact that these Audio Technica's AD700's are open ear design, they will not make it as live cans but they sure do have a nice response. A little low end light and looses top a bit early but they actually do meet our +-4 db spec we set for the CD3000's.
Check out these Koss ESP 950 Electrostatic headphones. Also within our specification though they are also an open ear design.
So, I am going to start putting the headphones that pass the frequency response specification in bold and strikethrough the headphones that for one reason or another will not make it to round 2.
Thursday, December 17. 2009
It was recommended to me that I get a second reference point other than my own head to check for any response anomalies. Great idea. Again, super simple, I just stuck the mic inside and held the CD3000's around one of the cases that came wit the Ultrasone 900's. As you can see it is slightly different than the 'on my head reading but still darn close. As with all the readings there is a slight variation with moving the mic a bit and ear pad pressure, but all the reading stay surprisingly close and consistent for each pair of headphones. I tried this with several other pairs and they all too were consistent with the reading while on my head.
So lets have some fun and start elimination round #1 getting rid of some now that I have a good solid selection to pick from. Lets get the reference CD3000's up.
Ok, if you cant read the #'s here they are. I am putting the frequencies with lines down to them in bold
25, 32, 40, 50, 63, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 315, 400, 500, 630, 800, 1K, 1.25K, 1.6K, 2K, 2.5K, 3.15K, 4K, 5K, 6.3K, 8K, 10K, 12K, 16K, 20K
There is 8 db between the horizontal lines (2 db per led) so as you can see this reads that the CD3000's are within an 8db range from 25hz to 12.K. Since my setup most likely is not very accurate beyond 12.5K, and for live sound EQ it is not very critical up there as we lose most of that super high stuff to air loss anyway, I am not going worry about 16K and 20K. So as our spec, we can say that we are looking for headphones equal to or better than a +- 4db 25 to 12.5K using my crude but simple measurement system.
First say bye bye to Apple ear buds as clearly they will not work for the desired live sound purpose but they are fairly flat from 125 to 12.5K
No go on the Sony XB700's because they are just not going to cut it the cables too short and their response is way off with the bass boost, big hole at 630-800 and rolling off highs.
Yikes, check out the response of the Pickering vintage OA-3 phones!
These open ear Koss PortaPro open ear phones actually sound quite good, lots of low end and I was duly impressed by the sound versus size and cost. That said, I think I want them for my portable player but they just wont work for live shows.
The Audio Technica Pro 700's had strong low end power but were midrange heavy and lacked a top end.
The extra bass Equation Audio RP22X were smoother sounding but as expected, they were low end heavy. But hey, they are the extended bass version. I think this may be a good DJ headphone at a reasonable price. Plus the 1/4 turn removable cable is a nice feature.
And here drops the first one of the big boys. This was a real surprise for me but what I heard and what I see lined up. Say bye bye to the comfy, nice iso, neatly folding Sennheiser HD380 PRO's. Deep but a bit loose sounding low end, mids a bit subdued and though they sound Hi-Fi, the holes in the upper ranges just pulled all the clarity out. They actually sounded a little similar to the RP22X but with 20 db down at 6.3K and 12 db down at 2.5K, I had to drop them from the list.
It was fun to put on the Koss 4AA cans and brought back fond memories. These durable things have a solid tight fit and some heft and though I do not recommend them for live monitoring cans they do seem optimized for speech intelligibility, so they would make good utility cans in high volume environments.
Finally for today an entry from Ultrasone, the HFI 450 pair show a smooth but gradual roll off towards the HF.
And the culling of the 'heard' has just begun. There are plenty more and some surprises ahead!
Alright, that's it for today.
Wednesday, December 16. 2009
Possibility, Plausibility, Probability, Provability are the stepping stones that a concept follows if it makes it's way from the ether-world-mixture-soup of all things conceivable, regardless of how absurd, to the realms of believability in a logical mind.
And on that note I officially declare the entire 'audiophile industry' to be a cult and 'stereophiles' are an extremist faction thereof. These odd practitioners believe such concepts such as advantages of directional speaker wire, the belief that a 3 foot long AC cable will somehow magically improve sound, cables need to have break in and now bringing it to new heights, $959 device that claims to improve sound by merely being placed in the same room.
It is not that those concepts are impossible. And perhaps with some self imposed ignorance I guess they could seem plausible. Yet they score almost no points on probability to be accurate scale and they are definitely not provable.
Really? A $2000 three foot ac cable that plugs into the wall outlet that is in turn connected to a few hundred miles of the power company wires makes your speakers sound different?.
Really? You can hear the difference if you reverse wire direction when music is an AC signal and it therefore must travel in both directions equally?
Even if you do start with the context that everything is possible and then you locate something that is highly improbable and definitely not provable, why embrace it?
This is an 3 XLR foot cable! for $19,000 each that means $38,000 for a stereo pair and $133,000 to wire a 6.1 system. Can you imagine how expensive it would be to wire a 40 input rock band? Hmmm, average 30 foot cable and 40 of those plus spares so maybe 400 plus Clear Com, talkback, and amp rack jumpers and such. Lets round off to 600. 600 x $19,000. OK, well that's not so so bad, eleven million, four hundred thousand dollars for a box of XLR cables but we will still need a main snake, return snake and speaker cables.
These are actual people that are buying into swirling nonsensical concepts and being manipulated out of large sums of money and time as the snake oil salesmen offer false guidance in their pursuit of extremist audio quests. Yikes, what if the stereophile manufacturers were to evolve into concepts like sacrificing animals over the speaker wires to influx them with natural life energy and add new levels or realism. Hey, I bet you could get $40,000 per cable then. Shiver! I find die hard beliefs in nonsensical really really distasteful and creepy.
Another thing I find interesting is that there appears to be absolutely no culpability for false claims. With food and drugs there are rules and regulations. With finances, insurance, vehicles and even toys there is at least some for of group that monitors and calls on the manufacturers to have at least some legitimate basis in their claims. Try selling a toy truck that claims to have a working horn sound when indeed it does not. The consumer buys the toy, presses the horn, no horn, returns toy, complains. Stores stop carrying falsely advertized toy, someone sues. But in the realm of audiophile, none such system exists. Claim that $1000 box makes room sound better. Consumer buys, consumer convinces self he/she hears it. Or consumer returns it to store in shame that his/her ears are not able to hear the farce. Store then becomes more elite as only those special people can actually hear the non existent magic.
I guess it is more like art in that the value is perceived, not actually real. But wait. Unlike art, these are electromechanical devices with actual claims of specific function. That is where the critical difference lays. I truly believe audio manufacturers should have to definitively prove function before making claims.
Here is a cool article by Roger Russell former Director of Acoustic Research for McIntosh Labs:
I find this especially interesting as McIntosh is one of those legendary audio manufacturers highly revered by the audiophiles buying the magical concepts that Roger is undermining in this article.
Ahhh, but enough bashing of the easily bashed. I have spent my evening so far listening and measuring headphones. No ghosts, no magic, no voodoo. In fact quite the opposite. Just a random splatter of various gear and looking for clear repeatable results.
The Possibility that I can find some fairly flat and accurate cans is Plausible and actually a fairly strong Probability if I test enough of them and once I get done I will pass on the Provability so the results have Credibility.
Monday, December 14. 2009
The listening test. Since the goal here is to find some headphones that are flat and accurate for live engineers to use as a reference point, lets consider a few factors.
1) Most sound live sound consoles have fairly generic headphone amps so for me to test with some fancy headphone amp would not make much sense.
2) These headphones should not be biased toward any particular music type so the type of music should not be relevant other than purely to highlight issues.
3) Hopefully the only aspect that involves my opinion really is the decision to use the CD3000 and the assumption that the CD3000's are a flat and accurate reference. Though with all the testing I have done on speakers over the years and listening and EQ'ing systems to flat, I am quite confident that the CD3000's are a fairly accurate reference point. Or at least the most accurate I have found yet.
So, what I am doing for the listening phase is is purely comparative. Just out of ease and familiarity I am primarily using a record player as the music source and lackluster stereo receiver. I will shoot a pic for next blog post. This allows me to easily replay the same part of a song and the clicks an pops of my old records allows me to hear how the headphones deal with those sharp spike dynamics. I started out with various tracks from Pink Floyd The Wall and Wish You Were Here albums. Today I am using Van Halen's first record. Did ya know that Jamie's crying, you can't have any pudding and you are gonna make it if you try they're gonna love you. I also give them a listen on an iPod where I have been using Ween, Butthole Surfers (good sub lows) and Why Don't You Do Right from the Roger Rabbit soundtrack (Amy Irving vocals). All that said, what I am really finding is that it makes very little difference what I use for music. The boomy headphones are boomy everywhere on everything. The dull phones are dull on everything and so on. Their was one helpful thing I found for sorting them though. I have a few different phono cartridges for my turntable. One is quite dull sounding and another is very crisp and bright. I find that if I use the dull sounding cartridge it really helps me hear variations in the high mid and higher frequencies between various headphones. Whereas with the tonally bright cartridge it is more difficult to discern, as the variations are masked a bit.
So all I do is play a song, put on the CD3000's, then swap to the headphones I am comparing, go back and forth a few times and take some notes. Really simple and the differences are tending to be so readily noticeable and clear cut that it is really a no brainer. As soon as I put them on, boom, these lack lows, boom, these suck the vocals out, boom highs are dull and so on.
Below is the current list of what is on the headphone test plate. Most of these I already have started evaluating while some are still on their way to me. I am not against adding more but having started, I can tell you that unless the headphones that get recommended are extraordinary and sound bright and clear and they have have super smooth low end without boominess, they will not make it very far. So far my testing is showing that many highly regarded favorites have response curves that make them less than optimum as reference headphones. Yes, many of them do sound quite good but I am finding that the pleasing sound comes from either a gently sloping response, a bass boost and/or a notch in the 1K to 5K region. All of which make those headphones non-ideal reference points.
So that is where listening has taken me so far. I also have devised a stupid simple way to get a rough frequency response measurement for comparative purposes that seems to work surprisingly well! I was thinking, how can I measure what my ear hears? I could:
A) Build a dummy head with a fake ear, an ear canal and then spend endless hours refining and testing to see if it is accurate and try and eliminate any issues. I then could go into depth trying to prove the credibility of my measurement method.
B) I could put the headphones on my own humanly head, shove a measurement mic so it pick up the sound right where is goes in my ear and take some actual readings of what is my ear hears.
Hmmm, I am going to roll with the "B" method and see what happens. Plus, plan B is easily repeatable by anyone who has Smaart, and RTA or any other audio measurement system thus allowing anyone to easily check the results of what I measure on their own gear. Cool! So I am going to run this whole deal old school and simple, the way I like it.
But before we move on, in my e-wanderings I found this cool web site:
They have already done frequency response curves on quite a few of the headphones I am looking at and the graphs results somewhat match what I am actually hearing. You can actually pull up and overlay graphs. I spent a while there and compared every headphone they have graphs for to the V6. Cool.
Burn In. A few people have brought up burn-in. Burn-in refers to a phenomenon where the sound of a speaker changes over time and that the stable response characteristic is not reached until a transducer is used for some or many hours. I have no doubt the burn-in effects the response of headphones and speakers. We see it all the time with subwoofers where they become floppy and tune at a lower frequency over time. That said, the typical and logical result of burn-in is a slight lowering of the low end tuning frequency as the mechanical compliance loosens. I can tell you right now, there is nothing slight about the differences between the various headphones I am evaluating. The variations are drastic, huge, monumental and tremendous. Giant 5db multi-octave wide holes and peaks. If a pair of headphones is going to have a shift of octave wide 5 db hole or peak due to burn-in, it deserves to be eliminated anyway. Any cans that are doing well, will keep getting tested and naturally burn-in through testing. So say bye bye to burn-in concerns as a relevant factor in this testing.
So I turn on some pink noise, run it through the CD3000 headphones and slide the measurement mic close to where sound enters my ear and...
This is set on 2db scale so the horizontal lines represent 8 db. So here is the response of the reference CD3000 pair of headphones on my humanly head. Looks like + or - 5 db from 25 to 12.5K. Note, I do not think my mic or other gear is grabbing the frequencies above 12k very well, but that is the least of our worries. And after years and years of using these headphones to finally see their response and have them come up relatively flat was quite exciting. Wait till you see what the other cans look like!
Here are the Sony XB 700's and check out that nearly 3 octave, 12 db deep hole from 315 to 1.6K followed by a 6db/octave roll off. That looks like it will sound like standing outside a car cranking stereo with the doors closed, and it does!
Here is how the iPod earbuds showed up. I could not get the mic between my ear and the bud so I just balanced the bud on the mic. These actually should get more low end when in your ear.
Ooooh, look, fairly flat with a gradual roll off below 100 Hz and a smooth hole centered at 2K. That actually looks like it would sound pretty good.
As far as the accuracy of the measurements? Well, first of all, as I move the mic around it really does not change that much. Secondly, I do spend a bit of time trying to get the best reading I can for each headphones. Thirdly, the variations between the differing headphones are so drastic, that a bit of error in the measurement is a low concern. Finally, it is reassuring to my measurements have some parallels to measurements done by headphone.com but more importantly, the RTA readout really does look like what I am hearing so my confidence is quite high.
OK, enough for now, I have lots more and many surprises to come as I will save the good stuff for later!
OMFG! $1100 for a pair of 3 foot long phono cables! This is a real auction seeking a real moron.
Saturday, December 12. 2009
The Mighty Headphone Quest Well this is really turning into a research project, fun stuff! Ok so here is the plan, not unlike how I design the Orgasmatron's (Vortex), Double Hung PA, processor settings for MicroWedge and most things I do, I will start with trying to form a logical plan, make human observations and get as far as I can without diving into test gear, then try and create a way to measure by using electronics and finally go back and see if the technical measurements align with the human observations . I will do my best to be objective. There are many diverse applications that headphones can be used for ranging from casual listening, utilitarian, striving for perfection, max volume, max low frequency, max isolation and on and on. I even found:
where headphones must be completely non magnetic and are optimised to be used to mask the noise and provide music to humans while getting an MRI scan. So like with so many things in life, it is about finding and using the right tool for the job. The primary focus of this evaluation to locate headphones that are optimised to act as a quality reference point for live sound engineers. So my plan is:
#1 - Listen wit my ears. I have big pile of cans and I am listening to music and switching between the various pairs while taking some notes of things I notice. Meanwhile I keep referring back the Sony CD3000's to keep my bearings straight.
#2 - Sort them by ear. I am sorting the headphones based on how close they sound to the reference pair..
#3 - Check credibility with test gear. Then I will try and figure out a way to measure the headphone using and see if what I heard and sorted has correlations with what I measure.
#4 Summarize. I will hopefully have a recommendation for one or more pairs.
So far there I am dealing with steps #1 and #2 and just begriming to plan out step #3. What I am finding is really interesting. The sound of headphones varies so vastly that it is truly incredible that they can even be listed with remotely similar specifications as there is almost no similarity in the way they sound.
As I listen I am sorting into some categories
A) DJ Sound. These all have some sort of big bass boost going on for listeners and DJ's that seek lots of extra low end.
B) Sloping Response. The lows are louder with a gradual slope downward towards the highs. This is actually a very listenable and common response and I like to tune sound systems this way. For example, with the EAW MicroWedge's, the Grey and Red processor settings are sloping responses.
C) Flat Sound. This is what I consider the CD3000's to exhibit though I have yet to test them on an analyzer. By comparison the sound is a bit bright but not lacking in low end. This would be the equivalent of the MicroWedge 'White' processor setting.
**** The Goal ****
The goal of this quest is to find the optimum live sound reference headphone. A portable accurate head worn sound system to act as a constant reference point. More specifically, a headphone that sounds as flat as possible.
Having a perfectly flat audible reference point allows the sound engineer to make informed auditory decisions by comparative reference. Additionally it reduces dependence on test equipment. By using comparative reference you can factor out the natural hearing fluctuations caused by plane flights, illness, age or long term exposure to high volume sound. Studio engineers have finely tuned and calibrated studio monitors in an optimum acoustic environment as a reference point, for us live engineers, a pair of headphones is our best bet.
Ideally you should be able to put on the headphones, listen to a CD, take them off, turn the CD up in the sound system and equalize the sound system to sound exactly like the headphones, therefore the sound system would be equalized to flat. I.E. - copy the sound of the headphones to the PA and have the CD sound as close as possible to the way it sounded in the recording studio.
Same thing with pink noise. Ideally you should be able to listen to pink noise in the headphones, take them off, listen to pink noise in the sound system, EQ the sound system by ear to sound like the headphones and the system should be flat. Then you ideally should be able to use an RTA or other measurement device, measure the pink noise coming from the sound system and confirm the system is truly eq'ed flat.
So that means that any aberration from flat the headphones exhibit will result in system EQ errors. For example: If you use headphones with extra bass, then the CD or pink noise in the headphones would sound low-end heavy. You would then be inspired to add extra low end to the sound system when matching the headphone sound to the PA sound. The low end heavy PA EQ would now cause several issues. When you EQ your mic channels you will tend to cut low end to compensate for the bass heavy PA. Any stereo recordings pulled pre system EQ will now be overly bright sounding. Imagine if recording studio monitors had a huge bass boost. Every recording coming out of that place would be super thin sounding. The goal is to have the console mix be flat before entering the system EQ's.
The console channel EQ's should make the mic/instrument combo sound correct.
The house system EQ should make the system/venue combo sound correct.
The system processor EQ should make the loudspeaker/enclosure combo sound correct.
Hence we seek a highly specific headphone. Flat flat and flat. Loud is good, wide response is good,low end is good, isolation is good, but first and foremost, flat. There are many amazing headphones out there that have numerous very desirable assets and people that swear by them. I have already begun testing and I am already finding that many of the popular live headphones are not ideal reference points. And also, at least one set of popular headphones make a quite good reference point.
So lets get some of the easier stuff out of the way and thin the herd a bit by starting with some I was considering that are marketed as DJ headphones:
Say Bye Bye to potential contenders:
But do not be sad as I am adding some that have been recommended to the list as well:
And due to requests, research and stuff laying around my house, say hello to:
Sennheiser HD 25-1 II - Yes they are 'over the ear' but popularity with sound engineers and numerous requests have inspired me to include them.
Denon AH-D2000 - Another requested headphone and with the over the ear design and large drivers it seemed worth testing
Pickering OA-3 - These are 1975 era open ear phones that I had laying around the house. I will toss them in the test mix just to give an idea of what people used to consider listenable. Oh, you really should check out the Pickering link I used and browse around.
Apple iPod ear buds - These are the standard ear buds that come with iPods. I figure that since these are most likely the most listened to things out there, may as well include them as a reference as well,
Sony MDR-90 - (I think) - I can not read the model # as it has worn off but these are some over the ear headphones that were my favourites before I found the CD3000's. They sounded great and though the mount broke, I still have them so why not add them to the test? I will shoot a epic and maybe someone will recognize them.
Beyer DT770M - Demo requested and it looks like they are coming.
AKG 271 MKII - Demo on it's way.
Equation Audio RP-22X - These are bass boost versions of the RP-21. Though I am not looking for bass boost, I may as well listen as they were kind enough to send me demo's.
Allen & Heath XONE XD-53 - $249 List, $199 Street, 53mm drivers, 36 ohms, 105 db/mw (1K), 350 mw, 5-33K. Very cool. I guess the blog gets around and Allen & Heath are sending me a pair to evaluate.
Ultrasone - HFI-780 - A third pair of ultrasone's have been added.
And finally there are two more on the potential list now
Ultraphones - These are high isolation headphones with Sony 7506 drivers.
David Clark Model 10S-DC - Which are also high isolation headphones.
Lastly for today's installment I want to thank the people and manufacturers that are helping me make this happen. Thank you Daniella and John Karr from Rat for putting up with my endless requests for more product!
Thank you Darlene from Audio Technica for going out of your way to expedite the request.
Thank you to all at Sennheiser as you always take care of us Rats.
Thank you Cynthia, Haley and Phil for spending time chatting with me and arranging the Koss headphones. Oh, check out http://www.koss.com/koss/kossweb.nsf/kmuseum?openform
Thank you Brian and Randy for rocking together the Ultrasone cans.
Thank you Equation Sound for hooking me up.
Thank you Beyer and AKG for sending out the phones.
Thank you Shure for the 840 demo unit.
Some of these companies Rat does quite a bit of business with while others do not know me or Rat well but were gracious warm and more than happy to assist.
Oh and can I tell you how cool it is to be knee deep in a pile awesome headphones! I am so a kid in a candy store!
Wednesday, December 9. 2009
For over a decade now I have sworn by my now discontinued Sony MDR-CD3000 headphones as my trusty live sound reference point. When I wrote an article stressing the importance of having high quality live sound cans I failed to mention viable options for the sound engineer readers to acquire.
So, the plan is to get my hands on a nice collection of top brand headphones, give them a listen while using the CD3000's as a reference and find something similar or hopefully superior. So the rules of the game at this point are:
Closed Back- The headphones I seek should be closed back. Seems simple enough but the fact is that many of the high end headphones are currently open back. This is because the smallish headphone sound chambers tends to choke off the lows and cause some negative sonic artifacts. Porting the chamber to the outside world reduces isolation and porting to the inside the muff area can add low and low mid resonance. Regardless, for us live humans, we need the sound isolation though I am not holding high levels of isolation to be imperative as that would overly narrow the options and also eliminate my CD3000 reference phone. So as long as the headphones get fairly loud, preferably rock concert levels and offer a reasonable attenuation of the outside world, I will include them.
Around the Ear - Theoretically, on-the-ear designs could work but the added isolation of an around-the-ear (circumaural) design plus the typically larger sizes of the transducers in over-the-ear headphones, inspired me to narrow the field and a bit. The in-ear designs can offer excellent isolation and possibly are capable of enough fidelity and volume, though I have never heard any that sound amazing, but for a sound engineer's reference point, we do not have the time to be shoving things in and out of our ears mid rock show.
No Internal Electronics - I have so far bypassed all the noise canceling, electrostatic and other pre amplified headphones because I am skeptical of the added layer of complexity, dead battery issues and other artifacts. The last thing we live sound humans need is the noise canceling circuit overloading from the rock show or some strange sound added. That said, I am not against considering electrostatics if I am able to get my hands on some.
Size does not Matter - Or more specifically, bigger is better. I am really looking for a 'Head PA.' A cranial sound reinforcement system capable of accurately reproducing dynamics, wide bandwidth and high level sound. It is not like we will be jogging with these things.
High Power/Volume - In my experience headphones blow out fairly often when used for live sound, mainly because I inevitably forget to turn down the headphone volume when I set them down. I am looking for a pair that handles some juice. I have found several models that are rated at 3000 mw.
Hard Clean Sound - There are two differing approaches to loudspeaker and headphone design. The home hi-fi approach where the goal is to gloss the musical flaws and present the listener with a pleasing and enjoyable sound. The other is the studio monitor approach where the goal is to expose all the flaws in a harsh and accurate light so they can be addressed. I am looking for a pair of cans that just sounds like the damn instrument I am trying to listen to.
Cost is Irrelevant - Well, it's not irrelevant, but I did not put a cost restriction on the units I am testing.
Minimize my Opinion - Since sound quality is highly subjective I will try an reduce the effect of my opinion on the selection process. All the headphones will be tested in comparison to the Sony MDR-CD3000 pair I have. My goal is to try and match or beat the sound quality, volume and frequency response of the 3000's.
So lets take a look at the reference pair and growing list of contenders. I have listed a few specs. The street prices are just a quick low mid estimate and I tried to be realistic and avoided the super cheap questionable vendors. The list price is the same as MSRP, I just used what ever I found. It is quite an endeavour getting my hands on all these cans. Fortunately several manufacturers have been so kind as to send me demo's plus I was able to raid Rat Sound's headphone stock. A few I actually purchased and some I am still on the fence about whether to to try and get them in the mix. So I listed in parenthesis the source/status.
The Contenders (so far)
Sony MDR-CD3000 - $699 List, Discontinued, 32 ohms, 104 db/mw, 500mw, 20-20K (Dave Rat, reference)
Sony MDR-V6 - $109.99 List, $80 Street, 63 ohms, 40mm drivers, 106 db/mw, 1000mw, 5-30K (Rat)
Sony MDR-7506 - $130 List, $99 Street, 63 ohms, 40mm drivers, 106 db/mw, 1000mw, 10-20K (Rat)
Sony MDR-7509HD - $265 List, $189 Street, 50mm drivers, 24 ohms, 107 db/mw, 3000mw, 5-80K (purchased)
Sony MDR-XB700 - $130 List, $80 Street50mm drivers, 24 ohms, 107 db/mw, 3000mw, 3-28K (purchased because they look so cool!)
Sony MDR-V600 - $99 List, $70 Street, 40mm drivers, 45 ohms, 106 db/mw, 1000mw, 5-30K (Rat)
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro - $149 List, $99 Street, 64 ohms, 102 dB (IEC 268-7), 500mw, 8-25K (Rat)
Sennheiser HD 380 Pro - $299 List, $199 Street, 54 ohms, 110 db (1Khz 1 Vrms), 500mw, 8-27K (demo)
Shure SRH-840 $250 List, $199 Street, 40mm drivers, 44 ohms, 102 db/mw, 1000mw, 5-25K (demo)
Audio Technica PRO700 - $279, $115 Street, 53mm drivers, 36 ohms, 105 dB/mW at 1 kHz, 3500mw, 5-33K (demo)
Audio Technica ATH W5000 - $1699 List, $699, Street, 53mm drivers, 40 ohms, 102 db/mw, 2000mw, 5-45K (demo)
Ultrasone HFI-450 - $119 List, $99 Street, 40mm, 32 ohms, 96 db, (unspecified), 20-20K (demo)
Ultrasone PRO 900 - $599 List, $549 Street, 40mm, 40 ohms, 96 (unspecified), 6-42K (demo)
Koss ESP-950 - $999 List, $699 Street, electrostatic, 100K ohms, 104 db/mw, 8-35K (demo)
Koss Pro4AAT $99 List, $69 Street, 250 ohms, 95 db/mw, 10-25K (demo)
Koss MV1 - $179 List, $119 Street, 250 ohms, 98 db/mw, 10-25K (demo)
And there are few more headphones I may get into the mix.
Beyer DT770M - $289 List, $289 Street, 80 ohms, 105 db ( IEC 60268-7 ), 100 mw, 5-30K (demo requested)
AKG 271 MKII - $299 List, $199 Street, 55 ohms, 91 db/mw, 200mw, 16-28K (demo requested)
Equation Audio RP-21- $149 List, $90 Street, 32 ohms, 100db ?, 10-22K (demo requested)
Allen & Heath XONE XD-53 - $249 List, $199 Street, 53mm drivers, 36 ohms, 105 db/mw (1K), 350 mw, 5-33K (undecided)
Phiaton PS-500 - $299 List. $250, Street, 50mm, 32 ohms, 102 db(?) (undecided)
Stanton DJ Pro-3000 - 50mm, 30 ohms, 106 db/mw, 20-20K (undecided)
Pioneer HDJ-2000 - $349 List, $250 Street, 50mm, 36 ohms, 107 db/mw, 3500mw, 5-30K (undecided)
Well alright. That will keep me busy for a while. Hey, if I missed any worthy headphones as contenders and you have suggestions or you feel any of the ones I am undecided about really need to be tested, let me know. Also, if you are with a company or have connections to line up some demo cans that should be included, that would be great too.
I have started listening and testing and WOW! The diversity is mind boggling! So far there is absolutely no correlation between the frequency spec's, cost and the way these things sound. It is like the old school wild west of sonic lawlessness!
(Page 1 of 1, totaling 7 entries)
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