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The Mighty Headphone Quest Part 7

So my headphone testing continues and I actually think I am finding a few pairs that match or beat the Sony CD3000 reference pair. There are many inter-related factors to look at:

  • Frequency Response
  • Sound quality
  • Maximum usable volume
  • Isolation
  • Fit
  • Comfort
  • Size
  • Cost
  • Cable type and length
  • Construction quality
  • Service-ability
  • Any special features and on and on

I am going to do my best to eliminate any opinions and focus on the relevant measurable aspects. So first I started with flat response. Why? Well heck, if you have a pair of super wide response super low distortion headphones but half the frequencies are twice aloud as the others, what good will it do us?

"Oh yes, sir, oooh, you are in the business of accurately reproducing color images for huge crowds? Well take a look at this video projector, It is an amazing, high resolution and very accurate for everything except everything that is the color red will be twice a bright as anything color green and you can barely see blue at all." Crazy business!

So I believe that an even frequency response is the most obvious and basic of requests. I am testing testing with leniency and what I believe to be a sloppy spec of + or - 4 db from 30 to 12K. Furthermore, I do my best to get every pair to pass and whenever possible and give them the benefit of the doubt if they are even close. At this stage it is not about eliminating as much as it is about finding.

I realize my test methods lack many of the high tech perfectionistic angles and that is intentional. I don't know about you but I have personally read some pretty amazing claims about various pieces of audio gear and have seen many accurate and complex test setups constructed to reinforce claims stunning sound quality only to find out that the testing done is focused on a small aspects and offers an incomplete story of the big picture and real world experience. I have also read many profound and ludicrous claims of audio wizardry backed by false logic, pseudo science and blatant lies with no form of testing credibility.

My goal here is to side step both of the overly technical and voodoo magical angles by offering some simple logical and inexpensively repeatable testing that will hopefully allow people to draw useful conclusions as to what to expect from the various headphones.

So first I sought out flat response and thinned the pack a bit and now I am ready to move on to the phase 2 challenge. I am now going to subject all the headphones that meet or are close to the + or - 4 db spec to a low frequency volume test. My experience has been that it is very difficult for headphones to cleanly reproduce very low frequencies. Another issue I often run into is headphones that just do not have enough output and are incapable reaching adequate volume levels without distorting. I guess the question to be pondered is "What is an adequate volume level?" Well, I personally tend to mix around 103db to 105db A-weighted and and 110db to 112db C-weighted or flat weighted. Since I am looking for live sound headphones, I believe it is reasonable to expect the headphones I seek to reach actual show volumes. This way I can PFL the instruments at the same volume I expect to hear them when the PA is on and if they have a reasonable amount of isolation, I will be able to hear the headphones over the PA during the show.

Hmmm, a goal and a test setup. Ok, how about a tone generator on my laptop run into a power amplifier (BGW Model 85) into the headphone under test. Then a mic to measure the output of the headphones, an oscilloscope (HP 1715A) and an RTA (Klark Teknik DN60) to see the waveforms and use the other 1/2 of the power amp to power a speaker (an old Rogers Studio 1 BBC Studio monitor) so I can hear the waveform as well. Simple, easy and I can put it all together with stuff I have laying around the house here.

Here is what I am going to do:

#1) Send a 100 hz tone at a level of 110db flat weighted in the Sony CD3000 headphones. The volume level will be roughly determined by the RTA's overall level meter and the oscilloscope will show the peak to peak voltage. I will them match that peak to peak voltage for all the rest of the headphones I test. I have the oscilloscope set to .5 volts per division and 110db flat weighed shows up as 3 volts peak to peak (6 divisions on the scope screen).

#2) Without changing the voltage sent to the headphones, proceed to sequentially test with tones at 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30 and 20 hz while monitoring the output waveform on the oscilloscope and listening to the speaker. I will be looking for the 6db down point (1/2 peak to peak voltage) and note that as well as any strong distortions in the sound or waveform.

#3) Eliminate the headphones that perform poorly and while contemplating the next round of testing.

For the test setup, I have a mic fitted into a drilled hole in a piece of wood that I wedge against one muff of the headphones. I do my best to form a good seal and move the mic around till I get the best readings I can. To keep this blog post from getting crazy long, I am posting the most relevant waveforms rather than every single one.

Sony MDR-CD3000

Ok, here is a good looking 60hz waveform. 100, 90, 80 and 70 all look and sounds fine. There is a bit of sub harmonics showing up at 30 hz but the sub harmonics tend not to be too intrusive sound wise.

At 40 HZ it starts to drop in level a bit and it is begriming to deform a bit from a clean sine wave.

30 HZ is about the 6db down point and ignore the double traces. The waveform is clearly distorting and you can see the harmonic distortion causing 50 hz (4th from left) to rise on the RTA

and the 20 HZ is at about 1/3 the voltage and the waveform is fairly triangular. For visual consistency, I am not altering the sweep or range on the scope for any of the tests.

As you can see the waveform kind of falls apart but it did make it down to 30 with a reasonable amount of output.

So next lets take a look at the trusty and loved Sony MDR-V6. Since the V6's are pretty much the McDonalds burger of live sound headphones, I will post more read outs so there is a good comparative reference. The 100 hz looked good and here is 90 HZ which also is good but has a slight drop in level of a fraction of a db.

At 80hz we are seeing the waveform begin to distort and become a bit more triangled as the tops curve rightward a bit.

The waveform continues to degrade at 70hz and down from 3 volts to 2 volts PtoP.

And here is 60hz with a significant amount of harmonics showing up on the RTA and quite audible.

50Hz

30hz

and 20HZ

Hmmm, these waveforms are pretty warped as the V6's are not happy with these frequencies at these levels. The sharper the points on those waveforms, the more HF buzz and worse the sound is. Also, look at the RTA. Each tone should be a single or double LED column with the sides dropping off. When you see two peaks with a space between them, that represents harmonic distortion, If the second peak is below the primary, that is not too bad. But when the peak is above like the 40hz harmonic above the 20hz in the pic above, then it is really audible. We were seeing similar issues with the CD3000's as well but it started at a much lower frequency. I am going to cut the V6's out of contending for "The Best Live Headphones" but maybe for a good live headphone for under $100, they could be the way to go.

Ultrasone HFI 680

At 80 they look good

At 60 there is actually a boost of a few db

at 30 there is some triangulation and harmonic distortion at a 50hz but they are holding level quite well

I forgot to shoot the photo of 20HZ but it shows less than a volt down and some triangulation to the wave but nowhere near as severe as the V6's were at a much higher frequency. These continue to be one of the best headphones I have tested so far and they get to carry on to round three.

On the Sennheiser HD25-1 II's at 70hz, you can see they look pretty good. (ignore the double trace)

Here they are at 50hz, down a volt and not looking so good

but I found that some of these headphones are a lot more susceptible to low end variations due to the amount of squeeze against the test setup (or my head). I am sure you have all found that when you squeeze some headphones tight against your head the low end gets louder. Well the headbands on the HD25 are actually quite tight as well so I tested while squeezing the ear muff tighter and dropping the drive voltage level (the scope is on .2 volts per division for this pic,) and re calibrated for the extra volume and now look at 50

Here is 30 at normal pressure

30 at reduced level and more pressure, notice the cleaner sine wave.

And at 20Hz with normal test pressure and level they are just under 2 volts down.

Looking pretty good for over the ear headphones and surprisingly superior lows over the V6's yet not up to par with some of the others. Remember, these had a very flat frequency response so on to round three.

Wow, the Sony MDR-V600 already start to lose shape at 80hz,

Bouncing back in level at 60hz but still asymmetrical rounding on the top of the waveform

Degrading severely through 50 and 40 to a clearly clipped waveform at 30HZ

and I wont even bother showing you 20hz, say by bye to V600's.

Sennheiser MD280 PRO are looked pretty good at 80, But uh oh! Looks like they are not going to fair so well. Check out 70 hz!

But wait, they come back to life if I rest the back of them gently against anything that is rigid with some mass.

My finger does not work but barely touching this little amp or the wall snaps the response back to life. You can feel the slight flexing of the plastic as well when I send a tone to them.

Really strange, it appears the plastic housing is flexing and canceling out the low end. Here they are at 40 when scooted against that amp (ignore the double traces as it is just mis triggering on the old scope.)

and here they are moved and not touching at 40.

With a 3db down point at 20hz while resting against the amp

and a fairly clean sine wave as well, these will have to stay in the mix while I contemplate the whole "has to touch something" oddity.

The AKG K271 MkII headphones came in last week. One thing really cool about them is that they actually turn themselves off when you take them off your head. Very cool but drove me crazy trying to test them till I figured it out. They tested up quite well with frequency response on the RTA but rather than backtrack here, I am going to drop them straight into the low end level testing. Here they are at 100

With a bit of a peak at 70 HZ they came back to a pretty good level but some distortion at 50

progressively sloppy down to 30

and 20 is a mess. But, when I lowered the volume 10 db, they really cleaned up and come up quite nice all the way around. I am going to drop them from the top contenders while also recommending them as an awesome set of headphones for lower volume monitoring, especially if the auto off feature is an asset to your application. I will post the frequency response at some point as well.

So I had a pair of Shure SRH 840's and the demo ended before I was done testing and I sent them back. Of course I then get hit with so many requests to test them I have to reorder a pair. Here they are at 100

Getting a few db louder at 80

Still hot at 60 but fairly clean with a bit of sub harmonics rising.

Back to normal level at 50 and 40 and starting to drop at 30 and become more triangular.

With 20hz about 10 db down but reasonably well shaped compared to most

These are looking better than I expected and will have to see how they do on frequency response test.

Next up, the Denon AH D2000. Oh my. Check this out! Here they are at 70

Still holding strong at 50 with a nice sounding sine wave and some sub harmonics coming in at 30hz

A nice sine wave and no drop in level at 30hz yet harmonics at 50hz are up

Barely any level down at 20 and still a clean waveform!

and look! not even 3db down at 15 hz! (Yes, forgot to re label the pic from 20 to 15). These are so impressive I have just ordered a pair of the top of the line of that series, the Denon AH-D5000's that I will test for ya when they come in.

Ok, so that leaves us with five pairs plus the reference Sony CD3000's and the Beyer 770 and Denon D5000's that are on their way to me next week.:

Model Disqualifier Listening notes Comments Status
AKG 271 MKII Low Volume Still Waiting Arrival Out
Allen & Heath XONE XD-53 Not Arrived HF- Still Waiting Arrival Out
Apple iPod ear buds Ear buds ULF, LF--, Bye bye, ear buds Out
Audio Technica ATH W5000 Response ULF-, HF-, UHF- Smiley Curve Out
Audio Technica ATH AD700 Open Ear H-, UHF- Clear, Very Flat Out
Audio Technica PRO700 Response LF++, HM-, H- Bass heavy, powerful Out
Beyer DT770 Not Arrived ULF-, UHF+ Tonally Close
Denon AH-D2000 HF- Tonally Close Round 3
Denon AH-D5000 Not Arrived
Equation Audio RP-21 None yet Smooth, HM-, UHF+ Removable straight cable Round 2 but demo ended
Equation Audio RP-22X Response Smooth, LF++ Removable coily cable, Out
Grado SR60i Open ear ULF--, LF-, HF+ Low end light Out
Koss ESP-950 Open ear ULF- Tonally Close, no isolation Out
Koss MV1 Response MID++ Cool no tangle coily cable Voice optimized
Koss Portapro Open Ear LF+ Sound great!, small open ear Bye Bye, open ear
Koss Pro4AAT Response ULF-, HF-, UHF-- Cool no tangle coily cable Speech optimized
Pickering OA-3 Vintage low-fi Yuck! Never a contender ouch!
Sennheiser HD 25-1 II On ear Tonally close Round 3
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro HF- Tonally close, a bit dark Back in, Round 3
Sennheiser HD 380 Pro Response HM--, HI- Very smooth, LF clear Hi-Fi but dull HF
Shure SRH-840 LF++, UHF- Removable cable Round 2.5
Sony MDR-7506 Round 2 ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, lacks ULF, UHF Out
Sony MDR-7509HD None yet ULF-, M+, H-, UHF- Midrange heavy, Smiley curve Out
Sony MDR-90 On ear ULF- Tonally close, discontinued Out
Sony MDR-CD3000 Discontinued Ref Ref
Sony MDR-V6 Round 2 ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, Lack ULF, UHF Out
Sony MDR-V600 None yet ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, harsh Out
Sony MDR-XB700 Response ULF++, LM+, UHF- Too much LF Out
Ultrasone HFI-450 Response L+, M-, H- Low heavy Out
Ultrasone HFI-680 Smooth Tonally Close
Ultrasone HFI-780 Response UL+, H- Midrange below spec Out
Ultrasone PRO 900 Response UL+, LM-, M-, HM- Removable cable, Lacks mid Smiley Curve

As this test adventure progressed I have reinstated the Shure 840 as I never got a proper RTA reading on the first set that I had to send back when the demo ended.

I have found that I am getting better readings on the Sennheiser HD280 PRO's if I put some pressure on the outer shells so brought those back in the mix.

I wanted to continue testing the Equation Audio RP21 headphones with a removable cable and nice price point but for some reason they rushed me to get their demo pair back faster than I was able to put time into testing them for round 2. I don't think they would have made the "A" list but they do look like they have the potential to beat the V6's in the "under $100 street price" range.

I have been getting requests to test several other pairs from various manufacturers that I will gladly test if someone wants to send me a pair or if I can get some substantial credibility that any of those headphones have a strong chance of beating the top level cans I have already, I will consider purchasing for the test.

Will try and do a video in the next few days or so showing these the test methods and such so you can hear the top contenders as well. Here is a link to the video's so far. Cool cool, till next time rock on!

DR

Chasing Gremlins

It sure is tough to stay happy, healthy and also sane all at the same time. Surfing helps, audio nerdery helps, actually going to the market and buying edible food helps. And most recently I started running in mornings till it got all soggy out there. Three songs on a random play list till I make the U turn. I really love not knowing how far or long the run will be as I head to the mystery turning point yet to be determined. Some days are 20 minute jogs and some are 40 and it is a great pre surf way to start the day.

Ha! Though I did not find much gear wise at NAMM to get excited about, I did find Keith Morris!

Wow, has it really been over 30 years since I first met him with Black Flag rehearsing at the church in Hermosa. Yikes!

I have been doing my best to try and get my head around making some more youtube video's. There are so many concepts in the sound world that just do not translate when put into words and articles yet when demonstrated in a way that it can be seen and heard, it all comes together. So my goal is to come up with some simple clear demo's on various sound subjects and also try and debunk a few absurdities I see floating around.

I have spent an enormous amount of time over the past decade working on the MicroWedge series of monitors. There are a lot of wedges out there with various feature sets yet my experience indicates that most monitor wedge designs miss the most critical point. Monitors spend much of their working lives near open mics trying to get loud without feeding back. While monitor tuning can not be effectively eliminated with today's technology, I believe it is a huge asset to have wedges that actually get really loud and sound great right out of the box. So I have spent all this time and effort getting MicroWedges to to do exactly that and yet I really have had no way of easily demonstrating that advantage without personally doing side by side demo's next to other wedges. So what I did was get the today's best of the best, top requested world class monitors to compare: a D&B Audiotechnik M2 and an L-Acoustics 115XT HiQ and did my best to do an unbiased comparison demo video:

Also, in my quest for the best live sound headphones I keep running across some pretty interesting concepts and my curiousness inspires me to do a bit of credibility checking.

And if you are in the mood for a dabble into some babble and passionate claims of deep unsubstantiated knowledge - http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f4/how-bright-ultrasone-pro-900-a-396267/

Oh, and I am still seeking the ideal live sound headphones and will have another installment as soon as a few more pairs arrive. It is looking more like an ongoing adventure rather than a "find a winner" scenario. The V6, 7506's and Sennheiser HD280's are nice units but I am considering them to be the baseline ones to beat. The Sennheiser HD25II's and Sony MDR V600's both look quite good on the RTA but they just do not have the power and clarity I am getting out of the Ultrasone HFI-680's and Denon AH-D2000. But don't take my word on that, as I am pondering a way to test and demonstrate it rather than merely offering an opinion. So far I have been eliminating based on frequency response, which I believe to be a valid first step. Hey, if the phones can't reproduce all the frequencies at a relatively similar volume, can they really provide an accurate reference point? The tricky part now is to find a simple clear test that clearly demonstrates the sonic issues I am hearing.

Cool link of the day:

Thank you Maija. And the movie is produced by super cool surf friend, Takuji!

Simplicity, Complexity and Believability

So as part of the Mighty Headphone Quest, I guess I am going to have the Mighty Headphone Sell Off.

I had to buy several pairs to get them tested and here are the first two and though they did not make the cut for the application I have outlined in this quest, they are still quite good and well loved headphones. A brand new till I opened them pair of Sony MDR-7509's and a brand new till I opened them pair of Grado SR60i open ear. If any bloggery friends buy them, we will toss in a Rat shirt and some stickers as well. They are up on ebay but just send us a note if ya win 'em and we'll hook you up.

Sony MDR-7509HD

Grado SR60i

Ok on to the more mundane. Simplicity, Complexity and Believability. I have been thinking a bit more as I try and hack away the cobwebs of complexity and I think I may be gaining some momentum. The desire to overcomplicate and mask clarity is irresistible, especially when it fills wallets. I do not believe it is tough, though. I believe when accomplishing the purest task is a formidable challenge, that to mask various levels of failure, distractions are introduced in order to overcomplicate something that is easily observed when left in it's simplest state.

So as I dig around in the vast diversity of products available. Each product is claiming to have some group of assets that are superior in some way to the asset group of the other products. Maybe one pair has a certain combination of is cheaper or lighter, more comfy, stylish, durable, louder, flexible, available, socially conscience in the manufacture or whatever and on and on and on and I know that the importance of sound really depends on the application intended, budget allotted and expectations that are set. But unlike price or weight or looks, sound quality opinions have somehow has taken on this supernatural aura that requires elite audio monks from the netherworld of golden ears and fuzzy logic. And ears golden as they may be, maybe, just maybe, at least, at minimum, if the sound that comes out is somewhat close to the sound that goes in, perhaps that may be a good place to start? And when I find perfect sound, I will know it. I will not need magic ears or special wires or voodoo crap of any sort at all. I will merely close my eyes and be completely unable to distinguish between where I am and whatever elsewhere the music has taken me. Everything else is just a feature or preference.

And does anyone know the model # of these Sony mystery headphones?

Dave Rat

Connections and Battles

So I have been working on a few new projects, one is an Audix to Shure Adapter that allows an Audix wireless mic capsule to mount onto a Shure wireless transmitter. The concept originated from our friend George Squires that mixes monitors for REM. Though Audix makes a wireless unit, it just is not of the caliber of the deep pockets Shure products. While Shure makes many very high quality mics, they just do not make a high gain before feedback mic that can keep up with the some of the Audix offerings. So, when you have a band that relies on the assets of an Audix mic yet needs wireless, it has been a bit of an issue. Switching to a different mic type mid show when the singer wants to wireless wander really sucks. So we made a couple prototypes for REM's last tour but they were just metal threaded adaptors and needed to be soldered to work. Now we have made a batch that just screws right on and allows any Audix capsule make a connection with any Shure transmitter. If you are interested, there is more info at http://www.ratsound.com/soundtools/

Okey Dokey Smokey. Plants not Animals!

Speaking of making connections and solutions, though I never mentioned it, for the past two years I have been battling a miserable on and off increasing bummer of a building sinus issue. It started pretty mellow and gradually built into headaches, blurry vision, light sensitivity and constant sleepless pressure that left me always tired and never fully coherent feeling. Five doctors, 2 MRI's and a Cat scan, antibiotics, a pile of natural based neti pot concoctions, cameras in the head, steroids, hot steam and on and on and on. That helpless unsolvable dredge of a feeling where everyday feels like rubbing bicycle brakes on an uphill pedal. Aaaargh! So once again I reach one of the many, "Hey, wait a minute, this is just not right, this is not normal, I must attack once again" points, calling the doctor, fed up I tell them I want to go the hospital or whatever this takes. So they give me an appointment right now and less than 30 minutes later I am in the his office hearing the same old rap. "Hmmm, yes, hmmm, ok, well I am going to prescribe blah blah blah." Hey wait, that's what you and every other doc has told me before but with no other immediate option I humor the response and whilst I try and form a new plan. But this time he says something different. "Hmmm, it's not bacterial, so antibiotics wont help, it's fungal based." Going to give you a seven day prescription that should clear it up. Oooooh, fungal is plant, and all this time everything has been focused on fighting little critters as bacteria is animal. Well new is good and worth a shot I guess, so I get to the pharmacy and they hand me these packets of huh? "For Vaginal Yeast Infections!" Yikes, that caught me off guard and sent me mind a wandering. I did a bit of research and found:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/09/990910080344.htm

That was 4 days ago and though I am not fully head pressure free, damn I feel a million times better like I no longer live my life walking around in a bowl of jello with spike in my cheek. I just hope it lasts but for now I am sure happier.

Lets see what else. The Mighty Headphone Quest continues and I have put up a few Youtube videos on the subject. You may notice a bit of difference in the readings as I have switched to a different microphone that is smaller and seem to read the HF a bit better on some headphones. It is interesting how some of the headphones are really sensitive to slight placement variations while others are not.

Hey, I have been getting requests to test some more headphone models which I will gladly do. But, since I do not have an unlimited budget on this and getting demo's can be tough with companies Rat is not a dealer for, I figured I would send a shot out:

If you have a pair of headphones you feel are worthy contenders and do not mind sending them to me for a 4 or 5 days, I will add them into the test mix and youtube the results. And thank you Bob Rice for the Sony MDR-7509 non HD's!

More audio nerdery! Hurray! Want a super cool free downloadable sine wave generator? Check out

http://www.tucows.com/preview/502787

Or how about a free version of Electri-Q' - posihfopit edition' is a simple, intuitive, but powerful minimum phase EQ?

http://www.aixcoustic.com/index.php/Electri-Q-posihfopit/30/0/

Or perhaps a parametric graphic equalizer with excellent response all the way up to Nyquist?

http://magnus.smartelectronix.com/#NyquistEq

And nothing like a trip to the beach with the pooch to bring a smile.

Dave Rat

Oh, and since not everything can always run smoothly and issues are bound to occur, please view the following instructional video teaching advanced troublshooting techniques.

And double oh, Greg Cameron sent me this link to a Pro Sound News article on Blink 182.

http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/newbay/prosound_200912/#/60

The Mighty Headphone Quest Part 6

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:

http://www.stereophile.com/features/808head/index.html

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?

Model Disqualifier Listening notes Comments Status
AKG 271 MKII Not Arrived Still Waiting Arrival
Allen & Heath XONE XD-53 Not Arrived Still Waiting Arrival
Apple iPod ear buds Ear buds ULF, LF--, Bye bye, ear buds Out
Audio Technica ATH W5000 Response ULF-, HF-, UHF- Smiley Curve Out
Audio Technica ATH AD700 Open Ear H-, UHF- Clear, Very Flat Out
Audio Technica PRO700 Response LF++, HM-, H- Bass heavy, powerful Out
Beyer DT770 Not Arrived ULF-, UHF+ Tonally Close
Denon AH-D2000 None yet HF- Tonally Close
Equation Audio RP-21 None yet Smooth, HM-, UHF+ Removable straight cable
Equation Audio RP-22X Response Smooth, LF++ Removable coily cable, Out
Grado SR60i Open ear ULF--, LF-, HF+ Low end light Out
Koss ESP-950 Open ear ULF- Tonally Close, no isolation Out
Koss MV1 Response MID++ Cool no tangle coily cable Voice optimized
Koss Portapro Open Ear LF+ Sound great!, small open ear Bye Bye, open ear
Koss Pro4AAT Response ULF-, HF-, UHF-- Cool no tangle coily cable Speech optimized
Pickering OA-3 Vintage low-fi Yuck! Never a contender ouch!
Sennheiser HD 25-1 II On ear Still Waiting Arrival
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro None yet HF- Tonally close, a bit dark dull HF
Sennheiser HD 380 Pro Response HM--, HI- Very smooth, LF clear Hi-Fi but dull HF
Shure SRH-840 Response LF++, UHF- Removable cable Out
Sony MDR-7506 Round 2 ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, lacks ULF, UHF Out
Sony MDR-7509HD None yet ULF-, M+, H-, UHF- Midrange heavy, Smiley curve Out
Sony MDR-90 On ear ULF- Tonally close, discontinued Out
Sony MDR-CD3000 Discontinued Ref Ref
Sony MDR-V6 Round 2 ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, Lack ULF, UHF Out
Sony MDR-V600 None yet ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, harsh Out
Sony MDR-XB700 Response ULF++, LM+, UHF- Too much LF Out
Ultrasone HFI-450 Response L+, M-, H- Low heavy Out
Ultrasone HFI-680 None yet Smooth Tonally Close
Ultrasone HFI-780 Response UL+, H- Tonally Close
Ultrasone PRO 900 Response UL+, LM-, M-, HM- Removable cable, Lacks mid Smiley Curve

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!

Dave Rat

The Mighty Headphone Quest Part 5

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.

Model Disqualifier Listening notes Comments Status
AKG 271 MKII None yet
Allen & Heath XONE XD-53 None yet
Apple iPod ear buds Ear buds ULF---, LF--, Bye bye, ear buds
Audio Technica ATH W5000 Response ULF-, HF-, UHF- Smiley Curve
Audio Technica ATH AD700 Open Ear H-, UHF- Clear Very Flat
Audio Technica PRO700 Response LF++, HM-, H- Rotating ear cups, powerful Bass heavy
Beyer DT770M None yet
Denon AH-D2000 None yet
Equation Audio RP-21 None yet Smooth, HM-, UHF+ Removable straight cable
Equation Audio RP-22X Response Smooth, LF++ Removable coily cable Bass heavy
Grado SR60i Open ear
Koss ESP-950 Open ear ULF- Tonally Close
Koss MV1 Response MID++ Cool no tangle coily cable Voice optimized
Koss Portapro Open Ear LF+ Sound great!, small open ear Bye Bye, open ear
Koss Pro4AAT Response ULF-, HF-, UHF-- Cool no tangle coily cable Speech optimized
Pickering OA-3 Vintage low-fi Yuck! ouch!
Sennheiser HD 25-1 II On ear
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro None yet HF- Tonally close
Sennheiser HD 380 Pro Response HM--, HI- Very smooth, LF clear Hi-Fi but dull HF
Shure SRH-840 Response LF++, UHF- Removable cable
Sony MDR-7506 Round 2 ULF-, UHF- Tonally close
Sony MDR-7509HD None yet ULF-, M+, H-, UHF- Midrange heavy Smiley Curve
Sony MDR-90 On ear ULF- Tonally close
Sony MDR-CD3000 Discontinued Ref Ref
Sony MDR-V6 Round 2 ULF-, UHF- Tonally close
Sony MDR-V600 None yet ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, harsh
Sony MDR-XB700 Response ULF++, LM+, UHF- Too much LF Bye bye too bassey
Ultrasone HFI-450 Response L+, M-, H- Low heavy
Ultrasone HFI-680 None yet Smooth Tonally Close
Ultrasone HFI-780 Response UL+, H- Low heavy
Ultrasone PRO 900 Response UL+, LM-, M-, HM- Removable cable, Lacks mid Smiley Curve

Dave Rat

The Mighty Headphone Quest Part 4

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!

Model Disqualifier Listening notes Comments Status
AKG 271 MKII None yet
Allen & Heath XONE XD-53 None yet
Apple iPod ear buds Ear buds ULF---, LF--, Bye bye, ear buds
Audio Technica ATH W5000 None yet ULF-, HF-, UHF-
Audio Technica ATH AD700 Open Ear H-, UHF- Clear
Audio Technica PRO700 Response LF++, HM-, H- Rotating ear cups, powerful Bass heavy
Beyer DT770M None yet
Denon AH-D2000 None yet
Equation Audio RP-21 None yet Smooth, HM-, UHF+ Removable straight cable
Equation Audio RP-22X Response Smooth, LF++ Removable coily cable Bass heavy
Grado SR60i Open ear
Koss ESP-950 Open ear ULF- Tonally Close
Koss MV1 None yet MID++ Cool no tangle coily cable
Koss Portapro Open Ear LF+ Sound great!, small open ear Bye Bye, open ear
Koss Pro4AAT Response ULF-, HF-, UHF-- Cool no tangle coily cable Speech optimized
Pickering OA-3 vintage low-fi Yuck! Bye bye poor response
Sennheiser HD 25-1 II On ear
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro None yet HF- Tonally close
Sennheiser HD 380 Pro Response HM--, HI- Very smooth, LF clear Hi-Fi but dull HF
Shure SRH-840 None yet LF++, UHF- Removable cable
Sony MDR-7506 None yet ULF-, UHF- Tonally close
Sony MDR-7509HD None yet ULF-, M+, H-, UHF- Midrange heavy
Sony MDR-90 On ear ULF- Tonally close
Sony MDR-CD3000 Discontinued Ref Ref
Sony MDR-V6 None yet ULF-, UHF- Tonally close
Sony MDR-V600 None yet ULF-, UHF- Tonally close, harsh
Sony MDR-XB700 Response ULF++, LM+, UHF- Too much LF Bye bye too bassey
Ultrasone HFI-450 None yet L+, M-, H- Low heavy
Ultrasone HFI-680 None yet Smooth Tonally Close
Ultrasone HFI-780 None yet UL+, H- Low heavy
Ultrasone PRO 900 None yet UL+, LM-, M-, HM- Removable cable, Lacks mid

Alright, that's it for today.

Dave Rat

Possibility Plausibility Probability Provability

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.

While none of these phenomenon are measurable, at least they are painfully costly. As far as I am concerned it is the same as believing in the apocalypse, aliens and e-meters.

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:

http://www.roger-russell.com/wire/wire.htm

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.

Aha, Credibility.

PPPPC