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Question on headphones? Questor Jul 19th, 12, 11:43 AM #1

This topic comes as I'm thinking of buying a closed headphone or earphone to use when gf is sleeping (the Stax leaks sound) as I compute in the same room.

The natural inclination is to go for headphones - but I'm not sure why, but we have heard a few <$500 headphones like the Marshall and Focal Spirit One and the sound was just bad. I mean really bad - but I'm willing to discount it given that we only heard it through the iphone output, but believe some of these are made to use with ipod/iphone.

I find this is weird because of the pricetag. As a reference, I personally can listen to the stock iphone earphones, and have accompanied friends to buy $50-200 earphones and generally find the balance ok for some brands.

So what's the deal?

Did I just happen to listen to headphones at shops/hifi shows that were not run-in, or not properly showcased with right amplification?

So far the only cheaper headphone I have heard that I find quite well balanced was the Shure SRH940. Glad to take more recommendations.


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wwenze Jul 19th, 12, 12:54 PM #2
Got used to a sound -> Listen to something else -> Feels strange
Listen to a bad sound -> Don't pay special attention to it -> Becomes acceptable
Expects a sound (either good or bad) -> Placebo -> Hears the sound
Expects a sound (over-expectation)-> Didn't hear it -> Concludes the opposite (when it should've been normal)
New sound -> Hear new contents in song -> Likes new sound
New sound -> Didn't hear contents you find most important in song -> Hates new sound
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Last edited by wwenze; Jul 19th, 12 at 12:56 PM..
Thanks to wwenze for this useful post! Jul 24th, 12, from inimical
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ivanlyf_2011 Jul 19th, 12, 01:06 PM #3
Check out the Audio-technica models?
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Questor Jul 19th, 12, 02:14 PM #4
Quote:
Originally Posted by wwenze View Post
Got used to a sound -> Listen to something else -> Feels strange
Listen to a bad sound -> Don't pay special attention to it -> Becomes acceptable
Expects a sound (either good or bad) -> Placebo -> Hears the sound
Expects a sound (over-expectation)-> Didn't hear it -> Concludes the opposite (when it should've been normal)
New sound -> Hear new contents in song -> Likes new sound
New sound -> Didn't hear contents you find most important in song -> Hates new sound
wow, like that cannot audition anything in person anymore and depend on measurements?
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nst Jul 19th, 12, 02:46 PM #5
well, run in can be a factor, amplification is a factor, player is a factor... nearly everything is. also very much down to personal preference. best is to try with as similar a set-up as you intend to use it in (eg. same player, with or without amp etc). not sure what sort of signature the stax has... perhaps someone familiar can point you to models with with a similar behavior... can pm if you want a few suggestions but i'll be the first to admit that i have no idea what the stax sounds like.
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wwenze Jul 19th, 12, 03:09 PM #6
Headphones sound different enough to not require lab testing to convince James Randi that differences exist.

How much you like the sound can only be measured by your ear. Not Audio Precision, not price, not hype, not whatever technology that the product has.
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Questor Jul 19th, 12, 03:13 PM #7
Let me make it quite clear that my benchmark here is a pair of iphone default earphones.

Am not expecting the new purchase to have the sound performance of a Stax.

So basically - I should not trust the previous auditions? I guess I will go listen to the headphones again.
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9VARZ Jul 19th, 12, 08:35 PM #8
Before this descends into a classic "metrology vs. ears" war, let's just say that we can also agree to disagree sometimes. These two camps are like fire and ice and will continue to wage war against each other's turf for millennia to come.

Questor, you *might* want to look into getting in-ear types instead of closed back headphones. The reason why you don't like them is partly because of yourself having quite accustomed to the sound of high-end open backs (like the Stax and the Sennheiser HD650 before that), and closed cans naturally have a honky sound due to their construction. Call it expectation bias if you will, I also suffer greatly from this. Which is why to date, I also can't get to grips with the sound of some of the high-end closed cans like the Audio Techica W1000 or Denon D5000. If you are familiar with the acoustics of speaker cabinet construction, I think you will get the idea why they sound as such. (basically, internal reflections, bass response and mid-range colouration by adopting sealed/ported enclosures)

Most high-end in-ears are "closed" by construction (unless you go for the dynamic ones). However, because of the way some armature IEMs are designed, the sound they produce can match those of open cans in terms of soundstage - open and airy, without the "closed in" feel. Transients on a BA design are also a lot tighter sounding compared to dynamic cans, and in some ways, would match the ones you'll get on the Stax (albeit with lesser refinement and more "grain").

On that note, (for your budget) you might want to look at the Shure SE315, Phonak PFE111/112, Westone UM3X (might be able to get a discount to knock back down to sub-$500 for these, based on their margins), UE Triple.fi-10, Sennheiser IE80/8, Fischer DBA-02 Mk II and (rickysio's favourite) TDK's BA200.

All of them are very popular IEMs on the market at the moment (albeit mainly for outdoor use, so you *might* find a lot of colouration on the bass-lower mids for certain models). Do note that some models would require amplification to sound their best too. Do open your options also to the "mainstream" portable amps on offer, instead of restricting yourself to the cheap(er) small form factor desktop ones.
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piezog Jul 19th, 12, 10:30 PM #9
Wow, metrology. Now, that's a word!

I'm beginning to like you more, 9varz.
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Thanks to piezog for this useful post! Jul 20th, 12, from 9VARZ
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wwenze Jul 19th, 12, 10:39 PM #10
triple.fi and X10's perceived value and performance got owned by Amazon Black Friday.

Yea, I still think they are worth their SRP. Call me the fool.
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piezog Jul 19th, 12, 10:40 PM #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Questor View Post
This topic comes as I'm thinking of buying a closed headphone or earphone to use when gf is sleeping (the Stax leaks sound) as I compute in the same room.

The natural inclination is to go for headphones - but I'm not sure why, but we have heard a few <$500 headphones like the Marshall and Focal Spirit One and the sound was just bad. I mean really bad - but I'm willing to discount it given that we only heard it through the iphone output, but believe some of these are made to use with ipod/iphone.

I find this is weird because of the pricetag. As a reference, I personally can listen to the stock iphone earphones, and have accompanied friends to buy $50-200 earphones and generally find the balance ok for some brands.

So what's the deal?

Did I just happen to listen to headphones at shops/hifi shows that were not run-in, or not properly showcased with right amplification?

So far the only cheaper headphone I have heard that I find quite well balanced was the Shure SRH940. Glad to take more recommendations.
Balance as in left-right loudness?

Headphones are difficult to drive with the iphone. You need to test them with desktop equipment or with a portable amp coupled to the phone. Personally, I'm partial to the Beyer T50p for its isolation and comfort while its stable mate DT1350 has cleaner, more accurate sound. Both are portable low-priced models, but very competent given their size.

Anecdotal example: The Sony XBA-4 sound absolutely horrible driven from the Iphone, much worse than the XBA-2. But the big brother sounds radically different with a properly powered source.
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wwenze Jul 19th, 12, 10:50 PM #12
iPhone 4/4S built-in amp is better than a typical CMOY.

I think the XBA-4 still sounds worse than XBA-1 when driven from E11.

Nope, you can't quantify how much I like the sound. I just like it.
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generalwu Jul 19th, 12, 10:59 PM #13
Why not just set a budget and test out those headphones around your budget?
I'm sure Jaben and Stereo can help you out with that.

After all you like what you heard, so why make life so complicated?
Also do give IEM a try too.

As for recommendations, how about trying Beyerdynamic (I.E. DT770/880/990)?

Just my 2 cents...
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rickysio Jul 19th, 12, 11:06 PM #14
You can try the AKG K550 as well, hear it's a good close can.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 9VARZ View Post
(...)

On that note, (for your budget) you might want to look at the Shure SE315, Phonak PFE111/112, Westone UM3X (might be able to get a discount to knock back down to sub-$500 for these, based on their margins), UE Triple.fi-10, Sennheiser IE80/8, Fischer DBA-02 Mk II and (rickysio's favourite) TDK's BA200.

All of them are very popular IEMs on the market at the moment (albeit mainly for outdoor use, so you *might* find a lot of colouration on the bass-lower mids for certain models). Do note that some models would require amplification to sound their best too. Do open your options also to the "mainstream" portable amps on offer, instead of restricting yourself to the cheap(er) small form factor desktop ones.
It's more of the only one that is dirt cheap, not because it sounds the best hahaha. I got it because my ears need time to take use to new sound signatures (auditions of models only work generally if the sound signature isn't too far off from what I'm using, otherwise I'll find that I draw a conclusion that will be different from the one I'll draw after I've had some time with it. It won't be too far off, but just different enough to change my mind about purchasing.) and wanted to try BA. Now that I've been using my Atrio, the TDK BA200 just sounds as if someone over sharpened the sound and halo-ing occured... (Pardon the photography analogy).
It is better to remain silent and be taken as a fool, than to speak and prove your ignorance beyond doubt.
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Last edited by rickysio; Jul 19th, 12 at 11:11 PM..
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9VARZ Jul 20th, 12, 04:02 AM #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by piezog View Post
Balance as in left-right loudness?
I believe he refers to price/performance ratio.

Not all headphones are hard to drive with the iPhone, though (UM Mage, anyone?).

The trouble is that the iPhone itself tends to have a rather "meh" output from its own TRRS jack. Of course, that's rather subjective.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rickysio View Post
You can try the AKG K550 as well, hear it's a good close can.

(something about BA200 being too "fake/overblown" sounding)
Same thing with the AKG, mate!

AKGs only do well with soundstage and that's about it, IMO!

Quote:
Originally Posted by generalwu View Post
Why not just set a budget and test out those headphones around your budget?

Also do give IEM a try too.
He did put down a budget of $500 absolute, actually. Trouble is, to me, S$500 is a bit neither here nor there. Esp. knowing Questor's tastes, I don't think he's going to like a lot of the offerings in this price bracket. If we bring that figure up to £500 ($1000) excluding amplification, then yes, we would be talking about stuff that's a lot closer to what he would normally be looking at.

Cannot agree more on giving IEMs a try. In fact, for Questor's case, I think this is probably the only avenue he should be looking at. Closed cans would just be a complete waste of time for him.
Views expressed are my own.

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