Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long.)

Posted by: Ken.C

Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long.) - 04/26/06 02:01 AM

And probably boring.

I compared my Sennheiser HD 570 (as the reference) and Senn PXC 250 (as the phones to be replaced) to 3 other headphones: Sennheiser HD 280, Sennheiser HD 25-SP, and AKG K 81 DJ. (see everyone? I can choose different brands sometimes... )

Here's the short of it: The 25-SPs are going back. While they may be bulletproof and theft proof (due to the fact they look about 25 years old), they are also audiophile-proof. They're very muddy.

The 280s and the 81s, well, those are another story. I'm still debating--a lot of it may depend on my BART rides over the next few days. Very different character, but enjoyable.

The 280s are more similar to the 570s--a little airy, with better bass and worse imaging. They're also huge-almost as big as the 570s in the cups, and larger in other dimensions. Very comfy, but enormous.

The 81s have surprisingly good detail and treble for all their strong bass. And this is quality bass-not muddy, not thumpy. They're more forgiving than the 280s and the 570s.

Anyway, if people want to slog through my notes, here they are. Bear in mind, these are unedited, written as I was comparing the cans. Feel free to skip 'em... I'll probably post more on the noise resistance of the 280 and 81s later this week.

The o'clocks refer to the volume knob on my Creek headphone amp--really, I'm not a headphone geek, I just like knobs for my volume control on the computer.

The source material is AIFF files ripped directly from original CDs using iTunes 5.

The music is all off of my favorites disk that I sent around to various people last year--if someone's interested in this, PM me and I'll see if I can dig up some more envelopes.

You have been warned-rambling ahead.

Senn 570-
2 o'clock
airy, well blanaced. good bass. Not overpowering-nice treble, easy to hear details, including pluck on guitar, brush on cymbal. good imaging. (shocker) slightly muffled on Hanger 18, probably recording-but the bass guitar is distinct. seems a little muffled on Hung My Head, too. damn. it's the recording, I don't get that on Don't Follow. Niiice imaging. Excellent sound. Gods, I can hear everything. Love these cans. The handbells aren't too sharp.

No isolation.

Senn PXC 250
11 o'clock
less open, still kind of sharp on the claps on Unsquare. hiss from noise cancelling. lots of treble, not so much bass. Don't even want to listen to these on all the tracks. Kept turning 'em down. Hangar 18-what bass? The ears get used to 'em, though... there goes my aural memory. Enough already.

Senn HD 280
12:30 o'clock.
it's like being in a bank vault with a stereo. I can hear details, but the lack of outside noise is strange. Nice echo on Unsquare Dance. Treble is not overpowering. Gillain Welch sounds really nice. Ooh, there's a bass there--I didn't realize that before! I don't think the imaging is as good as the 570s, though. And god, the isolation is weird. Well, there's the bass on Hangar 18, certainly. Nice kick to these. I want to turn them up! Ooh, Sunscreem sounds fantastic. Like having a subwoofer in my head. Bass is the strength on these things. Treble's not bad, just not outstanding like the 570s. I don't think. Listening to Vic Wooten on these is amazing. All the resonance from that bass-I hear the overtones so well. A little hollow sounding on Dust for Life. Treble's actually pretty good on A Home. Not painful at all on the handbells. These things are keepers-other than the sheer size. How silly do I want to look?

Senn HD 25-SP
1 o'clock
Nice detail. A little sharp on the high end. Much lighter (physically) than the 280s. Decent bass on Unsquare. Almost too much bass on Until it Sleeps. Gets muddy. Too bad... Nothing special. Gillian doesn't sound too good, damn, there's a bass there, but where's everything else? Similar feeling of isolation in these to the 280s, but not the comfort in it. The cymbals kind of get mashed together. Not bad at all on the Sunscreem, though. I'm kind of warming to them, but they're no 280s or 570s. OH geez, they're terrible on Dust for Life! Too much bass. I fear for the AKGs... Certainly better than the 250s, but... Not painful on the handbells. Surprise. And every time you tap the cord, even lightly, you hear the plastic sound of the headphones. Almost as good as the 280s, my foot. These go back.

1 o'clock
Nice bass. Doesn't seem to overpower the banjo in Bela Fleck. Handclaps in Unsquare are not painful. Decent imaging, not as echoey than Unsquare. Better clamping feeling to the head than the 25s. Ooh, nice guitar on Gillian Welch. There's a little echo behind her. These are pretty nice! I keep listening to stuff on these for a long time. Nice presence, seems like good isolation. Perhaps not as good as the 280s. These are really, really nice. And the cheapest! They gonna hate me at headphone.com... Nice impact on Hangar 18. I can hear the bass distinctly, but it's not overpowering. Sunscreem works well on these, too-I can hear the subsonics-ok, well, not really, but I can tell they're there. OK, I'm trying to find something wrong, maybe the treble's a little weak. Or maybe not, at least judging by the AIC. There's those resonances on Vic's bass. A tad muddy on Dust for Life, but that could be the recording. I'll have to check it on the reference cans. Oh geez, there's a lot of noise on Dixie Chicks. Live recording, surprise. No, the treble's actually pretty decent. Handbells aren't too sharp at all.

Back to back on 280s vs 81s, Bela Fleck--
Clearly the 81s have more bass, the 280s are more treble. Both are excellent. I think I might like the 81s better, though. The 280s seem a little hollow, more like, well, large closed headphones. The 81s don't necessarily sound more natural, but they've got a bit more presence.

Back to back to back 570 vs 280 vs 81 on Dust for Life
280s are too much. 570s are lighter. 81s have a nice punch. I kind of miss the airiness of the 570s. A lot of that may be physical feel, though. The 81s seem more fun than the 570s, but I'm sure the 570s are more accurate. Hmm. Now the 280s are sounding pretty good-volume equalization is important, people! This is going to be harder than I thought. Now the 81s sound a bit bloated. Arrrg.

Back to Back 280 vs 81 on Megadeth
The 81s fill in for the lack of bass on the earlier recording. The 280s have some impact, but not as distinct. Surprisingly, the 81s seem more crisp. Yeah, the 280s lose a lot on this recording.

Back to back 280 vs 81 on Dixie Chicks
280s sound really nice on the intro to this. So do the 81s, but not quite as enveloping. Or maybe they are. The 280s are a little pointed. More resonance on them, and this isn't necessarily a good thing. The 81s get a little chesty on some of it, but I'm willing to sacrifice that for general listenability, which these have in spades. Nope, put the 280s back on, and I'm back to liking them a lot.

As a postscript, I'm listening to the 81s as I post this stuff...
Posted by: AdamP88

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long.) - 04/26/06 11:52 AM

If you ever find a closed headphone with a better soundstage than an open phone, let me know.

Nice write-up. It sounds like you definitely prefer open (as do I). That's part of the reason I rarely listen to my closed phones - though I usually get more bass, the soundstage loses it's air.

And now for the pics... ?
Posted by: tomtuttle

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long.) - 04/26/06 12:28 PM

Very valuable, Ken. Thank you so much.
Posted by: HomeDad

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long.) - 04/26/06 12:29 PM

Excellent comparison, Thanks.
Posted by: pmbuko

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/26/06 01:00 PM

Should have had my Denon headphones on hand. They have diamond dust in them, and the cable is 99.999% OFC!
Posted by: Haoleb

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/26/06 01:07 PM

For a long time I had considered getting the HD280's, mainly because they were closed and because i couldnt afford the holy grail's which at the time were the 600's as far as sennheiser's go. But I ended up with Grado 125's. Mainly becuase i won them in a raffle. lol. but i wouldnt go back to wanting anything else now.

Wouldnt mind having a set of 280's around though just for times when a closed phone is nice.
Posted by: Gena

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/26/06 10:05 PM

I spent long time in the store comparing Grado 125 and Grado 60. I knew the 125 is supposed to be better but I just liked the 60 much more. So, ended up getting the 60 and love it.
Posted by: bray

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/26/06 10:42 PM

Thanks for the comparison Ken.
Could you give me a run down on the prices?
Posted by: Ken.C

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/26/06 10:49 PM

HD 25-SP: $99
HD 280: $99
K 81 DJ: $69

I tested the 81s on BART today. They worked quite nicely, but the clamping force on my ears was somewhat painful when wearing glasses (I was wearing contacts last night). I'll look goofy-I mean test the 280s-tomorrow.
Posted by: bray

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/26/06 10:50 PM

Posted by: Ken.C

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/26/06 10:51 PM

Oh yeah, i have no idea how much the 570s were-they were a gift. Couldn't have been more than $150-200, though.
Posted by: JohnK

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/26/06 11:06 PM

Ken, I can tell that you really like the sound of the 280s. Rather than letting the smirks and outright laughter of your fellow Bart riders dissuade you, put the question instead to your fellow Axiomites. Have Jen take pics(some of the folks here like pics)of you wearing the 280s. Then we can have a poll here to determine whether the quality of the sound should overcome the derision that you'll face on the BART.
Posted by: St_PatGuy

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/27/06 12:09 AM

Thanks for the comparison, Ken. That was fun. I can't remember what closed phones sound like. Been too many years since I tried a pair.

When I was searching for cans I rated comfort pretty high. Couldn't stand that headphone headache.
Posted by: tomtuttle

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/27/06 01:02 AM

"The clamping force" on your skull, eh? Fun hobby. Enjoyable commute. Do they have bamboo for under your fingernails at the local esperesso cart?

So, we're trying to decide here if the auditory bliss outweighs your appearance of geekdom, then?

Seems like the choice is clear - you either have to embrace earbuds or let your freak flag fly. There is no in-between.
Posted by: pmbuko

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 04/27/06 10:03 AM

What a perfect idea, John. I've been telling Ken that I need a picture of him so I can add it to our department's staff listing website. Now I can just use one of the headphone pics.
Posted by: Stone__Man

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 05/05/06 04:14 AM

nicely done man. I FINALLY found a post here that I know a bit about. (unlike hi end speakers)
I know it was not part of your observation list. But I have the Sennheiser HD-650's and I can say without any reservation that if you are looking for the best open can there is, bar none(under 500USD that is ). shop a good price (when I got mine I found a sale price I paid 365.00 USD shipped.) break out your plastic and NEVER look back. There is a wealth of info to be found about them and I dare say ANY review you read will be quite favorable.
here is a AWESOME place to start for ALL things headphone, a wealth of knowledge to be gobbled up, and they themselves make some VERY good amps for your cans. http://www.headphone.com/guide/by-manufacturer/sennheiser/sennheiser-hd-650.php

Thanks for sharing all this info, and best of luck to all in your 'quest for cans'.
Posted by: F107plus5

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 05/05/06 02:08 PM

And Yes! Well done Ken! Decisions decisions! A fun read though.

Cans are fun. I have the upgaditus bug nibbling at the moment myself.

And good for you as well Stone_Man! Great cans at a great price! The 650s certainly are well respected and much loved 'phones!
Posted by: Ken.C

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 05/05/06 03:07 PM

I decided not to decide-I'm keeping both. I wear contacts every other day, glasses on the opposite day. When I'm wearing my regular glasses or perscription sunglasses, the AKGs are not particularly comfortable, due to that clamping thing. With my contacts and regular sunglasses, they're just fine, but the Senns hurt like hell. So.... I like the sound of the AKGs better for commuting (much better bass) and old, poorly recorded music, but if I can't deal with the ear pain on a 30 minute commute, I don't even want to think about wearing the wrong pair on an airplane.
Posted by: F107plus5

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 05/05/06 03:23 PM

Great decision not deciding!!

My favorite decision as well!! Keeping both is twice the fun!!

.....can't tell ya how many times I wish I could have gone that route.

If I had to leave something at home; it would surly be the pain!! Great to have the option. Jolly good choice(s)!!
Posted by: Stone__Man

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 05/12/06 10:37 AM

so what do you all have for headphone amps?

all I have it the Total AirHead from headroom, I've used it for the ipod and it did its job.

What I'd like to find is a (reasonable) HOME headphone amp. headroom makes some home amps but are out of the $$$ range I'm willing to shell out.

any ideas? 500$ absolute top I will pay.

I see JVC has put out an intrigeing um .. gaget that give's you 5.1 through your cans. that sounds like it could be cool, for gaming and those times you wanna watch a concert DVD and not distrub others with volume. here's a bit about it http://www.soundandvisionmag.com/article.asp?section_id=3&article_id=1445

Posted by: danmagicman7

Re: Headphone Comparison, part 1 (very, very long. - 05/12/06 01:49 PM

Might as well just plug your headphones into your reciever. Cheaper option at least, just run your headphone amp off preouts on the back of your reciever, set up for 2 speaker, and voila.