In Quest Of Neutral Headphones [Reviews / Measurements]

Discussion in 'Audio Science' started by Magnetostatic_Tubephile, Dec 30, 2018.

  1. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    TOPIC DESCRIPTION

    As a natural continuation of the previous SBAF thread originated by me (Neutral(ish) headphones), due to a significant progress made, this topic intends to track my audiophile journey focused on neutral(ish) headphones. I hope others will find useful information here too!

    Copy/pasted from the other thread: "In simple terms, by 'neutral' I mean subjectively as true to the source as possible with headphones, ideally also confirmed objectively (e.g. by measurements). This, from my current understanding, in practice involves a suitable combination of frequency response, distortion characteristics, internal construction/damping and possibly other parameters too."

    ==============================================

    TOP CONTENDERS SO FAR:

    1] TONALITY (frequency response):
    • First place: Audeze LCD2 Classic (vegan)
    • Runner-up: Sennheiser HD650 (stock)
    2] TIMBRE (overall sound character):
    • First place: Audio Zenith PMx2 rev2 (stock)
    • Runner-up: Sennheiser HD650 (stock)
    ==============================================

    APPROACH TO MEASUREMENTS:
    • REW -> Schit Fulla 2 -> MiniDSP EARS chain setup according to instructions from MiniDSP for 90dB SPL at 1kHz.
    • Customized FR compensation curve used, combining HPN and HEQ curves from MiniDSP with some customizations.
    • Both sides of headphones are setup identically prior final measurements (headband extension, cups angle, earpad mounting, ...). No additional adjustments to control seal (artificial pressure, ad hoc fixture, ...) are used unless clearly stated.
    • Once optimal headphone setting is found, both channels get measured at least 5 times at different positions against MiniDSP EARS and the most visually similar graphs are selected = no averaging is used.
    • Frequency response graphs are published with 1/12 octave smoothing for 15Hz to 15kHz range, including visual comparison with Sennheiser HD650 (stock) for those in doubt regarding my compensation curve.
    • Other types of graphs are not published unless interesting enough from my perspective. I only find FR graphs to be truly understood enough to provide a consistent value for this kind of thread.
    • Experience from my previous measurements, using in-ear mics, is applied here too. I actually prefer to measure at the outer entry of my own ear canal ( = in-ear measurements) rather than near eardrum of a dummy head (MiniDSP EARS). EARS is more convenient in the long term though.

    MORE ON THE COMPENSATION CURVE:

    • The primary goal is to supply a truly effective compensation curve (HCUSTOM), to achieve that straight line = neutral response.
    • The default curves provided with MiniDSP EARS (HEQ and HPN) are utilized as much as possible across the frequency spectrum, with few "systematic" adjustments. To sum up, upper mid to low treble region is adjusted since even the HEQ curve is a bit too "much" there based on my findings.
    • Peak around 4.5kHz and resonance around 50Hz are artifacts present in some measurements due to EARS that cannot be fully avoided based on my knowledge.
    • If in doubt, you can still rely on a visual comparison of each measured headphone with Sennheiser HD650 (stock).
    [​IMG]

    MORE ON UTILIZATION OF MEASUREMENTS:

    • Do NOT look too much into subtleties as there are way too many variables involved in headphone measurements, leading to significant (multiple dB) discrepancies among measurement rigs or even measurement sessions on a single rig. The more experience you have with measurements, the more cautious you are about them.
    • Therefore only utilize frequency response measurements as a general guideline to assess tonality. (Enough bass? Deep enough bass? Enough mid bass compared to mids? Linear low to mid mids? Present upper mids? Too bright or peaky treble? Some significant trough located in treble? Some significant resonances visible? Is the overall response rather smooth, or ragged?)
    • Do NOT purchase headphones solely based on a single frequency response graph. Always try to consult other sources of measurements and correlate them with subjective impressions posted by people.
    • Other measurement sources I recommend to use:
      • RAA
      • @Hands
      • RTINGS (bass is typically a bit too rolled-off though)
      • DIYAH (bass is typically a bit too rolled-off though)

    ==============================================
    REVIEW LIST:
    1. Audeze LCD2 Classic (vegan)
    2. Audio Zenith PMx2 rev2 (stock)
    3. Sennheiser HD650 (stock)
    4. Beyerdynamic DT880 Edition 600 Ohm (stock)
    5. Hifiman Edition X V1 (stock)
    6. Sennheiser HD600 (stock)
    7. Fostex TH7 (stock)
    8. Sennheiser HD660S (stock)
    9. Koss ESP950 (stock)
    10. Sony MDR-MA900 (stock)
    11. Verum 1 (stock)
    ==============================================

    NOTE: This thread is identifying top neutral(ish) headphones for your consideration rather than providing exhausting details on every assessed product. The reviews are therefore concise and focused accordingly.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019 at 2:29 PM
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  2. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    Audeze LCD2 Classic (vegan)

    NOTE: Vegan pads are chosen intentionally, see comparison with stock pads done by @Hands HERE.

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:
    • Surprisingly good channel matching given Audeze record and very large/deep earpads.
    • Channel difference around 3-4k on my pair is there, as confirmed by multiple measurement takes.
    • Extension towards deepest bass is limited by vegan pads. Leather pads would yield better results.
    • Overall feels like a "fixed HD650" tone-wise - more bass depth, no mid bass emphasis, less upper mids to low treble.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. World-class frequency response, with almost no deficiencies. Only a little muted towards treble if anything.
    2. Very good price/performance ratio. In my opinion the best way to start with planar magnetics (as of 2019).
    3. Surprisingly comfortable to wear due to vegan pads, latest Audeze headband system and decreased weight (plastic cups).
    4. Good headstage dimensionality (deep angled pads) and openness (micro-suede pad material) compared to many other planar magnetics.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Tends to get a bit glare-y, raspy and greyish during busy music passages.
    2. Lacks a tiny bit more bass viscerality in deepest bass registers.
    3. Does not have the dynamics, clarity, cleanness and microdetail of Audeze LCD4 or other high end cans.
    4. Headband adjustments using rods get clumsy.
    5. Despite the overall nice level of comfort, weight still might be an issue to some.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2018-12-30): YES!
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019 at 1:58 PM
  3. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Audio Zenith PMx2 rev2 (stock)

    NOTE: My personal rev2 pair was built by Alex with velour pads from rev1 version. Alex mentioned the following: "Bass sounds a bit more punchy and controlled than my reference set with leather pads."

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:
    • The headphone is difficult to measure on EARS due to a rather small and shallow earpad opening accompanied by low clamping force.
    • Channel balance on my pair is good but there is some room for improvement.
    • Very smooth response. Ignore measurement artifacts around 50 and 4500 Hz, also the slight wiggle from 9kHz up is not subjectively heard.
    • Great bass presence and extension.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. World class timbre - smooth, clean, clear, without any odd coloration.
    2. Visceral, deep, tight and punchy bass.
    3. HQ sound reproduction roughly approaching neutrality but, at the same time, very forgiving of bad recordings. Very non-sibilant.
    4. Great ergonomics - elegant design, transportable and relatively easy to drive, comfortable to wear.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Tonally somewhat "poppy" sounding. (A tad U-shaped frequency curve, smooth character, lacking in "crunch" and harmonics due to muted upper mids.)
    2. Bass to low mid region is a little elevated, resulting in pronounced fullness and punchiness.
    3. Clean and focused sounding but not a microdetail or soundstaging monster.
    4. Attention needed to find ideal positioning on your head, to avoid excessive bass response streaming from broken seal.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-01-01): YES!
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019 at 2:00 PM
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  4. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    Sennheiser HD650 (stock)

    NOTE: This review is for a 2018 version of Sennheiser HD650 bought several weeks ago, with non-deformed pads or headband. I subjectively like it better (a tad clearer and bolder) compared to past versions of the headphone I've heard over the years.

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:
    • Channel balance is excellent, as expected from Sennheiser.
    • Not perfectly neutral yet smooth response. Ignore measurement artifact around 50 Hz as well as slightly exaggerated 4.5kHz peak caused by EARS.
    • Deepest bass is somewhat muted but the slight emphasis around midbass makes up for it in terms of overall bottom fullness.
    • Spectrogram comparison below (as well as various THD graphs on the internet) seem to correlate with subjectively compromised bass clarity and tightness.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. The most sensible way to start with electrodynamic headphones IMHO - really good tone and sound quality for a perfectly affordable price.
    2. Probably the most tonally accurate mids I've heard in a headphone.
    3. Smooth, composed and consistent sounding from bass to treble.
    4. Simply clever design - very light, solid ergonomics, easily replaceable parts.
    5. Serves as a great reference - everybody either owned them or at least heard them several times.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Can sound 'cloudy', 'greyish' or even 'flat' at times, especially when not driven properly.
    2. Compared to world class planar magnetics, bass is rather to be considered a 'best effort' - not too bassy or shy but lacking considerably in depth, clarity and tightness. (Not really a dealbreaker unless bass is your top priority though.)
    3. Lacks a bit more linearity from upper mids up, resulting in a slight tendency for sibilance and zinginess.
    4. Clamping force might be too high out of the box. It gets better over time though due to pad wear (see below).
    5. Pads tend to deform over time, resulting in decreased sense of sound clarity.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-01-14): YES!
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019 at 2:01 PM
  5. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Beyerdynamic DT880 Edition 600 Ohm (stock)

    NOTE: The reviewed pair was bought several weeks ago new. 600 Ohm version is advertised by Beyerdynamic to provide the highest degree of fidelity from all DT880 variants. Apologies for the missing FR graph data below 20Hz, only started to measure lower after I already returned the headphone.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:
    • The headphone is difficult to measure on EARS due to low clamping force and smaller circular earpad shape.
    • Measured bass response assumes perfect seal which you might not get most of the time with Edition DT880s. Rather purchase DT880 PRO 250 Ohm (PRO = increased clamping force) should bass extension be your priority. Anyway, descending bass response was to be expected - DT880 is no heavy hitter subjectively.
    • Channel balance is nice, much better than I've seen with Beyerdynamic T1s.
    • Smooth response accompanied by no truly apparent issues with decay or resonances, as indicated by Waterfall CSD around low to mid treble region.
    • Very neutral mids, rivaling those of HD650. Upper mids up is where things get complicated...

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Can be seen as 'HD600s for treble enthusiasts'. Compared to many other treble-happy headphones (HD800, HE6, ...), this one thankfully does not drill your ears with artificial resonances.
    2. Reference mid-bass to mid region - neutral and clear.
    3. Great price/performance ratio, putting the majority of other Beyerdynamic products to shame.
    4. Very comfortable to wear.
    5. Serves as a good reference - many owned them or at least heard them several times.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Not a neutral-sounding headphone due to elevated treble response. Tube amplifier is recommended to mitigate its steely and zingy timbre.
    2. Not sounding particularly weak in bass but do not expect great authority and depth.
    3. Not sounding rough or distorted but do not expect world class resolution or microdynamics.
    4. Difficult to drive given its very large impedance, ranging from 600 to 750 ohm according to InnerFidelity.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-01-19): NO
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019 at 2:05 PM
  6. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Hifiman Edition X V1 (stock)

    NOTE: The original (V1) version of the series was selected due to supposedly most neutral tonal profile, as indicated by multiple measurements published over the internet (e.g. InnerFidelity or Head-Fi). 'Thanks' to stock earpad mounting rings made out of crappy plastic, the pads are fixed to the measured phones using double-sided tape. This, as a side effect, helped to somewhat improve bass extension.

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:
    • The headphone is difficult to measure towards deep bass on EARS given extreme pad length.
    • With perfect seal, very good bass extension - even better than shown - can be observed. This is very-hard-to-impossible to achieve on a typical human head though.
    • Channel balance on my pair is acceptable for general listening purposes but there is better out there. Might be partially caused by the mounted (quite old and not perfectly symmetrical) set of earpads.
    • One of the better frequency responses to be found, only with a broad emphasis towards upper mid to low treble area.
    • The lack of linearity in mid region translates into perceived fuzziness during critical listening sessions.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Balanced frequency response with a subtly and inoffensively executed emphasis on detail. Probably the best from Hifiman tone-wise, HE500 included.
    2. Very open sounding, reproducing compact but dimensional (tall) soundstage.
    3. Comfortable to wear due to well distributed weight and spot-on side pressure.
    4. User-friendly: Sensitive for a planar, not scaling much with better equipment, not requiring particularly synergistic gear to sound at its best.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Tolerable but a tad too sizzly and fuzzy character from mids up.
    2. Soft character from mids down, with the whole bass region lacking considerably in tactility.
    3. Poor value for the original price. The latest Massdrop iteration (Edition XX) is more realistically priced. It is a good performer overall but simply cannot compete in pure technicalities with high end headphones.
    4. Clumsy construction and looks.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-01-30): NO
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019 at 2:05 PM
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  7. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    @Biodegraded informed me that images are not visible - reuploaded to imgur based on his advice. I hope it is working now!

    Details of my custom curve are now added to the original post. More headphones to be added in coming days...
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2018
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  8. taisserroots

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    [​IMG]
    I think it might be a good idea to evaluate the compensation you are using.
    The ear does have some issues comparrd to a good HATs, but those issues do not seem like the ones your graphs are showing.
    While tylls hats isn't perfect ears show features in measurements which are different from tylls graphs in specific ways which your graphs aren't.
     
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  9. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    It'd be useful to post your compensation curve overlaid with the SBAF one so others who've used the latter with EARS could more easily see the differences.
     
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  10. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    I have now included "MORE ON THE COMPENSATION CURVE" section in the original post, providing a bit better insight to how the curve differs from the curves supplied by MiniDSP.

    Will see what I could do but remember that all MiniDSP EARS jigs a bit different from each other, with presumably no evidence available that MiniDSP is truly able to ensure that headphone X would measure identically on two different EARS setups accompanied by their respective HEQ/HPN curve. In other words, I would probably need to re-do SBAF curve a bit to actually fit my particular EARS set at home.

    Please do consider the following:
    1. The compensation curve utilized by Tyll never actually truly compensated in a way that straight line = neutral. Tyll even admitted such himself. My curve attempts to do exactly that.
    2. Audeze LCD2 Classic measured by InnerFidelity was using stock (leather) earpads while my set of measurements is intentionally done with vegan pads. See comparison from Hands HERE to find out why.
    3. Each measurement head (or measurement technique) has their particular characteristics, good or bad. There are so many variables involved with headphone measurements (that can alter results by many dBs in one or other way) that it is simply impossible to mirror some other type of measurement gear. Unfortunately, all-in-all, it leads to a statement that you cannot really fully trust any kind of headphone measurements currently done. You can only take them as a rough approximation helping you with your purchase decision. Consider my measurements only for a general assessment of tonality. (Enough bass? Enough bass depth? Present mids? Too bright in treble? Too peaky in treble? Some very significant trough in treble? ...)
     
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  11. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    Section "MORE ON UTILIZATION OF MEASUREMENTS" added to provide further guidance. Measurements are an useful tool but do not overestimate their importance.
     
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  12. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019
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  13. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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  14. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I wouldn't necessarily trust CSDs below 500Hz in most environments and with most measurement gear.

    But otherwise decent looking results so far!
     
  15. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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  16. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    DT880 Edition 600 ohm (stock) review is now posted above!

    Thank you very much, appreciated! This thread helps me a lot to consolidate my thoughts. It is not perfect but really enjoying all the work on it so far. Definitely intend to continue.
     
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  17. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    :headbang:
     
  18. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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  19. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    Sennheiser HD600 (stock)

    NOTE: As with HD650s, my review is based on a brand new pair purchased recently (2019). Measurements therefore assume only slightly used earpads. As for the everlasting HD600 vs HD650 dilemma, it is all about your upstream gear and personal preferences. There will never be one ultimate winner for all - simple as that. That being said, especially when paired well (e.g. DNA Stratus), HD650 is overall the more refined and realistic sounding Sennheiser to my ears.

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:
    • Channel balance is excellent, as expected from Sennheiser.
    • Not perfectly neutral yet smooth response. Ignore slightly exaggerated 4.5kHz peak caused by EARS.
    • Deepest bass is somewhat muted. Unlike HD650, this headphone is missing bottom fullness subjectively.
    • The above is connected to the fact upper mid to mid treble region is similar in character but ultimately more present when compared to HD650s.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. One of the best ways to start with electrodynamic headphones - providing most of the HD650's positive traits but being more 'immediate' (clearer) sounding, somewhat easier to drive properly, and even less expensive to get.
    2. Along with HD650s probably the most tonally accurate headphone in terms of mids.
    3. Smooth, composed and consistent sounding from bass to treble.
    4. Simply clever design - very light, solid ergonomics, easily replaceable parts.
    5. Serves as a great reference - everybody either owned them or at least heard them several times.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Tendency for sibilance and zinginess ('steely' timbre). Tube amp is recommended to those bothered by this quality.
    2. Despite being somewhat clearer and tighter in bass than HD650, bass is overall not a highlight here either due to missing fullness and depth.
    3. Too immediate (forward) soundstage was noticed at times, probably due to exaggerated upper mids.
    4. Clamping force might be too high out of the box. It gets better over time though due to pad wear (see below).
    5. Pads tend to deform over time, resulting in decreased sense of sound clarity.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2019-02-10): NO
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2019 at 2:06 PM
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  20. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Some updates:
    1. HD600 review posted above, as this headphone is leading the voting poll in my previous SBAF thread. It was close, especially when driven from lesser chains, but HD650 pulled ahead in the end for me. Therefore HD650s remain in my top list of headphone recommendations (see the original post of this thread).
    2. I found a set of HD650 measurements in my database (virtually identical to the previously used one) where 50Hz resonance sometimes caused by EARS is not pronounced in one channel. I have therefore re-posted all comparo graphs of other headphones with HD650 using the new set of measurements. It will just look less confusing to people not experienced with measurements.
    3. Some slight polishing of text took place all over the thread, just for improved clarity.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019

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