In Quest Of Neutral Headphones [Reviews / Measurements]

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

  1. mokobigbro

    mokobigbro Acquaintance

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    What an awesome thread!

    Thank you for doing this Magnetostatic!
     
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  2. Elmer Danilovich

    Elmer Danilovich MShenay trying to pretend to be an old man

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    This I have to sincerely thank you and @Hands for, I've been sitting on a rather unimpressive set of LCD 2 Classics for maybe a year or two now? An after seeing and reading this post more than once I finally bit the bullet and snagged a set of the Vegan Pads, and after almost an entire days worth of listening I'm finally IMPRESSED with what this headphone has to offer... tho it's a shame the pads are more difficult to find these days
     
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  3. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless would for sure not qualify among the best headphones of this thread but I am loving them anyway. While something as Bose QC35 II is more of a toy trying to act like a smart device, this is a serious product that actually functions and therefore serves the user well.

    To demonstrate what I mean by "functions well", this is what you can do with the built-in hardware DSP that incorporates equalizer:
    [​IMG]

    The above is just a rough comparison, haven't spent much effort to make the measurements as precise as possible. But hopefully it demonstrates the point. You EQ the phone using the 3-band equalizer in the dedicated smartphone app to suite your needs and it stays that way regardless of which source you use Momentums with then.

    What I also love about the Momentums:
    • Leather pads for more natural timbre over pleather
    • Steel for more durability over plastic
    • Playback allowed via analog cable, USB-C cable, and bluetooth (incl. aptX and aptX LL)
    • Hiss-free performance with ANC ON as well as OFF
    • Talk-through mode allowing simultaneous music playback
    • Fast and automated bluetooth pairing
    • Fully over-ear but very compact and portable too
    These are surprisingly good timbre-wise and mid-tone wise, definitely reminding you of the brand (Sennheiser). Use the built-in EQ functionality to tune the bass and treble for something more neutral... and you might be surprised how good the phones are for something primarily intended to be used outside with bluetooth.
     
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  4. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Great write up @Magnetostatic_Tubephile! To put a quick percent number on it, how much larger ear cup size over the QC35 II would you say?
     
  5. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    From what I recall, the Momentum's pads are considerably wider and deeper which makes their inner space larger and more round compared to the Bose (oval). Subjectively, it feels a bit more spacious physically (for my ears) as well as subjectively (headstaging). Btw, Momentum 3 destroys Bose in terms of bass viscerality and timbre quality.

    It's the first "modern" headphone that (EQed) feels (to me) good enough to use for audiophile listening. Again, we are definitely not talking about top-tier audiophile performance of the great passive models... but it feels so great to walk around and yet being able to enjoy not just the music but the sound as well.

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

    I am looking forward to THX Panda. They are supposedly working on developing an app that would utilize the internal DSP hardware for permanent EQ, the same way as with Momentum 3 Wireless. And, due to drivers similar to PMx2s, the Panda might make me even happier than the Momentums. Let's see!
     
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    Last edited: Jul 19, 2020
  6. pure5152

    pure5152 Friend

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    Being pedantic, but the drivers in the panda are actually more similar to the pm3 than the pmx2 (iirc pmx2 driver went throught a heat curing process and other things that Alex did to customize it to his liking). Again being pedantic because you’re probably referring to the general driver design, but just wanted to make the distinction in case someone reading gets confused.
     
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  7. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Hifiman HE-6 (ZMF universe hybrid solid)

    NOTE: Based on experience with my previous Hifiman HE-6 as well as given the available knowledge, the evaluated pair is an early 6-screw version in its stock configuration except for ear pads. By trying many cushions from manufacturers such as Audeze, Mrspeakers, Dekoni or ZMF, only the ZMF Universe hybrid solid ones subjectively offered an acceptable tonal balance while keeping the characteristic "old school Hifiman" timbre intact. (Ether Flow Angled pads would be my second pick.) Apart from the ear pad swap, removing quarter foam pieces underneath pads as well as replacing outer grills with an acoustically more transparent solution is highly recommended.

    [​IMG]

    MEASUREMENT COMMENTARY:

    • Channel balance is excellent! Small observed differences towards treble are caused by the quite big and "fluffy" ear pads from ZMF. Moving the headphone around on your head can shift response within the area quite a bit too.
    • Bass linearity and extension are absolutely phenomenal, reaching down to at least 9 Hz on both channels! Since my poor Fulla 2 couldn't handle the Hifimans, I had to unleash DNA Stratus which is likely at its limits here. Ignore measurement artifacts around 50 and 100 Hz.
    • Middle mids are slightly elevated due to the cushions, subjectively reminding me of Audeze LCD headphones (especially LCD4). On the other hand, higher mids are somewhat depressed and thin sounding, not too much to become unrealistic though. The well-known resonance around 4-5 kHz contributes to a very energetic/vibrant nature of this headphone. While it cannot be fully eliminated, not keeping it in check makes the Hifimans kind of rough and rustling in their sound and can cause ear fatigue rather quickly.
    • Selection of pads also helps to control the treble - namely another known resonance area around 11-12 kHz. The more elevated the response in this area, the zingier the sound signature you get.

    [​IMG]

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    1. Very linear, deep and hardhitting bass with extraordinary tactility and sustain.
    2. Subjectively 'pure' timbre that uniquely combines and contrasts physicality (magnetic driver sound) with smoothness (electrostatic sound).
    3. Unlike the similar HE-500, HE-6 offers a clear and energetic sound signature from bass to treble with no signs of muddiness, softness or smearing.
    4. Clean, lush and involving mids.
    5. The well-adjustable headband and solid chassis design contribute to satisfying build quality and wearing comfort.

    WHAT TO COUNT WITH:
    1. Requires carefully picked aftermarket ear pads to reasonably control the headphone's tonality and resonances while keeping the great timbre intact.
    2. Stock outer grills have a clear negative impact on resolving ability of the headphone.
    3. The tendency for vibrance and roughness/rustling cannot be fully "modded away".
    4. Might sound somewhat thin or distant tonally in upper mids.
    5. Compromised ergomics - very hard to drive, cables supplied with most HE-6s tend to corrode over time, strange choice of cable connectors.

    TOP CONTENDER (as of 2021-01-21): YES!
    The headphone replaces Verum 1 as a Runner-up in TIMBRE category.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 30, 2021
  8. gepardcv

    gepardcv Almost "Made"

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    Your description of the HE-6 matches my (years-old now) recollections. A spectacular headphone. I didn’t realize it measures this clean. Truly gorgeous bass without the excesses of the Meze Empyrean or the (shudder) Abyss 1266. I’m still kicking myself for not buying one back when it was readily available. I even have a (mostly-working, need to spend a bit more time with the ol’ soldering iron) Dynahi amplifier for it...

    Have you tried it with a speaker amp yet? I’ve heard it with a cheap class D/T (meh but not awful) and with a vintage Yamaha receiver (must’ve been class AB), and it was a pretty cool. Not light years better than just a reasonably powerful headamp IMO, but definitely interesting.
     
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  9. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    The bass is definitely the first thing that comes to mind with HE-6s! The tactility and sustain... it's so satisfying! Very special indeed. I am really satisfied with the sound out of the "K1000" output of the Stratus but am sure it might get even better with some more current! Anyway, it's not just about the bass. It's when you start noticing the unique timbre... that you're lost.

    Always liked the HE-6 (combining together the best aspects of HE-4 and HE-500, both very good cans on their own) but did not have the knowledge back then to make them work for me. Fortunately, I've got another chance.

    Btw, deciding about their final rank timbre-wise definitely wasn't easy. I mean, PMx2s and Verum 1s (w/ Ether angled pads) are both fantastic in that regard. But, in the end, the word 'pure' only comes to my mind when speaking of PMx2s and HE-6s. And since PMx2s are a bit more "mature" (less problematic), they still remain at the top.

    But it's close, very close. I am definitely keeping the Verums.
     
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  10. gepardcv

    gepardcv Almost "Made"

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    The PMx2 is my go-to when I don’t want to deal with electrostatics. I think discovered an interesting thing about it: it sounds nicer from a beefy amp. This surprised me, since its on-paper sensitivity suggests it should be adequately driven by just about anything at all. It gets plenty loud from weaker amps, but something’s missing, even on low volume. I haven’t done a lot of serious comparisons, but does this match your impressions or measurements? Is there something about the driver that maybe causes it to want more current at specific frequencies?
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    PMx2 can work from an iPod, but from anything less than a beefy amp, it sounds sleepy. I wish that headphone were still around.
     
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  12. gepardcv

    gepardcv Almost "Made"

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    “Sleepy” is exactly right. Can you help me understand why? Something goofy about the driver impedance curves?
     
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I suspect too much damping. Would be curious on attack envelope with the bursts - I hadn't discovered this measurement yet when the PMx2 was around.
     
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  14. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

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    Yeah. I guess the same way HE-6 might be too "awake", PMx2 might be too "sleepy". ;)

    It's certainly a matter of preference. But to my ears, tone-wise as well as timbre-wise, too little is generally more acceptable than too much in the long term.

    Btw, I've got the Pandas since yesterday, waiting on the EQ application expected to be released at the end of this month. Might give them a review afterwards. I am a fan of permanent parametric EQ driven by DSP built-in the headphones.

    Really liking the Pandas so far. Unlike the typical competitors (Bose, Sony, Sennheiser), it does not require EQ to sound balanced and mature enough. It also has a bit of that planar magnetic timbre I dig but it's rather subtle in this case. My preliminary measurements show that I've a got a good pair, as the channel balance seems to be really good. No other issues (with hiss, battery, ...) found either.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 22, 2021
  15. Magnetostatic_Tubephile

    Magnetostatic_Tubephile Friend

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    Until now, I've been focused on identifying only the top performers in either tonality or timbre category. However, many listeners might rather pick a headphone that is great enough in both categories, to get a versatile sound presentation.

    Therefore, I have enhanced the first post of this topic to provide a list of such headphones. I feel the following deserve the spot at this point:
    • ZMF Auteur (eikon pads)
    • Verum Audio Verum 1 (ether angled pads)
    • Sennheiser HD650 (stock pads)
    The list is not ranked currently, as I think it would be way too subjective to go that far into the topic. It's easier to focus on either the best in tonality or the best in timbre, than trying to somehow rank the performance of both aspects combined together. I mean, any of the above cans might be my favourite "overall performer" depending on the day but would never hesitate to pick Auteur for the best tonality and PMx2s for the best timbre exclusively.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 31, 2021

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