Massdrop x Koss ESP95X Electrostatic Headphone Stream of Consciousness Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Headphone Measurements' started by purr1n, Sep 28, 2018.

  1. I_want_all_the_tacos

    I_want_all_the_tacos Friend

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    Got a chance to audition these recently from Drop's new reddit headphone library loaner tour. I posted up reddit impressions on these in a more typical reddit style (link here) in case anyone wants to read all that. But here are my thoughts in a more concise form (lots of comparisons, so still kinda long):

    System was RME ADI-2 DAC -> 95X energizer -> headphone or Stax 006t -> SR404. Comparisons to non-estat headphones were using the RME's built-in amp.

    Build:
    -Super cheap/light plastic that feels like a toy.
    -Stax Lambdas use a heavier, bulkier plastic, the type that feels reminiscent of the 80's and 90's. Doesn't make Stax any more robust, but the feel of them is unique and has a certain quality that doesn't look like a toy.
    -Annoying split volume knob. It has an outer ring and an inner ring, one to control volume of each channel independently because of typical estat issues. Koss chose to not mechanically link the 2 rings together and instead force you to pinch them together. Even though there's some line notches on the knobs they are hard to see and annoying to deal with. Really bad design that Stax solved more elegantly. Use a DAC with variable output to get around this.

    Comfort:
    -For the most part not bad, my only complaint is that the clamp force is a bit light and doesn't feel easily adjustable because of the plastic band. I could shake my head and they would fall off.
    -I think these will be pretty comfortable for most head sizes.

    Sound:
    -This is a very pleasant and easy listening headphone that I don't think anyone will dislike.
    - The FR is pretty even without any offensive peaks or dips. No sins of commission.
    -Only minor issue is the sub-bass roll-off at the deepest registers. I can confirm as others have said that you can EQ it up quite well.
    -Even with EQ it will still lack that punchy, dynamic impact that estats always sufer.
    -Mids are very clear and present without any shoutiness or upper mid recession that is common in a lot of headphones.
    -Treble is crisp, clean, and well extended, though it isn't particularly forward and gives the 95X a more laid back and relaxed sound. I personally find this boring to listen to, but I get why others would like this.
    -No problems of sibilance or fatigue.
    -95X is quick in transient response and has a certain lightness and agile sound that is effortless. That contributes to it sounding very detailed and resolving with clear separation and precise imaging.
    -Soundstage is fairly wide, no problems with congestion or layering.

    Conclusions:
    -Really, there's not much bad to say about the actual sound profile of this headphone.
    -Main complaint is that like all estats, it sort of lacks macrodynamics and slam in the way a good dynamic like Focals can do it. And it lacks the heft and weight of good sub-bass that planars can do like Audeze.
    -That would be ok and I would be more accepting of that if you gained the trade-off of incredibly clear and "ethereal" treble that makes Stax so special. But it doesn't have that ethereal sound.
    -Puts this headphone in a weird middle ground as it doesn't really do anything special. It is an estat that doesn't really do estat things. So then you are stuck using a specialized energizer for it that doesn't work with anything else, even other estats like Stax.
    -Priced at the $400 I do still think it is good value and worthy of consideration if you are really into that soft, laid back sound. I personally find these types of headphones boring, unengaging, and compressed (same way I feel about most modern Audeze and Dan Clark Audio (formerly Mr. Speakers) headphones).
    -In this day and age I think there are enough alternative options that I personally would never care to own one. I think Verum One, Hifiman HE-500, Focal Elex, and pretty much any Stax Lambda are better buys. Also an argument for HD6XX on a decent amp.

    Similar Priced Comparisons
    Stax SR404:
    -My thoughts regarding 95X vs Stax Lambdas pretty much goes for all models.
    -Stax just sounds more unique and special.
    -Lambdas in particular have an insanely fast, clear, and airy treble that doesn't sound like anything else. IMO, the reason to get Stax is for this treble response.
    -Listening to the opening of "Reckoner" by Radiohead the drum cymbals are so shimmery, clear, and intense that when I close my eyes I could swear the drum kit is real and in the room with me. I don't hear a recording, I hear a real instrument. Nothing else sounds like this.
    -Tradeoff is that bass impact is weak, mids are a little shouty, and timbre is not really natural.
    -95X is a more relaxed, better all rounder compared to Stax.
    -But then that makes me wonder why even bother getting an estat that doesn't do anything special. Why go through the hassle of having to use specialized equipment for something that doesn't do anything specialized?

    Verum One:
    -This is the headphone that reminds me most of the overall sound signature of 95X.
    -Neutral, not overly aggressive in dynamics, well tamed treble, and a bit relaxed sounding.
    -Verum One gives back the sub-bass heft and presence that is missing in 95X.
    -It is still quick sounding with nice transient response but not with a hard leading edge that can be aggressive or fatiguing.
    -95X might be a little quicker and a little more microdetailed focused, but just barely.
    -Verum One's overall sound presentation is just more engaging, lively, and not boring in the way 95X sounds to me
    -Verum also has a very even, smooth, and unoffensively pleasant sound signature, but it does it in a way that let's you feel the music.
    -I think it is a much better buy at $350/$250 used. I would even take Verum One over 95X regardless of price differences.

    Hifiman HE-500:
    -This is probably my favorite planar to date that doesn't need mods or crazy amps (like HE-6). HE-500 really just needs a cheap pad swap and it sounds good out of any amp that is moderately powerful.
    -HE-500 is quite a different sound signature from 95X, but I mention it because you can pick one up for ~$300 on the used market
    -If you are not a fan of the overly relaxed and laid back sound, HE-500 is the opposite of that. It is dynamic, visceral, punchy, and lively.
    -It is quite neutral and also a good all rounder.
    -It just feels like everything is really forward and present. I love it. It makes 95X feel sleepy in comparison.

    Focal Elex:
    -I really think Elex is a great buy even if it is just a little more than 95X.
    -Focal's house sound is pretty much the same as how I described HE-500. In fact, I usually consider Elex the dynamic driver counterpart to HE-500.
    -I would say it is even more reference neutral sounding compared to HE-500, making it a great all rounder.
    -Again, this is quite different from the signature 95X is going for, but I think it is pretty competitive in technicalities as 95X and just a great headphone that is easy to drive, versatile with all genres, and doesn't really do anything offensive.

    Sennheiser HD6XX:
    -Everyone knows how this sounds
    -If you like this sound signature, put it on a decent tube amp and I find it more enjoyable than 95X
    -95X is more clear, faster in transients, less hazy in mid-bass, more lean.
    -HD6XX has more natural timbre, more rich and full sounding
    -Both have rollted treble that makes them non-fatiguing and easy to listen to.

    Pics or it didn't happen
    [​IMG]
     
  2. Philimon

    Philimon Friend

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  3. Elmer Danilovich

    Elmer Danilovich MShenay trying to pretend to be an old man

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  4. not_root

    not_root Rando

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    I recently replaced the E90 with an SRM-1 Mk2 that I repaired (recapped PSU, replaced pro bias circuit), and it's quite a substantial improvement - perhaps a smidge less bass presence, but noticeably more resolution - percussion sounds particularly impressive.
     
  5. Elmer Danilovich

    Elmer Danilovich MShenay trying to pretend to be an old man

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    I finally got my CCS Modded SRM 007tA and with stock 95X I wasn't super impressed, it was better but not as much as 'd hope'd... I then however swapped in the Vesper pads and removed both the stock pad and the driver Foam

    And YES, the combination of all three was pretty stellar. The driver foam really does create a mid-range haziness, and I do feel the angle'd pads open the stage up a little. I
     
  6. AllanMarcus

    AllanMarcus Friend

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    You have angled vesper pads? The ones I designed aren’t angled; they are just thicker. Can you post pics?
     
  7. Elmer Danilovich

    Elmer Danilovich MShenay trying to pretend to be an old man

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    You? Huh didn't know you designed them, but I got em from a guy in Europe... [email protected] @AllanMarcus

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2020
  8. M3NTAL

    M3NTAL Friend

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    Allan designed the original flat pad in collaboration with vesper, who are the producer of the pad. It looks like they have created their own, or possibly another poster somewhere else out there in the headphone-verse.
     
  9. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    I could locally snag -- almost steal -- these ESP/95X weeks ago. Like Koss's another legendary product PortaPro, 95X also caused me to rethink about what daily drivers SHOULD be. Long story short, Drop did a fantastic job to successfully resurrect the 30 year old classic and turn into an awesome daily driver.

    I don't think there is much to add to previous discussion of this product as I am definitely late to the party. So, I will be just brief to the points.
    • Very nuanced in upper mids. It's something also shown in SR009 and Clear/Elex to me. More so than focals but less annoying than Stax.
    • Overall dark tonal balance, but it sounds a lot brighter and more forwarding than more polite competitors like SR007 from the memory (can't remember which version I heard before).
    • A little weak in the lowest register, but fairly cohesive and well extended on the top end.
    • All the criticisms related to thin and light material apply to 95x as well. Not as critical as Stax, but still there.
    • All the typical estat strengths (such as micro, transient, etc) also there if not as dramatic as 009 or equivalents.
    • Probably the rightest timbre among estats. At least better than any other estats I heard or owned in this regard. Even better than the original 950.
    Overall they sound very decent to me. Or, I should say 'superb' when the price taken into consideration. Its value proposition is contestable against hd6xx any day.

    However, what impressed me even more this time around is their comfort. 95X easily circle all my checklist items of wearing comfort as a daily driver, as defined below:
    • Total weight lighter than 310g (11oz) with normal cabling condition
    • Enough room around my ears not to touch anything in the ear holes
    • Very weak clamping force
    Those who have various product experience would understand how easily the three points above go against high performance. Let me take some failed examples in my experience -- Verite no. SR1a no. SR009/007 no. HD6x0/800 no. Grado no. Even the original 950 failed in the second bp. My ears wanted a little deeper inner space.

    Simply speaking I want headphones with gigantic housing, nearly non-existent weight/clamping, yet at least listenably-driven 650 level sounding. Very challenging in physics.

    Some headphones like Ether 2 can perhaps come close, but none can't best 95x in pure (price not considered) sound quality mattered to me.

    That's why 95x could survive and sit around me with the most head time allocated.
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2020
  10. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Also dropping my measurements -- measured at [email protected]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    A few notes below
    • Frequency response looks smoother than what Marv measured two years ago. Differences attributable to regular production, bad ears (Marv said the one he used in 2018 was flawed a bit), or some black magic casted by the previous owner. Maybe all of them. IDK. I just feel my measurement closer to what I am hearing.
    • I am also not sure if I can hear higher H2 around 120hz. They seem very consistent across both channels though. Note that my place is rather noisy (noise floor dominating H2-4 all over the spectrum) so take a grain of salt for harmonics.
    • I hear a little more sibilance on middle highs than FR suggests. Could be explained by a little sustaining region around 5k in the spectrogram.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2020
  11. Elmer Danilovich

    Elmer Danilovich MShenay trying to pretend to be an old man

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    Stunningly fantastic man and I wholly agree, for those with an appreciation for nuance and tonal balance these are hands down some of the best! An honestly I like these a bit more than the L700 MK2 I'm reviewing atm... stunning measurements too by the way thank you!

    An honestly your measurements also match up with what I hear
     
  12. not_root

    not_root Rando

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    I've owned these for almost 2 years now, and with the SRM-1 MK2 (repaired with my godawful soldering skills) + Modi 3, they've become my daily drivers. My other references are the HD600 and DT880 600 ohm out of the Asgard 3. In the spirit of previous replies, I had some comparative impressions, but there's nothing that hasn't really been said before.

    The HD600s definitely have a frequency response that suits my general preferences better, though my ideal would probably be a halfway point between those and the 95X - I miss the upper mid presence lift that adds the characteristic vocal sparkle. However, the instrument separation and sensation of cleanness was persuasive (mainly the absence of the Sennheiser low-end mud); though I initially found the sound somewhat bloodless, the dark tilt + the low volumes I listen at (70-75 db) mean that virtually nothing sounds unpleasant - I can enjoy 100 gecs without ever feeling my eardrums are being perforated forcefully, and the bass has excellent pitch differentiation without succumbing to the haze dynamics often produce.

    The DT880s are indeed shockingly bright, but I found their technicalities to broadly equal the HD600's - the bass has less impact but is better extended and cleaner, and the instrument separation seems slightly superior, though the obvious FR tilt may be partly responsible. It's not as versatile as the 95X though, which offers great treble resolution without being so obtrusive about it and bass that sacrifices only a little impact for much more 'speed', whatever that means.

    I'm not sure the E90 actually sucks as much as thought it did, since it might have just suffered from my lack of familiarity with the estat sound, but from memory (it's all boxed up now) it did swallow low-level information, which at my listening levels is quite a large proportion of detail. The volume control is also uniquely horrid - keeping the channels balanced satisfactorily is nigh-impossible at moderate levels, and turning the knob clockwise at low levels sometimes lowers the volume. Before I got the Stax amp, I used the Asgard as a preamp just for the infinitely better volpot.

    If only I could be rid of this channel imbalance - I've verified it's not the amp and have done all the usual fuckery with shorting the pins and so on (and been through one round of warranty repairs). I've also learned my lesson using this thing right out of the shower.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2020
  13. Tachikoma

    Tachikoma Almost "Made"

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    If you are brave, you can recoat the membranes. I recommend a 1:10 dilution of floor detergent (any brand).
     
  14. numbercube

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    How to get to the membrane? The ESP950's driver assembly is permanently bonded together.
     
  15. Tachikoma

    Tachikoma Almost "Made"

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    Ah, my bad, I haven't owned one of these before. With the Stax Lambda, some have tried cutting them apart and then resealing with contact cement, but I doubt that you'll want to try that.

    (I found this though: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/the-koss-esp950-thread-esp-owners-please-contribute.262845/ someone seems to have succeeded in disassembling the drivers. Are the ESP95x drivers different?)

    On the less intrusive side of things, I've also tried hitting my Lambda drivers (no dust covers) with a Milty Zerostat, which seemed to resolve their imbalance, but YMMV.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2020
  16. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    I just started listening to these again after being pretty much 100% 2ch listening since COVID and working from home. I have the non-Massdrop version with Vesper pads, which I’ve probably owned for 5 years now.

    I put together a spare parts system in my home office using an old MacBook Pro with Toslink out, to an ancient Modi Opti that used to be for television use. I steam from Qobuz. And I threw a Loki in there as well. So between the first gen Modi and Toslink, you’d think it would be pretty lame but the Koss probably masks some of the digital nasties. I set the Loki to be slightly V shaped, and they are a lot of fun.

    the last few days I’ve enjoyed a lot of techno, electronics and industrial stuff and have thoroughly enjoyed it. The extra punch in the bass, combined with being to play them periodically at higher volumes without sounding convoluted has given me a new appreciation for these.
     
  17. svperstar

    svperstar Acquaintance

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    Funny same happened to me tonight. Been listening to my Arya on personal computer and my HD580s on my work from home PC for months.

    Got out my Drop version.

    Compared to the Arya its annoying hearing the headphones rattle when you move your head but you get used to it quick. The ESP just has that effortless clairty that make music sound very clean. Used it for a gaming session and there is something about the human voice that is kinda unique to the ESP.

    Switching back to the Arya get that fuller 3D presentation and a ton more presence in the bass.

    The ESP really is a steal going for $350 when it comes to clarity of notes. I should really listen to it more.
     

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