A Guide To Headphones - Headfonia.

Headfonia’s Guides to Headphones

Before we begin I’d like to start out by saying that Headfonia articles are mostly focused on headphone selection for music listening. So, if you are a recording engineer or a gaming enthusiast, we may not be able to give you much help there.

Rule #1: There Is No Best Headphone

The number one rule to understand when embarking on your headphone-search journey is to understand that there is no one headphone to rule them all. Like automobiles, headphones are made for different purposes. You have the supercars, roadsters, SUVs, 4x4s, sedans, to the compacts, and you chose what’s best for your day to day needs. There is no one car that can tackle snow and win races on the drag strip. The sooner you understand this fact, the more money you will save.

The key is to get the right headphone for your music, not the most expensive headphone your budget allows.

Dale: Some of the most important things to consider in selecting a headphone are the fit, any power requirements, portability, appearance if used in public, and whether the sound is oriented toward what you mostly listen to.

The fit isn’t always an easy thing to be sure of when you can’t try before buying, since some ear pads will not have a satisfactory fit to some ears. Power requirements aren’t a simple matter of looking at the impedance, since efficiency or sensitivity doesn’t always track directly with impedance. Another issue indirectly related to power requirements are whether the headphone has the option for ‘balanced’ use or some other connection that isn’t a 3.5 mm or 6.35 mm jack and plug.

Portability can mean many things, such as appearance in public, having a secure fit so the headphone doesn’t shift off of your ears, amount of isolation from ambient noise (including active noise canceling), whether the headphone can be worn around the neck when not listening or it requires a carry case, and when extra amplification is required, whether a suitable amp can be found that’s OK to carry along with the portable music player.

Rule #2: Headphone Characters and Music Pairings

If you think about it, a typical Rock song and a typical Classical track are very different. The presentation of the music is different, the instruments involved, the energy of the music, even the way they are recorded are different! Therefore, you need to adjust your headphone choice to fit your particular music.

After listening to lots and lots of headphones, we discovered that certain headphones have the right qualities for Rock, and another for Classical, and yet another for Electronica. We refer to this as the sound signature, or the character of the headphone. Don’t ask me why headphones have characters, just take our word for it.

Again, back on the automobile analogy. If you’re driving in downtown Chicago after winter time, the road is full of potholes. It would be nice to be riding in a nice SUV, rather than typical sports car with a fully stiff suspension. It doesn’t matter if your sports car happen to cost three times the cost of the SUV, it’s just the wrong car for the road. Likewise headphones. A $1,000 headphone can sound very awful on the wrong music. Don’t believe me? Try listening to Linkin Park with the $1,800 Sennheiser HD800. You will wonder where that $1,800 went.

Dale: The examples listed above are good general rules, but there also are so many exceptions and in-betweens that it also could be better to understand what is needed for your music, so you can narrow the search to the most appropriate headphones. For example, you may have heard that Classical music is a particular genre, but within that ‘genre’ are many very different types of music. Chamber music or pipe organ music may benefit from a headphone that’s highly detailed in the treble (a headphone that some users might say is bright), while harpsichord music and music that has a lot of strong trumpet sounds might be better served with a more rounded or softer treble.

Rule #3: More Headphones Is Better Than One Headphone

What I’m saying here is that it’s better to own three $100 headphones than one $300 headphone. Or three $300 headphones than one $900 headphone. Why? Because most people don’t limit their playlist to strictly one genre. And following the logic from Rule #2, the right headphone-music pairing is going to be better than one expensive headphone paired to the wrong music.

This is why headphones are so fun. It’s easy to switch from one pair to the next. Imagine if you were listening to speakers, you would need three different rooms to set up your three different speaker sets.

Dale: It’s really the same with any genre or sub-genre of music, that the sound from different artists and tracks can vary a lot, so having more than one headphone is a plus. When only one headphone is available at a particular time (portable use especially), one option is to use a headphone that can accommodate a wide range of genres, in which case there may be compromises to consider. Another option is to carry two headphones – one on the head or around the neck and another in a carry case. Some of the small headphones can make this easy to do.

Rule #4: Open Back vs Closed Back

Open back usually results in more natural sound, but they leak sound in and out. This means you probably can’t use them in a library or a plane flight since the sound of your music will leak out and disturb the people around you. You also can’t use them on loud public places since noise from the outside will disturb your music. Therefore, even though open back would give you more natural reproduction, for these reasons their use is limited to mostly at home or in the office (if you have your own space that is).

Closed back are not always inferior to open back headphones. They are usually easier to drive, making them a good choice for portable set ups. They also tend to have punchier bass which is good with most mainstream modern music.

One more thing, open back headphones typically require more amplification power than closed back. For example, some open back headphones like Grados and Alessandros still fall into the semi-portable category, but they would benefit from an amplifier because of their open back design.

So the bottom line is closed-back headphones are usually more practical and are easier to live with. Open-back headphones on the other hand have the potential to sound extremely good.

Dale: The examples listed here are good general rules, but one thing to keep in mind is in the mid-to-lower price tiers, open-back headphones aren’t nearly as common as the closed types. The smaller list of choices, and the more limited reviews of those items, could make getting a perfect fit more difficult. Sound stage and openness are often given as the advantage of the open-back types, but it’s just a general rule and some closed-back headphones excel at those properties. An important thing to consider is the music itself, since sound stage and perspective varies widely in different recordings.

Rule #5: Amplifiers

The rule that I use is that the bigger the size of the headphone, the bigger the need for amplification. Of course factors like driver sensitivity and impedance will matter, but the general rule of thumb is, use a dedicated headphone amplifier for a full size headphone. Even a portable amplifier can be enough, depending on the type of the headphones.

Also remember that open back headphones usually require more amplification power.

Dale: There are so many types of amplifiers (and DAC’s with amplifiers) that there is no shortcut for studying all of the options, unless you settle for the most generic approach. Important things to consider are power – if you don’t have enough power for your headphone and the dynamics in the music, clipping will result. Sometimes the clipping is “soft” and not readily noticed, but eventually you would discover that much of the detail goes missing or gets veiled with limited dynamics. Another consideration is whether to use a DAC, which may be a separate DAC or built into the same enclosure as the amp. Most DACs will improve the sound over the DACs that are built into computers, but when a DAC is available to replace the DAC built into most cellphones and low to mid-priced music players, you can usually expect a much greater improvement.

Rule #6: Garbage in = Garbage Out

Garbage in = Garbage out (GIGO) is a popular phrase used to emphasize the importance of a good source. This can be the soundcard in your laptop, the quality of your portable audio player, or the CD player you’re using for music listening. Those fall into the “Source” category. The better your source is, the better the sound will be at the headphone end. This is why we are seeing more and more audiophile digital audio players (audiophile DAPs). They are expensive but they sound good.

 

That should be all for now. Have fun with the search, and enjoy the journey!

 

 

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  • P. J.

    Very nice read. I especially agree with the part that more (cheaper) headphones are better than one (more expensive). Not just for different genres but often I get too used to a specific sound signature that I’m in need of a refresh and other headphones deliver just that.

  • John

    Excellent synopsis Mike.  As I am a relative newcomer to headphone audio this kind of article is really helpful.  Keep up the good work and thanks again for another great read

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks John.

  • Fredo

    Regarding the Garbage in = Garbage out thing, is an iPhone no longer a garbage source if you use a quality amp with it? I’ll also be using a quality LOD too. Can’t afford a portable DAC right now but an amp is already on the way.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Fredo,
      The I’ve always thought that while the Ipod/Iphone doesn’t belong to the quality source category, they make for a good portable player and I still enjoy using my Ipod once in a while.

      • Fredo

        I agree. I was just wondering if adding a decent amp (say, the TTVJ Slim) would push the iPhone into the “quality source category” where I don’t need to worry about the Garbage in/Garbage out aspect of portable audio. Thanks!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/H5IR35DUXK6T6PYEBKTQX5FWDI Lucca

    Nice topics, and by the way in the sixth rule, you mention the players, most of us doesn’t even care about this, so, which player do you use Mike?

    Oh, there is the energy too, a very very, uncommon topic that people often don’t think about, but some times a good eletrical source change’s the sound when you are using a tube amp for example.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Lucca. 
      Are you referring to portable players (DAPs)? Well I still use the Ipod Classic although I am very sensitive to the annoying way that it renders midrange but sometimes it’s just the most practical solution since most of my music fit in there. 

      Before this I was also a big fan of the Hifiman HM-801 and HM-602 players. But currently I either go with an Altmann Tera or an Ipod Classic + CLAS + C421 amp. 

      As for the power source, word is that if your amp’s power supply are good, it would be less dependent on the quality of the AC supply. 

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/H5IR35DUXK6T6PYEBKTQX5FWDI Lucca

        I was referring to player like Foobar, if you use one like this of course.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Ah, I see. Foobar is good. I am mostly a Mac user so I don’t know that much about Windows players.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Seth-Oranburg/2024413 Seth Oranburg

    Mike – Amazing website! Chock-full of great info. Yet after reviewing it I still have a question . . .

    Music keeps me energized all day (and into the night) at work — 70% electronica/dance/DNB, 20% rock, 5% hip hip and 5% other/classical — but I’m tired of low-quality sound and I’m ready to put my money where my ears are.  I want to buy a USB DAC + Headphone amp, buy headphones (or, per your recommendation, to buy 2 pair) to complement the amp and my choice of music, and get great desktop sound for around $350.

    Can you recommend some kit *combination* that will give me great sound from my laptop?

    The FiiO E17 “Alpin” + AIAIAI TMA-1 or Pro700 Mk2 seem like a mix you’d recommend, but I’m concerned those cans will be uncomfortable for day-long use.  Also I don’t know if that DAC/amp is the best for my style of music/headphones.  Third, some of my techno tracks have stunning vocals, and I don’t want to miss out on those high notes while enjoying the bass.

    Other than sound quality and comfort, I’d like to have reasonably low sound leakage.  If that’s not possible I can work with my office door closed, but it would be good to rock out privately with office door open.

    Once you’ve got that all order, to put a cherry on top it would be ideal for the amp to play nice with my laptops (PC at work, Mac at home) *and* my *iPhone* 4S.  I haven’t found a headunit that works with PCs and iDevices.  If one doesn’t exist it would be a big plus for the amp to include inputs so I can get digital sound out of my iPhone (with the Pure i20 or its ilk) and into my headphones.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Seth,
      Looks like your biggest concern will be on comfort. Should go with the TMA-1 as it is very comfortable, more than the Pro700 Mk2. Vocals on techno tracks are done differently on the mixing compared to regular pop/rock/jazz vocals, and the TMA-1 does techno vocals very nicely.
      Okay sound leakage, the TMA-1 will leak more than the Pro700 Mk2. Basically the Pro has a stronger clamping force which means less long term comfort but also less leakage, and the opposite for the TMA-1.
      The Alpen should be a great DAC/amp to use with either headphones, especially with the Bass/Treble controls.
      Cheers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Seth-Oranburg/2024413 Seth Oranburg

    (dupe)

  • Bryan Wong

    Hey Mike,

    Been reading you’re blog ever since I wanted to buy headphones, it’s great!
    However, I am still kind of new too it and I bought myself a pair of Sennheiser HD25-II and an Fiio E7 which are great cause i’m in college and it’s a good all around on-the-go pair.  

    But now, I started to look at an open pair of at home use. Now knowing my limited budget, I started to look at something in ~$100ish region(willing to buy used). I listened to a friends Audio Techina A900 & M50(Closed, I know) but enjoyed that I could hear a separation between instruments and sounds – more so than my HD25s.

    I assume I would get that type of sound with most of open cans but don’t know what to consider.
    I’ve looked into AD-700, HD5x8 but not sure what else, what to do. 
    Wish you had an Open Can shootout haha

    Any recommendations?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Bryan,
      Perhaps try something like the Alessandro MS1. Instrument separation is pretty good. Not the best, but for $100 it’s good and I don’t want you losing out on the musicality either.
      Cheers

  • Xander Dienorte

    Hi Mike,
    I’m Indonesian.. and quite surprised that you’re too. Are you local/foreign person? (Your english is exceptionally good for locals)
    Anyway, I’m looking for comfortable headphones for casual listening from my mobile phone, and so far I’m uncomfortable with portables. I have tried many portables in multiple stores, they sweat my ears after few minutes, and their small size never cover my ears properly. Recently I have experienced one of Clarion headphone (dunno which series, its price around Rp 99.000), while its big ear cushion cover my ears properly, I felt too much pressure on the area below my ears, probably due to its weight..
    Can you recommend me a comfortable full-size headphones on around $100 budget? My genre spans from movie soundtracks to j-rock to instruments, so I guess “all rounder” is a necessarry requirement..

    (I have read your full-sized headphones guide of course, but I can’t tell which one is comfortable just from those images. Maybe you can refer me to something specific, especially for big-heads)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry for the very late reply. Just saw your comment!

      Ummmm loks like you are quite particular about the fit. Try auditioning some headphones at the local store? Jaben, AnalogHead, Kantong Kresek, DBE.

      • disqus_exGg7s7Zwd

        Ok, it’s been a month and a lot of new experience. I’ve auditoned ATH M-50 (clamp’s too tight; they sweat my ears just from few minutes of exposure) and Senn HD 600 (the velour pad is amazingly comfortable & size is ok). So, long story short, now I can refine my search to: circumaural&non-pleather/foam pads, which brought me to Senn HD 439 (cloth) & 518 (velour).

        Let me stress that I’m not audiophile listener and I will mostly listen from mobile phone, so I will not benefit from high-end headphone lines. Under $150 budget, I’m just aiming for comfortable pads. Which one do you think I should buy? Plz reply as soon as possible coz now I’m close to the end of my journey ;)

        Thanks

        • Trent_D

          Just driven from a phone? I would go with the HD439.

  • Guest

    Hi Mike!
    i’m searching for a good headphone with detail Sound.. i have two option: the ATH M50 and the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro. i often listen to metal, rock, alternative, but also Jazz.. what do you recommend?

  • http://www.facebook.com/chmarques1 Caio Henrique Gonçalves Marque

    someone here try the lcd 2 closed back? any impression about it ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      No, not me.

  • CritiQ

    Hey Mike, I’m a mixing Engineer looking to invest in a high end pair of headphones for when i’m forced to mix a song on the road. I already have the DT 770 pros and BEATS by dre headphones which i feel will be good enough for references. But I’m looking for a 3rd pair that really has a flat response and that is very detailed. I’m willing to spend $1,500 to $2,500. Are there any headphones you can recommend looking into. Thanks

    • Julius

      I’m a former Mixer and DJ and I’d highly recommend the Beyer T1 for mixing. It is not absolutely flat, but it is an all around proper Audio Technicians Headphone. For flat response, I might eyeball the HD800 but the low end might not be the best if you are often mixing tracks with solid low ends. Flat might not always be the best option ( my opinion ). If you need to mix heavy bass tracks, it is better to have a headphone that responds better to low end EQ and is generally accepted as a more well rounded headphone.

      In that regard, I’d pick the T1. Its a great all arounder and can respond nicely to EQ toggling if you need more of something, or less of something. The HD800 doesn’t really respond well to low end Equalization. Although, it is noticeably more Flat and clear sounding IMO.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MegVK Meg VK

    Have you had a chance to listen to the newly released Aedle VK-1 headphones? Although I think their design is beautiful I am wondering if their sound quality is worth the $350 they are going for.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi,
      Sorry I haven’t had the chance. Yes they look nice indeed.

  • http://twitter.com/DeanLu4 Dean Lu

    wait, does that mean if i have onboard sound for my comp and i hook up an amp through usb, it doesn’t matter how good my amp is if i use the onboard sound?

    • icecoffemix

      You can’t hook to an amp with usb.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        That’s right

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Not quite like that.

      The DAC or your onboard sound card or the USB DAC is what feeding the signal to the amplifier. The amplifier feeding signal to the headphones.

      If the DAC feeds low quality signal, then will you hear that? Of course, as the amplifier would AMPLIFY low quality signal. Will that nullify the amplifier quality? Not really.

      I hope the logic makes sense to you.

  • disqus_Yiog1GQstw

    Hi Mike! Help me with this endless doubt:, I recently traded my grado SR80 for a beyer DT770 PRO LE … had everything to go right but …..

    I just don´t t know, I´ve been missing that X factor in the sound…..

    So, after much research, I got a list for future new competitors within the same range $ $

    GRADO sr225
    Sennheiser HD598
    Audio Technica M50
    Audio Technica AD700

    Looking for an immersive headset, but not very analytical, warm, slightly bright, more pro up front, with serious and detailed footprint in the middle and crisp in the treble …

    From what I read about the HD598, it would be more readily domesticated grado version, not as aggressive, and this is the reason I feel very temped to give the senn a try…

    But who ever heard grado know it’s hard to get used to another signature right?

    Not to mention the audio technica m50, considered unbeatable in its class … with serious punch, medium and treble crisp detailed …

    So, the cards is on the table…
    tks Mike

    • dalethorn

      I think it’s fair to compare the Grados and HD598, but the M50 is very different and seems not to fit in that comparison. The DT770 is a better comparison to the M50, although the 770 is a better more expensive item. A long time ago I had a Grado 325 and a Sennheiser HD565 – very similar, very enjoyable. Today for that type of sound I might choose the Soundmagic HP100.

      • disqus_Yiog1GQstw

        Hi dalethorn!!

        Then, which one will suit my taste best? What aspects HD598 and Grado 225 share in common and what are the main diferences between them? And why did you put M50 aside? It´s hard to put a real blockbuster aside, isn´t it?

        Please give me the elements to make my decision right.

        • dalethorn

          Grado and Sennheiser == lighter and brighter, and M50 == darker and heavier.

          • disqus_Yiog1GQstw

            hum…tell me more please….would you say that hd598 is more complete? I mean, it does everything that sr225 does, but better?

            • dalethorn

              It does better, yes – an excellent headphone with good comfort. Maybe the best value for the price. But it does not have Grado sound. Is that bad? I don’t think so, but you will have to investigate Grado yourself – no way to explain. The only Grado I had recently was the PS500, and my review is featured on Grado’s PS500 product web page.

              • disqus_Yiog1GQstw

                Hi Dale..

                Well, since he who stands in the rain gets wet, would be a crime to put in the race some unexpected competitors, like Soundmagic HP100, Ultrasone HFI780 or even Superlux 668B? After reading dozen of pages, including here, I came to the conclusion that the 3 “outsiders” above could become a pleasant surprise in the end…

                Then, what do you think about this list (in order of curiosity)

                Senn 598
                Grado 225
                Sondmagic HP100
                Ultrasone HFI780
                Superlux 668b

                Interestingly, yesterday I was comparing my beyer 770 with my AT ath30 and then I realised how important it is also the soundstage, the good separation of instruments … finally I have decided I want to take this into account as well, and not only the issue of bass, midrange and treble … Since, in my opinion lack of bass we can try to fix it, but lack of soundstage is impossible, right?

                • dalethorn

                  HP100 is the only item on that list that I’ve heard. If I were buying any of those, I would be happy with the 598 and HP100. The other 3 I’ve read about for a year or more, and I didn’t get the urge to order them. The Superlux might be a good value for the cost.

                  • disqus_Yiog1GQstw

                    hum..I see your point…The big concern to me is that, since I don´t live in USA, everytime I order a pair of cans if I don´t like it I sell it….That´s the reason I will order starting with the most popular brands… it will be easier for me to pass a senn than a superlux, for instance. You know what I mean? Since you have mentioned 598 and HP100, can you please tell me who wins in terms of soundstage, spaciousness, and good separation?

                    • dalethorn

                      I’ve had only a few minutes one day with a 598, so I can’t say exactly. But since the HP100 is closed and the 598 is open, I would get the 598, as long as open back is OK for you. I don’t think you can go wrong with the 598 in any case – it’s a very good headphone. Watch carefully for any cracks to develop though, since there were many reports of that.

                    • disqus_Yiog1GQstw

                      Tks so much Dale!…I have decided I will give to the 598 a try . And I hope no cracks at all.. :)

                      And if I ain´t completely safisfied, I will jump to the soundmagic…
                      Just a word about spaciousness: it´s almost obvious to assume that open cans have more soundstage than closed cans…but at the time I compared two closed cans, my dt 700 vs. my ath m30, I felt almost claustrofobic hearing the ath….beyer gave to the ath m30 a good drubbing in terms of soundstage…and they are both close cans…You see?

                    • dalethorn

                      I see, yes, but that should serve as an important lesson – the soundstage is not real in the same sense as actual tones, bass, treble, whatever. Soundstage is a perception that’s based on many factors, and here’s a challenge for you: You should be able to find some music tracks that have better soundstage on one headphone, and other tracks that will be better on the other headphone. Most of the time it will be just one way, but when a closed headphone beats an open headphone, I expect the open headphone will still show an advantage on some tracks. Your hearing perception could be tricked by simple things like a recess or emphasis in certain frequency ranges, or even phase shift when more than one driver is in the cup.

                    • disqus_Yiog1GQstw

                      Thank you Dale! God knows how much I could learn from you! I’m practically crawling in this world…As soon as I get hd598 in my hands, I will let you know about the impressions I had over the sound, ok?

                    • dalethorn

                      Thank you, but please describe your impressions for everyone else too. Maybe there is a product review here where you can make comments for the HD598, so other people looking for that and similar can read your experiences. Good luck.

  • Shin00bi

    Hi guys,

    I’m looking for a pair of studio headphones but I can’t decide. I want to produce dance music on these headphones since I don’t have $$ for monitors. The three headphones that I read most positive reviews about are the Shure srh 840, GMP 8.35d and the KRK KNS-8400. I read the GMP 8.35d are the best but I can’t test them since no shop sells them in my area.

    Which headphones would you reccomend to me?

    Thanks in advance for your reply!!

    • dalethorn

      I have heard only the 8.35D, which are slightly dark (tilted toward the low end a little bit). But the 8.35D is very smooth and linear overall, excellent for many genres if not all. With the SRH840 you should expect a big hump in the upper bass – not ideal for monitoring. The KRK 8400 seems like the most accurate of all which is ideal for monitoring, but that’s based on a bunch of reviews, and not all of them agree 100 percent.

      • Shin00bi

        Thanks for the info dale!

        Actually I’ve just seen your review of the Soundmagic HP100 on YouTube and I really liked what you said about it. I read some more review and it seems like a really accurate flat headphone. Unfortunately it’s not a common headphone, but I’ll try to find a shop in the Netherlands where I can test them, maybe a/b them against the KRK 8400.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Don’t forget to read our HP100 review too ;)

          • Shin00bi

            I read your review and now I really want to try them out! Would you recommend them for studio use?

  • Michael Brglez

    hi? i want to ask a question. Im a complete newbie on the audiphilic side so i red on a site that the more the impedance is higher a headphone amp is requierd and less the impedance a headphone amp is not that much requierd cause the headphones with less impedance are made for portable players. Now let me get to the point im using cheap headphones the philips sbc hp250 they are old about 5 years and sound ok but i want to replace them so i use them mostly for listening to hours of music and i am also a musician so would it make a diference if i would buy a behringer headphone amp http://www.amazon.com/Behringer-HA400-4-Channel-Stereo-Headphone/dp/B000KIPT30/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1379715994&sr=8-6&keywords=behringer+amplifier and amplify those headphones would they play better cause now im having them plugged on a intergrated via vinyl soundcard http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/audio/codecs/vt1708s/. and they sound shitty on full volume. I am considering to buy new full size headphones and im willing to give max 80 euros for them so for the start i just want them to be loud but i want a clear sound at high volume levels. To be more specific i want a clear sound that is balanced in the lows mids and highs but not distorted and the lows should not be too much overpowered. I was sniffing around your site and found some sennheiser hd 202 ii they are not even close to 80 euros but i heard they sound great would they be better than these philips headphones and what other alternatives would you suggest me for max 80 euros

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      My rule of thumb is not on impedance but on the size of the headphone. I’d say that 99% of all circumaural headphones need an amp. Semi portables, ATH M-50 size will benefit from an amp. Only the smallest supra aural headphones like the Sennheiser PX100 size don’t need an amp.
      Try look out for the ATH M-50. It’s a very popular headphone for about $130.

      • Michael Brglez

        Thank you for your fast reply and i will keep the ath m-50s in my mind, but do you have any other suggestions too, like more cheaper headphones?

        • dalethorn

          I tend to regard the M50 as the minimum for hi-fi listening with no apologies for limitations. But if you have to go cheaper than the usual $125 USD for the M50, the B&O Form2 with a simple bass boost gives a real hi-fi sound, and it should be available for about $100. The Beyer DTX-501P (similar to soundmagic P30) is good for $100, but needs a slight treble boost. The LSTN Fillmore with wood cups is somewhat colored, but still a good listen and good for $100. Below $100 are the Sennheiser PX series – not hi-fi by any means. There are several good IEMs below $100, and Apple Earpods with a Dirac or Accudio Pro player are very hi-fi, and cheap.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          The Superlux HD668B is a good one, if you can find one around.
          Also check if you can get the Senn HD380Pro for a cheaper price where you live.

  • Aditya Borkar

    Hi. I have more or less decided that the Philips Fidelio L1s are the ones for me. I plan to use them on my commute paired with an iPhone or the iPad as the source. I listen to a mix of pop, rock, blues and jazz so I’m not after boosting bass but I might want to fiddle with the dial on the treble and mids. Which brings me to my question. You state in your review that the L2s pair well with the Fiio e17 which lets you independently adjust treble and bass. Could the same effect be achieved lower down the $$ curve via a combination of say a Fiio E6 (for signal amplification) and a Dirac or Accudio app for equalisation?

    • Marc

      You’ll probably be able to recreate the equalizer setting but you won’t achieve the same level of quality

      • Aditya Borkar

        Thanks Marc. Will keep your comment in mind.

    • dalethorn

      Dirac is mainly for resonance (narrow band) taming and not suitable for normal EQ. Accudio is good. But since the L1 already has a strong bass emphasis, boosting mids or treble just makes the imbalance worse – i.e. the freq. response becomes more ragged and the sound more harsh. To get a smoother sound and better mids and treble, reduce the bass instead.

      • Aditya Borkar

        Thanks Dale, much appreciated. Will stick with accudio. They have downloadable curves for the L1 which should give me something to work off. Do you have an opinion on the Fiios – E6 or lower? Or am I better off running the ‘phones off the inbuilt amp in the iPhone?

        • dalethorn

          The iPhone will drive the headphone fine and make a very nice sound, but the amp will make a big improvement in harmonic extension and soundstage. Use the amp whenever possible. Both Headfonia and I concur that the E07k is a great amp, and probably the best thing you can get for up to twice the price. I’m familiar only with the E07k, the E17, and the E12. I think the E07k beats the E17 (and both are also USB DACs), while the E12 is just an amp, and has a darker sound but with more power for inefficient headphones. The Philips is not inefficient.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Nah please don’t pair it with the E6. I would say that E17/E7K is the minimum for the L2.
      They are semi-open you know?

  • Joël Bühler

    Hi there.
    I already own the TMA1 from AIAIAI, the Bose AE2 and the Phonak PFE 012. At the moment I’m looking for a new Headphone. The Philips Fidelio L2 looks awesome (the sound also). The AKG K551 took also my intention (50mm Driver). The compactness of the Beyerdynamic and the Tesla technology took also my interest.
    Which pair would you suggest me? Maybe an other…
    I listen to almost all genres except classical.

    Thank you

    • dalethorn

      I’m getting the Beyer T51p tomorrow, and I previously had the DT1350. Maybe one of those would be good.

      • Joël Bühler

        Thanks dalethorn
        Could you keep me current about the T51p? worth it the exta money?

        • dalethorn

          I will post some comments. If I forget let me know here. My main reason for ordering was the old pads on the 1350 wouldn’t make a good bass seal in colder weather, and Beyer has upgraded the pads on both the 1350 and the T51p, so I’m hoping for a better seal this time. I don’t know of any headphone that size that ‘s as accurate and detailed as those little Tesla models, and the carrycase is icing on the cake.

        • dalethorn

          Just a few hours of burn-in today – I don’t expect much change with Tesla-quality drivers etc. The treble is recessed almost as much as the Philips M1 I had, kind-of a worst-case scenario. So I took out my most minimal non-peaky non-bright non-sibilant headphone – the B&O H6, and even though it doesn’t sound the same as the T51p because of the H6’s “light” midrange, I wanted to get a sense of how much the T51p was recessed below a very minimal treble. My Foobar2000 settings were +2 at 2.5, +4 at 3.5, +2 at 5, +4 at 7, +6 at 10, 14, and 20 khz. Normally I wouldn’t do the dip at 5 khz, but the T51p has a nasty 10 db peak around 5 khz, which makes it difficult for portable use without a customizable equalizer. Without a treble boost it sounds very boomy as well as muffled. I can understand Beyer going to a darker sound with more bass – in fact I thought it was a move in the right direction. But they need to cut that (resonant?) peak around 5 khz. I compared to several other headphones and none of those were anything like that.

          • Joël Bühler

            Thanks guy for your fast response
            I haven’t a portable amp, so would you recommend me one of the Beyer?

            • dalethorn

              If I had the DT1350 I would choose the FiiO E12, or E07k with DAC. But using the T51p, I’d recommend a computer USB mini-DAC to maximize the clarity and tighten the bass.

        • dalethorn

          The T51p has move to the top of my favorites, but I still need a way to tame the 5 khz resonance peak with just the iPod or iPhone.

          • Joël Bühler

            Thank you dalethorn,
            I will take the DT 1350 facelift (cheaper and only one cable)
            the FiiO amps look quite good. What’s the major difference between a “only amp” and a “dac (digital analog converter?) & amp”

            The other portable amps aren’t available in Switzerland…:/

            • dalethorn

              The major difference is the DAC. What is the amp going to be plugged in to?

              • Joël Bühler

                My LG G2, maybe my PC or my iPod.

                • dalethorn

                  The E07k is a great choice – acts as a DAC and amp on your computers, or amp only on the ipod.

                  • Joël Bühler

                    Worth the extra money for the E17?

                    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                      For the features yes. Sound, I like the 07K better.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      All genres except classical? Vmoda M100.

      • John123John

        These are next on my to get list. After seeing you and others recommend it so often. Interesting because I thought atleast initially, it received poor reviews in comparison to the M80. Seems to have a comeback or maybe it just, plainly and simply, SOUNDS GOOD.

  • Discoveryellow

    Ah, so true! “It’s better to own three $100 headphones than one $300 headphone. Or three $300 headphones than one $900 headphone.” And just think that I was stressing out from owning too many headphones..

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      But it’s even better to own them all :D

    • dalethorn

      For some odd reason I do get a lot more use out of a few $300 headphones than I ever got from the Senn HD800. Portability is a factor.

  • DOuser

    Hi there. I’ve got Senn 558s modded & have a HRTiStreamer which until last week I’d only thought to link between ipod & speakers. Can you recommend a headphone amp to add to this?

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      Given the quality of the iStreamer as a DAC, and the iPod as a source, you don’t need to overkill on the amp. The new Picollo or the Portaphile Micro would give you extra detail you could use, but that’s the top end for an iStreamer setup. You could do very well also with some of the small FiiO amps, up to the E17.

  • Sunna Jóhannsdóttir

    Hi!
    I am looking for a headphones that does not leak sound, I own aiaiai track headphones now and I like them a lot, but I don´t like the sound leaking. I listen to all kind of music, but mostly indie.
    Also (and this might sound a bit silly) I have a small head and I would like my headphones to fit and not to cover my head :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      B&O H6. HP50. Mad Dog. Et voila ;)

  • Michael French

    Please help me decide on set of cans for 1977 vintage Marantz amp and JVC turntable system. I can buy a mint Fostex T20 version 2 or Yamaha YH-3 with typical wear. I have never heard orthodynamics before. Most of my LP’s are classic Rock. Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I don’t know those specific model’s sound. Maybe Dale does?
      I do want that Marantz amp though :)

      • Michael French

        Marantz is 2230 with the original blue lights. Warm look and warmer sound. I cannot give it up, but thanks.

      • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

        There is a great looking Marantz music player with VU meters at the Apple app store for ipod/iphone/ipad.

        Edit: Oops – MacIntosh – even better.

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      That amp, if in good working condition, has 100 times the potential sound quality that those 2 headphones can play. You could improve the sound somewhat with a careful EQ, since the Marantz will have power reserve to spare. But I’d try to find a better headphone, and there are some bargains out there. If I were suggesting an ortho, I’d say get the lower price Mad Dog, which will give you great audiophile sound with the Marantz.

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        Thanks Dale

      • Michael French

        Thanks for advice. Marantz is I superior condition and sounds so sweet through the vintage Klipsch KG4’s. But I am getting cans so my son can listen to them and not keep the neighbors up. Thanks again.

        • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

          Another person who has a lot of experience with current headphones and vintage receivers/integrated amps is Donunus – he posts here occasionally.

          • Michael French

            Thanks. You know I remember back in the day looking at the Mcintosh amps and really like them but did not the cash for them. However I never regretted getting the Marantz. Seem everyone wants one .

  • Isaac Lee

    Hi, would you mind tell me how do i know what is the suitable music for a specific headphones? or i which type of music is more similar with another? cause i have a headphone that i think it plays classical music well but not music with strong bass.
    So iam thinking what other type of music is suitable

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      If you have a bass problem you could find a filter of some kind that cuts the low bass. Some bass controls can do that. I haven’t found a music genre that totally lacks strong bass, although “acoustic” sometimes doesn’t have strong bass. Mainly, you should make sure your system is matched properly with amp and headphone, so the different frequencies are in balance. Then you will have better luck with different music.

      • Isaac Lee

        Thanks! is there any link or article that i could understand headphones more?
        as in what to look for when i am planning to buy one.

        • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

          There are many good articles here on Headfonia. You could click on Buyers’ Guides and read through those, then click on the Headphones topic header for each individual report. The “process” you go through is learning your own sound preferences, then matching that to the products that are available. It is a process, so you have to learn the major differences. Any shortcuts you take might be OK, but when you buy something that you discover you don’t like, make sure you can return that item.

  • Katla Sieltjes

    I had written a whole post thanking Headfonia for helping me research my home setup for my workstation, but I saw that it was deleted as ‘spam’? Well, then I won’t specify the gear I chose. But thanks anyway for your articles.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

      I just approved that post, it got in the spam filter

      • Katla Sieltjes

        Thanks. That was probably because I included a link to the Dutch headphone dealer who let me do a side-by-side comparison of a FiiO and JDS with my MacBook/Grado SR325iS combo.

  • Alfred Tolentino

    Hi All, Help needed. I have a slight gritty noise coming from only my left side. I can’t seem to determine if it’s my amp or headphones. I tried switching the RCA source cables from left to right and then left to right, but the noise is still in the left side.

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      Plug the headphone into someone’s cellphone and you can determine if it’s the headphone.

      • Alfred Tolentino

        Thanks I tried that. At 600 ohms i can’t get it barely at listening level on the iPhone.

        • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

          Can you plug it into a TV or anything else, with an adapter, strip some wires and hold them against the headphone plug? The world is full of devices that can drive a 600 ohm headphone. All computers for example. Somebody has a computer…

          • Alfred Tolentino

            Perfect! Thanks didn’t think of hooking the headphones directly to my iMac. Yes the distortion is coming from the headphones. Back to the store it goes. I’m wondering if the 600 ohm versions are more susceptible to more damage than 300 ohm? I think I just got a bad one…

            • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

              Which headphone is it?

              • Alfred Tolentino

                It’s the Beyerdynamics DT990 600 ohm.

                • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

                  I doubt that the DT990 has any particular susceptibility to damage. I think most of the full-size Beyers can be taken apart and fixed easily by the average handy-person, as long as you know the schema of its assembly.

                  Beyer’s warranty service is great in the U.S. – my T51p came back in just a few days with a new cable.

                  • Alfred Tolentino

                    I’ll be sending it back for to exchange it for another new one, but it’s good to know that Beyers stands by their product.

                    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

                      Beyerdynamic is pretty smart – they make a good product, but they also make it modular enough that you send it in – they can pop in a new part and get it back to you pretty quick. I wish every manufacturer did that.

  • Tyler Hill

    So I am fairly new to the audiophile world and want to get my first setup, so to speak. I was thinking about purchasing a Fiio X1 and a CypherLabs Picollo amp. I’m also not sure what headphones to go with. Thoughts and help? Don’t really have the greatest budget so nothing too crazy

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      Probably the most fertile picking for best sound at a non-astronomical price are the headphones around $400 or less USD. B&W P7, B&O H6, Beyer DT770-32, Beyer COP, v-moda M100, AKG K7xx series, etc. But those are all full size, not very portable.

      • Tyler Hill

        I’ve heard some good things about the Phillips Fidelio L1, I believe headfonia actually did a review on them. Would they be a good pairing for the Fiio X1 and an amp?

        • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

          I used the L1 for awhile – excellent headphone, but to be sure of your satisfaction, be willing to use bass/treble controls as needed to balance the sound (if need be), since the L1 has its own special signature. If I remember correctly, a little bassier than pure neutral.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

      X1 and Picollo are nice indeed. Or you could go for a DX90 DAP. for the headphones: what music do you listen to? Where will you use them? what’s your budget? Dale already did some great suggestions, and we can do plenty more

      • Tyler Hill

        I listen to a little bit of everything; rock, country, occasional rap, dubstep/trap/electronica (whatever you want to call it lol), jazz, blues. I’d like to use them at home, work, school, library…I was looking at the phillips fidelio L1.
        I looking to spend something around what the picollo costs

  • Worth Talley

    How is the HD700 for rock and metal?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

      It’s good, it kind of depends how you like your sound. Some prefer HD600, I prefer the HD650. HD700 is in between more or less but plays on a higer level

  • Tyler Hill

    Alo audio national or Cypher Labs Piccolo?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

      It all depends on the source, music and headphone. more info?

      • Tyler Hill

        Fiio x1 w/ Phillips Fidelio L1

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

          C5 < Nat < Pic

          • Marc

            Hey Lieven!!

            What’s your choice of amplifier for the Alpha Dog for a warmer and bassier sound? I’m currently looking at the HiFiMan EF-6, Burson Soloist, Soloist SL, Woo Audio WA7 with the tube upgrades. Any thoughts on these with the Alpha Dog? My DAC would be the micro iDSD.

            Thanks

            • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

              I would go Violectric v200 or 281 balanced especially for the warmer and more bass sound

              • Marc

                Thanks L

              • Marc

                I almost forgot to ask. How does the V200 compare to the V281 single-ended (essentially V220)?

                • http://www.headfonia.com/ Headfonia_L.

                  The difference in single ended isn’t too huge. There’s some more clarity and detail (less warmth and bass) but it’s especially the Balanced Out that is superb

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