Before I go to the conclusion, let’s discuss a little bit about the pricing of these headphones. Using Amazon.com as a reference price, these are the lowest price I can find on the headphones (prices in brackets indicate undiscounted prices):
- Shure SRH-840 $199.99 ($250)
- Shure SRH-750DJ $135.99 ($149.00)
- Audio Technica ESW-9 $209.00 ($270.00)
- Audio Technica M-50 $115.95 (199.00)
- Monster Beats Studio $299.00 ($349.00)
- Ultrasone DJ1Pro $235.00 ($269.00)
- Sennheiser HD25-1 II $199.00 ($269.95)
- AKG K181DJ $166.95 ($249.00)
- Beyerdynamic T50p $299.00
Clearly, the law of economics is at work here. There is a good amount of discount for all of the headphones except the T50p, being a very new entry to the market. What strikes me is that the M-50 can be bought for merely $115.95, down almost 50% from its original price. The M-50 is definitely the best performing all rounder headphones in this comparison, and yet it’s also the cheapest one! I think that for the majority of people, they’ll be very happy with the M-50, with the exception of Hard Rock and Electronica listeners.
I didn’t really expect that the Audio Technica M-50 will come out being such a stellar performer, because I’ve heard it for a while at a meet, and my impression wasn’t too positive then. Turns out that on a proper review setting, the M-50 is exceptional. It is definitely the best all rounder in this shootout, with the excellent technicalities and musicality for just about everything. What I do feel as missing from the M-50 is it hasn’t really got enough agressiveness for Rock, and that’s my only complaint for this otherwise great headphone.
The Shures are actually good headphones, and they would do very well if I didn’t include the M-50 in this comparison. I guess the SRH-840 just got eliminated because it doesn’t has the genre bandwith that the M-50 has. The SRH-750DJ is lesser in technicalities compared to the SRH-840 and the M-50, but it has a more forward presentation that the M-50 can’t really imitate too well. So, in that sense, the SRH-750DJ is still not quite beaten by the M-50.
However, comparisons are all about being the best, and if I have to choose one forward sounding headphone that can carry the pace and attack of Rock, it’s gonna be the HD25-1, and not the SRH-750DJ. So, there goes both Shures out of the competition. The HD25-1, on the other hand, still remains my number one recommendation for Rock. I have always loved this headphone, and I still do.
The Audio Technica ESW-9 remains safe from elimination, as no other headphone can mimic its tubey sound. It won’t work well with fast and energetic music, but the tubey sound will appeal to a wide enough audience, especially slow Jazz and Female Vocals listeners. So the ESW-9 is staying. Like tubes? Try the ESW-9. It’s as simple as that.
The newest entry from Beyerdynamic had great potential, with the good looks, the solid build quality, and the Tesla driver. However, ultimately I think Beyer has to take the T50p back to the lab for more tuning.
The Beats Studio Headphone is quite fine and has a likeable sound. But the again the M-50 is making the more expensive headphone look quite bad as it does everything better than the Beats do, and at a third of the price. The only other reason that I can recommend the Beats headphone is if you don’t want the big cup size of the M-50.
The AKG K181DJ can be a good replacement to the HD25-1, as it has better technicalities and yet still able to carry the same attack and forwardness of the HD25-1. It’s also cheaper priced than the HD25-1. However, the K181DJ can be brighter sounding than the HD25-1 on some tracks, and the very strong clamping force is not very comfortable to wear over long periods. It would be more fitting for DJs than it would be for a relaxed listening session at home. But if you want to take a headphone out for walking outdoors, on a bus or a subway, then the K181DJ has the best noise isolation, beating even the HD25-1.
Finally, the Ultrasone DJ1Pro. I was surprised to find out that Ultrasone wants $269 for this cans. Apparently they do think very highly of their S-Logic technology. It does work to a certain extent, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re just looking for one headphone that gives you the best bang for the buck. It’s more for the enthusiasts who wants to collect headphones with different sound signatures and doesn’t have an Ultrasone in their collection.
At the end of this review, I would like to thank my good friend Sem, Peter, and Bram, once again for making this review possible. I know that there are many other closed headphones that I missed in this comparison, and especially I am sorry for not having any Denon in this shootout. Perhaps we can throw a bigger one next time.
Gears used for review:
Headphones: Shure SRH-840 and SRH-750DJ, Audio Technica M-50 and ESW-9, Sennheiser HD25-1 II, AKG K181DJ, Ultrasone DJ1Pro, Monster Beats Studio, Beyerdynamic T50p
Amplifier: Grace m902
DAC: Grace m902 with Burson HD Opamps
Transport: Onkyo ND-S1 Ipod Transport, Ipod Classic 120GB