Very often a newbie would come and ask for the best headphone for his music preference. He would then start to list just about every music genre out there, expecting that one of the trio can fulfill the duty of being a good headphone for Rock, Jazz, Female Vocals, Hip Hop, Pop, Jpop, Classical, Metal, Electronica, and Dance. You know what the sad truth is, I don’t think that these headphone are awesome enough to cover all those different genres equally well. And as a matter of fact, even the Stax Omega2 isn’t going to do the job for all of that different recordings. Going back to the car analogy, you can’t have an off roader in a limousine package. Of course we didn’t know any better back then. And I too, expected that by spending $300 on a headphone, I will step into a new era of eternal musical bliss.
So, what are these headphones exactly good for? I’ll start with the K701 since it’s a toughest of the bunch to recommend to people. As hard as I think, the lack of bass really poses a problem with 90% of music out there. Perhaps if you listen to stuff like Enya, or smooth Jazz stuff, then you won’t mind the lack of bass. But even for Enya and Smooth Jazz (or Latin Jazz, or Bossa Nova), I do think that the HD650 will give a more satisfying performance, albeit with a proper desktop amplifier. Another problem with the K701 is that you have the big soundstage that sounds impressive at first listen, but then it contributes to the whole lack of focus, no clear sense of direction mentality of the K701.
The DT880 will continue to have a following despite its treble happy sound. First, people are easily impressed by the sense of detail brought by the DT880’s presentation. And second, the Beyer actually have a clear sense of direction, and although it would be better suited for monitoring, I’d still very much prefer the Beyer than the blank look of the K701. I still have yet to find an ideal amplifier pairing with the DT880, but I believe that a tube amplifier with a laid back treble, a full midrange and bass exists somewhere out there that would compliment the DT880 fully for music listening.
The HD650 is not the perfect music headphone, but is definitely the best among the three. As I’ve mentioned, the demand for a good amplifier is there, and that prevents a lot of people from being able to hear the full potential of the HD650. True, it sounded marvelous out of the balanced Beta22, but still, the HD650 can only maintains such a pace, and it’s still not fast enough for the fastest Rock and Metal music. Ultimately, a proper amped the HD650 works fairly well for Jazz, Rock, and Classical. Good thing is that most serious listeners shuffles their playlist around those three genres. It’s not bad for Pop, Hip Hop and Electronica, but definitely not the best either. The great thing about the HD650 is that it will continue to scale up with a better amplifier and a better source. And at some point, I even prefer the HD650 on a full-scale set up, than a $1,000 flagship on a mediocre set up.
It’s probably surprising that the conclusion comes out as fairly lukewarm for the trio, and definitely not very positive for the AKG. The HD650, while scales up beautifully, requires a lot of commitment, especially if you’re new to the hobby. The truth is that I’ve seen a lot of people getting disappointed after reading many over the top reviews and spending $300 on a headphone, only to find that it doesn’t work for their music. I don’t want to be another voice adding up to the damage.
Today, most people who’s spend enough time with the trio either moved on to other headphones, custom IEMs, or build up a solid desktop system with the HD650. For sure, if your budget is $300, it may be best to get one of the closed headphones I compared on this shootout: https://www.headfonia.com/closed-cans-shootout-m-50-esw-9-t50p-hd25-1-beats-studio-srh-840-srh-750dj-k181dj-and-dj1pro/ They may offer less fidelity than the three, but some of them like the AKG K181DJ, the HD25-1, the ATH ESW-9, or the ATH M-50 would actually make a fairly solid $300 system when paired with a $100-$200 amplifier. Another option is also to look at the HD600, which can keep up a faster pace than the HD650, and is far less demanding on the amplification. The HD600 also happens to have one of the best frequency balance for music listening among all the open headphones. I will write a separate article comparing the two, soon.
Gears used for review:
Source: CEC TL51XZ, Onkyo ND-S1, Grace m902, Ipod Classic, Ipod Nano
Amplifier: Ibasso PB-1, Matrix M-Stage, Hifiman EF-5, AMB Beta22 (balanced and single ended), Grace m902, Eddie Current Zana Deux