No objectively honest analysis would pit IzoPhones-30 against the HD800. Sure, they give a reference take on sound, but here and there, they strut out audible cruft. That cruft manifests mainly in a bit of splash and ring here and a bit of extra resonance there, mostly centred in the mid and high mid ranges. That said, if you’re in for the most accurate headphone on the planet, you probably already own the HD800, and certainly aren’t reading this article.
Not that splash and ring are unique to IzoPhones. The more expensive Grado PS1000 are dirtier, and suffer a strange stereo suckout in the upper midrange around percussions. IzoPhones, 30 and 30S, never, ever lose stereo pressure. The non-S version outputs a wonderfully round, 3D midrange with good air similar to the IzoPhones-60. The transition zone from bass to mids is phenomenally wide and detailed. 30S plays a different game. But 30 and 60, while not quite oceanic, offer one of the most cohesive, realistic 3D sound stages this side of a concert hall.
That stereo details are round with pretty wide X axis that is buttressed up by respectable Y axis height and a deep Z. 30S is darker, and casts a subjectively narrower, warmer sound stage. To me, it sounds like a contrastier Oppo PM-2.
Between 30 and 30S is a small gulf. 30S has slightly more low range sound pressure and is a bit more sensitive. When plugged into the Lynx HILO, I set Classified’s latest album, Greatful, to volumes between 65 and 71 out of 100, whereas the non-S version I may turn up to 74.
Like the 60, the regular 30 boasts detailed bass, that, while strong, isn’t overly emphasised. It would not classify as U or V shaped, merely slightly elevated. Treble follows suit. As a result, the 30 sounds great at lower volumes. Mids come out further as volume is raised. It is the sort of sound you get from a custom Noble Audio K10, but with drier mids. S is warmer than both the 30 and the K10C, but mainly in the transition zones between bass and mids and in upper mids. In oversimplified terms, the non-S 30 is cleaner, wider, and more typically linear while 30S is punchier, with a tight sound stage. It’s not Grado tight, and is certainly warmer than any Grado I’ve used. Again, if you can get beyond its clamp pressure, the 30S is like a more dynamic, and slightly wider Oppo PM-2.
Personally, I prefer the regular 30. Coupled to a wide, round stage, its more open sound is trancier, bitier, and more revealing. And while low-voiced male vocals are closer and more intimate from the 30S, 30 distributes instruments within a breathier milieu. Neither are sibilant, and the regular 30 extends far with great detail in every frequency band. 30S may be most detailed in the lower mids, and fares particular well with fast English hip hop, but lacks the sharp edge for trance, progressive and EDM.
Moving out of the synthetic, 30S stacks well with small ensembles. If it were more comfy, hands down I would suggest it over the PM-2. At least to my ears, the regular 30 has no downsides, and as pretty similar to the 60, is a great deal, that, while not truly reference, is a wonderful take on semi-neutrality. I can’t get over it.
On the other hand, if low-end impact and a warmer bass-to-mid transition are important to you, S is your ticket. The difference between the two is actually pretty dramatic. The mids resemble each other pretty closely, but wherever it can be, the 30S is drier and warmer.
If you’re looking for a great planar, Mycroft’s IzoPhones-30/S sound great. No, they are not the most accurate headphone in the world. No, they are not the most comfortable, and certainly not the prettiest headphones. But they perform very well, are sturdy, and, while not cheap, offer great sound for the price. If Mycroft can clean up their manufacturing processes, IzoPhones-30 and IzoPhones-30S will get my full recommendation.
NOTE: I reviewed the Noble Audio K10C before Noble Audio became a client of my advertising photography.