If I have to nitpick, the HD202’s weaknesses is only in the slightly boomy bass and the moderate-level punch. But somehow, the voicing of the headphone tend to make me forget those shortcomings and just enjoy the musical sound out of it regardless of what’s playing on my Ipod. The HD202 is not the kind of headphone that you use to build a system around, or the headphone that you use when you want to sit down and really listen to serious music. It’s the headphone that you use when you feel like needing some music, but you’re also moving around and are doing other things and so you just need a plain good headphone and an Ipod, without having to be bothered with amplifiers and changing set-ups when your playlist changes.
The resolution of the driver is actually pretty shockingly good for a $30 entry level headphone. For instance, the HD202 actually have better detail retrieval, soundstage and ambiance, compared to perhaps all of the vintage orthodynamics I’ve tried — headphones that people are willing to pay up to $100 for (the ortho mafia is going to kill me for that). I actually use the HD202, direct with the HM-601 or HM-602, and the driver had the resolution to pass through the information from the superior DAC section. I even compared it to the mighty $100 closed headphone king, the Audio Technica M-50, and found the HD202 to have better low level detail and ambiance (on live recordings, I can hear more things in the background and feel the ambiance of the background better with the HD202). And though the HD202’s soundstage is narrower and the separation not as clear as the M-50, the overall soundstage was more coherent on the HD202, as it also projects a deeper depth in the soundstage (the M-50 never had a great depth to begin with).
I also compared the HD202 to the Superlux HD668B, which is a bigger full size headphone designed for monitoring standards. While the HD668B is a clear winner on technicalities such as articulation and clarity, it didn’t quite have the smooth sound of the HD202 and it is also a bit thin in the midrange when compared to the HD202. So, for music, my pick would go to the HD202.
On my local forum I joked that the HD202 is so good that I am free to sell my HD650 now. Of course that’s just an extreme hyperbole. I called it the “Headphone of The Year” even though we still have 10 more months to go before the year ends. You’ve got to understand that our local forum has a relaxed, joking-around attitude, and we even make jokes about the ATH M-50 being better than the Stax Omega2 (good thing I’m buddies with the Stax gangsters there).
Despite the extreme hyperbole, one thing is that I certainly wouldn’t be recommending it if it was not a GOOD-SOUNDING headphone. For instance, the typical recommendation for a newcomer headphone is the Grado SR60 for Rock and Acoustics. But everyone knows that the SR60 doesn’t have the necessary low end body for a lot of other types of music, and that the treble can be piercing on some recordings. Other popular recommendation is the AKG K518DJ for people looking for bass. But again, the 518DJ lacks the treble presence and the airy sound that you’d want for stuff like Jazz and Classical. In this sense, the HD202 is the better all rounder, as it is able to cover genres that you would need two headphones to do, while still adding points that either the SR60 or the K518DJ doesn’t have.
I think the only drawback of the headphone is the build quality that is truly faithful to its price tag. No fancy materials on the build, no eye catching design, but instead a drab looking black headphone that looks like the one they have on the local CD shop. The dual entry, 3 meters long cable is also a big inconvenience for me. I think single entry is the way to go (Anything from the HD25-1, the M-50, to the Sony Z1000 is single entry), and so I cut the stock cable in half and converted it to a single entry, routing the cable to the right housing cup through the headband and securing it with a black cable tie. It is now a very good portable headphone that I use almost everywhere. And since it’s only $30, you don’t need to baby sit it, as you would if you were using something more expensive.
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