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Steve M

Ultra Headphones vs Loudspeakers ??

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To push the boundaries of hifi and my own experience a bit further, I have lately thought that I need to get on the ‘superior headphone’ bandwagon, that is, eliminate the room effect ...get rid of the loudspeaker and pour pure music into my lug holes ... find and invest in the BEST headphone system possible one that potentially exceeds all the speaker systems I have at my disposal.

 

Well that is the mission, and my first port of call was to recently audition some well respected RRP $5.4K superior headphones, driven by $20K of 845 tube headphone amplifier made in Italy and about $5K worth of Korean SOTm based computer audio gear. To cut a long story short, this headphone system while sounding very competent didn’t sound quite as mellifluous, liquid and connected to the music as my own traditional box threeway, Horn or electrostatic loudspeaker based system. It was not just that the sound stage through the headphones was trapped between the ears and behind my head (unrealistic portrayal imho), but also the tone and warmth through the headphones was missing and sounded artificial and not real, compared to my long experience with very good well sorted loudspeakers either in my house or at other people’s place with better equipment.
 

By way of personal experience with headphones, I own the older classic Sennheiser HD404, some Audio Technica noise cancelling phones and Stax Lambda electrostatic headphones with SR-7 energiser unit.

 

In summary I am seeking accuracy, pure transparency to the source and the original recording with my audio system and, await to be wowed by a totally transparent and tonally correct headphone based system - yet to hear it so far, and just wondering what other people’s experiences are with ultra Headphones vs Loudspeakers?

 

Cheers,

 

Steve.


 

 

.

 

Edited by Steve M

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Also interested in this topic for similar reasons as well as constraints imposed by small house etc. I've not heard them but, after a lifetime of speakers, these Raal Requisite SR1A look interesting on the basis that I can leverage an existing (speaker) amp and the off-the-ear design seems to offer more of a speaker sound signature than the ""music in the head" signature of most headphones (and which doesn't appeal to me).

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To push the boundaries of hifi and my own experience a bit further, I have lately thought that I need to get on the ‘superior headphone’ bandwagon, that is, eliminate the room effect ...get rid of the loudspeaker and pour pure music into my lug holes ... find and invest in the BEST headphone system possible one that potentially exceeds all the speaker systems I have at my disposal.
 
Well that is the mission, and my first port of call was to recently audition some well respected RRP $5.4K superior headphones, driven by $20K of 845 tube headphone amplifier made in Italy and about $5K worth of Korean SOTm based computer audio gear. To cut a long story short, this headphone system while sounding very competent didn’t sound quite as mellifluous, liquid and connected to the music as my own traditional box threeway, Horn or electrostatic loudspeaker based system. It was not just that the sound stage through the headphones was trapped between the ears and behind my head (unrealistic portrayal imho), but also the tone and warmth through the headphones was artificial and not real in my long experience with good well sorted loudspeakers.
 
By way of experience with headphones, I own the older Sennheiser 404, some Audio Technica noise cancelling phones and Stax Lambda electrostatic headphones with SR-7 energiser unit.
 
In summary I seek accuracy, pure transparency to the source and the original recording with my audio system and await to be wowed by a totally transparent and tonally correct headphone based system, yet to hear it so far, and just wondering what other people’s experiences are with ultra Headphones vs Loudspeakers?
 
Cheers,
 
Steve.

 
 
.
 
Good on you Steve for venturing into this area. But I believe an audiophile grade headphone setup can cost as much as a great sounding 2 channel setup.

I'm not a huge fan of headphones, but having said that my headphones are pretty mediocre. They have their uses, for me, gym and travel. But l find for me, after awhile l find them irritating, fatiguing and claustrophobic (even a $500 pair).

While it might be the end game for some.
I would miss the organic (or is that, orgasmic) sound of a pair of pumping high end passive speakers fed by a 200wpc clean current S/S amplifier, coupled to a high end turntable. I know prehistoric, right. But for me. Pure bliss. A match made in heaven.

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On 18/10/2019 at 11:22 PM, Steve M said:

yet to hear it so far, and just wondering what other people’s experiences are with ultra Headphones vs Loudspeakers

Like any reproduction there are many versions of tone, so I think you will be able to find some headphones which do have tone and warmth that you don't consider artificial.   They probably don't need to cost mega $ either.

 

That being said, unless the recording is made specifically for headphones, then on headphones it will have a large amount of 'spatial distortion', and sounds fairly wonky compared to speakers.... and it's a big "tell" for headphones which takes you out of the illusion.    Although the flip side to this is headphones have no directivity issues that give speakers that tell-tale "it's not real".

 

6 of one, half dozen of the other?   No.    Headphones can be quite enjoyable, but nothing on good speakers.

Edited by davewantsmoore

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That’s an interesting perspective Dave, that most recordings are done for loudspeaker positioned stereo effects and therefore sound a bit wonky and in your head with hPhones, rather than replicate a soundstage faithfully with the players in their respective places. This probably explains the imaging irregularity with hphones, but the $5.5K ones I heard also were not tonally right for me ...I didn’t think they were as accurate or natural sounding as some of my better loudspeakers.

 

Maybe I’m just a fussy listener?

 

Steve.

 

 

 

.

Edited by Steve M

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If such rating scores like https://www.rtings.com/headphones/tests/sound-quality are anything to go by it’s possible to have something like a common good low mid priced $250 Audio Technica M50x music rating of 8.1 come close to within 8.6 score of thing like a $1500 Sennheiser HD800s or Hifiman Edition S, seems quite close and not saying much for the supposed expensive high end ones.

 

Similar is said and heard of speakers.

 

 

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Try Electrostatic Headphones like Stax.

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I’m sitting on the side line, watching with interest. I’m on the other side of the fence. I’ve had a lot of experience with headphones, building and modifying amps, DACs and cans. As far as headphones vs hifi, I’m not in the best position to comment but when it comes to headphones, I know a thing or two.

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2 hours ago, Benjet said:

I know a thing or two.

What is it that you know please 🙏

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22 hours ago, Al.M said:

What is it that you know please 🙏

Where do I start... Well I could rattle off most experiences with different setups, but that's highly subjective. Probably the most significant and universal finding I have come across is the importance of system synergy. No use having the best gear if it doesn't play well together. I start with the cans then build from there. After logging many hours listening to different components, you get an idea which way they will push the sound signature I.e tubes for warmth, SS for detail and drive. I take it one step further building and modifying my components. It can really test ones sanity, but there are some real gains to be had if you have the time and patience. Headphone and amp pairing is critical, DAC not so much but once you have the amp and cans sorted a good DAC can give it some real magic.

 

One of the most difficult hurdles is getting to listen to various component, especially up here in Brisbane. I've found online communities like SNA to be invaluable resource in pointing you in the right direction and saving you $$$ from inappropriate purchase. Also the classifieds are a goldmine for well priced and hard to find gear.

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Steve - you have some great 2 channel gear so I'm not surprised hphones aren't as good.  I check your blog now and again.  I'm a tragic like yourself but not had as much gear as you.  I like headphones and listened to quite a few expensive phones at the Melbourne hi fi show, good, but I still mostly prefer high quality speakers like u.  I recently purchased a burson soloist hphones amp for driving my horn midrange drivers and at the shop they were demoing them with sennheiser HD 800S hphones (latest models) through the burson soloist amplifier and a chord DAC, sounded great and Good value for money.  I am not normally a Hugh fan of sennheiser hphones.

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On 19/10/2019 at 8:16 PM, Steve M said:

That’s an interesting perspective Dave

Heh, sorry about the "auto correct", bugger ups, so I hope you could understand what I was getting at.

On 19/10/2019 at 8:16 PM, Steve M said:

, that most recordings are done for loudspeaker

Well, they're not typically done for headphones.... although it's hard to generalise.

On 19/10/2019 at 8:16 PM, Steve M said:

This probably explains the imaging irregularity with hphones, but the $5.5K ones I heard also were not tonally right for me ...I didn’t think they were as accurate or natural sounding as some of my better loudspeakers.

 

Maybe I’m just a fussy listener?

Everyone has preferences.... and I don't think $ is necessarily a very good indication of performance.     Many headphones have a quite a bit of variation in their FR compared to other headphones.... they "they all sound different" applied as much if not more so than loudspeakers.

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On 18/10/2019 at 8:22 PM, Steve M said:

To push the boundaries of hifi and my own experience a bit further, I have lately thought that I need to get on the ‘superior headphone’ bandwagon, that is, eliminate the room effect ...get rid of the loudspeaker and pour pure music into my lug holes ... find and invest in the BEST headphone system possible one that potentially exceeds all the speaker systems I have at my disposal.

 

Well that is the mission, and my first port of call was to recently audition some well respected RRP $5.4K superior headphones, driven by $20K of 845 tube headphone amplifier made in Italy and about $5K worth of Korean SOTm based computer audio gear. To cut a long story short, this headphone system while sounding very competent didn’t sound quite as mellifluous, liquid and connected to the music as my own traditional box threeway, Horn or electrostatic loudspeaker based system. It was not just that the sound stage through the headphones was trapped between the ears and behind my head (unrealistic portrayal imho), but also the tone and warmth through the headphones was missing and sounded artificial and not real, compared to my long experience with very good well sorted loudspeakers either in my house or at other people’s place with better equipment.
 

By way of personal experience with headphones, I own the older classic Sennheiser HD404, some Audio Technica noise cancelling phones and Stax Lambda electrostatic headphones with SR-7 energiser unit.

 

In summary I am seeking accuracy, pure transparency to the source and the original recording with my audio system and, await to be wowed by a totally transparent and tonally correct headphone based system - yet to hear it so far, and just wondering what other people’s experiences are with ultra Headphones vs Loudspeakers?

 

Cheers,

 

Steve.


 

 

.

 

 

Does the designer/manufacturer of your current loudspeakers also design/make headphones?

 

 

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I've never heard a pair of headphones can match my 2 channel DIY speaker setup however headphones can sound very very nice. Imaging is one area they fall down.  Another is that the pressure placed on my head from headphones gives a headaches after 30 minutes or so listening. If not for that I find headphones a very satisfying experience.

 

I won't pretend my setup is in the same price range,  though I've combined a Monoprice Monolith M1060 planar with an inexpensive 8x Phillips TDA1387 DAC / Headphone amp combination and the end result is nothing short of magic. That said they'll never be as open sounding with larger than my room imaging that my speakers can provide. 

 

As you've said the imaging is basically inside you head. Likewise it lacks the depth and fine grained detail of speakers. The deal breaker really just is the headaches for me though.

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12 hours ago, jeromelang said:

 

Does the designer/manufacturer of your current loudspeakers also design/make headphones?

 

 


No.

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Dan Agnanos designed my speakers. He is currently the chief designer for Sonoma headphones. Makes sense for me to go for Sonoma if I'm going to get into headphones listening (which I currently don't). The word was they were going to launch a portable model easily driven by portable devices, but they suddenly launched the 20k Aperia instead. The other raves for me is that Sonoma uses full range transducers. No crossovers and resultantly no group delays. I have steadfastly stuck to using the Hippo in-canal earphones because I want to avoid multiple drivers topology. 

 

The SS-M9EDs and the NS-5000, incidentally, sound like 2 peas in a pod...

Edited by jeromelang

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