Sennheiser HD800 impressions

One of the most well regarded headphones of recent years has been the Sennheiser HD800. Within audio communities there exist wild discussions on how and why headphone A is better compared to headphone B and C. In short the main consensus is if one is looking for bassy/warm sound you are best off with one of the Audeze LCD series, depending on your budget. On the other hand, if you like more analytical, neutral sound the HD800 or the HD800s from Sennheiser is tough to beat. I tend to prefer more neutral headphones, since I rather enjoy my Sennheiser HD600. Therefore it was natural for me to look into the HD800.

My research let me know that buying a pair of high end headphones such as the HD800 is not simple. Preferably you need to make sure you are able to demo the headphones somewhere with the right kind of DAC and amplification fitting for the efficiency of the headphone. It became rather clear based on my research you need to find a well fitting amplifier since the HD800 is very picky. Bottom line: The HD800 itself is on the bright side with a 6kHz peak according to measurements from innerfidelity.com, thus it is unwise to use a brighter amp. Tube amps are known to provide a more laid back sound and combine nicely with the HD800, which is nice since I have been using the Schiit Vali2 tube hybrid for a while now.

After seeing a rather compelling offer of €800 for a used pair via a Dutch webshop I bit the bullet and ordered a pair.

My impressions

How does the HD800 present details?

Compared to the HD600, They both are extremely resolving and pick up micro detail very well. In my opinion the HD800 separated those sounds better and resulted into a more defined sound. All details heard on the HD800 you will hear on the HD600 as well but they will stand out on certain areas.

How did I like the bass?

The HD800 does texture the bass better and also holds up in the extremes very well for a fully open dynamic headphone. Simply put, very good quality even though a bit lacking in quantity in the low end.

How are the middle frequencies?

If I had to describe the HD800 mids, I would say they are clean, as if there’s nothing around the vocals and they appear to come out of nowhere. The HD800 has a slight upper mid dip but instead of sounding recessed as in my Fidelio X2 it creates a spacious sound instead.

How are the higher frequencies?

There it is, the controversial topic: the highs in the HD800. Many audiophiles describe the 6kHz peak as uncomfortable and fatiguing. As a result the headphone can be considered amp picky, since tube amps tend to smooth out these kind of treble peaks better compared to solid state amps. Not all of them of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Now back to the sound:
The HD800 present the highs in a clean and extend further compared to the HD600. The treble has a airy and detailed presence. I noticed the 6k Hz peak, but it did not bother me during my listening sessions.

How is the soundstage and imaging?

The soundstage of the HD800 is so massive, I still have difficulty getting used to it. The HD600 has a much more narrow and intimate sound in comparison. Imaging on the HD800 is open and clear.

Is the HD800 a worthwhile upgrade over the HD600?

While I still consider the HD600 to be the headphone king, considering its’ price per performance. However after having bought the HD800 in October 2016, I understand why someone would consider a HD800 as an upgrade over the HD600. This I mainly because of the soundstage, imaging and detail retrieval, with the HD800 you feel as being in the middle of the orchestra, while the HD600 would offer a more intimate and narrow presentation, as if you are on the first row.

I have researched on the topic of “HD600 vs HD800 and is it worth it?” and I discovered the opinions vary wildly. The one day I would be advised it is not worth it, since diminishing returns and all, the other day you would hear it is totally worth it.

My opinion: I do believe the HD800 is worth it, since it better fits my personal preferences. I like how it effortlessly presents details in the music I would otherwise have to focus on with effort with the HD600. It is not like the details are not there with the HD600, although you need more focus and effort to retrieve them.

First mod: Superdupont Resonator aka “French mod”

Measurements from innerfidelity

In september of 2015, Sennheiser released the new and improved HD800S, which offered a ‘fix’ for the 6KHz peak the HD800 model has. Although at first I was not bothered by this treble peak, once you know it is there you start noticing it in songs that suffer from it. The HD800 treble peak can be described as sharp and edgy.

After multiple suggestions to look into the Superdupont Resonator mod for the HD800, I went on a research spree. My conclusions: for €20 you can make the HD800 appoach the sound signature of its’ predecessor, the HD800S. And, the mod is completely reversible, so if I would not like it for whatever reason, I can undo it.

Since I have modded headphones in the past, I decided to go for it. Within two weeks after ordering the package with the SDR mod arrived, and the same evening after work I went for it.

What steps are necessary?

  1. Remove the cable, earcups and inner sleeving
  2. lightly press onto the mesh covering the plastic structure around the driver until you are able to peel it off, as far as you can reach the open space in the middle. The glue used here works as such that you can put the mesh back without doing any damage.
  3. Insert the SDR mod into the open space in the middle of the driver.
  4. Reseat the mesh as you found it.
  5. Put back the earpads and the inner sleeving.
  6. Done!

Video instructions:

After removing the earpads and the inner sleeving of the cups of the HD800 it looks like this:

When the mod is inserted it looks like this:

Impressions

The HD800 sounds more approachable and less sharp in the treble. Still I have not given the headphone enough listening time to truly appreciate the mod just yet, I have listened to the mod for maybe 2 hours tops. When I have given the mod more listening time I will come back to this post and add in more information. Still, if you can somehow reduce the 6kHz peak sharpness, you at least look into it in my opinion.

Home roasting coffee in a popcorn popper

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get into home roasting coffee is the popcorn popper method. The big benefit from this method for me was the ease of use, and the relatively safe way to roast. I have not burnt or ruined a roast up until now. The biggest limitation of using this method is the limited amount of coffee you can roast in one batch, which amounts to 70 grams of coffee in one batch. For my usage it is perfect, as I use around 17 grams for each double espresso I brew.

 

What you will need is the following:

  • A 1200W popcorn popper, preferably this model
  • Optional but recommended: candy thermometer that can reach up to 220 degrees Celsius.
  • A drill to be able to drill the hole for the thermometer
  • A kitchen scale, accurate to at least 1 gram
  • A big bowl for catching the chaff, the yellow skin of the beans release when roasting
  • a big spoon for stirring when the beans get too hot
  • a metal collander or two, for cooling down the beans or a metal baking sheet
  • Oven mitt or two for protection
  • Green coffee!

The setup

Whenever I roast with the popper my setup looks like this:

Before you start, make sure the popper is located into a place which is well ventilated, I put it onto my balcony. You need to keep in mind chaff will get everywhere. Make sure the place is well lit so you can look into the chamber without difficulty and make sure you have all your materials ready.

One method to determine how much green coffee is a good fit for your popper, you need to turn on the popper and insert green coffee into the chamber up until the amount of coffee is just right: when the beans move in the camber in circles at a relatively slow pace. Then turn off the popper and weigh the amount of green coffee in the chamber. This amount is a guideline for any future roasts with this bean. Whenever you buy another bean I would recommend redoing this measurement, since some beans differ in density.

The steps are as follows for roasting a batch of coffee:

  1. Turn on the popper and wait until it reaches 150 degrees Celsius / 300 Farenheit at least.
  2. Insert the green coffee
  3. Put the plastic hood in place and place a large bowl under the chute with a wet kitchen paper inside it to let the chaff stick to it.
  4. Wait for around three minutes for the first crack. You will smell a fragrant smell and see a bit of smoke.
  5. Depending on the type of roast you desire you need to time after first roast. Generally a lighter roast should be around 4 minutes in total, a full city roast around 5 minutes, and darker roasts can take up to closer to 6.5 minutes. Since roasts tend to develop very quickly, you need to watch it closely and need to be able to act quickly. To prevent overroasting you need to pour the beans out of the popper on the cooling plate/collander when they are a tad lighter than the color you desire, since roasting continues until the beans have cooled down sufficiently.
  6. Try to cool down the beans quickly. I prefer to throw them on a metal baking sheet, since the metal sheet absorbs the heat fairly quickly. Keep cooling them down until they are cold to the touch, by gently shaking it until they are arranged in a single layer.
  7. A fresh roast needs to vent of CO2, therefore you need to store the coffee into a jar without sealing it. Wait around 12 hours before you seal the jar tightly.
  8. The coffee attains its peak in taste around 4 to 24 hours after roasting. The coffee is truly fresh for five days after roasting.

Keep a close eye on the beans.

Gaming PC build

Finally it’s here! I’ve been waiting for the 1070 for a month now, and it has been the delaying factor for this build from the start. It feels unreal to finally be able to say I’ve finished the build. Before the GPU got delivered I had been playing on either my MacBook Pro (2012 retina version with a 650m) or on this build but with a GTX 650 I could lend from my sister in law. I need to stress test this build to see how my temps are holding up, but so far there is no need to overclock just yet. Monitor wise I’d like to hookup a 1080p 144Hz/1440p 60Hz/4k monitor eventually, for now I’m enjoying a slightly overkill situation on my 1080p 60hz monitor.

Protip:

If you buy cheaper fans and buy a cheaper SSD you can probably buy a GTX1080 instead of a GTX1070. Captain hindsight, eh?

PCpartpicker list

Schiit Vali2 compared to Macbook Pro

The internals in the MacBook Pro are really good for a laptop. No wonder so many audio professionals use them on the go. Still for headphones that require more power to sound good the Mac just doesn’t cut it. In my experience the HD600 shows the biggest difference, so I tried it with two different setups: directly from the Mac and with the Modi2u hooked to the Vali2. I decided not to hook the Vali2 directly to the Mac without the DAC since then you’d be double amping and the sound would be dependent on the weakest amp, therefore not really showing the potential of the Vali2.

HD600 – MacBook Pro internals: Look I’ll be honest. I expected the sound of the HD600 to sound bad, veiled and congested, lacking in the low end since the amp in the MacBook is nowhere powerful enough. If you’ve ever seen the data from innerfidelity, you can see the spike in the low end, almost 550 ohms at 100Hz! There’s just no way the 2VRMS output jack of the Mac can deliver enough current. Still the HD600 is such a great headphone, it still sounds awesome unamped directly from the minijack. It’s just less detailed/precise compared to with the Schiit stack. After a while you start to notice little faults though, little details sounding too harsh, more complex parts of music start to blur.

HD600 – Modi2u & Vali2: With this setup the HD600 truly starts to shine. Details come alive. The quality of the bass is better, more defined. The quality of the midrange and highs is improved as well, although less significant. Soundstage is good. Separation is improved as well, although it still gets a bit blurry when the music becomes to complex, just way less to a point that it becomes nitpicking in my opinion.

When I use low impedance and high efficient headphones I switch to low gain on the Vali2. The difference becomes less apparent, since the output jack of the MacBook is more than capable of driving the lower impedance/higher efficiency headphones. For example my SR60e are 32 Ohm/99.8 dB SPL/mW. It comes to a point that I would advise you really don’t need a separate DAC/amp for these kind of headphones.

my headphone journey

My Headphone Journey

In September 2015 I started my headphone Hi-Fi journey. It started out with the acquisition of the Grado SR60e, my first Hi-Fi headphone.

I’ll describe my impressions in sequence of acquisition of the headphone.

Grado SR60e (Sept ’15):

The 60e where my entrance to good headphones. For one, they are really affordable, they have lush mids and loads of energetic treble that makes this headphone extremely well suited for the music styles I prefer: rock, alternative. The treble can be a bit overbearing at times though. After a while I did notice the drawbacks of these cans; they are lacking in the bass department, therefore not a good fit for electronic music styles, such as Daft Punk. Comfort wise they weren’t the greatest either. I have tried the S-cush, L-cush and G-cush pads(bowl pads). On the SR60e I like the L-cush the most, since I find the bass to be be muddy and overbearing with the bowl pads. The comfort is great with bowl pads though. The cable is not removable and that sucked as well. This eventually led to me looking into other headphones with a different sound signature. I wanted at least one neutral can and one that excels in the bass department.

After a decent amount of research I found a decent deal on a used pair of X2’s since there was a whole ‘glued pads’ debacle at the moment I was looking into them.

Philips Fidelio X2 (Dec ’15):

I bought the Fidelio X2 to supplement the Grado and to shine in the electronic music department. The overall sound signature on the Fidelio X2’S is full and well balanced with a small hump in the bass region. Although the X2’s are a full sounding headphone it still offers great clarity and details and there’s no sign of muddiness in the presentation.

The bass is probably the first thing I noticed when listening to the X2’s. It’s the first thing that sprung to mind and impactful for an open headphone. The bass excels in the lower notes and rarely does it get boomy and leaks into the midrange. The bass has very good layering and feels well controlled and integrated with the rest of the sound. I really enjoy this headphone for movies, gaming and music that needs well developed bass.

After a while I was intrigued by the existence of DAC’s and amps, which led to the following acquisition:

Sennheiser HD600 (Jan ’16):

This headphone is being called the king of neutrality and one of the best price/quality combinations in the current headphone offering. This is a classic for a good reason, the HD600 creates a very convincing natural sound. For good reason it is my reference headphone, and at the same time a perfect allrounder for multiple hour long listening sessions. Comfortable, just the right clamp force and a decent cable, although a bit on the long side. I bought a better looking replacement which fits better for my desktop home listening sessions on ebay in the meantime. The lows are definitely less compared to the X2, but so well defined and in good quality I don’t feel like I am missing out much.

Schiit Modi2u & Vali2 (end of Jan ’16) in combination:

The Vali2 is more than sufficient to drive the HD600, and I like how you can use tubes to finetune the sound. The differences are not mind blowing but subtle, so don’t expect too much. The HD600 needs sufficient amping, especially for the low end. The impedance can reach almost 500 ohms in the lower frequencies, according to the measurements by Innerfidelity. There is discussion on how much this influences sound it endless. According to audiobot, peak SPL is 127 dB with a damping factor of 52.9 and 255.8.

Modded Grado SR60e with GS1000 style wooden cups Magnum V6 drivers (13 May 2016):

For my impressions on this setup you can read the extensive story here. But I’ll give my more recent impression here as well (I bought the drivers and cups in April/May ’16): The Symphones drivers are described as slightly u-shaped. They are fairly neutral with a slight emphasis on the high and low end. They make the Woody as good as a an allrounder to me as the HD600, with the benefit of being fairly sensitive/efficient and thus not needing an amp to sound good.

Note: Sadly you will not able to purchase these drivers anymore since Rhydon from symphones.com has released the Magnum V7 drivers. Since I have no personal experience with these drivers I cannot express anything about them.

Sennheiser HD800 (Oct ’16)

You can read my detailed impressions here

In short, the HD800 is one, if not the best headphone I have ever heard. The presentation is wide and spacious, compared to the intimate presentation of the HD600. The HD800 presents details in the music in a effortless listening experience, while with the HD600 you need to focus to pick up the finer details.

If it is worth the purchase, that’s up to you. I believe it was, but I might have reached a point in life I need to say goodbye to one of the above mentioned.

In conclusion

Which headphone do I prefer most?

This question is very difficult to answer, it really depends on the type of music I would be listening too at the time. For more bassy EDM, the Fidelio X2 is king. For classic, the HD800. For allround performance the HD600 or the Magnum GS1000. It really depends on what I want at the time.

 

HHKB Pro 2 keyboard review

A keyboard is one of the interactions with a PC downplayed by most PC users, while at the same time it is one of the most used parts of a PC.  I write a lot on a keyboard during the day at work, and certainly used to do a lot of it at univeristy. I believe this interaction should be a pleasant one, or at the least shouldn’t distract from the work I am doing.

On 15 Jun 2014 I discovered mechanical keyboards, and bought my first: TEX Beetle. While that keyboard was a good start, I wish I had done a bit more research. The layout was really bad, with a 1u wide right shift. I could not get used to it, since I type blind. I chose to look into other options with the same small footprint. In the meantime I bought a Apple Extended II keyboard and USB modded it, but that’s food for another blogpost. What happened next is what happens more often than I would like to admit: I went ham and bought the most premium keyboard I could find: The PFU HHKB Professional 2.

First impressions

“The keyboard feels, sounds and looks premium. It is really good, even though I had relatively high expectations. My colleague asked me why I would pay 55 euros for a keyboard. He did not realize that that’s just the import taxes from Japan…” – My first quote about this board

Layout

The Fn-layer does take some getting used to, same with the location of the delete button, but I am so happy with the right shift! My Tex Beetle I had been using before had this super little right shift, which was difficult to use without looking for me.

still this keyboard does have a couple interesting layout quirks which you have to get used to as well: where you would expect the caps lock to be contol is found, and backspace is right above enter.

Pros

  • Ergonomic well thought out layout
  • Small and portable form factor
  • Topre switches
  • High quality PBT keycaps
  • The layout is perfect for OSX, as well as for UNIX environments
  • Fairly easy to mod

Cons

  • If you get used to this layout you don’t want anything else
  • Typing on other boards feels inferior
  • Price

First mod, HASU bluetooth controller

After posting a picture of the HHKB Pro2 on Reddit, user /u/Kalam1ty recommended to check out the alternate (bluetooth) controller for the HHKB made by Hasu. Hasu is a forum member on the Geekhack keyboard enthusiasts forum. His creation offers full programabilty of the keyboard with multiple key layers, as well as bluetooth connectivity. Keep in mind you will need a lithium ion battery as well as this board to enable the bluetooth connectivity, since the board needs power.

For my studies I have played with PCB, Arduino and such, so this seemed as a really intriguing project.

Installation was fairly easy, and it works straightforward as well. For bluetooth there is an on/off switch, so if you turn it off and it is connected to your PC via USB it will automaticly use the USB connection.

Programmable layers

One of the best features of the alternative controller by Hasu is the ability to program layers into the keyboard. This works by flashing custom firmware onto the controller, which works with the TMK keyboard firmware. The biggest benefit? Any key can be anything you like, so you can customize it to the work you are doing for a certain task.

Why bluetooth/wireless?

Have you ever been frustrated with typing on a tablet or smartphone while on the go? I mean that time you really needed to send a long email on the go? A bluetooth enabled keyboard is a really good fit. I enjoy the connectivity to my iPad for when I’m on the go but need to do some typing, although I use this mod mostly at work. It is a real joy when you can grab your laptop/tablet and keyboard out of your bag and turn the board on and start typing right away, without having to dive into your bag to look where you left that usb cable again. The board can be used wireless for approximately 12 hours, since the board itself is quite power hungry. When it is out of energy, I can recharge it with and use it with a normal usb cable at the same time.

 

Second mod, silencing mod

Some people might tell you that a mechanical keyboard is a dream to type on. I agree, but there is one slight drawback: noise. Especially when you work in an open office as I do or in group projects at university as I did, noise can be a nuisance for others.

I discovered the HHKB has a silent variant called the Type-s which uses a slightly modified version of the topre switch, which is more silent relatively.

So how does it work?

Topre switches uses a different working principle compared to Cherry MX switches. For MX switches you can use O-rings to silence the stem of the keycap hitting the board when bottoming out on the keystroke. Topre switches on the other hand make noise when the keycap returns to the normal state after pressing, right at the end of the upstroke. The stem of the topre mechanism needs to be dampened in that motion, which can achieved by applying dental bands or anything else rubber and round.

First you need to remove all keycaps and open up the three screws at the backside of the board. Then you need to remove all screws of the backside of the PCB. Then you need to apply the rubber band to the stem of the topre switch and mount it back to the board.

After one year I reversed the mod, and here’s why:

The result is a much quieter upstroke of the keys by damping the loudest element of the board. This is not without consequences though, you lose a bit of key travel. I performed this mod on the 4th Feb 2016, but since January 2017 I removed the mod by getting rid of the rubber bands. The tradeoff of a more silent board is not worth it if you lose that much key travel.

Is this board worth it?

In my opinion yes it is. Sure it is expensive, but it feels premium to type on and is a pleasure to type on for longer durations. With the bluetooth addon I can use it with my iPad Pro as well as my MacBook, which makes it very flexible.

Grado GS1000 replica

Magnum GS1000 replica

It seems ages ago, but on 15 September 2015 I received the Grado SR-60e. I bought it on a whim as my first open backed headphone, since I had read they are better compared to the closed backs I was used to. The most recent closed back headphone was at the time the Marshall Monitor.

Additionally after doing some research on them I noticed Grados are very easy to mod and since I liked to tinker with my hands once in a while I was intrigued. After a while I discovered the ‘Post your Grado mods‘ thread on head fi, and into the rabbit hole I went.

What you see here is the current state of events.

List of adjustments/mods:

  1. A set of L cush (official) and G cush earpads from ebay.
  2. A pair of wooden cups in Mahogany, GS1000 style, made by Bruce Mackenzie from Wabi Sabi Headphones. His instagram
  3. V6 drivers by Symphones
  4. Leather headband by Turbulent Labs
  5. 3.5mm to dual mono 2.5mm jack removable 1.5m cable from ebay.
  6. Drivers soldered to 2.5mm female jacks

How did I like this headphone with the L cush earpads?

The V6 drivers deliver an un Grado clean and slightly v-shaped sound signature that is musical and fun to listen to.

Lows:
Compared to the stock Grado drivers the bass has much better quality and quantity. Especially if I compare them to my HD600’s, the bass is killer on this set. I would position the Magnums between my HD600 and X2 in terms of bass.

Mids:
Vocals are cristal clear and in balance with the lows and highs. Even though the others are a bit more pronounced, the mids are not recessed at all. Compared to the stock Grado drivers there was a better balance and a significant increase in detail. I would position the Magnums between the X2 and the HD600 for the mids, albeit it being very close to the HD600, almost on par with it actually.

Highs:
If you think Grado, you think strong treble. With the Magnums, this is not the case. Very detailed, on par with my HD600. Soundstage: The soundstage can be described as sitting in the front row, with the musicians playing right in front of you, to the left and right. As a result it feels very intimate and enjoyable.

How did I like this headphone using the G cush (bowl) earpads?

To be honest I was underwhelmed by them. To much bass and treble making the mids feel veiled and recessed. I prefer the L cush pads by miles.

Cost (including shipping):

  1. Symphones drivers: $120
  2. Cups: $100 (made by Fleasbaby from headfi)
  3. Leather strap: $45
  4. Grado SR60e: $65 (used)
  5. Cable: $30
  6. Connectors: $5

Total: $365,-

While a real Grado GS1000 costs: $1299,-

Conclusion:

I can recommend going into modding grados if you like to fool around with tinkering and such. For me it was an enjoyable and educational experience.

My next step will be getting a DIY measurement rig, since I’d like to mod based on measurements as well as my own hearing. For now just modding based on my ears was good enough, but I’d like to step it up a notch.

 

Office setup

Januari 2017 Office setup

  • MacBook Pro 2016, without the touchbar
  • PFU Happy Hacking KeyBoard Pro2, also known as the HHKB Pro2
  • Logitech MX Master
  • Shure SE425 with an aftermarket cable from ebay with mic and inline remote

I work at an office with a flex setup, which means there’s a lot of considerations you need to keep in mind for your work setup. Firstly you need to find the right laptop, then there is the peripherals and last but not least: headphones for music and calling.

Macbook Pro 2016, non touchbar

As a OSX user for a decade, I wanted a laptop that would run on Apples’ OS. My employer listens to my input regarding laptop options, but price wise there were some limitations. I had been working on a personal MacBook Pro Retina from late 2012 up until now, which was suboptimal since I’d like to keep work and private life separated.

Although, I am not going to lie, the Macbook Pro lineup was quite dissapointing. I even considered making the switch back to Windows, considering the work I do at a Microsoft Partner.

In the end it came down to the following choices:

  • MacBook Pro 2016, non touchbar
  • MacBook Pro 2015, 256GB SSD option selected

The above mentioned models both have the same price. The difference is on two fronts: the 2015 model has a slightly better CPU, 2.7 GHz i5 vs 2.0 GHz i5, but the 2016 model has a more recent Skylake CPU which is more energy efficient and has a better performing iGPU relatively. In the end I chose the 2016 model.

PFU Happy Hacking KeyBoard Pro 2, with bluetooth mod

I write a lot for work, mainly blogs for on the company website. During college I had an episode where I had sympthoms of repetitive strain injury, which led me to research for ways to prevent it. As a result I discovered /r/mechanicalkeyboards and the rest is history: The HHKB Pro 2 is one of the most popular keyboards for on the go in that subreddit.