I recently discovered Jason Kottke via The Talkshow with John Gruber. In his most recent post about blogging:
A few weeks ago, I asked the readers of the Noticing newsletter to send in links to their blogs and newsletters (or to their favorite blogs and newsletters written by others). And boy, did they! I pared the submissions list down to a representative sample and sent it out as last week’s newsletter. – Jason Kottke
In his blog he links to a lot of interesting blogs, I recommend you to check these out.
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.
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.
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?
Remove the cable, earcups and inner sleeving
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.
Insert the SDR mod into the open space in the middle of the driver.
Reseat the mesh as you found it.
Put back the earpads and the inner sleeving.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A pair of wooden cups in Mahogany, GS1000 style, made by
V6 drivers by Symphones
Leather headband by turbulent labs
3.5mm to dual mono 2.5mm jack removable 1.5m cable
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.
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.
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.
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):
Symphones drivers: $120
Cups: $100 (made by Fleasbaby from headfi)
Leather strap: $45
Grado SR60e: $65 (used)
While a real Grado GS1000 costs: $1299,-
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.