Recently I got quite a few questions to help choose proper headphone with certain price tag, so after some research done on the web I decided to write down my few cents about it.
Before we start, I’d like to point you out that the starting point and my comparisons are with Grado SR325is’es, which I own and know pretty well their sound signature. The cans which I am talking about here are rather low impedance (32 – 62 Ohms) and with certain price range as said at the beginning. I looked also for rather open or semi-open cans to use them at home for serious hi-fi listening since they have bigger soundstage from the closed ones. The drawback is of course that they do not isolate you from the outside noisy word as the latter ones.
Keep in mind also that before buying any headphones you MUST hear them first, ideally taking a loan from the store and connecting them to YOUR source from which they’ll be mostly used. Low impedance cans usually don’t need dedicated headphone amplifier to be driven properly, but as you’ll see later on some may have impedance drift at certain frequency range and then appropriate headphone amp may help a lot. This amp may also help if your source equipment does not have top notch headphone amplifier — it is quite common on many consumer audio equipment where headphone out is rather a joke – then it could be less resolving, congested and so called “dark sounding”.
In my comparison I’ve taken into account parameters like: frequency response (looking for rather neutral, flat response), harmonic distortions and impedance drift for certain frequency regions (ideally should be flat as possible as well). Looking for such headphones within mentioned price range and with similar as Grado 325is sound signature, but maybe with better isolation and comfort I’ve found three models: Sennheiser HD598 (around 700plz), Beyerdynamic DT880 (around 840plz) and AKG K701 (around 900plz). Take a look at them, all graphs are build using a tool from the excellent headhone.com website.
Starting from the cheapest one – Sennheiser’s HD598. They are the cheapest from three of them, but looking at the graphs those might be quite good cans!
Based on the frequency response and comparing them to my private Grado 325is they will probably sound “darker”, because they have more bass and less treble according to the graph. Midrange is quite similar to some boost comparing to 325is’s and this may give them quite balanced overall sound. It may suits you well, that’s why being me I would give them a try and listen while being on the market for good cans.
Looking for the harmonic distortions the measurement shows that they’re pretty damn good, only slightly more distorting then Grado’s – around -90db for lower frequencies and going down to -100dB for higher ones.
Talking about the isolation they’re better then my own headphones:
Now, let’s move to the impedance drift where it shows that you may need good headphone amp to control their bass response to the highest potential:
There is quite big bump in the graph around the 100Hz, going up from their declared impedance of 52 Ohms, up to 250 Ohms, where you need more power to drive them with control and adequate damping.
Now let’s move to Beyerdynamic DT880.. They seems to be quite neutral and flat according to the graph below. They’re also praised for the comfort! I’d love to here them first when looking for new cans!
Harmonic distortions are also not bad, less than HD598 and just slightly bigger then Grado’s, but with less money!
They don’t have any impedance drifts as well and are one the best with the isolation – thanks to their semi-open construction:
At the end let’s move to the AKG K701.. Another goodie when talking about the isolation, lack of impedance drift and quite in the middle between all the cans when considering neutrality – frequency response graph. Another pair of cans I’d love to here by myself!. They don’t have too much distortions as well.
Summarizing, if you’re looking for new cans give them a try! Personally, when I would considered to get another pair of headphones for myself and being Grado user for years, I would have start with Beyerdynamic DT880 – to get better isolation and more comfortable ear cushions. I hope that article will help you to figure out what options are on the market and for what parameters you should look being on the market for new cans.
Update: AKG has also K702 model (around 950-1000plz) – also pretty good with detachable cable (potential for upgrades!) and the same isolation level as K701. Here, you can find also very good review of DT880 and K702 – must read!. Their frequency response balance is even better.
Feel free to comment about it and give us your personal experience if you’re the owner of one of the mentioned here cans. One last thing, if I want to get another pair of Grado’s I would be opting for GS1000 or PS1000 series, but THAT”S COMPLETELY DIFFERENT STORY and PRICE AS WELL ;-)