Headphone Impressions

Hi,

With my new Headphone Amp now settling in nicely and while enjoying the tunes made via my trusty (but elderly) Grado’s I’ve started the task of looking at there replacement, since I really feel the Gilmore Lite Mk2 deserves a better.

While phones further up the Grado range are an obvious first look I’ve also been viewing the following and was wondering what others thought, either from what you have read, been told by a friend or better still experienced yourself.

1 - Audio-Technica ATH-70X


2 - Audeze LCD-1

3 - Sennheiser HD660 S

I’m limiting price to around the £350 mark and although I appreciate headphones can be very personal, they do nevertheless appear to gel universal opinions. From those listed above you will probably guess I’m going for a fairly flat frequency response that will have slightly more bass than my current Grado’s are capable of supplying but without the razor sharp treble that some phones seem to give.

Any comments/views will be greatly appreciated, even the mention of alternatives to consider that you may be using yourself.

Having had the 660S for a brief while i suggest you add a couple of alternatives to your list and thats the Hifiman Sundara or even the 400i.
I have a clear preference for both over the cheaper Senn’s (i do own a pair of 800S which i enjoy, along with my other alternatives)

Hi Micke,

Could you please expand on the reasons why you prefer the Senn’s the least.

I assume you are still using the Simaudio Moon 430HAD which I’ve read is very “neutral” so would expect those reasons to be solely down to how the headphones perform themselves.

I’ve noted that the general consensus is the 660S has a more pronounced treble and because of that many still prefer the former 600 or the even smoother still 650, the fact I listed them though was because I’m coming from Grado’s which are not renown for being the smoothest on the market in the first place.

The HiFiman Sundra I believe has a reasonably balanced and even response which I’m wondering may just be a little too laidback for me considering my current position, nevertheless I’ve downloaded a few reviews on these phones and I will do further reading.

I do realise all this is very personal and one’s “like” can be another’s “hate”, but I do appreciate the time taken to explain the reasons on why certain buying decisions were taken.

Many thanks.

I dont have direct experience with any of the models above but I did have Sennheiser HD580 and HD600 phones for a good while then also PSB M4U2 , 1more triple driver on ears and AKG K550.
Out of all if those the PSB and the 1more phones were my favourites. I always found the Sennheisers to be sterile and uninvolving.
However, and the reason I am posting, is that I have now moved to Planars with a pair of Oppo P2 phones and Verum Ones. I felt right away that Planars were a substantial step up in terms of sound quality. Music seems more expansive, more coherent and more balanced. I really feel that I am now experiencing what headphone listening is really all about.
So I think you should try and audition Planars if you possibly can. The Oppos are discontinued but it may still be possible to pick them up at a discount as I did although likely not quite within your budget and I know the Verums are not to everyones taste but I have heard great things about the LCD 1 phones so I think if I was in your position they would be top if my list.

Hi Jim,

Firstly, thanks for your thoughts regarding the general direction to investigate (ie. Planars) which I must admit is starting to align with my current thinking following suggestions from Micke.

Unfortunately the Oppo’s are just way above budget even though they do appear to still be available on some sites at £699, but I must admit they look well made and do have glowing reviews.

So the LCD-1 is moving steadily to the top of my list at the moment and I’ve seen them as low as £369, which although at the upper end of my budget would still be acceptable due to the fact they appear very well made and should therefore last a lifetime because when I do settle on a pair of phones I don’t intend changing them for quite some time afterwards.

I’ve also looked at a few HiFiMan models and reports are very favourable with regards to sound quality although feedback on production quality control has left something to be desired, which I’m just a little concerned about considering I will want these next phones to be “keepers”, but saying that I’m still keeping the Sundara on my short list.

Verum are new to me so will require a little further reading, they are in budget and certainly look interesting but I’m not certain the Cyberman look is all that appealing, still, if all the quality boxes are ticked I may be able to get over that aspect.

There’s such a wide selection of phones now that we are really spoilt for choice, and whittling them down to just a select few is certainly much harder without other users help on what floated their boat, so again, thanks for the comments, it’s much appreciated.

Hi Simon

I know, this hifi business is like a black hole of desirable stuff which sucks you in with no hope of escape. Also confusing as all hell.

To be honest the Oppos were for years my go to “final” ,push the boat out, if I can find a way to sneak it past my wife, headphone and when I was about to retire and I saw they weren’t making them any more I found them new for £499 and could no longer resist. Actually it was the PM1 I was after but then I realised that the PM2 is essentially the same headphone without some bling, the extra pads and the giant wooden box. They sound pretty much the same. Some people, who I choose to agree with because it makes me feel better, say the PM2 actually sound better because the construction is lighter and pads are different.

I was not disappointed but things have moved on in Planar design and I would not be at all surprised if some of the ones you have mentioned sound just as good or better. Of course inevitably my “final” headphone turned out not to be because I couldn’t resist the Steampunk Cyberman look of the Verums and the fact that one bloke pretty much makes them in his garage. I actually find them very comfortable and think they sound very good but I think they are much more amplifier fussy than the maker thinks they are. Also with a tiny company like that there is also a risk that backup and support down the road will evaporate unexpectedly although at the moment it seems good. I agree that for your main phones going with an established brand is best.

Not sure what amp you have but just remember Planars dont like valves generally. I presume you have an Auralic so you should be fine. I fell a bit foul of that because I just got an old Musical Fidelity valve amp I found under the bed modded and refurbed for my second system and then realised it was likely to be pretty crap for the Verums. Rookie mistake except I am not really a rookie and should have known better. Still received wisdom is not always correct and if it is I still have my Sennheiser 580s somewhere. Probably under the same bed.

Anyway, happy hunting and best wishes. Let us know what you finally get.

Cheers

Jim

Hi Jim,

The Amp that will be powering the future phones is a newly acquired Gilmore Lite Mk2 (class A) made by the US company HeadAmp, the selection of which took several weeks of head scratching and reading up on available reviews.

It was in the end though basically a leap of faith because being in the UK it wasn’t possible to audition and to save a little cash (on importing) I waited for a good one to appear on the secondhand market.

I finally found one just over a month old in the latest style and it was instantly at home in my Naim system, but the real surprise was just how good it made my current Grado’s sound, the change was so marked I couldn’t really understand what was happening at first.

But when everything had started to settle down and even though the Grado’s were sounding better than ever, I suddenly realised this little amp deserved better than my original Grado SR80 (note, not the i or the e versions, so must date back to the late 80’s).

Hence the search for a new set of phones that will take my headphone listening to the next level, that suit the Gilmore and stay within budget.

Once I’ve got the selection down to two or three the challenge will then be to try a get an audition, but with the Gilmore being so small I can cart it to any dealer with reasonable ease.

But I’m in no real rush because I want to make sure I review what’s available thoroughly, that has the added benefit of ensuring the Gilmore is also properly run in.

Anyway, thanks for the advice.