Buying Headphones

I wanted some closed headphones for home use, and that desire was cemented by the horrible singing for some event at the temple downstairs. With that kind of noise pollution, and my UM Pro 30s way too hissy on my FiiO E10 to the point that I worry about damaging the drivers, I felt like I could justify that expense to myself. So after I cleared up most of my to-do list, I went down to Jaben for a good audition session. I’ve obviously done my research on Head-Fi.org, and frankly, I spent way too much time doing research when I should have been doing work or studying. Oh well, who gives a crap about grades right? 😛

I was first given the Beyerdynamic T70p to try. Contrary to what I hear about the Beyer house sound, it wasn’t very bass heavy. For my budget of around $400, an Audio Technica ATH-A900X would not be amiss. I was also drawn heavily to the wing system. But in the end, the headphone was too heavy to stay on my head easily, and was less comfortable than the T70p. In terms of sound, it’s heavier on the bass than the T70p despite me hearing all about how the A900X having a greater emphasis on upper mids and lower treble. Shows you the necessity of auditioning to find out if you actually like the sound.

I’ve seen all the talk about how great the budget Fischer Audio FA-003 is, and I had to have a go. I was not very pleased to hear the treble being way more upfront than the bass. Is that supposed to be neutral? Because if so, I really don’t like the sound. I guess I can never be really called an audiophile by definition then, being a person who likes a mid-centric sound with big, punchy bass. The FA-003 just didn’t do it for me, and I had so much hope for it too.

I went for the Shure SRH840 next, and it was the good ol’ Shure sound that I loved with my SE215. The treble was a little rolled-off, the mids were beautiful and the bass punchy. At that point, given my sonic preferences, it was a toss-up between the SRH840 and the A900X. But I’m so used to highs that take a back seat to mids/bass (with my SE215 and UM Pro 30) that the A900X just didn’t appeal that much. I want that punch especially for movies, and despite having a bass boost on my E10, I would rather not muddy up the sound with that.

But while the Shures had good earcups that were wide, they were pretty shallow. It was a bit tight, but I prefer that to looser headphones that threaten to slip off my head. So I asked for something with a similar signature to the Shure, and I was offered the NAD VISO HP50. That was on my list of portable, circumaural headphones to audition if I wanted to buy one in the future; not to mention the rave reviews that put it probably as the best portable headphones at this price range and even beyond.

As described by reviews, it’s pretty damn resolving, with fantastic separation. I didn’t really feel like the soundstage was anything special despite the RoomFeel tech, but coming from mostly IEMs, all soundstages sound way larger than before. It had some warmth down below, with extremely punchy bass and sweet, sweet mids that threaten to drown me in syrupy goodness. The treble was far more tangible than on my UM Pro 30s, and that just about sealed it for me.

The only problem now was that the earcups were deeper than the SRH840, but smaller and so my ears touched the actual cup. But given that it’s a portable headphone, easy to drive, with great aesthetics and arguably better sound, it was a no brainer. What happened then was me losing my wits, as I eschewed the bundle with a brand new SE215 and Pelican 1010 case for just the headphones. If I paid S$48 more dollars, I would have gotten extras worth way more than $100. Oh well, I already have both those things, so I guess that money can be put into some other purchase.

When I got home, I was quite pleased with the accessories. Airplane adaptor, 3.5mm-6.3mm adaptor, two cables (one with mic), and a nice soft case. It did collect fingerprints on the glossy plastic parts, but that’s a small issue. Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate there to be hiss when I used the HP50 with my E10. While it’s far less than my UM Pro 30s, and won’t damage the 40mm drivers, it’s an annoyance that tells me it’s a limiter in my audio chain. But given I only bought the E10 a few months ago, I’m waiting for the end of the year to buy a new DAC/Amp.

Of course, there’s also the problem of my headphones and earphones now too being too good for my music. The quality is 320kbps, which is perfectly fine because I barely hear the difference between 320kbps and 128kbps. But they reveal the crap out of poor masterings, and I’ve been noticing a heck of a lot of niggly things on my tracks that never stood out before. It’s a big pain, but I’ll have to live with it. I did want to get into the audio game, and that’s the consequence.

(As an aside, older tracks from artists like Elton John? Oh boy, those are BEAUTIFULLY mastered. It made me truly understand the effects of the loudness war, and wish I never knew all of this stuff.)

I’ve considered buying a headphone made for home use, and a thinksound On1 for portable use. That thing is a beauty, with wooden cups and a sound that seems to be up my alley. But I can’t try it, it’s expensive, and on-ear too. Now that I have the HP50, it covers both needs/wants perfectly well (even if I still have an unhealthy craving for woodies). I didn’t expect such a conclusion to my headphone hunt, but I’m glad I could save that money for my open headphone purchase at the end of the year.

Oh, and probably two more IEMs to my collection, just to have different kinds of sounds on hand. I fear that I may actually be transforming into an audiophile who can’t stop buying audio stuff. Thank goodness for my ability to save, or I’ll be in debt by now. For once, I actually understand women’s obsession with clothes, shoes and bags. Hopefully I’ll be satisfied when I finally treat myself to a >$1000 IEM and call it a day.

Edit: Somehow, I just figured out readjusting the position of my E10 affects the amount of hissing. Must poor shielding or something, causing it to pick up interference. But I don’t regret the purchase one bit (either the E10 or the HP50), since I can’t seem to get rid of the noise despite a myriad positions.

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