audio

Grado SR80e

Grado SR80e

I’ve been meaning to get a Grado for some time, mainly just to get an alternate sound than my usual warm-sounding headphones and earphones. The audition of the SR80i and SR225i (the two Grados in the series that people recommend as value for money) was okay, but I didn’t feel like it was worth plonking down about a hundred dollars (for the SR80i) for a different sound at that time.

But when the iDSD Micro was offered at Stereo, with a pre-order special that came included with a free SR60e, I jumped at the offer. Asking for an upgrade to the SR80e, which Stereo kindly allowed with the top-up of the difference, I got a well-regarded pair of value-for-money headphones at a mere $25. Granted, my iDSD Micro was $649, but that was the original price and I was planning to spend that money anyway.

The SR80e (which is the recently updated series) and iDSD Micro took a bit of time before they were in stock again, and collecting them two days ago, I quickly put them to use.

As with the audition, the SR80e was not the most comfortable of headphones. The earpads, being on-ears, itched terribly upon initial wearing, but I quickly got used to that. The clamping pressure wasn’t too high, and the headphones were exceptionally light, making them quite comfortable. However, with an hour of wear, my outer ear was feeling sore from being pressed against the sides of my head, and it’s a little hot especially with the weather like it is here in Singapore.

I considered getting the over-ear earpads for the higher Grado series, but hearing how they ruin the sound, I decided not to. So I would have to get used to these pads (and I doubt I’ll use the SR80e for long listening sessions anyway). The cable was pretty darn thick, but along with a 6.3mm adaptor, there was nothing else in the plain ‘pizza-box’ as they call it. It’s a very basic package, which is a far cry from the more premium offerings of other headphones and earphones. Granted, there may be a price difference, but the same packaging is used all the way up to the SR325e, which is nearly S$400.

As for the sound, it’s everything as others have said. It doesn’t have an anaemic bass per se, but bass is definitely not one of its strong suits. The mids were clear enough, although a bit fuzzy to my ears. The treble was as tizzy and sharp as I expected, although the sibilance wasn’t something too uncomfortable for me to handle despite my sensitivity to it. It definitely made guitars bite harder and cymbals crash more energetically compared to warmer headphones like the HP50, although any compression artifacts and poor mastering gets highlighted even more than my UM Pro 30s.

The soundstage was wider than any of my IEMs, although my IEMs (and IEMs in general) were never known for wide soundstages. The HP50 was definitely a more intimate headphone than the SR80s, although my ability to identify distances is too iffy for me to make any definite conclusions. The open nature of the SR80e and the emphasized treble definitely helps with giving the headphones a sense of air and space. The imaging wasn’t too bad, helped by the treble, but my UM Pro 30s was far better at extricating details from the music.

Do I enjoy the SR80e though? At the moment, definitely. I’ve been lacking a bright headphone in my collection thus far, and the SR80e is a cheap, good-sounding, if uncomfortable option. It makes my rock music rock harder, although I’ll definitely avoid using it for any more than what it’s really good at. There are no headphones in the world that can handle all genres of music and give the best account; so the more the merrier I say!

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Meet the Urbanite

That…was strange.

Well, as long as it sounds good, I might fancy getting one. The Beats Solo2 apparently has good sound, but I don’t like its plasticky look. The Momentum On-Ears are comfortable as hell, and classy to boot, but doesn’t sound great. And the V-MODA XS sounds and looks good, but barely clamps and feels like it’s about to fall off my head all the time.

But I’m definitely not prioritising on-ear headphones. They, along with earbuds, have pretty much the worst sound quality for price. I would rather spend my money on some full-sized headphones, or save up for them custom IEMs. Headphones as accessories? Maybe some other time.

JVC HA-FX650

 

HA-FX650

I’ve always wanted woodies, be it for headphones or for earphones. So naturally, when JVC updated their line of woodie IEMs, it made me very interested.

It was clear from initial impressions that the new line was a fantastic one. The one that garnered the most praise was the HA-FX850, the top of the line. Given that I’m already spending too much on this new hobby for my own liking (and wallet!), I couldn’t go all out and purchase that though. That’ll be even more irresponsible with money than I already am. So, with that in mind, I went over to Stereo to audition the FX650 and FX750 when they were available for pre-order.

My, oh my. It was a treat to listen to a bass-heavy IEM that didn’t muddy up the mids. Coming from the 3-BA configuration UM Pro 30, it was far heavier in terms of bass than anything I’ve heard before. Also, with the mid-centric sound I know and love, the V-shaped signature is something very different. The dynamic driver was also less good with micro-details, but the bass impact is incredible. My UM Pro 30s could only provide accurate sound, but there was no visceral impact. Even my Shure SE215s couldn’t provide that sort of bass. Of course, the SE215 is turned to be smooth and mid-centric, but it still uses a dynamic driver.

Furthermore, it’s a beautiful wooden shell, and even has wood as part of the driver diaphragm. I was sold. The only decision I had was which one to go for. My instincts told me to head for the FX750 if I wasn’t going to get the FX850 (and they didn’t have a demo yet), but in the end I opted for the FX650. The FX750 had even more bass than the FX650, and for a person who moved on from being a minor bass-head to a mid-head, it was too excessive. Even if the FX750’s sound is more refined, I’m looking for a complimentary IEM to my UM Pro 30; it was to be a ‘fun’ IEM, so less details was perfectly fine with me.

So I pre-ordered the FX650, and waited anxiously until today, when I finally got my hands on it. It sounds as good as I remember it being, and while it’ll need quite a bit of burn-in (supposedly), I find myself enjoying the sound tremendously now. Will I move away from a smooth, mid-centric sound? Unlikely. But will I find myself reaching for the FX650s when watching movies, or listening to some hard rock? Definitely.

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? ๐Ÿ˜›

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.

C&C BH2 + FiiO L9

I got my C&C BH2 off eBay for about $100, and it came way earlier than I expected. Hence, I ordered my FiiO L9 low profile LOD a bit later, and due to the delay on Nocturnal Audio’s side, I ended up not using my brand-spanking-new headphone amplifier for weeks.

But now that I have my L9, I can fully appreciate the amp. It’s a tiny thing, smaller than my iPod Classic, which is an awesome form factor. The battery allegedly lasts 70-80 hours, which means it could be months before I charge it again. The volume knob is pretty secure, but due to the power it has and the sensitivity of my Westone UM Pro 30s, I can’t get it past even 4 o’clock on the knob without going deaf. And that’s with the output that has an added 70ohm impedance, which should reduce the volume…

Anyway, the amp really helped with clarity. It’s not like my iPod was incapable of good sound quality, but the amp brought out some minor details that I missed previously. Of course, that’s with my UM Pro 30s, which have superb clarity and separation, so it probably scales with the IEMs.

I couldn’t use the gain switch without blowing my brains out, so I gave the LF switch a go. It’s a bit of a V-shaped boost, where it adds a touch to the bass and treble. Needless to say, it sounds great given I’m a lover of bass and the UM Pro 30s are a bit treble-shy. And it doesn’t bleed into the mids, which is incredibly important to me, since I’m a mid-head now.

Finally, there’s the SF switch. On Head-Fi.org, the reviewers of C&C BH2 claimed it was a super switch that expanded the soundstage and made everything even more epic. What it does is shift the positions of certain frequencies forward or back, and while it sounds nice in theory, it blew chunks for me. The UM Pro 30s are a very forward IEM, with vocals smack in front. It’s a stage monitor after all, and musicians need to be able to hear themselves. I love that sort of forward mids presentation, and I never really cared for soundstage. Hard to get it in IEMs anyway.

So the SF switch pushed the vocals further forward, until even I felt uncomfortable. That switch shall sadly remain offย  until I get myself a pair of IEMs that don’t have forward mids (unlikely, given my sonic preferences).

Overall, I found it a decent purchase. I mean, there’s a point of diminishing returns, and even $100 is a lot of some people just to buy IEMs. And here I am using that sort of money to buy an amp that maybe adds 5% to the overall sound I hear. Which is affected by movement, traffic noises, etc. But hey, I got hooked by the audio game, so it’s worth it to me now. It’s all about value to the individual ๐Ÿ˜‰

Nocturnal Audio Calyx 4-conductor Copper Custom Cable

Well, I just bought this custom IEM cable for $49.90 at TREOO. It’s not a bad cable, but frankly, I’m too n00b to notice the differences the cable is supposed to make to the sound. It could just be that my Westone UM Pro 30’s cables are just that good, but I’m leaning towards the former explanation.

It’s a very pretty cable, and since I can customize it, I got clear insulation, clear MMCX connectors and a right-angled Neutrik plug. Frankly, I bought it to go with my FiiO L9 cable, because I didn’t want to waste the $5.90 shipping fee. I should have gotten the L9 cable elsewhere, but oh well, loyalty to the S’pore company, you know? It makes for a good spare IEM cable (which is the first thing to go on IEMs), and Westone’s very own EPIC cable is like $60USD. This is a custom cable, sexier, and cheaper. So why the hell not?

The only issues I have with it, are that it has some microphonics. It’s not an issue if I pull the wooden (!!) choker up, but I don’t really find it exceptionally comfortable in that configuration. But that’s a small issue. The bigger issue is that it looks horrendous with my smoke UM Pro 30s. If I could get the clear version, it would look fantastic with the clear MMCX connectors. But now, it looks so damn ugly I didn’t bother.

I’ll probably use it when I upgrade to summit-fi IEMs, like Shure SE846 or UM Pro 50 (both of which are clear!). Or one of those custom-turned-universals, which I can customise the looks of. LEAR looks promising (with carbon fibre patterns :O). Before then, it’ll stay in my Pelican 1010 case.