CAD MH510 Over-Ear Headphones
This is Carter B. of Austin, Texas, one of the winners of our CAD MH510 over-ear headphone sweepstakes. After I sent Carter and our second winner, Jesus C. of Plainsboro, New Jersey, their prizes, I realized the Stereophile office had one extra set of these headphones. Hmm…
I was in the market for some monitoring headphones, and CAD traditionally makes microphones for recording. Could the CAD MH510 ($159.00) be the headphone I was looking for?
What Are These Things and What Can They Do?
The CAD MH510 sweepstakes announcement already had me intrigued:
Growing from a decade long collaboration of CAD’s experience and expertise in the design of professional audio equipment, the MH510 headphones produce a wide frequency response (10Hz – 24kHz) with extended lows, smooth mids and articulate, life-like highs for accurate and natural reproduction.”
If you can hear up to 24kHz, you, my friend, are a dolphin. But down to 10Hz? Can humans even hear that low? According to Harry F. Olson’s Music, Physics, and Engineering: “Under very favorable conditions most individuals can obtain tonal characteristics as low as 12 cycles” (p.249). The designers at CAD say they achieve this low frequency extension thanks to the large 50mm Neodymium drivers.
From the Signal Suite iPhone app, I ran 10Hz test tone and heard an intermittent thumping. When pushed to 12Hz, the thumping increased in tempo and was draped with a 24Hz hum, a second-order harmonic distortion. With a 20Hz tone, a 40Hz hum overlaid a subtle but consistent 20Hz tone.
Running a sweep from 20Hz to 24kHz, the midrange sounded pretty darn flat, except for a boost in the upper midrange. The treble was less consistent. There was a dip at 2.5k–3.5k, a bit of harshness between 6.5k–8k followed by a fast dip, and then channel phasing in the extreme highs.
Despite their bulk, the MH510’s were actually kind of comfortable. The elephantine headband planks across your skull, but its underside is fitted with cushy leatherette. The earcups apply a slight amount of pressure on your ears. Over extended listening periods, my ears only hurt a little.
Accessories include a drawstring bag, a ten foot long straight cable, one 3.5 foot coiled cable, and a 3.5mm female to 1/4" male threaded adapter. Each cable locks into the left earcup via a simple twist. A tab keeps the cable from being pulled out. The MH510s are available in black, chrome on black, orange on black, red on white, chrome on white, and gold on white. The headphones are very large but foldable.
The MH510s come with two sets of earpads: leatherette and velvet. To exchange earpads, one must squeeze the earpad’s tapered edge into a thin slit between the driver’s faceplate and the surrounding earcup. It is a difficult process. The leatherette earpads brought the drivers closer and flatter against my ears while the velvet earpads were thicker and created more distance between my ear and the driver. The velvet earpads were more comfortable but had looser bass.
What Does It Do to Music?
Since CAD promises extreme low frequency extension through the MH510s, I listened for bass performance first. “Big Ol’ Star” by Swampluck was recorded using two small CAD(!) condenser microphones positioned in front of the full band. The bass guitar’s presence can be ambiguous through some headphones and hi-fis. The CAD MH510 brought me back to the bass line I wrote years ago, and I found myself predicting movements down the fretboard. This is a testament to the MH510’s ability to retrieve low frequency information.
Likewise on “Pulleys” by Animal Collective, as the watery synth-bass interplayed with the lower register of a piano, these headphones transformed my impression of how deep bass could feel. The low notes were not bloated or tight punches, but rather, forceful and even pushes of sound with extended decay. Each piano note was round and resounding.
On “E de Manha” from a recording with Vinicius de Moraes, Toquinho, and Maria Bethanhia, the bass guitar is mixed loudly. It sounded too huge through the MH510s, but thankfully, it did not swallow the rest of the mix. Bethania’s midrange-rich vocals strode through clearly.
The Honorary Title’s “Bridge and Tunnel” seemed sluggish. Usually this track is peppy with the snare and hi-hat charging forward nearly ahead of the beat, but the very full bass response, while creating warm and billowy presentation, slowed down the pace.
Listening to the MH510s is similar to being at a concert where the bass is too loud, but this time, it doesn’t hurt your stomach. Instead, it actually feels pretty good, like a big pillow.
The MH510s are the opposite of accurate. They just make everything sound big and fun, even the worst recordings. “Political Song” by my high school band Pigeon features a painfully recorded, direct-input Fender Stratocaster on the bridge pick-up with a wah-wah pedal. This is almost always guaranteed to hurt your ears. With the MH510s, the Stratocaster sounded listenable! But this got me thinking about the MH510s treble performance.
I pulled out another personal Fender Stratocaster performance. On “NY Afterparty” by Heroes of the Open End, the extension and bite from my Fender Stratocaster was cut short. The initial attacks on the guitar during “This Here Giraffe” by The Flaming Lips were not present and rather, the guitars favored their bodily strums and decays. With the slowed down version of “Friend of the Devil” from the Grateful Dead’s Dead Set, the air and expressive twang that I love from Jerry’s guitar was missing, but the hi-hat had a tactile attack. The cymbals on Gang Gang Dance’s “Glass Jar” from Eye Contact pinged and shimmered. The MH510s lack presence and extreme highs, but they do recreate middle-highs where the cymbals bash, clang, and ping.
Instruments and voices were full of body. Jean Luc-Ponty’s violin on The Rite of Strings sounded less bright than usual. The baritone male vocal on Hameitav’s “Alfon sina Vehayam” was equally prominent to the tenor and easy to identify, but when trying to distinguish voices in large group of vocalists, such as on Cantus’s interpretation of Debussy’s Invocation from Stereophile’s Editor’s Choice, the MH510’s made it hard to pinpoint.
How Does it Compare?
While listening to “Chilean Pipe Song” from The Rite of Strings, the Skullcandy Aviators ($149.95) brought out the metal in Al Di Meola’s guitar strings while the MH510s emphasized the body of the guitar. Stanley Clarke’s stand-up bass had more emphasis on the attack with the Aviators while the MH510s gave him a bellowing tone. The Aviators made the MH510s sound muffled.
Through the Sennheiser Momentum on-ear headphone ($229.95), there was greater tonal definition and pitch accuracy in the bass, less emphasis on the upper midrange, and a longer decay on the handclaps in “Early in the Morning” by the Gap Band. The MH510s offered greater impact and a fatter but less detailed sound.
The Tivoli Radio Silenz headphones ($159.99) made the acoustic guitar shine on “Thirteen” by Big Star. Meanwhile, the MH510s sounded slow with importance placed on the bass guitar. It was less lively but bigger. I found the Tivoli’s sound to be more enthralling. The guitars sparkled. Meanwhile, the MH510s were closed in.
With Anamanaguchi’s “Endless Fantasy”, the MH510s revealed their lack of dynamics when compared to the B&W P3 headphone ($199.99). The pulsing synths at the beginning of the song should slowly increase in volume rather than sound homogenous as they did through the MH510s.
Was It Worth It?
When I first opened the CAD MH510s and discovered that 10-foot cord, I expected an analytical monitoring headphone designed for the studio that would let me decipher mixes while I recorded my own music.
The MH510s is the exact opposite of this. They are dark, weighty, warm, and fun. They lack some treble energy and dynamics but make up for it with enveloping body. They are BIG both in size and sound, but they are also veiled and slow. The short decay of treble contrasts with the gushy bass and midrange to keep the sound unified–a fascinating trade-off.
When our sweepstakes was posted, the MSRP for these headphones was $159. You can now buy them on Amazon for $79. With the included accessories, you’ll get a lot of fun from the headphones. If you like a warm sound, I highly recommend them.