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dalethorn
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Joined: Jan 18 2012 - 3:09pm
Sennheiser PX-200-II 'EQ' Headphone Review by Dale

Youtube review of EQ'd Sennheiser PX-200ii:

http://youtu.be/tpIonBilvIY

Notes for this 'EQ' review: The PX-200ii has a significant and broad midrange emphasis, or conversely, a rolled off low and high end. The sound thus comes off as somewhat lightweight, and most reviewers have noted that long ago. Since the PX-200ii is small and light and made for portable music players, even sporting a version with iPod controls as the 'PX-200-IIi', I was curious about how it would respond to iPod/iPhone EQ to correct (even partially) for the recessed lows and highs. It turns out that the i-device 'ROCK' EQ pushes down the mids just enough that the resulting sound is much better, very near high fidelity except lacking just a slight bit of clarity and detail.

For this review I mostly used the iPod Touch, iPhone 4s and iPad 3, although I also used the Objective2 headphone amp to see what difference that would make (it did help, so when using the PX-200ii at home, a decent amp will make it sound even better).

So how is the EQ'd sound? Excellent. The bass is now very solid and deep, the highs are pretty good, and the mids are neither forward nor distant. During my 200-track listening session, I did a few non-critical comparisons to the Shure SRH-1840, the Philips L1 (with bass reduction), the Beyer DT-1350, the Bose OE2i, and the B&W P5. The B&W P5 played flat with no EQ does not sound good compared to the EQ'd PX-200ii - it sounds muffled and very forward at the same time, and although the best EQ I could find for the P5 was 'Treble Booster', it only helped a little. The PX-200ii won that one. The Bose OE2i fared slightly better having a near-perfect bass and decent mids, but it has a very rolled off high end and also requires a treble boost, so with that EQ adjustment the OE2i is a closer competitor but still the loser.

The Beyer DT-1350 is the real competition here, although like the B&W P5, it costs several times as much as the PX-200ii. The DT-1350 has a noticeable edge in clarity, detail, and even smoothness of response, however the DT-1350 has a large midrange emphasis that needs EQ to sound its best. Using the same 'Rock' EQ as the PX-200ii, the DT-1350 wins that contest, but not without certain reservations. I have no fit issues with the PX-200ii, but I find the DT-1350 to be difficult sometimes, and in cool dry weather the earpads take a long time to seal effectively for good bass and proper balance. The Shure 1840 and the bass-reduced Philips L1 have the clarity and detail of the Beyer DT-1350, but without any fit or coloration issues.

Being a closed-back design, the PX-200ii offers decent isolation against the higher-frequency sounds that make up most background noise in an office or home. The soundstage is average for a closed headphone, which is fine for myself and most other headphone users. Listening to the PX-200ii on its own, I don't get a sense of constriction, compression or any other such factor - the sound is very musical and well balanced for quality listening. Playing my worst-case tracks for sibilants, it seems about average in that respect.

A final word on the PX-200ii's EQ'd sound: I'm surprised that it's as good as it is. I don't hear any significant colorations, there is no mid- or upper-bass emphasis adding extra warmth to the sound, yet the bass goes deep and has good impact - not as good as the Shure 1840 or bass-reduced Philips L1, but close enough to be very satisfying. And neither is the bass bland or muddy - it has pretty good detail comparing to most other headphones.

The PX-200ii has a single-entry fixed (non-detachable) cable that's about four feet long and straight (not coiled), terminated by a standard straight (not angled) miniplug. Since the rubber fitting ahead of the miniplug is only about 5.5mm wide, it should fit into any of the recessed sockets on music players that have such things. The PX-200ii's cord has an embedded volume control of the old-fashioned variety, which I don't particularly like. The PX-200-IIi's Apple controls would be better, but the price of that version is way higher for just that feature.

The earpads are the on-ear type and made of a plastic that will deteriorate within a year or two of frequent use. Third-party earpads are available but I haven't see them in person, and I see that Sennheiser's website requires you to call a phone number to inquire about earpad replacement. The headband has small spongy pads underneath which are made of the same plastic, and in my experience they will also require replacement at about the same time as the earpads. The earcups fold flat and the headband also folds up for compact storage, although the PX-200ii comes with only a small cloth bag so there's no protection against anything but dust and dirt. I've folded the earcups up on my PX-200ii many times, but looking close at the plastic joints they use, I would avoid doing that any more often than necessary.

Now that I've covered the basics of the sound, it's time to describe how the PX-200ii performs with a variety of music that's available on CD's or as high-quality downloads from Internet music stores. I've used the following examples in other reviews, so these will serve as good test tracks for this review and the results can also be compared to the results noted in the other reviews. Note that the following are all based on using i-device 'Rock' EQ.

Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the PX-200ii.

Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound and particularly striking how the PX-200ii reproduces the triangles, bells and other background instruments that are often obscured with other headphones that have limited high frequency response. Although the Solti is my long-time favorite, I recently got the Abbado/Berlin Philharmonic version in FLAC format from HDTracks, and the dynamics in that version are so wide that it took some time to get used to. The PX-200ii makes listening to that version a very rewarding experience.

Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled well by the PX-200ii.

Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the PX-200ii.

Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the PX-200ii.

Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track.

Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the PX-200ii renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together.

J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The PX-200ii plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which are near the upper limits of most people's hearing.

Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the PX-200ii.

Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The PX-200ii provides very good reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect.

Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones.

Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the PX-200ii plays it very well.

Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not bad with the PX-200ii.
 

dalethorn
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Joined: Jan 18 2012 - 3:09pm
Comparing the 2 year old PX-200ii to a new one.

The PX-200ii I reviewed was purchased 2 years ago and has been used for about 200 hours. I was so happy with the EQ'd result that I decided to buy a new white one (mine was black). When I saw that J&R had some for only $49 USD I got one immediately. When it arrived I set up my 2 identical iPod Touch 64 gb players and plugged the 2 Headphones in for a comparison. Big difference in sound. Each iPod was the same - same exact content, same EQ setting. I had to play with the volume settings to get the midrange about the same for each headphone, and when all was said and done, I could see that the new PX-200ii had a much greater midrange output and consequently less bass and treble.

I went over every square mm of the new headphone to see if there was any difference between it and the old one, and could not find the slightest difference. There are so many details on the exterior of the PX-200ii that I would have expected a manufacturing difference after 2 years. The fact that there wasn't means either Sennheiser's QC is extremely tight or the new headphone may have been manufactured at or near the same time as the original one. The first thing I thought of when I heard the difference in signatures was the earpads, but checking those carefully the old pads looked pretty much the same as the new ones. Since I'm nearsighted I can see extremely well close up. But the old pads could have changed in some way that isn't noticeable visually or by squeezing them to check for density and flex, so maybe 100 hours or so on the new headphone will adjust some of that out.

The volume controls on each headphone were set at maximum, and I switched iPods just to be sure the 2 different players weren't making any difference. I also double-checked the differences with the Objective2 headphone amp using the FiiO LOD cable to bypass the iPods' volume controls. The O2 amp improved the sound noticeably, especially the bass, but didn't change the overall difference significantly. I will be using the new PX-200ii (mostly for portable use) exclusively for the next couple of weeks, so at the end of that time I'll retest them and see whether there is a burn-in effect or whether the earpads adjust somehow and if that makes any difference.

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