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wickitom
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Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

I started listing to higher quality songs recently, flac, up to 24 bit 96kHz, but they are playing through my Thinkpad Laptop and Bose Tri-Port Headphone. After reading through lots of blogs and Stereophile.com I decided to spend some money on a better listening system. My spending limit is $2000, thank you Tax Refund. Anyhow, I though about buying better headphones, either AKG 701, Sennheiser 650 or 600, and of course a DAC/Amp, I was looking at the Benchmark DAC1 Pre or USB. So I have few choices and don't know how to decided on which headphones to buy and which DAC to buy.

The price difference between the Sennheiser's 600 and 650 are huge, but I read that the sound difference is small and also that the AKG 701 are a good headphones as well. As for the DAC, I was also looking for a more expensive unit by Ayre, the QB-9. Which DAC is a good buy not only for great headphone output but also where smaller size speakers can be hooked up. Just now I also though maybe a headphone unit might be a bad idea but instead start buying individual components and build on it.

Any ideas or thought on my dilemma, as I am knew to this audiophile life.

Which headphones (AKG 701 or the Sennheiser 600 or 650)?
Which DAC/AMP (Benchmark DAC1 PRE, DAC1 USB, or Ayre QB-9)?
Are these DACs good for hookping up Speakers or other components like CD players or turntables?

Or buy non headphone units and start building a nice hi-fi system slowly?

Demondog
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

I was in your exact same position this time last year.

My answer, and I'm happy with it, was the AKG K701 and the Grace m902. The Grace needed a USB to S/PDIF converter (I'm using a $70 device) to handle Hi-Rez files, but it's otherwise a very versatile unit. I use it as my system pre amp with multiple sources, though it will only drive active speakers directly.

There are personal sound preference involved in some of your listed choices.

The Peachtree Nova has an 80 wpc amp built in and will drive speakers, so may be worth a look. I heard one through speakers that sounded pretty good, though its USB input may also be limited to 16/44.1 without a converter.

With the K701 headphones, both of these DAC/Amps will meet your $2,000 budget. The Ayre QB-9 is in a different class both sound and money, but is a USB DAC only with no headphone output.

ncdrawl
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

the 701s are really great. I have a pair of Stax Omega IIs and access to Sennheiser HD800 whenever I want, (both kilodollar cans) and I still prefer my 701s. They are accurate without being "analytical", nice sound stage, and work with all types of music(as opposed to Stax which work only with classical, in my opinion)

I have heard the Grace m902, Benchmark, and several other models.. I went with the Mytek Stereo 96. It costs a bit less than the Benchmark but sounds a lot better(and better than the grace) to my ears.

you can hear the Mytek Comparisons here

http://mytekdigital.com/compare/index.htm

that being said, all this is just opinion...hear the units if you can, but if you cant, you can rest assured that any of the units you mentioned will give you high quality sound.

oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I own the HD600s as well(had them before my 701s). Again, they are too cold/clinical sounding to me, and the highs are a bit tizzy/harsh.

great idea you have with adding components you can build around.

that is exactly what I did with the Mytek. When i got back home from Germany, I had nothing(all my stuff was on a barge being shipped by the Army) so I got the 701s and the Stereo 96, and added things as I was able to. I am happy to say that I have not found anything sound-wise to best my DAC.

where are you located?

Freako
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?
Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

The difference in sound between the Sennheiser 600 and 650 is relatively small. I have both and prefer the 650, but it is far from night and day.

Headphone choice is very personal. Like all speakers they are colored. I personally do not care for the AKG 701 and find it too "hi-fi" with little mid-bass and hyped detail. I know that people state that it needs 100's of hours of break-in for the mid-bass to appear, but I have listened to 701's with lots of hours and still do not care for them. You may like them a lot.

The Benchmark, Grace and Mytek are all excellent. Do check out the Mytek - they are more known among studio types and make wonderful stuff.

You get a greater bang for the buck with headphones as $2k will get you close to the best that is out there. A speaker based playback system for $2k will be very nice, but will not approach the same level.

However, listening to headphones and listening to speakers are totally different experiences. I find speakers more satisfying and I am able to hear more with good speakers. While headphones reveal details with ease, the fail in soundstaging, and other ways. This is why mix engineers and mastering engineers work on speakers, not headphones.

Thus consider how you want to listen, what you like to hear when you listen, whether portability and upgradability are of interest, whether you need to be able to listen privately without disturbing others, etc.

Esoteric09
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Sennheiser 650!

wickitom
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Thanks for the responses. I looked at the review of the CEntrance DACport looks good but it seems this unit is only if you want it for headphones output and be portable. I read some stuff on Mytek Stereo 96 DAC but human factor must be taken into account. So right now as for the headphones I am between the AKG 701 and the Sennheiser 650's. As for the DAC now I have more choices to choose from, Benchmark, Grace, and Mytek.

As for the Ayre QB-9, thanks for reminding me its not for use with headphones, I forget that I live with roommates.

I live in Chicago, I know someone asked. I should try to find a store here maybe that has some of this gear.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
I read some stuff on Mytek Stereo 96 DAC but human factor must be taken into account.

?

The ergonomics of the unit are great.

Are you commenting on the looks? I agree, it isn't pretty, but you aren't going to be spending your time looking at it.

struts
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Just to toss in my 2

wickitom
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:

Quote:
I read some stuff on Mytek Stereo 96 DAC but human factor must be taken into account.

?

The ergonomics of the unit are great.

Are you commenting on the looks? I agree, it isn't pretty, but you aren't going to be spending your time looking at it.

No, I am not talking about the looks, though it does look like it belongs in a laboratory versus in a home. The "human factor" I am referring to what sounds good to one won't to another. These reviews of hardware need to be more scientific.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Fair enough.

All three sound superb. The differences are subtle.

I own the Benchmark and the GraceM902. I like both a lot but favor the Grace. The Mytek is wonderful also. I don't own one (but would really like to own one of their ADCs.)

I would be astonished if you did not find that you like all three a lot and had a great deal of difficulty deciding. I would dive in and buy the one that offers the feature set that you like most or just buy on price. Seriously. They are all this good.

I don't think the reviews can be more scientific. All three units measure incredibly well.

struts
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
The "human factor" I am referring to what sounds good to one won't to another. These reviews of hardware need to be more scientific.


"Human factors" usually refers the study of how people interact with things, i.e. ergonomics etc. What you seem to be alluding to is taste, for which there is no accounting.

You will find that the Stereophile reviews of two of the amps recommended above (the Grace and the Benchmark) include detailed measurements sections by JA that you will hopefully find plenty scientific enough, although I doubt they will help you decide which you prefer without actually listening.

The sonic differences between the amps may well be quite subtle, however the differences between the two main headphone recommendations are not, they present quite different sound ideals. It seems only a minority of folks (me included) like both, most have a clear preference one way or another.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
The sonic differences between the amps may well be quite subtle, however the differences between the two main headphone recommendations are not, they present quite different sound ideals.

Excellent point.

While we enjoy debating about and shopping for electronics, speakers and headphones make a much larger difference.

pbarach
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

The 701s and the 650s have totally different sound qualities (I've owned both). I found the 650s had a rich bass but were seriously lacking on the high end. The 701s (yes, they do need to be broken in) have for me much more detail in the mid-highs and highs, and they had plenty of bass once broken in. I sold the 650s. They both need an amp!

I found they gripped my head differently. The 650s pushed on my temples constantly, which was quite uncomfortable (especially since I wear glasses). The 701's have a little more grip on the bottoms of their earcups, which doesn't interfere with my comfort. (your mileage may vary, of course). Some people complain mightily about the bumps on the inside of the 701's headband--didn't bother me at all.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
The 701s (yes, they do need to be broken in)

How long did it take?

struts
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


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How long did it take?

I didn't log the break-in period for mine rigorously but it was at least three months' worth of quite heavy use, equivalent to several hundred hours.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Wow.

You are convinced, I take it, that you didn't simply become acclimated to the sound.

struts
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

You know, I can't honestly rule it out completely but the above is what I believe I heard. I did have a pair of HD650s the whole time I owned my K701s as a constant reference. Although I felt the bass rounded out considerably with time I never found it really satisfying.

I liked the K701s for what they did well, even despite the comfort issues I had with them, however I ultimately preferred the HD650s. While representing excellent value at their respective street prices I find both, perhaps unsurprisingly, compromised relative to other admittedly much more expensive models.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Very interesting. Thanks

I will need to listen to my friend's 701s again. It has been quite a while since I have and I know that he continues to use them. They would have to be broken in now.

ncdrawl
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

yes, the 701s take a really, really long time to settle in.

3 or 400 hours easily id say. My Stax didnt take as long, and are stunning on classical but ...one trick pony.

I wish I Liked the HD800 (it is always fun to plan upgrades) but in spite of my best attempts, I just dont get on with them. I borrowed my Doctor friend's "spare" set for our move from NC here to Ohio and ive been listening every day since..I dunno...December 27? They are just too tizzy/"hifi" and strident sounding.. I hate things that sound "eqd" (like the Sennheiser MKH800 microphones) and these are very bad offenders.

So until something world-beating comes along, I am satisfied with the stax/akg combi. (AKG are worn for pretty much everything save for large scale orchestral, and for that the stax come out)

btw, a an acquaintance (well, an online acquaintance) who is a classical recording engineer(and a very successful one at that, multiple grammys, etc), Hudson Fair, has also commented about the 701s break in time. He uses them for monitoring/reference while mixing.

Another guy I know, Gregg Squires, who mixes solely on headphones(and has also won grammys.. like 1,000 of them or something ) has commented on the break in period. Dont know why it takes so long..but it does.

struts
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
it is always fun to plan upgrades


Hey nc, you might want to catch up with the new Beyerdynamic T1. A brief audition yesterday impressed me a lot and they definitely aren't "hifi".

Also, my impression is that HD800s also need a fair bit of breaking in. I have had mine going on a year now and my impression is they are still opening out, however I have certainly not been listening to them on a daily basis.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Squire Productions - yeah, he does OK.

He mixes only on headphones? A rare animal. Amazing that he can do it.

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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:

Quote:
it is always fun to plan upgrades


Hey nc, you might want to catch up with the new Beyerdynamic T1. A brief audition yesterday impressed me a lot and they definitely aren't "hifi".

Also, my impression is that HD800s also need a fair bit of breaking in. I have had mine going on a year now and my impression is they are still opening out, however I have certainly not been listening to them on a daily basis.

I will certainly check those out, Struts. Thanks for the info!

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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
Squire Productions - yeah, he does OK.

He mixes only on headphones? A rare animal. Amazing that he can do it.

yep, I was gobsmacked when I found that out, too..what is even more amazing..his main mixing cans are some Sony model..

I could mix on cans if I had to, it would just take me a lot longer!

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Amazing.

Once again it is the engineer, not the equipment.

Who does the mastering? Please don't tell me they master on headphones! I will feel even more inadequate.

struts
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


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his main mixing cans are some Sony model..


Not these by any chance?

ncdrawl
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:

Quote:
his main mixing cans are some Sony model..


Not these by any chance?

no, it wasnt those, it was a much lower priced model..ses like the MDR 7506 or something similar...which is what was really surprising.

although with mixing/mastering, the important thing is that you *know* your monitoring system. the choice of system isnt as important(so long as the frequency response covers the human range) ..but knowing it inside and out...that is crucial. (popularity of the horrid yamaha NS10s for mixing is one more example of many..)

ncdrawl
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
Amazing.

Once again it is the engineer, not the equipment.

Who does the mastering? Please don't tell me they master on headphones! I will feel even more inadequate.

typically whatever label he is working for, they provide their *house* guy.

On a side note... Doug Sax just mastered a project I recorded.. weve got the master and are going through it with a fine toothed comb for pros/cons and will be sending it back to him next week sometime.. it will be a vinyl release as well as CD.

sorry for being off track.. im going to ask Doug what cans he uses for reference too.

struts
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


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the choice of system isnt as important


Beats me. If I spent all day listening through headphones (and some days I do) I would want them to sound as good as possible and at the very least non-fatiguing.

Just to see what $160 gets you these days I had a quick listen to the Audio Technica ATH-M50s (as recommended by JM in the February issue) while I was in to audition the Beyerdynamics T1, and while they sounded good in many repsects I found the bass completely overpowering. There is no way I could see myself choosing to listen to these for an extended period.

ncdrawl
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:

Quote:
the choice of system isnt as important


Beats me. If I spent all day listening through headphones (and some days I do) I would want them to sound as good as possible and at the very least non-fatiguing.

Just to see what $160 gets you these days I had a quick listen to the Audio Technica ATH-M50s (as recommended by JM in the February issue) while I was in to audition the Beyerdynamics T1, and while they sounded good in many repsects I found the bass completely overpowering. There is no way I could see myself choosing to listen to these for an extended period.

thats the thing...with mixing/mastering, pleasure is secondary. if you know your system in and out, how the recordings translate, then your battle is won..at least until you find a pair of speakers youd rather have and then youll have to learn the new ones all over again.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
...with mixing/mastering, pleasure is secondary. if you know your system in and out, how the recordings translate, then your battle is won..

Very true.

However most engineers try to get the most accurate playback system they can, fix the room and work from there. Pass amps are popular, B&W 805s, Dunlavy, Duntech speakers - some of the names you would recognize.

KBK
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

I've been thinking about re-vamping and selling uber-versions of some of the better known headphones, having been a big headphone fan in my past (electrostatics, etc).

Any particular headphones of note these days that might be seen to be amenable to modding?

I'm not talking about a simple cable change I'm talking about a complete strip down and rebuild and an increase in S/N by an easy 10db in dynamic terms. That's what I do with them.

Sadly, the work can be time consuming so to hide it better with regard to ability to sell the item one usually has to start with an expensive pair in the first place. No bargains, no cheapies, just extreme fidelity. That becomes the bargain. I'm asking as I don't know the headphone market anymore. Just to be rude, I was thinking of the super hot new ultra units from Sennheiser would be a good start. The HD 800 would be good base to start from. I'm talking like going from Porsche GT2 to the equivalent of a Ruf Porsche GT2. Only then does the extra work required that creates greater expense, finally become financially viable.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

If you can truly do it, I would start with the Sennheiser 600 or 650.

Well known and loved, not overly expensive, and if you can make them significantly better while keep the price well under $1k there would be a market.

Even better if you mod users headphones.

Tough market to crack however. Head-fi'ers are a hypercritical bunch.

I hope you do it. This would be cool.

KBK
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

I've been doing that for over 20 years and I have a whole parade of unreleased techniques.

I'll put it to you this way. I started goo systems to commit the crime of brigandage on the video screen industry to make enough money to get into the audio business. And Taras and I have been making world class speakers without releasing single model for, oh, 16 years now? Taras does world class acoustics work, (44 films at last count) and has techniques and capacities that have never been for sale to the public. So we've spent that time building up a huge head of steam, and plan to explode into the top of the market.

And enough of that is transferable to headphones.

We will quietly be showing two of those speaker models at the audio show in Montreal and expect to get the usual 'best at show' comments that we usually do. We've had top level speaker manufacturers come into our rooms and listen for long periods of time and you could almost see the beads of sweat form on their foreheads.

However, when one is not shiny and big in the way that makes for sexy images and text in magazines (the money shots), you don't get the headliner shots or the front page bits that the big and shiny stuff gets. We are all about the music, not the shiny bits, even though we are forced to make things shiny due to marketing pressure.

So we've redefined video screen technology(*), and I've redefined the top on digital video projector image fidelity (but that is on the cutting room floor), We've redefined audio cable technology, and for 16 years we've redefined speaker technology, without a single product released. And soon, we will prove that last claim. And, much of that is possible to fit in a headphone, if the bits included are carefully selected for efficacy.

I'm not rich, I do it because I love this stuff. I love making things better, and work at it in a total obsessive-compulsive way. and along the way ended up doing those sorts of things. I do it because I want to share the bounty of the beauty of the results. My big issue is that patent lawyers and similar keep me hog tied and incapable of sharing until products actually hit the sales floor. Until then, I sound like just another self-wanking blowhard.

It practically gives me ulcers, as I prefer to just spit things out and share, but then I get robbed blind by those who do not practice balance. I give away as much as I can, whenever I can. My partners know this and the joke is that when we go to a show they bring a roll of duct tape and just put me in the trunk of the car and never allow me in.

I want to make headphones better - and I want people to enjoy them!

I offered to rebuild a microphone for you, Elk, simply because I wanted you to enjoy it. I wanted you to hear and enjoy the best damn microphone you have ever heard, I expected. That would be enough for me. However, that is not possible now, for me to do. At the time I could have snuck it by, but not now.

* One of those things I can only speak of in vague fashion and that will become clear in the speaking of it. There are rides and..entire theme parks in the works right now that have only become viable due to the existence of Goo Systems coatings. We have redefined to the imaginations of the minds that create rides and theme parks what is possible- and their imaginations are going wild. As well, we were approached (by two companies) to design the coatings for all those screens that went into creating the Avatar 3-d screens. There are reasons that did not take place -that I cannot get into. So it's easy to see why someone like Don Stewart might want my head on a platter. But it's not a thing that brings great fortune, as we are like commodity - Goo is just a coating. But exactly the right one for the job.

ncdrawl
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Ken, you are the most humble guy i have ever encountered. How do you stay so grounded?

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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Here's another vote for the AKG 701s, but I've combined mine with the Woo Audio WA-6. This is a really well balanced audio setup that competes with the very best speaker-based systems, costing 15-times as much.

I listened to the top of the line Senns, the 850s at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and wasn't convinced that they were superior to the 701s. It would be close and I'd need to listen to them in my system for a great while before making a decision.

Either the Senns or the AKGs are very good, but I'd give the edge to the AKGs for openness and natural highs with very good bass.

Search the reviews here and at www.head-fi.org for more views.

Elk
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
Here's another vote for the AKG 701s, but I've combined mine with the Woo Audio WA-6.

Excellent suggestion and incredible sound for the money. This is a high yuck per buck combo.

KBK
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

I've always been a fan of the AKG's, and I have set of blown K340's (one bad transformer) around here somewhere. They also need a new headband and ear-cups. As usual, I went into my favorite audio shop, listened to all the headphones...and walked out with the most expensive ones in the store. They just happened to be the best.

dcstep
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?


Quote:
... As usual, I went into my favorite audio shop, listened to all the headphones...and walked out with the most expensive ones in the store. They just happened to be the best.

KBK, my friend, I can't tell which cans you walked out of the store with. I re-read your posts in this thread, but didn't look through the rest of your history. Maybe I missed the reference somewhere.

Also, which headphone amp are you using? That's always interesting, since it's such an important part of headphone system sound delivery.

Dave

KBK
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Apologies. I was reminiscing about my headphone days of yore.

When I went looking for Headphones, 'back in the day', as they say, I walked out of the store with the then current and new (at the time) AKG model, the AKG K340 headcans.

My brother got a hold of them, his eyes went big like dinner plates (when he heard them)... and he wore them out for me. I stuffed them back in the box and have them floating around somewhere....

From Head-Fi you will find this sort of thing: "These 'phones cannot replace the lovely K340"

And they are talking about the K701's and the HD650's etc.

I modded those K340's too, and had them sounding damn good.

I'm almost getting teary eyed. My beloved cans have been dead for over a decade, and I just can't replace them. I haven't bothered to try for many years. As a reward for blowing up my K340's, I gave my brother my Stax SR-44's I had modded out, and a small integrated I had rebuilt and dedicated for their use. Family can get away with almost anything.

When I heard them..the reasoning went, well, I've got money in my pocket and ..food, rent, and dirty underwear will always be beating down the door, looking to be attended to..but this, these headphones, they are important!

dcstep
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Re: Which Headphones? Headphone System or buying components?

Thanks for the clarification.

Dave

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