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Speakers or Headphones??


tino
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What do people listen to the most ? What do you find sounds best ? Are Sennheiser generally seen as the standard (how about in the US) ??

 

Frequency response specs are pretty impressive on most headphones, and a single drive unit too - does this mean they have a technical edge too ??

 

iTunes / Media Monkey, PC, Presonus Firebox --> Mackie HR624 mkII Active Monitors, M&K VX7 mkII

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Tino,

 

I have my own house, so I am not hindered by the neighbor's preferences in what I listen to. If you know what I mean. I do like the smoothness and lack of room acoustics problems that are afforded by using headphones - I own a couple of good pairs: Senn HD650 and AKG M-240 - I don't really prefer one of those over the other though. I don't know what really is considered the standard for headphones in the US though. I hang around musicians, and most prefer the AKG 240 series or the Sony "MD' series for their affordability and great sound. Judging by what I see on the street, iPod standard-issue earbuds are the standard here (YUK) for most folks. For me, loving live (LOUD) music, I find that I need the 'thump in the thorax' that is provided by my loudspeakers. They go all the way to 'eleven' and pretty much defeat any influence that the room can have on them. Though they are really quite nice at 'normal' listening levels as well.

 

-markr

 

 

 

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Hi Tino,

 

I find that this question would most likely be answered by your listening circumstances.

 

Should you wish to listen to speakers, you need a conducive environment, careful speaker and sitting placement. Very restricting. I have also found that should you wish to extend your music fidelity beyond some of the more musical micro systems with single driver speakes (eg JVC 7000 system - old but exceptional) you will need to spend a huge amount of money, time and effort to actually improve your "musical enjoyment".

 

With headphones, you are less dependant on the environment unless you listen to open backed headphones.

 

I personally use the following:

 

Sennheiser HD 580 Jubilee Ltd Ed. (Similar to HD 600) for a quiet environment. These are transparent to the listening environment.

 

 

Sennheiser CX 300 for my iPod in noisy environments where it would be a bit embarrassing to have big headphones - shopping etc.

 

Bose Quiet Compfort 2 Noise Cancelling for other noisy environments. (Most of my home life!)

 

All of the above are exceptionally musical and do most "audiophile" things right.

 

That being said, my absolute favourites are the Stax Omegas with the tube energizer. So wonderfully neutral, musical and transparent. I wish I had bought these when I had the opportunity some years ago. Now I cannot afford them!

 

Shure SE 530 Sound Isolating Earphones. I do not like these at all. I bought these mail order and find them cold, sterile and amusical.

 

Hope this helps. The above has been tried and found true over a long and painful "audiophile walk" finally resting back into the music. "Look and Learn" as they say!

 

 

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I listen to phones a lot, mostly because of lifestyle considerations, but after years of listening to them, I've been seduced by their charms. They will never have the sound stage of speakers that image well, or the thump in the chest of large speakers that move a lot of air, but their advantages are good ones: Isolation, intimacy, detail, a lack of the distortions of room acoustics, and, perhaps best of all, a midrange purity and coherence that can only exist, so far as I've heard to date, in a single, full-range driver.

 

There are lots of reference-level phones out there: Sennheiser 600s and 650s (or the new 800s if you've got lots of cash), Beyer Dynamic 880s, AKG 601/701, Audio Technicas, Sonys....

 

I use Senn 580s for critical listening with a good amp, Audio Technica AD700s plugged straight into my Mac laptop for listening in bed, and Etymotics ER600s straight out of an iPod. They all sound very different, which is very cool. Who has three pairs of really good speakers they can switch out as quickly as plugging them in?

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Yes Tim, I'd agree with that! I have Sennheiser HD500's but even with these the mid is extrememly smooth, well balanced and integrates seamlessly with everything else.

 

I find it easier, perhaps for practical reason (the neighbours etc), to lose myself in music when listening on headphones, and seem to be using them more lately. Perhaps when I get a nice big detached house that will change !

 

Considering some HD595's ............

 

iTunes / Media Monkey, PC, Presonus Firebox --> Mackie HR624 mkII Active Monitors, M&K VX7 mkII

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This then, Tino, has answered your question. Our ultimate goal is to be lost in the music. If this is achieved for you by listening through headphones, then your search is complete. You have found your musical "home".

 

Regards

 

 

 

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Tino, if I were you I'd seriously consider taking the larger step up to the HD600. It is in another league. A true reference headphone. The only caveat is that they can be a bit flat-sounding with the weak amps often found in portable players, laptops, etc. A good headphone amp is perfect. A good headphone section of a quality integrated amp or receiver will do just fine. If you're going to listen straight out of a digital player or computer, the 595s (or Denon D2000, or Audio Technica AD700...) will be better. If you can route that signal through an amp with some grunt, the 600s will win by a wide margin. Less grain. More detail. Smoother mids. More impactful bass.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I started audiophilitus years ago with using Grado RS 1 headphones and matching explanation on headroom crossfeed.

 

Note that there is also a link to using computers to fix headphones, quite relevant to this site :-)

 

So I'd say, do try to give the both the Senns and the Grado's a listen, it took me years to actually find speakers that could match that level of detail and I never heard any phones with better bass or midrange. But be warned: once you have heard how much you can get out of your recordings, you may have a much harder time finding speakers that do not sound veiled or boring in comparison.

 

Hope you enjoy you quest for sound :-)

 

VincentH, Pro Audio and Headphone enthousiast. Currently using Vista + Foobar + WASAPI bitperfect --> FireWire --> RME FireFace 400 DAC --> Vovox unshielded balanced XLR interconnects --> Focal Twin 6Be active monitors + Focal Sub6 active sub; Grado RA 1 + Grado RS 1; Etymotic ER-4P.

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"I did audition the Senn HD 600 and found that to my taste, they were boring and clinical compared to the RS 1."

 

One man's boring is another man's natural, but this is a good point well worth considering. If you're going to have one set of "reference" phones it would be a good thing to settle on a style of presentation first. The gap is well-demonstrated between Grados and Senns. The opportunity to compare them would be a great advantage. Personally, Grados wear me out with both their physical feel and their forward presentation. But there is a lot of varying mileage on that one.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Thanks for all the advice regarding the Senn vs Grado issue.

 

I also find that a very interesting point - I had never thought about the fact that your right ear only hears the right channel content via headphones, and your left ear the left channel content............ I'll have a read up on that via the link.

Thanks

 

iTunes / Media Monkey, PC, Presonus Firebox --> Mackie HR624 mkII Active Monitors, M&K VX7 mkII

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In the main Headphones have a single element and no crossover and they don't need a power amplifier.

 

Passive crossovers (and lots of active ones too) in loudspeakers to accentuate the upper middle region and they make the sound harsher. This is because the two drive units overlap for quite a long way each side of the actual point of intersection. In fact some tweeters are audible for more than an octave below it, they may be out of phase and they will have high levels of distortion at these low frequencies. Think Kazoo and you'll not be far wrong.

 

The part of your system that has the most distortion is the power amplifiers, so by avoiding them and using low power to drive headphones, you may well get a smoother sound.

 

Pros use them with live recordings to check low level detail that is masked by all of the above.

 

Ash

 

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Thanks Ashley. Yes I can see how a power amp's distortion, compared with that of a low level headphone amp, combined with the issues of overlap with the drivers can compromise the sound.

 

But i guess that you still lose the imaging and physical qualities of a loudspeaker, so both seem a slight compromise in the end....

 

iTunes / Media Monkey, PC, Presonus Firebox --> Mackie HR624 mkII Active Monitors, M&K VX7 mkII

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Tino

 

With the latest and best modern drive units and active loudspeakers the gap can be narrowed to the loudspeakers advantage. However for years now people have lived with the problems of passive speakers because they don't realise that is what they are.

 

The effect of drive unit and crossover issues in the upper treble register is to give an illusion of clarity if you don't think about what you're hearing. Or a sound engineer in a recording studio may EQ some of it out because he's got real life to compare with. We sold ADM9s to a Nashville producer, they'd got rid of the problem and he'd got used to applying EQ and suddenly didn't have to! You can imagine that he was very worried about all his previous recordings because he might have made them dull.

 

For all the talk about using computers for audio as though it's new or that the hi end can bring something to the party, I really think that it's all mature technology, that the lead is with the Pro side and that the next big challenge is to improve the weakest link. Namely loudspeakers, Pros have used Actives for years.

 

Ash

 

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The power amp issue is simply a matter of scale. Several hundred milliwatts is a massive amount of headroom for dynamic phones, even those, like the top of the line Senns, that are legendarily difficult to drive. RayBan's post points to how subjective it can get when you get to the transducers. 701s and Senn 600/650s are both considered "reference" headphones, but they have a pretty radically different sound signature, and typically, people who like one are annoyed by the other.

 

What's a cMP2 machine, though, and how is it going to make my music real?

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Both speakers and headphones have their advantages and shortfalls. Fortunately your questions were not poised to suggest which should listeners buy, speakers or headphones? Excellent or very good sounding speakers or headphones can be found at low price levels, though excellent speaker solutions are generally much more expensive than headphone solutions.

 

Your questions assume that listeners have both and I would say that I believe that all audiophiles should have both. My low price but excellent or very good equipment include the AKG 701 headphones at around $250 and the AudioEngine 2 powered speakers for $199.

 

What do I listen to most? For me that’s easy. My CA recommended “Audiophile Reference Music Server For A Song” that is connected to my Benchmark DAC1 USB and the AudioEngine 2. It plays 24/7 and I only turn it down, not off, to listen to something else. I also have my Sennheiser HD 580 connected to the Benchmark DAC, but I only listen to those headphones when there is interfering noise (someone else watching TV) in the house.

 

What do I find sounds best? My full range electrostatic reference speakers and dipole subs sounds the best, though with tube amplication I would never leave them on like I can with the AudioEngine 2s. That said, I often rely on listening to my AKG, Grado and Sennheiser headphones for comparison and to see if I am missing anything in my reference speakers. Of course the headphone shortcomings are readily apparent. No gut thumping bass and the pain of being tethered by headphone cables (don’t ever consider wireless headphones, they are poor sounding by comparison).

 

Are Sennheiser generally seen as the standard? I would generally say the audiophile headphone standards typically include the Sennheiser, Grado , AKG, Beyerdynamics and Stax headphones. The very best of any of these is almost always less expensive than the very best loudspeakers. The very best headphone amps are also usually much less expensive than the very best loudspeaker amps.

 

Impressive frequency response and no crossovers are technical advantages, but if you have the room and money, a stereo or multi-channel speaker system is far superior.

 

 

 

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I think that for the general objectivity of his site you should stick to your normal advertising channels.

 

cheers

 

Tom

 

BM DAC1/HDR --> ATC SCM 100ASL[br]BM DAC1--> Genelec 8020/Beyer T70[br]Apogee Duet2 --> Stax 007T/404[br]Apogee Duet2 --> Genelec 6010A/Beyer DT1350[br]

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Tom

 

I take exception to your remark because you'll see elsewhere that I'm not considered as someone who does push his products and, though you will not be aware of it, I've actually spoken to Chris on a number of occasions because I was concerned that I might overstep the mark. Chris re-assured me that I wasn't, so unless you are moderating now, may I suggest that you simply factor in bias possible from a declared manufacturer.

 

To be objective I think it's worth stating that the passive crossover in traditional loudspeakers will have 100 times more distortion than is possible with an active design and that is without considering the impact of the filter shapes/design. The damping fact also suffers because the same crossover is between the power amp and drive unit, so as a rough guide this too reduces damping by a factor of approximately one hundred.

 

Therefore one can conclude that well designed active speakers will be much closer in performance to the best headphones.

 

Ash.

 

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AJ says: "Passive crossovers (and lots of active ones too) in loudspeakers to accentuate the upper middle region and they make the sound harsher. This is because the two drive units overlap for quite a long way each side of the actual point of intersection. In fact some tweeters are audible for more than an octave below it, they may be out of phase and they will have high levels of distortion at these low frequencies. Think Kazoo and you'll not be far wrong."

 

That is spot-on description of what I hear in a number of speakers--upper mid / lower treble harshness. I never knew that it was due to the crossover. I thought it must just be me since I heard problems consistenly in the same area (upper mids) in a range of different speakers. Though it does seem like not everyone is sensitive to cross-over distortion, including myself until recently. Once you dial in on it though, it is hard to ignore.

 

When trying to describe what I heard to my dealer, a Kazoo was the only thing to come to mind. I was a bit reluctant to make that comparison though, because this was the sound coming out of a set of $12K speakers, so I thought that it might be a bit insulting to say that. ;-P

 

Ashley, when measuring the performance of loudspeaker, in what type of test would one be able to see the affects of cross-over distortion? I don't think any of the graphs currently published in Stereophile mag show this sort of thing. Where can I find out more about cross-over distortion?

 

Cheers,[br] - Tim

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Tim

I'm talking generally rather than about our speakers because it's more useful.

 

In a typical passive two-way, second order filters are the norm, which means that the tweeter will be 12 dB less loud than the bass driver one Octave below the crossover point. Above it the bass driver is likely to be breaking up and rolling off and although we can measure the amplitude change, we can't really say what the phase is doing because the diaphragm tends to be distorting/buckling and this will add to the crossover so that it is no longer second order. In other words distortion from the bass driver will be audible through the tweeter.

 

However more important and more audible is the tweeter below the crossover point, so what we did was to put a test tone through the bass driver and then sweep the tweeter through it's crossover set at 3 kHz. The sound was audible to 700 Hz.

It is isn't practical in passive speakers to use steeper filters but it is in Active designs.

 

The problem is greater in three way designs and right through the mid band where not only is the bass drive audible through the mid, but also the tweeter and the two sum.

 

In active designs 4 th order filters can make a big difference provided the drivers extend way beyond the necessary crossover points. Otherwise whatever is happening to the drivers adds to the filters and bastardises the result, therefore phase integrity is lost.

 

The future IMO lies in active speakers and improving drive units.

 

Most of the speaker impedance measurements on the Stereophile website show that the crossovers are altered to correct the amplitude response, which we think is a mistake because phase changes are more offensive than amplitude ones.

 

I hope this makes sense and gives an idea of why more detail is audible from headphones that don't generally have crossovers.

 

Ash

 

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I can't edit my previous post with the iPod so I apologize for the extra post, but I should add that in addition to the problems described above a passive crossover will have about 1% distortion against 0.001% from an active one and there is also the loss of control of the bass driver to consider. It's caused by its resistance.

 

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All of which sounds like a good reason for not having cross-overs in the first place! And for not putting drive units in boxes!

 

A nice pair of Open Baffles and, if you must, a sub. Now were talking!! :)

 

Oh, and a nice pair of electrostatic headphones for late night Pink Floyd.

 

Luvverly. :)

 

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Ash -

 

So if I understand correctly, the distortion you are referring to is the result of the drivers playing beyond their useful bandwidth because the slope of the crossover is too shallow? That is easy enough to comprehend, but this comment of your does not make sense to me.

 

“In other words distortion from the bass driver will be audible through the tweeter.”

 

How does distortion from one driver make it into another?

 

I’d also like further explanation here:

 

“…because phase changes are more offensive than amplitude ones.”

 

It seems that the majority believe that frequency response is more important than phase. What sort of effect do you believe that phase changes have on the sound?

 

Lastly, this comments seems to go against conventional wisdom.

 

“In active designs 4 th order filters can make a big difference provided the drivers extend way beyond the necessary crossover points.”

 

I thought that a 4th order crossover was steep enough that drivers with limited bandwidth could be used.

 

 

Cheers,[br] - Tim

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Tim

You've got it. The unavoidably shallow filter slope means the drive units are audible at least an octave, usually more, each side of the crossover. At low frequencies a Tweeter will have lots of distortion and it may be out of phase and at high frequencies the bass driver will be breaking up and have a ragged amplitude and unpredictable phase response, which will also be audible.

 

For a crossover to conform to classic theory it needs to operate into a resistive load and a driver with a perfectly flat amplitude response. Otherwise the crossover and the driver will sum to produce a bastardised filter that does not do what for instance Mr Linkwitz and Mr Riley predicted. You need to see the crossover as a separate function or as providing drive voltages to drive units. The drive voltage characteristics are what must conform for the theory to work

 

Drivers with limited bandwidths are impossible to use because you get lots of extra energy from the interaction between the roll off and the filter. I can't give examples for obvious reasons but there are some stinkers out there.

 

All the crap produced by these problems manifests itself firstly as acid etched clarity (the best speakers), then as a kazoo, always as an accentuation of the crossover region and in bad cases as, phase errors. This is either instruments moving in the image, an artificial sense of spaciousness or some of the effect of having one speaker out of phase with the other. Poor stereo imagery, background fuzz, loss of low level detail, poor dynamics and so on. The more you get rid of, the more you realise is there. As you have noticed, these problems aren't too hard to spot when you realise what's going on.

 

Tim Farney is a headphone user, so doesn't like the accentuation caused by most crossovers. However most reviewers are so used to it, they don't notice it and tend to prefer what they are used to.

 

I hope this helps.

 

Ash

 

 

 

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