My Current Audio Systems

dan31

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I have become more of a headphone listener over the Covid pandemic period. For late night listening in a house with others headphones offer a pleasant choice. I actually learned to look forward to listening sessions. In a way it tells you what you need to know about your system and what your room contributes to the speakers system.
 
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Ron Resnick

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That's good!

For whatever reason I have no interest whatsoever in listening to music through headphones.
 

LL21

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...Recently, however, I have added back headphone listening capability to my stereo room system. While I still don't have a means of using my best headphones, the Stax SR009S, in that system, I have now arranged things so that I can use either my Apple AirPods Max or NAD Viso HP-50 in my stereo room system...
Hi Tmallin,

I have enjoyed reading your thorough reviews and posts over the years. Recently was going thru some of your earlier ones about the Benchmark HP4 which at the same you were using with your then reference Audeze LCD-4s. Are you saying you have now moved on from the Audeze to the Stax 009S as your new reference? Would be curious to know how the two compare?

Like Ron was saying above, I was not ever really interested in headphones. I have only really properly started learning about headphones after going for a nice dip with the Sennheiser HD650 + Arcam rHead, both on a big sale. Now, with the Sennheiser HD800S and the soon-to-arrive 2nd hand EAR Yoshino HP4/TA Ultra headphone cable...I am starting to appreciate headphone listening as a different and fun experience.

As a result, I am always interested in hearing about people's experience with some of the better known reference headphones out there...surely both the LCD4 and the 009S both qualify if not lead that list!!! If you have ever heard the 800S, I would also appreciate any thoughts/guidance you have on them as I get to know them. Thanks!
 

tmallin

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I have owned a lot of headphones over the years. Besides my discussion of headphone sound in my Benchmark HPA4 thread, my chronological headphones journeys are documented in more or less detail in the following threads:







From my perspective as I write this on 8/14/21, my two favorite headphones are the Stax SR 009S as driven by my Mjolnir Audio KGSSHV Carbon electrostatic headphone amp and the NAD Viso HP-50 headphones driven by most anything from an iPhone, to iPad, iMac or fancy headphone amp. I find nothing at all to criticize and much to love from the Stax when so driven except in comparison to low bass power and punch from the NADs, but even then its akin to the difference between dipole panel bass (the Stax) versus dynamic driver-with-subwoofers bass (NAD).

I keep my Apple Airpods Max headphones as a great sounding wireless alternative for viewing videos via either my M-1 iMac or M-1 iPad Pro. These headphones really come into their own with Apple's M-1 chip.

I now regard the Audeze phones and Mr. Speakers Ether II as rather colored even though I liked them at the time. Why? Just a continual reexamination of the neutrality of the sound of various headphones. The Audeze LCD 4 sounds nothing at all like the 4z, but the 4z is waaaay easier to drive and can even be driven satisfactorily from an iPhone/iPad if you have the proper connector adaptors, whereas the 4 needs a very stout headphone amp to sound its best.

The Mr. Speakers Ether II is pleasantly warm in the bass and rolled off in the highs; very easy on the ears, but not really neutral sounding.

The Sennheiser HD800S is fine in terms of neutrality, but is still a little too bright--much less so than the HD800 dentist drill version--and the bass, while more extended and warmer than the HD800, is also less tight sounding and noticeably higher in distortion when pushed to higher volumes.

The Focal Utopia was okay, but overpriced for the sound, I eventually concluded and a bit at least on the too bright side.

By far the best for the money is the NAD Viso HP-50. I continue to marvel at how good these sound. They are difficult to find new or even good used today since they were discontinued a couple of years ago now, but if you can find them in reasonably good condition I would grab a pair for $200 or less and then buy new replacement ear cushions for $20--those are still in stock.

I've never really been impressed with the sound of the Sennheiser HD 600 or 650. To me, there is not enough bass and they sound too smooth and rolled off on top. But I know I'm in the extreme minority on that score.

I've seriously auditioned at dealers and AXPONA many other top contenders, at least below the $50,000 class. I have not been seriously tempted by any of the the Abyss or Hi-Fi Man models. I find the recent variations on the old AKG 1000 earspeaker concept where the phones just kind of nudge up to the side of your head without even laying on your ears to be very open sounding but lacking in deep bass and seriously bass distorted when you push up the low bass and try to play them at realistic SPLs on material with strong bass.
 
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LL21

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Wow! Quite a lot of required reading! Thank you for taking the time to assemble your encyclopedic coverage! Looking forward to reviewing it in more detail.
 

ACHiPo

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I have owned a lot of headphones over the years. Besides my discussion of headphone sound in my Benchmark HPA4 thread, my chronological headphones journeys are documented in more or less detail in the following threads:







From my perspective as I write this on 8/14/21, my two favorite headphones are the Stax SR 009S as driven by my Mjolnir Audio KGSSHV Carbon electrostatic headphone amp and the NAD Viso HP-50 headphones driven by most anything from an iPhone, to iPad, iMac or fancy headphone amp. I find nothing at all to criticize and much to love from the Stax when so driven except in comparison to low bass power and punch from the NADs, but even then its akin to the difference between dipole panel bass (the Stax) versus dynamic driver-with-subwoofers bass (NAD).

I keep my Apple Airpods Max headphones as a great sounding wireless alternative for viewing videos via either my M-1 iMac or M-1 iPad Pro. These headphones really come into their own with Apple's M-1 chip.

I now regard the Audeze phones and Mr. Speakers Ether II as rather colored even though I liked them at the time. Why? Just a continual reexamination of the neutrality of the sound of various headphones. The Audeze LCD 4 sounds nothing at all like the 4z, but the 4z is waaaay easier to drive and can even be driven satisfactorily from an iPhone/iPad if you have the proper connector adaptors, whereas the 4 needs a very stout headphone amp to sound its best.

The Mr. Speakers Ether II is pleasantly warm in the bass and rolled off in the highs; very easy on the ears, but not really neutral sounding.

The Sennheiser HD800S is fine in terms of neutrality, but is still a little too bright--much less so than the HD800 dentist drill version--and the bass, while more extended and warmer than the HD800, is also less tight sounding and noticeably higher in distortion when pushed to higher volumes.

The Focal Utopia was okay, but overpriced for the sound, I eventually concluded and a bit at least on the too bright side.

By far the best for the money is the NAD Viso HP-50. I continue to marvel at how good these sound. They are difficult to find new or even good used today since they were discontinued a couple of years ago now, but if you can find them in reasonably good condition I would grab a pair for $200 or less and then buy new replacement ear cushions for $20--those are still in stock.

I've never really been impressed with the sound of the Sennheiser HD 600 or 650. To me, there is not enough bass and they sound too smooth and rolled off on top. But I know I'm in the extreme minority on that score.

I've seriously auditioned at dealers and AXPONA many other top contenders, at least below the $50,000 class. I have not been seriously tempted by any of the the Abyss or Hi-Fi Man models. I find the recent variations on the old AKG 1000 earspeaker concept where the phones just kind of nudge up to the side of your head without even laying on your ears to be very open sounding but lacking in deep bass and seriously bass distorted when you push up the low bass and try to play them at realistic SPLs on material with strong bass.
Tim,
I've also enjoyed your reviews and posts. They are quite complete and informative.

I share others' lack of experience with headphones, but I've recently been intrigued with the Smyth Realiser 16 driving either Stax 007mk2 or Sennheiser HD800S. I take it from your glowing statements about the Stax 009 that you do not agree with other folks' opinion that the 007 is the "sweet spot" of Stax, or are is the character mostly determined by the upstream components?

What are your thoughts on the Smyth Realiser--gimmick or breakthrough?

Best,
Evan
 

tmallin

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In my auditions of Stax headphones, the 007mk2, while very nice, is a very clear second place to even the original 009, much less the 009S. Yes, the 009S costs a lot more, but then I think you get a more natural sounding balance for your money, one without a midbass emphasis. I am not denying that the 007mk2 might be a sweet spot on the value spectrum, but it is clearly, to my ears, bested by the 009S. And the Mjolnir amps are designed with the Stax phones in mind and add a bit of warmth and bass extension which are quite complementary to the Stax phones.

The Smyth is one of the recent breed of HRTF digital processors which seek to make headphone listening sound more like listening to music through speakers. If that is what you want, go for it. The price is not super high, only about $4,000.

The marketing emphasis seems to be on mimicking elaborate surround sound set ups and head tracking so that the virtual sources of the sound don't move as you move your head--with ordinary headphone listening, as you move your head, the virtual sources of sound move with you. Some people find or believe that head tracking is necessary to hear the best spatial presentation from headphones. You should try an audition to see what you think.

Be aware, in addition, that the space you hear via the Smyth is entirely artificial, created by the programming of the Realiser to imitate the sound of a given number and arrangement of a particular model of speakers in particular modeled rooms such as movie theaters or sound studios.

The Smyth does not attempt to more fully reveal or unlock the space of the recording venue actually captured on the recording. While this might not be important for music other than classical or other acoustic music, I think it's an important consideration.

And unless you limit the unit to mimicking two-channel reproduction of your own speakers in a room much like your own listening room, there will not be a close match of the way your two-channel speaker set up sounds in your listening room. I, for one, find that attempting to play recordings intended for two-channel audio playback via a surround-sound synthesizer will produce a much different sound field. You may like it, but it probably will not sound like your two-channel audio rig does in your listening room.

For classical, folk, blues or jazz recordings, you might also want to try binaural recordings played back through headphones to better reveal the large-room acoustics captured on the recording. Chesky has a series of these and there are many other examples of binaural recordings available as well.

The Smyth can work with most any headphones. The website says that the designers have used a particular Stax and Sennheiser models and know they work well to reliably produce the intended effects.
 

ACHiPo

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In my auditions of Stax headphones, the 007mk2, while very nice, is a very clear second place to even the original 009, much less the 009S. Yes, the 009S costs a lot more, but then I think you get a more natural sounding balance for your money, one without a midbass emphasis. I am not denying that the 007mk2 might be a sweet spot on the value spectrum, but it is clearly, to my ears, bested by the 009S. And the Mjolnir amps are designed with the Stax phones in mind and add a bit of warmth and bass extension which are quite complementary to the Stax phones.

The Smyth is one of the recent breed of HRTF digital processors which seek to make headphone listening sound more like listening to music through speakers. If that is what you want, go for it. The price is not super high, only about $4,000.

The marketing emphasis seems to be on mimicking elaborate surround sound set ups and head tracking so that the virtual sources of the sound don't move as you move your head--with ordinary headphone listening, as you move your head, the virtual sources of sound move with you. Some people find or believe that head tracking is necessary to hear the best spatial presentation from headphones. You should try an audition to see what you think.

Be aware, in addition, that the space you hear via the Smyth is entirely artificial, created by the programming of the Realiser to imitate the sound of a given number and arrangement of a particular model of speakers in particular modeled rooms such as movie theaters or sound studios.

The Smyth does not attempt to more fully reveal or unlock the space of the recording venue actually captured on the recording. While this might not be important for music other than classical or other acoustic music, I think it's an important consideration.

And unless you limit the unit to mimicking two-channel reproduction of your own speakers in a room much like your own listening room, there will not be a close match of the way your two-channel speaker set up sounds in your listening room. I, for one, find that attempting to play recordings intended for two-channel audio playback via a surround-sound synthesizer will produce a much different sound field. You may like it, but it probably will not sound like your two-channel audio rig does in your listening room.

For classical, folk, blues or jazz recordings, you might also want to try binaural recordings played back through headphones to better reveal the large-room acoustics captured on the recording. Chesky has a series of these and there are many other examples of binaural recordings available as well.

The Smyth can work with most any headphones. The website says that the designers have used a particular Stax and Sennheiser models and know they work well to reliably produce the intended effects.
Tim,
I definitely wonder about the Realiser used for 2-channel speaker emulation. As you say, the price is relatively reasonable, especially if it does double duty as the amp.

Evan
 

Hi-FiGuy

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That's good!

For whatever reason I have no interest whatsoever in listening to music through headphones.
Not to detract but when I fire up my 25 hp mower with 50' deck that has three blades spinning under my feet my Sony noise canceling headphones playing music via the phone in my pocket is amazing. Even with no music the noise reduction is phenomenal.
BTYRSP
 
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BruceD

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Not to detract but when I fire up my 25 hp mower with 50' deck that has three blades spinning under my feet
BTYRSP
Oooh the mind boggles-please take care--hope you don't end up with a bad case of "Flymo Foot"o_O!

Apologies back to Thread

BruceD
 

AMR / iFi audio

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By far the best for the money is the NAD Viso HP-50. I continue to marvel at how good these sound. They are difficult to find new or even good used today since they were discontinued a couple of years ago now, but if you can find them in reasonably good condition I would grab a pair for $200 or less and then buy new replacement ear cushions for $20--those are still in stock.
Indeed, these are not that easy to find. Any suggestions on where to look for them?

Btw, thank you for sharing your interesting headphones experiences!
 

LL21

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Hi Tim,

Just a re-post of something I put on the 800S thread created by Gregadd here:

So I continue to listen to the HD800S...the EAR HP4 amp is on the bench at EAR and should arrive next week...and I have ordered the TA Ultra headphone cable. That said, I have enjoyed the posts here about the HD800S tremendously and also started branching out to learn more. Some very interesting observations AND considerations for those of you interested in the 800S

1. Personally, I TOTALLY get why most everyone respects the 800S tremendously for its reference qualities. At the same time, I ALSO understand why people LOVE the HD650 for its 'tonal delivery'...not necessarily its detail, precision, bass or anything else in terms of TECHNICAL prowess...just its very natural easy presentation style.

2. So get this, I decide to look up the frequency response of the 800S, 650...AND the legendary Sennheiser HE1 $50,000 electrostatic headphone flagship frequency response. GET THIS:
- the HE1 is often referred to by reviewers as the HD650 voice but with all the technical prowess of the 800S

3. I post the 3 graphs below comparing 800S to HE1, 800S to 650 and 650 to HE1...and now you can start to see WHY:


800S vs HE1 below (note 2 major differences...the 6khz 'boost' of 4-5db of the 800S which is in keeping with observations about it still being a touch bright for some people
1629415557334.png


HD800S vs HE650 below...once again, the 800Streble performance shows 4-6db more in the treble region
1629415566215.png


HD650 vs HE1 below (note how the HD650 and the HE1 track each other much more closely in that range)...again consistent with people who observe the HE1 as the 650 but with mythical powers of transparency, bass, attack, detail. (If anything above 6khz the 650 seems even more muted than the HE1 whereas the 800S is actual a touch closer to the HE1.)
1629415572868.png




CONCLUSION/NEXT STEPS?

I found an individual whose moniker is Solderdude on the forums who Tyll Hertsens, former Editor/founder of InnerEar Fidelity (which focused on headphones only), spoke highly of (which gave me some comfort) who creates different passive filters for a few hundred different headphones specifically addressed to focus on certain areas depending on the headphone. See below:

diyaudioheaven.wordpress.com

HD800S

back to Sennheiser back to measurements home Published: Oct-25-2017, updated Dec-14-2020 NO SMOOTHING is applied to the shown plots. Most measurement sites have some smoothing applied which ‘irons …
diyaudioheaven.wordpress.com
diyaudioheaven.wordpress.com

For the 800S, his filters is designed to reduce the 6kz 'boost' by the 4.5db to put it in line with the HE1 and HD650...and in fact almost exactly n line with the HE1 treble performance. This filter 'should' make the 800S and HE1 perform extremely closely for everything above 125hz (where the 800S could use a 4-6db boost to match the exceptionally extended strong bass performance of the HE1).

Below you can see what this filter (green) is doing to the original response of the 800S (red)...specifically in that 7khz range while otherwise leaving the 800S exactly as is. Apparently, too much and you dull the headphone, and thus this is deemed removing that edge and otherwise leaving a reference headphone performance.
1629417921286.png



I have ordered his passive filter and hope to get it next week...it is simply a 12"/30cm cable with passive filter between the amp and the cable using standard 6.5mm connectors. Interesting...if it helps the 800S present more in keeping with the 'gestalt' of the 650 but retains all the technical performance of the 800S...then other than bass...then this is a true reference for me...which at a price I paid of not massively more than the retail of the HD650...I can happily live with without looking over my shoulder at anything else. More to come.
 

tmallin

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I generally agree that loudspeaker listening is superior in terms of realism to what you hear in a live concert. The complete lack of interaural crosstalk makes headphone listening "unnatural" in that sense, unless there is a lot of digital processing going on. Some recent highly touted headphones are so "open" (e.g., the Raal Requisite) that they aren't really sitting on your ears at all and each ear can more easily hear what the other channel is playing, thus increasing interaural crosstalk, but the head-shadowing effect is still not correct, of course.

But with some brain training you can get used to the spatial presentation. Then headphone listening can be rewarding for what it does do so well--taking the room totally out of the equation and allowing you to hear a level of sonic purity and imaging clarity unknown with speaker listening.

And if you "support" the headphone sound with a video your eyes can focus on to anchor the sonic presentation and provide "center fill," the sound can be truly excellent for such an experience. Watching videos on my iMac computer via my Stax SR009S or NAD Viso HP-50 headphones is my favorite way to watch movies and TV shows. The screen is very "big" since I sit close to it and it thus subtends a large angle, and the sound is uncanny in detail, imaging, and natural frequency response from the lowest to highest frequencies.
 

tmallin

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P.S.: No, ordinary listening through headphones does not sound like a live concert in a fine hall as heard from any reasonable audience position. The sound is not "out there" enough, you are too surrounded and/or too much sound seems to emanate from within your head and from extreme right and left. I think that this is most of what folks object to about headphone listening when they say it doesn't sound like music.

But, as I said, it seems possible to train your brain to appreciate headphone sound for what it does do well. As long as you don't expect it to sound like a live concert, but a different sonic experience altogether, all can be well. Getting the perceived frequency response correct is no harder than with speakers. There are no room-mode distortions of bass response, no room-reflection-caused distortions of frequency response above the bass. Imaging placement and the soundfield are rock solid in ways difficult to achieve with speaker-based stereo. Plus, even cheap headphones can give you extreme clarity and detail which adds sonic interest to any material if it is not accompanied by over-brightness.

Many headphone listening fans are not classical music fans, or at least are eclectic in their musical tastes. For non-acoustic music, live venues are hardly the ideal for hearing such music. The stadiums or halls used for such live concerts usually are not nearly so good sounding, and then there's the PA speaker systems through which everything is funneled to your ears--everything is electrified, either through microphone pick-ups or direct boxes. The concert hall listening experience is not necessarily an ideal to be pursued. Thus, even at a logical level, for such music, it matters not that headphone listening doesn't sound as much like listening to live music in a room as speaker listening does.

I recently started a different thread dealing with using easy-to-drive headphones like my NAD Viso HP-50 straight from an iPad. I think many would be amazed at how good such a simple, truly portable audio system can sound, within the limitations of headphone listening discussed above. See https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/m-1-ipad-pro-2021-as-a-streamer-driving-headphones.33248/
 

Andrew S.

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Morning Tom

Thought to share a couple few thoughts - picked up some NAD HP50's (A$302) and some Airport Max's (A$900) - the former to see if I can tolerate headphones before spending any money and the latter to see if BT quality is good enough for me as an audio solution.

For context I've owned a slew of headphones / amps in the past - but never really gravitated to them. Circumstances more or less force me to now - domestic harmony, and no spare rooms following Covid working from home etc.

NADs

I can certainly see what you report about the NAD's, and I certainly share alot of your enthusiasm for them. They are very easy to drive, and are an engaging listen straight out of my M1 MBA - bass is quite good, mids are lovely and treble is nice and clear. I found they made most music sound great - no problem enjoying the Furtwrangler Beethoven's from his War Years all the way along to something like Billie Eilish. At their price point - nothing to complain about SQ wise.

I didn't get the sound-stage you report - but that's probably me and my ears. The NAD's were all abit 'between my ears', but that is a compliant I have with nearly all headphones I've heard - including open backs - unless really well driven. But then I haven't heard the top cans - HD800s, Meze Empyreans/Final D8000's/Stax 009's etc.

Comfort was for me average - the pads are on the smaller side, and didn't really fit my ears. They clamped abit as well.

Cf the Airpod Max's - well different - the Max's are initially much more comfortable for my ears - but after a couple hours it evened out - both cans got tiring - the Max's are heavier and clamp, the NADs are lighter, the pads didn't feel great and after a couple hours they clamp.

The biggest grip I have with the NADs is their build quality. The pads disintegrated after less than 15 hours use, and the supplied cord was faulty from day 1 - had to jiggle the 3.5mm connector to engage left and right channels. I also thought they looked and felt cheap - but that is highly subjective. But then they are what - US$200 or something. I wasn't expecting a Meze Empyrean.

That said - to me the build quality is levels beneath eg AKG 701/Senn 6xx type headphone - both of which can be had for around the $200-300 mark on Drop nowadays. By contrast the build quality on a good set of studio cans - say the tried and true Sony MDR7506's - is subjectively to me much higher: they are - what - $120 or something on sale these days.

Here is a photo of the pads - so you see what I mean. That is after less than 15 hours use.

IMG_0163 (1).jpeg

Long story short - they are being returned. Happy enough with the sound quality - I think it is pretty good for their price - but I can't live with the build quality.

Airpod Max's

Onto the Max's - I had high hopes I could get away with a BT headphone as a solution to listening at home, and being iOS/OSX, these in particular. I don't use Apple Music. I use Spotify and PrimePhonic.

Unfortunately after a few days of using them, I can't share your enthusiasm for their sound quality. Given the next stop would be Ananda BT's at many more $$ (and which can't be returned here) - I'm giving BT up as a viable option.

I should say I've owned the Airpod Pro's for years (I think I have around 3 or 4 pairs lying around now). They have been a work and travel staple. Great for calls, perfect for airports, easy to have about you - I usually have a pair in my pocket - and useful for music/podcasts when I was doing something like cooking, or late at night when speakers would disturb the household - ours is a very open plan house. Hence why my humble but to me good sounding 2 channel got sold off and I'm heading down the headphone route of late.

I found that the Pro's got annoying to me after a couple hours or so use - I got sore ears - but as an iOS user who needs a bluetooth ANC for work - they are a no brain purchase. They also deteriorate after a year or two's use, which is annoying: very much a disposable product.

Funnily enough - my wife doesn't like the Pro's - she gets pressure build up, no matter which size ear piece she tries. Go figure.

Now onto the Max's. Build quality is typically Apple - very good. That said the case they are meant to live in is useless for any sort of storage protection, much less travel protetcion, and the aluminium (metal?) ear pieces I thought would scratch easily - suffice to say they have been handled very carefully since I got them knowing I may want to return them: have to love the 14 day no questions asked return policy with Apple!

Controls were pretty cool - and for someone used to the Pro's - entirely intuitive. Loved the dial up volume on the top. Pairing etc was flawless.

Onto SQ: hate to say it but to me they just aren't very good.

The folks over on HeadFi rave about their sub-bass. I thought it complete mush. Lacked any sort of impact and it all blurred into one. Worse it bled over into the mids.

Listening to eg Notorious B.I.G. "Hypnotize me" or Sneaker Pimps "6 Underground" (actually any trip-hop) or White Stripes "In the Cold Cold Night" , Tool, Led Zep etc wasn't great. The bass lines no impact at all, what bass there was, wasn't crisp and clean, the mids merged... and well...you get the idea. I like deep bass, if tried to be reproduced, to be crisp and hard hitting. I'd rather equipment just not go there if it can't do it well. The Max's went there, badly, IMHO.

More positively - the NADs were much better in this respect. Much.

I won't get onto to Classical - which makes up about 80% of my listening - other than to say the Furtwangler Beethovens - or any Beethoven - wasn't a fun day out. The War Year Furtwangler have a really high noise level - and IME it takes a good set of cans to cut through that. The NADs did a great job of that - the Max's - not so. I don't even try it with the Airpod Pros.

Oddly back to back - I thought that the bass on the AIrpod Pro's was of better quality - principally because they just don't try and reproduce sub bass - its MIA - as well it might be. But what is there is punchy enough. I'd rather listen to eg Mees Dierdorp (deep house EDM I guess you could call it) on my Airpod Pro's than the Max's. The Max's go much deeper, but to me were slow and sloppy.

The mids were to me hopelessly coloured, and the highs lacked air. Overall I thought they were veiled. I guess by now you can see I really didn't like them much.

Sound-stage and imaging weren't bad - about the same as the NAD's - but still between my ears. Maybe that is just something I will find with all headphones.

Apple iOS "EQ"

A number of folks on HeadFi have been playing about in the iOS/Settings/Accessibility/Airpods/Audio Accessibility Settings/Headphone Accomodation - in which basically you have a limited ability to mess around with Apple's "true tone' .... a limited EQ ....specific to that iOS device. Talk about buried in iOS settings...

As usual on HeadFi you get some folks telling you about some miraculous change in character by changing one of these settings - and that may be so - for them.

I found all I achieved was that in trying to fixing one problem I created another - and eventually I just turned the Headphone Accommodation off. Chasing my tail on that one.

Compared to the NADs - well - I much preferred the sound of the NADs. Agree with you 100% on that.

Conclusion

So - all up - I wanted to thank you for your recommendations - I enjoyed trying them both, and share your enthusiasm for the NADs - build quality aside. I have trouble accepting that they were - for me - up to the standard I would expect of a high end can.

So I'm returning both - one (NAD) for build quality, the other (Apple Max's) because I don't think they are worth the money. I just didn't think they were very good. Compared to the AIrPod Pros they were better in some ways for sure, but they aren't for me.

But that is the great thing about this hobby - we all can enjoy different things, and have different experiences.

In this post please don't think for a moment that I am questioning your experiences or listening - I share alot of your enthusiasm for the NADs, but not the Max's.

Thanks again
 
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Addicted to hifi

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Morning Tom

Thought to share a couple few thoughts - picked up some NAD HP50's (A$302) and some Airport Max's (A$900) - the former to see if I can tolerate headphones before spending any money and the latter to see if BT quality is good enough for me as an audio solution.

For context I've owned a slew of headphones / amps in the past - but never really gravitated to them. Circumstances more or less force me to now - domestic harmony, and no spare rooms following Covid working from home etc.

NADs

I can certainly see what you report about the NAD's, and I certainly share alot of your enthusiasm for them. They are very easy to drive, and are an engaging listen straight out of my M1 MBA - bass is quite good, mids are lovely and treble is nice and clear. I found they made most music sound great - no problem enjoying the Furtwrangler Beethoven's from his War Years all the way along to something like Billie Eilish. At their price point - nothing to complain about SQ wise.

I didn't get the sound-stage you report - but that's probably me and my ears. The NAD's were all abit 'between my ears', but that is a compliant I have with nearly all headphones I've heard - including open backs - unless really well driven. But then I haven't heard the top cans - HD800s, Meze Empyreans/Final D8000's/Stax 009's etc.

Comfort was for me average - the pads are on the smaller side, and didn't really fit my ears. They clamped abit as well.

Cf the Airpod Max's - well different - the Max's are initially much more comfortable for my ears - but after a couple hours it evened out - both cans got tiring - the Max's are heavier and clamp, the NADs are lighter, the pads didn't feel great and after a couple hours they clamp.

The biggest grip I have with the NADs is their build quality. The pads disintegrated after less than 15 hours use, and the supplied cord was faulty from day 1 - had to jiggle the 3.5mm connector to engage left and right channels. I also thought they looked and felt cheap - but that is highly subjective. But then they are what - US$200 or something. I wasn't expecting a Meze Empyrean.

That said - to me the build quality is levels beneath eg AKG 701/Senn 6xx type headphone - both of which can be had for around the $200-300 mark on Drop nowadays. By contrast the build quality on a good set of studio cans - say the tried and true Sony MDR7506's - is subjectively to me much higher: they are - what - $120 or something on sale these days.

Here is a photo of the pads - so you see what I mean. That is after less than 15 hours use.

View attachment 81466

Long story short - they are being returned. Happily enough with the sound quality - I think it is pretty good for their price - but I can't live with the build quality.

Airpod Max's

Onto the Max's - I had high hopes I could get away with a BT headphone as a solution to listening at home, and being iOS/OSX, these in particular. I don't use Apple Music. I use Spotify and PrimePhonic.

Unfortunately after a few days of using them, I can't share your enthusiasm for their sound quality. Given the next stop would be Ananda BT's at many more $$ (and which can't be returned here) - I'm giving BT up as a viable option.

I should say I've owned the Airpod Pro's for years (I think I have around 3 or 4 pairs lying around now). They have been a work and travel staple. Great for calls, perfect for airports, easy to have about you - I usually have a pair in my pocket - and useful for music/podcasts when I was doing something like cooking, or late at night when speakers would disturb the household - ours is a very open plan house. Hence why my humble but to me good sounding 2 channel got sold off and I'm heading down the headphone route of late.

I found that the Pro's got annoying to me after a couple hours or so use - I got sore ears - but as an iOS user who needs a bluetooth ANC for work - they are a no brain purchase. They also deteriorate after a year or two's use, which is annoying: very much a disposable product.

Funnily enough - my wife doesn't like the Pro's - she gets pressure build up, no matter which size ear piece she tries. Go figure.

Now onto the Max's. Build quality is typically Apple - very good. That said the case they are meant to live in is useless for any sort of storage protection, much less travel protetcion, and the aluminium (metal?) ear pieces I thought would scratch easily - suffice to say they have been handled very carefully since I got them knowing I may want to return them: have to love the 14 day no questions asked return policy with Apple!

Controls were pretty cool - and for someone used to the Pro's - entirely intuitive. Loved the dial up volume on the top. Pairing etc was flawless.

Onto SQ: hate to say it but to me they just aren't very good.

The folks over on HeadFi rave about their sub-bass. I thought it complete mush. Lacked any sort of impact and it all blurred into one. Worse it bled over into the mids.

Listening to eg Notorious B.I.G. "Hypnotize me" or Sneaker Pimps "6 Underground" (actually any trip-hop) or White Stripes "In the Cold Cold Night" , Tool, Led Zep etc wasn't a good day out. The bass lines no impact at all, what bass there wasn't crisp and clean, the mids merged... and well...you get the idea. I like deep bass, if tried to be reproduced, to be crisp and hard hitting. I'd rather equipment just not go there if it can't do it well. The Max's went there, badly, IMHO.

More positively - the NADs were much better in this respect. Much.

I won't get onto to Classical - which makes up about 80% of my listening - other than to say the Furtwangler Beethovens - or any Beethoven - wasn't a fun day out. The War Year Furtwangler have a really high noise level - and IME it takes a good set of cans to cut through that. The NADs did a great job of that - the Max's - not so. I don't even try it with the Airpod Pros.

Oddly back to back - I thought that the bass on the AIrpod Pro's was of better quality - principally because they just don't try and reporduce sub bass - its MIA - as well it might be. But what is there is punchy enough. I'd rather listen to eg Mees Dierdorp (deep house EDM I guess you could call it) on my Airpod Pro's than the Max's. The Max's go much deeper, but to me were slow and sloppy.

The mids were to me hopelessly coloured, and the highs lacked air. Overall I thought they were sounded veiled. I guess by now you can see I really didn't like them much.

Sound-stage and imaging weren't bad - about the same as the NAD's - but still between my ears. Maybe that is just something I will find with all headphones.

Apple iOS "EQ"

A number of folks on HeadFi have been playing about in the iOS/Settings/Accessibility/Airpods/Audio Accessibility Settings/Headphone Accomodation - in which basically you have a limited ability to mess around with Apple's "true tone' .... a limited EQ ....specific to that iOS device. Talk about buried in iOS settings...

As usual on HeadFi you get some folks telling you about some miraculous change in character by changing one of these settings - and that may be so - for them.

I found all I achieved was that in trying to fixing one problem I created another - and eventually I just turned the Headphone Accommodation off. Chasing my tail on that one.

Compared to the NADs - well - I much preferred the sound of the NADs. Agree with you 100% on that.

Conclusion

So - all up - I wanted to thank you for your recommendations - I enjoyed trying them both, and share your enthusiasm for the NADs - build quality aside. I have trouble accepting that they were - for me - up to the standard I would expect of a high end can.

So I'm returning both - one (NAD) for build quality, the other (Apple Max's) because I don't think they are worth the money. I just didn't think they were very good. Compared to the AIrPod Pros they were better in some ways for sure, but they aren't for me.

But that is the great thing about this hobby - we all can enjoy different things, and have different experiences.

In this post please don't think for a moment that I am questioning your experiences or listening - I share alot of your enthusiasm for the NADs, but not the Max's.

Thanks again
Looks like a dog chewed on them.
 

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