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DEALUX

The Audiophile Thread

Recommended Posts

DEALUX

A lot of the high end planars tend to have wood in their build which I hate for obvious reasons. The high end Audeze stuff is sort of in the same budget area as the Stax stuff (I would love to try the L700) and the Sennheiser HD800 (which I would also like to try). I'm still waiting for a good planar that isn't made of wood and sounds good for the money.

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spectre07

I'm using Beyerdynamic DTX501 headphones for nearly one year and are perfect with my Sansa Clip player, nice sound, light, comfortable, simple/beautiful design and a nice case.

 

I've been trying a lot of headphones brands, but for now beyerdynamic are amazing.

Edited by MyNameHere

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DEALUX

Upgraded to UAPP from the stock TIDAL app. No more bugs and absolutely flawless playback. It may somehow even sound better than the TIDAL app and it supports MQA and DSD (though the latter is a bit of a gimmick). UAPP supports all major streaming services in a unified app.

 

Spoiler

39931623_1834106266665101_33873067806849

 

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itandrii

Wow! Great thread! 😎
My audiophile equipment consists of NX4 DSD DAC, old tube amplifier (even don't know its name), WHD Hi-Fi speakers (made in Germany) 😏😏

 

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DEALUX

I was going to buy a Topping DX7s myself but apparently the headphone amp is subpar. Too bad since you can't beat that dual ES9038Q2M DAC configuration for the price and features.

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Night Machine

I have alway been a bit of an audiofile myself (unintentionally). My 5.1 system I have now I have had since 1999 and have acquired the tidbits ever since. Right now my system consists of a Technics SA-DX940 5.1 DTS Receiver (fiber optic), (matching) Technics 60 disc SL-MC4 Mega CD changer, (front speakers) Klipsch R-51M's, )(center) Klipsch KV2, (rear) Mitsubishi MSS-5's and (subwoofer) Jensen JS-1000A 200w sub. It all makes a great sounding system IMHO and I enjoy it for music, movies and gaming. Great thread BTW :cool:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Night Machine

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thehambone

Got a pair of JBL 305P MKII studio monitors for Christmas. Gonna use them for mixing from now on. I also use a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones for mixing and general music listening.

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DEALUX

This is a neat sound demo. The AKGs are more colored than I thought (though they do sound a bit weird in the mids compared to my speakers). I want to upgrade to the Focal Elex maybe or the HD 660S unless I decide for something hi-end.

 

 

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DEALUX

My impressions of the ER3XR that I got today. I'm selling my AKGs lol. These outperform both the K550 and the K712 at a much smaller price.

 

TYgSLQR.jpg

 

The Etymotic ER3XR balanced armature reference IEMs. In my opinion a mid-fi benchmark. Absolutely superb performance for $140 and easily outperforms more expensive cans like the AKG K550 and K712 with a wonderfully coherent sound, super extended clean bass with a Harman curve, and good passive isolation.

So what are the downsides? The first obvious one is the comfort. They can be painful at first because they require deep insertion (my right ear experienced discomfort but curiously enough the left ear was completely fine) but they get better over time. Just don't move the cable or you'll really hurt your ear canal. Speaking of the cable, yes it does have pretty bad microphonics but honestly I don't care at this price and the overall build seems a bit cheap but I'm not expecting them to break anytime soon. There are people reporting using Etymotic IEMs for more than 5 years without breaking. Of course, you need to use the carrying pouch that they come with.

Overall the sound presents itself very neutral\balanced and super coherent. At first they seemed a bit underwhelming due to the flat tuning but I did quickly remark that they sounded different somehow, which I'll get into when I'll talk about the mids. Oh, the mids. 2764.png❤️

 

The highs are perhaps the weakest point for me but not really. They are a bit rolled off and relaxed but this results in a completely fatigue free sound signature. They're not very subdued so on genres like drum and bass you'll still get to hear some sparkly highs which are honestly better than the full size AKGs that I've owned. The EQ-ed K712 (stock treble is too hot) gets quite a bit grainy in the highs (also mids and bass actually) but the ER3XR here maintain an acceptable level with plenty of texture and instrument separation. Significantly better than most\all full size cans in this price range. That's that BA driver for you.

 

Mids are absolutely wonderful. They are like the perfect girlfriend. So enchanting and well tempered and she whispers sweet things in your ears all the time. You can't help but fall in love with them. They seem a bit forward at first but maybe that's due to the superior instrument separation, which is also obvious here. These are by far the most even\natural sounding mids with the best separation I've heard in a headphone. They kinda make me scared of what other more expensive full size cans can do (HD800 or e-stats are a future purchase possibility). I can hear clearly separated vocals from backing vocals with beautifully decaying reverb\delay to the point where I shouted out loud "OH, WOW" several times throughout my 3 hour listening session. Other instruments come across very clearly as well in a song that's properly mixed with plenty of dynamic range. None of the AKGs that I've owned can do this. Typically vocals and backing vocals get mushed together and instruments are subdued when loud vocals play but not on the Etymotic. On well produced songs you can pretty much hear everything as clearly as you'd want to. It's also often distracting hearing an echo at the side whilst the vocals are playing like "hey, wanna listen to this cool echo of the vocal? you can hear it as clearly as the vocals". Or any instruments that play along the vocals (which are usually more prominent). You hear that instrument clearly as well as any echo\reverb they might have. Not possible on your typical mid-fi dynamic driver.

 

Bass is really good. Thicc but in a good way lol. At first it seems a bit boomy but on closer inspection it only seems to appear that way due to the extended nature of it. Sub bass extends really deep, deeper than any headphone I've heard and it has plenty of texture. The EQ-ed K712s could do bass close to the Harman target like the ER3XR (but still a few dB less) but the lowest notes always sounded dark to me, like there was no texture. The Etymotics deliver texture even on the lowest notes and the bass plays along with the rest of the song really well. On a well produced song it does not seem to duck behind other instruments like it typically does on other headphones in this price range. It has a very obvious presence (not in quantity, but in the virtual space that it occupies) and doesn't disappear when more instruments play over it. It can sound huge for IEMs, like my head is a tiny sub but in actual speaker terms, this sub would probably be a super efficient 8 or 10" woofer and perhaps with an additional transmission line for the lowest notes. It's so good that a speaker performing linear and detailed bass like this would be very expensive (probably in the thousands of $, including the required sound treatment).

 

Soundstage and imaging are also very good for IEMs. This would also be a good time to mention that they don't actually sound very closed. On some songs they can sound pretty open. It's as if you have a very clear image of the instruments that's mostly inside your head (occasionally it moves forward towards your forehead or sideways, out of your head). It is very difficult to explain the difference between closed backs (which IEMs typically are) and open backs. Open backs sound more open and natural but these IEMs are somewhere in the middle. I get vivid images of instruments but not with super accurate localization in the stereo field but somehow they still seem vivid. There is a room inside my head (mostly) where these instruments are playing but it is more like a flat image of that room. Not quite holographic or 3D.

Edited by DEALUX

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sivispacem

@DEALUXI've been looking to try and source that Oppo headphone amp here in the UK (well, the updated version of it), but having no success. Which is a shame. Totally forgot you had one.

 

I'm currently on the hunt for some isolating wired over-ears for home/office use. Need to be closed backed, not too fussed about impedance as long as they're drivable from a battery/non-mains headphone amp (I've got a FIIO and a Cyrus).

Looking to spend circa £400, my preference is for studio/reference type headphones. I like a bit of colour, nothing too clinical, but it needs to be natural and retain enough detail to be worth the additional investment over K550s and the like.

 

At the moment, I'm between the Audio-Technica ATH-A1000Z or W1000Z, and Shure SRH1540. I'd considered the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pros, but 250Ω makes them challenging to drive from anything that isn't mains (or at least direct USB) powered.

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DEALUX
Posted (edited)
54 minutes ago, sivispacem said:

@DEALUXI've been looking to try and source that Oppo headphone amp here in the UK, but having no success. Which is a shame.

 

I'm currently on the hunt for some isolating wired over-ears for home/office use. Need to be closed backed, not too fussed about impedance as long as they're drivable from a battery/non-mains headphone amp (I've got a FIIO and a Cyrus).

Looking to spend circa £400, my preference is for studio/reference type headphones. I like a bit of colour, nothing too clinical, but it needs to be natural and retain enough detail to be worth the additional investment over K550s and the like.

 

At the moment, I'm between the Audio-Technica ATH-A1000Z or W1000Z, and Shure SRH1540. I'd considered the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pros, but 250Ω makes them challenging to drive from anything that isn't mains (or at least direct USB) powered.

Funny thing is I actually sold mine a while ago for cheap ($120) due to my IEMs being so efficient that they don't benefit a lot from an amp. Also sold my AKGs around the same time. OPPO is not making audio products anymore. Either the company is defunct or that specific branch is but you might still be able to find used HA-2s on ebay. I'd probably also go for a used Chord Mojo, which has more power and slightly cleaner sound (in theory due to better measurements), despite the lack of a traditional volume knob.

 

None of those seem like bad choices. If I had to guess, the Shure headphones are the most similar to the K550 judging by measurements (I look at the raw grey graphs in this list: https://www.innerfidelity.com/headphone-measurements).

 

I gotta tell you though that having owned full size dynamic driver headphones (all of them AKGs, but still representative of the performance in that price bracket) I have some idea what you can expect from them. If you could stomach IEMs, I'd rather recommend either the ER3XR or the ER4XR from Etymotic. I'm actually getting the ER4XR next month as an upgrade to the ER3XR. Both are supposed to offer similar performance but the ER3XR is slightly more muffled sounding (but $140 is a hell of a price, a really good one) and still maintains the same natural balance of the ER4XR (the latter which has slightly more treble and less sub bass warmth). Both of these completely destroy dynamic driver headphones of up to $500 quite possibly. The ER4XR in particular has a very smooth tuning that is very pleasant to the ear: https://www.innerfidelity.com/images/EtymoticER4XR.pdf

 

It's crazy to make such a claim but that damned balanced armature driver (that's tinier than a fingernail) delivers crazy good performance. Very little distortion that's actually audible and that natural sounding tuning makes for a very pleasant listening experience akin to sitting close to a really good pair of speakers. In the graphs in the link above you can see that the ER4XR has very good bass extension (flat to the 0 dB reference at 500 Hz, with a bump in sub bass similar to the K550) with less distortion that you typically see in dynamic driver stuff once you go really low into the sub bass, well below the natural resonance of the driver. They're not only really natural sounding but they also have better detail and instrument separation than any of the dynamic driver headphones that I've heard. In my ER3XR post I mentioned instruments having a weird presence (it's a subtle effect but a noticeable one for an experienced listener) which at the time I didn't know how to fully describe. Essentially these IEMs are so detailed that they actually give you a bit of depth (front to back) in their stereo image and sometimes that image bends a bit behind your ears. The K550 sounded very flat by comparison from what I remember in terms of imaging and giving you that room effect of the recording. Even my open back AGKs didn't have that depth and they were open lol.

 

The Achilles heel of ER4XR would be the comfort. I happen to have average size ears (ear holes) and they fit perfectly in mine with the stock tips but I was feeling quite a bit of discomfort initially. HOWEVER, that aspect has drastically improved in a matter of a few days. Right now they are the most comfortable IEMs ever for me. They don't bother me at all and I barely feel them in my ears. There is an adjusting period for all IEMs. I'm familiar with other types of tips like Comply and other IEMs but the comfort is greatest with Etymotic silicone tips for me despite the deep insertion. Also, cable microphonics are horrid too but it's not an issue if you don't move a lot and it's somewhat alleviated with the shirt clip.

 

There are a lot of headphones out there but I think the ER4XR would surprise you in many many ways. They don't sound as tiny as other IEMs and the sound balance is just so natural sounding. You can see it in the smoothness of that raw (grey) graph. It doesn't have any sudden peaks like other headphones which makes highs in particular super smooth and enjoyable. These will be my last purchase until I decide on a high end pair of open backs, probably STAX L700, but these will be my reference as far as what a neutral headphone is supposed to sound like.

 

Edited by DEALUX

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sivispacem

I've had/have a few pairs of IEMs. My preference for everyday listening is definitely over-ears. Better soundstage, better instrument separation, and much easier to ignore when you're doing other stuff. I've found a lot of "depth" you get from IEMs feels artificial. Though I'd caveat that by saying I've not tried any of the newer challenger brands, just Shure, Sony, Sennhieser, AKG et al.

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DEALUX

@sivispacem Full size headphones that are designed with comfort in mind will always feel better but I don't think any of these closed backs can compete with the ER4XR both in terms of tuning and performance. I believe that BA drivers are special in some ways. They might be easier to tune properly and they seem to suffer less from unwanted resonances and stuff. And the result is a very smooth and detailed sound that is hard to match by a full size can.

 

I think the ER4XR\ER3XR sit somewhere between the K550 and K712 in terms of soundstage. It's song dependent but songs that make use of that space can sound quite wide on the Etymotics and they even bend around your head a little due to the increased depth. The thing I found striking was that instruments that are panned to the side can sound very clear, almost completely separated from the other instruments in songs that are well mastered. Instruments can sound big or small depending on the song. I'm not always aware that I'm not listening to headphones with bigger drivers. However, songs that don't pan instruments enough in the stereo space can sound tiny. Overall I'd say I'm not missing the soundstage of full size cans very much. If you want huge soundstage you'd need an open back, like an HD800 or those big driver planars or electrostats that completely cover your ear with those huge drivers.

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sivispacem
14 hours ago, DEALUX said:

@sivispacem Full size headphones that are designed with comfort in mind will always feel better but I don't think any of these closed backs can compete with the ER4XR both in terms of tuning and performance. I believe that BA drivers are special in some ways. They might be easier to tune properly and they seem to suffer less from unwanted resonances and stuff. And the result is a very smooth and detailed sound that is hard to match by a full size can.

Logically I'd find that pretty surprising given the absolute deficit in available driver real estate compared to over-ears, but I'm intrigued.

What do the ER4XR's do that, say, Shure SR535s don't? I love the 535s as a detailed in-ear, but I still don't think they have the same depth of sound (or soundstage) as the low/mid-price audiophile grade over-ears.

IME they're also ruthlessly unforgiving when it comes to source quality and particularly poor dynamic range production- I've got stuff I can't listen to at all on my 535s because it's only DR3 or DR4, wall-of-sound production and it's unbearably harsh. 

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DEALUX
Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, sivispacem said:

Logically I'd find that pretty surprising given the absolute deficit in available driver real estate compared to over-ears, but I'm intrigued.

What do the ER4XR's do that, say, Shure SR535s don't? I love the 535s as a detailed in-ear, but I still don't think they have the same depth of sound (or soundstage) as the low/mid-price audiophile grade over-ears.

IME they're also ruthlessly unforgiving when it comes to source quality and particularly poor dynamic range production- I've got stuff I can't listen to at all on my 535s because it's only DR3 or DR4, wall-of-sound production and it's unbearably harsh. 

Well, those Shure IEMs might already be better than the Etymotics. They seem to be based on a multi dynamic driver set-up and looking at measurements they have a similar balance to the ER4XR though I assume that's highly dependent on the tips you use.

 

The advantage of the ER4XR is the single driver with the highly accurate tuning which results in a very coherent sound with good detail and dynamics. Perhaps full size dynamics sound a bit bigger in terms of instrument size but the ER4XR edges them out in terms of detail and overall performance at the same price (~$300) as far as I can tell. I mean if I could buy an open back with a similarly neutral tuning and the same level of detail I would but I doubt it exists at $300-400 (the ER4XR would also have the advantage of deeper and less distorted bass). I think the closest thing to it would be something like the Focal Elex but that is already twice as expensive.

 

Edit: I'll ask for recommendations in the head-fi group.

 

Late edit: A lot of people are suggesting Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow (closed) but as a used pair which goes for around that price or a bit more and they're meant to be a high end headphone. It's an interesting suggestion but they're apparently pretty hard to drive.

Edited by DEALUX

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sivispacem

I like the idea of the Aeon Flow, but I don't want to go crazy in terms of driving requirements. Similar reason for deciding against the BeyerDynamic DT1770 Pro.

I see a lot of chatter around the Massdrop/Fostex TR-X00 series and some glowing reviews, but they're not readily available anywhere in the UK for me to try and I suspect they're very heavily coloured given their sound is basically crowdsourced. They're also semi-open.

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DEALUX

I might have the opportunity now to get a Sennheiser HD800 in July. Problem is they are notoriously bright and I kinda hate the idea of EQ-ing my headphones. However, I'm leaning towards that either way since the ER4XR (which is an expertly tuned IEM) won't reach the same level of detail and the openness of sound on the HD800 is supposed to be top notch. I'll need a new amp and DAC for sure though.

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sivispacem

Decided to hold off on sourcing headphones until I've had opportunity to trial a few different options. Instead I've decided I'm going to up-spec my PC audio by replacing my DAC/headphone amp and active AudioEngine speakers with a combined DAC/power amplifier and some small passive bookshelf monitors.

 

Ordered some Q-Acoustics 3010i passives and currently trying to source a decent slimline desktop amplifier. Denon PMA30 currently topping my list.

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Mister Pink

I got the SoundMagic E11C's ear buds. I absolutely thought I'd never go for IEMs again but I was sick of carrying around my headphones (Audio-Technica MTX40) - which I bought for music production but doubled as my daily-use headphones.  

 

I wanted something to I could wear laying down and something - maybe a podcast while going asleep or something I can throw my pocket easily. So I decided to give IEM's ago. Dealux, I remember you gave some great recommendations over PM but I ended up with the SoundMagic E11C's. Like the MTX40's they're budget in price. Aside from saving money, I do enjoy finding budget gear that goes beyond expectations and these E11C's do that for me. For under €50 they're well worth it. I wont cry if I lose them/damage them but I'm getting the value of decent sound. They aren't perfect - IEMs are still a pain when I snag the wire and they pop out of my ears. Best way to describe them is that they almost matched the quality of the MTX40's - and I mean that rather subjectively. I had to ask myself, if I was enjoying the music as much or close to the same level as I was before with the Audio-Technica's - a sort of cost/benefit analysis when I factored in the convenience factor. I didn't feel like too much of a downgrade and besides, I'm using them for podcasts about 50% of the time. 

 

Now the MTX40's stay at home, where they should be, plugged in to my soundcard and now they usually get used for production stuff. I'll probably upgrade to a more high-end pair of studio-monitor headphones and when I do, I'll probably be back here. 

 

 

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DEALUX

65106341_2282479281827795_62042851204220

 

I got the HD600 yesterday. Oh boy, these are the headphones I should have started with instead of those annoyingly bright and colored AKGs. These are way more transparent and natural sounding than any headphone I've heard so far. A bit on the warm side above 100 Hz for my taste but not too much to the point where I find them annoying. The mids aren't really that forward as people say, maybe a little, which is more noticeable due to the lack of sub bass. They still have a decent amount but nothing to get excited about. I thought my Etymotics would beat them with their smooth balanced armature sound but they don't. The Sennheisers have significantly better dynamics and more texture to the sound. My ER3XRs are a bit too muffled to be considered neutral but they are more of a warm DF tuning than a Harman one (the latter of which is more accurate, being more speaker like).

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SilverRST

Anyone can recommend me very good earbuds? I can't have the in-ears versions.

 

And anyone knows why the volume knob doesn't work on pc when using the Marshall Mid ANC? Or does it only volume adjusting only work when it's connected to pc using bluetooth?

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DEALUX
2 hours ago, SilverRST said:

And anyone knows why the volume knob doesn't work on pc when using the Marshall Mid ANC? Or does it only volume adjusting only work when it's connected to pc using bluetooth?

Volume knob on the headphone? Yeah, that's obviously reserved for Bluetooth.

 

If you connect it to your PC via a cable it turns into an analog device which cancels the Bluetooth and DSP stuff (also ANC—active noise cancelling). I don't recommend connecting it to anything via wire though. Wireless headphones are usually DSP-ed to sh*t to sound "good" so connecting it directly to a source will disable that and reveal its passive sound, which usually sucks. I mean ANC headphones usually suck either way but they'll suck even more without the Bluetooth\DSP stuff.

 

I don't know about earbuds but I would honestly rather use my Etymotic IEMs, which have supreme passive noise isolation, than any ANC headphone. The ER3XR has a bit of an odd sound signature but they sound better (to my ears) than most things but they are an in-ear headphone which can be uncomfortable at first at least. For me, they are the most comfortable in-ears. In some sense even more comfortable than earbuds.

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SilverRST
3 hours ago, DEALUX said:

Volume knob on the headphone? Yeah, that's obviously reserved for Bluetooth.

 

If you connect it to your PC via a cable it turns into an analog device which cancels the Bluetooth and DSP stuff (also ANC—active noise cancelling). I don't recommend connecting it to anything via wire though. Wireless headphones are usually DSP-ed to sh*t to sound "good" so connecting it directly to a source will disable that and reveal its passive sound, which usually sucks. I mean ANC headphones usually suck either way but they'll suck even more without the Bluetooth\DSP stuff.

 

I don't know about earbuds but I would honestly rather use my Etymotic IEMs, which have supreme passive noise isolation, than any ANC headphone. The ER3XR has a bit of an odd sound signature but they sound better (to my ears) than most things but they are an in-ear headphone which can be uncomfortable at first at least. For me, they are the most comfortable in-ears. In some sense even more comfortable than earbuds.

So the volume knob will work when the headset is connected to PC using bluetooth adapter? I don't care about ANC or any other noise canceling as I only use headphones/earbuds in my house. Just needed a confirmation about the volume knob working only via bluetooth.

 

And as for earbuds, I guess I'll keep using my Sony MDR-E818LP when not using the headphone in some circumstances.

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DEALUX
8 minutes ago, SilverRST said:

So the volume knob will work when the headset is connected to PC using bluetooth adapter? I don't care about ANC or any other noise canceling as I only use headphones/earbuds in my house. Just needed a confirmation about the volume knob working only via bluetooth.

 

And as for earbuds, I guess I'll keep using my Sony MDR-E818LP when not using the headphone in some circumstances.

I assume you already use it that way with your phone, so yes, if you can get a dongle or DAC (with Bluetooth functionality) and connect them to your PC that way it will work.

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SilverRST
Posted (edited)
8 minutes ago, DEALUX said:

I assume you already use it that way with your phone, so yes, if you can get a dongle or DAC (with Bluetooth functionality) and connect them to your PC that way it will work.

Yes, that's right. The volume knob works when it's connected to my phone. It's a shame, I like the included aux cable 😛

 

Can you recommend me a good dongle?

Edited by SilverRST

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DEALUX
55 minutes ago, SilverRST said:

Yes, that's right. The volume knob works when it's connected to my phone. It's a shame, I like the included aux cable 😛

 

Can you recommend me a good dongle?

Have a look around. See which one gets the best reviews: https://www.amazon.co.uk/headphone-pc-bluetooth-dongle/s?k=headphone+pc+bluetooth+dongle

 

I'm not familiar with this stuff but any of these should do. 

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SilverRST
Posted (edited)
On 7/2/2019 at 7:37 PM, DEALUX said:

Have a look around. See which one gets the best reviews: https://www.amazon.co.uk/headphone-pc-bluetooth-dongle/s?k=headphone+pc+bluetooth+dongle

 

I'm not familiar with this stuff but any of these should do. 

Alright, appreciate it.

 

@DEALUX What is this earphones you have?:

https://i.imgur.com/bIWEaol.png

Edited by SilverRST

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sivispacem
On 6/9/2019 at 9:17 AM, sivispacem said:

Decided to hold off on sourcing headphones until I've had opportunity to trial a few different options. 

Ended up ordering some Audio-Technica ATH-A990Zs.

 

Audio-Technica-ATH-A990-Test-18.jpg

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DEALUX
Posted (edited)
On 7/2/2019 at 8:54 PM, SilverRST said:

@DEALUX What is this earphones you have?:

https://i.imgur.com/bIWEaol.png

Some $50 Sony IEMs. They sound too muddy though. I actually recommend the Sony MH755, which is way cheaper at $7 on ebay. They're fairly neutral and natural sounding for an IEM save for the sub bass which is a bit too elevated.

 

69374039_2403332929742429_78805632764031

 

 

My daily driver headphone is currently my Etymotic ER4XR IEM. They're a bit weird in terms of tuning. Just recently I realized why. They have scooped treble between 4-10K, but not as excessive as some headphones, which actually contributes to this sense of more separation, flatness in the highs, and a higher sense of coherency throughout the frequency range. It's a weird sounding IEM but very pleasing to listen to. It's just not very impactful but rather soft in its dynamics.

 

66760803_2319378658137857_50902260604574

Edited by DEALUX

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sivispacem

So day 1 with the ATH-A990Zs and having tested them back-to-back with my older K550s I've got to say, I'm super impressed. All listening driven from a TI OPA2134 based Audioengine D1 DAC/headphone amp, YMMV with other driving sources. 

 

First, the downsides:

  • "Wing" design headband: Lots of people report the headband design on the high-fidelity Audio Technica range, which uses two spring-loaded adjustable wings rather than a conventional headband, don't have enough clamping force, particularly with smaller heads. In my case I don't experience the slipping other people report, but they do feel decidedly "odd" on, like there's no real weight to them which is strange as they're pretty chunky headphones (they're supposed to be marginally heavier than the K550s, but definitely don't feel it). Think that will take some getting used to. Might try one of the fit mods (usually involving a firm rubber band to increase the tension in these wings) and see how that works.
  • Earcups get seriously hot: Probably no worse than most over closed-back leather/pleather type headphones, but it's been 31°C today, and they're getting pretty toasty/sweaty after an hour or so's listening. I've got a set of alcantara (synthetic suede) Shure SHR-1540 earcups which I had been using on my K550s at work, but I'd swapped them back over and forgotten to take them home with me so I didn't get to test them. Already ordered another set of these and I'll try them with the A990Zs.
  • Isolation: Not as good as some of the other closed-back headphones I've tried. Still much better than most open-backs, but I wouldn't describe them as passive noise cancelling. Note quite as good as the K550s.

Holy sh*t, do they sound good, though.

  • Balance: Fairly neutral overall, with a little bit of extra kick in the mid-bass and low-mids in particular. It's a balance that suits most of the music I listen to pretty well, as it elevates bassists who tend to get largely mixed out (unfairly IMO). Probably less neutral overall than the K550s, but they're not designed as studio monitors so it doesn't really matter. No bloat or resonance in the bass, no overextension anywhere in the range.
  • Envelope: Natural, with a great deal of clarity- more so than pretty much anything I've heard sub-£400. Spacing is fantastic and they don't get muddied by complexity or high density. Not very forgiving with poorly mixed or recorded music; in fact they really show up poor, compressed DR in recording in particular, but very few decent headphones are (and I'm not sure I'd ever want them to be). The Loudness War and this recent fad for idiotic dynamic range compression can seriously f*ck off; artists that allow their music to be corrupted in this way deserve it to be unlistenable.
  • Dynamics: For everyday (rather than critical) listening, outstanding. Super rich and creamy, huge depth, intricate/detailed and characterful but not dishonest. No sibilance and less fatiguing than most analytical headphones, very easy-going, energetic and generally good fun- something audiophile headphones struggle with sometimes.
  • Soundstage: Great for a closed-back and very good overall. Surprisingly good separation, particularly in treble and midrange. Not oppressive, and not distant- spot on really. 

 

-Edit

 

After a few more days of listening, I'm properly in awe. There's so much detail I'm discovering new stuff in albums I've listened to literally hundreds of times. Things like ride cymbals that are usually totally lost are clear enough to be easily distinguished but never too prominent. 

 

Sadly the 1540 pads are too small, but to be honest they've not got too hot in the office so far.

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