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Audiophilia

Posted by Black Six , in Real Life Jul 03 2012 · 477 views

audiophile headphone earphone music
A week or so ago I brought my car into the dealership for service and was sitting in the waiting area listening to some music when I realized someone was trying to talk to me and I couldn't even hear them. That reminded me how much I enjoy a good pair of noise-isolating earphones, which in turn reminded me how awesome it is to listen to music on quality equipment.

The phones in question were Etymotic hf2s, and I could not recommend them any more highly. Before these I owned a pair of Etymotic ER 6is, which have been sadly discontinued. What makes these so good? They create a seal with your ear that virtually cuts out all background noise, meaning you don't have to crank the volume up nearly as loud and can hear a lot more detail. If you've been using a pair of Apple earbuds or other cheapies and then switch to these, you'll be entering a whole new world of music. If you're looking at any of their other offerings (or those from another manufacturer), make you you look at ones with a balanced armature versus a dynamic driver, they perform much better. I don't recommend them on planes though, as the pressure changes combined with the seal they create can mess with your ears.

For home use (and planes) I use a pair of Sennheiser HD 380 Pros. They're closed back, over-ear cans. Compared to open-back ones, they're better for listening if you have other people around or are recording (like the Powercast) so you don't have any echo. They have a pretty good seal over my ears and help cut out a lot of noise. They're fairly low impedance too which means my iPod has no problem driving them.

Okay, I lied, also at home, I have an Astro A40 Audio System for gaming. They're open-back, over-ear cans. They have some more bass to them, which is good for gaming, and since it's a headset I can use it for in-game chat and such too. Astro makes some quality products and I suggest them if you want surround sound but don't have the space or if you don't want to bother roommates, siblings, or parents while gaming.

Finally, at work, I have a Sennheiser PC166 USB headset (apparently it's been discontinued). They're closed-back, on-ear cans, so they don't block out as much noise as the others, but they also don't bleed sound. Those are good things, because I need to hear phones ringing and people talking to me and don't want to bother co-workers with my music. I originally used the headset to record the BZPowercast, but have since moved on to a more advanced setup (detailed elsewhere in my blog).

So yeah, I think I might have a headphone problem, especially since I've had my eye on a pair of Sennheisers from their 5xx series for a while...

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I wouldn't be surprised if someone used this in a commercial.

"But wait, if you buy 1 more set of Sennheiser PC166 USB headset you will get 1 more free (with processing and handling)!"
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Obsessionist
Jul 03 2012 01:26 PM
Wow. I am so naive about music and related equipment. My earbuds were on sale at CVS.
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-Windrider-
Jul 03 2012 01:53 PM
I've heard mostly good things about the 598s, especially about the imaging and its more lively sound compared to the darker 600 series. The detail is a bit behind that of the 600s/650s, though, but that's to be expected; they aren't numbered higher for nothing.

Then you gotta consider the looks of the cans, and I dunno, I just don't like the "sports sedan" style of the 598s. The 558s look much, much sleeker. When it comes to the 500 series in general, a lot of people take issue with the seemingly cheap build quality, too. The plastic does seem to crack easily where the headband meets the cups. Heck, even the build quality of the 650s isn't outstanding, though significantly better than the 500s'.

I've heard, too, that you can do a simple modification to the 558s to bring them closer to the 598s, so it may come down to which of the two styles you prefer. Both should be easy to drive, though if you're ever looking for an easy upgrade, a good entry-level DAC with an integrated amp would do the trick, like the Fiio E17. That and the 598s would produce some wickedly warm sound.

Audophilia is a slippery slope. I love my Sennheisers more than just about anything, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming about their flagship model from time to time. I don't think my setup would be good enough for them, anyway, even though I recently spent what most would call too much money on a DAC and a fancy amp.
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Yeah I've looked at Fiio's products and may break down and get one at some point. I also have a M-Audio Fast Track Ultra that can act as a DAC and headphone amplifier for stationary listening. I need to reconfigure some of my computing setup before I can really take advantage of that though.
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But they are all so expensive. :(

-Gata Posted Image
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As much as I love music, Audiophilic headphones just cost too much for my taste.
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It's well worth the investment, honest.
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While I probably should invest in some quality headphones soon for my intended purposes, the cost has always bothered me. Particularly on the issue of how long they last. If they don't last as long as earbuds (generally the Sony ones I usually get last around 18 months) I'm just not prepared to fork over thrice or more the money. I know the difference (my audio engineering friend has been an audiophile for a long time, I've heard the difference on his headphones), but the difference just isn't justified in the cost to me. But I haven't really researched into it much obviously and am quite an audiotech novice anyway. It should be something I should look into but...yreh.

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The only pair of headphones I've worn out were the ER 6is, and I got those for around $60 and they lasted for almost four years of pretty heavy use. My hf2s have got to be about 18 months old by now and are still going strong.
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Welp, sounds pretty good to me. I'll have to look into this a bit.

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Mysterious Minifig
Jul 05 2012 05:06 PM
I've been using a pair of JLabs J2s for about a year and a half now and they seem to be working pretty nicely. They sound pretty good, or atleast better then anything I've used before and they were pretty reasonably priced on Amazon ($15).

There was some complaints in reviews about the quality, but it seemed like if you wanted to go to the trouble of contacting the company about problems they would replace them. I haven't run into any issues though, but I guess I'm not super heavy user either.


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Princess Grr
Jul 10 2012 05:26 PM
I feel you, man; I feel you - though for me it's often more "I have a speaker problem" than "I have a headphone problem," haha. It's a pinch in the wallet but music deserves to be heard right. For me, it's especially imperative because I'm recording my own music and having low-quality headphones and monitors would be downright disastrous - I've got to be able to hear the intricate details.

For recording, I use a set of ATH-M50s, with the straight cable. These are specifically made for professional studio monitoring purposes and I'm super pleased with them. Their sound is a little brighter than the equivalent Sennheisers, which is more in keeping with my preference, which is part of why I went with them. I also really like the circumaural cans on these, which is handy when I'm quick holding the phones up to one hear, to listen to just one channel. They're also easily the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn, which is really critical for my long, long recording sessions.

For main monitoring, I use a pair of Alesis Monitor One Mk 2s hooked up to an Alesis RA500 reference amplifier. I've always been really impressed by the quality of Alesis products and I was lucky enough to get the (super expensive) amp secondhand (but unopened) for literally less than 1/10th the price - the person selling it thought it was a preamp and had no idea he had a top-of-the-line reference amp on his hands! This freed me up to get passive studio monitors instead of active ones, and thus get something in a much higher quality range than I otherwise would have snatched.

This is all just for my recording purposes, though; for listening to albums I have two stereo setups - one in my living room, and one in my "bedroom"/lounge. In the living room I've got two HUGE (and heavy) vintage 200w Infinity Speakers from back when the company pretty much exclusively made ultra-high-end speakers. I've got those babies hooked up to a setup of a home theater stereo, vintage studio equalizer, and and a Sony PS-LZ300 turntable. Listening to records through those speakers is a downright sexual level of ecstasy - I like to sit on the floor between the speakers and let it all wash over me.

In my lounge, my setup is simpler. I've got an old Panasonic combo turntable/receiver/cassette deck system from the 70s or 80s hooked up to two vintage Electro-Brand speakers, less than a third the size of my Infinitys but still pretty big! I'm actually not sure the wattage on them, but they sound absolutely lovely...the only information on the sticker on the back is the Electro-Brand logo and a note saying "Custom-built speaker." I got them second-hand. Their quality isn't as crisp and powerful as the Infinity speakers but they give a very sweet, intimate sound that I'd never trade. I just remembered I posted an extreme close-up of the turntable in this system back in this blog entry that I made when I got a copy of Some Girls on orange vinyl. <3 <3

For my desktop computer I have a pair of cheap Logitech Z130s but I don't use my computer to listen to music; I use my turntables. For on-the-go music (i.e., on my iPod), I've been eyeballing high-quality headphones and earbuds for many years but haven't bought a pair yet for a variety of reasons. Most of the times that I listen to music on my iPod, it's in scenarios where I don't want outside noise canceled - such as at work, or when I'm riding the subway and want to hear the "next station" calls, or when I'm cycling or otherwise exercising (I don't want to be able to not hear cars behind me when I'm cycling :P ). The active uses also make me hesitate, since I don't want to risk damaging a nice, expensive piece of equipment. As such, I usually use Koss earbuds in the $30 range - most headphones under $100 use the exact same drivers, but Koss has a reputation of making the highest-quality low-end headphones and I can definitely hear a perceptible difference in quality between them and comparable brands. They're certainly not audiophile-quality stuff though, naturally. Since I really never have need to use headphones at home (outside of recording), what with my private space and top-notch speakers, they've done the job for office and exercise purposes.

With all the travel time I've been clocking this past year on buses and whatnot - and given that it's not going to end anytime soon - I'm feeling like it's finally time for me to get something nice for private listening. I'm still trying to decide which brand/model though!
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