Despite big promises from Bluetooth’s only Hi-res codec, the standard doesn’t really deliver at best, and it falls far short with its basic 330kbps setting. Both the 660kbps and 990kbps connections offer decent quality, but the 330kbps setting has a lot of noise—and a comparatively poor frequency response with higher-def content. You probably won’t hear it, but it definitely falls short of the marketing.
I already own a few headphones, namely the Audio-Technica ATH-Pro500MK2, ATH-T500, Sennheiser PX 100 II & PX 200 II, and the Philips Downtown and Uptown (Rule #3). I’m thinking of adding a new one and I can’t decide between the Beats Solo 2, Grado SR80e, and Sony MDR-10RC (budget constraints). I listen mostly Pop/Rock and Classical music and I have a cheap (Fiio E06) headphone amplifier.
Earbud-style headphones range from the disposable models you get on a plane to the ones that are included with your smartphone to high-performance buds that offer sonics rivaling full-size models. Their tiny earpieces rest on the outer ear or need to be inserted into the ear canal, and some models, particularly sport buds, include wings or fins for a more tailored, secure fit.
I’ve never enjoyed the audio quality of Bluetooth headphones, but that’s just me. The sound is better than it ever has been, and it’ll get you 90% of the way there—but not everybody is willing to make that tradeoff. Since USB-C headphones have largely ceded their market advantages over Bluetooth, we have to examine the consumer audio technology’s performance in a world where the headphone jack is disappearing.
Dale: There are so many types of amplifiers (and DAC’s with amplifiers) that there is no shortcut for studying all of the options, unless you settle for the most generic approach. Important things to consider are power – if you don’t have enough power for your headphone and the dynamics in the music, clipping will result. Sometimes the clipping is “soft” and not readily noticed, but eventually you would discover that much of the detail goes missing or gets veiled with limited dynamics. Another consideration is whether to use a DAC, which may be a separate DAC or built into the same enclosure as the amp. Most DACs will improve the sound over the DACs that are built into computers, but when a DAC is available to replace the DAC built into most cellphones and low to mid-priced music players, you can usually expect a much greater improvement.
Passive noise isolation is essentially using the body of the earphone, either over or in the ear, as a passive earplug that simply blocks out sound. The headphone types that provide most attenuation are in-ear canal headphones and closed-back headphones, both circumaural and supra aural. Open-back and earbud headphones provide some passive noise isolation, but much less than the others. Typical closed-back headphones block 8 to 12 dB, and in-ears anywhere from 10 to 15 dB. Some models have been specifically designed for drummers to facilitate the drummer monitoring the recorded sound while reducing sound directly from the drums as much as possible. Such headphones claim to reduce ambient noise by around 25 dB.
If you have a bass problem you could find a filter of some kind that cuts the low bass. Some bass controls can do that. I haven’t found a music genre that totally lacks strong bass, although “acoustic” sometimes doesn’t have strong bass. Mainly, you should make sure your system is matched properly with amp and headphone, so the different frequencies are in balance. Then you will have better luck with different music.
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I think it’s fair to compare the Grados and HD598, but the M50 is very different and seems not to fit in that comparison. The DT770 is a better comparison to the M50, although the 770 is a better more expensive item. A long time ago I had a Grado 325 and a Sennheiser HD565 – very similar, very enjoyable. Today for that type of sound I might choose the Soundmagic HP100.
The problem is made even worse by the fact that Android phones can’t handle AAC in a method that approaches Apple’s performance with the codec. Consequently, we will no longer be recommending AAC-only headsets here at SoundGuys, as the experience is that broken from source to source. The results are crappier and noisier than the other codecs by a longshot.
Once you’ve got that all order, to put a cherry on top it would be ideal for the amp to play nice with my laptops (PC at work, Mac at home) *and* my *iPhone* 4S. I haven’t found a headunit that works with PCs and iDevices. If one doesn’t exist it would be a big plus for the amp to include inputs so I can get digital sound out of my iPhone (with the Pure i20 or its ilk) and into my headphones.
What I’m saying here is that it’s better to own three $100 headphones than one $300 headphone. Or three $300 headphones than one $900 headphone. Why? Because most people don’t limit their playlist to strictly one genre. And following the logic from Rule #2, the right headphone-music pairing is going to be better than one expensive headphone paired to the wrong music.