Again, back on the automobile analogy. If you’re driving in downtown Chicago after winter time, the road is full of potholes. It would be nice to be riding in a nice SUV, rather than typical sports car with a fully stiff suspension. It doesn’t matter if your sports car happen to cost three times the cost of the SUV, it’s just the wrong car for the road. Likewise headphones. A $1,000 headphone can sound very awful on the wrong music. Don’t believe me? Try listening to Linkin Park with the $1,800 Sennheiser HD800. You will wonder where that $1,800 went.
Music keeps me energized all day (and into the night) at work — 70% electronica/dance/DNB, 20% rock, 5% hip hip and 5% other/classical — but I’m tired of low-quality sound and I’m ready to put my money where my ears are. I want to buy a USB DAC + Headphone amp, buy headphones (or, per your recommendation, to buy 2 pair) to complement the amp and my choice of music, and get great desktop sound for around $350.
Ok, it’s been a month and a lot of new experience. I’ve auditoned ATH M-50 (clamp’s too tight; they sweat my ears just from few minutes of exposure) and Senn HD 600 (the velour pad is amazingly comfortable & size is ok). So, long story short, now I can refine my search to: circumaural&non-pleather/foam pads, which brought me to Senn HD 439 (cloth) & 518 (velour).
However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality, dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.
The iPhone will drive the headphone fine and make a very nice sound, but the amp will make a big improvement in harmonic extension and soundstage. Use the amp whenever possible. Both Headfonia and I concur that the E07k is a great amp, and probably the best thing you can get for up to twice the price. I’m familiar only with the E07k, the E17, and the E12. I think the E07k beats the E17 (and both are also USB DACs), while the E12 is just an amp, and has a darker sound but with more power for inefficient headphones. The Philips is not inefficient.
EQ controls: Equalization, more commonly referred to as EQ, controls the different aspects of sound that come through your headphones, and some headphones come with custom apps that let you adjust the EQ in granular detail. With the right EQ controls, you can add more treble, bump up the bass, or just create a sound profile that’s suited to your tastes. If you’re into customizing how your music sounds, look for headphones that work with an EQ app.
Earbuds have small speakers that rest on the ear canal of the wearer. These are usually much less expensive than on-ear and over-ear headphones and reproduce the sound well. However, outside sounds, such as traffic or power tools, can get past the earbuds and interfere with your enjoyment. Earbuds also don't stay in place very well if the wearer is moving much, such as exercising. These also are lower fidelity than on-ear and over-ear headphones.