UPDATE(3/27/17): I’ve reviewed the 250 Ohm version of the DT770 Pros! They’re quite good!
Air Pods are still 6 weeks backordered. This is starting to feel like a sick joke of a social experiment.
I don’t want them anymore. I’m not playing this game.
UPDATE (3/7/17): I’ve purchased the MDR-1000X, which uses the same basic drivers and a lot of other tech from the MDR-1A, so I’m putting that review down below and taking the 1A off the list.
Air Pods ARE STILL BACKORDERED WHAT THE HELL APPLE.
UPDATE (2/21/17): Added Review/impressions links below to the pairs I’ve checked out so far! I’ll link them here too. That’s the SHP 9500, the 380 Pro, and the Sony Platinum Headset. Also added impressions below of the new Sennheiser 579.
Air Pods are still backordered. -_-
I keep a personal list of headphones I’d like to listen to, and at the end of 2016, I hit the end of the list.
Instead of stopping, it’s time to make a new one.
I’m not on any headphone reviewer lists at audio companies, nor am I doing this as a professional. It’s a side hobby. So that means I either have to buy every headphone I review, or know someone who owns a pair.
I have a few ground rules. I only buy headphones that are below the $3–400 range. In my personal listening experience, that’s the exact place where the diminishing quality returns fall off a huge cliff. Beyond that price level, most of your money is going into some kind of excess instead of audio quality.
Cheap good headphones are way more interesting to me than expensive good headphones. And I imagine they’d be of more interest to consumers as well. I like seeing all of the sound signature, design, and build differences in the more mainstream pricing tiers.
Here’s my list of headphones I’d like to listen to and comment on in 2017.
Headphone List for 2017 in No Particular Order
Creative Aurvana Live (~$50)
I’ve heard so many good things about this cheap headphone. It’s a remake/rebrand of a classic Denon headphone…the D1001, I think? This headphone got some new attention recently over at Massdrop. They’re making a new version of it but with purple wooden cups. I would have bought one of these sooner…but I hate waiting for shipping. I know that’s silly. But it’s true. I’m also not a fan of its non-detachable dual-entry cord. I guess a single-sided cord is too much to expect in this price range, but it would still be nice.
Interestingly, the Aurvana Live 2 is a completely different rebranded headphone. Weird!
Phillips SHP9500 (~$70)
I’ve been curious about this one ever since this infamous video made by Z Reviews. That video is probably NSFW. He’s a humorous, entertaining, sometimes-informative guy, and he had a lengthy love-affair with this open headphone. At the price and with ear cups and a fit that nice, it’s probably worth a look even though I don’t often check out open headphones.
This was going to be the SRH440…but I already covered that one. The 440 is good enough that I now want to hear the higher-end model. The 840 used to be the flagship of the Shure headphone line…until they went crazy and produced a bunch of more expensive ones. The 440 was the mid-grade model originally, but it’s now the entry level. The 840 appears to be a cushier, slightly more bass-heavy 440. Which means it’s probably just about perfect for the price.
Fostex T50RP MkIII(~$150)
Everyone loves the T50. It’s got the world’s cheapest planar magnetic driver. It’s got a super ugly design. It comes with a bright orange cord. With its worst-in-class aesthetics, it’s hard for me to get too excited about it. I know people love the sound quality, and I’ve got an amp that should be able to drive them to their fullest potential. But I have such a hard time getting past how they look. Looks are important! Call me shallow if you want. But it’s true.
Sennheiser HD 380 Pro ($ I don’t even know)
I put “I don’t even know” in the price field because there are a few different versions of this headphone. Sennheiser has made several gaming headsets using the body, pads, and drivers from the 380 pro, and sometimes they go on sale for like $80. That’s a great price! Trouble is, the gaming headset versions don’t have detachable microphones. Lame! I don’t want to be sitting in a coffee shop with a big boom microphone on the side of my head, but I’m not sure I want to pay full price for the 380s either when cheaper microphone-riddled versions exist.
Once I figure out this dilemma, I’ll try out this headphone.
I used to own one of these, but I sold it. I had a chat with a guy online about the merits of this headphone versus some others…and now I miss it. It’s pretty easy to find this headphone, particularly the international version, at a solid discount. It’s normally still about $300 in the US. I’ll probably buy another one soon. It’s perhaps the most comfortable headphone ever made.
UPDATE: Hey! I bought the MDR-1000X instead, in spite of once writing a blog about how I didn’t like it. Turns out they’re amazing! Probably my favorite I’ve ever owned? Probably.
Beyerdynamic DT880/990 (~$200–$250, depending on model)
The DT770 Pro is so good! I’m wearing mine right now. Their sound performance and build are so excellent for the price, and they have one of the few long straight cables that doesn’t annoy me.
Because of that, I now want to check out other models using this same driver technology. I might also try another variant of the 770. I went from being skeptical of Beyerdynamic to being an instant fan thanks to the 770 Pro. It’s clear to me now that their line is worth investigating.
Update! I tried the 579. It seems okay…the headband is also featured on the 598Cs, and the sound is very similar to the original 598. To the point where I talked myself out of buying them.
Surprisingly little info exists about these headphones online, save for one or two reviews. The 579 might just be the 599 in a different body? They both might just be largely aesthetic redesigns of the classic 598?
I want to know the answers to these questions. The 598 is exceptional. So good in fact, that I have no desire to buy the 600. I know the 600 is thought of as the “king of neutral,” but looking at the charts, the 598 is so close that I feel like I’d be spending redundant money, and I love the expansive soundstage of the 598.
Apple Air Pods($159)
UPDATE: I don’t want these any more. There’s still a six week wait. That’s dumb and stupid and dumb.
I highly suspect these will be a stupid investment.
I wanted to buy some last year, but they’re backordered with a minimum of a six week wait. That’s ridiculous. Like. What? Are people so excited for a wireless, easily-losable version of the ear pods with a five hour battery that they’ll buy up all the stock in a few seconds?
I guess so. That’s nuts! I still want to review them.
Sony Platinum Headset($160)
Sony is going to release a new headset at the end of the month, finally completing the three-tiered headset plan they hinted at with the release of the Gold and Silver headsets. I suppose since they all match trophy names on the PS4, they could also technically be planning a Bronze headset, but given the relatively basic quality of the Silver one, I’m not sure what the Bronze would be.
The Platinum headset makes the 3D volumetric audio processing from the PSVR breakout box available across all games. Neat! That’s enough for me to check it out.
V-Moda Crossfade M-100 (~$200)
I’ve had this one in my hands a couple of times at Best Buy. I really like the build of it. I really like the compact size it folds down to. I really like a lot of things about V-moda’s design ethos. Basically, they’re trying to make Style Headphones, But Good.
The problem is the pads. The standard pads definitely crush into the sides of my head. They seem plush enough, but they have almost no depth at all, and the driver-cover under the foam is made out of metal, I think. So I can tell just from an in-store demo that they’d get uncomfortable, and I’d have to shell out another $20 for the XL pads. The XL pads look like they’d solve the problem, but then it won’t fold down as small. And I’m not into changing pads or spending extra beyond the base price. I know some people love that. But it’s not really for me.
But I’m still curious about them. They have a strange dual-driver design, where the inner part of the diaphragm is made from a different material than the outer part. They also do some soundstage trickery within the enclosure to give everything a pseudo-3D effect.
Headphones I Would Happily Try But Would Not Buy
Oppo PM-3 ($399)
This one is outside my price range, but I hear nothing but good things. I expect I would find it a little heavy for long listening sessions, but I’m still curious to give it a listen. I’ve never actually heard a planar driver. My gut instinct is that it makes less of a difference than I expect it will.
These headphones are ridiculously priced. I don’t really believe in the “kilobuck” headphone market. I mean, I know that it exists. And I know that the HD800 has an extremely low-distortion dynamic driver. But I bet the profit margin on these models is absurd. And there’s no reason not to take that driver tech and put it inside cheaper headphones. You could crush the low-end market in one quick swoop.
But you have to maintain value when your product costs many times as much as the average market headphone price.
Still, I’d enjoy hearing these some day.
Sennheiser PXC550 ($399)
Two competitors for the Bose QC35 popped up this year. I spent some time with Sony’s MDR1000X and found it wanting. I’m curious about this Sennheiser model, even though I think that the Style Headphone Market has never been anything close to Sennheiser’s strong suit.
I have two concerns. The first is the price which seems about $50 too high to be competitive. The second is that the frame is more petite than the competition, and I wonder if it would even fit on my stupid large head.
I might take the plunge on these some day, but it won’t be for a long while.
I will update this list as it develops. Happy New Year!