Ten... over-ear headphones
Product Round-up Personal music is an everyday part of most people's lives and at at the end of the chain, it's the gear we use to pump out the audio that impacts most obviously on the listening experience.
If you want to raise your game from the freebies given out with a PMP or just fancy a quality set of headphones for the home, then where to splash our cash is always an issue. In the same sense as eating organic, we usually have to spend more to get the most tasty choice.
With so many manufacturers out there to choose from, let alone headphone styles, this round-up concentrates on a selection of over-ear models that look like a sound investment. Rock on.
As an advocate for AKG microphones for a number of years, perhaps it's a surprise I'd never tried a pair of the company's headphones. I couldn't have tried a nicer set either, as the Q701s were hugely impressive, however, for the price it would be worrying if they weren't.
Attached to elastic strings, the headband self-adjusts and with soft furry pads, it sits comfortably over the ears. The cable attaches on one side with AKG's latching mini-XLR, gold flash 3-pin connection, so a replacement isn't exactly off-the-shelf, although it does come with a spare cable (one is 3.5mm, the other 1/4in jack at the end).
While the Q701s are available in green as well as black versions, the white pair I tried, made me look like the bastard offspring of Princess Leah and a horny Stormtrooper. As you can imagine, they're somewhat on the large side of things, but do have a lot to pack in, including flat-wire coils and a patented two-layer diaphragm. Tech aside though, what's really important is the sound.
Developed with legendary producer Quincy Jones, I thought it only fitting to begin my test drive with Billie Jean, which absolutely blew my socks off. A few genres later and the 701s tick every box. The output is unbiased, maybe edging on the bassy side of things, but overall one of the more balanced sets I tested. These are predominantly for plumbing into hi-fi amplifiers and ideal for studio referencing. The environment they're used in is crucial - pointless with an MP3 player for example – as having a 62Ω impedance, the highest of those on test, the output is fairly low when driven from these devices.
The only question that remains is, are they worth the high price of £500? I'm not so sure I'd pay that myself, but if you bear in mind some of the proceeds go toward Jones' foundation for making music education an ongoing part of children's lives, it softens the blow, a little.
Reg Rating 85%
More info AKG
Audio Technica ATH-AD700
As far as over-ear headphones go, the Audio Technica AD700s are unashamedly big. Some might call it a fashion statement, but I found I looked very Mickey Mouse with them on my head.
The self-adjusting clips are somewhat creaky, but help the AD700s rest comfortably over the cranial. They do sit a little loose over the ears though and the padding, which doesn't feel quite right, is made from a dusty felt-like material that gives the impression that it could easily rot with extended use. The fixed cable is a downside too, urgh.
Sonically though, the AD700s are sweet on the ears. The open-cup design creates a sense of space and can be worn for extended periods of time without discomfort. The midrange is unquestionably prominent and although the bass could benefit from more oomph, the warm, summery tones in general are blissful to listen to.
The AD700s are very affordable and can be picked up for under £100, if you hunt around. You can't escape the design though, which is an acquired taste and a strange fit too, which rather lets these cans down, as the appearances fail to match the elegance of their sound output.
Reg Rating 75%
More info Audio Technica
Next page: Beyerdynamic DT 880
THREE FIGURES for FUCKING HEADPHONES? Are you having a laugh?
In the real world, <£20 is cheap and nasty, £30-£50 is decent quality, but you're paying for it, >£50 is very good, but pricier than I'm generally willing to go. £330? £550??!!??!! You'd have to so rich that price tags have literally no meaning to you or stark raving insanse!
It's all a con
There was a story recently about someone disassembling Sennheiser HD 555 (about 70 quid) and finding the working parts were identical to the 595 (about 140 quid) except they jammed a bit of foam in to muffle the sound slightly. So if you have access to a screwdriver you can double the value of your headphones by removing it.
One thing that really really gets me is the crappy quality earphones that you get with apple products and other pmps and the amount of people that happily use them..
They sound terrible! Even a £10 pair of buds from HMV is a 10x improvement over the crappy free ipod earphones..
When commuting in london I regularly see obviously well off people well dressed with ipads and so on, and they're using the shitty free apple earbuds to listen to their music.. They've spent 500 quid on kit to listen to music on and have crap earbuds.
After all when buying hi-fi the recommendation typically is you spend 50% of your budget on amp and sources, and 50% on speakers.. these people have spent 100% on source..
Its almost like spending £500 on a decent blu-ray player and then hooking it up to a 14" black and white crt TV.
Personally due to the amount of background noise while commuting and the fact I'm not loaded I have spent around £60-70 on a half decent set of in ear buds. I would probably only spend the money on the ones listed above for home listening which I don't do much of.
Even so when friends see them and ask how much they cost the reaction is usually "£60 for earphones?!!"
I just don't get it.. I spend more time (1 or 2 hours a day) listening to these earphones than I do my home hi-fi setup, in terms of £s per hour of usage my earphones cost a fraction of a penny per hour..
sorry, rant over.. bloody apple consumers, all style over functionality...
Not even on old MP's expenses
would I pay those prices - and I've got Quad speakers!
What's it worth to you?
If all you listen to is the highly compressed and low dynamic range stuff in noisy environments and/or are only interested in making you ears bleed then I'd agree with you. I use a 4 year old 2nd gen Nano and a pair of ~£40 Sennheiser iems on the train quite happily (though not at eardrum bursting levels).
On the other hand when I'm listening to high quality flac at home with other good quality hi-fi gear I'm not going to use a cheapo pair of headphones just to save a couple of quid. I'm no rabid audiophile but if you would spend £2-300 on speakers why not £1-200 on headphones? I use mine (Grado, why were they overlooked?) for extended periods while photo editing in the evening so as not to disturb the neighbours and the level of detail expressed rivals that of my speakers. They are still the cheapest part of my hi-fi rig too.