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Posted By: Ralphiano My recent, low cost, headphone roundup - 02/23/21 08:02 AM
Over the last couple of days, I put forth the effort to evaluate and purchase a set of headphones. I am seriously budget constrained, and set my upper limit at $100. I decided to take advantage of the return policies of the two local big box music stores by purchasing from the first store whichever unit pleased me the most after extensive auditioning, and then going to the second store to audition theirs and directly compare its best to whichever unit I purchased from the first store.

Before auditioning, I got on each stores' website and compiled a list of sets within my budget that were purportedly in stock. That search showed the following available:

Guitar Center:

AKG K52 $50
AKG K240 $70
Sennheiser HD 200 Pro $70
Sony MDR-7506 $100
Tascam TH-200X $100


Sam Ash:

AKG K240 $70
Samson SR850 $50
Samson SR880 $80 (I think)
Samson SR890 $90 (I think)
Samson Z45 $100
Sennheiser HD 200 Pro $70
Sennheiser HD 280 $100
Shure (model unknown) around $70-80

The parentheticals above reflect my lack of notes, as those units were not shown “in stock” on the website as I prepared my list for the auditions, and I did not make good notes of the missing information once at the store.

THE AUDITIONS

Two days ago, I went to Sam Ash, and auditioned their headphones on a Roland FP30, with the following observations:

AKG K240 $70 this was the most “consumer” sounding headphone I tried. Enhanced bass and enhanced treble. It could be nice for listening to rock, pop, country, etc. Very much the oft noted “V” sound signature.

Samson SR850 $50 This was a very nice, pleasing sound. I compared it several times to the DP's speaker output, and, the Samsons colored the sound slightly, mostly with some added bass, and provided more clarity. The enhancement was noticeable, though not disturbing in any way. The enhancement was not attention grabbing.

Samson SR880 $80 (I think) very dry studio monitor sound

Samson SR890 $90 (I think) very dry studio monitor sound

Samson Z45 $100 This one was not in stock

Sennheiser HD 200 Pro $70 I didn't try this one as I was running out of time and assumed it would be similar to the HD280 sound.

Sennheiser HD 280
$100 Wow, this one had an extremely dry sound, very, very much a studio monitor sound profile with no coloration whatsoever. And, it was much louder than the units I tried before it.

Shure (model unknown) around $70-80 I can't remember my impressions as it was the last unit I tried and immediately knew I didn't like it as much as the Samson SR850. I did not conclude that it was worse than any of the others, other than the Samson.

The Samson SR850 was my clear winner at Sam Ash, and I bought it.



Two days later, I went to Guitar Center, and auditioned their headphones on a Yamaha entry level slab, maybe a P-125 or similar:

AKG K52 $50 no impression as it was not in stock. The store clerk said they resembled the AKG K240 in both sound and appearance. See above for K240 impressions.

AKG K240 $70 already eliminated from audition at Sam Ash.

Sennheiser HD 200 Pro $70 didn't try it, assuming it resembled the HD280.

Sony MDR-7506 $100 This had a very pleasing sound. It did enhance the bass a little as I compared it to the Yamaha's speaker output several times. And, it was more clear than the DP speakers in the mid and upper ranges.

Tascam TH-200X $100 This one got tested late in the session, and I don't remember its sound, as I quickly concluded that it would not supplant the Samson SR850 I had already purchased or the Sony MDR-7506.


As I played the Sony MDR-7506 I was aware of its reputation and wide acceptance as a nice monitor. However, it did not have the ultra dry sound that the Sennheisers and some of the others offered. I liked it. As I played it, I grew in my recognition that it pleased me much like the Samson SR850 did. For me, it was the clear winner among the Guitar Center candidates.

To make the final comparison, I had brought my new Samson SR850 with me. The Yamaha DP had two headphone outputs, so doing an A-B comparison was pretty easy. I played and played, and had difficulty distinguishing them. In the final analysis, I think the Samson enhanced the bass just ever so slightly more than the Sony did. But, I was at a complete loss as to which sound I enjoyed the most. Both were pleasing, and I eventually gave up on finding any grounds upon which to chose one over the other, EXCEPT, that the Samson was half the price of the Sony. So, I did not purchase the Sony, and, am now the proud owner of my new Samson headphone set.

Other observations:

I have a nice consumer oriented set of Bose Quiet Comfort Over Ear headphones that I had been using with my piano. But, I knew that they seriously deviated from the actual sound by providing substantial bass enhancement, and perhaps even high end enhancement as well. I took them with me on the audition trips. None of the headphones auditioned came close to “enhancing” the sound as much as the Bose does, with the possible exception of the AKG K240s.

I also observed that none of the units gave me the impression that they were poorly built. With the right sound, I would have had no hesitation in buying any of them.

And, none of the headphones auditioned gave me any reason to think they would prove to be uncomfortable for lengthy listening sessions. In fact, the Samson that I bought probably had the most alarmingly firm ear pads of the group. But, I have since worn them for three consecutive hours with no discomfort at all. So, I think all of these units could be comfortable on the head for long periods. It is noteworthy that the Samson SR850 was the only unit that had velour ear pads. All the others had pleather.

My motivation to do this was stimulated recently when I noticed just how much the actual sound of my piano differed from the sound I was hearing through my Bose headphones. I had made a recording while wearing the Bose, and was stunned by the sound disparity when I played the recording back over my amp/speakers system. So, eliminating this kind of surprise was my goal. I am comfortable that none of these headphones, with the exception of the AKG K240 (and possibly the other AKG), would blindside you with a recording that is distressingly different than the sound you heard while playing.

I hope this helps anyone considering headphones from the lower end of the price spectrum.
Posted By: peterws Re: My recent, low cost, headphone roundup - 02/23/21 09:20 AM
Very useful! I bought a pair of Stagg SHP2300 after trying out many pianos at an enormous Piano shop in Leyland, UK. I've tried out some Sennheiser 599s or 598s (can't remember) and sent them back. They were bad, but very comfortable! I got fed up of trying, and sending back.
The Staggs cost me £25 (cheap, I know) but they've been pretty good for over a year now. I can detect a softening of the sound with use; this might be common to all headphones for all I know. And the piano speakers themselves might improve/degenerate with age and use.
That is another subject though. Subsequently I'm now in the process of setting Pianoteq presets to suit both headphones and speakers. Different settings are called for which is a pain.
Posted By: lvercaut Re: My recent, low cost, headphone roundup - 02/23/21 12:35 PM
About AKG 240 Studio or MK2,
these are highly respected headphones in the professional audio world.
They should be almost linear.
So i find it a bit strange that you hear them as V shaped...
Interesting. I use these: http://www.connect-we.fr/casques-ecouteurs/377-casque-filaire-we.html

Other than buying on-line followed by trying out and sending back if not happy then there really isn't much else on offer here out in the boonies. Most of the other supermarket headphones are either wireless or have bass-boost, so it was these or nothing really.

I have two pairs (green and blue - the swiveling earpiece broke on the purple pair after a few years use frown so I replaced it with the blue pair). They are really comfortable - can be worn for a long time etc. - and the sound is mostly fine, although some piano recordings on Youtube sound awful through them but as others sound really good I don't know whether to blame the headphones or the recording.

Not exactly hifi......btw the flat cables are a really good feature, are they a standard feature these days?
Originally Posted by lvercaut
They should be almost linear.
So i find it a bit strange that you hear them as V shaped...
I suppose you mean a flat frequency response.

A linear filter (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_filter) can have a very complex response. The opposite is a filter with distorsion.
Posted By: lvercaut Re: My recent, low cost, headphone roundup - 02/23/21 05:14 PM
Yes, i mean flat frequency response. Thanks for correcting me.
grin
Posted By: EssBrace Re: My recent, low cost, headphone roundup - 02/23/21 05:18 PM
Originally Posted by Ralphiano
...I compared it to the Yamaha's speaker output several times.

It's perfectly reasonable to compare with the DP's own speakers but I think you might be mistaken if using that as the basis for concluding whether or not the headphones are 'enhancing' or 'colouring' the sound.

The speakers fitted to these little portable DPs are universally awful; they are the things 'colouring' the sound and affecting it in many ways (almost exclusively detrimentally), so that should be borne in mind.

I too was a bit surprised to read that you think the AKGs were giving a "V-Shaped" frequency response.
Posted By: peterws Re: My recent, low cost, headphone roundup - 02/23/21 05:55 PM
Originally Posted by EssBrace
It's perfectly reasonable to compare with the DP's own speakers but I think you might be mistaken if using that as the basis for concluding whether or not the headphones are 'enhancing' or 'colouring' the sound.

The speakers fitted to these little portable DPs are universally awful; they are the things 'colouring' the sound and affecting it in many ways (almost exclusively detrimentally), so that should be borne in mind.

I too was a bit surprised to read that you think the AKGs were giving a "V-Shaped" frequency response.

Your first assumption/opinion is not incorrect imo but the little speakers in a little environment do give a decent sound. If they're lacking in bass, well, so would a little acoustic be. But again, it would sound fine in a little room.
(Interesting is the recording of a K200 for the latest ABF recital. It's within the last 10 submissions, and sounds truly beautiful. Indeed, I'd like one.).
But those little speakers you speak of; they're not awful; designed and built, in conjuction with the amplier and piano response, they do a good job given their likely home to be. They're made for it. You quickly find that out when you play a vst through them; they'll sound truly awful without adjustment of some sort or another.
Originally Posted by Ralphiano
Two days later, I went to Guitar Center, and auditioned their headphones on a Yamaha entry level slab, maybe a P-125 or similar

I have a P-125. Its headphone outputs are horrible. I don't think they serve to judge the quality of a headphone. Even my laptop's headphone output sounds better.

(I know you said P-125 or similar... maybe these low-cost DPs have all low-quality headphone amps.)
Posted By: MacMacMac Re: My recent, low cost, headphone roundup - 02/24/21 12:29 PM
It might not be the headphone amp at fault ...
Originally Posted by matschulat
I know you said P-125 or similar... maybe these low-cost DPs have all low-quality headphone amps.
The problem might lie with the tone generation of these inexpensive pianos. Improved amplification won't fix that.
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