I would like to thank everyone involved and every company who was gracious enough to trust me over the long years past. This was a serious undertaking for me and I couldn’t be happier to share my views of these Top of the Line Headphones with the community. My goal is to be as unbiased as possible and provide as clear of a description of the sound signature of each product, what they offer with ungodly-brutal honesty, as well as to speak to the reader in as natural a manner as possible. I would like to relay my experiences to you as if you and I were speaking at a headphone meet and with techno babble at a minimum. I realize this is a giant report, I do not intend for anyone to read it all at once. It is meant to be a reference for the community members when they need it. This is a resource tool, nothing more. You are not supposed to read all of it at once, instead pick at it over the course of your purchasing journey.

I recommend letting each musical link and cue play in the background while you read the Intro section. After all, this hobby is all about the music and emotional experiences it can offer. So, each area of that section of this report will come with a link to a YouTube video and some music that I feel accurately reflects my emotional tone while writing that specific area of text. Hope you enjoy it and find it refreshing, as well as potentially opening the door to some of my favorite artists that you may have never experienced before. Below is a Directory with links to each individual section or product that I’ve covered in this guide. Choose your destiny, where you start and end is up to you:

Intro-End

My Story
Burn In
AKG K812
Audeze LCD3
Audeze LCDXC
Beyerdynamic T1
Fostex TH600/900
Hifiman HE-560
Hifiman HE6
Jhaudio JH16 Pro
Mrspeakers Alpha Dog
Oppo PM1
Sennheiser HD800
Stax 007
Conclusion

Click here for my story…

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

About The Author

Senior Reviewer

Self Proclaimed Musicality Guru, Photographer, Audiophile and part time Ninja. I started my audio journey back in 96' and haven't looked back. My ultimate goal in this life is to experience as many Hifi rigs as possible...because I am an audio addict.

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  • Matt W

    Very nice round-up Michael. Have you ever listened to the NAD Viso HP50? I am curious to hear how you think they compare them to the group in this round-up. They are supposed to be ground-breaking in their bang-for-buck factor retailing at $300.

    • Quart Bernstein

      In my opinion online,
      I think you start to see headphones in the mid-range level that are better balanced overall with small flaws instead of a glaring one.
      For example, you’ll love the HD-800, if you have a good source and amp.
      You’ll love the Audeze, if the comfort doesn’t bother you.
      Etc… The HD800’s highs can be overly sibilant (esp with poor amp) for example.

      Compared to the HD600/HD650, AKG 712, HP50, you start to see headphones that are much less of a niche audience, and with good reason.
      In that line of thinking, I don’t find the HP50’s groundbreaking. It’s an overall astounding balance, in terms of what it accomplishes, and that is marked more by its value. Comparing $300 pair of headphones to $1,000 pairs is still going to like comparing the 02 to some several thousand dollar tube amps.
      A) It may be extremely competitive for its price point, but
      B) Higher end stuff, and with good reason (as above), maybe appeals to those with experience to know their taste; therefore, fitting a niche.

      I still have qualms with the design of the HP50’s though.

      • 24bit

        No doubt, I agree on all points.

  • “….most of the Summit level headphones have fairly ugly treble response….”

    This does not sound like a recommendation for highest hi-fi quality.

    • 24bit

      Wasn’t a recommendation at all. I hold no bias here, I’ll call every company out for problems and I will never justify my purchase to save my wallet from aching. If I think it has a problem, I will say it without reservations.
      I refuse to protect anyones expensive purchases just to protect their pride in ownership of any of these products. I told what I felt to be the truth and held no regard for anyones paypal account, no bias in my report and did my best to draw lines between my subjective opinions and objective facts. 🙂

      • Actually it wasn’t a criticism, since I’ve experienced this too. But since it sounds a bit shocking to read this, maybe you could do a followup sometime that would summarize the important sonic flaws for many or most of these, as a kind of reference document.

        • 24bit

          Only shocking to those who haven’t heard these headphones, or follow the social hifi meme that price = quality, that expensive headphones or amps cant suck. They can and they do. Each one had flaws of some type.

  • cocolinho

    wow… have hard time to believe that a closed headphones like Alpha Dogs beat T1 in soundstage department…
    Great review though! thank you

    • I had the Alpha Dog and sold it, and have the T1 now. I think the soundstage issue is more complex, since the T1 makes certain music sound more real where the AD just fell flat (just too ‘neutral’ or something – bland).

      • Probably I would agree with this. Soundstage is probably the most contentious and subjective term in headphilia. People hear, not differently, but hear different things. One listens for dynamics and straight width, calling that sound stage, another listens for contrast and separation of elements, and calls that stage. The list goes on. It’s best probably not to say which beats which in stage, but how each presents itself.

        • 24bit

          I don’t agree with all hear THAT differently, especially not in that matter. Subjectively, someone can tell me the Beats by Dre sounds more spacious than the Hd800. By rights, I’d be forced to say that guy just hears differently…or he is lying…or he doesn’t have any experience with the headphone he is talking about and is just trying to sound cool to community members.

          The Alpha Dog stage IS larger in every way than the T1 to ME. 🙂 The T1 was never a very spacious sounding headphone, but its stage bubble was always exceptionally well formed and airy. People misdiagnose that for a very large sound stage. It isnt. Flip between the T1 and the Alpha…the T1 sounds noticeably more closed in, less tall and wide. Not saying my opinion is etched in stone and not debatable, but factoids like this seem so vividly strong and grounded in FACT that I have trouble believing anyone else who feels differently. I accept it, but am skeptical anyone who disagrees and says the T1 sounds larger simply never actually heard the two side by side.

          • I’m not arguing that T1 does or does not project a larger stage than Alpha Dogs, just that people listen for different things. Debates about sound stage could rage on indefinitely because sound stage is one of the more psychoacoustic parts of the headphone experience.

            I listen for one thing, you listen for another, and the other dude or dudet listen still for another thing. It’s the way it goes. So, we will have to disagree here, but not about T1 and AD, merely that stage can be so easily determined as a general definition.

          • 24bit

            Oh, I know you werent debating that. I was generalizing about the topic.

          • I think the T1 is a high quality product that just happens to be tuned too bright. I see the Alpha Dog as a lower quality product that’s been pushed up into the big leagues by some clever modding and 3D printing technology. But given whatever I can do to accomodate each one, certain quality aspects of the T1 show why it’s more expensive. Of course, the Alpha Dog is a planar, so some people will appreciate that difference. Soundstage seems to me to be more variable with these 2 headphones, while the planar versus Tesla properties are real fundamental differences.

          • The core principle that makes a high fidelity sound possible with a wide range of products is accuracy. We get around that as best we can, not so much because we hear differently (and we also hear the original live music differently), but because the gear isn’t perfect.

    • 24bit

      Also to be fair to the T1, its overall staging properties are so exceptionally well formed and accurate, that binaural tracks from Ottmar Liebert and similar are just so much more realistically placed than anything else. The sense of space changed and alters greatly with a normal mic setup recording to a binaural one. The difference is most significant on the T1 and the JH16 in my opinion. With tracks like this, I want to reach for the T1 ( La Luna track specifically ), but as soon as the track changes to most other tracks out there that are not binaural or exceptionally well recorded, ill move to another headphone entirely.

      The T1s bests the alpha dog with tracks like that, why? Well realism factor potential is more likely on certain types of instruments via the T1. The Alpha dog for example hits harder with the mid and bass impact, the T1 is softer and not as solid, that combination is more well suited for acoustic guitars recorded at specific distances away from the mic. Without string popping and harsh twangs on a guitar, the T1 will portray the more realistic sound signature as it was recorded. However, as soon as the track paces up and something whacks those strings harder and allows the low E string to resonate and exude itself at a higher volume and quantity, the Alpha Dog picks up as the better headphone.

      It is all a matter of circumstances to me. The T1 is an excellent headphone. Untouchable for applications and specific venues of listening that is is undeniably a master with. As for the staging competition vs the Alpha Dog, I think the Alpha is more forward and allows more of a sense of width and height, but the shape of the Alpha presentation isn’t nearly as stunning as the T1. That formation of the stage shape is in my opinion THE BEST on the T1. It has a combination of all good qualities, nothing bad, but nothing great. So if I were to recommend the ” Best ” stage in a headphone, Ill always recommend the T1 but try to explain my view on what and why. Biggest or most vast may be taken out of context when I said this or that is the best. I see flaws in how it was written now and how others talk about staging. Big = HD800, but still poorly formed and lopsided at times. Best = T1, every sub category that makes up the stage is composed of “good” quality. Good depth, good height, good air, good separation and width, EXCELLENT formation, EXCELLENT positional accuracy.

      The Alpha is just bigger, but bigger doesn’t mean better. The T1 has the “Better” sound staging properties to me. Hope that makes sense.

  • Quart Bernstein

    I would recommend looking at how much the manufacturing cost is of these headphones, before making an assessment of their price tag being unjust.

    Buying into new technology is always expensive, hence partially why AAA developer’s will sneak every cent in with season passes, gold, and microtransactions.

    However, I agree with not liking how the audio industry is going. Comfort is slowly improving, except in cases of people trying gimmicky cool designs. But, I think the overall quality control of family owned businesses, caring owners, and any developer still linked to pleasing the consumer is disappearing.
    It’s not even poor customer support. It’s designing a product that isn’t very durable. You’re right, only so much of us can afford to expand our budget without this becoming a hobby. When I purchase a headphone, since it doesn’t use a battery, I am expecting it to last (repairing parts myself) for a long time. I’ve been spoiled by a 10 year old HD600.
    I’m foreseeing yearly models, uncomfortable, valuing looks, slightly gimmicky models becoming a norm.

    • 24bit

      No assement needs to be made. All of them are overpriced to me. As with any product, the original manufacturing costs are nowhere near their market price. They have to make profits, but assuming that a $1500 headphone’s driver actually costs a few hundred US dollars to produce seems silly to me. I doubt the HD800, 007 or XC drivers cost more than $50 to produce, resold for upwards of 40x their original cost. That isn’t based on facts, just my opinion of how it probably works. Considering I actually have been a part of the manufacturing process of some other electronic pieces and have consulted for a few audio companies..witnessed the original design to the final market piece…40x profit margins seems like a low ball estimation to me.

  • donunus

    Just started reading and just finished the burn in section. I agree with your thoughts about the swapping of headphones making the next headphone one listens to being instantly better or worse due to some masking element where if the first headphone for example has a peak in the spectrum that one got used to, that the second headphone will sound dull until one gets accustomed to it. Going back to the previous headphone will reveal that it was after all a peak in the sound and wasn’t due to the second headphone being worse than the first one. For people that don’t know this, it will really be helpful if one gets accustomed to the sound of the environment around them first giving at least 5 minute breaks between headphones when doing comparisons in order to know whether the sound is really natural and not weird sounding due to being accustomed to another headphone anomaly from another model.

    Anyway, about burn in. I myself believe it exists. It is highly dependent on the model though and sometimes can even vary within the same model. Maybe the manufacturers do some sort of factory burn in already where some are burned in more than others, I don’t know but among the almost hundred headphones I have purchased in the past ten years there is one model that sticks out the most. It was my old Sennheiser HD555. I have owned almost all the other hd5xx but none changed nearly as much as the old Irish made hd555 that I once owned in fact out of the box, the headphone sounded broken. It was extremely bright and full of reverb. The px100 and Grados I was listening to at the time were all more accurate and normal sounding in comparison. The difference was so big that with this particular instance, no amount of mental acclimation could make them sound right. After leaving it burned in for a week unattended and getting back to them… suddenly the sound was about as dark as my px100s! Now thats when I was converted to believing in burn in. All my other headphones after that changed maybe a little and sometimes the difference was so small that it could have been just placebo but that old hd555 was something else.

    • 24bit

      I agree, and as mentioned my door is open on the subject of burn in. If it is fake and everyone who said its real is crazy…well who cares? If everyone is right who said it, still who cares? Hah. So long as the end result is something I enjoy, I don’t care if it is true or not. It is a non issue for my musical enjoyment. Certainly possible there are internal changes happening, but I can’t definitively say yes or no without some specialized gear that hardly anyone has access to test with. But there is certainly a lot of what I said happening on the burn in subject, where people flip flop between headphones and go back to the original a time later and proclaim post burn is in significant. I think that scenario accounts for a certain percentage of experiences with any “changes” in sound that some enthusiasts etch into the forums…all in my opinion of course and not based on objective information. T’was just my theory 🙂

      • donunus

        I am now really curious about the Alpha Dogs after that review 🙂

        • They are awesome.

          • 24bit

            I’d like a better stock cable setup, I find them too stiff and annoying. I would also have liked a more soft and comfortable headband but these are just gripes of the most minor fashion. The headphone sounds excellent for such a price tag to me.

    • Not to belabor the point, but this is a case where EQ has been very helpful for me. When I can bring the signatures of two headphones closer together before doing a direct comparison, then when I’m switching back and forth I can easily pin down certain quality differences that won’t resolve with a change of EQ. And in these cases, the more expensive headphones almost always win over the cheaper ones.

  • donunus

    Just finished reading it. Bravo! Great Review!… I just don’t get how that crappy T1 gets compared to the others so much though LOL

    • 24bit

      🙂

    • On another forum (computer audiophile) a user commented how the T1 was so bad with music, having a false tonality and so on. I asked for examples, and he did offer examples. After playing those, I made a 6 db boost at 40 hz and a 6 db cut at 4 khz, and the quality improved tremendously. But this is very typical of Beyers – the T90 is worse, the DT1350 is far worse, and the T51p is a disaster. But my EQ’d T1 has the smoothest sound with great tonality and a sense of realism that’s just the best I’ve ever heard. The basic quality is definitely there.

      • donunus

        ahh I dont use eq though

        • There was a time that I didn’t, then I finally decided to quit fighting with myself and agonizing over differences between different headphones. Now in my post-EQ world, everything still has its own particular flavor and enjoyment factors, but the really irritating factors are gone, and that’s a great relief.

          • 24bit

            I am very pro EQ 😛

          • (PSSST: we can tell.)

          • 24bit

            Seems pretty dumb to me to cement myself with the stock sound of a product, if the product is capable of achieving more with a click of a button…then of course I am going to try to squeeze as much enjoyment out of it as possible.

          • Right on. It’s all about enjoyment.

          • donunus

            I used to enjoy eq. now it is an annoying waste of time for me because most cans just dont work well with it. I would rather eq remaster a particularly weird sounding album than eq a headphone to sound good for all music.

          • donunus

            I guess i am contradicting myself there. eq is good but I dont feel it is a be all end all solution is all I mean

          • Every headphone can be improved with EQ, but different methods are often required, because the imbalances aren’t merely variances in freq. response – resonances and other things make it complicated, and in the end you just have to keep trying to get the best performance with each headphone.

          • donunus

            I have found that an irritating headphone is always irritating regardless of eq setting unless there was such a thing as a headphone that was colored yet had no ringing artifacts. That would be the perfect candidate for EQ.

          • I’ll give just one little example. My wife uses the ATH ESW9a, which although good, has the usual constriction and narrow soundstage typical in its size and application class. Tyll at Innerfidelity has noted that for many small on-ear headphones. After fixing it up with Audioforge, she walked into the room wide-eyed and exclaimed “you made it come alive – it’s sooooo much better now”. But I knew that would happen, because the EQ I do doesn’t just rebalance frequencies – it really opens up the soundstage and realism etc. with a lot of headphones, and more. It’s a spectacular difference, and best of all it’s free. And it isn’t some sonic trick like many of the “headphone fixer” DSP’s – it’s just an equalizer.

          • Added note: Audiophile music sound is very complex, so much so that nobody in the testing field really has a good handle on it other than observing and measuring a limited range of properties. So in equalizing, and I mean just that – changing the strength/volume at certain frequencies relative to other frequencies, you might still experience a whole range of differences such as phase differences, simply because when a frequency is way too strong compared to others, the information on and around that frequency may be very phase-shifted compared to other information on that track. Which is also why it’s not wise to equalize a headphone with one or two or three music tracks, since most tracks don’t have representative energy at all frequencies. But if you build a preliminary curve and then work it over a period of a week or more with a hundred or more familiar tracks, you’ll eventually find a sound that’s way better than out of the box. Sometimes it might not be ‘way’ better, but from my experience it usually is.

          • donunus

            well, of course that is basic eq’ing tips there. I used to do RTA and combine it with eqing to get all frequencies down quick as well as cross reference it with countless tracks over time. That is what all people should do when they are serious at EQing. That was me 20 years ago. I’ve actually learned a lot from doing that. It is a great lesson since I can now tell frequency anomalies on the fly because of all that past EQ training. The only problem is if one wants to listen to the music and enjoy it on the fly, all that eqing makes one turn into analytical mode and distracts one from listening to the soul of the music. The MUSIC is the reason I got into this audiophile mess in the first place. I would have never become an audiophile if I didn’t love music more than toys when I was a kid.

            These days I don’t worry about EQ anymore and have sort of retired myself from being a paranoid audiophile because in the end I have more fun that way and I find myself talking to my friends about music more than audio again.

            These days, I just get a system with good enough synergy where I can enjoy the music and leave it alone to let the music speak for itself. There are a select few products that do that to me without giving me paranoid audiophile chills. An example would be the Beyer DT250-250 which I would take over an HE6 any day for example just because it gives me more music than the old hifiman flagship does…. There are a few other products that do that as well and it excites me to rave about them everytime I have a new discovery because it is a rare thing to find audio for the music lover with high standards so to speak. Lots of flagships have unforgiveable errors that make their top tier resolution go to waste due to that one thing that makes them unlistenable.

          • donunus

            what eq is that by the way? I would be curious to try it myself

          • Audioforge parametric equalizer for iOS – it’s more precise than some others since you set the freq’s yourself. But I don’t set the ‘Q’ or bandwidth values, I leave those at 1. I wrote a paper on how I am using it, in the hifi misc. page on my website.

        • 24bit

          If I may ask, why not? If the headphone is capable of responding well to it, and also if you feel it to lack a certain quality ( or even have too much ) then why not tailor the experience to your liking?

          • donunus

            I don’t use eq because all the ones I’ve tried somehow messes with the dynamics unlike my old analog equalizers back in the 90s like the Audio Control and Alesis models I used to have. I don’t have any of those anymore and would rather not deal with eq anomalies from built in digital EQs of daps and pc music players. I have however tried some decent VST eqs but still I don’t like the tradeoffs in player speed/latency for the slight correction of frequency response..

            Most frequency response problems are also due to driver ringing which cant be corrected by eq. Toning down a frequency will make a headphone less vibrant even though it may make the response more accurate because sometimes, In actuality the frequency taken down was just right in volume in its fundamental note but have problems in its decay due to ringing which causes the peak in its response.

  • Brutally Honest Bob

    I read it but I can’t imagine what the you were thinking while writing it. This is article is a mess of errors which has not been proofed or edited to any discernable scholastic standard.

    Flagrant phrasing such as,
    “My goal is to be as unbiased as possible and provide as clear of a description of the sound signature of each product, what they offer with ungodly-brutal honesty, as well as to speak to the reader in as natural a manner as possible,”

    reminds me of listening to a half drunk middle aged lush at a wine tasting. I beg you to consider readers before obfuscating more of your meanings with an emaciated grasp of the language. The proper use of the word emaciated for instance is not one used to describe dominance as it is an adjective. You can not “emaciate” something. The action is simply not possible because it is not an action it is a description of a noun. Maybe you meant in your conclusion that the Alpha Dogs “eviscerate” the competition. It makes me wonder how many of these praising responses are from people who read your review.

    Seek to improve this if not for yourself then for the sake of the equipment you’ve reviewed.

    • 24bit

      “I read it but I can’t imagine what the you were thinking while writing it. This is article is a mess of errors which has not been proofed or edited to any discernable scholastic standard.”

      – You’ve left out an entire word in your first sentence.
      – The term “proofed” is verb that is mostly used when reference baking terminology. This term doesn’t quite fit into your argument.

      “Flagrant phrasing such as,
      “My goal is to be as unbiased as possible and provide as clear of a description of the sound signature of each product, what they offer with ungodly-brutal honesty, as well as to speak to the reader in as natural a manner as possible,”

      “reminds me of listening to a half drunk middle aged lush at a wine tasting. I beg you to consider readers before obfuscating more of your meanings with an emaciated grasp of the language. The proper use of the word emaciated for instance is not one used to describe dominance as it is an adjective. You can not “emaciate” something. The action is simply not possible because it is not an action it is a description of a noun. Maybe you meant in your conclusion that the Alpha Dogs “eviscerate” the competition. It makes me wonder how many of these praising responses are from people who read your review.”

      – The term was used to push the idea that the Alpha Dog made everything else sound weak, thin or lacking.
      The very first word of your sentence is missing proper capitalization.

      “The proper use of the word “emaciated” for instance is not one used to describe the dominance as if it an adjective.”

      – This is a run on sentence.

      “It makes me wonder how many of these praising responses are from people who read your review.”

      – This sentence makes no sense. Of course, it is possible that some commented without reading the article.

      “Seek to improve this if not for yourself then for the sake of the equipment you’ve reviewed.”

      – Improper sentence structure.

      My advice is to seek formatting improvements of your future sentence structures. If not for yourself, then for the sake of the users who have to read your comments.

      • Brutally Honest Bob

        It’s possible for either of us to go back and forth pointing out errors (e.g. the word proofed is commonly used shorthand for proofread), or you could graciously take the advice of one of your readers and improve the writing which this site uses to generate ad revenue.

        If I had an edit button I might just go back and fix some of the errors you were correct in pointing out.

        This’ll be the last you hear of the BHB. No worries mate.

        • 24bit

          I enjoy arguing. I am thankful you are so passionate about this sort of this. I certainly need improvement. I really am the worst editor around, so everything you said was true except the emaciated term. You took that out of context and it was properly used from my end, although I may have not explained it well enough. As mentioned in my Alpha section, the headphone has excellent solidity and substance. To me, many others sound overly thin. Emaciated seemed like the proper term to use.

    • 24bit

      I will consider upgrading my formatting skills for you. Glad you enjoyed the article, thanks!

  • corvid

    I have had the HD800 for over a year and still am regularly awed by what comes out of it. I am now obsessed with trying a planar, and am of course overwhelmed by the options out there. I attend shops and shows here in Tokyo to try the phones out, but frankly, the listening environments are seldom even remotely suitable and I am also almost never in the right head-space to confidently evaluate what I am hearing. Therefore, intelligent and thoughtful reviews are essential and this kind of meta-review is especially helpful. I thank you for this huge effort; this is a very worthy addition to the body of words on the net that try to describe the sounds we love and the gear that creates those sounds.
    Bravo !

    • headfonics

      Those indeed are very kind words and if this article in anyway helped you to unload your wallet at the earliest opportunity we are truely sorry for that 🙂

    • Am in the same position as you. So many planars, so many possible roads of regrets. Make sure to test them before your purchase!

    • 24bit

      Truthfully, you cannot go wrong with any of them. They are all good to me.

    • With every evaluation I’ve done in a store, no matter how relaxed, the headphone sounds way different at home. Consider how well the ears hear – 120 db dynamic range. There are several factors that improve with home listening that you just aren’t aware of in a store or similar place. Background noise level, state of relaxation, etc.

      • donunus

        it is the source and amp… 90%of the factors are just that. mood accounts for the last 10%

        • It’s not mood at all – it’s the actual inability to hear critical details in a noisy environment when I’m *very* focused on trying to hear those details.

          • donunus

            background noise does make a difference but the source and amp matching is critical enough to make or break a headphone

          • Background noise is THE critical difference when evaluating somewhere besides home – a store, meet, etc. If you’re used to having very good quality sources and amps, then those are subtle differences that can easily be accomodated mentally in an evaluation. Headphone sound is orders of magnitude more uneven and distorted than amplifier sound.

  • Arthur Tyler Shaw

    I upgraded the cable on my Alpha Dog to a Norne Vanquish Type 6 OCC Litz. The treble is more detailed and soundstage even larger after changing to the new cable. The new cable makes the Alpha Dog sound more airy and controlled in all the frequency range.

    • headfonics

      I kind of wish the cables where terminated with mini-xlr. I have a ton of options in xlr and nothing in hirose.

      • 24bit

        Silver cable? I’ve not had the chance to use anything else but the stock cables for the Alpha.

        • Arthur Tyler Shaw

          It’s a hybrid SPC/copper OCC litz. I would not go pure silver on a headphone as neutral as the Alpha Dogs but they are a tad “dark” sounding and benefit from this combination of silver and copper.

      • Arthur Tyler Shaw

        Your other option is you could buy adapters for Hirose to mini-XLR. I’m nearly positive that Norne Audio or Double Helix makes them on request

    • Gotta love the benefits of single crystal 😀

  • Jonathan Darsigny

    I’m looking to buy some Alpha Dog in the very near future and since it would be my first true pair of high-end headphones, I don’t have any amp or dac to pair with them. You recommended Burson so I’d assume the Conductor SL (DAC/AMP) would do but do you know any alternatives in the ~$500 range?

    • headfonics

      YOU have a few options at $500 such as the Schiit Lyr 2, Bada and Audio-gd. But for me the best budget amps are actually the Schiit Modi (DAC)and Magni (SS Amp) (and Valie and Loki if so inclined) and they pair wonderfully well with the Dogs.

      • Jonathan Darsigny

        Having not heard any of these, would you suggest I go with the Schiit stack or the Conductor SL? I can have the Conductor SL for $750 instead of $1,550, so that’s not too far from my budget. Thank you for your insight and for the amazing article!

        • headfonics

          It was actually Michael who wrote the article, this is Marcus 🙂 I say grab the SL for $750 thats a bargain for a great amp.

    • 24bit

      The Alpha pairs nicely with lesser prices amps, sounds great via my RSA F35 Lightning ( $499 ) so I don’t think you need to go that far into the price tiers for pure amplification. If you need both a Dac and Amplifier, then yes I would say that the 1793 Burson Conductor SL or the Oppo HA-1 is the good choice if you want a less clinical sound. Don’t rule out the O2 Dac either. I don’t think the Schiit Magni and Modi have the power and bass oomph to do the Alpha justice, but the Modi + Lyr2 should more than suffice.

      • Jonathan Darsigny

        I think my best bet is to go with the cheapest recommendation here (O2/ODAC) and upgrade in the future if my needs ever change. Thanks for your input Michael!

        • 24bit

          Small steps are good, they let you appreciate what your ears mesh with. As mentioned, that “Reference Point” only strengthens if you experience the lower tier first, then the upgraded options. Thankfully again though, you dont have to shoot for the moon with Alpha amplification needs.

        • Patrick Michael Graf Murray

          the ZMF X Vibro is another solution, they are very good closed headphones with decent space, and great imaging, good detail and a musicality and tone to be completely happy with especially out of something more transparent like the O2 and or the Geekout 1000

          • headfonics

            I think one of our writers in line to review it. Maybe you want to get a review done and send it to us and we will publish it 🙂

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  • Cotnijoe

    what are your thoughts when comparing the K812 and HE 560?

    • 24bit

      He560 is thicker, smoother and more solid, but lacks a good staging experience. K812 is larger sounding, more thin and a fair bit less clean on the treble.

  • J Parker

    Very Cool Review! I love the frank analysis. I am relatively new to HiFi and am very new to top tier headphones. I demo equipment as often as I can but I admit I haven’t heard a wide range. Something else I really enjoy is reading reviews – such as yours. But I often find it somewhat difficult to fully get the gist of what you’re saying through the HiFi jargon. For instance, I understand when you’re describing a wide/deep/accurate soundstage, but I’m not very clear on what you mean by ‘warm’, ‘neutral’, ‘dark’ etc. when describing tone. I’m sure that as I listen to more setups and relate that back to the reviews I read it will start to make more sense.
    A few days ago I demoed the HD800 and T1. I assumed I would love the HD800 because of it’s reputation but I found that my ear preferred the T1 by a mile – I felt I could listen to it all day. I’m sure I would ‘love’ them both on their own but head to head, the T1 was more enjoyable. Based on this; if you were to sum up my preferences in HiFi jargon – how would you describe them? This would help me relate with what reviewers are hearing.

    • 24bit

      I had a debate about the tonal hues ( warmth, neutrality, icy ) on Reddit last night…it went very poorly for me haha. You can’t hope to grasp this concept of coloration without experience. You have to have a reference point in hand to know hear and feel the differences. You’ll need a warm and colored headphone to compare with a neutral one, the differences will be instantly understandable. No reviewer has successfuly reiterated this into words, it only becomes understandable with those terms after you hear them. It is an unfortunate side effect of hifi in general, you can’t avoid it. Just as you’ve implied, anyone can read those terms and shrug with confusion. How do you describe color in words? Near imposible feat…hehe

      But, if you heard the HD800, odds are good you heard it on a neutral rig. The appeal of the HD800 is that it is pure and doesn’t exaggerate much, if at all. The tone of the headphone is colorless, but the treble can be bright and even painful at times depending on the track. But, brightness doesn’t meant it is excessively treble happy, or that it has too much treble. With a decent recording, the treble can be plentiful, smooth and bright at the same time without being painful or hissy. That is something the HD800 excels at: staying true to the track quality. In that regard, the treble can be bright, or dimmer depending on the track.

      The T1 is considered a bright headphone, it has a lot of treble emphasis. If you are able to swap between them, you’ll notice a sheen to the T1 that is not present on the HD800 ( most likely, again depending on the track ). There is a lusterous appeal to the T1. Again, I hate to say it but you need to demo a set like the Philips Fidelio series headphones, like the X1 or X2, or perhaps an Audeze right next to the T1 or the HD800. Once you do that, these terms will make perfect sense.

      In headphone experiences, there is what is called a background, or a curtain behind all the instruments and vocals. Think of it like the backdrop of the stage the band it playing on when you see a concert. Sometimes there might be lights back there, brightening that entire background area, or it could be jet black, which makes the band seem like they are popping out more. This same quality exists in audio products without the visuals. Your ears can pick up on this background coloration ( dark, light, or a mix ). Sets like the HD800 and T1 do not have a dark background, their background has some light bloom to it. Some other headphones like the Audeze LCD3 have no background coloration, they are natural sounding. Other headphones like the Philips Fidelio X2 for example have a stark black background, there is darkness beyond the band, that curtain behind them is actually dimmer than the natural brightness of various instruments in the track.

      Beyond that, there are tonal textures to the mids and bass as well. The HD800 is generally considered a neutral bass, it is colorless and very pure. But, sets like the Audeze LCD series are just a bit “Warmer”. Meaning their textures are more interesting, more vibrant and a little exaggerated. If you have heard the a violin low string played after a cello’s low string, you can both feel and sense the differences between them. Their wood build might make them sound different, their strings types as well, concert halls invest tons of cash into making sure the tonal hue and resonance of their hall is primed for musicality and enjoyment. These concert halls can build with certain woods that accentuate the natural tone of a cello for instance, making sure you can both hear and sense its natural coloration.

      Instruments and vocals can be tonally colored, they can be bright and beautiful, like a Hifiman or Staxx headphone and do not feel excessive in treble quantity, or they can be darkened as well as being plentiful, just like an Audeze headphone, or they can be extremely accurate to the track recording like the HD800 is, or they can be bright most of the time like the T1 is.

      There are many aspects of listening, it will be a journey if you take steps into the field. This is why audio enthusiats are so picky. We are snobbish and want “our sound”, not what the headphone manufacture designed the headphone to sound like. We search for years to find that product that hits the spot with what we prefer. What is the bass quantity like, is it realistically accurate or fun, bloomed and plentiful ? Are the vocals relaxed and seemingly distant, or are they very in your face? How spacious is the headphone, does it feel solid or thin, do the voices carry a realistic weight, or not. It is very stressful, but when you find a good setup for you…the bliss never ends.

      • J Parker

        First – WOW, what a tremendous, thoughtful response. Much more than I could have hoped for! Your explanations about textures, tones, and background were very helpful. I could see them fitting easily into a ‘Glossary of Terms’ for audiophile novices. Something that could make for a very interesting and useful article of its own.

        As you note, the benefit of listening side by side can’t be overstated. I am literally going to print out your comment response along with some of your other notes from this review and sit down and sample as many as I can. Particularly the specific ones you mention above if I can get a hold of them. I’m at a point where I’m not sure exactly what I like, let alone know which equipment will get me there. But I look forward to finding out.

        • 24bit

          Thanks! Maybe I should write an Intro to Hifi article 😛

          But sadly, you can’t describe colors to a blind person. They have no grasp of it and will need to obtain the sense of sight to really understand it. Unfortunately, these tonal hues and brightness factors are not able to be understood without first hand experience. Texture type is easy, you’ll quickly pick up on this when you test more headphones out. You’ll notice sets like the HD800 have a bass texture that is what enthusiasts call “fast, accurate, pure”. Which means you the fullness of the bass is not exaggerated. It is very precise and does not linger onward. That lingering factor is called decay. Some headphones are wonderfully musical and fun with a slower and more enjoyable decay, these generally are intended and tuned by the audio company to provide an exaggerated bass quantity and texture over what was actually recorded in the track. Sets like the HD800 don’t have that, they are raw and fast, they don’t linger. They are snappy and quick to dissipate.

          After you hear that difference in texture type, you get into the realm of the technology and what the driver styles tend to offer. The HD800 is a dynamic driver headphone and all dynamic headphone drivers provide this “certain type of bass texture, or solidity”. They all generally feel the same. Well, there is a hybrid headphone now called the Flare Audio R1 that achieved something special, but thats a rare and singled out, new tech for dynamic drivers.

          When you compare a great dynamic headphone with a Planar Magnetic headphone, the differences in the bass will be EXTREMELY apparent. Very different “texture” and weight carried by the Planar headphones from Audeze, Oppo, Hifiman and Mrspeakers. Once you are able to compare, the light bulb will click and you’ll be able to actually feel and hear the differences. Hopefully then, those definition-less terms for the inexperienced will now make sense…because you are no longer inexperienced 😉

  • Jin Kim

    This has been one of the most informative reviews/roundups I’ve ever read in the headphone community. Thank you so much for your effort! I understand that the hifi world is highly subjective but I still prefer these types of comparisons more than purely analytical ones based on measurements or websites where the latest headphone du jour is named “best in class and price” nearly every month.

    So currently I use the Burson Soloist SL connected to the Resonessence Concero DAC. I chose this DAC because the Concero was designed by the same team that designed the ESS Sabre chip, and I read that they implemented the Sabre ES9023 chip quite well. (I didn’t opt for the Concero HD’s 9018 because I had no need for 32bit or DSD recordings, to be honest) Anyway, long story short, this chain should sound similar to your Conductor SL, right?

    I am thinking about upgrading from my HE-400i to a different headphone; however, I’d prefer to replace the HE-400i as a new all-rounder instead rather than use it to complement the 400i. I think I like *slightly* warmer sound signatures but my first priority is a large and accurate soundstage (which the 400i really fails on). I also value comfort because I found the Audeze headphones much too heavy for my taste. Because of this I am considering the HD800’s but I am a bit worried that it will be too clinical for me.

    Do you think the HD800’s will sound alright with my rig? Or do you have any other suggestions that I should pursue? I’d rather not replace my amp or dac, and my budget would be around $1000 (I occasionally see used HD800’s at that price). Thanks!

    • 24bit

      Thanks for the kind words on the review! Two Dacs can use similar components and still sound dissimilar. If you check out my review on the Oppo Ha-1, which uses the 9018, it doesn’t sound as pure and neutral as the Burson using the same chip. Hard to say it if would sound similar, there are so many companies who tune the amplifier with some elevation and such despite using a very pure sounding 9018 for example.

      No, I wouldn’t touch the HD800 if you are even a little worried about it sounding clinical. I do think it would sound just fine on your rig as is, plenty of power, good dynamics and staging properties in that rig. But, I think it would still sound rather snobbish and clinical in tone. I’ve found the HD800 needs a very warm setup to sound enjoyable in that manner. If you wanted a very musical and exaggerated setup, the 1793 dac in the Burson Conductor SL would be it, but you would sacrifice stage depth and dynamics which are superior on the 9018.

      If you are dead set on full size $999 or so headphones and if you are like me at all, I wouldn’t recommend a single flagship. None of them made my cut except the Audeze XC ( which is double your budget ) and it was super heavy. I found that one the most fun to use of the lot of $999 and up models. I realize that might not be what you want to hear, but damn…”musical and not clinical” are so hard to come by in a set that is also comfortable. At $999, there is pretty much nothing that exists that fits that prereq. I highly recommend the Flare Audio R2Pro iems, but…those are iems hehe and they would really negate the need for desktop amplification. Iems/CIEMS might be the way to go if you want that type of sound in something comfortable.

      You have the same preferences that I do: slightly warm, big stage and dynamics, comfortable, well rounded. Such a flagship doesn’t exist. However I admit that the new MrSpeakers Ether fits this closely, minus the warmth. I can’t give a recommendation for this because I honestly feel one doesn’t exist that fits those needs 100%. Sacrifices will be made no matter what set you go with, so the best you can hope for is to check as many boxes as possible in your preferences list. Truthfully, the closest one that achieved this was the AKG K812, but its clarity is subpar for the price and the treble is a mess. But, it is boosted on the bass, slightly warm, very large sound stage and very comfortable.

      • Jin Kim

        Thank you Michael!
        I find it very unfortunate that no flagship hits all the right notes for my taste… I really wish I could audition more headphones to see if I can find a notable improvement over my 400i but my small Chinese city only sells knockoff brands… When I ask for headphones they bring me to the bootleg Beats lady 🙁

        I suppose most people are not as affected by comfort as I am, because I felt uncomfortable with Audeze headphones and the HE-500 for a 10 minute listening session. The MrSpeakers Ether is 370g which seems a bit more manageable. The Alpha Dogs require more power than my Soloist SL can provide I think… how do the Ethers sound with your Conductor SL?

        I read negative things earlier about the K812’s treble so I had disregarded it completely, but maybe I should reconsider… I just wish I could audition them first. As far as aesthetics go, I like AKG’s understated looks, so personally I like the looks of the Oppo PM-1 and Beyer T1 the best haha.

        • 24bit

          The Ether scales up nicely. My Calyx M dap is nice with it by itself, the SL sounds nice as well, the HA-1 sounds a little different but generally the same, lastly it sounds noticeably better through my Pathos Aurium. I find you’ll need lots of staging properties ( which really is only found in Burson amps in that price tier ) if you snag a set of Ethers. I think the headphone is clear and clean enough to sound very good with your setup even if it isn’t as good as the conductor SL.

          The treble problem on the K812 are true, its unclean and lacking. The entire headphone is unclean, but clarity would be the only thing you sacrifice with that headphone over the others. Where as all the others have that clarity, but sacrifice all those yummy musical qualities. Its an no win for us, sadly. Might want to hang on for their new N90Q to be released and see how that goes. I don’t know the price, but it won CES asias’s product of the event award. Its akg’s new flagship headphone coming soon, I don’t know the price or what it sounds like sadly.

          I found the T1 and the PM1 to be the most thoughtful designs in the headphone flagship world, so comfortable. The T1 is comparable to the K812 in clarity IMO. So, but its power hungry. As is the PM1.

          • Jin Kim

            Ugh, the N90Q looks so ugly though. Haha, call me shallow but I don’t want to put that thing on my desk :p But if it is a good all-rounder and AKG learned from its mistakes with the K812’s treble…. I still don’t get why so many high-end headphones look so ugly (Abyss, HE-1000). But this is all purely subjective anyway.

            I’d like to ask you a few more questions if you don’t mind, but I don’t want to keep derailing this comment thread. Is there a way I can PM or contact you directly? Thanks!

          • 24bit

            Subjectivity goes so far…heh. They are indeed ugly, at least to me anyway haha. No derailing here, but you can use the Contact Us and I’ll respond via email if you prefer that. 🙂

  • Icharus Fletcher

    Heads up, as insightful your review is, you need to check the typos, your review suffers from lack of attention to basic editorial rules.

    • 24bit

      Thanks. You could use a bit of work as well.

      The term “editorial” is an improper usage of terminology when considering the context of your statement. It implies a completely different core objective than that of what you’ve told me to look into. There are no “editorial rules” that are etched in stone. Grammar mistakes are going to happen in a 30 page report, so you aren’t informing me something that I wasn’t already aware of. You’ve only posted two sentences and they are both jam packed with faults.

      Outside of spelling errors, your statement about the formatting of this article has very little authority. Page one of this article clearly stated that this was an attempt to speak to you as if you and I were at an actual gathering. With that factoid in mind, you should have been able to denote that the article ahead will not following standard formatting structure.

      The proper format to your comment is as follows: ” Heads up! As insightful as your review was, you should have made sure to check for errors in grammar before final publication.”

      “your review suffers from lack of attention to basic editorial rules.”

      This part of the run on sentence is not needed, as it is a retelling of the first part of the third section of the sentence you’ve posted. Information does not need to be retold twice in the same sentence.

      “Your review suffers from a lack of attention to basic grammatical format.”

      This is a proper beginning to your sentences structure. Your version is not only setup backwards, but it is also needlessly restated after the third comma.

      I do appreciate your kind word about how insightful the article is. I enjoy writing, but I do not claim to be a decent editor.

      -Mike(24bit)

  • Sin8a

    alpha dog suck.. clean your ears.. resolution and clarity was subpar compare to koss esp950 estats and it was heavy and unconfortable and too big.. and soundstage wasnt that out of the head either.

  • vick_85

    Hi Michael

    I’m really keen on the PM-1 but people seem to have mixed opinions, some say it lacks bass depth and punch some say it has very good bass depth along with good bass weight and punch. So who has got it right?
    Or could it be that the ones saying it lacks bass depth didn’t supply it with enough power to make it sing??

    I like a detailed yet smooth sounding can that can provide visceral musical bass when the recording calls for it, and the bass does not attract attention to itself when not required.

    I use my headphones while watching movies so good bass weight is a MUST for me. It just helps suck you in. Slam and bass weight matter to me in a hedphone. I’m willing to give up a little detail in bass if the bass produced by the hedphone is musical and visceral in nature .

    My go to movie to test the bass experience is Jurassic Park and forwarding it to the part where the T-Rex footsteps cause ripples in the water. Can I FEEL that with the PM1?

    Mids are great on the PM1 that is a known fact.

    The treble splits opinion, do the alternate pads really improve the treble extension while maintaining the smooth nature of the PM1?

    Do the Alt pads effect the bass in any way?

    Going by your review you really do like the PM1 do you think the PM1 would fit my requirements?

    • 24bit

      I think it has plenty of bass quantity,

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