The NAD VISO HP50 is a game changer in my view, there isn’t really anything quite like it in the closed back mid-fi world. I have quite a lot to say about this one so sit back, relax and enjoy. I don’t want to bore you with specification details in the beginning of this review, so I will start out with the conclusion first. That is just how I roll.

The End

The Audio Deities have been good to me this year, seems like every few weeks something comes along that raises the bar. I really didn’t think another closed headphone would come along so soon after my recent AKG K267, a headphone with perhaps the most beautiful tonality I’ve witnessed in a closed headphone. Unfortunately, the K267 still remains my favorite, but I certainly regard the NAD VISO HP50 as the superior headphone. I have some gripes, but they are all personal preference beyond the fit and finish aspects of the HP50’s qualities. My negative points lay completely in the world of subjectivity and preference in tonality, in this case the HP50 is polar opposite of the sound type I enjoy. Having said that, this headphone is my pick for the absolute best mid tier closed back headphone in recent times.

Walking A Lonely Road

NAD has been making home theater products of various types for some time now, so it’s clear that they get Hi-Fi audio. Making their first blind leap into the headphone world, the HP50 was designed with hopes of accurate recreation of what an actual speaker set up tends to physically sound like. Your ears can tell the difference right away between the best headphones like the Sennheiser Orpheus and my $300 Audio Engine A5 speakers: It’s all about sound location and sound wave immersion. No headphones get it right and it only sounds goosebump worthy in realism on the best headphones in the world with the best and truest, most well recorded tracks imaginable. Without that, it’s just going to sound like headphones, but really nice headphones at that. I think NAD partially succeeded and aimed at the correct target, the headphone sounds pretty damned great.

I prefer high immersion, a quality you cannot get with a 2.1 stereo speaker setup. That sound will always sound like its X-distance away from you, where as my JH16 Pro Custom Inner Earbuds provide a ton more intimacy and immersive qualities than any 2.1 speaker setup I’ve ever heard..and I’ve tested and experienced some 2.1 setups that cost more money than my house. In this regard, the NAD HP50 still sounds like headphones of course, but it’s greatest qualities are found elsewhere and outside the physical locale of the music or track feed. Full speaker systems set up around me in a listening chair would be the only way to achieve highly intimate sound in a speaker setup in my opinion, no matter what you do the track will always sound like it is being emitted from those speakers sitting out in front of you. This is why I am a headphone guy and moved out of the speaker thing years ago. I prefer highly forward sound that is enveloping, most speaker setups cannot achieve this type of sound.

P1040783 NAD VISO HP50

The Lonely Road I speak of here is one of absolute and total neutrality. This headphone is dry as a bone and dead neutral. I mean…shockingly flat. I thought the Sony MA900 and similar headphones were neutral and dry, but this HP50 takes the cake. It is incredibly flat sounding and linear. There in lay the problem for me personally, but most I know consider this presentation type a happy hour party and something highly desired and wanted for many years. Wishes received for most, but not for me. It is very hard to enjoy this headphone for most of my music, but damned if it isn’t exceptionally clear and spacious. This HP50 is a Classical and Acoustic masterpiece. Studio Engineers should be pressing that Buy It Now button before continuing to read this review.

The Lows

Despite being so linear sounding with regard to the physical amounts of bass, mids and upper end frequencies, the Bass on this headphone is moderately responsive. Still not as responsive as my AKG K267, but it is a solid performer when it comes to boosting your musics low end via some EQ. The quantity on a flat EQ setting is more than plentiful and never overbearing, which is a fantastic thing and not at all common with headphones of this price tier. Drummers who need a good monitor while practicing should be eyeballing this set right about now. It is tonally balanced and on my setup is void of lushness, vibrancy and texture. That might sound like a bad thing, but it is in fact highly desirable to musicians and sound editors. This headphone seems best suited for classical or acoustic performances, as the Bass’s and the low E string on guitars really have a fantastic decay.

My V-Moda M100 and AKG K267 have a serious problem with this realistic decay factor, or that natural reverb effect with some instruments, they seem to cut out too soon and do not provide the subtle nuances that the HP50 provides in that regard. You can feel the string reverberate longer than the other closed backs in this price tier. Seems more realistic in those genres but really doesn’t seem at all tailored for anything fast paced, sure the Bass is there and it’s plentiful and never harsh in the slightest, but the tonality needs a lot of work and I think the cheaper K267 and even the Sennheiser Momentum have more interesting bass, despite being a bit less clear in comparison. Flat response isn’t always good, I find it highly unmusical, but ridiculously clear and completely unbiased. Studio Engineers are going to love it. The low end is never fatiguing and I feel fine after a solid hour of listening to harsh dubstep and R&B.

P1040754 NAD VISO HP50

The Mids

This headphone is surprisingly not intimate and is actually more set up like a Beyerdynamic or something similar with the mids. It’s not as pushed back or V shaped as a typical Sennheiser sound, but it’s nowhere near as close up as my JH16 for example. I call this setup presentation moderately forward, moderately relaxed. This sound was specifically selected to recreate the sound a speaker setup will pipe into a room and it definitely sounds similar, this “locale” is right on the money. Don’t confuse this as V shaped, everything in the stereo image is located on a linear plane of existence, neither of the three primary frequency areas are more prominent than the other two. Jazz, rock and similar genres takes a huge nose dive in engaging qualities. With a physical presentation like this, nothing stands out and as a result no one genre or type of track sounds best when it comes to the midrange. Foward midrange headphones tend to sound best with intimate vocal recordings, HD800-ish sound stages sound great with classical and the yummy prominent low end of the Audeze’s tend to sound fantastic with tracks with some weight on the bottom. In this case, the HP50 seems best suited for classical due to that excellent staging experience in general. Seems to be more of a genre master since nothing really sticks out and the soundscape response is as flat as can be.

The Top End

Just like the Red Wine RWAK120, the HP50 shares the same dry upper end that remains exceptionally clear. It is far from sparkled, shimmering and glistening in the sun, instead opting for an eye popping flat experience. There is quite a difference in styling against the AKG K267, which again has my favorite upper end of any $300 and under headphone of any type. The latter being bright but controlled, sparkly and shimmering, almost glistening in the sun where as the HP50’s upper end for the most part is far less bright and unwilling to glisten with screaming guitars or violins, cymbal crashes and even mechanical riffs in Dubstep. I was actually unable to get sibilance out of this headphone in most cases, it took seriously and notoriously sibilant music tracks to sound hissy, and even then it was actually more tolerable of an experience with those tracks than I’ve had in many years. Pretty much only my JH16 can handle those tracks without sounding like my x-girlfriend is stabbing me in the ear with an ice pick. I praise the upper end on this headphone for what it is, but I do not enjoy it. Violins, guitars, horns and pretty much anything regarded as “the upper area” sounds incredibly flat. But, that is how most of the expensive speakers sound anyway in my experiences, so I consider it a job well done with regard to what they were aiming for.

Stereo Image and Multimedia

Well, this was really unexpected and a treat for me as a sound stage freak. I love vast, open, light and airy sound and this HP50 seriously delivers on that. The presentation in the stereo imaging width is very well defined and setup, solid height and good layering in the depth of the image itself. Overall, the headphone is one of the most spacious and wide close back pairs of headphones I’ve ever heard. It deserves it’s spot right next to the V-Moda M-100 and similar closed back headphones regarded for excellent stereo image width. Depth of field on this headphone ( or that reach out and touch the artist realism ) is very nice, but not the best in the closed back sub $300 price tier. I think that title goes to the AKG K267 to my ears, and due to the highly forward nature of the midrange of that AKG, it tends to sound much more immersive, more deep and more layered with regard to where the artist is located. However, that is only true with the midrange, I find that high hats and drums, hard plucks of strings and sudden and fast musical instruments appearing suddenly tend to sound much better and more realistically placed in the HP50 than most other headphones of any type in the $300 and under crowd. Another fan favorite and solid performer in this area is the Sony MA900, which sounds noticeably more harsh and bright on the highs, but also less realistic. The HP50 outperforms most other headphones in this tier in the slam and decay realism. I’m a musician, I don’t play drums well but I do play guitar and I can safely say that monitoring live instruments with this headphone is great and has been the go to reference headphone in my arsenal since I received it.

P1040758 NAD VISO HP50

Bonus: The gaming and movies experience is rock solid, I can easily consider this HP50 a reference grade multimedia experience. How often do people say that about closed backs? Not often. Wide and spacious, non fatiguing…especially fatigue free on the top end makes gaming and movies in general very relaxing. No need to worry about wincing or ducking for cover when bullets or sudden explosions occur, people screaming ( ya you, Shia ) endlessly or even when your teammates over voice over IP chat software infinitely nag you to death with insults or commands. One draw back here is that the pinpoint experience isn’t that great for FPS shooters despite that large stage presentation. Not sure why, it just didn’t work out well for me and I had moderate levels of trouble accurately spotting enemies in Battlefield and Call of Duty online. Not enough to lose or potentially get myself killed, but it wasn’t as easy and well defined as I wanted it to be. A good performer, but unexpectedly not great. Single player experiences with the HP50 are very enjoyable. Borderlands, Dead Island, Bastion and similar games flows nicely. Big and fatigue free sound equates to excellent general gaming quality.

Fit, Finish, Accessories and…ah man that headband?

Ok, I have to ask. What the heck is up with this headband design? This is a pet peeve of mine and coming off the beautifully comfy and properly executed headband design of the AKG K267, I really have no idea what is going on with the HP50. It is really uncharacteristic of a portable headphone of this size, offering a shape that is the least conforming to a human head that I’ve worn lately. This design gets more silly each time I look at myself in the mirror or when family looks at me while I wear it. I can almost telepathically hear their mumbles. I would like NAD to revise this headband immediately and take a look at the AKG K267 and how that is designed, which again is the best and most comfortable and practical design in a headband I can think of at the moment. This HP50 is not comfortable to wear for me on the top of my head, I have a red mark on the top of my head every time I wear the headphone and take it off. ( Yes, I shave my head ) Having said that, I think the earpads are very comfortable and rest nicely, but once again are too small for the majority.

Almost every review I’ve read mentioned small pads and I thought nothing of it until I first put them on. They are indeed circumaural, but they definitely need to be more plush at the very least to accommodate the strange and unpractical headband design. If it can’t be more plush and padded, it needs to be larger in general. The earcups come in a red, black or white option and are made of plastic, but the headband seems a solid aluminum type material with very nice leather padding. The headphone seals very well and I enjoy the satisfying air pocket POP that occurs when I remove the headphone from my ears too quickly. I realize the angled approach of the shape of the headband was intended for a proper seal with the earpads, but I think it is too odd looking and cumbersome for me. Purely subjective on that, but styling points are important to me as well as sound. I don’t want to look like a satellite dish. I’m very happy with the build quality, it seems rock solid everywhere but the back plate of the earcups, which are a bit odd and out of place with the solid and rigid feel of the rest of the headphone.

P1040765 NAD VISO HP50

The headphone comes with a cool mesh accessory holding box, as well as a large soft zipper case, two cables ( one for Apple products and one typicals flat 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable ) an airplane adapter and a belt clip. Pretty neat actually, I love being able to swap sides on the earcups with the cable depending on what I am doing or where the source is. I tend to use the left side when I am on the go, but my source and amp are on my right side when I am at home so having that option to freely remove the cable and reconnect to the opposite ear cup is a god send.

Final Thoughts

I regard this headphone as the best closed back $300 and under headphone of recent times. I think it is superior in sonic quality to the likes of the Momentum, M-100 and the Denon D-2000, but the HP50 is also vastly inferior in musicality. This is not a musical headphone to me and seems setup for those who either prefer this type of flat response ( there are a lot of audiophiles who like this ) or studio engineers who need a solid pair of monitors. Studio’s in general are going to love this headphone and right now I cannot think of a single closed back sub $300 set that even remotely came close to the overall usefulness of this headphone. It’s one of those well rounded headphones with no real weaknesses.

Another fantastic and shocking quality I found with the headphone was that it is immensely efficient and requires almost no amplification to sound awesome. Right out of my Sansa Clip and Fuze, it sounds fantastic and I found this headphone to not scale up at all. The difference from my RWAK120 to my Burson Conductor SL is nominal at best. I notice some better layering qualities but that pretty much is it. That is fantastic to know that you don’t need a great source or any amplification to get excellent sound off this headphone. NAD did a great job on this one and produced exactly what they were out to make. My preferences are subjective, I prefer a bit more color in tone, a bit more bass, more forward mids and a brighter upper end. This headphone is for those who enjoy a flat sound, despite not meshing with me there is no question this headphone is the most clear and spacious mid tier closed back I’ve ever used. Can’t wait to hear what the future has in store from NAD. Fantastic Headphone!

Technical Specifications

  • Frequency Response 20Hz – 20,000Hz +/- 1.5dB, -3dB @ 15Hz
  • THD <0.25%
  • Max Input Power  30mW
  • Imp 32 Ohms

Links

HP 50

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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  • George Lai

    The Abyss-shaped headband and the small ear cups of this headphone put me off totally when I first tried it. It didn’t stay long enough on my head to form an opinion on the sound at all.

    • headfonics

      Everyone has heard this but me – unfair I say unfair! 🙂

      • George Lai

        I’ve tried that twice and both times, I somehow felt only Fred Munster would look good in it!

      • Ishcabible

        You really need to. 😉

    • 24bit

      Yeah, I know what you mean. It is a serious problem for some and i hope their future models fix that issue, but no getting around the sublime sound qualities in the hp50. Stunning to say the least in my opinion.

  • biku

    The headband is 100 times more comfortable then it looks. As much as we all think it could be something else, it does not get in a way of a great music presentation. I stumbled though lots of “buts” in this article, but trying lot’s of closed headphones during the years, this one is still a winner for me. I use it every day and every day it amazes me how good it is.

    • 24bit

      That red mark on my head disagrees with you 😛 Definitely doesn’t get in the way of anything musically, the headphone sounds good enough to make me forget that the comfort factor for me isn’t up to par. Some consider it comfy and dont have issue, people with hair I guess and who don’t shave their head. Maybe their hair cradles it more and offers some extra padding, distributing the weight more evenly. On my bare head though, it’s pretty rough and leaves a bit of a bruise. I find the clamp factor just fine, no problem there. But , I do want more plush pads. I’m amazed by it as well, I think its the best mid tier closed back I’ve ever heard.

      • George Lai

        The simplest almost utilitarian yet by far the most comfortable headband I’ve experienced this year is the cheap-looking leather strap of the MrSpeakers Mad/Alpha Dogs. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the best.

        • 24bit

          My favorite in comfort in the headband was certainly the AKG K267, nothing even came close to how well conforming it was to my head. Wish that had a bit more padding, the the shape of it was perfection in my opinion. The HP50 earpads were definitely softer and more comfy than the AKG, both headphones needed bigger earpads for me but I think the general softness factor is clearly better on the NAD.

  • Jose Quintini

    If you like V-shaped more than flat headphones, what about B&W P7? Do you still like more the AKG K267?

    • 24bit

      I really dislike classic V shape and recessed mids. The AKG K267 has a reverse V shape sound type, with prominent mids but more laid back highs and bass. I don’t have much experience with the P7 so I can’t really say anything about it.

      • Ishcabible

        I’ve tried both this and the P7. I have a feeling you wouldn’t love the P7, because I thought it was on the harsh side at times, but other times I thought it had fantastic resolve because of the treble.

        • 24bit

          That doesn’t surprise me, I wasn’t a fan of the past models, but they were good headphones. I’m picky about my sound preferences, I think sharp treble and recessed mids are my absolutely most despised qualities.

          • Ishcabible

            I really wanted to like the P7, but the midrange was definitely the weakest part of the headphone. I’d struggle to call it recessed, but it was definitely not prominent.

  • Fabio_Rocks

    Nad Hp50 vs ZMF t50rp?

    • headfonics

      i rate it 50:50 🙂

    • Ishcabible

      I’ve heard both (I was actually supposed to get a review sample of the HP50 months ago, but Lenbrook (the US distributor for NAD) was selling every pair they were getting, so I’m glad 24bit was able to get his hands on a pair!) but I’ve only demoed the HP50, and for only about an hour at that, while I own and love the v2 ZMF so take what I say with a grain of salt.. I don’t really find them to be all that comparable. The HP50 is more energetic than the ZMF, but other than that, I find the ZMF to be superior. The bass is more detailed and separated, the midrange is more realistic and romantic, and the treble has better decay, but again, it’s more of a romantic headphone, which may or may not be to your taste. I know I wouldn’t be able to live with the ZMF as my only headphone as they just don’t give me the oomph I want for electronic or rock music. But for acoustic, folk, or jazz, I still maintain that I like my particular pair more than the HE500 I demoed. But if you’re looking at having only one headphone, I’d probably go with the HP50 and pretend that the ZMF doesn’t exist. The ZMFs are also a pain to use outside because they’re so big and cumbersome, which is a shame because with the Alpha Pads, they’re perfect for the brisk Boston winters.

      • Fabio_Rocks

        I got a ZMF v2 Zpex rewired with ALO COPPER and Copper Cable. The bass on my set is HUGE with a lot of rumble, the overall sound quality is phenomenal. I can’t be more happy.

    • 24bit

      I’ve not heard that version, but I don’t think the Mad Dog is as good as the HP50. Switching up between the two and its fairly obvious which one is superior in every way. Mad Dogs sound muffled, and I’m told the ZMF is probably better than the Mad Dog but I’ve not ever heard or read of anyone saying it was THAT much better.

  • RN2013

    24 bit…how would you compare the NAD to the Mad Dog when it comes to creating a live, life-like musical presentation…in other words, which would be the most fun to live with if you could only own one pair.

    • 24bit

      Oh man, the HP50 destroys them in imaging. It is about on par with my AKG K812 ( Retail $1499 ) in the depth of stereo imaging. It is VERY good with that, trust me, nothing else closed back can touch this headphone sub $1500 IMO for imaging. I regard the HP50 as probably “the best” headphone ever made, but its general coloration is something I do not desire. Not that its bad as I mentioned, but I prefer a brighter treble that is sparkly and glistening, as well as generally more colored experience in the bass and mids, the Audeze LCD3 nailed that tone for me as well as the JH16s. But, the HP50 is more sterile, but yummy in every way. Great bass, great forward mids and a relaxed treble with some of the best imaging around…hard to complain about this outside of the headband styling. I could easily pick the HP50 has my go to, the one and only if it had that tone that fits my preference. The sound qualities and setup are everything I’ve always wanted, but not the coloration of the headphone itself. If I had to pick one headphone, it would be the JH16s.

  • Headphone.ph

    Thanks for the nice writeup. I’ve been looking on purchasing this however is this available locally or it has to be purchased outside the country? Also I am intending to only use it straight out of iPod and I’m wondering if it’s just fine ( I presume it is but i just wanted to get your opinion anyway). 🙂

    • headfonics

      I saw it in the Hifi Show last Nov 2013 so the answer should be yes.

      • Nicklaus

        You know where i can try them on? I asked some online sellers but they have no demo units.

        • headfonics

          In which country?

          • Nicklaus

            Philippines. I’ve tried looking around malls and audio stores but I haven’t seen one.

    • 24bit

      Thank you! The odds of finding a store that carries them is slim. No amplifier needed my friend, it sounds powerful and loud on just the sansa clip and fuze, eyepoppingly great on the AK120 modded by red wine, and actually a bit too powerful on the HM901 unless I am using the IEM card. Also wanted to say sorry for the delay in responses everyone, seems my Disqus notifications were disabled all this time.

  • tand

    Hi,

    How does this compare with a COP?
    I listened to it in the store..and i love its bass. IMO it totally blew away the P7 and the my own headphone I was carrying that day. Philips L1 and UE6000.

    You mentioned it’s very neutral. But i found the bass really good. So tight fast and with a great punch. Weirded me out a bit…and blew me away.

    • 24bit

      By neutral on the bass experience I meant it is not overly warm, velvet like, nor it is immensely pure and solid. Its middle ground in tonality and texturing. Glad you enjoyed it, they blew me away too. In terms of quantity, there is plenty of it and it is not at all a reference, accurate headphone with regard to the bass quantity. Definitely elevated, but very linear and well executed. Not quite a bass head headphone, but not at all lacking.

  • Matjub

    Do these headphones leak sound/audio?

    • 24bit

      There is some leak, but less so than lets say the Momentum, Vmoda M100 and even the AKG K267. Not as good with sound leakage prevention as the new Sennheiser HD8, which might be the best at preventing sound from leaking in a closed back I’ve seen lately.

      • matjub

        what are the measurements of the inside of the ear cup? In inches or cm

  • Jp Carlos

    which is the best among the three, HP50, Fidelio X1 or Fidelio L2? and why? 🙂

    • headfonics

      Sounds like a thesis and probably impossible for me or Michael to answer since neither of us have had all 3 in the same sitting or in the same room. From what i can deduce though the Nad is flat and neutral, the X1 is lively and musical and the L2 is probably a bit darker and closed. Personally I would get the NAD but if you want something musical and indoors only then the X1.

      • Jp Carlos

        Thanks for the input! It’s been really dragging me and I still can’t choose. I have no means to audition any of them and its too bad that being in the Philippines, I can’t just buy and try all so I could pick the one I’ll like the most. I’ve got the HP50 on the lead by a hair right now based on the reviews I read all over the web. The online prices for both the hp50 and x1 are very close. I wish I could find a far better deal for one over the other to force myself in choosing it haha.

        • headfonics

          Go with the HP50 🙂

    • Guest

      Easy, the HP50. More realistic, more clear, more well rounded, more responsive to EQ, easier to drive.

      • Leon Coleman

        Have you heard the Fidelio x1?
        If so then compare the soundstage to the hp50 and x1.
        Thanks!

        • headfonics

          I will lay money down both are vastly different – the X1 is fun, musical and the HP50 is monitor-like and composed.

          • Leon Coleman

            Nope they are not very different. Sound similar in some ways.
            The x1 has a little more bass, more Soundstage width and air.

            They both are pretty level in the frequency (flat side of things). The hp50 is louder (easier to drive), maybe slightly clearer (probably not really though since the x1 is very clear too)

            I think I like the x1 slightly better but they are equals since one is for indoors and the other is portable.

            I’m keeping both.

  • Martin K.

    Hi, can you kindly compare the HP50 to B&O H6?

    • 24bit

      I’ve no experience with the H6 Martin, so sorry. Wish I could help on that :[

      • Martin K.

        Too bad. Thanks for you reply! 🙂

    • headfonics

      Well now I can do this for you as I have had both. I preferred the Nad by a long way over the H6. The H6 has more dynamics and fizz in the upper ranges but the HP50 felt more accurate and technically correct. Both have good build quality but the pop out marks might go to the H6. The HP50 bag is better than the H6 pouch. Both can run easy off a usual portable DAP setup.