Visualize the perfect headphone. For many of you, it’s what you have now, only in solid platinum that’s lightweight and comfortable. With that out of the way, I’ll start with a top of the line electrostatic with a few of the ortho qualities thrown in. Ruler-flat response from 20 to 20 khz. A liquid sound like angels singing. Highs that add infinite sparkle to triangles and shimmer to cymbals. Lows that would make earthquakes jealous.
And what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with a very low priced portable headphone? Well, I needed a starting point before I start subtracting the qualities you’re not going to get for well under $100USD. Next, you might ask if there will be anything left after all that subtracting. The answer is yes – quite a bit of good musical enjoyment with a well-balanced sound, given its limitations. The good news is the lack of things added to the sound, which are the colorations you’d normally expect in this price range.
The DTX-300p has a significant emphasis in the middle midrange around 400 hz, at least compared to my main reference, the Sennheiser HD-800. But that raises the issue of how emphasis is determined, other than reading frequency response curves or reviews by trusted sources. I’ve found that when I listen to one headphone for awhile, for example the HD-800, and switch to another headphone, the DTX-300p in this case, my immediate impression is that the colorations (or the major ones) are in the headphone I just switched to, since I’ve adjusted to the sound I’ve been listening to with the previous headphone.
What I just described applies to my listening tests whenever one of the headphones being tested has a sound signature that’s more familiar than the others, giving it an advantage in the tests. And that’s why I decided on a different approach for this second review of the DTX-300p, the first review being my initial impressions based on two days of listening and brief comparisons to other headphones.
In my first review I decided that the DTX-300p was most comparable to the Sennheiser PX-200-II, since both of these are lightweight plastic closed-back headphones intended for use with small portable music players. I will take a different view this time. Since the PX-200-II has a very significant emphasis in the upper midrange (the region that produces an “EEEEEEE” [in English] sound coloration), its sound signature is so much different than the DTX-300p, and less desirable in my view, that I’ve decided to make my comparisons this time to the PX-100-II.
The PX-100-II might seem like the wrong choice for a comparison to the DTX-300p, since the PX-100-II is open and the DTX-300p is closed. But since the DTX-300p offers almost no isolation – far less than the PX-200-II which itself has very little isolation, the only significant difference between the PX-100-II and the DTX-300p is the leakage of sound to persons close by. The DTX-300p does well in that regard, since I can use them next to another person who’s trying to sleep, and they can’t hear anything even though I’m playing music at close to (-4 to -5 db) normal listening volume.
As it happens, the difference in sound signature between the PX-100-II and the DTX-300p is a 180-degree turnabout from the PX-200-II to DTX-300p comparison. The DTX-300p is still the headphone in the center, with the emphasis around 400 hz or so, and the PX-100-II has its emphasis much lower – perhaps around 150 hz. In fact, the PX-100-II sounds so dark and distant by comparison that it makes the difference between the PX-100-II and PX-200-II seem twice as far apart as I previously felt they were. Note here that the PX-100-II has been altered to remove the center portion of its foam ear cushions, otherwise it would be darker-sounding still. The PX-200-II and DTX-300p don’t have layers of foam between their drivers and your ears, so alterations of that kind weren’t applicable to those headphones.
Now that I’ve compared the DTX-300p to headphones at both ends of the color spectrum (my description), the question that confronts me is “Is the DTX-300p more neutral than the Sennheiser ‘PX’ headphones, or can it be characterized as neutral at all?” Since there are few if any absolutes in this business, I can only offer conjectures based on my experiences so far. I play mostly MP3’s, from a wide variety of sources, and with a wide variety of quality from low-fi to approximately CD quality at 320 kbs. I do feel that I have enough good material to make the following judgements, where I proceed with those subtractions I mentioned in the second paragraph of this article.
First we subtract some bass. The very deep bass, around 30 hz or so, is not really there. I’ve heard a hint of it on tracks like the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra performed by the Pasadena Symphony and Jorge Mester, but even turning up the volume doesn’t produce the tone or the impact. The upper bass is there to a limited extent, but lower in volume by about 5 db compared to the PX-100-II, and lower by about 2 db compared to the PX-200-II. The lower midrange is also lower in volume compared to the PX-100-II, but about the same as the PX-200-II. The fact that the lower midrange is also down a few db compared to the Sennheiser HD-800 is why I suggest that the DTX-300p has a significant midrange emphasis around 400 hz, since that tonal area sticks out when the frequency response above and below that area is weaker.
While it’s obvious comparing the DTX-300p to the PX-100-II and the HD-800 that it has less output in the lower midrange, the lesser output in the upper midrange is more subtle, more difficult to evaluate, and maybe even a bit controversial. That’s the area that some observers have suggested is boosted slightly on the HD-800, to add a sense of liveliness or presence. If that’s true, it could add to my perception that the DTX-300p’s midrange has a lot of emphasis. In either case, the middle midrange is the only area where the DTX-300p has any emphasis as far as I can tell. The very high frequencies of the DTX-300p are muted somewhat, down approximately 3 to 4 db at 12 khz compared to the HD-800, and falling off rapidly from there. The highs of the DTX-300p are comparable to the two ‘PX’ series headphones.
After all of these comparisons, to expensive headphones like the HD-800, to competitive headphones like the ‘PX’ series, and to absolutes (more or less) like frequency response measurements and so on, I keep coming back to the question of “How does the DTX-300p sound?” And to me it sounds about as good as my source material. Playing Chopin piano works today, mazurkas mostly by Moravec, Pollack, Shakin et al, I got the sense that I was actually in the room with the piano, although the room was open and spacious and did not have close-by walls or other reinforcements that would augment the bass frequencies, which would give more “weight” to the sound. Playing a few Bach organ pieces recorded on mechanical tracker organs with low-pressure pipes, the sound was also realistic and less bass-dependent due to the baroque-era organ design.
With the DTX-300p I don’t feel like I’m missing treble tones, or extreme highs even though as I noted the highs above 10 khz are down several db compared to mid- and upper-priced headphones. If you are really tuned into the particular sounds of cymbals, triangles and other very high frequency generating instruments, and would be distressed by the failure to reproduce those with full harmonic overtones, the DTX-300p is not for you. If you’re a fan of rap, hip-hop, modern church organ or other bass-centric music, you also may find the DTX-300p unsatisfactory for those types of recordings. For me, I tend to be bothered by noticeable colorations in headphones, but when the coloration consists of a moderate boost in the middle midrange with a not too severe rolloff in the lows and extreme highs, I can not only live with that, but actually enjoy most of my music collection on that headphone.