Extensions, frequencies, and driver types, oh(ms) my! Best headphones for a bassist?
November 6, 2010 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Looking to buy high quality headphones as a gift, but am no audiophile, so a lot of the jargon and specs mean nothing to me. Looking for recommendations based on certain parameters.

I'm looking to buy a high quality pair of headphones as a gift. I'm not looking to spend $1000--maybe around $300-400 (though could be persuaded to go a bit higher for the right product). The person I'm buying them for someone who is very into music/sound quality, plays bass and wants to be able to plug them into his amp so he can play without bugging the neighbors. So, I'm looking for something that can be plugged into an amp, has really good sound quality for a bass (but is also good for listening to music more generally) and can also be used with an iPod. Types of cables, frequencies, etc. mean almost nothing to me, so wading through the reviews is something of a challenge. Thoughts or recommendations?
posted by HonoriaGlossop to Technology (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
These are actually way under your budget, but I recommend the Sony V6's. They are always the headphones you see in movies for a reason! Awesome sound and can take a beating.
posted by meta87 at 10:01 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ultrasone 900's are pretty much the best cans under a grand.
posted by analogue at 10:13 AM on November 6, 2010

This is a tricky question, because headphones are for different things. Studio monitoring headphones are supposed to give a flat response so you can hear everything that's going on. DJ headphones have different characteristics, listening headphones (audiophile headphones) have different characteristics. The really high end headphones shouldn't be used with an iPod.

People also usually prefer open vs closed - open gives more accurate sound and won't get as hot, closed gives you sound isolation at the expense of some echoing and usually tightness.

That said, I have the Sony V6s and like them. The Sennheiser HD 280s are a popular suggestion for closed, but they're too tight on me. The Grado SR80s are a very popular good open headphone. My next headphones will probably be Audio Technica's ATH-M50.

In the next tier up, I've heard incredibly good things about the Sennheiser HD 600s and the Sennheiser HD 650s, which are on amazon for around $350. No clue how they'll work with an iphone though, i'd probably want to put it into a good amp.
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:17 AM on November 6, 2010

I have HD600s, SR60s, and HD 280 Pros. I use them in different places (home for music, home for games, work when it's loud), and I also have two pairs of in-ear headphones I use (Bluetooth Sonys for commuting, Shure SE300s for general work usage).

I didn't really set out to buy this many pairs, but it does go to show that there really is a lot of different application for each pair. I certainly would recommend any of them. :)
posted by kcm at 10:27 AM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: High-quality headphones tend to sound genuinely awful through iPods, computer headphone jacks, and the like. At best, they sound little better than any random Wal-Mart kit. It's not a failing in iPods, computer headphone jacks and the like, it's because portables and computers fundamentally aren't designed to shove enough power into the headphones. They will sound plenty loud but the sound is imbalanced; the highs get shrill, the bass disappears, and there's a lot more distortion.

His bass amp will be able to power high-quality headphones. An iPod or computer will benefit from a headphone amp. More about that below.

You also need to know what kind of isolation he needs. Isolation goes both ways: Protecting other people in the room from what you're listening to, and shielding outside noises from your ears. Some have no isolation and practically broadcast what you're listening to (open-back phones), some have moderate isolation and will limit ambient sounds (closed-back phones), and some have industrial shopfloor-grade isolation (many in-ear monitors, or IEMs).

Headphone aficionados tend to accumulate headphones because it's an easy way to have a purpose-built sound system: Big, power-hungry phones for the home stereo, in-ear monitors for on the road, AKGs for critical, analytical listening, Sennheisers for when you just wanna groove.

There are a lot of quite good phones at the $150-200 level, which have plenty of detail and can be appealing to bassheads: Audio Technica's ATH-50 is popular, as is Sennheiser's HD-25, and stepping up to the $250-300 range, you can try Beyerdynamic's DT-770, 880, and 990 phones, the AKG 701 and 702, and the better Sennheiser 500-series phones.

I'm suggesting phones in the $200-and-under range is that you might want to get your friend a diversified lineup: One set for his practice rig, one set for going out with an accompanying headphone amp. The quality difference between $200 and $500 is surprisingly small, thanks in part to the laws of diminishing returns, and in part to massive improvements in headphone engineering generally over the past decade.

For listening outside the house, there are any number of portable headphone amplifiers available - good ones hover around $100 and up - but you start compromising portability if you've got to run a line out from the iPod's dock socket into the headphone amp and from the amp to the headphones. This might or might not be a burden, depending on where and how he listens, and how he travels (if he carries a man-purse or courier bag everywhere, it's not a big deal).

(Some models in the Beyerdynamics' DT-770/880/990 range are designed to be driven directly from portables and computers, so they're good candidates if you're not going to get a headphone amp.)

IEMs are definitely worth considering, and the choices in that range have exploded in the past few years, but fit is highly idiosyncratic. Some people find them too uncomfortable to bear, while others prefer them to anything else.

Don't sweat cables and things like that. Headphones are a tweaker's paradise, but there's no reason to start there.

If you're going to gift your friend with something like this, the best favor you can do is to go shopping with him for a set: Find some local dealers of high-end headphone kit, make an appointment (or phone ahead to ask when they're slow and will have time to let you try things out carefully), and take your friend for a half-day's auditioning. Have him prepare his iPod with a a range of music he's familiar with and represents what he currently likes listening to, preferably in high-quality or lossless formats. Then have him buy you lunch; he owes you a little something for this wonderful favor you're doing for him.
posted by ardgedee at 12:22 PM on November 6, 2010

I have a pair of Beyerdynamics DT880 that replaced my trusty Grado SR60. I still have the Grado because they're super-reliable, super-rugged, can (and have) taken a serious beating/stepping on/etc. and still sound great. But the Beyerdynamics are just… heaven. They're extremely light; I would describe the ear pads like… well, imagine resting your head on a well-endowed woman's bosom wearing a bra made of pure Angora wool.

And they sound sumptuous. When I want to hear absolutely every last bit of something, when I want my head wrapped in sound, these are my go-to 'phones. For point of reference, I also own a pair of Shure E500 in-ear drivers. If I need total isolation I'll go with those, but if I'm not worried about annoying anyone nearby, I pick the DT880 every time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:00 PM on November 6, 2010

I bought the Sony MDR-V6 headphones based on a recommendation from 2005, and I've never been happier with a pair of headphones.

At my last job, we also had the Sennheiser HD-650s (many pairs), and I don't think they even compared. In fact, I bought a second pair of MDR-V6 for work, because I got tired of dragging them around to replace the Sennheisers.

I really like the Sony MDR-V6, and I highly recommend them. They are really exceptional, can collapse a bit to fit in a gig bag, and are highly durable.
posted by fake at 1:15 PM on November 6, 2010

The recommendations at headphone.com can generally be trusted. It's a nice site. Their subjective descriptions are generally pretty much in line with my experiences.

You could go there, find a few that have interesting descriptions and a high rating, and buy what your instinct tells you would fit well as a gift in this situation. I'm pretty sure you'd both be happy. (And perhaps they allow for returns?)
posted by krilli at 2:06 PM on November 6, 2010

AKG for me. Never understood why people want to impose their will over that of the sound engineer.

Also they look like things from the future were meant to look.
posted by cromagnon at 2:26 PM on November 6, 2010

You might want to ask on head-fi.org forums. It's a tricky matter, there's just no general agreement, for example there's a lot of people who swear by AKG, others who love Beyerdynamics, or Ultrasone, or Sony V6, etc, but for each of them you'll also find people who think they're terrible. Even if you take Sennheiser HD600/650.. same brand, and 650s are more expensive and a higher-up model, yet there's quite a few people who will say HD600s are much better.

Then there's the issue of amplification. HD600, and especially HD650 are famous for needing a very good headphone amp to shine.

As far as my experience goes, I have an inexpensive tube amp and Ultrasone 2500 and Sennheiser 595 (much cheaper and inferior to HD600 despite close model #). On most types of music, Ultrasones are nothing short of amazing. 595s sound tinny and fake, although to be fair they cost quite a bit less, too. On some rare classical and rock pieces (mostly on bad or weird recordings) Ultrasones distort and amplify sound unevenly and 595s actually come ahead.

Unfortunately the best advice would be to go to a store that has many 'phones out to try and listen to a few hours of music, but that's, of course, inconvenient, you may not have a store near you and you may like one headphone while your friend likes another pair.
posted by rainy at 3:31 PM on November 6, 2010

I asked a similar question previously as I am a bass player. I finally decided on the Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 for practicing at home but they are way under your budget (~$90 on Amazon, but the actual retail price is much higher). They've been particularly well suited for practicing bass and general music listening and video games. Fantastic sound quality for the money, although I do admit that I like the sound of my Ultimate Ears Triple-Fi 10 Pros better.

An awesome gift idea would be to get some FutureSonic Atrios and then get the custom fit sleeves, which are professionally molded to your ears. I would be through the roof if someone bought me a set of these as a gift. These could be used in a professional setting if your friend ever has to play using in-ear-monitors (like in a church or quieter setting).
posted by kenliu at 8:43 PM on November 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. This is all very helpful. So much seems to come down to personal preference, so I guess I might have to scuttle the surprise aspect in favor of really having him pick what works best for him.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 5:20 AM on November 8, 2010

« Older How do you choose a credit card?   |   Joe Lunardi would be....proud? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.