Looking for Headphones
December 7, 2011 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Looking for suggestions for stereo headphones. They need to be optimal for Bach and Monteverde first, late 19th century and early twentieth century classical second and 1940s and early 1950s jazz third. They need to be sturdy, preferably with a replaceable cord. Not necessarily noise cancelling, as they will be used in a quiet room. No earbuds. Price in the low three figures max.
posted by Raybun to Technology (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
AKG K701 (K702 is the black version) sounds great for instruments requiring a bit of detail, it shines for listening to jazz for me. It does take a lot of power, so it's best to be used with a headphone amp. It is a bit pricy (Amazon is $265) but you can probably get them off eBay for under $200.
posted by xtine at 5:27 PM on December 7, 2011

What is your listening source? (In other words, will you need to budget for a headphone amplifier with high impedance cans?)
posted by Jairus at 5:28 PM on December 7, 2011

i have a pair of these Sennheisers, and for less that $100, you can't beat them (I listen to a lot of classical music). Great sound, great construction.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:49 PM on December 7, 2011

How about the Audio Technica M50s? They're well-loved and considered to perform well above their price range (about $160). They're quite versatile in terms of musical styles. I believe that the earpads are known to crack but they're replaceable. Cord's not replaceable, but straight and coiled vesions are available.
posted by iamscott at 6:17 PM on December 7, 2011

I really like my Sennheiser HD555s as at-home phones, their open design really makes it feel like the sound is coming from the room, not from tiny speakers near your ears.

I pad $80 for them last spring, so it appears the price has gone up. Looks like they've got a new model (558s) which is comparable - Those might drop back down to the sub-$100 point once they're less new.
posted by Wulfhere at 6:19 PM on December 7, 2011

i have a pair of these Sennheisers, and for less that $100, you can't beat them

Seconding the 280 model. I really like the sound from them, and they are comfortable. However, they do not have a replaceable cord.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:49 PM on December 7, 2011

Seconding most of what's been said above.

I would consider budgeting for a headphone amplifier as well, unless you know your source is good. I've studied this pretty extensively, I've built both headphone and speaker amplifiers. The need for an amplifier is not only dictated by load impedance or how much raw power is needed to give sufficient volume, but many other issues as well. Dynamics are very greatly affected by the quality of amplification, as well as instrument separation and "legibility" of vocals and instruments.

This is because the sound is in the amplifier, even more so than in the speakers or headphones. This is perhaps contrary to intuition. The headphones/speakers are passive but reactive electromagnetic loads, and they are difficult to control. The amplifier is the only active element that has any real chance of finely controlling the movement of the drivers. The term "amplifier" is kind of inaccurate, because an amplifier does not only amplify, it also controls.

With Sennheiser and AKG headphones, AFAIK you only need mid-quality amplification and existing sources may work well. With other headphones such as Grado, high-quality amplification is absolutely requred to realize the full potential. (People with Grados who claim that they don't need amplification usually haven't heard the difference!)
posted by krilli at 7:29 PM on December 7, 2011

And! Getting headphones+amp means that you can possibly get better sound for less than if you spend only on headphones.

Good headphones + good amp = great sound
High-end headphones + unsuitable amp = Not that great sound
posted by krilli at 7:30 PM on December 7, 2011

The Senn 600s are just about the best cans short of outrageous prices. They are right there in the high end sweet spot. They sound fantastic with symphonies and other classical music. Symphonies are by the way particularly challenging sources. With the Senns the individual instruments shine through. Here is a review on HeadFi. The bass is better with a headphone amp. Most ipods cd players etc. just don't have the oomph to get all the bass these can deliver. They still sound great though. Most headphones sound better through a headphone amp; these do as well.
posted by caddis at 7:34 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I own a well used pair of the HD280s and like them better than any of the other $100 headphones. I was given a pair of the 600s for Christmas and although they are considerably better sounding than the 280s they're not 3X better. Diminishing returns applies.
posted by bz at 9:29 PM on December 7, 2011

I have a pair of Sennheiser HD 580s which I got at least 10 years ago. They're extremely comfortable due to the design with the earpads going around the outside of the ear. I love the sound quality, although I don't listen to the same music as you. The wires are replaceable. I've never used a headphone amplifier, although I'd like to try one.
posted by germdisco at 10:07 PM on December 7, 2011

One of the best sounding pair I've found is the Bowers & Wilkins P5, but they may be on the high side of your budget at $300. The nice thing about these is they are designed to sound good off an iPod/iPhone. Also, they have a removable/replaceable cable.

Since you'll be using them in a quiet room, the Grado SR80 or SR125 might be good. They'll sound fine off of a portable player, but even better with home gear and a headphone amp.
They will run you around $95 and $150 respectively.
Consider that these are both "open" meaning that you will be able to hear everything around you.
posted by nickthetourist at 10:45 PM on December 7, 2011

We have mostly been remiss in omitting the cable replacement aspect. Many of these headphones have replaceable cables. The Senn 600s do for sure. The AKG 701 and 240 most likely do, but I have not checked. Probably some of the others too.
posted by caddis at 3:55 AM on December 8, 2011

A generally useful resource for headphone info is HeadphoneReviews.org, while a great place for in-depth analysis (without too much extreme audiophile woo-woo) is Head-Fi.

A lot of good suggestions here already, but one additional thing to keep in mind is "open" vs "closed" headphones (meaning whether they cups are sealed or open to the air on the outside). Closed gives you better passive isolation, but open headphones are frequently regarded as sounding better, as long as your room is quiet enough.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 8:24 AM on December 8, 2011

Another vote for the AKG 240s, I own a pair of the AKG K240 MKII, semi open, and they are an absolute pleasure to mix/listen to music with. It's not bad plugged straight into the laptop outputs, but shines when listening through my audio interface. I also use them for tracking my sax, and they come with two pairs of cabling, a coiled and straight.

I also own a pair of Grados SR80 - different total signature, the K240s originally felt utterly lifeless and boring compared to the SR80s, but after careful listening over time, the K240s actually bring out much more nuances compared to the SR80, which seem to emphasize the high end a little too much.

Comfort wise, the K240s win too, but they are full sized bulky, whereas the grados fold flat to fit in a backpack. I'm going to ditch my grados soon as the cabling tends to dry up and crack. My SR80 is about 7 years old now, had to change the cabling once since, and it's cracked again this year.

Suggest: AKG K240 MKII :3
posted by TrinsicWS at 8:51 AM on December 8, 2011

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