The old question: what makes some people 400 euro headphones in front of the earpods in the window of any bazaar? More importantly, do we really need spend money to get a good headset?
When it comes to headphones, you can always spend more and more. If you have money to spare you can always try some Audeze LCD or look for balances between STAX or Fostex from a dismantled recording studio. Any happy customer will say that his model is the best but the key to sound is summed up in the saying “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. The ideal sound should come from total control of the source, a DAC to attack the sound and a enlarge in line with what we’re looking for – whether digital or valve-based.
The simplest questions are always the hardest to answer. Price is only one factor. But if manufacturers like Xiaomi have taught us anything, it’s that we better not take anything for granted. We can also look at design and materials. What about our ears? It’s easy enough to fool them, to embellish the sound so that we think we’re looking at something of the highest quality.
The differences, on video
The said labels
Let’s start by making one thing clear: words like “studio headphones” and “HiFi” are used and abused too often.
The word studio refers to the equalization curve. The idea is that studio headphones should sound as flat as possible, to get a clear and defined response from the music itself. Let us listen to it as it was recorded, with its virtues and shortcomings. High fidelity.
As a rule, commercial headphones tend to colour the audio output
On the contrary, commercial headphones tend to color the outputThe new system offers a less accurate but more pleasant monitoring. Commercial lines usually produce three lines of their headphones: the lowest-end edition -typical S or B series, depending on the manufacturer-, the highest-end edition -H series, of high– and the better-balanced version, almost always adding an extra gain. As if hearing the audio louder is an indicator that the hull construction is better, more solid. And it isn’t.
Actually, all of this is software resources: the electronics interpret the input and equalize the output. It’s as simple as that.. The better the DAC (digital-to-analog converter) and the driver, the better the output. But a good headset, a really good one, is the sum of all the elements we are going to see.
Do you have a headset at home that they give away on the train or plane? Go get them, I’ll wait for you here. Okay: these toys are manufactured at the lowest possible cost. And we can’t expect much from an 8-cent headset: that it sounds like a monkey, that it distorts, that the cable snaps or knots at the slightest movement and that the finish is sharp and rough.
While the first ones, the cheap ones, distort with the minimum volume peakIn addition to producing a certain “bathroom” effect, making any music sound as if it came out of a shoe box, the seconds have a complex engineering of balancing and careful values in terms of impedance, sensitivity, bandwidth and transducer construction.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Bluetooth Circumaural Headset with Adaptive Noise Cancellation – Space Grey
First point to note. To understand it in a simple way, let’s think about how music goes from being a digital file in your CD to a liquid one, a magnetic flowThey can get away anywhere. To do this it is necessary to isolate it in a watertight box that protects it from the outside, avoiding static and any interference. From the cable, the connection, to the earphones, each material must protect the audio organically.
In its construction, each material must organically protect the audio, not alter it
In addition, this box must be flexible, because sound generates vibrations and can result in distortion. Sound, like the oxygen in our lungs, must flow comfortably. And this is where the diaphragm and chassis come into play, which can be either solid or laminated. If the structure is metal it will protect better from electrical interference, but it will make the headset weigh a lot. And, for some styles of music, it can offer rather poor resolutions.
So a good construction must value weight, comfort and quality of construction equallyWhat does the high-end do about it? Let’s think, for example, of the new Beyerdynamic Amiron HomeThe Tesla magnet: instead of using the classic neodymium magnet in the center of each driver, opt for the famous Tesla technology, mounting a ring magnet and leaving the center free so that the resonances go to the diaphragm and do not hit the magnet itself.
Beyerdynamic Amiron Home – Stereo open earphones, anthracite
And although Sennheiser and Audio Technica always appear to be winners of the game, we don’t need to launch ourselves into the most popular brands either. Many of the most award-winning headphones for their diaphragm are unknown to the general publicThe Meze 99for example, or the Brainwavz Alara. Both are magnificent examples of helmets prepared for any use scenario.
There’s more: each type of headset has a different construction and technology. Open, semi or closed, depending on the use we are going to give it.
If we need a balance that filters out some frequencies, the best value is still between a Superlux HD 668B -the B is for balanced, there is still a flatter model, the F, and whoever prefers reinforcement in bass can bet on the same model without B- and the Samson SR850a little more sophisticated in their handling of the medium frequencies.
An open earphone does not isolate from outside sound and also leaks the generated surplus, through an acoustic membrane. The closed ones need a vacuum chamber, the whimsical noise cancellation. The semi-open ones use different traps to control frequencies and dissipate redundant vibrations. They breathe, but little.
And what is the driver? A metal plate. Although not always: it can also consist of a set of interconnected magnetswith front and rear blades to correct vibrations. There is no single, perfect schemeThe reason: if sound engineers are constantly researching new solutions, it’s for a reason.
Samson SR850 – Closed headset (10 Hz to 30 kHz, 32 ohms), black
There is no classic formulation of layer A (membrane) + layer B (driver) + layer C (diaphragm), but different alternatives. In summary we could say that, the more scales in the price range, the more specialization you find. From those “all-purpose” headphones you jump to function-specific models.
Besides, contrary to what they say, a driver does not get better the bigger it is. The only empirical reality is that it will offer greater tolerance to a higher volume, but a driver must be the sum of its partsand that its construction is in accordance with the size of the other components and function of the headset.
Do you still have the train headphones out there? They’re generic, are a mass-produced toy with no strict technical control behind. You don’t think they were going to give you an heirloom. Its cost price is around 0.50.
While the former are kept in small plastic sheaths, some Ultrasone 880 They have foam lined case with velvet lining. Okay, this is a mere aesthetic element, the packaging does not affect the sound. But it does define the identity of the brand. Ask the popular people Sony WH-1000XM3, a favorite in this holy house. By the way, the Sony WH-1000XM4 will arrive this fall.
Sony WH1000XM3 – Noise Cancelling Headset (Bluetooth, adaptive sound, compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, 30h battery life, optimal for working at home, hands-free calling), black
The winners AudioQuest NightHawk are mounted on wooden halls (liquid wood) and strap headband with enormous torsional strength. They’re VERY tough. And some like the Hifiman HE400i or Philips Fidelio X2 use an intermediate system between the lifetime headband and the strap with different points. It can withstand years of abuse, believe me.
The same could be said for the cables. An OFC (oxygen-free) cable reduces signal noise and takes longer to oxidize. They won’t change the rules of sound, but if you’re looking for a durable headset, better invest in these details.
For example, you can connect your cable independently on each side, which has safety pins and Mini-XLR input instead of the typical 3.5mm jack. Metal baths in better conductive materialsLike gold, they also help. Cables covered with mesh shielding, die-cut -with rings-, the purity of copper… every little detail corroborates if we are dealing with a careless or spoiled earphone.
In any case, don’t waste your time: all this is of little use if the nuclear element is not up to scratch.
Not everything is in the price
As users, we end up falling in love with what we know best. Anyone can find the differences between a 40 euro headset and a 400 euro one, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to like them any better. Around 250-300 euros starts a barrier between the really “top” and normal.
As users, we end up falling in love with what we know best
But this barrier is very diffuse: if we compare with the wirelessIf you have a helmet, you will almost always find a similar quality in wired helmets for 70-100 euros less. And maybe it’s just a matter of preference: closed headphones put pressure on and produce a hearing fatigue that open headphones do not. It depends on the need of each user.
This is precisely why a user will not always need a headset to connect to their brand new DAC in a monitored room, listening to their original 1967 Carmina Burana recorded by the Deutsche Oper Berlin while tasting a Macallan Amber. Some of us want to get out and run without that headset hitting the sidewalk being a financial disgrace.
The electronics and software have done their part. I mentioned Xiaomi with intent earlier: the various iterations of the In-Ear Pro HD, the Hybrids and the four Piston models have been with me since I discovered them back in 2014 and have shown the whole world that, for about 20 eurosIf you want to take it with you, you can have an off-road In-Ear and wiring that can be used to connect to a tablet/smartphone/PC or to take it anywhere. And, if they die, will have fallen as heroes.
Of course they’re not an isolated example: we live in times where a headset of barely 30 euros such as the aforementioned Taiwanese Superlux HD668B offer jewel-like performance as AKG K-701. If we go up to 100 euros we can get some Sony MDR-7506, that have been elevated to the status of a legend and for which the years.
What do I mean by this, am I completely deaf? No, you have to know how to look, because you don’t have to spend 400 euros to enjoy a good headset. Never. It’s all about finding your ideal shoe. Although if you do not want to fail under any circumstances you can always escape to a store and try jewelry like the Professional series of Grado or alternatives such as V-MODA Crossfade M-100, Sennheiser HD 599 -currently on offer-.
O a historical milestone among audiophile forumsThe Koss Porta Pro ClassicThe ugly duckling of the design that makes it a fragile relic.
Superlux HD668B Black Circumaural Headphones – Earphones (Circumaural, Wired, 10-30000 Hz, 98 dB, 3 m, Black)
A question of subtlety
the final difference is in the nuances
To conclude, and not to attend to romanticism, the final difference is in the nuances. A high-end headset will give you a scene that cheap people can’t even imagine. It’s like jumping into another dimension: everything sounds better, more defined, the ride of a drum will sound clear and in its specific space, the bass will sound defined even at high volumes, the inflections of a voice will sound close and natural.
So what’s the scene? Not everyone has the same hearing spectrum and not every headset can catch all the frequenciesbut a good model will manage to replicate the engineer’s work in your ears and your brain. Imagine a storm, a lightning strike makes a horizontal groove and the sound is transmitted from right to left, the rain is pounding on a porch and in the distance you can hear the purr of the traffic, softened by the downpour.
A good model will manage to replicate the engineer’s work in your ears and your brain
The 20 euro helmets will sound good, yes, but not in a hundred years will they reproduce all the subtleties of a good recording. This is the art of sound. Something you’ll be missing if you listen to a low-bitrate compressed MP3.
If only you listen to music from your mobile in the subway or in noisy environments, why aspire to the quintessence of sound? But if you really want to know what technology is capable of, how your favourite song can sound, forget about the helmets that came as a gift with your first cell phone. Have a happy listening.