HiFi $50 Headphones

Originally published 8Aug2014 updated below – I would have to call myself and audiophile from a pretty young age as my dad was always recording the band concerts and coming home and playing them on a decently high end stereo at the time.  My Dad and also had the pleasure of knowing Harry Grasser, a violinist, that would share some great classical LP pieces he had come across.  I ended up leaning toward early 80’s contemporary Jazz after growing up on Pop and southern Rock & Roll.  This was not from a dislike of those genres, but more of an escape.  In the early 80’s I was DJ’ing at a local roller skating rink, Sportsworld of Cary.  After playing Pop and a lot of R&B, the chill out music of choice, thanks to Jerry Rose, became a lot of what we call smooth jazz today.  At night, I could not turn up the stereo to get my fix, so I would fall asleep most nights listing to some music through  my headphones.  Back then there was not a large market place and you generally chose between Koss, Sony or some of the new Walkman style phones.  I ended up with some Koss Pro-4a’s and wore them out between heavy use and age.  Since then I floated between ear buds of various sorts and some cheap around ear styles that I did not care if they broke as I was using them each night when I went to bed.  Yes, I still listen to something every night as a fall asleep.  But these days the tracks are mostly binaural beats or self-hypnosis focused on various things from pain control to body asleep – mind awake.  With binaural beats there is a desire hear the low bass frequencies as they form the core of the tones sent to each ear at different frequencies to produce a harmonic within the auditory function of the brain which appears to sound like a beat.  People tend not believe this part of the binaural beat phenomenon, but if you pull the headphone off of one ear the beat produced by the different tones to each ear goes away.  So back to headphones.

Panasonic RP-HTF600-S Stereo Over-ear Headphones

Most of the cheap headphones I have bought have been really cheap Sentry brand from BigLots.  Like I said, I was just buying something that worked that I did not care about as I might pull the cord out or break the ear piece off while sleeping.  The specifications on the the Sentry around ear Studio model was 20Hz – 20,000Hz which is fairly standard for an average pair of phones or “cans” today.  Eventually I came across some V-Moda LP’s at Costco and got those, but needless to say, they did not get  bed time duty.  They are some pretty good headphones, but I found the around ear cushions were just shy of going around my ears which limits them to short term use.  Sound quality is definitely better than the cheap Sentry stuff and the ability to use them with the second cord that includes a mic that works with an iPhone is a nice feature and the storage case is added plus.  But like I said, these are a little over the top for use while falling asleep. So I kept looking at reviews on Amazon and everything was about $80+ for something with 4 stars, but then I came across the Panasonic RP-HTF600’s (600’s for short).  Most every review gave these guys 5 stars with very few low ratings.  The specs for the 600’s are 10Hz – 27,000Hz at $29.99 price point.  I have been listening to the 600’s about six months now and they find their way from the bed room to the computer room so I can listen to music, binaural beats or whatever else I decide to play through them.  I have played with EQ settings and find that I like the sound they produce without any EQ adjustments.  I have not really found any frequencies where they fail to produce a clear sound.  The mids are not overbearing or muffled and the highs are very crisp with super smooth bass.  One of the best traits so far are the new deeper tones I hear when listening to binaural beats.  Some of the self hypnosis sessions that I have listened to for years have been rejuvenated like old people in the movie “Cocoon”.   These are Amazon prices as of May 18, 2014.  But you said $50, well the additional cost comes from Beyerdynamics replacement velour ear cushions.  While the original ear cushions are okay, they would get a little sweaty being  pleather.  The Beyerdynamics velour cushions were recommended in a couple of reviews.  And I am very glad I added them to the order.  So far these cans have holding up on their own four over six months.   I still want to try and make them a little more closed versus semi-open by inserting some blue tack on the inside vents; leaving only a small opening for ventilation.  If I make that change, I will post an update on the improvements or detriments.

Koss KTXPRO1 Titanium Portable Headphones with Volume Control

Some other sets I own in addition to the V-Moda and Panasonics are: Bose Mobile in-ear (clearance shelf at Sam’s Club), Bose OE (Target clearance item), Monoprice DJ headphones,  Radio Shack Realistic Pro-35a (Titanium) also sold as Koss KTX Pro 1 on Amazon, and a pair of Koss from Walmart that have been discontinued.  The Bose in-ear are good with my iPhone, but they are not going to win any contests even though I do find the microphone better than most in-ear mobile headsets.  I have the OE Bose at work and find they are bassy with very good highs if my old ears can hear them, but they are missing some mid range that make the overall sound experience a little muddy. The Radio Shack Pro-35a could almost be a standard reference which is saying a lot when you think about the current Koss version costs less than $12.  I picked up the Monoprice headphones on a daily deal or sale and got two more pairs for my nieces as gifts.  They were 10 and 13 at the time I gave them to the girls and they have not broken either set in two years.  I like the Monoprice as far as sound experience goes, but the headband tended to cut into my head and the pleather ear cushions caused some sweating.  I made two mods to the Monoprice to improve them.  One, I took the ear cushions I removed from the Panasonics and put them on the Monoprice set and I took a strip of rubber cut from an old bicycle inner tube to create suspension headband inside of the original poorly padded head band.  If you take a look at the Koss Pro1 photo, the homemade inner tube head band looks sort of like that on my modified Monoprice cans.

No doubt I will probably keep looking at new cans and probably buy some higher end models if I come into some gift certificates or money.  But unless I am a producer behind a studio sound board for a professional musician, I can’t see spending upwards of $150 for my old ears.  So now I wait for the new Audio-Technica ATH-M50x to come down to my price range.

UPDATE 20Nov2017 – Venturing out of the $50 range & $10
So it has been a little over three years since I blogged on headphones and considering additional headphones now in the stable; I think it is time for an update.  I finally picked up some of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x when they were on Prime Day or a Black Friday sale.  I also grabbed some Bose Around Ear QC-25’s from the Bose outlet.  And I had the opportunity to try some Bose SoundTrue Ultra in-ear headphones after my Bose in-ear Mobile’s were stolen from the DJ booth at the local skating rink where do my every Wednesday 80’s night gig.  The SoundTrue Ultra in-ear were totally isolating like I was wearing noise reduction plugs for the gun range.  So I ended up finding the Bose ebay store and picked up another pair of the old in-ear Mobile model.  When I made the return of the SoundTrue Ultra by taking advantage of the Bose return policy, I updated to the new Soundwave Companion around neck speakers from Bose.  If you remember the old Bones that you could wear around your neck, think of them updated with bluetooth and some decent sounding speakers with bass ports.  If you are considering buying Bose stuff from the outlets, the return policy is 30 days for refunds and 90 days for an exchange.  The latest find for a true set of cans are some Sennheiser HD 380 pro’s I found at the local pawn shop and negotiated down to $50.  For alternative to the Bose Mobile’s, I also picked up some of the highly rated Panasonic Ergo-Fit in-ear, which I have to admit have pretty impressive sound for an under $10 price point.

A quick grade (A-F) on each one while listening to…
1. Barber -Adagio for Strings (Overall sense of sound field capacity)
2. Delta Rae – If I loved You (Ability to carry vocals)
3. Lindsey Stirling – Crystalize (Bass response and mid-range separation)

  • Panasonic Ergo-Fit in-ear:
    1. – B (good overall sound picture for style of headphone)
    2.- C (volume seemed weak, but decent vocal renditions)
    3.- B (amazing bass response for in-ears)
  • Sennheiser HD 380 pro around ear:
    1. – C (seemed to be a little hot in the midrange – correctable with a little EQ)
    2.- A (very clear definitive vocals with full coverage of the light raspiness of her voice)
    3.- A (great bass response with overpowering the violin even with the ultra low frequency bass at 3:05)
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50x around ear:
    1. – A (very even across all ranges – best at carrying the crescendo up the 6:00 minute mark)
    2.- B (vocalist seemed a little distant, but good balance between instruments and vocals)
    3.- B (separation between low frequencies and violin was good and bass was a tad better than the 380’s)
  • Bose QC-25 around ear noise cancelling connected via Bolle & Raven
    AirMod Wireless Bluetooth Adapter:
  • 1. – A (the Bose haters will say what they will, but these render this adagio with the gracefulness it deserves)
    2.- A (clear vocals and almost overbearing with full band and backup vocals)
    3.- A (crisp violin with ability to carry the bass off without distorting the other frequencies)

At some point, I will do a proper review of the Bose Soundwave Companion.  I sit in a semi-open work environment and have these on most of the day for listing to music and I can usually keep them at a low enough volume that no one around me hears the sound as the speakers are directed up at my ears.  I guess the only issue is, as they become unnoticeable to me, I get some looks when I forget to take them off and leave my desk when headed out for lunch or a break.  I have been told they look like a mini neck rest for travel.  When the volume is up on these they are pretty decent for full coverage of most all of the frequencies, but the mobile app does allow for cutting bass if needed.

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