Dec 5, 201812426 views

If You Can Only Have One Headphone...

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...what would you choose and why? Obviously, I'm speaking to those who have multiple headphones. The main rule of this post is that it must be a headphone that you own (bonus points for picture!). Also, in the context of this post, this would be the only headphone you would ever have! The headphone in question can be of any type: over-ear, on-ear, or IEM. For me personally, if I was being more rational about it I would pick the Sennheiser HD 6XX for its scalability, versatility (actually makes surprisingly good out-and-about headphones), and ability to make everything sound good. However, I just don't love the HD 6XX like I love my LCD-3; its sound just hits all the right buttons for me.
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I've got a bunch of headphones, and use different ones in different circumstances. However, if I had to come down to one and one only, it would be the Sennheiser HE90. You need a better amp than the HEV90 to get the most out of it, but so far it's the best I've heard.
mdrr10
Er, I'm sorry but I'm scratching my head at this post. The HE90 (the original Sennheiser Orpheus) comes as a amp and headphone unit. I have NEVER heard of anyone who wants to take the headphones off of the unit and try it on various amps. This is ignoring the fact that electrostat amps are hard to find and expensive, and will likely not yield more synergistic results (since the HE90's amp unit is designed specifically to work with the HE90 headphomes). Oh, and let's not forget the ridiculous price AND rarity of the HE90.
dcha12
Actually, there are more headphones than amps in existence, which could be due to the HEV90 having two headphone jacks. Further, Sennheiser made 25 of the HE90 headphones (but no new amps) in 2004 and sold them through Meier Audio in Germany to members of Head-Fi. That's how I got mine. The HE90 uses a bias voltage of 500 volts, but does work well with any Stax amp with pro (580 volt) bias. There are still amps made today with 500 volt and 580 volt options for both Sennheiser and Stax cans, but those are few and far between and the 500 volt bias is not really necessary (although a Sennheiser to Stax connection adapter is). In any event, something like HeadAmp's Blue Hawaii SE makes the HE90 sing. It's a much better amp than the HEV90 for the headphone and is available commercially. It's not that the HEV90 is a bad amp (it indeed sounds very good with the headphone), but it tends to limit dynamics and fast transients. The sound is too "tubey" for me (and I love tube amps). My own amp is a custom build. All put together at a fraction of the cost of the new Sennheiser Orpheus headphone/amp that recently came out ($55K retail in the US).
ATH M50X. They sound great no matter which genre I listen to.
HE-500... hands down the best sub 1000 dollar headphone... and possibly one of the best hadphones ever created (sound quality, not build quality). I cannot describe how incredible it sounds. It ALWAYS impresses me even after 1000s of hours of listening to it. It always blows me away.
Focal Utopia and when these die I’ll buy some Focal Utopias (again)
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Benjet
I can see why people like these headphones; technicality-wise I haven't found anything that can match it.
Flare Audio: Flares PRO or Flares PRO 2 (or if you have more money, Flares GOLD) It's the reference sound I've always been looking for. Very open and clear. It sounds like you're there in the room with the musicians. You can really hear the depth of the instruments and the room. The bass is very deep but very clear, not boomy at all. The high is silky smooth with great clarity and never harsh except for songs that already harsh highs. So for me, it's the truest and most immersive sound I've ever heard in any sound systems I've tried.
Campfire vega
i'd go with hd650 as you said, it does everything well, and im yet to find a headphone that does that, everything else i've tried especially planars have something weird going on in the mids and are often sibilant or bright. or the bass sounds anemic. if anyone has a headphone in mind thats a super hd650 aka better at every category im all ears, disclaimer i've tried lcd2 and elex and both presented issues listed above.
Meze empyrean for headphones Campfire Solaris for iem.
If I had to choose one, I'd either keep my MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Closed or 64 Audio A12t. Really, it's hard to answer because I use open back headphones at home but I need versatility because I listen to music at work and while travelling. I also listen to a lot of different genres and need something that's a good all-rounder. EDIT: Right now I use different headphones for different situations: Home - Ether 2, HD700 (with Sonarworks TrueFi), HD600 Gaming - HD700 Work - Aeon Closed, TR-X00 PH Travel/Flying - WH-1000XM3 IEMs for work, travel, or activities - A12t, N5005, FLC 8S, Massdrop EDC3
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Hifiman x edition
sennheiser hd820, way too expensive. i want it because i travel a lot, and because of the closed back design i wouldn't bother people around me. for now i use hd6xx at home and sound blasterx h5 on the go. i don't think i'll upgrade from h5 until and if massdrop offers hd820
This needs to be divided into two categories. Open vs Closed. Your not going to use open back outdoors. But if we are insisting on just one headphone... If you want versatility WITH good sound quality you need to have the Audio Technica AthM50XBT. Its BY far the best bang for your buck headphones you can get. You can use it wirelessly or wired and the sound quality it's amazing. One drawback is you need to get bigger ear cups if your ears are big like mine. Aside from that theres no headphones that even compare. Ps.: Sennheiser hd58x for open back, best bang for your buck. Another Ps.: more expensive headphones DO NOT sound better. The extra money MIGHT go into aesthetics, fancy premium packaging and materials but that's it. One must always remember the law of diminishing returns. Unless of course you only drink Voss water because tap water tastes "funny".
DanoDMano
There's a lot I respectfully disagree with in your post. The point of the choosing just one is to see what you would compromise on for that headphone; in fact, I agree that this would result in a lot of compromise in multiple areas. Of course, this varies per person. I do agree that a good follow-up question would be to ask what headphones you'd decide to keep if I had asked about 2 headphones. But that's neither here nor there. I quasi-agree with your assessment that more expensive headphones don't sound better, but I disagree to an extent. I personally believe that price really shouldn't color perceptions of how a headphone would sound, and that more expensive does not necessarily mean better. Preferences and system synergy mean a lot more in audio. There (quickly) comes a point where "upgrades" are really sidegrades. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the user is cognizant of it and simply enjoys the listening experience more with certain gear (and is aware of their own preferences). This is why I'm such a big believer in at least auditioning gear before purchase. This hobby can get expensive quick.
HD800 tuned as Fidelio X2.
Not just for music, but for multi-channel content on PC, or Bluetooth audio from all mobile devices, even for communication with whatever it's connected to. A jack of all trades that does everything well enough.. and can be used either when stationary, or on the go. (+ Brainwavs Angled Pleather pads) (+ ZMF Pilot headband)
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Just one? Etymotic ER4XR.
ooh this is a hard question because for a lot of us most sets are sit down in one location with a desktop amp etc etc. however just based on the sound i would have to say my sr-l300's. i have other more expensive "better" pairs but i just keep coming back to them like a worn in comfy pair of shoes.
I love jumping between an Oppo PM-1 and Sennheiser HD800, depending on the music. The Oppo PM-3, however, spilts the difference for me. Not a whole lot wrong with the sound profile of that one, plus it's sealed and easy to power so it's good to go.
Sony XB-1000's they kick like nuts and have a crystal clear soundstage.
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I have had a big collection trough the years, one that I really love is the DT1990. Not to expensive so I dont have to be afraid of damaging it, also the sound is so good for the money. Works good in the studio and at home for listening. A little eq or a warm sounding tube amp if you find it to analytical.
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Leonarfd
"Not to expensive so I dont have to be afraid of damaging it" it's $600 dollars! WTF you talking about not too expensive?
MytsicalDigital
Once you have HD800s and PM2, 600$ suddenly feels a lot cheaper ;)
My best headphone would not be the one I'd choose. It would have to be headphones I could use EVERYWHERE. I can't use large over-ear at the gym or while running so those are all out. I hate on-ear so I don't own any, so needless to say they're all out. That leaves IEMs. I don't like something in my ear but I use them anyway. They can be used when active, for music relaxing, watching movies or gaming. I've had expensive IEMs but using them when active they don't last very long. I have an excellent pair, the KZ AS10s that not only sound incredible but are very inexpensive. Although I'd rather wear a comfortable pair of over-the-ear cans I'll vote for the KZ AS10s for everywhere use.
I have collected over 19 headphones (primarily due to Zeos videos) almost all thru E-bay. This has happened mostly from acquiring mid to high level phones at really good prices. They all have turned out to be in excellent condition. Out of all these my favorites are Audioquest Nighthawks ($215.00), PSB M4U-2 ($55.00) and the AKG K7xx ($88.00). Each of these represent a slightly different sound quality that I enjoy. In my opinion once you cross the $500.00 mark the higher prices don't necessarily mean significant sound quality increases. If you are prudent you should takes a look at E-bay as a source of experiments in sound with out investing killer amounts of money. I have also managed to pick up bargains in Amp/Dac's and am currently using a iFi Micro iDac amp/dac ($125.00) for its remarkable sound quality and build.
I have collected over 19 headphones (primarily due to Zeos videos) almost all thru E-bay. This has happened mostly from acquiring mid to high level phones at really good prices. They all have turned out to be in excellent condition. Out of all these my favorites are Audioquest Nighthawks ($215.00), PSB M4U-2 ($55.00) and the AKG K7xx ($88.00). Each of these represent a slightly different sound quality that I enjoy. In my opinion once you cross the $500.00 mark the higher prices don't necessarily mean significant sound quality increases. If you are prudent you should takes a look at E-bay as a source of experiments in sound with out investing killer amounts of money. I have also managed to pick up bargains in Amp/Dac's and am currently using a iFi Micro iDac amp/dac ($125.00) for its remarkable sound quality and build.
STAX SR-009S
Grado RS2e The most enjoyable headphone of the dozens I have owned.
I own and have loved the Sennheiser 6XX but I recently purchased the Focal Elex and it clearly demonstrates that the Sennheisers are somewhat veiled or closed in. The Focals are probably my last stop in headphones. There are surely some that are incrementally better but at a cost that is probably not worth the slight improvement. With my Questyle amp driving the Focals in balanced mode I am a very happy camper.
I agree with all of the comments on the context of where, how, and when you're using the phones. For most purposes, I also agree that the Sennheiser HD 6XX series provide the most utility, but if you're on an airplane, perhaps you'd listen to music or comedy with a pair of Bose QC 35 IIs (given they aren't accurate, but they are pleasant and comfortable) or if it's wireless you must have for more demanding listeners, maybe anything from an AKG N700NC or a B&W PX or the latest Sony equivalent (never thought I'd be saying that but the latest $300+ Sony Bluetooth, noise canceling phones are pretty good), or perhaps the Parrot Ziks or VModa Crossfades might be your jam. For mixing, maybe a Beyerdynamic DT770 with a quality amp. For monitoring maybe an AKG 770 or the aforementioned Sennheiser. But you really can't go wrong with Fostex, Focal, HiFi Man, AKG, Sennheiser, Grado, Beyerdynamic, Audeze, and Audio-Technica if you go circumaural ( I know some of you love IECs, but for extended listening, no thank you), closed back only for recording, mixing, and monitoring, but open back is pretty much just as good and better for long listening--for me. I'd go between $200 and up depending on taste and application, and my taste doesn't require me to stray from the $200 to $500 range. Consider that you may need a headphone amp for the headphones you choose depending on the specs for resistance (impedance) and the transducer and driver components of the headphones to get the best out of them. A headphone amp will cost you from $100 to several grand, but you don't need to spend more than say $99-550, with such products as Schiit's Magni to the Fulla or Jotenheim or the Klipsch Heritage Headphone Amplifier or Audioquest or other amplifier that works from at least 32 to 600 ohms. You'll also want to test the headband, ear cups, and adjustability for comfort and ergonomics.
authorKRM
I agree with a lot of what you said. I do make the assumption in the question that if you pick a certain headphone, you'd also have the gear you like using with it as well. This question is just meant to isolate the headphone part of the equation (not the best assumption, but a necessary one). The point of the post is to make people think about what they're willing to compromise on, hence why it's really difficult to pin down just one headphone. I do believe a good follow-up question would be to pick 2 headphones.
The Problem For Me: Any "one-and-done" headphone would need to handle a LOT of sources for me, from a very-little-compromise 'fi at home to fair-to-middling portable setups, as well as stuff like monitoring a lot of analog-to-digital (and a bit of analog-to-analog) conversion work. To quote the late Glen Campbell, this means a load o' compromisin'. That rules out my absolute-fave cans (Grado 325is) on account of their being an open-back design, which absolutely rules for listening indoors but doesn't cut it outdoors. So it has to be Sennheiser's HD 25-1 Mk II: it's a design that gets most things right, and where it's less-than-stellar (the soundstage thing for one), I regard it more a case of sins of omission rather than commission. Wrap it up in a seriously bulletproof/rebuildable package (with a choice of earpads to boot), and you have a set of cans you can listen to anytime, anywhere, plugged into damned near anything with a headphone jack.
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I would have to say my Grado HP-2's I got a few decades ago. However, the Fostex T50RP are a close 2nd.
I think i could live with my zmf eikon and lcd2F.. 1 open and 1 closed :)
If we’re going to dictate that there can only be one, I’d have to go with the Senn HD800S. It’s an open back design, which would be a must for me in this scenario, it’s soundstage is legendary and, of all the other Focal, Audeze and Mr. Speaker models I auditioned, the 800S had the most precise, accurate and detailed sound reproduction. I found that having that inherent, built-in precision gives you great latitude in then being able to select the right amp to impart whatever musical coloration might suit you, be it tubed or solid state.
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