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PASSION FOR wr NU Issue No. 388 q ARCA! À September 2014
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Le Ae
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Head music
If you are serious about your listening,
upmarket headphones represent a sweet
spot for sound, as Ed Selley discovers
IN A PERFECT world, we wouldn't
need headphones for use at home.
We'd all have sufficient space,
understanding, deaf or absent
neighbours and fellow family
members would share the same
musical tastes, schedules and sleep
patterns as us.
Sadly, this hi-fi utopia is a pipe
dream, and while for the most part
we can still largely enjoy our music
via speakers, many will find
themselves using headphones for a
chunk of listening. How significant
this chunk is will influence the
amount of money you are prepared
to spend on your hardware.
Here, we take a look at the choices
on offer between £300 and £500. This
is an important category for most
headphone manufacturers where
designs begin to switch to being
oriented for home use rather than
keeping one eye on connection to
portable devices. This means that
24 HHiCholce SEPTEMBER 2014
bigger drivers can be used, along
with larger and (hopefully) more
comfortable earpads. The majority
of the models here use the open-back
principle, which can aid the sense
of space to a performance — at the
expense of making you the most
unpopular person on your commute
due to the increased noise leakage
that results.
Mobile ‘phones
At the same time, headphones at
this price point are still sufficiently
sensitive so that they can be driven by
a tablet or smaller headphone amp
without issue. All the designs here
have a 3.5mm jack connection (albeit
one as an adapter) and some have
travel bags. On paper at least, these
are flexible designs that should offer
immersive home listening with just
enough portability to make them
useful for occasional use on the move.
How does this work in practice?
T90 £500 p31
he most expensive
company that maxes
use of a dynamic driver
and an armature in
( | as w
e strangest
3 TX
£467 p37
re tan
100% [i
Le Ae
Hi-Fi Choice employs the most rigorous test and measurement
regime in the business. Here's how we do it...
Unique group tests
This month's group test is supported by rigorous
listening tests, backed up with objective lab testing
isn't easy, which is why few hi-fi magazines try.
Anyone can don a pair of headphones, play
some music and pronounce on their sound
quality — but to back up the listening experience
with empirical evidence you have to perform
acoustic measurements. With headphones that
requires costly specialist equipment, experience
and custom-written processing software...
The most important item is an artificial ear
that imitates the mechanical properties of the
outer ear (pinna), so that any physical distortion
caused by wearing the headphone is mimicked
in the measurement. We then have to make sure
Capsule matching
Bass extension
Impedance variation
KEY: EN Group average
ll % below average ID % above average
22 _H#iChoice SEPTEMBER 2014
every time we perform a frequency response
measurement the headphone is correctly sealed
to the artificial ear, or low frequencies will be
lost. We also have to take into account the fact
that each time we remove, replace and
re-measure a headphone, its response changes
because it is positioned slightly differently.
We perform multiple measurements on each
capsule to generate an averaged response — and
use software to analyse where in the frequency
range the largest differences occur. More
software then adjusts the averaged responses
to produce a corrected result that better
represents what you actually hear.
This determines how loud the music is at a given
volume control setting. We measure the sound
pressure level achieved on our artificial ear for an
input of 1V rms at a frequency of 1kHz, averaged
for the two channels.
No two headphone capsules have the same
frequency response, and any disparity can result
in shifts in the stereo image. Response also varies
according to the placement on the ear, so we
perform 10 separate measurements on each
capsule and average the results to determine their
disparity from 40Hz to 10kHz.
Headphones, like loudspeakers, differ markedly in
the depth of bass that they can deliver. We derive
this figure by averaging the -6dB frequency ref
200Hz of both capsules and converting this to
octave extension below 100Hz.
Most headphones have an input impedance
that varies with frequency across the audible
range, which modifies the frequency response
according to the source impedance of the
headphone outlet. This figure represents the
source impedance required to produce a 1dB
change in frequency response, 20Hz-20kHz.
The weight of a pair of headphones isn't the
only issue that determines its comfort, butitis
certainly a key factor. We weigh the complete
headset, including the connecting cable with a
1/4in jack plug (which often can involve the fitment
of a supplied adaptor).
This eerie-looking item is the artificial ear we use
for headphone testing. Key elements of the GRAS
43AG ear and cheek simulator are fitted within a
laminated MDF block, which provides the means
to mount the headphones on the artificial ear as
on areal head.
100% Ue
Q701 £300
The producer's producer, Quincy Jones, has a hand in
this Austrian offering, but will it make the AKG sing?
AKG Q701
ne of the brands that forms
the Harman Group, AKG
remains proud of its
Austrian roots and the
Q701 is emblazoned with a little
‘Made in Austria’ tag on each earpad.
While the links to Vienna are strong,
the company’s US heritage is also
on display too as the Q701 boasts
design input from the one and only
Quincy Jones.
The Q701 (the Q referencing
Quincy) is built around a pair of
45mm “Varimotion’ drivers, which use
a diaphragm of differing thickness
across the surface area. These are
placed in large circular earpads. They
are described as a semi-open-back
design, and when the substantial
cloth pads are removed from the
calculations, these are some of the
thinnest housings in the test. This
should not be taken to mean that the
AKG feels flimsy, however. The build
quality is well up to the standards
of the group and feels substantial
without leaving the Q701 feeling too
heavy, which is always a clever touch.
Le Ae
The Q701 comes supplied with a
3m cord, which makes home use a
breeze, although I can’t pretend I'm
completely sold on the lurid green
colour of the jacket. The styling is an
acquired taste with green stitching
and a slightly tacky Quincy Jones
motif on the headband, but it’s a
comfortable enough headphone to
wear for long periods of time. The
earpads completely cover the ear and
although the pressure exerted on the
side of the head is significant, it isn't
so much they dig in. The use of a
second inner band made of leather
with a clever automatic size
adjustment to keep them in place
means they are among the best in test
for moving about in, although they
leak as much noise as you might
expect from an open-back design,
which probably rules them out for
travel use.
Sound quality
The AKGs need a fair amount of input
power to hit the test level due to
the low sensitivity, but present no
challenge for the Chord Hugo. The
performance across the test material
is largely positive too. The "phones
manage to sound airy and spacious
with material and this adjusts well to
the context of the music, be it giving
the intimacy of Emily Barker enough
space to sound convincing or
capturing the vastness of the arena
that Kraftwerk performs in.
This space is underpinned by bass
that is well defined and free of any
sense of sluggishness although it isn't
the deepest or most powerful on offer.
It does integrate well with the other
frequencies, though, and there is
plenty of detail on display. As the
complexity of pieces increases, the
AKG loses touch with the very best
in the group — the harpsichord in
the Max Richter reworking of Spring
is rather subdued and some of the
crowd noise in Kraftwerk is hard to
pick out. There is also a sense that
the dense and slightly harsh Nirvana
recording doesn't show the Q701
at its best. Kurt Cobain's vocals are
not perfectly separated from the
100% [i
AKG claims a sensitivity of 105d8 SPL for 1V
for the Q701, but we measured a little less
than that: 103.1dB at kHz, averaged for
the two capsules. This makes the AKG the
lowest-sensitivity model in this group, less
sensitive even than the high impedance
Sennheiser. Impedance modulus varies from
600hms to 920hms over the audible
frequency range (20Hz-20kHz) and so it
takes a source resistance of only 27.30hms
to cause a 1dB alteration of frequency
response. With the exception of the Final
Audio Design, this is the lowest (ie worst)
figure in the group. Capsule matching error
was a little worse than average at +8.1dB,
40Hz-10kHz, but bass extension was second
best here at a fine 18Hz. Diffuse-field
correction of the frequency response
indicates a tonally neutral sound above
600Hz, but below that an excess in output
amounting to about 4dB at 100Hz. KH
_— —<MErx_Ñ
Capsule matching
KEY: № Сгоир average “1
ll % below average 1D % above average
partnering instruments and the
presentation is a little shallow.
The AKG does manage to get plenty
right, though. With the more
uptempo pieces and during more
general listening it always manages
to keep an energy and sense of life
to the performance that makes it easy
to listen to for long periods. Although
it proves perfectly happy at the test
level, it is worth pointing out that the
Q701 starts to sound a touch hard
and sibilant when pushed to higher
volume levels than this. Overall
though, given the solid build,
competitive and falling asking price,
this is a strong performance from a
generally very likeable headphone ® >
Le e A A solid build; price
o DISLIKE: Can sound
= ОК МОНЕТ alittle strident at high
Y Hr Ar A levels: looks not for al
showing from one of
KKK KY the more affordable
то models, but there are
e some weaknesses
* * * * to the performance
Xx Xx KK
SEPTEMBER 2014 HHiChoice 27
ATH-AD900X £315
The looks are Spartan, but is beauty more than skin
deep with one of the test's more wallet-friendly models?
© 53mm drivers with
CCAW voicecoil
* 3D Wing Support
e Fixed 3m cable
Audio-Technica UK
etter known in hi-fi circles
for its range of phono
cartridges, Audio-Technica
has been producing
headphones for decades and has an
extensive lineup. This is one of a
five-strong family of open-back
designs and sits in the middle of the
range. Compared with the other
models here, the ATH-AD900X is best
described as ‘functional’. The design
is dominated by the large circular
earpads that each mount a single
53mm driver — one of the largest in
the test. These use an Audio-Technica
trademark in the form of copper clad
aluminium wire in the voice coils. The
driver mounting is completely visible
and is the only real colour on the
otherwise exclusively black "phone.
This is among the least expensive in
the test, but this doesn't necessarily
reflect in the overall construction.
Everything feels solidly assembled
without being unduly heavy or bulky
and there are some useful touches to
improve comfort and longevity like
the point where the cable meets the
Le Ae
earpad being a rotating cuff to reduce
stress. The 3m cord is fixed and as
such is ideal for home use, but a little
on the long side for moving around.
The ATH-AD900X makes use of
Audio-Technica’s ‘3D wing support
housing’, which consists of two
independently sprung pads that
adjust to the head. In this instance I'm
not completely convinced. The spring
weighting seems a little low and this
means that the headphone is mainly
supported on the earpad. This being
said, it is far from uncomfortable and
is easy enough to wear for longer
periods of time. Like the other
open-back headphone designs, there
is a fair amount of leakage, making it
unsuitable for use out and about.
Sound quality
The Audio-Technica demonstrates
better than average sensitivity and
needs a little less output from the
Chord Hugo to reach the test level.
Having done so, it puts in a
performance that is defined by some
aspects that are consistent across all
the test pieces. The most significant is
that the Audio-Technica presents the
sound very close to the ear, giving less
sense of depth than the other models.
This is not always a negative; it lends
the Emily Barker track an intimacy
that is extremely pleasant, but the
larger scale of the Kraftwerk
recording is not captured anything
like as effectively.
This slightly shallow presentation
can mean that fine details are harder
to pick out from the mix and the
very dense Nirvana piece is slightly
disjointed with little separation
between voices and instruments. This
is a shame because there is a tonal
sweetness to the ATH-AD900X that
makes it extremely easy to listen to
and able to generate very high
volume levels without sounding
forced or strained. This sweetness
doesn’t come at the expense of tonal
realism either, with vocals in
particular sounding entirely
believable and well defined. The
performance is underpinned by bass
that is detailed and well integrated
Audio-Technica claims a sensitivity of 100d8
SPL for 1mW for the ATH-AD900X, which
for its nominal impedance of 380hms
is equivalent to 114.2dB for 1V. Our
measurements suggest this is conservative,
our 1kHz figure being 117.8dB, making the
AD900X the most sensitive model in the
group bar the Final Audio Design. Measured
impedance varied between 35.80hms and
44.40hms, 20Hz-20kHz, a smaller relative
variation than the AKG's and so a higher
45.90hms source resistance is required to
change the frequency response by 1dB.
Capsule matching error was worst in group
at +11.3d8, 40Hz-10kHz, suggesting that the
AT's response is more dependent on ear
shape. Bass extension was the poorest
in the group at 39Hz and the diffuse-field-
corrected frequency response suggests a
mild upper-bass prominence and distinctly
suppressed presence band. KH
Capsule matching
KEY: IN Group average
@%belowaverage HP % above average
with the rest of the frequency
response, but doesn’t necessarily
demonstrate greater depth or impact
that might be expected from a driver
of the size used in the earpad.
As one of the least costly in this test,
the ATH-AD900X is capable of some
very pleasant performance traits and
is able to keep the more expensive
headphones on their toes. Perhaps
more than any other model in this
roundup, though, the Audio-Technica
gives a presentation that is more
obviously headphone based, and for
anyone listening to larger scale pieces
of music, the lack of depth in its
presentation may prove a little too
restrictive for some to truly enjoye >»
* % kX
but believable sound;
reasonable sensitivity;
VA FOR MON solid build
* Ye * * DISLIKE: Presentation
lacks depth and space;
WILD QUALITY not very attractive
* * * x WE SAY: Some likeable
Ras traits, but constrained
e performance may be
* * * * a problem
Xx % kk
SEPTEMBER 2014 HHiChoice 29
ТЭО 2500
Does the most expensive model in the roundup do
enough to justify the asking price?
his headphone is among
the second tier of
Beyerdynamic's extensive
range. It is an open-back
design that is built around a pair of
dynamic drivers utilising a feature
Beyerdynamic describes as using
“Tesla technology. This uses a very
strong magnetic current to motivate
the driver, which in turn is lighter —
and hopefully more responsive.
While the drivers might be lighter,
the T90 itself is the heaviest model
in the roundup and this weight is
compacted into a fairly small space
as the earpads are some of the smaller
models here. Having said that, they're
still large enough to comfortably
enclose the ear.
The construction is generally
excellent with high-quality materials
used throughout and a general
impression that a considerable
amount of attention has been lavished
on their design. The end result is a
handsome and fairly understated pair
of headphones and something that is
comfortable to wear for extended
Le Ae
periods of time with the weight being
perfectly distributed across the head.
There are some minor black marks,
though. The 3m cable is captive and
makes do with a standard plastic
moulding where it joins the earpad
and there is further visible (and,
therefore, vulnerable) cable berween
the housing and the headband. What
Beyerdynamic takes with one hand it
gives with the other, however, as the
T90 is supplied with an excellent
carry case. This is something you
might actually make use of as,
although the headphone is open
backed, noise leakage is lower than
some of the other models here and
coupled with the smaller size, makes
it a viable choice for use out and
about as well as at home.
Sound quality
The T90 is among one of the less
sensitive headphones in the test and
requires more power from the Hugo
to reach the test level. Having
achieved this, though, it makes a
strong case for itself from the outset.
The word that keeps cropping up in
the listening notes is “smooth”, but
this is rather deceptive and does the
T90 something of a disservice. The
presentation is extremely well
controlled, which means that there
is absolutely no trace of noise or
harshness to it. The result is a
headphone that manages to handle
pretty much everything that you can
throw at it.
As well as this control, it also has an
exceptionally spacious presentation
that allows for a completely
convincing performance of even very
sizeable recordings, while sounding
suitably intimate with smaller ones.
The way that the T90 handles the
Kraftwerk piece in particular is
comfortably the best in the group
with a vast, detailed and completely
immersive soundstage. The bass
response is equally accomplished
with plenty of power and authority
to it. There is also a sense of
excitement with the more up-tempo
performances that makes this
headphone a compelling listen.
100% [i
Beyerdynamic claims a sensitivity of 102dB
for imW at 500Hz for the T90, equivalent
to 108dB for 1V input across the nominal
2500hm impedance. We measured a figure
a little less than this - 106.3dB, averaged for
the two capsules - at 1kHz, a low figure but
to be expected given the T90's high
impedance. This varied from a minimum of
2400hms to a maximum of 7300hms, 20Hz-
20kHz, which means that a source resistance
of 45.80hms will result in a change in
frequency response of 1dB, a surprisingly
low figure for a high-impedance headphone.
Capsule matching error was mid-pack at
+7.0dB, but bass extension was best in group
at an impressive 10Hz. The diffuse-field-
corrected frequency response, though,
suggests an element of “boom and tizz' to
the T90's tonal balance, with a broad low
frequency hump of over 6dB at 100Hz and
a treble peak of almost 7dB at 6kHz. KH
Capsule matching
KEY: EN Group average
ll % below average ID % above average
None of this comes at the expense
of a believable and accurate tonal
presentation, though. The Max
Richter piece is presented with
absolute conviction and every
instrument has the space it needs and
a tangibly real weight and decay to
the strings. This is equally apparent
with the Nirvana track and it does
a better job than any of the other
headphones in the test at opening out
dense and aggressive recordings. The
Beyerdynamic isn't cheap, but the
consistent ability it shows across all
genres and recording qualities is a
class apart, and combined with the
solid build and high comfort levels,
you have a winning package e
y e...
enjoyable sound; solid
build; high comfort
ул ORMONEY DISLIKE: Not cheap:
* * * x y rather heavy; slightly
- insensitive
Ara Ete WE SAY: Not without
* * * * * some minor foibles,
Ras but this is a superbly
A accomplished
% % % % KX headphone
SEPTEMBER 2014 MHiChoke 31
Final Audio Design
Pandora Hope IV 400 ===
Le Ae
Can the high-end Japanese brand come up with a
performance to match the rather exotic monicker?
Final Audio Design
Pandora Hope IV
ne of the more elusive
Japanese brands, Final
Audio Design has come up
with some unashamedly
high-end equipment, but recently has
focussed exclusively on headphones
and earphones — many of which are
still very exclusive products. The
splendidly titled Pandora Hope IV is
the cheaper of two over-ear designs
(the other being the Pandora Hope
VI) and is the only model in the test
that isn’t open back. Its type is a little
harder to quantify as the Final is
listed as a closed-back design, but one
that uses something called Balanced
Air Movement to improve air flow.
The result is that it leaks pretty much
the same levels of noise as the other
models in the test, suggesting that
sound is escaping from somewhere.
Internally this headphone is also a
deviation from the rest of the test. A
pair of 50mm drivers are used for the
bass and midrange, but these are
joined by a balanced armature for the
treble, which is mounted in front of
the main driver. This doesn’t affect
the overall dimensions of the Final,
which is one of the smaller designs in
the group. The styling is pretty bold
too. The Hope IV isn't quite as Dan
Dare as the bigger Hope VI, but it is
still probably the most interesting
design here. It is comfortable too,
with the weight being well distributed
across the head and the pads exerting
enough traction to keep the Final in
place without digging in.
The news isn't entirely good,
though. It is supplied with a 1.5m
cord, which is realistically a little too
short for home use, and thanks to the
unique locking connectors on the
headphone end, isn't something that
is easily replaced.
Sound quality
The Pandora Hope IV is comfortably
the most sensitive headphone in the
test and requires less power than any
of the others to reach the test level.
Having done so, the overall
presentation is distinctive, but
generally likeable. The dedicated
armature for treble does make its
presence felt with a well-lit and
detailed top end that manages
to avoid tipping over into outright
brightness with most material — even
with high volume levels. This is in
turn underpinned with deep and
usefully powerful bass that is
pleasingly energetic.
The Emily Barker recording sounds
pleasantly lively, but Kraftwerk is
where this energy really makes itself
felt and the Final has a liveliness that
is consistently engaging.
The Pandora Hope IV has to give
ground to the best in the group in
terms of the midrange between these
two frequency extremes, however.
Like the rest of the performance, it is
smooth and usually civilised, but
there is a loss of fine detail in this
area that means that it never really
extracts the information from the Max
Richter piece that some of the other
models manage to find. This is
coupled with a reduction in the sense
of scale in pieces that depend on
the midband being opened out and
presented with a greater sense of
100% [i
The Pandora Hope IV is a bit unusual in terms
of its measurements. It has a nominal
impedance of just Bohms - something you
might expect of a loudspeaker, but not a
headphone. One positive outcome is that
the Pandora Hope has the highest sensitivity
of the group at 123.1dB SPL for 1V input at
kHz, but exploiting this will require that the
source has sufficient current capability. It will
also have to have very low output resistance
because impedance varies from a minimum
of 8.80hms to a maximum of 16.60hms - a 2:1
ratio that means a mere 2.7ohms source
resistance will introduce a frequency
response modification of 1dB. Capsule
matching error was better than the group
average, though, at +6.0dB, and 25Hz bass
extension is about par too. But the diffuse-
field-corrected frequency response looks
very ragged, with an upper-bass peak of
about 8dB. KH
Capsule matching
Bass extension
| +
Impedance variation
KEY: Group average
«3 % below average 1D % above average
space. On tracks like the Nirvana
recording, this is far less important
than the Final's sheer drive and
energy and the Pandora makes a
commendable effort at making sense
of the dense and abrasive recording.
As one of the mid-priced models in
the test and one of the better (in an
admittedly generally unsuitable field)
models for use on the move, the Final
makes a commendable degree of
sense and the useful sensitivity
makes it an unfussy partner.
As a home headphone, the
decidedly short cord combined with
a slight lack of finesse ultimately deny
it the top spot, but this is still more
than just a classy name e
* % ww ЖЖ y performance; sensitive
and comfortable
* Xk KY recessed midrange;
short cord; looks are
UILD QUA y a matter of taste
* * * * y WE SAY: An unusual
nan 'phone that produces
e x a likeable sound
Y» XX Xx
SEPTEMBER 2014 HHiChoice 33
HD 650 £400
Having won more than its fair share of headphone
roundups, can the old pro come up with the goods?
Sennheiser HD 650
f all the models here, the
Sennheiser has been
around the longest and
has been something of a
mainstay at this price point. The
HD 650 is an open-back design
that is built around a pair of dynamic
drivers of an undisclosed size. While
no exact figure has been quoted for
them, Sennheiser is at pains to point
out that it takes exceptional care in
pair matching the drivers and
performance is further boosted by
optimised magnets and a specialised
damping element that’s been applied
to the entire diaphragm.
So far so good, but the chassis that
Sennheiser has wrapped these drivers
in is not without some design foibles
that may or may not infuriate. The
earpads are the largest in the test and
the result is that even as a full-sized
adult, I find that the pad actually rests
partly on the hinge of my jaw, which
is not conducive to a comfortable fit.
Sennheiser then proceeds to apply an
extremely high level of compression
to the headband that means that the
Le Ae
force applied by the earpads is very
high. When this is combined with
padding that looks similar to the
other headphones here, but doesn't
offer much “give”, you have the least
comfortable offering in the test.
The overall build is of a very high
standard, however. Everything feels
very solid despite the impressively
low weight and the titanium finish is
attractive. The 3m cord is detachable
to reduce strain and make packing
easier. This cord is the only one in the
test fitted with a fixed 6.35mm jack,
although a 3.5mm adapter is
supplied. Given that it leaks a
tremendous amount of noise through
the open-back earpads, it would
probably not be the most appropriate
choice for use on the move.
Sound quality
The HD 650 requires a reasonable
amount of power to reach the
test level and having done so,
demonstrates a number of likeable
traits interspersed with some less
desirable ones. There is plenty
of power and authority to the
presentation and there is a pleasing
amount of fine detail too. Barker 's
vocals are well handled and it
manages to emphasise the
considerable amount of different
percussion used in support. There is
plenty of energy to the performance
too. Kraftwerk is given a potency that
is tremendously entertaining and
effective at capturing the flavour
of the live performance.
At the same time, some of the same
limitations that affect the Audio-
Technica are on show here. The
performance never has much sense of
depth and space to it with everything
presented in a shallow fashion in
front of the ear, which can rob pieces
that need more room to sound
believable. This is partnered with a
midrange that can feel rather thick
and slow at some points. While this
same thickness can be useful with
vocals and in particular at adding a
welcome touch of civility to the
Nirvana recording, it leaves the
orchestra of Richter sounding a little
100% [i
Sennheiser claims a sensitivity for the HD
650 of 103dB SPL, but specifies no input. It
seems that 1V may be the missing value as
we measured 106.4dB sensitivity at 1kHz for
this input. This is the second-lowest in the
group but is explained by the HD 650s high
impedance, nominally 300ohms. Over the
audible frequency range we measured a
minimum of 3070hms and a maximum of
433ohms, which makes the Sennheiser
unusually insensitive to source resistance: it
would take 183.20hms in series to produce a
1dB change in frequency response. Capsule
matching was better than the group average
at +5.9dB whereas bass extension was
slightly worse than average at 31Hz. The
diffuse-field-corrected frequency response
indicates that the HD 650's perceived tonal
balance will be on the warm side, with mildly
elevated upper bass (+3dB) and a slight
shortfall in presence band output. KH
KEY: IN Group average
@%belowaverage HP % above average
leaden and lacking the wonderfully
open presentation of rivals like the
Beyerdynamic and Shure. It is also
worth noting that while the HD 650 is
civilised at the test level, it’s already
showing a touch of harshness during
dynamic peaks and further increases
to volume lead to it becoming rather
hard and brittle.
The HD 650 does a great deal right
— the design has clearly been thought
through and the solid build combined
with light weight is welcome. The
limitations to comfort and the lack of
absolute clarity and depth compared
to rivals deny it the honours this time
despite the liveliness it can bring to
many types of music e
* % kX
lively sound; excellent
build; light weight
* Xx Xx Xx comfortable; can
sound a little thick
JUILD QUALITY and lacking in depth
ЖЖЖЖУ wesAY: Wel thought
ооо out, but some foibles
a make long-term
%* % % % listening less enjoyable
Xx % kk
SEPTEMBER 2014 HifiChoice 35
SRH1840 £467
Can Shure translate its enormous success in the high-
end earphone domain to the world of headphones?
Shure SRH1840
his is one of the more
recent arrivals in the test
and marks something of a
departure for Shure, which
is better known as a manufacturer of
high-end earphones. The SRH1840 is
the flagship of the increasingly large
range. The open-back design is built
around a pair of 40mm neodymium
drivers that, like the Sennheiser
HD 650 are pair matched by hand.
Indeed, the Shure and the Sennheiser
have more than a little in common
with each other visually and the
American offering also makes use
of oval earpads.
Put it on your head, though, and the
differences between the two designs
become rather more apparent in
favour of the Shure. It might be a
similar shape and 8g heavier than the
HD 650, but the SRH1840 is vastly
more comfortable — indeed it's one
of the most comfortable headphones
I've worn full stop. The weight
distribution, spring loading and the
resistance of the earpads combine
to give the most unobtrusive and
Le Ae
comfortable fit of the test, providing
an elegant lesson in ergonomics.
This comfort is backed up with
excellent and well thought out
ancillaries. It is supplied with a hard
shell carry bag and replacement pads
as standard and should anything
unpleasant happen to those,
replacements are available directly
from the Shure website as is another
example of the 2.1m detachable
cable. The build quality is excellent
too — there's nothing showy about
any aspect of the headphone and
I'd hesitate to call it pretty — but
everything has been assembled with
a view to it lasting a long time and
being easy to sort out and repair if
it does go wrong. As an open-back
design, it leaks a lot of noise but
given that Shure has the closed-back
SRH1540 at the same price, there is
a more suitable portable option.
Sound quality
The Shure is not especially sensitive,
but doesn't place any undue demands
on the Chord Hugo to reach the test
level. Once there, it demonstrates
generally excellent performance.
There is an impressive balance of
realism and excitement. Detail
retrieval is among the very finest in
the test and even extremely subtle
nuances can be picked out of the
performance. Everything sounds
convincing and well proportioned,
but there is a sense of life and
excitement that makes Emily Barker
enjoyable rather than simply a
reference exercise.
The sense of space that the Shure
generates is also truly exceptional.
The large scale Kraftwerk and Richter
recordings are given all the space they
need and when you combine this with
the very high levels of comfort, you
have a headphone that can really
perform in a way that allows you to
forget that you are wearing it. This
effortless presentation is underpinned
by bass that while not as seismic as
the Beyerdynamic or AKG, is detailed,
clear and seamlessly integrated with
the upper registers. The SRH1840 is
also able to be driven to high levels
100% [i
Shure claims 96dB SPL sensitivity for Imw
input for the SRH1840, equivalent to 107.9d8
for 1V across its nominal impedance of
650hms. Our measured figure matches very
closely with this, the capsule average being
108.6d8 at 1kHz. This is quite a low figure but
is partly explained by that impedance, which
is higher than for many modern medium-
impedance headphones. We measured an
impedance range of 62.00hms to 73.20hms
across the audible range, which makes
the Shure almost as insensitive to source
resistance as the high-impedance
Sennheiser: 152.40hms in series would be
needed to introduce a frequency response
modification of 1dB. Capsule matching was
tightest of the group at +4.2dB, but bass
extension was a little poorer than average at
32Hz. The diffuse-field-corrected frequency
response was easily the flattest here,
suggesting a neutral tonal balance. KH
Capsule matching
KEY: EN Group average
ll % below average ID % above average
without displaying any signs of
hardening up or aggression.
The Achilles’ heel appears with
the Nirvana recording, hi-res or
otherwise, which isn't flattered by the
accuracy and detail that the SRH1840
can extract. Come As You Are is
presented as a dense and confused
mass of voices and instruments
largely because it is. Shure hasn't
completely set aside its pro audio
heritage, which means the more
forgiving Beyerdynamic is the better
all rounder. It is hard to ignore the
SRH1840’s ability to disappear with
some material and depending on your
listening preferences, this is a must
audition and a mighty fine efforte >
Yo * * x +* detailed and extremely
involving sound;
VA OR MONI excellent build
% % % % KX DISLIKE: Merciless
: with poorer recordings
aa Ee WE SAY: An excellent
* * * * * headphone that has
e much to offer listeners
ri of better quality
* * * * y recordings
GROUPTEST &360-¢500°
QM 7:32
Group test verdict
He's had his head nodding to the beat with this month's cans and now it's
over to Ed Selley to find out which headphones get his nod of approval
NONE OF THE headphones here
are free of merit, but Audio-Technica's
ATH-AD900X is perhaps the most
restricted. The tonality is good and it
is well priced, but the shallow sound,
average comfort and rather Spartan
appearance count against it. The AKG
Q701 and Sennheiser HD 650 are
both headphones that manage to
excel in some areas, but fail to deliver
in others. Both are well built and
capable of delivering a powerful and
lively sound, but the AKG doesn’t
always handle more complex
pieces with the assurance it needs
to and also lacks a little depth. The
Make/model AKG
Price £300
Sound Wk hk
Value XX XxX Xx %)
Build Yr % % % J
Features WW WN
Overall ЖЖ Ж
A strong showing
from an affordable
model, but there
are weaknesses
Key features
Open-back Yes
Closed-back No
Carrycase No
6.35mm adaptor Yes
Detachablecable Yes
Musical Fidelity M1 HPA P £500
The original M1 HPA was a peerless headph
with the insight and authority to work well with a range of
and the
Sennheiser is better able to handle
poorer recordings, but also sounds a
little constrained. More significantly,
the discomfort is a real impediment
to long-term enjoyment and I'd urge
you to try before you buy.
The Final Hope Pandora IV hovers
on the boundary between unusual
and outright weird. The strange
looks, odd driver arrangement and
curious measurements all require a
little caution, but the end result is a
very enjoyable listen. The forgiving
nature with poorer recordings is also
welcome. Only the slightly recessed
and congested midrange and the
audio system. HFC 387
38 H#iChoice SEPTEMBER 2014
annoyingly short cord prevent this
Japanese curiosity from climbing
further up the rankings.
The Shure SRH1840 is the other
reason why the Final is denied a
higher placing. This is a genuinely
excellent headphone and an object
lesson in comfort and ergonomics.
The build quality is fantastic and
the quality of the ancillaries is also
absolutely superb. This is then
topped off with an accurate
and consistently entertaining
performance and only a slightly
ruthless nature with less perfect
material robs it of top spot.
level you see fit. HFC 386
Audio-Technica Bey Final Audio Design Sennheiser
ATH-AD900X T90 Pandora Hope IV HD 650 SRH1840
£315 £500 £400 £400 £467
» XXX Y XX » XxX » Xx XX E XXX
* Xx Xx Xx KA AAA * Xx XX Y e XA
» Xx XxX) Y» XX XK %* % % % » Xx XxX Y Re
» XX Xx Xx KA KAI » Xx Xxx * Xx XxX)
Some likeable traits, Not without some A rather unusual Well thought out, but An excellent
but the constrained foibles, but thisis a headphone that some foibles make headphone that
performance is a bit really accomplished produces a long-term listening excels with better
of aproblem headphone likeable sound less enjoyable quality recordings
Yes Yes No Yes Yes
No No Yes No No
No Yes No No Yes
Yes | Yes Yes No Yes
No No Yes Yes Yes
Astell & Kern AK240 £ 2,200 Chord Hugo £1,400
amplifier The ultimate portable player needs some The Chord was used to run
talented cans to get the best out of it and the thetestand thisamazingly — /
bewildering variety of talented half a hi-fi in a tiny,
formats that it supports. beautifully finished box 9
It has the power to would be a fine partner for Il
work with the least any of these designs with О :
sensitive designs here enough power on tap to
for a fine portable drive any of them to any ;
100% Г
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