For each headphone, we’ll present several measurement charts:
1) Frequency response of right and left channels with input of 0.179 volts RMS (which equates to 1 milliwatt of power with a 32-ohm load).
2) Frequency response of the right channel driven by the V-Can directly (with output impedance of 5 ohms) and with 70 ohms of resistance added to simulate the 75 ohms output impedance typical of an inexpensive/portable device (i.e., a computer or smartphone). The 75-ohm curve is normalized to the 5-ohm curve at 1 kHz.
3) Impedance (right channel)
4) Isolation, i.e., how effective the headphone is at blocking external sound from your ears
5) Total harmonic distortion at 80 dB and 100 dB from 10 Hz to 10 kHz.
We’ve also provided a sensitivity rating for each headphone, which represents the average level achieved from 300 Hz to 10 kHz with a 0.179 volts RMS signal.
EVERYWHERE YOU GO, it’s so easy to listen to music, thanks to smartphones, tablets, and MP3 players. But it’s kind of a bummer that millions of people now hear most of their music through earbuds with drivers smaller than a dime.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Even if you get all your music from a handheld device, there’s no reason why you can’t upgrade your sound — especially when you’re safely snuggled in your favorite recliner. For just a few hundred bucks, you can get a set of audiophile-style over-ear headphones that’ll sound a lot better than those little earbuds. And they’ll be more comfortable.
For the last few years, we at Sound+Vision have focused most of our attention on in-ear and on-ear headphones, the kind that are easy to wear on the plane or the subway and easy to slip into a briefcase or backpack. For this issue, though, we decided to settle down for some serious listening at home. We borrowed six sets of over-ear headphones, at list prices ranging from about $250 to $500. All but one are open-back designs. Open-back ’phones tend to sound more spacious, but they offer little isolation from outside sound and also tend to leak sound out into your surroundings. Thus, as long as you have a relatively quiet environment, they’re great for home use — but they’re lousy for portable use. Indeed, all of these headphones come with nice, long cables to make it easier to plug them into a receiver’s headphone output jack.
Knowing that listeners’ opinions of headphones tend to vary, I decided not to rely solely on my own impressions. To bring in some outside opinions, I called in a crew of serious listeners: fellow S+V contributing technical editor Geoffrey Morrison, L.A. jazz musician Will Huff, and Howard and Joe Rodgers, the father-and-son team who recently resurrected the Rogersound Labs (RSL) speaker brand.
I connected all of the headphones to a Rane HC 6S professional headphone amp. The panelists played the music of their choice, including CDs as well as tunes from their phones or MP3 players, at whatever volume they liked. After the panel test, I tried each set of headphones with my Motorola Droid Pro smartphone, to see if they’d work okay when driven by the relatively low-fi amps built into most phones, computers, and MP3 players. (All of them did.) I then finished off the evaluation with a complete set of lab measurements for all the headphones
So settle back and check out these six (mostly) sweet sets of cans — then hit your local audio dealer or hi-fi show and hear a couple of them for yourself.
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