For almost 50 years I’ve been reading a certain magazine that tests products, rates them for overall quality and publishes the results monthly. They test everything from cars to blenders and very often the most expensive product isn’t the one that represents the best value. I’m sure everyone reading this has heard of this organization: The largest independent, non-profit product testing organization in the United States. The magazine will not allow its name to be used in association with advertising and the test results are not available to non-subscribers.
The December issue had a products review of “Studio/Home” headphones which may be of interest to someone looking for good performance at a bargain basement price. They didn’t test many of the models that one would likely find in a “Real” studio, nor did they segregate open and closed models, but the results were fascinating just the same. Most of the top-rated phones were expensive, but not all of them. For instance, two of the top seven models can be purchased for under $100.
Seven of the top rated models were made by Grado. The two non-Grado units in the top seven were made by Bowers and Wilkins and Shure. The Audio Technica model that a lot of us have found useful in the studio came in number 8. I found it interesting that none of the popular Sony or Sennheiser HD-series models made the top 10. Indeed, the more I ponder the lineup it becomes even more intriguing as to the criterion used to pick the tested models. Perhaps they didn’t make the cut because they were not included in the test.
I’m not sure how the headphones were tested and the article didn’t elaborate. I seem to remember that the editors gave some pretty deep technical explanation when they tested loudspeakers some years ago. That article was noteworthy to me because the top-rated speakers were made by Zenith and a popular JBL model didn’t do so well. That test was weighted toward “accuracy” across the audio spectrum and I’m interested in finding out more about how this recent test was conducted (I’ll report back if anyone’s interested)
The standings including and score:
Grado SR325e (91)
Grado SR225e (88)
B&W P7 (86)
Grado SR80e (86)
Shure SRH1440 (81)
Grado SR125e (80)
Grado SR60e (76)
NAD HP50 (71)
Sennheiser Momentum (71)
First, let me say that some of the Grado phones have got really high marks from many of the more knowledgeable Hi-fi people I've known. (Of course that may not mean much in a studio application, but these were the kind of Hi-fi people who go for "accuracy" over enhancement.
HOWEVER, I would not trust the tests conducted by that magazine as far as I could throw their printing press. In the past I've noticed what was either significant brand name bias or simple ignorance concerning product lines. (One instance that sticks in my mind was a comparison of fast food burgers where they (among others) rated McDonald's much lower than Burger King or Jack-In-the- Box on the basis of the "Big Mac": against the "Jumbo Jack" and the "Whopper", Mickey D's placing last. Of course the "comparison was rigged, since the "Big Mac" is a 1/5 pound burger ( two of the small 1/10th lb patties) vs. the other two which are both single 1/4lb. patties. The honest, fair comparison would have been to use the "Quarter Pounder with Cheese" which is the comparable sammich. But they didn't because at the time slamming McD's was "politically correct". Or the people at the rag were idiots who didn't do their homework or understand their subject (really, how can somebody not understand a fast food burger?). Or somebody put the "fix" in.)
That's not the only time, either, but it's the one that sticks in my mind because the bias was so egregious that any (fast food eating) child could see it. And because it's really easy to explain to people.
It's been years since I've paid any attention to that magazine and if they told me the sky was blue I wouldn't believe them without taking a look for myself.