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scullyfan

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Posts: 1,592 Member Since: 27/07/2011

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Dec 28 14 1:20 PM

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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)
ATH-M50 (71)
NAD HP50 (71)
Sennheiser Momentum (71)
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waltzmastering

Platinum Blonde

Posts: 1,636 Member Since:02/02/2011

#1 [url]

Dec 30 14 1:13 PM

Makes me want to try some of the Grado's out.  You'd think they went through the whole Sennheizer line too, but who knows about Beyer or Denon etc. Prices seem good on the ones they did choose.  Still using a couple pairs of Sony V600 that I don't love or hate but am used to.  Thanks for posting the info.

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gold

Platinum Blonde

Posts: 1,505 Member Since:27/01/2011

#2 [url]

Jan 4 15 8:05 PM

I hate wearing headphones. I really should have a set though. I think I'll get Senheisser HD600's. I liked them better than the more expensive HD800's. They sound relatively flat unlike the Sony V600 which I too used for years. Trying out a bunch of headphones isn't my idea of fun. It was a decent time killer at the NY Hi-Fi show.

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blairl

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Posts: 573 Member Since:26/01/2011

#3 [url]

Feb 7 15 9:10 PM

Interesting.  I recently auditioned different headphones and settled on the NAD HP50s that show up on the list.  They were my favorites.  They sound very natural.  So many closed back headphones have too much bass.  Muddy.  The HP50s seem to have the right amount of bass, like listening in a good room to good full-range monitors.  And they don't have any strange peaky high mid or high frequency anomolies, or strange scoops, like so many headphones.  One of the best purchases I have made in years.

Last Edited By: blairl Feb 7 15 9:16 PM. Edited 1 time.

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chrisj

Gold Finger

Posts: 970 Member Since:22/02/2011

#4 [url]

Feb 7 15 9:35 PM

I'm happy with my HD600s (I've actually hotrodded 'em, stripped away protective grilles the better to make them absolutely revelatory). In fact if I didn't have those, I don't think I would have sent off for a Pono: I feel I have headphones that will support it.

I have had, still kinda do (hacking troubles, I broke the current build of them) HD280s, much cheaper. I am far from thrilled by them or their sound. Not even close to the HD600s, though they are sealed-back making them an entirely different class of headphone.

I can easily believe Grados are good, but I'm wary of turning to that magazine for tone quality issues. I think they can get sidetracked by measurement tropes that can be misleading, and there are things they're ill-equipped to critique.

Chris Johnson, airwindows.com

Last Edited By: chrisj Feb 7 15 9:37 PM. Edited 1 time.

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duskb

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Posts: 2,236 Member Since:07/07/2011

#5 [url]

Apr 16 15 12:54 PM

scullyfan wrote:
I found it interesting that none of the popular Sony or Sennheiser HD-series models made the top 10. 

The reasons the Sony's didnt make the cut is because they're awful. When I took over the Recording Dept. here at LMU several years ago we had a bunch of old Sony's, all falling apart. Since we had budgeted to retire the old ones and buy new ones we got at least 20. BIG MISTAKE. The new ones sounded nothing like the old ones. The entire Dept. met about a year or so later and asked me to select a different headphone because the Sony's just sounded so bad. Everyone knew it but we couldnt figure out why. We went with the $200 Sennheisers.

I recently got into a discussion with a production sound mixer about this issue and he went off. He explained how he has a set from the 90's and they sound incredible compared to the new ones, not even in the same league, which is not a good thing for dialogue driven films. He alleges that apparently at one point in the last decade Sony changed at least the headphone cable and its possible other parts as well to save money. Regardless of what they did I can attest that the old and new ones sound nothing alike.

This is probably what the reviewers figured out on their own.

----
Dusk Bennett
Engineering/Production/Educator
Los Angeles Ca
Award Winning Engineering
www.duskbennett.com

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soapfoot

Ruby Baby

Posts: 7,312 Member Since:04/02/2011

#6 [url]

Apr 16 15 7:46 PM

headphones do break in as well, to varying degrees. There are some brands that sound drastically different after 100 hours than they do brand new.

brad allen williams

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soapfoot

Ruby Baby

Posts: 7,312 Member Since:04/02/2011

#8 [url]

Sep 26 15 12:50 PM

bill mueller wrote:
I found the ATH M50X headphones sounded kinda weird on the bottom at first but after a few hours, evened out beautifully.

my experience as well, Bill, across multiple sets.

brad allen williams

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John Eppstein

Platinum Blonde

Posts: 1,221 Member Since:31/05/2015

#9 [url]

Sep 28 15 4:33 AM

scullyfan wrote:
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)
ATH-M50 (71)
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.

Last Edited By: John Eppstein Sep 28 15 4:38 AM. Edited 2 times.

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scullyfan

Platinum Blonde

Posts: 1,592 Member Since:27/07/2011

#10 [url]

Sep 28 15 7:32 PM

This particular consumer products magazine seems to eilicit either praise or condemnation. I asked an appliance store owner what he thought about the magazine and he said that they often rated appliances that were made at the same factory, but sold with different brand names, so differently that he had no faith in their evaluations. I have found their ratings of automobiles to be spot on.

I think they use pretty solid procedures when testing things such as paint or toasters. I'm not so sure how you evaluate a Big Mac over a Whopper, or a cup of coffee made with brand X versus brand Z coffee maker. I think the procedures they use when testing loudspeakers is less arbitrary and more scientific than those they enlist when rating food or drink. Years ago they tested a bunch of loudspeakers, including a very pretty popular JBL model. The JBL speaker was near the bottom in the ratings, largely due to its inaccurate reproduction curve. The winner was a lowly Zenith speaker, with an accuracy score of 81. Granted, the JBL speakers could probably blow the Zenith speakers away if there was a sustained test at high sound pressure levels. That wasn't what they were testing for, they were testing for accuracy.

Last Edited By: scullyfan Sep 28 15 7:51 PM. Edited 1 time.

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demiana

Gold Finger

Posts: 478 Member Since:18/02/2011

#11 [url]

Sep 29 15 1:54 PM

duskb wrote:

scullyfan wrote:
I found it interesting that none of the popular Sony or Sennheiser HD-series models made the top 10. 

The reasons the Sony's didnt make the cut is because they're awful.

Hmmm... I have a pair of MDR-7509s from about 15 years ago which are great, and I have heard a new pair of MDR-7520 which also sounded excellent. I also have a new pair of MDR-7506s which I dislike quite a lot, but then I've always disliked that model. So, AFAIK Sony do make at least some good headphones, but there is not much consistency within the range -- the 7506s sound nothing like the 7509s.

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John Eppstein

Platinum Blonde

Posts: 1,221 Member Since:31/05/2015

#12 [url]

Sep 29 15 6:46 PM

scullyfan wrote:
This particular consumer products magazine seems to eilicit either praise or condemnation. I asked an appliance store owner what he thought about the magazine and he said that they often rated appliances that were made at the same factory, but sold with different brand names, so differently that he had no faith in their evaluations. I have found their ratings of automobiles to be spot on.

I think they use pretty solid procedures when testing things such as paint or toasters. I'm not so sure how you evaluate a Big Mac over a Whopper, or a cup of coffee made with brand X versus brand Z coffee maker. I think the procedures they use when testing loudspeakers is less arbitrary and more scientific than those they enlist when rating food or drink. Years ago they tested a bunch of loudspeakers, including a very pretty popular JBL model. The JBL speaker was near the bottom in the ratings, largely due to its inaccurate reproduction curve. The winner was a lowly Zenith speaker, with an accuracy score of 81. Granted, the JBL speakers could probably blow the Zenith speakers away if there was a sustained test at high sound pressure levels. That wasn't what they were testing for, they were testing for accuracy.

Given that the Zenith speakers were mass produced junk with low quality components stamped out in an OEM factory and the badged Zenith, that simply makes me believe that the magazine tests speakers as reliably as they test burgers.

I would bet that the JBL's "inaccurate reproduction curve" was due to their testing procedure and ignorance of how to properly set up monitors to avoid unwanted environmental interaction. Was that the one where they were testing the JBL L-100, which was the consumer version of the 4311 studio monitor? I seem to recall something like that.

On the burger test one of the criteria was nutritional value - the Big Mac came out on the bottom because it was lower in protein and the other nutrients they measured than the other brands. Of course it was - they were measuring a 1/5 lb burger against 1/4 lb burgers! Their stated rationale was that they were comparing "featured" sandwiches, whatever that's supposed to mean.

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scullyfan

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Posts: 1,592 Member Since:27/07/2011

#13 [url]

Sep 29 15 9:48 PM

Loudspeakers are tested in the magazine's anechoic chamber, but are also compared in "subjective evaluations by trained listeners". In other words, the folks that decide if a Big Mac is better than a Whopper get to weigh in. I don't know what 'weight' the trained listeners are given or how those tests are conducted, but they are performed in the magazine's "recently renovated audio labs".

I wish I could find the original article (when they evaluated the Zenith, JBL, Radio Shack, etc. speakers) because there was a sidebar explaining the technical details of the test. I guess the only reason I remember some of this is because I was taken aback by the results. The Zenith was the clear winner, but the little Radio Shack Optimus speaker was near the top as well. The JBL speaker being tested was not the L100, more likely a G100 or whatever model had the little titanium tweeter and the 5-1/2" woofer.

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John Eppstein

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Posts: 1,221 Member Since:31/05/2015

#14 [url]

Oct 2 15 7:12 AM

scullyfan wrote:
Loudspeakers are tested in the magazine's anechoic chamber, but are also compared in "subjective evaluations by trained listeners". In other words, the folks that decide if a Big Mac is better than a Whopper get to weigh in. I don't know what 'weight' the trained listeners are given or how those tests are conducted, but they are performed in the magazine's "recently renovated audio labs".

I wish I could find the original article (when they evaluated the Zenith, JBL, Radio Shack, etc. speakers) because there was a sidebar explaining the technical details of the test. I guess the only reason I remember some of this is because I was taken aback by the results. The Zenith was the clear winner, but the little Radio Shack Optimus speaker was near the top as well. The JBL speaker being tested was not the L100, more likely a G100 or whatever model had the little titanium tweeter and the 5-1/2" woofer.

Loudspeaker tests in anechoic chambers are only useful if you know how to carry out valid tests under such conditions. It's easy to come up with a bunch of measurements that are meaningless in a real listening context. I'm not convinced that most of the people at that magazine actually know much about the things they're evaluating and I have a fairly strong feeling that they have innate biases in many areas. I quit reading it when I got tired of thinking "NO!, That's NOT the way it is!"

They may be good at evaluating cars in a very limited way - but how many of their top picks turn out to be not so good buys a few years down the line? A lot of their "evaluations" are very superficial.

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silvertone

Aqua Marine

Posts: 2,727 Member Since:26/01/2011

#15 [url]

Nov 9 15 6:31 AM

Grado's are the best. You should hear them. It was Tom Jung who first recommended them to me many moons ago. He used them for tracking and rough mixing while doing live recording gigs. I've recommended them to several friends who love them. At 600.00 for a set (going back 20 years ago or better) you aren't buying these puppies for everyone in the room but the engineer can surly benefit from them.

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scullyfan

Platinum Blonde

Posts: 1,592 Member Since:27/07/2011

#16 [url]

Nov 9 15 9:49 AM

I am not familiar with all of the Grado models that were tested, but one of the ones in the top seven were only about $80. The top model was something like $300 in the group the magazine tested.

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adam brown

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Posts: 300 Member Since:23/02/2011

#18 [url]

Nov 10 15 7:12 AM

Grado's in the $80-300 range would be in their SR line, or buds. SR60, SR80, SR125,
SR225, then that line as well as the others were done over, so there is an e on the end. There might be an SR325e now.
The buds are GR series with an e on the end too.
There are the PS500e, & the PS1000 that are marketed as pro & or reference use.
The GS line is the HiFi one I believe. It too with an e on the end.

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