For those who are interested in entry-level, non-DIY route
Drop (formerly Massdrop) has their variant of the classic Koss ESP/950 electrostatic headphones for around $500. They sold out earlier this year.
I never thought about that in regards to gaming or even conference room voice chat, it is extremely easy to tell the difference. Must be a challenging problem set to solve, sounds fun!
Other than the K1000 successor that got released a year or two ago (mysphere 3) there has been very little development since then in the field of open-air driver headphones. Hopefully these can sound good without breaking the bank! Also this is the first headphone that uses a driver based on the BMR principle that I am aware of
TLDR speaker drivers, compared to purpose-built headphone drivers, are highly sub-optimal due to limited FR range, breakup modes, and Q factor / improper damping for the application. Directivity and near-field effects (both of which would further distort FR) would probably also be an issue with speaker drivers but I don't know of anyone really trying to build a high quality headphone from speaker drivers so I can't comment on that.
I use Sennheiser HD600 at home (mostly for classical music), and Bose QC-15 at work (mostly for pop/rock/electronic). I also have Grado SR125, but I rarely listen with them, because they are not very comfortable, even though the sound is pretty good - they feel more dynamic and lively than HD600, but that could be due to the difference in impedance (the source is Macbook Pro, which might technically be to weak to drive HD600, I'm not sure).
Based on this information, would you recommend any other headphones for me to try?
Focal utopia - These are somewhat v-shaped, extremely resolving, possibly the most "dynamic" sounding headphone, very narrow like the hd600, makes hd600 sound veiled and compressed in comparison.
Sennheiser HD800 - Definitely a polarizing headphone, bright in the lower treble but lacks some presence due to a scooped upper midrange @ around 2khz, so the opposite of grado in that regard, super enormous stage (second only to K1000) but imaging is not quite as precise as utopia or K1000. Great bass with minor rolloff, makes any hd6x0 sound wooly and imprecise. Extremely resolving.
AKG K1000 - Their presentation is a lot more like speakers than headphones. Very unique and incredibly "live" sounding. They are forward at 2khz but not as much as grados. They can sound alive and dynamic, or washed out, dead and veiled, all depending on the angle of the drivers, so you really have to adjust them perfectly to see what these can do. More resolving than hd600 but not as much as modern flagships like the two above. They have the widest stage of any headphone, it really has to be experienced. It's as if there are actually palpable instruments floating in the space around your head. Amazing realism, but highly uncomfortable and not ergonomic in the slightest. Ones with serial #s below 5000 are the most desirable as these are the "bass heavy" versions which were made before a factory revision that increased the primary resonance of the driver from around 40hz to around 60hz if i recall correctly)
Mysphere 3 - Modern K1000 successor, designed by the same guy who designed the K1000 in the late 80's. I have not heard them but they are said to improve on comfort, resolution, bass extention, and driver sensitivity.
I would be cautious with planars. When they aren't tuned to sound like listening to music through a sock (audeze) they often have a weird habit of sounding simultaneously bright and veiled, which isn't exactly pleasant. Not sure why that is from a physics standpoint. the diaphragms are usually held to high tension, so it might have to do with standing waves forming on their surface at high frequencies? Idk. What planars excel at is mostly their unmatched low frequency capability, with bass extention flat to well below 10hz with a perfect seal. Good planars tend to have a sense of huge weight and solidity but without the bloatedness and blurriness of bassy dynamic headphones. My favorite planar is the hifiman HE-6, but the driver has a lot of ringing in its stock form and needs to be modded to reach its full potential. Also the drivers have a nasty tendency of dying, and I don't think the manufacturer can replace them anymore. Like the K1000, they are also extremely insensitive. I unironically use a speaker amp to drive these. If what you want is an upgrade in terms of resolution, planars probably aren't where you want to look, as they usually have some degree of haziness to them that you don't find with dynamic drivers.
Any stax - These are electrostats and require their own high-voltage amps. There are warm stax (sr-007, sr-L700) and bright stax (sr-009) but generally speaking they tend to be highly resolving but dead sounding and lacking dynamics. This might be due to the limited excursion and low driver mass, again not 100% sure why. Also they tend to have an upper mid shelf (wider than the narrow 2khz-ish boost present in AKGs and grados) from around 1000hz onward that lends everything a kind of plasticy timbre. They are really cool from an engineering standpoint but in my opinion overpriced and not that musically engaging.
For your preferences I would stay away from: Audeze (veiled compressed dead sock), non-flagship hifimans such as he-500 and he-560 (veiled and hazy to the max), anything mrspeakers (grainy compressed dead sock, also veiled), ZMF (legitimately nice sounding boutique dynamic driver headphones, but definitely colored and significantly warm of neutral), the senn hd700 (truly an abortion of a headphone), the hifiman HE1000 (veiled, warm, wide, sounds like listening through two cellphone speakers placed 6ft away from your head), and any fostex dynamic drivers (highly dynamic and v-shaped, opposite of hd600)
Most of these are really expensive and/or unobtanium, but as I said you have to do quite a bit to beat the venerable HD600. It would be crazy to buy any of this stuff blind, I would recommend finding a local high-end audio shop where they will let you sit down for a few hours and listen without interruption. Head-fi meets are also a great opportunity to listen to a bunch of gear and meet new people, I'm not sure how often those occur anymore though. Cheers!
What kind of music would you recommend listening to to evaluate headphones in a shop? I plan to grab my HD600 and Grado and compare them to HD800. Aside from Sennheiser and Grado, my local shop lists the following: https://www.missionaudiovideo.com/catalog/headphones-and-wir...
I was told the high impedance can be an issue when listening from a desktop/laptop/phone (as I normally do), so I was actually considering HD660S or even HD598/599. What do you think?
What about in-ear models? I hate the fit of the stock iPhone earbuds (they just don't fit me at all), but provided I find those that fit well I would like to own high quality earbuds. What's the difference in terms of sound between in-ear and around the ear designs?
I don't think any of those other cans listed online will challenge the HD600 at all, I know the nightowl and se-master1 are both notoriously bad. But if they have an HD800, definitely go have a listen. It is a polarizing headphone and whether you like it or not will tell you a lot about your own preferences.
High headphone impedance is only an issue if the source you're listening out of has a high output impedance, if the output impedance of the source is high enough, the frequency response will be altered and there will be a FR bump around the primary resonance of the driver (usually around 100hz in most dynamic drivers) due to a lack of electrical damping. A dedicated headphone amp is always best, there are a lot of good ones out there these days that don't break the bank.
I'm not an IEM expert, I've never really felt the need for them and have never found a comfortable pair either. Over-ear designs should have more spatial realism as the sound field interacts with your whole ear (research HRTF and pinna transforms if you want to learn more) compared to IEMs which fire directly into the ear canal and so skip the HRTF entirely.
I do wonder if this article is missing any dead ends; only showing the iterative improvements?
Turns out it is really hard. You need a low latency, reliable ~10Gbps link. You also need the battery to be power all the that stuff. Putting everything inside the headset would be ideal but you also have to consider that weight affects comfort and immersion significantly.
The first semi successful attempt is TPCast but it is far from perfect. I don't know much about the Vive wireless but it seems to work better but still have its own set of issues. Both are also rather expensive (~$300).
So for now, we seem to be stuck with fully integrated low end or wired high end. I think we still need to wait a bit more for wireless high end.
The subject is immersion.
My point is that with all that goes into making the audio immersive, the wire out back instantly defeats any gains there.
It looks really flat -- and you'd ordinarily think that was good, but it turns out that humans don't have equally sensitive hearing at all frequencies. There are a range of curves from different studies, and most musical transducers pick one of those curves and try to emulate it in hardware, so that a smooth frequency sweep from low to high continues to sound equally loud.
Perhaps Valve is planning on adding that through digital equalization.
In all likelihood they've had to tune things to a very fine degree, both in dsp and in the physical driver design. Because these are used in the near field, with the specific intent of leveraging acoustic cues from the outer ear, they won't be able to just reuse a reference curve developed for headphones or speakers.
They have a dummy head for binaural measurements, so this isn't a particular hard thing for them to calibrate.
And yet they're reinventing open headphones and calling it revolutionary? Only a little sarcastic.
And they didn’t say “revolutionary” or similar anywhere, as far as I can see.
These are simply open backed headphones that use a different method of setting the distance between the driver and the ear. That's all.
Here's a whitepaper on the driver technology they're using: https://www.tectonicaudiolabs.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02...
This is the first time I'm aware of anyone has used this class of driver for headphones, and they have novel properties that support their idea of a spaced nearfield monitor rather than an open or closed back cup.
There's no seal on or around the ears like traditional headphones. Additionally, they sit much farther away from the ears compared to existing headphone designs.
All an audio playback system needs to do is reproduce the original sound accurately, perhaps with some Fletcher-Munson compensation to enhance bass at low listening volumes.
(Interestingly, this sort of feature was present on home stereos for several decades. The poorly-named "loudness" knob increased bass so you could enjoy satisfying bass without increasing the overall system volume...)
It's a great way to get speakers to sound "bigger" than they are, at volume settings.
However, I have to wonder - for those with Audyssey-equipped receivers, what % of owners bother to complete the setup process with the calibration microphone? I suspect that number is unfortunately low. :-/
Also, I don't think too many people listen to music on AV receivers these days. The product category itself seems to be fading.
Home theaters have swung toward soundbars, and music is listened to on computers, mobile devices, and/or Bluetooth speakers.
I'm saying this as a pretty old-school stalwart myself, with a fairly capable AV receiver in the living room for video and a bunch of audiophile-ish two channel gear for music.
Just like what has happened to stereo amplifiers, what is happening is that the opportunistisk low end of the market is moving on. Cheap radios, turntables and amplifiers were replaced with cheap plastic mini/micro stereos, which were in turn replaced by all-in-ones, which were replaced by bluetooth speakers, and so on.
Cheap AV receivers and especially cheap home-theater-in-a-box type products have been replaced by sound bars, which I would say is actually an improvement in a lot of cases. Some of the low-end AV receivers that were on the market in the 90s and 2000s were unmitigated garbage and a waste of money.
Quality fifi separates live on, and you can still buy mini/micro stereos and all-in-one radio/media player devices. You can still buy AV receivers, but the worst cheap ones have disappeared. I'm not sure you can actually buy HTIB junk anymore, but good riddance to that rubbish.
The appreciation for good sound lives on, but the more complicated devices move to more of a niche role, sticking around for those of us who desire really good sound, and don't mind a bit of a complicated setup process. For everyone else, a sound bar with a wireless subwoofer gets them most of the way, with significantly less effort.
Listening on a computer is simply the next replacement for turntables, tape decks, CD players, DVD/Bluray players, standalone streaming devices and so on. My primary media source is an ultra small form factor PC streaming FLAC and DVD/BR rips from my NAS, hooked up to my receiver over HDMI. It's almost too easy to get amazing sound quality today.
Similarly a smartphone will produce great sound quality with decent source material. The playback device has become a footnote, they're all capable of great sound quality today, as long as you pipe it to something higher quality than a cheap soundbar/bluetooth speaker.