Dan's Data letters #118Publication date: 19 July 2004.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Primarily, I want some good cans for PC gaming and music, but also for home stereo as well. Also, I play some electric guitar, and it'll mean I can use them to play late at night and stuff without attracting the cops.
I've called some music shops, and brands like Behringer and Audio Technica have been recommended. One particular model of interest is the AudioTech ATH-M40. Now the cans that they sell in music shops are primarily used for audio applications, naturally, such as for use in studios, for monitoring, DJing, etc. And from some research, the qualities to look for is stuff like the level of detail and accuracy to detect imperfections in various instruments, and just a "clean" sound overall. Apparently those M40s are quite accurate and good for isolating and identifying sounds, etc. I wouldn't mind these qualities even for PC apps - I'd like to hear the details and clarity and "rawness".
So I'm wondering if these "audiophile" headphones would be good for PC apps? Are they much different to the Senns and other "general use" 'phones? Or am I getting lost?
Monitor/DJ/studio 'phones are usually sealed, which is a good thing for use in noisy environments or when you don't want to bother people nearby, but which makes them unlikely to sound as good as open 'phones at the same price point. There are cheap open headphones that have "Monitor" or "DJ" printed on the packaging, but proper monitor and DJ 'phones are always sealed, and studio 'phones often are too.
These kinds of headphones aren't the same thing, though they're not clearly separated. Plain monitor headphones are for musicians. DJ 'phones don't necessarily sound all that great (their users are often only wearing one earpiece, anyway...) but offer lots of isolation. Studio 'phones are the ones that're meant for use by people doing production work; they're the only ones that can get away with being open or "semi-open", because production suites don't have lots of background noise.
Good monitor 'phones are perfectly usable for music listening, but you won't find them described as "audiophile" headphones very often. As you say, monitor headphones are meant to be clear and neutral, like monitor speakers, and you'd think that was the aim of regular headphone manufacturers as well - but it isn't, necessarily. The difference will seldom be large if you're talking about good examples of each kind of headphone, but it does exist, in some cases at least. In others, the labelling on the box doesn't have much to do with the kind of headphone inside.
There's actually not really such a thing as "flat" response from a headphone, thanks to the weirdness involved in playing music straight into the ears. This has given rise to a cottage industry of headphone equaliser designers.
Headphones meant for commercial use are often more solidly constructed than ones made for the home market, by the way, but this often also means they're heavier. Many high quality home headphones these days are both light and surprisingly durable - Sennheiser's current all-plastic lightweight 'phones are a great example. 'Phones meant for use by musicians may also be able to play rather louder than home 'phones, but that's not really a selling point; they only play that loud in order to cut through the noise of a concert, and sensible users wear earplugs underneath the headphones to avoid hearing damage.
If you're shopping for commercial headphones, be aware that some of them are quite hard to drive properly. Look out, in particular, for high impedance (a few hundred ohms or more) and low efficiency (below 90dB); that combination adds up to lousy maximum volume from most sources. You need a headphone amp with unusually high voltage capacity.
If you want good isolation, then you'll probably be quite pleased with the Audio Technica 'phones you mentioned. You might like to compare the sound and comfort of some other sealed 'phones, though.
I was just wondering if you were considering doing a review on the Bose TriPort headphones.
I'm no audiophile by any stretch, but I went into a shop today to have a listen and I must say, I was blown away! Until the guy showed me the sound was coming out of a portable CD player, I didn't believe him. Some serious response (at $AU249)!
Please test them out for yourself. I am by no means an affiliate for Bose. I am in the market for some quality cans, and have been using your site to make the best decision.
I'm not itching to review the TriPorts.
A lot of hi-fi enthusiasts cordially hate Bose, because Bose has never been about accurate sound reproduction, just "pleasant" sound reproduction. Their classic direct/reflecting speakers that use an array of heavily equalised four inch drivers to bounce most of the sound off the wall are a good example. I actually don't mind the "airy" sound of various Bose speaker systems, but I wouldn't pay the rather high prices Bose charge for them.
The TriPort headphones also aren't cheap for what they are, and they don't have the advantage of being particularly unusual in any other way - they're not the headphone equivalent of one of those Lifestyle speaker systems that vanishes into your lounge room. They're just circumaural sealed headphones that cost $US150 ($AU249 isn't a terrible price, but it's not great either).
You can get a good set of sealed Beyers for little more than that, and Koss also have some good cheap sealed 'phones, in the States at least. Here in Australia, Koss's R-80, Pro-3AA and Pro-4AA 'phones (the first two of which are at least somewhat suitable for portable use) are likely to be stupidly overpriced.
If you want something to use with a portable player and don't mind getting your ears invaded, there's a lot to be said for the cheaper Shure E2cs, and there are, of course, various other options.
The general consensus among headphone geeks seems to be that Bose 'phones would be OK value if they cost half as much.
I'm going to order myself some Sony MDRF1 headphones. What do you think of them?
I presume you're not envisaging paying anything like the price listed at the URL you mention; it's a quite spectacular rip-off. Lots of places in the States sell those headphones for less than $US200, ex shipping; $AU669 is therefore at least twice the price the things should be here. They absolutely are not worth that much money, and opinions differ about whether they're worth the US price. The most common complaint about them is that they lack bass, thanks to their groovy looking, super-open, drivers-hanging-in-space design.
They're apparently extremely comfortable, though, and, of course, they look incredible. And their bass is supposed to be fine if you line 'em up right. And their very low impedance means you can even use them with portable players, if you're an incurable poseur.
(Cezar got back to me - he's only paying $AU380. That's still not a bargain, but it's OK.)
I know, I know. You've said plenty about these ridiculous "audiophile" cables that run in the thousands of dollars for 1 or 1.5 metres. However, what gets my ire up is seeing audio reviewers heaping praise on these companies and their cables - causing those who don't do the proper research to find these reviews as solid reasons for investing their hard-earned money , while they could be purchasing Magical Fairy Dust (TM) instead!
I visited the Siltech Cables site your correspondent linked to in the last letters edition, and went straight to the reviews section. The second review linked was this one, of the $US2000+ Classic G5 interconnect cables. I loved these parts of the "independent review":
"Some flat-earth proponents continue to deny that "designer" wires are better than stock RadioShack products, but most audiophiles have reluctantly concluded that they're difference-makers capable of transforming a system. I say "reluctantly" because the sticker shock for an insubstantial-looking run of wire is considerably more acute than it is for a speaker occupying half a room or an amplifier too heavy to lift."
"All share Siltech's proprietary G5 metallurgy and X Balanced Micro Technology. The former refers to the unique blend of silver and gold as conductor materials. High-purity silver is preferred not just for its conductivity, but also because it creates silver oxide when it oxidizes over time. A fortuitous process, since silver oxide is an excellent conductor that doesn't degrade conductivity. In this it differs from high-purity copper, which creates copper oxide as it ages, an excellent insulator but a poor conductor. That gives high-purity silver the edge - both materials always undergo oxidation, but only high-grade silver will retain its conductivity.
But why gold? Siltech says that the natural crystal structure of both copper and silver produces small distortions generated by boundary effects on the signals. So after purifying the silver, at a point between the melt and solidification processes, 24-karat gold is added. This gold alloy fills the empty spaces between the crystals, boosting signal transmission, improving the signal-to-noise ratio, and dramatically lowering distortion."
Just a quick question: What the heck is he talking about, "fills the empty spaces between the crystals"? Is any of this nonsense actually based on anything this side of reality?
The irony in the "flat-earth proponents" comment, of course, is that scientific inquiry allows us to establish the (approximate) sphericity of the earth. People who believe the superficial unscientific evidence of their senses, with no depth of investigation or effort to avoid error, think the earth is flat.
People who apply the same unscientific methods can hear differences between cables that mysteriously disappear in a properly blinded test. Can dirt cheap zip cord be told from thick cable? In some circumstances (long runs, high currents, electrostatic speakers that really care about cable capacitance, or when the zip cord's old and busted), yes. Can decent cable be told from costs-as-much-as-a-car cable? Only if you make sure not to do any science, and know what you're listening to and when through other channels.
Regarding the other claims - the statement that "signal transmission" is better is fuzzy, but signal to noise ratio and distortion are readily measurable, so let's look at the white paper that describes the verification of these claims by an independent lab- whoops, there isn't one.
In other, equally well supported news, I am a one-ton fire-breathing mongoose.
The metallurgical statements about spaces between crystals are similarly difficult to support.
All ordinary metals are polycrystalline (made up of lots of little crystals), and as liquid metal cools and solidifies, the crystals grow into the remaining liquid all higgledy-piggledy, and thus end up in funny shapes when they run into each other. This happens to all metals - gold, silver, and silver-gold alloys like the one allegedly used for these cables too.
Silver and gold are mutually soluble, and so silver-gold alloys are made of crystals that are themselves made out of mixed silver and gold, not out of big gold crystals with little silver crystals in between, or some other heterogeneous arrangement.
Many other alloys aren't like that. Ordinary sterling silver, for instance, has silver and copper in it, and silver and copper aren't particularly soluble in each other, so the solid alloy is made out of silver-with-some-copper crystals and copper-with-some-silver crystals, not an even mix. This is not the case for silver/gold alloys, though.
Metals can, to some extent, interpenetrate each other (that's why solder sticks), but the only time when there are actual gaps between crystals in a metal is when that metal's coming apart. If gold were a substance that naturally had gaps between its crystals, it wouldn't be the incredibly malleable material it is - you can beat gold out into leaf only molecules thick. Crystals of something between crystals of something else weaken the boundaries and make the metal more prone to failure when bent, which isn't desirable in a speaker cable. Such an alloy will be harder, though; pure gold is very soft.
Perhaps the review writer is under the impression that a gold/silver alloy will be denser than pure gold. It won't. You also, in case you're wondering, can't squeeze any air out of a gold brick.
"Part of the beauty of the design of Siltech cables, however, is beyond our design efforts. Nature itself ensures that our cables improve with age, as the conductive qualities of silver increase indefinitely with time."
Now I've heard everything. Someone from Consumer Affairs/Protection should shut these guys down. Really, it is such an outrageous scam.
No wonder no-one shows their face or name on the Siltech web site.
I think they also poke fun at their customers too:
"All the latest technology in metallurgy, insulation materials and construction techniques is incorporated in every Signature cable to ensure unmatched performance in the soundstage of your imagination."
Exactly. All the benefits of the Siltech products are completely imaginary.
Why people can go to jail for selling $5 packets of "slimming tea", but not go to jail for selling a 2 metre piece of cable with supposed magical audio properties for $US6700 is beyond me.
The thing about silver's conductivity is absolutely true, you know.
Spanish silver dollars struck before 1700 have been room temperature superconductors for quite a while, now.
I was actually in fits after reading this:
"The new "Quantum" Rainbow Foil, when attached to objects and treated with the "Quantum" Cream, is specifically designed to allow the entry of various types of environmental energy into modern man-made materials and situations. This includes the artificially produced light – which is very different to the naturally occurring sunlight within which our senses originally evolved. Attaching narrow strips to loudspeaker drive units., p.u. arms., all remote controls (video and audio) and to situations such as spinning discs which create gravitational anomalies, is extremely effective.
"It is also advantageous to place a strip of Silver Rainbow Foil specifically over the word 'disc' (part of the Compact Disc symbol)."
Looking at it, you'd swear that Peter Belt's P.W.B. Electronics site had to really be a joke, of the completely deadpan style that can be found here and there on the Internet. They're not all as obvious as The Landover Baptist Church.
I was strongly inclined to think that this site was a joke. There's a tradition of silly little hi-fi tweak-gadgets that don't cost very much, but the preposterously expensive end of the tweak market is, in my experience, only populated by devices that are very well made. Pointlessly well made, like a fighter jet flawlessly carved out of mahogany, but well made nonetheless. $US875 for an alligator clip with some tinned wire attached is not rational even by the minimal standards of the lunatic audiophile.
Note that the P.W.B. site has no order form. You have to e-mail them if you want something, and the small reserve of faith in humanity that I still have depended upon such orders not being filled.
Pop. There it goes. Not that everyone's impressed, mind you; even people who're entirely convinced about the value of more pedestrian physics-defying audio tweaks find Peter Belt's ramblings hard to swallow. But yep, Belt's serious. Serious about taking people's money, at any rate.
The few links to outside reviews on the P.W.B. Electronics site suggest that some other people are, if not in on the joke, believers. And, of course, there's all the feedback from people who, if they're real, have in common with the reviewers that they haven't done proper blinded tests, blah blah blah.
The world still contains plenty of people who believe in magic, and that's what P.W.B. are selling, draped with quantum mechanical tinsel.