Thursday, April 3, 2014

2014 Annual Headphone Shootout Part 1: Over The Ear

It's March Madness time. And that means it must be time for our annual Headphone Shootout. We have some excellent products from some great manufacturers as usual. Price points range from $100 up to $1300. Due to the increase in popularity, we are adding a wireless category to go along with our usual over the ear, and in ear categories. We will be starting first with the over the ear category. Stay tuned for the other two categories. Now, let the fun begin!

First up is the Over the ear models. We have some great models in the Soul Transform, Audio Technica ATH-M50x, Fang Wang 3000, Audio Technica ATH-OX7AMP and Sennheiser Momentum. They are all wired over the ear models except for the Audio Technica ATH-OX7AMP and Soul Transform which are an on the ear model. Although the Soul Transform felt more like on over the ear model.  The Audio Technica ATH-OX7AMP also has a built-in headphone amp.  The Fang Wang 3000 also has a built-in headphone amp for bass boost as well as Active Noise Cancelling.  MSRP's range form $100 to $300.

The Soul Transform came in a nice looking packaging with photos of the product, and its features and specs. Opening the box showed a great looking pair of headphones, along with the owners manual, and soft case. Materials used were mostly plastic, with cloth earcups. They are designed for use when exercising. The quality of materials as well as fit and finish was good. And the plastic was made to be flexible to be able to withstand a lot of abuse. The cloth earcups are removable and washable. MSRP is $100.

Features and specs:
-Lightweight On Ear design
-Breathable Polyurethane Headband
-Removable and Washable Moisture Wicking Earpads
-Tangle Free Cable with In-line Controller
-Weight:  Approximately 150g
-Cable length: 1.2m / 49 inches
-Operating Keys: Answer/end, volume

Listening proved these to be great performers.  Fresh Air V: Creatures of Levania had nice low bass extension with good authority.  The flute had good air and was fairly smooth.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue had a nice sized soundstage, and pleasantly great resolution in all of the instruments.  The imaging was very good.  The bari sax had discernible woodiness.  Junior Wells: Why Are People Like That, had nice bass extension that played with authority although was a tad muddy.  The vocals sounded natural and the harmonica was really dynamic.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback, had good deep bass with lots of authority.  Vocals had good texture, and the snaps were nice and dynamic.  Listening proved that they were great performers, and sounded much better than $100 pair of headphones should, and would give models costing close to double their price a run for their money. 

The Audio Technica ATH-M50x came in a great looking package with photos of the product and it's features and specs. Opening the box revealed the headphones, owners manual, soft case, 1/4" adapter, and multiple detachable cords. Construction was mostly made with plastic. The quality and fit and finish was very good. MSRP $239.

Features and specs:
  • Proprietary 45 mm large-aperture drivers with rare earth magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils
  • Critically acclaimed sonic performance praised by top audio engineers and pro audio reviewers
  • Exceptional clarity throughout an extended frequency range, with deep, accurate bass response
  • Circumaural design contours around the ears for excellent sound isolation in loud environments
  • 90° swiveling earcups for easy, one-ear monitoring
  • Professional-grade earpad and headband material delivers more durability and comfort
  • Collapsible for space-saving portability
  • Detachable cables (includes 1.2 m - 3.0 m coiled cable, 3.0 m straight cable and 1.2 m straight cable)
  • Top choice for studio tracking and mixing, as well as DJ monitoring and personal listening
  • Also available in white (ATH-M50xWH) and limited edition blue (ATH-M50xBL)

  • TypeClosed-back dynamic
    Driver Diameter45 mm
    Voice CoilCCAW (Copper-clad aluminum wire)
    Frequency Response15 - 28,000 Hz
    Maximum Input Power1,600 mW at 1 kHz
    Sensitivity99 dB
    Impedance38 ohms
    Weight285 g (10 oz), without cable and connector
    CableInterchangeable cables: detachable 1.2 m - 3.0 m (3.9' - 9.8') coiled cable, detachable 3.0 m (9.8') straight cable and detachable 1.2 m (3.9') straight cable
    Accessories IncludedProtective carrying pouch, 6.3 mm (1/4") screw-on adapter

    The Audio Technica ATH-M50x is a true Studio Monitor design. The earcups fully rotated 180 degrees, and also flipped over. The Audio Technica ATH-M50x has the features that studio and audio engineers as well as DJ's look for. They were also very comfortable to wear, and easy to adjust. I loved the detachable cables. Not only were they detachable, they were very high in quality. Two cables were included. One was standard, and one was longer and coiled. The soft case was quite nice as well.  They were very comfortable to wear with the soft leather ear cups.

    Fresh Air V: Creatures of Levania had nice bass extension and played with good authority with excellent low level dynamics.  The flute was clean with good air and very good resolution.  Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue, threw a big soundstage.  Imaging was very good, and the brass was smooth.  The clarinet was really clean, the piano sounded natural, and the bari sax had good texture.  Junior Wells: Why Are People Like That, the bass had really good extension and played with authority.  The vocals had nice texture, and the harmonica had nice harmonics and was very dynamic.  The soundstage was nice and wide.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback, had very good low end extension that played with lots of authority.  The vocals sounded very natural with very good imaging, and were smooth with nice texture. 

    Next up is the Fang Wang 3000 Active Noise Cancelling headphones. They use four separate mics for the best performance. The large earcups fit over your ears and are very comfortable. Not only does the built-in battery power the Active Noise Cancelling, it also has another setting and provides a powered bass boost.

    Features and specs:
    -4 way noise cancelling
    -Duo Jack for pass through listening
    -6db active bass boost
    -Hardshell case

    The Fang Wang 3000 came in a nice looking box with photos of the product, along with its features. Opening the box revealed a great looking product. It was mostly made of plastic with some metal. Quality of materials, as well as fit and finish, were very good. I really liked the use of metal hinges, to fold them smaller in size. I also liked the semi-hard zippered case that gives excellent protection. Also included was the owners manual, 1/4" adapter, and airplane adapter.

    Fresh Air V: Creatures of Levania, had good output from the good bass extension.  Flute was really clean and smooth, with very good resolution.  The soundstage was fairly big with good imaging.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue had a big soundstage, clean clarinet, and smooth brass.  Imaging was very good and the piano sounded very natural.  The resolution in all of the instruments was very good.  Junior Wells:  Why Are People Like That, bass had good extension.  Vocals had nice texture, and the harmonica was really clean and had good resolution.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback, had nice low end bass that had nice punch and authority.  Vocals had nice harmonics and were very natural sounding, and were quite dynamic.  Imaging was quite good as well.

    Testing out the bass boost proved to provide more than bass boost.  While it does boost the bass, it performed more like a regular headphone amp or loudness button.  Moving the switch to bass boost actually amplified the other frequency ranges.  This did increase the level of noise, it was minimal.  texting the Active Noise Cancelling feature proved it performed as advertised for the most part.  The 4 way system using 4 microphones worked well.  They claimed 95% reduction in ambient noise.  Like all other active noise cancelling systems, they filter out and remove the low end frequencies.  The Fanny Wang 3000 was no exception.  It did not remove all of the background noise, just the low frequencies.  And while 95% seemed a bit high, they did perform very well.

    The Audio Technica ATH-OX7AMP is an on the ear model with a built-in headphone amp. It is smaller in size then the other models in the shootout. But while they are physically smaller in size, they are designed to NOT be so in sound. Having a built-in headphone amp is a unique feature.

    Features and specs:
  • 40 mm drivers for clear & natural high fidelity sound
  • Built-in high-output headphone amplifier provides more clean power and volume for greater detail, clarity and faster dynamic response 
  • Includes two detachable cords – one regular and one with in-line mic, volume & controller for smartphones and music players like Android phones, iPhone, iPad and iPod 
  • Flat, tangle-free cords 
  • Padded headband conforms to the shape of your head to provide a stable fit for a better listening experience 
  • Carrying pouch included

  • The Audio Technica ATH-OX7AMP came in a nice looking box with pictures of the headphones as well as its features and specs, as usual. Also included was the owners manual, battery, two cables (one of which has built-in mic and smartphone controls), and soft case. Quality of materials was very good, as well as fit and finish. Materials used were mostly plastic with some metal. The leather ear cups were very soft and comfortable. Wearing them was also very comfortable.

    Fresh Air V: Creatures of Levania, had nice bass extension and authority.  The flute was very smooth and clean with very good resolution.  Low level dynamics were very good.  They also threw a nicely wide soundstage with good imaging.  Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue, gave a very big soundstage with excellent imaging.  Brass was smooth without being overly brassy.  The piano was natural, very dynamic, and had nice texture in the bari sax.  Junior Wells: Why Are People Like That, bass had very good depth with good output.  Vocals sounded extremely natural with very good texure.  The harmonica was really clean with great resolution and dynamics.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback, the bass was punchy with good authority.  Vocals sounded natural with very good harmonics and texture.  Resolution was very good!

    Testing the built-in headphone amplifier revealed an amp that worked very well.  It boosted all of the frequencies and not just the bass.  While it did as advertised, purists would more than likely tend not to use it as it also introduced more noise into the sound.  Sitting in a quite room I can see it not being used.  But if you are in a loud environment and need to increase the volume, I can see using it.

    Last but not least is the Sennheiser Momentum. The Momentum's are an over the ear design. While they are an ordinary design, they are far from ordinary. Sennheiser managed to make an extremely durable product that also looks amazingly elegant!

    Features and specs:
  • Connector Jack 3.5 mm
  • Impedance 18 Ω
  • Frequency response 16 - 22000 Hz
  • Sound pressure level (SPL) 110 dB
  • THD, total harmonic distortion < 0.5 %
  • Contact pressure 2,8 N
  • Ear coupling circum-aural
  • Cable length 1.4 m and1.2 m - unilateral - detachable
  • Transducer principle Dynamic, closed
  • Weight 190 g
  • Load rating 200 mW

  • The box gave a good idea of the premium product it is. Packaging was premium with high resolution photos of the product along with features and specs. Opening it revealed the owners manual, and the brown semi-hard zippered case. Inside the case was custom molding in the case to hold the Momentum's perfectly. There was also a small compartment to hold the extra cable and 1/4" adapter. I liked the detachable cable, and two cables were included. One was a standard cable, and the 2nd cable has a built-in mic and controls for your smartphone. Materials used were excellent in quality, comprising of plastic, metal, and exquisitely soft leather on the ear cups. The cables also twist to lock into place, so they won't accidentally be pulled out.

    Listening to Fresh Air V: Creatures from Levania showed excellent low bass extension with very good authority.  The flute had excellent resolution even being able to hear tonguing.  Soundstage was nice and wide, while imaging was also nice.  I loved the texture in the strings thru the crescendo.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, soundstage was absolute huge with excellent imaging and very dynamic.  Piano was very natural.  The resolution in all of the instruments was very good.  Percussion was nice and crisp.  Junior Wells: Why Are People Like That, Bass had excellent extension with good output.  Vocals had very good texture and sounded extremely natural.  The harmonica had excellent resolution and dynamics.  Soundstage was big and imaging was spot on.  Percussion was crisp.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback, low end extension had good depth, delivered nice dynamics with good punch.  Imaging was really excellent, with very good texture in the vocals.  They sounded natural with excellent harmonics.

    All of the products in this part of the shootout sounded great.  I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the Soul Transform at their low $100 price point, with them being focused for workout duty.  After all, just because you are working out doesn't mean the sound should be overlooked.  The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x provided the great sound that sound engineers and enthusiasts have come to expect.  The Fang Wang 3000 while providing good sound, provided additional useful features such as the bass boost and Active Noise Cancelling.  The Audio Technica ATH-OX7AMP provided a truly unique feature having a built-in headphone amp.  Many enthusiasts employ a headphone amp to give that extra power to better power the drivers.  Here Audio Technica has built this directly into the headphone.  And last but not least the Sennheiser Momentum provides the stellar sound we are accustomed to hear from them.  And the ivory earcups are just stunning!  Based on their design, features, quality, and performance, the Soul Transform has earned our Recommended Award.  The Audio Technica ATH-M50x and Fanny Wang 3000 have earned our Highly Recommended Award, and the Audio Technica ATH-OX7AMP and Sennheiser Momentum have earned our Editor's Choice Award.  For more info and complete specs, check out their website at,,, and