Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 Annual Headphone Shootout Part 1: Over The Ear Models




March Madness is in full swing, which means that it’s time for our annual Headphone Shootout. We have some excellent models this year that encompass over the ear, in the ear, wireless, and even gaming. To keep things simple, we are going to have the categories as over the ear and in the ear. With March Madness, the teams are seeded based on performance. With the headphones, they are priced based on performance. Sometimes there are surprises and upsets with March Madness, we’ll see if there are any surprises with our shootout. And we will start with the over the ear models.


First we will start with the Audio-Technica ATH-W599BT. Audio-Technica has been known for many years for providing a big bang for your buck. With a MSRP of $249, these wireless headphones appear to keep the trend going. Thanks to apt X, they should be a good performer as well.

Features and specs:

  • Bluetooth wireless technology with mic and music and volume controls built into the earcup for answering/ending calls, controlling music & video playback and controlling volume on Bluetooth wireless devices

 

  • Remembers up to eight devices and automatically connects with the last paired device

 

  • Employs aptX® sound-improvement technology, specifically created to yield the best-possible audio performance over Bluetooth transmission

 

  • Double Air Chamber System naturally expands bass output for powerful bass without sacrificing audio clarity

 

  • Large 53 mm drivers for outstanding sound quality

 

  • Built-in, high-quality headphone amplifier ensures clear and accurate sound reproduction from the wireless signal

 

  • Precision-machined aluminum housings eliminate vibration for extremely accurate sound reproduction

 

  • Soft, memory foam earpads provide a comfortable fit with outstanding sound isolation

 

  • Smooth, easily adjustable headband slider ensures a comfortable fit

 

  • Internal battery provides six hours of continuous use (200 hours on standby) on a full charge

 

  • 1.2 m (3.9') cable with mic/controls provides a wired connection for when wireless operation is prohibited (e.g., in airplanes or hospitals) or when battery power is low

 

  • Includes 1.0 m (3.3') USB charging cable

Type
Closed-back Dynamic
Driver Diameter
53 mm
Frequency Response
8 – 26,000 Hz
Sensitivity
105 dB/mW
Impedance
37 ohms
Battery
DC3.7 V lithium polymer rechargeable battery
Battery Life
6 hours continuous use (200 hours standby) 
Charging Time: Approx. 3 hours (for 0-100% charge)
Weight
275 g (without cord)
Cable
1.2 m (3.9') with 3.5 mm stereo mini-plug
Connector
3.5 mm (⅛") stereo mini-plug
Accessories Included
1.0 m (3.3') USB charging cable, pouch
Type (Microphone)
Condenser
Sensitivity (Microphone)
-44 dB (1V/Pa at 1 kHz)
Frequency Response (Microphone)
50 – 4,000 Hz
Polar Pattern (Microphone)
Omnidirectional

 

·        


·         Communication System: Bluetooth Version 3.0+EDR 
Output:
 Bluetooth Specification Power Class 2 
Maximum Communication Range:
 Line of sight - approx. 10 m (30') 
Compatible Bluetooth Profiles:
 A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP 
Support Codec:
 SBC, aptX, AAC 

The Audio-Technica ATH-WS99BT came in a nice looking printed box with photos of the headphones and their features and specs. After opening the box, I could see they were well protected in custom plastic molding. Materials used in the construction was mostly plastic, with some metal in the headband, and the headband felt a lot like leather. The earcups were memory foam. The quality of the materials was very good. The fit and finish was also very good. The earcups on each side did pull out from each side of the headband, as expected to give the right fit. But I was a little surprised to see there weren’t the usual stops at different lengths to hold it at specific lengths for your individual fit. Also included was a charging cable, wired cable with in-line mic and controls to use with your Smartphone, and a carry bag and owners' manual.

Klipsch is a brand that has a history of providing quality products that is almost a century long. If you don’t know a lot about a product you are buying, and you find that Klipsch has a model, more than likely it is a very safe bet to be a quality product. The same can be said for their headphone line. Up for review is their Klipsch Reference Over Ear Bluetooth headphones. They are also value priced at only $249 MSRP







Features and specs:
  • Unique 40mm Klipsch Balanced Dynamic Drivers
  • Up to 20 hours of battery life
  • Integrated mic with cVc®
  • aptX and AAC high-definition Bluetooth streaming
  • Removable Ear Cushions
  • Removable Flat Tangle-Resistant Passthrough Cable
  • Foldable Design
  • Hard Shell Zip Carrying Case

·         Style:   Closed-Back Over-Ear

·         Driver Design:  Patented Klipsch Balanced Dynamic (KBD)

·         Driver Components:   Full Range KG-L40

·         Driver Diameter:  40 mm

·         Mic/Remote:  cVc® 6.0 Integrated Microphone & Controls

·         Cable:   48" Tangle-Resistant Flat Cable

·         Frequency Response:  15Hz-20Hz Sensitivity (1mW) 110 dB

·         Power Handling:  100 mW Impedance (1kHz) 32 ohms

·         Input Connections:  3.5 mm

·         Battery:  400 mAh, 20 hr

·         Weight: 272g

·         Colors:  Black, White

·         Includes: • Reference Over-Ear Bluetooth® Headphone • Travel Case • 40" Micro-USB Cable • 48" Passthrough Cable

·         Bluetooth® Specifications • Version: Bluetooth 4.0 • Profiles: Multipoint A2DP, AVRCP, Multipoint HFP • A2DP Codecs: SBC, AAC®, aptX® • Range: Up to 10m (33 ft.) • Input Rating: 5V DC, 0.5A • Battery Status: iOS Battery Status Monitor

The Klipsch Reference Over Ear Bluetooth headphones came in a great looking printed box with photos and specs of the headphones. Opening the box revealed a really nice hard Zipper case. Materials used was mostly plastic with a leather like covered headband, and earcup covers with memory foam. Quality of materials used was very good, as was the fit and finish.  Included in the box was a wired tangle free cable and charging cord, as well as the owners manual.  I also liked the detachable earcups so they can be replaced if needed.

Next up is a pair I am pretty excited about. It is the HiFi Man HE400S. HiFi Man does not use the traditional dynamic drivers in their headphones. Instead they use a planar driver. Planar drivers are typically not very efficient, and are usually found in expensive models. But with the HE400S, HiFi Man is bucking this trend, as they are very efficient as well as only $299 MSRP!


 
Features and specs:

Frequency Response : 20Hz – 35KHz 
Sensitivity : 98dB 
Impedance : 22 Ohms 
Weight : 350g 
Cable Length : 1.5 m 
Plug : 3.5mm/6.35mm

The HiFi Man HE400S came in a nice printed hard cardboard box with photos of the headphones. When I opened the box, I found the headphones well protected in a custom foam cutout. The materials used were mostly plastic, with some metal and soft plastic in the headband. The detachable cable is braided cloth covered. Quality of materials used was good, as was the fit finish of the headphones. The quality of the cables is excellent. The build quality of the headphones was just a tad under what I would expect at the price point. But given what they were at this price point, I was excited. I'm sure they had to cut some corners to fit the HE400S in this low price point. They also had a black painted metal mesh on the exterior of the earcups that allowed you to see the planer driver inside.

Germans are known for their world class engineering. But it isn’t just with automobiles. They know audio as well. This is the case with Beyerdynamics, makers of high quality headphones. They also do gaming as well, with their MMX300 gaming headphones.


Features and specs:

Headphones
Transducer type
Dynamic
Operating principle
Closed
Nominal frequency response
5 - 35.000 Hz
Nominal impedance
32 Ω
Nominal T.H.D
96 dB
Klirrfaktor
< 0,2%
Power handling capacity
100 mW
Sound coupling to the ear
Circumaural
Ambient noise attenuation
approx. 18 dBA
Nennandrückkraft
approx. 3,5 N
Microphone
Transducer type
Condenser (back electret)
Polar Pattern
Cardioid
Frequency response
30 - 18.000 Hz
Length mic boom
approx. 150 mm

 

General
Weight without cable
294 g
Length and type of cables
1.2 m (3.9 ft) cable with remote control
1.2 m (3.9 ft) Y-extension cable for PC single-sided
Connection
Gold-plated mini stereo jack plug (3.5 mm) & 1/4" adapter (6.35mm), extension cable with 2 separate mini jacks for line and microphone
Accessories included
detachable cable with remote control, extension cable for PC, Premium carrying bag
Retail price
299,- EUR

The Beyerdynamic MMX300 came in a nice color printed box with photos of the gaming headphones and their specs. Upon opening the box, I found a well protected premium gaming headphone in a hard zippered case. Materials used in the construction was mostly plastic and metal. The earcups are a very soft cloth. The metal gooseneck mic has a foam windscreen on the end. Quality of materials used were very high, as is the fit and finish. The Beyerdynamic MMX300 felt very well made in hand, which is what I would expect from being made in Germany. Also included was a cable for PC Gaming.

I liked the design of the Beyerdynamic MMX300. The detachable cable has built-in volume control and mic. I would have liked to see the mic as detachable. But it does rotate up and out of the way. The mic is also much better than expected. The earpads don’t use memory foam, but memory foam does tend to get really warm after extended use. So for long tournament play, standard foam would be better. The hard zipper case is also great!

Blue is another big name in sound products, especially microphones. Now they do headphones, and have been for a couple years now. Their first model was a game changer in the Blue Mo-Fi headphones. Now their updated model is the Blue Sadie. It has the features that are liked, only updated.
 
Features and specs:

  • Built-in audiophile amplifier for true high-fidelity sound on any device
  • 50mm drivers custom-tuned for a superior soundstage
  • Refined personalized fit for superior comfort
  • Sealed over-ear design for immersive isolation
  • Racecar-inspired multi-jointed headband design keeps earcups parallel at all times for superior comfort and sound
  • Powers on and off automatically when headphones are opened and closed
  • Rechargeable battery provides up to 12 hours of playtime; Sadie continues to play music even when battery has no charge

DRIVER SPECS

  • Type, and physical size: 50mm, fiber-reinforced dynamic driver
  • Impedance: 42 ohms
  • Frequency response: 15Hz-20kHz
  • Enclosure details: Sealed enclosure with tuned damping materials

AMPLIFIER SPECS

  • Output power: 240mW
  • THD+N: 0.004%
  • Frequency response: 15Hz-20kHz
  • SNR, self noise: >105 dB
  • Noise: < 20 uV
  • Battery capacity: 1000mAh

HEADPHONE SPECS

  • Weight: 444 g (15.67 oz)
  • Outer dimensions (closed): 21cm x 14cm x 12cm; 8.27” x 5.51” x 4.72
  • Outer dimensions (open): 18cm x 29cm x 12cm; 7.09” x 11.42” x 4.72”

INCLUDED ACCESSORIES

  • Soft case with cable storage pocket
  • 1.2-meter audio cable with Apple iPhone/iPad controls and microphone
  • 3 meter audio cable
  • 1 meter USB charging cable
  • 3.5mm to 1/4" adaptor

The Blue Sadie came in a great looking printed box with photos of the headphones, and its specs. Opening the box revealed a well protected headphone sitting in a custom molding. Materials used in the construction was mostly plastic and metal, with leather earcups and headband, padded with memory foam. The Quality of materials used was very good. The fit and finish is excellent. The Blue Sadie are premium headphones, that is built like a tank and it shows! Also included was a standard cable, cable with in-line remote, charging cord, and owner’s manual.



I absolutely lover the design of the Blue Sadie. When Blue designed their headphone, they started from the ground up, totally thinking out of the box. And the design shows! The design of the headband with the multiple joints, provides a headphone that gives you the perfect fit. The built-in headphone amp gives the extra power boost needed for the best sound when you are listening to a low power device, like a smartphone. I also really like the 3 different setting for the built in amp and pass through, on and bass boost.

Last but not least is the Sennheiser HD 630VB. Sennheiser needs no introduction as a headphone manufacturer. Their products keep getting better and better. But so have our audio demands, especially with the new Hi-Res Audio. The new Sennheiser HD 630VB is designed for use with Hi-Res Audio.

Features and specs:

·         Wearing style

Headband 

·         Ear coupling

Circumaural 

·         Jack plug

3.5 mm (straight) 

·          

o    Cable length

1.2 m 

o    Transducer principle

Dynamic Closed 

o    Bass Boost

+/- 5dB at 50 Hz 

·         Impedance

23 Ω 

·         Frequency response (Headphones)

10-42,000 Hz 

·         Sound pressure level (SPL)

114dB (1 kHz/1Vrm) 

·          

o    THD, total harmonic distortion



o    Contact pressure

5.5~6.8N 

o    Weight w/o cable

400g 

Microphones

·         Frequency response (Microphone)

100-10,000Hz 

·         Pick-up pattern

Omni-directional 

The Sennheiser HD 630VB came in a great looking color printed box, with photos of the headphone and it’s features and specs. Materials used in the construction was mostly metal, with some plastic. The earcups and headband uses leather and memory foam. Quality of materials used is excellent. The same is true for the fit and finish. The build quality is excellent. The cable is also very high quality. Unfortunately it isn’t detachable, which is a bit surprising at its price point. Also included is a hard zipper case and owner’s manual.

I love the design of the Sennheiser HD 630VB. They are a DJ design with the swivel earcups that also fold in for easier storage. The headband is comfortable, as is the memory foam and leather earpads. I love the metal construction. But as a bit of a bass-head, I love even more the Bass boost controls. I can’t wait to try it out!


For song selection, we thought we would mix some new school with some old school.  We'll start with twenty One Pilots: Heathens, then go to Kansas: Carry On Wayward Son, and Fresh Aire: Going To Another Place.  And we will begin with the Audio-Technica ATH-WS99BT, followed by the Klipsch Reference Over The Ear, HiFi Man HE400S, Beyerdynamic MMX300, Blue Sadie, and Sennheiser HD 630VB.  And maybe we will have some surprises of our own in performance.

First up is the Audio-Technica ATH-WS99BT.  Twenty One Pilots: Heathens, the vocals were smooth and had nice harmonics.  Percussion was crisp and dynamic.  Bass was very full, deep, and had good impact.  Kansas: Carry On Wayward Son, had nice harmonics in the smooth vocals.  The keyboard sounded just a tad bright, cymbals were crisp and dynamic.  Kick drum had good depth and impact.  Fresh Aire: Going To Another Place, strings were crisp and clean, with good resolution.  Piano sounded very natural.  Flute was very smooth with lots of air.  Drums had nice depth and impact.

Next up is the Klipsch Reference Over The Ear.  Twenty One Pilots: Heathens, vocals were natural and were only a tad bright.  percussion was very crisp with good dynamics.  Keyboard had nice harmonics.  Bass was clean with good depth and authority.  Kansas: Carry On Wayward Son, vocals were very smooth with very nice harmonics.  Keyboard sounded natural.  Kick drum had some depth and authority.  Percussion was very dynamic.  And it threw a nice sized sound stage.  Fresh Aire: Going to Another Place, strings were really crisp and clean with very good resolution.  Piano sounded very natural.  Flute was really smooth with a lot of air, and good resolution with the breathing.  Drums had nice low end extension with good impact.

Now it's time for the HiFi Man HE400S.  Twenty One Pilots: Heathens, vocals were very smooth, natural, with excellent texture and resolution.  Piano sounded very natural, with nice low level harmonics.  Percussion was extremely crisp with very good resolution.  Bass was tight, with good impact, extension, and authority.  Soundstage was quite large with excellent imaging.    Kansas: Carry On Wayward Son, vocals were silky smooth with excellent harmonics and texture.  Keyboards sounded natural, and the cymbals were crisp and dynamic.  Kick drum had good impact and played with some authority.  The soundstage was big with very good imaging.  Fresh Aire: Going To Another Place, strings were extremely crisp and clean with excellent resolution of the strings.  Piano sounded very natural with very good natural tone.  Flute was extremely smooth like honey, with lots of air and plenty of resolution to hear the tonguing technique.  Drums had nice depth and impact, and played with some authority.  Soundstage was big with very good imaging.

Now it's the Beyerdynamic MMX 300's turn. Twenty One Pilots: Heathens, vocals were just a tad bright, with very good texture. Piano sounded natural and was very smooth with nice harmonics. Percussion was crisp and clean.  Kick drum was really clean, tight, with good depth and authority.  Kansas: Carry On Wayward Son, had very good harmonics and smoothness to the vocals.  Kick drum had very good depth, tight impactful bass that played with a lot of authority.  Keyboards were very crisp and natural.    Cymbals were very crisp and very dynamic without being too bright.  Fresh Aire: Going To Another Place, the strings were very crisp and clean and only a tad bright, and had very good dynamics.  Piano sounded very natural with nice tone.  Flute was very smooth with lots of air and nice harmonics.  Drums had very good depth and impact, with lots of authority.

Next up is the Blue Sadie.  Twenty One Pilots: Heathens, vocals were very smooth, natural sounding, with very good texture and resolution.  Piano sounded very natural with good harmonics.  Percussion was extremely crisp and very dynamic. Bass was extremely full, very deep, tight, and played with tons of authority.  Kansas: Carry On Wayward Son, vocals were smooth as honey with very good harmonics and texture.  Kick drum had very good extension, impact, and played with a lot of authority. Keyboard had very good resolution and was not bright.  Cymbals were crisp and dynamic.  Soundstage was quite large and imaging was very good.  Fresh Aire: Going To Another Place, strings were extremely crisp and clean with very good resolution and dynamics.  Piano was very natural with very good tone.  Flute was very smooth with tons of air and resolution, easily being able to make out the tonguing technique.  Drums had very nice low end extension with a very full sound that was tight and played with lots of authority.  I liked the large soundstage with excellent imaging.

Last but not least is the Sennheiser HD 630VB.  Twenty One Pilots: Heathens, vocals were very natural with excellent texture and resolution and were just a tad bright.  Piano was natural with nice tone.  Percussion was very dynamic and crisp.  Bass was extremely full, had excellent extension, very good impact, and tons of authority.  Kansas: Carry On Wayward Son, vocals were extremely smooth with excellent harmonics, resolution, and very natural sounding.  Keyboard sounded very natural, crisp, and clean.  Cymbals were very dynamic.  Kick drum had excellent low end extension with almost chest pounding impact with tons of output.  Soundstage was large with very nice imaging.  Fresh Aire: Going To Another Place, strings were so crisp and clean they were life-like and highly dynamic.  Piano was very natural sounding with excellent harmonics.  Flute was silky smooth with tons of air, and plenty of resolution to hear the tonguing. Bass was surprisingly very deep, very full, very clean, and really hit so well that I could actually feel the vibration in the earcups!

All in all, these were all good sounding headphones.  And the manufacturers pretty much nailed it with their pricing.  There were some surprises though.  The Audio-Technica ATH-WS99BT sounded a bit better than their price point of $249.  And they had a more neutral sound to them overall.  And the Bluetooth performance was amazing!  I easily paired with my HTC One M8 Smartphone.  And placing my HTC in a central point on the 1st floor, I was able to walk all over my house within 30 feet of it and up to a half dozen walls between me and the HTC One, and not a single hiccup.  So, I had to test it's range.  I decided to walk out to the end of my cul-de-sac.  Almost half-way there and a couple hiccups in connection, but still playing.  Close to the corner, and at the corner, I had a couple of hiccups.  But even standing at the corner, I was able to hear my music.  So for $249 they are a real bargain!

The Klipsch Reference Over Ear was also accurately priced at $249.  It had a tad warm, smooth, and refined sound to it.  I was able to walk around my house in the same fashion as before, with only the occasional hiccup.  So Bluetooth performance was good.  Going outside and attempting to walk to the corner, I started getting some hiccups at about 40 feet.  And at about 50, it disconnected.  So still good performance.

The Beyerdynamic MMX 300 priced at $349, was very well priced as well.  The sound was just a tad on the bright side, and had lots of bass.  With it being a gaming headset, they were designed to sound just like they should for the games and the explosions in them.  The resolution was very good.  Using them for gaming, the sound was amazing.  I was also expecting to hear from the guys that were being played with in the game, that they could also hear me better than the much cheaper set I was using before.  But they could not tell.  I'm guessing that either their headsets didn't pick up the difference in sound with the better mic that the MMX 300 came with.....or they weren't listening too carefully.  The extra good news is while they are awesome for gaming, they do great double duty as regular headphones for music!

The HiFi Man HE400S with it's price of $299 is a great price also.  It's the first headphones that I have seen that uses a planar driver at this low of a price.  And the overall sound was pretty neutral.  It's headband design also made it very comfortable, especially with the soft velvet earpads.  The detachable cables were very high quality.  But the plastic earcups did seem a bit cheap.  I guess to get a planar driver at this point...some corners had to be cut.

Blue's Sadie had a very neutral overall sound as well.  The MSRP is $399, which is quite a bargain!  Their new from scratch design with a very unique headband with multiple pivots gave a perfect fit every time!  It also has a built-in headphone amp that while giving a slight improvement to the sound, it mostly gave a big boost to the volume.  And it also has a bass boost setting that worked well.  The bass boost did only work with the built-in amp engaged.

Last but not least is the Sennheiser HD 630VB.  With an MSRP of $499, it is a premium product, and the build quality shows.  I was just surprised that the cable was not detachable at this price point.  The sound was just a tad on the warm side overall.  And I really liked the controls built-in on the right earcup.  I especially liked the bass boost dial where you can choose the amount of boost to your personal preference.  I loved this ability.  But having it on the max setting often times gave a bass that while loud was slight muddy.    The good thing is it has a dial, so when it happens, turn down the bass a little.

The contenders in this years over the ear models of our annual Headphone Shootout performed very well, as we expected.  I think our surprises in this years models were the Audio-Technica ATH-WS99BT, the HiFi Man HE400S, and the Blue Sadie.  Of the other models, we knew the Klipsch Reference Over Ear would give a refined sound we have come to expect from Klipsch, that the Beyerdynamic MMX 300 would give a great sound that could do a lot more than just cover gaming duty. We also knew that Sennheiser would provide a reference sound that their name is known for.  But the Audio-Technica sounded better at their price-point than expected,  their Bluetooth performance was much better than expected for their price point.  The HiFi Man HE400S also performed better than expected at their price point.  I loved the cable quality, and the sound quality of the highs and mids.  I just would have liked to have heard a little more output in the bass, and see a slightly better build quality in the earcups.  I knew the mids and highs were going to be exceptional with the planar driver.  It was just a hair short, like making it to the Final Four, and missing the game winning shot as the time expired.  The Blue Sadie surprised in the sound quality, coming just about equal to the planar driver.  Yet they had very good bass output, and were built like a tank!  Based on their design, features, quality, and performance, the Klipsch Reference Over Ear has earned our Recommended Award, the Audio-Technica ATH-WS99BT, Beyerdynamic  MMX 300, and HiFi Man HE400S has earned our Highly Recommended Award.  The Blue Sadie and Sennheiser HD 630VB have earned our Editor's Choice award.  Kudos to these manufacturers for such great products.  For more info and complete specs, check out their websites at www.audio-technica.com, www.beyerdynamics.com,  www.bluemic.com, www.hifiman.com, www.klipsch.com, www.sennheiser.com.



 

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