There are many types of headphones, and if you understand the pros and cons of each before you go shopping, you'll make a more informed buying decision. Closed- and open-back headphones sound very different and serve different needs. To learn more about how they differ I spoke with two engineers, Sennheiser's Axel Grell and AKG's Philipp Schuster, and thanks go out to them. Today I'll look at open- and closed-back headphones; I covered on- and over-the-ear headphones in yesterday's blog item.… Read more
Like anyone who regularly reviews headphones, I've noticed that the majority of them have no unique features or qualities. So for example, it's rare to find headphones in the T 51 P's price class that aren't made in China, but this little $289 Beyerdynamic is made in Germany. The lightweight, 174 gram, mostly metal design doesn't have a hinged headband, but the ear cups fold flat for easy storage in the supplied, beautifully designed carry case. The headphone lacks a mic or inline controls, marking it as a design intended for the serious audiophile who … Read more
Bass-emphasized headphones are now the norm, so much so that when I get to listen to more accurate headphones they really stand out. Not that I have anything against bass, readers of this blog who crave feel-it-in-your-bones bass had their turn with the JBL Synchros S700 headphones, so now it's time to go for a higher-resolution/clarity model with the new Phiaton Fusion MS 430 M-Series headphones ($179).
The earcups' carbon fiber inserts are a sleek styling touch, but the ear cushion's comfort levels are good, not great. While the headband padding may be a little lean for … Read more
If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that most people like bass, and they like more bass even more. I suppose JBL engineers know the same thing, and they made sure the new Synchros S700 over-the ear, closed-back headphones deliver incredibly deep bass.
Designwise, JBL avoided the slick, plastic look of Beats and other fashion-oriented 'phones. The Synchros S700's precision die-cast aluminum earcups look like they mean business, and the headband is steel-reinforced, so the headphones feel really solid. One other reason for that is the headband isn't hinged, so while it … Read more
The Velodyne vPulse is one of the best pair of $99 headphones I've ever listened to on the NYC subway, but it's not one I use at home or in any quiet space. Why's that?
The vPulse's overly generous bass turns me off at home, but it sounds perfectly balanced on trains, buses, cars, or planes. What those modes of transportation all have in common is lots of low-frequency rumble, and the vPulse's pumped up bass masks some of that noise. Headphones with more accurate bass response sound fine at home, but woefully bass shy on the go.
Worse yet, the very low frequency rumble on trains, buses, and so on can't be nullified by noise-canceling or noise-isolating headphones because those noises are felt through your entire body, not just heard through your ears. Bassy headphones may not be the perfect solution to the problem, but they can be surprisingly effective. … Read more
I have to admit I never really bought into noise-canceling headphones.
The name was a turnoff, they don't really cancel or eliminate noise, they reduce noise--and that's great--but so do most in-ear headphones. Better yet, those headphones don't need batteries and don't run the music signals through the noise-canceling electronics. My favorite isolating headphones sound better than noise-canceling headphones, but I haven't tested a noise-canceling headphone for a long time.
Though there are many types of full-size (circumaural) or earpad (supra-aural) headphones, for this blog I'm going to compare an open-back headphone from Grado, the SR225i ($200), with a closed-back headphone from Phiaton, the PS 500 ($299).
Sure, other manufacturers make open- and closed-back (aka sealed) headphones, but generalizations about the sound of the two types hold up pretty well. DJs, musicians, and recording engineers generally prefer closed headphones because they seal the wearer's ears, limiting how much sound they hear from the world around them, and at the same time, people close to the person wearing the headphones don't hear very much sound "leaking" from the headphones. So closed 'phones are great to wear in bed. Isolation from external sound isn't as effective as a noise-canceling headphone, but the closed-back headphone doesn't use batteries to power the noise-canceling circuitry. And closed-back headphones tend to make a lot more bass than similarly priced open-back designs.
The Phiaton PS 500's outer earcups and earpads are covered with genuine black leather, and the cloth-covered cable adds a touch of luxury to the design. It's a very comfortable and beautifully built headphone.
With an open-back headphone, like the Grado SR225i, you hear external sound quite clearly. This is a good thing if you ever want to listen on the street. Anyone near you will hear some of the sound of the Grado. Bass may not have the weight of a closed-back design, but the bass quality and definition are clearer than most closed-back designs. Open-back headphones tend to be directed to the audiophile market, but that's not to say there aren't closed models that appeal to audiophiles. For me, the biggest sonic difference is spatial: closed headphones make a sound that's "inside the head," and open models are literally more open, so they sound a bit more like speakers. The better closed headphones exhibit less of the inside-the-head quality, but they sound less open than the very best open headphone models. … Read more