life tech

in search of the ultimate Headphone

Since I’m working in the field of audio recording and reproduction in its various forms for more than 12 years now, I often find myself in the need of an excellent headphone. Checking signals, tracking, mixing, or just listening to music while traveling, I often need headphones.

Working in studios with excellent monitoring for years, my demands are quite high, and so far I haven’t been fully satisfied.

But let me tell you my story here:

I started out with Sennheiser HD 250 II headphones, which were excellent, although really large. I used them for 8 years and loved them. Then I lost them, tragically, at a ball in Viennas City Hall I was working at.

Next came my quest for headphones with, what I call, active isolation. Bose QuietComfort 3 were first. They did an excellent job in noise cancellation, to the point where plain rides were really quiet. But the actual headphone, while quite pleasant to wear, sounded really, really bad. Individual notes on piano sonatas (like Rubinstein playing Chopin) jumped out of context, sometimes distorting (and I don’t listen very loudly).

So I sold those on eBay, and bought a pair of Monster Beats Studio by Dre, that I imported from the US (They weren’t available in mainland Europe at the time). Excellent headphone. Fantastic noise cancellation, especially in the lows (Bose were better in the mids and highs). The sound was great too. But: After about 3 months use, the right earpiece sometimes made mechanical noises on certain notes. It wasn’t a linear process. Listening to uncompressed live signals would trigger the noise more often than compressed CD playback. Also the whole soundscape seemed a little hyped and strained.

At the same time I got a second piece of headphones: AKG K702. I had the K701 before for home listening and the 702 were altogether better. A brilliant, lively headphone, especiall with a tube headphone amp. Just one flaw: Little bass. Maybe I’m too used to closed headphones, but the AKGs didn’t cut it for me in that regard.

So, the quest continues, with me selling the Dres and buying Beyerdynamic DT-150s. Soundwise the best headphone I had so far. Perfect, in my opinion. Pronounced midrange, tight bass, not too bright like Sennheiser HD 800s or the top-of-th-line Ultrasones. Just right. Problem here: they clamped down on my head pretty hard, hurting me after 30 minutes of wear, which happens, on planes and on trains.

Sold those and just today got a brand new headphone: Aiaiais TMA-1. A danish manufacturer. The pretiest headphone so far. Clean, understated design. No logos, no gimmiks.  A beauty. Sound: Voices sound great, fantastic even! But: no highs. And I mean: no top end, period. I should have known reading the frequency chart in some reviews. So, I’m sending them back today, and still searching for the ultimate headphone. Any suggestions? Shure’s new line is supposed to sound great! I’ll let you know.

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