Head Fi Thingies

I bought some serious-money head-fi (headphone hi-fi) thingies recently and I thought I might share some views on these. (Serious money is of course a relative term; you can actually buy online from a shop in PJ a headphone that will set you back RM8K, or from the U.S, one for the princely sum of $20K).

I bought 2 circumaural (full over the ears) headphones – the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (RM900), and TASCAM’s TH-02 (RM290), and the Beyerdynamic DX 160 iE (RM500), which is an in-ear headphone. I also bought online the GoVibe Magnum (RM1,000), a USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) which also doubles as a headphone amplifier.

In testing, the source was my MacBook Pro Retina connected via USB to the GoVibe Magnum. Songs included FLAC versions of Enya’s Fallen Embers, and Dead Can Dance’s Return of the She-King, both which I would consider as progressive atmospheric music.

Well, the DT 770 Pro stumps the Tascam of course in musicality, soundstage and bass. The opening bagpipes sounded shrill in the Return of the She-King; I would say the Tascam sounded a wee bright. Surprisingly, the Tascam was on par with the Beyerdynamic in terms of dynamics. This is not to say the Tascam is a lame headphone. Indeed it has been reviewed many times and been recommended as an entry level studio monitoring headphone. As comparison, I dusted out my old (9 years old) Sennheiser circumaural HP which costed me 300 Aussie bucks then. Yes, the Tascam is better in every regards.

My last significant acquisition of a bud earphone was the 2007 version of the Bang & Olufsen’s. So I guess it was time again to upgrade from all the “free” earphones that came with my smartphones, and I parted with my hard-earned cash for the Beyerdynamic DX 160 iE. Googling it reported many nice reviews.

As comparison, I listen to the earphones that came with the HTC M8 phone, and the earphones that was supplied with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8 Pro. Poor: their midrange is muddled and recessed, and their bass is limited and lagging. I guess, what do you expect? HTC and Samsung are selling the phones; the accompanying earphones are just an afterthought.

For fun sake, I bought an in-ear earphone for RM32 at the Popular Bookstore Book Fair now going on at 1Borneo to compare. The Cliptec earphone was at least 2 steps better than the 2 “free” earphones. I actually enjoyed the overall musical interpretation by this RM32 baby.

So how was the DX 160 iE? Let me put in this way: The MP3s in your iPhone are of far higher quality audio that what you have heared through your “free” earphones. And if you want to fill your smartphone with higher resolution files like FLAC and AAC, you really have to invest in a better earphone. The DX 160 iE sound staging is better and more balanced, has more bass (though a bit muddy), smooth but laid back treble, and anice mid-range. In short, you will hear your songs better (more definition).

Note: A nod to Simon Chong at Simon2u. The Tascam and big Beyerdynamic headphones were supplied by him.

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