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Perceived sound quality difference between headphones.

About a year ago, I bought a pair of Sennheiser HD600’s as I wanted something that is as close as possible to being what’s generally thought of as neutral and in my experience as far as headphones and their inherent shortcomings go, I could really imagine any objective improvement to their sound. The issues that I did start to notice is that with extended listening periods, I’d develop headaches and feel extreme fatigue that if ignored would progress even further in to nausea and anxiety that doesn’t even go away after a nights sleep. They’re uniformly considered very comfortable, so i can guess that maybe my jawline or head size just doesn’t like this style of headphone and it’s just me. I get the same mental aspects of this with iem’s as well. While I’m sure nobody can accurately diagnose this problem, it drove me back to using the one pair of headphones that I’ve always found consistently comfortable for indefinite amounts of time. The cheap, crappy EarPods that came standard with my iPhone that I’ve used various pairs for portable listening since their release. Over the course of a few days, I decided to try and compare these two headphones in as fair a way as I can since obviously a double blind test would not be even remotely possible. What I found is, removing my want for the hd600’s to sound massively better because they hurt to wear, the differences are not night and day and it’s actually really hard to see how one can retail for 40 dollars vs 440. I can definitely hear how the hd600’s extend lower in the bass region and highs. There are a few odd spikes and some kind of not so favourable reverberations with the apples that are hard to pin down, but overall the difference in practical use seems to small that I think getting used to the sound of one or the other would override the differences. Am I deaf or crazy? If such a small difference between what’s agreed on by many as the perfect headphone and what’s thought of as trash is so close, it really makes me question the entire headphones market or even the notion of putting sound quality over comfort and convenience. Perhaps something else even more important I’ve noticed is that when listening to a poor recording, I was more likely to attribute its bad sound to the earphones with Apple and to the recording with the sennheisers and I’m thinking that could be a big part of the inflated headphone market. I’m wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this.

Re: Perceived sound quality difference between headphones.

Reply #1
That's kind-of hard to read...   Did you ever think of writing in paragraphs?   :P

I generally don't find any headphones comfortable for long periods of time.  (And, I wear glasses for reading which makes it worse if I'm on the computer or something like that.)

Quote
it’s actually really hard to see how one can retail for 40 dollars vs 440.
The components for headphones are not that expensive and there are a few under $100 headphones that are considered "bargains".  

The higher-end audio stuff (of all kinds) is manufactured, marketed, and distributed in smaller quantities which makes the per-unit costs even higher.

I think the "sweet spot" is between $100 & $300, and above that it's mostly a matter of personal taste and you quickly get to the point of diminishing returns.   You might even prefer a $200 headphone over a "better" one in "blind test" where you didn't know the brand or price.  .   (I'm not saying all  $200 headphones are that good, but you can find some really good ones in that price range.). 

And after awhile, your brain adapts to the sound (to some extent).

 


Re: Perceived sound quality difference between headphones.

Reply #2
IMO for long periods of use, a good pair of IEMs is much less fatiguing than circumaural headphones due to the much lower weight, the reduced ambient noise and the lower pressure around the ears.  I am not surprised that you found a cheap pair of earbuds to be more usable over a longer period. 

You can pick up some good value IEMs for way less than the HD600s, so if that is what you like, consider shopping for a pair. 

Re: Perceived sound quality difference between headphones.

Reply #3
That's kind-of hard to read...   Did you ever think of writing in paragraphs?   :P

I generally don't find any headphones comfortable for long periods of time.  (And, I wear glasses for reading which makes it worse if I'm on the computer or something like that.)

Quote
it’s actually really hard to see how one can retail for 40 dollars vs 440.
The components for headphones are not that expensive and there are a few under $100 headphones that are considered "bargains".  

The higher-end audio stuff (of all kinds) is manufactured, marketed, and distributed in smaller quantities which makes the per-unit costs even higher.

I think the "sweet spot" is between $100 & $300, and above that it's mostly a matter of personal taste and you quickly get to the point of diminishing returns.   You might even prefer a $200 headphone over a "better" one in "blind test" where you didn't know the brand or price.  .   (I'm not saying all  $200 headphones are that good, but you can find some really good ones in that price range.). 

And after awhile, your brain adapts to the sound (to some extent).

 



I tried to reread my post and gave up halfway through, so I definitely see what you mean and thanks for bearing with it!

In my limited, subjective experience the few headphones I’ve tried over 300 dollars  I actually disliked intensely. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume I was just not accustomed to them, but they did not seem natural at all. Specifically, the hd800’s that I’d saved up for years ago and upon auditioning them couldn’t imagine how anyone could deal with that treble.

It definitely makes  sense that supply and demand could come in to play, I guess what can be taken away is that if you just want good comfort and sound quality removed it exotic materials or looks, there isn’t a purpose on spending a whole lot. Thanks for the insights.

Re: Perceived sound quality difference between headphones.

Reply #4
IMO for long periods of use, a good pair of IEMs is much less fatiguing than circumaural headphones due to the much lower weight, the reduced ambient noise and the lower pressure around the ears.  I am not surprised that you found a cheap pair of earbuds to be more usable over a longer period. 

You can pick up some good value IEMs for way less than the HD600s, so if that is what you like, consider shopping for a pair. 

Unfortunately, IEM’s cause me extreme discomfort as well, something about being sealed off from the world gives me extreme anxiety and I find they don’t feel right in my ears either, but that is probably the only other solution for maximum sound quality and comfort. It’s really disappointing because I love the sound of the hd600’s, they’re just about perfect in my subjective opinion, but I will probably sell  them as they’re useless if I can’t wear them for more than an hour.

It seems like earbuds are the most comfortable, but seem to inherently lack in bass extension and I don’t think EQ can solve that issue.

 
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