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Old headphones fell apart, looking for new ones & some questions
RB.
post Jul 18 2012, 00:12
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So it's my first post here, and I apologize for it being a long one, but I've got a lot to say and ask.

Several years ago I bought my first good set of headphones, the Sennheiser HD 555's for about $80 new and foam modded them. They were really cheap at the time. Unfortunately, over the course of time, they started cracking at both sides of the headband, much like in this picture.



This is a really common problem with them. For me, it happened whenever I'd turn the cups even a little, which was almost unavoidable. Eventually, more chipped off and caused noticeable cosmetic damage and it was apparent that the headphones were about to disassemble themselves. I gave it about a day to a couple weeks before they were unusable.

When I picked them up the next day, one of the cups had completely fallen off and was hanging by a wire. The drivers are fine, they work great, but the headphones are unusable because the cheap plastic just couldn't last.

I enjoyed the sound quality quite a bit overall considering they were my first good headphones, but I was left wanting more at times and the bass felt underwhelming. I'm not terribly concerned with bass in the first place, but I just can't help but feel it was a decent bit below the quality of everything else.

This time, I'm looking to spend a bit more money, but I'm not sure what to get or what I should be expecting. I was looking at Sennheiser HD 650's, but they're definitely on the high end of how much I want to spend on headphones at what seems like about $400 new and I fear they might fall apart the same way the 555's did. Even worse, I've been seeing online at various places like Head-Fi that I would "need" to get a $500 amp along with it! That's absurd and is beginning to approach the cost of the much more expensive HD 800 when you add them up. I don't know almost anything about amplifiers, but it seems ridiculous to me that anyone could suggest an amplifier that is nearly as much as, or in this case more expensive than, the headphones themselves! Do they truly make that much of a difference, or are they only something people should bother with if the volume isn't loud enough?

Are there any other suggestions for good headphones in the $200-350 range? What should I be expecting from what I get? Are the 555's about what $200 headphones should sound like now that they're at that price, or were they more what good $100 headphones should sound like? Will I see a noteworthy (read: audible) increase in quality now that I'm willing to spend a good bit more? Are there any other "tricks" that make the headphones currently selling sound better than they were intended to?

I'm mainly going to be listening at home, on my computer, and sound leakage isn't really an issue to me. 95% of the time, there's practically no sound going on around me, but I'm still kinda willing to go with a set of closed headphones because it can be quite annoying when there is, so if a particularly outstanding set is within that price range, I'd be more than willing to settle with them. I am not interested in earbuds of any sort and I primarily listen to rock/metal and electronica. Generally stuff more along the lines of house and trance rather than dubstep. I'm almost never going to be listening to anything less than 256kbps mp3s and a lot of my active listening will be with FLACs. I would much prefer to hear things as accurately as possible, even if that's caused a decent bit of frustration with the occasional set of fake 320kbps mp3s and low quality studio recordings.

I've done a good bit of research, but I'm still somewhat lost and quite afraid of being ripped off. After finding out Sennheiser used the same drivers for an $80 product that they used in a slightly prettier $200 product and simply put a piece of foam over it to make it sound worse, I became a bit paranoid that people were regularly getting screwed if such a big name was trying to pull this off. Inbetween the highly subjective reviews from people who seem to be following the crowd of their local forum, the ridiculous and nonsensical products such as $30K headphone cables, the deceptive marketing crap, and the complicated, made up terms used to describe sound that may or may not actually mean anything, the audiophile world has been painted to me as something very shady where people may not know what's really good and what isn't until after they've spent hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars on what could be a total scam. It's a real shame, because I, and many others, are simply normal people who want to enjoy and appreciate sound, and I'm very thankful for the fact that forums like this exist and show the other side of the coin.

With that said, a few more questions to wrap up this post.

Are "burn-ins" real? Do they actually do anything, or is it just a placebo thing? One of the main reasons I ask this is because after using these old, terrible iPod earbuds for the past few days, the sound seemed quite terrible at first but didn't seem nearly as awful after I began to adjust to it. Certainly, it's nothing like the Sennheisers and never will be, but I felt the illusion of increased sound quality despite knowing they were exactly the same.

And the last question, what exactly are DACs, in plain English? I mean, I know what they are. They convert digital to analog. I don't fully understand what that actually means, but my understanding of it is that it takes what exists digitally on something like a CD player or a hard drive and translates it to a format that allows headphones to make sound. Doesn't this happen already? So what's the point of a DAC, to make it more unfiltered than the crappy built-in ones? Are the effects of this noticeable and worth the purchase along with the kind of headphones I'd be buying?
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DVDdoug
post Jul 18 2012, 01:07
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If you are picky about sound, I always recommend that you go to a store and listen before buying. A "better" or more expensive headphone might not sound better, and more importantly, it might not sound better to you.

If you search this forum, you'll find lots of headphone suggestions. GoodCans.com also has recommendations in various price ranges, with not too much audiophile nonsense. But of course, they only recommend headphones that they sell.

QUOTE
I've been seeing online at various places like Head-Fi that I would "need" to get a $500 amp along with it! That's absurd...
You're right! The purpose of an amplifier is to amplify. And ideally, it shouldn't alter the sound in any way (unless it has a crossfeed control, or something like that). However if the impedance of your soundcard or portable music player is not low enough, the impedances can interact and affect frequency response. So there are cases where an amp can improve sound. If you do need a headphone amp, you don't need a $500 one! With modern electronics it's cheap and easy to build a very good headphone amp. Of course, if you build and distribute in small quantities, and you put it in a nice aluminum box, it could legitimately end-up selling for a $100 or more. But, for $500, I could buy a 500 Watt (or more) power amp!

QUOTE
And the last question, what exactly are DACs, in plain English? I mean, I know what they are. They convert digital to analog.
A basic DAC does exactly that, and a stand-alone DAC generally connects to a separate amplifier. A digital signal comes-in, and an an analog signal comes out, usually to RCA connectors. Some DACs have built-in headphone amps, and some headphone amps have built-in DACs. Some DACs have USB connections, and others have S/DPIF. Soundcards have both a DAC and ADC. A home theater receiver has a built-in DAC. Every CD player, DVD player, and every iPod has one built-in. Again, it's cheap and easy to build a very-good DAC. If your computer has a noisy soundcard, a stand-alone DAC will probably improve the sound. But, if you don't hear any defects in your current setup, you are not going to hear an improvement with a "better" DAC.

QUOTE
Are "burn-ins" real? Do they actually do anything...?
I think it's nonsense. I've never seen a scientific test showing it makes a difference. And if burn-in is needed, the manufacturer should do it... How can the manufacturer publish a spec if the specs/characteristics change after leaving the factory? Where I work (non-audio electronics) we burn-in everything at 50 degrees centigrade for one week, we
re-test before shipping. This is NOT because it improves (or changes) performance in any way... It's done to weed-out any early failures before they reach the customer.

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Jul 18 2012, 01:15
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dhromed
post Jul 18 2012, 09:25
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QUOTE
This is a really common problem with them.


Weird, my 555's show no signs of that particular crack, as far as I know. The hard parts are in perfect shape; it's just got completely just worn out pads (because they're approaching something like 7+ years now). And I selected them especially because of the extraordinarily punchy, physical bass, as opposed to the muddy whoomps of all the other phones I tried that day (Including some luxurious Beyerdynamic for twice the price and zero sound quality increase).

The only relevant age problem I have is that something's faintly resonating in one cup given certain bass frequencies. I'm not experienced with headphone DYI, so I do't know if it's fixable by simply glueing something in place.

QUOTE
And the last question, what exactly are DACs, in plain English?

It takes the sequence of sampled numerical values from a digital source and reconstructs the smooth signal as voltage variations that are the analog of the pressure variations of air (which is sound). These variations then interact with the speaker driver, vibrate the air and thus produce sound.
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RB.
post Jul 18 2012, 13:48
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QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Jul 17 2012, 20:07) *
If you are picky about sound, I always recommend that you go to a store and listen before buying. A "better" or more expensive headphone might not sound better, and more importantly, it might not sound better to you.

If you search this forum, you'll find lots of headphone suggestions. GoodCans.com also has recommendations in various price ranges, with not too much audiophile nonsense. But of course, they only recommend headphones that they sell.

Thank you, will look into that site. The problem with going to the store and listening to some good ones is they usually don't keep the more specialized stuff and opt for the cheap $5-40 things most people will want. I'd probably have to find a dedicated audio place or something as I know local electronics/music stores don't have them. I've always ordered things online and went by reviews/ratings, but everything is so subjective with headphones that what people generally prefer seems to be different from site to site. Very unusual, if you ask me.
QUOTE
With modern electronics it's cheap and easy to build a very good headphone amp.

Ah, man, I've never made any sort of electronic stuff in my life tongue.gif If it's necessary, I'll go look up a Youtube video and I should be able to figure it out from there.
QUOTE
if you don't hear any defects in your current setup, you are not going to hear an improvement with a "better" DAC.

I think part of the problem is that I'd not be entirely sure what to look for. I wouldn't be able to tell if an error in sound is due to the DAC, a need for an amp, or the headphones themselves. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to get some basic things if I feel anything doesn't sound right, just to have them for the future if nothing else.
QUOTE (dhromed @ Jul 18 2012, 04:25) *
Weird, my 555's show no signs of that particular crack, as far as I know.

I don't know what causes it. It could be that they're being stretched for hours at a time. I'm kinda tall and have a big head, and I wore them basically all day unless I was in a car or something. I wasn't rough with them and didn't drop them on the ground or anything.

Putting "Sennheiser HD555 crack" into Google Images turns up quite a few results of it cracking, always in the same place and often on both sides, like mine did. Here are a few results.
QUOTE
And I selected them especially because of the extraordinarily punchy, physical bass, as opposed to the muddy whoomps of all the other phones I tried that day (Including some luxurious Beyerdynamic for twice the price and zero sound quality increase).

A quick Google search of "Sennheiser HD555 bass" turns up mostly results of people unsatisfied with it. I guess it really comes down to preference, lol. It just stood out to me from the rest of the headphones and I didn't like the feel of it.
QUOTE
QUOTE
And the last question, what exactly are DACs, in plain English?

It takes the sequence of sampled numerical values from a digital source and reconstructs the smooth signal as voltage variations that are the analog of the pressure variations of air (which is sound). These variations then interact with the speaker driver, vibrate the air and thus produce sound.

I see.
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skamp
post Jul 18 2012, 14:09
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QUOTE (RB. @ Jul 18 2012, 14:48) *
QUOTE
With modern electronics it's cheap and easy to build a very good headphone amp.

Ah, man, I've never made any sort of electronic stuff in my life tongue.gif If it's necessary, I'll go look up a Youtube video and I should be able to figure it out from there.


I think he meant that you can find good (already built) headphones amps for cheap (50-150 euros), like the FiiO E7 or the Objective 2 (O2). Expensive amps are usually expensive because they have a huge markup, due to a limited number of units, and possibly to appeal to audiophiles, to whom "expensive" is synonymous with "superior" (see the $500 amp recommendation).


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dhromed
post Jul 18 2012, 14:13
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QUOTE (RB. @ Jul 18 2012, 14:48) *
I guess it really comes down to preference, lol.


Another reason why you shouldn't pick your primary aural devices from a list of items on the interwebs. You should go out and listen to them.

Speculative: maybe the HD555 had a bad and a good production run. It happens. In the end I've never been more satisfied than with my HD555.
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trout
post Jul 18 2012, 16:29
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QUOTE (RB.) *
QUOTE
If your computer has a noisy soundcard, a stand-alone DAC will probably improve the sound. But,
QUOTE
if you don't hear any defects in your current setup, you are not going to hear an improvement with a "better" DAC.

I think part of the problem is that I'd not be entirely sure what to look for. I wouldn't be able to tell if an error in sound is due to the DAC, a need for an amp, or the headphones themselves.

Internal soundcards are far more susceptible to electrical interference, due to their close proximity to all of the surrounding devices. So the point is not actually about the quality of the DAC, but moving the sound reproduction gear outside of the PC to a more shielded environment. What to look for? Instead of trying to detect "an error in sound", listen for "an error in silence". You can even measure the amount of noise by doing a recording with no inputs.
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zima
post Jul 18 2012, 16:30
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QUOTE (RB. @ Jul 18 2012, 14:48) *
QUOTE (dhromed @ Jul 18 2012, 04:25) *
And I selected them especially because of the extraordinarily punchy, physical bass, as opposed to the muddy whoomps of all the other phones I tried that day (Including some luxurious Beyerdynamic for twice the price and zero sound quality increase).

A quick Google search of "Sennheiser HD555 bass" turns up mostly results of people unsatisfied with it. I guess it really comes down to preference, lol. It just stood out to me from the rest of the headphones and I didn't like the feel of it.

Hm, preference, and perhaps reinforced by a large portion of general population for whom it mostly boils down to "more bass = better sound"? (not entirely unlike "more expensive = superior" of audiophiles, or particularly analogous to the usually unbearably high "exposition defaults" of contrast and saturation in TVs)
As far as personal impressions go: I'm not sure if I tested this particular Sennheiser model - but several years back, when comparing two dozen or so headphones, I generally perceived the bass of Sennheisers as a bit overdone, preferring seemingly more "subtle" approach of AKG... (and by chance, some time later, my room mate was a rock band bassist who shared with me that perception, and practised using AKG headphones)

Generally, WRT to your immediate problem RB.: adhesive tape. It keeps the universe together, what's a pair of headphones? tongue.gif (well, though it's better to use it before they disintegrate, immediately when cracks show up; IIRC I prolonged the life of one headphones like that for 2 years or so)

This post has been edited by zima: Jul 18 2012, 16:31


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hlloyge
post Jul 18 2012, 16:51
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QUOTE (dhromed @ Jul 18 2012, 10:25) *
The only relevant age problem I have is that something's faintly resonating in one cup given certain bass frequencies. I'm not experienced with headphone DYI, so I do't know if it's fixable by simply glueing something in place.


That's probably your hair touching the driver. Remove it smile.gif
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dhromed
post Jul 18 2012, 16:52
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I will glue it into place.
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DVDdoug
post Jul 18 2012, 21:10
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QUOTE (skamp @ Jul 18 2012, 06:09) *
QUOTE (RB. @ Jul 18 2012, 14:48) *
QUOTE
With modern electronics it's cheap and easy to build a very good headphone amp.

Ah, man, I've never made any sort of electronic stuff in my life tongue.gif If it's necessary, I'll go look up a Youtube video and I should be able to figure it out from there.


I think he meant that you can find good (already built) headphones amps for cheap (50-150 euros)....
That's right... I wasn't suggesting that you build one yourself. I'm saying it's cheap and easy for a manufacturer to build one, and that a more expensive headphone amp might not sound any better than a cheap one, or any better than your existing cmputer/soundcard.
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Phlogiston
post Jul 18 2012, 21:32
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QUOTE (RB. @ Jul 18 2012, 00:12) *
Are "burn-ins" real? Do they actually do anything, or is it just a placebo thing? One of the main reasons I ask this is because after using these old, terrible iPod earbuds for the past few days, the sound seemed quite terrible at first but didn't seem nearly as awful after I began to adjust to it. Certainly, it's nothing like the Sennheisers and never will be, but I felt the illusion of increased sound quality despite knowing they were exactly the same.


My guess is that your ears are adjusting and compensating for the inadequacies of the kit. When I listen to elderly recordings, at first I hear the surface noise or the low frequency range of the original recording, but then I hear more of the music. Similarly if I hear good music through less than prime quality stuff, my ears adjust.

It's an economical trick of my ears.
P

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stephan_g
post Aug 4 2012, 14:02
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QUOTE (dhromed @ Jul 18 2012, 10:25) *
Weird, my 555's show no signs of that particular crack, as far as I know. The hard parts are in perfect shape; it's just got completely just worn out pads (because they're approaching something like 7+ years now).

Chances are yours are so old that they still date from before the Sennheiser factory fire, after which production of these models was moved from Ireland to China in a hurry. Should be nominal 150 ohm units then, easily confirmed with a multimeter. I'm guessing that the plastic used in the Chinese factory is of inferior quality.
QUOTE (dhromed @ Jul 18 2012, 10:25) *
And I selected them especially because of the extraordinarily punchy, physical bass, as opposed to the muddy whoomps of all the other phones I tried that day (Including some luxurious Beyerdynamic for twice the price and zero sound quality increase).

On a low-impedance output, 150 ohm HD555s should sound almost exactly like modern-day HD598s. I found the amount of bass in these just about right on a low-impedance output, significant output impedance would probably turn them into basshead cans.
QUOTE (dhromed @ Jul 18 2012, 10:25) *
The only relevant age problem I have is that something's faintly resonating in one cup given certain bass frequencies. I'm not experienced with headphone DYI, so I do't know if it's fixable by simply glueing something in place.

Usually something like this is caused by foreign objects in the driver or the foam cover, e.g. a hair. HD555s should be less susceptible to stuff getting into the drivers than my trusty HD590s, which have almost their entire driver front exposed (only covered by foam). I used to clean hair out of those quite regularly when I was younger. It seems to have gotten much less necessary, partly because I tend to be inspecting the foam before use and partly because I have (and lose) less hair nowadays.
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Nichtswisser
post Aug 21 2012, 01:16
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I had a pair of Sennheiser HD 555 too and they broke precisely at the same area, I guess it's what we in Germany call "Sollbruchstelle", means it's an area build to break sooner or later. I would not buy another pair of Sennheisers for that reason alone. After my HD 555 broke down I as well had to lock for something to replace them. I tested AKG k701, Sennheiser HD 600, and the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO. The HD 600 had a good sound and were comfortable, yet the design (made in China) seemed to be the same cheap China plastic junk full of "Sollbruchstellen". I also heard lot's of complains about the mini-connectors connecting the cable to the headphones. Next in line were the AKG k701, great sound quality and ability to locate the position of different sound, very impressive when listening to classic music with lot's of instruments. The production values (made in Austria) also seemed to be considerably higher. Problems were that the bass left a lot to be desired and that I found them to be rather uncomfortable to wear for longer periods of time. Next were the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, good sound quality, great bass, and a very durable and simple design made in Germany using materials like metal and leather instead of plastic for critical parts that need to endure. Overall I found them to be the best complete package and so I decided to keep the DT 990 PRO and after already using them for months I can really recommend those. They fallen down a time or two, and I've even fallen asleep with them on a couple of times, and they are still like new. Those are headphones build to endure.

PS: Don't get headphones with high impedanz and you probably won't need an extra amp to power them. 250 ohm is the upper limit you can power without an amp, for 600 ohm headphones you will almost certainly need an extra amp.

This post has been edited by Nichtswisser: Aug 21 2012, 02:07
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extrabigmehdi
post Aug 21 2012, 01:59
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QUOTE (RB. @ Jul 17 2012, 23:12) *
Will I see a noteworthy (read: audible) increase in quality now that I'm willing to spend a good bit more?


Stop reasoning this way, this can be quite misleading. I consider that there are some popular model, each one offering a particular audio experience.
What matters is your enjoyment, regardless of the technical achievement.
I have the hd800, but currently what I enjoy the most is my yamaha eph-100 which are not exactly expensive.
The thing is that I want isolation, and my hd800 doesn't offer it.
My iem are exceedingly airy, and I really don't care of full sized "open headphones", when I hear them.
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