Sunday, April 23, 2017

@Upstairs Audio In Columbia SC

To start I'd like to thank David @Upstairs Audio in Columbia for being such a gracious host, this was a first for me. I've never had the chance to look around a real high end audio store before, nor get a chance to really listen to some top of the line 2 channel speaker set ups before. I know I was really excited, and probably a bit of a burden, non the less David was more than ready to let me spend a little time with quite a few of their speaker set ups and get a chance to do a brief listen through their Grado product line. 


Here's their case, they sold everything form the SR 60E right up to the RS2E and the PS500E. I had my Hifiman HM901 and iBasso PB2 with me along with my Nhoord Red V1 for comparison. This is by no means a review, but more of my initial impressions with each headphone! 

SR 125E

Tone of each of the first 3 SR series headphones is pretty consistent, each move up the ladder brings a better bass quality. With the SR 125E having the best bass presentation. I settled on the G Crush pads in the end, with those pads I found a sound similar to my Nhoord Red V1, fun bass with a warm forward midrange, and a nice sense of top end sparkle. The biggest loss in the SR125E from my Nhoord V1 Red was depth in sound stage, but at around half the price I felt these were still a great entry point for any one curious about the Grado Sound! I also listened to the SR60E with the L Crush pads, and I honestly felt that they and the SR 80Es are also a good place to start. The biggest difference being that my Superlux HD 668B left me more impressed than either of those did.


PS500E

Wow, these had an abundantly aggressive forward sound. Out of the line up that I had to try, these had by far the MOST exciting sound. I also preferred them with G Crush Pads, I found them to add a nice sense of space to the PS500E along with a more balanced presentation of it's very aggressive forward mid range. The bass was very solid, a good step up from my fun Nhoord.


Most impressive of all was the Grado RS2E, I enjoyed the best with the L Crush Pads. There was really no comparing these to my Nhoord Red V1, they had a more intimate mid range with an equally spacious sound stage. A tighter bass, with better top end extension and detail throughout the entire presentation! By far, these were phenomenal to listen to with my HM901 & PB2 combo. It was a bit hard to put these down that day as well, as they had a dynamic quality to them similar to my HE 4 but without the need for a high output amplifier, nor the bulk. While I'd imagine that compared directly to the HE 4, the RS2E wouldn't be as impressive, just by it self it was beautiful to listen to, That's what impressed me the most, to have a beautifully dynamic spacious presentation, without the bulk and weight of a full sized headphone!

My time with the Grado's was short lived, as I also wanted a chance to hear the Planar Magnepans they had set up! 



I used my Hifiman HM 901 as a source, into their Rouge Audio Cronus. The team their did a great job placing ECC 82 tubes into their pre stage! The Maggie 1.7s I listened to were phenomenal, they offered me the same quality of sound that my HE 4 has, but being speakers with a more palpable presentation. I can feel the low notes of the Cello in my legs, my arms and my chest, and the weight of the shifting notes of the sax against not only my ears but across my face. These like my HE 4 can really raise the hairs on the back of your neck. 

The MMGs pictured next to the bigger and more impressive 1.7s were also pleasant. They offered a similar presentation that the Grado RS2E did, except it was room filling! A great point of entry for speakers I think, and something I could certainly see my self owning.  The MMGs are just big enough to fill up their building with a very balanced natural sound,  while they offered little to no tactility they were just pleasant to listen to, something that I'd appreciate while cooking or hosting guests! They didn't suffer from having as powerfully defined a sweet spot as the 1.7s did. 



I ended my time with David by listening to the Maggie 3.7s, Powered by a pair of Rouge Audio M180 mono blocks, these were by far the most natural sounding set of ANYTHING I've yet to hear. David and I sat at the back of a well lit room, and enjoyed some music sourced from my HM 901, and I heard details in my music that I was not familiar with! In particular, the breath taken by pianist Igor Levit as presented in the Goldberg Variations album, was a sound I'd hear before on my HE 4... but only the Maggie 3.7s presented it free of the lingering decay of his playing. For a brief second, he paused took a quick breathe and began again. And going back to hear it on my HE 4, sadly that breathe did not stand out as naturally as it did on the Maggie 3.7s, it didn't sound as... real! 

So, having a new sense of what top of the line sounds like, I returned home, really in awe of both the impression those 3.7s left with me as well as how beautiful the Grado RS2E sounded. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The SuperDuper Superlux HD668B


Available for right around $40, the Superlux HD668B is hands down my favorite entry level open back headphone. As some one who started out with a Beyerdynamic DT 990, my cost of entry to the world of audiophile headphones ran me right around $250. That was for both my headphone and the little amplifier I needed to power it properly. What makes the Superlux HD668B so amazing, is that it offers a similar sound as the DT 990, clean, clear and wonderfully detailed without sacrificing bass, for significantly less money AND without the need for an amplifier! 

You can purchase here on Amazon for $39.95



Specifications

Drive Type: Semi Open Back
Frequency Response: 10-30kHrz
Sensitivity: 98 dB SPL/1mW
Maxium Power Input 300mW
Impedance:  56 Ohm
Weight 7.8oz (222 grams)
Cable: Removable 1M & 3M 
Plug Adapter: 3.5mm to 6.5mm (1/4 inch)



The Superlux HD 668B comes in very simple packaging. Cardboard box, with the brand and product name on the front. Specifications are listed on the back side, and the left panel has depicts what is included inside.







Accessories include a 1M and 3M female to male 3.5mm TRS along with soft plastic cloth carrying bag. Given the cost, I'm very happy to have the addition of the adapter and two cable lengths! 







The design is simple, reminiscent of AKG, and more importantly it fits almost every one. I've never personally had an issue with the wing system, though I've owned a few Audio Technica Headphones myself so I'm used to it.


A detachable cable, and easier to power driver make it easy to pair the Superlux HD 668B with a variety of sources. I've enjoyed it with my LG V20, my Audio GD NFB10ES2 and even my New Nintendo 3DS. With each, the quality of sound and total volume was beyond sufficient. For music play back I've primarily used my HM 601, and I will be using that as my primary source for the sound portion of this review.

I also purchased a KetDirect 4.5ft BlueCloth cable terminated to a right angle 3.5mm, I happen to prefer a right angle 3.5mm for my needs and if you need something different you're free to upgrade and swap cables how ever you see fit!





With a $40 cost, I'm satisfied with the build quality of the HD 668B, the plastic is sturdy with some flexibility to it.








The wing system bends and allows the cups to place themselves just over the ear, and the ear cups also flex and rotate to further help with the fit.









My only qualm with the HD 668B is quality control, sadly my first pair had a very loud resonance on the left driver from around 230-250hrz. I simply returned that one and repurchased another pair from amazon. Thus far I haven't had any problems with the replacement.










On the plus side, the pads are also removable and easy to swap out! I've yet to change mine out, but doing so does offer changes to the overall sound, so for this review I'm using the stock pads.


I find the stock pads to be plenty comfortable, even in the heat and humidity that's common here in the south eastern United States. Being semi open, the headphones do block out some central to higher frequency noise, things like fans and traffic. However you can still hear people speaking, vehicles and the rumble of heavy to light machinery. I've walked around my house while cleaning, or working with no issues. I've also spent some time at the gym with them, and while the sweat from the pads was problematic, the lack of noise was not. I was able to focus on my music, while still having enough audible awareness of those around me.



Sound

For the purpose of this review, I paired the HD 668B with my Hifiman HM 601.

The overall tone of the Superlux HD668B is Cold and Dry, I find it's presentation to be very Bright and the overall sound signature is a fun neutral. Measurements show that it has a slight v shape to it's frequency response.

I really love the bass of the HD 668B because it gives a wonderful speed and texture to a variety of drums. It even stays true to the power of an electric bass and the warmth of a stand up bass. My favorite moment with them, was finally getting to really HEAR the bass line in Metallica's The Shortest Straw, in addition to some intimate fret action added into one of my favorite bass solo's. Synth Sub bass lines are the only draw back to the HD668B bass presentation in my opinion. I enjoy the extra speed and hardness that the HD668B has to it's bass response.

The mids are very dry, however out of my HM 601 I found a wonderful timbre to many brass wood winds. Trumpets, the sax and even flutes all had a very life like presentation, trumpets maintained a metallic edge without sounding tinny. The Alto and Tenure Sax both had excellent body and bite. The bright presentation of the HD668B also presented the quick breath taken in-between each note. It is problematic with stringed instruments. Heavy Metal riffs had a nice crunch, but not real bite to them. Acoustic guitars, while having great timbre in the lower notes, had a very uneven sound overall and the same can be said for almost all stringed instruments. The harmonics of many of those instruments were lost in the overall presentation of the HD 668B.

Top end clarity is another pleasurable quality of the HD 668B, high hats, cymbals and the brightest guitar solos all have a wonderful sense of clarity and air. While some may find the treble to be too hot, or too bright, I really do like the shimmer that the HD668B brings, really makes you feel like you're walking on air.

Sound stage presentation is very wide, but lacks some depth. Left, right and center separation are excellent and though it lacks depth, the Superlux HD 668B holds you more or less equidistant from each instrument. On tracks with a very strong sense of depth it is audible, but it is by no means top of the line.

It's lack of depth is often overshadowed by it's amazing mirco detail or transparency, it's a headphone that will certainly add a sense of atmosphere and ambiance to your music. An let you really hear EVERYTHING.  With the Superlux HD668B the devil, is certainly in the details! Good or bad, the Superlux HD 668B brings detail, if it's captured, chances are you'll hear it. This is also true of the equipment that you pair the HD 668B to, my HM 601s warmth helped to improve the tone of the HD668B, it softened a very stiff bass, and helped balance out the low to central mids.

In conclusion, the HD 668B is an incredibly transparent and fast headphone. While it's a tad drier than neutral, it pairs very well with a lot of entry level source and amplifiers, so chances are you'll probably not notice a lot of what I have,  and best of all it's $40!!! So not only is it a total steal for this level of transparency, but it's also a fun headphone to own! There are so many ways that you make little adjustments to how the HD 668B sounds, from the cable you use, to the pads, to your source, to your amp, and if you own tubes I'd imagine it would be a blast to listen to tubes with! All in all, I highly recommend the Superlux HD 668B.

For a more in depth review, and a song by song break down with comparisons to other headphones, check out the in depth review here at Headfi.com