Easter 4 – Friday
I am a headphone/earphone/canalphone junkie. I like to compare and contrast them all given how much music I listen to.
For example, the cheap Yamaha and Panasonic “closed” headphones we have at home here are quite frankly, not very good at all. Sound detail is lacking, things sound very “tinny”.
On the other hand, my Technics RP-DJ1210 and Pioneer SE-DJ5000 cans sound great. Well rounded sound, with nice definition in the bass (they are after all cans designed for use in clubs by DJs). Very nice for modern rock and the world of electronic/dance music.
In terms of portable earphones/canalphones, my first ever encounter into the world of portable audio sound was a pair of Sony MDR-E888LP earbuds. For the price I paid, about RM250 (about A$100, which at the time was an astronomical amount for a 14 year old kid) these opened up new levels of detail in the hip-hop I listened to at the time. Bass was a lot tighter, more defined, a lot louder and the snare hits were sharp and what you’d expect. Vocals were much clearer and less muffled. So since then, my collection has only grown larger (and those beloved E888’s are now only pulled out every now and again for use whenever I feel nostalgic).
I’ve quickly moved on from using earbuds (which are hopeless for noise reduction in busy places) to using canalphones. The first ever pair were Sennheiser CX300s (the first model) which opened up even more detailed sound in bass and in the high frequencies. While predominantly aimed at the modern music listener, I found them surprisingly good for the choral music and chant that I was beginning to get into as well. And then they died on the trip to Hong Kong at the end of 2007. Upon which I picked up a set of Audio Technica’s which were great for sound detail, but lacking in SPLs and the canaltips would never fit in my ears properly. Which was a pity because I did quite like the sound profile of them.
And then on the same trip, I subsequently picked up a pair of Shure SE210 in-ear monitors which provided me with the best soundstage I have heard from my low-to-mid range canalphones but which don’t exactly sound natural. Great isolation from the world though, especially with the foam tips.
And again on the same trip, once I arrived in Singapore I picked up a set of near-CX300 looking Creative EP630 canalphones which were my default buds for a year or so until I picked up Sennheiser’s CX500s (CX500) for real cheap (AUD$95 as opposed to the retail price of AUD$150) when some stores were running out the model. These are now my default set of portable phones and will continue to be alongside a new pair that I will alternate with, a pair of Ultimate Ears Metro.Fi 150s (MF150) which I picked up for AUD$69.95 at Dick Smith Electronics.
So for reference, here’s a quick review. Based upon my listens through both phones and the following music samples (with volume at 10 on my Creative Zen Vision:M and no EQ on at all):
- “Acknowledgement” – John Coltrane, from the album A Love Supreme
- “Master of Puppets” – Metallica, from the album S&M
- “Unrequited” – Metheny Mehldau from the album Metheny Mehldau
- “Diablo Rojo (Live)” – Rodrigo y Gabriela from the album Live in Japan
- “Tripod Baby” – m-flo loves Lisa from the album Award Supernova: Loves Best
- “Salve Festa Dies” – Benedictine Monks of Downside Abbey from the album The Best Gregorian Chant Album … Ever!
- “Inevitable” – Anberlin from the album Cities (Deluxe Edition)
- “Your Name High” – Ben Cantelon from the album Complete: Live Worship from Soul Survivor 2008
- “Queremos Paz (Live)” – Gotan Project from the album Gotan Project Live
- “Chicago” – Sufjan Stevens from the album Illinois(e)
“Acknowledgement” has some very nice soundstage separation between left and right channels. Double bass and the drum section are well defined (nothing overpowers each other) and when Coltrane comes in on his sax, things are sounding very very “live”. Warm sounding all around. Impressed already given these MF150s aren’t even burnt in yet.
“Master of Puppets (Live)”: soundstage again is unbelievable. Stereo separation is phenomenal. Bass is a bit bloated. Hetfield on vocals comes through nice and clear. Highs are sounding a bit tinny in this. Then again, this might be due to the fact that the S&M album is one of the first albums I encoded in VBR mp3 and it was based on the annoyingly useless Xing mp3 encoder rather than LAME. Note-to-self: re-encode album. San Francisco Symphony is coming through the mix quite nicely amidst the madness and chaos of Ulrich on drums, Newsted on bass and Hammett & Hetfield’s soloing.
“Unrequited”: the initial guitar notes from Metheny don’t hit me with as much impact as when I’ve heard it through other cans. Mids on this track are sounding right in the sweet-spot. Mehldau on piano is coming through nice and clear with good definition of each note played. Even more impressed.
“Diablo Rojo (Live)”: live album is sounding great. Is reproducing the live atmosphere very well. Gabriela’s mad rhythm guitar is well balanced against Rodrigo’s soloing. On the Senns, there’s an element of the rhythm guitar overpowering the guitar solo. For an acoustic track, I am even more impressed. Feel like I’m right there in the midst of the crowd in Japan during the recording.
“Tripod Baby”: some 2-step in the JPop style. Bassline is unbelievably defined and tight. It isn’t as bloaty. Hi-hats are crisp and clear. Lisa’s vocals are again, nicely defined but they are a bit overpowered by the bassline. Verbal on the lines is coming through nice and clear, but he’s sounding a bit back in the mix. It does sound quite “natural” though. It’s a weird feeling hearing it through these rather than the CX500s.
“Salve Festa Dies”: the monks are in fine sounding form here. Organ is well balanced against the melodic flow of the chant. I feel as though I’m in the abbey church where the recording is taking place.
“Inevitable”: One of my favorite Anberlin tracks. This mix isn’t as bass-heavy as I would have expected. Violin parts are coming through nicely without being lost in the mix amidst the vocals, guitar and bass. Nice separation between each instrument is coming through these phones. Again, impressed.
“Your Name High (Live)”: Live atmosphere is being recreated in my head atm. Feel like I’m at Soul Survivor amidst the crowd singing out “WOAH! WOAH!” at the beginning. But once everything else comes in… The drum and bass lines are very prominent. Cantelon’s voice isn’t as pronounced as he is on the Senns… what’s goin’ on? *confused*
“Queremos Paz (Live)”: The bandoneon is sounding very nice. Feel like I’m actually at the Gotan Project concert. Drumline is very crisp and attacks quickly. Bassline isn’t as bloated as I expected. Most of the live tracks seem to be where these cans shine.
“Chicago”: Good ol’ Sufjan. The chaos of this track is well reproduced. All instruments and vocals are balanced nicely. The little organ and glockenspiel that are on during the verses are clear. The drum line is very well defined. Kick, snare, toms, hi-hats and crashes all are separate. Even more impressed. The detail these cans are revealing is astonishing me for something not yet burnt in.
“Acknowledgement”: First things first, these are undoubtedly louder than the MF’s. Hi-hats at the beginning are crisp and clear. Bassline is punchy and the piano is coming through with a great deal of clarity. Separation between left and right tracks is dead on. Coltrane on sax is coming through the left channel with so much soul, I’m shaking. The MF’s compare well to the CX500s, but they aren’t as good (yet). We’ll see further when they’re burnt in. When the toms are struck, I can feel the sticks hitting the skins with these. That’s how “in the room” I feel when listening to this track on the Senns.
“Master of Puppets (Live)”: Soundstage on these is unbelievable. Bass is a bit more defined than on the MFs. These canalphones capture the live recording feel more than the MFs do. Again, I need a higher VBR bitrate rip of this album. Will have to get around to doing that soon. The CX’s win for this track.
“Unrequited”: the initial guitar notes from Metheny are flooring me. The tone of the picks is just spot on. The CX’s win over the MFs in this jazz track anyday. I can hear Metheny’s change of frets with the Senns. This level of detail was lost in the MFs.
“Diablo Rojo (Live)”: Gabriela’s mad rhythm guitar is all over Rodrigo’s soloing. I can feel the boomy bass of Gabriela’s strikes on her guitar body with these (that isn’t as present with the MFs). But like the MFs, I feel like I’m right there in the midst of the crowd in Japan during the recording. I feel like I need to drop these down a notch volume wise to make it more comfortable to listen to. But the detail in the chord changes and solos with these canalphones keep me coming back for more…
“Tripod Baby”: The mix on this is more balanced than on the MFs. Lisa’s vocals are way more prominent against the background of the mix in comparison to the MFs. Bassline is even more defined, punchier and “rounded” against the MFs.
“Salve Festa Dies”: This is almost a dead heat between the two phones. The monks are more pronounced in the mix on the Senns than they are on the MFs. The ambience however still is as good as on the MFs.
“Inevitable”: This mix is as bass-heavy as I would have expected. Bassline at the beginning is much more prominent but the vocals in the verse aren’t lost in the mix. Guitar strums are clear and defined. Violin parts are coming through much nicer than on the MFs. Like the MFs though, there is good separation between each instrument. Just that these phones do it better.
“Your Name High (Live)”: Live atmosphere is more pronounced. The soundstage is very open and like I’m mid-way in front of the main stage at Soul Survivor 2008 at the beginning. But the Senns do a better job of balancing Cantelon’s voice against the drum and bassline imho. Having said that, the recording engineer should have pushed the bassline further back in to the mix. But that’s just me.
“Queremos Paz (Live)”: Live tracks are where the Senns shine. And the CX500s (like the others in the CX range) do extend bass response far more than regular canalphones. The bass sits back a bit more and lets the bandoneon rock your world. The drums sound nicer on the MFs though. Weird…
“Chicago”: All instruments and vocals are balanced nicely, like on the MFs. But again, bass response is far higher than the MFs. There is more detail in each instrument that I can hear though. The drivers in the Senns seem to separate out the instruments better.
Overall opinion? For AUD$70, the Metro.Fi 150’s shine at that price point. They come close to the higher price point canalphones (which do deliver in terms of more detail and natural sounding soundspace). I’m looking forward to burning these in more and seeing how things develop. In fact, I think these Ultimate Ears canalphones kick the CX300s that I had. I just wish that they were around back then…
Hoping that these MF150s will last though because I’ve heard horror stories of the MF150’s little brother, the MF100’s breaking down after half a year when one side of the phones just die. Then again, I wonder if that’s due to user incompetence in using and taking care of them or the actual hardware stuffing up…
On another note, thanks for the messages on Facebook people. You know who you are. =)
+ bf 1150hrs