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Achieving High Fidelity Sound

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Ash View Drop Down
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    Posted: 09 Mar 2017 at 12:02am
A few years ago, I began a quest to obtain genuine high fidelity sound. It started a long time before I discovered the existence of Graham Slee Projects Ltd and was inspired purely by a love of great music. The music of video game and film was my main motivation. Since then, I have bought and sold my way through a lot of equipment, in order to learn and teach myself. Here are a few photos.



The headphones featured in this first photo are the Audio Technica ATH-M50, AKG K550, Sennheiser HD600, Sennheiser HD250 (both Linear and Linear II versions). I compared them all using Graham Slee's Bitzie USB DAC and Lautus USB cable. In my opinion, the HD250 was the best sounding, followed by the HD600 then K550 then ATH-M50. The M50 had a closed-in sound with an accentuated bass response. The K550 was quite neutral in its sound IIRC but its dynamics were quite flat. The HD600 had much better dynamics than the K550 but the upper bass exhibited some thump, altering the overall tonality in a way that others would call "warm" (I would call it "not transparent"). The HD250 Linear II was maybe slightly better spatially than the HD250 Linear (Mk1) but the differences between them were very small. Both HD250 models were excellent and were the first headphones that I used that I considered to be true high fidelity and faithful to the recording. They had neutral transparent tonality and great resolution of small details. The stereo image size was also great for a sealed headphone design.



Comparing HD250I to HD600, the upper bass emphasis of the HD600 was even more obvious in a side-by-side comparison. The upper bass thumped more than it should on some of my CD tracks. It wasn't long before I sold the HD600 and moved on to the HD250.




This was my first venture in "hi-fi" speakers. I bought a kit LS3/5A kit pair and a pair of Equator D5 audio monitors among other things such as Graham Slee Spatia cable and links, Proprius speaker monoblocks and a Solo Ultra-Linear Diamond Edition headphone amplifier. I embarked on many different listening sessions with the various equipment. The speakers, whilst more spatial than my headphones, were coloured due to their design and because of various room interactions. I ended up being left unimpressed and sold both. The Solo ULDE was great but I found that the Bitzie was so good that I had no need to connect the Solo to it as there was little to no performance benefit to be had. The Proprius were exceptional too but their future was uncertain as I had sworn to not use speakers again. I ended up selling the Solo ULDE and kept the Proprius pair to be used for headphone amplification.



This is when I was using the Bitzie and Lautus USB cable to compare four vintage Sennheiser headphones: HD540 Reference (mk1), HD540 Reference II, HD250 Linear (mk1) and HD250 Linear II. Many of the parts were interchangeable between each model and I could thoroughly compare them all for hours and hours. All sounded great. The HD540II sounded the best to my ears but the HD250II was great and sounded extremely close to the HD540II when I swapped the 540II velvet pads onto it in place of the pleather pads. The pleather pads sealed the earcups thoroughly whereas the velvet pads allowed sound pressure to equilibrate across the pad and gave a more natural imaging, to my ears.




















(I will continue to expand this post over the coming weeks)



Edited by Ash - 16 Sep 2017 at 6:55pm
Bitzie, Majestic, 4x Proprius, Lautus USB, Lautus coaxial, Lautus phono-XLR, Lautus-R3 TRS-XLR, Mark Audio Alpair 10P/10MAOP/12P/12PW
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Dave Friday View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dave Friday Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Mar 2017 at 1:30pm
Hi Ash ( and the rest of the gang) I want BBC radio in my van ( I'm in Spain ) so I need a phone with good sound quality to plug into the car radios aux input,reccomendations please.
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Ash View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Ash Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Oct 2017 at 10:58pm

HD250 Linear disassembled.





HD540 Reference II disassembled.



HD560 Ovation II disassembled.




One of my HD540 Reference II headphones that I used to own. I'd re-foamed and cleaned the earpads before selling to a forum member. I found that increasing the ear-to-driver distance by using thicker and slightly firmer foam rings in the pad skins really aided the stereo imaging of the headphone, really helping to bring out best performance its fairly small approx diameter 36mm drivers could achieve. This is still my favourite conventional style open-back headphone. Very simple and lightweight as well as easy to amplify compared to the AKG K1000 (which is the best headphone device I have ever listened with).
Bitzie, Majestic, 4x Proprius, Lautus USB, Lautus coaxial, Lautus phono-XLR, Lautus-R3 TRS-XLR, Mark Audio Alpair 10P/10MAOP/12P/12PW
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Graham Slee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Oct 2017 at 5:58am
Ash, based on your detailed photographs it looks like the HD560 Ovation II differs from the HD250 Linear and HD540 Reference II by the addition of what I can only describe as a whizzer cone. Can you elaborate on that and give us your opinion on the sonic differences please?

My most expensive headphone purchase was the HD800, but I hardly ever use them, preferring the HD250 Linear II. They aren't as 'involving' as the HD250 Linear II and I am unable to 'get into' the music. Which headphones allowed you to really 'get into' the music?
There are only two things to stop you being a success in life and they're both called Google - Notions are not solutions!
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Ash View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Ash Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Oct 2017 at 10:07pm
There is no whizzer cone. The shape of the waveguide on the HD560II is just different from the 250 and 540 models. The 250 and 540 appeared to share an identically shaped waveguide and I suspect the driver size/technology was exactly the same too. All three headphone models are single driver designs. The HD560II was almost identical in sound to the HD540II and I compared them extensively side-by-side through the Bitzie. They had the same sensitivity (listening by ear) and same 300 Ohm impedance. The HD560II conveyed the same sound balance as the 540II but was more spatially constricted; it was unable to project as expansive a stereo image as the 540II model. This difference was even bigger after I stitched thicker foam into the 540II velvet pads. The 560II sound seemed a bit further away and in a position where I felt it did not immerse me as much. The frequencies and phase characteristics were the same though. I did some part swapping between 250 and 540 as well. I tried the HD250 Linear mk1 with the velvet pads of the 540II clipped in and this made the 250 and 540 models sound pretty much indistinguishable to my ears. Ear pad material and thickness were both very influential in the perceived ability of the drivers to project a sense of space.

The HD800 was a superior headphone to all of these vintage designs in terms of technical ability. The resolving ability (microdynamics) of the HD800 is the best I have ever heard from a headphone. It's more resolving of lowest level detail than the AKG K1000. However, I did not enjoy them as much. I don't think the phase integrity and rhythm of the HD800 was as good as the other headphones I've mentioned. The sound was bigger and clearer than the vintage Senns and with improved bass weight but I didn't find it particularly engaging. If you could have heard my K1000 headphones Graham, I think you would have agreed that they absolutely blew the HD800 out of the water in the ability to project an enormously spatial and rhythmically engaging sound. The massively increased space around the ears of the K1000 compared to the HD800 allowed you to hear some sonic details more clearly and effortlessly, despite the driver sensitivity of the K1000 being considerably less than the HD800. I began using the K1000 after using the highly resolving HD800 and was still hearing things on recordings that I had not previously noticed. The enclosure characteristics of a headphone are just as important as the driver technology and calibration. Headphone fit is a very personal and individual experience as well.

The K1000 and HD540II are still my favourite headphones although a HD250II is more versatile than a HD540II as it can be used for closed-back applications. The K1000 ticked all of the performance boxes for me; it was spectacular. The others were all mediocre in direct side-by-side comparison to be completely honest. But none of them are speakers and speakers can be better; much better.

When listening to well-mastered music in a cool quiet room, on your own with nobody else around, wearing a fully open AKG K1000 on top of a beanie hat was very much worth looking like a dumbass for. The sound is simply amazing. Only bespoke specialist speakers can beat it IMO.




Edited by Ash - 07 Oct 2017 at 10:43pm
Bitzie, Majestic, 4x Proprius, Lautus USB, Lautus coaxial, Lautus phono-XLR, Lautus-R3 TRS-XLR, Mark Audio Alpair 10P/10MAOP/12P/12PW
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fatmangolf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Oct 2017 at 11:06pm
In my opinion you did very good work on refurbishing and slightly improving the Senns you sold me Ash. I like the 540/II a lot but use the 250/II more due to the isolation from outside noise.

At some point I will arrange, presuming your consent, a visit to hear those K1000's and bring my own large beanie hat!

Jon

Open mind and ears, whilst owning GSP Genera, Accession, Elevator EXP, Solo UL, Proprius amps, Cusat50 cables, Lautus digital cable, Spatia cables and links. and a Majestic DAC.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Graham Slee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Oct 2017 at 6:03am
Thank you for your reply Ash.

I've often found that a technically correct design can be less engaging, and I'm on dangerous ground for saying this because if what I do is quite engaging it suggests my work is technically incorrect; this isn't the case.

I too use the HD250II because of their isolation from external noises; mainly from fans: extractor fans; heater fans; desk fan (newish house built any old how); as well as computer fans; hens clucking in the paddock next to the golf course with its constant drone of tractor mowers (otherwise quite lovely).

And your cardboard baffle speakers remind me of me. I have never been able to hear many of my 1970s albums as good since. It often makes me wonder why doing the "right thing" is so wrong. Sounds hide sounds: bass hides melody and can change tempo, but without it there is no foundation - but with it much is lost. And as for room tuning...? I can only conclude that speakers and headphones leave so much to be desired, and it will always be like that.

There are only two things to stop you being a success in life and they're both called Google - Notions are not solutions!
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