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Achieving High Fidelity Sound

Printed From: Graham Slee at Hifi System Components
Category: Classified Section
Forum Name: Achieving High Fidelity Sound
Forum Description: Ask Ash
URL: https://www.hifisystemcomponents.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=4160
Printed Date: 13 Nov 2019 at 11:38pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 12.01 - http://www.webwizforums.com


Topic: Achieving High Fidelity Sound
Posted By: Ash
Subject: Achieving High Fidelity Sound
Date 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)




Replies:
Posted By: Dave Friday
Date 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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lp12,oc9mk3,ca610p,krimson40watt pa,kef105.4


Posted By: Ash
Date 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).


Posted By: Graham Slee
Date 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?


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Not simple enough for Google-Bot to understand...


Posted By: Ash
Date 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 and an even cleaner upper midrange/treble projection but I didn't find it particularly engaging. To simplify, the HD800 really impressed the mind but didn't emotionally move the heart. 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. The reason I removed the temple pads and wear a beanie hat is to distribute clamping force over more of the head, to allow it to grip the head much more securely without shifting position when I move around or lie flat. It is also to keep the headband clean and free from hair grease/moisture and most importantly, it allows more customisation of position on the head as the hat effectively changes the shape of your head so the drivers can be even further forward of the ear pinnae to further improve binaural perception.




Posted By: Fatmangolf
Date 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 ULDE, Proprius amps, Cusat50 cables, Lautus digital cable, Spatia cables and links, and a Majestic DAC.


Posted By: Graham Slee
Date 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.



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Not simple enough for Google-Bot to understand...


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 08 Oct 2017 at 7:56am
I've never really been a speaker enthusiast until recently. I'd always enjoyed hearing exactly what the recording should sound like without significant sound signature and colourations. Both passive and active box speakers that I'd tried could never do much of what my HD540II and later K1000 could do. The speakers were more spatial and three-dimensional but apart from that, they were just an awful coloured mess. The breakthrough moment for me personally was putting an Alpair 12PW and Alpair 7P together on a cardboard open baffle. The12PW is a dedicated woofer and it can go very low indeed, without needing much of an enclosure to do so. At probably about 1.5m away from each woofer, wow... bass. No hump and thump. It scaled properly and whilst lower frequency bass had less energy, the clarity and audibility was superb. I will be using this driver as my main bass unit. My next decision is which full range driver to blend it with. 10P, 12P or perhaps my newly acquired 10MAOP (micro arc oxidation process) drivers. I'm thinking the 12P for its microdynamic resolution but one of the 10 drivers may have a better treble reproduction.


Posted By: mitch65
Date Posted: 10 Oct 2017 at 5:20pm
Glad to see you still have the same passion since your first post Ash. I still have the pair of HD-540 Reference II you sold me an age ago and still going strong. Recently bought a Solo amp and finding my way back to headphone listening.

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Greg

Auralic Aries Mini
Naim muso qb
Solo
HIFIMAN HE-400i


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 10 Oct 2017 at 8:49pm
Glad to read that they're serving you well. They are lightweight, easy to maintain and sound great. Exceptional price to performance ratio for what they are. Whilst nowhere near as difficult to source as the HD250, the 540II is still quite hard to find in good condition with decent earpads these days. The earpads are the most significant thing for getting the best sound.


Posted By: RichW
Date Posted: 13 Oct 2017 at 10:45am
I still enjoy using the '540 Ref 2 too.
They go to show that newer isn't necessarily better.




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Elevator, Accession, Majestic, Reflex M, Solo ULDE, CuSat & Lautus.


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 14 Oct 2017 at 3:55pm
nor how much you pay for it.

Whilst I still like the HD540II and AKG K1000, I have no use for either of them anymore now I've got some well-engineered speaker emitters/drivers. I never knew how superb speakers could sound until recently. I may buy a single HD250II as a listening reference and for applications that require a sealed headphone. It will mainly be to help me get the best sound out of my speakers. It's nice not to have to wear anything on the head.


Posted By: Benja
Date Posted: 14 Oct 2017 at 8:57pm
i also still enjoy the hd540II that i bought from you Ash. i did to have to buy a new cable for it though. because only one side was working. 


Posted By: BAK
Date Posted: 15 Oct 2017 at 2:58am
Originally posted by Ash Ash wrote:

nor how much you pay for it.

Whilst I still like the HD540II and AKG K1000, I have no use for either of them anymore now I've got some well-engineered speaker emitters/drivers. I never knew how superb speakers could sound until recently. I may buy a single HD250II as a listening reference and for applications that require a sealed headphone. It will mainly be to help me get the best sound out of my speakers. It's nice not to have to wear anything on the head.
 I feel the same, Ash... "It's nice not to have to wear anything on the head." 
As I have very big ears, It can be uncomfortable to wear headphones. I do use headphones for referencing sound levels and recording cues at times; they allow concentration to avoid distractions as well.
 A good pair of speakers can give the listener a feeling of being "in" the environment produced by the sound emanating.
 I have had high efficiency speakers that give a pleasing environment with only 0.01 watts (yes 1/100th) per channel. 


-------------
Bruce
AT-14SA, Pickering XV-15/625, Technics SL-1600MK2, Reflex M, Lautus, Technics SH-8066, Dynaco ST120a, Eminence Beta 8A in custom cabs;; Using Majestic DAC
Enjoy Life Your Way!


Posted By: dillon
Date Posted: 19 Dec 2017 at 3:49pm
Amazing work Ash mate!

I love headphones too. But at the end of the day, there is absolutely no substitute for a well set up, room treated speaker system for room filling being there sound. For me of course. I need to FEEL bass and sub bass in the pit of my stomach.

Regards

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Nottingham Analogue Hyperspace w Space Arm & Dynavector 10x5 HOMC/GSP Revelation M/John Sampson upgraded Meridian 508.24 CDP/Sony 777ES SACD/ProAc Response D18/GSP Solo ULDE/GSP cables and ICs


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 19 Dec 2017 at 9:30pm
Thanks. Yeah, my AKG K1000 does not mimic speakers at a distance but it is a step up from conventional headphone listening, to my ears. You need to have a very well thought out speaker system and listening environment to beat these in tonal accuracy and rhythm, I think. I soon sold all of my other headphones after using these for a while and pretty much stopped listening with headphones altogether. I only look at speaker stuff these days but most importantly, I keep doing what I've always done and focus on music and composition, which is what I enjoy. 

As someone who wears both glasses and contact lenses, I would make the following spatial comparison.

If: Headphones=glasses

Then: Speakers=contact lenses


I personally achieve my best vision with contact lenses. Much improved ability to appreciate and perceive 3D space. It's the same with decent speaker drivers that are set up properly; it conveys more space and scale. With contact lenses, the thickness of the corrective lens is greatly reduced compared to glasses, letting more light through to the retina and improving absolute resolution in low level light. High resolution speaker drivers at more of a distance allow your ear pinnae to work as they're intended to and give more directive sound information and allow certain nuances to be more clearly heard without needing to concentrate as much. In my experience anyway. So yeah, contact lenses are like speakers for me; I prefer not going back to glasses/headphones unless I have to. Smile


Posted By: dillon
Date Posted: 19 Dec 2017 at 9:52pm
That's such a cool analogy Ash. Rooms are the biggest factor in achieving your hifi goals I have always said. Not easy in our smaller spaces compared to the USA for example. I have had big speakers in tiny spaces and in bad spaces. Luckily, I have had biggish spaces most of my adult life. Until recently, none of those were treated. Sounded OK, but still not right. Then I discovered the wonders of room treatment with bass traps, diffusers and absorbers and life was never the same. It can be done as cheap as you like DIY too. My gosh what a massive difference! Now I have my gear set up using the classic 3rds methodology in a dedicated room. The speakers have disappeared! Soundstage is massive, sounds come out from 10 feet behind the speakers, 10 feet from the sides blah blah. The walk through and touch soundstage at last.



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Nottingham Analogue Hyperspace w Space Arm & Dynavector 10x5 HOMC/GSP Revelation M/John Sampson upgraded Meridian 508.24 CDP/Sony 777ES SACD/ProAc Response D18/GSP Solo ULDE/GSP cables and ICs


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 19 Dec 2017 at 10:08pm
I like close proximity speaker listening where each ear is only about a couple of meters from each driver. This means lower listening volume required for clear dynamic sound so less room/baffle interactions, less diaphragm excursion and almost no speaker box enclosure needed for a nice extended low bass response. This is just my style of listening; it wouldn't suit everyone. But for me personally, it's when speakers sound best outside of a dedicated listening room with extensive acoustic treatment.


Posted By: Fatmangolf
Date Posted: 20 Dec 2017 at 4:17pm
Nearfield is the standard term for what you describe Ash. It's the closeness to the speakers to the listener relative to the walls of the room, so the direct sound is dominant. I sit about 2m from my speakers in a room roughly 4m x 4m, luckily it's not actually square. A bigger room would give me more options but I have used some acoustic treatrment and careful placement to get a decent sound.



-------------
Jon

Open mind and ears, whilst owning GSP Genera, Accession, Elevator EXP, Solo ULDE, Proprius amps, Cusat50 cables, Lautus digital cable, Spatia cables and links, and a Majestic DAC.


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 30 May 2018 at 3:19pm
To any of my past customers on here who purchased a Sennheiser HD540 Reference II headphone from me, would any of you like to sell one to me? Tongue Embarrassed Assuming its still in really good condition. Otherwise I may have to get on the restoration path again to generate one for my own use. It's gonna be a Linear I or Reference II that I use to monitor my speaker adventures but to produce either of them in the form that I want is likely going to resort to a multiple purchase part salvage, like last time...


Posted By: Fatmangolf
Date Posted: 30 May 2018 at 6:53pm
Can do. Please PM me.

-------------
Jon

Open mind and ears, whilst owning GSP Genera, Accession, Elevator EXP, Solo ULDE, Proprius amps, Cusat50 cables, Lautus digital cable, Spatia cables and links, and a Majestic DAC.


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 30 May 2018 at 8:34pm
Thanks Jon. The HD540II can plug into my Bitzie and allow for comparisons against two different pairs of speakers.


Posted By: Fatmangolf
Date Posted: 30 May 2018 at 8:38pm
Glad to help Ash and thank you for the excellent restoration you did on these HD540/II's and on the HD250/II's I have kept.



-------------
Jon

Open mind and ears, whilst owning GSP Genera, Accession, Elevator EXP, Solo ULDE, Proprius amps, Cusat50 cables, Lautus digital cable, Spatia cables and links, and a Majestic DAC.


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 25 Sep 2018 at 11:48pm
I have purchased a new reference headphone, which succeeds my low serial number AKG K1000. It is none other than the MySphere 3.1, from the same engineer team that produced the K1000, although they are now part of LB-Acoustics in Austria. The purpose of the project was to revive the core concepts of the K1000 but produced with modern materials and manufacturing techniques and with much higher design tolerances that were simply not possible thirty years ago. This is all combined to achieve a consistent and high performance product. Here's a mugshot showing the fit to my head. More info to come soon.




Posted By: Aussie Mick
Date Posted: 26 Sep 2018 at 12:27am
Wow, Ash! 
   They even look they sound good. 
Mick.


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Rega RP8/Ortofon 2M Black/Rega Apheta 2 - Reflex M/Elevator EXP - C.E.C. TL5 CD Transport - MacBook Pro/Roon - Majestic DAC - Solo ULDE (Focal Elear) - Proprius - PMC Twenty5.22


Posted By: Fatmangolf
Date Posted: 26 Sep 2018 at 7:48pm
Glad you persevered Ash and hope the Mysphere sound is an entrancing as you found the K1000's.


-------------
Jon

Open mind and ears, whilst owning GSP Genera, Accession, Elevator EXP, Solo ULDE, Proprius amps, Cusat50 cables, Lautus digital cable, Spatia cables and links, and a Majestic DAC.


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 26 Sep 2018 at 11:09pm
They even work with my beanie hat... LOL Wink so they're secure if I lie flat. Great after a long day at work when I want to relax. They use the proximity effect for low bass so its extension is variable depending on the ear-to-driver distance. Frequency response is pretty much as flat as a pancake.


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 19 Oct 2018 at 12:07am
I must say, the MySphere 3.1 is an astounding headphone. This could quite possibly be the best performing headphone ever made. With these, music of all genres is a real pleasure to listen to. For me, it takes the best qualities of the Sennheiser HD540 Reference II (musical, rhythmic, no frequency emphasis) and the "bass heavy" AKG K1000 (extremely spatial soundstage, transparent sound, great bass weight) puts them together and THEN SOME. Clap This is a very musical headphone with extraordinary sonic precision. It is effortless in its presentation of a neutral, transparent sound with very high resolution and is truly capable of full frequency reproduction. The upper midrange and treble have a very clean projection with no hotness or fatiguing quality. The bass extends very very low and deep depending on ear-to-driver position and amplification. The sense of perceived space for headphone sound is world-class; really spectacular ability to project a sense of space. This headphone excels with excellent recordings that have been mixed and mastered very well. Tonality is spot on; instruments sound as they would in real life. Timing is fast and responsive. Foot tapping and rhythmically engaging sound. Emotion is well conveyed through voice, piano, cello, violin et al. This is probably the ultimate sound engineer headphone, if an open design is suitable for the application. This is a "broadcast level" of device. Physically, I also love the short, lightweight cable that only plugs into one side of the headphone bow. Much better than having two wires hanging down next to the face. High driver sensitivity makes this device really simple to power. I have no regrets buying this product, regardless of how expensive it was. It's so great to finally be free of the slightly elevated (1-2dB) upper bass to lower midrange region of the K1000; this is as flat as a pancake in comparison. This headphone gives the critical, experienced listener a very clear vision of how the sound would translate to speakers in front of them. I am very lucky to live in a time where application of modern technology and materials allows a reproduction of this high standard.



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