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IEMs vs Open back headphone sound observations confusing

Rega

nmurthyk

Member
Joined
Oct 21, 2009
Messages
72
Points
8
Location
Hyderabad
Hi guys, I recently had an attempt to move from HiFi system with speakers to Headphones to get rid of the room acoustics and speaker placement issues to enjoy the music. I am not able to maintain them due to my 2 year old kid constanly moving them and playing with them. My current setup is: Squeezebod touch/Laptop/ChromeCast Audio -> Beresford Cayman DAC -> Marantz 7001 AMP -> QUAD 11L2 speakers. This can give you my taste and reference. I use FLAC files and 320kbps audio files and also use Spotify to listen mostly Indian film music and Indian classic.

As I learned from reviews that the Open back headphones gives best sound stage, imaging and presentation, I purchased Sennheiser HD 599 to use it with my mobile (1plus7) and my laptop. I listened to it for few days and did some burn-in by playing music during whole night. even after around 40 hrs of burn-in it did not impress me. my observation with it is, the sound stage is more of around my head but top to sides, rather than front to sides. imaging is good. there is space between instruments. I liked the tonal quality and smoothness of sound. however did not like the sound stage as I did not feel the soundstage and presentation differrence is huge compared to cheaper headphones(plantations 5220) (or iem (Skullcandy Ink'd plus).
So I have returned it.
Meanwhile I have got an IEM - "Sennheiser Momentum free (renewed)" on Amazon in discount sale as an temporary one. Surprisingly I found it's sound stage is much better than HD599. it is more of 'front to sides around my head' than 'top to sides around my head' I heard on HD599.

Sennheiser HD599 - Priced 20999 - Top to sides sound stage, good resolution, tonal quality, bass, space between instruments.
Sennheiser Momentum Free Special edition - Max price 14,990 - Front to sides sound stage, good resolution, above average tonal quality, low bass, slightly lesser space between instruments compared to Sennheiser. Presentation is also very good.
The source is same for both (1Plus7 mobile)

What confuses me is the open back headphone should have better Sound stage, clarity and presentation compared to the IEMs at similar price range. However I see it reverse. Did I get a defective one in case of HD599? or does it need more brun-in to open up really? or is it something else that I am missing?.

I want to understand this and set my expectations and decisions accordingly as I am looking to buy a good headphone/IEMs to enjoy music without the hassle of room/speaker positioning.
 

ktks1

Active Member
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Jun 11, 2019
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Bengaluru
Not all phones provide enough power to headphones. Did you try connecting them to your Marantz amp and listen?
Also, they might need some burn-in time before they start sounding better.
 

fLUX

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Joined
Jun 13, 2012
Messages
391
Points
63
Location
Bangalore
Hi,

Open back headphones certainly do give a better soundstage than closed back headphones. IEMs are again a different presentation and can give the notion of a better sound stage.

Different headphones have different levels of depth and width soundstage, personally i have found Sennheisers to have a very narrow soundstage (viz HD598/HD6XX) and not a big fan of their headphones currently. Amongst the headphones i have owned i found the largest soundstage in AD700 (difficult to find now) followed by Ananda.

If you are willing to experiment and spend a little go for the AKG K712 and a desktop amp , the AKG712 are supposed to have a wide soundstage and amazing detailing/seperation. Another option would be the Hifiman Sundara , which again has good detailing but the soundstage is not as wide you can expect from an open back. On the contrary Ananda and Arya (the next in line of Sundara's) have amazing soundstage depth and width with the Ananda being slightly brighter and Arya being the more neutral/slightly laidback but a godly level of detailing and seperation.
 

Yogesh

Active Member
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May 1, 2009
Messages
668
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Not Where near I want to be yet......
You could have given a little burn in time to 599 or a hook up with an Amp would have worked wonders.

See if you could audition, HifiMAN Sundara or Audeze LCD 1. they are awesome options. You may find them worthy of open back reputation.
 

nmurthyk

Member
Joined
Oct 21, 2009
Messages
72
Points
8
Location
Hyderabad
Not all phones provide enough power to headphones. Did you try connecting them to your Marantz amp and listen?
Also, they might need some burn-in time before they start sounding better.
I tried connecting to Marantz amp and Beresford DAC as well.
 

nmurthyk

Member
Joined
Oct 21, 2009
Messages
72
Points
8
Location
Hyderabad
Hi,

Open back headphones certainly do give a better soundstage than closed back headphones. IEMs are again a different presentation and can give the notion of a better sound stage.
If you are willing to experiment and spend a little go for the AKG K712 and a desktop amp , the AKG712 are supposed to have a wide soundstage and amazing detailing/seperation. Another option would be the Hifiman Sundara , which again has good detailing but the soundstage is not as wide you can expect from an open back. On the contrary Ananda and Arya (the next in line of Sundara's) have amazing soundstage depth and width with the Ananda being slightly brighter and Arya being the more neutral/slightly laidback but a godly level of detailing and seperation.
So, do you think the IEMs also give a (perceived) better sound stage?
I am not in a position to try many things as it costs a lot. I can certainly try any one thing at around 25k-30k but only once. And unfortunately Amazon return policy not applied for all items and particularly for some of these headphones/IEMs so I wont be able to return them if they are not satisfactory.

Between headphones (ex: AKG712, HiFiMan Sundara) and IEM (Shure se425 or other) what do you suggest for sound stage, imaging and clarity.
 

fLUX

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 13, 2012
Messages
391
Points
63
Location
Bangalore
Yes top tier iems like CA Solaris , CA andromeda, Z1R have amazing soundstage and the mid range chifi IEMs can almost replicate the same. For me the order of preference is Speaker-> Headphone -> IEMs. I would suggest you to go for Open back HP if below holds true for your scenario
i) You are ok with sitting and listening to music . These headphones are difficult to wear while lying down on bed
ii) Leaked sound is not a major issue to your family members.
iii) Willing to invest in dedicated amp/ decamp in future

While point iii holds true for IEMs as well but they still sound decent out of a phone directly whereas most of the headphones are not easy to drive.
I would suggest you to go for a Sundara for now and later get a budget DACAMP like IFI Hip DAC/ Xduoo xd-05 so forth for about 10-15k , these would most certainly sound amazing. The AkG K712 are very hard to drive and would need a dedicated desktop amp whereas Sundara would do just fine with above suggested portable dacamps
 

SachinChavan

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Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
1,270
Points
113
Location
Thane, Mumbai
Hi guys, I recently had an attempt to move from HiFi system with speakers to Headphones to get rid of the room acoustics and speaker placement issues to enjoy the music. I am not able to maintain them due to my 2 year old kid constanly moving them and playing with them. My current setup is: Squeezebod touch/Laptop/ChromeCast Audio -> Beresford Cayman DAC -> Marantz 7001 AMP -> QUAD 11L2 speakers. This can give you my taste and reference. I use FLAC files and 320kbps audio files and also use Spotify to listen mostly Indian film music and Indian classic.

As I learned from reviews that the Open back headphones gives best sound stage, imaging and presentation, I purchased Sennheiser HD 599 to use it with my mobile (1plus7) and my laptop. I listened to it for few days and did some burn-in by playing music during whole night. even after around 40 hrs of burn-in it did not impress me. my observation with it is, the sound stage is more of around my head but top to sides, rather than front to sides. imaging is good. there is space between instruments. I liked the tonal quality and smoothness of sound. however did not like the sound stage as I did not feel the soundstage and presentation differrence is huge compared to cheaper headphones(plantations 5220) (or iem (Skullcandy Ink'd plus).
So I have returned it.
Meanwhile I have got an IEM - "Sennheiser Momentum free (renewed)" on Amazon in discount sale as an temporary one. Surprisingly I found it's sound stage is much better than HD599. it is more of 'front to sides around my head' than 'top to sides around my head' I heard on HD599.

Sennheiser HD599 - Priced 20999 - Top to sides sound stage, good resolution, tonal quality, bass, space between instruments.
Sennheiser Momentum Free Special edition - Max price 14,990 - Front to sides sound stage, good resolution, above average tonal quality, low bass, slightly lesser space between instruments compared to Sennheiser. Presentation is also very good.
The source is same for both (1Plus7 mobile)

What confuses me is the open back headphone should have better Sound stage, clarity and presentation compared to the IEMs at similar price range. However I see it reverse. Did I get a defective one in case of HD599? or does it need more brun-in to open up really? or is it something else that I am missing?.

I want to understand this and set my expectations and decisions accordingly as I am looking to buy a good headphone/IEMs to enjoy music without the hassle of room/speaker positioning.
Oh, you needed to power them with a proper headphone amp before giving up. Also check if the headphone outlet in your receiver has enough power.
 
Last edited:

fLUX

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Joined
Jun 13, 2012
Messages
391
Points
63
Location
Bangalore
Oh, you needed to power them with a proper headphone amp before giving up. Also check if the headphone outlet in your receiver has enough power.
Honestly i dont think the HD 599 need a lot of power , HD 598 was my first pair of headphones beyond 10k back in the days ( not the SE the normal one with velvet pads) and i was far from impressed with it. I tried it with few amps and Xonar DX / Xonar Essence STX but did not like the overall signature at all. Purchased the 598 SE after a few years but still did not like it .
 

SachinChavan

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Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
1,270
Points
113
Location
Thane, Mumbai
Honestly i dont think the HD 599 need a lot of power , HD 598 was my first pair of headphones beyond 10k back in the days ( not the SE the normal one with velvet pads) and i was far from impressed with it. I tried it with few amps and Xonar DX / Xonar Essence STX but did not like the overall signature at all. Purchased the 598 SE after a few years but still did not like it .
Probably the series doesn’t match up with your sound preference then. It happens. Hope you find something that does.
 

fLUX

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Joined
Jun 13, 2012
Messages
391
Points
63
Location
Bangalore
Possibly so but the 598 doesnt have a lot of details either for the price they command , the AD700X/ Beyerdyanmic DT770/ AKG K series/Philips SHP9500 seem to give a better performance at a similar price point.

Personally i have found my match with Hifiman planars :)
 

nmurthyk

Member
Joined
Oct 21, 2009
Messages
72
Points
8
Location
Hyderabad
Yes top tier iems like CA Solaris , CA andromeda, Z1R have amazing soundstage and the mid range chifi IEMs can almost replicate the same. For me the order of preference is Speaker-> Headphone -> IEMs. I would suggest you to go for Open back HP if below holds true for your scenario
i) You are ok with sitting and listening to music . These headphones are difficult to wear while lying down on bed
ii) Leaked sound is not a major issue to your family members.
iii) Willing to invest in dedicated amp/ decamp in future
i) I can but I get very less time to sit and listen to music these days. probably for next 3-4 years. However I can make some time occassionally to truly and consciously enjoy the music.
ii) Leaked sound not an issue for me at all. in fact HD599's sound leakage was very low for me unless everyone is sleeping while I listen to music. even then my wife did not complain.
iii) I would like to avoid investing for dedicated amp as much as possible.
 

fLUX

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 13, 2012
Messages
391
Points
63
Location
Bangalore
The HD599 leak very little sound, the Sundara's would probably leak a lot more in comparison. Its not an issue unless you have someone sleeping in the room you listen music to. I owned a Campfire Andromeda in the past which I sold due to below reasons
i) After getting speakers i was rarely listening to them. Bedtime listens would be of very short duration not warranting an expensive IEM
ii) If i used it during the normal day, everyone had to stay infront of my face to get me to notice them when they call out to me
iii) Soundstage though very wide was nowhere near the experience I got on my headphones/speakers

If you feel the above issues doesnt apply to you then you can further read about Etymotic ER2XR/Obravo Cupid/Ikko OH10 (Ikko needs to be imported) at a budget of about 15-20k. These will run fine out of a phone as well but will scale very well with a portable dac/amp. Incase you decide for headphones options would be Meze 99C (Fun sounding Closed backs and dont need an amp), Beyerdynamic DT770/DT990 (definitely need an amp ), Hifiman Sundara (Amp recommended to get the best), HE400i( cheaper cousins of Sundara and will do good with an amp).

Would suggest you to invest in a portable DAC/AMP (at the range of 15k), some options being the Ifi HIP Dac/Xduoo XD-05 Plus/Fiio Q5(Used) to get better dynamics.

Based on my preferences i would suggest Hifiman Sundara if you are going for HP and Obravo Cupid/Ikko OH10 if an IEM
 

nmurthyk

Member
Joined
Oct 21, 2009
Messages
72
Points
8
Location
Hyderabad
The HD599 leak very little sound, the Sundara's would probably leak a lot more in comparison. Its not an issue unless you have someone sleeping in the room you listen music to. I owned a Campfire Andromeda in the past which I sold due to below reasons
i) After getting speakers i was rarely listening to them. Bedtime listens would be of very short duration not warranting an expensive IEM

Based on my preferences i would suggest Hifiman Sundara if you are going for HP and Obravo Cupid/Ikko OH10 if an IEM
I too have the above challenge but with IEM I can use them during morning walk.
I would like to try these IEMs and see if they satisfy me. In the long run it looks like Hifiman Sundara may be a match for me. I will keep looking for deals on these.
Thanks for the advice.
 
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