Basically, if you have an I-pod, or just love music at home, I fully recommend a good set of cans. To get really good music from speakers requires a ton of money and space to install them, but for not too much headphones can bring you there and more. In a way it’s sad that so many budget sets are on the market that people think that is the going price and miss out on what’s really available. People aren’t hearing anything like the full range of their music and it gets drowned in the murkiness. Of course, what you get will depend on your budget, but you certainly won’t regret upgrading. To start out with, I’d still recommend my Sharp MD-33s, at least over the stock buds that come with MP3 players, or if you want to pay a bit more, the Audio-Technica CK-7s or 9s (the 7s have more bass, from what I’ve heard). Beyond that, the Sennheiser HD 555 has a really good sound for all types of music and also doesn’t need amping, which is something to remember if you don’t want that expense, too. Beyond that, there’s the Sennheiser HD 595, which apparently gets even better amped, or of course my current choice, the perennial AKG K-240s which does need an amp. All of these have lots of ecstatic online reviews, so you can’t go wrong.
Of course, all this is down to personal taste. Over Golden Week, I visited my friend Peter and listened to his state-of-the art, yet groundbreakingly simple Naim setup. Costing in the thousands, it is geared towards total sonic purity, speed and clarity. Each piece of equipment even had it’s own seperate power supply, so that nothing could interfere with the sound, as it really is. There’s no sound presets or anything to distract you- just the music. Listening to his amped Grado SR 125 headphones through this, I was quite astounded by the speed of it all and the multiple levels of detail. For him, this is what it’s all about- a loud, clear aggressive sound, left unsmeared by ‘musical’ embellishment. I was impressed- but I still liked the warm, large sound of my gear, with it’s soundstage and deep bass, something he found muffling. Peter is also an amazing photographer- you can see his stuff on Flickr here– and you can see the same precision, attention to detail and also the will to leave out distracting details. He takes far more pictures than he posts, as do we all, but he is especially careful to only put up his best, which includes black and white pieces. Something tells me this taste for the perfect and the precise is what draws him to Grado headphones as well!
For myself, if I do get another pair of phones, it’ll probably be a full-open one like the Sennheiser HD-595’s. I want their large, warm, moving sound, soothing yet impressive and so rich in bass. I want something musical- something that sounds ‘good’, even if it is in some way different from the original. They may not be as exciting for rock and movies as what I have now, but they can bring music generally to life in a new way, especially classical. I still remember just how much I was enjoying their lesser-priced siblings in Dynamic audio, so having a more ‘fulfilled’ version sounds very attractive. Another thing I’d like, further down the road maybe, would be a tube amp, even a cheap one, as the warmth these give to the music just can’t be compared to what solid-state amps produce, however good their clarity. It gives them that soothing, watery sound that you hear in jazz clubs, or curl up to with a night-time drink. Definitely an old-school feel, no bells and whistles to play around with, but, you know… sometimes that’s what you want. Try one at Dynamic Audio and see for yourself! Simple is best.