Saturday, October 30, 2010

Selecting the best headphones

HD 428 and HD 515
About me and my music interest:

I am a avid music listener. I listen to music (Trance, Hip Hop, House, Pop, Rock, Metal ...basically everything depending on mood) while walking to work ,back from work ,while working, while driving, while browsing , sometimes while sleeping too. I currently have 5 earphones.

  • Some basic Headset that I got from India which now doesn't work.
  • My iPod nano first generation earphones
  • My Creative in-ear earphones that I got free with my laptop almost 3 years ago
  • My Samsung in-ear earphones that I got with my Samsung Captivate phone.
  • My Insignia Stereo Bluetooth Headset that I use with my phone and iPod nano most of the time.
I use the iPod earphones at work to listen to songs when I work and my Insignia Bluetooth headset while walking to and from work and when at home I use the Creative earphones.

Among these I love the Bass and audio quality on the Creative Earphones the best. The only problem with these are that I cannot keep it on for long duration of time. I feel that Around Ear Earphones are the most comfortable ones.

The type of headphones available in the market:

There are basically three types of headphones when it comes to fitting. They are:
  • In-Ear : These type of earphones go into your ears and give you the best bass and audio quality.Pros: Highest Bass and Audio quality, isolation from outside world, Cons: Safety issue due to isolation, Might become the cause of long term hearing impairment, might get uncomfortable after long listening sessions 
  • On-Ear : These type of earphones have your ear sized cushions that sit on your ear and give you a little more comfort than in-Ear Pros: Comfortable, Safe listening Cons: might get uncomfortable after long listening sessions, not enough isolation from outside noise. 
  • Around-Ear : These type of earphones have ear cups that cover your ear completely and isolate you from the outer world just like in-ear do but are the most comfortable. The around-ear headphones are sub divided into two types (by Sennheiser atleast) Pros: Most comfortable, Isolation from outside world, Reasonably high bass output and very good audio quality. Cons: Bulky, Expensive, 
    • Closed Cup : These type of headphones isolate you and give you a noise cancellation kind of feel and deeper bass than the open-aire counterpart. Pros: Good Bass, Isolation from outside world. Cons: Safety issue due to isolation, 
    • Open-Aire : These type of headphones are open. In the sense that you can hear the outside world and the outside world can hear what you are hearing. Not the best bass but has its reasons for having such a feature. Pros: Safe, Higher audio quality Cons: Disturbance to others, Probably not good at noisy places.
Shortlisting the Choices:

Though I had 5 earphone/headphones with me, I wanted to get one of the best Headphones for myself because I wanted to enjoy High Quality audio with comfort so I decided to get Around-Ear headphones. 

My first choice was obviously the obvious one - BOSE. but I didnt want to spend 100s of dollars for a pair of headset. My budget was a max of $100. I came around the a deal from where the Bose Around Ear Headphones were just $79 (originally $129) . I was immediately attracted to it but the reviews were not very impressive. All of buyers who reviewed complained about the build quality of the headband on it. And I agree because by just looking at it you can tell that it is very weak and easily breakable when bent. I thought maybe I should wait a little bit more for the Thanksgiving sale for this price to drop down further :)

My second choice was Sennheiser. I have used Sennheiser headphones when I worked at and they are pretty good. I came across a deal where the Sennheiser HD 201 was for $15 ONLY. I am a high bass fan so I did my research to figure out if this headset had the bass I needed. What I found was that most of the reviews only compared the bass on this model with its higher models, so it was kind of hard to tell how good it was. 

I then noticed that the HD 202 is just a few dollars more than the HD 201 so I shifter my mind from the lowest end model to a higher end one. Then I compared it for Bass and then I reached the other models - HD 205, HD 280 Professional, HD 448, HD 428, HD 333, HD 438, HD 515, HD 510, HD 555,HD 600, HD 800. Most of them were under the $100 budget limit on with 2 years manufacturer warranty. I went ahead and compared each and every one with each other and then compared them with Bose. Some of the reviewers mentioned Sony Headphones also to be good. 

I went thourgh first but they were very technical and I did not know any technical stuff about the headphones so I skipped to forum, discussion and reviews on various sites. I spent around 2-3 weeks and read over 500 posts and reviews to decide what I wanted to buy. I think that was very thorough though I like to make my own decisions by doing the test and comparison myself instead of listening and basing my decisions completely on others views. :)

The Sennheiser HD 280 Professional was the most highly reviewed / rated headphones in most of the forums. They are what the professional musicians would prefer and next was the Sennheiser HD 555 which is built with lots of super technologies like E.A.R. which has Enhanced channeling and Acoustics. The Hd 280 was over my $100 budget plus didnt look like the model I wanted. So my next choice was HD 555 but it was $99 which is ok but I wanted to explore more options. So I did some more research and compared them to a little lower end models pricewise and quality wise.

One of my friends on twitter (@snehasis) helped me out in deciding the starting point for my search. He suggested to go for HD 448 which was the best value for money according to him. This model is a Closed Cup model while the HD 555 was a Open-Aire model. I wanted to be more clear on this so I googled and found a good explanation to this. Briefly, Open Aire is good for Acoustics and Resonance decrement and decreases the stresss on the ear. the only thing I liked about Closed cup was that most reviews said it has deeper bass compared to the Open Aire counterparts (HD 500 series).

The 500 Series are good for the people who can tell the difference between the smallest beats. Basically for an Audiophile (Maybe I am because I was able to tell the difference :p). After doing all my research I decided to get the Sennheiser HD 515 which was comparable to the HD 555 and better than the HD 448  and CHEAPER!!! by $40 :p

Most of the forums kept saying that Bose is good but overhyped and pricey. Sennheiser is better for personal audio (headphones) market. Bose is great in the Speaker System market. If anyone asks me what home theater audio system would be your dream system answer would obviously be BOSE but headphones, for now, Sennheiser. :)

The purchase:

I ordered the Sennheiser HD 515 and received it on Thursday. I immediately after reaching home from work unpacked it (after collecting it) and started my trials to see how good those are. The first bad impression was that it didnt have the high bass feel that I wanted :(. I used my two earphones output to compare it with my Creative in-ear phones. The Creative was the winner in Bass but the audio quality when I was hearing to Indian songs was A M A Z I N G on the HD 515. 

I was once again in a dilemma whether I should keep my $60 headphones or replace it with the HD 428 which was the same price but supposedly had better Bass output due to its closed cup design. After again wasting some time in research comparing 428 with 515 I decided to order the 428 too and compare it with the 515. I wanted to test these within this week so I ordered with 1 day shipping. I received it on Friday itself! Super fast shipping by I got it 1 day earlier than the estimate Ordered Thurday night and got it Friday morning!

As soon as I received the HD 428 and opened the package, I was surprised to see the differences. The build quality difference was clearly visible. The Hd 428 has a very thing cable compared to the 515 and the cushions were made of cheap plastic cover kind of material on the 428 unlike the cloth/sponge kind of finish on the 515. And the 428 ear cup size was smaller than the 515 thus making it kind of irritating to the ear.

When played and listened to the differences, I didn't feel any Bass difference in them plus the 515 was much better in audio clarity and quality. So, I after testing for around 1 hours decided that HD 515 is here to stay.

After all this now I feel I have made a good decision in buying the HD 515. Its good in audio and comfortable. maybe in future I will get a Bose and compare it with this :P.

Thank You for reading through all this.