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HP recommendation for classical listening

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I have very  little experience with HPs but have decided to invest in a pair primarily for late night listening in my home system, probably on ear but maybe over ear.  My listening is 95% orchestral classical, I'm used to Klipsch Cornwall speakers and am looking for a similar sounding HP,  which I would describe as an extremely detailed, dynamic, forward and open presentation.  I don't care at all about aesthetics, finish etc providing the HPs are comfortable, reliable and long lived.  I'll be using the s/e HP output of my pre amp which is 75 ohm.    

 

I'd go up to  £1000 if I had to, but would prefer cheaper.  What would you recommend?  From what I have read so far, the impression I have is that I wouldn't go far wrong with something from the Sennheiser 6** or 8** series.  There is a Klipsch Heritage HP which might be an obvious recommendation in my situation, but seems expensive and has had  mixed reviews. The ESS phones also look interesting, well within budget and with v. high sensitivity in common with my speakers.  Any alternatives I should consider?  In essence what I'm looking for is the best value HP within budget that will deliver the characteristics I'm looking for.  

 

Thanks

  

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It's not my kind of aural signature but many like the Focal Elear for the qualities you are seeking. However I think you will be wasting any money spent over $300 if you don't invest in a quality headphone amp and that will set you back at least $500. A good way to validate what you like is to attend a CANJAM event at an audio show  near you, its a great way to hear various headphones in the $400 and up range and to also hear some headphone amp options. My particular favorite in headphone amps at a $500 price point is the Chord Mojo.

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On 2018-05-01 at 2:24 PM, Norton said:

I have very  little experience with HPs but have decided to invest in a pair primarily for late night listening in my home system, probably on ear but maybe over ear.  My listening is 95% orchestral classical, I'm used to Klipsch Cornwall speakers and am looking for a similar sounding HP,  which I would describe as an extremely detailed, dynamic, forward and open presentation.  I don't care at all about aesthetics, finish etc providing the HPs are comfortable, reliable and long lived.  I'll be using the s/e HP output of my pre amp which is 75 ohm.    

 

I'd go up to  £1000 if I had to, but would prefer cheaper.  What would you recommend?  From what I have read so far, the impression I have is that I wouldn't go far wrong with something from the Sennheiser 6** or 8** series.  There is a Klipsch Heritage HP which might be an obvious recommendation in my situation, but seems expensive and has had  mixed reviews. The ESS phones also look interesting, well within budget and with v. high sensitivity in common with my speakers.  Any alternatives I should consider?  In essence what I'm looking for is the best value HP within budget that will deliver the characteristics I'm looking for.  

 

Thanks

  

 

If the output of your preamp is 75 ohm, which is very high, I would go with some high Ohm HPs like Sennheiser 6** and skip most low Ohm planer HPs. Sennheiser HD800 are super-duper picky to the max and really need a good dedicated HP amp and some mod to be considered IMO. You can get a Sennheiser 6** and one of the mid-priced HP amp from Shiit for less than £1000. Sennheiser HD 600 is a bit more neutral but also a bit leaner sounding while the HD 650 is a bit fuller, sweeter and forgiven. Which is best is very much system and preference depending.

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On 5/1/2018 at 7:24 AM, Norton said:

I have very  little experience with HPs but have decided to invest in a pair primarily for late night listening in my home system, probably on ear but maybe over ear.  My listening is 95% orchestral classical, I'm used to Klipsch Cornwall speakers and am looking for a similar sounding HP,  which I would describe as an extremely detailed, dynamic, forward and open presentation.  I don't care at all about aesthetics, finish etc providing the HPs are comfortable, reliable and long lived.  I'll be using the s/e HP output of my pre amp which is 75 ohm.    

 

I'd go up to  £1000 if I had to, but would prefer cheaper.  What would you recommend?  From what I have read so far, the impression I have is that I wouldn't go far wrong with something from the Sennheiser 6** or 8** series.  There is a Klipsch Heritage HP which might be an obvious recommendation in my situation, but seems expensive and has had  mixed reviews. The ESS phones also look interesting, well within budget and with v. high sensitivity in common with my speakers.  Any alternatives I should consider?  In essence what I'm looking for is the best value HP within budget that will deliver the characteristics I'm looking for.  

 

Thanks

  

 

I'm like you, and listen mostly to orchestral classical music. I have been on a quest for the best headphones for classical music for some time. At this point, and this is my personal experience, the only suitable model I'd recommend is the Sennheiser HD800S. I have been to CanJams and had many headphones in my system for extended evaluation. These include the Stax'es (SR007, SR009), the Focals (Utopia, Elear), the Abyss, the various Audeze and MrSpeakers, the various HifiMan's - the lot.

 

I keep returning to the HD800S - and the reason is simple - soundstage and imaging. It's unparalleled. I don't recommend the HD6xx for classical music. I used to own an HD650 for many years. After you hear the HD800S, you can't go back.

 

The only headphone that's beat this - for orchestral music - is the $60k Sennheiser HE-1 system. :) I spent some quality time with this at AXPONA, and it is sublime.

 

As regards the HD-800/800S. Yes, a good quality amp is essential. What do you currently own by way of headphone amplification?

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44 minutes ago, austinpop said:

Yes, a good quality amp is essential. What do you currently own by way of headphone amplification?

 

Thanks to all for contributions so far.  To start with I'll be going with the HP output of my DNM 3D preamp.  

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28 minutes ago, Norton said:

 

Thanks to all for contributions so far.  To start with I'll be going with the HP output of my DNM 3D preamp.  

 

I admit I know nothing of that preamp, although a quick look at the product page suggests they claim to have invested some effort in their headphone output. I would just start with that, and see how it works out for you.

 

If you feel the need for a standalone headphone amp, there is a whole world of options out there, but I'd start with what you have first and see where that takes you. 

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3 hours ago, austinpop said:

the only suitable model I'd recommend is the Sennheiser HD800S.

The "basic" 800 is just within budget after a bit of discount.  Any thoughts on the 700?  Seems to polarise opinion, with some  recommendations for orchestral.

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On 5/1/2018 at 5:39 PM, davide256 said:

However I think you will be wasting any money spent over $300 if you don't invest in a quality headphone amp

 

agree completely.  Not enough amperage out and you can't drive planars.  Not enough voltage swing (slew) and you can't drive dynamic transducers.  Be aware that high power doesn't mean very much.  What good are volts if they can't be ramped up fast enough to match the quick transients?  This is why so many amps are loud, but have poor control over bass.  Also, you'll want to make sure the output impedance of your amp is 8-10 times lower than your headphones impedance for proper damping. 

 

The key to headphones sounding "like" speakers is getting something that won't murder the treble with peaks/nulls (and I have yet to try a headphone that didn't have some standing wavs at high freqs.)  

 

HD600s are very comfortable (once stretched) and can be had for $300 - and are pretty damn neutral - still the best you can buy under $500-$600 IMO.  The key here is getting a great amp as they continue to scale with better amps.  I had Schiit Asgard2 Class A amp and it wasn't bad.... but when I got the Arcam rhead (which was being heavily discounted BTW) the results were stunning.  I regret not getting a good amp to start with.

 

I agree with @austinpop, that the best headphones you can get for classical are the HD800 - Imaging is the best I've ever heard with pinpoint accuracy.  However the stage can be artificially wide at times (you may or may not like this).  Comfort it top notch.  the 800s have a nasty 6K spike that's well documented.  you'll want to EQ out spikes above 4K using a good linear phase EQ like Fab Filter for optimum results.  Linear phase for HFs and Minimum phase for LFs as a rule.  I can explain why if interested. 

 

I've never tried the HD700, sorry, but I don't think it's bad from what I've read.  

 

The focal elear is excellent, very dynamic and punchy.  But there are three caveats:  a big 4K dip that may not go well with classical.  a very hot spike at 10K, and top octave extension is not good and needs 6db more IMO.  Still, this is my favorite headphone because of the punch and dynamism after EQing.

 

@dalethorn can probably give more recs.  

 

If I were a classical lover, I'd either buy the focal Clear or the HD800 (likely the latter), use a player that can run VST or AU plugins and have a top tier EQ software (about $200).  Lastly, I'd drive them with a good tube amp.  But that'll cost you an arm and a leg.  I recon the Rupert Neve RNHP is about as good as it gets for $500.  Or save a little and go with the Arcam rHead which is an outstanding value.

 

 

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7 hours ago, Norton said:

The "basic" 800 is just within budget after a bit of discount.  Any thoughts on the 700?  Seems to polarise opinion, with some  recommendations for orchestral.

 

The basic HD800 is great, if you're willing to do a simple mod on it to tame the peak @buonassi mentioned. I applied the so-called SD mod (Super Dupont). I'll have to look up who I got the mod from - you can search the Super Best Audio Friends forum. The HD800S essentially achieves the same from the factory. I know I'm oversimplifying. Here in the US, you can get open-box, like new HD800S for under $1200 - is it still above 1000 pound in the UK?

 

As for amp - like I said, start with your DNM amp and see how that sounds. I am a big fan of the Cavalli HP amps, and have the flagship Liquid Gold, which is a beast, but certainly not cheap. But the Massdrop Cavalli CTH would be one to consider for not too much money. 

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Regarding the Focal Elear - I know it well. I owned one for almost a year before selling it. My intention was to buy a companion headphone to the HD800 for when I was not listening to classical - i.e. rock, electronic etc. 

 

The Elear actually has a rather insidious peak in the upper treble that I didn't initially notice, but eventually became quite fatiguing. Don't get me wrong - it is a wonderful headphone, just not good if you're treble sensitive. And certainly not good for classical, as imaging is modest.

 

In fact, I eventually found the ideal companion to my HD800 for listening to music with higher treble energy - most rock music - to be the Audioquest Nighthawk, which is available dirt cheap right now.

 

But I digress - for classical, neither is recommended. As for the HD700, I've not heard them, but have not heard any superlatives about them either.

 

You really should listen before you buy.

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3 hours ago, austinpop said:

Regarding the Focal Elear - I know it well. I owned one for almost a year before selling it. My intention was to buy a companion headphone to the HD800 for when I was not listening to classical - i.e. rock, electronic etc. 

 

The Elear actually has a rather insidious peak in the upper treble that I didn't initially notice, but eventually became quite fatiguing. Don't get me wrong - it is a wonderful headphone, just not good if you're treble sensitive. And certainly not good for classical, as imaging is modest.

 

In fact, I eventually found the ideal companion to my HD800 for listening to music with higher treble energy - most rock music - to be the Audioquest Nighthawk, which is available dirt cheap right now.

 

But I digress - for classical, neither is recommended. As for the HD700, I've not heard them, but have not heard any superlatives about them either.

 

You really should listen before you buy.

Did you got a chance to try MrSpeakers Aeon Open or Close one, if so how did you compare it ot Audioquest Nighthawk HF?

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7 hours ago, beautiful music said:

Did you got a chance to try MrSpeakers Aeon Open or Close one, if so how did you compare it ot Audioquest Nighthawk HF?

 

No - I have not heard the Aeon. Sorry.

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15 hours ago, buonassi said:

If I were a classical lover, I'd either buy the focal Clear or the HD800

 

Many thanks for a very informative reply.

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15 hours ago, austinpop said:

You really should listen before you buy

 

Thanks, I will look to borrow the HD6/7/8 from my local dealer and try them with my amp at home, hopefully over this w/e.

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21 hours ago, Norton said:

 

Thanks, I will look to borrow the HD6/7/8 from my local dealer and try them with my amp at home, hopefully over this w/e.

 

I think it’s wise that you borrow the HD6/7/8 from your local dealer and try them with your amp for some time. Not everyone like the analytical and almost strident sound of HD 800, a very different type of sound than your Klipsch Cornwall. The HD 800s is clearly better than the HD800, but still lacking subbase and not playing with the “big boys” IMO. The HD 700 is the worst sounding of the bunch. HD6** is the best value and can play decent out of most amps, even if it scale very well with better upstream gear.

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23 hours ago, Norton said:

 

Many thanks for a very informative reply.

no problem.  The focal Elex sells on massdrop from time to time for $799 I believe.  It has a FR almost identical to the Clear - I've only heard the clear, though.  I think the Elex would fare well with classical if it sounds like the clear, though I'd still think the HD800 may be the king of the hill here.  

 

don't underestimate comfort either.  that can ruin a good musical experience.  Happily I can say all of the flagship cans by focal are comfortable.  The HD800 is extremely comfortable, where the 600 must be stretched (carefully) to not clamp so hard. 

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A bit late to the party here, but I can confirm that the HD800 are outstanding for classical (you've probably noticed that I quite occasionally listen to this type of music....)

 

I agree with what was said however that they benefit from a good amp for the 800 (I'm using Sennheiser's own HDVA600). 

 

My second set of headphones is worth exploring if you can still find them: the Beyerdynamic T90. I bought them some months ago while I was at a hifi shop just shopping for an Audioquest Dragonfly Red, and they are now my semi-mobile system (I travel a lot for work, and the combo is perfect with my Macbook and Audirvana+ in hotel rooms). 

 

It works perfectly well with the Dragonfly, i.e. isn't too picky with regards to source. And I get probably 80% of the performance of the HD800. The Tesla drivers are still pretty analytical, but it's a bit warmer than the extremely clean and precise HD800. Plus they are very comfortable. 

 

The T90 has been phased out by now replaced by the Beyerdynamic Amiron. I compared both but preferred the T90. You may still find some remaining stock of the T90 online. That said, the Amiron is also a very good pair, and price-wise significantly below the Sennheiser 800 series. 

 

I personally never was a fan of the Sennheiser 600 family by the way. And the 700 truly is the 800's very poor cousin, I would avoid it. 

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Thanks again  to all who have contributed suggestions.

 

I tried out the HD800s and HD600 in my system over the w/e.

 

I liked the 800s a lot more than the 600.   However , as a newcomer to HP  I didn't like  listening via them enough to justify the £1400.  While  I loved the level of detail, I'm not sure I could put up with the, to my ears, absence of bass.  I don't know whether this is a issue with the 800s or an unavoidable feature of HP listening  per se?

 

I'm going to try and borrow a pair of Focal Elear - several reviews suggest characteristics  that might be more in line with what I'm used to via my speakers and for the uncommitted HP listener they  are a lot cheaper than the 800s.

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HD800 + Cavalli Liquid Carbon for me.  I bought, sold, compared many headphones and amps before settling on this combo, some at much higher price points.

 

I also liked the T-90 mentioned above by Musicophile at a lower price point, which I owned at one time, powered with a Bottlehead Crack and some very good NOS tubes.  I also agree with Musicophile on the HD6xx series, which I found to be comparatively boring and not engaging the more I listened to them, but lots of people love it.

 

The HD800 can go toe to toe with any headphone at any price in my opinion.  You can spend more, but more money doesn't get you a better headphone, it just gets you a different flavor of sound.

 

I personally don't find the HD800 to be bass shy, but with headphones, it is imperative you try for yourself, as physical differences in our ear structure impact how we hear them.  There is no universal right or wrong choice with headphones.

 

  

 

 

 

 

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5 hours ago, Blake said:

The HD800 can go toe to toe with any headphone at any price in my opinion.  You can spend more, but more money doesn't get you a better headphone, it just gets you a different flavor of sound.

Very well put.

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Yeah - with the right amp, the HD800 bass response is outstanding. Again, keep in mind that most consumer headphones are “goosed” to artificially boost bass. 

 

Ah a fellow Cavalli fan! Yes the LC (liquid carbon) is an outstanding amp for the price too, but may be hard to find. That’s why I suggested the Massdrop CTH.

 

I will be very interested to see what you think of the Focal Elear with classical music. Or indeed any of the Focal’s.

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I borrowed a pair of Elears and HD700s.

 

Not that impressed with the Focals, I couldn't match  what I was hearing  with the reviews that suggested exemplary dynamics and bass.   The build quality was great though. I thought the 700s were a nice upgrade on the 600s and very comfortable, but not that interesting to listen to.

 

From  what I've heard so far, the HD800s are really the only ones I'd consider buying.

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On 11.5.2018 at 2:39 PM, Norton said:

I borrowed a pair of Elears and HD700s.

 

Not that impressed with the Focals, I couldn't match  what I was hearing  with the reviews that suggested exemplary dynamics and bass.   The build quality was great though. I thought the 700s were a nice upgrade on the 600s and very comfortable, but not that interesting to listen to.

 

From  what I've heard so far, the HD800s are really the only ones I'd consider buying.

 

Go for the HD800 (or S). 

 

Ok they aren’t cheap but still pocket change compared to most other hifi gear.

 

You will enjoy them for years and never look back.

 

Plus as mentioned several times they are truly comfortable for many hours which cannot be said of some other high end headphones, especially planar ones, as they tend to get heavy. 

 

(Writing this listening to a 24/192 stream of Brahms piano trios with Christian Tetzlaff in amazing 2xHD sound with my HD800/HDVA600 combo and enjoying every second of it). 

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