Closed back headphones

closed-back

#1

Over the last 3 months or so I have spent many many hours researching headphones (and amps… and dacs… :slight_smile: ) and while I have learned many things, one of the things I have noticed the most is the lack of closed back headphones that are even considered by the main reviewers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are closed backs out there, but they are certainly not regarded as being high quality (except for a few) and are definitely not on the recommended list unless there is no other option than closed back, even then it seems that people struggle to recommend them.

Well, I fall into the category of those that are “forced” to use closed back headphones, both at work and a lot of the time at home. Unfortunately I also live in an area where the only possibility to try headphones is to buy online and return them if you don’t like them but I am not a fan of doing that.

So, if we could share the closed back headphones we have had chance to try, or even those that we have heard/read/seen good things (or bad things) about, it would be a great reference for those that are limited in their choice like myself.

I do not have an extensive experience with many sets of closed backs but I will share what I have tried so far and also post those that I manage to get my hands on going forwards. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated.

Denon AH-D350
It has been a long time since I have heard these. They were my first over-ear headphones that I bought as soon as I had a job that allowed me to (with a bunch of other audio gear). At the time I was DJing and performing live, so all I really understood was “loud”. I seem to remember that those around me with “better and more experienced ears” liked the quality of the sound, but I really couldn’t vouch for it.

Sony MDR-V6
These were my first headphones purchased for my “home studio”. This was nearly 20 years ago now and I still have them in a studio space I share with a friend.
I found them very clean and easy to work with, although I would not choose them for listening to music. I have since moved on but I still pick them up now and again to compare.

Sony MDR-ZX100
These were purchased as a cheap option to use in the early hours of the morning when I couldn’t really use my monitors.
The sound was far from great and they became my “experimental” headphones once I moved on. I have made various mods to them and they are very listenable, but still very cheap headphones.

Beats by Dr.Dre (not sure of the model name, but the first ones)
I tried these in a department store after hearing all the hype about them. I only listened to them for about 5 minutes and got the impression that they were muddy and everything sounded like an MP3 with an artificial bass boost added.

Audio Technica M50X
I needed a set of headphones to practice bass through at home and these were actually available (along with the M40X) in a local store. I didn’t get to try bass through them as I never took them home. I tried them in the store using my phone as a source and while I found that they were much better than the Beats I mentioned above, I did not feel they were accurate at all.

I have since seen many reviews saying they are great headphones for mixing but I would only consider mixing on them if I was planning on the track being played back on a bluetooth speaker.

Obviously eveyone has their own tastes and opinions but I would not choose to use these for mixing or music listening.

Audio Technica M40X
I suppose I could say that these headphones are the ones that got me more serious about listening through headphones.

I came across these when trying out the M50X and not liking them. I decided to try these as I needed a set of headphones for practice and the store didn’t have much choice.

These did feel a lot more accurate to my ears and did not seem to have that artificial bass sound that I found in the M50X. I decided to buy them and take them home to give them a real run.

After using them for a week or so, I found that they were not very comfortable and went on a search for replacement pads, where I came across Zeos for the first time. I sort of followed his advice and ordered the Brainwavz angled pads (not quite what he recommended, but close enough) and was really happy with the result.

I found them more than adecuate for bass practice. I also found (find) them very easy to mix on and also quite enjoyable for listening to music. I think it was the first time that I actually sat and listened for hours and hours through headphones.

I have since heard other headphones that are clearer sounding, but I still like the M40X and use them daily. They are still my preferred headphone for mixing and recording as I find them very easy to read (probably because I am used to them). I like them so much that I have ended up with 3 pairs!

Beyerdynamic Custom Studio
These are my current headphones at work and my preferred (closed back) headphone so far.

They are 80Ohm headphones and while not difficult to drive, they do react well to amplification.

The bass selector works very well and the change in bass level between 1 to 4 is tremendous. I like to keep it on 2 as it seems to be the most balanced, although I do sometimes drop it to one on songs that are too bass heavy, or bump it up to 4 when I want some rumble.

The mids are very well defined and the treble I do not find harsh on these headphones at all (and I am a little treble sensitive).

The soundstage is not ultra-wide but it does seem to provide decent imaging (I will probably be able to add more input when I have heard others with better imaging).

The only thing I have found with these is that they do not like being converted to balanced. They had all kinds of strange resonance and reverb happening when I converted them and ran them balanced on the P20. It sounded like they were out of phase and that everything was happening in slow motion. I tried various cables, connectors and even soldered straight through, but the issue remained. I am not sure what caused that.

(Edit: I forgot to mention that the sound from the Custom Studios never seems to be coming from in front of you, the sides and behind work great but you never seem to be looking at the stage, if that makes any sense. That is definitely one point they could use some improvement on)

Audio Technica M60X
Zeos raved about these recently so I thought I would check them out. They are not bad but I find the very similar to the M40X with slightly less bass and the inconvenience of being on ear and not foldable. I only tried them at the store as I prefer what I have already.

Audio Technica MSR7
I tried these also at the store and only for around 5 minutes. I found them to be a little harsh in the treble for my liking and much prefer the sound signature of the Beyerdynamics Custom Studio’s. The bass is ok but the Custom Studio also has much more on tap when needed.

I will probably give the new balanced version a try when they are available around here (they only stock ATH and not many models) as I hear the are supposed to follow the sound signature of the limited edition MSR7’s which sounded a little better (so I have read).

I think that is all I can really comment on for now. I have owned a bunch of cheapish DJ headphones over the years but I couldn’t rememer models nevermind sound signatures. I could probably check my Thomann history and tell you which were loudest, but that is about it.

As said earlier, any input and/or recommendations on closed-backs would be greatly appreciated!


#2

I share your misery; it’s not so much of a requirement having the closed headphones (work and such), as a preference…I definitely enjoy isolation when listening. This will be a good thread to watch closely. Thanks


#3

I found for high end the HD820 to be amazing. My current favorite is the Focal Elegia, and it is my daily driver at work.


#4

I know they are no longer made, but I still love my Denon AH-D7000 headphones. There are many newer closed back models that provide great performance. I’m sure you will get some great recommendations here. I look forward to following this thread.


#5

I will always prefer an open back to a closed back but I do like some closed backs. I had the Audeze Sine that I really liked and my closed back of choice is now the Focal Elegia


#6

Nice interesting thread and a great read. Thanks. I’m not really a closed back person myself as I have no need for them really. But I can appreciate that for others with a need for them that the market for closed backs doesnt seem as well served as open backs. At least to my inexperienced thinking. I could be way off mark though. Good luck with in your closed back quest.


#7

I’m also in the camp where I won’t typically use a closed-back headphone if the situation allows me to listen via an open-back model. There are some exceptions, where I am exploiting the nature of a specific model with a particular genre of music or album, but they’re not very common.

Thoughts on a few:

Audio Technica ATH-50Mx

Cheap, comfortable, reasonably easy to drive, decent isolation, significant bass-tilt. Usable as-is for tracking, but requires EQ for mixing (Sonarworks). Can be fun for some musical genres, but not a general purpose “listening” headphone for me.

Sony WM-1000XM3

By far my favorite wireless headphone so far. ANC that beats the Bose QC35ii, 30 hour real-world battery life, support for all the important BT codecs (SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD & LDAC), decently listenable passively, when powered they’re even better … with a slightly warm delivery and a decent top-end smoothness.

Fostex TH-X00/TR-X00

Somewhere between a shallow U-shape and a V-shaped signature, depending on what wood the cups are finished with. I had both Purpleheart and Ebony, and definitely prefer the Ebony for listening. Easy to drive. Lovely finish and very comfortable. So-so isolation. Wouldn’t be my first choice for an all-rounder - especially in classical realms, but a lot of fun with contemporary rock, pop and EDM.

TR-X00 model is the same tuning as the TH-X00 model, but has a removable cables (see note, below*). This is useful as the stock cable is rather long, though flexible and nicely made (and its very easy to convert it to balanced or to shorten it etc.):

MrSpeakers AEON Flow Closed

The exception that makes the rule … this is a better sounding, more neutral, and more open sounding headphone than its open-back cousin … for the same price. Likes power - otherwise they’ll sound congested and lifeless/dull (not something to use straight out of a phone). Tonality can be tweaked with included filters. Not a detail-monster (though better with the black filter), but otherwise a very engaging and convincing listen. Looks fantastic, excellent comfort, supplied cables are a sane length, non-microphonic and extremely flexible. Offers the best isolation I’ve so far found in a passive headphone.

Focal Elegia

The closest thing I know of to a reference tuning for a closed-back headphone. This throws people expecting the elevated bass typical of most closed-back cans (if you’re looking for emphasized bass, look elsewhere). Fantastic resolution, excellent dynamics (macro and micro), more-open-sounding than most closed-backs. Isolates well enough for my use-cases, but vented enclosure means they’re well behind the AEON Flow Closed in this regard. Supplied in a very nice package with an excellent case, though the cables leave something to be desired - especially for portable use.

ZMF Eikon (Padauk)

A close run thing for me with the HD820 in terms of which is the most enjoyable to listen to, with the Eikon being unfailingly enjoyable, with better neutrality than the HD820 and a more liquid sense to their delivery. Solid, taut, bass foundation, that doesn’t overwhelm. Lucid, detailed mid-range, and a natural sounding top-end. Gorgeous finish, excellent build, very comfortable but quite heavy (doesn’t bother me, due to years of using Audeze cans), with average isolation.

Fostex TH900 Mk2 (Emerald)

Pronounced V-shaped signature with fast, hard-hitting bass, excellent sub-bass growl and rumble but has recessed-if-detailed mids. Top-end is both aggressive and too pronounced and benefits significantly from a pad-swap (TH610). Excellent resolution, clearly outperforming the TH-X00 line there, and in dynamics, but tonally just way off. A lot of fun with the right music and mood, but not much of an all-rounder. The limited-edition lacquered Emerald Green finish is stunning (the standard Bordeaux are extremely pretty too), comfort is high, they’re fairly easy to drive, but they’re a specialist piece and even then the price is very high given their quirks. Removable cable (see note below*), and package includes a headphone stand. Isolation is so-so.

Sony MDR-Z1R

Very warm sound, bass plays deep but lacks impact/speed, and exhibits some bloat, compared to much less expensive options. Tonality is wonky in most setups, but for some reason comes together and sounds significantly more neutral when paired with the Sony NW-WM1Z or TA-ZH1ES. Music projects with an exaggerated sense of scale compared to most cans, but the mids, while rich, get lost too easily. Top-end can be zingy. Lovely build, and excellent “forget you’re wearing them” comfort. Included cables, with locking connectors, are excellent - and include a dedicated 4.4mm TRRRS connection for Sony’s (and now Sennheisers) DAPs and DAC/amps. Price is somewhat comical for their level of general technical performance/tonality, however.

Sennheiser HD820

A striking looking (the glass panels are extremely cool), technical tour-de-force, with a not-quite-neutral tuning and absolute dependence on getting a proper seal. Their large, non-circular, pads make this unexpectedly hit-or-miss (they can seem to be sealed, and not be, very easily). And without a proper seal they’re all kinds of wonky (not just tonally). But once properly seated, they exhibit the best overall technicalities in my list, with superlative resolution, fantastic dynamics, solid, if slightly elevated, bass-punch, and the best imaging I’ve heard in a closed-back headphone.

If you’re expecting them to sound just like an HD800 or HD800(S), but with isolation, then you’re probably not going to be happy. They are the closest thing to that you’ll likely find, but that doesn’t mean that’s what they actually are in any real sense. If you don’t need closed-back/isolation then the HD800S or a modified HD800 is a much better, less expensive, bet.

These trade off with the ZMF Eikon for the bulk of my closed-back listening, with the Eikon being tonally purer and more seductive, and the HD820 being more resolving and expansive.


*The Fostex TR-X00 and TH900 Mk2 cables LOOK like they’re terminated with the same connections as the Sennheiser HD6XX line. The actual insertion depth on the Fostex is deeper, which means some HD6XX connectors will not engage solidly enough to stay inserted. Also, the Fostex models are wired with opposite polarity to the Sennheiser connections, so will play in opposite phase if using an HD6XX cable.


#8

Great post! Thank you!


#9

Thanks to everyone! I’m researching about closed backs, as next I want to be closed, as 50% of the time cannot use opens.

Incredible timing :smile:


#10

If you come across a store with plenty of selection, let me know :smiley:


#11

thanks for helping with more options


#12

I rarely comment here anymore, as my disability is starting to get the best of me.
I happened to see your Thread and had to chime in. I use closed backed cans 90% of the time, as I am restricted to my BR most of the time and prefer not to annoy my wife.
I have owned SO many quality cans, over the course of my 59 yrs, just too many to mention, much less remember! But, I finally found my Dream pair of closed backed HPs about 2 years ago and they are still providing me with stellar audio. I purchased a “mint”, used pair of Oppo PM-3s over 2 years ago, off eBay, and have never bothered trying to find a better sounding set of cans!
I am a long time Audiophile and former A/V Electronics Tech. I’ve found that selecting the perfect set of cans is not a science, in as much as beauty is. It is all up to the EAR(s) of the listener.
I have always been intrigued by Planer Magnetic Diaphanous drivers, in both speakers and headphones. The first time I heard a pair of Magnapan’s Magnaplaners, back in the mid 70’s, I was in awe of their wide and accurate soundstage, as well their ability to reproduce hauntingly delicate timbres. The ability of the razor thin, planer magnetic “ribbons”, aka drivers, to reproduce EVERY note had me “rehearing” my favorite music all over again! I was hearing things from them that other speakers couldn’t reproduce. The only thing missing was the BASS.
Oppo closed it’s doors last year, so they no longer manufacture them. But, you can still find brand new ones on eBay. Last I looked, they are going UP in value, too. The PM-3s retailed for $399.00 and used ones are going for $489.00 and up. I’ve seen a few new ones going for $625.00 and up!
I use them almost everyday, 4-5 hours a day for sound therapy, due to my constant severe pain issues. They are built like a TANK, too! I’m HARD on cans now and these are the only ones to hold up for a year, much less 2 years!
Caveat…they do have an issue, though! The material (pseudo leather) of the ear pads deteriorate rapidly, unless you baby them. I went thru 3 pair in a year and 1 1/2! Terrible structure! Headband can be the same!
A couple months ago, I purchased a pair of Brainwavz Sheepskin replacement ear pads and modified them. They sound even better now (tighter bass and extended, brighter highs)! :thinking: Go figure?
I would recommend that you, at least, check them out! Read others reviews and impressions. A lot of people swear by these babies, including myself, so Oppo got something right.
Hope it helps! :+1:t3:


#13

The closed back market is well served—the issue is that the technology tops out pretty fast. A closed headphone can sound great for a while, but then air pressure fatigue sets in. Then all you perceive is pop pop pop and want to turn them down. The recent higher end products summarized by @Torq do the best job, but will never match open headphones.

Use them for necessary isolation but skip them otherwise.


#14

Yes of course you’re correct. What I was trying to say is, that with me personally never looking into closed headphones for my own use, the open back market seems larger. As I’ve never really seriously looked into the closed back market it’s a bit of a daft thing to say. It’s just a perception that’s all really.

I shall of course take the cheese grater to my kneecaps later this evening as a means of penance to the forum.:hugs::grin:


#15

Hi @Westred, I have never tried any Oppo cans. I know that they have a good following and many were sad at the closing of Oppo. I too use music to help with health problems and have been helped greatly by it. I hope you continue to gain pleasure from your music and headphones. Health and happiness to you.


#16

Thanks for your input, I have heard nothing but praise for the Oppo’s. I have kept my eye open here but I only came across one pair so far which is actually new on Amazon but is selling for 890€.

I will definitely keep an eye on eBay and such.

I am sorry to read about your pain but glad that you can find enjoyment and soothing in music.


#17

Yes, indeed, I am alw@ys in some kind of pain. Too many maladies incurred to even get into!
If you are truly looking for a nice pair of PM-3s, I just saw a few “original owner” used ones for $325.00 - $385.00. There are a few nib ones for sale too, but the affordable ones I saw were being sold out of China and Russia. So, I don’t know if I’d trust them?
A used pair would be a great buy, right now! I could show you how I modded the ear cups, if you like? Very easy! I got the Brainwavz sheepskin replacements for $24.00 off Amazon and they will last for YEARS!

Funny thing… I got approved to use Medical Cannabis to treat my conditions, through my Doc of 20yrs. My MMJ Card should be here by tomorrow and the first MMJ Dispensary in ND opens, here in Fargo, Saturday. I’ve been waiting over 2 years for this to happen, so, hopefully I can soon see if Cannabis will help me get back a “somewhat” quality of life? Any improvement would be a Godsend!

I just thought…:thinking:. Will Cannabis intake make my Oppo PM-3s sound even better? :thinking: I’m thinking… Oh Yeah! l​:expressionless:l :woozy_face::grin:

Thanks for your feedback and kind thoughts! It actually means a lot, right now… Godspeed to ALL! :+1:t3:


#18

I use closed back when my wife is around. I really enjoy my Meze 99 Classics. Great to look at, nice sound (these are bassy headphones) and a pretty good price.

My current # 1 closed backs are my Beyerdynamic T5p - Gen2’s. In Canada these retail for about $1,200.00 to $1,400.00 after tax. I bought a used pair for half that. They are TRULY amazing. They seem bass light if you are coming from a bassy headphone, or I suppose if you like EDM or Hip Hop. I find them crystal clear and can listen for hours. Today I was using them with new amp (Burson Fun w/Classic opamps) and they got even better.

ShaneD


#19

The T5p’s are a bit out of my budget but the Meze 99’s…some very good feedback on them. thanks


#20

The 99’s are really easy to drive. At my last job I would spend my one hour lunch listening to them out of my LG V30 phone.

And I was always getting complimented on the appearance of them. GREAT bang for the buck. Noticeable bass so depending on your preferences…

They are the polar opposites of the Beyers which is why I love them.

Shane D