Review: Best Premium-class Headphones

Skip the noise-cancellation and get your jaw dropped!

Buy traditional Over-Ear Headphones for the money you intended to spend on the best wireless headphones.

9 hodetelefoner 2020

A few years ago, some would say that you were less gifted if you spent five hundred on a pair of headphones. That was until the wireless noise canceling headphones came along. Several of the best cost over 400 £, something no one wants to raise their eyebrows for.

But how often do you really need active noise reduction? It is primarily on airplanes such headphones are indispensable. In these times when people try their best to fly less for the sake of the environment, maybe one should think a little differently.

For normal use on trains and buses, you can go a long way with a pair of closed headphones. The same at work, even in an open office landscape. If you have a closed office or are mostly at home, it may be even wiser to choose a pair of open headphones. They often give even better sound, and you do not get clammy around the ears.

If you opt out of Bluetooth wireless sound and rather buy high-quality headphones with cable, then for 500 £ you will be able to disappear into the music, and almost touch and feel the instruments. There is such a big difference in sound between these and a pair of noise-canceling headphones for the same price, that you almost have to hear it to believe it.

You will experience that the soundscape opens up more, the music really begins to live. As a result of even better dynamic properties and lower distortion.

More exotic headphones

You should also not miss the build quality and comfort that lies in the most exclusive headphones in this price range. You get more aluminum, with a better sense of detail in the grinding. The pillows are in even better quality to maintain comfort for a long time. Some have taken the trouble with exclusive packaging, gorgeous details in genuine leather, hand-sewn pillows and so on. On such, the entire budget does not go to sound quality, and they may not sound quite as good as the models where stunts are not a priority. Worth thinking about.

Better than speakers

If you think 500 £ is a lot to spend on a pair of headphones, then there are perhaps more deadlines when you hear that they can quickly compete acoustically with speakers at five to ten times the price. This is because the speaker element in the headphone is placed close to the ear and thus cancels the room’s influence on the sound. For the same reason, they only need to deliver a fraction of the sound pressure compared to a speaker several meters away. Hence lower distortion for the same perceived sound level. A headphone also has a much lower material cost than a pair of speakers. Better sound for the money, in other words.

Nine candidates

In this test, we consider nine models, who argue about being the best in class.

We have included both open and closed headphones in this test, to find the best no matter what you are going to use them for (if you absolutely must have noise reduction, you can read lots of tests of such with us).

In the selection of the best, we do not pay special attention to whether they work well with a mobile phone or not. But we have tried directly from the Lightning transition from the iPhone, to check. Otherwise, we have tested with the headphone output on the integrated amplifier Hegel H190 and also the separate headphone amplifier Schiit Magni 3+ . The most heavily driven ones have also been a quick trip to the Auralic Taurus.

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What do you think?

5 / 5. 1

Hifiman Sundara

Test winner in open class

Hifiman Sundara is not only the best buy in this class, you also get the best sound.

Our verdict

Perfectly balanced sound with potent bass and buckets of details. Super-defined sound image with almost complete qualities.
The size and weight can be inhibiting.
  • Type: Open, over the ear
  • Principle: Plan magnetic
  • Collapsible: No.
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: 3.5m 6.35mm incl. 3.5mm adapter (1.5 meters, replaceable)
  • Elements: approx. 80 mm
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 37 ohms / 94 dB
  • Frequency response: 6-75,000 Hz
  • Weight: 372 grams (without cable)
  • Color: black
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Price 449 £

While most headphones use dynamic elements, some make their own elements, which use a different operating principle. Hifiman Sundara is among them, and here the membrane surface is also larger than usual. Sundara uses planar magnetic elements in open earbuds, it has its advantages, but also some disadvantages.

The earbuds at Sundara are by far the largest in this class, and each of them is connected but a cable that is easily replaceable. A shorter 1.5m cable is also included, but despite the low impedance, they are not particularly suitable for mobile phones. But they can be equipped with balanced cables, if you have a headphone amplifier with balanced outputs.

Hifiman Sundara in use

With low impedance and low sensitivity, Sundara is relatively nice to operate with an Audioquest Cobalt, connected to the mobile, although the towering physics of the headphones are not very suitable for portable use. They are better suited in the easy chair, plugged into the output of a Hegel H190, or the affordable headphone amplifier Shiit Magni 3+.

The high weight is elegantly compensated by the large, sloping ear pads and the wide band under the headband. Here the sound leaks in abundance from the grid on the earbuds, but to a lesser extent from the ear pads. Which uses artificial leather on the sides, and fabric on the inside. Sundara are by far the stiffest headphones in the test, and adaptation is not easy. You can bid gently on the metal hoop if you have to, but I found that they sat close and well on the head without physical modifications.

The plane magnetic structure in Sundara has a lower moving mass. A so-called Neo Supernano membrane, which is between 1 and 2 microns thick, is lighter than a dynamic membrane, and in theory it should provide a more precise and faster transient response.
It works like a charm in Sundara. In addition to a sparkling dynamic response, it actually has very convincing bass reproduction. Tight and potent at the same time, and the bass drives the rhythm of the music in an exemplary way. It also does not go very deep, but it is not so noticeable because it is super defined and not at all afraid to push.

But it is on resolution, transient response and detail that Sundara really excels. The vocal reproduction is neutral, open and full of timbres. Strings sound more believable here than on any other open headphone in this class, and the piano sound gets by far the most sonorous reproduction in Sundara.

Conclusion

Hifiman Sundara is the best hi-fi purchase in this class. The sound is more refined, airy and dynamic than the competition. The treble is silky soft, the bass potent, and the midrange is crystal clear and neutrally reproduced. The soundscape is perceived as large and open, and they thrive as well at Brockhampton as Beethoven. Sundara is simply a bargain for the price, and perfect for home use, although not very mobile friendly.

HiFiMAN Sundara measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. Compensated for what miniDSP thinks is subjectively linear.
A very nice frequency curve here. Again, the miniDSP microphone dips slightly at 4 kHz, which is an artifact.

Audeze LCD-1

High-end headphones for your smartphone

Audeze LCD-1: There is no better sound for portable use in this price range.

Our verdict

Compact, light and perfect for mobile. Glass clear and neutral sound, with live bass reproduction.
The bass rolls off early and the soundscape is not as fine-meshed and refined as the reference.
  • Type: Open, over the ear
  • Principle: Plan magnetic
  • Foldable: Yes
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: 2m 3.5mm incl. 6.3mm adapter
  • Elements: 90 mm
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 16 ohms / 99 dB
  • Frequency response: 10-50,000 Hz
  • Weight: 250 grams (without cable)
  • Color: black
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Price 499 £

Like the Hifiman Sundara, the California Audeze uses a planar magnetic element in the Audeze LCD-1. Which is much smaller, lighter and even collapsible, despite having a slightly larger element on the inside. The small LCD-1s are the only ones that can be plugged straight into the mobile, without the sound collapsing, and for people who want the good sound out, the Audeze headphones are the best choice among the open headphones. A handy case for LCD-1 is also included.

The compact earbuds reach right around the ears, and with a relatively short 2 meter fabric-covered cable, you avoid too much cable salad. Like most headphones in the test, the detachable cable can be replaced with a balanced cable should one wish to connect the LCD-1 to a headphone amplifier with balanced outputs.

Audeze LCD-1 in use

When the impedance is as low as 16 ohms, it does not make so new that the sensitivity is moderate 94 dB. With Audioquest Cobalt connected to the mobile, the LCD-1 plays playfully easy, and if you do not care that others hear what you are listening to, the small Audeze headphones are perhaps the very best among open headphones. For portable use.

The wearing comfort is not unexpectedly very good. The low weight turns out to be an advantage, but we experienced that the ear pads in artificial leather eventually gave a warm and clammy pressure around the ears. The earbuds can be turned quite a lot, mostly backwards in fact, but more than enough to make close contact when the watches are correctly placed on the head.

There is a lot of plastic on the LCD-1, which is not perceived as as robust as the Hifiman Sundara, with which it shares the operating principle. The planar magnetic construction is based on the same principle with a thin film membrane with conductive material, driven by small magnets. As is well known, it provides lower moving mass, and faster responsiveness than heavier, dynamic elements.

You notice this immediately on the sound. Which is unusually fresh and dynamic to be magnetic. As mentioned, the small earbuds house quite large membranes, it is noticeable on the bass which is relatively full in the sound. Those who think that all planetary magnetic headphones sound slim should try these. Sibilants (s-sounds) can sound a bit murky if you turn up the volume, otherwise there are no notable artifacts in the soundscape.

Compared to Hifiman Sundara, the soundscape is more prominent here, and the sound is not as warm as for example. on the Sennheiser HD 660S or Amiron Home.

The bass, on the other hand, does not go very deep, but in return it is rich in details and the sound is perceived as relatively neutral, without any parts of the frequency range protruding negatively. There is not as much air and the detail is not as fine-meshed as in Sundara, but they are equally suitable for both studio and home use.

Conclusion

There is probably no better open headphone for mobile use. The Audeze LCD-1 can be folded, unfolded, and threaded over the ears in the same way as small, portable headphones. But the sound is much better, with an open and fresh soundscape, which is well balanced and has lively bass, albeit not with any particularly deep bass. For sofa use, there are better choices than this, but for portable use, the Audeze LCD-1 is a bargain.

Audeze LCD-1 frequency
Audeze LCD-1 measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. Compensated for what miniDSP thinks is subjectively linear.
The bass is a bit gentle up to 100 Hz, where it peaks, but maintains a good linearity (with warm sound balance) over this. Slightly zigzag patterned frequency reproduction above 1 kHz, but reproduces up to 20 kHz with good energy.
Neumann NDH-20
Neumann NDH 20

Non-engaging first attempt

Legendary microphone manufacturer fails to grab us with its first headphone model.

Our verdict

Appealing appearance, great aluminum finish and decent comfort. Seems to be a comfortable load on amplifiers, does not change sound very much from amplifier to amplifier.
The sound is dark, with too little detail at the top. It also sounds too sharp for our liking.
  • Type: Closed, over the ear
  • Principle: Dynamic
  • Foldable: Yes
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: 3 m straight + 1.5-3 m spiral, 3.5 mm (6.3 mm adapter)
  • Elements: 38 mm
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 150 ohms / 114 dB
  • Frequency response: 5-30,000 Hz
  • Weight: 390 grams (without cable)
  • Color: Two-tone silver gray / black
  • Web: neumann.com
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Price 455 £

When we first heard that Neumann had made his first pair of headphones, we thought this had to be something quite special. In the studio industry, the German manufacturer is famous for its studio microphones, which can cost from a few thousand bucks to over 5000 £. Their studio monitors are also very popular.

Headphones, on the other hand, have never been tried before. But since the parent company is Sennheiser itself, it was really only a matter of time before it came.

Neumann’s engineers have supplied themselves with components on Sennheiser’s parts warehouse, when assembling NDH 20. The basic model is the now discontinued Sennheiser HD 630VB, which ran off with the title Best Buy in a group test in 2016.

The NDH 20 differs from its relative by lacking variable bass control (a feature we liked), but in return it has a detachable cable that the HD 630VB lacked. Since it is intended for studio use, the impedance is quite high, 150 ohms. This allows you to connect several sets of headphones to the same amplifier, without the impedance dropping down to an unmanageable level for the amplifier. The sensitivity is at a nice 114 dB, which means that they are not hopeless with a mobile phone. But at full volume connected to the iPhone’s Lightning adapter, the sound is just loud enough.

We like the look of the headphones and that they are collapsible. They have a clearly more exclusive feel than the HD 630VB that they are related to.

Neumann-NDH-20 parts
Both a straight wire and a practical spiral cable are included with the Neumann NDH 20. Photo: Neumann

Neumann NDH 20 in use

The fit is perfectly fine. It squeezes a little around the ears and the ear pads in well-drawn memory foam are a little hard, but you feel that the headphones breathe a little more than other closed variants. Which is an advantage for sound people who are going to use them for a long time in the studio at a time.

When I hear about headphones for studio use, I immediately think of a linear frequency curve, and very analytical and correct sound. You know, like the Sennheiser HD 800S, the flagship of the parent company (in dynamic headphones, we are not talking about the electrostats HE 1 for just over half a million kroner).

But NDH 20 is not linear. They have too much bass, especially in the upper bass register. Furthermore, there is too little air at the top, cymbals lack air and details, as do singing voices – male and female. It is almost well done by Neumann to be able to combine loud sound with little air.

Conclusion

Neumann’s first pair of headphones have an appealing appearance, and with greater quality radiance than the Sennheiser HD 630VB on which they are built.

But NDH 20 is not as engaging listening. No matter what we play music, the tiredness shows up after a fairly short time. The instruments do not have a complex enough sound structure, there is no large soundscape to speak of, it all becomes too flat and boring. It also sounds pretty loud.

It does not take much before NDH 20 sounds very good. There are qualities here, but the final sonic result engages too little. We hope Neumann tries again, they can definitely do better than this.

Neumann NDH 20 frequency
Neumann NDH 20 measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. Compensated for what miniDSP thinks is subjectively linear.
We see a very midrange-focused sound curve, with a swelling from 200 to 1000 Hz. Treble reproduction is generally muted all the way.
Sennheiser HD 660S

Classic in renewed costume

Sennheiser's best in the 600 series is the safe choice in this class.

Our verdict

Silky smooth sound rich in details, beautiful vocal reproduction and warm, full sound.
Limited sound pressure and deep bass.
  • Type: Open, over the ear
  • Principle: Dynamic
  • Collapsible: No.
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: 3m 6.3mm incl. 3.5mm adapter + 4.4mm balanced
  • Elements: 45 mm
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 150 ohms / 104 dB
  • Frequency response: 10-41,000 Hz
  • Weight: 260 grams (without cable)
  • Color: black
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Price 449 £

Few headphones have had legend status as long as the Sennheiser 600 series. The most generous is the HD 660S, which has been our reference among open, dynamic headphones in this price range. They are compact, lightweight and play well on everything from simple headphone amplifiers, to expensive high-end hi-fi. The HD 660S are not completely neutral, but so well balanced that they are a well-suited reference point.

The Senn hoists come with a proprietary 3 meter long cable, a carrying case and a balanced cable with a 4.4 mm balanced Pentaconn plug. Unfortunately, there are not many headphone amplifiers with Pentaconn connectors, apart from Sennheiser’s own. The earbuds are similar to those on the Audeze LCD-1, angled slightly in relation to the padded hoop, and for the most part the HD 660S is made of plastic. It provides low weight and good wearing comfort.

Sennheiser HD 660S in use

The fabric-covered ear pads lie softly on the head and the oval shape at least fits my ears perfectly. They are not at all unsuitable for portable use. With a resistance of 150 ohms and 104 dB sensitivity, you get decent sound, but there is no doubt that an Audioquest Cobalt connected to the phone, gives far better sound in the Sennheiser.

The large oval ear pads and moderate pressure on the head, provide excellent wearing comfort. Like the Beyerdynamic headphones, these are among the most comfortable headphones to wear over time. Had they been collapsible, they would have been perfect to take on a trip, even though they are not as compact as the LCD-1.
Those familiar with earlier versions of the Sennheiser HD 600 series will hardly be disappointed with the HD 660S. The soundscape is more open and more detailed, the bass is more clearly defined and timbres come out much better in the soundscape. They are not as analytical as the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, and the sound is warmer and more listener-friendly compared to the LCD-1.

Strings are beautifully defined, the same as you say about vocals, but there is a small veil over the treble that dampens the aggressiveness of e.g. hard hitting rock. It is correct to say that the balance in the sound provides a very pleasant listening experience. There’s more air in the sound on the Hifiman Sundara, and tighter and more dynamic bass in the LCD-1, but that does not deprive the HD 660S of any of its qualities.

Conclusion

The Senn hoists feel like an old, tailored coat. It may not be ultra-modern or high-tech, but it fits every time you put it on, and the classic ‘Sennheiser sound’ is very addictive. You get sharper dynamics and sharper detail in other headphones, but few others have as many positive all-round qualities as a pair of Sennheiser HD 660S.

HD660S frequency
Sennheiser HD 660S measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. Compensated for what miniDSP thinks is subjectively linear.
Slightly careful with energy in the bass below 100 Hz, and from the midrange around 1 kHz the unrolling starts very carefully. With the exception of a peak around 8 kHz to bring out the details and the air.
Fostex T60RP oppslag
Fostex T60RP

The music unfolds

Whether it is because they are semi-open is not known, but the Fostex T60RP has cleaner sound than most closed in the class.

Our verdict

Great resolution, rich bass and large room. Very musical presentation.
Very heavy duty! Forget about using these with your mobile. Slightly reclining treble. Looks like industrial hearing protection…
  • Type: Semi-weapon, over the ear
  • Principle: Plan magnetic
  • Collapsible: No.
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: Detachable 1.5 m, 3.5 mm (6.3 mm adapter)
  • Elements: 40 mm square
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 50 ohms / 92 dB
  • Frequency response: 15-35,000 Hz
  • Weight: 380 grams (without cable)
  • Color: black with mahogany watches
  • Web: fostexinternational.com
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Price 459 £

Fostex started by supplying speaker components to self-builders (1973), but eventually started with complete speakers and later also recording equipment. They were perhaps best known for their cassette and reel-to-reel tape recorders.

But microphones and headphones were also something they started early on, with the T20RP becoming one of the most popular studio headphones in the United States in the late 1980s. Its speaker elements were unique, with a principle Fostex called orthodynamic. Today we know it best as plane magnetic. The speaker element is not that big, only 40 millimeters and square.

The Fostex T60RP has inherited both appearance and mechanical principle from the older T20RP, only with thicker ear pads and more massive watches. Which is now in mahogany, for a natural timbre and solid build quality. In appearance they are reminiscent of industrial hearing protection, but in contrast to these, they leak a good deal of sound. They are not completely closed, but semi-open. This means that they are built as closed, but with inlaid ventilation grooves to compensate for under- and overpressure that prevents the speaker elements from playing with maximum dynamics.

It comes with a 1.5 meter cable with 3.5 mm plug and transition to large 6.3 mm. This is detachable, and Fostex offers both balanced and unbalanced alternatives.

Fostex T60RP
Watches in hard mahogany are both durable and sound good. Photo: Fostex

T60RP in use

I have to admit that the look gave me some prejudice, and I expected to be served a mushy soundscape with way too much bass. Instead, I got an absolutely beautiful rendition of Susanne Sundfør’s Undercover from the live album Music For People In Trouble (Live from the Barbican). Yes, it is both full-bodied and hot, with a little extra meat on the bone in the bottom octave of the piano. But the deaf as the voice of Sundfør sounds good! That lady has a push in her voice, and can quickly sound very sharp and loud, if the headphones have too much distortion. But here it just sounds beautiful. The same with the double bass solo at the end of the song: lush without being excessive, detailed without being aggressive.

It should be said that there is a dip in the present range (around 3.5 kHz), which makes voices a little laid back in relation to the neutral ideal. It probably also does its part to ensure that it is never experienced sharply. At the same time, it will never be completely aggressive enough, if you first and foremost dig dynamic recordings with hard percussion. It can be a little kind.

Fostex T60RP side
The slits on the underside of the earbuds provide ventilation for the best possible dynamics. This also means that the Fostex T60RP can be considered semi-open. Photo: Fostex

Larger sound image with half open

The sound picture is larger than with normally closed headphones. And the headphones breathe more, so you can wear them longer before you sweat in your ears. On the other hand, you do not get the benefit of the passive noise reduction that completely closed headphones provide.

Another disadvantage is that the headphones are very heavy-duty. You can never play loud enough straight from your mobile, here external amplifier power is required for it to entertain. Where we recommend amplifier with other headphones, we will claim that these require it.

And, no matter how powerful an amplifier you have, the bass drum on rougher music is never quite hard hitting enough. The headphones are compressed, even with the powerful Auralic Taurus we did not get enough life in them.

Still, I think the sound is so addictive and musical, that it’s sad to send these back.

The headband works in good quality, upholstered in leather. Also the band on the underside that rests against the head is genuine leather. Photo: Fostex

Conclusion

As the test’s only half-open headphones, the Fostex T60RP has the advantage of sounding more dynamic and large than closed headphones. At the same time, they have the engaging bass reproduction we mostly only experience from closed watches. Let go, you will not get the full impact force in the bass drum when you raise the sound level and expect proper physics. But at normal listening level and a little higher than that, there is really good sound we are talking about here.

Piano has a beautiful sound base. The sound picture is larger than usual for headphones. Singing voices sound really nice. Slightly restrained where they should be aggressive (the lighter chest sound area), but this is addictive listening.

That they are very heavy-duty pulls down.

Fostex T60RP frequency
Fostex T60RP measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. Compensated for what miniDSP thinks is subjectively linear.
Here we have an example of how measurements do not always support the subjective perception. The dip around 3.5 kHz seems real here, as we missed a bit of aggression in this area.
Furthermore, the bass from the graph seems quite focused around 100 Hz, with a steady unrolling below this. In our ears, however, there was plenty of richness in the bass tones. The peak is distinct up to 10 kHz, but drops quickly after this.
denon_ahd5200 spread

Fabulous closed headphones from Denon

Denon AH-D5200 is among the very best closed in its class.

Our verdict

Super nice and detailed sound image with lots of timbres. Nice workmanship and nice comfort.
The treble reproduction could have been a little more fine-grained.
  • Type: Closed, over the ear
  • Principle: Dynamic
  • Collapsible: No.
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: Detachable 3 m, 3.5 mm (6.3 mm adapter)
  • Elements: 40 mm
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 24 ohms / 103 dB
  • Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz
  • Weight: 385 grams (without cable)
  • Color: Brown with watches in wenge wood
  • Web: hifiklubben.com
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Price 699 £

The Denon AH-D5200 is a real premium headphone from Denon, and there is nothing wrong with the construction that looks cheap or awkward. The earbuds’ semi-rotatable aluminum bracket is of the “wishbone” type, beautifully made. The thick and soft ear pads have lovely comfort. The earrings in dark wengé wood ooze quality. The headband and ear pads are upholstered in artificial leather, but it is beautifully done.

The supplied cable is solid and covered with a braided sock of fabric to prevent it from twisting. The copper wire is “four nines” oxygen-free copper (99.99%) as opposed to the 99.99999% (Seven Nines) in the top model. The cable ends in a stereo minijack, but it comes with a 6.3 m adapter for full-grown headphone outputs.

AH-D5200 in use

The wearing comfort is excellent! And with the luxurious look, you feel like you are sitting with something really expensive on your head. The sensitivity is not bad, this can be used with the mobile. But it will only be just loud enough, so if you want to push a little properly, you need a headphone amplifier. However, with the undersigned’s iPhone, it works much better than with the Fostex T60RP.

The AH-D5200 is “only” the second most expensive model from Denon, but it is difficult to hear where it has been saved, because the music comes out in an excellent way.

denon_ahd5200
Sure, the AH-D5200 is gorgeous, with watches in wengé wood. Photo: Denon

Ramón Vargas on Una furtiva lagrima from The Opera Gala – Live from Baden-Baden has more impact in the middle register than with Fostex. It is impressively liberating, as he makes his way through the orchestra’s soundscape. The Pizzicato picking on the violins together with the harp in the middle of the airy soundscape sounds both clear and open. When Vargas pulls in too full jugs, it gnaws a little more in the ear than with Fostex, perhaps due to a slightly higher distortion. But then it also does not matter that it sounds a bit raw, and the dynamics here are nothing but impressive from a pair of closed bells.

Aggressive cello

Another example is Ragnhild Hemsing and Tor Espen Aspaass’ Northern Timbre and the movement Sonata no. 3 in C minor, op. 45: III. Allegro animated. It sounds very nice, clear and open. And lively! Again, the cello gets a little harsh when it plays at its most aggressive. But it is in a different class than what Neumann NDH 20 controls with, because with Denon it makes the music more energetic.

Electronic pop also works very well. The snare drum edge beat on Ariana Grande’s Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored slams properly.

It is also good with bumps in the bass. We are not in a class with the Sony MDR-Z7M2 in terms of fullness and heat, because it is a quite different bass we are talking about here. The bass in the AH-D5200 is both linear, sonorous – and lightning fast! Therefore, one can be led to believe that it is slim, but the truth is that every note in the bass emerges, without it being lubricated thickly and the frequencies sliding inside each other. This is very good.

Conclusion

The Denon AH-D5200 is a pair of very elaborate headphones. Not only do they look great, they also play with a sound that is truly worthy of the price tag.

The sound is tight and dynamic, with lots of energy. Both in the bass and on the top floors. Vocals and instruments come out with the greatest obviousness. It sounds really good, although it can sometimes harden a little at the top.

Colleague John Hvidlykke went so far as to talk about goosebumps when he tested them two years ago. I can go a long way to agree, and here Denon has made a real opponent to my favorites in closed headphones in this price range, Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro.

The overall package of the AH-D5200 is excellent. Nothing less.

Denon AH-D5200 measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. Compensated for what miniDSP thinks is subjectively linear.
Here we suspect that it is the measuring equipment that incorrectly indicates attenuation between 3.5-5 kHz, as the upper midrange is not experienced as receding. The abrupt mountain peak up to 8.5 kHz, on the other hand, is reliable. Otherwise, the Denon watches have a pretty nice frequency curve, with audible energy all the way up to 15 kHz whereupon it takes a sharp drop.
We appreciate the regular bass reproduction. Although there are headphones with even more energy below 30 Hz.

The most sensible choice

The Beyerdynamic Amiron Home is an exceptionally successful all-round headphone.

Our verdict

Detailed, warm and open sound image with very potent bass. Excellent wearing comfort and high quality.
Requires a serious amplifier. May sound a little too soft for someone's taste.
  • Type: Open, over the ear
  • Principle: Dynamic
  • Collapsible: No.
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: 3m 6.35mm incl. 3.5mm adapter
  • Elements: 45 mm Tesla DT
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 250 ohms / 102 dB
  • Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz
  • Weight: 340 grams (without cable)
  • Color: black
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Price 499 £

With the same price and technical data as the DT 1990 Pro, one can be led to believe that it is only the cosmetic that separates the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home from the pro model. They use the same second-generation 45mm Tesla element in open earbuds that cover the entire ear. The listening test, however, reveals that the Amiron Home does not sound the same as the pro model.

These can also not be plugged into the mobile, even if they come with a cable with a minijack connector. It is worth noting that here it is plugged into the headphones on both earphones, with a minijack cable. Thus, one can replace the cable with balanced if desired. Like the pro model, the Amiron Home must be connected to an amplifier, or a separate headphone amplifier, such as the Shiit Magni 3+, which I used for testing.

Beyerdynamic Amiron Home in use

With 250 ohms and 102 dB sensitivity, it goes without saying that mobile phones are discontinued. It works, at least with Audiquest Cobalt, but you need more power to get the potential here. Unlike the DT 1990 Pro, Amiron Home does not come with an extra set of ear pads, so the tuning is limited to trying to bend the solid hoop in light metal, so that you get the earbuds angled enough to get an optimal seal to the head.

As on the pro model, the carrying comfort is exemplary. You do not notice the weight, and the soft pillows are comfortable to wear on the head, even over time. I noticed that I preferred the pro models one cable, rather than the two that tie the other headphones together. The gray design of the earbuds and the silver-gray metal details give a softer impression than the all-black DT 1990 Pro, which is strangely reflected in the way the sound is tuned here.

The home version does not sound gray at all, rather warm, comfortable and rich in sound. They excel with generous bass, not of the basement type, but unusually full-bodied and vibrant for a pair of open headphones. The middle tone is soft and golden like warm honey, but not at all without resolution or details. The treble may be relaxed, but it only makes listening over time more comfortable.

The sound is not as dissolved and weightless as in Hifiman Sundara, and the sound image is experienced as warmer and the bass is clearly fuller, although not as well defined in Amiron Home. Compared to the DT 1990 Pro, these are far preferable for home listening, since the treble is better balanced with the silky soft midrange you get here. As an all-round headphone, this is a very good buy, and if you like a little extra weight in the bass, Amiron Home is an innertier.

Conclusion

The Beyerdynamic Amiron Home is something as rare as an open headphone with generous bass reproduction. The music flows so easily and effortlessly out of the headphones that you do not want to take them off your head. It’s not just because the wearing comfort is second to none for such large headphones, but because you simply enjoy the music more when the sound balance of the headphones does not stand in the way of the music.

Amiron Home frequency
Beyerdynamic Amiron Home measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. Compensated for what miniDSP thinks is subjectively linear.
Compared to DT 1990 Pro, the frequency curve is virtually identical up to just over 1 kHz, which may indicate that the structure is similar, only differently tuned. From there, Amiron Home has a warmer sound character, where the treble range is retained. After 10 kHz it goes steeply downwards. More comfortable to listen to than the DT 1990 Pro, but there are definitely details that drown out.
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

Sharp analyst

The studio qualities are the strengths and weaknesses of Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, must be tested before purchase.

Our verdict

Super resolved and analytical. Steel control in the bass, very open and detailed sound, and excellent wearing comfort.
The analytical grade gives sharper, and less listening-friendly sound.
  • Type: Open, over the ear
  • Principle: Dynamic
  • Collapsible: No.
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: 3m XLR to 6.35mm incl. 3.5mm adapter
  • Elements: 45 mm Tesla DT
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 250 ohms / 102 dB
  • Frequency response: 5-40,000 Hz
  • Weight: 370 grams (without cable)
  • Color: black
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Price 499 £

The black pro headphones use the same element as Amiron Home, Beyerdynamics’ home edition in gray, but they do not sound the same for that reason. Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is the yard for studio use and musicians who need a more analytical sound image to hear as much of the mix as possible.

The technical data is identical on the pro and home model, but here you get a spiral and a regular cable, both with a mini XLR connector that plugs into the left earpiece. Like the home version, the pro model is best when connected to an amplifier or a separate headphone amplifier.

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro in practice

Impedance and sensitivity are in the middle of the tree, and with a good headphone amplifier, they can play more than loud enough. They can not be folded, but they are not intended for portable use either. Even with Audioquest Cobalt connected to an iPhone, I did not get a proper impact on the sound, at least not in the same way as in the Audeze LCD-1, which is far easier to operate. It became something quite different if I connected the headphones to the output of a Hegel H190, or the headphone amplifier Shiit Magni 3+.

The wearing comfort is impeccable. The large, soft fabric-covered pillows do not put much pressure on the head, and the headphones feel lighter than you might think. They leak a lot of sound, of course, and like most open headphones, they are not suitable for rooms with others present.
They have minimal adjustments besides adjusting the length of the height bracket, which like the open earbuds is made of solid light metal.

Trustworthy construction as expected of a pair of headphones, which are primarily made for professional users. DT 1990 Pro comes with an extra set of ear pads. They can replace those that are already on the earbuds, and provide an even more analytical sound image with a slightly tighter bass.

I preferred the original ear pads, because if there’s one thing these headphones do not need, it’s an even more analytical soundscape. It’s basically weird that the DT 1990 Pro uses the same dynamic Tesla element as the Amrion Home, because here the sound is obviously adapted for studio use. It gives the pro model a clearly more analytical character, with drier and tighter bass, a midrange so sharp that you can cut yourself, and even more insight and details than in the Amiron Home. At first it is captivating, but after a while you get sweaty in the ears from the occasionally pointed treble. Which emphasizes the upper part of the midrange and the treble so that e.g. female vocals may sound pointed.

There is not much to complain about the focus, transient response and level of detail here, but the analytical nature of the headphones does not suit everyone’s taste, and for long-term listening in the easy chair, we rather recommend Amiron Home.

Conclusion

Beyerdynamics pro model DT 1990 Pro is a very good choice for musicians and others who want to have all the details on the various tracks in the recording. The analytical character, with a marked increase in treble, is not as easy to listen to over time. Then you should rather choose than other Beyerdynamic with the dynamic Tesla element. But if you like headphones with distinct analytical capabilities, the DT 1990 Pro is very well suited, and rated as a headphone for studio use, there are five rather than four stars here.

DT 1990 Pro frequency
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. Compensated for what miniDSP thinks is subjectively linear.
The affordable EARS microphone is not very accurate around 4 kHz, where it often shows a dip that is not always there. Subjectively, there is at least nothing to indicate that these sounds receding in the upper midrange. On the other hand, we can sign off on the steep tip that peaks at 8 kHz in the treble. Otherwise a dry and distinct bass.
Sony MDR-Z7M2
Sony MDR-Z7M2

The entertainment is saved

Sony has improved its premium model Z7 with technology from the flagship Z1R. The result is even more striking.

Our verdict

Extremely comfortable ear pads. Great quality feeling, a lot of metal. Hefty bass, very entertaining listening.
Dynamics could have been more outspoken, and the bass faster. Takes some focus from the overtones and air in the music.
  • Type: Closed, over the ear
  • Principle: Dynamic
  • Collapsible: No.
  • Microphone / remote control: No / no
  • Cable: Detachable 3 m 3.5 mm + 1.2 m balanced 4.4 mm Pentaconn (6.3 mm adapter)
  • Elements: 70 mm
  • Impedance / sensitivity: 56 ohms / 98 dB
  • Frequency response: 4-100,000 Hz
  • Weight: 340 grams (without cable)
  • Color: Black
  • Web: sony.com
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Price 770 £

Sony had in many ways a very entertaining headphone model in the Sony MDR-Z7M2. There was no lack of entertainment factor, but you had to have a slightly proper headphone amplifier to get it out. It got too tame from the cell phone. Sony is not alone in this, but the punchy bass and excellent comfort made them tempting to take on a trip. Sony then also had solutions, in the form of both portable music players and DAC amplifiers.

The new M2 version is more than a small upgrade. The look is reminiscent, but not the same. It is first and foremost the thicker ear pads that separate them from each other, but also that the entire headphone is now black. Where the predecessor had details in neutral aluminum.

Z7M2 has inherited technology from the flagship Z1R, including the inner grilles in the so-called Fibonacci pattern. This is a spiral pattern, which often occurs in nature, where one stitch is as large as two of the stitches below, as and so on. I have to admit that the size ratios between the masks on the Sony do not look quite like that, but it may be an optical illusion. In any case, this pattern should give a more even treble spread. Which is a challenge, especially with such large speaker elements as here (70 mm).

Sony MDR-Z7M2_fibunacci
A grill with a Fibunacci pattern will provide better distribution of the sound. Photo: Sony

The neodymium magnets are also twice as powerful since the last time, to improve dynamics and control.

The box comes with a 3 meter long cable with 3.5 mm plug and 6.3 mm adapter. In addition, a 1.2 meter cable with a 4.4 mm Pentaconn plug is included for a balanced connection to compatible players.

Sony MDR-Z7M2 in use

The MDR-Z7M2 has some of the best comfort among closed headphones I can imagine. At least to begin with, because the pillows are so thick and huge that they sit like velvet. But they are also completely tight, so it gets quite clammy after a while. On the other hand, the mechanical noise reduction is impeccable.

In terms of sound, the M2 version is a clear upgrade from its predecessor. The bass is tighter, there is better control over the whole felt. And the increased impedance does not make the headphones much heavier to operate. In fact, you can use them directly with your mobile phone, without it feeling like a compromise. Except for the last gear on sound pressure, which is missing.

The entertainment factor is not forgotten. The bass draws to a thousand, especially cool on electronic pop music and rap, and that without sounding sharp.

Sony MDR-Z7M2
Photo: Sony

The treble reproduction is not at all hard and harsh as with Neumann. At the same time, the treble takes the back seat in relation to the bass, which takes a bit of the upper hand at times. A grand piano gets a slightly matte harmonic structure, and a darker sound than I want. It’s no problem to listen to classical here, the orchestra pulls well and it sounds comfortable at the same time. But it also gets a bit boring, when the midrange and treble do not sound the same style as the bass.

Popular music, on the other hand, gets a life that we are not spoiled with, and we like that flat produced music gets a little “extra hair on the chest”.

We did not try the 4.4 mm balanced cable due to the absence of a compatible player, but we tried to replace the cable with a 4-pin XLR cable that fit. And the sound actually opened up somewhat, with clearer dynamics and more details.

Conclusion

The Sony MDR-Z7M2 is a pair of very entertaining headphones. They work well with mobile phones but like everyone else they deserve a proper amplifier. Preferably one with a balanced 4.4 mm connection, such a cable is included. Then you get even more dynamics and details out of the headphones.

The bass response has improved since the last time, and the sound is generally better controlled. It is still pop, rock and rap that work best, as we would like more details from the treble area when classical and acoustic are on the menu.

The price is higher than its predecessor, and the competition in the price range has increased. Therefore, the M2 gets one star less than we gave its predecessor, even though it is better.

MDR-Z7M2 frequency response
Sony MDR-Z7M2 measured with miniDSP EARS and REW. EARS has an artifact and often gives a false dip around 4 kHz, so this should not be taken literally. That said, we also subjectively thought that the midrange was more than reclined and rounded. The rest looks nice, with a highlighted but even bass. The treble starts too early with a strong unrolling, no wonder we thought it was “reclining” at the top.

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