Damaged Gears

Evolve your Gears

Damaged Compendium: Damage’s Recommendations

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Quick Can reviews, divided by price range.  YMMV, as always.

$0 – $25 Range:

Earbuds:  None recommended.  At this price range, all you’re going to get are no better than most pack-ins.  If you must get an earbud for that range, then you might want to try Sennheiser MX400/MX500s, but their size makes them painful to use for some.

Absolutely stay away from KOSS the (Spark)plugs unless you’re one of those few folks that can’t hear above 10kHz.

Clip-Ons: KSC-75.  Routinely available for $20 ($10 when on sale), these use similar drivers to the legendary KOSS PortaPros.  If you’re willing to fiddle with the ear-clips a bit, then you have yourself a high quality headphones at prices that won’t break your budget.  Heck, pick one up for your significant other, and you still will have pleny of cash leftover.

Open: Pass on this as well.  Nothing that impressive lies in this price range, unless you like having a back up for your pack-in earphones.

Closed:  Sony MDR-XD100.  The lowest end of the XD line lacks the movie/music switch, but it’s not missed.  Generally offering agreeable sound, though the upper end is towards the harsh side of things.  Bass can be overwhelming at times.  All that is off set by the light and comfortable set of headphones that are suitable for listening to your MP3s, watching DVDs, or catching a quick game (with an actual soundstage to speak of!).  If you see its bigger brother, the XD200s for sale, pick those up instead.  More of the same, but a bit mellowed out trebles, impactful bass, and better ergonomics.  $20/$30 respectively, but can be had under $25 with some legwork.

Stay the hell away from Sony MDR-V150s.  Other than its low profile, there’s nothing to be gained by using these.  You may as stick with the pack in buds.

$25-$75 Range:

Earbuds/Canalphones: Panasonic HJE-50s.  It’s one of the more widely available and cheaper phones in this category.  It’s also well recommended for its balanced approach.  Unlike its competitors (EX51/71/81s), the much more forward midrange strikes a balance with somewhat bright highs and occassionally flabby bass.  Other than somewhat questionable construction, I can’t think of any that’s better than the HJE-50s, especially given its price of $30.

Clip-Ons: KSC-35.  Think black PortaPro Clip-ons and you’re pretty much spot on.

Stay away from the Sony Clip-ons.  Too heavy and the akward short cord arrangements will leave you in tears.

Open: Grado SR-60.  These are the legendary Grado SR-60s.  Though most would tell you these are good for Rock, I tend to say that they’ll go well with just about every genre, except genre’s that with overpowering bass–the bass response of the Grado SR-60s I think are a bit lacking.  Combine that with generous soundstage and you have a legend in the making. It’s $70 well spent.

Koss PortaPros.  Another one of the legendary phones.  Light, foldable, punchy bass and fast trebles (though it might be lacking in vocals a tad bit).  Many consider them to be Baby Grados.  I tend to disagree, the two have differing sound characteristics, especially when it comes to bass.  If you don’t mind the stuck in the 1980s stylings, then you have another set of headphones that outperforms 99% of what’s out there on the market.  $50 MSRP.

Sennheiser PX-100.  From what I remember, they have sound that’s quite similar to the PortaPros, though they are probably on the warmer side of things.  Also folds up flat, and doesn’t eat hair like its KOSS counterpart.  $60 MSRP, available in white, if you must.

Closed: Sony MDR-V6.  Love them or leave them.  However, for what’s it’s worth, they are infinitely modable (blue-tack mod, Beyer Pad mod), built like a tank, and they sound pretty darned good.  Industry standard (known as MDR-V7506, only difference is the model number and the gold plug), and for a good reason.  $80 MSRP but they can be had for as low as $50-60.

Wildcard: MDR-XD300.  Cheaper than the XD400 by about $30, but makes everyone sound like Barbara Striesand-very nasal.

$75-$150 Range.  Now we’re hitting the big leagues.  They might be pricer than most phones listed, but one quick (or long) listening session will reveal why they’re priced as such.

IEMs:  Sony MDR-EX90.  Not quite an IEM, but more like nozzled earbuds.  Basically, they took their legendary MDR-E888 and attached a nozzle not unlike the ones from the EX series.  The result?  One of the best IEMs/Canalphones available for any price.  Just how much better?  Well, it outperforms the Shure E3s, which sells for $180.  It is also comparable in sound and comfort to more expensive IEMs (Super-Fi 5 Pro).  For $90, available in black and (soon) white.

Shure E2.  If you have big enough ears to accomodate the oversized driver housing, then this entry IEMs might be for you as well.  They offer superior isolation when compared to the EX series, sounds pretty good, though sonically they won’t match up to the EX90s or other more expensive IEMS.  $100 MSRP

Wildcard:  Super-Fi 3 Studio.  If the Super-Fi 5s are anything to go by, then these should be a good performer for the price, $100.  One bonus – the tips are universal and are compatible with ones offered by most Canalphone manufacturers.

Open: Sony MDR-SA1000.  Derived from the Qualia line of headphones, they offer 8Hz – 80kHz sound reproduction.  All numbers aside, they are about the most transparent and natural sounding headphones.  Without EQ, they might be light on bass for some listeners, but they take to EQ like fish to water.  They also have a bad habit of revealing bad recording even more so than the MDR-V6.  Highly recommended for Classical and Acoustic genres, but they work well for all types of music.  $200 MSRP but they can be had routinely for $100-$130.  A must have.

Closed: Sony MDR-XD400.  Take the XD200, boost the treble up a bit, make the bass bone-rattling, and make them very comfortable to wear for hours on end (other than the hot-ear thing).  You have a great set of phones for watching movies, playing games (wide soundstage for a closed set of phone), and general lounging.  Be warned, these are not for portable use.  You can, but you’ll look like an idiot for wearing these in public.  $100 MSRP.


Written by Damage

08/28/06 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Headphones, Soapbox

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