Headphones (may be controversial)

I love my headphones and have a regularly changing assortment, mixed between my love of Grados and a range of Pro audio options. Around the festive season, I went out and demoed a wide range of closed back phones (protection for imminent family arrival). I really enjoyed the Sennheiser HD 820, very nearly came home with a pair of Focal Celestee (sounded great, they looked scruffy, even when new).

Advance forwards 7 months, family is home and that itch has not been scratched, until now…

I have dabbled in Pro audio for years; my Adam A7x nearfield monitors with matching sub arguably sound better than my Naim system in close listening and my little Focusrite Scarlett is as good as headphone amps for 10x the price, but none of it is ‘Living Room friendly’, as I am frequently told.

Back to topic: I retried the Focal Celestee phones again recently but could still not convince myself. Then I saw my fave Pro audio supplier selling off the previous generation of Sennheiser HD 280 production headphones for a stupid price. They arrived same day. No running in and yet the sound was surprising. They easily equal the Focal Celestees and arguably my Grado GS1e too. The HD280 will not be to everyone’s taste; closed back and designed for a studio environment, they are slightly retro in appearance and the clamping force is high as they passively exclude external sound. Audio is deliberately neutral and almost as uncoloured as it is possible to be. There are slight frequency cuts at 75Hz and 160Hz; these 'phones are designed for mixing, so hearing audio as accurately as possible is their raison d’etre. For the price of a few pints, they are one of the best buys for a long time and the idea of Focal has been firmly banished, as have the HD820 for now.

As our cousins across the pond say: “YMMV”.

PS For anyone looking, the HD280 are ridiculously priced for the quality they deliver. The HD300, their replacements are apparently better still, with a slight reduction in sub-bass (frequency range is 20-circa 19,500 Hz). I am not saying either are definitive headphones, but they punch very far above their price, as pro audio frequently does.


Similarly, I recommend AKG K240 Studio to anyone considering Beats or AirPods.

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I am glad you like them… they are great where isolation and bleed is important such as recording monitoring headphones for vocalists etc and DJ use.
But yes unlike a lot of genuine professional equipment products which can get pricey these are almost at consumable prices… so if they break through exuberance it’s not the end of the world :grinning:

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Blimey £75 doesn’t buy you much these days, almost tempted to buy a pair….

That said I rarely use headphones and have the Hifiman XS edition for home and Sony xm5 for on the move so well covered.

I did try the really expensive headphones from the usual subjects and was a little disappointed….


I tried to like headphones years ago but found out they are not for me. I much prefer IEMs and recently started to experiment with few designs and dongles. I was surprised the better ones actually sound rather good.

I’ve just done a direct comparison of AKG K240 Studio which I’ve owned for more years than I care to remember, and the Sennheiser HD280 PRO.
The Sennheiser produce more bass but to my ears at the expense of clarity, particularly on vocals.
To my ears for pure listening, the AGK’s are well ahead but, if blocking the sound from others in the room, or for blocking the sound from external sources, the Sennheisers could be a good inexpensive choice.
I actually use the Sennheiser’s for when I want to play drums along with a favourite tune on my iPod.
The AKG’s are a great headphone which sounds pretty “open” but, I strongly suspect truly high-end headphones would be quite a revelation, although I’ve never actually heard any top-class ones…

Thanks for doing that comparison and very interesting to hear this.
You remind me that I have a pair of old AKGs in the studio somewhere. Yes, the sub-bass is a little over the top, although there are some cuts try to try and correct the frequency response. I was pleasantly surprised by the comparison with a few other well regarded headphones that I own or have recently demoed and the detail is excellent in the 2-3000Hz range. Of course they are not high end, but they acquit themselves extremely well for the price I paid. They have also ticked the box for ‘family friendly headphones’ when I’m not able to listen to my preferred open back Grados.

Out of interest, has anyone tried a pair of ‘Beats’ headphones? There a couple of pairs lying around at home (not mine!) and I tried the ‘Solo’ variety with a favourite test track. The difference between these (circa £300) and the HD280 (£75) stunned me. The Beats’ sound reminded me of the flimsy headphones that came with the original walkman (I’ll not use the word ‘quality’). No dynamics, no detail; the sound from a cheap medium wave transistor radio.
Really, it ‘Beats’ me why anyone would spend money on them.

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