Budget Headphone Shootout

  • Category: Sound
  • Published on Friday, 07 September 2007 14:42
  • Written by Nasirul Huq
  • Hits: 1655

Every day I see People asking questions about the various options available when buying big headphones. Suggestions , usually are the HP 805 and the XD 100 and 200. I had an HP805, and wanted to see how the others compared. So I got hold of a few more headphones and pitted them against each other !

First, the contenders pose for a photo session.

Headphone Shootout Line-up

The Battle line-up.

Headphones Top View

Lets start the Battle.

Test Configuration 

70% of the preliminary listening was done on my trusty Transcend T610, critical listening on my Foobar, SSRC @ 96Khz/24bits to my SB Audigy 2ZS platinum's 96/24 ASIO interface with all of the card's DSP disabled. The frequency responses were played back on the Transcend and recorded on my soundcard, analyzed with Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.05, and the heaphone impedances measured by a plain old Digital Multimeter.

Philips HP 805

Philips HP 805

The first of these is the Phillips HP 805. I got them when I was in Mysore, and got them from Planet M in Bangalore. They were my only source of entertainment for quite a while till I got my EP 630's as well. They were also the reason I got a lot of respect as a serious audiophile !

They also are the benchmark, atleast for me, for big headphones. Vastly better quality than what I had before, an iBall 850 with vibration. They're light on the head, are well built, have good high and low frequency, but a slightly weak midrange, but I'm okay with that (we all like to tweak our EQ's like that secretly!) it feels very comfy, and build quality is great ! It looks a whole lot more expensive than it actually is and has a very classy feel on the whole. At 1195/-, its quite good VFM compared to the lower end Sennheisers. The only reason they've not well known is that they aren't available freely in the USA !!

For Indians, These are the best audiophile money can buy. Anything above is not as good VFM, and cheaper ones aren't exactly high fidelity. The only sad thing about them is that they're VERY loud and I mean, on the outside, and not suitable for use at the office at all, where anything above 50% volume , and the speakers in our LCD monitors start getting embarrassed ! Their open back nature also gives it a very open sound which I didn't hear in any of the other headphones I've listened to so far. The sad thing is that I really think they're going out of production this time and Phillips plans to push this thing's price way up. The successor, the HP 8900 costs about 3700/-, at the price where Sennheiser's start to make a better case for themselves.

Specification  

The Positives: Great sound. Looks. Build quality.

The Negatives: Leaks sound. Low availability.

Final Ratings

 Music:    9 / 10
 Movies:    9 / 10
 Games:    8 / 10
 VFM:    9 / 10
 Build quality:  10 / 10

Final Verdict: Buy it ! You wont regret it !

Creative EP 630

Creative EP630

Its not quite fair to put the EP 630 here in this compare as its a canal phone, the others being around the ear headphones. But at this price point, they're very much in competition in people's eyes. I see a lot of people asking if they should buy these or big headphones.

The answer depends on usage. These have a different usage pattern than the rest. Picture yourself in a bus or train wearing any of the other 'phones on test here. Not likely eh? Thats the point. These babies represent near perfect music in a tiny package. But then again, you cant wear them for ever and ever (as I found out at the office). But when your driver feels the love for Himesh coming on, you know where to look for solace. They absolutely drown out everything else, and the clarity is astounding.
Having said that, they aren't suited a lot for anything other than music. Games especially sound like crap due to the different nature of the bass. If you think you can buy a pair of these and think that all your audio needs are taken care of, think again, because you will need a bigger pair of headphones for relaxed listening and/or gaming.

Specification

The Positives: Killer sound quality for price. Tight Bass. Isolation, Clarity.

The Negatives: A bit too much on the highs. Long term discomfort. Only for music.

Final Ratings

 Music:  10 / 10
 Movies:    7 / 10
 Games:    5 / 10
 VFM:  10 / 10
 Build quality:  10 / 10

Final Verdict: Cheapest ticket to audio nirvana.

Sony MDR XD200  

Sony MDR XD200

The next up is the Sony MDR XD200. I've seen it come up frequently as competition for the HP 805 whenever someone is in the market for headphones <2k. I usually didn't comment as I hadn't heard them. Then clank puts a pair of these for sale at 1k and I can't resist, and I buy them asap. Besides, I need a pair of closed back headphones (my cube mates are beginning to get tired of HP 805 broadcasting on the side). They don't feel as solid as the Philips, but feel a bit lighter on the head, maybe a bit too flimsy. But they seem durable. In isolation, they aren't quite that bad, and the movie mode adds a kick to the sound. I first thought that they were due to some passive electronic filter (which means some sort of switch, and possible long term reliability issues) But it turns out, its a mechanical arrangement actually, it opens and closes a bass port in the headphone enclosure. Nice! and innovative too.

But the moment I take it home and compare it with my HP 805, I'm disappointed. Bear in mind that this is a 1,499/- headphone and to be honest, it sounds very very dull. Music sounds very bland, no clarity, no nothing. Switching to music mode doesn't help either. Movie mode is OK, it enhances bass in some tracks (like Eminem's Ass Like That). The dull background bass thump is very very emphatic. But then again, in some other tracks, the deep bass is non existent. Its weird when there are two bass notes in a song, and one is very loud, and the other nearly non existent. It still managed to impress a lot f my colleagues, who were like OMG !!!!!!!!!!!1!!1 BASS!!!!

Whatever it disappointed in music, it more than made up in games and movies. In movies, the lack of crispness of dialog was a slightly noticeable, but not by much. But in games was the improvement apparent. All the explosions were rendered with extra authority in movie mode, with the headset giving extra Boom! (the bass vent kicking in) . Most games have weapon firing sounds a bit harsh, and this irons out all that.
Overall, I wasn't exactly impressed. The movie mode and the boomy bass help in some cases, but it could have been a lot better.

Specification

The Positives: Great performance in games/movies. Insane Bass.

The Negatives: Dull sound. Boomy bass. No clarity.

Final Ratings

 Music:    8 / 10
 Movies:    8 / 10
 Games:    8 / 10
 VFM:    7 / 10
 Build quality:    9 / 10

Final Verdict: Buy it for the bass alone.

Sony MDR XD100

Sony MDR XD 100

The Sony MDR XD200 was a disappointment, but nothing could prepare me for the XD100. The only improvement is that the dull sound is not there, and has been replaced by a thin and weak sound, devoid of any body. No highs. No lows, no nothing. I thought first that the XD 100 was a XD 200 with a cheaper body and no movie mode. For 1,099/- its absolutely not worth it. The only situation I would buy it would be if nothing else was available, even then, not quite sure. The only good thing about it is that it looks good, but besides that, not much. It feels light and flimsy just like its sibling the XD 200, but stronger than the Philips HP 250.

Specification

The Positives: Sony Brand Name. Looks. Build Quality.

The Negatives: Lame Overall performance.

Final Ratings

 Music:    6 / 10
 Movies:    7 / 10
 Games:    6 / 10
 VFM:    7 / 10
 Build quality:    9 / 10

Final Verdict: Avoid !!

Philips HP 250 

Philips HP 250

After The XD100 fiasco, I was planning to check south of the 1k figure to see anything worthwhile was available, when I saw a battle scarred HP 250 sitting at a friend's house.
I tried it out and it was an immediate improvement on the XD100. Not as good as the others, but still great value for 945/-, especially those who want the 6m cable and the in line volume control ( both of which I'd rather avoid) the funniest thing is that from the spec, and what I'd heard of it, I'd expected it to be louder than everything else, but in fact , it was the opposite. It was least loudest of the lot. But thankfully, it has a good tonal balance, and is closed back. The only negative is the construction which makes it prone to breaking (and my friend's had broken in both places). The long cord is inconvenient unless you actually sit some distance from your source, and so is the volume control unless for the same reason. A competent, yet unremarkable headphone. Yet, judging by the new philips prices, quite vfm. The HP 2700 costs 1500/- !!

Specification

The Positives: Long cable. In-Line volume control. Tonal balance.

The Negatives: Long cable (depends ). Low sensitivity. Construction.

Final Ratings

 Music:    8 / 10
 Movies:    8 / 10
 Games:    8 / 10
 VFM:    8 / 10
 Build quality:    7 / 10

Final Verdict: Ideal companion for home TV viewing.

iSound i860 

iSound 860

At this point, I was willing to be adventurous, and got an iSound i860, something which I once recommended to a friend, and he hadn't finished thanking me for it. I was curious what was so great about it !! Having suffered from an iSound 850 Vibrance for some time, as to how the contender from iSound performed.

The first time I tried it, I couldn't believe it. It sounded amazingly like my HP 805. I did a couple of A/B comparisons, and was astounded. The similarity was remarkable. The first thing I did was call up my friend and ask if he had put in HP 805 drivers in the iSound as some sort of a practical joke. He hadnt, and besides, the impedance tests matched the iSound's spec correctly. Still, the way the i860 matches the HP 805 is further shown in the loading tests. The frequency response graphs both came out pretty close. To break the deadlock, my Audigy2ZS Platinum + Foobar + ssrc had to be called in. There the difference was more noticeable. Despite sounding similar and I'm nit picking here, the 860's lacked the finesse, delicacy and depth of the 805's. And yet for most, 99% the sound for close to 50% the price. And it has a mic. The only issue was that it was barely a circum aural headphone- it still kept pressing the ears like a supra aural headphone. But at their price, everything is forgivable. Rs 700/- (MRP) buys you something which sounds remarkably close to the HP 805, and whatever difference, most people wont even notice.

Specification

The Positives: Good sound. Has Mic. Volume-control on cord.

The NegativesVolume-control might fail soon.

Final Ratings

 Music:    9 / 10
 Movies:    9 / 10
 Games:    8 / 10
 VFM:   10 / 10
 Build quality:    9 / 10

Final Verdict: Best Value.

Tests & Comparisons 

Cable Length

The HP 250 has an immense 6m long cable while all the others have 3m (which is about the sweet spot, nether too short, nor too unmanageable) the EP 630 being a portable has just 1.2, and the i860 has 2m.

Impedances

The Impedances (measured) turned out to be more than the stated one, which is a good thing, as you won't end up overloading any of your sources.
I measured the actual impedance using a Digital Multimeter.

It also has an impact on the frequency response (below)
I measured the frequency graphs using a Y-cable, plugged into my T 610, and the headphone on test plugged into one of the outputs, and the other output connected to the line in on my Audigy.

Test Spectrum 1
Test Spectrum 2

* Note that these are the frequency response graphs of my T 610 when loaded with these headphones, and are only indicative of how much they load the device they are connected to.

 

Loading

As expected, both the Sony's, because of their high impedance, didn't load the player much. The HP 250, on the other hand, loaded the output a lot, but didn't offer that much increased sensitivity. The EP 630 had the least impedance and is the hardest to drive (yes, most people will be surprised). The tiny EP 630 loads your players more than any of these behemoth headphones here . Not just the EP 630's, any ear-bud. The resemblance between the HP 805's and the i860s continue in this graph as well.

Conclusion

I'm still split between the EP 630 and the HP 805. Both of them have their advantages and disadvantages. To compare them is like comparing a hummer and a Ferrari. So case closed there itself. If I were you, I'd buy both! As far as the big cans go, the HP 805 still remains king , but with the i860 coming very close, at least for normal folks. The XD 200 is a good alternative for those who want their music with bass and extra bass and then some more. The HP 250 is good for those who want to use the long cord, and on a budget. And least of all the XD 100, well, its good for nothing. 

Altec Lansing AVS 300

  • Category: Sound
  • Published on Friday, 06 May 2005 14:42
  • Written by Nasirul Huq
  • Hits: 2669

Welcome to the extraordinary world of Altec Lansing Multimedia High fidelity sound The speaker is a class in itself and provide the best computer audio output possible. Since Altec Lansing is one of the best known for its audio quality, its speakers should be an item of collection.

Altec Lansing's AVS300 Multimedia is an extraordinarily adept three-piece speaker system that sounds far bigger and better than its low Rs 1500/- price point implies. Although several conveniences have been nixed to keep the cost down, the AVS300 delivers great sound and ranks as one of the finest budget.

Box Contents

The box content are skimpy though, the bundle is quite powerful in it and is quite affordable.

  1. Two AVS300 satellite speakers.
  2. AVS300 Sub-woofer.
  3. Two Cables for Satellites.
  4. Two Wall Mount Brackets.
  5. Y-Adapter for RCA input.
  6. User manual.
  7. Black dust cloth.

The bundled accessories are pretty good but the lack of detailed installation guide make the rating down. If Altec would have been provided that it would have been a lot easier to set up the speakers.

Supports

This is not just for a PC. The speaker is specially designed for :

  • Consoles
  • CD Player
    • MP3 Player
    • Personal Computer
    • and if your mobile or any other media player has 3.5 mm jack then you can simply set this speaker and rest assured, you will enjoy some power packed music and will feel like heaven.


Product Details

Price

I got my AVS 300 for Rs. 1500 bucks. So it should be a couple of hundreds cheaper now.

Power Rating

17 Watts total continuous power RMS (Root mean Square) not stupid high-valued PMPO.
 

Front Satellite Speakers

  • 2 Watts/ Channel @ 8Ω @  1% TDH @ 230-22000 Hz (-3DB) 2 Channels Loaded.
  • 3 Watts/ Channel @ 8Ω @ 10%TDH @ 210-22000 Hz (-3DB) 2 Channels Loaded.
  • Speaker Type: Active
Sub woofer
  • 2  Watts/ Channel @ 8Ω @   1% TDH @ 20-160 Hz (-3DB) Single Channel Loaded.
  • 11 Watts/ Channel @ 8Ω @ 10%TDH @ 20-200 Hz (-3DB) Single Channel Loaded.
  • Output Features: Bass Reflex

 35 Watts of total Peek Power @ <10% TDH.
 Sound Pressure level – 3 dB
 Audio Amplifier: Integrated
 Input Impedance: 10 kOhm 

Dimension 

Front Satellite Speakers

  • Driver(Per Satellite) : One 3" full range driver.
  • Dimension : 4" (W) x 4.5 (D) x 5" (H).
  • Body Build : High quality plastic with metal mess in the front.
Sub woofer
  • Driver : One 5.25 long throw woofer.
  • Dimension : 7" (W) x 6.5 (D) x 11" (H).
  • Body Build : High quality wood with metal mess in the front.

Overview 

Satellite Speakers

The Satellite speakers are the greatest strength of the AVS 300. Each satellite consists of one 3” midrange drivers .They produce fantastic sound. The highs are very crisp and clear and the mids are deep. They reproduce the sounds very well. They are not very good looking but not very tad gaudy for the look. The speakers come with piano finish.

Sub woofer

The Sub woofer stands more than a foot tall featuring a 5.25” long throw woofer. The sub woofer doesn’t produce earth shattering bass but produces good enough bass to rattle the computer table, glasses and the door of the other room in my house which disturbs my roomies. Since I am not a hardcore music freak I didn't take the volume too high. I fell good listening mild music. The bass is deep and you would feel your cloths vibrating in resonance in certain tracks. This sub wouldn’t suit people who love loads n loads of bass.

Test Configuration

I have coupled my AVS300 with Realteak AC'97. Guys who have the AVS and guys who are planning to get one please couple it with atleast an Creative SB live 24 bit to explore the full potential of the AVS.

I use WMP11 and iTunes, for audio and VLC for movies. The combination of these software’s and the AVS has been very good. But still the punch is lacking which is lacking due to Ac'97 which will soon be replenished when I'll shit to a decent board supporting 8 channel Audio.

Experience, Performance and Placement

There is only one word to tell my experience with these speakers, it’s fabulous. I just got in love with them from the moment I saw them. For the price that these babies are nothing, especially for guys with less pocket. The stats are the real strength to the speakers. I was able to hear certain subtle sounds in a lot of tracks that I hadn’t heard before. The highs and mids are real crisp and clear. The low end bass is really deep. The specs tell that they can produce sounds from 30Hz, but I guess it’s more like 35Hz to 20 kHz since the sub struggled to reproduce a track which produced sound of 30 Hz.

The Positives:

  • Wooden sub-woofer for best BASS output.
  • No installation manual is needed.. thanks to color-coded jacks.
  • 17 watts RMS is a bit low but more than enough for a small room.
  • Available in two colors - 'angle' White and 'mean' Black.
  • Metal mess in front of speakers and sub-woofers instate of cloth, so lifetime great performance.
  • Satellite Speakers are well shielded, so no discoloration at the corners of a monitor.
The Negatives:
  • Installation manual is of no use. Cords are tagged with small paper strip instruction !! It is bad for new users.
  • Altec Lansing does not bloat the ratings like some manufacturers, quoting in terms of PMPO. But as a result, new users get confused with local super cheap but mind blowingly high PMPO valued speakers.
  • It would be great if they also give the provision to plug headphone to this speaker system. Then we don't have to switch the jack from the back of the computer. After all, not all PC users have the front audio-in in their PC cabinet.

Final words

From my review it would be clear that AVS 300 is a great speaker and one of the cheapest speakers available in India.

There isn’t any point in comparing these speakers to book shelf or floor standers which cost > 10k or any Hi-fi sold for more than 15 -20k…. These speakers are the best in the sub 10k range. Even you can not compare these with ATP 3 or MX5021 which are the heart OS 2.1 Series. Since I'll be shifting towards a 5.1 or MX5021 so these speakers didn't withstand against the outstanding 5.1 or >5K 2.1 speakers.

I would recommend these speakers to everybody who wants good speakers and are ready to shell out 1.5k. It’s recommended to people who want a beginners speaker worth the money. The speaker will give u support till life time if coupled with X-FI or a good external solution.

Final Ratings

Build Quality  9    / 10
Sound  7.5 / 10
Bass  6.5 / 10
Gaming   7    / 10

 Overall Rating: 7.5 / 10