In the world of headphone listening there are many cult products. Perhaps that's because heaphone junkies are a passionate group, but just as likely it is the product of two factors: headphones are pretty personal (fit and all) and headphones are loaded with potential.
Like many headphiles, I've been a little dissatisfied with my rig. Basically, I've been running Sennheiser HD-650s from a HeadRoom Total Airhead. Wrong headphones, wrong amp or both, the sound was too thick and tizzy (that's a combo!). So, I'm off on a headphone quest of which this is installment 1.
First off, I procured a desktop-oriented amp just to up the chances that I wasn't starving the Sennheisers for power. I picked the Head-Direct HA-1 because it was affordable and I liked the lttle tube sticking up through the top plate. The HA-1 helped (a lot) but I can't really comment yet on how it compares to others of its ilk (we'll get to that).
Then I read a bunch of stuff at Amazon and Head-Fi and here. I decided to start with another mid-priced headphone to see if I liked something other than the Sennheisers materially more. I wanted to stay in roughly the same price range because it seem useful to start in the middle of current headphone pricing (which seems to start at about $50 and go up to about $1500, with a few exceptions).
I was interesting in close-back headphones as an more flexible alternative to the Sennheisers. So, I chose the Denon AH-D5000s. You can get these for around $500 and there are mods available. In my lazy world, when folks start to mod something there must be underlying goodness. That might be backwards thinking, but that's the way it seemed at the time.
The 5000s just arrived, so this is a very early view. First, the 5000s are famous or infamous for their bass. You don't have to listen for weeks to see why this is a hot topic. The 5000s have a pretty big bass bump, judged against live sound. But so far I'd say it is a pretty artfully judged bass bump that doesn't kill the music. Put differently, if you like bass and feel cheated when speakers or headphones are a little rolled off, the Denons could be your cup of tea.
The sound can get a little thick on the bottom with this EQ curve for sure. That said, bass boost can be less annoying and more articulate in headphones because you aren't dealing with (as many) unpredicatable resonances. You can hear this in the Denons, which have much more bass definition that a speaker would with this much low-end boost.
Now the accuracy hand-wringers in the group are going to want to leave the room at this point. But I'd also hazard that without some serious bass boost a headphone just can't sound as real. Something in a headphone has to substitute for the lack of slam and moving air that you get in real life from live sound or a good stereo. I think Denon has taken things a step too far (and that's what the mods are about), but that may be preferable to not taking things far enough.
Two other notes:
The midrange on these is relaxed and clear. Good job.
There may be a mid-treble edge that grates. Some modern recordings accentuate this, so I'm not sure yet, but if I had to proclaim my view right now, I'd say we need to smooth a peak somewhere up there.
Over time it has become clearer that the Denons have a region of brightness that is a deviation from neutrality. It shows up less as a shift in overall tonal balance, than a tendency to make sibilants and high frequency transients a little "sharp" sounding. This doesn't happen on all transients, which is what makes me believe the issue is in a pretty narrow frequency band.