What Headphones for a Quad ESL lover?

default -- Sun, 10/04/2009 - 05:52

Hi Folks
I had to sacrifice my Quad ESL's (989's) due to space constraints a year or so back... I now have a set of Gallo ref 3 speakers that do a very good job but not as good as the Quads used to.
However I recently listened to a pair of Noise Reducing headphones (Sennheiser PCX250) in my office (with the noise of computer fans and other devices all around) - and rediscovered the joys of headphone audio. (I used to listen to headphones a lot in my teens...)
So I am asking those out there with substantial and current headphones experience... what headphones should I consider/have a listen to?
ie: what headphones would provide an experience most like a set of Quad ESL's in terms of sound balance/ timbre etc...
Years ago (86/87) I remember listening to and enjoying the Revox 3000 (rebadged Beyer 880 ?) more than the then top of the line Koss. This was at the stage when ESL's were just starting to seduce me - and once my first ESL's entered my home - I stopped listening to headphones.
Your help and advice appreciated - thanks

dlaloum -- Sun, 10/04/2009 - 05:54

Hi folks
forgot to login before posting ....
comments welcome!

gradofan -- Tue, 09/28/2010 - 07:11

The answer is in this thread... http://www.avguide.com/forums/best-headphone-amp - see last post.

Chris Martens -- Mon, 10/05/2009 - 17:12

A quick question: when you alluded to the "top of the line Koss" model, above, were you referring to the Koss electrostatic headphones?
Two of my personal favorites are the Sennheiser HD800s and Ultrasone Edition 8s, both of which were favorably reviewed by Tom Martin in Playback.
Another product line to check out would be the family of electrostatic headphone models from Stax.

Chris Martens
Editor, Avguide.com/Playback/The Perfect Vision 

dlaloum -- Mon, 10/05/2009 - 18:32

 Hi Chris,
thanks for the response... 
No the Koss phones were the top of the line dynamics...
I would prefer to avoid the complications of ESL headphones... not to mention hoping to remain a couple of price brackets lower!
(I actually havn't set a budget yet - just tyre kicking at this stage)

Steven Stone -- Mon, 10/05/2009 - 18:53

 If you are really missing Electrostatic speakers, electrostatic headphones are the way to go.
Complicated? All you have to do is run a line-level (rec out on most pre's and integrated maps) into the Stax energizer box (which is really just a high quality low power amplifier). That' s no more complicated than using an outboard headphone amplifier with a conventional driver earphone system. All the participants at CANJAM would say that using a high-quality headphone amplifier with any set of headphones is the only way to get the most out of them, so if you're willing to do that using a Stax isn't any different.
IMHO there are some excellent conventional driver headphones, but Stax are still in a class by themselves.

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound, EnjoytheMusic.com, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

Chris Martens -- Tue, 10/06/2009 - 10:39

I think Steven Stone and I both were thinking along similar lines: namely, that if you love the see-through clarity of electrostatic speakers you would likewise enjoy that same quality in electrostatic 'phones, fine examples of which would be the Stax models.
But I also posed my question about the Koss electrostatic 'phones because Koss still builds and sells them (for some reason, many audiophiles think Koss ceased manufacture of its electrostatic 'phones, but this isn't the case).  I haven't done extended listening with the Koss electrostats, but a brief listen made me think they would be worth checking out. However, as a general rule electrostatic headphones do command premium prices.
As for getting electrostatic-like results at "a couple of price brackets lower," one option to consider might be the excellent Grado RS2. I reviewed it in Playback about a year ago (you can read the review on AVguide or get a copy via downloading the Playback headphone buyer's guide), and I recall thinking to myself as I was jotting down review notes that the RS2's sound reminded me of electrostatic speakers I've heard or owned in the past--and at a "pennies-on-the-dollar" price. 

Chris Martens
Editor, Avguide.com/Playback/The Perfect Vision 

dlaloum -- Tue, 10/06/2009 - 22:39

 Thanks guys...
I find myself browsing ebay scanning the STAX adds...
I didn't know that Koss still made their stats - it certainly isn't obvious on the website... in fact I am having trouble finding any mention of it! - I can't find a way of getting to it via the Website but a google search provides me with a direct link (go figure) http://www.koss.com/koss/kossweb.nsf/p?openform&pc^es - obviously they are marketing these heavily !!!
The Koss headphones that I remember liking many years ago was the Pro 4x
Certainly you guys have nudged me into checking out stats again.... although I was hoping for a budget of around 1/2 what the basic Stat setup costs...
bye for now


Tom Martin -- Sat, 10/10/2009 - 16:25

Here is the Koss page for the ESP950:
I guess you just have to know the model number you want to find it. Like a dictionary.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Chris Martens -- Wed, 10/07/2009 - 11:46


If this would interest you, watch for a Playback issue 24 review on the Grado SR325is headphone--Grado's roughly $300 model. This model could be interpreted as an RS2 "junior," but at a more accessible price. I expect the review to be published late today or early tomorrow morning, and it will be highlighted in our weekly AVguide/Playback email newsletter.
Not to give away the findings of the review in advance, but our reviewer Tom Martin found the 325's offered exceptional (that is to say, very nearly 'stat-like) midrange transparency for the money. Stay tuned for the review.

Chris Martens
Editor, Avguide.com/Playback/The Perfect Vision 

Tom Martin -- Wed, 10/07/2009 - 17:31

Here's the Grado review Chris mentions:

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

dlaloum -- Wed, 10/07/2009 - 23:14

 Thanks guys - just read the review...
How would you characterise the differences between the SR325i and the Alessandro MS-Pro, RS-1 or Beyer DT880 (250/600Ohm) ?
A lot of listeners tend to say that the Alessandro versions are a little less "strident" than the equivalent Grado's
Where I am, Australia, the SR325/MS-2/DT-880 tend to sell for around the same price - the RS-1/MS-Pro I can import from the US at a reasonable price (substantially cheaper than local pricing and close enough to the price of the SR225/DT880 to make it worth considering) - and Stax tend start at around double the local price for a SR325/DT880... and that is taking advantage of the Aus$ strength and importing direct... local pricing is around double that again!
At the local price of a set of Stax 'phones I could get myself a nice used pair of ESL63's (which I don't have room for...)
I have been wary of the Grado's due to reports of a forward nature to the sound - I have always liked the laid back nature of the Quads.... never very much liked "agressive" speakers. (experience with silk dome tweeters has been far more positive than metal dome units, etc...)
Also I can more easily put up with a lack of bass and treble than with flaws in the midrange or rising/strident treble

Raúl (not verified) -- Thu, 10/08/2009 - 15:19

... and the Ergo

dlaloum -- Wed, 10/07/2009 - 23:41

  hmm and while talking about the Stax phones - the price didn't include the "energiser" - which is about the same price as the phones over again...
Although I do see quite a few SRD series energisers out on ebay - they are the ones designed to connect to the Amp speaker terminals, rather than taking an RCA or XLR input...
Any comments out there on differences between the various types of "energisers"


s.a.b. (not verified) -- Thu, 10/08/2009 - 12:28

I can't comment on Stax as I've never heard them, but I have had Quad 988s on long term loan and own three sets of 'phones-  Beyer DT880 (250ohm/'03 version) Beyer DT990 ('08 version) and AKG 701.
For me the Beyer dt880 '03 version is the closest to Quad 988s (and Harbeth c7 speakers I use).  Good luck.

Tom Martin -- Thu, 10/08/2009 - 15:04

David: what headphone amp and CD player or D/A converter are you planning to use? I ask because the more revealing headphones may not meet your criteria for tonal balance when presented with a less than pristine signal. OTOH, the headphones that will hide these things may not meet your criteria for transparency. I realize you have a budget.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

dlaloum -- Thu, 10/08/2009 - 21:32

 Hi Tom,
my main system currently has no headphone jack... I am shopping for a new receiver/prepro (currently running Lexicon DC1)
I am tempted by the new Harman AVR7550HD (I can't do without Logic7) unfortunately I just heard from the importer that at present they are still deciding whether to bring the 240V version (AVR760) into Australia...
My main HP listening is on the PC at this stage (where it is non critical as I am doing other stuff at the same time).
I am not too concerned with not getting the absolute best out of the HP's initially - I have always taken the approach of getting the best speakers I can, and then working back upgrading as I go.... that way each improvement is revealed... 
I am also aware that reports on results with receivers are very very variable.... so it is one step at a time... phones & receiver... then if needed HP amp 

Tom Martin -- Sat, 10/10/2009 - 16:22

Well in the context of starting with the best output devices and upgrading the supply chain later, FWIW, I don't find the Grados to be strident (i.e. w/Esoteric DSD D/A, Luxman headphone amp).

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

dlaloum -- Thu, 10/21/2010 - 22:49

 Hi Folks
Just thought I would update people on what happened - where does the Quad ESL lover end up  when shopping for Headphones...
Well I started with my Noise Cancelling HP's (purchased for travel) - Sennheiser PXC250 & PXC450 - heard and liked the Audio Technica ATH-AD700, but made my regular headphones a set of "vintage" Revox 3100 - these were made by Beyer in the 80's for Revox and are very very similar to 1980's Beyer DT880's.

I also listened to my Receiver HP jack, an Adapter on the Receivers Speaker out, a Fireston Audio Cute Curve Headphone amp, and a Matrix M-Stage headphone amp.... and am currently experimenting with opamp variations within the M-Stage...

The Receiver with the Revox 3100 sounded very good, with the adapter sounded pretty much the same as through the Jack. The Cute Curve sounded better, and the M-Stage better again.... 

I am happy with the sound of the combination now - although still planning on listening to alternatives... (just cos I like the food at my regular restaurant, doesn't mean I stop tasting and trying others!)

Would have liked to try out electrostatic HP's but wasn't willing to stretch the budget that far - may happen in due course. (on my list of HP's to be tried are Grado/Allessandro's, HP580/600/650 Sennheisers, Electrostatics, Orthodynamics, AKG 240/340/501/701 - but right now I am enjoying music)

The end result currently is a very balanced "neutral" (not as in clinical, but as in no particular area is unevenly accented or depressed) sound - detailed without getting clinical, doesn't tend to harshness unless the recording is harsh - soundstage is wide - lots of air... and I have surprised myself a number of times turning my head when I thought I heard something only to discover it was on the recording (that's the way it should be!).

The Headphones are a semi-open design - so outside sounds will still impinge - although not as much as with a fully open set like the ATH-AD700.

These are great value - the current Beyer DT880 /600ohm tends to go for more than 4x what I paid for these - there are lots of them to be found on the used market / fleabay in Germany in particular - and being 25 or more years old they often go for a song.
I did need to replace the earpads (cost circa $20 + shipping) and the headband pad is a bit worn (replacement is circa $20 as well)

There are some bargains to be had out there for top end HP's of the 80's

bye for now


Chris Martens -- Fri, 10/22/2010 - 11:26

 Hello All,
After giving this question some careful thought, the 'phones I would recommend to Quad ESL owners would be the Audez'e LCD-2 orthodynamic phones ($945), and here's why.
The voicing of the LCD-2 is incredibly reminiscent of the sound of the big Quad electrostats, but with--as you would expect--vastly better low bass extension and more or less unlimited dynamic capabilities. But what is particularly appealing about the LCD-2 (and about Quad electrostats, as I perceive them) is their uncanny, three-part combination of neutrality, detail, and utter smoothness. The cool part is that the LCD-2 can be driven well by good, but not necessarily terribly exotic, headphone amps.
What about the Stax? Well, Stax 'phones are great, but with one caveat. They really sound their best when driven with big and (sadly) expensive purpose-built electrostatic headphone amps such as the Kevin Gilmore-designed Blue Hawaii SE from Head Amp, or the Ray Samuels Audio A-10 Thunderbolt II electrostatic headphone amp/pre-amp. While such solutions are a beautiful way to go, they are undeniably costly.
I think the Audez'e LCD-2 will get you right into the same general performance ballpark, but for less money (both for the 'phones and the amp you'll need to drive them). Another excellent and even more cost-effective solution, though one that is perhaps slightly less "Quad-like," would be the HiFiMAN HE-5LE ($699).
Just some thoughts...

Chris Martens

Chris Martens
Editor, Avguide.com/Playback/The Perfect Vision 

dlaloum -- Fri, 10/22/2010 - 11:28

 Mephistopheles tempting the poor audiophiles to sell their souls for just another try at audio nirvana.... you are evil....

gradofan -- Mon, 11/15/2010 - 03:22

I would agree that the Audeze LCD-2 (http://www.audeze.com), or HE-6 (http://www.head-direct.com/product_detail.php?p=92) orthodynamic phones are likely the phones that would seem most similar to your Quads.  Though, many like the electrostat phones from Stax.  If you, want to try electrostat phones, the Koss ESL-950's reportedly sound as good as the Stax at a fraction of the price, including their energizer amp... and... they have a lifetime warranty.  

The LCD-2's and HE-6's do require hefty amplification - even a good speaker amp with 25+ watts into 8 ohms,or so.  Though, some report that some of the better head amps drive them pretty well.  And the HE-6's can be purchased with a matching EF-5 (soon to be EF-6) head amp.  The HE-6's seem to have the edge, because their highs are not rolled off as much as the LCD-2's, but both receive the best reviews of virtually all phones - the LCD-2's being a bit smoother. 

At more reasonable prices, there are also some dynamic phones, such as the Grados (RS-1's and RS-2's), Senns (HD600's and HD650's), and ATH's (W5000's and AD2000's) that are also great with various head amps.  I have not noted the so-called "top of the line" Grados, Senns and Beyers, because there are disparate views of their sound and they're very expensive - though, of these there is greatest agreement on the Beyer T-1's.  But, most agree the LCD-2's and HE-6's are better than all of these, at a lower price.

I have the Grado RS-1's, "new version" of the Senn HD580/600/650's, and the ATH AD2000's, which are all superb with many head amps, though, I drive them all very well with the Woo Audio WA6 SE head amp (transformer coupled tubes), which mates well with both high impedance and low impedance phones.  But, I will likely get the HE-6's, or LCD-2's, soon. 

All of these must be carefully "matched" to a headamp - there really is no "one best" head amp.  Each set of phones must be matched to a head amp, or speaker amp, that matches their electrical properties to attain their optimum sound quality.  Though some amps, can match fairly well with a variety of phones - such as the WA6 SE, which has both high and low impedance output. 

A comprehensive discussion of all of these would be far to extensive to reproduce here - you'll get your best overall insight into all of these and a lot more at http://www.head-fi.org.  

Good luck... 

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