Headphone FAQ Update - Input Wanted!

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#1 Posted by Bozanimal (2483 posts) -

Alright folks, I'm going to revamp the Headphone FAQ over the next month or two. I don't like the organization, it's too wordy, and lacks sound card recommendations. I'm going to rewrite a lot of it, and put in a new Table of Contents that makes more sense.

  • What do you like and not like about the current FAQ?
  • What would you like to see changed?
  • How do you feel about adding pictures just to break up the text a bit?
  • How about SQ charts, like Freq. Response graphs; too techy?

Things I'd like to see added:

  1. I need Sound Card recommendations at various price points, and some rationale behind what supports what.
  2. Some wireless headset recommendations. SQ suffers, but from a convenience standpoint you can't beat them.
  3. A basic on-board vs. sound card discussion.
  4. Something for the console folks. I don't know what this means yet.
  5. Microphone recommendations for head-mount, desk-mount, and on-cord (the Zalman being the obvious choice of the last one).

Thanks,

Boz

#2 Posted by kraken2109 (13007 posts) -

Xonar DG for £25 should be there as a budget soundcard with a headphone amp.

Also probably a couple of decent headsets for the people who refuse to buy headphones.

#3 Posted by KHAndAnime (13432 posts) -
If you want to make a complete FAQ I think it would be extremely helpful to include information on DACs/AMPs in general - not just sound cards. We're getting to a point where sound cards aren't as important as they used to be. I'm not even sure if I'd recommend sound cards anymore to anyone spending over $100. What would be the point?
#4 Posted by Bikouchu35 (7351 posts) -

I suppose m50s are good.

#5 Posted by NVIDIATI (7639 posts) -

If you want to make a complete FAQ I think it would be extremely helpful to include information on DACs/AMPs in general - not just sound cards. We're getting to a point where sound cards aren't as important as they used to be. I'm not even sure if I'd recommend sound cards anymore to anyone spending over $100. What would be the point?KHAndAnime
Good idea, if you're looking for a solution for gaming and music you could always get an inexpensive sound card and a DAC/AMP.

Something like the NFB-12 costs $200 + ~$35 shipping. It has a great design and a pair of well implemented Wolfson WM8741 DAC chips. It can act as a pre-amp (DAC out) and it puts out a nice amount of juice to power most heapdhones.

Head-Fi Thread-NFB-12

and if you're looking so spend a little less than that, the Zero DAC is rather popular (~$120 w/o USB, ~$150 w/ USB, + ~$40 shpping).

Head-Fi Thread-Zero DAC

#6 Posted by kraken2109 (13007 posts) -

Does anyone think we should make a speaker FAQ too? Lots of people come here asking about speakers.

#7 Posted by Bozanimal (2483 posts) -

Does anyone think we should make a speaker FAQ too? Lots of people come here asking about speakers.

kraken2109
If I have time I can give it a shot, but it'll be a couple months at the earliest. I would imaging off the top of my head you'd need: 1 - 2.0 vs. 2.1 vs. Surround Sound 2 - Recommendations by price range for each category 3 - Wiring Guide 4 - External Resources That'd probably answer 90% of speaker questions. Don't expect anyone to read it, though, based on the number of headphone questions we still get! :P Happy gaming, Boz
#8 Posted by kraken2109 (13007 posts) -
[QUOTE="kraken2109"]

Does anyone think we should make a speaker FAQ too? Lots of people come here asking about speakers.

Bozanimal
If I have time I can give it a shot, but it'll be a couple months at the earliest. I would imaging off the top of my head you'd need: 1 - 2.0 vs. 2.1 vs. Surround Sound 2 - Recommendations by price range for each category 3 - Wiring Guide 4 - External Resources That'd probably answer 90% of speaker questions. Don't expect anyone to read it, though, based on the number of headphone questions we still get! :P Happy gaming, Boz

Well look at the bright side, it might reduce the number. The speaker thread should have some amps in too. Although don't make them too good, we don't want this forum completely dying XD
#9 Posted by NamelessPlayer (7729 posts) -
1. The Xonar DG's the best bang for the buck in terms of cards that can be bought brand new for just US$30 (sometimes less!), but for those willing to spend more, I'd generally favor the X-Fi Titanium HD as a gaming card (or the X-Fi Forte for those who need more than two analog channels). Most of that advantage lies in DirectSound3D and OpenAL-based games, which aren't too common these days, but some of us do like to fire up the good old games every now and then, and I'd even say they have far superior positional audio to anything that uses XAudio2 + X3DAudio or FMOD Ex. 2. I don't have anything to recommend there, sorry. 3. That mostly boils down to cleaner analog output, more gaming features, and so forth. I even wrote a big Head-Fi guide on PC gaming audio: do check out the "Sound card chipsets" section to get an idea of what they're all capable of and what products feature them. (That section does include integrated Realtek codecs, by the way.) 4. For console use, the generally-favored devices are the Astro Mixamp (the only one to provide voice chat mixing to my knowledge), the Turtle Beach Ear Force DSS, and the long discontinued JVC/Victor SU-DH1. All of them are Dolby Headphone DSPs that can handle Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic II input (and in the SU-DH1's case, DTS). 5. I've heard great things about the AntLion ModMic for head-mount. Desk-mount has too many options for me to recommend a few; I just use a cheap desk mic I picked up at a thrift store, but if you really want to get fancy, you could pick up something like a Samson C01U and a spider mount to set it in.
#10 Posted by DivergeUnify (15150 posts) -
AKG K240(especially these inexpensive gems), Shure 840s, Audio Technica M50, and Senn HD25-II should be mandatory recommendations in my opinion Open and closed sections would be very nice, as well
#11 Posted by Bozanimal (2483 posts) -

Selecting headphones is a combination of your:

  1. Price point
  2. Usage preferences (running, gaming, etc.)
  3. Personal taste
  4. and filtering out marketing hype from truth

The biggest challenge is determining at what price threshold you will be happy with your purchase. If you take nothing else away from the following, not this: Because headphone satisfaction is largely subjective, pay careful attention to the return policy of the retailer from whom you buy in the event you are dissatisfied with your purchase.


HEADPHONE TYPES AND TERMS


  • Over-ear - The cups are large enough to go around your ears
  • On-ear - The cups rest against your ears
  • Earbuds and IEMs - These sit in the ear canal. In the case of in-ear monitors (IEMs), they create an airtight seal.
  • Headsets - Headphones with a permanent attached microphone
  • Open vs. Closed-Back - On- and over-ear headphones can either be sealed or open. Open-back headphones generally have a wider soundstage and better environmental positioning, closed-back headphones seal-out ambient noise and provide better bass response. These are rules of thumb; there may be exceptions by model.
  • Noise Canceling vs. Noise Blocking - Noise-canceling headphones record incoming audio and produce a "counter-wave," effectively canceling out external noise. Noise-canceling headphones require a power source. Noise blocking headphones reduce external noise passively through a closed-back design, dampening, and/or airtight seal. Noise-canceling headphones typically sacrifice some sound quality to reduce overall noise.




RECOMMENDATIONS - HEADPHONES


Approximate prices are new from a reputable retailer

$0 - $20
Over-the-ear - Koss UR 20 (~$17), Koss TD-61 (~$20)
Earbuds - JVC HA-FX34P (~$15), Panasonic RP-HJE160-A (~$12)
On-ear - Koss KSC 75 (~$14)

$21 - $40
Over-the-ear - Sennheiser HD 202 MK II (~$30), JVC HARX700 (~$35)
Earbuds - Denon AH-C360 (~$40), Sony MDR-EX57LP (~$27)
On-ear - Sony MDR-Q68LW (~$22)

$41 - $80
Over-the-ear - Creative Labs Aurvana Live! (~$70), Sony MDR-V6 (~$65), JVC HARX900 (~$60)
Earbuds - Maximo iMetal iM590 (~$45), Etymotic MC5 (~$66), Sennheiser adidas PMX 680 (~$60)
On-ear - Grado SR 60i (~$79), Beyerdynamic DTX 35 (~$43)

$81 - $120
Over-the-ear - Sennheiser PX 200-II (~$86), AKG Acoustics K-240 (~$90), Audio Technica ATH-AD700 (~$100)
Earbuds - Klipsch Image S4 (~$80), Yuin PK2 (~$80), Etymotic ER-6i (~$85), Shure SE115 (~$92)
On-ear - Grado SR 80i (~$100), Sony MDR-7506 (~$85)

$121 - $200
Over-the-ear - Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (~$150), Ultrasone HFI-780 (~$150)
Earbuds - Etymotic HF3 (~$140), HiFiMan RE-262 (~$150)
On-ear - Grado SR 125i (~$150), V-Moda M80 (~$200)

$201 - up
Over-the-ear - Sennheiser HD598 (~$250), Denon AH-D2000 (~$260), AKG K 702 (~$270), Sennheiser HD 800 (~$1,500)
Earbuds - Klipsch X-10i (~$250), Grado GR10 (~$400), EArsonics SM3 (~$300)
On-ear - Grado SR 225i (~$200), Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9A (~$270), Grado RS1i (~$600)


CONSOLE MICROPHONE ADAPTORS


Consider the following adaptors to allow use of a headphone/mic combo with your:

  • XBox360 - You will need an inexpensive adaptor (Example 1, Example 2), but it should be fairly simple plug-and-play once you've acquired one.
  • PS3 - You will need an inexpensive adaptor (Example 1, Example 2), but it should be fairly simple plug-and-play once you've acquired one.
  • PC or Mac - All modern PC and Mac hardware will have both a headphone and mic option on their soundcard, be it an internal or external card, or motherboard audio.

Alternatively, you can use a headphone amplifier like the Bravo V2 (see Headphone Amplifiers, below) with your analog audio output (the red/white RCAs) to your headphones, though this will prevent you from using that analog output to your display or home theater system.

The best solution for console gamers in terms of both convenience and quality is the Astro Mixamp, which makes it very easy to connect your headphone and mic to your console of choice, includes all the required cables, provides a built-in headphone amplifier, and Dolby Headphone processing, if you prefer it. The Mixamp retails for about $130.


RECOMMENDATIONS - MICROPHONES


There are two inexpensive microphone options:

  • The Zalman ZM-Mic1, which is an inexpensive, high-quality, omnidirectional microphone you can easily pair with any set of headphones
  • You can also use the Labtec LVA7330 Clearvoice Head Microphone, a slightly more expensive boom mic, which requires some minor modifications to attach to your headphones. The boom mic will give your receiver more isolated audio, and is more appropriate to noisy environments.

If having a separate cord bothers you, some inexpensive split-loom or even simple bread-ties can help keep your cords organized.


RECOMMENDATIONS - HEADSETS


It is usually preferable to use a separate headphone and mic from both an audio quality and value standpoint, but headsets do offer convenience in setup and build. If you musthave a headset with a boom mic, consider the following:


HEADPHONE "SURROUND SOUND" EXPLAINED


Headphones marketed as "Dolby Headphones" are - except in very rare cases - nothing more than Dolby-licensed two-channel headphones. The use of 5.1 or 7.1 to describe these headphones is more than a little misleading. Dolby Headphone processing is not native to the headphone, but to its processor, which is included in most modern sound cards. But don't take it from me, take it from Dolby, who licenses the technology (and its logo):

"All of this information is combined by the Dolby Headphone processor into two encoded channels that deliver the spatial properties of the original audio, with more natural sounds that actually seem to be 'out-of-head.'"

"...with Dolby Headphone no special headphones are required. The process works well with wired or wireless headphones ranging from inexpensive airline headsets to high-end electrostatic sets, although higher-quality headphones deliver a higher-quality listener experience."

(Source)

To truly reproduce 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound your headphones need to have discrete drivers for each channel and native digital surround content. In a 7.1 setup this means four speakers in each ear (since the center channel is matrixed), three left for rear, side, and front, and three right for the same. You'll have a fourth driver on both sides for your subwoofer channel. The headphones would require seperate analog signals from your sound card or have their own digital DAC (digital to analog converter), DSP (digital signal processor), and decoder.

Dolby Headphone does not necessarily reproduce 5.1 or 7.1 discrete channels. From their own site, "Delivers realistic 5.1-channel sound from any set of headphones...Dolby Headphone accurately creates the sensation of up to five loudspeakers in a room using powerful digital signal processing (DSP) technology." The Dolby Headphone Turtle Beach PX5, for example, only has two speakers (two 50mm drivers). The same with the Astro A40's: two 40mm drivers.

Dolby Headphone is just a manner of processing audio to simulate surround sound, not to accurately reproduce the effect. Discrete headphones are rare, expensive, and not necessarily any better than their 2-channel counterparts. The Tritton AX Pros are one of the only "real" surround sound headphones of which I am aware (and I've been looking).

Surround sound is really meant to be experienced in an open room, not attached to your head. I hope this helps. You can read more marketing doctrine from Dolby at their web site, if you'd like. (Source)


SOUND CARDS


If you are using the analog output of your PC - the headphone jack or other analog outputs - you will experience better audio from a dedicated card versus the motherboard's built-in audio processor. A sound card does a better job at converting that digital source material to an analog format, isolating the audio components from the motherboard components, and amplifying it for your headphones. This does not guarantee distortion-free sound: Issues with the power supply or other motherboard interference can still occur, but is likely to improve quality.

The big question: Will the average PC gamer notice? The answer is: It depends. If you notice a lot of crackling, buzzing, or other distortion while you're gaming, it's probably time for a dedicated card. If you're looking for hardware support for particular audio effects not provided by your board - such as Dolby Headphone, CMSS-3D, or certain versions of EAX - you will need a dedicated card.

If you are buying a sound card for the sole purpose of using a headphone or headset, it would be tough to beat the Asus Xonar DG, which is only about $30. It supports Dolby Headphone, the same process used by more expensive "5.1" and "7.1" headphones and headsets, as well as a decent built-in headphone amplifier. So long as you are not also using an external surround sound system, this is an excellent value for headphone-only gamer.

If your PC serves double-duty with your home theater, consider a card that supports both Dolby Headphone and Dolby Digital Live, which encodes Digital Surround on-the-fly. The leap in format support and quality, however, comes with a price tag (~$200) for the Asus "Essence" card line. The benefit is a very robust DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) and amplifier, as well as superior noise isolation and support for additional formats.

For detailed information on audio chipsets, check out The Nameless Guide To PC Gaming Audio at Head-Fi.


HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS


If you have a great source such as an audio card and high-end headphones, a dedicated headphone amplifier may further improve quality. The additional, dedicated power of an amplifier adds headroom to the signal, giving the audio more range. An entry-level amp like the Bravo V2 can be had for between $20 and $60 on EBay. Anything more advanced like a NuForce amp and it's unlikely you should be reading this thread for advice: Go back to your audiophile forums!


A NOTE FOR CHILDREN


Kidz Gear headphones are inexpensive at about $20, fit young listeners and those with tiny skulls, and have reviewed well. If you are very young or are a "little person," they're worth considering.


A NOTE ON SOURCE MATERIAL


Speakers, be they home theater, car, or headphones, can only reproduce what you give them. If you're playing low-quality MP3s (e.g. 64kbps Bit Rate or less), it's going to sound awful regardless of what you play them on. If you're listening on a desktop PC, you may end up with some ambient electical noise from the motherboard unless you have a dedicated sound card, and even then there's no guarantees.


A NOTE ON NOISE CANCELING


Noise canceling (NC) technology, also known as "Active Noise Control," was developed by Dr. Amar Bose (yes, that Bose) back in the late '70s. Basically, the headphones sample the environmental audio and produce an alternating sound wave, effectively canceling out the noise. This technology was made commercially available in the mid-1980's, and now headphones sporting NC can be found from a variety of manufacturers.

Noise-canceling headphones are situational. They are typically expensive relative to non-NC headphones and require a power source, meaning they usually will not work at all without charged batteries. However, if you spend a lot of time flying, in crowded subways, and similarly high-volume environments, these might be a good choice for you. The Bose Quietcomfort 3's are widely regarded as one of the best noise-canceling headphones available, though many great options are out there.


A NOTE ON BRANDS


Like anything, headphones have their own specialty brands and, within those brands, they typically offer a full-line of products to suit different price brackets. Even traditional "high-end" headphone manufacturers like AKG, Beyerdynamic, and Sennheiser offer two-digit, inexpensive counterparts to their four-figure flagship models. Value brands such as Logitech have their own premium line under the moniker, "Ultimate Ears." For the aforementioned reasons it is important not to give excessive credibility or to preemptively discredit a headphone based solely on its brand. Consider carefully by visiting reputable headphone review sites and forums to evaluate specific models (see "Additional Resources," below).


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES


Contributing and Inspiring Members- Without whom this FAQ would not be possible

#12 Posted by Bozanimal (2483 posts) -

Alright, I took a stab at simplifying the FAQ, but I think it's a failure, honestly. I want to cut it down more to simplify it, and not make those big walls of text so imposing.

That's enough for right now, though. I welcome your feedback.

Boz

#13 Posted by Allicrombie (25122 posts) -
damnit, just tell me which amp to get. =P
#14 Posted by NVIDIATI (7639 posts) -

^You need an amp? For what headphones?

#15 Posted by NamelessPlayer (7729 posts) -
damnit, just tell me which amp to get. =P Allicrombie
As NVIDIATI suggested, you need to specify what headphones you're trying to amp. For instance, a conventional headphone amp does you absolutely no good with electrostatic headphones (Stax, Koss ESP/950, etc.), because those require specialized amplifiers. (For that matter, the headphones in question have special plugs that keep them from simply plugging into most audio equipment.) Even more conventional dynamic/ortho headphones may suit one particular amp better than another. I say it's better to match the amp to your desired headphones than the other way around.
#16 Posted by Allicrombie (25122 posts) -
[QUOTE="Allicrombie"]damnit, just tell me which amp to get. =P NamelessPlayer
As NVIDIATI suggested, you need to specify what headphones you're trying to amp. For instance, a conventional headphone amp does you absolutely no good with electrostatic headphones (Stax, Koss ESP/950, etc.), because those require specialized amplifiers. (For that matter, the headphones in question have special plugs that keep them from simply plugging into most audio equipment.) Even more conventional dynamic/ortho headphones may suit one particular amp better than another. I say it's better to match the amp to your desired headphones than the other way around.

Sorry, I was just looking at headphones on amazon, and was wondering if I needed an amp for something like the Sennheiser 598's or something comparable?
#17 Posted by NVIDIATI (7639 posts) -

Sorry, I was just looking at headphones on amazon, and was wondering if I needed an amp for something like the Sennheiser 598's or something comparable? Allicrombie
An amp will help, but nothing too extreme is needed. A good DAC is also a nice addition.

What's your budget?

#18 Posted by Allicrombie (25122 posts) -

[QUOTE="Allicrombie"] Sorry, I was just looking at headphones on amazon, and was wondering if I needed an amp for something like the Sennheiser 598's or something comparable? NVIDIATI

An amp will help, but nothing too extreme is needed. A good DAC is also a nice addition.

What's your budget?

Not sure, I'm just looking at the moment, really just want something that will sound good , since right now i'm using crappy earbuds that , aside from the "one size fits all" belief, don't quite fit my ears.
#19 Posted by NVIDIATI (7639 posts) -

Not sure, I'm just looking at the moment, really just want something that will sound good , since right now i'm using crappy earbuds that , aside from the "one size fits all" belief, don't quite fit my ears.Allicrombie
Alright, when you get an idea of the sound you're looking for (and the amount you want to spend to acquire that sound) feel free to post back or make a thread and we'll give you some options.

#20 Posted by Allicrombie (25122 posts) -
I'm also open to suggestions on some good headphones around the 200-300 range. I was eyeing the Sennheiser 598's, mainly because they looked nice and seemed pretty feature packed from the description. I was also eyeing the D5000's, (I know, those are a wee bit more, >.>) but those look nice too. Will mainly be used for listening to music, and gaming here and there.
#21 Posted by NVIDIATI (7639 posts) -

I'm also open to suggestions on some good headphones around the 200-300 range. I was eyeing the Sennheiser 598's, mainly because they looked nice and seemed pretty feature packed from the description. I was also eyeing the D5000's, (I know, those are a wee bit more, >.>) but those look nice too. Will mainly be used for listening to music, and gaming here and there.Allicrombie
Already those two headphones would have very different sounds. If anything they're almost polar opposites :P

Do you find you favour bass? Or do you prefer a neutral but detailed sound?

Personally I enjoy a very neutral sound. My current headphones are AKG's K702s and they produce a very large and detailed sound. The only thing about these headphones is they don't produce heavy bass. The bass can go deep, but it doesn't give a lasting impression.

If possible I would suggest you try some of these headphones for yourself.

If that is not possible then you can tell us about some of the qualities you're looking for in a sound and maybe some of your prefered genres of music.

#22 Posted by Bozanimal (2483 posts) -

thread_direction_max600.gif

In all seriousness, Alli, you're in Maine, right? How often do you get down to Boston? If you're spending that much on headphones, it might be worth visiting Harvard Square in Cambridge. There are two specialty shops there, one for Hi-Fi (Audio Lab) and another (Sound Lion) just for Headphones. Audio Lab often has very, very good deals with used Headphones, and they'll lit you sit and listen as long as you want on their high-end amps. If you're dropping that much on headphones and maybe an amp, it's something to consider.

I've used both the AKG Q701 and the Sennheiser HD598, and found them to be very, very similar, honestly. I've had my eye on the Denon AH-D2000's for awhile, the 5000's just being way more than I would ever personally want to spend on headphones, honestly. If you go AKG or Sennheiser, know that you are getting an open-back headphone and a wide soundstage. The Denon's are going to have smoother, more pronounced bass, in a good way. They're all super-close in terms of sound, though; just look at the chart (flatter - close to zero - is better):

graphCompare.php?graphType=0&graphID[]=2

In fact, I have a feeling the DT880's are going to be, for you, a good combination of the better low-end response of the Denon's and sound stage of the AKG and Sennheisers. That said, the Sennheisers are super-comfy. I liked the AKG's, but found the Sennheisers to be a more enjoyable headphone, personally. They're so close, it really comes down to personal preference.

As a result, what it will likely come down to is fit. Since I have a gigantic Charlie Brown head, I auditioned some fifty-plus headphones before settling on the JVC HARX700's as a stop-gap, as I'll probably end up buying the HD598's (the DT880's are just a tad out of my range).

As far as an amp goes, don't buy one- yet. Wait until you've selected a headphone you like, listen to it using your existing equipment, then decide if you want an amp/DAC combo, upgraded sound card, portable amp, or something else entirely.

Also check out the Head-Fi Summer Guide for some additional recommendations and opinions.

Happy gaming,

Boz

#23 Posted by kraken2109 (13007 posts) -

Alright, I took a stab at simplifying the FAQ, but I think it's a failure, honestly. I want to cut it down more to simplify it, and not make those big walls of text so imposing.

That's enough for right now, though. I welcome your feedback.

Boz

Bozanimal
I don't think you can simplify it without losing information. It looks good to me, people should be willing to read and learn a bit.
#25 Posted by Allicrombie (25122 posts) -
sorry Boz, didn't mean to hijack your thread.
#26 Posted by Bozanimal (2483 posts) -
sorry Boz, didn't mean to hijack your thread.Allicrombie
Well sheesh, now that you're running this thing the least you could do is comment on my giant response! :P Happy gaming, Boz
#27 Posted by Mozelleple112 (6628 posts) -

Throw in some good amp choices: Objective 2, Bravo V2, FiiO E7/E9/E10/E11, Little dot MK I / MK II / MK III / MKIV etc

#28 Posted by Bozanimal (2483 posts) -

100x100px-LS-b331da36_1000x500px-LL-9b46

Selecting headphones is a combination of your:

  1. Price point
  2. Usage preferences (running, gaming, etc.)
  3. Personal taste
  4. and filtering out marketing hype from truth

The biggest challenge is determining at what price threshold you will be happy with your purchase. If you take nothing else away from the following, not this: Because headphone satisfaction is largely subjective, pay careful attention to the return policy of the retailer from whom you buy in the event you are dissatisfied with your purchase.


hd-598-2ay6-100.jpg

HEADPHONE TYPES AND TERMS


  • Over-ear - The cups are large enough to go around your ears
  • On-ear - The cups rest against your ears
  • Earbuds and IEMs - These sit in the ear canal. In the case of in-ear monitors (IEMs), they create an airtight seal.
  • Headsets - Headphones with a permanent attached microphone
  • Open vs. Closed-Back - On- and over-ear headphones can either be sealed or open. Open-back headphones generally have a wider soundstage and better environmental positioning, closed-back headphones seal-out ambient noise and provide better bass response. These are rules of thumb; there may be exceptions by model.
  • Noise Canceling vs. Noise Blocking - Noise-canceling headphones record incoming audio and produce a "counter-wave," effectively canceling out external noise. Noise-canceling headphones require a power source. Noise blocking headphones reduce external noise passively through a closed-back design, dampening, and/or airtight seal. Noise-canceling headphones typically sacrifice some sound quality to reduce overall noise.

grado-headphones.gif

RECOMMENDATIONS - HEADPHONES


Approximate prices are new from a reputable retailer

$0 - $20
Over-the-ear - Koss UR 20 (~$17), Koss TD-61 (~$20)
Earbuds - JVC HA-FX34P (~$15), Panasonic RP-HJE160-A (~$12)
On-ear - Koss KSC 75 (~$14)

$21 - $40
Over-the-ear - Sennheiser HD 202 MK II (~$30), JVC HARX700 (~$35)
Earbuds - Denon AH-C360 (~$40), Sony MDR-EX57LP (~$27)
On-ear - Sony MDR-Q68LW (~$22)

$41 - $80
Over-the-ear - Creative Labs Aurvana Live! (~$70), Sony MDR-V6 (~$65), JVC HARX900 (~$60)
Earbuds - Maximo iMetal iM590 (~$45), Etymotic MC5 (~$66), Sennheiser adidas PMX 680 (~$60)
On-ear - Grado SR 60i (~$79), Beyerdynamic DTX 35 (~$43)

$81 - $120
Over-the-ear - Sennheiser PX 200-II (~$86), AKG Acoustics K-240 (~$90), Audio Technica ATH-AD700 (~$100)
Earbuds - Klipsch Image S4 (~$80), Yuin PK2 (~$80), Etymotic ER-6i (~$85), Shure SE115 (~$92)
On-ear - Grado SR 80i (~$100), Sony MDR-7506 (~$85)

$121 - $200
Over-the-ear - Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (~$150), Ultrasone HFI-780 (~$150)
Earbuds - Etymotic HF3 (~$140), HiFiMan RE-262 (~$150)
On-ear - Grado SR 125i (~$150), V-Moda M80 (~$200)

$201 - up
Over-the-ear - Sennheiser HD598 (~$250), Denon AH-D2000 (~$260), AKG K 702 (~$270), Sennheiser HD 800 (~$1,500)
Earbuds - Klipsch X-10i (~$250), Grado GR10 (~$400), EArsonics SM3 (~$300)
On-ear - Grado SR 225i (~$200), Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9A (~$270), Grado RS1i (~$600)


31ZlkBLuxEL._SL500_SS100_.jpg

CONSOLE MICROPHONE ADAPTORS


Consider the following adaptors to allow use of a headphone/mic combo with your:

  • XBox360 - You will need an inexpensive adaptor (Example 1, Example 2), but it should be fairly simple plug-and-play once you've acquired one.
  • PS3 - You will need an inexpensive adaptor (Example 1, Example 2), but it should be fairly simple plug-and-play once you've acquired one.
  • PC or Mac - All modern PC and Mac hardware will have both a headphone and mic option on their soundcard, be it an internal or external card, or motherboard audio.

Alternatively, you can use a headphone amplifier like the Bravo V2 (see Headphone Amplifiers, below) with your analog audio output (the red/white RCAs) to your headphones, though this will prevent you from using that analog output to your display or home theater system.

The best solution for console gamers in terms of both convenience and quality is the Astro Mixamp, which makes it very easy to connect your headphone and mic to your console of choice, includes all the required cables, provides a built-in headphone amplifier, and Dolby Headphone processing, if you prefer it. The Mixamp retails for about $130.


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RECOMMENDATIONS - MICROPHONES


There are two inexpensive microphone options:

  • The Zalman ZM-Mic1, which is an inexpensive, high-quality, omnidirectional microphone you can easily pair with any set of headphones
  • You can also use the Labtec LVA7330 Clearvoice Head Microphone, a slightly more expensive boom mic, which requires some minor modifications to attach to your headphones. The boom mic will give your receiver more isolated audio, and is more appropriate to noisy environments.

If having a separate cord bothers you, some inexpensive split-loom or even simple bread-ties can help keep your cords organized.


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RECOMMENDATIONS - HEADSETS


It is usually preferable to use a separate headphone and mic from both an audio quality and value standpoint, but headsets do offer convenience in setup and build. If you musthave a headset with a boom mic, consider the following:

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HEADPHONE "SURROUND SOUND" EXPLAINED


Headphones marketed as "Dolby Headphones" are - except in very rare cases - nothing more than Dolby-licensed two-channel headphones. The use of 5.1 or 7.1 to describe these headphones is more than a little misleading. Dolby Headphone processing is not native to the headphone, but to its processor, which is included in most modern sound cards. But don't take it from me, take it from Dolby, who licenses the technology (and its logo):

"All of this information is combined by the Dolby Headphone processor into two encoded channels that deliver the spatial properties of the original audio, with more natural sounds that actually seem to be 'out-of-head.'"

"...with Dolby Headphone no special headphones are required. The process works well with wired or wireless headphones ranging from inexpensive airline headsets to high-end electrostatic sets, although higher-quality headphones deliver a higher-quality listener experience."

(Source)

To truly reproduce 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound your headphones need to have discrete drivers for each channel and native digital surround content. In a 7.1 setup this means four speakers in each ear (since the center channel is matrixed), three left for rear, side, and front, and three right for the same. You'll have a fourth driver on both sides for your subwoofer channel. The headphones would require seperate analog signals from your sound card or have their own digital DAC (digital to analog converter), DSP (digital signal processor), and decoder.

Dolby Headphone does not necessarily reproduce 5.1 or 7.1 discrete channels. From their own site, "Delivers realistic 5.1-channel sound from any set of headphones...Dolby Headphone accurately creates the sensation of up to five loudspeakers in a room using powerful digital signal processing (DSP) technology." The Dolby Headphone Turtle Beach PX5, for example, only has two speakers (two 50mm drivers). The same with the Astro A40's: two 40mm drivers.

Dolby Headphone is just a manner of processing audio to simulate surround sound, not to accurately reproduce the effect. Discrete headphones are rare, expensive, and not necessarily any better than their 2-channel counterparts. The Tritton AX Pros are one of the only "real" surround sound headphones of which I am aware (and I've been looking).

Surround sound is really meant to be experienced in an open room, not attached to your head. I hope this helps. You can read more marketing doctrine from Dolby at their web site, if you'd like. (Source)


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SOUND CARDS


If you are using the analog output of your PC - the headphone jack or other analog outputs - you will experience better audio from a dedicated card versus the motherboard's built-in audio processor. A sound card does a better job at converting that digital source material to an analog format, isolating the audio components from the motherboard components, and amplifying it for your headphones. This does not guarantee distortion-free sound: Issues with the power supply or other motherboard interference can still occur, but is likely to improve quality.

The big question: Will the average PC gamer notice? The answer is: It depends. If you notice a lot of crackling, buzzing, or other distortion while you're gaming, it's probably time for a dedicated card. If you're looking for hardware support for particular audio effects not provided by your board - such as Dolby Headphone, CMSS-3D, or certain versions of EAX - you will need a dedicated card.

If you are buying a sound card for the sole purpose of using a headphone or headset, it would be tough to beat the Asus Xonar DG, which is only about $30. It supports Dolby Headphone, the same process used by more expensive "5.1" and "7.1" headphones and headsets, as well as a decent built-in headphone amplifier. So long as you are not also using an external surround sound system, this is an excellent value for headphone-only gamer.

If your PC serves double-duty with your home theater, consider a card that supports both Dolby Headphone and Dolby Digital Live, which encodes Digital Surround on-the-fly. The leap in format support and quality, however, comes with a price tag (~$200) for the Asus "Essence" card line. The benefit is a very robust DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) and amplifier, as well as superior noise isolation and support for additional formats.

For detailed information on audio chipsets, check out The Nameless Guide To PC Gaming Audio at Head-Fi.


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HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS


If you have a great source such as an audio card and high-end headphones, a dedicated headphone amplifier may further improve quality. The additional, dedicated power of an amplifier adds headroom to the signal, giving the audio more range. An entry-level amp like the Bravo V2 can be had for between $20 and $60 on EBay. Anything more advanced like a NuForce amp and it's unlikely you should be reading this thread for advice: Go back to your audiophile forums!


A NOTE FOR CHILDREN


Kidz Gear headphones are inexpensive at about $20, fit young listeners and those with tiny skulls, and have reviewed well. If you are very young or are a "little person," they're worth considering.


A NOTE ON SOURCE MATERIAL


Speakers, be they home theater, car, or headphones, can only reproduce what you give them. If you're playing low-quality MP3s (e.g. 64kbps Bit Rate or less), it's going to sound awful regardless of what you play them on. If you're listening on a desktop PC, you may end up with some ambient electical noise from the motherboard unless you have a dedicated sound card, and even then there's no guarantees.


A NOTE ON NOISE CANCELING


Noise canceling (NC) technology, also known as "Active Noise Control," was developed by Dr. Amar Bose (yes, that Bose) back in the late '70s. Basically, the headphones sample the environmental audio and produce an alternating sound wave, effectively canceling out the noise. This technology was made commercially available in the mid-1980's, and now headphones sporting NC can be found from a variety of manufacturers.

Noise-canceling headphones are situational. They are typically expensive relative to non-NC headphones and require a power source, meaning they usually will not work at all without charged batteries. However, if you spend a lot of time flying, in crowded subways, and similarly high-volume environments, these might be a good choice for you. The Bose Quietcomfort 3's are widely regarded as one of the best noise-canceling headphones available, though many great options are out there.


A NOTE ON BRANDS


Like anything, headphones have their own specialty brands and, within those brands, they typically offer a full-line of products to suit different price brackets. Even traditional "high-end" headphone manufacturers like AKG, Beyerdynamic, and Sennheiser offer two-digit, inexpensive counterparts to their four-figure flagship models. Value brands such as Logitech have their own premium line under the moniker, "Ultimate Ears." For the aforementioned reasons it is important not to give excessive credibility or to preemptively discredit a headphone based solely on its brand. Consider carefully by visiting reputable headphone review sites and forums to evaluate specific models (see "Additional Resources," below).


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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES



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Contributing and Inspiring Members- Without whom this FAQ would not be possible

#29 Posted by Bozanimal (2483 posts) -
Added pictures to help break up the text: Not sure if it's better now or not for someone reading it for the first time. Boz
#30 Posted by NamelessPlayer (7729 posts) -
The pictures help break up the sections nicely, if you ask me. As for the headphone recommendations, I'm surprised to not see the AKG Q701 in the $200+ section (which is said to have a distinctly different and often preferable sound compared to the K701 and K702), along with seeing something as expensive as the Sennheiser HD800 in there. That would warrant a $500 and up section to balance out the MSRPs a bit, or maybe $500-999 and $1,000+ sections for those flagship models and anything electrostatic (specifically Stax and the Koss ESP/950). Only problem is, with the more expensive stuff (especially electrostatics), you not only have to budget for the headphones, but the amplifier to make sure they're driven properly (or driven at all). Also, thanks for linking my PC gaming audio guide!