Three Headphone Review - Audio-Technica ATH-M50, Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, Sony MDR-V6 - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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Wayne Myers
 
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Three Headphone Review - Audio-Technica ATH-M50, Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, Sony MDR-V6

Three Headphone Review - Audio-Technica ATH-M50, Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, Sony MDR-V6






ATH-M50: $199 / $129 [Website]
HD 280 Pro: $99 / $99 [Website]
MDDR-V6: $109 / $79 [Website]




by Wayne Myers



Introduction

This review is about three closed-back headphones that retail at around $100. Although the MSRP range covered by the three models included is 2:1, they are very similar in capability, performance, and street price.

These are not high-end headphones. They are the kind of 'phone one can use for fun-serious listening, yet be comfortable taking on a trip or packing to the office and back every day.

This review is not a shoot-out, but is a comparative review and will include discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of each model. It will conclude with Headphone Roundup scoring.


Description

These three models share the following characteristics:
  • Closed-back design for listening privacy and some noise isolation.
  • A coiled cord, which is the standard for headphones in the price range. It is too bad. As convenient as the coiled cord might appear, to me they are just a nuisance.
  • 1/8-in TRS plug with 1/4-in TRS screw-on adapter. All three screw-on adapters use the same screw-on thread. The one photographed on the MDR-V6 is a replacement, in this case made by Shure.
  • Fold-up design for travel or storage. The MDR-V6 folds up the tightest and stays that way the best.
  • Studio-use design. The user can reverse-fold either earpiece and hold by hand against one ear, the other ear exposed to hear the room, like a vocalist might do while recording in studio.
  • Well-built and can take a beating.
  • Emphasized bass response, although only a little with the Audio-Technica's.
  • They have all been around for many years. It is not difficult to catch good deals on them, even well below the street prices listed above.
  • They all get asked about a lot.
  • I own all three and have a lot of experience with them.
  • All were purchased because there were indications of some sort (i.e. I saw a curve somewhere) that each might have a pretty flat frequency response. Alas, none of them do.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50, the most expensive, tries its hardest to be the most refined of the three. The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro sounds the worst with music, but can fulfill a need that the others can not. And the Sony MDR-V6 butts into the territories of the other two and in many ways steals the show.


Associated Review Equipment
  • Asus G74SX Laptop, Intel I7-2670QM @ 2.2 GHz, 16 GB DDR3 Memory, Room EQ Wizard, foobar2000
  • Roland Quad-Capture Audio Interface
  • 3Dio Freespace Binaural Microphone, modified, custom HRTF correction curve
  • Mackie 402-VLZ3 Preamp/Mixer
  • American Recorder SPL-8810 Sound Level Meter
  • AKG K 601 Headphones
  • AKG K 701 Headphones
  • Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium 250-Ohm Headphones
  • OPPO PM-1 Planar-Magnetic Headphones, Courtesy OPPO, Home Theater Shack Sponsor
  • Sennherser HD 600 Headphones
  • OPPO HA-1 DAC/Headphone Amplifier, Courtesy OPPO, Home Theater Shack Sponsor

Listening Scores

Frequency response is generally the most obvious sonic differentiator for comparing headphones. The ATH-M50 (score=9.2/10) has the smoothest response below 1 kHz - but is shy on depth in the lowest registers - then has the commonly seen and oh-so-carefully-executed "scooped-out" region of the curve from 3 kHz to 7 kHz that keeps them from sounding harsh and eliminates listener fatigue - without messing up the tonality of brass and string instruments - then finishes with the 9 kHz peak that makes the treble range sound balanced and not dull. There is a slight bass-emphasis tilt to the voicing, making the ATH-M50 sound large at the bottom-end without being boomy. This all works together really well for the ATH-M50, they are very enjoyable headphones with any kind of music.

The MDR-V6 (score=8.8/10), however, has one of the flattest high ends above 1 kHz that exists in the headphone world. It will seem overly-bright to some, especially with that last 7-to-9 kHz peak, but it is smooth enough that I really like it. If they would only have kept the low frequencies under control - personal preference, of course. The lows come off stonger than I care for, although smoothly done, and extend quite deeply. Even with the extra bass, I find myself drawn to that high end. Truth be told, they are my favorite travel 'phone. The bass cuts through the rumble of the road or jet engines, the highs stand out beautifully, and physical factors (later) are particularly suited for travel.

The HD 280 Pro (score=6.0/10) is a studio tracking 'phone, plain and simple. Lower-mids are emphasized so performers can hear the pitch to follow, highs are reduced for long sessions without fatigue, the bass emphasis keeps everyone on the beat, and first-rate isolation prevents mic bleed-through. The few times I have put on the HD 280 Pro to listen to music, they sounded so strange that I could only do so for a few minutes. My reason for including them in this review group is that they do get asked about and noticed in music stores and in video clips of recording sessions, and one can be tempted to think they must sound pretty special for that kind of exposure. Buyer beware, they can work well in one application and poorly in another. I can not recommend them for serious or casual music listening.

Imaging and soundstage are scored separately. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (ss=9.0/10) and Sennheiser HD 280 Pro (ss=9.0/10) both deliver wide, spacious, natural soundstages that are easy to relax into. The soundstage with the Sony MDR-V6 (ss=8.0/10) is not as wide or engaging, but is still quite good. Imaging on the MDR-V6 (im=10.0/10) is the best I have heard, they are my reference 'phones for imaging. Every sound is pinprick sharp. The Sennheiser's (im=8.5/10) also image well, but here the Audio-Technica's (im=6.5/10) fall short, imaging is soft and spreads out even more on sibilants and high-frequency sounds like cymbals and triangles and small tinkly chimes.

Clarity is very good with the ATH-M50 (score=9.0/10) and the MDR-V6 (score=9.0/10), even on dense, complex tracks with deep bass and delicate high sounds coexisting. The HD 280 Pro (score=7.0/10) can not keep up here, and clarity is only fair-to-good.

The Speed test is done with special tracks of fast pulses and sequences. The ATH-M50 (score=9.0/10) won the day here, could keep up with anything and never got muddy or messy. The MDR-V6 (score=8.0/10) did almost as well, and the HD 280 Pro (score=7.0/10) fell behind, getting muddy and hashy at times.

For the Overall Listening Experience, Audio-Technica ATH-M50 and Sony MDR-V6 both get 9/10, having lots of good qualities and being enjoyable to use. The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro gets a 6/10, not a great general listening headphone, but, as previously stated, that is not its forte.


Non-Listening Scores

The MDR-V6 gets 9/10 for Comfort and the same for Design. They are lighter, have a snug fit that is easy to forget you are wearing, stay on better, fold up smaller, stay folded up when you give them a toss, just keep doing things that have you saying, "Cool!"

The ATH-M50 and HD 280 Pro both get 7/10 for design - they work, but nothing grabs you as special - and 8/10 for comfort, which is good but not impressive.


Other Factors - not part of the Overall Performance Score

Audio-Technica ATH-M50
  • $100 reference headphone: No
  • Drivable with portable media devices: Yes.
  • Isolation (if closed design): 10.8 dBA
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
  • $100 reference headphone: No
  • Drivable with portable media devices: Yes.
  • Isolation (if closed design): 15.6 dBA
Sony MDR-V6
  • $100 reference headphone: No
  • Drivable with portable media devices: Yes.
  • Isolation (if closed design): 12.4 dBA

Measurements and Specifications

Measurement Graphs
Audio-Technica ATH-M50
  • Closed-back dynamic
  • Driver Diameter = 45 mm
  • Sensitivity = 99 dB
  • Impedance = 38 ohms
  • Weight = 284 g without cable and connector
Frequency Response:


Distortion at 75 dB SPL - well below 1%.


Distortion at 85 dB SPL - approaching 1% at some frequencies, still very good.


Distortion at 95 dB SPL - above 1% at some frequencies, but well under control.


IM Distortion (DIN)
L @ 75 dB SPL = 0.86%
R @ 75 dB SPL = 0.92%
L @ 85 dB SPL = 1.0%
R @ 85 dB SPL = 1.1%
L @ 95 dB SPL = 1.9%
R @ 95 dB SPL = 1.8%

Impulse and Step Response: Very clean and fast for dynamic headphones.


Group delay:


Impedance: Driver matching is fair, impedance is consistent, easy to drive from any source impedance.



Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
  • Closed-back dynamic
  • Sensitivity = 102 dB
  • Impedance = 64 ohms
  • Weight = 220 g without cable and connector
Frequency Response:


Distortion at 75 dB SPL - well below 1%.


Distortion at 85 dB SPL - approaching 1% at some frequencies, still very good.


Distortion at 95 dB SPL - above 1% at some frequencies, but well under control.


IM Distortion (DIN)
L @ 75 dB SPL = 0.90%
R @ 75 dB SPL = 0.79%
L @ 85 dB SPL = 1.1%
R @ 85 dB SPL = 0.90%
L @ 95 dB SPL = 2.1%
R @ 95 dB SPL = 1.5%

Impulse and Step Response: More ringing than ATH-M50, and long recovery time. Will negatively affect speedy responsiveness on complex tracks.


Group delay:


Impedance: Driver impedance matching not impressive, indicates driver matching is not great.



Sony MDR-V6
  • Closed-back dynamic
  • Driver Diameter = 40 mm
  • Sensitivity = 106 dB
  • Impedance = 63 ohms
Frequency Response:


Distortion at 75 dB SPL - well below 1%.


Distortion at 85 dB SPL - approaching 1% at some frequencies, still very good.


Distortion at 95 dB SPL - above 1% at some frequencies, but well under control.


IM Distortion (DIN)
L @ 75 dB SPL = 0.31%
R @ 75 dB SPL = 0.35%
L @ 85 dB SPL = 0.44%
R @ 85 dB SPL = 0.59%
L @ 95 dB SPL = 1.2%
R @ 95 dB SPL = 1.7%

Impulse and Step Response: Big initial overshoot, then fairly short recovery time. Will give fairly fast responsiveness, but not at cleanly as ATH-M50.


Group delay:


Impedance: Good driver matching = tight imaging.



Conclusions

If you like lots of bass and value a flat high end like I do, you might become attached to the Sony MDR-V6 (OPS=8.8/10), which is my favorite travel/toss-around headphone. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (OPS=8.6/10) probably has a more universally desirable sound signature and, all things considered, it is not hard to see how it has remained popular in the price range. The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro (OPS=6.9/10) did not score as well for general listening, but studio tracking is really what it was made for.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50
  • Imaging: 6.5
  • Soundstage: 9.0
  • Clarity: 9.0
  • Speed: 9.0
  • Frequency Response: 9.2 (Scooped Profile)
  • Overall Listening Experience: 9
  • Comfort: 8
  • Design: 7
  • MSRP/Street: $199/$129
  • Overall Performance Score: 8.6 out of 10

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro
  • Imaging: 8.5
  • Soundstage: 9.0
  • Clarity: 7.0
  • Speed: 6.0
  • Frequency Response: 6.0 (Tilted Profile)
  • Overall Listening Experience: 6
  • Comfort: 8
  • Design: 7
  • MSRP/Street: $99/$99
  • Overall Performance Score: 6.9 out of 10

Sony MDR-V6
  • Imaging: 10.0
  • Soundstage: 8.0
  • Clarity: 9.0
  • Speed: 8.0
  • Frequency Response: 8.8 (Flat Profile)
  • Overall Listening Experience: 9
  • Comfort: 9
  • Design: 9
  • MSRP/Street: $109/$79
  • Overall Performance Score: 8.8 out of 10



Audio-Technica ATH-M50















Sennheiser HD 280 Pro











Sony MDR-V6










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