Yet another headphone thread

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Well, looks like I'm getting back heavier into PC gaming. I just upgraded to an i7 rig and there are several PC titles that have my interest. My problem is my office is next to the kids bedroom and the master bedroom where my wife will be sleeping is just across the hall. I'm trying to decide what my best options are here for sound localization and VoIP. My onboard sound dumps some crazy RF interference on the headphone jack, so I'm installing an X-Fi Titanium that should be here any minute now. I was going to see if the CMSS 3D processing is worth a damn or if its the absolute dreck that I expect.

Currently I have the Senn HD 280s but obviously there's no mic. The PC 350 seems to be comparable in sound to the 280s, with an attached mic, but that's getting close to the cost of the 595s I want to pick up for general audio listening. I'm also wondering if these 5.1 headphones are to the point where they're actually worth using, I know the GWJ consensus on them seems fairly high.

So, what's my best setup to get quality sound, surround imaging, and voice communication? I saw that some GWJers (Thin_J and *Legion*) were using little desk puck mics but I'm concerned about broadcasting background noises (rampaging kids) even worse than I do now. I'm not adverse to a standalone mic, it's just my experience in the past hasn't been very favorable compared to a headset.

[Edit] Ha! I setup my Presonus Firebox and A/B'ed it against my onboard audio pushing my HD 280s. The headphone amp on the onboard sound is horrid. The phones really open up and sound driven off the Firebox. Hopefully the X-Fi can push them as well.

Everyone is ignoring me, so I'll reply to myself.

I gave my 280s a shakedown with the X-Fi last night and I was very impressed. I've never actually gamed with quality headphones, always using either speakers or a headset. Even without CMSS the sound localization was great with L4D set to 5.1 and the Creative control set to headphones. I was also really impressed with CMSS. The localization is a bit better but it also adds a nice spaciousness that reduces the "in your head" effect. Yesterday I was looking at the Astro Mixamp for a hardware Dolby Headphone solution but I don't think I'll spend the money now. I'm also shying away from a dedicated headset, but I still need to figure out a quality mic setup so that I don't have to talk loud and piss off the family.

So how leaky are the 595s anyway? I've never used open headphones other than basic supra aural style.

I started to reply yesterday but really couldn't come up with anything to say. I have a separate mic because I already had three pairs of headphones and the PC350's are too pricey for me to justify.

As far as a mic you don't have to talk loudly to use, I think Zalman makes one that just clips on to the cord from your headphones. I know that worked really well for a lot of people at the last lan party I went to.

As far as sound leakage from the 595's, I really can't say. I have them and really like them, but my PC is separated from everyone else in the house by a fairly long stretch of hallway. No chance of any headphone sound making it far enough to disturb anybody's sleep or anything like that.

Thin_J wrote:
As far as a mic you don't have to talk loudly to use, I think Zalman makes one that just clips on to the cord from your headphones. I know that worked really well for a lot of people at the last lan party I went to.

As far as sound leakage from the 595's, I really can't say. I have them and really like them, but my PC is separated from everyone else in the house by a fairly long stretch of hallway. No chance of any headphone sound making it far enough to disturb anybody's sleep or anything like that.

I've been looking really hard at that Zalman (the ZM-MIC1), I was just concerned that with it back along my jaw rather than in front of my mouth like a headset boom would make it unsensitive, or require cranking the mic gain up so that I get a lot of ambient sound picked up as well. Logitech makes a USB desk boom mic that seems to be really well reviewed too, that's another consideration but I dislike the idea of trying to figure out how to situate it on my desk.

So is the leakage on a set of open-backed headphones basically equivalent to the volume of just having headphones turned open?

LiquidMantis wrote:
So is the leakage on a set of open-backed headphones basically equivalent to the volume of just having headphones turned open?

I'd wager it's a little less, since the drivers are facing inward.

I can plug in my 595's and see what kind of range I can hear them from at regular listening volume if you want.

It's no big deal. I'm going to pick up a pair anyway, assuming I don't convince myself to go ahead for the 650s, for music and I can always test them empirically. Thanks though.

Maybe a really good set of regular cans with an array mic? These are little units that have both front- and backward-listening microphones, so they know what the ambient sound is, and can subtract it from the signal.

LiquidMantis wrote:
So is the leakage on a set of open-backed headphones basically equivalent to the volume of just having headphones turned open?

No, because the drivers are turned toward your ears. The headphones would have to be REALLY loud for someone in the next room to hear them. Your talking over the mic. will probably be the loudest sound. The louder the headphone gets, the louder your voice will get too.

I love the Audio Technica ATH-AD700's open back headphones for gaming. They also make a closed back version (ATH-A700) that should work great, but the closed back version will probably need an amplifier to get them to open up. They have a relatively high impedance(64 ohms) compared to the open back version (32 ohms).

Add a Zalman clip-on and you are good to go.

Do not buy "5.1" or "surround" headphones, especially ones with multiple drivers. They are a gimmick. A really good pair of headphones will perform better at reproducing that "surround" sound. Some headphones, like the Audio Technica, do particularly well in this regard.

Here is a link to a gaming headphone guide. It originally was a blog post on the Head-Fi forums:

http://base.teamxbox.com/blog-post/4...

LiquidMantis wrote:
[Edit] Ha! I setup my Presonus Firebox and A/B'ed it against my onboard audio pushing my HD 280s. The headphone amp on the onboard sound is horrid. The phones really open up and sound driven off the Firebox. Hopefully the X-Fi can push them as well.

The front headphone amp on the sound card below is suppossed to be phenomenal for stereo music and the card does Dolby Headphone as well, which works very well for gaming. It is a bit pricey but the damn thing has pretty much every feature you could want for a gaming/media rig.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...

I use:
Senn HD280 Pro
With:
Logitech Desktop Mic

Works and sounds great!

heavyfeul wrote:
A lot

Yeah, after actually giving my 280s a go, I'm really happy with the surround imaging. It's a lot better than I imagined it was going to be now that I don't have all the computer electronic squelch going on.

TempestBlayze wrote:
I use:
Senn HD280 Pro
With:
Logitech Desktop Mic

Works and sounds great!

Awesome, that's the combo I'm looking at right now since I already have a couple of 280s. Just debating between that and the Zalman clip on. Hell, might as well just buy both and see which I like better as cheap as they are. How's the range on that Logi mic? Do I have to be relatively close or does it work from like 18" away?

How is the X-Fi Titanium? And which of the models did you go with? They have so many different version, and none of them have a feature matrix.

I got the PCIe X-Fi Titanium, $85 from Amazon. Apparently there are a couple of cheaper ones but they're Realtek with software X-Fi emulation.

Here's the comparison page. So far I'm really happy with the card. My only issue is that it comes with the Intel HD front panel connector that doesn't work with the AC97 connector in my P180. In order to get the spiffy front panel automute speakers and switch to headphone config I ordered a Silverstone FP32B 3.5" insert that has the audio connectors along with USB and 1394. It's been working great on Windows 7 though.

Don't buy any card made by Creative, period. The company is a nightmare and needs to die. The drivers post-XP suck horribly, and if, for instance, you ever lose your driver disks, you can't get more than the most basic functionality back without paying them $20 for a new driver disk. DO NOT buy Creative, you will regret it.

The ASUS Xonar series has decent drivers and sounds phenomenally good. If you buy the D2X, it uses Burr-Brown 1796 DACs, which are some of the best available at any price. With headphones this good, you can probably hear the improvement over the cheaper DACs in the regular DX.

Malor wrote:
The drivers post-XP suck horribly, and if, for instance, you ever lose your driver disks, you can't get more than the most basic functionality back without paying them $20 for a new driver disk. DO NOT buy Creative, you will regret it.

This is why I've avoided Creative since the Audigy and lived with onboard sound on my workstations. However this time I haven't even opened the CD. I downloaded the Windows 7 driver and control software from their website and it works great.

For this, my sole concern was gaming audio. I wanted to try the CMSS 3D processing and wanted EAX support under Windows 7. For music reproduction I've got much better options.

Alright, bumping my thread up because I think I'm ready to order a step up from my 280s. I'm looking at ordering 595s or 650s for dual-purposing music and gaming. I'm a little worried that the 650s are going to sound choked if I try and drive them from the X-fi, but I can't spend the money for the 650s and an amp right now, unless I put together a CMoy. For music I can drive them off my Presonus Firebox which seems to have a decent headphone amp. But for gaming I'm digging the X-fi's CMSS-3D processing and I'd hate to lose that. So, unamped are the 595s going to be a better option than 650s?

LiquidMantis wrote:
So, unamped are the 595s going to be a better option than 650s?

Yes. The 595's are actually easier to drive than the 280's.

What if I was going to spring for amp after the holidays? Would you recommend getting the 595s for now and waiting until I can get the 650s and amp together? Or living with the 650s unamped for now? I know the 650s will sound better amped, but I don't know if they'll sound like rubbish unamped.

If you're going to get the 650's anyway... go ahead and deal with them unamped until you can get the amp. No sense buying the 595's if you're already set on the higher end

Or just wait until you can afford both and live with your 280's for now.

LiquidMantis wrote:
Malor wrote:
The drivers post-XP suck horribly, and if, for instance, you ever lose your driver disks, you can't get more than the most basic functionality back without paying them $20 for a new driver disk. DO NOT buy Creative, you will regret it.

This is why I've avoided Creative since the Audigy and lived with onboard sound on my workstations. However this time I haven't even opened the CD. I downloaded the Windows 7 driver and control software from their website and it works great.

For this, my sole concern was gaming audio. I wanted to try the CMSS 3D processing and wanted EAX support under Windows 7. For music reproduction I've got much better options.


That's my only concern on this guy as well. Are you 64 bit? And was it simply that one download off their support page? I have the sen 350s, figured they deserve better than the onboard.

Yup, Win7 x64. I've had one or two flaky issues but I've been playing with audio settings a lot to get Ventrilo mixed well with game sound, and choosing different combinations of audio inputs and outputs.

Thin_J wrote:
Or just wait until you can afford both and live with your 280's for now.

Waiting for stuff was never a strong trait of mine. Plus one of the reasons I'm ready to upgrade is the 280s are uncomfortable for extended durations, even though I've been stretching the headband.

Wow, 280's to 650's. Big jump to luxury class. If your are going to drop that kind of dough you really need to consider the Beyerdynamic DT880's. Considered the best headphone for gaming and they are fantastic for music.

Or if you want an integrated mic. check out the Beyerdynamic MMX 300's. I believe they are DT880's with a mic. added. They come with a USB amp.

Senns. are great, especially at the lower price tier, but if you are going to the high end, the Beyers are the way to go.

I've run both 580s and 600s unamped off an X-Fi. Honestly, it sounds marvelous. It'll sound better once you add the amp... the detail and bass both improve somewhat... but it'll sound great even on a typical unpowered plug.

I did a test a number of years ago from an early iPod, back when they still had good sound. I found that with 128K MP3, I couldn't hear any difference at all between amped and unamped, but it became somewhat noticeable with LAME-generated VBR MP3. But in no way would I call the 600s on a straight headphone jack 'bad' sound, not even vaguely. The improvement by adding the amp is not sledgehammer-level stuff, and while you'll appreciate adding it, it'll make far less of a difference than the original headphone purchase.

The 650 is very similar to the 580s and 600s, so your mileage probably won't vary much at all.

Another benefit: adding the amp as a separate step will let you enjoy the new car smell on the same headphones twice.

Great, that's what I concluded after spending way too much time reading on headphones yesterday. Once I cleared my head of all the audiophile hyperbole I realized that especially with the moderate levels I listen at that the difference between low power and stepping up to a quality amp is going to be a subtle difference, not like a whole new pair of headphones. Plus I was doing some more serious listening through my Presonus Firebox and it seems to have plenty of power. Just 10º of the 270º travel of its headphone output volume knob is enough to make the 280s plenty loud. In fact I think something with higher impedance will be better because the ratcheting detents of the knob make it step from not quite loud enough to OW! when I'm using ASIO.

Now I've just been reading to decide if the audio characteristics of the 595 or the 650 is what I'm looking for.

Yeah, you might already be handled. A dedicated sound processing unit like that may have a decent onboard headphone amp. In fact, with that kind of gear driving it, you might actually take a very slight decrease in sound quality if you got another amp in the way. You'd probably have to try to find out.... when you buy your amp, get it from a place with a good return policy, like Headroom.

IIRC, the 595s were considered a little brighter than 600s. I haven't heard both, but I can tell you straight up that a 600 will knock your socks off if you have good ears, and 650s are supposed to be better still. They're just really lovely headphones, delicate and well balanced, and incredibly comfortable for extended wear.

One hint to help parse opinions: pay the most attention to people who listen to classical. They usually have the best-trained ears, and headphones that work well for classical music will work well with anything. Classical music covers everything from the deepest bass to the highest treble, so an excellent presentation of that kind of complex, nuanced music means a sound device has the chops to handle the simpler modern stuff.

Typically, "gaming-oriented" or "rock-oriented" headphones just boost the mid-bass some.

heavyfeul wrote:
Wow, 280's to 650's. Big jump to luxury class. If your are going to drop that kind of dough you really need to consider the Beyerdynamic DT880's. Considered the best headphone for gaming and they are fantastic for music.

I really like the Beyers (have a pair of 770's myself that I use for gaming) but if you're a fan of the Sennheiser type sound the Beyers might not be the right choice. Senns tend to be really smooth and clean. The Beyers are punchier, and more than a little bassy.

The 650's and 880's aren't really comparable in my mind, other than the pricing.

If I wanted a pair to use for a little bit of everything I'd go for the Sennheisers, even if just for comfort reasons.

And Malor's right. If you want to really test a pair of headphones listen to some classical. My Beyers tend to be just a little too unbalanced to really get all the detail out. I put on the 595's and it's like listening to different music.

That's what I've been doing today, playing some violin concerto SACDs. How is the lower end response on your 595s compared to your 280s?

LiquidMantis wrote:
That's what I've been doing today, playing some violin concerto SACDs. How is the lower end response on your 595s compared to your 280s?

It's sharper and cleaner, but there's not as much of it. If that makes any sense.

Yeah, that's kind of what I expected. I'm a little worried that the 650s might have too much bass as I keep reading about their bass push and treble roll-off. I've seen quite a few comments that the 600s are a better set. The 280s seem to be more prominent in mid-bass, albeit somewhat muddy, without too much extension. I'm wondering if I should just get the 595s for now to have greater flexibility, decide if I feel like I'm lacking in lower end, then get the 650s when I can set up a system that can bring out their potential. I don't really know if the headphone circuit on my Denon receiver is worth a damn. I have my SACD player hooked up to my Denon AVR-883.

Alright dammit, I need to break this paralysis by analysis and just order something, I've wasted enough time deliberating about a $150 difference that I should've just gone with the 650s long ago. Unless someone tells me that the 595s will actually outperform the 650s when running off my Firebox or even my X-Fi I'm going to order up a pair. I'll most likely get a Little Dot Mk IV SE for my SACD playback and I can compare that against my Firebox to see if I need better amplification for my PC.

If the 650s really have bass push and treble rolloff, I don't think I'd buy them. Can you still get 600s?

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