Headphones and Earphones
- Written by Chris Heinonen
- Published on 26 August 2009
The vast majority of my listening was done using either a NuForce Icon or an emu 0404 USB as my headphone amp, and CD’s ripped to FLAC as a source and with Grado SR60’s and AKG K701’s for comparison. The first thing that I will mention is that the Pro 900’s did a great job of not leaking any sound, and providing a decent amount of isolation from outside noise. No matter how loud I would turn up the amps, no one was able to tell what I was listening to or how loud it was, a large difference from the AKG’s where their open nature doesn’t work as well with a cubicle neighbor.
One thing that the Pro 900’s were able to provide in abundance was a lot of clean, clear bass. Listening to old favorites such as “Teardrop” or “Angel” from Massive Attack (Mezzanine), the opening beats hit in a way that I hadn’t heard from headphones before. The bass was clear and precise, loud, but not muddled or bloated. Moving onto other music that I remembered for its bass, I listened to “The Downward Spiral” from Nine Inch Nails all the way through.
In addition to hearing the bass with better definition than before, I was able to clearly hear the distortion in instruments that I had not heard before on “Piggy”. Little details that were there before in the music were now more apparent than anytime I had listened on speakers. The bass offered was far louder and more present than the bass being offered by my AKG’s on the same tracks.
I moved onto what has become my favorite track of any album recently, “Reckoner” from Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”. The cymbal hits that open the track had great snap to them, and seemed to float in the air. As more instruments came into play and Thom Yorke’s vocals filled in, the music didn’t become messy but rendered all of the instruments very distinctly. After the track finished I listened again, just enjoying how wonderful the music sounded through the Pro 900’s.
The weakest area for the Pro 900’s when compared to my AKG’s came in the area of the soundstage. Listening to the score for “The Piano” from Michael Nyman really brought the differences in the headphones to the front. Whereas on the AKG’s I could hear a piano and it sounded truly like a piano being played in a large, open room; when I listened to the same passage on the Pro 900’s it sounded more like a recording of a piano in a small, confined space. The AKG’s were just able to render a much larger, more open soundstage in comparison to the Pro 900’s.
However, the bass offered by the Pro 900’s was clearly louder and more present than on the AKG’s when using the same headphone amplifiers for each.
Listening to Norah Jones’s first album, “Come Away With Me”, the Ultrasone’s really brought the bass on the track to the foreground, but sometimes would seem to overpower the rest of the instruments or vocals on the track. Listening to “Feelin’ The Same Way”, there is an electric guitar that comes through the left ear very distinctly. With the Ultrasone’s this guitar had far more energy behind it than I heard through my AKG’s. However, with the AKG’s I could better hear the string resonating after it was plucked. I didn’t get the full force of the initial note, but I heard more of the details in the music afterwards.
Though not as likely to be used for a source as a dedicated headphone amp, I did test out the Pro 900’s with a laptop’s headphone output, and the output of my iPhone. Both of them were able to drive them to reasonable listening levels, though the sound became a bit more compressed and muddied than when driven by a dedicated amplifier. They certainly offered a better experience than a cheap pair of headphones would, but adding a portable headphone amp for either of these devices would be recommended, if not necessary, if they were going to be your primary source for listening.