Recently, I visited a prominent local headphone store. I was looking for a portable closed-back headphone for air travel, to replace my in-ear phones, Sennheiser IE8. I no longer feel comfortable wearing in-ear for hours, let alone, a long flight. The IE8 will fall off my ears if I do not constantly reposition it. I have tried various tips but none of them provides the comfort I want up in the air. While I was there, why not try various new & old gears that I have not tried.
The First Setup
The first was the Bottlehead Crack w/ Astell & Kern as DAC, driving Sennheiser HD650. The sound was very lean. The HD650 lost its greatness; imaging, deep bass, soundstage, all gone. Bottlehead turned HD650 into a very thin sounding headphone. After a few minutes, I switched to another setup. Later on, I found out that the culprit is on Bottlehead Crack. The amp just didn’t sound good.
The Second Setup
The second setup was ALO Pan Am w/ Astell & Kern as DAC, driving Sennheiser HD650. Now, this is what Sennheiser HD650 should sound like. It’s not the best amp for it but the Pan Am was a much better amp than Bottlehead Crack. It brought back HD650’s famous imaging and soundstage. The speed was a bit on the slow side but after the hearing the first setup, my ears needed a spa, a spa that Pan Am provided. There was channel imbalance on low volume but still very tolerable.
After listening with HD650, I switched to Audio Technica ATH-ES700. It sounded really bad (bad in every way) that after a few musics, skipped!
Then, I picked up Audio Technica ATH-ES9. Now, this was better, much better than ATH-ES700. This should be the best portable closed-back headphone to replace my Sennheiser IE8. It sounded great with the Pan Am. Wait, I can’t use the Pan Am on an airplane. So I plugged the ES9 directly into Astell & Kern AK100. Although not as great and inviting as HD650, the sound was well balanced, and easy to listen to.
- The Pan Am is a very decent amp for its size but the price puts me off. It’s expensive for the sound quality you get out of it. If I really need a small amp w/ DAC, I’d just get my DACport. It’s even smaller than the Pan Am. If I want to go a just a bit bigger, I’d get one of Schiit’s single-ended amps and you don’t need to worry about running out of battery power or replace the battery unit after a few years.
- Sennheiser HD650 is as great as ever, it remains one of my all-time favorites.
- Bottlehead Crack is a bad-sounding amp. Maybe the unit is defective. I don’t know.
- Audio Technica ATH-ES700 is a very bad sounding headphone. The sound does not sound right. Maybe it’s defective too (by design).
- Audio Technica ATH-ES9 is a well balanced portable closed-back headphone for the money. This is the headphone I want to replace my Sennheiser IE8. It provides the comfort and SQ. My only concern is its fragile looking cable.
- Astell & Kern is a great DAP (digital audio player). The sound is surprisingly quite neutral. The freq is very linear. I suspect it should be good for all kinds of music. The user interface is easier to use and not as flaky as iBasso DX50 that I also auditioned. SQ wise Vs. DX50? Better too.