1 on 1 Headphone Comparisons
Track list is entirely lossless streamed locally through my home Ethernet network and is as follows;
- Chesky Records Ultimate Demonstration Disc:
- 15 - McCoy Tyner & Joe Henderson - Ask Me Now (Presence)
- 27 - David Chesky - Best Of Chesky Jazz And More Audiophile Tests, Volume 2 (Bass Resonance)
- Chesky Records Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc:
- 48 - Drum Kit Dynamic Range Uncompressed Test
- Dr. Chesky’s Sensational Fantastic & Simply Amazing Binarual Sound Show:
- 15 - Choir Of The Church Of The Blessed Sacrament - Mozart Ave Verum
- Kamiya - Beethoven’s Appassionata: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 - I Allegro Assai
- Sarah Jarosz - Build Me Up From Bones: Simple Twist of Fate
- Lisa Hannigan - Sea Sew: I Don’t Know
- The Greatest Bits - DK Island Swing
- Rob Wasserman feat Jennifer Warnes - Duets: Ballad of the Runaway Horse
ES-1A vs Focal Elex
I found ES-1A in particular had similar levels of body but with better texture and a more linear response. Elex has a slight mid-bass hump which combined with it’s fuller bodied lows makes it kinda thumpy in comparison to the more solid, tactile and extended bass on ES-1A. The Double Bass in particular had an obvious humpyness with excessive punch on Elex, where has with ES-1A there was a more cohesive full bodied KICK. Yes there was punch when the riff and play style implement it but as a whole the improved extension and linearity resulted in a much more natural sounding presentation of low frequencies.
Synthetic bass lines had the same lack of low end extension on Elex as well, where as ES-1A presented a far better impact and kick due to it’s improved sub bass extension and resolution overall.
One thing I LOVED about Elex was it’s stunning body and vocal vibrato. Those sustained notes and their slight shifts came across beautifully, how ever Elex has a slight disconnect between the more lively pronunciation and sound from throat and lips and the weighty body that emanates out from one’s chest. So for some tracks and vocalists it’s stunning but for others it’s a bit uneven.
With Elex strings often came across a bit too sharp for my tastes, lacking some body and having a bit too much bite. There was a touch of emphasis on the attack of strike of the string it self that I wasn’t often a fan of. I was happy tho to find horns and other wood winds to come across naturally. With a realistic mix of both body and bite.
ES-1A on the other hand was far more cohesive, aside from an occasional minuet upper mid forwardness, I didn’t find it’s mid-range to be in any way uneven to the point of being a distraction. An while vocals didn’t always have that beautifully vivid but emphasized vibrato, there wasn’t a disconnect either I felt. So I wouldn’t say it lacked “beauty” more so that it didn’t add any. It’s presentation in the mid range had a bit more tactility as well again providing a cohesive palpable edge throughout the entire mid range likely due to it’s richer but still faster presentation.
ES-1A was to my ears more natural overall.
Sadly Elex has some unpleasant forwardness in it’s top end response. Technically this helps to add air and extension but… this is assuming you can look past the emphasis. Hard S sounds were particular forward, enough that I found it distracting.
ES-1A while have a darker less forward response was again more cohesive. With better air and extension due in part I feel to it’s lack of over-emphasis.
Sound Stage, Dynamics and Detail:
For the most part ES-1A outclassed Elex in all three of these qualities, the only exception is Macro Dynamics. Elex’s some what forward mid-range and top-end combined with it’s relative speed give it a LOT of macro dynamic contrast. An while it doesn’t lack micro dynamics it’s simply not as vivid regarding micro-dynamic contrast as ES-1A.
Elex is noticeably more aggressive but not as balanced, it had an over-defined leading edge for some sounds but a slightly recessed edge for others. ES-1A while never having quite the “edge” that Elex can present, was far more balanced and tactile through out the entire spectrum. It was consistantly faster through the spectrum as a whole, VS Elex which is often times faster with some frequencies ranges and slower with others.
Still that’s not to say Elex is by any means a bad headphone, given the $1000 difference [not including the specialized amp] I’d say Elex performed about on par.
ES-1A vs L700MKii
I want to start by mentioning that to my ears I find that L700MK2 and ES-1A present music with two entirely different presentations.
ES-1A is again more rich and cohesive, where as to my ears, L700MK2 is aggressive and IN YOUR FACE. Especially when volume matched, now when you listen with L700MK2 at a quieter average than ES-1A it’s a bit more balanced perceptually but overall when ES-1A and L700MK2 are at the same average volume their presentations are starkly contrasted…
An regarding volume most people don’t have a set value they listen at, most turn it up to a level at which it sounds “good,” that level can depend on both the music it self and the headphone. As different response curves will be perceived as “good” or “better” or “worse” at different average volumes depending on their individual peaks and dips.
For the purpose of this review I volume matched L700MK2 to the level at which ES-1A sounded most correct to my ears. An quite frankly the other 4 headphones in this review also sounded “most correct” at similar levels which were around 76 dB on average. Assuming a dynamic range of 10 dBs at least gives us peaks at 81 and dips as low as 71. Only L700MK2 sounded “more correct” at a quieter average volume…
Some how… L700MK2 had more body than ES-1A, with electronica it came across as quite taut but ultimately more punchy than impactful. An I had to do my listening on L700MK2 without my glasses to achieve the best fit.
With double basses and big drums L700MK2 again had a lot of BODY but came across as more “thumpy” or “boomy.” Often times it had a clean taut punch but a sloppy loose presentation extension as the frequencies dropped. Not quite recessed but not quite right either. Interestingly enough with Piano music there where times I could not discern any impact from the lowest registers… where as ES-1A would present a stunningly realistic weight and nuance at those lower frequencies.
Despite having less body, ES-1A was more natural and impactful. Providing a real effortless sense of WEIGHT and SLAM. Kicking and punching as needed vs L700MK2 more limited punchy bass response.
Again on my system and to my ears L700MK2 was mostly uneven. There were times where vocals would sound quite pleasant… then the singer would shift octaves and SUDDENLY be SCREAMING in my ears. I had the same experience with Piano compositions as well.
I will say Brass horns sounded stunningly beautiful on L700MK2 tho a bit delicate… but even then ES-1A presented them with equivalent bite and a more cohesive full bodied tone. Despite being not quite as delicate at times it was far more cohesive.
Worse of all tho were drums and percussion, L700MK2’s presentation was wholly disjointed and I struggled to appreciate or much less enjoy percussion. Yes on one hand you could say it was EXPLOSIVE… but some what un-natural. Strings suffered from this problem as well, being just wholly uneven.
Between all of L700MK2’s peaks and dips I felt it matched ES-1A’s detail in the mid range… but was not at all natural… and what ever richness was present was not consistent through the spectrum.
Again it provided an insanely fun presentation that I don’t quite think aligns with what I enjoy or want when I’m listening to my music…
… where is the “beating the dead horse” emoji when you need it. As that’s all I have to say about the top end… L700MK2 just comes across as both more forward but ultimately uneven.
ES-1A despite being darker, having a slightly recessed response, remains more cohesive giving it realistic air and extension.
Sound Stage, Detail and Dynamics;
To my ears L700MK2 has some of the most aggressive and vivid macro dynamics, it was again EXPLOSIVE with a wide variety of music. This quality tho doesn’t translate well for my tastes within the some what cramped and narrow stage of L700MK2. An while it’s VIVID Macro Dynamic contrast does extract a surprising amount of detail… there’s often times too much congestion during busier passages of music to appreciate it.
Regarding it’s micro-dynamics I just felt L700MK2 was a bit lack luster.
ES-1A was offered far more cohesive imaging within a larger sound stage as a whole. An while it simply could NOT match L700MK2’s macro dynamic contrast it’s mix of macro and micro dynamic contrast came across as more natural and cohesive. An honestly I found it more engaging. Overall there was an equivalent quantity of detail for simple’r less complex passages of music between the two headphones, but during busier passages ES-1A provided audibly better resolve due to it’s lack of congestion.
L700MK2 to my ears lacked any real blackness as it was hard to discern or follow the trailing edge of sounds given how much emphasis was on the leading edge…
ES-1A despite having some slight emphasis on the trailing edge of sounds, didn’t lack a realistic tactile edge. Rather it’s presentation was rich and palpable… unlike L700MK2’s hyper-aggression which I felt violated my personal space more than a few times.
Overall, I just don’t think I had the right system nor listening levels to really appreciate L700MK2… price wise I’ve seen it as low as $1199, however it’s listed on Stax’s International website at $1569 making it a rather immediate competitor again’st ES-1A… personally I feel L700MK2 has qualities that make it an interesting compliment to something as transparent as ES-1A but I cannot recommend it OVER ES-1A unless you find deep pleasure from a hyper aggressive forward presentation…
Again maybe at quieter levels L700MK2 will perform better, but for my listening level’s hands down ES-1A is all around the more resolving balanced headphone. Period…
ES-1A vs Koss 95X w/ Angle’d Vesper Pads & No Front Driver Foam
Let’s start by discussing what the Angle’d Pads and removal of the Front Driver foam do for the stock Koss ESP 95X. The pads help to improve the size of it’s staging, adding a touch of both width and depth and the Hybrid Vesper Pad I purchased includes a sewn dust filter which allowed me to rip out all the nasty adhesive foam covering over my 95X.
Removing this foam helped improve mid-range clarity far more than I expected!
Both headphones provide a dark neutral presentation with a rich tonality. I was surprised at how similar these two were with ES-1A coming across as a direct linear upgrade to 95X.
95X presents a much softer polite low end, while it has fairly linear extension it’s sub bass is noticeably recessed. I did find however it retained much of the same low frequency texture as ES-1A did but with far less body and impact.
ES-1A presented a richer low end with a truly linear sub-bass extension and stellar impact. What ever 95X does well with comes across on ES-1A spectacularly.
Even with an upgrade amp, no front foam and new pads 95X retains the slightest bitch of mid-range etch. A kind of forward hardness in the presentation, an while it’s NO WHERE near L700MK2 levels, it’s still audible. Tho not enough that I can’t ignore it after a few minutes.
ES-1A with Dark Pads does not have this etch and provides both more detail and richness. Providing a more natural sound overall.
Both were quite similar in their presentation of higher frequencies. Dark with an audibly recessed response but not lacking in air nor extension.
Sound Stage, Detail and Dynamics
I felt on my system both had fairly equivalent sized sound stages with ES-1A a bit deeper with better blackness. Each was equally cohesive as well with ES-1A retaining slightly better clarity as a result of it having better detail overall. Neither really struggle with congestion during busier passages of music.
Surprisingly I did find 95X had slightly better macro-dynamic contrast than ES-1A did with both having equivalent micro dynamic contrast. 95X’s one flaw is it’s detail, there’s a level at which it simply does not render sound… so occasionally it’ll simply gloss over entire transients.
ES-1A does not have this floor for detail, an often times renders full seconds of audible detail that simply is not present with 95X.
The trailing edge of sounds have similar presentations on both headphones, ES-1A however presents a slightly more defined leading edge over the polite Koss 95X.
Regarding balance I do feel 95X comes across as a bit laid back where as ES-1A is not. Tho It’s not particularly aggressive either I’d say overall it’s fairly balanced.
Ultimately I find ES-1A to again provide a direct upgrade path to those that appreciate the Koss 95X. Tho at almost triple the price I can’t say it’s three times as good, still I feel it’s enough to merit a purchase if it will serve as your only headphone.
However in my system where 95X offers about 89% of ES-1A’s detail and speed I find it serves as an excellent compliment to my own 009.