Most enjoyable/musical headphones?

I’m new to headphones, but I’ve been recording my own music for years, mostly using monitors, but more recently, with the help of reference headphones.

Most lists of ‘best headphones’ are those which are super flat and unhyped in any freq range, emphasizing detail. But what about headphones that make anything, even poorly recorded music, sound glorious? Surely that must be a type of headphone, not for revealing flaws, but just making music incredibly pleasurable for long term immersion in your favorite music?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate detail, but sometimes, you just want to relax and enjoy. For me, that’s sinking deep into some pink floyd, for example.

What are the best headphones for THIS purpose? I know most cheaper headphones do this poorly, but surely there have to be headphones that are pricey and do this in a killer good way. Which ones? It’s hard to find such info in headphone forums, and I’m a little confused by this.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think these are the ones that specialize in ‘enjoyment first’ listening, the more polarizing cans that I think can be described as more U or V shaped in freq curve: Mezze 99 classic, Audioquest Nighthawk/Nightowl, KLH Ultimate One, Beyerdynamic DT177x, Sony MDR Z7, Audeze LCD2c, Klipsch HP-3, and at the high end, Meze Empyran, Focal Stellia, and most ZMF. Is this right? From what I can tell, a the really high end, there is enjoyment mixed with detail in stuff like the Empyrean and Aeolus, but detail starts to lack more the cheaper things go.

I’m trying to understand how people talk about these sorts of things on headphone forums. Does this sound about right?

Even if I’m misreading the cues, what do you think are the best headphones for pure musical enjoyment, any price range, accuracy/detail aside?

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I think you got it. I’m not sure I’d include the DT1770 as the treble is still way too peaky and unbalanced, and I haven’t heard the KLH so no comment there. The original 99 Classic I heard did tend to bury a little detail due to some freq overriding others, but still a “musical” listen.

I think terminology screws us over. Terms mean different things to different people. Many people have said the Empyrean isn’t detailed. It’s extremely detailed. More treble does not = more detail, but for some people that’s a distinction that isn’t being made. I’ve found that with the Empyrean all the sonic information is still being presented just fine. It’s just not being force fed into my brain like the Utopia wants to do. And the Empy has a much better soundstage than the Utopia, so why do people always equate treble with staging? Ponderous man. Really ponderous.

Another term used way too often which is also vague is “warm”. The TH-X00 is described by some as being warm. It’s very V shaped, so cannot be warm in the mids. The same word is used to describe the HD650 which is definitely a mid focused sound. So wtf is warm exactly? Warm = bass? Warm = mids? Warm = treble? Isn’t warm treble just called bright?

Anyway… Yup.

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Back in the day, (the legendary 1980’s) when I got into all things audiophile, warm meant a bump in the low mids/high bass. That’s how I use the term.

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A lot of musical headphones out there when you pair them with a proper headphone amp and even a dac. So many devices have an impact on sound and the way our ears and brains hear it. Just a thought.

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To me neutral headphones are far and away the most enjoyable. These don’t distract from the source—I know what songs should sound like after hearing them on a dozen systems. Fun and colored headphones can help work around bad amps or poor production decisions, but are usually not needed with a solid setup.

I use the Focal Clear and Sennheiser HD-600 more than anything else. Given the limitations of many sources it is hard to justify anything more expensive than the HD-600 with a matched amp.

But, It is indeed fun to explore other equipment…

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FWIW, most of the stuff that I personally find grating or fatiguing lives in the high mids and low treble between 3-6 Khz. A lot of the headphones regarded as detailed or revealing have considerable (sometimes too much) presence in that region and headphones regarded as laid back like the LCD2 have a big dip there.

So, if you already own reference headphones that you like and just want to take the edge off, try applying a broad EQ dip of just 2dB or so at 4 or 4.5 KHz and see what you think.

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I mean, it’s gotta be HD6-- series, right?

Consistently rated most enjoyable but not absolutely most accurate…

I love neutrality myself, but its true that series just sounds so sweet; and with tubes… chef’s kiss

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I’m going to go in a different route with my answer. While I have some pretty damn good headphones that I love to listen to, it’s sometimes the cheap ones that I plug into my phone that just make me smile.

  1. Koss Porta Pros with Yaxi Pads
  2. iSine 20 IEM (Audeze) with Cipher cable (not that cheap)
  3. Grado SR-60e (with L-pad and tape mod, but I smiled a lot when I got them stock)
  4. Sennheiser PX-100 or PX-200

All of these have great comfort. #3 and #4 are not for longer term serious listening. Yes I know that some people find Grado’s highs are a bit much, but that’s generally after careful listening and comparison. All of these are lightweight, portable, don’t drain the iPhone or whatever’s battery. Don’t need a DAC (the Cipher cable has one). All are frickin’ SIMPLE. Plug 'em in and go. Like in the car, rev it up and go.

@chris962x, I do like my Grado RS-1e reference series much better than the entry level ones. But I’d not been into serious phones much, and I’d destroyed a pair of Senn PX-100s in an incident involving the Halo I’d been wearing several months before to hold my head on my neck, and damn, that Grado satisfied my jones for happy sound. I was playing Pointer Sisters within minutes of getting it, and I think the smile on my face reached my ears.

Long term, #1 and #2 are still on my list, along with my Hive electrostats, the better Grado, and my Hifiman HE-560, and the Senn HD-6xx, but those latter ones all involve some DAC/AMP stack or at least a Dragonfly Cobalt.


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I realize that @chris962x said headphones so please excuse the tangential example of the Campfire Audio Andromeda (and its new 2020 iteration) as a potentially “musical” IEM. Many others before me have said the Andro is highly involving and engaging, and I’ve certainly lost myself in the music any number of times in the past couple of months listening to the 2020.

Neither of them is exactly neutral. The original had a slight emphasis in the bass and treble; the 2020 is darker and doesn’t quite have the treble extension or the sparkle of its predecessor. I don’t know if the frequency response is what accounts for perceived “musicality” - which is not to call it into question or to doubt it, but just to say, literally, that I don’t know.

I also lack the experience to identify, much less explain, what it is that makes the Andro so engaging. I might hazard a few guesses: speed and resolution are key elements, I suppose, as are the Andro’s presentation of tone, timbre, and texture, which is to say the sound of individual instruments and then their combination with others (as with all the brass, the trumpets, the alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, the trombones, tuba, and then the double bass on Charles Mingus’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady). Again, I lack the sophistication to understand and express this properly. Maybe it has something to do with micro-dynamics or what, once upon a time, got called PRaT?

I hope to be able to figure all this out someday, if only so I can better appreciate the joys of this hobby and to find myself a nice over-ear counterpart to the Andromeda that offers the same toe-tapping pleasure! (Is that “musicality”?)

[edit for typos]

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That’s some classic Mingus, Tch. Listened to it on the iSine 20. Love the bits of Concierto de Aranjuez in it. Hey, I can call you Tch, can’ I, @Tchoupitoulas?

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Yes, absolutely. Tch or “Chop” (as that’s how the first syllable’s pronounced).

I get that my handle is a pain in the ass for others. I didn’t give it enough thought before choosing it. (I’d come up with a whole bunch of better usernames before landing on this one, but someone had always claimed them on one of the several forums I wanted to sign up to). So, yes, Tch, by all means.

Back on topic: I have the LCD2-C. I can’t say I find it musical, exactly. But it does scratch an itch with rock music. The shame is that it’s not an all-rounder headphone: I get lost in the music only with distorted or wailing electric guitars with the LCD2-C.

The Ether 2 struck me initially as engaging and musical. But I didn’t get to hear it for long enough to appreciate it properly (also show conditions when I did hear it).

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@pennstac Yes,

  1. Koss Porta Pro

I really think we all need one of these headphones… really captures well “musical” as it’s thick, too wet often, bassy, DARK but some how in a very cohesive non offensive manner. Such that a LOT of music sounds pleasant on it! I need to move my wired pair into the office for reviews lol

But yea, number 1 most enjoyable “musical” can is Porta Pro and that price is un-beatable PLUS the life time warranty! Literally cannot think of anything as simply enjoyable, I clean with it, I’ve cooked with it, wandered around the mall/forest with it, shopped with it, worked with it, exercised with it

I mean where ever I need music and don’t want to think about or concern myself with what’s on my head Porta Pro is my Go to…

Now sitting down at home I’ve a few others on my list

  1. Koss ESP 95X
  2. Grado GS2ke & the like*
  3. LCD 2C w/Vegan Pads
  4. ZMF Auteur

95X is a very linear tuning but it’s slighty dark and overall rather smoooooth sounding without sacrificing much detail. I watch a lot of TV with it, it’s just pleasant

The “Grado Like” cans are also quite enjoyable and straight forward, the DIY Crowd has a dozen Drivers to choose from and all manner of Cable & Cup Builds. The Nhrood drivers were some of my favorites with a G-Crush or Salad Bowl grado pad. Enjoyable tonality with a bit of “fun”

Standard LCD 2Classic Open with it’s stock leather pads is musical ish I suppose, it has some upper mid range withdraw that I find distracting, the “Vegan” pads which are sadly around $150 new correct much of that upper mid range withdraw and make the headphone overall more balanced while still having a some what warm/wet tonality

ZMF Auteur is imo one of the best all around enjoyable headphones. I think my review covers the main reasons why so give it a watch if you’d like.

@Tchoupitoulas I’m actually still wanting to get my self an Ether 2 as my go to “Musical” headphone, unlike Auteur, it has better bass extension and staging imo but it maintains a nice wet presentation without emphasizing “flaws” or mis-givings

I’ve heard a dozens of times on dozens of systems, while it is not forgiving of mastering and mixing mistakes it has enough tonal richness I feel to allow one to still enjoy the music and not be toooo distracted by them

Ideally I’d like to replace my LCD 2 PreFazor with a production Ether 2,

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Your description of the Ether 2 matches my memory of it. It struck me as being nimble and responsive enough - i.e. as a function of its transient response - to provide some of that musicality. And it seemed to strike a nice balance between other qualities like being forgiving, having an open, airy enough sound, a wide enough soundstage, resolution, etc. as to be nicely versatile.

I also share your opinions about the LCD2-C. Out of curiosity, if you had to identify an upgrade of a headphone for it that shares its positive traits but that fixes its upper mid recession, what would that headphone be? The Ether 2 (since you mention it as a replacement for the LCD 2 prefazor? The Rosson RAD-0 (I’m guessing here, or inferring from impressions I’ve read)?

Finally, since I keep mentioning expensive headphones, and haven’t alas got the Porta Pro, here’s another :+1: for the PX-100.

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Rad-0 No thanks… to much emphasis in places where I don’t enjoy it nor think it’s beneficial to fidelity

Honestly Ether 2, as yes I also recall it being Nimble enough for my tastes!

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I really really love my Sundaras even though something about them sounds, to me, more extravagant than other more neutral timbre headphones.

I guess that’s what musical/enjoyable means to me. I use Focal Clears for work and I love them when the mix is good but they’re almost more useful at highlighting what’s wrong with a mix than what’s right. Sundaras seem to do the opposite.

Recently demo’d both Anandas and Arya’s and neither of them had that same magic for me (with 0 EQ) although they definitely both had more ‘resolution’ … Full disclosure I don’t like EQing because it usually stresses me out — every album is produced/mixed/mastered by a different team with different references and different ears. So when I start EQing I never stop EQing which gets in the way :man_shrugging:

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I hear you about this. I avoid EQ for precisely this reason. Parametric EQ, in particular, can be too technical and fiddly for me, and I recognize that my listening preferences are tied to mood, so an EQ setting for one session might not be appealing for another.

I’ve thought about getting a Schiit Loki so that I can reach out and twiddle the knobs without paying close attention to the actual setting (my setup is perpendicular to my listening position so I’d not be looking directly at it). There’s something appealing about the imprecision of turning a dial and setting it according to “feel.”

I’m listening to my TH-XOO Ebony as I type this. I’ve not used it in a while. As an unsubtle, bassy, and v-shaped sound it’s very enjoyable.

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The Loki can mitigate most problem sources with just the mid-high and high knobs. In my experience problem tracks have boosted treble or glare. They vary in the degree of correction required. A relative handful have boomy muddy mid-bass, which usually only requires tweaking the lows.

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:point_up: This exactly! The Loki is great for some quick changes without getting sucked into the EQ game, and was probably some of the best money I have spent when getting into this hobby.

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I second other comments about the PortaPro’s with Yaxi pads. Easily the best inexpensive headphone on the planet.

Another musical fave is Fidelio X2s, no longer available, though the X2HR version may be available for a little while longer. They’re physically impressive, comfortable, and have a smooth, somewhat bassy sound–all the music I try on the X2s works well.

I’ve owned some HPs on your list, also a few others renowned for musicality (Meze Empyrean; Audeze LCD-3 [pre-fazor]). Ended up selling a bunch.

To get higher on the “musicality” food chain, you’ll need to spend a little more. The 2 I keep coming back to over and over are:

ZMF Ori: It’s a power-hog planar so cheap amps are out. Give it enough power and it’s pretty amazing. Still my favorite planar of all, and it has the best planar bass I’ve heard in a non-silly-$$ HP. The best planer bass is the Abyss, but between the high price & torture-chamber comfort, I’m not going there anytime soon…

ZMF Aeolus: My favorite dynamic open-back headphone of all. You can readily fine-tune the sound with 3 or 4 different ZMF earpads (IMO the best is perforated universe suedes). But no matter what pad you use, this is an intensely musical headphone. It has plenty of resolution but doesn’t lead with edgy, brittle transients or any of the usual avatars for resolution.

Yes, both my faves are made by ZMF & still available. The ZMF “house sound” is a beautiful thing!

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I am grateful to Chris 962X for raising the issue of headphones for simply enjoying the music, Like him I am pretty new to the headphone world. I recently purchased my first pair costing more than $200, the Ananda. I like them very much and can certainly tell the difference between the Ananda and my less expensive headphones (the Hifiman 400 s, Sennheiser 58X and Grado 80e). But what I still feel is missing is that “wow“ factor. In headphone lingo perhaps what I‘m looking for is more “slam » (“dynamics”?). I don’t mean just more bass; while I do listen to rock I don’t listen at a very high volume and my preferred music are vocals, opera, classical and New Age. I would very much appreciate any recommendations for such a headphone, complementing the Ananda for me, for up to $1000 or even $1500. Thanks all.

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