Monday, 18 May 2015

Beyerdynamic T51P vs. Beats Solo2 vs. Sennheiser Amperior vs. V-Moda XS


This post is a supplement to my video review of the Beyerdynamic T51P. The video review looks closely at the physical build of the T51P and an overview of its sound and how it compares to the Sennheiser Amperior and Beats Solo2. This post goes into more detail about the T51P and how it compares to some other options!

The Beyerdynamic T51P is my new favourite portable headphone. Its a wonderful package with a featherweight design, strong noise isolation and a punchy, fast sound. It strikes a good balanced between too aggressive or too laid back. Of course, a statement like that is a bit meaningless without reference points, so let’s dive in.


vs. Sennheiser Amperior (The Former Champ)



Strangely enough for one of my favourite portable headphones, I don't actually have a full review video for the Amperior. Much of my thoughts about the Amperior can be found in my review of its sibling, the HD25. The Amperior is like a cleaner, slightly more mid-focused version of the HD25.

For a long time the Sennheiser Amperior has been my favourite portable on-ear headphone. I’ve always loved its robust design, strong noise isolation and secure fit, though clamping force is very high for this design. After a few hours, it can make your ears very sore - especially if you wear glasses.

I’ve been happy to live with a bit of pain because the Amperior is a real pleasure to listen to. It has a fun, lively sound, with a mid-bass boost and a somewhat forward upper mid / lower treble section that gives things a great deal of colour and texture. Bass is punchy and the treble sizzles.

I think it’s a great all rounder, but it’s also an aggressive listen. Many people complain that the mids and treble can be too forward for their ears. With some over-excitable synths and electronic recordings the Amperior can get a bit ear-shreddy. At higher volumes (especially when you are out and about in the city) it’s not necessarily safe for your hearing. The Amperior is the most aggressive out of all the on-ear headphones I currently own in terms of mids / treble.

The T51P I think is the safer, more sensible alternative to the Amperior sound. For one thing, it’s much more comfortable, both to wear and listen to. It scoops out that forward mid section and shifts the mid-bass boost lower in the mix.

The end result is that the T51P sounds more diffuse and laid back compared to the Amperior. It avoids the aggressive mids and sibilant highs while still preserving treble shimmer and detail. 

While male vocals are chesty and resonant on the T51P, I would actually have to say the Amperior delivers much more natural female vocals. Switching between the two rapidly can make it seem like female singers have a blocked nose on the Beyerdynamic. I’d still choose the Amperior if I listened to a lot of rock music. It has the kind of signature that makes guitars really crunch.

Judging purely on sound, I would put the Beyerdynamic T51P on equal footing. But as you know, I never judge purely on sound. I think the T51P has a safer signature for a wider variety of genres, and it’s a lot more comfortable! Unfortunately I can’t say much about the new HD25 Aluminium Edition, but I can’t imagine that the equation changes all that much.

The Amperior is a discontinued headphone now, and I have seen refurbished Amperiors sell for as low as $94.99 on Newegg. This is an incredible deal, and it’s really hard for me to say that the Beyerdynamic is worth 3x the price. If you want to do a bit of bargain hunting, the Amperior is still an excellent choice. Just watch that clamping force!

vs. Beats Solo2



The Solo2 is a controversial headphone amongst ‘audiophiles’, just because it happens to be a Beats product that was praised by some critics *gasp*. There’s no question that the Solo2 is a bassy headphone, and the sheer quantity of the bass is never going to impress people after a more balanced signature. But that bass is controlled, with plenty of slam and rumble. Sometimes there’s so much of it that on some tracks it starts to take on a little bit of a blunt, overbearing quality - but honestly, that just adds to the overall impression of phatness. If bass is a priority, these are clearly a premiere option.

The rest of the Solo2’s signature is ideally suited for portable use. The mids are quite lively - not as aggressive or as thin as the Amperior, but enough energy in the vocal range to cut through the bass and give everything a bright and poppy sheen. Again, like with the Amperior, the T51P’s mids seem scooped compared to the Solo2. I would actually say the Solo2 finds the happy medium here.

The highs are distinctly rolled off - there’s little high frequency shimmer to be had, and cymbals sound blunted. It’s not enough to make the Solo2 sound sludgy, but it does close off the soundstage and make it a bit more claustrophobic than the other portables being compared here. The T51P actually has distinctly more treble shimmer than the Solo2, giving it a more open soundstage.

In terms of design and build, the glossy plastics are again a turn off for a lot of people, but they’re seemingly quite robust. The elastic polymers in the headband in particular seem like they can take a lot of stress. They fold up into a compact shape. On the head, they have a nice secure fit, and the headband in particular conforms to the shape of my head almost perfectly, distributing weight broadly across the skull. However, pressure from the earpads is very firm. They are more comfortable than the Amperiors on account of the softer earpads, but still a distinct step back from the  T51P.

Even though there’s a bit of give and take between the T51P and the Solo2 in terms of mids and treble, honestly the choice is pretty clear. If you want deep, deep resonant bass and a thick, chunky sound, go for the Solo2. I think you’d be pleased as punch. Otherwise, for a more comfortable and balanced sound (still with a decent helping of low end punch) I’d spring for the T51P.

vs. V-Moda XS


Disclosure: my V-Moda XS is a review unit that was given to me to keep by V-Moda. For more information about my review policies, see this link.

I don’t talk very often about the V-Moda XS, and that’s because I just don’t like it. It has a decent enough sound, but I think it just has a flawed design - or at least my head just doesn’t agree with it.

Clamping force on the XS is very light, and unlike every single other headphone being compared here, the earcups do not swivel laterally. This means that they will not turn to conform to the shape of your head. V-Moda clearly intended for the headphones to stay secure on the head through the friction of the earpads on the ears and skull - but the earpads are small and have little contact area with the ears and the fabric on the headband doesn’t generate much friction against hair.

This means that the XS will come off my head with a sharp head movement, or if I am looking downwards (like say, at my phone) it will feel like it is starting to slide off my ears. It is not a headphone that I feel safe running for the train with, and I cannot trust it to stay on my head if the cable were to be yanked. 

If I stay still and stare straight ahead, the XS is comfortable. In motion, it’s frustrating.

I find it isolates poorly compared to the other headphones being compared here. For all the above reasons, I simply don’t recommend the XS.

If you are willing to look past all of this, the XS has an interesting, lower mid-band focused sound. It is easily the most mid-focused of all the headphones here, with bass punchy but rolled off in the very lowest regions, and the treble gently sloped off. Since the emphasis is more on the lower mids, it sounds more mellow than strident - unlike the Amperior. It’s a sound that is lovely with acoustic music (guitar twangs sound full bodied and rich) but a little wonky with other genres.

The T51P is a better rounded option. It’s more comfortable, actually stays secure, and has more natural treble detail without sounding aggressive. Again, I simply don’t recommend the XS. 

Conclusion

The T51P is my new favourite on-ear headphone, and my new favourite portable headphone full stop. Of course, there are other headphones not in the on-ear size class that I can compare the T51P with. I’m going to be doing that in a future ‘favourite portable headphone’ list in the future. Anyway, I’d love to hear from people who actually prefer on-ear headphones, as well as people who hate them. Whycome is it so? As always, I look forward to your comments!