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Question Seeking advice: headphones for opera & classical music

miss_sophie

Active member
Feb 11, 2021
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Hello all,

I am a newbie and am honestly confused by all the reviews I read, I have read some of the very helpful threads here, but they were either several years old or the requirements differed from mine, so I hope it is is ok to renew the question:
Which headphones would you recommend most for opera and instrumental music?
They are mainly going to be used in a quiet environment at home, and the source is a macbook pro (question there as well: which is better value for the money: should I stick to low impedance - or buy a DAC, which means I could spend less on the headphones themselves?). I can spend a max. of 250 USD in total, whether with DAC or not.
It would be nice if they are somehow also suitable allrounders, as I can't currently afford a separate pair for the occassional movie or other genres I also listen to, but less frequently.

I have been looking into the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Edition and 990, but am unsure with which DAC in this price range those would work well. The DAC shouldn't be too bulky.

Thank you in advance - I'll be grateful for any advice!
 
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anort3

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Dec 8, 2019
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Some considerations:

Sennheiser HD560S. No amp.

AKG K553 or the AKG 361/371. No amp.

Shure SRH840. No amp.

The DT990 is icepicks in your ears bright. The 880 is a solid choice but you'd want the 250ohm model and you'd need an amp.

You could also get a Sennheiser X Massdrop HD6XX for around $200 ( assuming you're in the US ). This is a Sennheiser HD650 with a different finish. While this is a great value it NEEDS an amp and it's not the headphone I'd recommend for classical. Vocal jazz or classic rock yes but not classical. Too warmly colored.
 

ThisIsJimmy

Well-known member
Nov 11, 2020
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Hi Sophie. Welcome to the forum.

Adding on to Anorts suggestions their are a couple of ways you can approach this.

1) If you are purchasing headphones over 80 Ohms, you realistically will need an amp and DAC combo. At the budget you have given you are limited in your options as at these ranges you might be looking at something like an Audio Quest Dragon Fly of Ifi ZenDac, but that then reduces the budget you can spend on headphones. You might then have the budget for the DT880 or a cheaper option like the KossKPH30I depending on how much money you have spare.

2) The other way to look at it is to purchase a low impedence set of better headphones to get you into the 'bug' as it were. if this becomes something you decide you want to invest money into more seriously, you can purchase the AMP and DAC equipment later. As you have stated classical and opera, you really are looking for a headphone that covers all the spectrum from sub low bass frequencies through to high pitch vocals. In that regard if you can find it in budget, the Beyerdynamic MMX 300 Gen II is a good shout. You don't have bloated base, and it extends naturally into sub-bass as well as capturing the high ends nicely. Being 32 ohm, you can use them on most devices (such as phones, personal media players, as well as laptops etc.), and use them for work or as a gaming headset as they also have a microphone. If you choose to switch up the sound later, they also respond well to pad swapping.
 
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anort3

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Sensitivity matters as much if not more than the ohm ratings. My 62ohm K712 Pro needs every bit as much power as the 250ohm DT1990 Pro while the 37ohm Sundara needs more than either.
 
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Gray

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Nov 27, 2015
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Hello all,

I am a newbie and am honestly confused by all the reviews I read.........
Which headphones would you recommend most for opera and instrumental music?
I'm not surprised you're confused Sophie.
Reviews can be useful, but some are contradictory (due to understandable, differing opinions) and others are just incorrect (due to unforgiveable ignorance).

I've never given such an easy and firm recommendation but:
Do yourself favour (favor) and buy those on the top of Anort's list above; Sennheiser HD560S.
Their neutrality would suit your needs (now and in the future) perfectly.
Your quiet room is ideal for them. Their impedance and sensitivity means that you do not need to buy an amp. Their price means that you could if you wished - as you don't have to spend too much for high quality h/p amps now.

I've tried models that have a much more premium look, feel and price, but never with a better sound.
If better to you means that you prefer some colouration (coloration) of your music - then don't buy them - otherwise you just can't go wrong. Your confusion is over (y)
 

miss_sophie

Active member
Feb 11, 2021
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Hello & thanks so much for all your help and suggestions!

I think I'll buy the Sennheiser HD560S. Since two of you confirmed that it is not mandatory to buy an amp for this model, I'll test how it sounds without one. If I don't have to spend as much, I am happy of course.
My impression is that out of the suggestions the HD560S is probably the best bet for my needs, I won't be using them for checking mixes or anything like that, so I am looking for a natural, but also "beautiful" sound, it shouldn't be too neutral or clinical.

I might be adding things over the years, but for now that is what I can reasonably start with.
Thanks again to everybody for making my search a lot easier!
 
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Gray

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Nov 27, 2015
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Hello & thanks so much for all your help and suggestions!

I think I'll buy the Sennheiser HD560S.
Who suggested them? :unsure:
Only joking :), but seriously, you've concerned me just a bit with a desire for 'beautiful'.
You see, unlike some other headphones, their sound is not overly warm.
That doesn't mean they're cold, but those used to an overemphasis in the bass and lower mids, could easily (but wrongly) describe them as having 'no' bass.
If bass is there on the recording, you'll hear it - and with nice quality.

However Sophie, it may just be that you find added warmth beautiful (some people do) and that's all that concerns me. (If you buy with an easy return option, you're covered).

As it happens, the majority of my music collection is instrumental.
No detail eludes the 560S...... I'm confident you'll find that a beautiful quality.

Good luck, if you go for them please come back with your honest appraisal.
 
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miss_sophie

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Feb 11, 2021
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Who suggested them? :unsure:
Only joking :), but seriously, you've concerned me just a bit with a desire for 'beautiful'.
You see, unlike some other headphones, their sound is not overly warm.
That doesn't mean they're cold, but those used to an overemphasis in the bass and lower mids, could easily (but wrongly) describe them as having 'no' bass.
If bass is there on the recording, you'll hear it - and with nice quality.

However Sophie, it may just be that you find added warmth beautiful (some people do) and that's all that concerns me. (If you buy with an easy return option, you're covered).

As it happens, the majority of my music collection is instrumental.
No detail eludes the 560S...... I'm confident you'll find that a beautiful quality.

Good luck, if you go for them please come back with your honest appraisal.
I can imagine...my untrained ear (not in the musical sense, but when it comes to headphones for sure) might like things that a pro would dislike (or vice versa)... In the headphones I am not overly looking for accuracy, I don't need to hear every tiny crack somewhere in the orchestra, I am looking for a sound that is balanced and truthful, without being glossed over or exaggerated in any part.

If I found added warmth beautiful (I don't know yet) - which ones would be more into that direction? Not totally in the extreme, but between that and the HD560S? (I will get those with a return option).
Of course I'll come back and say what I ended up buying:).
 
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Gray

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If I found added warmth beautiful (I don't know yet) - which ones would be more into that direction?
'Euphonic' is the word we're probably looking for.
I trust Anort will be along to advise on a more suitable option in that respect - some of which may exceed your 250 Dollar budget.
(He owns and is familiar with the sound signatures of several makes and models).

To be honest, most of the models I've tried could probably be described as more euphonic than the 560S....but what you don't (shouldn't) want to end up with is veiled detail or bloated bass.

One other important consideration is that of comfort.
Being all plastic, the 560S are nice and lightweight, with fairly soft ear / headband pads.
The clamp force started out slightly too high for me.
May not be a problem for you, but if so leave them on a dummy head (or cushion) wider than your head when not in use and they'll ease up over time.
 
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anort3

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I stand by the 560S recommendation. I don't think there's a better headphone in the price range.

If you want to go to the next level $350 will get you a HiFi Man Sundara. The Sundara performs up there with headphones that cost twice as much as it does. It's really astonishingly good for the price. It's not easy to drive but I saw someone mention using one with a MacBook Pro at 90% volume and it being loud. But an amp would be preferred and it's already over your budget.
 

jonbhoy67

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Jan 6, 2016
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Great choice, Sophie.

I would also like to second the advice of someone earlier in the thread: An excellent addition in future would be an Audioquest Dragonfly DAC to plug into your Macbook. It will give a substantial boost to the sound quality at a very reasonable price and is only the size of a USB stick.

Happy listening!
 
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RoA

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Feb 11, 2021
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I am a big fan of Grado headphones. They are OK for more energetic (bass heavy) genres but shine with Jazz and Classical imho. That would be my personal recommendation.
 
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miss_sophie

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Feb 11, 2021
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Great choice, Sophie.

I would also like to second the advice of someone earlier in the thread: An excellent addition in future would be an Audioquest Dragonfly DAC to plug into your Macbook. It will give a substantial boost to the sound quality at a very reasonable price and is only the size of a USB stick.

Happy listening!
Hello there, I was about to do that - thanks for the reassurance! I am happy with the sound of the HD560S, although I want to properly test them, which I didn't have time for yet, but what I already noticed is that I am going to want an amp when used with a MBP 2018. Like people already said here, it is not mandatory, the volume is fine for most of my music files, but slightly not loud enough for some streams on the internet, e.g. if I watch concert streams on Arte or an opera via different official opera on demand sites, it is not much, maybe one or two steps more in volume that would be nice, but anyway that is my next purchase. I am also excited to see whether I am going to notice a difference with the amp, apart from the volume. I was able to get the headphones for 170 at Sennheiser and if I can spot a similar deal for the Dragonfly (black, will have to do) I will make it within my price range, I saw it for 70 bucks recently, it is now back to nearly 100, but I can wait a little for the next deal.
 
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RoA

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The most uncomfortable headphones I own, they're great but max one hour listening before I have to take them off.
Fair comment and that is very individual with most headphones. I used flat ear cushions rather than the coned ones so can't comment on those. I found the above very comfortable but I rarely listen indoors for extended times of 2 hours or longer. If I do it is more outdoors and for that I use BT in-ears.
 

DIB

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May 21, 2009
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I chanced upon this thread the other week as I was looking at buying myself a decent pair of headphones but without much experience or knowledge of what to go for. Had a few pairs over the years , always bought 2nd hand, and to be fair they were all OK but I always sold them on to finance something else. I don't think I've ever owned a pair of Sennheisers before and as I definitely need a pair of headphones now I thought these HD560s seem to get a good press and people like them a lot, so took the plunge and bought a pair last week. I'm no expert by any stretch so cannot compare them with other makes I've owned (Grado, ATH, AKG, Beyer etc.) but I'm mightily impressed with them after just a week. They have had a good 24 hours playing so well burned in. Are they the best at the price range? No idea, but they sound sweet and clear, comfortable to wear, so very pleased,
 

Gray

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Are they the best at the price range?
Best in the $1000 range according to some in Australia.
Though, of course, there will be many owners of alternatives in all price ranges (and especially anyone who's spent $1000) that would take issue with them:
As for the review, I'll take the two issues in the 'against' column all day long:
 

anort3

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Dec 8, 2019
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Oh no. They're the little brother of the 660S and while the 660S is good and maybe even the best of the 600/650/660S series ( at least to my ears having owned all of them ) even the 660S isn't worth it unless you get them cheap. I got mine for $329 on sale. No way is the 660S worth the full $499 retail. Not with the better in almost every way Sundara at $350. Even the K712 Pro which can be found on sale under $300 is better to my ears. I'm really only keeping the 660S for those Sennheiser 'magic' mids and because I want to play with a tube amp at some point and they pair really well.

~$500 range: To my ears the Sundara, K712 Pro and DT1990 Pro are all on a level with each other and the best of the mid-fi contenders ( not including my Fostex TH-X00 Ebony as it's not being made anymore. It very much competes. You have to move to a $1000+ ZMF to get better bass. ). Each has it's own pros and cons of course.

~$700 range: To upgrade those would be the Ananda and Focal x Drop Elex which Focal won't let Drop sell in Europe. You can make an Elex by putting Clear pads on an Elear. Some people would put the 1990 Pro here in the upper mid-fi range but I'd disagree.

~$1500 range: To upgrade those and move to true 'hi-fi' would start with the Focal Clear, HifiMan Arya and ZMF Eikon. And go up in price from there.

But for $200? Yeah the 560S is a solid choice and probably the best at the price. The Drop x Sennheiser HD58X is another great choice at $160 as is the HD599 if you can get them under $150.
 

DIB

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May 21, 2009
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As for the review, I'll take the two issues in the 'against' column all day long:
Indeed.

"Wired only" and "Not for the commute" are not an issue for me. They will not be leaving my front room and for 99% of the time with just me in there, so wires and leakage don't matter.

Bought to use with my Rotel A14 amp primarily I also plugged them into my laptop to try out and that seemed to drive them OK too.
 
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