My Headphone Soapbox

I've written before about the headphones I use and I still use them to this day (here's a blog post I wrote years ago about them). Recently I modified the PX100's by replacing the ear pads with bigger replacement pads from Radioshack to make them more comfortable. I also cut a hole in the middle of the pads (called the quarter mod or nickel mod to describe the size of the hole) so I could hear higher frequencies better. The modifications have made a BIG difference and I find the PX100s have a whole new character. They're much more comfortable now and sound much better. Here are some photos I snapped:

After doing the mods, I got to thinking about headphones in general and how overpriced they can be, especially for those well marketed headphones made by Bose and Monster Beats by Dr. Dre. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a headphone snob by any means and I do think the headphones by Bose and Monster Beats sound very good. But I don't think the quality of sound of Bose and Monster Beats headphones warrants their high price.

To illustrate my point, here's a frequency graph I got from HeadRoom which compares the Monster Beats Solo headphones with 3 headphones I own (Grado SR60, Sennheiser PX100, and Sennheiser HD280 Pro).

The frequency response for Bose headphones weren't available because HeadRoom doesn't sell them, I'm guessing because of Bose's licensing costs.

The Grado SR60s have the flattest frequency response, which explains why they sound the best to me and why they have the most detail. The HD280 Pros have a little more bass then the SR60's and the PX100's have less treble than the SR60s. But take a look at the Monster Solos, they have the least amount of treble out of all the headphones, along with having a LOT of bass. This will lead to a lot less detail and clarity in the music. Here's another graph showing both the Monster Solo and Studio headphones compared to the Grado SR60s and Sennheiser PX100s:

The Monster Beats Studio headphones (green line) have a pretty flat response, but the Grado SR60's is still flatter.

Graphs are well and good, but where I really have my beef with Bose and Monster Beats is the cost of their headphones. Bose's Triports start at $150 while Monster Beats Solos start at $179. For better sound (in my opinion), you can get Sennheiser PX100s for $69, Grado SR60s for $79, or Sennheiser HD280 Pros for $99.

So why do Bose and Monster Beats get away with this price gouging? Like the graphs show, I think they fool people into thinking they have better sound by increasing the bass frequencies. Generally, I think people judge sound quality by the amount of bass (I used to be like this too). Those with more refined tastes listen for both bass and high frequency treble (I find car audio guys are like this). Professionals, like Audiophiles and recording engineers, listen for a flatter, more detailed response because this more accurately presents the music as it was meant to be heard. Personally, I prefer detail and flat frequency responses because I have a home recording studio and I need detail and accuracy for mixing purposes. You can't mix well if you're getting too much bass or treble from the speakers or headphones.

We all want better sound. Those earbuds and headphones that are packaged with iPods and other mp3 players just don't cut it. But, good sound doesn't have to be expensive and I hope I've shown that with this post. The next time you're at Best Buy and a person in blue tries to sell you Bose or Monster Beats headphones, don't let them talk you into buying them before you've sampled some Grado, Sennheiser, or other great headphones out there.


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