Grado SR-60 vs. Sennheiser HD497Head-to-head comparison of two popular $60 open headphones.
OK, so lately I've been hanging out at www.head-fi.org much more than I should. I recently did a head-to-head review of the Sennheiser HD280 Pro vs. the Sony MDR-V6 and it was well-received there, so this time I thought I'd give a shot to the Grado SR-60s vs. the Sennheiser HD497s. Because these are both open phones at a nice entry-level price, this comes up a lot on the boards, so again, I hope someone will find this useful.
I paid US $62.10 for the Grados from HCM Audio, which also included shipping. I paid US $61.80 for the HD497's from Amazon and of course got free super-saver shipping. For the arithmetic-impaired, that's a price difference of a whopping 40 cents.(Note that headphone.com sells the HD497s cheaper but charges more for the Grados.)
Specs, as published by the manufacturer:
OK, I'm obviously not a photographer, but I thought people considering these phones might like to get a feel for what they look like, both side-by-side and separate.
Obviously, this is subjective, so I'll try to describe what kind of sound I like: flat response. I like to hear terms like "natural" and "accurate" in reviews, so I guess I tend to like things a little on the analytical side. My idea is that the sound engineer/producer wanted it to sound a particular way for a reason, so I want to try to make it sound that way as best as possible within my budgetary constraints.
Note that both sets were "broken in" for at least 30 hours before I really listened to them seriously.
Note that I expect my opinions on this to be somewhat contentions because these cans really sounded quite different. Fans of the "Grado sound" tend to feel pretty strongly about them (though maybe these entry-level Grados don't count). This was my first experience with Grados, but my fourth (ack! Thanks, head-fi) set of Sennheisers (though that includes buds).
The source material is my Audio Test Mix, which contains rock, dance/techno, new age acoustic, and classical. It's a challenging set of stuff to do well across the board.
My current home rig is an old Sony CDP-601ES (from back in the day when "ES" actually meant something) fed into a NAD C740 receiver. Not as good as a true headphone amp (I'm thinking a Headsave Ultra), but for now I'm going with the NAD, which fortunately has a better headphone section than is typical of consumer-grade receivers. (I like NAD because they seem to pay attention to details like how things sound, including phones.)
My current portable rig is an Apple 3rd-generation 15Gb iPod, also unamped (again, for now; I'm thinking the Xin SuperMicro). I use AAC encoding at 192 kbps with QuickTime Pro's "best" setting. Not perfect but a good compromise between quality and file size.
Showdown: Home Rig
The SR60s sound very forward because of a lot of high-end push. The HD497s came across as much flatter in the high end. This was again particularly evident on the classical and acoustic music, which just is not the strength of the SR60s. Highs sometimes sounded a bit shrill; violins in particular could be a bit much. Extended classical listening isn't something I'd look forward to with the SR60s. The HD497s were generally better for the classical and acoustic pieces because they came across less brightly. This is much the same problem I had with the Sony MDR-V6s relative to the Senn HD280s; the high-end push just didn't work for me on the non-rock/techno stuff.
However, I like the bass on the SR60s much better than on the HD497s. The HD497s have a little more bass push, actually, but more isn't always better. The SR60s bass seems tighter and more controlled. I wouldn't call the HD497s "muddy" or "bloated" at this price point, but those are words that at least crossed my mind when I pulled off the SR60s and put the HD479s. The heavy drum into on "Some Like it Hot" was just much better with the SR60s--not as loud at the same volume setting, sure, but definitely clearer and more detailed. Same thing for the Underworld track--the bass drum is pretty overwhelming on the HD497s, while the SR60s kept things together better (exactly the opposite of the treble with classical). When the big bass shuts down toward the end of the track, the HD497s are fine. Note that I am in NO WAY claiming the SR60s are bass-shy, because they aren't. The HD497s just feel a bit too bass-heavy, and more importantly, less defined in the bass.
For vocals it's a tougher call. Both have slightly recessed mids, in the sense that the HD497s have bass push, and the SR60s a lot of highs--I'd say overall the SR60s are less recessed here, with in fact a little push in the upper mids. The good news is that both have pretty decent quality mids, though. I'd give a slight edge to the SR60s as they seem a little more detailed here as well. When female vocals go to the top of the range the SR60s might sometimes sound a little thin or stretched, but I find both female and male vocals sometimes sound a little masked by the bass on the HD497s, or maybe just a little too airy and removed--overall it's pretty close.
In terms of soundstage, the HD497s feel wider and more airy. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it isn't--it depends for me on the recording. Sometimes you just want to "be there", right?
I should note where I'm dinging the phones is primarily in a comparative sense as referenced to the other phone. Both actually sound pretty good considering the price.
Modest impedance and good sensitivity turns out as one might hope to mean that both these phones are really easy to drive off an iPod. Both of these phones are good enough to reveal the occasional compression artifact, but other than that, there really isn't that much fall-off from the home rig to the iPod for either one. There is a little, though, and what there is seems very slightly more pronounced in the HD497: a little less detail, especially in the low frequencies. This is marginal, though, and they're both fine for portable use (except of course that they're open).
Both of them are pretty light. I personally found the HD497s a lot more comfortable because of three things I didn't like about the SR60s. First, the SR60s leave a full piece of foam right on the whole ear, while the HD497s have a little of the circumaural lift off the ear to them, which I like better. I believe there are aftermarket pads for the SR60s which address this, but I've read that they also change the sound? I'm not sure there.
Second, I dislike the headband on the SR60s. It's a metal wire with a little bit of vinyl band around it, and for more extended wearing, I could really start to feel the wire. Not comfortable at all. Yes, it's possible to adjust it so that the wire is actually off your head a little, but then the phones aren't really resting on your head, and minor movements cause them to jiggle.
Third, there's the cord. Both of them use Y-type cords, which I dislike, but the SR60s cord tends to twist around at the Y-junction (there's a heavy-ish bit of plastic there), so the cord tends to brush against my face or neck when I turn my head. It's also shorter than the HD497 cord, so it's easier to move around with the Senns.
Note, however, that some people (apparently with bigger heads than me) have complained that the HD497s are a bit tight on their heads. I've heard the same complaints about the HD280s and I didn't have a problem with those, either, for whatever that's worth.
Well, again, both are very light and the headband can be detached from both. The SR60s twist and lay nice and flat, which is nice for portability. However, the cord can be removed from the HD497s, which I think gives them a slight edge here.
These are open phones not designed to isolate. However, the SR60s are almost as loud on the outside as on the inside; they really let a lot of sound out. You could probably get away with listening to the HD497s a low levels without disturbing the person next to you on an airplane too much, but with the SR60s, they'd hear everything you do. Of course, for that kind of application a closed phone is much better anyway, so I don't consider this a huge drawback for the SR60s.
Obviously super-subjective. Frankly, I don't much care for the appearance of either one of these phones, but in completely different ways. The SR60s are ugly in a very 1970s kind of way, and the HD497s are ugly in a very Star Trek kind of way. But hey, you listen to headphones, not look at them, right?
A very mixed bag--these two phones really sound quite different. I have no trouble seeing why people are so polarized on these two. They both have good points and bad points, fortunately the bad points are mostly pretty mild considering the price. For only 60 bucks they're both a serious step up from your average $50 consumer-grade cans. (Such as Aiwas and low-end Sony V-nonsense, excepting the V6, of course.) Both are very easy to drive, so they're both good from a portable, unless of course you care about people near you hearing what you're listening to.
So, what would I recommend? If you listen entirely to rock/techno/dance kind of stuff and sound clarity is your #1 concern I would recommend the SR60s. I think they're a little more detailed and they are nicely involving for that kind of music as well. It's not that the HD497s are bad for rock, it's just that the SR60s are better (to my ears, of course).
If you listen to less bass-heavy music (classical, acoustic, probably jazz), or comfort is more of a concern for you, I'd recommend the HD497s. Not everyone has quite the same comfort experience, of course, but between the wire in the headband and the cable, I really did like the HD497s better on this score. Again, not so much that the SR60s are bad for classical and acoustic, just that the HD497s seemed better.
Last modified 2003.09.29, Copyright ©2003 Mike Byrne