The Last Few Inches

The world of headphones has been experiencing exponential growth over the past few years due in part to the Dr. Bre “Beats” headphones explosion (headphones were cool and stylish for the first time) and the need for better portable sound. I’ve never really been a headphones fan. They’re heavy (or heavier than I can tolerate), put the sound right smack in the middle of your head and make my ears sweat. I’m a speaker guy.

But if you visit any of the audiophile trade shows, you can miss the fact that all of the young people are hanging out in the dedicated “Head-Fi” room. Table after table and row after row of vendors set up their wares, which range from expensive headphones and custom tube amplifiers to molded earpieces which multiple drivers. The sound of personal listening has dramatically improved with the growth of the market segment.

At the recent International 2014 CES show, Jason from Oppo Digital stopped by the HRA room at the Venetian with a near finished prototype new headphone. I knew that they were up to something after seeing some photos by John Gatski on his Everything Audio website. Everyone that has read these posts for any period of time will know that I’m a fan of their equipment, their support and their quality. And now they’ve turned their attention to headphones.

Jason pulled the new phones out of their case…and I can tell you they are very solidly built, extremely handsome to look at and deliver a very polished and accurate sound thanks to the custom planar drivers they contain. I plugged them into the outputs of my Benchmark DAC2, which contains a state-of-the-art DAC AND headphone amplifier. As I explained previously, I use the Kanex Pro box to get the 96 kz/24-bit stereo output from the HDMI into the DAC2. So I had the best of the best to check out the new Oppo phones.

I have to admit that I don’t have that much experience with phones. I did listen to the Beats pair that I gave my son a couple of years ago (which were terrible), spent some time with a high-end Grado pair (which were incredible) and know the sound of my run of the mill Sony MDRs. The Oppo headphones are fantastic and I could be convinced to move towards a personal listening experience.

Using my Headphones[xi] surround music mixes, I could create an “out-of-the-head” portable listening experience. SO stand by…sometime in the first half of the year the Oppo headphones will be available. I’m pretty confident the quality minded headphone fans will fall in love with these phones.

Got to run…


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

8 thoughts on “The Last Few Inches

  • Perhaps consider an interview with Dr. Sean Olive on headphones and cover many of the same topics you’ve covered in mixing and mastering with speakers: target curves, EQ techniques, etc, and any any special mixing and mastering considerations either using headphones or for headphone reproduction. My guess is that there are many myths in using headphones for music production or creating music for headphone reproduction, and your site would be a great place to address such aspects accurately.

    Sean seems to have done some of the most thoughtful and objective investigations into headphones lately, as he’s summarized at http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=104155

  • Bro, im trying to decide between TOTL’s Grado PS1000e, Sennheiser HD800 (or 800s) and Oppo PM-1. I mostly listen Jazz (from Miles Davis to Esbjorn Svensson Trio and everything in between), bossanova, progressive-rock. I will start with a portable DAC-AMP like Oppo HA-2 and move to a better one later, while still using a portable one when on transition (airports, flights) with a closed back like Oppo PM-3 (which i don’t have nor haven’t decide the best closed).

    (Any other recommendations for head-phones, dac-amps would be appreciated)

    I don’t like putting make up on the music, like the typical multimedia speakers/earphones does to the music.

    Warm regards

    • By the way, if you could recommend something better, i would like to tell you that money is not a problem, but im not willing to pay for something that doesn’t deserve a high price nor has a real value/quality for higher price.


      • Or maybe instead of the HA-2, the Mont Blanc-E12A with a separate (dual) DAC with higher quality than HA-2?

        • My favorite DAC (I use them in my professional and audiophile work) is the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. I have heard and evaluated a lot of DACs and this one is among the very best.

      • Go with the Grado headphones.

    • I can’t say that I’ve tried all of the items in your list. I do know the Grado and Oppo phones quite well and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either one. In spite of my close friendship with Oppo, I would tend to the Grado’s if you have the money.

    • Save a heap of money and try the NAD HP50 first. Compared to your budget, it won’t even hurt if you can’t accept that anything in that price range can be that good (yes they are special), and you simply must buy exotic, then the HP50 can always be your ‘everywhere anytime’ piece of naturalsoundingjustrightness.


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