I’ve said a few positive things about the audio gear coming from Massdrop, and today I want to point you at a couple models of headphone they’ve put out (“dropped”) that both sound amazing but are good for very different use cases.
Massdrop x AKG K7XX Audiophile Headphones
These cans have a very space-age look, and they deliver some beautiful, clean sound. They are open-backed, meaning the outward-facing side of the headphones is porous, allowing air in, and out, as the diaphragm moves with the music. This does two things: it creates a larger soundstage, meaning it sounds more like you’re listening to your tunes in an open space rather than from speakers strapped to your ears. It also means that noise from the outside gets in, and noise from the inside can get out. As such, these are not good to use in noisy environments or, conversely, in very quiet environments where the bleed-through of your music might disturb others. This bleed-through isn’t so bad that using them in, say, a cubicle farm would be prohibitive, but it’s something to take into consideration in a library-type situation. I’ve compared them to a couple other pairs of open-backed headphones (including the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD6XX), and found them to be the externally noisiest.
However, this issue may not be a big deal for you, especially once you hear how good they sound and feel how good they are to wear. The headband has an ingenious self-adjusting system which means you don’t have to readjust them every time you take them out of storage; they just fit when you put them on (and that’s important to someone with a big head, like me). The earcups are large and round, ensuring a true over-the-ear fit for most listeners (there are a non-trivial number of over-the-ear headphones that still end up resting on my ears, so this is important to me). The pads are made of memory foam, and they are fabric covered (again, like the HD 6XX), which is very comfortable and wicks away any sweat. And as modern headphones go, they’re pretty light.
They also come with a cord that’s nearly 10′ long, making for easy maneuvering if you’re sitting at a desk and need to move around occasionally. They have a moderate impedance–over 60 ohms–so while they’ll run fine directly from most sources, they also pair well with a desktop amplifier to reach their full potential. However, I noticed that they work pretty well un-amplified with an iPhone through a lightning-to-headphone jack adapter. This may be due to the fact that the lightning port actually outputs more power than a standard audio port, and so I assume that passes through the adaptor and drives the headphones more strongly as well.
These are fun headphones: lightweight, comfortable to wear, distinctive-looking, and delivering an excellent sound. Depending on your listening situation, they are a great choice. They cost $200 at Massdrop.
Massdrop x Fostex TH-X00 Headphones (Purpleheart)
If you are in a noisy environment, or an environment that requires quiet, OR you just prefer the intimate, intense experience of good isolation, then you might try the Massdrop x Fostex TH-X00 closed-back headphones instead. These are more along the lines of the traditional headphones you might be familiar with. As closed-back headphones, there is no bleed-through of sound from the headphones to the outside world. Conversely, there is no sound from the outside world inside the headphones, meaning the soundstage is smaller and more intimate (which may be your preference).
Because they are so intimate, it’s that much more important that the audio quality be excellent, and these headphones meet that challenge. Sound is clear and distinct, giving you the feeling of being front-stage at a small venue. You’ll also note that Massdrop offers these headphones in a range of colors–those colors are actually different woods offered as the back cups of the headphones, and each of the different woods affects the sound chamber and the nature of the sound produced. This means that the ebony headphones have a sound that’s specifically different from the purpleheart or mahogany headphones, with variations on bass and mid-ranges. When you look at the different models, don’t make a decision based solely on the color, but read how each wood affects the sound as well.
Fit and comfort on these headphones are different than the AKGs as well. These are significantly heavier headphones, but the weight and quality of materials make them feel luxurious. The headband and earcups are covered in a soft leatherette that encompasses you like a big, comfy chair; though sweat can collect on them, so don’t wear these headphones for a workout. The weight doesn’t feel oppressive, and it is evenly distributed over your head nicely.
And they have a lower impedance (just 25 ohms), so they will run straight off a laptop or phone quite nicely. Again, a DAC/amp combination will only improve the sound–and these headphones are built to handle the enhancement–but it’s nice to know you can just use them when you need them.
Conclusions and Recommendations
A lot of people don’t think about the use cases for headphones (other than, perhaps, “sports” earbuds versus normal ones), but it’s important to know how you’re going to use a good pair of cans before you spend the money to buy a quality set. If you’re going to be using them on the bus, train, or plane, or just want to sit at your desk and tune out the rest of the world while you listen to your tunes and focus on your work, then you want closed-back headphones. In that case, the Massdrop x Fostex TH-X00 are an excellent, high-quality choice, providing a luxurious listening experience. They start at $450 in the gorgeous purpleheart wood.
On the other hand, if you want to listen to music on a larger stage, and stay aware of the world around you while you’re doing it, open-backed is better. And if you want to really enjoy how much fun a big, spacey-pair of headphones can be to wear and listen to, then the Massdrop x AKG K7XX Audiophile Headphones are a great choice. (I often wear them while I’m doing the dishes, if you can believe it.) And they pair great with a DAC and amplifier combination. (I’m trying out the CEntrance DACPort Slim and the O2 Headphone Amplifier right now, and enjoying them, but Massdrop has a bunch of other examples that pop up from day to day, so take a look.) The Massdrop x AKG K7XX Audiophile Heapdhones only cost $200.
You can’t go wrong with either pair, just make sure you pick the ones that are MORE right for your situation!
[Note: Massdrop has provided review samples for the products mentioned here. Opinions are our own.]