All the listening was done at home with my estat rig (BHSE with NOS XF2OO mallard or XF4DD Siemens), TotalDAC D1-six upstream fed by USB (with Wyrd and such filters in between although I can’t honestly tell the difference).
My reference headphone is the SR-009, which isn’t necessarily a great thing as this has become the sound I’m accustomed to and I tend to dislike any headphone I try that deviates too much from that voicing. With this in mind, I was still eager to listen to n3rdling’s clone as I kept fond memories of trying chinesettawong’s Orpheus clones a few years back. And I wasn’t disappointed, far from it!
When comparing headphones, ideally, one should do it at equal loudness to avoid false impressions of the louder can being perceived as “more dynamic / more detailed”. It’s a bit tedious in case of headphones because this loudness if extremely frequency dependent so you can’t just SPL match at 1kHz and call it a day. I used a rather coarse approach with a slow integrating SPL meter set on dBA and playing pink noise. I found out that I could be close enough adjusting by ears so did not sweat it going forward. Basically, to match the SR009 loudness, I’d have to increase the volume 1 notch or slightly less I recall (increasing the volume of ~1 indentation spacing on my RK50 BHSE) for the clones so they’re a bit less efficient than the Stax.
I’ve left the avalanche of raw impressions below this message, this is just what I typed down as I listened to these tunes. It’s been ~1 month since I’ve sent the clones off, I could not work from memory so I am solely relying on what I wrote as I listened to the music.
Reading through these impressions again, the following trends show up:
- SR009 sounds more lively / dynamic, perhaps because of its more forward mids (1-3kHz range) while the clones definitely have a bit of a warmer voicing. That more “mellow” presentation of the clones makes you want to increase the volume a bit.
- Now, interestingly, the warmer voicing does not make the clone feel less detailed than the Stax. On the contrary, the clones treble is actually more present / possibly more extended up top than the SR009 (I think it’s expected given the drivers are naked). For the most part, this voicing makes the clones more forgiving of subpar recordings or anything that tends to sound hard/shouty on the SR009 although it does not make the clones play nice with any shit recording you throw at them (there’s no magic bullet in this hobby).
- Clones have (comparatively to the stax) a bass emphasis that is mostly beneficial (feels more extended / more impactful / basically more speaker like) while the leaner bass of the SR009 feels more textured (for the most part, there was a recording with sub-bass that sounded cleaner on the clones).
- In terms of imaging, there are subtle differences between the clones and SR-009. The clones images wider but with less perceived depth (as if the SR009 sits you 15 rows back in the hall compared to the clones). Note that I have some contradictory comments about this on some tracks, maybe this is recording dependent or otherwise depends a bit on how I adjusted the headband at the time (critical aspect as I did not how how to do this at first and was greeted with bloated bass sound because there was no seal).
- While both headphones are very precise in terms of instrument positioning / layering, the SR009 takes the lead to my ears. Maybe it’s just because I’m used to its presentation but I feel more the space / air around the instruments with the SR009 which, combined with a clear rendering of room reflections / echo, makes for a more immersive experience than the clones to these ears.
In summary, to my ears, it’s not like the clones are sending my SR-009 to the closet but I see them as complementary set of headphones that would be welcome in my home ;-). I was extremely impressed by what n3rdling could come up with using a DIY approach. They don’t have any serious flaw while competing against the very best out there. The clones voicing / presentation is most likely preferable to the SR-009 for many people (most people prefer a full bodied sound to a leaner presentation I’d think), and their ability to be so detailed / extended up top without sounding metallic / shrill is astounding. Actually, I don’t think I’ve heard cymbal shimmer better rendered than on the clones (that’s no small feat as I held the SR009 as king of the hill regarding this for a long time).
If the pricing is right and if n3rdling can deliver in terms of consistency and durability / robustness, he might get swamped trying to fulfill a too large number of orders. I wish him no less, thank you again Milos for giving me the chance to hear these