I keep changing my view of these, so have to keep re-writing this. These are basically sweet-toned, very nicely balanced headphones with a rich, full-bodied sound. It seems to me that when a signal has to go through the extra on-board amp and noise-canceling circuitry of a headphone like this that ultimately some definition will be lost and some extra distortion introduced. That's probably the case here, but Polk's accomplishment is to have produced a headphone that sounds inviting despite this. As a result the emphasis here is less on definition and detail--although there's enough detail to make these worth listening to--but on sound that is balanced, rich, and weighty. Because the sound does have an excellent balance, with especially deep and strong bass, these make good all-rounders for all types of music. The look and feel and comfort of these is excellent too. As far as noise reduction, I do hear some reduction in continuous external noise like fans or motors, but not too much for loud voices or sudden sounds. I will be asking for a replacement since I had some trouble with the cable jack at the earcup that seemed to shift the balance to the right, but these are interesting headphones I would like to keep.
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Posted by Clearmind from American in Taiwan on 2011-03-07
Clarity, tonal accuracy, presence, comfort
Some listeners may want to add modifications
I agree partly with the first reviewer who said, "superb, if..." At least about the superb part. These are great phones for their clarity, detail, tonal accuracy, and presence. But I don't agree at that their midrange is "severely depressed." It's natural--and sounds completely right--when headphones have a dip in the "presence region" (roughly 2-5,000Hz) as this headphone does. Many or even most headphones do. But if you compare the frequency response graph of the HE-5LE and the Sennheiser HD-800, you'll find that they match pretty closely in this region, and no one is talking about the depressed midrange of the Sennheiser. Compared to the earlier HifiMan HE-5, the HE-5LE may be just slightly "cooler" in this region, and for that reason female vocals will not sound quite as "up-front" as they do on the HE-5. That's not a problem for me, since I think they still have excellent presence. The bass is also excellent, but if there is something that could be improved about this heaphone, it is the mid-bass. The response of most headphones is raised in this region, but the HE-5LE is flat, or with even a slight depression here. But the headphone designer mentioned on one web forum (Six Moons Audio, if I remember correctly) about a mod that can be done, where you take out the thin cloth lining just inside the outer grill covering on the earcups. I found that if I replace this with a thick piece of cotton cloth, leaving a round hole in the middle of about an inch or slightly less, that it provides about the same amount of damping as the original cloth, while also "tuning" the response to bring out the midbass a bit more and making the overall balance more satisfying. (If they still seem bright, a layer of thin cloth inside will further damp the treble. Why not? Sennheiser and lots of other headphone makers use foam and other materials to tailor the responses of their headphones.)
What I hear after this mod is an overall response somewhat similar to my Sennheiser HD-650s, but with some important differnces. The HE-5LEs are a bit cooler in the upper midrange, which to my ears sounds better, making them smoother, with less of the harshness or aggressiveness that sometimes creeps into this region. They also have more top-end sparkle and a slightly more detailed and refined sound throughout. Their bass extension and weight are excellent, though the Sennheisers may still have a tiny edge in the mid-bass. My Benchmark DAC-1 is capable of driving them with no problem, though who knows, they might respond better to even more power. I think they are capable of being pretty good all-around phones, though maybe less appropriate for electronic or rock music where bass response is the main concern rather than detail or refinement.
Look & Feel
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Phones from a promising company
Posted by Clearmind from American in Taiwan on 2010-06-25
Phiaton PS 500
Clear, sweet-toned sound, visually appealing
Sound balance and wearing comfort create fatigue
To start with, there are some GREAT things about these phones. The basic sound is clear, sweet-toned, and detailed, due I believe to the excellent titanium driver Phiaton uses. This is shown in the 500-hz square wave test, where the PS 500 amazingly does what few headphones can do, including many of the most expensive headphones available, and produces a nearly perfect square wave (to me this is an important test, revealing how fast and well-controlled the driver is). So Phiaton has accomplished this important first step very well.
But for several reasons it was difficult to have really enjoyable extended listening sessions with the PS 500s. For me, the overall balance of bass, midrange, and treble is what is most important for non-fatiguing, extended listening. With the PS 500, certain parts of the sound spectrum, particularly in the upper midrange, seemed overly forward, while other parts sounded distant by comparison, creating an overall picture that wasn't as coherent as I would have liked. And despite the excellent job with the padding and the covering of the ear cups, their pronounced forward slant made for an awkward fit. (Also, like many companies these days, Phiaton places the drivers slightly forward of the ear, where they can aim the sound back in imitation of the directional sound of a real acoustic setting. But as far as I can tell, this is simply not an important factor in soundstaging. What IS important is detailed, accurate sound that can recreate the ambient cues of the original acoustic that are in the recording, and if this is done, a soundstage will appear regardless of which direction the driver faces. Once this myth of backward-facing drivers is dispensed with, I think everyone will be better off.)
To make a long story short, I think Phiaton needs to provide this fantastic titanium driver with a well-thought-out housing, giving it the acoustic environment it needs to reveal its sound quality and providing listeners with a little extra comfort. But I look forward to seeing what this company can do in the future.
Sennheiser HD650 (Great headphones, not quite as "dark" as some think, but a little uncomfortable with older or harsh-sounding recordings)
Technics RP-DJ1210 (Despite the "DJ" appellation, these are wonderfully designed at the $125 price point. Non-fatiguing in every sense, detailed enough to reproduce the hall ambience in classical recordings, and with enough bass for rock unless you're an unreasonable basshead. Great all-round phones.)
Look & Feel
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