I read something on Twitter awhile ago, Michael Moore talked a bit about his latest thing, getting out and walk for 30 minutes – just because you have two feet. I liked the idea and when I got the hint from my doctor that I needed to get out and away from everything and get some “your own time” – I thought that why not try and beat two ducks or rabbits or whatever with one stone? Well I feel that it ended up being plenty of targets and a load of stones having been thrown – but here we finally are. My experience of walking not really with #IwalkWithMike, but rather with plenty of others that fills my head with so many emotions and music so great my troubles seems to give up at least for the time being.
Walking in the dark try-out of Sennheiser HD25-II and V-Moda M80 pearl white was the idea. So, I decided that after getting some toys for my PC, it was time to look into the portable situation. My being a bit lazy, I usually use my Samsung Galaxy S2 smart phone for listening to music. I use full versions of Winamp or PowerAmp. Both players have a great sound and make the music listening experience much more enjoyable than with the original player. Still, having anything else than a pair of easily driven headphones is futile and even with a pair of decent headphones the sound isn’t always as full and rich nor clear as you would like.
Enter headphone AMP. So, this tryout has taken part over a time of almost two weeks and listening to mostly my Samsung smart phone, but also compared the headphones and change with my LeadAudio LA120 DAC as well as listening to my COWON D2 with .wav files. The situation has been in finding out how well all these things fare against a normal walk in the night.
First off – any of the above added to the Samsung Galaxy S2 will make a noticeable difference if you take it from original state of player and headset headphones.
Now if we compare the two headphones, the Sennheiser is slightly a costlier version of the two and sports a slightly larger headphone. The M-80 is a cool and good-looking headphone that comes with a really tough carry case and two iOs control cords. The M-80 if kept in this carry case needs to have either of the cables inserted before use. Also, worth to notice is that the M80 have a very intriguing problem – If you connect it to a stereo you will get muted and almost a disconnected sound. Not much unlike how sound can be once the answer a call button is held for a period. The solution is to simply switch the cords end. The end for the phones goes into the stereo jack and vice versa. It works and yes it is weird. For further discussions for the why and how – I refer you to search on http://www.headfi.org.
The Sennheiser on the other hand is a clamping giants hand over your ears and if you sit at home, I with a moderately sized head, feels quickly ill at ease over the pressure. The sound however is really good. Something that it shares with theM80. The Sennheiser sports either pleather or velour earpads. The velour is slightly more forgiving on the ears. On the above mentioned site and others for true audiophiles you can learn on how to get better sound by modding these phones by changing cables and cords. I’m not going there in this article since quite frankly – I can’t describe the process appropriate.
So the first test was to check the headphones without the DAC and they both are easy to drive and gives a boast to the sound. The Smartphone has thus far been working with a pair of AKG K430 and the simple move to better headphones has changed the quality a lot. The HD 25-I II and V-Moda M80 differ a lot when you start walking outside though – so lets start there.
The Sennheiser phone comes to its right as soon as you start getting into pace – you forget how it clamps over your head and simply stays in place. It doesn’t skid, slip or bounce or move at all making it a very comfortable and pleasant experience. Something you don’t get while sitting down. The sound is great and the occlusion of outside noise is making the walk turning into a silent room with great music only. Nor wind or sounds like distant traffic or such gets through. It makes it sometimes a bit risky so you need to be careful because slower moving cars etc won’t be heard until they are more or less upon you. This made my walks really a nice experience where the walking and the music where 100% in focus. Only problems that can arise is that the pleather cups can become a sweatshop and for really long walks the clamping can become apparent. The rather stiff cable to the earphones is a bit tricky to stove away but it works and it doesn’t transfer notice from grinding against jacket, sleeves or such.
The M80 being a looser fitting headphone makes it a bit jumbling to begin with. Having started off with the HD 25-I II’s the difference is striking. The M80, although not a bad fit, feels wobbly and like they move around a bit too much when walking with a quicker pace. Jogging is out of the question! Furthermore, the occlusion of outside noise is nowhere near the Sennheiser phones, you hear things close and distant and while it isn’t always a problem, walking close to a road will not make the listening experience top-notch. This may be a good thing should you travel inside a city and need to keep track on events around you. However, you won’t get that listening experience and since the headphone is an on-ear wind will also get into the cups making a noise instead of staying on the outside. Furthermore, the M80 have a serious problem with sound being transferred over the cable. Walking with a windjacket and high collar, the collar grated on the cord – and that created a very audible sound of grating. Not quite what I was looking for.
So, when it comes to the headphones being suitable for walking or moving about and in a sense of having to shut noise out and not created any on its own – the Sennheiser wins hands down. I was actually a bit peeved over this since the M80 have had such good words and remarks from many websites and reviews. So, it was time to kick the cans into the DAC at home and listen to. The Sennheiser gets a very thick, sticky bass that is absolutely fun and defined and not being overbearing like some bass-heavy headphones can get. Overall the Sennheiser plays well with a DAC and AMP and gets a bit more defined and clearer sound while the already playful bass flowers. The M80 is perhaps a bit more balanced. Making more of the mids and the highs, if ever so slightly and retaining a good thumping bass. The M80 however has a trouble with the cord needing to be reversed. A silly thing and while not a major trouble – it does retract from a costly headphone over all value IMHO.
We take them to the streets once more and this time we plug the headphones into the DAC/AMP Furutech ADL Stride. This device is a bit differently shaped, having a sort of curve on the one side and being flatter on the other. This makes it fit quite nicely into the palm of your hand and while not being as discreet as other offerings on the market – it does boast with 80 hours play time. I have so far from my first 5 hours not have to charge it yet! I really believe you can get that 80 hours out of it. The ADL is pretty common looking thing with a riled aluminium frame. Aluminium sides. An on/off button a LED and a scroll wheel for volume. I connect it via the analogue 3.5 mm jack and off we go.
The Sennheiser and M80 both perform and plays much better with this AMP. The sound gets richer overall, the mids and bass are getting a tremendous performance and definition boost over the sound you get from the Galaxy S2 in normal case. I can’t really much say more than that the ADL is making the music a whole lot better, making the music sound more like that of a real player. I connect them all to my Cowon D2 where I turn to lossless wav files and I have yet another increase in quality and definition. The little ADL Stride performs very well. I plug it into my laptop and via wasapi in Foobar I use the DAC on both MP3’s and Wav’s and it performance beautifully. It easily makes the laptop into a high quality music machine and the ADL Stride has no problem playing well with the M80. the HD25-I II nor my AKG K550 and AKG Q701. I’m very pleased with the sound that if produces. Compared to my Stationary DAC/AMP LEADUIDO 120 it performs very well, and I’m not sure that it even sounds a bit warmer and nicer with some of the phones. It functions a lot better at least, the LA120 having a problem of not turning on and needing to plug out/in of power before going green. The Stride simply just delivers.
The Stride comes with a 3.5 mm cable to connect between your audio device and the ANP/DAC. A Usb connector for your computer and a stand alone charger with USB mini type B cable. Everything you need. The 3.5 mm cable you may want to change but it performs well enough to give you a boost to start with. Being curved it is slightly bigger then many flat competitors, still it is smaller than others I have seen. Seeing as most agree that it outperforms FiiO and even other more audiophile savvy names (here I have to say that in my own limited experience they beat the sound I get with different FiiO amps and also the NuDac 2 and gets easily on par with my LeadAudio LA120 desktop amp/Dac). I still find the size being big – but having double the thickness of my Galaxy S2 is still being inconvenient for wearing in trousers only – this is OK. The Stride also comes with a carry bag. A two pocketed little thing where you put the Stride in one and the smart phone in the other and take off. The pocket have a sort of net frame for the smart phone side (see pictures) and it is sort of touch sensitive meaning that I could with some patience succeed in switching songs, browsing though my audio library etc and mostly get things correctly. This makes the bundle being wearable while not sleek or anything as such – but being able to go on a journey where your phone stops draining too much power (this is something I noticed after some use that the phone had a lot more battery time after an hour with the Stride than without it) and that makes it worth it – considering that you can use the Stride for such a long period without having to worry for charging it. Your phone will give up on you way before the Stride.
For me, this little AMP/DAC has made the sound out of my Galaxy S2 much more enjoyable, and having it as my DAC for my laptop ensures that I get good quality on my songs wherever I choose to go. I can live with it being slightly bigger because when that matters – there is more to achieve with playing around with different headphones and players to get better sound. Having an AMP of this calibre takes it far from just being a decent or good headphone plugged into a mediocre player.