TOTL CLOSED HEADPHONE SHOOT OUT

Intro

This is one extremely long and exhaustive comparison, even after being truncated. You have been warned. Of course there are opinions of these out there already but I tried my best not to be influenced by them. The rest to follow is in my humble opinion. 

 

Your Mileage May Vary | Your Model May Vary | Your Machinery May Vary

 

Gear used: 

  • Ampsandsound Mogwai (various tubes)
  • Aune S7 (review unit)
  • SPL Phonitor E 
  • Wolf Ear Makoyi (review unit from Andrew of Wolf Ear Audio)
  • Audio GD HE-9 (some headphones were not used with this amp at all)
  • Kennerton Odin (**Loaner from my buddy Don) , HD6XX (modded) for reference
  • Metrum Pavane (AES)
  • Focusrite REDNET 3 
  • Various cables stock and aftermarket
  • Sony MDR-Z1R (SBAF loaner, MUCH THANKS!)
  • Fostex TH900
  • Mr. Speakers Ether C Flow**
  • Audeze LCD-XC **
  • Bass Modified Beyerdynamic T5P**
  • ZMF Eikon
  • ZMF Attcus

*Note on the ODD BALL – Modified Beyerdynamic T5P: “The only thing done to them is the added bass port on each cup… The bass could be tuned a bit as well with an extended port that is inserted into the hole… bass resonates at different Hz more or less” This is very random for me to include this headphone and I wasn’t going to initially until I found it very competitive in certain aspects. This is also encouraging to know that with a little DIY you can transform your headphones into something closer to what you like sometimes. 

     OVERALL TONALITY 

  • FOSTEX TH900 65%
  • ZMF EIKON 94%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 74%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 90%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 86%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 85.5%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 85%

 BASS

SONY MDR-Z1R

5TH
  • The Sony Z1R has an airy kind of bass that also has good focus at its core. It has some bloat but the low fundamental bass strikes are tight and present. 

  • Bass kicks and drums sound less punchy compared to the Eikon, Atticus, and T5P but more so than the Ether Flow C and XC

  • It is really close to the Atticus in placement and ranks above the Flow and XC because it is leagues more responsive.

  • The Z1R bass is very deep and when bass drops come in on EDM it is just as gratifying as the Atticus and Eikon, possessing a little more tightness at the core of the bass than the Atticus but less punch and tonal weight. The Atticus sounds heavier and more realistic but a little more loose

*MODDED BEYER T5P

2ND
  • Slam is very amp dependent; more drastic differences between amps than any other here. You gear may differ:
  • Hits as hard as TH900 if not harder with better rumble but slightly less extension than the others.
  • It has a sub bass and mid bass focus whereas the TH900 sounds more sub bass focused.
  • Never sounds sloppy with excellent control yet natural bloom
  • Not as clean as the Planars, or TH900 but is the most engaging of the lot.

MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

6TH
  • Ether C Flow is incapable of delivering anything close real life presence and drive
  • It has good tone density and weight but the weakest dynamics sounding less consistently present than the Audeze closed back.
  • I have tried this headphone on various different amps and while the results seem more promising depending on the pairing, the other headphones sound more engaging on those amps as well.
  • It is tighter than all but the TH900 and T5P mod with decent extension.
  • It sounds like it has sub bass roll off even though its extension is good because there is a focus around the lower mid bass that gives drums some good body.
  • Sub bass rumble is clean and solid but very weak and boring.

ZMF EIKON

3RD
  • The Eikon bass balance is full from sub bass to mid bass with warmth in the upper bass as well but sounds like it has a sub bass focus.
  • The Eikon is a couple of steps behind the TH900 and T5P in regards to solidity, control, and focus. There is a decent sized gap between 1st and 2nd place and 3rd place.
  • The Eikon sounds a little cleaner than the Z1R and Atticus with more control than both and more focus than the latter.
  • Not as clean as the planars Ether C and XC but more punchy and natural with better rumble in the sub bass than all but the TH900 and T5P.
  • Sounds more true to life than the TH900 which conveys power well but not bloom.
  • The Eikons ability to slam is not far behind the TH900 or T5P being very powerful in and of itself.

AUDEZE LCD-XC

7TH
  • The Audeze LCD-XC bass has good timbre quality with round but clean sound and lower distortion than even 2nd place Eikon but is slightly less focused than the Ether Flow C.
  • Bass has heft and depth but doesn’t knock

  • Could be Audeze infamous unit variations
  • Lacks responsiveness to bass attacks with a soft and mushy leading edge and unrealistic decay
  • Bass seems linear with no rises in the mid, sub, or upper bass sans  a slight shelving of the sub bass.

ZMF ATTICUS

4TH
  • Punchy, powerful, very textured, heavy, and full.
  • More full than the XC and heavier than the Z1R with more cup resonance and reverb than most but the Z1R.
  • Very good dynamics
  • At its fundamental core it lacks a little control and focus compared to the lot but is consistently most realistic to a venue space.
  • It ranks above the Z1R and Planars because of this realism but the Z1R is right on its heels.
  • The Atticus has a mid bass punch with decent sub bass rumble and upper bass warmth. Even less upper bass creep into the midrange than the Eikon and it really allows the midrange to flow.
  • FOSTEX TH900 97.5%
  • ZMF EIKON 94%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 97%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 92%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 89%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 85%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 81%

 MIDRANGE

MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

4th
  • The upper mids are present and not overbearing but the lower midrange and midrange proper sounds a little shelved and hollow to my ears.
  • It borders on neutral but doesn’t sound refined and life-like.
  • It has more upper mids than the Atticus and Z1R but is much flatter with less depth of image and resolution.
  • Its like the Ether Flow C killed all of the presence and realism from the Ether C in the process of trying to be more neutral and layered.
  • It has the opposite problem of the LCD-XC which never sounds hollow, is ever rich and present, but sounds more forced and tough to listen to for long periods than the C Flow.

ZMF ATTICUS

2ND
  • Less honey like and liquid than the Eikon but better textures and density of tone.
  • Extremely scalable, more so than any of the other headphones of this comparison.
  • Better upper midrange presence than the Sony yet less than the Eikon and XC.
  • The Ether Flow C sounds more hollow and flat.
  • The fundamentals of voices and instruments couldn’t possibly sound more tangible than the Atticus on another closed back.

*MODDED BEYER T5P

6TH
  • Trying to hang in there; T5p actually has a decent midrange on some songs. It is less annoying than the XC; less flat in timbre and realism than the C FLOW but still recessed. It has a natural decay with tones resonating realistically but is engulfed by the huge mountains of the Bass (which bleeds) and Treble with sibilance.

SONY MDR-Z1R

3RD
  • The balance is not half bad with good presence in the middle midrange that sounds a little nasally at times.
  • Least midrange clarity (will be covered later on)
  • The upper midrange has a dip in it that helps cut out some peakiness in some songs but also makes others lack a bit of presence(not as bad as the Elear)
  • It ranks third for sounding less hollow than the Ether C Flow (close 4th) ; more present than the T5P and TH900, and less annoying than the LCD-XC.

FOSTEX TH900

7TH
  • I would love to hear a TH900 with a fuller midrange.
  • It is recessed compared to the others but the most clear. It lacks body and presence with a thinness about its tones that while super clean and clear, is a little less realistic than the lot.
  • Midband balance is very recessed in the lower midrange, flat in the midrange proper through the upper midrange where it goes up into the bright treble. I get confused on where to place the midrange because even though it lacks body, it has a more natural decay with better dimension than the Ether Flow C.
  • Dull and unemotive compared to the others but with added sibilance issues.

AUDEZE LCD-XC

4TH
  • Exceptionally clear midrange for a closed back, besting the whole lot for sheer presence and beating the Ether Flow C for refinement.
  • Overdone and causes fatigue from sounding shouty and peaky and my hand is on the dial with this headphone even more than the bright ones because of this.
  • ‘Your Model May Vary’.
  • FOSTEX TH900 73%
  • ZMF EIKON 96%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 77%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 94%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 89%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 81%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 87%

 TREBLE

ZMF ATTICUS

4TH
  • Treble timbre is actually the second best of the lot
  • Very snappy with good timbre and quality sounding much more analog than most of them here.
  • Decent extension
  • Dark (actually my subjective preference would place it 2nd place, but I am trying to be objective here)
  • Some treble details sound subdued compared to the lot

FOSTEX TH900

6TH
  • Easily the best in treble quality yet the most annoying in balance. Most crisp and snappy with good body and excellent definition and extension. Surprisingly avoids splashiness and when things get busy it holds up well.
  • Sibilant, Way overdone, painful, and I can’t listen for more than 25 minutes at a time unless I specifically make a playlist of dark songs

SONY MDR-Z1R

2ND
  • Just over the line of neutral.

  •  Lower treble peak that comes after the upper midrange dip that can be a little annoying but tolerable for the most part.

  • Timbre is thin but tones have definition with good texture and can hold up well in busy songs.

  • A little dirty but detailed, yet needs more refinement

  • The upper treble is present, not as airy as the XC, but still has decent extension. 

*MODDED BEYER T5P

7TH
  • Good extension
  • Poor solidity and bite and is extremely bright compared to all of them but the TH900. I tried to compare to see which is brighter but I had to stop.
  • Good resolution
  • Most splashy treble of the bunch by a long shot.

MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

3RD
  • More refined than the Z1R
  • Less crisp and can verge into splashiness on some songs; can sound more blended than all of them but the T5P due to sounding overly compressed.
  • Present, over neutral but not as fatiguing as some of them with good detail and refinement and an analog feel to it.
  • Less snappy than Eikon or Atticus, and especially the TH900
  • FOSTEX TH900 63%
  • ZMF EIKON 90%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 59%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 85%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 88%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 87%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 90%

OVERALL PERFORMANCE

  • FOSTEX TH900 89.4%
  • ZMF EIKON 93.2%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 89.9%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 93.6%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 81.4%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 86.6%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 87%

INNER CLARITY/TRANSPARENCY

MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

5TH
  • Decent inner clarity.

AUDEZE LCD-XC

2ND
  • Good inner clarity sounding semi open even though it is fully closed.

*MODDED BEYER T5P

6TH
  • Still competitive in clarity but loses out to the others just a little. Still more clear than the Z1R

ZMF EIKON

3RD
  • Excellent inner clarity tied with XC but sounds less open and airy than the XC

SONY MDR-Z1R

7TH
  • Clarity is okay but is literally less clear and clean than any of the above even with treble hump. Makes the price look really silly.

ZMF ATTICUS

4TH
  • Same level of inner clarity as the Eikon and XC just less treble presence

  • FOSTEX TH900 97%
  • ZMF EIKON 94%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 91%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 92.5%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 79%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 92%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 94.5%

DYNAMICS

SONY MDR-Z1R

5TH
  • Microdynamics are pretty good on the Z1R. I found nuance well presented, just a little behind the top 3 there but better than the TH900.
  • Few notches behind the other dynamics when it comes to macro dynamics
  • Mediocre dynamic range

ZMF ATTICUS

2ND
  • The Atticus only has slightly less microdynamics than the Beyer T5P but more than all of the others

  • Macrodynamics are a tie with the Eikon as they both sound equally dynamic with good transient response as well.   

AUDEZE LCD-XC

6TH
  • I found the XC to have excellent dynamic range but poor Macro dynamics.
  • Nothing ever felt snappy and it didn’t help that its leading edges were  a little soft in the bass.
  • Microdynamics were okay for a planar.

ZMF EIKON

3RD
  • Very good micro-dynamics coming close behind the Atticus and T5P. Macro-dynamics are equal to the Atticus and T5P as well possessing the intrinsinc strengths of  dynamic headphones.

MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

7TH
  • This headphone is the embodiment of how planars fail in this area

FOSTEX TH900

4TH
  • Fair-good microdynamics, especially in the treble where you can really hear it’s ability to deliver small gradations of volume
  • To my ears a few notches behind the others that rank higher for microdynamics.
  • Good Macrodynamics.
  • Bass hits hard but midrange instruments have only decent-good contrasts of volume. Pianos and percussion instruments don’t have the same pop the Atticus, Eikon, and T5P do.
  • FOSTEX TH900 88%
  • ZMF EIKON 91%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 98%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 95%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 87%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 69%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 72%

SOUND STAGE/IMAGING/SEPARATION

ZMF EIKON

4TH
  • The Eikon has better space around the images than the Atticus, and XC, but is slightly smaller soundstage to my ears by just a little.

  • Voices are a little further from front row though Compared to the Atticus.

  • Very similar to the XC in soundstage but less wide and minutely less deep, less open, with a slightly larger images.

  • More reverberant, wet, resolved, and minutely more wide the Z1R which in turn is more airy, diffuse and equally as deep.

  • Less wide than the Ether Flow C but much better depth.

ZMF ATTICUS

2ND
  • After the TH900 it is like all of the other headphones do good and not great; in comparison the gap is large as the TH900 is simply on another level in this section.
  • Atticus soundstage is wide with good depth, but the images are large in size which is pretty cool since it is larger in size but not thin sounding. This helps the Atticus sound so big.

  • A toss up between these headphones so their ranks can be interchangeable. 

SONY MDR-Z1R

5TH
  • Z1R soundstage is decent with good depth, and average width. 

  • The airy kind of sound it has helps it sound more spacious than it actually is. 

  • Overall size is very very close to the Eikon but sounds less grand in image size than the Atticus, Eikon, and XC

*MODDED BEYER T5P

3RD
  • Very good separation.

  • Soundstage not as wide as the Ether Flow C or big as the Atticus or Eikon

  • The sound images are smaller than the XC but sounds deeper.

  • More holographic with better imaging than all of them except the TH900. 

MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

6TH
  • Decently wide soundstage with Excellent separation.
  • Better separation than the XC
  • Doesn’t sound open
  • Very shallow sound with not much depth. The others all have good depth but the C Flow.

AUDEZE LCD-XC

4TH
  • Very good depth, Decent width with good image size and upfront presentation with some height to the soundstage.

  • Only ranks above the rest very slightly because it sounds the most open after the TH900, if not it would have gone behind the Eikon

  • FOSTEX TH900 98%
  • ZMF EIKON 91%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 93%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 92%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 85%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 82%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 91%

RESOLUTION/TEXTURE/DETAILS

MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

4TH
  • Does the texture of stringed instruments and violins very well sounding more realistic than the LCD-X above it. Small details seem to stand out less than the those before it though.

  • Transients are excellent with good speed and fast decay.

ZMF ATTICUS

2ND
  • Only second because of the slight issues with treble details
  • Just as detailed in the midrange as the Eikon and better than texture than the TH900 and LCD-XC showing the realistic coarseness of instruments as well as their smoothness depending on the instruments nature.

AUDEZE LCD-XC

5TH
  • Decently resolving right at if not just slightly behind the others before it but decent for a closed back planar.

FOSTEX TH900

3RD
  • Best treble detail and texture
  • Bass texture is okay, bested by the T5P but it’s decently resolving.
  • Midrange sounds like it is kind of void of nuance and while clean and clear sometimes sounds less detailed even if all of the information is there.

*MODDED BEYER T5P

6TH
  • Best bass texture of the lot with cellos, saw synths, and bass guitars sounds the most lifelike with the T5P
  • Midrange lacks details for sure sounding a little glossed over
  • Treble is decently detailed on slow songs sounding right at the level of the Eikon and XC but it all gets washed away with hectic music where details get lost.

SONY MDR-Z1R

4TH
  • Good inner detail retrieval that is competitive with the top three but slightly bested by the top 3 in one area or another. TH900 (treble details, Eikon and Atticus Midrange resolution)
  • Better than the Atticus at treble details and the  TH900 at midrange textures.
  • ***This has been revised as it is not fair to deduct merit  based on price. Initial comment: Nothing special at all. Does okay if it were priced at 1.2k and is decently resolving but for 2.5k this headphone is flat out ridiculous.
  • Would be 4th place if priced correctly. Merit has to be deducted for it’s price it should sound much more resolving and clear.

  • FOSTEX TH900 91.5%
  • ZMF EIKON 93%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 75%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 92%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 91%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 91%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 90%

TIMBRE/TONE QUALITIES

AUDEZE LCD-XC

4TH
  • Indistinct leading edges and kind of slow sounding
  • Tones  sound realistic and refined but sometimes mushy and without bite.

ZMF EIKON

2ND
  • Not far behind the Atticus sounding slightly more thin/medium tone density. Not thin at all though
  • Smooth liquid like timbre with a slight smoothing over of tonal attributes intrinsic to the instruments
  • Honey / silk like with good realism and good-sized images. Very melodiously musical tones that resonate deeply with less decay than the Atticus.
  • Good speed as well.

FOSTEX TH900

5TH
  • Slower than Atticus and Eikon but decent speed
  • Excellent bite and focus and very clean sounding
  • Can sound thin and unnatural like the Z1R but even thinner and sharper in tones. Kind of flat sounding tones with not much body

MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

3RD
  • Very good tone density with solid fundamentals. Tones sound realistic and relatively natural.

  • Excellent leading edges

SONY MDR-Z1R

6TH
  • Unrefined and rough lacking the liquidity of the Eikon, The resonation of the T5P, The body of the Atticus, The density of the Ether Flow C, and the realism of the XC.

  • Good focus and doesn’t sound slow

  • Better leading edges than the XC.

  • Speaker like in the way it moves air which actually sounds pretty good since the instruments maintain good fundamental focus

*MODDED BEYER T5P

3RD
  • Very good refinement with natural decay and fast attacks
  • Smooth timbre with good realism and resonation
  • Slightly airy/breathy timbre but naturally round sounding instead of sharp like the TH900
  • FOSTEX TH900 75%
  • ZMF EIKON 95%
  • BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 92%
  • ZMF ATTICUS 96%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R 72%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 93%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC 86%

CONCLUSION

RANKINGS BY MERIT

  • 1. ZMF EIKON 93.5%
  • 2. ZMF ATTICUS 91.3%
  • 3. FOSTEX TH900 86.6%
  • 4. AUDEZE LCD-XC 86%
  • 5. BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P 85.7%
  • 6. MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C 85.5%
  • 7. SONY MDR-Z1R 85.5%

PRICE TO PERFORMANCE

  • ZMF ATTICUS $999 USD 100%
  • *BASS MODIFIED BEYERDYNAMIC T5P $699-$799 100%
  • ZMF EIKON $1299 USD 92%
  • FOSTEX TH900 $1299 USD 92%
  • AUDEZE LCD-XC $1799 USD 55%
  • MR. SPEAKERS ETHER FLOW C $1799 USD 50%
  • SONY MDR-Z1R $2499 USD 40%

To get the price to performance percentages I divided the number of what I believe they should be priced at with their current MSRP

ZMF ATTICUS –  999

BASS MODIFIED BEYER –  750

ZMF EIKON – 1199

FOSTEXT TH900 – 1199

AUDEZE LCD XC – 999

MR. SPEAKERS EHTER C FLOW- 899

SONY MDR-Z1R – 999

 

REVIEWERS PREFERENCE

1. ZMF ATTICUS

2. ZMF EIKON

3. MODIFIED BEYER T5P 

4. SONY MDR-Z1R

5. FOSTEX TH900

6. AUDEZE LCD-XC

7. MR. SPEAKERS ETHER C FLOW

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