If you listen to mostly more intricate rock and metal and are in the market for a decent but affordable set of listening headphones, I found a nice, affordable set a few years ago and thought I would share. Grado SR60, standard comfies/s-cush pads (or Sennheiser HD414 pads if you don’t want to butcher your stock pads) with ‘reverse quarter mod’ and ‘sock mod’. (NOTE: these are not ‘flat’ sounding studio headphones, and they are not huge-bass electronica/hip-hop/nu-metal headphones, so keep that in mind.) I have owned ‘nicer’, ‘flatter’ and much more expensive headphones in the past, but for straight up enjoying heavy music, these are among my favorites so far.
FOR THE UBER-GEEKY: Let me explain all the stuff here…
— Grado SR60 headphones — As a side note… the Grado shape, sound, and design is either love it or hate it: if you want something that is more comfy, flatter-sounding, better in the bass and smoother in the highs.. then pony up the $dough$, get a set of Sennheiser HD600s, and stop reading right here. BUT if you are looking for a good bang for the buck and like the ‘industrial-looking’ design of the Grados… then read on. The SR60 are the cheapest of the ‘Prestige Series’ at like $69. So why would I recommend the cheapies? Well… I am not saying the more expensive ones are not much nicer, but they cheapies are a much better bang-for-the-buck if you are not a bass-junkie. If you don’t mind spending twice as much, the SR125i and SR325i sound more like the SR60’s (meaning nice for heavy music) than the others in the ‘Prestige Series’ (like the 80, 225), but more detailed, less syrup-ey in the mids, wider-sounding and more open-sounding, but they DO cost 2x and 4x as much respectively, and I even though they DO sound better, I don’t think that they don’t sound TWO TO FOUR TIMES better (that being said, get them if you have the cash… I had a set of SR125 for a while and loved them, and even though the SR325i are a bit relentless in the highs, I would definitely get a pair of in the future if finances ever permitted).
BUT… even though they are GENERALLY SPEAKING not as objectively ‘nice’ or ‘nice sounding’ as the more expensive models (they make headphones all the way up to $2,400) and for general hi-fi use, they are considered to be more muddled and grainy with a lack of ‘air’ highs and mid-bass, BUT what makes them less-desirable for hi-fi use for music like classical or folk, jazz, etc makes them great for experiencing heavy music, even though the more expensive Grados are very nice for heavier music too… they just make it sound more accurate and defined as opposed to raw and tough. Compared to the other headphones, they have a narrower soundstage (how wide the sound appears) which works well for representing a rock/metal band, as well as more controlled mid-bass and more low-bass extension (an extra 5dB around 50Hz for some models), with slightly more subdued high-highs, thick raunchy mids, and a ‘gritty’ quality that makes everything sound tougher (which would sound horribly grainy and scratchy with something like violins, but it can be nice for metal if the guitars aren’t recorded too scratchy).
Frequency comparison graph, courtesy of headphone.com :
So here are the mods:
— Reverse quarter mod — This is explained in detail on the internet, and there are a few ways of doing it, but I’ll sum it up. You take the foam pads off and use something like a quarter or a larger (it will need to be larger for the REVERSE quarter mod where you flip the pads around backward), round object as a guide and cut a hole in the middle of the foam pad. That does away with the foam filtering-out the high-highs so you get more ‘sparkle’ and clarity out of these headphones since the high-end is not as defined as on the more expensive models. The Sennheiser HD414 pads are more widely available, so those work fine too if you don’t want to cut up your Grado pads (or if you screw up and rip your pads and need a quick replacement).
(NOTE: If you are listening mostly to modern-metal/metalcore recordings with super-hyped icky/bright/clacky high-end (I know the kiddies love that sound these days, but I HATE it), this mod might sound a little bright, so cut out a circle of paper towel and put that over the transducers before putting the pads+socks on and it will tame the graininess/ice-pickiness without losing as much high end as using non-quarter-modded pads would.)
— Sock mod — Again, explained on the internet, but I’ll sum up. It is just what you think it is… take an old dress sock, cut the feet-part off, roll it up and put it over your foam pads. This does a few things. 1) it makes them more comfortable since Grados are ‘Grado-shaped’ and not ‘ear-shaped’ 2) It focuses the bass more so you get a little more mid-bass thickness 3) it lets you control the thickness of the pad, which places the transducer closer or nearer to your ears so that you can adjust for the amount of mid-highs peaks you hear. They also probably absorb more of the highs as well by nature of being just plain ‘ol bunch of absorbent material near the drivers. All Grados have a voicing that is very peakey in the lower highs (which people either love or hate), adjusting the distance of the transducers from your ears can help that if you get it just right. I have mine pretty close, but you can either cut them shorter and wrap the socks around the OUTSIDE of the pads, OR leave them longer and wrap the pads up in the socks (which rolls off the highs a bit more and makes them more comfortable) OR do away with the pads completely and just use the socks as the pads if you like them real puffy.