Legendary headphones: 35 references that have marked history

Headphones: 30 references that marked the history of sound and Hi-Fi At the end of the 1910s, Nathaniel Baldwin created the first headphones in history, as we know them today. More than 100 years later, headphones still follow the same principle: loudspeakers contained in shells, linked together by an arch. In a century, many talented manufacturers have looked into the subject, giving rise to references that have become legendary for lovers of listening to headphones. Here we invite you to discover the 30 headphones which, in our opinion, have had the greatest impact on the history of hi-fi and professional sound. Platronics MS50 Impossible not to mention the first helmet having walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong! Not really hi-fi, this headset was equipped with two flexible dynamic microphones. It is the work of a collaboration between Plantronics and NASA which began in 1962. Eleven days were needed to integrate this pair of headphones into an astronaut helmet! Nicknamed Bonnet Snoopy, he was embarked for the Gemini, Apollo and Skylab missions. Its use continued for 40 years in the field of aviation. Audio-Technica ATH-W10VTG This is the first wooden headphones developed by the Japanese manufacturer Audio-Technica. Launched at the end of 1996, it adopts a circum-auricular architecture and large 53 mm transducers. This electrodynamic helmet imposes a marked character with its warm sound, yet offers a good level of detail. It is not really neutral, but embodies a good compromise between musicality and capacity for analysis. Fairly rare model (3000 units produced). Audio-Technica ATH-L3000 Also called Leatherhead (leather head), these headphones appeared on the market in 2003. Distributed only in Japan, its production is around 500 copies (including 50 in green leather which are almost impossible to find). Among the refinements offered, we can for example highlight its 53 mm transducers integrated into closed shells. The frequency response is exceptionally wide (5Hz – 45kHz). Launched at a price of $2500, it is considered today as one of the most musical headphones in the world. But for the surgical side, we’ll come back… Sennheiser Orpheus HE 90 All audiophiles agree that the Sennheiser Orpheus HE90 is THE legendary headphones. We are in 1991, and you have to pay around $15,000 to afford this marvel and its HEV90 (class A) tube amp. Only 300 units are born! Its electrostatic transducers are integrated into sumptuous shells in laminated beech. Note that we were already taking advantage of Optical and Coaxial digital inputs! The new model with its tube amp, the Orpheus HE1, costs €59,900. It surpasses its predecessor on all points… Sennheiser Baby Orheus HE 60 This is Sennheiser’s second electrostatic headphone. There again it was accompanied by an amplifier: this time, a HEV70 model with transistors. More affordable than its big brother, this combo offers a very similar sound. It is possible to combine it with other amps for electrostatic headphones, in order to reveal its true potential. Its sonic character is both transparent and balanced, with a huge soundstage and wide frequency response (12Hz – 65kHz). Sold for $700 when it was released, it had a shape similar to the HD500/HD600 series. Sennheiser HD600/650 In 1997, Sennheiser launched the HD 600 which was replaced by the HD 650 in 2003. Very good on any kind of music, these open headphones are a marvel for mixing and mastering. Its high impedance again implies the use of a headphone amp. For around $350, you get superbly neutral sound. Today, the heir to the HD 650 and HD 600 is none other than the exceptional HD 660S. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro A reference that has its fan club! Here are probably the most popular cheap closed headphones for monitoring. It offers super effective insulation from outside noise. The other side of the coin, it can be quite tiring because the pressure it exerts is significant. But for 100€, we easily forgive this little defect… Sennheiser HD25 These essential headphones made their appearance in 1988. You can see them everywhere: in studios, on stage, in control rooms, on TV sets… Compact and lightweight , it features pivoting ear cups and highly effective passive isolation. British Airways had also used it in its BA version for passengers on Concorde flights between 1989 and 2004. Even DJs Bob Sinclar and QBert displayed themselves proudly with their HD25! Many versions are released, the latest being the HD 25-1 II Basic Edition. Sennheiser HD 800 Although fairly recent, these headphones are a true legend. Sold around 1000€ just a short time ago, it is characterized by 56 mm loudspeakers oriented specifically to improve the sound image. The Sennheiser HD 800 audiophile headphones are certainly imposing, but they are also very comfortable. Sonically, its strengths are balance and neutrality, as well as incredible spatialization. It is particularly popular in Hi-Fi installations and studios (mixing and mastering). A slightly redesigned replacement succeeds it under the name HD 800 S. AKG K240 Sextett The birth of the K240 Sextett occurs during the second half of the 1970s. This first version of the famous K240 incorporated 6 passive radiators around the wideband transducer. Its low sensitivity and impedance of 600 Ohms require the use of a headphone amplifier. You can also find this helmet under the reference K242 Sextett in some countries such as France. Users point out a superb midrange, and a very (too) present bass. AKG K240 Studio These are undoubtedly the most affordable and popular “analytical” headphones on the market. The AKG K240 Studio are semi-open, and can be used for mixing and monitoring. You can see the K240s in Monitor version in Party All The Time with Eddie Murphy (1985). AKG K1000 Here we are with super atypical headphones! The creation of the AKG K1000 intervenes in 1989. True legend costing 1000$, it sold more than 10,000 units in the world. Halfway between a Jecklin Float and an SR Sigma, it was also marketed as Earspeakers (ear speakers). Its high pitched sound signature, its beautiful opening and its credible spatialization have earned it an excellent reception. Delivered in a wooden case, it could be associated with 3 electronics. A K1000 Selector impedance adaptor, a SAC K1000 headphone amplifier and a rare amp with BAP1000 digital signal processor. AKG K701 The success of the K701 lies in a simple formula: offering exceptional comfort, combined with a neutral sound without coloration, all for a reasonable price. Used by big names like Quincy Jones, it manages to restore all frequency registers with flying colours. A K702 with detachable cable exists, as well as a Q701 version developed in partnership with Quincy himself. On this latest version, the bass is slightly more present. Stax SR-Sigma Another pair of speakers for the ears! This is Stax’s answer to Jurg Jecklin: the Japanese manufacturer’s model largely eclipsing it in terms of sound. Launched in 1977, it comes in several distinct versions. The original with its gray grilles, the 1987 one with lower capacitance, the Sigma Professional with 1 micron transducer, and finally, the Sigma /404 with 1.35 micron SR-404 drivers. Stax SR-Omega The objective of this helmet was to make people forget the mythical Orpheus and MDR-R10. A true work of art, produced for three short years from 1993 to 1995. Only 600 copies were sold, and it is rumored that this helmet was the cause of Stax’s bankruptcy in the mid-1990s. A copy cost the brand $1,600… It is also considered to be one of the best helmets ever made. Its superb 90 mm drivers with a 1.5 micron membrane have something to do with it! Shure SRH-1540 Launched in 2013 for $450, many say it’s one of the best closed-back headphones in the world. Possible… In any case, it offers one of the best price/performance ratios that we have ever seen on a closed-back helmet. 40 mm drivers with neodymium magnet, aluminum alloy and carbon fiber structure… The design is neat, as is the sound, which shows a tight and deep bass, with a natural midrange and a crystalline treble. The level of detail is excellent! It is also as good in Hi-Fi as it is in monitoring. Sony MDR-V6 At Sony, the MDR prefix stands for Micro Dynamic Receiver. The MDR-V6 is a foldable headphone, which has achieved great success with sound professionals. It was launched in 1985 and has become a reference in its category. You have already seen it in a control room or on a radio set! These over-ear headphones are a safe bet for mixing, monitoring and broadcast applications. Its closed shells house 40 mm speakers equipped with a samarium-cobalt magnet. Sony MDR-R10 Considered the king of headphones, the Sony MDR-R10 was sold from 1989 for around 2500 dollars. The Japanese manufacturer opts here for 50 mm transducers with bio-cell membranes whose fiber was grown from a bacterium. They are contained in shells made of Zelkova wood, a 200-year-old precious species! The headband and the structure combine carbon fiber and magnesium to guarantee lightness and robustness… It is often considered as one of the helmets with the most beautiful sound that can be obtained with a helmet. It has also retained a very high rating on the second-hand market, with selling prices close to €5,000. Sony MDR-7506 Here is another essential reference in the world of professional audio. This helmet has been made since 1991, and you can pick up a copy for around $100. This is an updated version of the excellent MDR-V6. The treble is a little more forward on this new version, which makes the helmet more lively than its predecessor. The first version was designed with a samarium-cobalt magnet, which was later replaced by a more powerful neodymium magnet. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro This is the closed shell version of the DT 990 Pro. The speakers are the same, but the design implies a very different sound. This DT 770 Pro lets appear a much more energetic bass, and a spatialization a little behind. They are perfect for monitoring, and exist in different versions with impedances ranging from 16 to 250 Ohms. Beyerdynamic DT48 Beyerdynamic signs here the first headphones with electrodynamic transducers in the world! Unveiled in 1937, it will be manufactured until 2012, with only minor modifications. We can for example highlight the DT 48 S version released in 1964, the 48 E with an impedance of 25 Ohms or 200 Ohms, and even the DT 48 A.00 for audiometry. Koss SP/3 According to Koss, this would be the first stereo headset in history. It was released in 1958, to accompany the launch of a new record player. One of the functions of this record player was to allow listening to headphones by activating a simple switch. But it was the sound of the SP/3 that stole the show! At the time, its sound quality was unmatched. An SP/3X will follow in 1960. Koss Pro/4 and Pro/4AA The Pro/4 was designed in 1962, and popularized by celebrities like Tony Bennett, Bobby Hackett or Les Brown. In 1969, the passengers of the mythical Air Force One could enjoy their flight…