Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: dbE Acoustics HP30 Fullsized headphone

It was started when a post started on our local audiophile forum about a loaner program for locally branded headphone. Without wasting times I signed myself in, and fortunately chosen. Now, after several weeks listening and comparing to my other headphone, I would like to give my though about it.

The Package.
dbE HP30 headphone comes with a big cardboard box. You could see from the photo I took how it compared to my Goldring DR150 box I apologize, it seems the photo is missing... will update with new photos. Photo added. The box itself looked nice. Opening it, I found another box which contain the headphone. The inside box is nice and sturdy, but I don't like how the outer cardboard felt, it's felt flimsy.

Open the inside box, and you will find the headphone nestled on cloth covered hollow. It also include a 6.3mm adapter jack and an extension cable, and some papers of course. Overall packages is quite nice, the cloth covered headphone placement help creating expensive impression. I just wish the outer cardboard is as good as inside box. Or ditch the outer box entirely, and print the label and what-not directly to the inside box surface.

The Build.
The headphone holder is made from machined aluminum with brushed finish. It's an open headphone, and you can see the metal mesh with a metal plate printed with the company name. The headphone back is made from some hard plastic, half painted silver inline with the silver holder and metal mesh, while the other half is black.

On top, the headband is covered with a smooth pleather (or what I guess is). It has some padding on it, which felt nice on my head. Maybe the material used didn't had that expensive feeling, especially the material holding the two side of pleather together (and the one hold the velvet pad), but for the price I think it's good enough.

I really like the velvet pad used on dbE HP30, it soft and very, very nice on my skin. It actually smoother and denser than the velvet pad used on my Goldring DR150. The cup is wide and deep, my quite large ears had no problem going inside at all.

At first I though this headphone would press my head like a gripping machine, but when I bend the headband a little bit to place it on my head, I quite surprised how easily it bend. And it the clamp is very nice, not too strong, and not too weak. It just... right. My DR150 had stronger grip than HP30. This headphone bit heavy, on the same scale as my DR150, I think. Wearing my AudioTechnica SJ33 after HP30 or DR150 is like wearing nothing at all, because it's so light, and the clamping force is even lighter than HP30.

Overall, dbE HP30 looked and felt nice. Maybe some would say it looked similar to another headphone from Germany brand, but I had no idea how similar since I don't have the mentioned headphone on hand for comparison. HP30 did look expensive, though.

The Sound.
This headphone is a loaner from dbE Acoustics, so it already burned in. How does it sounded? I think its a neutral one. Comparing it to my AudioTechnica SJ33 and Goldring DR150, dbE HP30 placed right on the middle, maybe little bit on SJ33 side. So middle ground leaning to bright side I think.

While I said leaning on bright side, the treble isn't that bright. My SJ33 is brighter than HP30. The treble is smooth, well extended, with some roll off on highest frequencies. Nothing too glaring, but not too roll of like my DR150 either. Very polite. The treble is pretty nimble, better than my DR150 I think. But then maybe that because DR150 treble is rolled off earlier than HP30. Listening to HP30 after DR150 is like going to a room with lot of open windows and light after a dark, damp and warm sauna room. The treble is just free, airy, and nimble.

Vocal is brighter than my DR150, bit on lean side. But not bright like my SJ33 does. Really, it just like on middle ground between SJ33 and DR150, with HP30 located bit on SJ33 side. Vocals has this airy sound, much more than my DR150. On some vocals (especially on high female vocals), this contribute to nice, and airy vocals, but on heavier vocals (like baritone males, contralto females), this take away those nice chest sound. The King's Singers baritone part on 'Scarborough Fair' sounded leaner, and brighter than on my DR150, which has dark, meaty sound on it. On the other side, HP30 render light vocals of Celtic Woman sopranos better: airier, and nimbler.

Bass is leaner than both my DR150 and SJ33. HP30 sub-bass is pretty rolled off, while the mid-bass is quite polite. Punchy, but nothing like my DR150. My SJ33 has much more sub-bass than HP30. Bass on HP30 is tad looser too. Comparatively, mid-bass HP30 is tad leaner than SJ33. The detail is quite good, almost as good as SJ33 but nothing compared to DR150 (which understandable, seeing the price bracket). HP30 mid-bass is quite good actually, it can hold it's own compared to SJ33 which marketed as portable DJ headphone.

HP30 has a forward presentation, which combined with the airy sound, make vocals quite nice. Guitars sounded crisp, although not as meaty or thick as DR150 but, crispier. The bite is not on SJ33 level though, since SJ33 has this peaky treble which help give more bite to guitars. Strings also had more bite and air to it, compared to DR150, just as flute had. Listening to same song with flute and strings on it, it's like DR150 took dark and mournful side while HP30 take on keening and airy side. SJ33 take cut-your-skin approach.

For musical genre, I think HP30 very good at acoustic with not too many instrument on it. The separation is pretty good, little bit better than my SJ33 because HP30 has more depth to it sound. The depth isn't that detail however, compared to my DR150, but for the price I think it's pretty good. As I said before, SJ33 place all instrument on same distance. HP30 had more 3D sound than my SJ33, but positioning is quite vague, again compared to my DR150 which priced much higher, but much better than my SJ33 which place almost everything left and right.

Heavy metal, speed metal, trash, and those fast paced metals are no go. HP30 relaxed sound just didn't render those speed correctly. But for slow rock, acoustic rock, or folk-rock I think HP30 manage alright.
Fast club song, vocals club song also no go. The sub-bass just isn't enough. Amr Diab 'Maak Bartaah' from his last album 'Banadeek Taala' sounded so lean, the bass just isn't satisfying. At all. For this kind of musics (club, dance and metals), I think my SJ33 is much better choice. Faster pace, satisfying bass (and sub-bass), forward vocals, and more treble to convey the energy.

Classical piece is alright, if you don't mind how HP30 presented all the instruments forwarder than the usual. If you think DR150 turn classical piece into rock concert, HP30 will turn classical piece into LIVE rock concert. It's too forward for instrumental classical piece I think. For this price range, I still think Superlux HD668B as the best headphone for instrumental classical musics.

HP30 is quite forgiving for badly recorded musics and or low quality musics, just like my SJ33. It's quite musical, listening to HP30 you won't focus on individual sound, but to the music itself. Not like HD668B which dissect music so every flaw apparent.

The Verdict.
dbE Acoustics first full-sized headphone HP30 is a nice headphone. The packaging and build looks very expensive. Open design allowing open and airy sound, forward vocals, punchy bass (although rather lean on sub-bass), and moderate to slow pace make it great headphone for pop, jazz, slow musics, vocals, and acoustics. But if you want headphone for fast paced music, or deep, meaty, satisfying bass, you better look else where.

Recommended, if your music taste is right.

PS: it's priced about IDR400.000,00 if I'm not wrong. I use a FiiO E10 DAC on my review.

Thank you for dbE Acoustics for supplying the loaner unit. It's very nice experience!!!

» Old Photos «

Monday, April 09, 2012

Review: Goldring DR150 FullSized Headphone

It's been several weeks since I got my Goldring DR150 from Jaben. Now it's time to write a review about it. Actually, you can found my first impression on a fully burned DR150 on Jaben here, but I don't fell right if not wrote a full review of it.

The Package.
Goldring DR150 come in cardboard box with transparent window so you could see the headphone itself. The chosen colors, the letters, and the design are very attractive. It reflect the above USD100 price tag of it. Inside are the headphone it self, 3m detachable silver plated 99.999% oxygen free copper cable (or so it said on the package), golden plated 3.5mm to 6.3mm plug adapter, and Jaben pins. Ops, the Jaben pin isn't included by default. Sorry, my bad.

The Build.
The headphone made from plastic with metal mesh on the back. The pad is from velour, and so do the pad on the headband. It's much heavier than my AudioTechnica SJ33, but still lighter than Shure SRH440 (again, read my previous impression). The plastic is okay, though Shure SRH440 got better build: sturdier, nicer to touch, but heavier. Maybe it's because DR150 is for more home use, while SRH440 is for studio use, so it had to able to stand some rough handling. However, I think DR150 build is good enough for someone careless like me.

I could see some ripple on headband plastics, so the build is not as  good as Shure, which really good. The finishing touch too, could be better. There are some edge which could be smoother, etc.
The headphone look is okay. It look little ugly at first sight, but it has grown on me and now I think it look quite nice. From color perspective, I liked DR100 gray-black color combination much more than DR150 gray-silver. The silver accent on the rim of the metal mesh look nicer on gray-black combination than on gray-silver.

The detachable cable is nice. I don't know if the 99.999% oxygen free claim is true, so no comment on it. It has this rubbery finish which very pleasant to touch. It snap into 3.5mm jack on left side of the headphone quite strongly, so you don't have to fear it detached easily when pulled accidentally. Those detachable cable also mean it's easy to find cable replacement if the bundled one break, or mod the sound by using different cable materials (if you believe or could hear the differences).

The headphone itself is quite comfortable, the grip is rather hard on the first, but it lessened over the time. The headband is adjustable with several clicks which lock the headband on place. The velour pads is definitely comfortable and felt nice to touch.

The Sound.
This is my first open backed headphone so I quite surprised by how the sound-stage and positioning (layering) rendered. It's much better than my SJ33, which closed backed. Of course, price-wise, SJ33 is cheaper, but DR150 is simply at another level compared to it. DR150 sound-stage is wide, with very good separation and layer rendering. Listening to SJ33 after DR150, I could easily hear how SJ33 sound-stage is wide but flat, all instrument just placed at same level, while DR150 render the position beautifully. The dept is just very good on DR150.

The high is smooth, with enough sparkle to make it shine, but not bright. Definitely not bright. For comparison, listening to DR150 after SRH440, DR150 sounded like there is a veil over the sound. Cymbal is pretty crisp, although not as bright as SRH440, or MS1i. None of those sibilance, though, so it's easy on ears. Listening to DR150 after SRH440, it felt like going into a large and warm sauna room after a closed room with air cooler. MS1i, on the other side, felt like an open room with lot of air flow.
DR150 smooth and natural treble make my SJ33 sounded steely, cold and with lot of peak. DR150 also had some air to the sound which made my SJ33 sounded boxed. Not as airy as Alessandro MS1i, but enough to give breath on vocals and instruments. It's really refreshing after listening to SJ33

The mid is smooth and warm, with neutral presentation. It's neither forward nor laid back, actually it's quite versatile, when the recording is forward, the DR150 will sounded forward and vice versa. The vocal is luscious, and very, very nice. SJ33 sounded dry compared to DR150.
Male and female vocals rendered equally good. It's doesn't matter what kind vocals I threw at it, DR150 render them both good, Scotty McCreery low voice is as good as Andrea Bochelli tenor. High female vocal, like Sarah Brightman soprano is rendered beautifully, just like Amy Winehouse sultry contralto voice is.

The bass is thick, meaty and warm. It has bigger bass, both in quantity and quality than my SJ33. The bass is so detailed, SJ33 sounded like one big blob of bass. The mid bass is pretty good, detailed and punchy. None of the bass bleed to mid. I think DR150 bass is mostly on mid-bass though, while SJ33 had lot of sub bass. Tone down 200-100Hz (via equalizer), and the bass will loose lot of it punch.

Detail and micro-detail, Goldring DR150 absolutely murder my AudioTechnica SJ33. It's really no contest. I just can ear all those tiny sound, like when a player put down something or turn a page, or how the guitar string twanged against the wood board, how the singer open her mouth before singing, how the piano keys make those little click sound when they pressed... It's mesmerizing.
Goldring DR150 is pretty unforgiving, I can easily hear how bad is Glee record or how 128kbps mp3's sounded much like Lady GaGa second album (yup, it's that bad). Garbage in garbage out. On the other side, SJ33 is much more FUN, especially with mainstream music and or bad recorded music like GaGa, Madonna, Glee, Katy Perry etc.

Isolation is none at all, since it's open headphone. DR150 also leak sound from the grill/mesh on the back, although not very bad. The metal mesh on the back is actually lined with a piece of cloth inside, so you can't see the driver from outside like you do Sennheiser HD600/HD650 or Shure new SRH1440. I'm wondering how would DR150 sounded if I remove the cloth covering the mesh, will I get more airy sound? Will the sound-stage and layering increase? Hm... intriguing. I had to try that sometime in the future.

A bit nitpick, sometimes I felt the sound is not as coherent than, say MS1i or SRH440. It's like there is something which resonating along with the driver causing the sound, like, breaking or diffused or something. Is this the plastic color described by Heafonia review of DR150?! I don't know. It's not that bad, though, since this only apparent when I listening very closely. When I just sit and enjoying the music, I didn't notice it. My SJ33 also exhibit the same problem, at much bigger scale.

The Verdict.
For the price (about USD100-130) I think Godlring DR150 is a very good headphone. The sound definitely is, although I wish the build quality could bit better. It has this dark and luscious sound, meaty bass with punch and some nice treble sparkle on top. If the sound is a food, I say Goldring DR150 is a cake made from dark chocolate, filled with crunchy milk chocolates goodness and sprinkle of vanilla on top. Warm from the oven. Hmmm yummy!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Review: I Am Not Serial Killer (John Cleaver Series by Dan Wells)

This is a book which I whole heartily recommend you to read. This book will give you a side trip to a whole new point of view and different protagonist, there is none of those self sacrifice act, love, simple jealous, or wimpy-cry-baby. This book is all about darker side of human nature: when human kill another human.

So, we have John Wayne Cleaver, your average lone-boy in his teens, which had all those traits: unpopular, subject to bully, loner, have different (sometimes weird) hobby, and socially deficit. What other peoples didn’t know except his mother, his aunt and his therapist, is that John is a diagnosed anti-social and borderline on sociopath.

As I told you before, you won’t find those lovey-dopey relationship here (except if you find how John treat corpse and his fantasy of cutting several other people as lovey-dopey, which if you did I strongly suggest you to visit a therapist). This book will get you into the mind of a sociopath: ruthless, cold, and calculating.

The story is paced rather slowly, not overly slow, but for a story with only one storyline is not very fast. But it has consistent pacing. Even when John finally facing danger and enemy, he still remains cold and calculating, giving me this cold feeling. Reading this novel really like reading a book of biology or chemistry (no, I liked neither Physics nor Mathematics, go figure): everything is dissected plain, systematic, and coldly. But, surprise, the ending has this beautiful moment which feels very strong after the coldness of the story.

The characterization is very good; most of characters are development enough to make them felt real. You can imagine hundred of other people who just like John moms, sister, and other characters. It really felt real. And the simplicity of how the John mind presented is utterly brilliant. I find myself chuckling to dark humor and sarcasm John produce, and I think you will find yourself too.
The detail is very good, and the embalming explanation is very interesting. You can imagine clearly the world John lived.

To be frank, I would happier if the main antagonist on this story is a human (spoiler alert! Highlight if you want to spoil the story! No, the enemy is supra-natural, a demon to be fact). Serial killer versus an almost-serial killer story would be very cool, but then it wouldn’t fit into fantasy novels again if this book do that.
I think, this book is more about how John struggling every day with his dark side, how to be remain normal (or as normal as he could be), and not to be the serial killer his dark side wants to be. It’s a rather sweet and endearing story.

Another irk this novels had is that lot of things on this novel hit right on the spot to me. I don’t know how about other people, but sometime it just very similar how I think, how I feel, especially when I got one of those cold episode, or one of those rage episode. I think these book will hit lots of people spot how it presented the dark nature of human mind. And those loneliness felt (but not realized) by John will touch most of us (realized or not) also felt.

This book is really refreshing. Emotionally-void protagonists are really rare, and the chance to look into the mind of one is really interesting. The plot is rather simple, I could guest the ending most of the time, but the twist on the story make it really interesting, even if this book had those kind ending-come-with-no-sign-nor-preparation kind of plot development (like Earthsea trilogy). And, no, this is not those pure serial killer book, it’s a young-adult novel, for heaven’s sake. Although some site said so, I don't think this series is a trilogy. The ending on third book is too open to be a final book. And, yes, I'm going to write my review for the other two book.

I whole heartily recommend this book for you.