Choosing headphones is a tricky business if you’re an audiophile, the small percentage of people on this planet who (gasp!) care about the quality of the sound that goes into their ears from the equipment they paid money for. Other people just go to a shop and pick up whatever falls in their budget. Or the white ones. Audiophiles are the ones who adjust their budget according the equipment they want.
I’ve been using a pair of Audio Technica AD 700 for close to a year now. For those who aren’t aware, these are some of the most well respected pair of headphones around, known for their pristine clarity and a soundstage that extends three light years in either direction of your head. But as amazing as they sound, they have a flaw. They are not genre independent. The reason for this is the thin, lifeless bass response. Despite my hankering for a flat, neutral and uncolored sound, I do enjoy a bit of thump in my music, especially in genres that benefit from the aforementioned thump.
Any audiophile will tell you there is no such thing as a perfect pair of headphones. I’ve had the privilege of testing headphones that cost more than the GDP of several countries and although they are about as enjoyable as a unicorn ejaculating in your ears (I’m led to believe everything unicorns do is enjoyable) they only sound great with certain genres of music. Listening to hip-hop on a pair of audiophile quality headphones is like taking a yacht on land and expecting it to work just as well.
So the idea of a second, less expensive but more genre-independent or at least ‘fun’ pair of headphones has been going around in my mind for a while now. Headfonia seemed particularly fond of the Sennheiser HD 202 for this purpose. I’ve never heard these headphones in person but their description sounded close to what I was looking for. So I got the HD 202 II for myself. I’m not sure what’s the difference between these and the HD 202 but the older ones are no longer on sale and I’m guessing these are only better, if not worse (although they look identical).
I’m usually very wary of the audio equipment I purchase. I don’t trust anyone else’s opinion on the sound, other than my own. So I was hoping to not be disappointed with the sound after ordering these without any prior experience and based solely on online reviews. Fortunately, they turned out to be great.
The dominating force here is the bass. The HD 202 II have a very profound mid-bass, which will add a Thump with a capital ‘T’ to any music you listen to. It’s amazing how strong the bass can be at times. I ended up listening to ‘The Reason’ by Skrillex several times just because how dramatic the bass sounded, especially during that section in the middle of the track. Thankfully, the bass does not overwhelm the rest of the frequencies. Unfortunately, it does not extend too far low, either. The HD 202 II can’t handle deep bass. Listening to Akon’s ‘I Wanna Fuck You’ wasn’t as enjoyable because the drivers can’t reproduce the lowest notes. Moreover, there is a faint but noticeable flutter in the bass if you push the volume, so it’s best not to do that.
The lack of extreme low-end action was not a major concern for me as very few tracks actually exploit those frequencies. Most of the bass you hear in songs hangs around the 100Hz range, which the HD 202 II are adept at handling.
Moving on to the mid-range, the performance here was a bit of a mixed bag. On some tracks I found the mid-range clarity acceptable. On others, it was lacking. There was a certain ‘playing in the neighbor’s house’ tonality to certain voices in some songs, where the voices sounded distant and recessed. I take my mid-range performance seriously and am deeply disappointed that most people don’t. This is where the bulk of the frequencies of the song reside so great performance here is of prime importance. Unfortunately, this also happens to be the range that gets sacrificed most often at the alter in cheap headphones, which are designed to pronounce the lows and highs to get that Mumbai auto rickshaw speaker sound that everyone is so fond of. Thankfully, the HD 202 II, although not perfect, perform relatively well here.
The highs are a bit troublesome. The speakers lack true definition at the high-end and there is some excessive sparkle added at the top like an afterthought. Like a dish where the salt was added on top after it was done cooking. This makes certain songs sound too bright, particularly Bollywood movie songs that just can’t have enough treble in their music.
I like the overall audio signature of the HD 202 II. They are not the most accurate sounding headphones in the world. Not even close. And that wasn’t the point of getting them either. But I still like that it can come close to sounding enjoyable without excessively attenuating or bloating any particular frequency range.
I’m a huge fan of a wide soundtage. Based on the design alone, I wasn’t expecting much from the HD 202 II in this department. Closed back headphones are often bad at producing a wide soundstage. The HD 202 II surprised me once again. The sound does not quite have the three-dimensionality of the AD 700’s sound but doesn’t sound like it’s playing inside my head either. For a closed back headphone, this is quite an achievement. And you get the perks of a closed back headphone as well, which is a lack of sound leakage in either direction, i.e., from inside to outside and vice-versa.
Another area for concern for me was the design of the ear cups. Earcups are essentially of two types: circumaural, where the ear cups completely cover your ears and supra aural, where the ear pads rest on your ears. Then there is this sneaky third type where the ear pads looks like they are circumaural but are actually not big enough to envelop your ears and end up resting on your ears. The HD 202 II belong to this category and so far I’ve hated these type of headphones.
Fortunately, the HD 202 II are not as bad as I expected. They lack the usual death grip found in Sennheiser headphones (where they tend to press with the force of a hydraulic clam) and sit fairly comfortably on your ears. Having said that, they still pin down your ears, which causes fatigue after about an hour of usage. This is so far my biggest complaint with these headphones, where I can’t use them long enough without taking breaks. Also, since they are closed-back, there is not enough ventilation, which cooks your ears to a nice medium rare during summer. Not the most comfortable pair of headphones, then. In comparison my AD 700 feel like a pair of feather pillows on my ears.
Build quality is mediocre. The headphones are made entirely from plastic and feel that way. They don’t seem fragile but probably won’t survive too much abuse, either. The cable is long enough to connect to your neighbor’s sound system, which can be a good thing or bad thing depending upon your usage and your neighbor’s taste in music.
Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with these headphones. I paid ₹2,290 for them on Flipkart, which I think is a perfectly reasonable amount for them. If you want a pair of good all-round headphones on a short budget or have a pair of audiophile grade headphones but are looking for something that works with more than three genres without spending a lot of money, then these should do just fine.