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Old 11-18-2010, 08:28 PM
oomingmak oomingmak is offline
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Default Selecting Headphones

Hi, I'd like to ask a question about how you all go about selecting headphones.

I purchased a Sansa Fuze about 6 months ago (my first ever MP3 player) and I was immediately dissatisfied with the sound quality of the headphones that come with it as standard. They sounded very "boxy" with no real bass extension (just lower mid 'thump') and quite muddy mid range.

When looking for replacement headphones, I was intending to put a bit of effort into researching which headphones would suit me best given my particular criteria (which is exactly what I did before deciding which MP3 player to buy).

After reading countless reviews and various forum threads, I decided (based on what I had read) that the Sennheiser IE6 seemed to meet my requirements at my price point.

I ordered an IE6 from an online retailer only to find that it was the most hideous sounding thing that I had ever heard. It sounded like a 3 way loudspeaker where the mid range and bass drivers had been disconnected. The sound was quite literally nothing but treble. I could barely hear the vocals because they seemed to be cut off. Needless to say, my first thoughts were to check that the headphones were inserted correctly, but no matter how much I jammed them into my ears the sound did not change. Examining the packaging I realised that there was no carry case, no cable clip and no cleaning tool (all of which are meant to come as standard). The headphones also made an incredibly loud crackling noise whenever you touched the cable or jack plug.

Now, I have no idea if I was sold a dud / fake (I paid the full going rate - these were not bargain basement discounts) but it got me thinking that surely the only way you can know if headphones are suitable is to listen to them first. It's all well and good reading other people's opinions and reviews of what they think constitutes "tight bass", or "mid range clarity" etc., but until you hear it for yourself you won't know whether you like it or not.

All that being said, do people on here buy headphones blind? (i.e. without ever having heard them).

I am assuming that most, if not all, retailers would not take back a set of headphones that have been listened to (especially if they were IEMs). This means that I could end up going through 5 or 6 different purchases (or more) before finding something that I like. I just can't afford to waste money like that.

I'm not sure how UK distance selling regs applies to headphone purchases, but I'm wondering if there is any way to actually hear headphones before buying them (or to return them if you are not happy with the sound?).

Do I just have to "guess" what I might like based on a combination of other people's opinion and manufacturer advertising hype?
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  #2  
Old 11-19-2010, 06:18 AM
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sovesky sovesky is offline
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In Portugal it's just impossible to try IEM's before buying them, unless you borrow it from a friend. Hygienic issues I guess.

The best advice I can give you is that you do a full research and check a lot of reviews of the IEM's your interested. Don't drop a lot of weight on a single review, despite the reviewer, or review quality.

That way, when you see that a lot of people appreciate those IEM's, It'll be probable they will fit you nice, depending on your personal taste of course.

There are also situations when your ears are used to some kind of sound signature, and when you listen to something different it looks like someone punched you in the face. That happened when I bought my RE0 as a replacement for my bassy C551. They were so different that I immediately had a bad feeling about the new ones, but fortunately that changed

Hope I helped.
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Old 11-19-2010, 07:37 AM
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jupitreas jupitreas is offline
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The IE6 you got were almost certainly fakes since the sound signature you described is nothing like what any Senn phones would sound like (Senns are always pretty bassy) and it is an impossibility that the package would not include the specified accessories.

IEMs are indeed impossible to test before you buy them and this is a pretty big issue. Perhaps you should consider buying some cans instead, you can usually test-drive them in most stores.

BTW: Under EU law, it is possible to return a product that doesnt meet expectations up to 2 weeks after purchase, I think. I never used this option but it might be something you should research.
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:11 AM
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@ooming: Welcome to ABi!

IEM selection can indeed be a tricky process, especially since there are so many choices available [though EU might be slightly more limited].

I always suggest telling [us] some basic things:
- what budget?
- what kind of music do you generally listen to?
- what player[s] do you have?
- are you a basshead? Someone who wants huge thumping nightclub bass? Or do you want firm, deep, present bass, but not at the cost of mids and highs?

No one needs your life story, but stuff like the above can really help peeps to provide you with some targeted selections.

Begin your education here in case you missed it:
http://anythingbutipod.com/forum/showthread.php?t=15243

http://anythingbutipod.com/forum/showthread.php?t=69

http://anythingbutipod.com/forum/showthread.php?t=8404

And that other site has an invaluable thread IMO:
http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/...ded-10-17/1125

Yes, even in the USA, testing IEMs in a store can be a difficult impossible task, mostly for the hygenic reasons mentioned. Still, it is possible to shop at brick and mortar retailers with bulletproof return policies - at those places, you can select, purchase and try at home and usually are able to return the IEMs if you hate them. Just read the return policy carefully - also not that while some retailers may state a no IEM return policy, returns are usually handled by people, and not everyone knows all the rules, if you get my drift.

Answer my questions above - watch...I guarantee you will get some very valuable suggestions.

cheers!
-les
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  #5  
Old 11-20-2010, 05:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lestatar View Post
@ooming: Welcome to ABi!
Snipped
-les

Les on the move...yeah answering this will make it easier for us to suggest.
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Old 11-21-2010, 01:34 PM
oomingmak oomingmak is offline
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Thanks for the replies (particularly sovesky and jupitreas).

The point of this thread was not to turn it into another one of the countless "recommend me a headphone" type threads, it was about trying to find out how people deal with the fact that they are selecting an (often expensive) audio device that they can't audition beforehand. To me, that's a bit like buying a painting that you're not allowed to see, so you instead have to decide based on someone else's description of the colours.

I appreciate the whole hygiene issue (particularly with IEDs) but I was wondering whether any bricks and mortar shops might have some demo models that you could listen to, provided that you paid for the disposable tips that you used while auditioning.

I was also interested to find out whether people were able to return internet purchased headphones that they did not like the sound of, or if they just kept buying new ones until they got something that they were happy with.

Even if you do spend months reading reviews and detailing your requirements in order to get various opinions and recommendations, you may still not like what you end up with when you finally hear it. That's exactly what happened to me when I finally settled on the IE6 after weeks of research. I had no idea whether they were fakes or not (as I could not find any info on whether there are fake IE6s in circulation) I just knew that they didn't sound at all like they had been described. However, that might not be enough of a reason for a retailer to take them back and give you a refund. Were it not for the fact that so many parts were missing from my IE6, I would not have been able to return it.

I just wanted to be sure that I wasn't missing out on any means of being able to audition headphones that other people had figured out. It seems the only way to buy them is to "guess" based on other people's opinions, so I'll make a new thread for seeking some advice and recommendations based on my criteria.

Cheers everyone.

Last edited by oomingmak; 11-21-2010 at 01:41 PM.
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  #7  
Old 11-21-2010, 01:42 PM
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lestatar lestatar is offline
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OK...and you're welcome....

My snarky response aside [yes, I feel a bit slighted for my initial attempt to assist you], the problem you are describing is nothing new. I totally agree in principle with you, your analogies are sound and the problem you describe is real and pretty commonplace. However, you are not highlighting anything new as we all struggle with this exact issue.

The vast majority of people probably do purchase IEMs "blind", basing their decisions on nothing more than research and reading reviews/comments from other people/owners on sites such as this. It is a crapshoot. The alternatives are relatively few it would seem, especially for those who wish to make a somewhat informed purchasing decision.

I personally have purchased IEMs on the blind and continue to do so. I have been extremely lucky, yes. But I have also been very careful in heeding the advice from people who I have come to know around here [as much as possible given the format] and have come to respect greatly. However, even doing this, I am keenly aware that there are 6billion people on this planet and chances are good that not everyone hears things the same way. So while there are many folks who's opinion I value greatly around ABi, I also take everything they say with a grain of salt. Ultimately, my own ears and wallet are the decider.

I guess part of the issue may be with the relatively low cost of things like IEMs. Don't get me wrong - money is money. But take speakers for instance. I know that there are many places where you can not only demo the speakers in the store prior to purchase, but are also able to take them home and try them in your own environment before you decide. An eminently reasonable policy IMO. It would indeed be nice were this common practice for IEMs - sadly this is not.

Thus, I did mention trying to find brick and mortar [or even online retailers] with bulletproof return policies for ALL items purchased, including IEMs. In NYC, J&R and BH Photo have quite reasonable return/exchange policies and I have been able to exploit these policies to my benefit with IEM purchases in the past. Your challenge is to find retailers that will do the same for you. For instance, in Hong Kong at the new Jaben store [think Hippo VBs, etc], they are setup to allow for extensive in-store testing of many IEMs, cans, amps and cables/interconnects. See here:
http://anythingbutipod.com/forum/showthread.php?t=58568

While I did bring my own tips, this store did also offer clean fresh tips for someone to use if they wished. I was able to sample IEMs that cost over 1000USD. But stores like this one are a relative rarity in this world, AFAIK.

My intention in highlighting those threads was simply to point you in the right direction to begin your search, by trying to narrow down a few possibles - there are no guarantees even by doing all the research though. You have already it seems been the victim of some fake IE6 Senns and fortunately was able to get your money back.

Bottom line and the point of your thread as you state: if you do indeed find a way to extensively test drive IEMs prior to purchase, I, and I am sure, many other folks here would be delighted to know about it. Because, failing that, you are pretty much stuck doing it the old fashioned way, just like me and everyone else. Or auditioning IEMs that friends, family and colleagues might happen to own.

cheers and best of luck,
-les
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Last edited by lestatar; 11-21-2010 at 02:12 PM.
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Old 11-22-2010, 09:35 AM
Hewbacca Hewbacca is offline
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Pretty much any store will accept a return with the receipt within 30 or 90 days. If the product is opened or used they will send it back to the manufacturer, usually to be refurbished and sold at a discount. It is a cost of doing business. I have had bad experiences at Wal-Mart, but Target will take back anything no matter what. Best Buy is a good choice for IEMs, though they will be more expensive. I haven't had issues returning things there.

Worst case, if you try and return something and are met with resistance, offer to accept store credit as a compromise; most places are MUCH happier giving you store credit because they are at least keeping the sale. And if you were genuinely looking to buy IEMs and ended up with a pair you didn't like, then store credit should be perfectly acceptable for you. In that case, just find a store that has a wide selection so you don't end up with store credit to a store that has nothing you want.
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Old 11-22-2010, 01:27 PM
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+1 with Hewbacca
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Old 11-27-2010, 06:27 PM
oomingmak oomingmak is offline
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Thanks Hewbacca.

As an FYI for anyone UK based, I had a look on the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) web site regarding Distance Selling regulations and found a guide for Businesses which said the following:

Quote:
How can I resell the goods as new if they have been opened and tested by the customer?

3.59 The DSRs do not provide any general exception to the right to cancel on this point. Unless one of the specific exceptions referred to above at paragraph 3.38 applies, consumers can exercise their right to cancel a contract and return the goods to you. The DSRs do not link cancellation rights with a supplier’s ability to resell items 'as new'.
It seems that a lot of companies are not actually adhering to the rules when they tell customers that it is impossible to get a refund on opened or tested items. The only time that opening the packaging does prevent you from getting a refund is in the listed exceptions in section 3.38, which only includes things like periodicals & newspapers, software, CDs & DVDs or perishable goods.
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Old 11-28-2010, 07:54 AM
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EddieE EddieE is offline
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It might seem like an obvious question - but did you achieve a "seal" with the IEMs?

I ask as, if you are new to mp3 players, you could well be new to IEMs and not understand this. If this isn't the case, please don't take offence - I'm just ruling that out.

The "all treble" comment would make sense if you hadn't properly inserted the tips - airtight - into your ear canals. IEMS are worn like ear plugs rather than like ear buds and will sound absolutely terrible if there is not an airtight seal.
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Old 11-28-2010, 10:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oomingmak View Post
The point of this thread was not to turn it into another one of the countless "recommend me a headphone" type threads, it was about trying to find out how people deal with the fact that they are selecting an (often expensive) audio device that they can't audition beforehand. To me, that's a bit like buying a painting that you're not allowed to see, so you instead have to decide based on someone else's description of the colours.
Even if you do spend months reading reviews and detailing your requirements in order to get various opinions and recommendations, you may still not like what you end up with when you finally hear it.
We don't even have that many brands available in India and those which are available are @ exorbitant MRPs (which is understandable when they have very, very low volumes). So, whatever I buy, I have to buy 'blindly' based on reviews and opinions.

At the end of the day, most of what you read in forums are individual opinions, not the ultimate truth. So, someone could find the treble "harsh", while it would be perfectly fine for me. The best way is to find out someone who has a similar sound preference to yours or someone who describes the IEM's signature similar to what you hear. Luckily, I found a couple of reviewers I trust. So, I give more importance to their reviews than others. And to find them, I needed to spend on and experiment with a few IEMs and read a lot more, but at least my buys after that (which are the majority) worked out well.
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