Since this summer, I've been using a pair of Sennheiser HD280 Pros. Let me just say that they're excellent headphones, and they provide better attenuation than most noise cancellation headphones without murdering the sound quality the way active noise canceling headphones do. This is a great feature when North is having a party, or just when my roommate is listening to music on his speakers. However, like all closed-back headphones, they're a bit constricting, and there are some minor audio artifacts caused by the hard backing.
So, last week, I picked up a pair of Grado SR60's. They are also excellent 'phones, especially for the price. The sensation of having fresh air on my ears is worth it alone. Of course, they're fully open-backed, so they don't provide any protection from external noise at all. But, when it's quiet enough, they're awesome.
I thought it might be useful to give some basic impressions of the two pairs of headphones in a typical usage situation. I'm in my room right now with some not-too-loud noise, and I've got both headphones plugged into my computer via my HeadRoom Total Bithead. The first source material is my FLAC rip of the Brian Wilson SMiLE album — if you haven't heard it, you should. If this had come out when it was supposed to (i.e., 40 years ago), the Beach Boys would have been a bigger name than the Beatles. After that, I've got another FLAC rip, this time of Pearl Jam's Ten, which is considerably heavier, and should provide a nice contrast. Anyhow, here's my thoughts:
- "Wonderful", Sennheiser: Great immersion. It is much easier to focus on, and thus hear, fine details in the music with these cans, since they block out so much of that pesky external noise.
- "Wonderful", Grado: These seem a bit clearer than the Sennheisers. It's a little harder to focus on the music over the background noise, since there is background noise. However, both the highs and the lows seem more defined using the Grados (note: this is with the stock "soft" foam caps. I haven't tried the "doughnut" caps yet)
- "Surf's Up", S Everything seems much stronger with the Sennheisers. It seems like they're a bit easier to drive. The background instruments really pop out, particularly the plucked instrument around 1:20 (guitar?)
- "Surf's Up", G Voices are much clearer and vibrant, more "there". I have to turn up the volume a bit to get the same amount of sound out, but I can live with that.
- "Even Flow", S Very engaging, but slightly murky at the edges — the guitar fuzz seems slightly deadened. Still groovable.
- "Even Flow", G Still noisy outside, but every note seems as raw here as it does on decent loudspeakers. Even though I'm less isolated while wearing the Grados, they seem to have more presence than the Sennheisers
I could continue all day, but I've actually got homework to do (I know, crazy). So if I were to take a bottom line, I'd say that I prefer the Grados, and if you've got a quiet enough environment to sustain open-backed headphones for much of the time, they're a great investment. However, in a college dorm, particularly on weekends, the insulation in the Sennheisers is much handier. If you have to choose, consider your environment. Or, you know, get both. :-)
Oh, and if you do end up getting either of these, I highly recommend purchasing from HeadRoom. They're not always the cheapest on the Internet, but they're honest, quick, and have the best support department in the industry. Oh, and they make great amps.