Preface for SH Forum Members I'm a headphone geek. I LOVE headphones. I'm one of the few people who's been lucky enough to be in a position to have sampled the vast majority of the world's *great* headphones of the last 20 years. I'm an active participant on the world's foremost headphone epicenter, www.head-fi.org, where you might know me by the same name as here: "markl". I currently own what is considered (by most) to be the greatest dynamic (as opposed to electrostatic) headphone ever made-- the Sony MDR-R10. Released initially in 1989, it remains on a plane of its own, and due to its $4K price was reduced to less than 2500 copies produced by hand by Sony over the course of 15 years through 2004 when the R10 was sadly discontinued. Despite the fact that the headphone hobby (obsession) is at an all-time peak (Head-Fi is THE most active audio-related forum on the Web); sadly we've been given and then taken away any number of high-end cans in the last 5 years. Not one of the hand-full of headphone-makers is currently producing a *serious* high-end can except for Grado, with it's latest GS1000 (so new you've probably never even heard of it). The Sony Qualia headphone was part of what Sony hoped would be a long-lasting high-end line of Qualia products. It didn't pan out; there are a lot of orphaned Qualia products right now, the Qualia headphone is just one of them. It retailed for over $2.5K last year and was *supposed* to be the replacement for the late great MDR-R10 (which I own). Audio-Technica is not really yet well-known among average Americans. They are a Japanese company much like Austria's AKG that makes headphones and various recording equipment (including microphones). It is largely due to Head-Fi that they've achieved a substantial presence here in the USA over the last few years. They are one of the most active headphone makers in that they release new products on an annual basis, unlike most which can have a decade or at least 5 years in between new products. The L3000 "Leatherhead" is the most expensive headphone product Audio Technica has ever released (another $2500 headphone). Even though it was a limited edition, it still remains the most ambitious can they ever made. So why all the pre-amble? As I said, I *love* headphones, and I really do believe that there is a bias against them in audio circles, and in many cases that is simply due to the relatively low-cost of entry. Yes, headphones are cheaper (in most cases) than good speakers. But great headphones in a great system (with proper amplification) can sound simply astonishing. I have PSB Straus Goldi's as main speakers in my speaker-based system (OK, not the most expensive but surely the most over-achieving at their price-point). However, chiefly, I'm restricted to headphones as my primary music source. I can tell you that the Sony R10 is heavy-duty competition for the PSB Stratus Goldis, and that's saying a lot (to me). So, here I've been given the Sony Qualia, the AKG L3000, and (soon to receive) the Grado GS1000, by friends who want to hear my take on these phones. I previuously took the AKG K701 to task (their most recent attempt at the high-end), much to the chagrin of a few Head-Fiers, so that is the sub-text of this review. So here it is, my first impressions at least... Well, here we go again! I know a few curmudgeons don't like my reviewing headphones in real time, for whatever reason, but I'm going ahead and doing it again anyway. So sue me. As always, please take them for what they *are*-- for-fun observations recorded as they happen. Thanks in advance for your cooperation in this matter. :he90: Thanks to a very kind benefactor, I was very lucky to receive a pair of Sony Qualias plus the Audio-Technica L3000 or "Leatherhead". Kudos to you, my friend. Soon, I will also be receiving a Grado GS1000 from an equally kind anonymous donor and will follow up when I get them, here in this very thread. So, off we go. I've been listening all day, and here are my first impressions: Test Bed Source: Sony 555ES SACDP with full sacdmods.com mod package Amp: Ray Samuels HR-2 Sony Qualia Impressions Day 1 Build Quality, Fit 'N Finish This headphone is insanely light-weight. I happen to like the looks, very sleek and sexy, but I know some object to its very modern, aggressive styling. I notice that the headphone cord seems kind of cheap and thin, although the jack is nicely over-built and very heavy. Other than that, it seems well-made, but like any expensive headphone, it does not look like it should have to cost as much as it does based solely on appearances. Not sure exactly what a $2500 headphone "should" look like (diamond accents?), but anyway... As you know, Sony blew it by creating a custom fit system with three sizes, small, medium and large. There is no self-adjusting headband like any sane headphone has. This is a size Medium, and amazingly it happens to fit my rather large-ish head quite well, and is a bit loose actually. The large size headband must be made for King Kong. It's a comfortable headphone. It doesn't quite gently hug and caress your head like the R10, but it's still a pleasure to wear. Like the AKG K701, there is an inordinately large amount of space in the inner donut holes, so you are provided with way too many potential positions to rest them on your head. Where are they supposed to be? I'm still trying to figure out proper positioning. However, sound does not seem to shift as much as it does with the K701 when you change positions. First Impressions: Sound I was *really* looking forward to these as they are the succesor to the R10 (as you know by now, my all-time fav). I'm always looking for a better headphone, always excited when there's a new contender; believe it or not, I'd jump off the good ship R10 for something better at the drop of a hat. Could this be the ONE? :basshead: Well, based on my first impressions-- no. Make that "no way". Now I didn't like the AKG K701 at first but it grew on me over time to the point where I begrudgingly respected them for what they were. But there was a LOT of burn-in on that phone, and the sound evolved heavily with time; this Qualia is fully burned-in. My first impression of the Qualia is actually somewhat more negative than it was for the K701, though my expectations were certainly higher. Here's what I wrote in my notes: 1. Thin, noisy, brittle, metallic, tinny, at times like a static-y transistor radio. Has that "headphoney" signature. It sounds fake. 2. Everything sounds like it's happening inside a carboard box. There's a hollowness to the sound and a sea-shell effect. 3. When music gets loud and heavy, there's very audible distortion at any volume, something just goes wrong. It's a sizzly, hissy, tizzy, tinny sound, sort of a halo of grunge, if you will. Things get blurry. It rings slightly and is echo-y, too. 4. Drums can (at times) sound like carboard boxes being beaten. 5. Singers have the dreaded "cupped hands" effect as if they are cupping their hands over the mike. 6. Electric bass lines are simply excellent. This is the only part of the presentation that sounds realistic. It's better than good, actually, in fact it's tight as hell, reasonably firm, with good tone to boot. What went wrong everywhere else? 7. Reasonably black background. 8. I was afraid, based on some reportage, that the Qualia would be bright, but it's not at all. In fact, I would say it's fairly balanced, and I'd say that actually, if anything, the very top-end is slightly rolled. This is apparent on cymbal hits which are repressed somewhat and blurry or hazy. Beyond that, I sense no obvious frequency anomolies. The problem is chiefly with the cans' *tone*, which is just wrong-- brittle, thin, metallic, etc. I can't believe how "off" it is. Did they even listen to this before they released it? Very disappointing. 9. Qualia is very sibilant. It's extremely noticeable and not just a transitory thing here and there. Annoying. 10. Soundstaging is decent, but not as big as I've read. It's fairly coherent left-to-right and does a pretty good job front to back. 11. Qualia is not as resolving or detailed as I've read. It's OK, but I think even the K701 shows more detail. 12. There's a weird bluntness to the sound. Edges are not defined at all. Transients are blunted or repressed. There is no attack with these cans. 13. Images are not sharply focused or crisp. So, aside from a few bright spots, my first impression of the Qualia is mostly negative, at times bordering on "are you *kidding* me" territory. I doubt I could grow to love their sound. Color me very disappointed... AT L3000 Impressions Day 1 My only previous experience with upper-level Audio Technica headphones was with the W2002, which I definitely enjoyed for what they were, especially the bass and the DADS system with "ear massage". :basshead: Good as they were (they were then the flagship), I'm skeptical Audio-Technica can build an R10-killer, but you never know... Build Quality, Fit 'N Finish Now this looks more like a luxury product. The leather is extremely attractive, and I am especially impressed with the headphone cord, actually-- it's thick, heavy duty, and covered with a very nice mesh fabric. The headphone jack isn't as nice as I remember that of the W2002 being. Same cheap-ish thin plastic "wings" that hold the phones on your head. The same way that there's too much empty space in the ear-holes of the Qualia, there's just too little in the L3000. My ears are jammed in there pretty tight. These are heavy headphones, much heavier than the Qualia or R10. They exercise a bit more clamping force, too, though they aren't uncomfortable. First Impressions: Sound With all due respect to the Qualia, now, here we have a *real* headphone. The L3000 is on an entirely different level than the Qualia (though honestly the Sony sets that bar rather low ). Here are my initial impressions exactly as I wrote them, in order. 1. Sounds slightly "underwater". A *bit* closed in but not bad. 2. Drums very punchy, snappy and suitably thunderous. Me likey. Much better drum tone than Qualia, too. 3. MUCH more natural tonality overall than Qualia. This headphone sounds A LOT more real. 4. Treble roll-off? A bit murky or dingy. A bit of a blanket-over-the-speakers effect in the highs, they're kinda muffled. Sounds rise to a certain level and then seem to hit a wall. 5. Not as resolving or detailed as the R10 or even the Qualia. 6. Definitely head-bobbers. Superior PRAT. Very involving headphones, makes you want to move with them. 7. Male voices especially well-rendered. 8. Soundstage is of decent size with no immediately detectable gap in the middle. Relatively black background, but not near that of the R10. 9. Eletric bass is firm and solid, but needs a bit more warmth. Still, it's very fluid and plucky, easy to follow, and seems to go quite low indeed. You can really *feel* the bass of the L3000, I assume this is DADS at work once again. 10. Sound is a bit "soupy", it all kinda melds together in a sort of stew, albeit a fairly tasty one. 11. A tiny bit of the "cupped hands" effect that more clearly plagued the W2002. 12. Like the Qualia, though to a lesser extent, the leading edges on the L3000 are slightly blunted. They are a bit fuzzy and blurry, instead of sharp, focused and incisive. 13. Not the best "palpability" factor. You are separated a bit from the sound in the mids, which as reported earlier are somewhat foggy or blurred, but not too bad. Overall, the L3000 has nice (but not spectacular) tonality, it certainly sounds "real" enough; but the bass and PRAT are clearly the stars of the show. They won't be revealing any new details or nuances in your favorite recordings, but they will get your head and maybe even your feet moving. At first blush the L3000 is certainly an impressive headphone, in terms of what it does well, it does them *very* well. But you give up some key things in order to get them (*sigh*-- isn't it always that way?). Even at this early phase, I know I definitely haven't found a replacement for my R10s with either can. The L3000 will be fun to explore much further. I'll give the Qualia one or two more chances, but really, I know it's a waste of time. OK, flame away!