What's with vintage headphones?

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by mattstech, Aug 26, 2017.

  1. mattstech

    mattstech New Member

    Calgary, Alberta
    Guys, I really need an opinion here. Anyone's two cents would seriously be extremely helpful because I don't have the best experience with any of this and really anything would be helpful!
    So, here it goes: I've had a very bad experience with buying professional headphones from the 1970's and 1980s, and here's my story. Today I picked up a pair of Koss Pro 4AAs, brought them home, hooked them up to the sansui, and to my surprise they sound like every headphone "score" I've had for the past few months. boomy, accordian-bass sounding lower frequencies with sharp peaks in the upper bass frequencies, loud mids, and generally unclear (or non existent) treble. Not harsh or sibilant, just very sick sounding.
    Had the same problem with Koss PRO/4X Plus, both of which I ended up returning with dissapointment.

    I don't think it's an amp issue as my newer ATs and Denons sound just fine, just listening to a vinyl record or tape sounds like hell through any pre-1990s studio headphones I find, no matter how much people praise them on other threads :(
    Do I need a better headphone amplifier, or, were headphones from this era actually this bad?
    Or maybe there's something I'm missing
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2017
  2. xero-D-hero

    xero-D-hero Super Member

    Hard to say,you only told us you're using a "Sansui" for listening,so that leaves a lot of ??? to try and account for.
    But the answer is likely yes,a better headphone amp (or headphone section in a piece of gear) may be needed.

    Older headphones tend to be higher impedance headphones than modern ones are,and as such they required compatible gear for good results.
    The opposite is often true as well,modern headphones can sound like utter cr@p w/vintage gear.

    My AKG's (K240DF/Sexttet/K250) all require a strong amp to sound their best,that was key to my enjoying them to their fullest.
    FWIW the NAD 106 preamp was just the ticket to accomplish that goal ( > 8V into 600ohms).

    Try and listen to my modern Sony MDR-7506 with that NAD 106 preamp,and it sounds absolutely horrible.

    Some headphone amps can handle both types of headphones,but often it's a compromise and neither will sound their absolute best.
    The ACM from my PC's soundcard (SB Zx) can drive my AKG's,but just barely,had to max out the volume and they still did'nt really "open up" yet.
    Yet that ACM sounds excellent with the Sony MDR-7506 so they remain connected to that for now on.

    And dont even TRY to listen to those AKG's w/a Mp3 player or phone... o_O

    I've never been a big Koss fan,so I cant comment on those 'phones specifically.
    But no,not all vintage headphones sound like you describe.

    I'd put my current AKG K240DF against just about any modern headphones w/o a moments hesitation,,,providng the proper amp is being used...


    Bret P.
  3. Vaughn

    Vaughn AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Bellingham, WA
    There are good and bad vintage headphones, I always found the vintage Koss to sound like crap. Never heard their electrostatic offerings though. Same with vintage Pioneer and many many others.

    Fostex planar magnetics (T20, T50), Yamaha orthodynamics (planar magnetics), AKG, Beyerdynamic (DT150 is a favorite of mine) are excellent sounding and offer different presentations.
  4. RamblinE

    RamblinE (╯°□°)╯彡┻━┻ Subscriber

    I'd say the vast majority of vintage headphones are quite bad. That includes the likes of Koss and Pioneer that everybody praises. Vintage headphones that hold up today are a rarity. The Beyer DT48 (arguably), the older Sennheiser, even going back to the HD414, and the upper ends of AKGs product line.

    But mid fi Pioneer and Sansui headphones from the 70s and 80s are easily overshadowed by current models. Headphones have made vast improvement in even just the last twenty years. If you're chaising vintage headphones, and you're not just chaising the cult classics, you're doing it wrong.
    musichal, JoeESP9 and WobblySam like this.
  5. mattstech

    mattstech New Member

    Calgary, Alberta
    Well thanks. That's what I've been thinking, I guess one of my only references is my Sansui 350 from 1968 (Not a great receiver, but works well for me) and I need to look for a better headphone preamp to get better results for the headphones that other people praise (Like the Realistic PRO-1s I have)
    For now I will try driving them on different receivers/amplifiers
  6. danj

    danj modern primitive

    Somewhere in Oregon
    Another vote for the vintage Fostex planar models, which are excellent sounding with a great top end and comfortable. I've personally never cared for the Koss Pro 4AA and similar models. To me their harsh sound is most unpleasant and they are terribly uncomfortable. They can be made to sound pretty good with equalization but with good phones that should not be necessary. I once had some Kenwood/Trio KH51 headphones which sounded great to me and were very comfortable. Alas one of my sons dropped them on the floor and our puppy chewed them up.

    I think that a large number of the current headphones are made to sound best with MP3 playback and sound like crap with good analog playback.
  7. Hawkeye83

    Hawkeye83 AK Subscriber Subscriber

    East-Central Iowa
    Yeah I don't have a lot of experience here but I'd guess it's a lot like vintage loudspeakers...go for "top of the line" (or high up the line, anyway) vintage stuff, otherwise, go new.

    Oddly enough I have gone vintage with all of my transducers...Stax vintage headphones, speakers from the 60s-80s...but all were quite expensive when they were made and (IMHO) stand the test of time...they still hold up to newer models, or even surpass them.

    But again IMO, vintage mid-fi is easily bested by modern mid-fi in most cases.

    Maybe check out some vintage Stax? That's all I really have experience with, headphone wise.
  8. mattstech

    mattstech New Member

    Calgary, Alberta
    Thanks for all the suggestions! I know this is a strange thread but.. oh well!

    Well, the strangest and most totally unexpected thing happened today. I received both Koss headphones back, and decided I needed to try one more thing.
    I drove the 4AAs fairly loudly on a 60Hz sine wave, I figured something might happen if I could get the drivers moving slightly, just to free them up a bit. I was careful not to blow them, and had them running for about 2 minutes. Really didn't know what to expect as it was a bit of an unusual thing to do

    And WOW!!! I really have no idea, but, as I was testing my "Results", as soon as my Jethro Tull album started to play, I immediately noticed a MASSIVE difference. Bass was deeper, better pronounced. mids were still a little obnoxious, but the treble, it was really crispy for some reason

    I guess curiosity and lack of things to do at that moment gave me a decent secondary pair of headphones!

    I kid you not, this worked for some reason. But I don't recommend trying this at all, obviously :p
  9. Gazdatronik

    Gazdatronik Super Member

    Chattanooga TN via Chicago
    The pitfall for any vintage driver, is that the specifications that the speaker was orginally designed to achieve changes over the lifetime of the unit. The two main factors are probably elasticity of the surround and spider, which is either added or subtracted through use or dormancy, and outgassing of compounds which also effects how the driver reacts to the signal it is given.

    It seems "blowing out the cobwebs" has loosened them up again, so its an indicator of change.

    Vintage drivers, due to age, have tested up to 40% out of specification in certain attributes, so keep this in mind whenever searching out ANY vintage speaker.
  10. mattstech

    mattstech New Member

    Calgary, Alberta
    EDIT - One more thing I found about these headphones. The earmuffs were really deflated, There aren't any puncture holes, I just guess the air slowly leaked out somewhere...
    I made a pin sized hole at the back of both earmuffs and inflated them, then used a really tiny amount of glue to seal the holes (put a small piece of electrical tape on top of the glue for double layer sealing, just in case) But the sound improved quite a bit after doing so. I guess it makes sense that they would need a good sealing to your ear in order to sound their best!
  11. Dadbar

    Dadbar Super Member

    Waltham & Gloucester MA
    It's not you. Headphone technology has made huge progress since the 1960's.

    Those old Koss phones suck.
    the skipper and RamblinE like this.
  12. Rey1

    Rey1 Well-Known Member

    Vintage Koss Pro4AA phones in good working condition do not "suck". They are very uncomfortable, but they do produce very nice sound. Undoubtably, there are more recent headphones that sound better, but the 4AAs made in the 1970s get a bad rap because the newer versions that Koss sells now do apparently "suck". The older versions are heavier and have larger magnets in the drivers,and often have deflated ear pads after all of these years, but, comfort aside, they are great phones! But I do admit that comfort is an issue that keeps me from using mine a lot.
  13. Whaddup

    Whaddup AK Subscriber Subscriber

    The 1990's were the best era for headphones. Prices are crazy for most of them though. The Stax sr-007mk1 is the only one I recommend and those are not cheap and getting more rare by the day. You also need a special amp, I recommend Kevin Gilmore. The hd800 is a copy cat of a vintage Sony Quaila. I recommend that headphone as well with an amp from ECP audio. The hd600 and 650 if the hd800 is a bit too much price wise.
  14. twiiii

    twiiii Super Member

    west Texas
    My electrostatic head phones perform just as good as they did new. Unfortunately I can't say the same for dynamic head phones. I will admit that todays dynamics are much better than the designs of years ago. Thats just the way the art has advanced. I have a Signet and two different pairs of Stax electrostatics. The oldest Stax is an electret condenser pair and though not as good as the Signet or the true condenser Lambda Stax have remained true to them selves. Older Sennheiser 600 series have done well has been my experience as have some of the AKG models. The only Koss headphone that was worth its salt was the ESP 9 electrostatic and they were expensive and could be damaged easily. All speakers and headphones age, some more than others. Some older speakers can be restored to better than knew others can't. Dynamic Headphones in most cases were never state of the art and not worth repairing. I would go shopping for a new pair. Save your money and shop wisely, a careful investment will bring a life time of happiness. Failure to do so will bring you unhappiness.
  15. JoeESP9

    JoeESP9 ESL's & tubes since 83

    Philadelphia PA
  16. elcoholic

    elcoholic Just Nevermind Subscriber

    Fountain Valley, CA
    I don't think a fair assessment of head phones can be made with worn out, flat ear pads. Besides comfort and the seal for good bass the pads control the distance between the driver(s) the ear. I think this is akin to finding the sweet spot with speakers. In a sense head phones are extreme near field speakers and this distance can greatly effect the sound.
    My mods and builds using orthodynamic drivers has borne this out. My Stax were good with the old pads and improved to excellent with new pads from Stax.
    I thought a bigger chamber on the ear side would yield a bigger listening space for my Yamasteins which use K240 pads. It did but also made the bass flabby and distorted the vocals terribly. I removed a 1/4" spacer ring from the stack and it made all the difference.
    When and if I make another pair I will try to move the drivers even closer.
    Damping foam is another consideration. After decades it has surely lost its resilience and crumbles to dust when handled. Before writing off old cans replace the foam as well.
  17. Theabs

    Theabs Active Member

    My favorite vintage cans in my collection are Kenwood KH-51 & KH-71. Much more well-rounded sound than my Pioneer or Stanton.
  18. dzkfraser

    dzkfraser Active Member

    Syracuse NY
    I had some Pro4AAAs years ago which sounded great, wonder what I did with them.
  19. HTHMAN

    HTHMAN Super Member

    St Louis, Missouri, USA
    I had some Koss headphones in the 70's and thought they were great. I still have a couple old pair laying around but they do not compare with the sound of my new Grado's. New technology has definitely improved headphones.

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