I honestly feel like Christmas came just a little early this year. Either that or I just have one of the best jobs one can ask for. Either way, my Senior Editor walked these over to my desk placing me in charge of their story, which meant I got to spend the next so many hours lost in music without anyone telling me I was slacking in any way. I am also a guilty audiophile, so a good source of sound is a quick way to my heart.
My SE also joined me in the completion of this story, which also is no surprise since his background in audio turned him into an audiophile at a young age (he didn’t even have a chance). So he usually joins me in our “serious testing” of such products (someone has to do it).
That being said, we have been spending a lot of time with the HEDDphone Air Motion Transformer headphones by HEDD Audio. A pair of headphones unlike most that you have likely grown accustomed to over the years. They aren’t the first of their driver design, but they are the first to achieve what they can when it comes to a full range. Capable of delivering a range between 10Hz and 40kHz, these are no walk in the park.
These headphones do not look like their dynamic or planar (driver) average counterparts. A little closer to the appearance of planar magnetic, yet still very different. Closest to electrostatic, yet still different. Inside they feature an air motion transformer (an “electrodynamic” transducer), simply known as AMT for short.
“The Air Motion Transformer (AMT) is an electrodynamic transducer that allows to move air significantly faster than common voice coil, planar, or electrostatic systems. Their traditional piston-like movement is overcome by a folded diaphragm that squeezes out air four times faster: A breakthrough for capturing more details in a musical recording.” — HEDD
Their open-back design allows you to fully see the AMT driver inside, putting it on display for all to see. There is no doubt that they would attract the attention of anyone near you. That, and the space they consume around your head. They are quite a bit larger than your average headphone model, which is simply the price you pay to be able to listen to these.
They come neatly packed away into an impressive box that is a bit larger than you might expect. They make sure it is fully padded and protected while it is traveling, which is always a bit of an expectation for this kind of investment.
They feature a single cable that brings you from a 1/4″ jack (for amps, not your standard 3.5mm jack devices) to two (REAN) mini XLR connectors that plug into each side of the headphones. With mini XLR, they lock into place once connected and do not pull free without you unlatching them by pressing down on the release of each (standard XLR-style connection in its smaller format).
This cable features a durable braided sleeve with twisted cable within just enough length to get you from your amp to where you may be seated.
Clearly, not a product for your travels as you will need to be tethered to an amp. So your best experience comes from a controlled and quiet environment where you can calmly relax in a comfortable seated position. A quiet room since they are open-back, thus you will hear everything going on around you. This includes fans or anything else that could make a noise. These headphones sound great, even at the lowest volumes, so you want to be able to experience it all.
Each cushion features a plush amount of foam to add comfort during your wear of the headphones, including long hours of use. This is helpful since they are a little heavier than most headphones at nearly 1.6lbs (718 grams).
These headphones have such a unique profile to them. The range these drivers are capable of is quite impressive for the style of drivers. This is the first time full range could be experienced using an AMT, and the detail in this range is remarkable.
Placing them on your head, you can hear the crackle of the folded diaphragm inside as you adust the headphones to your comfort. An immediate reminder of their unique design and something you only experience as you are physically moving them around in specific ways.
As mentioned, they are designed to be driven by an amp and preferably a powerful one. Therefore, you might find yourself spending a little money on something that can really deliver the experience that compliments their capabilities. However, you’d be impressed by the performance of some of the entry-level amps as well.
For example, we originally paired these headphones with the Little Dot MKIII tube amp, which runs a little less than $300 usually. A great little entry-level tube option that can drive just about anything you plug into it. Given, you don’t always get the volume you may hope on certain models like this one. Many tracks rewarded us with plenty of volume to play with, while other tracks left us begging for more.
We then moved over to a TOPPING A90, a Woo Audio WA5, and then finally our favorite this round, the SPL Phonitor X. The latter of the three options delivered such a fantastic performance (honestly, all three did in their own ways). These are the kind of amps you want to stick to when pairing with these headphones.
They do rank well among models like beyerdynamics’ T1 headphones and certain models by HIFIMan or Sennheiser. The latter two options, having to spend a good amount of money to find a model that fits this comparison. So far, they have a lot going for them.
We mostly kept to hi-res music like DSD and some really nice lossless FLAC tracks (mostly around 24bit 192kHz). Source content that can really bring out the best of these headphones. When paired with the right tracks, you can achieve such a huge soundstage! The kind of soundstage that creates a sort of virtual surround effect in ways. One example is “Jimi Hendrix Experience – Purple Haze – 1967” which hits all around you. Other tracks offer less of a soundstage, but unique ranges that color the audio in ways that can make you smile. For example, Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” is so much fun to listen to on these. Dave Brubeck, Dire Straits, HAEVN, John Mayer, Lorde, Rebecca Pidgeon, USB40, and so many others that sound superb. Jennifer Warnes’ “Way Down Deep” has plenty of rich warmth, and Beck’s “Guess I’m Doing Fine” hits the dead center of your head and works its way out.
That being said, we also found that many MP3s sounded great when fed to these headphones. They can really bring out the most in anything you send to them. Although you will experience a loss in range due to file compression, of course.
Not everything pairs well with these though. They are not a good solution for heavy bass music, although this isn’t always the case with all tracks, as with some, the bass can come out of nowhere and surprise you. Lower frequencies that do make it through (let it be a deep or light experience) are filled with detail/range. We weren’t able to get the subsonic lows from “Dance on a Volcano” (by Genesis), but it still sounded nice. We would say that if you are looking for strong low-end, stick to MP3s as their compression general favors the lower frequencies. However, if you are looking for anything else, stick to hi-res sources.
We found that t is best to pass on listening to rock or hard rock as you don’t always get the range you may be hoping for. Instead, acoustic tracks that focus mostly on strings, keys, brass, and vocals, is where it is all at. Classical, jazz, blues, pop, and similar genres, are what benefit the most.
The highs and mids are usually right where you want them, which is what leads up to this. Even the Little Dot amp could result in so much performance within these ranges. The clarity is simply fantastic. Some tracks do prove to be a tad exhausting, but you can always play around with EQ when this happens (if you have such adjustments available to you).
The mentioned cushions do provide a positive experience, allowing for comfort during wear. You will eventually break them in as you use them more, adding additional comfort. Although despite this, there is a little pressure present, so you will find yourself balancing time spent listening with comfort as you can sometimes walk away with a cotton-ear effect when spending too much time with them on (which goes away soon after removing them of course). This was to be expected with their size and weight.
It will be interesting to see how this experience is affected over time as the cushions break in.
They are absolutely something an audiophile would be chasing after, as not everyone would be willing to spend $1,899 on a pair of headphones. It is an experience you have to pay for, but you likely won’t be disappointed when/if you do. The detail in the range is so fantastic, and it competes well with so many other equally fantastic models. It isn’t the best solution for all genres and sound, but this can be said for any model of headphones (you will always find pros and cons). So it is always best to judge them based on where they fit best in all of it. We wound up spending a lot of time with these and easily found them to be one of our favorites. You will likely see them appear as a comparison to other models in the future as we discuss similar performance ranges.
*Average price is based on the time this article was published
|Concept||Open over-ear headphone with Air Motion Transformer|
|Efficiency||87 dB SPL for 1 mW|
|List Price (MSRP)||1700€ / $1,899|
Co-Authors: James H.
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