Provided by: Music Hall
As many audiophiles might know, Goldring is a company with a storied history in vinyl and turntables. But did you know the company has also made headphones? While the company hasn't made very many though, it's interesting to note that it released not just one, but three headphones just last year - the DR50, DR100, and DR150. The DR150 sits in the highest position and is unique from the other two with its titanium film diaphragm whereas the other two use Mylar diaphragms. How does this translate to its sound quality? Read on to find out.
Source: Arcam FMJ CD33
Power cord: Signal Cable Silver Resolution Reference
Interconnects: Audioquest Python, Signal Cable Silver Resolution Analog
Headphone amplifiers: Eddie Current EC/SS, HeadAmp Gilmore Lite v2 w/ DPS, Lehmann Black Cube Linear
Comparison Headphones: AKG K701, Audio-Technica ATH-AD2000 & ATH-ES7, Koss KSC75, Sennheiser HD650
Retail price of review component: $149.99
Alison Krauss - Lonely Runs Both Ways
Eva Cassidy - Songbird
Howard Shore - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King OST
Jewel - Spirit
KT Tunstall - Eye To The Telescope
Massive Attack - Protection
Neotropic - Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock
Porcupine Tree - In Absentia
Radiohead - OK Computer
Renee Fleming - Thais (Massenet, 1894)
The Crystal Method - Tweekend
Physically, the DR150 has a lot in common with the Sennheiser HD580/600/650 headphones - the framework is encased in tough, dark-grey plastic, in a very simplistic, head-conforming shape. The underside of the headband and earpads are also similarly lined with plush yet firm velour, and the drivers are covered with a thin piece of foam. A similar compact form-factor as well, as it's not overly large that would make it cumbersome to deal with. Construction is nice and solid too, as it feels like it can take some abuse and keep on ticking. Fit adjustment is achieved by sliding the earcups up and down along the frame, with internal notches so you can feel how many "ticks" are along the slide. Unlike the aforementioned Sennheiser headphones though, the earcups on the DR150 can swivel for better adjustment on large heads.
Initially, the headphones were a bit uncomfortable due to the firmness of the velour on the earpads and headband, but both loosened up after a few days. And once the velour loosens up, the headphones become very comfortable, and easy to wear for very long periods of time without any soreness. Wear it and forget it, essentially.
Also of note here is that the DR150 uses a standard mini-mini interconnect as the cable, so theoretically it may very well be possible to improve the sound of the headphone with aftermarket interconnects. It's cabled for single-entry on the left earcup, but the right earcup also looks like it has an input mini-jack on it, so it may be possible to "mod" the headphones with a dual-entry left & right cable.
The DR150 was burned in for almost 200 hours for this review, based on Internet reports that it takes about that long to settle in. Initially there was some sibilance that made it very bothersome to listen to any vocalists (male and female alike), and there was also too much overdraw on cymbal strikes and other metallic sounds. Thankfully, after that burn-in time, the sibilance virtually disappeared. Some grain in the treble dthat also existed also gradually lessened to the point where it wasn't immediately noticeable. There was also a small increase in bass quantity, and an increase in overall clarity as well.
The DR150 doesn't throw much of a soundstage - it's more flat and fronted, not 3D, and it's also on the small side. It's somewhat comparable to the soundstage of Grado headphones, which have a small stage and lean towards an in-your-face kind of sound, to make it feel like you're up on the stage with the musicians instead of sitting in any of the rows. The DR150 also has this in-your-face quality, only not quite as much as Grados - while there's still not that much "air" presented, it does take a virtual step back that makes it sound less brash and fatiguing. The DR150 also isn't very high-end so it can't compete with headphones like the AKG K701 which paints a very 3D picture of the sound - in comparison, it has almost no 3D air and it doesn't exactly delineate left/right positioning all that well. It separates the channels cleanly though, it's just not revealing of how far left or how far right an instrument is. Not that there's anything wrong with this because the K701 is a unique headphone and a high-end piece at that, and most lower-end headphones don't have defined soundstages anyway, only stating this to point out where the DR150 stacks relative to higher-end headphones.
Detail retrieval on the DR150 is actually surprisingly good for a headphone in its price range, definitely a step up from other headphones like the AKG K240 or K271 Studio, or the Grado SR225. It does have an overall treble emphasis that helps with this, and it's easily able to pick out quick, high-frequency clinks and cues and so forth. However, because of its compacted soundstage and a tendency to swirl complicated mixes into a "soup" (rather than providing clean & clear layer separation), it often feels like the actual delivery of said detail is lost in the mix. Tape hiss isn't very apparent on it for example, as it's intrinsically a background element that headphones with "separated" sounds recover best. On the flip side though, the DR150 presents a very integrated response that certainly doesn't sound very un-separated - it's really only in comparison to headphones like the K701 where it's readily apparent. Of course the K701 is a much higher-end headphone, again stating this as a point of reference only. The DR150 also easily manages densely-layered mixes, as nothing ever sounds congested or suffocated or muddied - consistently surprisingly clear sound on the most densely-packed tracks, even if some of the details are lost in the process.
The DR150 easily responds to changes in the amplification stage, about as much as the aforementioned AKG K240 and Grado SR225. Like the SR225 it's also low-impedance at 32 Ohms, and as the rating implies, it did indeed prove to be quite efficient. I briefly tried it on a HeadRoom Bithead USB DAC/amp connected to a laptop (using ripped WAV copies of various tracks from the above-listed CDs) and then compared to my CD-based home system, switching between the Lehmann Black Cube Linear, HeadAmp Gilmore Lite v2, and an Eddie Current EC/SS. Of course it sounded much better on my CD-based system, but the extent at which it sounded better was surprising - it opened up more than I thought it would. It wasn't very synergistic with the Gilmore Lite as that amp cranked up the treble to a fatiguing level, but the other two amps helped fill out its mid-range and added more dynamic swing to the sound. Not that the DR150 really needs amps on the scale of these three, as they're really for higher-end headphones than it, but it scaled up well and just went to show that its potential with higher-end amps (or sources as the case might be).
Attack & Decay
Attack is fine on the DR150, nothing really worthy to mention about it, but decay, on the other hand, is way too fast on it. Notes tend to sound like they're continually being abruptly cut off and not allowed to end. It's actually pretty noticeable and one of the first things I noticed - at first I thought it was something with the treble response or soundstage but further listening revealed that it just has too short of a decay. It's most noticeable on percussion instruments, as there should be that moment of sound exiting into the air for some "shimmer," but it's just completely cut off, as if there's no air and the music is playing in a vacuum or some kind of bubble. There's no cymbal wah for example, it's just the cymbal strike, the metallic zzzhh, but when the time comes for the wah to kick in, it kinda starts, but then kinda stops, and you don't hear the "ahhh" part. Needless to say, this does affect runs of fast notes, as they end up sounding unnatural.
Sound - Treble
As mentioned above, the DR150's treble starts out sibilant and a bit "hot," but after some burn-in (about 200 hours or so), much of it goes away and is replaced by an overall emphasis. It's definitely not flat in the treble, as there are spikes that contribute to it sounding fatiguing on components that accentuate (or at least don't hide) the treble, like silver interconnects and bright-sounding amps. Never harsh on its own, but it can be made that way from other parts in the signal chain. Aside from this, it's still a good treble response, as it's nicely, audibly extended all the way up to at least 18 kHz, and it probably goes beyond a bit too (my hearing tops out at 18-19 kHz). It's strong enough to give high-order harmonics a sense of power, although not quite at ear-decimating level, and it's controlled well too, as it provides a good sense of precision without sounding like a knife, though it could still probably be dialed down a little.
Sound - Mid-range
It might seem like an oxymoron, but the DR150's mid-range is both forward and flat - forward in the upper part, flat in the lower part. The forwardness affects vocals, guitars - the standard run of instruments too - and provides for a direct, in-your-face, Grado-like sound. It's not as forward as the Grado SR225 for example, but it's not laidback, it's more of a direct and assertive sound rather than brash. And I say the lower mid-range is flat because of how the headphones sound with different amps - with the Gilmore Lite, that range is a bit recessed (not unexpected at all), but with the Black Cube Linear and EC/SS, it fills back in for some body and fullness. Not a whole lot of body though, but a definite & significant increase when switching between amps, so from logical deduction the headphone has a close-to-flat lower mid-range, which works quite well actually. It's unusual to have this kind of amp dependency in this price range, so it's important to pair it with a synergistic one.
Relative to the Grado SR225, the mid-range overall is pretty similar, as if it has the same basic shape on a frequency graph, but the DR150 has the more evened-out response. And relative to the Koss KSC75, there's much more lower mid-range clarity - the Koss completely muddies the lower mid-range up, mostly due to an overbearing mid-bass that infects and clouds up the lower mids. The DR150, on the other hand, isn't muddy at all and retains full clarity with a mid-bass that's well under control.
Sound - Bass
The DR150's bass extends low enough for general purposes, but it's not quite low enough to provide a very satisfying experience with electronica, as it starts tapping out at approximately 40 Hz and rapidly recesses below that point. It's not that it can't thump, it just doesn't sink to gut-level bass - the low rolls and phases prevalent on Crystal Method's "Tweekend" CD are almost entirely missed on it, as it just barely gets the tops of these notes. This lack of extension doesn't really matter though when you stop and listen, and find out that the bass response is disarmingly punchy. Not boomy or out of control, just punchy. Very good impact, it definitely knows how to slam and thump with an almost infectious energy, and it has a great insistence too, well able to spring from one bass note to the next without sounding slow or plodgy. If it had a personality it'd be akin to a boxer, as it simply has a great swift punch, for lack of a better word. In this aspect it's kind of a win-lose situation - you have to sacrifice some extension, but at least there's some really good impact that drives up the energetic factor.
The Goldring DR150 has its flaws, but at $150, there's really not that much to complain about. In fact, $150 is a downright steal for these and nets you a good solid headphone that can be used for almost any kind of music or any kind of application. It's an excellent starter headphone and can easily be considered a gateway into the world of headphones. True audiophiles might want to pass on it, but it's an easy recommendation for everyone else, especially those on a budget, looking for an alternative to Grados, AKGs, Sennheisers, or Audio-Technicas.
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