Like a good son, I have my Mother over for dinner on occasion. Thankfully, there's nothing she likes more than a good glass of wine and a long listening session. Like most anti-philes, she just wants to hear music. Music has been the thread of her life. She has perfect pitch, was singing parts on Broadway before she was 18, (not normal for a girl from Hamilton, Ohio) became a jazz singer in Miami in the 50's, (marrying my pianist Father), and did her most recent recording with Hank Jones, Marc Johnson, and Grady Tate. Like many close to me, she listens to my prosthelytizing about audio with a certain feigned interest, which becomes a mildly glazed look, and then morphs in an instant to a state of comatosis...or as I think of it, a cure or insomnia. Actually, audio works miraculously well as a diversion when subjects arise with my girlfriend that may be better left to a future date...she knows this but is defenseless against it.
All that is beside the point, the point being I'm sitting here with a slew of headphones, and was interested in what a lay person might say about each without any audio prompting. I'll be doing the same test with my 4 year old niece...I've created a headphone booster for her melon, and she gets helado for her trouble. That girl would climb Everest for an ice cream cone, though she'd likely talk me into carrying her-she has it over on Tio Fred.
The thing I find most interesting and refreshing in a non hobbyists estimations is the lack of need to say more than a few words. "I like it." "this sounds good" "that one I like more", there's absolutely no need to drone on, nor a feeling that one's words need to be justified with arbitrary fact. I say 'arbitrary' because positive attributes, taken sequentially, may be more or less than the sum of their parts.
So, Mom listened to the same tunes on 4 sets of phones. The phones were the HiFiMan HE-300, HE-500, HE-6, and Sennheiser HD-600. The source was my Macbook Pro running Audirvana Plus, into the Metrum HEX, to the iFi Micro iCAN, to the respective cans. Headphone cables were all stock. The USB cable was Virtue, and the rca cable was DNM, from Tim at Simplifi Audio. (Thank You Tim, I'm loving this cable. By the way, if you're looking for an excellent cable that doesn't break the bank, please give these things a try. We'll be selling them soon, but till that time visit Tim at http://www.simplifiaudio.com/online_store/dnm_cables_store.html - Tim knows kit.)
The music was Joao Gilberto, Michael Moore and Bill Charlap, Joscho Stephan, Lady w/strings and a quintet (verve years), Barry Harris at Maybeck, Rostropovich doing the Bach Cello Suites, Gieseking playing Debussy, Irene Kral and Alan Broadbent, Keb Mo, Ray Brown and Jimmy Rowles, and Oscar Peterson with Sam Jones and Bobby Durham. Most of the critical listening was done by repeating the same song 3-4 times on different headsets. We used the Maternal thumb up or thumb down technique to set the volume.
HE-500-"This sounds really good...really good. I like these"
Sennheiser HD-600- "These are different. They're comfortable, more comfortable. The last one, you may hear a little bit more, but not a lot more." you mean the HE-500? "Yes, but these feel nice on my head and I like them"
HE-6-"These...wow!!, These do things those don't. These have air and space somehow. The instruments are more spread out." Mom, what about the comfort level? "Let me try those others again" okay. 5 minutes go by. "No, I don't care, I want these. The longer they're on my head the less I notice anything but the music-I don't feel them on my head after a while."
HE-300-"Oh, I really like these too. Not as much as the last ones, but a lot. How much are all these?" (I run down the price list with her.) "Well for my taste, I'd want these or the last ones." So, the HE-300 or the HE-6. "That's what I said. These are light and comfortable and sound a lot like the others. The ones before were my favorite though." The HE-6?" "Yes, Do we have any wine left?" Sure Mom.
Mom wouldn't try the RE-400. "I don't like things in my ears."
One of my favorite things about this hobby is the 'convert'. Conversion as I've witnessed it in non-philes is almost passive. I'm not referring to conversion into audiophilia, (these people will likely never read an article in Stereophile or TAS) no, more simply conversion into good sound. Before I began this business, the most common occurrence would be a visitor hearing my system and wanting something similar...that simple. 'This sounds good. I want one. Can you get me one for this?'(no, but I can come close) 'Okay, thanks.' All it requires is getting someone who loves music in front of a well comprised balanced system.
Today that enjoyment cost me a headphone set-up for my Mother...Thankfully she didn't hear the Bakoon HPA-21 or the HiFiMAN EF-6, or I'd be out fat cash. (and Thankfully she did hear the iFi-Micro iCAN...that iFi Stack: the iUSB, iDAC, iCAN and Gemini Cable, neatly sinched together, makes for one serious hifi unit, and it looks rather cool next to my, now her computer.)