Reading about the sound of high-end headphones on my blog is one thing, but there aren't too many places where you can actually compare the sound of top-of-the-line headphones before you buy a pair.
That's why Ken Ball started 32 Ohm Audio. The shop has about 100 headphone models on hand from AKG, Beyerdynamic, Denon, Grado, JH Audio, Koss, Monster, Skullcandy, Sennheiser, Ultrasone, and so on, as well as a large assortment of headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters you can try out. Or you can just plug the headphones directly into your iPod or Zune to try them. You can't do that online, and face it, there's no substitute for an ears-on headphone audition.
It seems as if I'm always getting e-mails from readers asking about the difference in sound quality between decent set of $100 'phones and a top of the line $1,000 Grado or Sennheiser. I understand the dilemma, but all I can do is report what I hear. I'm thrilled there's at least one place where people can go hear them with their own ears. The store also sells custom-molded in-ear headphones from JH Audio, which 32 Ohm Audio can demonstrate before you buy--the shop work with a local audiologist who makes custom ear molds.
Don't get the wrong idea, most of 32 Ohm Audio's customers aren't buying $1,000 headphones, but because of the store, they know they exist. Ken Ball says the Grado SR 80i ($95) is, "Dollar for dollar, the best sounding headphone you can buy, they're amazing."
Headphone comfort is another area that's subjective, there's no substitute for putting a pair on your ears, and listening to a song or two to see how they feel. Sure, they might feel fine at first, but give 'em some time before you commit to buying them. I'm sensitive to headphones that make my ears sweat, as the B&W P1's do for me. However, the P1 doesn't have that effect on everyone, so you can't know in advance how it's going to work for you.
It's also great to hear how a high-end headphone amplifier can transform the sound of a headphone--it's not a small change. The same applies to digital converters; at 32 Ohm Audio you can hear the difference. Bring your laptop in and have 32 Ohm set you up with a first-class headphone rig. … Read more