Everyone will probably recommend the Grado line, however i would go with Stax,(els) considering your music preference. Everybody agree?
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I didnt know you could get Stax headphones in that price range. The Sennheiser 600's Craig recommends are fine and are selling in the low $300's, but there was an Audiogon classified in the last day or two at $275. The Grado SR 225's and SR125's (only about $150) are well within your budget and very good.
Look at the etymotics...They are not for everyone but I have yet to get anything but an unqualified "Oh my God" from anyone who has listened to mine. They are unrivaled for traveling as well due to their isolation. They are especially good for Jazz with a special emphasis on vocals. They fit in your ear like a hearing aid and they can be customized for comfort by your local hearing aid shop. I paid $225 for mine. Check out www.headwize.com for more info on headphones and such.
I have owned a number of models of headphones over the years, and the ones I liked best were the Stax electrostatics, and the Sennheiser HD600. I have not heard the Etymotics referred to above. Based on those headphones I have heard, I think the price-performance ratio of the Sennheiser HD600 makes it the best buy on the market today.
The combination that I have found that does wonders for me is the Senn 600's coupled with the Antique Sound Labs MG Head tube Amp. You can get this combo for $600. I currently am spending more time listening to this set-up than I am with my "main" system. Un-amplified music (jazz and Classical) sound wonderful.
For your musical tastes and budget you are probably best off getting something like the Alessandro-Grado Music Series II (http://www.alessandro-products.com/) or the Grado SR-325, both of which are $300. The AGs are supposed to be a bit more neutral than their Grado cousins.
I have listened to Senn 580s, 600s, Etys, the Grado SR-60, and the AG Music Series Pro (cousin to RS-1)--for small small jazz and vocals the higher-end Grados are hard to beat.
Basically, Grados have incredible rhythm and microdynamics, give you an up-front, somewhat aggressive presentation, very transparent, very live.
Sennheisers are more laid-back, darker, cooler, much larger soundstage, and have an ease and loveliness about them that is wonderful in its own right. You can really sink into them and they are conducive to falling asleep in--the earpads are more comfortable than Grados. They benefit much more than Grados from a dedicated headphone amplifier like the above MG-Head, but they will still work well off a receiver or something (not too brilliantly on a portable CDP, though).
Etys are extremely detailed and precise and occupy a sonic medium between the above two headphones. The soundstage is smaller, though, because they fit in your earcanal. All deep bass is *heard* not *felt* for the same reason. They do provide excellent sonic isolation--23dB worth. If you ever intend to travel on airplanes with your headphones, these are the headphones for blocking out jet noise.
Hope that helps.
I own both, Grado RS-1 and Senheissers HD600. Let me tell you that even the grados are twice the price of the HD600 I prefer the HD600 over the grados in all music genres. The HD600 are more neutral with a bigger sound stage and a bass as deep as the bass in the grados, but the bass in the HD600 is better because is faster and better controled than with the grados. I don't know why some people say tha the grados have better bass than the HD600, I find the bass in the grados slightly (just a bit) boomy in comparision with the HD600. I also find the sound in the grados a little coloured that is nice for some people, not for me. Anyway this is my point of view on these two cans. I also have the Musical Fidelity XCANv2 headphone amp, which I consider very good for the price. Good luck in your decision. Jorge.
I have a pair of Sennheiser HD 580's and a Pair of Denon AH-D750's. The Sennheiser's are great at low to mid listening levels, but the Denons handle alot more power and subsequently deliver more SPL. I listen to the Sennheisers when I'm in a relaxing mood listening to smooth jazz. But if I've had a few beers, and want to pump up the music L-O-U-D, then the Denon's are my choice.
Firstly, I suggest going to headwize.com and you will find an entire website dedicated to headphones. Use their search engine (if it is working) to save time.
If you re-read most of the recommendations for Sennheisers you will find that most who like them use a dedicated headphone amp, frequently with tubes. The only way I have liked the Sennheiser 580 or 600 is with an Earmax. This combination sounded terrific, but is much more than $300.
I prefer Grado's but I do not wish to bother with a dedicated headphone amp. I have Grado SR-80's and RS-2's and like them both. I just picked up a pair of Denon AHD 750's to try for summer listening (when the air conditioner is on) and they seem to sound good for a sealed can.
I forgot to mention that you need to consider not only sonics but comfort when shopping. I use the SR60 earpads on both of my Grado's and I rest my eyeglasses on the earpieces of the headphones. Some other headphones do not work well with eyeglasses, some make your ears perspire, etc. If the phones fit tight initially, imagine how they will feel after an hour or three.
I've recently rediscovered the joys of headphone listening for similar girlfriend, late night etc... issues. Despite many views to the contrary I think the Grados do somewhat better with an amp. Here's what I suggest: For 300 if you want total portability - Grado, SR 80($95)headroom airhead amp($100)panasonic SL-CT570 portable($80). If you want to use your CDP - Grado SR 225($200) + airhead(99). I'm sold on the crossfeed circuit of the Headroom product, but again others are not. Best bet is to try before you buy as comfort is the key. See www.headphone.com for more info or headwize.com. Of course, now I'm on a total headphone upgraditis roll... so be prepared.
Jsbail; I own both the Senn. 580s and the 600s. They have a similar sonic signature, both are smooth, relaxed and comfortable for long term listening. The 600s are more detailed than the 580s, and in fact I believe they are just a "tweaked" version of the 580s.
Stereophile reviewed both of these (if that means anything to you). I bought the 600s from a friend who thought they were too analytical, but I don't think so, and am in the process of selling my 580s. So, it's all a matter of taste, I could live quite happily with the 580s but got a "good deal" on the 600s so I bought them. Personally, I would only consider upgrading if you get a "deal you can't refuse"-- and of course like the sound. Cheers. Craig
The reason I do not use a headphone amp is that I have tried 3 of them at home and have heard others at hi fi shows, etc. Only one amp, the Earmax, was better than the headphone output of my NAD receiver (this is my 2nd system) and the sonic difference was not worth the cost difference. Every time I get the urge to get a headphone amp, I take the money and upgrade my headphones, CD front end, cables, etc. I have heard the headroom crossfeed circuit and it is nice, and I may eventually get an Airhead as a toy to use with one of my Radio Shack 3400 cd players. I do not use a portable cd player for most of my headphone listening-I use digital separates that have been displaced from my main system.