Because of thin walls in my apartment complex, I use headphones a lot in the evenings. My favorite are Stax Signatures with dedicated headphone amp. I use Sennheiser HD600s at work. Neutral sound with plenty of detail. At Audiogon prices, highly recommended. Though some say Sennheisers are difficult to drive, I haven't had any problems in that regard.
Listening to headphones takes a little getting used to since the sound resolves in the plane of your head rather than in front of you. There are "solutions" that give a greater sense of space such as the Stax ED-1 and Headroom headphone amplifiers. They will not actually convince you the sound is coming from in front of you. I find these good for certain types of music but they reduce sound clarity to some degree. Fine for pop but a real problem for listening to jazz or classical.
While I prefer the experience of listening to music through my floor standers, the sound quality from the headphones mentioned above is outstanding. However, depending on my mood and musical selection, I can find listening to headphones distracting. But most of the time, they allow me to truly enjoy the music when my neighbors are asleep or colleagues are busy working.
There are a lot of good phones out there - I own several like the Koss Electrostats - AKG - Sennheiser - but the most fun and good sounding are the Sony Surround wireless DP-IF 5100. These allow you many options including digital input for direct connection to your CD or DVD player and several options for playback - They are fun to listen to! The wireless feature also is convenient - 499 price tag retail - I find myself not wanting to listen to the others.
Living out in the hills of Tennessee, I can play my music just as loud as I darn well please. I don't have to worry about thin walls, irate neighbors, etc. The headphones do come in handy for those interminable periods of time when my power amp is back at the factory getting retubed. I echo Jbweaver's comments about the Sennheisers. They really help when I need a music fix.
Ever since my daughter was born, I found myself listening more to headphones than speakers. While I still prefer listening to speakers, I have adapted to headphones. You can find much info on headphones at headfi.org and headwize.com. Search their forums for reviews and comparisons. While I like the Sennheisers, my personal preference is for the Grado RS-2. That said, there is no absolute here, just preference. You will find endless debates in various forums on Grado vs Sennheiser, with no clear winner. If your preamp has tubes, it might match up well with the Sennheisers, as they seem to do well with tubes. Grado's tend to have a richer sound. Sennheiser's have a little more detail. ymmv.
The Headroom gives a fair amount of information at www.headphone.com as well as selling headphone amps (which I use in combination with tubes). As with speakers, it's a matter of taste. I liked the HD600s but sold them, preferring Grado RS-2s (which have great sound but can be a bit uncomfortable) and AKG 501s (very open sound but less bass than the Sennheisers). -- You can look at frequency response curves for these and other headphones at www.headphone.com/layout.php?topicID=10. Good Luck.
The senns are great. Headphones really don't get much better. See the headroom site as mentioned above.
I use the 580's. Two slightly bad things about them: 1. They project noise to the outside environment too - so you might still disturb others. 2. They are open backed, so outside noise will come to you.
The headroom site actaully has a headphone searcher that lets you input some parameters.
Yes. I use Senn. 600s driven by Sonic Frontiers Line 2 tube pre-amp-- it has Headroom circuitry. The 600s are very comfortable, and with open air construction your ears don't sweat during long listening sessions-- don't want sweaty ears! My listening room is right next to our guest room, and as I often listen to music late at night, when we have guests, headphones are my only option. I still prefer speaker listening, but don't feel deprived when I have to use headphones. Cheers. Craig
I'll cast another vote with the crowd (great to be a follower, no?). I've got the Sennheiser 600's with a Headroom Home amp making them go and I really do like the sound (the processor on the Headroom is switchable, for those times it subtracts from resolution). That said, I usually really do prefer the sound through the speakers, even a low levels. It's only late at night when I really feel the need for volume that I find myself firing up the headphones (or when I am trying to isolate the latest funny sound in the system and need one more point of reference). (Though, I have to admit, when it is late at night and I feel the need for volume, I am often, ah-hem, we'll call it too "distracted," to remember to be considerate to the neighbors...).
I guess a lot depends on what your definition of low volume is, but I definately prefer my Senn HD600s driven by a Headroom Home to listening to my BAT/DNA0.5/Vandy 2ci combo at acceptable late night volume. When I have to work at night, I often come home and listen while my family is sleeping. You can boogy or not, but it won't wake them and I find the sound very pleasant, especially with the processing circuitry which eliminates the "music in the middle of your brain" feeling you sometimes get with phones.
Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful responses. Headphones is a more complicated subject than I thought. I was interested that there are websites with extensive chat rooms dedicated to the subject. I will probably buy some headphones, although I have not yet decided which ones.
If low-volume listening is what you'll be doing most of, skip the headphones and set up a near-field system. Get some good, small speakers and sit close to them--a couple of feet away. You can keep the volume low, without having the weird sound (and lack of comfort) of headphones.
Of course, you'd be talking more money this way, especially if you can't (or are not comforatable) running your power amp in an A-B speaker setup. But even if you need a second amp, you can get away with something smallish. Add a Creek passive preamp and an inexpensive CD player, and you shouldn't be out a whole lot more than a set of higher-end 'phones and a headphone amp. And you will get much more natural sound. . . .
Of course, it might depend on just how much (or how little!) volume the wife can sleep through. The wife-rating of any system can trump all other factors. :-)