If you’ve read this blog or listened to any of our podcasts for any length of time, you’ve heard me talk about Heil Sound. Bob Heil is passionate about good audio, and has turned that passion into some really great microphones. A few weeks ago, they introduced a set of headphones as well, the Pro Set 3.
They are powered by a set of 40 mm drivers with Rare Earth Neodymium magnets. Closed back in design, they offer pretty good outside noise reduction, though they are by no means isolating. They are super-light weight and very comfortable. When I first put them on and started playing some reference tracks, the first thing, and I mean the first thing I noticed was how low they go. The specs list a frequency response of 10 Hz-22 KHz, and for the first time, I actually believe the lower number. These guys put out some serious low end.
With an input impedance of 32 Ohms and sensitivity of 102 dB SPL, they also get loud. The headband is well-padded and decked out in a cool diamond pattern. The ear cushions are soft and swivel easily to a comfortable position. They also fold up for easy transport. Finally, Heil includes not one, not two but three cords with each set of cans; 1.8 M flexible straight cable. 1.8 M straight cord with mating iPhone/iPod compatible 3.5mm plug and a 3 M coil cord.
You may have seen me tweet that I think coiled cords on headphones are a terrible idea, so I applaud Heil for including a couple of straight cords in the package. Sadly, the set I received only has the 3 M coiled cord; I may have to see if I can score the other two at some point… Anyway, all three are twist lock designs so they stay put.
Appearance-wise, the Pro Set 3 look very stylish. Almost retro in appearance, they remind me of older designs used in the ‘70s radio stations or by ham radio operators. While they are so light, you hardly notice you’re wearing them, they seem well built. While many headphone designs are very functional, these look cool.
And then there is the sound. Since I had some other headphones on hand, I decided to do some comparisons. As it was my day off and I didn’t think about bringing home my Aphex AP-4 headphone amp, I was listening out of the headphone connection of my MacBook Air. Not the best, but it was the same for all three.
On hand for comparison were the M-Audio Q40, and a set of Shure SRH440s. As I flipped through the three headphones, a few things became immediately clear. For comfort, the order was clear as day; the Heils are by far the most comfortable, the 440s are OK, and the Q40s were terrible (they felt like they were clamping my head in a vice).
To compare the sound is both difficult and easy. They all have fairly different sounds, and I suspect none of them would really qualify as “reference quality.” The Pro Set 3 has more low end by several orders of magnitude. When I put the 440s on, it almost seemed like someone had high-passed the track at 150 Hz. OK, maybe not a high pass, but it sure seemed like a low shelf turned down 9 dB.
On the other hand, the 440s had significantly more high end detail, up in the 3-5 KHz range. It’s not that those frequencies aren’t there in the Pro Set 3, but they are dialed back. On the other hand, the vocal range was clear across all three sets, and while the Heil’s had less sparkle, the vocal articulation was excellent
In many ways, I suspect that the Pro Set 3’s are the most listenable, while the SRH440s are perhaps more accurate. Now that I have a bunch of headphones on hand, maybe I’ll do a pink noise/measurement mic thing like Dave Rat did some time ago as he searched for the perfect headphones.
I’m not sure the Pro Set 3 is perfect, but it is amazingly comfortable and sounds good. And if you want to hear all the low end you’ve been missing all these years, it’s the clear choice (at least among this crowd). Although I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever heard low end like I have in these cans.
Finally, there is the price. They list for $109, so they are not at all expensive. I’m still going to hang on to my SRH440s to be sure, but I suspect the Pro Set 3s will get a lot more use.