ESS 422H Headphones

ESS 422H Headphones

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Product Description
Featuring a 40-millimeter moving-coil dynamic driver and ESS’s Art of AMT technology, the 422H headphones deliver a full range of natural sound. Describing the improved multi-fold Air Motion Transformer, Major HiFi  says: “It pushes currents back and forth in a way that prevents air from escaping in the wrong direction Read More
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3.9
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RodvD
25
Apr 15, 2020
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Excellent construction, transparent midrange/treble, good bass, outstanding value.
I am extremely pleased with my ESS 422H headphones. The materials and construction standard belong to a much higher price range, the performance is excellent, and the Drop price of USD 125 is a steal. These headphones are somewhat heavy but nevertheless very comfortable. The earpads are soft but firm and cover my average-sized ears completely, with hardly any sound leakage in or out. They have a 32 Ohm impedance and high sensitivity, and are easy to drive with my LG-V30+ inbuilt DAC (using the UAPP app for bit-perfect and MQA audio from TIDAL HiFi, as well as my own CD collection), external Dragonfly Black or Oppo HA2-SE DACs. They fold up very compactly and come in a soft black carry case. I own a number of ESS Heil AMT-based speakers, including a pair of AMT 1As that I purchased new in 1977. I have always appreciated the clear, open and transparent sound of the Heil AMT units and always thought the ESS slogan of "Sound as Clear as Light" to be a very descriptive and apt one. Apart from a much earlier effort by ESS to produce an AMT-based headphone (which I also own) - with limited success - this new hybrid 422H is for me a long-awaited achievement. To me, the 422H is best suited to well-recorded jazz, folk, classical and other music where detail and transparency are more important than high impact or high levels of low bass (e.g. Diana Panton, Alison Krauss, Leonard Cohen, Melody Gardot, Arne Domnerus). This is not to say that one cannot enjoy other types of bass-heavy or impactful music through these, but other headphones (at varied price levels) may suit better. I haven't access to high-end headphone models, but I do own Sony WH-1000XM3, various Yamaha orthodynamics, Audio Technica M40, V-Moda M-80, Sennheiser PX-100 and PXC-550, and Grado SR-80, of which the Grados have been my favourite due to their high level of midrange and treble detail (albeit with some lack of bass). All these have their strengths and weaknesses, and preference will depend on what the user wants from a pair of headphones. E.g. the Sony's have tremendous bass response (as well as Bluetooth and noise reduction) and are great for EDM, hiphop, rap, rock, etc, but listening to a Diana Panton track on them I found bass overhang to muddy the delicate vocals. I have experimented with simple equalization (mainly with varying levels of extreme bass and treble boost - U-shaped curves upto +6dB at each end with UAPP) and while some users may like this "hotter" response, I returned to unequalized use as being more neutral, relaxed and open with the 422H. Also, I should note that soundstage is wide and vocals and instruments very precisely placed. So I am personally totally enjoying my new ESS 422H headphones, especially with the kinds of music I prefer as I have described above. I intend purchasing a second pair as a backup. I have seen the reviews where alternative earpads are recommended as replacements for the ones provided with the headphones but I haven't explored this option as yet and don't know if or how much this would improve the sound. So far, I'm happy with the standard ones. So, in conclusion, depending on your musical preferences and your headphone requirements, these ESS 422H headphones may or may not be what you would be happy with. I believe that the Heil AMT unit provides an uniquely neutral, uncoloured and transparent midrange and treble and the 40mm dynamic driver covers the bass range more than adequately. The overall construction and performance is very fine, and if it matches your particular headphone requirements and expectations the ESS 422H at the current Drop price is to me a no-brainer. UPDATE (September 2020):  I decided recently to find out what difference (hopefully improvement) an alternative pair of earpads would make to the sound of the ESS 422H headphones. I picked on the Brainwavz Sony MDR-7506 oval sheepskin earpads which happened to be on a discount from Brainwavz at the time. Removing the original earpads, it is important to note that there is a retaining elastic loop helping to hold the earpads in place. Removing this first by lifting it up from a point on the circumference of the earpiece allows the earpad to come off easily. The Brainwavz replacement earpads were a little tricky to install safely without say, accidentally putting a finger through the dynamic driver under its foam covering. The inner edge of the earpad has to be stretched considerably to fit over the earpiece circumference, starting with one apex of the oval. The Brainwavz earpads are firmer and less padded than the ESS ones and are less comfortable on the ears in my case. Anyway, to get to the sound quality outcomes with the replacement earpads: Whilst very good (as described above), the sound with the original ESS earpads did feel somewhat thin on vocals and lacking in bass. I felt that while the sound was very clean and transparent (a function of the AMT driver), voices and many instruments lacked some body as compared with the same music on my reference Hi Fi system. The new Brainwavz earpads changed the character of the headphone sound significantly but in an unexpected way. I had expected that the oval aperture of the new earpads would result in more treble by exposing the AMT unit more fully. However, the opposite was true. The midrange and bass increased while the treble reduced. The sound now has more openness, with much improved bass and the increased midrange bringing a fullness to the vocals and the instruments that I had previously found somewhat thin. However the treble is now slightly recessed in comparison and some of the sparkle and bite of the music has been lost. Overall, I consider the change an improvement but I do miss the treble edge that was there before. What the new earpads seem to have done is expose the dynamic driver more fully while the AMT output hasn’t increased, hence creating the new more bass- and midrange-focussed sound signature. It would be possible of course to use equalization to achieve a different sound balance, but I prefer to use bitperfect mode via the UAPP Android app with my LG-V30+ which precludes equalization. Again, other replacement earpads may have different outcomes. I understand that all headphones have differing sound signatures and it is up to the individual user to decide which suits their choice of music, sound preferences, hearing response and associated electronics best. It also takes some time to get used to a different sound balance with new earphones or speakers. So I would still recommend the ESS 422H headphones as a great buy, especially at the current Drop price of USD 125, but the user may want to experiment with different earpads at relatively small cost and effort to optimise performance. UPDATE (November 2020): Briefly, after the new Brainwavz pads allowed the bass driver output to increase relative to the AMT treble output (as described in my update above) thereby reducing the sparkle and detail of the upper mid- and high-frequency regions of the music, I experimented fairly extensively with the Toneboosters UAPP in-app parametric equalizer but ultimately decided I missed the openness and clarity of bitperfect mode (and MQA). I decided to try to physically block out some of the AMT or bass driver output by cutting a small circular felt disc (approximately 3 cm in diameter, from a furniture leg floor protector set) into half, and found that with an appropriate trial-and-error placement of a half-disc in each earpad to cover part of either the AMT or the bass driver I was able to obtain a very balanced and satisfying sound quality across the frequency range. (It is important to try different positions for the semicircular discs to find your optimum as the resulting sound will vary depending on their position in the earpads.) Both the powerful bass and transparent and sparkling treble are now present, and I am extremely satisfied with the sound quality of the headphones now. This very simple and completely reversible modification (so long as you don't stick the felt pads down to the earpads) have worked with my particular earpads and music sources to my satisfaction. I hope it might be of some value to you.
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Would recommend to a friend.
(Edited)
dfko
17
Apr 9, 2020
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Outstanding sound once the stock pads are replaced with reasonable ones. I suggest angled or thick pleather to tighten up and give impact to bass and improve overall tonal balance and sound stage; settled on Brainwavz angled pleather in the end. I also tried Zeos' recommended Shure 1540 pads, other velour and perforated pads, and sheepskins. The 1540s, velours, and perforateds give, to varying degrees, a more open sound at the cost of bass and impact and speed through the range which was not my personal preference. I suspect he and I may disagree because I usually listen at a mid to mid-high volume while I gather he is a louder listener. The sheepskins make the bass a tad bit overbearing but are reasonably close to pleather - might be good for movies and such but also not my preference. Result is rich full bass and mids and natural, detailed treble. Best timbre through the whole range I've heard, including vs. good planars / electrostatics. My main pair since I got them. They give the best traits of planars and electrostatics simultaneously: clarity and detail combined with impact and naturalness, without losing bass. Close in planar-like sound with the pleather pads, but improved relative to planars in those ways. Despite having a fairly close sound, relative positions in the sound stage are clearly distinguishable from the details conveyed - after acclimating I began to think I could tell the positions microphones were mounted on the instruments and relative to vocalists. Which leads to a quite a psychedelic experience for electronic music in which these details are produced happenstance by artificial processes. In all, highly recommended.
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Would recommend to a friend.
(Edited)
luxiphr
13
Apr 10, 2020
which pads would you recommend concretely?
dfko
17
Apr 14, 2020
Edited above. Short answer: Brainwavz angled pleather.
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I wrote up a longer review over on Reddit (linked here) but to the short of it: These are pretty dang nice headphones IF (and it's a big if) you replace the stock pads. Zeos had it right - the stock pads ruin these. Get some Shure 1540s (or maybe some of the Brainwavs velours, I'm going to see how those work with these) and they completely transform these. The AMT tweeter is amazing, these have some of the best highs I've heard on any headphones, completely natural, tons of air, no harshness, just wonderful. They also have solid bass and mids that feel natural. Build quality is excellent, they feel solid and have a nice weight to them. Massdrop should consider doing a collaboration with ESS on these and release a Massdrop x ESS 42XH (or something) and just replace the stock pads with the Shures or something similar.
caiscais
9
Aug 12, 2020
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I never, never write reviews of Massdrop products. There are so many dynamics which make personal audio - good, better, best. However, I love these headphones. I have Stax, hd800, Focal Clear, and the lower Senns. These are the headphones I listen to daily. At first I thought they were just ok, maybe good. There is definitely a burn-in period...believe it, or don't. When you get to the end of this period, the quality is undeniable...clarity of stax, impact of excellent dynamics, headspace if it's in the recording. Most of all musical...you want impact...check. You want imaging...check. Each headphone is different and there are many I've never heard (LCD_, Hifiman, others) but I love these and listen to them daily...at this price...you can't go wrong. Do you need to replace the pads...YES...I have the 1540s, but prefer the ZMF soft leather angled...you get everything...clear well-defined bass, sub-bass, clear treble, no simbilance...wonderfully articulate mid-range...state of the art imaging....oh yeah, they're only $125. Can't see myself buying another pair of headphones unless there is some sort of technological advancement...The strangest thing....I'm listening to them through an AudioQuest Black v1.2. I have much better dacs and amps, but don't need them...WHAT@!!! Just Awesome....
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Would recommend to a friend.
yman
9
Feb 1, 2019
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Love it. Highs are airy and not bright, bass is punchy and precise. Headphone amp is required but does elevates the music. I recommend it.
nahct
9
Nov 10, 2020
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Beautiful construction, but uncomfortable!
Beautiful, well-built with walnut wood and metal construction. They are heavy and have very high clamping force in order to keep them from sliding off your head. Discomfort aside, I was expecting a lighter sound signature with the Heil tweeter, but that wasn't the case. Changing the earpads to larger velour pads helped distribute the clamping pressure better and brightened the timbre while reducing the bass. The cable was too short and low quality, acceptable for portable use with an IEM, but not for full sized cans. I returned the ESS 422H and will order the HIFIMAN HE5XX.
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Would not recommend to a friend.
DonnyG
13
Aug 27, 2020
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These are very good. Mod the pads.
Newbie Audiophile (be kind) looking for value and ideally driven "good enough" by a phone. Came to check out Senn 58x, overresearched, ended up with three different purchases this year. Bought these (somewhat a whim for the unique AMT Driver, positive reviews, acceptable price) & waited to review until I added the Brainwavz Angled Sheepskin pads that arrived today (as opposed to the Shure 1540s recommended by Zeos). Regurgitating info from others, but the stock pads can block the AMT driver some (see photo re: the taller oval of the Brainwavz) and modding helps. Headband: Built to withstand nuclear war Clamping pressure: Very strong. The added thickness of the angled pad helps (2nd photo). Doesn't bother me too much, particularly since these will end up being travel headphones, not extended home listening. Driving: Drives just fine for me with phone/iPad. Used with JDS Atom, feel like a little more detail on high gain. Tried on Monoprice hybrid tube amp (Blutooth though). Atom better. Bottom line: Very good closed headphone for the price, I agree with modding pads. Might have rated 5 (good value) had I not also bought the SendyAudio Aiva (AMAZING), admittedly higher price range, but I couldn't bring myself to a 5 once I heard the Sendys. My Headphones for comparison: 1st (gift for wife a couple years ago): Monoprice M300, uncomfortable to her, modded tips, bent earhooks with heat, still not comfortable to her but good for me & now mine (Open in ear planar). Recommended, but you'll need to mod and probably buy new hooks and/or use modded eartips alone without hook. Newer M350 model reportedly improved on some comfort/earhook issues. I like sound of these better than ESS 422 (On the chance you're 100% green newbie, you MUST try open headphones) 2nd: Philips Fidelio X2HR (Open neodymium driver), "soundstage king" per Zeos. Excellent bang for buck. 3rd: ESS 422H (You know) 4th: SendyAudio Aiva (Open planars) These brought tears to my eyes. Prob my end game open back headphones. Listening to them now. 5th: I'm gonna need to try Mr. Speakers Ether CX or Flow before dropping that kind of money on expected end game closed.
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Would recommend to a friend.
(Edited)
IaninSpain
26
Jan 19, 2021
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Ok, starting with the 'cons', I have relatively big ears and the stock pads on these phones are too small. I have a pair of Brainwavz oval sheepskin pads which I will struggle to swap over with the standards. They do have quite a weight don't they, I've been using Koss Porta Pros and Pro 4Ss so these seem mighty hefty. A point, I've read they need up to 150 hours 'burning in', is this right? And if so, what is the expected benefit? Otherwise, what's the point? At the moment, straight out of the box, the overall quality of sound is absolutely magnificent, the clarity of instruments and voices is sensational, they've got a terrifically sharp and hard low bass for well miked and recorded drums and modern bass guitars and synth basses. Simon Phillips, Gary Husband, Mark King & Marcus Miller being particular favourites of mine. I'll do a follow-up review after a couple of months to compare, but so far, (day 1), belting! Right, day 2! Changed the stock pads for Brainwavz sheepskin oval pads. Instant difference! Treble zings mids not overpowering and low-end thumping. Now to see what else happens after 150 hours. 6 months now, I'm back here again, at 4-5 hours per week. that's about 120-130 hours so far. Apart from the obvious problem of hot ears in summer wearing headphones, now with Brainwavz pads on, much, much better. Listening to a lot of heavy old fashioned rock ( 'classic rock'!!), with a fair amount of electric jazz/fusion and even some 'bangin' EDM, my daughter in law writes and records dance/club music, sounds great on these.
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Z3PETT0
34
Sep 28, 2020
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WTF........
I've got the wrong product. The right drivers are inverted. Also QC is really bad. Inside the pad, the sponge on the dynamic driver is ripped and plastic housing on left side has slight scratch
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Would not recommend to a friend.
(Edited)
Bcadfael
3
May 29, 2020
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Good phones for the money
Excellent build quality, wood ear cups and satin finish metal. Highs and mids very clean and smooth, probably due to the folded ribbon tweeter. Bass is slightly muffled. These are closed back phones and have a slight closed in presence. Very easy to drive, works well with smartphones and portable players. The only downside; the padded ear cups are small, a tight fit around ears. Overall impression; I would definitely recommend to anyone looking a quality closed back headphone.
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