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Sennheiser HD800S Review (Headphone)

DanTheMan

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I've listened a lot to the HD6xx. There's no doubt it's a good headphone but for me it had too much "warmth" and bass. I preferred the HD600 and the HD700. Though the HD700 required a pad modification to sound a bit more even in the treble.
I’ve always wanted to try them both, but the price was more than I wanted to spend. The 650 for $220 is one of the best deals in audio ever. The 600 is probably just as close to perfection but with a slightly brighter tilt on that spectrum. Amazing that Sennheiser made these all those years ago, they are still in production, still so popular, and not entirely outshined by more modern, pricier offerings. I appreciate any headphone that I can listen to for years without needing to EQ it Or even modify it. I imagine the 600 would have been the same for me, but I’ll never know. Maybe I would have even liked it better. Once I put the 650 on my Atom amp... I knew I’d never really desire another high end over the ear headphone. It ruined me.
 

garbulky

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I’ve always wanted to try them both, but the price was more than I wanted to spend. The 650 for $220 is one of the best deals in audio ever. The 600 is probably just as close to perfection but with a slightly brighter tilt on that spectrum. Amazing that Sennheiser made these all those years ago, they are still in production, still so popular, and not entirely outshined by more modern, pricier offerings. I appreciate any headphone that I can listen to for years without needing to EQ it Or even modify it. I imagine the 600 would have been the same for me, but I’ll never know. Maybe I would have even liked it better. Once I put the 650 on my Atom amp... I knew I’d never really desire another high end over the ear headphone. It ruined me.
I hear ya. The Sennheisers were the watershed moment. After that, all the headphones I thought were "pretty good" just couldn't cut it anymore. I plan to end up with the HD800S Anniversary edition in gold. It costs a bit more, but my HD600 lasted me about ten years (and it's still doing well) so I plan for the HD800s to last at least as long. So it is worth it for me :) BTW, I was really surprised at how nice the Amazon Echo buds sounded.
 

garbulky

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They are also reportedly very durable! I think you’ll be in awesome headphones for a long time.
Glad to hear! I have beat up my HD600 so much. Yet thanks to the modular nature, I have been able to replace every part that failed so it's still strong despite a rough existence! Earpads, headband pads, many wires. They even have the headband for them. Unfortunately, now the parts are starting to be harder to find. But I estimate the HD800 parts will stick around.
 

echopraxia

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I just bought these, and have found that I need to EQ them much more aggressively than Amir's filters. Sorry if I am repeating anything that's already known (I haven't yet caught up on the entire thread), but I find the treble to be so harsh that I can't tolerate more than a few minutes of listening even with Amir's filters. I'm historically very painfully sensitive to spiky treble for some reason.

To date, the Sennheiser HD650 are the only headphones I've found I can tolerate without significant EQ work. That said, these HD800S's do sound amazing once EQ'ed the way I have so far, but time will tell if I fatigue of them more or less than the HD650s even with EQ. I must say though I'm a bit disappointed that a headphone of such expensive price point needs so desperately needs EQ work to sound natural and avoid listening fatigue, vs e.g. $200 Massdrop Sennheiser HD6XX's which don't have any such problems (though both HD6XX/HD650 and HD800S benefit greatly from a generous bass boost, at least the HD6XX/HD650 don't have painful treble prior to EQ).

I've not actually precisely EQ'ed headphones before, so this is a first experiment for me. After I really tune in the HD800S's, I'll try the same with my old HD650s (to at least boost the bass similarly) and see how they compare, which will be interesting.

Below I've pasted my filters, if anyone wants to try them out. At this point they sound quite speaker-like, but still sound maybe a bit more harsh than e.g. my Genelec 8351B speakers. I've already applied a fair bit of treble roll-off, but I'll keep experimenting until I find something that sounds as natural as possible (to my ears). It's also possible that my ears are particularly unusual when it comes to treble; almost all headphones sound painfully bright to me except e.g. Sennheiser HD650 (and Massdrop HD6XX, which sounds the same), and all but the very best speakers whose tweeters have extremely smooth treble will quickly fatigue and hurt my ears as well.

And I'm using this software on my PC to apply them: https://sourceforge.net/p/equalizerapo/

Code:
Preamp: -6 dB

Filter Settings file

Room EQ V5.19
Dated: May 12, 2021 2:03:04 PM

Notes:

Equaliser: Generic
No measurement
Filter  1: ON  LS       Fc    40.0 Hz  Gain   8.0 dB
Filter  2: ON  LS       Fc    75.0 Hz  Gain   3.0 dB

Filter  3: ON  HS       Fc     500 Hz  Gain  -1.5 dB
Filter  4: ON  HS       Fc    1000 Hz  Gain  -1.5 dB
Filter  5: ON  HS       Fc    2000 Hz  Gain  -1.5 dB
Filter  6: ON  HS       Fc    4000 Hz  Gain  -1.5 dB
Filter  7: ON  HS       Fc    8000 Hz  Gain  -1.5 dB
Filter  8: ON  HS       Fc    16000 Hz Gain  -1.5 dB

Filter  9: ON  PK       Fc    1500 Hz  Gain   3.0 dB  Q 1.000
Filter 10: ON  PK       Fc    2705 Hz  Gain   2.0 dB  Q 1.000
Filter 11: ON  PK       Fc    5400 Hz  Gain  -6.0 dB  Q 8.000
Filter 12: ON  PK       Fc    7000 Hz  Gain  -3.0 dB  Q 6.000
Filter 13: ON  PK       Fc    14000 Hz  Gain  -6.0 dB  Q 3.000

Filter 14: OFF None
Filter 15: OFF None
Filter 16: OFF None
Filter 17: OFF None
Filter 18: OFF None
Filter 19: OFF None
Filter 20: OFF None
 
Last edited:

Robbo99999

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I just bought these, and have found that I need to EQ them much more aggressively than Amir's filters. Sorry if I am repeating anything that's already known (I haven't yet caught up on the entire thread), but I find the treble to be so harsh that I can't tolerate more than a few minutes of listening even with Amir's filters. I'm historically very painfully sensitive to spiky treble for some reason.

To date, the Sennheiser HD650 are the only headphones I've found I can tolerate without significant EQ work. That said, these HD800S's do sound amazing once EQ'ed the way I have so far, but time will tell if I fatigue of them more or less than the HD650s even with EQ. I must say though I'm a bit disappointed that a headphone of such expensive price point needs so desperately needs EQ work to sound natural and avoid listening fatigue, vs e.g. $200 Massdrop Sennheiser HD6XX's which don't have any such problems (though both HD6XX/HD650 and HD800S benefit greatly from a generous bass boost, at least the HD6XX/HD650 don't have painful treble prior to EQ).

I've not actually precisely EQ'ed headphones before, so this is a first experiment for me. After I really tune in the HD800S's, I'll try the same with my old HD650s (to at least boost the bass similarly) and see how they compare, which will be interesting.

Below I've pasted my filters, if anyone wants to try them out. At this point they sound quite speaker-like, but still sound maybe a bit more harsh than e.g. my Genelec 8351B speakers. I've already applied a fair bit of treble roll-off, but I'll keep experimenting until I find something that sounds as natural as possible (to my ears). It's also possible that my ears are particularly unusual when it comes to treble; almost all headphones sound painfully bright to me except e.g. Sennheiser HD650 (and Massdrop HD6XX, which sounds the same), and all but the very best speakers whose tweeters have extremely smooth treble will quickly fatigue and hurt my ears as well.

And I'm using this software on my PC to apply them: https://sourceforge.net/p/equalizerapo/

Code:
Preamp: -6 dB

Filter Settings file

Room EQ V5.19
Dated: May 12, 2021 2:03:04 PM

Notes:

Equaliser: Generic
No measurement
Filter  1: ON  LS       Fc    40.0 Hz  Gain   8.0 dB
Filter  2: ON  LS       Fc    75.0 Hz  Gain   3.0 dB

Filter  3: ON  HS       Fc     500 Hz  Gain  -1.0 dB
Filter  4: ON  HS       Fc    1000 Hz  Gain  -1.0 dB
Filter  5: ON  HS       Fc    2000 Hz  Gain  -1.0 dB
Filter  6: ON  HS       Fc    4000 Hz  Gain  -1.0 dB
Filter  7: ON  HS       Fc    8000 Hz  Gain  -1.0 dB
Filter  8: ON  HS       Fc    16000 Hz Gain  -1.0 dB

Filter  9: ON  PK       Fc    1500 Hz  Gain   3.0 dB  Q 1.000
Filter 10: ON  PK       Fc    2705 Hz  Gain   2.0 dB  Q 1.000
Filter 11: ON  PK       Fc    5400 Hz  Gain  -6.0 dB  Q 8.000
Filter 12: ON  PK       Fc    7000 Hz  Gain  -3.0 dB  Q 6.000
Filter 13: ON  PK       Fc    14000 Hz  Gain  -6.0 dB  Q 3.000

Filter 14: OFF None
Filter 15: OFF None
Filter 16: OFF None
Filter 17: OFF None
Filter 18: OFF None
Filter 19: OFF None
Filter 20: OFF None
I think it might be best to say what target you're EQ'ing your headphones to? As in how have you arrived at your choice of filters? There's not really any reason to think that your personalised set of filters would work for anyone else, because we all hear headphones a bit different from one another due to having different HRTF's as one variable. The Headphone Over Ear Harman Curve 2018 has a lot of research behind it as a preference target curve so is likely to suit the most people, did you EQ to that or some other method?
 

Jimbob54

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I think it might be best to say what target you're EQ'ing your headphones to? As in how have you arrived at your choice of filters? There's not really any reason to think that your personalised set of filters would work for anyone else, because we all hear headphones a bit different from one another due to having different HRTF's as one variable. The Headphone Over Ear Harman Curve 2018 has a lot of research behind it as a preference target curve so is likely to suit the most people, did you EQ to that or some other method?
I got the impression that it was by ear and trial and error. Which can work for one person, maybe not a population- that said- everyone knows there is a load of treble that needs taking down- plus bass adding. After that its seasoning to taste.
 

echopraxia

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I think it might be best to say what target you're EQ'ing your headphones to? As in how have you arrived at your choice of filters? There's not really any reason to think that your personalised set of filters would work for anyone else, because we all hear headphones a bit different from one another due to having different HRTF's as one variable. The Headphone Over Ear Harman Curve 2018 has a lot of research behind it as a preference target curve so is likely to suit the most people, did you EQ to that or some other method?
It was a bit of both. At first I tried trial-and-error, but while I got some good results with broad filters, there was still something 'off' about a lot of the treble.

So next, I used the frequencies of some spikes and nulls I saw in Amir's review to begin targeting some PK filters, started with amplitude and Q values that looked like they would reverse all the major issues I saw. This sounded MUCH better, and achieved from headphones the closest I've ever heard to my best speakers. I tried changing the frequency, amplitude, and Q values around a bit, but the values initially derived based on FR seem as good or better than anything else I've tried so far.

Then, I added "seasoning to taste" via a bunch of HS and LS filters to roll off the treble smoothly overall to my personal liking. This of course will vary per taste (e.g. I do the same thing to my Genelec speakers).

In any case, I think my PK filters may smooth out the HD800S's mids/treble spikes and nulls a bit more completely/aggressively than Amir's filters did. I'm not trying to critique Amir's filters, but rather build upon them (since I'm sure he intentionally wanted them to be minimalistic) -- for example, note that even Amir's review mentions that his filters did not completely smooth out all of the audibly excessive "treble zing" effect from the HD800S's. While I'm sure Amir's minimalistic filters may work for many, they were unfortunately not sufficient to solve the treble harshness that pains my ears physically if I listen for more than a few minutes, and this was my (mostly successful so far) attempt at building upon Amir's filters.

So I think my PK filters here may actually be useful for others to at least try, if you'd like to check out a less filter-minimalist attempt at smoothing out the treble vs Amir's PK filters. Of course, there's nothing wrong with preferring less (or even no) correction, as long as it sounds good to you.

But if you're like me and found the uncorrected headphones physically painful to listen to for an extended amount of time, you might actually find (at least the PK filters portion of) these filters very useful/preferable. Especially if you're like me and were on the verge of returning the HD800S as intolerably painful to the ears (with or without Amir's filters).
 
Last edited:

Robbo99999

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It was a bit of both. At first I tried trial-and-error, but while I got some good results with broad filters, there was still something 'off' about a lot of the treble.

So next, I used the frequencies of some spikes I saw in Amir's review to begin targeting some PK filters, started with amplitude and Q values that looked like they would reverse all the major peaks I saw. This sounded MUCH better, and from a headphone the closest I've ever heard to my best speakers. I tried changing the frequency, amplitude, and Q values around a bit, but the values initially derived based on FR seem as good or better than anything else I've tried so far.

Then, I added "seasoning to taste" via a bunch of HS and LS filters to roll off the treble smoothly overall to my personal liking. This of course will vary per taste (e.g. I do the same thing to my Genelec speakers).

But, I think my PK filters seem to counteract the mids/treble spikes much more completely/aggressively than Amir's filters did (which I'm sure he intentionally tried to be minimalistic, but to my ears were not sufficient to solve the excessive "treble zing" harshness that pains my ears physically if I listen for more than a few minutes).

So I think my PK filters here may actually be useful for others to at least try, if you'd like to check out a more aggressive attempt at smoothing out the treble vs Amir's PK filters (which at least for me are too minimalist to solve the treble issues I hear from the uncorrected headphones). Of course, there's nothing wrong with preferring less (or even no) correction, as long as it sounds good to you (especially if unlike me, you don't find anything about the pre-corrected or Amirs-PK-filters-corrected response that physically pains your ears after hours of listening).
Another way of tweaking to your preference is to use Oratory's filters for your 800s and he includes a number of "Customisation Filters" that have broad range influence that you can tweak to align certain sound descriptors that he uses:
HD800s Oratory Filters.jpg
I took that exact approach for my K702 headphones, Harman Curve sounds good to me, but using snippets of my favourite tracks I finetuned areas of the curve to match the sound of my speakers (by ear), using his broad range customisation filters - the ones he describes on the right side of the pic above. I know my speakers are accurate & flat (Anechoic EQ from Amir's review), and the only real tweak to the Headphone Harman Curve I needed was increasing the energy by 2dB of the "midrange accuracy / shoutiness" customisation filter. In reality we're all gonna be variations away from the Harman Curve as the Harman Curve is an average....some people may be absolutely spot on with the Harman Curve in terms of what sounds naturally flat to them, and other people are gonna vary away from the Harman Curve in some places. For his customisation filters, I think Oratory has chosen the places on the curve where there is likely to be anatomical variation from person to person, so I think he's chosen some very intelligent areas for his customisation filters. The midrange / shoutiness filter is likely to be the most important filter for people to tweak after setting a bass level that they like, as midrange/shoutiness filter is in the area where anatomical variance starts ramping up. In my opinion & experience you'd be onto a winner by starting with the Harman Curve and then tweaking the customisation filters he describes (as you can see in the pic).....and this is definitely especially true if you have an accurate set of speakers to compare against.

Here's the link to Oratory's HD800s EQ, which is customisable:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/cf4270vhjw93d12/Sennheiser HD800S (setting for moOde EQ).pdf?dl=0
 
Last edited:

echopraxia

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Another way of tweaking to your preference is to use Oratory's filters for your 800s and he includes a number of "Customisation Filters" that have broad range influence that you can tweak to align certain sound descriptors that he uses:
View attachment 129542 I took that exact approach for my K702 headphones, Harman Curve sounds good to me, but using snippets of my favourite tracks I finetuned areas of the curve to match the sound of my speakers (by ear), using his broad range customisation filters - the ones he describes on the right side of the pic above. I know my speakers are accurate & flat (Anechoic EQ from Amir's review), and the only real tweak to the Headphone Harman Curve I needed was increasing the energy by 2dB of the "midrange accuracy / shoutiness" customisation filter. In reality we're all gonna be variations away from the Harman Curve as the Harman Curve is an average....some people may be absolutely spot on with the Harman Curve in terms of what sounds naturally flat to them, and other people are gonna vary away from the Harman Curve in some places. For his customisation filters, I think Oratory has chosen the places on the curve where there is likely to be anatomical variation from person to person, so I think he's chosen some very intelligent areas for his customisation filters. The midrange / shoutiness filter is likely to be the most important filter for people to tweak after setting a bass level that they like. In my opinion & experience you'd be onto a winner by starting with the Harman Curve and then tweaking the customisation filters he describes (as you can see in the pic).....and this is definitely especially true if you have an accurate set of speakers to compare against.

Here's the link to Oratory's HD800s EQ, which is customisable:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/cf4270vhjw93d12/Sennheiser HD800S (setting for moOde EQ).pdf?dl=0
Wow thank you, I will definitely try those. It's interesting to see this (presumably much more scientific) set of filters shares a lot in common with the ones I hand-designed to try to counteract the FR imperfections I saw. I'm sure these will be even better! I'll give them a try this evening. I'll also try to catch up on more of this thread's 43 pages.
 

echopraxia

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Another way of tweaking to your preference is to use Oratory's filters for your 800s and he includes a number of "Customisation Filters" that have broad range influence that you can tweak to align certain sound descriptors that he uses:
View attachment 129542 I took that exact approach for my K702 headphones, Harman Curve sounds good to me, but using snippets of my favourite tracks I finetuned areas of the curve to match the sound of my speakers (by ear), using his broad range customisation filters - the ones he describes on the right side of the pic above. I know my speakers are accurate & flat (Anechoic EQ from Amir's review), and the only real tweak to the Headphone Harman Curve I needed was increasing the energy by 2dB of the "midrange accuracy / shoutiness" customisation filter. In reality we're all gonna be variations away from the Harman Curve as the Harman Curve is an average....some people may be absolutely spot on with the Harman Curve in terms of what sounds naturally flat to them, and other people are gonna vary away from the Harman Curve in some places. For his customisation filters, I think Oratory has chosen the places on the curve where there is likely to be anatomical variation from person to person, so I think he's chosen some very intelligent areas for his customisation filters. The midrange / shoutiness filter is likely to be the most important filter for people to tweak after setting a bass level that they like, as midrange/shoutiness filter is in the area where anatomical variance starts ramping up. In my opinion & experience you'd be onto a winner by starting with the Harman Curve and then tweaking the customisation filters he describes (as you can see in the pic).....and this is definitely especially true if you have an accurate set of speakers to compare against.

Here's the link to Oratory's HD800s EQ, which is customisable:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/cf4270vhjw93d12/Sennheiser HD800S (setting for moOde EQ).pdf?dl=0
WOW. The difference is amazing. Even better than my filters for sure. I can now almost entirely turn off my downward sloping shelf filters, and it's still not particularly fatiguing! And the tonality sounds more "correct" now, too. Of course I still do prefer some degree of gentle downward sloping FR (perhaps more so than some) at least on these, but it's less of an outright necessity now.

P.S. Is there a link to more filters from the same source, e.g. for the HD650? I'm really curious now to try this on my Drop Sennheiser HD6XX and see how it compares once FR-corrected to the similarly corrected HD800S.

Edit: Nevermind, found it here. I will probably test some time next week once I've gotten more time to enjoy the HD800S.
 

MayaTlab

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P.S. Is there a link to more filters from the same source, e.g. for the HD650? I'm really curious now to try this on my Drop Sennheiser HD6XX and see how it compares once FR-corrected to the similarly corrected HD800S.
Just note that EQing headphones to the same target from third party measurements on a dummy head is likely to help in making them sound closer to each others, but that their FR curve is likely to still differ if it were to be measured at your own eardrum.
 

Robbo99999

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WOW. The difference is amazing. Even better than my filters for sure. I can now almost entirely turn off my downward sloping shelf filters, and it's still not particularly fatiguing! And the tonality sounds more "correct" now, too. Of course I still do prefer some degree of gentle downward sloping FR (perhaps more so than some) at least on these, but it's less of an outright necessity now.

P.S. Is there a link to more filters from the same source, e.g. for the HD650? I'm really curious now to try this on my Drop Sennheiser HD6XX and see how it compares once FR-corrected to the similarly corrected HD800S.

Edit: Nevermind, found it here. I will probably test some time next week once I've gotten more time to enjoy the HD800S.
Yeah, it looks like you found the main list:
https://www.reddit.com/r/oratory1990/wiki/index/list_of_presets

You could still experiment with his customisation filters rather than adding your own downward sloping filters to his EQ, or if instead specific peaks are bothering you still then you can increase the negative gain of the filters that are located on the naughty peaky parts of the HD800s - like the 5450Hz peak which is Band 7 in Oratory's EQ (Band 8 & 9 also perhaps or even Band 10 if the 13000Hz peak is bothering you).
 
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echopraxia

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Just note that EQing headphones to the same target from third party measurements on a dummy head is likely to help in making them sound closer to each others, but that their FR curve is likely to still differ if it were to be measured at your own eardrum.
Yeah of course, but I suppose it’s the closest thing we have to achieving a similar “neutral” starting point. Then from there, hopefully we can try to apply the same extra filters to tune to individual preference, rather than start from 0 every time.

That said, I understand it’s also much more complex than that and even this is not really 100% theoretically possible (at least to match the neutrality of speakers), due to differences in ear geometry, headphone cup fit, etc. In fact, given all these complexities I am quite surprised these corrections actually worked at all for me, let alone worked so well to mitigate the painful brightness issues I experience on these (and almost all other) headphones. I had until now always assumed I must have weird ear geometry that warps sound from physically close sources (like headphones) to be perceived so differently from many others who seem to rarely notice brightness that is painfully obvious (literally) to me.
 
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Noob question: I'm running my HD 800 with balanced cable and super dupont mod. When I reach fairly high volume on bass-heavy songs (~105 dB per ear measured by my subpar sound level meter) the bass starts doing this scratching clipping noise (right side distorts more). I tried 2 different DACs and Amps with the same result. When I try Amirs EQ, the scratching starts at ~100 db. Is this expected due to high volume or might it be damaged drivers?
 

maverickronin

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Noob question: I'm running my HD 800 with balanced cable and super dupont mod. When I reach fairly high volume on bass-heavy songs (~105 dB per ear measured by my subpar sound level meter) the bass starts doing this scratching clipping noise (right side distorts more). I tried 2 different DACs and Amps with the same result. When I try Amirs EQ, the scratching starts at ~100 db. Is this expected due to high volume or might it be damaged drivers?
Probably something too loose near the driver left over from the modding.
 
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Probably something too loose near the driver left over from the modding.
Thank you very much for the input. Maybe the term 'scratching' was a bit misleading. It doesn't sound like some object is scratching the membrane. When the volume reaches a certain level, the deep frequencies disappear and are replaced by a distortet roaring sound (I don't want to call it metallic fart, but that describes is quite well). What is the expected behaviour of a headphone that gets more power than it can handle?
 

JohnYang1997

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Noob question: I'm running my HD 800 with balanced cable and super dupont mod. When I reach fairly high volume on bass-heavy songs (~105 dB per ear measured by my subpar sound level meter) the bass starts doing this scratching clipping noise (right side distorts more). I tried 2 different DACs and Amps with the same result. When I try Amirs EQ, the scratching starts at ~100 db. Is this expected due to high volume or might it be damaged drivers?
What amps do you use?
 

JohnYang1997

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Your Topping A90 and an old Violectric V200
Supposedly, V200 has more power than A90 with single ended output. If you encounter the same distortion at around the same level, I think you can eliminate the amplifier being issue.
I think it can be the driver. So I guess tame the eq a bit and see if that helps.
 
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