Skip Navigation

Headphone Shootout #1 - AKG, Bowers & Wilkins, Monster Beats, Sennheiser

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

More from Ralph Graves

Our first headphone shootout using the Crutchfield Listening bar can be summed up as 5-4-3. Five tracks, four sets of headphones, three reviewers. Each reviewer listened to every track through each set of headphones and jotted down his impressions. The panel included Dave Bar, audiophile and headphone expert; Marshall Chase, whose specialty for Crutchfield on the web and in the catalog is receivers and audio components; and Ralph Graves, blog editor and former writer for Crutchfield's headphone category.

Each panelist listened to the five tracks listed below on each set of headphones, taking notes as they did so.

The tracks:

 We limited our listening to five tracks, primarily to keep the shootout simple and relatively short. The tracks were chosen to cover as wide a variety of musical genres and instrumental/vocal combinations as possible. The lineup:

  • Norah Jones - Nightingale

    Norah Jones has a very dark voice, and this track (like much of her music) features an intimate group of acoustic musicians and Jones on the piano. Each instrument should sound natural and warm in the mix.

  • Van Morrison and Ray Charles - Crazy Love (live)

    Both Van Morrison and Ray Charles have very distinctive voices. This is a live recording, which offers a different set of acoustic challenges (both for recording and reproduction) than a studio track. Sometimes details can get lost in live recordings without very accurate reproduction.

  • Charlie Mingus - Better Git It in Your Soul

    This track had a mix of acoustic and electric instruments on it. The soloists used silence and barely breathed notes as major building blogs for their music, Detailed reproduction is essential to keep this track from sounding like mud. On a good set of headphones, one should hear the intake of breath, and the long, wispy decay as the held notes fade out.

  • Rolling Stones - Tumbling Dice

    The remastered version of this song pulls each instrument of the band into sharp clarity, while still retaining the "lo-fi" ethic of the original recording. Bass and drums are critical to this track, as much as Keith Richards' guitar work or Mick Jagger's singing. The low end should kick with authority, and the vocals ride over top without too much of an edge.

  • The Boston Baroque; Martin Perlman, conductor - Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067, Rondeu

    This group performs on instruments of the period, so the ensemble is smaller than a regular symphony orchestra, the gut strings used have a softer sound then modern metal strings. With Bach, there are no unimportant parts, so being able to make out the bass and middle lines as well as the melody is a must. Good headphones need to deliver all of this slightly soft sound with clarity and depth. An additional challenge: the flute does travel into the upper register, where it has the potential to sound shrill in less-than-ideal headphones.

The Results:

CriteriaAKG K 272 HDBowers & Wilkins P5Beats Pro™Sennheiser HD 598
Overall Rating    

Somewhat dark sounding overall, yet at the samei tme, a wee bit steely on top. Up-close perspective with a short sound stage.

Palpable, well-defined bass and smooth, detailed midrange. Just the tiniest bit rolled off on the top. Intimate sounding.

Impressive delineation of instruments and vocals in their own well-defined spaces. Lots of ambiance. Exciting sound for the short run, but bass overshadows mids and highs in the long haul.

Fast, transparent, and neutral — these ‘phones resolved low-level detail like a champ. Slightly bass-shy on our headphone listening bar but not on my home rig, suggesting you choose your sources and amplification carefully.


Generously detailed vocal and reeds

Great detail on vocal, brass, and flute. They're missing a bit on bass.

Terrific reproduction with amplified instruments.

Spacious, detailed vocal and acoustic instrument reproduction


Very warm sound, but still with a lot of detail, especially in the vocals

Good for intimately recorded music, like the Norah Jones and Charlie Mingus tracks.

Much better performance with all the genres than I expected.

A very expansive sound across the board, with lots of intimate details.

Personal Favorite


The Sennheiser HD 598 won me over with its combination of lightweight comfort, openness, and X-Ray-like resolution.


The AKG K 272 HD would be best suited to my listening and headphone wearing preferences.


I listen to a lot of acoustic music. For my tastes, I thought the Sennheiser HD 598 did the best job.

Of course, our panelists had lots more to say. Read all of their comments about these four headphones at Headphone Shootout #1 — The Details.

Ask an expert advisor

No pressure, no commission — just lots of good advice from our highly trained staff.