When I read that the Samson SR850 is based on a Superlux headphone specifically the HD681, I immediately knew what to expect in its sound signature. And I wasn’t wrong the moment I put it on.
The SR850 is unapologetically a treble-heavy headphone and it’s really just hard to take a look past that unless you EQ it out. Without it, the overall character is a thin, uninviting, razor-sharp mess. Not much point in dissecting other frequencies or the small nuances when one stands out so much above the rest.
The other thing I observed with this headphone is it’s better to use it unamplified than to run it off a transparent amplifier like the THX 887 where it got even brighter and rougher sounding. Now you might tame it off with a tube amp but I didn’t have access to one during my testing period so I won’t be able to comment on that. Plugging it straight from my laptop out or Samsung S10 headphone jack, I find that it didn’t exacerbate what was an already hot high frequency.
There’s no way around it. The Samson SR850 is just way too bright and harsh of a headphone with its exaggerated upper mids and treble frequencies.
You can play it by ear but EQ’ing the SR850 is simple. You just significantly reduce the upper mids and treble frequencies and you’re mostly good to go. Here is the specific one that I run with this:
What a difference that makes! Bass extension and punch are very good thanks to the large 50mm drivers that the SR850 is utilizing. There’s a slight bloom in the upper bass that I debated reducing but ended up not to. When EQ’ing, you can choose to be surgical but there’s always the risk of overdoing it and ending up adding some artifacts to the sound which is why I try to just do broad changes.
Once I reduce the 2Khz by about 6dB and put a high-shelf filter starting at 7khz reducing the area and above it to 7dB down, the SR850 became listenable. The sound transformed into something quite neutral minus the treble exaggeration. Add the slightly above average soundstage and decent imaging and speed, and I thought the SR850 was a competitive-sounding headphone. I was able to use it as my main headphone for work for about 2 full days and really did not have any problems outside of some minor comfort ones that I’ve mentioned earlier.
Because the transformation was mind-blowing, I couldn’t resist comparing an EQ’d version of the SR850 against the Focal Clear, Audeze LCD-2 & Meze 99 Classics, secretly hoping it would be comparable and squashing this notion that you need super expensive headphones to enjoy music. Sadly, I was deeply into the hobby already. I could immediately and easily spot textural differences that made all of those three headphones smoother and more resolving with better overall layering than the Samson SR850. So no surprise there and there shouldn’t be considering the massive price difference between those and the SR850.
My hunch here if you’re looking to purchase the SR850, is you’re probably in the early stages of the headphone hobby. So those textural nuances and the headphone being more resolving is probably not something you should be worrying about as much as just getting a competitive value out of a headphone. Simply put, you EQ the Samson SR850, you will be happy with its sound.
Vs the AKG K240 Studio
A headphone being frequently compared to the SR850 is the AKG K240 which I reviewed here some years ago. Don’t have the K240 to directly compare now but I remember it being much better in its stock sound. It’s also got better build quality and aesthetics than the SR850 which is probably fair since that headphone is double the cost of this one.
I don’t care if you’re a treble head, if the headphone has 7-9 dB in excess treble energy, there’s just no way you’d have an enjoyable listening experience unless you are deaf in most of those elevated frequencies. The SR850 won’t be recommended in its stock form regardless of how cheap the headphone is.
If you’re willing to EQ its sound, it instantly changes from a hard pass to a good buy for the price. You are going to be rewarded with a sound quality that punches way above its price once you sort out the problematic frequency response. All you’re left to deal with is its problematic comfort and build quality. I guess it’s hard to get everything right for 60 bucks. 😉
Now if you decide you want to take a bigger jump and invest more in headphones of this type, the choices are aplenty. Aside from the K240 mentioned above, you can also take the Audio-Technica route with their M40x, M50x if you need a sealed headphone, or you can jump straight to Beyerdynamic DT880 and DT1990 which is a sizeable upgrade not just in the sound department but also in overall build, design & comfort. Samson Tech also has slightly more expensive headphones in their lineup so that’s another option you can look into although I don’t really have any firsthand experience with them hence cannot make a recommendation.
That’s about it for this review of the Samson SR850 studio headphones. I’d love to hear your thoughts about these headphones, drop them all in the comments sections below.