Review of Superlux HD-330, HD-440 and HD-660

"The New Superluxes Are Good! The HD330, HD440 and the HD660" 

April 20, 2011 by Mike on

I never doubted Superlux’s ability to make headphone drivers. From the time we posted the review of the HD668B, to my other exposure of Superlux headphones, including the HD662, HD662B, and the HD669, I’ve always been impressed at the quality of the sound you get for the price. After all, if you can make good microphones for Professional use, there is no reason why you can’t design a Pro-quality transducer for the headphone end.

Now, one of the reasons that I still hold back from making a wide recommendation of the Superlux headphones is that their tuning are mainly geared toward professional monitoring uses. From the HD662 to the HD669, all boasts great clarity and instrument separation, but mostly they have been too bright and too thin on the midrange section for good music listening purposes. Not so with these new generation Superluxes. The HD330, HD440, and the HD660 still boasts the same clear sound that you get on the other Superlux models, but with a tonal balance more suited for music listening.

The HD440 should step forward to be the all-rounder model of the three. Boasting a sweet and musical midrange that’s undoubtedly the best out of all the Superluxes, the HD440 is a headphone that’s hard to not like. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a midrange execution as good as what I’m hearing on the HD440 on any headphones perhaps the low side of the $200 mark. Very sweet and full midrange sound, and yet with the usual Superlux clarity behind it. Maybe I can likened it to a smooth sound like what you get on the Audio-Technica ESW-9, but it’s not overly thick as the ESW-9. It’s a very strong midrange performance, and people would be drawn to the HD440 just on the merit of the midrange alone.

The tonal balance of the HD440 is quite good as well. From the fairly relaxed but smooth treble, it extends down to a full bodied midrange, and down smoothly to the bass region. Clearly a mid-centric tonality, but not excessively so, as there are enough treble presence to keep the balance and with a good air. The only two complaints I have is that the bass punch is relatively weak, and that the vocal presence can feel recessed at times. The HD330 and the HD660, though not possesing the sweet midrange of the HD440, actually gives a much better vocal presence than the HD440 at most times. Quite a contradiction, but it’s true. The overall pace of the HD440 is quite moderate and slightly more to the laid-back presentation. It’s a musical headphone for sure, even considering the complaints I have with the vocal and the bass.

THE HD330 & HD660
The HD330 and the HD660 are tuned to be the forward and agressive sounding headphones. They can be likened to a Grado, except that the fundamentally different driver and housing design keeps them relatively different from a typical Grado. I actually like the Superlux rendition better, as the forward character is not accompanied by the typical harsh treble you get from a Grado. I still have an Alessandro MS-Pro that I keep for yesterday’s sake, and even on a soft-treble amp like the Zana Deux, I still have problems adjusting to the treble of the Grado-made driver. But these Superluxes are different. Take the usual standard of Superlux headphone drivers (which is excellent for the price), and tune them to be forward, engaging, and fun with punchy bass. Say hello to the best Rock headphones under $100.

Forward mids, slightly agressive treble, tight punchy midbass. I really can’t find fault with these cans. Not to mention me rediscovering Muse with the presentation that the HD330 and the HD660 is giving. PRaT is really happening with these two. And although I think the warmer and more laid-back HD440 is the better all-rounder for different genres, the HD330 and the HD660 are the sound that fits me better.

Between the HD330 and the HD660, there are slight differences. The HD330 is semi open, and although it gives a better open and airy feel than the HD660, the result is a slightly looser midbass which drops the pace of the headphone down a little. The HD330 is also slightly warmer, a tad more relaxed in presentation, and also a tad more relaxed in treble. I personally don’t like compromised presentations, and so the HD660 will be the one I use for Rock. But on the other hand, I can also see the merit in the HD330, as it would be a little less extreme, and would probably have a wider genre bandwith.

Of course I got curious, and given all these PRaTs, I went and compared it to the HD25-1. At 300 Ohms, the HD330 and the HD660 are a little harder to drive, and though they do well out of a JDSLabs Cmoy or a Yulong U100, the HD330 & HD660 is slightly above your Ipod’s capacity. So that’s one score for the HD25-1: easier to drive. Well, the HD25-1 did what it did best, and soon enough I found out that the bass punch, the focus and the energy is still better transferred through the HD25-1. The smaller housing of the HD25-1 is probably giving it an unfair advantage here, but on the other hand, the HD25-1 sounds more claustrophobic due to its “signature” small soundstage. The HD660 and the HD330, on the other hand, has a more proper soundstage, the size of your average full size cans. Other plus and minuses considered, the HD660 certainly shines as it beats the HD25-1′s $200 pricetag by a few hundred percent. Of course, given the Beyer DT770-like housing, it would be impractical to take these headphones out as a portable, so in that sense the HD25-1 is still a good headphone if you can afford the $200 pricetag.

The Superluxes should be available for roughly $50, and so don’t expect too much about the build quality. The design for the HD660 and the HD330 clearly borrows from Beyerdynamics DT770, and actually the structure is quite solid, without too much problems during day to day use. It’s only when you take a look at the materials being used that you would understand why these are $50 headphones. Superlux are clearly aware of their market positioning, and opted to use a cheaper grade plastic than what you would find on the Beyerdynamic DT770 or the Sennheiser HD25-1. Not a big deal to me, really, as they give me a great sound for a great price, but I thought I’d mention it to you guys. Additionally, the headband cushion and the pads are made from synthetic leather, and the cheap kind as well. While they are much easier to be cleaned than the verlours you find on the DT770, these pads should have a much shorter lifespan than the verlours on the DT770. (By the way, all these references to the DT770, and no comparison about the sound should hint you that the DT770′s tonality is nothing like the HD660 and the HD330. You can always argue against this, but despite the DT770 PRO’s (250 Ohm) overall superior resolution, but the HD330 and the HD660 are the two headphones that I prefer for Rock. The DT770 PRO has far too a monitoring tonality to it that makes it quite unsuitable for music.)

I started the draft for this review because of the HD440. In my experience, the previous Superluxes had an awesome technicalities, but always fail on two factors: sharp treble, and lack of mid body. The HD668B was the least prone of this factor, and paired with a nice warm amp like a plain Cmoy, becomes quite a musical headphone with respectable technicalities. The HD440, however, breaks the old Superlux trend of “monitoring headphone” tonality, and is the first Superlux to have a good and musical midrange suitable for music listening.

During the course of auditioning time for this review, I’m drawn more to the HD330 and the HD660′s presentation. It’s fun and forward, yet without the harshness of Grados. And although the HD25-1 still wins in absolute PRaT, the HD330 and HD660′s more spacious soundstage makes it better in some ways than the HD25-1. Between the HD330 and the HD660, again I am leaning toward the HD660, but the good thing about Superlux is that you don’t have to pay twice the amount of money for twice an increase in model number (In fact, the HD660, the HD440, and the HD330, all should retail for close to $50). If you think that the HD668B was great, then you’ve got to listen to these new Superluxes. The only music where the HD668B is better is for classical symphonies, but everything else should be better on the HD330, HD440, and HD660.

Headphones: Superlux HD330, HD440, HD660, HD668B, HD662, HD662F, HD662B, HD669, Sennheiser HD25-1.
Amplifiers: JDSLabs Cmoy, Yulong U100, Soundmagic A10, Just Audio AHA-120
Source: Ipod Classic, Yulong U100