“Had Some Drinks” by Two Feet is a perfect example of deep rumbling bass. Although my musical preference isn’t usually within this space, I listen to sub-bass qualities in this track. Once the drop happens, the impact is hard and it delivers quite the slam. Besides the subtle rumble, the bass is quite full and has both full-body and weight, but it still remains balanced and doesn’t fatigue the ears. Fatigue is usually the result of excessive quantity of bass.
On the other hand, Hans Zimmer’s “Why So Serious?” is a much cleaner and formal track. Unlike Two Feet’s song, for the majority of this track there isn’t much going on - you don’t have instruments and sounds overlapping. Each tone is clean and differs enough from the rest of the mix. In particular, the 3:26 minute mark is where the climax hits the drop and transitions to sub-tones. From that point on, there are pure sub-frequencies. While there is some very subtle percussion in the background, it doesn’t interfere with the sub-bass. This being said, the SR2 performs very well on this track. The sub-bass pulsates rather than rumbles, while the bottom end is deep and has a good amount of weight.
The mid-bass is more refined than the sub-bass, so let’s talk about the bass qualities (impact, punch, speed, definition, body, etc.).
I found SR2 to be really good performing in the mid-bass region, and this is most obvious with electronic music - a genre of music where punch, body, and speed play a major role. Besides listening to countless hours of Daft Punk, Hans Zimmer, Vangelis, and Deadmau5, I went back to my two standard testing tracks; “Hydrogen” by M.O.O.N, and “Smoking Mirrors” by Lee Curtiss. You may notice that the two tracks are relatively similar, they both share the club-like sound. From both of these tracks, I could conclude that the kick is fast and clean, has full-body, and has a strong punch. “Hydrogen” is the one that has more bottom-end to it, and thus it results to a similar “oomph” that you would hear from a subwoofer, or in this case, in a club. The kick is also tighter and harder hitting than in “Smoking Mirrors”. Speaking of the latter track, while it is relatively simple, the clap and the kick click-in place. What I noticed on some headphones that are struggling with having fast attack and release, is that they tend to let the kick go on for too long, and therefore make the beat to be out of sync. This is something that can be noticed without much thought, and this is mainly due to the fact that your ears recognize when something is not in place - it just doesn’t sound right. This being said, SR2 manages to have both fast attack and release, this means that the bass never sounds boomy or loose, it’s tight and quick.
The bass response of the SR2 was developed in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the mix. With the market being overcrowded with V-shaped headphones that have emphasized lower-frequencies, I am very happy to listen to a headphone that finally breaks away from this “norm”. The SR2 has a very balanced and controlled bass response. While V-shaped headphones usually suffer from boomy and muddy bass (and recessed mids), iBasso SR2 has a very clean and well defined lower-frequency response - the bass is fast/tight, is well defined, and has enough body and weight that it stays away from being bass light. However, I do want to say that the mid-bass has more depth and volume (quantity) than the sub-bass.
The more time I spend with the SR2, the more I realize how good the mid-range sounds. While I usually use specific testing tracks to listen for certain sound qualities, i.e. critical listening, I otherwise have a different listening preference. Not only that, but the headphones themselves can determine and affect the music I listen to (e.g. I would listen to more electronic music with a V-shaped headphone, and would avoid vocal and instrumental tracks). I won’t shine too much light on the testing tracks for this specific reason - I already went through all of my testing tracks within the first couple of days with the SR2, afterwards, I spent my time enjoying music that I personally enjoy.
In Jeff Buckley’s “Forget Her” at mark 3:16, you can hear the edge of “t” in “tears”, and this was also the case for the guitar and other sections of the track. Both “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, and “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone, share the same characteristics - the edge is there, the vocals have wide dynamics, and the tracks have life to them. Notably, the latter track is the one that has more noticeable peaks, and you can hear the beautiful texture and grittiness in Nina Simone’s voice. One of the most prominent peaks occurs at the 2:24 minute mark (in “Strange Fruit”). Nina Simone’s cover of “Strange Fruit” is more than a decade older than Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, and that is something that can be heard because the peaks are more prominent and there is also audible noise in the recording itself. In terms of guitars, “Soldier of Fortune” by Deep Purple and “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin are my choice. Both tracks sounded absolutely gorgeous, the timbre is on point, you can feel the plucks, and they have both the low end and the crisp upper end. It’s safe to say that one of the most enjoyable things to listen to on the SR2 are stringed instruments, and that’s exactly what I have been enjoying the most.
The reason why I do not want to put so much focus on the critical listening tracks is because that is neither how I formed my opinion nor how I judged SR2’s sonic performance. The testing tracks don’t do any justice to the dozens of albums and who knows how many songs that I have listened to. This being said, for the most part, I listened to albums from start to finish, which is my preferred way of listening to music.
The mid-range benefits both from the low-end extension, and the high-end extension. Instruments like the piano, woodwind instruments, and acoustic guitar will benefit from the lower mid-range extension, while most of the stringed instruments, the piano, and synthesizers will benefit from the upper mid-range extension. SR2 is not a warm headphone, it is capable of reaching and producing sparkle, but for the majority of the time doesn’t cross the line of shine. For me, “shine” is an alternative way of saying that there are clarity and a good amount of detail retrieval, but it is a very specific sound characteristic too. In the same way, when I say “sparkle”, I am referring to the sound characteristic that is between shine and sibilance. Here is the simplest explanation that will better help you understand what I am talking about:
1. Shine is a sound characteristic of a good amount of clarity and detail retrieval. In this case, a headphone with no shine would be a warm headphone
2. Sparkle is a sound characteristic of a greater amount of clarity and detail retrieval than shine - it is a very hard characteristic to pull off because often times it’s easy to cross the line and go into sibilance. When done correctly, you experience a very satisfying “tingly” feeling in your ear.
3. Sibilance is a sound characteristic of “extreme” clarity and detail retrieval, i.e. the most revealing. This is a known characteristic of an analytical sound signature, and one of its drawbacks is that it easily becomes fatiguing, making it a not so ideal option for long listening sessions.
With all of this being said, the SR2 doesn’t hide the edge where it is meant to be heard - for example, vocals in older recordings tend to have harsh peaks, most often they have exaggerated “s”, “sh”, “p”, and “t” sounds. What a warm headphone can do is significantly roll-off the upper range, and although this does stay far away from sibilance, it can also make the headphone boring and lifeless. This is mainly because the detail is lost - the edge is supposed to be there, that’s the characteristic of some older recordings. Even though this headphone reveals the edge, at no point did I have the need to take them off because of it. I also noticed that I wasn’t the only one to conclude that there is a very slight hint of warmth in the upper range, and this further supports what I said earlier: “it is capable of reaching and producing sparkle, but for the majority of the time doesn’t cross the line of shine”. Even with this slight hint of warmth, I never found it lacking the edge or sparkle.
The most important characteristic of SR2’s mid-range is that it is slightly forward. This results in a richer and more present mid-range. I found this to be a factor that plays the key role in the pleasant listening nature of this headphone, it’s what makes it stand out. Of course, vocals benefit from this the most, and it is also the way vocals are in real life. But vocals aren’t the only element benefiting from this, instruments have a fuller body and are richer, which is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed listening to albums from start to finish. To me there’s no doubt that SR2 is a highly addictive headphone, I personally had a hard time taking them off.
iBasso managed to find a fine balance, SR2 stays far away from being warm but also keeps a safe distance from being too analytical. It successfully retains the edge and clarity of the top-end, which results in a very pleasant and satisfying treble response. However, do not mistake and associate the terms “pleasant” and “satisfying” with warmth (both of the terms are often used to “kindly” imply that a headphone has significant top-end roll-off), because this headphone is well capable of delivering high frequencies.
“Stop Trying to Be God” by Travis Scott is a track where you can listen for sibilance and fatigue. There is only a single element that I am focusing on in this track, and that is Stevie Wonder’s harmonica (from mark 4:43 - 5:43). In particular, at 5:19 there is a very clean high note that is being sustained for around 3 seconds. This is where you can hear the sparkle that SR2 is capable of producing. It makes your ears tingle but doesn’t irritate and make you want to throw the headphones off your head. The nice thing about this part of the track is that there isn’t much going on besides it, so you can entirely focus on that peak note without having other elements interfering with that particular frequency.
In Chris Jones’ “Long After You’re Gone” there is a similar quality of the clean high notes. Steve Baker’s harmonica hits a very high and clean peak at 4:01 and sustains it until the 4:05 minute mark. It is a rather pleasing frequency that makes you squint your eyes (in a good way!) and essentially makes you feel the tingly feeling I mentioned earlier. Both Stevie Wonder’s and Steve Baker’s harmonica performances share the same nature of holding a peak note for a short period of time (3-5 seconds), and neither of them sound like they are lacking nor missing the upper extension.
Now, both of the previously mentioned tracks are very specific because they have an almost isolated peak note, but how does the SR2 bear with “casual” percussion? Pretty well, it’s crisp and moderate. One of the things which I noticed about percussion is that it doesn’t cut through the mix like it would with a V-shaped headphone, it is rather well defined and distinct (without being too forward). We can take Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” as an example. It features beautiful snappy percussion, but I believe it’s the combination of the snare drum and hi-hats that sets the overall rhythm. The snare drum has a particularly bright and snappy (fast attack and slam) quality, but it also has an audible decay. If you listen closely, the snare drum first appears around the 1:50 minute mark and it keeps going until 3:38 (when it starts fading away).
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” features some intense cymbals right around the 7:16 minute mark, and they are present until 7:23. There should be no debate that John Bonham did a phenomenal job at being the drummer for Led Zeppelin, but for me, it is the energy that makes his performance stand out in “Stairway to Heaven”. The qualities that the cymbals have are bright and forward (they are placed more forward in the mix), and SR2 does a great job at transferring the intensity from them!
“Let It Be” cover by Bill Withers is another track where you can hear the crisp tonality. The element that you should listen for are the claps - pay close attention to how snappy they sound and how they click in place.
Just like the other instrument and elements, guitars benefit from the well-refined top-end. One of the performances that I personally enjoyed the most is from the greatly underrated Jeff Healey, a Canadian guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter who was known for his unique style of playing the guitar on his lap. His cover of “Blue Jeans Blues”, specifically his live performance from 1989 (9:03 minutes long) is where there are some beautiful high notes, that is to say, if the upper end is refined well, they should sound beautiful instead of piercing. Right around the 4:13 minute mark, some higher notes start appearing, but the sparkle can be heard right around the 4:34 minute mark, and that note is being sustained until ~4:40 minute mark. On the Spotify version (11:39 minutes long), the 1989 live performance also shares some high notes, but this time very clean without anything in the background - from 8:33 - 8:38 the peak note is being sustained, and it has the edge without blowing your ears. Jeff Healey actually developed his unique way of holding a guitar at just 3 years old. He was blind before he was one year old, and it is said that he was gifted a guitar and just wasn’t told how to hold it - thus he developed his own technique naturally. The emotion of these two tracks is beyond words, you can just hear the pure emotion coming from a man and a guitar.
Judas Priest’s “Beyond the Realms of Death” shares a similar quality but without as much edge. At the 4:30 mark, a high note is being sustained until the 4:38 minute mark. It has a clean tonality while also sharing the shine quality.
In “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V), one of Pink Floyd’s masterpieces - which also happens to be a track where David Gilmour performs a gorgeous guitar solo - exactly at the 6:07 minute mark there is an audible peak, this peak should have sparkle and also have a very clean tone to it.
What do all of these song references exactly mean? Well, they mean that SR2 is not only a versatile headphone (it performs well across various different genres) but also a headphone with a well-refined treble extension. It is more than just capable of delivering sparkle, the treble response is clean and pleasant to listen to. I enjoyed hours of guitar solos and I wasn’t disappointed. Most importantly, the treble has the quality, it never sounds shouty, sibilant, piercing, or fatiguing, and even though it is both capable of reproducing sparkle and the edge, it never sounds edgy. Vocal tracks of essy nature don’t lose their “essy” quality, but they never sound unpleasant - the peaks are audible and bright, but they never cross to sibilance or cause fatigue. Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” album, Paul Simon’s “Something So Right”, Yao Is Ting’s “Speak Softly Love”, and Joan Baez’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” all share the essy nature of vocals and have noticeable peaks, but at no point are they shrill or piercing - they remain the edge but at moderate and listenable levels. The treble response from this headphone was a true match for my personal taste, and I cannot deny that it is one of the reasons why I spent so much time listening to it. A great refined treble response that is neither lacking nor extended to the point where you experience fatigue. What more can I say?
Soundstage and Imaging
At this point, I want to put my two cents regarding the open-back debate. I firmly believe that SR2 is not an open-back headphone, and I will explain why. As mentioned before (in the “build quality” section), SR2 features two grills: the thicker grill on the outside, and a smaller & more dense grill right below it. Not only this, but there also appears to be some type of damping material around the driver. Why am I mentioning this? Well, simply because due to these extra layers, the soundstage will not be as large or as airy as it would be on an open-back pair of headphones. These layers are physical obstacles for the sound to escape, and thus I consider the SR2 a semi-open headphone.
This being said, SR2 does not have the holographic soundstage that you would find on a pair of open-back headphones, and I don’t think it is trying to have it. With the mid-range being slightly forward, the sound presentation is more present, thus narrowing the soundstage in size. I am particularly happy that SR2 does not suffer from a boxy sound presentation, a common drawback that is often resulted from elevating the mid-range. I personally enjoyed the more intimate experience, and I did not find myself considering the soundstage to be narrow. Even though the soundstage isn’t large, SR2’s ability to portray a sense of space is very good.
The above said was mostly referring to the width, however, I do have a funny story where I noticed SR2’s great ability to present depth, if you were to picture an XYZ coordinate axis, depth would be the “x-axis”. So, here is the story:
I thought I’d take a break from enjoying music by watching a Youtube video from my smartphone, and I plugged the SR2 into the phone, played the video, but something didn’t seem right. I noticed that there was no sound coming from the headphones and my phone was playing from its loudspeakers… or so I thought. So, I plug and unplug the headphone several times, wondering why I cannot hear anything. Well, turns out the SR2 was playing the whole time, but it has such a good ability to present depth that my brain interpreted what it was hearing as though it was coming from the phone (which was placed in front of me), and it was at this moment where I knew that its soundstage extended beyond the usual left & right, i.e. width. This so-called experience was particularly interesting because SR2 was able to convince my brain that the sound was certainly coming from my phone’s speakers. It made me facepalm… that’s for sure.
Another thing I heard with SR2 is height, which would be the “z-axis”, i.e. interpretation and sense of vertical space. While from my experience the height doesn’t appear to be any higher than somewhere around the eyebrow level, but it is certainly there.
Isolation & sound leakage
Thanks to the mentioned semi-open design, these headphones provide great isolation. In fact, one of my first impressions was being fascinated by the isolation & seal. This is my only headphone of semi-open back nature that provides a vacuum-like seal. What exactly do I mean by “vacuum-like seal”? Have you ever put Active Noise Cancelling headphones on and had that weird feeling when you turn the ANC feature on? That silence? Well, that is the closest feeling I could compare SR2’s seal to. Of course, I am not implying that it blocks anywhere near the noise that ANC headphones do, it’s just that I found them to share that similarity. I strongly believe this is due to the extra layers (grills and acoustic felt/damping layer), but I think it’s the combination of the tight sealing ear-pads and those layers that put it all together. Not only do they do a great job at blocking out noise, but also at keeping noise in, i.e. not leaking a lot of sound.
This brings me onto my next point. I would officially label SR2 as a semi-open headphone purely due to its isolation and minimal sound leakage qualities. Just like some already have noticed, there is surprisingly little sound leakage for an “open-back” headphone (around the time of the release, many people judged SR2 as an open-back headphone due to the fact that the majority of dealers sold it as an open-back).
But wait, how much do they actually leak? Let’s put it like this: when I turned up the volume to around 50% - 65% (on EarMen Sparrow) there was audible leakage, but still very minimal compared to how loud the headphones were playing. I should also note that 50% - 65% are very loud levels on the Sparrow, remember that SR2 is a higher sensitivity headphone, hopefully, this gives you a clearer idea of what I am trying to say. If your concern is waking somebody up at night, I wouldn’t think about it… unless you are in the same room as this person. If you are in your own room, door closed, enjoying music, I highly doubt anybody outside of your room will be able to hear anything. I think you could even pull off listening to them in public transportation or in the office, but only if you listen at quieter volumes. I personally believe that SR2 is quieter than one of those teens’ EarPods in the bus… but that was some time ago, now the majority have switched to AirPods. Regardless, you get the point, for a non-closed-back headphone, they are quite impressive.
It is a similar situation with isolation. As I brought up earlier, the seal is good enough on its own, so even without any music it considerably reduces the outside noise. With music playing, I didn’t hear people talking around me. One thing you should not expect is for SR2 to quite literally act as a closed-back headphone.
So, is SR2 a good headphone?
During the past 3 months, I have done nothing but enjoyed the SR2. Most importantly, I enjoyed music, and because of that, it’s much more than just a good headphone.
It is not so often that you come across a headphone that you personally enjoy, a headphone that you forget about and put your focus on the music. This was an exception for me. Let me tell you something, there have been no other headphones that I have been listening to as much as the SR2. I found myself listening to music for three to five hours every day, something which I have never done before. To put this in perspective, I usually listen to maybe an hour of music, two hours max, and that is not every day… I am not the person who can sit in one place for long, but this headphone was is so addictive to listen to, I couldn’t help but enjoy my time with it. This being said, I am not basing my opinion on a short period of time (like many do), but rather on my experience over the course of time that I have used it daily.
In the first week of ownership, I knew that it was a match for me. I played all my testing tracks and that was it, from that point on I just started enjoying listening to music instead of trying to listen to the headphones.
From the way I see it, these headphones meet up all the standards that are present at this price range:
1. Build quality. Check
2. Comfort. Check
3. Carrying case. Check
4. Cable. Check
5. Sound performance. Check
There are a lot of things this headphone deserves to be respected for:
Not only do you have a well-built headphone with full metal construction, but also a high-quality metal construction. The wide leather headband that I would argue is the best headband at this price range. The braided cable made of a custom silver/copper mix (not silver-plated copper!) - which I would also argue is among the best stock cables in general. High-quality pleather ear-pads that stay comfortable for hours. The convenience. By “convenience” I mean the flexible cable that is easy to store away, the easily replaceable nature of the whole headphone, and the flexibility of height thanks to the unscrewable stoppers… it just doesn’t stop. You get high-quality accessories (carrying case, extra pair of ear-pads, custom-made 6.3 mm adaptor), and fast customer service as a bonus. This is the fewest words I could use to state all the points that this headphone got right.
“But wait, Voja, what are the cons?”. My answer to that would be ‘none’. Being a person who doesn’t support hype, nor someone who starts hype, it took a great amount of courage to put out this statement. When I looked at every part of the SR2, I couldn’t find a single flaw. It simply lives up to every present standard. It does not have a build quality flaw, it does not have a low-quality cable, it does not have comfort issues, it does not have headband discomfort, it does not have adjustability issues, it does not have sound performance issues, and it does not have low-quality accessories. I couldn’t find a single element to complain about.
While I am guilty of personally liking the sound performance of the SR2, I think you cannot say that the above said things are a thing of preference. What makes this headphone such a good product goes beyond its sound performance, it’s the little things that it gets right & doesn’t get wrong. How many times did you come across an amazing sounding headphone but it’s one element that it didn’t get right, or there is something that bothers you? I faced this experience numerous times myself, that’s why I think this headphone deserves respect where it’s due.
Speaking of sound preference and sound quality, these are a perfect match for my ears. I think that it’s pretty obvious that I enjoyed listening to them… I am not hiding that. The way we interpret sound is subjective, but I want to state my standards that this headphone met in terms of sound quality:
Deep bass? Check. Tight punch? Check. Rumble? Check. The performance of the low-end was lacking in neither quality nor quantity.
Full-body mids? Check! Lower & upper extension of mid-range? Check. Timbre? Check. Mids are by far my favorite part of this headphone.
Treble extension? Check. Non-fatiguing treble response? Check. Sparkle (one of the most important ones for me)? Check. Upper-end isn’t warm and rolled off? Check. Just like the other two, it isn’t lacking and is easy on the ears.
Doesn’t sound boxy? Check.
Other factors are subjective to the headphone, as though each headphone has its own characteristics. I certainly do enjoy an airy headphone, but I also enjoy a more present sound representation that isn’t as airy. In a way, SR2 has a unique sound signature. At first glance, you might think they are open-backs, but you put them on your head and realize that is not the case. Imagine if all the headphones sounded the same, that would be pretty boring… that’s why I think it is so refreshing to hear something that steps out of the box and does a great job at it. Besides, it is a very versatile sounding headphone that sounded great with all the genres that I threw at it. This includes rock, heavy rock, progressive rock, electronic & techno, pop, soul, jazz, hip-hop, r&b, and folk. The genre that I usually don’t listen to (personal preference) is punk, although I do occasionally play a song or two. I also rarely listen to classical music, but I do greatly enjoy it.
It’s not as though I threw a couple of songs from each genre and made this conclusion. Again, my whole experience is based on the 3 months that I have used this headphone daily. From this listening period, I didn’t find it lacking in any frequency range (low-range, mid-range, upper-range).
With this being said, I will firmly say that this is my current favorite music listening headphone. I can also consider it to be among the best headphones released in 2020. It is a successor to its predecessor, iBasso did an amazing job at following up with this model, and I am excited to see what it will release in the future.
I also want to take a moment to speak about a very important subject. I did explain the history of iBasso and everything, but I want to put special focus on how much the company values customer feedback. Some people already know that the iBasso team closely follows all the forum threads, they take notes and fix what they can fix. When Zeos (ZReviews) reviewed the SR1 model, he brought up some problems:
1. The connectors on the headphone end weren’t really good (MMCX)
2. The ear-pads’ seam wasn’t matching, this was because only one model of the ear-pads was made (instead of making an individual one for either side)
Now we have the SR2, and Zeos’ feedback was taken into account and both of these problems were fixed. I cannot stress how important it is for the manufacturer to listen to its most valuable people - the customers themselves. Who else do you need to make happy except the people who actually use your product?
SR2 is a considerable step forward in my audiophile journey, it is a headphone that proved itself to be an excellent product and a personal favorite. Value-wise these are a no-brainer, worth every penny. I would consider it among the best headphones under 500 euros/dollars. This is a case of a manufacturer who didn’t spare its budget, but also an example of a correctly priced product.
In fact, most of the time I found myself sitting back and enjoying music alongside a glass of wine. That pretty much sums up my experience in one sentence.
I would highly recommend the SR2 to anybody who is looking for a pleasant music listening experience, a headphone that has a more present and intimate presentation, and for somebody who wants a great all-in-one package without any drawbacks. I think that this headphone is much more than a personal match for me, it is a great product that is an example of a product that lives up to its value. I also think that it’s a headphone that is well worth adding to your collection, I think it offers a different listening experience than what is currently present on the market… and, besides, you are getting a luxurious package with the most premium materials.
SR2 lets you fully enjoy music, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. If there is one headphone that I think deserves more attention, it’s this one.