American-based Samson is best known for its innovative microphone and bass amplification range, but they also offer a comprehensive suite of other studio gear. This review looks at the SR850, a budget pair of semi-open headphones.
The Samson SR850 is an impressive set of semi open back headphones, especially when you factor in the aggressive price point. Below are the highlights before we take a closer look.
Finding the sweet spot between high-quality sound and maintaining a budget-friendly price is challenging, but Samson has come about as close as I’ve seen. Let’s dive into the details.
The Samson SR850 is a semi-open pair of studio headphones with a very neutral sound profile. The balance across all frequencies is quite impressive for headphones in this price range. This makes them an appealing option for budget-conscious buyers that want accurate cans for mixing work.
The lows are restrained and tight without extra emphasis, and the result is precise delivery so you can make informed decisions. But due to the neutral and restrained bass, there are more exciting cans for casual listening, and you’ll want to look elsewhere if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music.
The mid-range is good, with plenty of detail and warmth within the range. It’s not recessed or hidden by the lows or highs and has enough presence to highlight vocals and instruments accurately. It’s lively and engaging without sacrificing clarity and accuracy.
The SR850 features superb sound considering its price point.
Moving into the upper frequencies does highlight a slightly bright peak that can be a little fatiguing. It’s not ultra sharp to the point of tinny delivery, but certainly noticeable compared to more laid-back cans. Ideal for picking out details, but long listening sessions could prove draining.
The semi-open design does deliver an incredible soundstage that is spacious. Detailed compositions that emphasize spatial placement come across perfectly. You can feel the surround sound atmosphere and immerse yourself in the music.
The thing that stands out the most with the sound profile of the SR850 is just how good it is when you factor in the price point. It is exceptionally rare to find headphones this accomplished in this price range and a remarkable achievement by Samson.
While I am thoroughly impressed with the sound profile of the Samson SR850, I can’t say the same regarding its comfort levels. It isn’t inherently bad, but it does begin to show its price limitations.
The main issue is the earcups. To begin with, these are relatively shallow and don’t provide much room for your ears. My ears tend to stick out a little, so I’m always conscious of factoring that into my reviews, but even here, I could see most people would end up having their ears touch the inside covering of the driver.
The padding does trap heat and is quite shallow.
The next issue is the padding itself. At first, it is comfortable enough with decent padding that adapts reasonably well to your head shape. But as you venture into more extended sessions, the amount of heat buildup does cause issues, which is surprising considering semi-open headphones tend to perform well in this area.
The headband, on the other hand, is excellent. The clamping force is a perfect balance between security and comfort. It won’t lock your head in a vice-like grip, and the wide band ensures no pressure points. It adjusts and adapts well and is reminiscent of the popular AKG K240.
Despite a few issues, the Samson SR850 is a reasonably comfortable pair of headphones. And to be fair, it is hard to expect premium padding for headphones in this price bracket.
There is a distinct influence from the AKG range of headphones present in the design of the Samson SR850. They share many aesthetic qualities, which is okay, as the AKG range of headphones is a good-looking series of headphones.
The heavy use of black ensures these will blend into any studio environment. The restrained use of the Samson logo is also a welcome change from some other studio headphones that feel the need to plaster their logo on every possible surface.
The SR850 is a professional-looking set of headphones.
While I like the appearance of the SR850, it does sport a few design features which could be better. The most notable is the hardwired cable. The 8.4’ (2.5 m) straight cable is high quality, but I always prefer having the flexibility to swap out cables.
The other noteworthy feature that could be a dealbreaker for some is the lack of portability. These do not fold or collapse into a compact form. It’s not surprising, considering these are semi-open cans for a studio setting, but if you want headphones for travel, these are not for you.
In the same vein, these are semi-open, so there will be no isolation from outside noise, and people around you will hear what you are listening to. As for impedance, these feature a low rating of 32 ohms, ensuring they will work at their best across all devices. No need for a headphone amp.
Another point of potential concern is the build quality of the Samson SR850 and something I am not surprised with due to the low price. Inevitably, this area tends to suffer the most with cheaper headphones.
The entire frame features nothing but plastic, which is not uncommon, but it feels noticeably flimsy and thin. It does have a bit of give to it, but I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable stretching these out.
The SR850 features a full plastic frame.
The headband leather strip is tough, and the mechanism for adjusting the shape also feels decent. As previously mentioned, the padding is not the best, and I’d be inclined to look for alternate pads if you plan to have these as your primary pair of cans.
It all comes back to price. These are cheap headphones, so you need to set your expectations accordingly. When I strictly compare these to other similar-priced headphones, they are more than serviceable and, in many regards, more robust than other choices.
The price point is a recurring theme throughout this review, and for a good reason. These are exceptionally cheap headphones that punch well above their price point. From a value perspective, these headphones are an enticing choice. The sound quality is miles ahead of similarly priced cans and an ideal option for a new producer on a budget.
There are no accessories within the box, and I wasn’t expecting any at this price. The only inclusion is a 1/4″ adapter. If you want a storage pouch, detachable cables, or spare pads, you’ll need to up your budget and explore other options. But even without any extras, the Samson SR850 presents remarkable value for money and is worth every dollar.
Customer reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with multiple 4 and 5-star ratings. It doesn’t surprise me that the most common accolade is the excellent price point and just how much value these headphones offer. People also enjoy the neutral sound profile that is balanced enough for production and monitoring work.
Pros And Cons Of Bright Headphones
The top-end response is one of the most common characteristics of studio headphones that brings with it the most conjecture. Or, in other words, how bright the headphones sound. While bright headphones are typical, are they any good? The answer is not cut and dry as with most studio-focused topics.
The main benefit of bright headphones is the amount of detail they reveal. It is the reason that audiophiles tend to opt for brighter-sounding headphones. Details are more transparent and easier to pinpoint. This also appeals to producers who want to hear every subtle detail in their mix.
Bright headphones will emphasize higher frequencies.
But this brightness does come with some drawbacks. This level of transparency can detract from the listening experience for casual listening, and poorly produced music will instantly show its flaws. The emphasis on the top end can also lead to ear fatigue, as human hearing is sensitive to higher frequencies.
For most professional situations, a bright-sounding pair of headphones is often favorable. But whether they will be right depends on your listening preferences and what you need your headphones for.
The headphones market is highly competitive, and a broad range of options makes choosing the right pair challenging. Below we highlight a few other headphones worth considering.
AKG K240 MKII Review
The AKG K240 MKII is a natural alternative to the Samson SR850. It features a similar design and is also an excellent choice for studio work.
- The sound profile is flat and accurate, making it ideal for studio work.
- Lightweight and also durable with decent comfort.
- Much like the Samson SR850, the bass response is soft.
AKG K240 MKII
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Review
If you prefer isolation when working in the studio, the ATH-M20x is a dependable option. With a pleasant sound profile, it is also very affordable.
- Engaging and entertaining sound profile with good clarity.
- Cheap price point while maintaining a respectable level of build quality.
- Not the most accurate, but decent enough for light studio work.
Audio Technica ATH-M20x
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro Review
The DT 880 Pro from Beyerdynamic is a professional set of cans for those with more to spend. An excellent option for serious studio applications.
- Fantastic level of sonic detail and neutrality.
- Super comfortable ear pads and an excellent headband.
- A lot more expensive than the SR850 and works best with an amp.
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro
Should You Buy?
Headphones don’t have to cost an arm and a leg, and the SR850 from Samson is a perfect example of quality on a budget. The sound profile is fantastic and more than enough for beginner producers. Neutral and transparent with a broad soundstage.
While these headphones might not be the most comfortable or robust, it’s an easy recommendation at this price point. A budget-friendly set of semi-open headphones that you can depend on to provide you with the accuracy you need when working in a studio setting.