Review: NAD VISO HP50 Over-Ear Headphones

If you are looking for versatile cans that deliver the acoustic goods, NAD’s VISO HP50 headphones offer excellent performance in a slick, modern package. What’s more, with an MSRP of $179, these headphones hit all the right notes at a perfectly palatable price point. Intrigued? Read on…

Features and Specifications

Since these are passive headphones, the feature list is comparatively short. The VISO HP50 is an over-ear, sealed design. You get two cables, one of which includes a mic and controls for iOS devices, and the other being a straight-up 3.5mm stereo cable—Both cables are ribbon-style and I found them to be resistant to tangling. You can plug the cord into either earcup, depending on preference.

The key feature of these headphones is found in the RoomFeel tuning. HP50s are designed to sound like high-quality speakers in an acoustically favorable room, with a wide soundstage, deep bass and dynamic impact. The specs promise extremely flat frequency response of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, with a variance of only +/-1.5 dB. Furthermore, these headphones are specified to have a -3 dB point of 15 Hz in the bass region, so they fully cover the audible spectrum.

The earcups rotate, making these cans easy enough to stash in a bag on the go. They are lightweight, weighing in at 255 grams on my kitchen scale. These headphones utilize a 40 mm dynamic driver and have a rated impedance of 32 Ohms. Plus, with a rated sensitivity of 100 dB at 1 mW, your cellphone’s built-in amplifier shouldn’t have any problem driving a pair.

Measurements and Listening

NAD promises hyper-flat response in the HP50 specs and with my measurements using miniDSP E.A.R.S. and Room EQ Wizard software, that’s exactly what I saw—ruler-flat response with a slight dip by the time you get to 16 Hz. I measured with five different positions with no added pressure on the earpads, and once with a rubber band adding a bit of extra clamping force. The results confirm that the HP50’s are extremely linear with great bass extension that is exactly what the specs promise.


Multiple measurements confirmed NAD Viso HP50 headphones offer linear response deep bass extension.

Measuring the treble region in headphones is still a voodoo art-form that I am not going to get into, but suffice to say these cans sound smooth and balanced across the whole audio spectrum.

I loved listening to the Viso HP50s. These are the sort of headphones that make revisiting favorite albums fun. Audio enthusiasts are always found value in experiencing new levels of detail within complex recordings, which typically is the result of nonlinear response having the effect of emphasizing certain elements. Good news, these headphones are exciting to listen to, but do not exaggerate. These qualities make them a great choice for discerning music lover that seek uncolored sound covering the entire range of human hearing.

That you can get such good sounding cans for $179 is the miracle of these headphones and you can credit PSB Speakers founder Paul Barton for tuning them so precisely. So faithful is the sound to what I get from a well-tuned system that you could use these headphones in a studio to hammer out some tracks and feel secure knowing that every element—including the very deep stuff—will be properly balanced in the mix.

My favorite way to evaluate headphones is to take my dog for a walk on a quiet morning and listen to various albums and playlists using my Galaxy Note 8 or my iPad Pro (yes, I walk around outdoors with an iPad sometimes). 100 dB sensitivity is in the ballpark of what many passive sealed designs deliver these days and the point is Viso HP50s are easy to drive.

I also enjoy composing tracks using the Novation Launchpad app on the iPad, I call those the “Dog Walk” series, of course. Anyhow, as a rule, if a pair of cans ships with a cable that integrates a microphone, then I’m going to use it primarily with a phone and a tablet, not an AVR or stationary DAC. Ultimately, the HP50s got as loud as I ever need (I am not interested in premature hearing loss!) and did so without distortion using my portable devices.

Plastic Beach by Gorillaz provided a nice way to experience the fidelity these headphones deliver. The second track “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” established that these are headphones able to satisfy the cravings of lovers of truly deep and tight bass, Snoop Dogg’s voice sounds like it was recorded on a $40,000 microphone (I’m sure it was) and The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s contribution to the track showed how smoothly horns are handled. Nothing but praise for how the whole album was handled by these headphones.

I can’t do a review without talking about Disc Wars from the Tron Legacy soundtrack, given what a difficult recording it is to reproduce with the weight you experience when hearing it while watching the movie in a high-end home theater. Most systems, whether we’re talking about headphones or speakers, are not equipped to handle the constant onslaught of punishing bass by Daft Punk while also having to deal with the daunting task of reproducing the dynamics of the London Symphony including timpani drums. Now, my phone did fine with this track streaming on Google Play, but playing the same track back through a Bluesound Node 2 ($499) was where it’s at since it’s very taxing on amps. Ultimately, the specs speak to what these headphones can accomplish when properly powered, which is to reproduce a rousing rendition of this ridiculously righteous recording.

Just because headphones do well with a phone does not mean you can’t get better performance out of them with a better amp. I swapped the microphone cable for the straight cable and connected the HP50s to the IFI Black Label iDSD I used to make the measurements. This allowed me to turn the system up a bit, in order to listen to a few tracks at something akin to concert levels—which I don’t do for my dog walk listening.

The result? I certainly enjoyed listening to energetic music like Teddybears’ album Rock On or the headphone mix-specific 3D The Catalogue by Kraftwerk, that extra bit of kick from the extra power, which the HP50s can handle, adds that special energy that makes music feel alive and gives you that sense you are hearing something new in the track, even if what’s “new” to your ears is in fact neutrality combined with extension.

Beyond the great sonics, these headphones proved an ergonomic joy to use. There was no ear fatigue, the light weight of the HP50s, plush the cushy headband let you practically forget they are there, there’s enough room in the ear cups that you don’t get hot like with some headphones, and since it’s wired, having the option to plug the cable in either side is a real boon depending on how you use your phone.

Conclusion

One interesting thing about the NAD Viso HP50 headphones is that I got to be a part of an informal experiment Paul Barton of PSB Speakers ran while RoomFeel tech was being developed. I got to hear how it affected music as well as test tones playing through PSB’s flagship T3 tower speakers and SubSeries 400 subwoofer. I voted on preference without knowing exactly what I was hearing, only that I could switch between different EQ/effects (Dirac Live was used to apply the correction in the test).

Ultimately, in those tests I chose the RoomFeel curve over alternatives like flat response or only applying 50% of the RoomFeel effect to the sound. And I also choose it when I hear it in headphone. No question, in an anechoic chamber you need to add the room effect to make “flat-measuring” speakers sound right, which includes adding simulated gain in the deep bass region to the headphones listing experience—that is if you want it to sound “right.”

And here, with NAD Viso HP50 headphones, I can hear the fruits of that labor in an affordable plus stylish product, which of course means it is deserving of nothing less than a Top Choice! selection of 2018 here on AVS Forum.

Looks, comfort, fidelity, price. These are the headphones Apple should sell in its stores, not that other brand. Boom… now go get ’em.

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