Review - Samson SR850 (Sub 50€)

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Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 

I didn't purchase these headphones with the intention of reviewing them, in fact, I didn’t purchase these headphones with the intention of using them at all. I was in need of an open back enclosure for some experimenting and these were an open box (i.e: returned) unit that was very cheap on Amazon.

But, seeing as they are in my hands, I thought I would put them through their paces before I start taking them apart.

These headphones retail for around 40€ new, so they are priced a little higher than things like the Superlux HD681B, HD668B or the AKG K52 and slightly cheaper than things like the AKG K240 MKII.

Samson is an American brand (at least it was, I am not sure if it still is) that has been around for a long time, since the early 80’s. I purchased a powered mixer by Samson over 20 years ago and after many many parties, it is still going strong (although I don’t own it personally anymore). They also have some decent items in their line up, such as the Samson C-01 mic and a few other buys that are very good value for money.

But let’s talk about these headphones…

I believe that this is the cheapest set of headphones that Samson makes, they have other more DJ orientated headphones in higher price brackets, but I cannot comment on them as I have never had them in my posession. The fact that this is marketed as “Professional Studio Reference” and is sold at 40€ is a little unconvincing but there are plenty of others that use the same terminology.

Build and comfort…

With the purchase of the SR850 you get a large amount of accessories included, such as a 3.5mm to ¼” adapter and… well, that’s it. Ok, they are 40€, so I am not going to complain, if they have managed to make “Professional Studio Reference” headphones for 40€, there isn’t a lot of budget left over for candy.

My first impression upon taking them out of the box was “wow, these are light”. I haven’t actually weighed them but they are by far the lightest set of headphones I have ever owned and probably ever held. The M40X in comparison are like tanks.

The low weight is due to the fact that they are completely made of plastic except for the two metal bars that run across the top of the head band. Even the comfort strap is made of a cheap vinyl type plastic, which feels sharp enough on the edges to cut your fingers (it doesn’t actually cut, but feels like it could).

The cups are made of two separate plastic pieces, with the exterior cup pivoting on the interior cup rather than on the head band. The movement gives some nice adjustment but also makes a fair bit of creaking and scraping noises when pivoted.

The headphones come with velour pads, which one would think is a nice addition instead of the usual cheap pleather pads found on many cheap headphones, but in this case they are the itchiest pads I have every had the displeasure of using. They are fitted over the cups by a vinyl strip attached to the velour, which makes the very easy to remove, but a PITA to put back on.

According to specs, the driver used is 50mm dynamic driver, in a semi-open enclosure, with an impedance of 32 Ohms and boasting a frequency response of 10Hz to 30kHz.

The cable is permanently fixed to the headphones, so no option to swap it, however, the cable itself is not actually that bad. I mean, it’s not great, but is certainly ok for the price point.

However, saying all of this, if we remove the itchiness of the pads from the equation, the SR850 are actually pretty comfortable once on the head. They are very light, the clamp isn’t excessive and the comfort strap actually works.


I think I could probably keep the sound part of this pretty brief: Bass. End of review.

Yes, there is a lot of it. In fact, I was surprised at how much bass is actually present in these headphones. They extend very low, not sure they reach the 10Hz stated in the specs but are certainly low enough to give you a rumble in the sub bass.

The problem is that there is so much mid bass that it overshadows the mids and even the treble to some extent. As a quick test, listening to the song “Way Down Deep” by Jennifer Warnes, I added a quick EQ to them and reduced most of the bass frequencies by 8dB.

The mids are recessed, although the bass boost is running over into them, but the biggest dip in Mids seems to be in the high mids, eliminating a lot of the presence and making it difficult to appreciate vocals above all.

Once in the treble area, it doesn’t get much better. The treble is more present than the mid range, but presents sibilance far more that I would like it to. It is not excessively bright but it seems that they made a conscious effort to not hide any sibilance that may be present in the track. They are not the most sibilant of headphones that I have tried but they are no slouch either.
When talking about detail, soundstage, dynamics, imaging, timbre and all the rest of the things that make up a headphones sound, well, I am not impressed by any of them.

If anything, the soundstage is the best out of a bad bunch, but to my ears it seems overdone, it gives a false holographic sensation to tracks that I have heard hundreds of times. For example, in the track “La Luna” by Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra, one of the guitars sounds so far away it is as though someone forgot to mic it. I know this is a binaural recording and should seem like it is in a different place, but it seems like it is in a place it has never been in before. It even seems to have an echo that is totally unnatural.

With regards to imaging, “Letter” is the obvious choice. I’m afraid it doesn’t do it well. The pencil seems to stay in the same place and then jump to the next place. One strange thing is that “Letter” doesn’t seem to have so much of a wide soundstage on the SR850 whereas “La Luna” showed a soundstage that was wider than usual.

The detail is not great either, things can easily get congested and, with the addition of that fake reverb type sound, sort of ends up in a confusing mess when things get busy.

As far as timbre… no. It’s not horrible, I have heard worse, but the excessive bass, recessed presence and lack of detail make the timbre suffer. Things do not sound natural at all.


I think you can probably guess my conclusions by this point.

The SR850 is a cheap headphone and it shows. They refer to it as a “Professional Studio Reference Headphone” but I would say that it references how things shouldn’t sound more than anything else. I have said on many occasions that you can mix on pretty much anything as long as you get to know it well and know how it translates. I think that the SR850 is one of the exceptions. With the amount of trial and error you would need with this headphone to get to know how it translates on to other systems, I think you would give up first, at least I would.

One thing I found funny and didn’t mention in the build part is that the two bars used as the headband cause a huge amount of percussion inside the cups when tapped, meaning that you can actually play along to the percussion of the song by lightly tapping the bars in different positions.

If you mainly listen to electronic music, something like dubstep, and enjoy a huge amount of bass, then you may actually enjoy these headphones. For anything else, no matter how much of a bass head you are, I don’t think you will.

As I said at the beginning, I purchased these very cheap, as a returned item, to be used as a test subject for some experimentation, therefore I have no complaints with what I got as I got what I needed. However, if I had paid retail price and was expecting to use the headphones as is, they would already have been returned.

Edit to add: After writing this review, I decided to look up a few reviews on the web to see what other people thought about the SR850. It seems that while everyone agrees that they have bass, noone (out of those reviews that I have seen) finds it as excessive as I do. They also seem to find them pretty decent in general.

So, it is entirely possible that I got a pair that doesn’t entirely match those received by others, which could have led to the return, but I am not going to get another pair to find out and as I am going to be performing surgery on these, I don’t really care either ;)