Here's my amateurish review about the new Denon D7100, including comparisons with the Sennheiser HD800, HD600 and the Fostex T50RP.
The D7100 is sold in the US for about 1000-1250 USD, therefore it will have to be measured against headphones such as the HD800 or the T1.
Just in case you’re wondering about the comparison with the Fostex T50RP, I recommend auditioning a modded one. This small Ortho can keep up with much more expensive headphones quite well.
Unfortunately I can’t draw any comparisons to Denon’s previous offerings, as I have only heard the D2000, and that only for a short time.
Please note: English isn’t my first language, so please don’t be too harsh about grammatical faults and spelling errors.
Marantz CD6004 or Notebook PC> Meier Audio StageDAC> Meier Audio Concerto / Yamaha R-840 (for direct comparison).
All headphones were set to about the same volume level (± 1 dB), measured by a cheap Voltcraft SPL-meter using a 2 kHz test tone. I usually listen at 75 ± 5 dB.
(Note: I deliberately avoided looking at any measurements of the D7100 before and during the review to avoid being influenced by them)
In general, the D7100 is bass-heavy, fun-sounding with a typical V-shaped frequency response somewhere in between “fun” and “HiFi”. The V-shape however isn’t too pronounced, the mids are clearly present and do not get drowned out by the bass.
Treble is pronounced only in certain areas, particularly at about 8-10 kHz (not having seen the frequency response graph at this point, this is merely an estimate). This peak is not unlike the one found in many Beyerdynamic headphones.
Another peculiarity is a severe drop in the lower mids at about 500 Hz.
The bass is very strong in general, both mid- and lower bass are clearly pronounced. Unlike most open headphones, the D7100 (and other closed HPs) actually delivers bass that doesn’t roll off early. In case of the new Denon, roll-off starts at about 30Hz, which I’d consider very good.
On the negative side, the bass isn’t as controlled as one could wish for, especially in this price class. This often manifests in resonances (generated in the wooden earcups) and bass that bleeds into the mids.
Still, overall I’m impressed by the D7100’s bass performance. It delivers strong mid-and lower bass that can be a lot of fun without overpowering the rest of the frequency range or being muddy.
When evaluating the midrange, I focus on the human voice. For me personally, this an area where weaknesses in headphones are most readily audible.
In general, the midrange performance is solid. In other words, there are no horrible faults in the mids, despite the audible drop at around 500 Hz. Still: Comparing the D7100 to the Sennheiser HD800 and HD600 quickly reveals weaknesses in the Denon’s midrange: Firstly, the aforementioned drop in the lower mids. This area is important for deep male voices, for example. Secondly, the upper mids however seem to be pronounced a tad too much, which can make female voices screechy. Thirdly, and possibly most importantly, the Denon seems to struggle with more complex musical passages, turning everything into watery mud. However, this rarely happens, and is a common weakness of many headphones – it’s only evident when comparing them to something like a HD800.
Treble is the area where the D7100 has the most issues. As mentioned before, the area at around 8-10 kHz is strongly pronounced, which creates an impression of sparkly treble and is necessary as a counterbalance to the powerful bass. But this peak also creates some issues, such as slightly pronounced sibilance which is apparent in some recordings. However, the D7100 isn’t bright, especially since the rest of the treble range is subdued when compared to the 8-10 kHz peak. This isn’t much of a problem for most contemporary music, but it clearly makes the D7100 unfit for classical music.
I was impressed by the D7100’s soundstage. Despite being closed, they actually sound very open – not unlike the semi-closed Beyerdynamics (DT880, T1) where soundstage size is concerned. Don’t expect a concert hall feeling like that of the HD800 or K701, but definetly impressive for a closed HP.
There’s one big issue with the soundstage: The center is mostly a gaping hole, with most of the instruments placed on the left and right wing of the stage. At least voices are centered more or less correctly.
A redeeming point: Unlike some other phones, the D7100 avoids placing instrument above or behind the listener’s position.
The D7100 features a surprisingly high resolution, I can perceive a level of details that is usually only apparent in “detail monsters” such as the HD800. The 8-10 kHz peak contribute to the impression of a detailed sound (=fake detail).
The D7100’s most apparent problem are the resonances generated in the wooden earcups. These cause a number of issues, such as uncontrolled bass and a noisy background (Orthos and Stats on the other hand are excellent examples of a quiet background).
Important: These resonances depend very strongly on how loud you’re listening. Personally I listen at lower-medium levels (around 75 dB). At some point I turned the volume up and understood at once why the D7100 has already received a lot of criticism from various people – the higher the volume level, the more resonances are apparent, the sond becomes one big mess that certainly isn’t enjoyable.
IMPRESSIONS SORTED BY MUSIC GENRES + comparisons with HD800, HD600 & T50RP:
Personally I think ratings for individual tracks or albums are not very helpful since not everyone is familiar with them. For this reason my impressions are sorted by genre rather than individual tracks.
Rock & Metal: The D7100’s powerful bass makes listening a lot of fun for these genres; the sound has weight to it but remains crisp and clear. However, the Denon occasionally struggles with complex passages, especially in Prog Rock, making the sound muddy and losing clarity. The HD800 isn’t a prime choice either because it often lacks the necessary weight in the lower frequencies. The HD600 fares a bit better, but occasionally struggles in complex passages. The T50RP doesn’t have these issues and handles complex passages with ease, even though the soundstage can be a bit small.
Pop: As the term may be "pop" is applied to many different musical styles, a clear assessment is difficult. Generally, the D7100 is doing well here, listening can be a lot of fun. In this genre, bad recordings are common, so a headphone with a lower resolution generally has an advantage: The D7100, however, resolves welll enough to expose poor recordings clearly. The 8-10 kHz sometimes causes exaggerated sibilance, especially on poor recordings. The HD800 has an even higher resolution and mercilessly exposes any flaws in a recording – therefore its use in this genre is limited.
Here the HD600 and the T50RP, neither of them a “detail monster” are my preferred choice.
Hip Hop & Electronic: This is where the Denon “fits” best, the bass is definitely there, without being excessive. Treble is clear and voices are nicely present. HD800, 600 and T50RP also work well with this genre, but the Denon is definitely more fun.
Classical: Possibly the most demanding genre, the D7100 is a double-edged sword. On the one hand the strong bass gives instruments the necessary weight to sound convincing - something I miss in many other headphones. Also, the D7100 is one of the few headphones that can reproduce organ music down to the lowest frequencies.
On the other hand, strings sound just plain wrong due to the messed-up treble. Definetly not enjoyable! The soundstage presentation suffers from the "hole" in the middle. Also, resonances are clearly audible. The HD800 is without question the top dog for classical music, there are plenty of reviews that describe this in more detail. The HD600 also does a very good job, but it lacks the resolution and airiness of the HD800. The T50RP is not suitable for classical music due to the small soundstage.
Jazz: Here I found the D7100’s resonances particularly disturbing. For Jazz a quiet background is important, but the Denon can’t deliver. Still, it’s not all bad since the bass emphasis combined with a medium-sized soundstage create a certain live atmosphere that can be enjoyable.
I don’t particularly like the HD800 for Jazz since the soundstage is rather too large, the instruments are too far apart. The HD600 & T50RP are my first choices for Jazz, both manage to create a certain cozy atmosphere.
My personal “reference” albums:
(Note: These are albums that I’ve used during testing. They’re albums that I am familiar with, not particularly “audiophile” recordings.)
Bob Dylan - Oh Mercy (folk-rock)
Janelle Monae - the ArchAndroid (RnB)
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (Rock / Folk)
Collegium Aureum - Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (1967) (Classical, Baroque)
Anais Mitchell - Hadestown (folk, pop)
The Beatles - Revolver (Pop)
Yello - Yello Best of (electronic)
The Clash - London Calling (Rock)
Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (Metal, NWOBHM)
Polish Festival Orchestra / Krystian Zimerman - Chopin: Piano Concertos (Classical, solo piano) 1 & 2 (1999)
Tom Waits - Small Change (Blues)
+ various Hip Hop, Electronic and Jazz tracks from Spotify, as I rarely listen to these genres.
BUILD QUALITY, ISOLATION & WEARING COMFORT
Basically the D7100 is comfortable to wear, which is primarily due to the large, very soft earpads.
Denon calls the material that covers the pads "Protein Leather", which apparently is some sort of pleather mostly used for car seats. In any case, the earpads are very comfortable, they actually feel like real leather and do not get "sweaty" like cheap pleather.
The headband however certainly isn’t a prime example of ergonomic design – not only is it very thin, but also insufficiently padded. Even worse: It’s is a continuous padding, unlike Sennheiser headphones (for example) there is no recess in the center of the headband (see picture). Such would be important, because many people are sensitive to pressure at the top of the skull - in case of the Denon you’re placing a generous part of the not inconsiderable weight (weighed: 380g without cable) right on this sensitive area.
Clamping force is very feeble, almost nonexistent. This means the D7100 isn’t going to be much use as a mobile pair of headphones, even moderate movements of the head can dislodge it easily. Apart from this, the size and weight make mobile use difficult.
One of D7100’s greatest strengths is the noise isolation. Almost all high-end headphones are open, here the Denons are one of the few exceptions along with some Ultrasone models. Unlike some other "closed" headphones however, the D7100 headphones actually does isolate - not as much as IEMs or certain on-ears, of course, but still quite good. Outside noise has never been an issue for me while wearing the D7100.
This also opens up a new field of use: A quiet room is no longer necessary, the D7100 can be used outside just as well. Add the fact that the D7100 can be driven easily by a portable player and you get a possible solution for a semi-portable rig that does not require an external amp. Personally I could hardly notice any differences between my Cowon J3 and the “big” system when using the D7100.
The build quality is … alright. In other words, it doesn’t fall apart and doesn’t feel cheap...
However, in a comparison to the HD800 or T1 the Denon can’t keep up, not by a good margin.
The two "Made in Germany" headphones clearly are in a different league where build quality is concerned (sound quality, too!).
The D7100’s main build quality issue lies in the big, ugly plastic shells that dominate the exterior of the D7100. They just don’t feel like parts of a >$1000 headphone. Also, it’s a shame that the nice wooden earcups mostly disappear beneath the plastic covers.
Tough one! The Denon D7100 does many things right, and very little wrong. But for a $1200-headphone "good" just isn’t good enough! In this price range potential buyers can, and should, expect a product without any major flaws. Here the D7100 fails. It certainly isn’t a bad headphone, on the contrary: I had a lot of fun listening and possibly even keep them. Rather, the problem is the exorbitant price Denon charges for its newest flagship - $1200 are too much for what is offered.
At half the price - and not a cent more – I’d consider the D7100 a solid investment if you like the sound signature. For the current price however I have to advise against a purchase and recommend a different choice.
There’s a numer of headphones available in this price range (or below that) that clearly offer more sound quality: Apart from the HD800 I’d especially recommend the Beyerdynamic T1 as well as the Koss ESP-950 electrostatic. All three deliver better sound quality than the D7100. Additionally there are various offerings by Audeze and Hifiman, even though I’m not particularly enthusiastic about these new orthos.
In short: Objectively the D7100 is not a good pair of headphones. It’s way too expensive and has too many flaws where sound quality is concerned. And yet: For some weird reason I do not feel the urge to get rid of the D7100.
This is partially due to the fact that the D7100 can be used effectively as a semi-portable ‘phone, that can be run straight from a DAP and offers good isolation. And, to be perfectly honest, in spite of all its shortcomings I’ve had a lot of fun listening with the Denon, and still do.
Not for anything in the world would I want to exchange my two Sennheisers for the Denon, but as a complementary headphone I’ll give it one more chance.
Of course everything in this review is merely my personal opinion.
Thanks for reading!
Here's a link to the D7100's measurements by Innerfidelity:
Lastly, some pictures: