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The Sennheiser HD 700 is a viable alternative to their flagship HD 800

A Review On: Sennheiser HD 700 Headphone

Sennheiser HD 700 Headphone

Rated # 35 in Over-Ear
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Price paid: $999.95
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Pros: Superlative imaging, accuracy and transparency, generous sound stage, comfortable to wear

Cons: Expensive, its accurate sound is what some object to as the Sennheiser "veil"

Designed to fill the gap between the HD 650s and the flagship HD 800s, the new HD 700s essentially share the status of flagship top-of-the-line headphones with the 800s. The open 800s are superb dynamic headphones featuring spatial accuracy and unparalleled imaging. Their innovative design uses a large "ring radiator" driver that is positioned a bit forward of the ears and then angled slightly backwards so that they deliver a more planar wave front. That modified acoustic wave front is the source of the 800s improved imaging as it more closely mimics the way we actually perceive sound. Listening to orchestral music, for example, produces an often uncanny sound stage of depth and breadth that enables you to position each instrument with impressive accuracy as to spatial location. The timbre of each instrument is likewise accurately reproduced, making the 800s the headphone of choice for recording purposes if accuracy is the major criterion. But all of this spatial and acoustic accuracy comes with a price. Some listeners find the 800s to be overly accurate, too acoustically detailed, too "analytical" in its approach. There is a slight increase in frequency response at 7khz during the otherwise nearly perfect treble roll-off, which may be the source of that perceived aggressive accuracy which some have found fatiguing. My listening experience has not found them problematic but nearly perfect in their ability to reproduce almost any given recording. The 800s are well engineered for reproducing instrumental and vocal music recorded with "passive" techniques, that is without the added distortion, compression, coloring, bass or brightness of many current popular music recordings. Headphones like the Audeze LCD-2, with their potent bass and fast response, may be more attuned to this variety of popular music.

The reaction of some to the 800s may be why the new HD 700s were created. They have a slightly warmer, more gemutlich (congenial) sonic approach. Their spatial imaging is nearly as well focused as the 800s but with an acoustic signature that sounds less analytical, more "analog" in comparison to the 800's slightly more "digital" quality. What some perceive as the 800's incrementally brighter treble seems to have been modified a bit, creating a more rounded and even plumper (in a good way) upper range. To my ears the HD 700s sound less aggressively realistic and more "relaxed" in reproducing treble. Their musical accuracy remains excellent. Listening to Mozart, for example, their sonic quality matches the elegance of the music note for note. Mozart's transparent orchestration for the Piano Concerto No.17 is reproduced by the 700s with comparable transparency. The qualities that struck me while listening were their transparency, elegance and musical warmth. To my ears, they possess the best attributes of a cross between the older HD 600s, with their natural and relaxed presentation, and the HD 800s, with their superlative imaging and generous sound stage. My guess is that the slight rise in frequency response at 7 khz, found in the 800s, was significantly reduced while engineering the HD 700s.

The bottom line is that the HD 700s boast nearly the same spatial accuracy and imaging capability as the flagship HD 800s. With good source material the 700s create a palpable sense of true-to-life acoustic presence. Bass reproduction is crisp and punchy. Mid-range is vibrant and clear. Treble is crystalline and sharp without a hint of auditory fatigue after hours of very comfortable listening. I noticed no obvious sibilance, though older mono recordings did manifest some distortion in the treble. These headphones are superbly musical. In my experience, only the much more expensive Audeze LCD-3's approach them (amongst non-electrostatic headphones) in reproducing the richness and life of the musical spectrum. As with all of Sennheiser's top of the line dynamic headphones, you'll need a headphone amplifier in order to realize their full potential. Without an amp to drive them the 700s sound slightly anemic and generic. With an amp they seem to bloom like the desert after a rain storm, coming alive and adding a sense of urgency to the music. Even if you already own a pair of the 800s, you may still want to audition the 700s. Their "relaxed" upper range mitigates what a small minority of listeners have occasionally found tiring in the HD 800s: their relentlessly accurate and analytical acoustic approach. The HD 700s reproduce music with a natural, burnished warmth and non-aggressive clarity. Their substantially lower price than the 800s make them a bit more enticing when considering value. The Sennheiser HD 700s are a solid choice amongst many available options. They are not better headphones than the HD 800s, just different with an appealingly natural approach to music. The two models make an interesting complementary pair at the peak of Sennheiser's price range. The HD 700s will definitely appeal to audiophiles.


[An addendum added July 7, 2012: Several weeks of further usage have yielded some additional observations. The HD 700s have a very broad dynamic range, a frequency response between 10Hz and 42kHz and a sound pressure level of 105 dB. Music can get loud very quickly. Your listening levels should be on the conservative side in order to safeguard your ears. Their impressive range and sound pressure level also means that they can literally "turn on a dime", supporting the HD 700's faster and more aggressive response to musical dynamics. They are an excellent headphone for Rock, especially impressive with music that features more complex mixes. Bands like Genesis, Tears for Fears and similar groups, whose music reflects countless studio hours, sound exceptionally vivid and exciting. Music that had previously been obscured by multiple layers of sound is suddenly audible and distinct, adding immeasurably to the pleasure that headphones uniquely provide. Sennheiser includes a 3 meter long Kevlar cord that arrives kinked, stiff and unwieldy when first removed from the box. Straighten the cord and leave it out for a day or two so that the kinks and knots disappear. Kevlar, used in bullet-proof vests, is intrinsically very thick and heavy. The cord is quite well behaved following this simple procedure and proves itself solid and robust. The relatively light clamping force of the HD 700s induces the wearer to shift the headband forward, which accentuates the sound stage produced by their angled transducers. The intention is to mimic the placing of front speakers. The depth and breadth of the resulting acoustic image is striking.]




Excellent review, thanks for the useful information. Great that the headphone shares similarities with the HD600, but with the addition of the excellent spatial and imaging of HD800. Think this headphone should be a good seller for Sennheiser.
Thanks. I think that the 700s may prove to be really popular with those tempted to buy the 800s but can't justify the expense. They are different but the 700s have a distinct family resemblance in their imaging, sound stage and transparency. $500 cheaper is a major selling point when you can purchase headphones of real quality. For Classical and Jazz the 700s are excellent. Some (non-metal) Rock as well.
Great review. I have a pair of HD700s on demo now, along with HE-500s and HE-6. I keep gravitating back to the HD700s. I'm currently an HD650 owner though, so I may be biased. The comfort of the HD700s is absolutely amazing. These are the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn. I like how these have good treble detail but don't sound bright to my ears. I had the T1s on loan, and they darn near made my ears bleed sometimes.
Thanks. Another HD 700 owner did a comparison of the padding on the 600/650/800s (including photos) and the difference is stark. The 700s have at least twice the padding of the other three. Clamping force is relatively light so wearing them for awhile isn't an exercise in torture. I love my 600/650s but they are not in this league. All of the 700 owners I've been in touch with love their feel and sound. The treble detail is - depending on the source - sharp but not bright or fatiguing to me as well. They're not as micro-detailed as the 800s, but they're pretty close. A good alternative, in my view.
Yea I agree with what all of what you're saying. I'm surprised that even though I have then HE-6 on loan, I keep going back to the 700's. I will say that both the HE-500 and HE-6 have a very "natural" and smooth presentation, but something about the sound signature of the HD700s that I am really digging.
Also, I don't see why there's all the hate towards the HD700s. These really are fantastic headphones. Another thing I've noticed is that the dynamic range is better than even the HE-500 and HE-6.
Headphones are very personal. Viewpoints about their relative quality tends to be subjective. Sennheiser is big and successful so that probably doesn't help. I've had these for more than 3 months and they are the ones I keep going back to. Owners of the 700s seem to like them. I think that is probably good enough for now.
One quick question though. Among HE500 HE 6 HD650 HD700 HD800 and probably T1 LCD2 which one is THE most comfortable headphone? Thx!
The HD700 is most comfortable for me. Light clamping force and a lot of padding. At least twice the padding of the 600/650/800s and more than either the T1 or LCD2. The one indisputable attribute of the 700s is their comfort. Easy to wear for 3 or more hours of listening.
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