Pros: Unrivaled bass quality and quantity in price range.
Cons: Heat discomfort and slightly recessed treble.
In this rare moment of freedom, I hastily write my impression of the Sony MDR-XB700 (with a mention of the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi USB):
Looks and Feel
If you read my impression of the Shure SRH440, you'll know that I love sleek, black electronics. It's almost like my kryptonite. That being said, the tactfully placed stainless steel finish on the adjustable part of the headband makes it even more attractive. I'm not so thrilled about the leather earpads, but I'll get to that soon. I can definitely wear this in public and not feel ashamed, but a bit admired.
The leather earpads aren't that stylish, but they aren't hideous either. I would like to also say that the earpads are almost as big as a CD, maybe half a centimeter smaller in radius. Really though, I'm not exaggerating on that either. I should have taken a picture to show you all, but I couldn't think of a way to position my headphone and camera and CD to allow for a really high quality shot (not that my first picture is much). But these headphones look great, and definitely fit the urban look.
But they aren't very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. They get very warm, to the point that every 30 minutes or so I would wipe around my ears because it was getting a bit humid inside the headphones. It may have something to do with its 53mm driver , but I'm not complaining, too much. Another thing that's fun to do is to watch the cone of the driver in bass heavy songs literally move. It only moves down around 10Hz, and it makes a weird higher frequency sound when playing a 10Hz tone mp3. I'm not sure if it's the source, or the XB700, but it's certainly mildly entertaining to watch it move. Oh, I should also mention that they aren't very heavy, they feel lighter than the SRH440 in fact, despite being bigger:
They are much more comfortable than the SRH440 to wear (in the short run, in the long run, neither are especially comfortable to wear). The driver cover presses on your ear in the SRH440, but practically nothing touches your ear on the XB700, in fact, they sound better (with their original pads) further from your ears than close to them.
As a note, all songs referenced are in lossless flac. The source is a Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi USB.
You can never have enough bass (the Creative DAC can though )! The XB in XB700 stands for Xtra Bass, and that is a title it definitely lives up to. I know that the Creative DAC still does not push the XB700 to the limits of its bass, in fact, the XB700 pushes the Creative DAC to the limits of its bass. What I mean to say is that the Creative's driver equalization clips after a certain level. To be fair, it's not noticeable in most songs and bass levels do have to be pushed up to a fair degree. So, this means that if you have a song like "huge knives" by the Ali Project, the bass lines won't be as entrancing. What makes me so sure that it's the source and not the cans? Well, the definitive proof came between Ubuntu and Windows, in which Ubuntu was able to turn my headphones into very effective speakers (using the drivers built into the kernel), whereas Windows struggles to make it over the sound of my dog's jingling name tag (he's about a 100 pound German Shepard, in case you're wondering). Furthermore, the Creative is just fine outputting the same amount of dB if you turn the program volume down as far as reasonably possible and then turning up its own volume, but it clips if done the other way around. So more accurately, I should say that the source's drivers limit the overall bass of the system, but they're pretty much one and the same for all practical purposes. Edit: While on that note, I should say the fidelity of the source is not perfect. It does not lend itself to be neutral; it colors the music when set to headphone mode, but it lacks clarity in regular speaker mode, and I found the VIA source to be more distinct in songs like "Forces" and "Tank!" (Susumu Hirasawa and The Seatbealts), where multiple instruments across the sound spectrum play out of sync. In orchestral songs, they both do well at the climax of the song, but in "Forces," I hear sound as opposed to distinct notes and rhythms from the VIA, which is not even close to mid-fi. This analysis was done using both the XB700 and SRH440.
Now with that out of the way, the XB700 will literally vibrate your ears and adjacent head area, literally. Considering that the pads are about 2" thick and about 1" in outer diameter, are padded, and are leather, that's quite a feat. There's nothing more relaxing than listening to "The Blue Monday E"r"Etrical Parade" by Iwasaki Tarou and feeling your ears resonate to the beats of the music. Or, listening to "Shut Up and Explode" by the BOOM BOOM SATELLITES (thanks Cyberbeing ) and really feeling like your head is going to explode (in other words, you have to listen to this song when you're in the mood, otherwise it will be unpleasant). Or listening to "Forces" by Susumur Hirasawa and being subdued by the force of the drums. I've heard a few other of Sony's headphones and they have a similar sound signature, but the XB700 definitely has better defined, controlled, and greater bass extension. Their bass is not as epic as having a subwoofer next to your head, but even that sounds a bit crazy to me. Compared to the SRH440, the bass is not clean, but I can easily tone it down to similar levels (but not the same, as the SRH440 still sound significantly different) as the Shures.
It should come as no surprise when I say that you will definitely not mistake these cans for open headphones. They do have good treble and mids, but it doesn't sound as warm as the SRH440. The highs are equally present in both headphones, and the XB700 has better sibilance control. I can listen to "'Libera Me' from Hell" by Iwasaki Tarou with more satisfaction on the XB700 because not only does the opera singer attain all her notes with as much clarity and extension as the SRH440, it also delivers the song's powerful bass at the same time. HOWEVER, her voice does not sound as open as when heard from the SRH440, which is a bit of a trade-off. Another song where these can's lack of openness is revealed in "Mermaid Song" by Susumu Hirasawa (one of my all time favorite songs and my favorite composer). "Mermaid Song" is not very bass heavy, and delivers most of its wonder through the mids. I hate to say it, but it's more enjoyable to listen to this song using the SRH440 than the XB700. "Omae no XXX de Ten wo Tsuke!" by Iwasaki Tarou (the victory theme song from Gurren Lagann) is also not as joyful from the XB700 as from the SRH440.
Moving on to the highs, I'll keep this section brief as I have other things to do soon, it's either can's victory. Please note that I'm not very discriminating when it comes to this section of sound, but when I listen to "Tank!" by The Seatbelts (a nice jazz song that has instruments in all frequency ranges), I don't hear anything on the SRH440 that I don't hear on the XB700.
For audiophiles interested in hearing how the other half lives and don't want to spend much money, try these cans.
For bassheads, I'm sure their better sounding alternatives, and I'm wondering what the Beyerdynamic DT 990 sounds like, but if you're looking for a budget headphone, definitely get these.
For everyone else (especially gamers) consider these headphones, they won't disappoint.
AWESOME bass that DOES NOT distort or shrink back at high volumes
Well-defined and warm highs
Good-looking, lightweight (comparatively), seemingly durable
Not comfortable to wear for long periods of time
The mids leave you wanting
These headphones aren't technically "closed:"
It may be a bit hard to see, but those aren't just cosmetic holes. In a quick and dirty check to see if they affect sound quality, I covered the holes (3 on each driver), with a bandage, and low and behold, sound quality was changed (for the worse). What these means is that although they are isolating (at high levels for a closed can), they also leak a lot more noise than other closed cans. Granted, the holes are covered by the headband when in use, and the section that covers them has a cloth-like material on it. In other words, these might not be the best closed headphones for listening in public. I've been thinking of what material would best cover the holes without severely diminishing sound quality, so any suggestions would be useful.