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Review: K701 vs 2006 DT880

post #1 of 96
Thread Starter 
So since I have both a K701 and DT880 (2006 model) right now, I thought I'd do a head-to-head review of them, on a song-by-song basis. So this is going to be the kind of review that compares headphones against actual music. CDs and tracks are named within the review. I tried to use the most popular artists from my CD collection: Massive Attack, Orbital, Portishead, Radiohead, Sneaker Pimps, The Crystal Method, and Zero 7. For the Head-Fiers that don't listen to these artists, I apologize, as I have a limited interest in genres beyond electronica, trip-hop, or alternative. I've also included two classical-music CDs with excellent recording quality. Apologies again there as the specific recordings aren't going to be well-known here (they're not Telarc or anything like that), but they are among the best-recorded that I own. This is also my first headphone review so go easy on me! (and let me know what I need to work on)

Equipment chain:

Onkyo CS-V720 > Ixos 5' mini/RCA IC > Xin SuperMini-3 w/ AD8397. Generic adapter and 4" IC used to connect the K701 to the SM-3 (the shaft on the mini plug is too big for it to be plugged in along with the Ixos IC otherwise).

Burn-in notes:

~376 hours of burn-in (accurate within 1 hour) on the K701 at the time of this review.
~144 hours of burn-in (accurate within 1 hour) on the DT880 at the time of this review.
Well over 500 hours on the CS-V720, its integrated amp is fully burned in.
Over 300 hours on the Ixos IC.
Well over 1000 hours on the SuperMini-3 (have owned it since December '05).

About the CS-V720:

Yes, I realize this is a completely unknown unit here, or anywhere else for that matter, but it is a high-quality source. Advertised at retail for $400 as a "progressive-scan DVD player" but it plays SACD as well and has a top-quality pickup mechanism for CDs along with a 24-bit DAC. Have tested it thoroughly with all my headphones (K701, DT880-250/2006, K271S, a DT770-80/2003 on loan, MDR-V6, KSC 75 & 35, and ATH-ES5) and have found its output to be amazingly crisp and clear, from both the 3.5mm headphone jack and RCA line out. The integrated amp that drives the headphone jack is ASTOUNDING for this unit at this price point. The first month of ownership I couldn't even tell the difference between it and the SuperMini-3, but now I can (it's a very close approximation to the SM-3 and even beats it in the highs), plus it can go VERY loud (digital setting from 1 to 80 where 25 gives a moderate volume). The RCA line out delivers a pure clean signal that carries through on the full audible frequency range (and probably hits the advertised 4Hz-20kHz fairly closely). Bass is PHENOMENAL, the subwoofer on my Yamaha speaker system can rumble like I hadn't heard before, with a lot more power. Very clear, very clean signal as far as I can tell with no obvious emphasis anywhere - definitely audiophile grade.

Review:

Massive Attack - Mezzanine - Angel (trip-hop / slow rock)

- DT880: interestingly enough, the opening bass line goes significantly deeper than on the K701, but at the expense of definition, as it sounds slightly hazed out. Cymbals are audible at 2:16 to build up to the 2:24 guitar break-down. The cymbals in the break-down have perfect clarity on the impact but not the sizzle as on the K701. The following crunch-downs lose clarity especially the more dense they get - no separation. The DT880 tries to blend the mix, which works, but certain points seem to overwhelm it beyond control.

- K701: the opening bass line goes nice and satisfyingly deep. Captures the sizzle and decay of the cymbals around the 2:24 break-down with clarity. At no point does the wash of guitars or the following crunch-downs lose clarity. Tons of bass response, and the soundstage abilities pull the layers distinctively apart, effectively controlling the other guitar crunch-downs.

Massive Attack - Mezzanine - Teardrop (trip-hop / ballad)

- DT880: there's more definition than the K701 on the opening drum action, and made me notice for the first time this is actually a kick drum! Very noticeable sibilance on the "shakes me, wakes me" and other "s" sounds. Bass doesn't extend low enough to capture the third note on the ultra-low three-note bass rhythm that provides a "heartbeat" to the song. Liz Fraser's voice sounds very close and intimate here.

- K701: despite the soundstage displacement, a somewhat forward presentation results. Bass can't go deep enough here either to capture the third note on the ultra-low three-note bass rhythm, so it's probably one for a subwoofer. Slight sibilance on the aforementioned vocal parts.

Massive Attack - Mezzanine - Inertia Creeps (trip-hop - kinda hard to sub-categorize here)

- DT880: clear definition on the various layers that work throughout this track, including the shakers. Interestingly, the bass parts of the track come through fairly strongly. Most impressive though is the capturing on the belly drum - it gets not only the full slam, but some transient response as well, and makes it sound very "cavernous." Every other headphone I've listened to this track with has not rendered it like this, always a flat sound. The DT880 makes it sound like an actual drum with lots of impact, lots of depth, and great natural decay, I'm HIGHLY impressed! It's the best I've ever heard from Inertia Creeps!!!

- K701: very clean, very nice separation of the layers on this track ranging from the obvious (the shakers) to the not so obvious (the monotone bass line that starts with the belly drum). The syncopated belly drum that provides the beat for the track has a good amount of slam on it, but little else. 3D's vocals get placed into the background.

Orbital - Middle of Nowhere - Way Out (trance - progressive)

- DT880: this track is my standard high-frequency test, as it has a very high two- and three-note plink on the opening chords with immediately-following cymbal crashes. Crystal definition on these plinks and the cymbal crashes, but the bass rhythm that starts at 1:01 gets bottomed out too soon, making the dynamics shift more towards the upper end of the spectrum.

- K701: doesn't fully capture the three-note plink and cymbal crashes, but in its favor it does give a much more balanced sound, as it still goes high enough to get most of the chords, and provides better extension and definition of the bass that starts at 1:01, to give much better and more natural dynamics. Gives less weight to all the layers however, making the general presentation thinner sounding than the DT880.

Portishead - Portishead - Humming (electronica - noir style)

- DT880: the opening strings tones retain their two-note-phase nuance, as does the UFO-like synth-pad effect. Although the track pushes the synth pad into the background when Beth Gibbons' vocals start, the DT880 brings it back forward a little bit, almost conveying it as a companion voice.

- K701: the two-note phase on the opening strings tones isn't captured quite as clearly here, and sounds more like an orchestra tuning up, due to the soundstage displacement. The UFO synth pad gets pushed back considerably, and loses focus once Beth Gibbons' voice kicks in.

Radiohead - OK Computer - No Surprises (slow rock)

- DT880: all the guitar layers, including the opening one, remain clear through most of the track, despite being "mixed in" with the mids and vocals. Very detailed on the guitar playing and captures more than one "loose-string" effect. The chimes that provide most of the harmony also come in clearly, with a markedly better "ringing" effect than the K7091. A very high-pitched chime doubles in at 1:07 and again later on, with a very clean, natural ringing that the K701 just doesn't fully resolve (gets mostly only the impact).

- K701: layer separation again with the K701, making it easier to hear the chimes on top of the guitars (more impact, but with less ringing) and the male vocals. Deeper bass response than the DT880 on the bass line, resulting in a much more balanced presentation.

Sneaker Pimps - Becoming X - Low Place Like Home (trip-hop - acoustic drums and guitar)

- DT880: some of the busy guitar work gets "muddied" together and loses definition, but the intentional guitar distortion seems to be clearly captured. The two-note bass phase is audible, but extension is minimal, as certain parts of it just get cut off. The K701 doesn't extend deep enough for this either, so this is again bass clearly designed for a subwoofer. The actual guitar playing, however, remains crisp. Drum sounds also retain accuracy, as you can hear the impact on the membrane along with the internal hollowness. Finally, some bothersome sibilance on a recurring hi-hat.

- K701: its fast attack and fast transient response make the drumwork sound a bit unnatural. Equally good accuracy as the DT880 though, and one-ups it on the imaging as expected, as it puts the drumming above the guitars in a unique "vertical" type of soundstage. As expected, the guitar layers are displaced and separated. Ends up slightly dark-sounding.

The Crystal Method - Tweekend - Ten Miles Back (electronica - techno)

- DT880: although there's enough bass response to call it bass, it's not enough for most to call it "satisfying," especially for a techno track. Doesn't extend low enough for the bass kick that the main synth pad (which starts at 0:47) pre-announces. Due to its lack of imaging, certain details in the music get overpowered by the synth pad and upper bass rhythm.

- K701: nice, deep bass response on the main kick line (starts at 0:52) solidly balanced by the main synth pad and the female vocal. Still not an authoritative bass that a subwoofer would give of course, but very good extension for a headphone. The main synth pad gets nicely displaced to provide a great 3D feel whenever it comes in.

Zero 7 - When It Falls - Somersault (trip-hop - ballad)

- DT880: the guitar strumming in the left channel opening this track maintains good precision, you can clearly hear the finger shifting action across the strings. When Sia Furler's voice comes in, it's nice and throaty. However, the cymbals that precede the "You put my feet back on the ground" chorus lack initial impact, but do have plenty of "baaaash." The double-bass that provides a harmonic line (starts at 0:29) remains distinct throughout the track and is blended well with the rest of the layers.

- K701: slightly more detail gets conveyed on the guitar work in the left channel, due to it being displaced. However, Sia Furler's voice sounds a lot less throaty and gets displaced a good distance away, so her vocals aren't as prominent as on the DT880. The aforementiond cymbals have the impact here, but the transient response falls away too quickly making them sound unrealistic, like there's no "shhh" on the "baaaash." The left-channel guitar remains clear throughout the track, whereas it was drowned out by the other layers on the DT880. Again the K701 puts the instruments on distinct layers here for effective separation.

(CLASSICAL) Johann Strauss II - The Blue Danube - Waltz, recorded by the Vienna Strauss Orchestra in 1991, on Delta Music

- DT880: violins sound especially sweet, and you can hear every movement of the violin bows too. The rat-a-tat of the snare drum is perfectly captured down to the impact. Really gets the "whump" and "bash" of double-cymbals. Very dynamic, natural balance between the orchestra sections. However, the lack of imaging results in an "in-the-orchestra" presentation.

- K701: the quicker violin sounds get slurred slightly. Doesn't quite get the "whump" of the double-cymbals as clearly. Doesn't fully get the triangle, or the "topped-out-whistle" effect from the flutes/piccolos either. Provides a vertical imaging of the orchestra from a few rows back, for an awkward dimensional presentation.

(CLASSICAL) George Handel - Messiah - Part II - No. 44 "Hallelujah", recorded by the Toronto Symphony in 1987 for EMI Digital, on Angel Records

- DT880: big presentation, voices from the choir sound realistic and full and you can almost hear the air hitting the microphones. Sweet violins again, and tons of power on the trumpet part.

- K701: more definition on the lower-frequency instruments like the cello and bass parts, and gives a swifter kick on the drums. Slightly less clearer presentation on the choir voices, but more spacious. Not as much power to the trumpet part as the DT880.

Summary/Conclusion:

K701: This gives a large "headstage" to everything it plays and has an ability to "displace" the layers in the music so they're all distinct from each other, and much easier to hear. The soundstage it creates is more of a vertical one than a laid-out horizontal one, which can be confusing at first. However, the resulting imaging is very strong, and very pleasant to listen to, for those who like soundstage. It also has a more balanced, airy presentation that can lean a bit towards "dark" if the recording doesn't have a lot of high frequencies. Bass goes nice and deep on them and is very refined. On the downside, it tends to lose control at loud volumes, and it falls too short of the highs to provide tiny details and that extra oomph for classical music. Not a very revealing headphone, but it does have very nice mids, a tad bit warm and reminiscent of the K240S or K271S (though nowhere near as warm as those two). Female vocals continue to be a strong point for AKG.

DT880 (2006): Compared to the K701, it has a very refined sound, with a much more intimate presentation that gets closer to the performers. If there's detail on the track, it will reveal that detail and will shift frequency response upwards if necessary, to bring it out. Highs sparkle. On the downside, it doesn't extend very low, and emphasis thins out rather quickly, so bass doesn't have a whole lot of slam. Also has some difficulty sorting out overly complicated passages.

Overall: well I can't pick a winner between the two. They're both simply excellent headphones that have an incredible level of resolution for anyone who wants to take the next step from a <$200 can. Regardless of their pros and cons in my music testing, they both give a fantastic, wonderfully detailed sound even when not fully burned in. They simply cater to different tastes. Soundstage fans who prefer a balanced sound with all kinds of music will like the K701. Detail nuts who like classical will like the DT880. Personally, I'm going to return the K701. The artificially wide soundstage just doesn't agree with me, and I find the changes it makes to presentation annoying.
post #2 of 96
Great review. It's about time someone talked about the newer DT880.
post #3 of 96
20 mins later... (no just joking!)

Great review Asr! Sooo much detail (from what I gather, just like these cans)! Nice work!!
post #4 of 96
I love the new 880s for classical, but the K701 is my all arounder.

Nice work on the review.
post #5 of 96
Very insightful review!


I'm seriously intrigued by the newer DT880.
post #6 of 96
nicely done, asr. i found your review particularly interesting because some of the songs you picked i know either very well or i know the artist. i usually consider these types of higher end cans to be primarily for classical so it was good to read a review focusing on different genres of music.
post #7 of 96
Fascinating review, Asr, and timely, since I myself am trying to decide between these exact 2 headphones.

I must admit some surprise on reading your summary, however, since I had gotten the impression in your mini-reviews that overall, you slightly preferred the K701!

I wish you had made this a little easier for me...
post #8 of 96
Very, very nice in-depth review! Apparently, you're one of the only people on Headfi to prefer the 880s to the 701s.

I can't wait to get my hands on something decent like these two headphones... alas, there's that slight issue of lack of funds...
post #9 of 96
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by GaryB
Fascinating review, Asr, and timely, since I myself am trying to decide between these exact 2 headphones.

I must admit some surprise on reading your summary, however, since I had gotten the impression in your mini-reviews that overall, you slightly preferred the K701!

I wish you had made this a little easier for me...
Different strokes for different folks, that's what these two headphones are all about! They're both really good though, anyone upgrading from a cheapo can will love either one! Just for me personally, after listening to them for so long, I really can't stand the way the K701 changes the presentation of the music. It's obvious the presentation is not what was recorded on the CD, and I prefer to hear the way it was meant to, which is why I prefer the DT880.

That's not to say I have something against the K701 though, it's an excellent headphone! In fact, I'm really amazed at how close the two headphones can compete with each other! And its soundstaging is something you have to hear to believe! I can definitely appreciate what the K701 does, it's just amazing, the most speaker-like experience you could have right behind the K1000! (It's just not for me, though.)
post #10 of 96
My remarks were in no way meant as a critique of your hard work and lucid writing style, Asr... merely a lament that my choice, based on reading your music reviews, would probably be the K701, yet you chose the DT880!

Since the two are both very good choices from a sonic standpoint, is there anything else (i.e. comfort, build quality, etc.) that might sway one's decision?
post #11 of 96
Thread Starter 
All of us have different preferences in what we want in our sound, so it's no surprise you're more interested in the K701.

Comfort, well both are very comfortable, for my head anyway. The K701 has a loose fit that barely touches my ears, and the velour on the DT880 is as soft as a blanket.

Build quality, well IMO the plastic of the K701 makes it seem less rugged and make it look like it'd crack upon impact to the floor. If you want pics, I can take a few when I get home from work.
post #12 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr
Different strokes for different folks, that's what these two headphones are all about! They're both really good though, anyone upgrading from a cheapo can will love either one! Just for me personally, after listening to them for so long, I really can't stand the way the K701 changes the presentation of the music. It's obvious the presentation is not what was recorded on the CD, and I prefer to hear the way it was meant to, which is why I prefer the DT880.
Yeah different strokes for different folks, but saying that the K701 changes the presentation to whats on the CD is far off imho. Whats your reference point for making that conclusion? Please dont tell me its the DT880 or your 2.1 speakers (no offense!)

I come from the 2003 DT880 and the K701 clearly delivers are more neutral, realistic and natural sound.
post #13 of 96
Quote:
...it's no surprise you're more interested in the K701.
I'm not sure that's the case at all... right now I'm really "on the fence" and hoping for someone to pull me strongly one way or the other. Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen since both of these headphones seem to have many strengths and no disqualifying weaknesses.

One thing that might help me relates to your comment that the K701 loses control at high volumes, since occasionally I do like it loud, but only if it's loud and clean. You're not the first to mention this. How does it lose control and is the DT880 significantly better in this respect?

Regarding pics... not for me - I've seen as many as I need to - but pics are always nice and others might be interested.
post #14 of 96
Thread Starter 
GaryB, the K701 has much more bass than the DT880, and much more balance, while offering nearly as much resolution. If that doesn't take you off the fence, I don't know what will.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bizkid
Yeah different strokes for different folks, but saying that the K701 changes the presentation to whats on the CD is far off imho. Whats your reference point for making that conclusion? Please dont tell me its the DT880 or your 2.1 speakers (no offense!)

I come from the 2003 DT880 and the K701 clearly delivers are more neutral, realistic and natural sound.
...isn't it obvious to your ears that the K701 has an unnatural presentation with the wide soundstage and the way it places the instruments? That was one of the first things I noticed at 0 hours of burn-in, I was like How do you know it doesn't change the presentation from what's on the CD?
post #15 of 96
Excellent review. I couldn't have asked more from you. I have only had the K701 for a short time and it has never ceased to amaze me. Now you have me wanting a pair of brand spanking new 2006 Beyerdynamic DT880-250! I am a classical fiend and I don't think I'll ever tire of trying new presentations on different headphones.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr
...isn't it obvious to your ears that the K701 has an unnatural presentation with the wide soundstage and the way it places the instruments? That was one of the first things I noticed at 0 hours of burn-in, I was like
I don't find the presentation weird at all. Compared to the HD650, the soundstage is slightly smaller. Detail is also more apparent due to the more balanced sound signature.
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