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The war of the worlds: W5000 v. HD650 v. SA5000

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Thread Starter 
Well, may be nobody will read this because it does not contain the Grado GS1000. Anyway

The Warriors

Audiotechnica W5000 (around $850)
I have own the Audio Technica W5000 for about three months and they have become my reference headphone for several reasons: first of all they are closed and, as such, offer good isolation, so I can use them at work (for an average of six hours a day); I love their sound and it does not cause me any fatigue; they are relatively comfortable and finally they are the best looking headphones I have ever seen.
In my opinion they are the best all-arounder phones I have heard so far, with the exception of the L3000 which have a very similar sound signature, but do everything just a bit better but for a price four times higher.
I have notice that the W5000 are not very dependent on amplification: they sound very good even with very cheap electronics and their performance doesn’t vary that much going down in the food chain. I found a particular good synergy with The Raptor, the new Ray Samuel B-52 and the little Original Master. I am quite sure that the quality of the source is much more important with the W5000 than the amp, but we will discover it as we go.
There have been a lot of talks about an issue with the fit of this headphone. I must admit that at the beginning it was a bit loose on my head and, by pressing the sides against my ears I would get a fuller sound and more bass. Little by little I learned little tricks to position it better in my head, also I have the feeling that the pads have softened a bit with time, so the fit is not really an issue anymore for me.

Sennheiser HD650 (around $350 with stock cable)
I recently I bought a pair of HD650, after having tried them plenty of times with different amps and after-market cables. I liked them very much in a lot of different combinations, but I notice that the sound quality vary a lot according to the cable used and especially to the amplification. Their use for me will be limited to home use and, even in this case, I won’t be able to use it when other people are around, as they do leak a lot of noise to the outside. Under the esthetical point of view they are rather ordinary looking.
They are considered a reference headphone and most headfiers own them, so they are a must in this battle.

Sony MD SA5000 (around $450)
I have only tried the SA5000 briefly at the recent net meet and I was surprised by the very exciting nature of this headphone (“HP”). With the right sort of music they can be great fun, but I noticed a bit of brightness when paired with certain equipment. I just received a pair second hand but apparently with very few hours on them and at the moment they are burning in order to be ready for the terrible battle. I don’t know that much about this HP, so I am very curious to see how it will perform.

I own the three HP mentioned above and I am not at all a fan of any of those brands: I really don’t understand people who get upset if their favourite piece of equipment is considered inferior by other posters; actually I am very interested in soccer, but I am not a fan of any team. So I will show no mercy towards any of the three even if I know that some fanboys will hate me for that.
All the impressions are of course as they are perceived by my ears, in the context of the specified rigs.

Rules of the game: There will be several battles in this war: the three HP will be paired with different weapons in each battle at about a couple of weeks of interval for the warriors to rest. I will assign to each HP in each test a % vote out of 100%.
I will add 3% to the W5000 because is a closed can and so gives great flexibility of use; actually for me this feature is worth much more than that.
Beauty contest extra point: W5000: +2% - SA5000: +1%
Comfort poins: HD650 +1% - SA5000: +1%

This is the initial plan:

Part one: Take no prisoners
The three cans will be paired with the Lavry DA10 out of the built in headphone amp. Stock cable for the three HP The transport will be first lossless FLAC out of an iRiver H140 and then CDs out of a Music Fidelity x-ray v. 3

Part Two: The rise of the machines
I will add a very cheap and small amp: the Original Master, as well as what I consider the best source I have heard so far: the Resolution Audio Opus 21 which I will use for spinning CDs and for playing FLAC lossless files through its internal DAC. The HD650 will be connected in single-ended mode with an aftermarket Enigma cable and adaptor XLR/1/4”

Part Three: The balance of power
This part will see only the HD 650 fight, but using a powerful weapon: balanced connection through an Enigma cable from the balanced output of a Lavry DA10 and then out of the Opus 21. The other warriors will be used in single ended mode directely out of the Opus 21

Part Four: The battle of the hobbits
I will compare the three cans with the three small footprint “transportable” amps that I consider the most interesting:
- RS The Raptor
- Original Master
- Corda Headfive
This part may be delayed in case of late delivery of the Headfive. Also it would be interesting to add the Earmax AE or Silver and the Naim Hadline 2, but I don’t have any available . So if someone would like to come around to my place in North London with one of those, he or she (unlikely) would be very welcome and would be trated with the best kebab in North London and plenty of beer on da house.

Part Five: The return of the Jedi
When finally the dust start to settle and the battlefield is full of blood, something unexpected happens: The K701 steps into the arena and lauches the gauntlet to the wounded warriors.
The tensions mounts. who wil survive? I cant wait to discover the winner

Note on AKG K701 (around $400) added later
I don't know much about this HP: I only had the chance two try two different specimens at the nat meet in NY last month and they were the biggest disappointment for me together with the Grado RS1. The stadium like noise level at the meet was not the best for open cans and I am pretty sure the two pair that I listened to were not properly burnt in and paired with unsuitable electronics, anyway the results were terrible. But after all the positive posts from reliable people I have read here I am sure there must be something about them worthy to take part to this battle, so let's see what happens.


The same CDs or lossless FLACs will be used through the four parts:
- Fiona Apple – Extraordinary machine / For female voice
- Nick Cave – The Lyre of Orpheus / Male voice, gospel female chorus
- Anthony and the Johnsons - I am a bird now / I have decided to replace London calling, although is one of the best rock album ever, it overlaps a bit with the Kings of Leon and the latter is better recorded. Antony's album is just piano, a bit of bass and drum and five very different male voices: guest are infact Lou Reed, Boy George, Devandra Banhart and Rufus Wainwright. I needed it to evaluate the piano
- Kings of Leon – Aha shake heartbreak / For electric guitars and PRaT
- Massive Attack – Blue lines / I use this record a lot to evaluate components: is very well recorded and has a bit of everything: loads of deep and fast bass, one ot the greatest female voice since Janis Joplin: Sarah Thomas, who practically disappeared after this album, several different male voices, cymbals and drums
- New Pornographers - Mass romantic / Good album with female and male voices, electric and acoustic instruments; badly recorded, so it will test the ability to cope with it by the different HP. This test is very important to me, as most of the CDs on the market are badly recorded

Sorry, no classical, rap or metal, as I am not an expert in the genres, maybe I will decide to add some jazz if necessary.

Interconnect will be Enigma and Van den Hull. Main cable Isotek.

So the first battle will take place during the week end. I will be the front line reporter and will post next week.

After each event I will post a "breaking new" and re edit the first post

PART 1 - Take no prisoners

First of all I have to notify a major difference in the weapons used. I brought home the Lavry DA10 that I generally use at work with the W5000 fed by the iRiver H140. I have installed the DA10 with a Musical Fidelity X-ray v3 CD player and have ploughed the Lavry with an Isotek mains cable, in place of the stock one I use at work.
The increase in quality is really huge compared to my rig at work. I believe there could be five explanations (in order of probable relevance):
- Less jitter coming from the X Ray v3 compared to the iRiver
- Better quality of mains power at home compared to work where we have several hundreds of PC installed
- The aftermarket mains cables after all really do something!
- Psychological effect of being more relaxed at home than at work
- Too much beer drunk last night

Massive Attack - In this set up at home the increase of quality of the W5000 is really astonishing. I had often said that, although I like it a lot, I found it slightly lean on bass and a bit thin. None of the above persist now. The bass is still fast and detailed as it used to be, but now also brings a lot of weight, still with a good texture. The whole sound now has plenty of body and gives a very full impression. But the most striking characteristic of this HP is the “punch”: with the deep bass lines, drum and cymbals of this CD the W5000 can kick you off your chair if you don’t buckle your seat belts. This CD is also great to underline what I always considered one of the strong points of this HP: the PRaT is absolutely perfect: great timing lets fast music flows at the perfect pace; attack, sustain and decay are always perfect: drums could not sound anymore real than this, cymbals float in the air for the correct amount of time and decay very naturally. I have never heard a can with the same sense of rhythm. The sound stage is excellent: at the same time wide and high. Good resolution and a good amount of air. Never ever bright. A great performance, hard to beat.

Fiona Apple - I like the way the W5000 reproduces females voices, although some posters have reported a “honky” midrange. I do agree that there is a little hump in the midrange and a small degree of coloration in the voice, but that is part of the sound signature of the W5000 and I don’t consider it a negative point, although so far the SA5000 seem to have voices that are just a touch natural. The voice of Fiona Apple remains very well reproduced even in the fastest passages, as the separations of instruments is excellent and the bass is always under control and never gets in the way; voice, bass, drums and cymbals swing together in perfect harmony and with the usual great impact. There is a lot of intimacy with the singer, and again never any brightness, even in the passages where the voice reaches very high notes. The W5000 perfectly reveals the amount of energy and effort put in the songs by the singer. Yes there is a small amount of coloration in the voice compared to the SA5000, but the bottom line is a much more emotional and involving performance by the singer.

Nick Cave - The deep voice of Nick Cave sounds even more powerful with the full sound of the W5000. In the bluesy electric guitar I detected just a bit of distortion and harshness, certainly due more to the recording and the amp than to the W5000. The beautiful second track, “Breathless”, gives you goose bumps. Through the CD several analogic instruments are presents, notably flute, acoustic guitar and piano; the W5000 manage to render all of them in the most organic way: they all sound exactly as they would in the best concert hall. The female gospel chorus is perfectly placed above the main singer and slightly behind.

Kings of Leon - To listen to Rock with the W5000 is pure joy and this is a very good rock CD, somewhere between Creedence and Lynard Skynard. I had often read posts saying that Grado are the best HP for rock, or even the DT770 (??????????????). IMO for rock no headphone can come anywhere close to the W5000, king of rock by many miles. The combination of timing, tight bass, speed, impact and perfect decay of guitar and cymbals makes for a killer cocktail. I could go on and on describing how good rock sounds out of this can, but I prefer to suggest, if I may be so bold, do yourself a favour and spin some Kings of Leon, Clash, Led Zeppeling or Strokes.

Anthony and the Johnsons - again the W5000 handles very well the very different male voices in this CD, but what really shines is the piano: it really sounds clear, detailed, powerful and real, notably the sustain and decay of the notes is done to perfection.

New Pornographer - The W5000 is relatively forgiving. This CD sounds barely listenable, but not really enjoyable; unfortunately when a CD is badly recorded, miracles are difficult to perform and sadly there are tons of very badly recorded ones

Even though I have used the W5000 more than any other HP, is I am really astonished by this first performance. And this is the weakest configurations of weapons to be used in this war. I am very worried thinking about what can happen with a better amp and especially with the Opus 21 as a source.
I have to dig very deep to find any weak points: as I said there is a slight coloration in the female voices, but they still are outstanding, if just a touch less natural than with the SA5000. In a couple of very short passages I notice a tiny bit of distortion in the guitars, but I am quite sure this will disappear with better amplification.

W5000: 84%



This is the mysterious warrior from outer space: I had not heard it much, just in a couple of rigs at the nat meet, but I liked it and decided to buy it. I have read a lot of controversial posts about it and it has earned the nickname of SA5000 NIYE (five thousand needles in your ears).
They are still not fully broken in, so it still needs to sharpen its swords

Massive Attack - The first five things you notice it the SA are: detail, detail, detail, speed and speed. Wow this thing certainly is not boring! This CD get extremely eventful, there are really a lot of things going on and you really don’t miss any of the action. The SA manages to grasp immediately your attention and never gives you a moment of relax: as soon as you start to think about something else, it immediately draws you back to the action. Great fun; I have not tried to use them for several hours yet, but I can imagine a little of fatigue will arrive after a while, not due to brightness, but because they constantly demand your full attention.

The bass is not the heaviest, but I like it a lot: it is extremely fast, detailed, really tight and textured; it never interferes with the other frequencies and the bass lines are extremely easy to follow. It rivals with the bass of the W5000 and in my taste even just a bit better. As I said the detail is so absolutely unbelievable that gives a really unique sound signature. Compared to the W5000, the SA lacks of body without any doubt, but some of the punch is there with a bit less of impact. The speed is also astonishing, in a certain way may be even a touch too much: this HP never even remotely struggle to resolve the busiest and most complex situation. Cymbals and drums are snappy and impactful, the attack is fantastic, but there is almost no sustain and decay, so they don‘t bear much resemblance with reality, even though the effect is quite enjoyable; drums and cymbals is one of the points were the W5000 is miles ahead.
The soundstage is really unusual: certainly not wide, but it develops mostly in a vertical way: think about a band where each musician is positioned in a different floor. Certainly does not correspond to a real soundstage but, as usual with the SA, things are exciting: in a lively CD like this one there is tons of action shifting slightly laterally and mainly vertically. I believe this is the essence of the SA: not much fidelity to the real events, but lots of fun and excitement. Anyway the soundstage is certainly another clear win for the W5000.
There is a certain amount of brightness, but only occasionally and is not really a big issue as somebody reported; also they are not fully burnt-in, so it will very likely improve.
Plenty, plenty of air, no matter how complex the musical passage might be. I remember Drarthurwells describing the sound of the SA with some very strange words for me: he said that the individual notes are encapsulated in the air, or something like that. Now I see absolutely his point.
Moving to the different acoustic instruments, there is always the same sensation I had with the cymbals: the instruments don’t sound at all as they do in real life, but still everything sounds nice and enjoyable. For example, in the lovely second track of Nick Cave album, “breathless”, there is a flute introducing; with the SA you really could never guess which instrument you are hearing, although the effect is once again very pleasant. I believe that this is the reason why this can is probably the best with electronica: here you don’t have to confront the sound you hear with real life instruments and you can just enjoy the exciting sounds coming out of the SA without comparing.
Probably the artificiality of the instruments is due to the sheer speed of the SA: you end up hearing just the attack, but no sustain and decay; how can a piano or cymbals sound authentic in these conditions.
Shifting to Fiona Apple and Anthony I had a nice surprise: both female and male voices sound really good with the SA. And for once they sounded perfectly natural, not artificial at all, not quite as emotional as with the W5000, but more “true”, if I might say so (sorry but English is my third language).

All and all the SA puts on an excellent performance. Probably I won’t use them very often, but when I am looking for excitement I am sure they will give me a lot of fun. I would not recommend them at all to classical music lovers, but they certainly rule for electronica, they are good rock cans (although light years behind the W5000) and probably will do very well with electric rock (some Chick Corea stuff for example). I remember they sounded great with TDSOTM.
Finally I believe a tube amp with the proper tube rolling could be a good match.

Note to self: I will add Kraftwerk’s Minimum-maximum to the next battle

SA5000: 68%

HD 650

I have to admit that this first round is not really fair for the HD 650: they are the cheapest of the three in stock version; 99.9999% of headfiers use them with aftermarket cables, some people even buy the extra cable first and the headphone after; they are also IME very dependent on amplification and the headphone jack of the Lavry is quite a basic amp and not well suited for low Z. I liked the HD 650 in several rigs, with very different results according to the amp, but I never tried them with stock cables and I was a bit worried.

The first things I noticed is that the HD has two promising features: a very wide soundstage and a big full body, lot of weight.
But sadly, used with the Lavry the positive points end there. The bass is very heavy, frankly too much, extremely slow and totally out of control; the bass invades all other musical events and has no detail whatsoever: I have the feeling that just one note of bass goes through the whole song and carries on even on the next song.
The PRaT is terrible: everything is extremely slow and out of rhythm: it is as if the singer doesn’t know when to start, with drums and bass totally out of sync. No detail or air to speak of either: the bass envelops everything in a sort of big sticky ball. It just sounds like a picture out of focus: the different instruments are bigger than life, out of focus and overlapping with each other.
I have often heard of the infamous “Synthesiser veil”, in this rig it sounds to me like a blanket: the mids are very recessed and contaminated that the sloppy bass. I also heard some quite heavy distortion in busy passages, a sign that the Lavry is really struggling to cope with it.

I spent much less time with this HP compared to the other, because it was really not enjoyable and every time I put this on I felt the urge of putting my pyjama on and go to bed. So I won’t go too much into details, as I really feel there is something wrong in the pairing amp-headphone. I even thought that my pair had something out of order.
So before reporting about this first round, in order to avoid to be murdered by the “Revolutionary Movement of Sennheiser fanboys” I have to say that I could not resist and plugged the Original Master amp that I received only two hours ago into the Opus 21 and connected it to the HD650. Even though the amp is just out of the box, the difference is night and day: the HD650 now sounds like a real headphone and gives me high hope for the next battles, but I don’t want to spoil the follow up.

HD650: 46% (but IMO due to bad match with the amp)

So far the W5000 sliced the competition in small pieces and certainly performed above my expectations so far.
What I have learnt from the first round is:

- The Lavry's performances increase a lot with a good transport: it really improved greatly with the Musical Fidelity compared to the iriver as transport.
- Quality of mains supply matters much more than what I thought.
- If correctely set up the Lavry is a great DAC and the HP jack does a good job with low impedance HPs. Not suitable for high Z like the HD650 though
- As I expected the W5000 can perform in a sensational way even with basic amplification. I really don't know how much room for improvement there is going up the food chain; we'll see.

================================================== ============================

PART 2 - The rise of the machines

In this second part the same headphones will be used with the Original Master as amplifier; two other sources will be used besides the Lavry DA10: a Musical Fidelity X-Ray v3 and a Resolution Audio Opus 21.

The Original Master is a very small Chinese solid state amp, available in the USA for $195.
It looks really nice to me, very thin, all black with a minimalist aspect. It comes with a quite big separate power supply, something unusual at this price point: a power supply of this size on its own costs generally more than the price of the whole product.


Inserting Massive Attack CD something is immediately clear: the HD650 likes a lot this little amplifier: there is a night and day difference in the performance of this headphone compared to the pairing with the Lavry amp. The bass now is very powerful, but definitely much faster and has a hint of texture: with a little effort it is possible to follow the baselines. Certainly I prefer the tightness and texture of the bass both in the W5000 and SA5000, but certainly there is a huge progress; also the bass seems to be more separate from the other instruments, it does not contaminate the other events as it did before.
The result is a big, rich sound which definitely as a certain appeal. The drums now have impact, the cymbals don’t have the striking attack and definition of the W5000, but sustain and decay are good; the timing has improved a lot: everything goes in sync now. Still it is not a very fast can, but the whole picture now is quite balanced, enjoyable and organic, even when things start to move fast. The overall presentation is still relatively dark, but the Master has certainly brightened things up, it is obvious that the synergy is excellent: the HD650 has come to life, the blanket on the mid has practically disappeared.
Resolution and detail have improved enormously with the increased speed, everything is definitely more focused. I would not say there is air around the instruments: the presentation is still a bit creamy and thick, but even when there is a lot of stuff going around, the HD650 manage to resolve well and to separate the instruments decently.
The soundstage is wide, still mostly developed horizontally, hardly any movement in the vertical axis. The bass is still a bit upfront, but the voices are not recessed anymore: the idea given is like a band with bass player and singer placed a couple of yards in front of the other players. The imaging is not as precise as with the W5000 and the SA5000 because of the lower resolution and the lack of development in the vertical axis. But the overall effect is good: never at all any hint of brightness, this combo in my opinion is really relaxing and never tiring. Although not the most exciting by any means, it is very pleasant and only just a bit laid back and polite.
Shifting to simpler music the HD finds its favourite territory: with Eric Clapton unplugged it is a pleasure to listen to the HD640: with only a couple of voices and two or three acoustic instruments, the faults in imaging are not an issue and the rich, full-bodied sound of the HD650 gives a superior performance. With the slow rhythm, the HD is much more at ease compared to when things gets fast and furious.
With Nick Cave, Fiona Apple, Cat Power and Joan Armatrading the HD650 does very well too: voices sound really good now, although female ones lack a bit of emotion compared to the W5000.
I don’t think the HD can never be considered a great can for rock. With the Kings of Leon it still manages to do a decent job, thanks to the speed of the Master. But with this sort of music it is totally outclassed by the W5000: the HD simply doesn’t have the fantastic timing and the killing attack of the W5000. Also with rock the imaging is not as good as with the W5000 or SA5000: the electric guitars are in the background, well behind bass and voice, while with the other two headphones bass, drums, guitars and voices are perfectly positioned in the three dimensions and don’t compete for attention.
Acoustic jazz is another genre that the HD likes a lot, maybe the one it likes the best: again with less instruments and slower pace this can excels and never gets any brightness or edginess, even when Miles Davis trumpet reaches very high notes. Acoustic instruments are in the whole quite organic, although not as much as with the W5000 (I don’t know at all if “organic” is the right word, although it sounds good to me; by it I mean the ability to reproduced an instrument as it is in reality).

So a very good performance for the HD and a really impressive one for the Original Master. This little amp brings a strong and well controlled bass, a lot of speed and resolution and a bit of brightness that contrasts extremely well with the darkness of the HD650. It never struggles at all to drive the difficult load of the HD650; I have to be really picky to find a couple of occasions where I heard a hint of grain in the guitar or trumpets. I believe is difficult to find other amps below $500 capable of a similar performance with the HD650

This combo Master+HD650 at less than $500 represent unbeatable value for someone on a budget, mainly if the preferred music is anything but rock. I cannot say for sure, but I guess that it could very well with classical as well.
This pair also performed well with the three different sources, although as expected the Opus 21 added a bit of extra refinement.

HD650 with Origina Master: 70%


This one took me much longer than usual to make up my mind: the Original has about 150 hours now, and between 100 and 150 I believe it still opened up and lost a bit of brightness. To keep the comparison as close as possible I used the same source, so the set up was MF X Ray as transport feeding the DAC of the Lavry going to the Master through a balanced to RCA cable. The cable from the Lavry to the Master was brand new and it also changed a bit during the last 20-30 hours, probably it is not fully settled yet.
The W5000 out of the Lavry amp had done a wonderful job and did not leave me wanting in any department. So I was expecting that if the Original could get to the same level would be an excellent performance.
The difference between the two presentations is subtle and took me quite a while to fully appreciate. Generally speaking, amplifiers don’t have the same night and day difference one hear immediately in different headphones or sources, unless there is a clear (or lack of) synergy.

One thing I notice almost immediately is that the bass with the Master is slightly more powerful and deep, while remaining fast, tight and perfectly separated from the rest; absolutely perfect bass to my taste. The W5000 now has an even fuller sound and a lot of body.
Spinning some rock (Kings of Leon) the W5000 is as usual breathtaking. But I notice even more punch than usual. The usual great timing and speed with even more impact than before. Imaging is still perfect, even slightly improved, due to a bit more of micro resolution and extra air between instrument. No matter how fast and complex a passage can be, everything is placed in a well defined position and the individual instruments of voices are all on the foreground without competition. The Master’s presentation seems to be a bit more forward which makes things even more involving and emotional. Electric guitar have the same cutting attack and still float in the air perfectly and decay very correctly, cymbals are again by far the best I have heard from a headphone. In a couple of occasions I had the feeling of a tiny bit of grain in the guitars, but I believe that is practically gone with a bit more of burn in. I put on London Calling, which I must have heard trillions of times, and I just could not turn it off: it never sounded this good to me.
Moving on to Fiona Apple and Cat Power I notice a very subtle extra presence of the singer; the extra body and bass impact underpin really well the voices, resulting in increased involvement.
Going to Nick Cave and Antony and the Johnsons I notice some extra detail, notably I could hear more clearly the singer breaths. The piano gets even better: it is just a bit more liquid, while sounding still perfectly natural.
I wanted to try also some acoustic jazz, so I put on Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. With acoustic jazz the W5000 works really well and all acoustic instruments sound as they should in a small jazz club. Miles Davis trumpet is not easy at all on headphones: in the highest notes it can easily sound bright and harsh; this is never the case with the combo Master + Original Master. Switching back and forth between the Master and the Lavry amp I notice a more liquid quality in the piano and saxes with the Master as well as a great tight and organic bass. Brubeck “Time out” flows beautifully.

W5000 with Original Master: 88%

Part four: The battle of the hobbits

The Raptor

Well, we had a day of big work with all the nice stuff Justin (Doctorjuggles) brought to the battlefield. I had been looking forward for several days to test the Raptor with the different headphones and was not disappointed at all.
Justin received its Raptor only a couple of weeks ago; I believe it has a bit less than 100 hours, so maybe not fully burned in; it is equipped with the stock tubes. It did try the Raptor with the W5000 and several different sources at the nat meet and liked it a lot.
After playing around with different sources and amps, we quickly come to the conclusion that one pairing was well above the others: Resolution Audio + Raptor.
I would have liked to spend more time with this combo; also I wasn’t able to do any AB comparisons, as we only had two amps. Therefore my impressions will not be very detailed

I got them a week ago with about 250 hours on them and I put on another 100 hours. The K701 notoriously needs loads of burn in and I am still noticing some changes. I am quite enjoying this can, but still in the process of discovering it, so it is a bit early for final impressions.
The K701 has the widest soundstage of the four HP, with hardly any vertical development; actually it has a bit of front to back depth, but no height: I have the feeling that the instruments are placed in a very wide stage, the voice is in front of me and the bass behind my head: a bit unnatural, but quite pleasant. The Raptor certainly improved the imaging: every instrument is nailed in its position with a couple of metres of space around.
The bass of the K701 is quite good: decent power, quite tight and detailed; with the Raptor it certainly gains in power and focus, and is even more separated from the other events.
All around the presentation of the K701 with the Raptor is more focused, everything is a bit tighter, the impact is increased and the imaging much more precise. It has often been said that the Raptor is the most SS like of all valve amp and I must admit that I did not notice any coloration at all.
One of the few weak point that I have found in the K701 (but it could improve with burning in) is a tendency of certain instruments to sound a bit “plasticky”, mainly electric guitar and cymbals; with the Raptor the timbre of these instruments improved , although still far from the perfect presentation of the W5000

I have read in several posts that the Raptor is at its best with high-impedance HP. I must say the performance with the HD650 was so good that I have the feeling that the stock valve configuration has been made with this headphone in mind.
The speed, focus and imaging of the Raptor is exactly what the doctor ordered for the HD650. Finally the bass loses that woolly quality and get a bit of speed and details, resulting in a big, full, powerful sound. The bass is not overpowering all other events now, so the overall presentation is more detailed and a certain separation starts to appear. The midrange is no more hidden by the bass and finally comes a bit more upfront.
With the Raptor I finally start to seriously like the HD650, although some more detail, separation and speed would be very welcome. Although greatly improved, I believe this HP has some extra mileage to come, probably the right cable or a balanced configuration can get even further.

SA 5000
I was thinking that the characteristic of the stock Raptor would not suit the SA 5000 very well: this HP has already plenty of speed, detail and separation. Still the presentation is slightly improved: the bass is a little bit more powerful but still very tight and textured, probably not powerful enough for many people, but one of the best in my opinion. The air around the instruments is furthermore increased; the different instruments are a bit closer to natural, but still a piano is not exactly a piano and so on.
I still think that the SA 5000 sounds a bit thin and definitely lacks of soundstage compared to the other three. I am almost sure that it would sound even better from the Raptor with a bit of tube rolling: some more “tubey” tubes will add a much needed extra body. Then the only problem will be the reduced soundstage.

Going through the different amps, I always had the feeling that the W5000 is the one HP that is the least affected by changes in upstream electronics: it sounded already extremely well out of the Lavry and the Master; with the Raptor the performance was very similar. To tell the truth I don’t know what can really be improved: PRaT, speed, impact and timbre are already next to perfect; the soundstage is not the widest but develops both in width and height in a natural way. Imaging is excellent. I will try to roll some tubes in the future, but I believe it will difficult to squeeze out much more from this HP.

Conclusion on the Raptor
The Raptor is certainly a higher class piece of equipment and so it should be due to its price (seven times more than the Master). In the stock configuration is a very transparent amp: it doesn’t add any coloration and lets you hear the source as it is. If the source is not very good it is better to look for something more euphonic, or to roll tubes, but with a good source is really a pleasure.
With the four different headphones certain characteristics of the Raptor were consistent: powerful, tight, fast bass, very focused overall sound, more separation of the instruments, lot of speed, perfect imaging. Very detailed midrange and treble without any brightness. Plenty of power and authority; never heard any distortion or any struggle to drive any of the four HP
post #2 of 297
Looks like you've gathered all the ingredients for a massive battle. I look forward to hearing your impressions!
post #3 of 297
Needs more K701 but still looks to be quite a competition. I hope little blood is shed.
post #4 of 297
Looking forward to reading your thoughs. Since I am a smooth non fatiguing type of headphone guy, I am especially interested in the HD650 vs the W5000. Any heavier rock/metal tunes you can throw in the mix?
post #5 of 297
Do you have any thoughts regarding the W5000 vs HD650 in terms of warmth and "weight"? Specifically, how do the W5000 w/ warm tubes match up vs. HD650 on thin/neutral SS?

I need closed cans (not for isolation, for leakage), and the W5000 + PPX3 Slam is looking mighty fine right now...if I go for a home setup at all...and all I have for reference is the Senn sound.

Thanks for the effort in setting up this comparison
post #6 of 297
I find it curious that you have found the W5000 to be amplification independent. Even going from my PPX3 SLAM to my MiniMax headphone jack (considered excellent for a built in amp) yields a large difference in sound to my ears. Though I have listened to all three of these headphones and have found the W5K to be my favorite, I am still looking forward to seeing your results.
post #7 of 297
I'd be interested to know how they sound with hip-hop.
post #8 of 297
Originally Posted by 3lusiv3
I'd be interested to know how they sound with hip-hop.
x2 i think i have my 'fun' setup down, now id like a reference setup
post #9 of 297
Let the battle commence.
Will you also be trying them with the war of the worlds dvd, to test their suitability as home-cinema weapons?

But mainly... WOW... when I visited last, you had less than half of this gear. Somebody has been on a bit of a spending spree...
post #10 of 297
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by darkninja67
Needs more K701 but still looks to be quite a competition. I hope little blood is shed.
This is a great idea, had not thought about it.
I will add a fifth chapter for the K701: "The return of the Jedi"
post #11 of 297
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by stewtheking
Let the battle commence.
Will you also be trying them with the war of the worlds dvd, to test their suitability as home-cinema weapons?

But mainly... WOW... when I visited last, you had less than half of this gear. Somebody has been on a bit of a spending spree...
Hi Stew,
Great idea to test it with movies. In fact I can output the DVD into the DAC of the Resolution Audio and directely into the cans. I think it could be great fun, although I would loose the 5:1 and especially the scary subwoofer

I had not bought any gear for several months waiting for the nat meet to audition some stuff and make up my mind. So now I started to loosen my wallet .
Also I needed to get ready for the next minimeet
post #12 of 297
If I get my amp fixed this upcoming week, I would be willing to lend it to you. I wonder especially how the W5k does with lesser $$ amps, such as the Original Master, a HeadFive or even a AD8620 based PINT. I have the feeling that the W5000 could sound wonderful out of these, as long as they are voiced just right. Considering the relatively steep price of the cans themselves, the suffiency of a 200 Euro amp (vs. the necessity of very powerful and expensive amps for the HD650 annd K701) would be a nice leverage in terms of overall cost and might make the W5k attractive to more head-fiers.
post #13 of 297
Very nice. Not so exciting though because we all know the winner of this battle.
post #14 of 297
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by mattigol
If I get my amp fixed this upcoming week, I would be willing to lend it to you.
Thanks a lot Mathias, it would be really great, although I am not sure what amp you are talking about (I suppose the Earmax, right?).
Where are you based anyway? Je crois que tu es en France, n'est-ce pas?

Originally Posted by mattigol
I wonder especially how the W5k does with lesser $$ amps, such as the Original Master, a HeadFive or even a AD8620 based PINT. I have the feeling that the W5000 could sound wonderful out of these, as long as they are voiced just right. Considering the relatively steep price of the cans themselves, the suffiency of a 200 Euro amp (vs. the necessity of very powerful and expensive amps for the HD650 annd K701) would be a nice leverage in terms of overall cost and might make the W5k attractive to more head-fiers.
As I said previously, I have tried the W5000 with a lot of different amps at different price points and it never sounded badly (well actually I consider the headphone jack of the Lavry a poor amp and still it sounds great out of it). Let's say from 0 to 100, the W5000 never go below 65 with a decent source.
This is not the case of cans like the HD650 and K701, whose performances vary much more according to the amplification, let's say they can both start from 45%, then may be they can can as good as the ATH with the right amp.
That is one of my main goal in this scary war.
post #15 of 297
I'm anticipating the battles with eagerness and some apprehension. It almost feels as if it is taking place right on my own equipment rack.

With the Lavry DA10 as source and Raptor as the amp, I predict it will be difficult for the W5000 to win a decisive battle versus the HD650 or K701. If the music is electronica, the SA5000 will be hard to defeat.

Unfortunately, I don't have any of the CDs and can't conduct any preliminary war games to predict the outcomes.
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