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AKG K701 vs. Audio Technica ATH-W5000 vs. Ultimate Ears Triple.fi 10 Pro vs. Vienna Acoustic...

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 
This review compares three great headphones with an excellent 3-way, floor standing speaker system. During all of the review the headphones were driven by my stock Woo Audio WA6 that has between 200 and 300 hours on it. The speakers were driven by a 300 watt (into 4 ohms) Conrad Johnson CA200 “Control Amp”. (Like an integrated amp, but with no line stage, just stepped attenuators).

I’m going to focus mainly on sound and comfort. You can see plenty of pictures elsewhere and detailed specifications are available at each manufacturer’s site. The cans are all actually pretty well known at Head-fi.org but I haven’t seen exactly this comparison before. Some of the music that I used for the comparison is as follows:
  • Rob Wasserman’s Duets CD, particularly Ballad of the Runaway Horse, sung by Jennifer Warnes
  • Bags Meets Wes: Milt Jackson & Wes Montgomery 45 rpm reissue by Analogue Productions
  • ELLA and LOUIS on Riverside 33 1/3 rpm Analogue Productions reissue
  • Hope, by Hugh Masekela, another stunning 45 rpm Analogue Productions reissue

One of the cuts that got much of my attention were the Ballad of The Runaway Horse on Duets because it’s loaded with powerful bass (Wasserman is a bassist) juxtaposed with Jennifer Warren’s rich female voice recorded with a close mic. The other cut was Stimela on Masekela’s Hope. Stimela has everything including intentional sibilance, cymbal splashes, solid electric bass, flugelhorn and huge dynamics recorded, live no less, with incredible tumbrel accuracy.

My audiophile point of view is as a serious musician. I’ve played semi-pro trumpet in a funk/rock/soul band and regularly play with regional symphonies, brass bands and wind ensembles. I’m founder of the Rocky Mountain Trumpet Fest and a member of the International Trumpet Guild. As such, I get to hear a lot of trumpet and brass ensembles, symphonies and choral works. I also like bass. Many the times I’ve sat with my back against the wall containing the organ pedal pipes as I played trumpet in a large church. I’ve sat next to 8 double basses as they rumble through a Mahler or Strauss piece. I’m sensitive to accurate midrange particularly on trumpet and the female voice and I love deep, accurate, rich bass, acoustic or amplified.

I also play archtop guitar and write for Just Jazz Guitar. I started guitar late in life, so I’m not near as good as I am on trumpet; however, my writing assignments have led me to many great guitarists up close and personal. John Hart, Jimmy Bruno and others have played my guitars and I’ve played theirs. I know the sounds of acoustic archtop and amplified archtop through various amps.

Over the last fifty-years I’ve got thousands of hours of live listening experience.

As a musician I find that I really focus on timbral accuracy and dynamics. My ears quickly pick up on congestion and unnatural sounds. For fun, I listen to jazz, classical, orchestral, choral, pop, funk, rock, soul and a few other genres and regularly attend concerts of all those types of music.

I’ll address each set of drivers in alphabetical order:

AKG K701 –
I purchased these new for $270.

I’ve had these the longest, but they’ve still only got about 150-hours on them. I got them and the Woo within a day or two of each other. They sounded real good together right out of the box, but I still broke them in with about 50-hours playing music through them for two days straight. I noticed little change; however, as they went past 100-hours the bass seemed to loosen up and get fuller. They’ve been stable for the last 50-hours or so, but I haven’t accumulated the 300+ hours that many say these need to come into their own.

The word for the open backed 701s is “smooth”. Their overall sound is much like the others in this review with extended highs and deep bass. However, compared to all the others, the edges are all a little rounded off. The lows are very solid, but they lack overtone detail. The same is true of the highs. You hear all the notes with accurate timbre but you don’t hear the overtones and “air” as clearly with any of the others.

Compared to the W5000s, the AKGs need about 20% more gain to get equivalent subjective loudness. Dynamics are excellent, but not tops in this group. That award is a tie between the Vienna Acoustics speakers and the Triple.fis. The AKGs and ATs are tied just slightly behind, which isn’t really all that bad. I think all four are in the 90th percentile, but the VAs and UEs are about 5% more dynamic.

These are very musical phones. The Woo is very smooth and doesn’t need the added smoothness that these provide. Bass, vocals, instrumental, percussion, etc. all sound right, but compared to the very best you can’t listen as deeply into the details, just as bass overtones or cymbal sheen. If you’ve got a front end with a little edge or an inexpensive headphone amp, then these might be just the trick, taking a little edge off any residual hardness.

Imaging is a strong suit of the AKGs, producing an image almost as broad and tall as the speakers. I’d say it got it about 80%, which I consider excellent for cans. It’s impossible to get the dispersion of good speakers with cans that cover the ears or go in the ears, but these give a surprisingly good representation.
The cushions were very comfortable for me, completely surrounding my ears and keeping pressure off the outer ears. These are very easy for me to listen for hours on end.

Audio Technica ATH-5000 –

I purchased these used for $610 off Head-fi.org.

I purchased these thinking that they’d be a good closed back companion for the 701s. Reading between the lines of most reviews they seemed to be of the same cloth, but sealed and with a little more “air.”

The seller couldn’t tell me how many hours were on this pair, but I suspect that it was very few hours. They look immaculate, but they sounded like pure crap right out of the box. They were nasal, hard and harsh. Unlike the AKGs where everybody says they need “at least” 300-hours, most AT owners were telling me that they didn’t really change character over time. Hmm, I’m glad I didn’t listen and gave them a fair chance. First I burned them for 24-hours with white noise and didn’t really notice any improvement. For the next 24-hours I used music with lots of organ and orchestral highs. At that point I could hear a dramatic improvement. I ended up burning them in for about 125-hours before this review.

The W5000s had the weakest bass of the four drivers in this comparison. It wasn’t bad at all, but in direct A-B-C-D comparison it was down in volume compared to the others. The quality of the bass was very good, making it easy to separate the fundamental from the overtones, yielding a rich, complex bass performance but lacking the slam of the others. Yes, I made sure that they were well positioned on my ears for optimal bass.

Highs and air are where the ATs excel. They’re right on the cusp of harsh. Keep in mind that I’m mostly listening to analog through a very smooth, clean headphone amp. If you don’t have exceptionally clean sources then be careful before you get into these. There may be more margin of error down the road after another 150-hours, but a little too much volume or poor master will not be pleasant with only 150-hours. When the W5000s get it right, the air and ring around notes can be stunning.

These cans are super sensitive to placement on the ears. I preferred them a little high and forward. Directly over the ear canals was more harsh than airy and presented a smaller image. The headband is too loose for the slightly higher weight of the cans, probably due to the woody-style construction. I moved them around a bunch to make sure I wasn’t missing any bass. The headband design is a little funky, with a couple of over-wires and two little winglets that actually rest against the head. To really adjust the feel and placement on the head you need to bend the wire parts of the band. In contrast, the AKGs have a comfortable and highly adjustable headband.
The pads rested on my outer ears. This proved uncomfortable for long listening sessions.

These are the most efficient of the three cans.

Ultimate Ears Triple.fi 10 Pro –

I purchased these new for $349.

I bought the Tri.fis as my travel phones. As almost everyone here knows, they’re IEMs (Inner Ear Monitors). They actually have three drivers. When properly inserted into the ears they provide about 26 dB of isolation, which is a lot. On a plane I can’t hear the announcements when these are in and music is playing.

These recently replaced my UE Super.fi 5 Pros and they’ve got under 10-hours on them. I took them on one or two trips and prior to this test hadn’t really listened to them seriously through the Woo. I haven’t tried the burn them in, so now I’m wondering if they’ll get better with use. They are exceptional right out of the box.

Wow, the UEs combine all the best attributes of the AKGs and ATs and expand on those in a couple of areas.

The bass is really solid, with great slam and all the detail you could desire. The fundamental is solid and the overtones are almost like separate notes. The character of each bass instrument is totally laid bare. Male voices are rich, detailed and full. At the opposite end of the spectrum, cymbal splashes are dramatic and rich. The air and reverberation is totally natural. Listening to the UEs, the ATs suddenly seem a little over the top when it came to their highs. The UE’s sibilants are detailed and natural with no overemphasis.

One disadvantage is that when I use these at home, I can’t hear my wife at all. (She considers that bad form and insensitive for some reason). With the AKGs I can enjoy music and still hear what’s going on around me. On the other hand, the isolation allows me to listen at lower levels and hear all the details.

If I could have just one set of phones it’d be the UEs. I NEED them when I travel and they’re exceptionally natural in the home system.
The imaging is surprisingly good. Given that all the sound is in your ear canal, it’s hard to understand how these can present a reasonable natural image. Like cans with no signal modification, centered sounds seem at the top of the head. These are no exception, but I hear lots of side to side information and sounds stacked on top of each other. The image is very steady, with lots of depth and vertical details.

The efficiency of the UEs is right behind the ATs. My iPhone gives them plenty of signal to produce realistic sound levels.

Vienna Acoustic Baby Grand speakers –

I purchased these new for $3,500.

You can’t beat the impact and slam of full range speakers. If I could only have one set of drivers it’d be these. I’d do without music on planes if I had to make the choice.

Basically the VAs give you the extension accuracy of the UEs combined with a huge image and the slam of bass notes in your chest. They easily separate fundamentals from their harmonics.

Of course, a big drawback is cost. These cost more than 10-times the AKGs and UEs and 5-times the ATs. The supporting Woo amp is one-tenth the cost of a new Conrad Johnson. My Analysis Plus speaker cables cost three-times as much as the Woo. When you consider the cost difference, the performance of all these cans is amazing. With the UEs very little is missing.

Here’s my no holds barred, cost no object ranking:
1.Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grands
2.UE Triple.fi Pro 10s
3.AKG K701
4.Audio Technica W5000

I think I’ll keep all the cans. The UEs will remain my travel cans and I’ll start using them more at home. The AKGs will be the at home cans when the wife is around and I’m not fully concentrated on music. The ATs will be my recording cans.

I could use the UEs for recording, but they’re harder to slip on and off quickly. You actually have to spend a few seconds winding the wire over the back of your ears and then twisting the IEMs into your ears. With the ATs you can literally throw them on in a second. Quite often, when I’m monitoring, I want to get in and out of the cans quick. The ATs should also be very revealing of problems, given their extra “air” and emphasis of detail.

Hopefully this'll prove helpful to some considering these cans.

Dave
post #2 of 42
Quote:
The W5000s had the weakest bass of the four drivers in this comparison.
Are you sure you had a correct sealing? Fitting on non-asian heads is a known issue of the W5000, and it sounds awfully thin if the sealing is suboptimal. A buddy I know has them, but after modifying the pads, they developed bass qualities I'd call thunderous.
post #3 of 42
excellent read...hope you'll revisit the cans after additional burn-in
and let us know if you still view them the same.
post #4 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nickchen View Post
Are you sure you had a correct sealing? Fitting on non-asian heads is a known issue of the W5000, and it sounds awfully thin if the sealing is suboptimal. A buddy I know has them, but after modifying the pads, they developed bass qualities I'd call thunderous.
Of course, I knew that someone would question me on this, so I held them with my hands and moved them to all positions, put pressure on them and took pressure off them to no avail.

As I said, the bass was good, with more detail than the 701s, but not as much slam as either the 701s or the Triple.fi. The Triple.fis are absolutely stunning in the bass with real slam and articuate rendering of the detail character of each bass instrument. The UEs blew away the competition in this area, excepting the Vienna Acoustics which had the added benefit of hitting me in the chest. The 701s had great volume and dynamics but lacked in detail while the W5000s provided detail, but lacked in volume.

The point of a comparison of three very good cans like these is not to declare a "winner" but to point out the relative strengths and weaknesses. No one should take my comments regarding the W5000's bass as damning. All three of the cans are very, very good, top to bottom. Peoples' priorities will determine which they prefer.

As you point out, the W5000's headband design is probably its weakest feature.

Dave
post #5 of 42
Pictures of the speaker rig?
post #6 of 42
one problem with all VA spkr is they lack the type of holographic pin-point accuracy/walk around the soundstage type of sound.

for similar price Harbeth SHL5 destroys most of the VAs in most rooms; for a little more the smaller Dynaudio Confidence monitor is superb...surprisingly deep bass; and for a little more than that Harbeth M40.1, amazing with bass slam down to 20hz in all but the largest rooms; and little more than that SF Amati destroys SHL5....although it doesn't destroy the Confidence or M40.1 .....for a little more you can get a BMW135i

There are much better spkrs than the VA for just a little more - that's the truth.

VA is great at first sounding..but they get worse as time passes.

Regardless spkr > headphone there is almost no contest unless all you listen for is timbre/tone.

If I were the OP I get rid of the W5000 and upgrade something for the spkr rig.
post #7 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by nickchen View Post
Are you sure you had a correct sealing? Fitting on non-asian heads is a known issue of the W5000, and it sounds awfully thin if the sealing is suboptimal. A buddy I know has them, but after modifying the pads, they developed bass qualities I'd call thunderous.
the bass on the W5000 is sub par, no matter how they are fitted.
post #8 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by chesebert View Post

VA is great at first sounding..but they get worse as time passes.

Regardless spkr > headphone there is almost no contest unless all you listen for is timbre/tone.

If I were the OP I get rid of the W5000 and upgrade something for the spkr rig.
Very funny...
post #9 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kelim View Post
Pictures of the speaker rig?
Check this link:
AudiogoN Forums: Hi rez achieved while maintaining decor...
post #10 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by vcoheda View Post
the bass on the W5000 is sub par, no matter how they are fitted.
Hmm...I liked it. The K701/DT880/CD3K bass is ok, but a bit aenemic, whereas D2000 and HD650 tend towards fatiguing boom. The W5K provides the perfect compromise for my listening habits.
post #11 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by takezo View Post
excellent read...hope you'll revisit the cans after additional burn-in
and let us know if you still view them the same.
Remind me in six-months.

Maybe I should get a cheap, throwaway, Chinese rectifier for the Woo so I don't feel so bad about frying it with non-listening hours.

Dave
post #12 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by vcoheda View Post
the bass on the W5000 is sub par, no matter how they are fitted.
Granted they are not bass monsters, but if someone gets from them less bass then from K701, then there is definitely something wrong. They have more bass than DT880, which are bassier than K701.
post #13 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew_WOT View Post
Granted they are not bass monsters, but if someone gets from them less bass then from K701, then there is definitely something wrong. They have more bass than DT880, which are bassier than K701.
then we disagree.

i would say the K701 and definitely the DT880 have more or better bass than the W5000. the K701 either has better bass or at least a fuller sound that seems to appear as stronger bass. as for the DT880 ('05 version) there is no doubt in my mind that the bass is both more present and with greater impact than the W5000.
post #14 of 42
Very nice review...makes me want the triple.fi even more now.
post #15 of 42
The size and fit is something to definately consider.

Since I am a female with small ears...
Grado's with bowls are circumaural - ES7's are almost circumaural (earrings) - Senn's are huge - AKG's coause no pain - Audio Techincas have no fit issue whatsoever.
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