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REVIEW: Lawton Audio (formerly "markl Mods") modded MD5000 DE (Deluxe Ed) vs APS V2 cable D2000...

post #1 of 36
Thread Starter 
I had the opportunity to spend 10 days with the Mark Lawton modded MD5000 DE (modded Denon deluxe edition), which are the Denon D5000 with added internal dampening, over-stuffed ear-pad cushions, and Jenna Labs cryo wire re-cable. I have to warn you that the cost of the mods on the pair I tried is $599, making the cost of a pair of these (if you don't already own D5000’s = $459 + $599 = $1058, making them fairly expensive.

I lost the photos that I took of these phones close up, but have some other pics in my camera out in the car from a mini-meet with plaidplatypus over the weekend, so I'll post them later in the day. Be patient please.

I compared them to my well used Denon D2000 that were re-cabled last year by APureSound with their V2 cable (silver plated copper with 75% of the wire being silver), and my D2000 with 4-pin XLR plug and the proper adapter cables can be used single ended or balanced. I also unfairly compared them to some of my electrostatic headphones, the Koss ESP950 with Stax PC-OCC cable and Woo GES maxed amp. I briefly pulled out the Stax O2 Mk2 and SR-Lambda and HE60 as well. My source was Marantz CD5001 fed into Apogee Mini-DAC with Sigma 11 and using a Synergistic Research Active-Shield Coax digital cable, or my Macbook with sysconcept.ca optical cable and lossless files. My amp was a Woo WA6 set for low-impedance, and interconnect was an ALO SXC cryo mini-RCA. At an early point in the review I had to switch to my Single Power Square Wave XL balanced/SE amp because of improved synergy, and this amp can also drive single ended headphones. I also tried the Head-Direct EF1 tube hybrid, and the Apogee mini-DAC headphone out. I listened to my usual selection of jazz, rock, electronic and classical music.

Listening to them on their own, and compiling a list of the MD5000 DE traits, I found them to be a very competent headphone that reminded me a little of the Audio Technica ATH-W11R or W5000 (or Sony CD3000, and going from memory on all three of those), but fortunately not sounding irritating to me in the upper mids like either of those. And the MD5000 DE were producing much better and present bass than I remembered any of those producing. At first listen the MD5000 DE have a little bit of a “cupped hands” coloration with the mids that I could sometimes hear, just like Skylab commented about. But, this feeling would go away within a few minutes of listening to them, and by the end of the first couple of days my brain would adjust to it instantly when switching from another headphone to these. Treble was clear and crisp with good extension, while the stock D5000 and D7000 that I have heard in the past seemed to roll off slightly at the very top end (listened to D7000 the weekend before these arrived). The bass volume was less than with stock D2000/5000/7000 but certainly adequate and well controlled, and also with no roll off at the deep end.

What I found to be especially good about the mids was that they pulled minute details out of the background, and made vocals and strings or other melodies easier to follow. Shortly after I received them I woke up to the fact that these vocals and melodies were often the main attraction to the musical piece, and that my D2000 were suppressing this and making it more a part of the background. I could put on a piece with strings or sax or piano and the D2000 would blend it all into the background or mid-ground, while the MD5000 DE brought them front and center and woke up the music and gave it focus. I noticed this sound signature was very similar to the midrange and high frequency detail that I get with my Stax-cabled Koss ESP950 electrostatic headphones, which I compared side by side with the MD5000 DE. Soundstage was also similar, with both having a more forward and less wide presentation. I did think the Koss electrostatics were a little more transparent both tonally and in being able to hear past the drivers and into the music, however the MD5000 DE clearly surpassed the ESP950 in the bass department. The MD5000 DE bass is simply deeper, stronger and more pervasive in the music when called for, and never overpowering when it isn't supposed to be. The ESP950 bass was "more heard than felt", although it was still more than the Sennheiser HE60 by a small amount. Neither the MD5000 DE or ESP950 could touch the big see-through soundstage of the HE60. In the end, I would be more likely to grab the MD5000 DE than the Koss ESP950 for classical and rock and electronica, but I really liked the ESP950 with jazz and vocal/acoustic music and some new age as well. I do think the Stax O2 Mk2 with GES are better, but at 2x the cost of the MD5000 DE and Single Power amp, and the Stax still can't match the max volume or pounding bass of the MD5000 DE when called for.

It was also an interesting comparison here between my APS V2 cabled Denon D2000 vs the MD5000 DE. They do sound like completely different headphones. In a sense, I thought the D2000 were more relaxing and laid back, but also less involving and less detailed. The D2000 were sometimes more enjoyable than the MD5000 DE, but with a fair portion of my test music I found that the D2000 were lacking some crucial micro-details which often made them more entertaining than realistic. This was especially noticeable in Arvo Part "Tabula Rasa" where with the MD5000 you could hear the rosin of the bow on the strings and the violins were brought forward, instead of blending more into the musical ensemble as part of the melody rather than as the main focus (the D2000). With the MD5000 DE I heard similar things with the saxophone taking the lead over the organ in Arne Domnerus Antiphone Blues, while the organ notes would dominate in the D2000. Or with Nora Jones, I had the feeling like she was more present in the room in "Wish I Could" when listening with the MD5000 DE. Same with Jack Johnson or Shelby Lynn, although with the Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" the MD5000 DE mids were sometimes harsh and forceful. Speaking of wishing, all I could wish for was the MD5000 to be balanced, so the two headphones would be on more of a level playing field - because the soundstage of the balanced D2000 was nice and wide with great channel separation, vs a more narrow soundstage with the MD5000 DE. But with the D2000 the instruments tended to blur into each other more easily, and despite the wider soundstage it seemed to be flatter/less depth.

Also, vs the MD5000 DE it became more apparent that my D2000 had an over-emphasis on the low mids and upper bass with vocals, that made them sound too close mic'd rather than up close and personal. With the D2000 however, the deep bass was simply delicious and I couldn't get enough of it, even though it was slightly less controlled than the MD5000 DE. I also thought the APS D2000 have a slightly sweeter treble, just like I heard when it was compared with the stock D7000 at the Colorado meet on 11/1/08. Unfortunately the D7000 went on to the Chicago meet last weekend and I didn't have a chance to compare them to the MD5000 DE which arrived too late. The stock D7000 had enough bass which I like, and with the amps we used the D7000 was also well controlled and not sloppy. But most everyone at the Colorado meet on 11/1 still liked my balanced APS V2 D2000 better than the stock D7000, and felt the D7000 needed a re-cable (mostly for the treble roll-off as they otherwise sounded fairly close to each other). I can say with confidence that my APS V2 D2000 sound closer to the stock D7000 than they do to the MD5000 DE. Even though we felt the APS V2 D2000 was slightly above the D7000, I would have been happy with either at the time of the meet.

I briefly used the MD5000 DE with the Woo WA6 maxed and compared them to the balanced D2000 and the balanced HD600 on the Single Power, with the same music at the same time. This didn't go over as well as I hoped since the MD5000 DE really do thrive on a good solid state amp with high current output. So the Woo was nice with the Denon but it is not the best amp choice for these. I knew this going into the review, based on using the WA6 with the D2000. So, the majority of the review was done listening with the Single power which is a discrete SS amp. The MD5000 DE also did well with the Head-Direct EF1 tube hybrid amp, being my second choice after the Single Power. I thought they were a little too forward out of the Apogee mini-DAC headphone out, but it was useable. With the right amp the MD5000 rival the best dynamics, and with the wrong amp they are good but not spectacular.

I regret that I never tried them with my son's Millett starving student, Meier Headfive, or Travagans Red and Green, but I had to ship the headphones out to the Florida meet before I could do that. Also, since the MD5000 DE have that big heavy Furutech plug, I didn't try them with any portable amps for fear of hurting their weak 1/8" jacks. Speaking of the Furutech plug - those plugs grab the Single Power amp's 1/4" jacks with a death grip, and once plugged in they resist being pulled out with a vengeance. That is one of the reasons why I re-terminated a 6 foot APS V3 cable with Furtech to balanced, instead of buying a new cable - I had to get rid of the Furutech. They feel great in the hand, and are well built, but I just want to warn you how tight they can hang onto the headphone jack in some cases. I had no problem plugging in and out of the WA6, but the grip on the EF1 jack was in between the other two amps. It made quick A/B testing almost impossible and several times I yanked my amp off the shelf unplugging the headphones, until I learned the proper technique and it became habit. Normally this wouldn't be a problem if you are a normal listener with one headphone and one amp (leave it plugged in all the time), and not trying to compare a baziliion headphones vs each other in short period of time.

Lastly, I did not think these MD5000 are uncomfortable, although the D2000 are still a bit more soft and more comfortable (like a plush sofa). On the other hand I will say that my new HD600 with brand new pads are more uncomfortable, with a firm tight clamp and stiff pads. The old saggy pads that I had on the HD600 before were very comfortable, but they had flattened out and made the HD600 more forward (need to bend the headband wider I guess). And sometimes my Edition 9 are uncomfortable after a while, although not right away. But the MD5000 DE are more comfortable so far than the new HD600 pads or Edition 9, and no worse than the Stax O2 Mk2. Also they don't make me sweat around the ears like Stax Lambda or Koss ESP950. The D2000 are still my most comfortable headphones.

In the end, if I were to own the MD5000 DE I would have them terminated as balanced headphones, and I would use them often. I'd keep the Edition 9 around as a really fun headphone with good detail, but they are a pain to take out and return to the flight case because my cable has the techflex sleeve which is too stiff (I had these re-cabled as portable anyway). I'd keep the RS-1 around for a nice crisp transparent open headphone for hot summers (and they are re-cabled for portable too). I like variety and would still struggle with the idea of selling off the less used full size headphones, but the MD5000 DE could certainly displace/replace my HD600 and D2000 and A900. I consider my D2000 my "nighttime chill" headphones. It still bothers me that this is one of those headphones that your brain has to adjust to by using it for a bit before it sounds "right". Once that happens the sound opens up a bit and sounds less like a closed headphone, but first impressions can put some people off. The level of detail is good enough to challenge some of my electrostatics, and the MD5000 DE would be used more often than my ESP950 or Lambdas but not the O2 Mk2. The MD5000 DE would be the headphones to listen to while my electrostatic amp warms up for an hour or two.
post #2 of 36
Thread Starter 
I apologize, but I lost all the photos of the MD5000 DE except the photo below which came from a Mini-Meet with plaidplatypus on 11/09/08. We moved my gear from the bedroom and set up a temporary rig for headphone auditions in the living room- That included the MD5000 DE on bottom shelf to the left of D2000 (no woodies yet).

On the top shelf was Sony D-EJ2000 PCDP with optical out sitting on top of 24v sigma 11 for the Super Pro DAC707 sitting to the right of it (little purple box), and Woo GES maxed with normal and pro bias sockets. The SR-5NB gold edition are hanging on the top left, and Stax SR-003 IEM hanging top right. The middle row has a Millett Starving Student Hybrid on the left (Nascar 24) and Head-Direct EF1 in the middle, and Apogee mini-DAC with Single Power Square Wave XL balanced stacked on it at the right. On the floor is the SR-325i balanced, HD600, RS-1, and HE60, with the black case containing the Stax cabled Koss ESP950, and the flight case below the Macbook with Stax SR-007 O2 Mk2. If you look in the base of the potted plant you will see the Pico DAC/Amp being used as a DAC/Pre-amp vs the Apogee mini-DAC optical. plaidplatypus preferred the Pico DAC with the Stax O2/GES, as well as his own Lavry DA10 that we set up as well (missing from photo):

post #3 of 36
I've been waiting for this review for a while. Thanks, Larry! Another very interesting read.

I need some time with my new Denon D2000's before I can catch up to the concept of them being underpowered with the Woo 6. I am curious about that. After they get through burn-in and I am comfortable with how they sound in my system, I hope to try them with Shelly's GS-1 to see what difference I find with a good ss amp.

I am also curious about the markl mod. I actually like the recessed mids for a change of pace from my HD600's, so I am not sure the mod would suit my purpose even if it does make the phone more balanced through the frequency range.

You are on the money about the Furutech plug. I have it on both of my phones, and it can even be a bit sticky in the Woo. I can see where the weight of it would not be a good idea for a portable, and one should have a cable-type adaptor around for that purpose.
post #4 of 36
nice reviews!
post #5 of 36
Thanks, Larry, for a thorough, even-handed and well-written review. I appreciate the time you took with the MD5000 DE, and the care with which you put it through its paces. Nicely done. Cheers.

If you would like to spend some time with and review the MD5000 DE, have over 400 posts plus good feedback, a mid-fi or better solid-state system and live in the USA, feel free to contact me and we'll discuss.
post #6 of 36
Nice review, as always, Larry. Well done.
post #7 of 36
Another nice read, thank you very much. Between the MD5000 DE and the Edition 9, which one did you find to have better bass quality and impact?
post #8 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Tranzaddict View Post
Another nice read, thank you very much. Between the MD5000 DE and the Edition 9, which one did you find to have better bass quality and impact?
I thought the MD5000 DE quality and control to be a little better, while the Edition 9 and D2000 (both with APS V3 cable) have more quantity and impact.

If you ask me, is the MD5000 DE bass tight? I would ask you, do frogs have watertight ********?
post #9 of 36
Great Review! Ive been interested in these cans for a while. If only I wasn't trying stats first, MarkL would have been the one to get my money this week. Definitely my next dynamic purchase! (md2000 DE or with wooden cups)
post #10 of 36
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by donunus View Post
Great Review! Ive been interested in these cans for a while. If only I wasn't trying stats first, MarkL would have been the one to get my money this week. Definitely my next dynamic purchase! (md2000 DE or with wooden cups)
I was going to send you a copy of the review link, and then decided not to so that I wouldn't confuse your decisions.
post #11 of 36
Thanks, that closed cup coloration is what I don't want right now though even though everything else is awesome. It simply just turns me off. I'd rather just have something not as technically proficient but so soothing to listen to
post #12 of 36
I just took D5000 out of the box. I woul d like to thak Larry and Mark for the oportunity to listen to them.

Just plugged them into a Singlepower MPX3 Slam SE. I am using a Tungsol tall bottle 6SN7GT as the driver and a pair of Raytheon 6SN7GTB as the power tubes. The source is a Monarchy NM34 DAC, fed Apple Lossless via iTunes and a Chaintech AV710 and optical cable. BTW the music is courtesy of Spyro Gyra and Ella Fitzgerald.

The soundstage is wide, with lots of detail, clarity, and air between the notes. It is very easy to place the instruments. I did a very quick comparison w/ my JVC/Vixtor HP-DX1000. The D5000 needs at least three additional clicks on the attenuator to have the same level.

I find the D5000 to be a bit crispier, has more extension, and is more detailed than the DX1000. Perhpas it is that the DX1000 has more bass. Soundstage to be compared later.

The D5000 is very confortable. More to come as I spend more time w/ them.
post #13 of 36
MarkL, I really hate you! I sat down 30 or so minutes ago to have a quick listen. Well my food is on the table and I do not want to get up to eat it. If you saw a picture of my "fat belly" you would realize what a big deal it is for me to pass on food.

This sound fantastic! lots of detail, clarity, air between the notes, and instrument placement. AMAZING!

Do I have to return them? Just kidding! (I think ) If there is one thing that this can deserves is a real leather pad cover. What a pity that Denon chose not to use leather on the pads!

BTW, the bass is not what I was expecting. Many complain on the D5000 having to much bass but I find that it is on the light side. Both my DX1000 and the HFI-780 w/ a V3 APureSound re-cable have significant more bass.

More to come.
post #14 of 36
Hi mrarroyo,
Glad they have made a positive first impression. The Denons with that challenging 25ohm load really do crave a fat solid state amp, it's hard for tubes to fully deliver (as you see having to turn your amp so much to accomodate them). When you go to the meet this weekend, do try it on some of the better solid state amps, I'm sure you will find the mod-ed Denons have more than enough bass heft and punch. Cheers.
post #15 of 36
Originally Posted by markl View Post
Hi mrarroyo,
Glad they have made a positive first impression. The Denons with that challenging 25ohm load really do crave a fat solid state amp, it's hard for tubes to fully deliver (as you see having to turn your amp so much to accomodate them). When you go to the meet this weekend, do try it on some of the better solid state amps, I'm sure you will find the mod-ed Denons have more than enough bass heft and punch. Cheers.
Sort of unrelated, but what do you think affects a Denon's sound more, your mod or a recabling?
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