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HD580, CD1700, X-Cans V2 and QED MB45 Review

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Sennheiser HD580 vs Sony MDR-CD1700 (on Musical Fidelity X-Cans V2 and QED MB45)

This is the last time that this combination will ever be together here, So... I guess its write up time

First of all... Build Quality

The Sonys are superbly made closed 'phones... they feel bomb-proof, they are also supremely comfortable from the foam of the pads to the way they sit on your head with the very clever headband mechanism... despite there weight (325g without cord) you really cannot notice that you're even wearing them... top marks to the designers at Sony...

The open backed Sennheisers on the other hand, feel quite tight against your jaw (elongated ear-pads compared to circular pads on the Sonys) and they are also generally tight on your head... The earpads are deeper on the Senns which makes for hot listening if you are using them for prolonged periods...

The QED amp solidly built, albeit in plastic, is well equipped (as solid state amps go) it has two sets of line in and out, so you can monitor a source and a tape deck (by means of a button at the front of the unit) when used with a hi-fi, or alternatively you can use two independent sources... also, this unit has two headphone outputs (each having two watts per channel output)... all the better for Mr and Mrs headphone lover One thing on this amp, and I don't think that it is that common, is a balance control built into the volume control... A bit fiddly when first used (you have to pull the button all the way out... but, you can also alter the balance by pulling out the control just slightly which then throws out where the volume starts from (i.e. instead of starting at 7 o'clock, it can start at 4 o'clock if you misuse the balance control))

Finally, the X-Cans V2... well, what can be said... it is built like a tank... I'm not 100% agreeable with the styling, but, with the outer case being totally made of metal, this thing oozes quality, it is VERY basic with just one set of inputs, one headphone socket, and no balance control, and... it also runs VERY hot when used for a long time (especially the "Wall-Mart" - make sure there are no children nearby with prying fingers!!)... it is also valve (tube) based.

Sound Quality (I'll do this as fairly as possible)

As ever, this is running out of my Marantz CD63se connected with AudioQuest Quartz III cable...

First of all... matching with the QED...

The Sonys seem to enjoy this amp, they sound very musical especially with female vocalists, where the sound just envelopes you in a really seductive manner... Bass lines sound more than adequate, especially with Rock / Dance, where this combination can really set your feet tapping. Treble with this combination is bright and "shiny", it doesn't cause offence with harsh sibilants... the sound is very smooth (Quoting Hi-Fi Choice Review.... "Electrostatic like treble"... I haven't ever heard Electrostatics... but, I can almost envisage what they sound like... Nice!

Everything seems to gel nicely, there isn't all bass, mid, or treble... it is all mixed up seemingly like the recording studio wanted it to be... A good combination, albeit at the expense of soundstage, things seem to be mostly stuck in your head, but that in its own right isn't a bad thing

One major criticism of this combination is that where the Sonys are seriously loud (106db) they emphasise the not so good electronics within the QED with a slight hiss on quiet passages (sounds much like a cassette with Dolby NR on)... This doesn't detract from the sound when the music is in full swing, but... it does make you aware of itself when the music stops

The Sennheisers on the other hand... a let down to say the least, I really feel that there 300ohm impedance works against them with the QED, they are SO quiet, you have to turn the volume control up to about 2 o'clock to get a decent volume through them (in comparison the Sonys are uncomfortable loud at 10 o'clock!!). The dynamics also seem to be compressed, Yes, there is bass there, but it feels lighter than with the Sonys, same goes with the midrange, the Sonys really hold there own where that is concerned... The one thing that the Senns do have with this combo is treble... loads of it, it is quite disconcerting, shrill (although on the plus side there is no hiss with these like there is with the Sonys) This is the same kind of experience that I had with my Senn HD565s so, I feel that there must be a "problem" with Senns and Solid State amps

Soundstage, That is one point where the Senns claim a point back, they do feel more airey than the Sonys, but this could be because the tone is so much thinner with this combination, I'm not really very sure

Finally... The X-Cans...

Sonys first again... This is a strange combination, as some people have already stated, the CD1700s don't really seem to get along with tube based amplification... YES, the sound is there, but, it appears congested, the mids that seemed so adorable on the QED now seem to smother the sound, don't get me wrong, this isn't a totally bad thing... as ever with female vocals this is phenomenally rich, making for an amazingly in depth listen (especially with the likes of Annie Lennox)... Bass, with rolling bass, the sound is fabulous, you really do get the impression that these Sonys sound better than any speaker you've ever heard, you can hear (and almost feel) the grumble of the bass as it rolls along, I was, and still am (as I pack them away for the final time) astounded by just how musical that kind of bass is... BUT, the low impedance of these phones (32 ohms) works against slamming bass... the X-Cans seemingly runs out of drive, and instead of getting a nice tight snap of a drum, or synthesizer, its more of a raspy sloppy noise... this isn't true in ALL cases, but, it is noticeable at times and does detract from the overall experience. Treble, that seems slightly recessed compared to when these are used on the QED, although still perfectly listenable, hi-hats and the highest notes on piano lack that spine tingling sparkle that we all crave...

Soundstage, there is an effective soundstage here, quite novel considering that i've not had 'phones before that have given me one... presumably not the widest, but certainly not bad

The X-Cans itself runs almost cold with the Sonys, although the Wall Mart does still run hot...

Sennheiser HD580... Well, where do I start here?... Brilliant!! thats where I'll start... this is such an intimate feeling setup, I have already fallen asleep twice with the Senns on my head (and thats in 4 days!!) The sound just washes over you, you can take as much, or as little information out of this combination, it isn't thrust at you, and isn't held back... seemingly perfectly weighted

The bass, although not as deep as the Sonys doesn't distort at all (300ohm 'phones) it is very musical, and doesn't give you a bass headache after extended listening (a VERY good thing in my book!!)... If truth be known, I think i might be a little TOO used to the Sonys, I seem to feel that the Senns midrange is slightly held back, they still sound highly musical, but there is just a little "Hmm... that sounds good" missing in my opinion, this isn't to say that the midrange is shallow, but just maybe not as rich as I am used to. Treble on the other hand, this is really smooth, articulate... just right, It seemed a little sharp the first time that I compared these to the Sonys, but, whether it be due to break in, or just me getting used to the sound of these Senns, the treble just seems cleaner than that of the Sonys

Soundstage, this is just a little more well defined than the Sonys with the X-Cans... instruments are slightly easier to place, and vocalists seem as if they are in front of you, to me a very good experience

Interestingly the volume control on the X-Cans can stay virtually the same for both 'phones for them to have equal loudness... also, with the Senns the X-Cans itself runs very hot to the touch (although without distorting)


There is definetly two combinations here... one potentially aimed at Club / Dance / Pop / Garage / R & B music, this being the Sony & QED combination... the sparkly highs and the good solid bass, mixed with the warm, forgiving midrange... nice (just a shame about the hiss, but, I have been assured that that is cureable!)

The other combination is aimed more at slow, Soulful, Classical, and Rock orientated sounds, and, that goes to the X-Cans and Senn HD580s... this is just such a totally smooth combination... sound that if it had substance, you would want to get up and cuddle, mixed with an impressive soundstage... I think that this is a hard combination to beat

That doesn't mean that you can't mix and match components, or musical genres, but, these (In My Opinion) are the most suited musical styles for the equipment I have

I hope I've been of help to anyone wanting to buy / audition any of this equipment, but, as i said at the top of this, both the CD1700s and the QED are now leaving me, so... I think you can guess where my sonic loyalties lie
post #2 of 7
Very well-written, thorough review, Duncan. It's amazing how certain headphones really like to be driven by tubes, as in the HD-580/X-Can combo and others thrive on SS. Your findings are just more proof of this. Thanks.
It's nice to read a review of 'phones I know I won't be purchasing............As I've written earlier in another thread....."I'm cured." Let me tell you, it's a great feeling. I hope the combination you've chosen, which you obviously love, is the first (last?) step on your road to recovery and an eventual cure.
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
lol, unfortunately it isn't...

Shortly winging there way to me, will be a pair of Grado SR-125s... so... looks like I'll be joining team Grado as well
post #4 of 7
Good review Duncan,

I have the HD600's paired with the Xcan and I also found them to be highly compatible.
post #5 of 7
Great review, thanks.

Couple comments:
"Sonys first again... This is a strange combination, as some people have already stated, the CD1700s don't really seem to get along with tube based amplification... YES, the sound is there, but, it appears congested, the mids that seemed so adorable on the QED now seem to smother the sound,"

I have the CD3000s which I believe shares many of the same technologies that are in your CD1700s. I have a Berning MicroZotl tube amp that works GREAT with the Sonys. My experience with a number of the headphone amps both solid state and tube, is that you can't really generalize about tubes vs. solid state sound or suppose how one phone will react to an amp simply because of its type. By the way, as I understand it, the X-Cans is not a real tube amplifier in the proper sense.

"The bass, although not as deep as the Sonys doesn't distort at all (300ohm 'phones) "

I doubt ohm rating has much to do with bass output. I have PSB speakers with 8" woofers that are rated at 4ohms. The bass will knock you over. I have no subwoofer and don't need one.

post #6 of 7
Cheers Duncan

I'll tell you if you were right about your QED once it arrives

post #7 of 7
so...many...periods...periods everywhere...can't take it anymore...AAAH!!!!

Good review, by the way
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