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Review: Lawton Audio LA7000

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 
Note

This review is long overdue. markl was kind enough to lend me the LA7000 for an extended listen in exchange for writing up my thoughts. In short order I was able to put together some in depth impressions of the headphones, but I wanted to dig in deeper since these headphones really deserve a full fledged review. I only wish I had the talent, equipment and experience to do a better job.

I have some more photos I will add to the review later, but for now I just want to get this up so everyone can enjoy it.

Thanks Mark for lending me the headphones and sorry this review has been so long in coming


It all started when Lawton Audio sent me a pair of LA7000 for the NY spring meets, March 2009. Three and a half weeks later, I reluctantly had to say goodbye.

My experience with the LA7000 was like that time in college when you dated that really hot girl for about two weeks. There was an instant connection, first based on looks but grew into something so much more. Then just as quickly as it had begun the affair was over.

When LA7000s arrived I was immediately caught off guard by their good looks. On initial listening there was an organic enjoyment of the music, a sort of chemistry, if you will. By the end of a week I was totally into the sound, I mean I really fell for these headphones, and just when I started to show just the slightest sign of complacency, she, uh, I mean the headphones were gone forever. Honestly, the LA7000 is a hot headphone. Every detail has been addressed. From the cups to the cable, the entire package is beautiful.

What's an LA7000?



Just in case you don't know, the LA7000 is a commercially available modified version of Denon's top of the line headphone the AH-D7000. The modifications are done by Lawton Audio and include changing the headphone cable with Jena Labs Ultra Wire, retuning the chambers where the drivers sit, overstuffing the ear pads to angle the drivers and for added comfort. To quote the Lawton Audio site, "strategic placement of highly specialized damping materials, and careful addition of more stuffing to the ear pads." I'd say that's about it in a nutshell.



In addition the LA7000 gets replacement wooden earcups. Now, my first thought when I read about the custom wooden cups was that it was gilding the lily. After all, the Denon AH-7000, which lists for $1000, already comes with gorgeous mahogany wooden cups. Oh boy! Was I wrong. The headphones that I received were absolutely gorgeous with a beautiful grain to the wood.




Although Lawton Audio had nothing to do with the packaging, I think I should mention it because it is very classy. The headphones come in a heavy cardboard box, but the box is covered in what appears to be real leather. It's entirely possible the box is actually made out of wood, but it just seemed a tad thin to be wood. In any event, it is sturdy enough to keep your headphones safe for years to come, and the leather (is it pleather?) covering is really classy.

The Background

To put things in context, I primarily compared the LA7000 to the MD5000 DE, a modified version of the Denon AH-D5000, also by Lawton Audio. I first heard the MD5000 DE in the late fall of 2008 when markl, the creator of the Denon modified headphones - AKA markl mods - offered to send me a pair for a Head-Fi meet. I was a bit lukewarm to them at first, but after having an extended listen, I liked them so much I sold off half of my gear and bought the demo pair. Still, I thought the headphones were a touch bassy. When Mark told me the LA7000 corrected that flaw, I was more than eager to get a demo.

Listening

For 3 weeks, I auditioned the headphones using the LISA III amp with LLP and Little Dot MKIII, and at times I had the preamp out of the LD feeding the LISA III. Primarily though, I ran it out of the LISA III straight from my source, the Ack dAck 2.0 fed from a modded Sony SACD player with an upgraded power supply.

The thing I noticed immediately with the LA7000 is you didn't have to get used to them, there was no need to acclimate your ears to the sound of the headphones, it was just music. I enjoyed everything that I threw at it but a few things stuck out during my listening. I particularly liked vocal jazz.

One album that stood out was "American Song" by Andy Bey. The rich deep timbre of his baritone voice was beautifully presented. Using the Little Dot as a preamp gave the music a very lush, upfront sound. Percussion had great depth, conga drums, although lower in the mix, were very clear, with distinctive transients. I was also struck by how the piano decayed so beautifully. Cymbals were snappy with a fast attack, and excellent decay.

I found that the entire frequency response was very well represented, but it was the midrange that made me fall in love with this headphone. It really brings the midrange forward. I greatly enjoyed Mick Jagger's vocals on "Gunface" by the Rolling Stones. This has never been one of my favorite songs but I heard it in a whole new light and really grooved on the upfront vocal presentation.

The soundstage may be where this headphone excels the most and may be the best I've heard on a headphone ever. My listening sessions were filled with "over the shoulder moments" when you have to look around to make sure the sound you just heard was actually coming from the headphones. A particular example is the first track on Maria Rita'self titled debut album, "Festa". This is a fantastic Brazilian jazz album. The first track opens with sounds of a club. Listening with the LA7000s it was the first time the ambient sounds really came alive and I could sense the presence of the people around me. It was no longer two speakers resting on my ears but a really immersive kind of sound.

While I listened to a variety of music, from hard rock to symphony orchestras, I kept coming back to jazz vocals accompanied by a small combo. It was just so immersive. On the classic pairing of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on the album Ella and Louis Again, I could hear every nuance of their voices. I was particularly fascinated by Louis Armstrong's vocals. It's almost indescribable but I was mesmerized listening to the nuances of his vocal style. Sometimes smooth, sometimes guttural, but always entertaining and musical.

LA7000 vs. MD5000 DE
In almost every aspect the LA7000 bettered the MD5000 DE. I evaluated the headphones in terms of build, comfort and sound.

Build/Design

While the MD5000 DE is a very fine looking headphone, The LA7000 is a thing of beauty to behold. The custom wooden cups are extremely easy on the eye. The construction throughout is top notch. Every connection on the recable looks solid and professionally done. Even the ¼" plug is high end. Lawton utilizes the Furutech FP-704.







Comfort

This is the one area where the MD5000 DE beats the LA7000, hands down. While I didn't find the LA7000 uncomfortable, those wood cups seem to be quite a bit heavier than the stock D5000. After an hour or so, I noticed the weight difference. I didn't have to stop listening, but the lighter headphones were more comfortable for longer sessions.


Sound

The sound of the LA7000 is more balanced from high to low meaning each phase of the frequency sounds lifelike, accurate and musical. The overall sound signature is similar to the 5000, with a warm, musical presentation, but the LA7000 has a less exaggerated warmth. After spending a fair amount of time with both headphones my ears tell me the midrange on the MD5000 DE sounds a bit recessed giving the headphones an almost boxy sound at times. The LA7000 evens out the presentation while keeping the Denon (or Lawton?) house sound.

Taking a look at the headphone graphs of each, I think I can find some justification for my statements, markl mods not withstanding.



Both curves look very similar except that the D5000 boosts the frequency a bit and the bass rolls off sooner on the D7000, at about 50hz as opposed to 100hz for the D5000.

Of course, graphs don't tell you everything. After all we use headphones to listen to music. For example I really quite like the sound of the D5000, especially with classic rock. However, where the 7000 really excels is in soundstage. It gives the sense of being much wider and deeper with the LA7000. This area really has the most notable improvement over the MD5000 DE. I'm not sure how that would be represented in a graph.

I first took note of the ability of these headphones to project an image when I was listening to Maria Rita's debut self titled album. The first song "Festa" sounds like it is recorded in a small club (although I think it's actually sound effects in a studio). Previously, I could hear stereo separation but it sounded like a stereo recording of a club scene. When I listened to this song with the LA7000s, everything came to life and suddenly I was sitting in a small Ipanema jazz club waiting for Maria to start singing. The effect carried on into the music, and not just for "novelty" recordings. The music took on a lifelike, multi-dimensional quality. I found this added to the clarity and detail. The improved stereo imaging allowed me to pick out details better. Instruments have a more definite sense of placement.


Finale

In almost every regard the LA7000 is a better headphone than the MD5000 LE. The MD5000 is no slouch and it is worth every penny I paid for it. It is certainly my current favorite headphone, but if you are considering the Sennheiser HD800 or Grado PS1000 then you need to audition the LA7000. I think you will be in for an enjoyable experience.
post #2 of 35
Many thanks to Erik, this thorough and thoughtful review was well worth the wait!
post #3 of 35
unfortunate that you don't have the D7000's to compare with...

How much would that pair of LA7000 cost?
post #4 of 35
Nice review. It will be interesting to see how they compare to the stock D7000.
post #5 of 35
nice review, I do like hot college girls ;D
post #6 of 35
Good review, I am hoping that with the loaner pair floating around, that more reviews will come forth in the next couple of weeks.
post #7 of 35
Great Review Erik,
I'm going to tack on my impressions also shortly. They are pretty much spot on to yours.

.
post #8 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by nhancakes View Post
nice review, I do like hot college girls ;D
ROFL!

This is a fantastic review, makes me excited to see what the absolute zenith of Denon's headphone bliss can bring you.

I too would like to know how much this LA add-on costs, I personally think the replacement cups are pushing it, but everything else seems in order.

How was the bass in those things my friend?
post #9 of 35
Here is the prices
LA7000
Hope that helps.
post #10 of 35
nice job erik. i know it takes a lot of listening and work to put one of these things together. sweet pics too.
post #11 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by RushNerd View Post
How was the bass in those things my friend?
I thought the bass was fantastic. I would not say I'm a basshead but I do like to "feel" my bass. Compared to something like the SA5000, which I also have, it is so much fuller and warmer. But it doesn't get in the way of the music, so it's not overpowering. The MD5000DE can sometimes be a bit too bass heavy.
post #12 of 35
This makes me want to mod my already ordered D2000, yet I haven't even heard them stock!
post #13 of 35
Nice review and pics. I just ordered a pair of AH-D7000s and will be interested in making them even better. I'm considering the JMoney leather pads, so I wonder how much less the mod would be to not stuff the stock pads.
post #14 of 35
Thanks for this review. I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of my LA7000s.
post #15 of 35
Whoa, another great review. For me personally after listening to stock D5000 with jpads exclusively I am not sure I would want to mod it, as far as my taste goes I feel bass is perfect, highs are crystali and soundstage is good enough, of course I have never heard LA moded headphone so I can not compare, anyhow would be great if anybody would compare dx-1000 with LA7000
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