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REVIEW: Lawton Audio LA7000 (formerly "markl Mods") - modded Denon D7000

post #1 of 65
Thread Starter 
In this review I will cover the Lawton Audio LA7000 headphones which I have had on loan for the past two weeks. You can find more details at their website at: LA7000



Music used: Eva Cassidy "Live at Blues Alley", Diana Krall "Live in Paris", Arvo Part "Tabula Rassa", Jack Johnson "On and On", Joel Styzens "Relax Your Ears", Infected Mushroom "B.P. Empire", Nils Lofgren "Acoustic Live", Helge Lein Trio "Hello Troll", Anthony Wilson "Jack of Hearts", Valerie Joyce "New York Blue", Beck "Sea Change" (Mofi gold remaster), Wendy Sutter & Philip Glass "Songs & Poems For Solo Cello"

Gear: Macbook Pro as transport + PS Audio Digital Link III > Eddie Current ZDT, and Apogee Mini-DAC > Woo WA6 and SP Square Wave XL, and Pico DAC-only > ALO Amphora. Also RSA P-51 Mustang and RSA Shadow prototype amp with iPod/LOD.

What is it: The LA700 are comprised of Denon's flagship $999 D7000 closed headphone and several modifications - internal dampening to the internal frame and driver, upgraded custom wooden cups, thicker ear pads, and a cryo-treated Jenna Labs cable with Furutech 1/4" plug. The modded D7000 are re-named as LA7000 to indicate that it has the full mod package, and this full set of mods will cost you $879 on top of the cost of your D7000 (or D2000/5000). My last experience with a Denon headphone modified by Lawton Audio was Nov '08 with a D5000 that had all of the mods except for the upgraded wooden cups. I had compared the MD5000DE to my personal modded D2000 which had the APS V2 cable with stuffed ear pads but no internal mods. Please see the detailed comparison here for a better idea of the differences between them: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f4/rev...d-mods-380675/

In that review I felt the MD5000DE (modified D5000 deluxe edition) were in many ways superior to my partially modded D2000, with better midrange definition and detail rather than recessed mids, deeper/wider soundstage, and a brighter treble. However, I also liked the more laid back sound of my own D2000 which didn't have the "cupped hands" mids coloration of the MD5000DE, and I liked the slight boost in bass with my D2000 over the modded D5000 which toned down the bass very slightly more than I preferred. So, at that time I decided to get the Lawton Audio wood cups for my D2000 before spending a huge amount on a whole new headphone, and my D2000 now have the Lawton mahogany wood cups with no other internal mods than a disc of dynamat on the inside of the wooden cups.

Sound: Now that I have the new LA7000 in hand (and on head), ALL of my concerns that I had with the MD5000DE have been eliminated - the cupped hands mids have been replaced with rich vibrant and lively mids that bring the singer into the room with you, the bass and treble are well balanced in relation to the midrange, and the earpads are not as stiff and firm as the previous MD5000DE so they are more comfortable. They definitely are more transparent and balanced sounding than the MD5000DE that I reviewed last year, and while sounding similar in some ways to my modded D2000 these LA7000 have a noticeably improved midrange presence and quality, and do not sound as dark as mine in the lower and mid-treble. Both bass and treble extension seem improved over other Denon's that I have heard, and soundstage still exceeds the others as well. Their timbre and tone seems more accurate to me than any other Denon (stock or modded), and their detail also seems improved due to the improvement in the recessed mids over stock. In my experience with the D2000 I have found an improvement in the the mids with each mod that I performed (cable, wood cups, stuffed earpads). I have to admit these LA7000 are closer to a reference phone than a fun phone like mine, and I might attribute the improvements over my D2000 to the improved D7000 drivers and different cable, and possibly even the internal dampening that mine lacks. If you stop reading now, you will still have the whole story, but I will continue anyway.

Taking a step back, the best "stock" Denon I have heard were the D7000 at the Nov 08 Colorado meet, but they were still a little dark with mildly recessed mids, although bass was much better than the stock D5000. I have always said that the stock D2000/D5000 have too much bass for my tastes, detail is a bit lacking, and the highs are not smooth enough. I have also complained that they have a little of a "closed headphone" sound to them as well. Those areas are improved to some degree with the D7000, as well as with my APS V2 cabled D2000 which sounded very similar to a stock D7000 at the 11/08 meet (but with slightly more extended highs on the re-cabled D2000 which everyone at the meet agreed about). Similar to the stock D7000, the mids on my re-cabled D2000 have always sounded a bit recessed, but that improved a bit with the mahogany wood cups that I bought from Lawton Audio along with stuffing the earpads to be fuller. Also, while my D2000 have no internal mods the bass is better controlled than stock with just the cable upgrade, although not totally under control without the internal dampening. I still liked my modded D2000 better than the re-cabled Edition 9 that I finally sold, but I also prefer to listen to my HD600/800, ESW10JPN or RS-1 over the Denon. The contrast in sound when switching from listening with the other phones (or stats) to my D2000 makes it even more clear that my modded D2000 still offer a darker, less neutral and more "closed sound" of their own.

Because of that slightly darker, recessed and closed sound, lately when I've needed a closed can that does not leak sound and bother others in the room I've been grabbing my custom IEM or ATH-ESW10 first. I haven't used my D2000 very much since February when I started playing more with my new ES3X, O2 Mk1 and K1000 (and then HD800 since CanJam). I considered my D2000 to be more of a fun phone than a reference phone, but these loaner LA7000 really do sound much better than I expected. With the LA7000 there is no big shock switching from a nice open phone, and I could see myself using them as a primary headphone - not just when I want a fun phone or a closed phone to keep the noise in or out.

Recently, at the Colorado meet on 7/25/09 we passed around my modded D2000 and the LA7000 for people to listen to. We tried them on a variety of amps, and we also had both headphones connected to the ALO Amphora amp at the same time so they could be compared directly with the same source (Amphora has no audible change in sound with two low impedance phones). The general impression was that the modded D2000 sounded a little more laid back vs the modded D7000 which sound a little more open and clear. Most people that I spoke to preferred the LA7000 to my modded D2000, including Blutarsky and Ray Samuels. The D2000 still had about 1/3 of the listeners that I spoke to choose mine over the LA7000, but I personally prefer these LA7000 over my modded D2000 as they were indeed sounding like a "second cousin" to Ray's Sony R10 at the meet.

Nevertheless, the LA7000 are not up to the level of refinement, rich mids and bass power of the R10 that we compared them to; and I would NEVER sell an R10 for a modded D7000 unless I needed to pay for a kidney or something. Everyone else at the meet agreed that they'd rather have the R-10 if price was no object, but most of us agreed the LA7000 was a good more-affordable alternative for those who need a closed phone. The mids of the LA7000 didn't draw much criticism from Ray or others, which I think says a lot. Ray did feel that the LA7000 needed more bass energy and impact while retaining the speed and detail, and he felt that my D2000 were a little darker which he didn't like as much. I agree with both assertions, but the LA7000 have more and better bass than last years Lawton Audio MD5000DE, and there is still enough quantity for me. Ray's been spoiled by his wonderful R-10 which I would love to have someday, but I don't want to spend that much money on a single headphone. So yes, the LA7000 do have a little less bass than the bass-heavy R10 (regardless of amp), but I thought they come close enough that people could still enjoy them at 1/3 the cost of an R-10. It also seems possible to me that Lawton Audio could tune the LA7000 for slightly more bass as well, but maybe at the expense of the precision and detail it has right now.

Summary: In the end, If I could afford them I would take these LA7000 over most other closed phones currently on the market (excluding the R10), including my ESW10JPN, my modded A900 and D2000, any stock Denon, an ATH-W5000 or W11R, Darth Beyer V3, or an Edition 8 or Edition 9. Unfortunately I have never heard a JVC DX1000, so i can't say if I'd like those better. And since I only had about 2 minutes with an L3000 on an Eddie Current HD2 at CanJam, it is difficult to say if they might be a contender or not; as I was unable to compare them directly to anything but my HD600. But the switch from listening to my HD600 did not make the L3000 sound like a dark closed can, and the L3000 bass that I heard was tight and controlled. Based on what I heard in last year's modded D5000, I'm a bit surprised that "markl" liked his early modded D5000 better than his R10 - sure they were better than stock but they were not that good.

However, these particular modded re-cabled re-woodied D7000 are an entirely different story, and they are exactly what I had expected from the original modded D5000. With these I am hearing the magic that markl claimed to hear when he came up with his mods over a year ago. The old MD5000DE were better than stock, but not as neutral/natural and rich like the R10. These, on the other hand, are the best closed headphone I have heard short of a real Sony R10 or L3000. For someone in the market for a high-end current production headphone like DX1000, HD800 or PS-1000, they might also want to include these on the short list. I'd venture to say that I am enjoying them as much as my HD800 despite their somewhat different sound. I truly hope that all LA7000 are consistently this good, because while I can't afford to buy the demo pair right now I do plan to own a pair some day.
post #2 of 65
wow Larry! Nice writeup as per usual!

Reading this makes me wanna be a Denon convert! That Jena cable looks like an umbilical cord coming from a gorgeous set of new born cans....
post #3 of 65
The LA7000 is indeed a fine closed headphone that sounds pretty open but the overall refinement is still a bit lacking for my taste. When I a/bed it with the W5000 that I had, the LA7000 offers more bass impact but at the expense of definition and speed. I would also have liked a little more mids from it.
post #4 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by moonboy403 View Post
The LA7000 is indeed a fine closed headphone that sounds pretty open but the overall refinement is still a bit lacking for my taste. When I a/bed it with the W5000 that I had, the LA7000 offers more bass impact but at the expense of definition and speed. I would also have liked a little more mids from it.
Mmmmmm Mids make me smile!! For some reason the name Denon makes me cringe... Not sure why.
post #5 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by moonboy403 View Post
The LA7000 is indeed a fine closed headphone that sounds pretty open but the overall refinement is still a bit lacking for my taste. When I a/bed it with the W5000 that I had, the LA7000 offers more bass impact but at the expense of definition and speed. I would also have liked a little more mids from it.
When Naamanf brought his W5000 over to my house in May '08 I didn't like them one bit - the W5000 did have an upper mids coloration, almost nasal in quality like my old W11R or Blutarsky's CD3000, and lacked bass just like those others. None of my desktop amps at the time could do them justice (WA6, DV336i, Headfive, Apogee HP out). Naamanf brought along his M^3 amp with bass boost knob and that was the only amp that made them sound half-way decent.
post #6 of 65
Larry because of the cost on these, would you say they are really worth it over the Ed.9 for rock/electronic music.

I would really love to get my hands on the Ed.9 sometime as i like Ultrasone, the 780's really made me smile when i owned them.
post #7 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post
When Naamanf brought his W5000 over to my house in May '08 I didn't like them one bit - the W5000 did have an upper mids coloration, almost nasal in quality like my old W11R or Blutarsky's CD3000, and lacked bass just like those others. None of my desktop amps at the time could do them justice (WA6, DV336i, Headfive, Apogee HP out). Naamanf brought along his M^3 amp with bass boost knob and that was the only amp that made them sound half-way decent.
It's true that the upper mids coloration isn't going anywhere, but the nasal mids problem can be solved with the right amp. I tried all the amps in my profile with the W5000, and only the Phoenix and SP Extreme brought the W5000 justice IMO. Gone was the nasal mids and I did wish for a little more bass impact which my ECD1 solved(to my surprise). However, I had to give up the W5000 to fund my K1000 and I'm not looking back.
post #8 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by moonboy403 View Post
It's true that the upper mids coloration isn't going anywhere, but the nasal mids problem can be solved with the right amp. I tried all the amps in my profile with the W5000, and only the Phoenix and SP Extreme brought the W5000 justice IMO. Gone was the nasal mids and I did wish for a little more bass impact which my ECD1 solved(to my surprise). However, I had to give up the W5000 to fund my K1000 and I'm not looking back.
Seriously.... When you sold off your gear, you made me wanna do the same lol. Just to try the K1000. Damn this place to H*ll.
post #9 of 65
Thanks for the great review! I was actually thinking about getting D7000 and reading this review makes me want to get LA7000 (you sounded like they are totally different beasts). I know it wouldn't be fair comparison but how would you compare LA7000 to the high-end custom IEMs like ES3X, JH13Pro and UE11? If you rather not talk about them before your 3-way review, I understand
post #10 of 65
Quote:
Originally Posted by Townyj View Post
Seriously.... When you sold off your gear, you made me wanna do the same lol. Just to try the K1000. Damn this place to H*ll.
All you need is an opportunity to audition the K1000 with an Audio Note Kit 1. Remember though, the amp plays a VITAL role in determining how the K1000 will sound. I'm using a Denon receiver at the moment and the K1000's just another good headphone.
post #11 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Townyj View Post
Larry because of the cost on these, would you say they are really worth it over the Ed.9 for rock/electronic music.

I would really love to get my hands on the Ed.9 sometime as i like Ultrasone, the 780's really made me smile when i owned them.
If you liked the HFI-780, then the extra cost is maybe not worth it for you.

I thought the re-cabled HFI-780 and Edition 9 were nice for rock and electronic. I sold both my re-cabled HFI-780 in the long run because the Edition 9 were more refined and detailed. But I kept my woddied re-cabled Denon D2000 and sold the Edition 9 when I needed money for my Eddie Current ZDT amp, and I don't regret it. Now, I would like to sell my D2000 and buy some LA7000.
post #12 of 65
Excellent review thanks Larry, I appreciate you shedding some light on these.

One question, did you get a chance to compare the LA7000 to your RS-1? I know its apples to oranges, but I'm contemplating getting a second 'phone at some point down the track to compliment my HD600, predominantly for rock and metal with some slam and fun factor, but hopefully without sacrificing much of the HD600's refinement. Right now I'm thinking either Denon or RS-1, so I'd be interested in your impressions.
post #13 of 65
Great review again! Always a pleasure to read these.

I ordered a d7000 recently because I want to compare it against my HD650 to see which one will take the place as my 1 all-around headphone. I really enjoyed the d2000 but found the hd650 a bit better for me so I guess I'll see whether the d7000 beat them out.

Where do you think the biggest difference came from (between d7000 and la7000)? The change in wood, the better cable, the damping, or the pads? I really don't have enough money to go for the LA7000 but want to get the most out of the stock d7000 which could possibly replace the hd650.
post #14 of 65
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by hifidk View Post
Thanks for the great review! I was actually thinking about getting D7000 and reading this review makes me want to get LA7000 (you sounded like they are totally different beasts). I know it wouldn't be fair comparison but how would you compare LA7000 to the high-end custom IEMs like ES3X, JH13Pro and UE11? If you rather not talk about them before your 3-way review, I understand
I think the LA7000 are very musical, involving and enjoyable like my custom IEM; but all of the custom IEM are faster/more detailed, more transparent/open sounding, and isolate better. The LA7000 and custom IEM are all better than a stock or modded D2000/D5000.

I don't want to ruin my 3-way customs review, but I'll say a little something here. The UE11Pro sound signature is similar to an unmodded D7000 but with better speed, detail, openness and extended treble. The JH13Pro sound signature is more similar to the LA7000 in tonal balance, but also faster and more detailed and open, with better bass and mids than the LA7000. And the ES3X are more like an HD800 in tonal balance, detail and speed but seem a little smoother in the highs. These three IEM have a fantastic soundstage but they place the listener at different distances from the performance and have varying degrees of headstage vs soundstage - it's hard to compare those to a full size headphone where the HD800 has the best soundstage, followed by the R10 and then the LA7000.
post #15 of 65
The JH13Pro have gotten my attention I was considering selling all my gear just for a pico and JH13Pro to be done. I might start saving just get a pair anyhow, people seem to say they are wonderful for thrash metal and more. In some ways the soundstage on my current IE8 is more involving then my SA5K.... So that says alot.
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