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My impressions with Sennheiser HD650 and AKG K701

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

I have followed this forum for years and found lots of useful information about headphones and related stuff. Based on what I read here I bought the HD650, over four years ago. Couple of days ago I purchased the AKG K701 to accompany the HD650. I have been comparing the headphones since. Now I want to give something back to the wonderful community here. I presume there are many forum members who are speculating which one of these headphones to buy. This is my small contribution to the discussion. I will try explain what are the differences with these headphones, in my opinion :) Of course the best option is to try both headphones before buying.

Burn-in
I have not done any burn-in with the K701 because I do not believe in it (except for deformation of the ear pads during use, which can effect the bass performance slightly). I know many people say these cans require hundreds of hours of burn-in. The K701s have about 15 hours on them at the moment. Actually, I contacted AKG via their email-hotline and they stated there is no evidence of burn-in. I do believe in psychological burn-in. I mean our branes will adapt to the sound the headphones are producing. Before buying the new pair I am now using, I had a demo K701 (from a local dealer) for home listening test for two days. My brains burned in then. The new cans sound exactly the same to me. But if I find any sound signature changes with time I will make an update.

Amps, DACs and cables
I used to have a hybrid tube headphone amp with the HD650s but when I got the Benchmark DAC1 USB in 2008, I sold it. I really like the HD650s with the Benchmark. I also have a Nuforce Icon HDP, which I use as my main DAC/amp for headphones. I use Benchmark nowadays mainly with my speaker system. Because of this, it is physically situated in such an awkward place for plugging in headphones that I rarely use it for this purpose. In my opinion Benchmark is a bit better DAC/amp than HDP but differences are small, with both headphones. From my experience, I do not believe there are - significant - differences with amps and DACs when a certain level has been reached, and HDP reaches that level. HDP drives both headphones adequately.

 

Couple of days ago I had an "upgrade" Cardas the cable for the HD650 for a home listening test. After reading huge amounts of positive impressions on this cable, I was really expecting some results. First impressions were good, but after some ABX testing with the stock cable, I had to admit it to myself. I heard no difference between the cables. So I am a happy HD650 owner with the stock cable. I have never tried balanced setup, so I can say nothing about that.
Yes, I know this is my opinion and not many other forum members will agree :)

Built and comfort
I like the way K701 looks like when it sits on my desk on its own headphone stand, next to my Macbook Pro. Though I must say, when I am wearing the K701s and catch my reflection on a glass coated picture frame next to my chair, I smile. These phones are quite goofy looking on my head :) Not necessarily a bad thing. HD650 looks are not nearly as flashy, but there is nothing wrong them either.

 

Paint is not falling off my HD650 but I have heard many who are having problems with this. K701s have soft flimsy plastic parts on both ends of the inside of the headband. Overall build quality is good with both cans.
Both headphones are fairly comfortable. When I put HD650s on my head I feel gentle but firm clamping around my ears. After couple of hours, this clamping usually starts to irritate me a bit. However, the clamping also gives an impression of certain authority and control.

 

Though K701s looks more massive than HD650s, there is no real difference in weight. Actually K701 feel very light relative to its size. I feel the K701s are more comfortable for extended listening sessions. I don't mind the bumps inside the headband. Though after HD650s the K701 feel quite flimsy and I have to sometimes be careful not to drop them when I am jamming with my tunes. With the HD650s I feel like I could do backflips with no danger of them falling off :) When I carefully go to lying on my bed with the K701 they would drop if I didn't hold on to them. Also, because the K701s "cups" are so big and round, they are pushed upwards a bit when I'm lying on my back with a pillow under my head. Moreover, because of the automatic headband adjustment, I sometimes have trouble positioning the K701s on my head. That irritates me, but the feeling may go away when I get more accustomed with the cans.
The HD650 feels more Hi-Fi on my head, and guess what, I like that feeling :)

Soundstage
K701 is famous for large soundstage. Actually this was my initial interest for these cans. I wanted larger soundstage than what my HD650 was delivering, especially for classical music. K701 does not disappoint, it surely deserves all the compliments. But I would not say that the K701s imaging is more accurate. HD650s soundstage is smaller but it is very well defined.

 

The K701 creates a lot of "air" around the instruments. This makes many well produced recordings shine, but there is a down-side though. Because of this airy appearance, there will always be a certain distance to music. The HD650 feels much more involved. This was the biggest surprise to me after reading reviews and impressions from both cans. Therefore, I feel there are genres that are not suited for the K701. The headphone is not able to deliver the raw power and energy that rock, punk and metal music are about. I believe this is part of the reason why many people call these headphones thin-sounding. "Plugged-in" music is meant to be heard without any acoustics in-between. Sounds that are meant to be "on your face" will never be there with the K701. This is something that amps/dacs/cables have no effect on, in my opinion.

 

Classical music is practically always performed in an acoustically "correct" room. So, it does not make things worse if the headphone creates some "artificial" space in to the mix. Actually, I think K701 proves that, with right circumstances, beautiful things can happen. I do understand people who think that K701 soundstage is unnatural, but I don't think it's the whole truth.

Bass, mids and treble
I feel there is very little difference with the mids, no complaints. Bass and treble performance is totally another story.
Treble on the HD650 is famously rolled off. I believe this is something that Sennheiser chose to sacrifice over non-fatiguing listening experience. AKGs approach is more forward. K701 sounds quite bright and therefore more fatiguing than the HD650. In my opinion, good thing about bright cans is that I don't even want to crank up the volume during listening. Of course, too bright headphones can be too piercing and unlistenable, but the K701s are not too bright for me. The laid-back sound of the HD650 can be dangerous because of potentially too high listening levels. Especially with rock and punk music I feel the need to crank up the volume. So the HD650s are not the best cans for rock music, either :)

 

Bass performance is, like for many people, the weakest link on the HD650s performance. There is a bit too much of bass, and it is quite poorly controlled. I really wished that cable upgrade would have given more quality bass, but no such luck. I believe bass is an area where an amp can make a small difference. The bass on the K701 is well controlled but a bit lacking for my taste. In addition to the point I made before, I believe this is why K701 can feel a bit thin-sounding.

 

I wish these cans had the bass similar to my closed portables the Sennheiser HD25-1 II. There is some yummy well controlled bass. Actually I feel the need to put those cans on...wait...oh yes...mmmm...that's what I am talking about ;)
I agree with most people, the K701 is a neutral sounding headphone. HD650 is warm and a bit bass heavy.

Details
There is no doubt, K701 delivers more detail. That does not mean HD650 lacks detail. I don't think more detail is always better, when we are talking about enjoyable listening experience. With the amount of detail HD650 puts out, it feels more refined, calm and sophisticated. K701 feels more edgy and harsh. It is interesting to hear the soft details K701 puts out. But in the long run, I like the Sennheiser approach to details more.


I will go through some music where I feel the K701 shines on like a crazy diamond!

Pink Floyd - Shine on You Crazy diamond
Simply beautiful through the K701.

Rajaton - Jos sanot
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htFtYXNmMJA
Well recorded A cappella. Sorry about the bad youtube quality but I still think it will show the point I am trying to make.

Joan Baez - In Concert (1963)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdbxm8y4tAY
Soft folk rock. I like the production stereo effect used here. Her voice is moved around the soundstage with skill. K701s wide soundstage emphasizes it better than HD650s.

Steely Dan - Aja (album)
Some laid-back and well recorded jazz-influenced rock. Sounds outstanding on the K701.

Claude Debussy - New York International String Quartet - String Quartet in G minor (1990)
Chamber works are a strong point of the K701. In a word, amazing. Better than the HD650 performance, which already was perfection. So I found another level of perfection! :) K701 feels more open sounding. I guess this could have something to do with the HD650s rolled-off highs.

Glenn Gould - Goldberg variations (1981 version)
How about some stereo solo piano for the K701? Oh my, oh yes! Wider and airier soundstage works wonders. I also like the fact that Gould's famous sing-along is much more clearly heard with the K701.

Joni Mitchell - Blue (album)
Compared to the HD650 Mitchell's overly naked voice is even more naked with the K701. Sad, beautiful and life-affirming.

The Beatles - Because
Soft harmony vocal performance taken to a next level by the K701.


Stuff where the K701 makes me feel so suicidal, even hate my rock and roll!

The Beatles - Yer Blues
A piece that was recorded in an small kitchen closet, to make it raw and energized, at Abbey Road while smoking some pot. This is were HD650s shine with some crazy deep but simple bass.
K701 performance? Absolutely awful. Oh no. Fail.

Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop
Punk and K701? Stay away! Far away.

Nirvana - Serve the Servants
What did I tell you? No!
HD650 performance is quite nice, but the need to crank up the volume is, again, imminent.

Björk - Bacherolette
Not too bad on the K701 but Björk's heart-aching vocal performance is felt much more intimately with the HD650.

Ok, I hope you realize there was a bit of dramatization involved on those last few comments :)

I think that most larger classical pieces like concertos and symphonies will sound a bit better with the HD650. Better defined soundstage, deeper bass and less-fatiguing sound are the main reason. K701s wide soundstage is not so well defined therefore many instruments at once sound a bit messy. Though I am not sure about this yet. I have to listen to more symphonies.

Conclusions
If I only listened to rock, punk or metal I would not buy either headphone. There are lots of other cans better suited for that purpose. I like both headphones a lot but if I had to choose only one, it would be the HD650. It's a better all-rounder.

 

The K701 is an outstanding headphone when it is used with proper music. Most classical performances and some other laid-back stuff really stand out positively with these headphones.

 

Actually, I fell in love with my HD650s again after purchasing the K701. It was the right move to spice things up. Having new enjoyable toys tend to have that kind of effect in a long relationship. And yes, I am aware what that sounds like ;)

Because the HD650 cable upgrade did not do anything for me, I used that money for something else. I just ordered Alessandro MS-2 headphones for rock music. I have never heard them, but I hope they are similar to Grado SR325is, which I have heard and liked a lot. Grados are just so insanely expensive here in Finland. SR325is is priced at 400€ (about 565$). Alessandro MS-2 will cost with customs only about 270€.

Before my AKG K701s I would have never guessed I could be so picky about what kind of music I would use with different headphones. That's funny.

English is not my mother tongue so I apologize if it is difficult to understand what I am saying :-)

post #2 of 28

Nice comparison, although I strongly disagree with your assertion that the HD650 isn't very good for rock. Fwiw, I have the "newer" silver driver version HD650, so that might have a bearing (in addition to the varying degrees of synergy these cans have with different gear). I also found the upgrade to a upocc copper cable to have a very apparent effect on the sq on my setup. I've had to revert back to using the stock cable while I wait for my replacement DHC "Molecule" cable to arrive and I must say I miss the refinement, bass presence and soundstage width of a copper cable.

post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 

Well, I did not say the HD650 is bad for rock. I think it is ok. Still, as I said, the biggest drawback for me is that need to crank up the volume when listening to rock.

 

The HD650 is a bit dark and it has quite uncontrolled bass performance. Both these qualities are not so good for rock, in my opinion. I could try to make them sound better with different amps, dacs or cables. But from my experience, those kind of changes cannot change a headphone's sound signature significantly. I do not believe you can make a dark headphone sound bright.
 

I hope the MS-2, which I am currently waiting to arrive to me, will have more controlled bass and brighter sound signature.

 

post #4 of 28

I agree with you Nowhere Man about the K701s. I've been deciding on the two headphones as my first open headphones and got a chance to try out the Q702s at a local store. I did love the giant soundstage as well as the clarity, but the bass truly were lacking. I asked the associate about my dilemma and he responded almost automatically "get the sennheisers" lol

 

I have yet to try the 650s and I hope I get the chance to soon. After falling in love with my 280s, I'm sure sennheiser won't disappoint :D

 

Thanks for the review! It was very informitive :) 

post #5 of 28
Thread Starter 
I hear what you are saying, DeltaOne. After some quality closed cans bass performance, like your 280s or my HD25s, K701 will sound lacking on the low end. The HD650 has a lot more bass, though it not so controlled. At this price range, quality bass is hard to find from open cans, in my opinion.

My local strore has HD800s and T1s for auditioning, but I am too afraid to try them out. My budget just could not take that at the moment smily_headphones1.gif
post #6 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nowhere Man View Post

Well, I did not say the HD650 is bad for rock. I think it is ok. Still, as I said, the biggest drawback for me is that need to crank up the volume when listening to rock.

 

The HD650 is a bit dark and it has quite uncontrolled bass performance. Both these qualities are not so good for rock, in my opinion. I could try to make them sound better with different amps, dacs or cables. But from my experience, those kind of changes cannot change a headphone's sound signature significantly. I do not believe you can make a dark headphone sound bright.
 

I hope the MS-2, which I am currently waiting to arrive to me, will have more controlled bass and brighter sound signature.

 

They excel with prog rock, or soft rock. 
But..with heavy stuff..like metal and hard rock...hmmm, they are not that good. IMO. 

 

Nice comparisons BTW. 


Edited by winma - 3/27/11 at 10:57am
post #7 of 28
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by winma View Post


They excel with prog rock, or soft rock. 
But..with heavy stuff..like metal and hard rock...hmmm, they are not that good. IMO. 


That's a very good point. I agree, they are a lot better with prog and soft rock. They fall a little short with bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Television, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Janis Joplin, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Oasis, T. Rex, Porcupine tree, Neutral Milk Hotel, Velvet Underground (the first two albums)... Music that is about immediate raw emotions and energy. For this is the kind of music I have high hopes for the MS-2.

 

post #8 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nowhere Man View Post


 

For this is the kind of music I have high hopes for the MS-2.

 

I hope to read your impressions with them. 


Edited by winma - 3/27/11 at 12:34pm
post #9 of 28
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by winma View Post



 

I hope to read your impressions with them. 


Thank you. I will post my impressions after I get them, hopefully sometime next week.

 

post #10 of 28

Thanks for your impression. Burn in... is like to have a new shoes, or a pair of blue jeans, car , sofa... you name it!  I'm sure will be interesting to hear your impression after 80 hours, and after 150 hours of burn in.

 

 

 

 

post #11 of 28

Good review. Thanks for the comparison.

Someone has finally described the K701's soundstage exactly as I hear it. I've owned both headphones TWICE.

I loved the K702 and the HD-650, but not enough to keep them. I guess I was severely nit-picking with them because the things I didn't like about them were very minor.

I do think overall, the K702 met my preferences more closely.

 

On the K702, the soundstage just didn't feel right to me. I love everything about the headphone, but this. Often background details that are quite distant are hard to hear at times on the K702. It seems to make them further away and more distant than they should be. On any other headphone with a super huge soundstage (like the AD700, which even has recessed mids) it's not like this. Often, the soundstage of the K702 makes me feel as if some of it's mids are recessed, but they really aren't I think. I actually upgraded my K601 to the K702, but it turns out I liked the soundstage of the K601 more due to it being a bit more accurate. The sound on the K601 isn't as detailed or clear though. Not even close.

 

I loved the HD-650 for awhile, but found that I hated it's bass. I don't mind a bass heavy headphone. I didn't quite find the HD-650 to be bass heavy, but close and it did have maybe 5% more than I prefer. I just didn't like the quality of bass. It seemed to ruin a few perfectly good Radiohead songs. My HD-650 had some of the best female vocals I've heard by far. Even better than my old ATH-AD2000. No comparison. HD-650 was great, but I didn't care for it with acoustic guitar music. There's so much weight to some instruments and it often feels so muddy and unclear that it feels as if it's covering up some details. On my DT-880, due to the thinner sound, it feels as if I'm hearing more detail with stringed instruments. There is one CD I have that just sounds amazing with the DT-880 and ATH-AD2000, but on the HD-650 I'm totally missing lots of what made it great. I don't even like it much, but it sounds good on headphones. It's a Ry Cooder CD. Talking Timbuktu or something. Hate that CD on the HD-650. I think the bass on the HD-650 is what ruins some of those songs. I'm going to get the HD-600 soon and I think it will be a step down from the HD-650, but should match my preferences more closely.

 

I actually didn't get rid of my HD-650 until I heard the DT-880. HD-650 does a few things better (mostly female vocals), but I prefer the neutral sound and the clarity of the DT-880. If I had to pick between the K701 and HD-650 it'd be impossible to pick one. I listen to a LOT of female vocals, so it'd probably be the HD-650. I also do think that the K702/K701 has more detail than the HD-650. Overall, both are great headphones. Can't go wrong with either and it all comes down to preferences. My DT-880 I've tried several times in the past and always hated. I now like it a lot somehow. It's a hard headphone to love I think.

 

I'm hoping to order the HD-600 this week. I've had it in the past, but it was the older version I think. The one I had was quite muffled sounding and not too clear. My HD-598 is much more clear somehow, but perhaps less detailed.

post #12 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nowhere Man View Post


 


That's a very good point. I agree, they are a lot better with prog and soft rock. They fall a little short with bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Television, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Janis Joplin, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Oasis, T. Rex, Porcupine tree, Neutral Milk Hotel, Velvet Underground (the first two albums)... Music that is about immediate raw emotions and energy. For this is the kind of music I have high hopes for the MS-2.

 


 

ooooooooo you have to listen to neutral milk hotel on the k701! The accoustic guitar from in an aeroplane over the sea sounds sublime!!!

post #13 of 28

Nice to see these headphones still getting compared.

 

Amps wont' fix everything or even most things with a headphone, but they definitely will tighten up the bass response and make headphones more dynamic.  So your problem with the HD650's bass would be lessened quite a bit with a better amp.  They will never sound like a D2000, but they can have very good bass response when they have enough power.

post #14 of 28
Thread Starter 

Acix, I sincerely hope you are correct :) But I do have my doubts. As I said in my first post, I had a used pair of K701s couple of days before my current new pair. They sound the same to me. But if I hear any changes with the sound quality over time, I will of course post about it.

tdockweiler, nice to hear your thoughts on this, and we seem to agree almost with everything :) I have never heard the DT-880, but they sure seem to be interesting headphones. I hope someday I will hear them.

colmustard, I just listened to in the aeroplane over the sea, and you are absolutely right :) K701s sound amazing with well recorded acoustic guitar. It is a joy listening to tracks like King of Carrot Flowers Part 1, Communist daughter and Oh Comedy through the K701.  I think it is better suited for that stuff than the HD650s.

But as we both know, that album has more going on than just acoustic guitar, and with those parts, K701 just does not deliver. And the HD650 does not do much better either. So, the overall performance with this album, which is one of favorite albums of all time, leaves me unsatisfied, both cans. Actually, I think with this album my HD25 delivers the most enjoyable performance, from my current line up. I hope the MS-2 changes this situation.

rhythmdevils, I am sure there is a lot of truth behind those words. As I said in my first post, bass performance is were an amp can deliver some clearly noticeable results. And the biggest difference, in my opinion, with my Nuforce HDP and Benchmark DAC1 is in the bass performance. DAC1 has more control, but it still is nothing special. I did have a dedicated hybrid tube amp with the HD650 before, but DAC1 delivered better results for my taste (and most importantly better bass control).

I think that when my budget allows me to go for more expensive stuff, I will go for the HD800, paired with DAC1. Rather than to get an expensive amp for my HD650. As we all know, when Sennheiser first introduced the HD800 and let reviewers and critics listen to it, Sennheiser used DAC1 as the amp. I believe Sennheiser would have used another amp, if they had felt that DAC1 did not deliver the full potential of the HD800.
Of course this is just my feeling, as I said, I have never dared to listen to a HD800 :)

post #15 of 28

Certainly not their full potential.  How could it, it is primarily a DAC.  And by all reports, a bright DAC, which is not what I would want with the HD800.  But if it sounds good it is good as they say.

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