I wanna apologize first for an unorganized impression/quickie review.
Okie! let me get a few things clear first. My current setup for this comparison is Foobar(all lossless) => TEAC UD-501 (balanced) => Woo WA22 (Fully upgraded tubes) => modded Q701/HD800 (non-balanced). This is my friend's HD800. We are swapping HPs. He has my HE500/Emotiva. I have his HD800 to test/compare to my Q701 to hopefully decide what to do for my next HP purchase. What I am about to say is my honest impression so far and not a new toy "hype" nor I am making up justifications to purchase a new pair of HPs or unrealistically thinking my modded Q701 is better than what it is. At this point, I will just break my comparison down according to what's important to me and keep it short. This is IMO and to my ears so if you don't like what you are about to read, please don't be offended. I post the comparisons here cuz some Q701 owners are interested. I don't ask you to agree or dispute my findings so please don't start.
Efficiency : the Q701 takes 2 more clicks or so(at 11) on the WA22 to reach the same volume as HD800(right past 9). I was surprised.
Bass extension: Both reach down about the same. The HD800 is clearer and more defined. In most music genres, you probably won't hear the difference. I had to pull out some favorite tracks from Brian Bromberg such as "Freedom Jazz Dance" and "My bass" to really hear the differences between the 2.
Bass quantity/impact : about the same quantity, with the HD800 having just a slight/touch more. The HD800 does have a better bass impact and better decay (longer and a little more natural) compared to modded Q701.
Mid : no question that HD800 has a fuller mid and much more intimate. Vocals, both male and female, sound sublime. HD800 is more forward with its mid. Before modded, the Q701's mid forwardness will be about the same but after the mod, I knew that some of that has been lost.
High : both are on par with the HD800 a bit less harsh on some recordings. Extensions and clarity are the same to my ears. The modded Q701 did balance out some of its high harshness compared to before (big + besides gaining more bass)
Instrument separation : For the sake of me, I couldn't hear any differences between the 2 until I put on some classical DSD files. I am not sure which one is better because both separate instruments well but they have their own way of doing so.
Sound stage : HD800 is "very" spacious but has a way to wrap its sound around you. Q701 is just as open and spacious but the sound seems more distant and not as 3D.
Speed : to my ears, I don't think the HD800 is faster.
Comfort : Both are the same to me.
Overall impression : IMO, It is correct that the Q701 and HD800 share quite a bit of sound characteristics but I am sorry to say/admit that HD800 is indeed the better HP in this fight. To me, it's not a surprise at 6x the cost of the Q701. What surprised me was how well the Q701 stacked up against the flagship. If the HD800 is a 10, then the modded Q701 must be to my ears a 8.5 to 8.75. To me personally, the difference of 1.25 - 1.5 point is because :
1. the HD800 has fuller sound in its mid and overall, better projection of mid => vocal, high doesn't sound thin, but bass doesn't sound muddy. How did they do that??? :)
2. the decay in HD800 is very natural and near perfect to my ears. This is very obvious in acoustic/instrumentals that I listen to a lot. Piano, flamenco guitar, cello, violin, bass, drum do sound a bit better on the HD800.
3. the very open/spacious but super intimate/engaging sound stage.
If I don't have the HD800 to directly compare to the Q701, I wouldn't know what I am missing. With the HD800 returned maybe in couple weeks, will I be happy with my modded Q701? You bet it's a big "yes". At its current price of around $200 USD, the Q701 is an absolute steal for the performance it offers. Will I end up getting the HD800? Probably yes but I will definitely still keep my Q701 for the office like I do now because it's too good to sell for $100 or so used. Price-wise, if you asked how much would I be willing to pay for the HD800? Based on its performance/SQ, I would have to say no more than $800. We all know that we hit the point of diminishing return super hard here.
Modded Q701 owners! Be proud cuz your modde Q701 is a killer for its asking price even when compared to a flagship at many times more its $.
For the Q701 owners who are fencing the idea of modding your Q701, I will tell you this much. Like many other people, myself included, if you believe that the HD800 is a reference pair of headphones and have listened to one and think its bass sounds the way it's supposed to be for a reference set, your unmodded Q701 will never come close in quantity and impact. You can talk extension all day long but it doesn't mean anything without the right quantity and impact. You can look at all the graphs and measurements by whoever all you want, it's not going to change that fact. So stop fooling yourself by looking at those graphs/measurements and retraining/forcing your brain to say "I am listening to what it's supposed to sound like" bull crap.
For the Q701 owners who are happy with their unmodded Q701, more power to you. Enjoy your HPs.
That's it for now...
I forgot! what would a quickie review be without a pic . :)
Edited by koiloco - 11/4/13 at 10:38pm