Originally Posted by Chefguru
It's a good point, but I don't believe it is entirely a limitation of what the dynamic transducer is capable of, rather it has more to do with the companies producing the headphones. The problem I see is that most companies have not put in the time nor innovation to improve, rather have aimed to hit that sweet point between research/development costs and marketing. The mentioned strongest previous contenders have actually stopped producing true flagships (Joseph Grado, AKG, Sony). Companies like ATH and Grado who basically produce the same headphone over and over in limited/new bodies are really hurting the industry imo.
Sennheiser is the only company that has been able to keep pushing forward and the hd800 represents that very well. While it is not perfect nor replaces the previous top models, it has stepped into the right direction pushing the boundaries and coming up with new ways of making true dynamic transducers better. Seeing how successful the hd800 has already been (over 12,000 have sold last I checked?). Sennheiser's next flagship may be the one to finally put the vintage gear to rest. In the very least we can expect that they have the team to eventually make such a headphone.
The good news is that companies like Audeze, Stax and Hifiman while not dynamic are creating innovative products that have already caught up to the original flagships. The sr009 being the first product in many years to be majority crowned king is also a very good step for our community and interests in pursuing audio-perfecton.
I disagree with a few of your points.
Audio-Technica's wooden headphones aren't hurting the industry in my opinion. They're too much of a niche product within an already niche market, and the vast majority of them aren't even sold outside of Japan. Secondly they're actually not "the same headphone" in different clothes. The drivers are similar, and in some cases may even be the same from one to another, but they are tuned quite differently in some cases. Compare the W1000X to the W3000ANV for example and this should be pretty evident. Same with Grado: compare the RS-1 and the PS-1 or PS1000. The same headphone? Hardly. If there's one thing Grado Labs can be faulted with concerning the industry today, it's fixed pricing. Sennheiser is guilty of this too however.
Speaking of Sennheiser, I'd actually say they're doing more to hurt the industry than Audio-Technica or Grado. The HD800 has a lot of genuine R&D invested in its design, but it's focused on specific areas like detail retrieval and not an overall holistic approach like their past flagships, the HE60 and HE90. The HD800 is technically a very impressive headphone, and in some respects its able to stand up to the best of the electrostatics, but without further modifications it's simply not an enjoyable listen in my opinion. Obviously that's a matter of taste, but I think it's symptomatic of the industry today: a fixation on detail and that "hi fi" sound (ie. sparkly, bright treble) that emphasizes said detail. They've since raised the price on the HD800 and subsequently made the HD700 to fill the gap between it and the HD650, a purposefully under-achieving product that seems to be the result of design by a committee and shows more of a concern for marketing than genuine innovation.
As for those other smaller companies you mentioned, I agree that they're doing good work. Their innovations aren't all that new however, and in the case of Audez'e and HiFiMan, they're pretty much re-kindling interest in orthodynamic technology that has been around for quite a while. It was there for the taking, just asking for someone to come along and put it to good use, and frankly it's a bit puzzling as to why companies hadn't done so until now. As for Stax, they've been doing their thing consistently for decades. The SR-009 is truly a marvel of engineering and anal attention to detail, but it's not that much of a leap from the SR-007 and SR-Omega before it. The problem has classically been that Stax was never an industry leader like Sennheiser, never in that sort of position and never able to dictate any industry trends because they too are a niche within a niche. That's why they don't spend anything on marketing: they don't need to. Their customer base is small and consistent. This may change in the future though now that they've been acquired by a larger Chinese firm; it'll be interesting to see how that impacts the industry as a whole.
Most of the real innovation in the world of fullsized headphones these days seems to be carried out by smaller companies that go largely unnoticed. Precide and TakeT are two such examples. Also the world of portable audio and IEMs is seeing some genuine innovation, and in terms of progress I think more headway is being made there than in the fullsized arena. I think companies like Grado and Audio-Technica aren't really hurting the industry by comparison, but are mostly stagnant at this point. It's companies like Sennheiser that are doing more harm I think in that they actually have the capacity to effect the industry as a whole and are prioritizing the wrong things these days. The sad part is, unlike the Monsters and Fanny Wangs of the world, Sennheiser and Sony were once capable of great things but have instead slid into mediocrity. This seems to be symptomatic of the rise in popularity of headphones in general. As more people become accepting of spending large sums on these goods and head-fi becomes more "mainstream," we're going to inevitably see a rise in marketing and gimmicks as priorities among corporations.
Edited by MuppetFace - 6/30/12 at 9:25am