TDK ST800 Review
Now I have eventually made my way through a lot of the TDK line up and I have started on a great note with their flagship IEM the BA200 and I am now ending on their flagship headphone the ST800. These are over ear headphones that not only boast an awesome looking design but also load of features and gimmicks that may intrigue you or turn you off completely. Being there flagship though I was hoping that these would sound as good as the BA200 but in headphone form, would my prayers be answered.
Now these retail for £200 but now days you can find them for the super price of under a £100 which could mean these could be of great value.
The set-up I have used is the normal, as I have started using a new portable rig, which is the Hippo CriCri amplifier connected through a LOD to an iPod Nano 3G with Apple Lossless and MP3 on it.
I also used my old set-ups of my iPhone 4, Cowon J3 (with FLAC) and my iMac with my Objective 2 amplifier.
There design is in my opinion, the Beats by Dre Studio for those who are a bit classier. The headphones are covered in leather like material that just oozes class and coolness and the leather surrounds the gold ring encompassing the TDK logo in a sea of silver. Yes it looks good. The design also strays into the appealing to some gimmick headphone category with loads of features to drag customers in as a fair few of them I have never seen before.
The build quality is also really sturdy and good. The cable starts off in a metal-housed jack that is terminated in gold plating. The cable is super dupe strong and is covered in a Kevlar mesh. It is also really chunky and you could play tug of war with it. As we move our way up a bit we have the EQ device that is a solid plastic assembled quite well but not perfectly. Then we have the y-split, which is just a solid chunky piece of plastic.
The actual headphones are also quite strong. They are mainly constructed of a strong plastic that is covered by a layer of the leather like material that will prevent the plastic from scratches or blemishes as well as it looks good. The headband is constructed on metal and it feels really solid unlike the beats headbands that are a good thing. Overall I think that everything is well constructed and cleanly done.
The accessory horde is good and these come with a fair bit for a headphone. First off you get a microfiber cleaning cloth and ¼ inch adapter, which are handy additions of course. As these batteries use AAA batteries for the EQ device you also get a pair of them.
Then we also get a large pouch, which can be used, for taking these around. As these do not fold it is really big and fits them nicely but will not protect them much.
You also get an extension cable which on these is not needed like with other TDK headphones and is more just an addition for if you decide to use them in an environment were the stock cable is not long enough. The cable is not the same as the one on the headphones and is just your stander plastic like one, not Kevlar coated.
As I have mentioned a few times now these come with a fair few things that you standard headphone will not. For this they use two AAA batteries. Now these features can be left not used and you can have no batteries in the headphones if you so decide and you will just have no access to the features.
The first feature is the EQ device. It is a little box on the cable and by switching it on you jump into the world of gimmicks. The EQ box has a tiny little screen and on that we can EQ the headphones treble and bass on 5 parameters. To do this after switching on you press the EQ button and then you will be able to alter the bass with the up and down switch, by pressing the EQ again you go to treble and so forth. If you turn it on but decide that you do not want to use the EQ, you have a little frequency visualizer on the screen that is pretty cool.
Now when it is on we also have some added controls on the headphones cup. On the right side, the gold ring around the TDK logo is actually a volume control with anti clockwise increasing the volume and clockwise decreasing it. When your using the volume control you get a little showing of were the volume is at on the EQ box screen. The TDK logo also doubles up as a button that is really handy as it mutes the music and you can hear what is going on around you without having to remove the headphones.
However, as I will say again later, by turning the EQ on the sound is affected and this overall stopped me using the features. However I love the idea and I know some people will love the features.
These are actually a bit bulky and I have found that to cause them to be really hot on your head and that can be a bit uncomfortable after some time. They also have some large clamping force, not quite to the levels of the likes of the Beats Pro but it is rather painful after some time. The pads are also a bit thin and can begin to apply a bit of pressure with the clamping that can hurt. They are also not really sure what they are as although they do go over most of your ear, some parts of your ear are left hanging out and therefore these are not the comfiest.
These are actually rather impressing at isolated but only what should be expected from a closed pair of headphones that go over the ear. They do actually do the job of blocking out all that stuff around you and if that I a factor you would like with headphones then these will do the job but there is a lot better.
Microphonics (Cable Noise):
I have normally found Kevlar cables to be really noisy but these are rather quiet. They are not perfect in this area but will cause no problems.
Silly High Impedance:
These have an impedance of 200 Ohms and for your average consumer they will be using an iDevice or a stand-alone MP3 player and that is who these are aimed at. For that they require a lot of volume from your player to get to listenable levels and are far away from the potential. However with a good amp these really can get to a nicer sound so bare that in mine.
By what I am about to write I do not want to cause any upsets or arguments as this topic can be seen as a sour subject. These have had roughly 100 hours now of use and burn in combined. As burn in is not scientifically proven this all could be mental and happening in my head but in the case that it does happen I recommend burning them in as in my personal experience I have noted improvements which have a massive impact on my enjoyment factor, so don’t make any irrational decisions after listening to them out the box.
With the built in EQ off:
The overall sound signature is what I can now only describe as the TDK signature and it is quite a pleasant one just because it is so smooth, non fatiguing and overall quite enjoyable. It has bass leading the show in this case and the mids ever so slightly behind and then the treble being really casual behind it all. Overall driver speed here is not to bad and the sound is pretty full and complete with great warmth.
Soundstage and instrument separation:
These are a closed headphone and that means that the air is not freely moving in like an open headphone such as the Sennheiser HD650 and this means that the soundstage like the name will be relatively closed. I would love to say otherwise but this is the case and everything is happening inside of your head and there is little depth as well meaning that sound is not really 3D. Because it is so closed these also takes an effect on the imaging and nothing really feels to natural.
The instrument separation is not tragic but far from great. Although it does not really ever get horribly overwhelmed which is a good thing, everything is not to greatly separated in the first place and I really had a hard time putting my finger on were different instruments were coming from, mainly because half of them seemed to be stuck together.
The bass is the front man and steals the show with these headphones. It has a slight hump in the mid-bass and it is well textured with a good full sound to it. Impact is really strong and hits with some real aggressive power. Bassheads will enjoy this. The speed is not the best and it does seem to struggle when bass beats are really fast and things can seem to merge together with each other. What the bas is not though is controlled and it loves to get carried away with its big presence and quantity and can quickly turn into being boomy which is a shame. What is good though is that the mid have a good presence of there own which prevents too much mid colouration and there is no veil.
The sub-bass extension is strong and these do provide a rather strong rumble but not being dominating either, the sub—bass frequencies are still shadowed by the mid-bass.
The mids are tucked just under the big strong bass and the mids are actually quite nice and hold their own even with the big bass. They are vocal orientated so the vocals are a bit more present than the instruments by quite some way. The vocals are very sweet and energetic while having that warm tinge to them. The warmth really does do great things to the timbre as the stings have the great warmth and reverb that I love and they sound how so good. The drums hit really hard but do lack a bit of decay like the rest of the mids. The mids do lack texture though and are really smooth but just do not really have that much detail to them at all.
The treble is the least dominant frequency of these headphones and is buried a bit by the rest of the frequencies a fair bit. What it does have though unlike the other TDK headphones I have tried is a bit of shimmer or sparkle to it because it has the extension. The extension is not great but it has enough. However the actual sound of the treble is a bit off and there is a lack of detail and beauty to it.
With the built in EQ:
Now what we have here is a decrease in the sound quality, we lose drive speed, clarity, details and everything muffles a tad. However with the use of the EQ we can make a more pleasant sound signature. The effects are not huge, we do not get huge changes but it is more of a slight tuning of the sound to make it better and in my case I have tuned down the bass and maxed out the treble and you get a rather neutral signature that is actually rather nice. That being said if you’re a HUGE basshead then you can max out the bass and get stupendous amount that will crush you. You can also experiment on your own and I also made a nice V shape when maxing both treble and bass even though I hate V shaped. The feature can really be used to your benefit but it is a shame that there is an instant decrease in volume when you turn it on and for that reason I left it off most of the time.
For the RRP of these I would say that you will want to steer clear from these BUT with the discounts you can get, especially in store (HMV have these very cheap in store), I will say that they do not sound that bad for the price and you might just like them for a fashion accessory or to play around with the gimmicks. I know they are not proper reasons to buy but another would be that these still blow the smoke out of the whole Beats line in terms of sound and I actually prefer the look. If I had to rate there sound for there RRP it would be like 1.5/5 but now with the discounts the sound is a rather solid 3/5, not the best you can get in the price range by far but the package is actually rather good as well.
Edited by Swimsonny - 8/30/12 at 4:08pm