5 Way Mid-Fi Headphone Comparison
(Head-Fi does not want to upload my pictures)
[Audio-Technica ATH-AD700] [Sennheiser HD 555] [Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro] [Ultrasone HFI-780] [Audio-Technica Pro700MK2ANV]
I initially decided to do this for myself. I had just received my Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros and lamented the purchase as I could not tell any differences between the DT 990 and my Sennheiser HD 555. But I figured that my hearing cannot be that bad and I should go about figuring out my headphones in a more systematic manner, so that I for myself could figure out each of my headphones’ various niches. I have not been into the headphone world for very long, and in that sense do not feel overly qualified to speak of “dark black backgrounds” “plastic timbres” or “quick transients”. However I do own 5 reasonably common well regarded headphones. So in terms of making comparisons between them, I figure I am qualified enough. The way that this review itself is organized follows the method of review essentially. I would listen to a track again and again first trying to make somewhat more objective statements such as “990 has brighter highs than 555” and then writing very brief impressions of how each headphone presented the music along with a, of course very tentative, F through A+ rating for the track. This part was done all with pencil and paper. I have decided not to edit any of what I wrote, in this way it is possible that there may be contradictions and redundancies, but it will most honestly represent what I heard at the time. At the end I give overall impressions of each headphone, here I do not give a final grade. I feel that there may be something of an answer to: “What headphone is better for an orchestra? The AD700 or the PRO700?” Whereas which is a better headphone is harder to say.
System is as follows: (256kbs, 320kbs or Lossless) iTunes -----> Creative Labs Titanium HD ---(BJC LC-1)---> Marantz 4023 ----(Morrow MA1)---->Matrix M-Stage (OPA627, Class A Biased). My Sennheiser HD 555 has been modded; the foam strips have been removed. The Audio-Technica ATH Pro700MK2ANV has Audio-Technica M50 ear pads.
(Please don’t **** on me for calling these Mid-Fi. I am well aware many would disagree. I owned the HD 650 and did not find them to be leagues better)
“Fire It Up”-Modest Mouse
I actually picked this track largely to look at the bass on each of the headphones. Out of all the electronic music I have and listen to this track actually has the fattest, deepest most impactful bass line. It is the only song that when it comes on in my car, I have to turn the bass down. There are interesting bells present along with Isaac Brock’s singing, but I am not really listening to them overly carefully here.
AD700 has the least bass presence
PRO700 has more bass presence than the 780
555 has cleaner bass than the 990
555 has deeper bass than the 780
990 has deeper bass than the 780
AD700 (A-) Tames the large bass down a bit, which is actually a positive, creates a good balance with fantastic sparkling highs.
HD 555 (B+) The bass sounds very rich through the whole range, darkness is no problem with this somewhat slow song.
DT 990 (B-) Some hiss noticeable. The lows are very warm and pronounced, more impact to them as well. The vocals sound dry.
HFI 780 (A+) Quick punchy bass, quick desirable decay. Very balanced sounding.
PRO700 (A) Quite rich and full sounding through the whole range. Very powerful but controlled bass.
“Diesel Power”-the Prodigy
A somewhat logical progression from the last Modest Mouse track (believe it or not). Everything is slight sped up; a big fat bass line, but much quicker this time. This song takes on some hip-hop like elements and there are much faster more forward lyrics than on “Fire it up”.
990 has more impactful bass than the 555
AD700 is more linear than 990 555 or PRO700
780 has clearer vocals than the PRO700
Bass on the 780 is less deep and pronounced than the 555 or 990
AD700 (C) Lack of punch hurts the drive of the song, unmoving. Potentially good highs are wasted on bass and aggressive vocals.
HD 555 (A) Sounds very neutral, little signature. Closest to the way it should be heard? Good.
DT 990 (B+) Similar to the 555. More grain in the bass, slightly recessed vocals.
HFI 780 (B+) Nimble. Balanced sounding but the bass could use a little more weight.
PRO700 (A-) I feel that maybe the excellent seal on these closed back headphones may account for a lot. Vocals sounded slightly flat.
“Rolling in the Deep” “Set Fire to the Rain” –Adele
Hopefully not as much explaining to be done here, female vocals.
AD700 has clearer (more prominent) vocals than the 990
990 has much dryer, less rich vocals than the 555
PRO700 has better vocal separation than the 780
555 has warmer vocals than the 780
780 is more detailed than the 555 or 990
990 has fatter bass than the 555
AD700 (A-) Good airiness, echo to the sound. Bass quantity is very good here, pushes the bass back in Rolling in the Deep which I think is desired.
HD 555 (A) Very rich and warm sounding while still being well balanced.
DT 990 (C+) Very dry sounding through the lows and mids. Vocals and balance do not sound natural.
HFI 780 (A-) Extremely detailed sounding picked some details up the others did not. Background singers felt less separated though. Vocals are forward but not less warm, not bright or dark.
PRO700 (B) Bass is a bit strong here. Vocals are presented well; forward and warm. But bass is too impactful. Soundstage was actually pretty good.
This is essentially a very fast trance song. There are no lyrics, the bass is an important element to the pace of the music but it is not designed to be as impactful as in some electronic music of the genre. I am listening to the bass on this song, but here it will be more about PraT (if I know what that really means). There are also plenty of synthesized highs and some mids.
555 has more powerful mids than the AD700
PRO700 bass has more punch and overall impact than the 990
990 highs are more forward than the 555
990 bass is fatter more forward than the 780
AD700 highs are more forward than the 555
AD700 (B-) The bass is not that bad for the song, but the high bass in conjunction with the bright highs and dry mids gives it a harsh sound.
HD 555 (A-) Has a good musical balance, seems to keep pace fine for being a “dark” headphone, rich sounding.
DT 990 (A) The big fat bass does well on the this track, as well as clear defined highs.
HFI 780 (A+) Great balance, keeps pace perfectly, tight punchy bass.
PRO700 (A) Biggest most impactful bass, maybe not as intended though.
“Ave Verum Corpus”-Mozart
I do not know whether this is well known Mozart or not. This came on a CD with my Ultrasone HFI 780. However you may feel about S-Logic, there are a lot of great tracks on this CD for testing your headphones out. This is almost entirely a choir piece with a pipe organ in the back of course. This is another test of vocals as well as soundstage.
AD700 separates vocals from instruments better than the 555
780 has better vocal-vocal separation than the 555
990 has better vocal-vocal separation than the 555
555 has muddier bass than the 780
PRO700 has the least forward vocals
990 has the most distortion (sibilance) on high (very high) vocal notesAD700 (A) separates the male from female vocals and the instruments from the choir the best.
HD 555 (B) Vocals and organ seem to bleed together a bit, not the greatest soundstage.
DT 990 (B-) Grainier, more high vocal distortion, good separation and balance though.
HFI 780 (A) Some hiss in empty spaces, but less grain. Good separation, soundstage and balance.
PRO700 (B+) Good balance and nice clean highs, vocals seem slightly farther back, separation is weaker.
One of my two favorite tracks here in terms of what I actually listen to on a regular basis. The album, “Turn on the Bright Lights” I cannot recommend highly enough. A slower, moody alternative rock song. A dark ambiance, vocals that have echo to them, a quietly wailing electric guitar with plenty of bass presence as well.
555 has richer, weightier guitar than the AD700
PRO700 is less laid back than the 990 or 555
780 bass is cleaner, less obtrusive than the 555 or 990 AD700 (A) Has a great ambiance, not sure how else to say it, you can really visualize the singer, clean, mellow, intimate. Cymbals might be a little prominent compared to the guitar.
HD 555 (A-) Good rich, full sound, highs are not veiled but less soundstage and separation.
DT 990 (A-) Grainier and dryer but more forward sounding than the HD 555.
HFI 780 (A) Best balance again, quick accurate clean bass.
PRO700 (A-) Surprisingly good soundstage, forward but somehow less involving
“Art is Hard”-Cursive
Something of a punk rock song, maybe slow for the genre, I do not know much about punk. I picked this song for a combination of a different lyrical style and high speed while being minimalistic and not electronic oriented. Although I like the song, it did not sound that good on any of the headphones, and I did not learn much, oh well.
780 has more forward vocals than the 555
990 has better instrument separation than the 555
780 has more forward vocals than the Pro700
555 has fuller, warmer vocals than the 780 AD700 (B-) Clean, but not very moving, bland, vocals are dry here.
HD 555 (B) Richer and more involving, vocals seem overly recessed though.
Pro 990 (B) Clean, good separation, but sounds flat overall.
HFI 780 (B+) Good balance with better, forward vocals. Sounds maybe too bright though.
PRO700 (B+) Decent impact and vocals, here the highs seem a bit rolled off.
“The Uruk-hai”- Howard Shore
From the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack. My impression is this is more of your standard style classical music, but I also do not know much about classical. I am not sure how many Lord of Rings fans we have here but this song plays in the initial pursuit across the plains, and during the first part of the Siege of Helm’s Deep. Like I said I do not know much, but this has the gamut of horns, strings and drums. I was able to learn a lot with this track I feel.
AD700 has brighter brass than the 555
AD700 has better separation of bass than the 555
990 has a less clean background than the AD700 or 555
PRO700 is more forward than the 780
780 background cleanliness is about equal to the 990
AD700 has brighter brass than the 780
780 has excellent left-right soundstage, AD700 more 3D
780 has better separation than the 555 or 990
AD700,555>Pro700>990, 780 [Background noise]
555 and 990 are darker than the PRO700
990 has brighter brass than the 555
AD700 (A) Most like in a concert hall, not just the impression of lows and bass but where they are coming from and what they are.
HD 555 (A-) More like in the movie theatre experience, which has its pros and cons.
DT 990 (B+) Overall tone and bass presence is similar to the HD 555. Sounds grainier, less smooth.
HFI 780 (B+) Soundstage is not so 3D, good separation and speed, but more flat, less rich than HD 555.
PRO700 (A-) Similar sound to the 780, but more forward, well balanced, not the best separation.
“Welcome Home”- Coheed and Cambria
At this point I am essentially done looking for specific details in the music and I thought I would listen to a track that is a bit different from the rest, but one I like (my other favorite here) and am familiar with. Coheed & Cambria is a Prog Rock band. But progressive rock can mean a lot of different things. They have more of a metal sound to many of their songs, but frequently with acoustic guitar as well. The main vocalist has a very high pitched voice, higher than plenty of females. One of the other reasons I did not try to pick up too many “objective” points for this song is there is a hell of a lot going on. This is a song that could be described as having an “epic” sound to it perhaps? I don’t know, look it up.
AD700 (B-) Very clean and open sounding, but definitely too bright and tinny for this track.
HD 555 (A+) Darkness sounds very good on this track. Everything has proper weight to it. Vocals are more natural and powerful more like the singer is actually singing into a mic and less like he is shouting at you from across a room as on the AD700.
DT 990 (D) Overly bright while at the same time the bass is too boomy and muddy. Still better than the Razer Electra.
HFI 780 (A-) Very balanced and punchy. Hard to describe given that this headphone generally sounds more forward, but has a strange hollow recessed sound here.
PRO700 (A-) The bass on the guitar might be a little too powerful here, but good speed and the vocal and highs are not recessed.
“Out There and Back”- Paul Van Dyke
This again is a track where I am not looking for specifics, but this basic late 90s early 2000s trance is actually what composes probably 40% of my library. Not a lot to say really, this is really Trance 101.
AD700 (B+) Pleasant and airy, bass may seem lighter than the others but it does not hurt the song much, still moving.
HD 555 (A-) Slight edge over the AD700, more bass while still remaining balanced and clean.
DT 990 (A) Lack of mids is finally ok here, no vocals either. Here the bass that sometimes feels muddy is not too bad and the fatter than HD 555 bass works well. Sounds more relaxed than the HD 555.
HFI 780 (A-) Bass could use more extension, the tightness and cleanliness of it is not terribly relevant or noticeable. Less dark and more bright, which may or may not be good.
PRO700 (A) Sexy hybrid of 555 and 780. More 555 richness without the darkness, depending on how you like your trance presented could be just a touch (10%) bass heavy.
Final Headphone Impressions
Pleasant & Airy
I would say that this headphone is perhaps the most niche based of the group. It is very clean and very light sounding. The airy sound is fantastic for some music and kills others. Most of the impressions I have read about this headphone seem to be accurate to my ear as well. The AD700 has great instrument separation and three dimensional soundstage. The bass certainly lacks a great deal of impact but there are some cases where this can be a tool, there are songs such as Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, where I feel that there is actually too much bass presence, likely in the recording itself. Here the AD700 lightens the bass and lets you listen to Adele’s voice with greater clarity. This is not a perfect balanced headphone that just happens to be bass light however. Mids frequently lack the richness and male vocals do not have the proper weight and sound. Highs can be brighter than desired on a number of tracks. However for the very low price these are available for, I would still recommend this headphone strongly, and is a must if you listen to classical or if you find pop recordings to be bass heavy.
The headphones themselves are a mix of great and not so great. The AD700 has my favorite headphone cable of the entire group. It is gray and light yet still seems very durable. But what stands out the most, I am sure there is a technical explanation for this, is the texture of cord is smooth yet not the standard slick plastic texture of all of the rest. It is completely unique and resists tangling to by far the largest degree. The connector at the end is also my favorite; it is a nice metal piece with fine textured metal grips near the end. This is in clear contrast to every other connector which is plastic. The cable reads “Art Link” “Titan” not really sure what level of quality this corresponds to, but it is certainly a surprise that the cheapest headphone here has the nicest cable. The headphones looks good as well. Although they have their fair share of plastic, the coloring separates it from the ubiquitous black plastic. If the DT 990 is like wearing fantastic light velour earmuffs the AD700 is like wearing a single goose feather over each ear. They certainly have the least weight on your head and ears. Although you may not be able to feel them you will however hear them. With only slight turns of the head, or even with chewing motions the housings emits noticeable creaks. I am very aware that these are not meant to be portable headphones, but even for home use it should not be expected that your head never moves an inch. These shift on your head quite easily requiring frequent readjustment. Just imagine them as slightly noisy feathers on your head; light and could come off your head with a slight breeze.
Sennheiser HD 555
Dark and Rich
I like these quite a bit. Although there does not seem to be as clear of a consensus regarding these as compared to the AD700, I would certainly disagree with some things I have heard. First the bass on these (modded) is not light. Although I do not have the LCD-2 or DarthBeyers I feel that I at least have some credentials to speak of bass in this price range and the bass on these satisfies me plenty. Although these certainly have less soundstage than the AD700, I do not find that that holds these headphones back very frequently. Although it may lose some ambiance on non-classical tracks such as Interpol’s “NYC” or Karen O’s singing in “Maps” I feel that it easily makes up for it in richness and fullness of sound. On that point I also do not find these headphones to be too dark for female vocals or even Claudio Sanchez (Ha). The one place where I feel that the darkness may be a slight issue is in songs with continuous upper bass presence and male vocals, the vocal can become slightly lost in the bass; they bleed together some. The bass here, although I would say far from muddy, is not the cleanest here either. Overall though this is great all-around headphone and I think this perhaps still represents a great value. Rich and deep without being overly veiled, the dark tonality works well for me.
Comfort wise I would say that these take the cake all things considered. They fit very snugly on the head without having a detracting level of clamping force. The weight is distributed very evenly and they are light and open enough that sweat is never a problem. Although they are more physically noticeable on your head than some of the others, it is almost a pleasant sensation, a soft protecting hug for your skull. Although there are certain individual aspects that others may do better, if I had to pick one headphone to wear for 4 hours they would be the HD 555. Build quality and appearance are bottom of the pack however. Although the black and gray plastic is not exactly bad looking, it lacks the uniqueness of the AD700, the tank like all business look of the DT 990 Pro, the classy expensive look of the HFI 780 or the beauty of the PRO700MK2ANV. The cable here is also near the bottom. It is very long without being replaceable, standard thin feeling black plastic. There can be some housing noise as the cups rotate but only when actively moving them. Although perhaps a quibble, they are also the only headphones here that have no marking or notches on the band as your adjust them. A fantastic feel on your head, but an unimpressive build.
Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro
Bright and Fat
I must admit not really my favorite. I will start out by saying that the sound is certainly most similar to the HD 555 in this comparison, so that is the most obvious for direct comparison. Although different, the bass is the most similar between the two. The DT 990 bass is fatter, and in some tracks has an overall greater presence and impact than the HD 555. This can be good for some tracks, but the bass is much looser and muddies up the mids with greater frequency. In the context of this review the DT 990 seems like some sort of combination of the PRO700MK2 and the AD700, but not in the good way. If Cate Blanchett and Alison Brie had a daughter it would not be a guaranteed hit. Essentially there is a lot of bass presence without the punch and tightness of the PRO700MK2, and there are forward bright highs without the air and balance of the AD700. This headphone can do quite well with music without lyrics, perhaps some classical and seems to do well with trance. But if there are any vocals, even in dubstep, it seems to lose pretty handily to the other headphones here. Essentially if you want an extremely V shaped response than this is your headphone.
Build and comfort on the DT 990 is quite good. Looks on this headphone, in a completely different way, are about as unique as on the AD700. A plain, evenly padded headband with visible snap closure over an all metal band gives it a very pleasing utilitarian look. The thin all metal connectors to the earpieces are the most solid and impressive here, although from just looking it is hard to actually tell that it is metal. The individual cables feeding to each ear-cup are also unique in that they are completely exposed and not hidden in the housing. All of this works very well together to give these headphones an all business tank like appearance that I like; very comparable to the appeal of the Mercedes G500 of yore. In terms of comfort these are a very close second to the HD 555. Essentially it comes down to the fact that the DT 990 distributes a larger portion of the weight below your ear; slightly less evenly. Also I do like the Oval shape of the HD 555 earcups over the DT990’s circular method, although the circular method certainly works better with the look of the headphone. The other slight loss of comfort points lies in the cord on this headphone which seems to weigh 17 lbs. Pro headphone and all that, but it means it actually exerts force on the headphones when moving your head about. Overall very nice utilitarian look and open feel on your ears.
Balanced and Punchy
Here I do feel some guilt for not having the Sennheiser HD 600, but for this review the HFI 780 was the most balanced of the bunch. Not exactly what I was expecting. I had heard these headphones have huge bass for the money and have overly bright highs. I cannot exactly agree with either of these statements. I try not to get too into audiophile pseudoscience or not pseudoscience debates, but in my personal experience, burn in made a real, not so subtle difference with these headphones. I started listening to them right away and was not happy with the bass and could hear sibilance. I admit I am not sure how much was needed but I threw them in a dresser and put about 220 hours on them. They emerged fuller and more balanced. So hopefully others give them this chance. The weaknesses of these headphones are very hard to describe. Not that they are not there but I feel I have to venture into ambiguous audiophile words which are hard to describe like “musicality”. The bass is generally more punchy and impactful than the HD 555 or DT 990, and always cleaner, but in certain tracks it lacks the warmth and richness that you sometimes want out of deep bass. Hmmm, maybe that is the issue? More midbass and less deepbass? Hard to say. The same issue extends to mids and vocals. Mids are perfectly forward and balanced, and the bass never hinders them. But acoustic guitar lack some warmth and extension. These headphones are very good, I am only dwelling on the negatives because they are hard to describe, and I am not even completely comfortable with the word “warmth”, but perhaps that is what is lacking. These headphones are very clean, forward, balanced and punchy. All to the utmost in this comparison and are great all arounders due to these traits. A very interesting comparison to the HD 555. Balanced and great all around but with a very different sound. Great for electronic music where vocal “richness” is less of an issue, but for some music, slower dubstep perhaps, you actually might want boomier DT 990 bass over tight punchiness of the HFI 780. But depending on your preference of dark vs. bright these might be the best all-around headphone here.
Comfort on the HFI 780 is again very much an issue of break in. Out of the box, oh man, these things straight up hurt. Not so much on the ears though, the headband, Christ it hurts. I do not even really understand how a padded headband can hurts so much, but even after something 30 minutes you are reaching for the Advil. Eventually these do break in and do not hurt, although they are nothing special. The ear pads shape and fit is quite nice for me but they do not have the softness of M50 pads. The firmness of the pads does not lead to them being uncomfortable, but because of the lack of squishiness I do find them to not seal as well as they could. Even after break in I would design them to have slightly less weight on the headband on more on the lower ear; where they feel less sealed. The frame is extremely quiet, being mostly noise free along with the PRO700MK2. The plastics feel quite good; smooth and shiny on the lower bits and an interesting textured plastic on top. Although I guess some might find them too flashy I like the silver plastic and silver colored metal on the earcups. Along with the gel style “HFI-780” label I find the build to be quite robust. The HFI 780 also has a removable cord and comes with a headphone extension cord of extreme length (17 feet combined). I like this setup slightly more than the short straight and longer coiled set up of the PRO700MK2. Although not the pinnacle of comfort compared to the open headphones here, a well built and attractive piece.
Audio-Technica ATH-PRO700MK2 ANV
Powerful and Forward
I am extremely curious as to how these compare to the standard model as I think the Anniversary Edition has different drivers. As it stands I feel that these headphones may be overly pigeon holed as bass monsters. Maybe the ANV is more balanced, I cannot say. I can say that in comparison to this bunch the sound is actually reasonably balanced. In general it has the forwardness of the HFI 780 but the deeper stronger bass gives it a darker sound. The bass is quite fantastic; punch and articulation of the HFI 780 but with much stronger DT 990 style presence, and impact all of its own. So yes these have huge fantastic bass, however I find the bass does not frequently impact the rest of the frequency. So the main point is that I think you can listen to much more than just bass heavy music with these. The vocals are much richer and more forward here than with the DT 990, and the highs are certainly forward enough and not at all veiled sounding. The bass can sometimes be overly much, for instance I mentioned that I think that there is too much bass on “Rolling in the Deep” and again this is a problem here. But not in the same way as it is on the DT 990. Ugh, so here goes my attempt at describing it. On the DT 990 and sometimes on the HD 555 it may sound as if you are listening to a 2.0 system with an equalizer with a bit of a U curve, the vocals can be underpowered and bled into. The PRO700K2 is like listening to a 2.1 system with a flat EQ. The vocals are there, forward and balanced, but there is also this loud bass presence. Hopefully that makes some semblance on sense. If that does makes sense then Hurrah! That is the easy description: other headphones = 2.0 (variety of EQ), PRO700MK2ANV = 2.1 (with clean EQ).
So, earpads, stock PRO700MK2 earpads are terrible. Not like not-good, but like very bad. These headphones easily have the largest clamping force here and with stock they are combined with these shallow, thin earpads which combine for a disaster. First of all they hurt your ears, not only in pure clamping force but I could never get them to feel like they were distributing weight anything close to evenly, letting to much sound in one inch, and clamping the hell out of the next. The thinness of the earpads also hurts the sound; bass has no real depth, everything is blaring as there are just these monster 53mm drivers shouting noise into your ear. You really must buy the M50 earpads, it is like buying a Porsche Cayman but not getting the optional PDK transmission. Hrmm no worse than that, like buying a glass of 16 year scotch at a bar and right before the bartender hands it to you, he pours Coke in it. Yeah. With the M50 earpads these still have a noticeably large clamping force but the M50 pads are quite soft and plush, so it is pressure but not harsh or painful pressure. The M50 pads also seal much better and place the driver farther from the ear, helping pretty much every part of the sound, especially with deep bass and soundstage. Although it may not be for everyone, I really love the black with gold trim of the anniversary edition. Probably the best street look, although to be honest they are touch pricey and the gold trim around the headband does not look unchipable to I would hesitate to travel with these. I like the feature that these come with not only a removable cable but also with two cables, nice short straight cable for portable use and a longer coiled cable for home or DJ use which is lighter weight than the cable on the DT 990. A tight fitting attractive headphone, although the ANV touches and price make me hesitate to take it out.