I have been playing the piano since I was about 7 (more than 30 years now). Due to the fact that I don't want to disturb my neighbours, practicing and repeating the same bit of music over and over again, I have a high-end Yamaha Clavinova CLP-170. It was the top of the range model a few years ago for the pure piano Clavinova range. Obviously when you buy such a piano, a lot of investment goes into the amplifiers and speaker system. In particular this piano uses some very clever techniques with rear firing speakers purely to simulate the extension of a grand piano, or a large hall. The front facing speakers provide the main body of the piano sound.
However, it is also critical that the headphone amplifiers and associated quality of sound make it enjoyable and accurate through headphones as well. The piano, of course, covers a very wide range of frequencies, and therefore the differences in headphones is instantly and incredibly easily revealed within 60 seconds of testing with the right music/notes.
I could only afford one pair of headphones, and so making the right choice was critical. Fortunately, I had access to a pair of HD800s and D7000s to start me off.
On the face value of many reviews, it would seem that I should expect the best sound, and therefore the securer of my bank funds, with the HD800. At least for the Clavinova, this was not the outcome!
Firstly, I tried the Denon D7000. Immediately I was impressed with the deep rounded bass registers that immediately pulled you close and intimately to the piano. In fact the full range of octaves were clear, detailed and well rounded. However there was a slightly "closed" sensation when playing many notes at the same time, and it sometimes felt veiled as a result. Nevertheless, I thought I would be far from unhappy with the D7000. The key pro for the headphones though were the full but not overblown bass registers
Secondly, I tried the HD800. After the first play, I realised I need to take a break after the D7000 and come back to the piano again. The difference was so startling that it was somewhat offputting at first. Having taken a 15 minute break, I came back to the piano. The balance was very different but the initial impact I felt with the HD800 was still present after a break, namely, it seemed thin. I can only described the sensation like having a magnifying glass over the sound, revealing every little flaw and imperfection in the sound sample of an electronic digital piano. The piano sound was overly bright, harsh, and lacked the sense of body and depth I was expecting. Knowing that these are such highly regarded headphones, I kept going in the hope they would "grow on me". I was told that they sound like they look. And I think this is true. They are precision to an extreme. But they are so precise that they were distracting me from what I actually wanted to hear, perhaps compared to what was really there! For the Clavinova, I can only described them as cold and cruel, and incredibly revealing. That is both a pro and a con.
Finally, I tried the Audeze LCD-2 (Rev 2) in their latest Bamboo incarnation. After reading some of the reviews I was afraid of them to be honest. I am not a fan of what I describe as the UK warm sound, with intentionally rolled off treble and pushed mids. My audiophile preference is actually clean and precise...another reason I was initially sure the HD800s would be my preference. As an aside I use a Lexicon MC-12, Bryston/Lexicon NT power-amps and Kef reference 4.2 speakers...of which certainly the former 2 are reknown for their clean, almost clinical presentation. So here I went with the LCD-2s. I had to crank the volume up higher to equalise the volume of the other headsets, but there was still plenty of range left. Immediately, on hitting the first few notes, I found the sound I was looking for. It had less fullness in the bass registers than the D7000, but it sounded simply real. I could easily forget I was wearing headphones (in sound, certainly not physically with the size of these monsters!)., as I can only keep emphasising that it sounded so rediculously real. I felt I was playing a real piano. All octaves sounded clear and detailed. There was no veil, no darkness, no overblown warmth. Just clear realistic piano sound that just made me want to keep playing on and on.In some ways I would have liked that slightly increased fullness in the bass registers of the D7000, but this was the undisputed and clear winner overall for me.
Now I fully appreciate that I am pairing a pair of headphones for a very specific purpose with a very specific piano. But nevertheless I hope this review is at least an illustration that there isn't always a clear winner. Aside from preference and taste, the influence of the sound source, and other aspects in the sound chain can profoundly influence what we perceive as the best set of cans for the job. In this case, and I suspect for other digital pianists and keyboard players, the HD800 may be simply too revealing of the flaws of our current digital era, and may also find, as I have done, that the LCD-2 provides just the right sense of balance and realism they need!
As an amusing footnote....for the sheer hell of it, I tried a pair of Dr Dre pro headphones. Some have suggested that these are the only Dre headphones that are passable as remotely audiophile. Well, I know we all have different standards, but I can tell you on the Clavinova, these are awful sounding. They sound completely clouded, veiled and just plain wrong. I felt fatigue after playing with them for 10 minutes. I realise for electronica they have their followers.