I have spent the last month or more with the q701 and it's had about 300 hours of break in now so it's finally time to see how it stacks up against the DT880 250 ohm. The format of this shootout will be 3 songs, chosen for their clarity, dynamics, and quality, they lend themselves well to critical listening and are full range. One go on each headphone and a final go, hot swapping between the two at a normalized volume.
Test equipment was Foobar2000 into an Audioengine D1 USB DAC in 16/44.1, going into Fiio E9 at 1/2 volume, low gain.
1. Take you away by Angus and Julia Stone
DT880 250ohm - The pick noise of the guitar is dry and resonant, very clear. Vocals at the beginning (female) are textured, you can hear the slight hiss of the recording engineer punching the vocals in and out. The piano kicks in just at the edges, warming up the midrange nicely. Stereo image of the guitar on the left, vocal center, is believable and open. 2nd voice comes in on left and exists in it's own space, not center, not left, seperate from guitar on left and voice in center. Bass is warm and not boomy. Highs are ultra clear with no hint of coloration, silky smooth. The sound is just the right amount of warm. Everything is crystal clear and flattered by this headphone. No resonances, ultra transparent without becoming clinical and uninteresting. There is quite literally nothing I would change about this sound, to my ears it is as perfect as I could hope for.
Q701 - opening guitar pick noise is there but slightly warmer. Vocals at beginning (female) kick in and sound a little softer. Hiss as vocals are punched in and out is still audible. Piano sounds very warm and comes through slightly more in the mix. Her voice is missing a little in the high frequencies which gives an illusion of warmth. His voice kicks in on left speaker and is very clearly defined in the mix between left guitar and center female vocals. The drums kick in and snare sounds a little thin. Her voice sounds a little colored, like a notch valley attenuated somewhere in the middle of her range. Male vocal is very clear and doesn't suffer from it. Snare hit sounds slightly colored, very subtle. Bass is a little looser and more dominant in the upper frequencies above 80hz. There is coloration here in the midrange but it is slight, highs are present but lacking something. Imaging is good and there is a lot of air around instruments like the snare.
back and forth - it's obvious now that the q701 is coloring the sound a bit. If you swapped them with my eyes closed I couldn't tell you in 3 seconds which was which, but in 10 I could every time. It's subtle, maybe a 2 or 3 db in very thin little spikes or peaks of frequency. The over all quality between the two is very close but every time I put the 880's on it just sounded sweeter over all and the high frequencies were so clear without being colored or sparkly.
Winner DT880 250ohm.
2. Dolphin - Alexander Rybak
Q701 - Violin is very clear. Stereo image of backing vocals is very natural. The violin chops mixed in are cutting but pleasing. Vocals come through very clear in beginning. Bridge cuts to acoustic, every instrument is in it's place in the mix, the very slight percussion of spoons or drumsticks against shell is very clear and I hear the echo of it from room acoustics. The bass is slightly boomy but sounds good. There is a lot going on in the mix, there is a synthesizer doing resonance peaks buried in the mix that comes through very well. The Pizzicato comes through a little lacking in high frequency but sounds okay. The over all impression of the song is it's missing a little warmth, seems to be lacking around 200-300hz. The dulcimer at the end comes through very well in left phone. The cymbal hits at the very end sound wishy washy, lacking in high frequency detail. The percussive spoons or whatever sound very clear though.
DT880 250ohm - Violin is very very clear, I hear the squeak of his fingers on the strings. The bass hits come through very deep. His voice sounds much clearer, the high frequency detail is excellent. The violin cuts sound slightly less distinct. The percussive sound is buried a little more in the mix. The violin doesn't sound quite as dry and seems a little more buried in the mix. The synthesizer sweeps are very clear in the higher frequencies. The bass overall is a little less noticable but deeper, pleasant. There is a synthesized bass, or a french horn or something doing the bass line in some parts of the song and it comes through clearer. The pizzicato comes through very clear, the dulcimer sounds about the same. Overall the song is easier to hear what each instrument is doing, it sounds very clear. The cymbal hits still sound a little wishy washy, probably the song not the phones. Overall the vocal sounds slightly deader imaging wise, but that just makes it sound like he's singing very close to you so you can't hear the room acoustics as much.
back and forth - The violin cuts in the beginning sound colored on the q701. The vocals sound much clearer and real on the DT880. Some of the resonant frequencies in the violin sound too loud on the q701. The bass is also a little less clear on the 701. Putting the 880's on is like boosting 12-16khz by 3db without sibilance. It sounds very clear. There is a little more echo in the 701, the 880 is a more intimate experience. I suspect some of the difference in the midrange between the two is caused by the 701's earpads putting the drivers a little farther from my ears.
Winner - A tie. They both bring something different but equal to the song.
3. L'estate: Allegro Non Molto by Jacques Loussier Trio
DT880 - The double bass is very present and subtle, the piano image is a wonderful stereo, the double bass even at the high frequencies sounds very clear and intimate. The drums sound far away but clear, lots of room ambiance here. The cymbals are incredibly clear but far away. The jazz bit picks up, the brush work on the snare is incredibly subtle and lively, it's one of the best parts of the song. There is a lot going on musically with just the 3 instruments, lots of subtlety and inflection and the 880's soak it all up. Imaging is a little intimate, not as spread out as on speaker. Bass is deep, drums are high, piano is warm and inviting. Then they pick up the pace, the ride cymbal work comes through very clearly without cutting too deep, if I had to describe it in a word - balanced. I can clearly hear the difference between the bass kick and double bass notes. If I had to find any fault it might be a little bit of thin ness between 2000-8000hz. It sounds a little scooped. I can clearly hear the strings hitting the ebony board on the bass, I can hear his fingers rubbing and plucking on the strings. The bassline in this song uses higher notes sometimes than you would ever hear a double bass go, it is exciting. In a nutshell this is exactly what this song should sound like. I've never heard it better.
Q701 - The bass comes through a little boomy, it seems to rattle a little or make the air shudder just a bit, it's the recording though. It's just less noticeable on the 880. The piano imaging is pretty good, it sounds a little more mellow though than the 880. The drum cymbals sound just as echoey and far away but a little less bright, slightly veiled. The brush work sounds like this is an older recording, like I'm listening to an old jazz record, it's not a bad thing. The midrange is more pronounced in general. The piano is more forward and I find myself listening to it more than the bass, which is a little boomy and unfocused. Now we come to the more exciting part of the song. The piano carries it more than on the 880, The cymbal work sounds more focused though and comes through louder and a little clearer. The overall sound is very warm, the highs veiled but not particularly colored. I can hear a little coloration in the splash cymbal though. Now we are the part where the bass uses the high notes, it actually sounds clearer than the 880, I can hear the finger work fairly well about as equal as the 880. He has calouses on the middle finger that sound different than the index finger. :) The high hat sounds a little washy. The other cymbal work sounds okay. Over all the ambiance and imaging are superb.
back and forth - Putting the 880's on is like pulling cotton out of my ears. It simply sounds fantastic. The Q701 sounds a little colored, definitely more veiled and doesn't really add much going back and forth. I keep finding myself smiling when putting the 880's back on. The Q701 sounds a little dryer and the brushwork is more subdued. The piano sounds about the same between the two. The kick drum is a little more powerful on the 701.
Winner - The 880 hands down.
Over all I would have to stick by my original opinion that these two headphones are in the same league. If it were possible for them to feel the same on my head and you blindfolded me I wouldn't be able to tell in a few seconds on some songs, but I would always be able to tell, and some songs it would be an instant difference.
Over all the 880s felt like pulling cotton out of my ears. The imaging was slightly better on the Q701's but so slight it could just be my imagination, the 880's are semi open but sound as open as the 701's to my ears.
I find the 880's to be more comfortable as well. The foam is softer, the velour softer, and they don't cover as much of my head as the Q701 which reaches all the way to my jaw bone and as high as an inch or more above the tops of my ears. The headband is also more comfortable on the 880's.
Verdict: The 880 is the better headphone in terms of sound and comfort. The Q701 can be slightly better situationally with certain tracks but the 880 is a consistant performer on every track you can throw at it.
Considering that the 250 ohm version of the 880 goes for the same price on Amazon as the Q701, you would be mad not to get the 880. If you already have the 880 and you are looking for a second set of cans then by all means look at the Q701.
Edited by Kodhifi - 2/9/13 at 8:31pm