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Headamp HD700 Demo Review

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

First and foremost I would like to take the opportunity to thank Justin W of Headamp for the wonderful opportunity to try out Sennheiser's HD700 at home with my own gear. I first met Justin at a local headfi meet in Northern Virginia where I found him to not only be generous on the gear he brought (the BHSE is an amazing amp) but is also very approachable.

 

Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Justin or Headamp aside from the traditional retailer-customer one. I have purchased an LCD3 from Justin and I am awaiting delivery of his GSX-mkII (which I was very impressed with during my initial demo in a headfi meet setting). I have not been compensated in anyway for posting this review. The review period was for approximately 1 week.

 

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This is my first formal review of a headphone or any audio product so please bear with my 'noobness'. I hope this review will be the spring board for future reviews on other products I own. My musical preferences is widely diverse, but tends to focus around stronger vocal parts, while my listening perspective tends to lean toward the subjective side

 

:insert obligatory attack from objectiveivsts here: 

Please feel free to present constructive criticism where appropriate. 

 

Source: 2011 Bootcamped Windows7 iMac , WD MyBook (firewire 800), Foobar 2000 (WASAPI)

DAC: PS Audio NuWave DAC

AMP: Violectric V200

Cables: Wire world Starlight USB (series 7), Wire World Stratus 7, Custom XLR

Headphone comparison: LCD3, HD650, Grado HF-2

Test Headphone: HD700

 

If I was to describe this headphone in one word it would be this: Technical. 

 

But before we dive into the sound, let's talk a little about the ergonomics of the headphone. From pictures, you can obviously see the resemblance to the ToTL HD800 and the build quality is excellent as can be expected from Sennheiser. While the HD800 is by no means a heavy can, the size and clamping force can be a bit unwieldy for people with smaller heads. From this perspective, the HD700 fortunately is a bit smaller in all dimensions while still maintaining plenty of ear-cup space for your ears. Clamping force is medium, but does not feel precarious when moving around semi-aggressively, this is on par with the HD650 while feeling a smidgen lighter. Definitely a comfortable pair of headphone that stays secure even in a recumbent position.

 

The immediate thing that jumps out at me, sonically speaking, with this headphone is the amazing level of detail retrieval and 3-D positioning. From memory the sound stage and pin-point accuracy of the HD700 is only a hair behind the HD800. I-Ching's “Gadamaylin” sounds so surreal thru the HD700 almost as if you can reach out and touch notes floating in space. Clarity is similarly excellent and listening to Alice and Chain's MTV Unplugged album presents a new level of detail in the ambiance of the auditorium that I've not noticed before. While the HD800 really shines with well recorded material, the HD700 seems to play well with a slightly wider genre list to encompass most modern popular music I've thrown at it.

 

Treble extension stretches to the upper registers and while I would like to say the highs extend smoothly, I do have to admit there's a bit of a treble spike somewhere that leads to mild sibilance. The sibilance is especially noticeable with female vocals such as Adele's 19 album song “Chaseing Pavements” and is even evident in Bob Katz's 15th anniversary remaster of Rebecca Pidgeon's “Spanish Harlem”; that squeak at the end of 'Spanish Harlem' is a bit of an ear splitter with the HD700. Fortunately, the technical nature of the headphone is not overshadowed by the slight treble spike and the headphone are not fatiguing to listen to for long sessions ala lower tier Grados.

 

Mids are as amazing as you would expect form a higher end Sennheiser. Vocals are very present and naturally forward even when compared with the HD650. The human voice is one of the greatest instruments in the world and the harmony of The Persuasions is particularly persuasive thru these headphones (pardon the pun).

 

From a technical standpoint, the HD700 bass extends cleanly down to the lowest reaches, but the LCD3/HD650 has the HD700 cleanly beat when it comes to bass impact and slam; the HD700's bass has the HD800s beat by a good margin, however. Dr Checky's Binaural Sound Show's rendition of Bach's “Toccata and Fugue” is a perfect example of technical excellence of the HD700's bass while still lacking the sub-bass 'omph' that other darker headphones so musically presents.

 

Technically the HD700 is clearly superior to the HD600/650 group while still address the weakness of the HD800 for the main stream crowd (mainly the lack of bass in the HD800). The HD700 is a compelling offering for those of us who appreciate a more refined and technically superior headphone vs other headphones in the price bracket. But for those times where you just want to rock out to the pop-album-of-the-month, may be better served by the also excellent LCD2.

post #2 of 5
Quote:
The immediate thing that jumps out at me, sonically speaking, with this headphone is the amazing level of detail retrieval and 3-D positioning.

While I completely with this statement I will also add wider soundstage  and better instrument separation. Also when driven by Woo Audio WA7 with EH upgrade tubes HD700 still can have that fast deep punchy bass HD650 have

post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by olegausany View Post

While I completely with this statement I will also add wider soundstage  and better instrument separation. Also when driven by Woo Audio WA7 with EH upgrade tubes HD700 still can have that fast deep punchy bass HD650 have

 

Thanks for the addition!

 

I didn't have my WA6-SE with me at the time, so I wasn't really able to experiment with tube rolling but from experience, the right tube combo can definitely change a headphone's "sound".

post #4 of 5
Day 1 with the HD700s(skip ahead to D2 if you've already read this on the loaner program thread):

I've been listening to the HD700s for a few hours today. To my ears they are better than both the T90s and HE-6s. They are bass light with the loudness on my amplifier turned off but with it on hit the sweet spot quantity wise. Note that I found the T90s too bassy, and the HE-6s anemic. In comparission my STAX have more bass with the loudness off but less with it on. They also have the same quantity regardless of the song while the HD700 scale depending on what is being played. If there was one thing about the 700s that stands out it's how different it can sound with varying material. Most headphones have their own sound you will hear regardless of what is being played. The 700s are also quite good when it comes to drums, probably because of the material surrounding the driver. It vibrates much like a drum does when struck. This also is probably one of the factors contributing to the soundstage and dare I say ethereal sound of the headphones. It's certainly more-so than my STAX, though I am running with SR-5NBs rather than Lambdas so I will not be comparing to the stereotypical Stax sound. These are the only headphones that I've heard that can match my Stax in sheer dynamics(displacement?) I use the intro track to one of my favorite metal albums to test for this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZXGVE2-6W0. Sure, you might hear all that's there(including the bass) with most headphones but the only headphones that I've heard that let you feel the 'thud' sounds of the swordfighting section have been the SR5 and HD700. And the effect is clearer through the 700s. Film affecinatos take notice.

And while some call this headphone a grown-up HD598 I'm going to have to disagree with that statement. I very much disliked the 598 when I heard them, it was far too diffuse(poor center image) and syrupy to my ears. Veiled even. The 700 suffers from neither of these problems.

I'll have to do some more listening before I can say anymore than that.



Day 2:



What better way to start the day than with some demo tapes being played on an old Tandberg? I listened to a variety of artists: Lord Wind, Rough Rope, Vordr, and finally Old Silver Key. Three things became clear very fast: These headphones are in no way basslight, they play electric guitar very well, and I will not be buying a pair for myself. Huh?

The more I listen to these the more it becomes clear that these are tuned for a 'fun' sound. These will be the Senns for Grado, Denon, and Ultrasone lovers. And for someone such as myself who only has room for one high-end headphone something more neutral is a must. I don't want to call them fatiguing as I don't take any issue with the treble nor the bass; it's just that these headphones have too much momentum. wink.gif There also must be some serious caffeine in these as they kept me up until 4AM last night. I don't want to leave the impression that I dislike them, I'm actually very impressed.

When I compared my STAX SR-5 to the Beyerdynamic T90s I said that the STAX were like an old VCR tape while the T90 was like a DVD re-release. The tape is more raw, more personal, and IMO better captures things such as atmosphere. On the other hand a DVD is more detailed but it can seem a little boring in comparison. Well the HD700 is like watching a movie on blu-ray. Think of those Sony 4K TVs you see in Best Buy and other stores advertising their 'great colors'. Better than life they claim.. but in reality it's just over saturated. The resolution is impressive but after a time the overly vivid and un-natural colors may get on your nerves.

My next 'test' will be with the turntable. I have some records from the ambient electronica band 'Dark Ages' that throw a massive soundstage, these albums leave my jaw on the floor with the STAX. I'll also be testing the only live album that I own, which the STAX fail with quite badly. They're great at soundstaging when it's created through processing but sound flat when it's part of the recording. Go figure. blink.gif

On another note, Ulver's Blood Inside album. If the HD700 were an album this would be it, they have the same 'character'. And on the 700 is the best I've heard it. The Senns seem made for this kind of music.
Edited by MohawkUS - 8/23/13 at 11:35am
post #5 of 5
Day 3:


Just as 'no news is good news' I just realized I haven't once mentioned the comfort of the HD700s. To me the 598 was one of the most un-comfortable headphones I've ever worn. I hate velour pads with a passion and those were up some of the worst. On the other hand, these just disappear on my head. It's a nice change from the HE-6, the last headphone I tried out. Did I mention that I also hate headbands that put near any pressure on your head? I could stand the HE-6 for 10 minutes before it started to hurt. The Beyerdynamic T90 shared a similar fate though I made it 30 minutes before the top of my head started to hurt. I'm the odd one out saying this but the Grado cans have good comfort IMO. The headband is not bulky, they don't have a strong clamp, and I have no qualms with the foam pads. Back to the 700, it also has the perfect amount of room for your ears inside the cups. A big pet peeve of mine is oversized cups, where in these things should my ears be? I can never stop fiddling with such headphones. The fit here is perfect, there is no wiggle room but still neither the pads nor driver are rubbing up against my ears. A+ for comfort from me.
Also the 'clicking noise' with the pads I've seen others comment on is non-existent with this pair.



Before I start with the listening tests I'd like to describe my turntable system. I have a SOTA Satellite, with a Magnepan Unitrac I tonearm, Nagaoka MP150 cartridge, and Graham Slee Gram Amp2SE phono stage. All of these components save the tonearm have a reputation for warmth and smoothness.(As does my Ultra-Fi DAC and Tandberg Cass Deck) I built this system around the STAX in an effort to tame it's slightly bright/thin sound. As for the tonearm, it is a unipivot. Compared to regular tonearms Unis generally throw a larger soundstage(a coloration), and the tradeoff for that is a fussier install and a minute smoothening of the sound. I also have the upgraded PSU for the GS amp. This is likely why I not only didn't hear any harsh treble from the T90 but thought it too tame.

Nokturnal Mortum - Kolovorot, This is the live album I mentioned in my last post. Just as with the STAX the soundstage is nearly non-existent in this album. I must conclude that it is the record(or something further upstream) restricting this one, perhaps I condemned the STAX too quickly.
On the other hand, all the energy of the live show comes flying off the record making it a real exciting listen with the HD700 though I did have to EQ the treble down just a tad.(sibilance has finally reared it's ugly head) It sounds flat in more ways than one when listening through the STAX. It should also be noted that I am no longer using the bass boost with the Senns. The bass level with it off is now very close to the STAX with it on. Burn in perhaps? I also would note that I was listening at 10 on the volume knob the first day but now cannot go past 9 without it being far too loud. Either I was deaf that day or the headphones are changing.

Rachmaninoff - Trio Elegiaque - Eastman Trio, There is just something great about opening new vinyl, older albums such as this one that dates back to 1979. I 'saved' six of these records from a closing record store and I've been opening about one a month. On one hand it's a shame such records have been 'lost in storage' for so many years and gone unplayed; on the other it's nice having something from that time that hasn't seen the record players of that time.
This is the best one that I have opened so far: no warps, no noise, and excellent mastering. And this kind of music(I believe it's chamber music? Would someone with some more experience in classical chime in?) excels with the HD700. It's the kind of music you'd expect to be played at fancy restaurant and with the 700s it made for a real intimate listen.

Dark Ages - Twilight of Europe, And this is the ambient album I talked about. The HD700s offered a different perspective from the other phones with this album. Gone was the spacious soundstage and ethereal sounds that put visions of castles, cathedrals, and villages; instead I got something more in the line of playing the game Amnesia. Unfortunately it does seem that soundstage depth is non-existent. It makes ambient sound just a bit too close, the 'effect' is lost on all other ambient that I've tried(Robert Rich, Thom Brennan, Flegethon)

Sounds good so far, right? Well.. I have a confession to make. I didn't manage to finish any of the 4 albums that I listened to.(and the 4th I kind of tuned out while I was working on something else). The Senn sound is fun for the A side, but by the time you flip it over the un-natural timbre and 'exciting' sound really starts to wear you out. It works great with some tracks but I'm at a point in my audiophile journey where I'm more looking for tonal accuracy than anything else. And my STAX-SR5(also known as the 'Grado Stax') is perfectly capable of giving me 'drive', accuracy, and restraint depending on what the album of choice calls for. So while this headphone did impress me on the technical level(with it's dynamic sound) my conclusion is like Purrin's "Stay away if you value neutrality" If you're looking for a high quality, comfortable, and exciting sounding headphone you've come to the right place.

I guess the best way to end this will be with all of the headphones I've owned in order of preference:

(Source ULTRA-FI DAC41)STAX SR-5NB - Raw, dynamic, and a massive soundstage. These headphones are a jack of all trades, they play every genre well though you won't be getting intimate vocals from them. Just a tad to thin and a bit fragile due to their age. Most will find the comfort appalling, your ears not only touch but push on the driver plate. Also, if you like bragging these have gold plated drivers and can be found at about $300. tongue.gif
Beyerdynamic T90 - Best detail I've heard yet and amazing vocals and 'velvety' sound. Unfortunately suffers from a plastiky coloration and big but cramped soundstage(things sound too big!) Maybe a bit too smooth sounding.
Sennheiser HD700
HiFiMan HE-6 - Much like the STAX: anemic bass, overly smoothed sound, and disappointing soundstage.(bigger than HD700 but feels claustrophobic for some reason) Also doubles as an anchor.
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(Source Burson 160DS)Ultrasone PRO2900 - so very harsh... but when it sounded good, it sounded GOOD. It wasn't worth leaving 3/4 my library un-listenable however
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(Source ASUS Essence STX)Audio Technica A900 - Can't really fault these headphones too much when taking the price into account. A bit of an echo though.
Grado SR-80i - My first pair of headphones. I loved their exciting sound at the time but I've moved on to appreciating more flat headphones now. They also are thinner than the STAX, music that relied on the lower-mids such as Doom Metal or Blues sounded horrible on these.
Sennheiser HD598 - Liquid sound with the largest soundstage I've heard ever. Even morso than the STAX. Unfortunately it was way too smooth, the bass was bloated, and the soundstage made things too spread out in small ensamble(or metal) music. Great for electronic music if you're not a treblehead.
Audio Technica AD900 - Massive soundstage, but as I put it when I first reviewed these "It's like you're listening in a wide open desert but the whole orchestra is cramped into a telephone booth in the very middle of it." Also the thinnest sound I've ever heard. Harsh, grainy, and painful with 90% of my library. You couldn't pay me to listen to these.
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