I thought I'd put all my recent impressions on this subject from a certain summit fi thread on here as I think it will be more helpful. I'd love to here your views on these headphones and whether you think the HD800 is a worthwhile upgrade. Is the HE500 on par? And what about upgrading from the HD600 and K/Q701 to either of these hp's. Was it worth it?
For me the HD600 are closer to the HD800 than the K/Q701. Both the Senn's sound unmistakeably 'Sennheiser' - Its all in the natural tonality and air. The AKG's imaging and soundstage are closer to the HD800's - yes, but in regards to sound signature they are very different imo. Thats why I own both :)
I've stated a few times that the closest anyone can get to the hd800 on a budget is a well driven HD600. The AKG's sound like AKG's.. No other headphone is as dry and tight.
Regarding the HE500 v's HD800, having owned both I'd say its all a matter of taste. The only thing that I would say objectively would be that the bass is tighter and clearer on the HD800. The soundstage and imaging imo is a matter of taste. Those who always claim that the HD800 is superior in this area are judging it on the 'wow' factor. Yes it is very impressive. But some simply prefer a more compact, closer image. Music preference has to be a major factor here too.
Then there is always going to be the scaling argument. I can't comment on this as I use vintage equipment. Very good vintage amps, but I have no idea what the latest uber high end hp amps sound like with either of these hp's. I would say however, that my experience with planars in general is that they don't scale as high as full dynamics. Planars imprint a very good sound on most amps and don't really change as much as dynamics with 'different sounding' amps. Only different power specs.
The treble of the HE500 is still the best I've heard from any hp. With velours it was perfect for my preference. I've never had any problems with the HD800 treble but the hifiman is defo smoother- silky.. I prefer the mids of the HD800 though. The HE500 mids are extremely engaging and have that planar liquid goodness, but the bass does creep into the lower half. In a similar way as the 650's. This can be a preference for some. But not for orchestral music imo. I want to be able to hear the layers of cello, viola etc clearly. In fact I would state that the HE500 are not ideal for orchestral music. They can sound pleasant, but I would prefer to use them with smaller ensembles. The soundstage for me is too restricted. This is a planar trait however.
So for my personal preference it is the HD800 all the way. I love a large sound stage for a start. Match them with a warm quality amp and they are the nearest I've heard to good speakers from an hp.
I think the HE500 can be a good complement to the HD800, and of course vice versa. I loved jazz and electronic music with the HE500. The bass (with the mild mid hump) can sound amazing with bass orientated electronica (Burial for e.g) More ambient orientated electronic music such as BT, Jon Hopkins sound much better with the HD800's though. The soundtrack to Monsters is amazing with the Senn's soundstage for an example. I also liked the way planars give older recordings a little smooth sheen. Both are great with acoustic music, but as soon as the music becomes complicated this is where the HD800 takes over and keeps everything in control and focused below the treble. Contemporary Jazz and classical where there are lots of conflicting timbres the HE500 can smear the instrumental colors and separation can get lost within busy sections (in comparison). Standard Jazz and small ensemble classical they both sound very good.
I think its established that the HE500 is a contender to the HD800. Maybe not as good technically but it is a high end hp that is a cheaper alternative and can rub shoulders with the best. The HD600 is now a lower tier headphone that is below both in performance- but not in regards to preference for some. A minority still prefer the HD600 over a lot of more expensive hp's. Fanboys maybe, but that can't be said about many hp's from the same price bracket these days. Got to give it cedit!
IMO the HD800 is the perfect upgrade from the HD600. But what about the HE500 being an upgrade option from the HD600? I think most people would be a little underwhelmed. I was, when I went from the 650 to the HE500. I was impressed with the resolution, clarity and smoothness. But I wanted (expected) more. More what? I here you ask :D Well, I wanted a more open sound. I was used to the airy Sennheiser sound stage. The Hifiman had a slightly larger image and the separation was much better, but the soundstage seemed restricted. I personally think the HD600 are better with dynamics, and can seem faster than the HE500. Not as clear, but quicker. So the speed and more 'air' for me gives a more dynamic presentation which can be better for e.g orchestral music. In regards to tonality they are too similar and I wouldn't like to say which one is best.
The bass of the HE500 is better. It extends deeper and has more impact. I would never describe it as tight though. The HD600 bass is perfect for its balance. It doesn't extent to far but it can have a satisfying punch.
The treble of the HE500 is much MUCH better than the HD600. I hate to use this term as I don't actually think it exists, but only for relevance - There is no 'grain' at all with the hifman. Smooth as a Conger eel's foreskin :D The HD600 treble can be both a little too polite or a little too edgy depending on the recording. Also depending on how they are amped.
The mids are better with the HE500. But only because they are clearer. They are very similar otherwise. With the Senn's having less congestion at the lower end. But because of the uber clarity further up the FR in the hifiman, this can easily go unnoticed.
Bottom line is, when you now go from a mid tier (past flagship) hp to a high end one costing at least as twice as much, I want to be 'blown away' so to speak. I don't just want to be nodding my head and saying, yup these are better.
Going from the HD600 to the HD800 I think anyone would be blown away. Even if they still can't part with their HD600 ;)
Going from the HD600 to the HE500, I'd give it a couple of months before you start looking for even better.
Thats just my rant.... I will extend more on the KQ701 when I get time. But what do YOU think?
The Q701 (K701 latest version) is defo more of an acquired taste compared to the other hp's mentioned above. It's probably on par with the SR325 in respect to giving polarizing opinions. You either love it or hate it.
I love it. Always have. Its unfair to compare it to the HD800 I believe, but at the same time I don't consider it to be that inferior. Its more different than the HD800 than both the HD600 and HE500. It's sound sig is much drier. Its more neutral/flat. A little too flat for a lot of folks. The soundstage size is similar to that of the HD800 but different in shape. Its not as deep or tall but is a little wider. The AKG's sound more distant and one dimensional. The Senn's have that holographic way of giving you a more real and deep image - more immersive. The AKG's are more like a big wide screen in front of you but you can't quite reach the instruments.
The tonality does not match any of the higher end Senn's. Its too elevated in the upper mids. Like Grado it will shout guitars and vocals at you. Once you get used to this, most other hp's can sound a little polite in comparison. I however choose not to get used to this 2-3 khz spike and so I EQ it down a touch. This makes such a big difference to this otherwise brilliant headphone.
The sound of the AKG's is as large but less airy than the hd800, drier and can sound faster because of the dryness. Detail retrieval is better on the HD800's however. But the AKG's are one of the most detailed headphones in the price range that I've heard. They are analytical and balanced from top to bottom. Great for chamber music and large string pieces. But they work the best imo with ambient music.
Bass is tight and balanced with the treble. When they are amped with enough juice they really don't need any more bass.
Upgrading from the Q/K701 to the HD800 is defo a worthwhile upgrade if you want the very best. But I for one would be happy to live with an EQ tweaked AKG if there wasn't a better Sennheiser out there.
Edited by LugBug1 - 3/3/14 at 10:28am