It’s been a while since I joined Head-fi, and since that time I’ve owned, and also auditioned, a lot of different cans. I’ve also learnt a lot about my own listening preferences and habits. One of the things I have learnt is that I seem to prefer a certain measure of neutrality and balance in the headphones that I’ve settled on. So it’s perhaps telling that the two headphones I’ve had the longest – and also purchased twice (after selling once) are Sennheiser’s HD600 and Beyerdynamic’s DT880.
But my quandry now lies in the fact that I purchased (on a whim – and despite some of the early criticsms) Sennheiser’s latest mid-to-hi-fi headphone release (the HD700). I bought this headphone used – but at a very good price – back in February. I’ve also purchased very recently Beyerdynamic’s flagship T1. So my wife (who is very understanding) suggested that it might be time to wean myself back down to two headphones again.
So the aim for this little review and comparison is for me to thoroughly compare, and formulate my thoughts (subjective as they may be), on the venerable HD600 and the new HD700. Hopefully this will also provide the community with another point of view regarding the two headphones – and may help others with similar tastes if deciding between the two.
ABOUT ME (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
I'm a 47 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (HSA Studio V3, Fiio X5, and iPhone4) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Senn HD700 and HD600, Beyer T1 and DT880. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced - with a slight emphasis on the mid-range. I am neither a bass nor treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though).
I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the DT880.
I do not believe in headphone burn-in (I have never witnessed night and day changes personally), but I am aware of psycho acoustic burn-in (brain burn-in). This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience. I have used both headphones extensively – the HD600 for considerably longer than the HD700 though.
REVIEW / COMPARISON RESOURCES
For the purposes of this review and comparison, I used both headphones mostly from my NFB-12 + LD MKIV, and also from my X5. Both headphones were volume level matched using an SPL meter and calibrated (twice) with a constant 300 Hz and 1 kHz test tone. This was rechecked periodically during the comparison. I used the Little Dot mainly because it was easier to swap with the correct volume matching (more precise markings on the pot). Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.
LD MKIV and NFB-12
| || HD600|| HD700|
| Nominal impedance|| 300 ohm|| 150 ohm|
| Weight (no cable)|| 260 g|| 270 g|
| Transducer|| Dynamic (open)|| Dynamic (open)|
| Ear coupling|| Circumaural|| Circumaural|
| Cable length|| 3 m (using HD650 cable)|| 3 m|
| Termination|| 6.3mm stereo (using HD650 cable)|| 6.3mm stereo|
| Frequency response|| 12 - 39000 Hz|| 10 - 42000 Hz|
| SPL|| 112 dB at 1 kHz (1 Vrms)|| 105 dB at 1 kHz (1 Vrms)|
| THD|| ≤ 0.1 %|| < 0.03 %|
| My Cost Price USD (used)|| $300|| $600|
FREQUENCY RESPONSE GRAPH
Thanks to Headroom.
Both HD600 and HD700 come in the usual high quality (very large) foam padded hard hinged box, with a printed outer cardboard sleeve/box.
Quality Hard Case With Foam Inner
Inside The Hard Case
Outer Sleeve For The HD700
BUILD / COMFORT
Both headphones are very well built, and the HD600 in particular shows that if looked after well, it can last for a decade or more.
HD 600 Side View
HD600 Fully Modular
The HD600 is essentially a moulded hard plastic shell, with steel extenders, velour pads, and soft foam headband padding. The greatest thing about the HD600 build is that it is completely modular – from the removable cable to the drivers. This makes it very easy for the owner to replace individual elements – prolonging the headphone’s life. I have already replaced the headband, pads, headband padding, and both drivers – all easily ordered direct from Sennheiser, and fitted myself. The one weakness in the HD600 design is the headband itself. It looks solid, and I read (with my first pair) that it was carbon. It’s not - it’s moulded hard plastic. New HD600’s are quite clampy. So I thought the headband would be stronger than it actually is. So I stretched it – and – SNAP! OK – my mistake (and an expensive one). Word to the wise – if you want to relieve the clamp force, fully extend the metal extenders, and bend those only. You live and learn.
Futuristic HD700 Design
HD700 Side View
HD700 - Not Quite So Modular
The HD700 is also mostly a moulded hard plastic casing. It has a rubberised headband with extremely soft padding, velour type earpads (slightly different to traditional velour), and steel extenders. Where the HD600 is completely modular (you can take it apart without using any tools), the HD700 does have a couple of screws. It looks as though most of the parts would be relatively easily replaceable – but I haven’t broken it down completely yet (mainly because I didn’t want to ‘maim’ the screws).
Retaining Clip Inside HD700 Cup
Screws Attaching HD700 Headband
The HD600 cable is functional – but relatively “light” in build. The HD650 cable I have is a lot more sturdy. There is (to me) no audible sonic difference between the two. The HD700 cable is extremely well built, and IMO never likely to break. The one issue it does have is that it’s not exactly flexible (harder to coil).
Cable & Connectors - HD700 (L) and HD650 (R)
Y Split - HD700 (bottom) and HD650 (top)
Cable Build - HD700 (bottom) and HD650 (top)
As far as comfort goes – my worn-in pair of HD600 are very comfortable, and I have no issues wearing them for hours. They are light-weight, the pads measure (internal space) 7cm x 4cm with a depth of 2.5 cm. Saying that though – the HD700 with pad measurements of 6.5cm x 5 cm x depth of 4cm are quite simply the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn. They have a light clamp which just disappears, deep cups, soft pads, and an extremely comfortable (nice and wide too) headband.
HD600 Headband Padding
Build => HD600 better modularity, but HD700 slightly better over-all build = tied
Comfort => both extremely comfortable for long listening sessions, but HD700 takes this one.
HD700 Headband Padding
General frequency summary (supported by graph above):
These were my general notes before actually downloading the graphs from Headroom. The HD600 to me has always sounded neutralish (maybe a bit flabby in the bass at times), but always a very natural headphone. I played guitar in my youth, and also attended a lot of concerts. My mother and grandmother both played the piano. The HD600 just flat out nails how each of the above mentioned instruments sounds live – no pretensions, no spotlighting – just how the actually sound. It may not be quite as flat from bass to treble (neutral) as a headphone like the DT880 – but to me it has always sounded a lot more realistic. Because of its tuning – it also has an airy top end without being peaky. Plenty of detail – without being pushed in your face.
The HD700 in comparison is immediately noticeable as being slightly warmer and darker – but it has better bass articulation, and much better speed (a more natural decay in the lower frequencies – where the HD600 can be a little slow and too laid back). One o the big differences I’ve been hearing (more on this later in the review) is that while the upper mids of the HD700 bring acoustic instruments and some female vocals forward beautifully, it dips in the lower mids – which I immediately perceived with some tracks as almost sounding a little hollow. This is very evident when coming from the HD600 first on a track – less evident when your ears have adjusted to the HD700 signature after a while. Lastly – the HD700 does have quite a treble peak building around the 5-6K mark. It doesn’t really affect me much at all – apart from the very rare track where it can almost get painful – but people who are particularly treble sensitive should be aware that it is there.
The HD700 can be fatiguing, depending on the music, but equally can be more exciting where the HD600 appears more laid back.
Soundstage / Imaging:
To test soundstage and imaging I use Amber Rubarth’s “Tundra” track from the album Tales of The 17th Ward. The track is binaural – so it gives good queues anyway – but can be very good for a combination of imaging and soundstage width and depth. I was expecting the HD700 to excel here – and whilst it did, I’d actually have to give the nod to the HD600 for better sense of depth and also imaging. The sense of space to me with the HD600 is superior – even though (with single instruments) the HD700 can give a little more impression of detail and separation. I don’t know if this is the slightly darker nature of the HD700 coming into play – but the HD600 just seems a little airier and has a greater sense of overall space.
Specific Genre Notes:
Rock / Classic Rock / Prog Rock – tracks tested included:
- “Away from the Sun” – 3 Doors Down
- “Art for Art’s Sake” – 10CC
- “The Diary of Jane” – Breaking Benjamin
- “Hotel California” – The Eagles
- “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
- “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” – Green Day
- “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” – Pearl Jam
- “Immortality” – Seether (unplugged)
- “Money” – Pink Floyd
- “Trains” – Porcupine Tree
The main differences to me is that the HD700 is more edgy, forward (especially in the vocals), quicker paced, and the bass has more impact. They really bring acoustic instruments – especially guitars – to life, but sometimes at the expense of a little too much colouration. The HD600 on the other hand is more laid back, and often sounds cleaner – especially on very detailed passages. Bass is softer, has a longer decay, and there is slightly more reverb. The HD600 comparatively has a sense of distance in the vocal when directly compared to the more in your face HD700.
One thing that surprised me was how well the HD700 performed with Sultans Of Swing. Great recording – and the 700’s simply nailed it – captivating. The HD600 were great too – but the HD700 gets the nod there. On PT’s “Trains” the HD700 also got better and better as the track progressed – especially when I reached the part with the clapping. Drums are also rendered brilliantly. The weakness of the HD700 was very evident in Pink Floyd’s “Money” though – as it just sounded hollow and a little distant – where the HD600 was it’s usual consistent self and performed well comparatively. Again – in Seether’s rendition of “Immortality”, the cymbals and high hats at times got to the point where they were almost too noticeable and too much in your face – where the HD600 had them more balanced. Yet this was the opposite with Pearl Jam’s “EWBTCIAST” where the drumming (including cymbals) of Matt Cameron was simply sublime and balanced.
So for Rock I’d conclude that the HD700 has its absolute moments of brilliance – but at the same time also has moments where it doesn’t quite reach the mark. The HD600 in contrast does everything well – yet perhaps doesn’t reach the captivation that the HD700 can with some tracks.
Opera / Classical - tracks tested included:
- “Nessun Dorma” – Pavarotti
- “Flower Duet (Lakme)” – Netrebko and Garanca
- “Moonlight Sonata 1st & 3rd” – Wilhelm Kempf
- “Op.8, No.1, R.269 "La Primavera" - 1. Allegro” – Anne Sophie Mutter & Trondheim Soloists (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons)
- “OP 35 1st Movement from Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D” – Julia Fischer
The HD700 shone with Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma” – giving it a vibrance that was somewhat missing on the HD600. But with Lakme’s “Flower Duet” that vibrancy became almost uncomfortable, especially as Netrebko reached her upper registers. Here the HD600 shone bringing a far better sense of space – but also of coherency. With Moonlight Sonata – both Sennheisers performed with distinction – but I would give the nod to the HD600 as it simply sounds closer to the real performance. My grandmother loved the 1st movement of this sonata and played it often. She would have loved this recording on the HD600! Both performed extremely well with the Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi pieces, and preference would be up to the individual – intimacy (HD700) vs space (HD600). My preference was for the airier performance of the HD600 here.
Jazz – tracks tested included:
- “So What” – Miles Davis
- “Gaucho” – Steely Dan
- “Safer” – Gabriella Cilmi
- “Love Me Like A Man” – Diana Krall
- “Ruins” – Portico Quartet
This one became all about presentation and preference. Both headphones really do well with Jazz generally IMO – with (once again) the HD600 being more refined, airy, balanced, and often a little more coherent overall. The HD700 on the other hand was often more exciting, vibrant, intimate, and shone more of a spotlight on detail. Once again though in direct comparison – I’m drawn more toward the HD600’s tonal balance.
Pop / Rap / Dub / Electronic – tracks tested included:
- “Turning Tables” – Adele
- “You Know I’m No Good” – Amy Winehouse
- “Lose Yourself” – Eminem
- “Aventine” – Agnes Obel
- “Electric Daisy Violin” – Lindsay Stirling
- “Little Man” – Little Dragon
- “Royals” – Lorde
- “Tui Dub” – Salmonella Dub
- “God Is Speaking” - The Flashbulb
And here is where the HD700 shone at times over the HD600. Anywhere there was a bassier presentation, the HD700’s superior speed and decay gave a better overall presentation. For all of that though, the HD600 was no slouch – and with some tracks (Aventine, Turning Tables, God Is Speaking), once again I preferred the coherency and balance of the HD600 over the speed and vibrancy of the HD700.
AMPING / SENSITIVITY
Using the HD700 and HD600 with my LD MKIV OTL tube – both headphones were actually very close on the pot to achieve the same SPL. The HD600 despite being higher impedance required one click lower to match the HD700.
With the X5 – again the HD700 from the same volume setting achieved a very slightly lower SPL, but again very close (2 points down on the digital volume scale). Both headphones sounded excellent with the X5 – and I have no qualms about using it as a source straight from the headphone out (no further amping).
With my iPhone4 – I had a similar result – but the interesting thing is how well the iPhone unamped was able to handle both the HD700 and HD600. True – the X5 sounded subjectively better to my biased ears – but the iPhone4 definitely did not sound sub-standard.
For my preferences, I use the HD700 often for gaming. It has a great combination of forward upper mids that brings the smaller details to the fore, plus a little more bass to make gameplay more immersive. The HD600 is no slouch either – but for me (if I had the choice) I’d reach for the HD700 every time.
OTHER QUICK COMPARISON – Beyer T1 (vs HD700)
I realise this has become longer than intended – but I need to throw this in here for my own benefit as it has a very big bearing on my final decision (of which Sennheiser to keep). The T1 definitely has a brighter and airier overall presentation – but also has the bass speed and definition I’ve been looking for, and above all has more overall balance for my preferences than either Sennheiser. It doesn’t have quite the excitement of the HD700 – but it doesn’t have its flaws either (the forward upper mids while exciting in small doses can be fatiguing for longer listening sessions.
VALUE + CONCLUSION
At double the cost of the venerable HD600, the HD700 does bring some strong points to the table. It is the most comfortable headphone I’ve ever owned. It is exciting, forward and edgy – with particular strength in rendering acoustic instruments. It also has very good bass quality and speed. As a complimentary headphone for specific uses / genres, I can see it being a reasonable purchase at around the $500-600 USD mark. It’s a capable headphone and brings a touch of Grado like excitement – but with more comfort and a better bottom end.
Comparatively, the HD600 remains one of the undisputed kings of affordable hi-fi headphones. Yes it has a slightly thicker mid-bass, and can appear slow or overly polite at times. But it is incredibly well balanced, handles practically any genre well, has an accurate sound stage with good imaging, and above all is tonally accurate.
On the value stakes – the HD600 wins for me. It’s not until you start direct comparisons that you realise just how good the HD600 is (despite all the competition) even in today’s market. If it had the HD700s speed and bass capability, but retained its other qualities – IMO this would be a perfect headphone for me.
In my heart of hearts though – I already suspect the path I am likely to take. I will definitely sell the HD700 (although I have really enjoyed my time with it). I suspect (after I compare my DT880 with the T1) that I’ll also sell my DT880. Then the question will be whether to also sell the HD600 and simply buy an HD800 and pair it with the T1 and call it quits.
But that’s a question for another day. Thanks for reading. If anyone has specific questions regarding the HD600 and HD700 I’d be more than happy to try and answer them (before I sell the HD700).