L’s Take On the Sennheiser HD700

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DISCLAIMER: I finally managed to get a sample of the highly discussed Sennheiser HD700 a couple of months after Mike was in possession of the pre-production sample. Do read his diary first to get a full picture of the headphone because I won’t go into detail about everything, this is merely my point of view of the HD700. The review sample was already returned to Sennheiser in the meantime, as usual.

 

SOUND

After having read all the criticism about the sound, the bad measurements and its price, I really didn’t know what to expect but from the first minute I plugged in the HD700, I really liked it. Sometimes it’s good to trust your ears too and not only measurements.

What immediately strikes you when coming from the Sennheiser HD600/650 is the larger and deeper sound stage of the HD700. There is a lot more space between the instruments and the sound is much clearer and detailed. Not to the same extent as the HD800 but it is right in between the other models. The sound from the HD700 is very relaxed like a lot of the other Sennheiser headphones and the HD700 has this warm feeling (not warm like the HD650 of course) but it is strongly amp dependent. More on the amplifier pairings later. I would even dare to say the HD700 is speaker like in a way, it’s a dangerous statement, I know, but they sound so open and clear it’s amazing. (The HD700 is an open headphone as you all know and it leaks a lot of outgoing and incoming sound).

Bass on the HD700 can go really deep and can be really punchy as well but it will depend on your source material and the amplification used. In general the bass definitely is there, not like the HD650’s bass though and it isn’t a bass head headphone for sure. Bass here is more detailed and cleaner and less heavy as with the HD650, but it has more quality to it. It is closer to the HD650’s bass as it is to the HD800’s. Bass is never loose on the HD700 but the bass impact does depend on the amplifier used. In this regard the standard Bottlehead Crack with a Westinghouse branded Tung-Sol 6080wa tube scores best and gives you the heaviest bass.

The mid range of the HD700 was the most special to me. Vocals are very natural and real, clear and uncolored. This makes it a strong point and at the same time a weak spot of the HD700. For some songs this was great while with others it sounded a bit forward. Overall the mid range is very good but it might not suite all different musical styles.  The mid range, like with many things on this headphone, is right in between that of the 650 and 800 but the HD700 is quite a bit faster as the 650.

Treble is also very detailed and overall very good. I have to agree with some of the opinions found online that the treble sometimes can be a bit hot, however this isn’t always the case and most of the time treble is perfect. I found it to be too hot mostly while listening to dance music like Netsky.

I wouldn’t say the HD700 is the perfect all-rounder. It is close and does all the genres good to extremely good, I love its sound, yet I wouldn’t recommend it if you only listen to rap and punk music.  The HD700 is analytical but at the same time it is fast, it’s exciting, it has excellent balance and instrumental separation and just is fun to listen to. Build quality of the headphone and the Kevlar cable is great and it is one, if not “the” most comfortable headphone I ever had on my head.

 

AMPLIFICATION

We all know Sennheisers work best with OTL tube amps and luckily I have 3 of those here with me.

Without pre-amps or anything the best amplifier for the HD700 was, and here we go again, the Bottlehead Crack. Was this amp specially made for Sennheiser or what? The Crack works best for 150Ohm and surprisingly enough the HD700 is exactly rated that. Great sound stage, clarity and the best bass (tiny bit looser).  With the Violectric V200, the only non OTL amp I tried it with,  I got a lighter but very good tight bass, very fast and good sounding but too solid state sounding for me with this headphone. Not as smooth sounding and warm.

The Woo Audio WA2 and the LaFigaro 339 were very close. There is a very slight hum with the HD700 when no music is playing. It’s the first headphone to do that with both amps. It doesn’t bother when listening however and it sounds pretty good but less tube-ish. Bass has less impact as with the Crack and both amps are lighter, not as smooth & warm sounding but they are very clear. They both are a nice match but the Crack is that bit completer. The WA2 will give you more top treble and a bigger sound stage while the 339 gives you a bit more bass and body.

The very best result I achieved when using the WA2 as a pre-amp and the Lafigaro 339 as amplifier. Great bass, perfect detail, just the right smoothness, awesome mids, etc. Incredible. But we’re talking about a +$2K setup here, amplification only. It actually works better as WA2 + Crack (bass is a bit tighter), but when not using a pre-amp, the Crack solo is the best (and cheapest) for the HD700.

 

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Lieven is living in Europe and is a full time Headfonia writer and the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650. Taking pictures is a real challenge but seeing happy readers in the end is what it's all about for him.

  • boy93

    Hello, between the HD 700 and LCD-x which advise me if I listen to all genres of music?

    • dalethorn

      LCDx

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        Care to explain why? It’s like triple the price of the HD700 as well

        • dalethorn

          If the user is considering a top-quality planar and can afford it, that’s the way to go. It isn’t just a “better headphone” than the HD700 – it’s a whole new world of sound quality. Now if the customer feels like they made too big of a sacrifice after purchasing and they start to feel bad that they spent too much, then that can lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. After 7 years in electronics retail, I could pre-qualify customers on that basis pretty well, but it’s not practical on the Internet. But with “all other things being equal” except the price, as the saying goes, I’d definitely go for the planar if the funds are available. Making sure the item is returnable is a plus.

          • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

            ok, fair point. but he should also take into account the other units in his setup like the dac and amp

            • dalethorn

              I’m reluctant, given the expense of time, to ask a lot of questions when the user posts a simple question. If this were a store purchase in person, I’d definitely want to know enough to reduce the risk of a return when the customer realizes they bought the wrong item. I’m pretty confident that the OP wouldn’t commit $2000 on a one word answer to their question. The other interesting thing is them comparing (in a sense) the HD700 and LCDx. This person knows something, but they didn’t say up front what that is. It should be interesting what their experience is when they report back. I recall once a long time ago advising someone who had just $1500 to spend whether they should go ahead and buy a Senn HD800 when they didn’t have enough extra for a good amp. I got roundly criticized for my answer. I said ‘yes’ for this reason: If you want the $1500 headphone then you can buy it knowing that a small amp around $100 will provide enough power to get you by OK until you can get something better. And I knew from having the HD800 that with some small amps I could have a good listening experience, and hear more detail than I would with a $750 headphone and $750 amp. But all of that advice hinges on the user understanding what they want and what the limits are, and knowing whether they would want to possibly be stuck with a $750 headphone for years because they split their entire budget in half for the amp and headphone. I have nothing against a user splitting their budget that way if they know that’s what they want, but OTOH I hate to see a customer be discouraged from buying up on one item and down on the other if they also understand what they’re doing.

  • Average_geek

    Hi Lieven,
    thanks for the amazon.fr tip. I just saw the HD700 at 437 euros and went for it. I was actually interested in trying the HD600/650, but the price for the HD700 seemed too appealing. Anyways, could you recommend a starting setup DAC/AMP-wise under $300? My plan is to play files on my Mac (optical or USB). I am new to this, so even after reading (many )reviews, I still have not much of a clue as to what would suit me best. I mostly listen to Jazz, Classical, Country, and sometimes light rock/pop. Cheers.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Good choice! Amp wise the Bottlehead crack is good with the HD700 ($279). I would save up for a DAC after that

      http://bottlehead.com/?product=crack-otl-headphone-amplifier-kit

      • Average_geek

        Thanks for that. I see a lot of love for the Bottlehead so I am seriously considering getting one. From your comments I also got the feeling that the HD700 is pickier than the HD650 in terms of amplification. If so, does this mean I should also consider getting other tubes for the Bottlehead?

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Mike and me both like the stock tubes but getting other tubes is part of the fun. For the moment I’m using a 5998 and 12AU7 RCA Clear top. you don’t need to get other tubes but you could adjust the sound and make it sound better (to your taste)

          • Average_geek

            Great, that was my only real concern. I will probably have a bunch more questions later on, but I really appreciate the advice. BTW, awesome site! Great content and beautiful photos. Plus, both on a desktop browser and on my mobile it looks beautiful; simple and refined.

            • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

              Thanks man. Appreciate it