I still remember a few years ago when people used to wait for their turn to audition these “flagships” on a headphone meet. Back then, the headphone world was ruled by the trio consisting the AKG K701, the Beyerdynamic DT880, and the Sennheiser HD650. They were immensely popular back then, and everybody wants to have a piece of the three. Choosing the proper headphone become more than a simple decision. The headphone you choose ultimately would determine which “clan” you belong to, and you shall be prepared to defend the headphone’s reputation to the point of death. It wasn’t until Sennheiser introduced the $1,400 HD800 (and followed by the other manufacturer’s $1,000 offerings) that the trio quietly slides down into the background, compelled to give up their lordships.
These headphones may not command the same bragging rights they once had, and like everybody else, I too have moved to $1,000 headphones and $1,000 custom IEMs. And yet, I feel that I owe these guys a proper review, perhaps for sentimental or nostalgic reasons. Besides, what headphone site can be complete without a 701/880/650 review? Now that we actually have many other headphones that are better than them, it may be the best time to write an in-depth review of the three. After all, the new-toy syndrome and the subjective fanaticism should be long gone by now.
The landscape has changed considerably from the time when these headphones were still the “top-of-the-range” of the respective brands. Back then, headphone amplifiers were very scarce, and one of the problems that people had with these headphones is that they don’t run very well from an Ipod or a laptop’s headphone out. You’d often hear statements such as “without a proper amp, you cannot see the full potential of the headphones” and others like that. Now, we have more options on amplifiers than the actual headphones, and even entry level products such as the Matrix M-Stage or the Ibasso PB-1 can be used to drive these headphones with fairly good results. Additionally, good quality sources are also more common these days, making it easier to enjoy high quality hi-fi from these headphones.
Another change in the landscape is on the actual enthusiasts. I would say that the crowd is more mature and more learned these days. It’s common knowledge that the trio requires a good amp, and you almost never see these headphones being plugged into under-powered systems anymore. Finally, there is no denying that people’s preference on sound have changed. Three years ago, Grado was a big name among headphone enthusiasts. Perhaps one out of three headphone conversations would involve a Grado. These days, adjectives used to describe the Grado sound (i.e “bright”, “harsh”, or “piercing”) tend to reflect the negative vibes people have on the Grado brand. Many ex-Grado fans have actually turned to the Sennheiser HD650, which used to be the headphone they loathe. The phrase “Sennheiser veil” is less often used now, and people started to associate the HD650 with positive adjectives such as “smooth”, “pleasing”, and “refined”. The AKG K701 fan base has also been in decline, as the new detail-lovers seem to prefer the Beyerdynamic DT880 over the AKG. As I’m writing this article, I can probably say that the K701 have the smallest fan base today, compared to the DT880 and HD650.
A while ago, I wrote an article outlining the black and silver driver screen differences of the HD650. Today, I feel that the variations may be more complex than a simple black and silver version. Nonetheless, I am using the silver-screen version of the Sennheiser HD650 for this review. The Beyerdynamic DT880 that I’m reviewing is the newer version, since the older DT880 (2003) have been discontinued a long time ago. The newer DT880 comes in three impedance ratings: 32 Ohms, 250 Ohms, and 600 Ohms. The 600 Ohms is supposedly the most refined of the three, and that’s the version that I use here. The AKG K701 used is just a plain old K701. Although I heard rumors that the K701 also comes in two different variations, I’ve actually never heard of the “other” variants, and every K701/702 I’ve listened to sounds like the other.
A word of warning: this ends as a 4700 words article. If you are serious about these headphones, then you may be willing to read the whole thing, as every pages contain quite a deep evaluation about the headphones. If you don’t feel like going through six pages of content, you can skip all the pages and go straight to the last page for the conclusion. Then, if you don’t agree with the conclusion, you can go back to inspect the detailed report to see how I ended up with those conclusions.