Through writing reviews for Headfonia, I have learned how certain design aspects of a headphone would lead to a certain sound characteristics. We all know how different driver types have their own sound signature. Where vintage drivers tend to fall short to modern drivers. How the design of the housing and pads materials contribute to the overall sound. Why you should never mix different type of drivers in one headphone. It’s like with cars: Design parameters like wheelbase, chassis width, overhang, or engine placement would tell you roughly about how the car would handle. Planars would excel in transients and have a superb black background, but weak in soundstage image. Electrostats suck when it comes to bass impact. Dynamics are always good with soundstage imaging and low level detail, but usually always have this grain in their sound (the Ultrasones are among the exception, but for everybody else Senn, Beyer, AKG, Audio Technica and so on, you would hear grain in the sound).
Using these same sets of “unwritten conventions”, I had made my own little predictions on how the HD700 would sound: It would be darker than the HD800. It would have a smaller soundstage, but better intimacy. It would still have the typical dynamic driver grain (especially Sennheiser drivers are never free of this grain), and so on. In short, it would sound a lot like the HD650, but much improved especially in bass clarity (one of the weaknesses of the HD650).
It turns out that my predictions were far off. And it’s not that I made bad predictions, but
rather because the HD700 pulled off something I have never heard before in a dynamic driver.
I knew that the HD700 had a new technology that is not found on the HD800: “Patent-pending ventilated magnet system manages airflow” as Sennheiser put it. But I didn’t think the effect is going to be so radical. Listening to the HD700 out of the RSA Dark Star amp, with the Halide Design DAC HD and Fidelia as the source, I was blown away. Simply brilliant and mind-blowing. It was had a crisp electrostatic-like transients, but without the typical weaknesses of an electrostatic driver.
The HD700 is nothing like previous Sennheiser headphones. The tonality is mostly dark, but very different than the HD650′s dark, instead more like the LCD-2. The biggest difference from the HD650 is in the clarity factor. The HD700′s dark sound simply exudes with clarity, to the extent that the sound coming out of it is clearer than the HD800, the Beyerdynamic T1, the LCD-2, or the Stax O2. No one will be making veiled comments about the HD700 that’s for sure.
It’s like getting the clarity of the Hifiman HE-6, but without the treble, and still with a cleaner sound overall than the HE-6. The background is black and has zero grain. It is not as black as the LCD-2, but more or less like the Stax O2. I think this aspect is the most impressive part of the HD700′s sound: how it manages to pull off such a clear and clean sound while having a dark tonality.
More comparisons should be drawn to the LCD-2, as it’s the only headphone that I think sound closest to the HD700.
Both have a dark tonality, but the LCD-2 is darker and has a better bass thump. I still love the Revision 1 LCD-2 the best, as I think the frequency response is more linear than the Revision 2. In this aspect, the HD700 maintains a generally linear frequency response throughout most of it’s range, except for a little peak at the high treble region (the HD800′s is at a lower frequency). And though I feel a better extension on the low bass, it doesn’t slam as hard as the LCD-2′s low bass (still king in that aspect). I do hope that since this is a pre-production sample, Sennheiser can still tweak down the top treble peak, though I won’t expect much changes from the bass impact.
The issue with the LCD-2 that a lot of people have is that one it is too dark sounding, and that two it sounds too closed for an open headphone. With the revision 2 they have added some treble to the mix, which helps to alleviate that treble issue and making the headphone to sound more open as well, but in the process losing some smoothness on the treble region.
The HD700 is quite different in this aspect and I think this is due to the nature of the different drivers. The overall sound is significantly clearer than the LCD-2 (again think of the clarity of the HE-6 but without its treble). Clarity level is much higher than the LCD-2 from top to bottom, but it’s especially evident around the midrange area. The bass is not as meaty or as slamming as the LCD-2, but with much better clarity on the bass. The soundstage is a lot more open than the LCD-2′s and the HD700 doesn’t suffer from the reverb issue that plague the LCD-2.
For a long time people have been asking for a headphone that combines the best of the LCD-2 and the HE-6, and I think the HD700 is it. I won’t know for sure, but it’s almost like Sennheiser had a listen to both planars and see what is it about them that make people enjoy them, and went to recreate a version of their own using a dynamic driver. I can see the HD700 to appeal to people who enjoy the HE-6 because it offers the same level of clarity (and even more, in the mids and bass regions), but without the hot treble and a much better soundstage image performance. With the LCD-2, I think the HD700 still can’t quite replicate the LCD-2′s bass, but a lot of people who’s complained about the LCD-2 being too closed and too dark really should check out the HD700.
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