After a few weeks with the HD700, I don’t think I’d change most of my initial impressions, but there are some notes that I’d like to add and points that I want to elaborate further.
Headband Pressure: Pre Production vs Final Version
The biggest variable between this HD700 and the final production version is going to be the amount of headband pressure Sennheiser adds to final version. I’ve been told specifically that this pre-production version is very loose and that the final version is going to have a more proper headband pressure. To give you an idea, I’m always surprised by the added clamping pressure the HD800 has over this pre-production HD700. Those of you who’ve tried the HD800 know that the HD800 isn’t exactly the death-grip type, and in fact may be the among the most comfortable headphone ever designed. I really expect the final HD700 to have a more proper headband clamp, as this version is just way too relaxed.
Since I know that the final version is going to have a stronger headband clamp, I’ve tried to do a lot of listening impressions with my hands pushing on the cups to simulate a stronger headband pressure. The sound changes, obviously, as you’re practically compressing the effective acoustic space. One notable change is a more closed-in, less open and less spacious sound. As the driver is moved closer to the ears, to my surprise that high treble peak that tend to accentuate sibilance is reduced significantly. Very nice. Not only that but as the sound become less spacious, vocals are more engaging, midrange body is boosted up and the overall tone becomes warmer and slightly weightier. Of course the degree of the changes depend on how much pressure is applied, and so I’m eager to see how far the final version will apply the headband pressure.
With the added pressure also brings in an additional bass body, though still not enough to my ears. While nobody is going to call the HD700 a bass light headphone, I still don’t think that it’s weighty enough. It has a tight punch, but I still think that the HD700 can be an even better headphone with a HD650/600 like impact and weight.
The two headphones that I use mostly for comparison is the current top dynamics, the Sennheiser HD800 and the Beyerdynamic T1. Everytime I move up to the HD800 or the T1, I always feel the added resolution, the music becoming richer and more involving, so again there is no denying that the driver resolution of the HD700 is inferior, especially to the HD800. However I still stand by my initial impression that the way the HD700 is voiced is just more pleasing than the HD800. The more forward vocals of the HD800 is very impressive for short listening time, but gets tiring for long listening times. The HD700’s vocals are never distant, but done just right and I’m loving vocals on the HD700. It doesn’t color the vocals like on some warmer headphones, it doesn’t mellow the recording or add some tubey effect to it, and yet it’s never dry and never distant and with good clarity. I can listen to the HD700 for much longer periods than I can with the HD800, and a lot of it I think has to do with the way the vocals are presented with just enough presence, and the zero-grain sound of the HD700.
In comparison to the Beyerdynamic T1, I think the T1 remains unique enough in its presentation. For instance, both headphones have a fast pace, but the HD700 doesn’t attack as strongly as the T1, and I’m saying this in a good context as we all know good Rock headphones need to have a strong attack to it — something that the T1 would still excel. Aside from the different sound presentation of the T1, it also remains to be the more resolving headphone, superior in low level detail, layering and three dimensionality.
All the talks about the HD700 being inferior to the technicalities of the HD800 and the T1 seem to have given the wrong impression to people, and as a result people are speaking about how overpriced the HD700 is. Thing is, I’ve spent many paragraphs trying explain the special thing about the HD700’s sound presentation: how it is the cleanest sounding dynamics I’ve listened to, how it’s different from any other Senns I’ve listened to, how it’s not like any other dynamics, but at the end of the day nothing really replaces a real auditioning session. In fact despite the inferior technicalities, the HD700 remains the headphone that I listen to the most these past few weeks, not the T1 nor the HD800. I really wanted to know if all my glowing first impression is just a new toy’s syndrome, but the reality is that I’ve been hesitant to pick up the other headphones up for a listen even now, three weeks after the HD700 first arrived here. Three weeks of quiet listening time on my home set up, almost every night, and I still wish that my HD800 would have a sound presentation like the HD700.
I’m actually surprised to hear all the comments downplaying the HD700 due to its inferior technicalities to the HD800. We all know that the LCD-2 and the HE-6/HE-500 don’t have the supreme technicalities that the HD800, but it doesn’t stop people from choosing them over the HD800. At the end of the day, you only need so much technicalities, and the HD700 is way past that level, so let’s stop fretting over the inferior technicalities.
Now, I made some comments about the build quality that I think I need to revise. I’m sorry for the hasty first impression comments, but while the HD700 is no HD800, it’s not like RS180-like as I first said it is. The plastic frame doesn’t quite have the density of the HD800’s special plastic, but clearly this is better than the RS180 or HD558/598 level. The matte metallic finish also looks very sharp in real life. In some angles, the HD700 now makes my futuristic HD800 look a little outdated.
More on Amplifier Pairings
The HD700 may be the easiest to drive full size headphone I’ve ever encountered. Moving from small portable amps to big desktop set ups, I never really feel the small portable amps to be inferior in driving the HD700 in terms of impact and authority. Where the difference lies, however, is in the technicalities, refinement, and sound signature. Bigger, better amps would give you a bigger sound with a far blacker background and more distinct instrument separation. And if I feel the HD700 to lack strongly at is low bass impact, big amps like the RSA Dark Star helps tremendously with that, though it’s still not going to turn the HD700 into an LCD-2. I also had the chance to try the HD700 with the Yamamoto HA-02 tube amplifier, and the typical mellow vocals shows through very clearly. So the HD700 definitely reacts to changes in amplifications, either in the technicalities or the sound signature department. Though as I’ve mentioned earlier, the HD700 doesn’t quite scale up like the HD800 or the T1.
Next week I’m going to prepare to send the HD700 back to Sennheiser, and unless there are any surprise finds, I think this is going to be the end of the HD700 journal (at least the pre-production version).
The firmer headband pressure on the final version is definitely going to be something that I look forward to testing. Like room acoustic improvements in a speaker set up, it does enough changes to improve the overall experience.
Disclaimer: This is based on a pre-production sample HD700. The final production unit will have a more proper headband fit (this one is a little loose), and that ought to affect the sound a little since I’d expect the pads to seal better then.