Frieder Bernius – A Capella
I chose this CD because it’s the best choir recording I have in my collection. Carus is a German publication company that focuses on classical choral works. They have started to released to release very high standard music CDs on mostly choral pieces. This album is a compilation of different choir performances conducted by Frieder Bernius, one of the leading conductor recorded by Carus. The recording is quite superb, as well as the musical content.
- Hebe Deine Augen Auf (Elijah, Op. 70: Lift Thine Eyes)
The T1 reproduces the vocal of the choir with great impression of clarity, definitely more than the HD800. The choir consists of two soprano groups and an alto group, and on the T1, the separation is very precise, and you can really identify not only the different layers of the choirs, but also separate the direct voice from the reverberations in the hall. The HD800 is less precise in the separation, but the feeling is more live, more like being present inside the cathedral. The ambiance of the venue is very well presented in the HD800. Sometimes you feel that there is too much reverb on the HD800, but I would imagine that it’s a more faithful rendition to what choir sounds inside a cathedral. I can say that the T1 is more precise and the superior clarity gives you a good view of the music, but the HD800 gives a better feel of the ambiance of the cathedral and the choir.
Like on the Horowitz at Hamburg CD, the HD800 gives you a feeling of sitting in the cathedral with very high ceilings, and the choir at a slightly elevated stage. The T1 takes a higher positioning (I suppose the recording microphones were hung on the air, or on a very high platform), more to the recorder’s point of view.
Different kind of presentation that works just as well here, but I’m leaning slightly toward the T1 for this one mainly due to the clarity.
Mozart Piano Quartet #1, K478- Evgheny Brakhman, Dora Schwarzberg, Marc Drobinsky, Nora Romanoff-Schwarzberg
This is one of the best live recordings of a string/piano quartet that I have in my CD library. I’ve decided to throw this recording into the lot at the last minute, because I want to make sure that I get the soundstage/imaging evaluation on both headphones right.
- Movement 1 – Allegro
To clarify what have been said before, the T1 has a more precise separation than the HD800. If I can use a visual analogy, the T1 is like drawing with a precision drawing pen. The HD800 is like using a Sharpie marker. With the T1, instrument separation is very precise, as you can draw 10 individual lines close together and still maintain a distinct line on each of them. With the HD800, instruments sort of overlap more, and they are less precise. However, that’s not the end of the story.
This recording is a very good live recording that contains a lot of information on the nuances and ambiance from the venue. There are four instruments, piano, violin, viola, and the cello. With the T1, the separation is clearly very precise. But the T1 is constricted to a smaller soundstage, and as a result all four instruments are quite grouped-in together in the soundstage.
On a live recording such as this, somehow the difference between the soundstage becomes much larger. The HD800 portrays a much wider, much deeper soundstage, in addition to portraying a much clearer sense of the ambiance.
During the performance, sometimes only one instrument is playing, but soon to be joined with the other instruments. On the T1, the instruments don’t have a space of their own, but they seem to be grouped in together. The problem is worse when all four are playing simultaneously, the four instruments literally take the same spot in the soundstage.
This is where the HD800 shines. Although the HD800 does not have the precise separation of the T1, it has a much larger soundstage to place the instruments in, and the result is much more holographic. Each instruments clearly occupy their own space within the stage, even maintaining a distinct sense of depth. Focus on each instrument is always maintained properly, and as they play together in unison, the sense of individuality is still clearly retained. It’s more than just a technical achievement, because the soul of the music is better felt in the HD800 as well, and you really feel like you’re inside the venue.
The recording also contains lot of small noises happening in the background, simply because it’s a live recording. During quick listening periods, the T1 sounds very detailed and with superior clarity, while the HD800 is more subtle about it. After long term listening, I start to notice little things happening in the background through the HD800. I can go back to the T1 and when I checked on the same spot, that small detail would still be noticable on the T1. But most of the time, and not only on this recording, I always notice the small details first with the HD800. The big sound stage just allows more space between the main instruments, and as a result, small details show up clearer on the HD800. You can say that the HD800 is more detailed, but ultimately I think it’s the large soundstage that allows those details to be more noticeable.
Last but not least is how the HD800 has a much more natural timbre on the strings and the piano, when compared to the T1.
Some recordings, such as this one, really show the technical superiority that the HD800 has over the T1.
Beethoven Symphony No. 9 – Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic
I don’t think a review of German flagship headphones is complete without trying on Beethoven’s No.9th. This is currently my favorite No.9 CD, both in musical content and recording quality. The recording is fairly recent, taken in April of 2000 with state of the art 96kHz 24-bit quality, and 96kHz editing and mixing.
- Movement 1 – Allegro ma non troppo e un poco maestoso
The Symphony is a difficult piece of music to reproduce, and I hope I can explain both headphones without causing some confusion. The music is very complex, with 13 different groups of instruments in total. The T1, with the shorter decay, the more monitoring outlook, and the additional treble emphasis gives a very clear picture of the symphony.
The HD800 is actually more three dimensional sounding, but it has a longer decay and a more prominent midrange and bass presence that leads to a less clear cut presentation that I hear on the T1.
For example, take the complex timpani beats around the middle of the movement. The HD800 wonderfully presents the timpani beats on a separate layer than the other bass notes. Each of the bass layer is presented with full vigor that the result is layers of thunderous bass. The T1 doesn’t exactly have that three dimensionality, but it’s very articulate, mostly due to the faster transients, and hence overall you hear a better sense of clarity. I think the fact that the recording contains a lot of mid and low frequency presence works against the HD800’s favor here. Although the HD800 can maintain the stormy and thunderous mood of the movement very well, but the longer decay result in overlaps on the complex passages. They’re not muddy, but they are less clear than the T1.
Emotionally, I think the HD800 is more spot on to the overall tone of the music. The T1 is better if you want to spot a certain instrument in the orchestra, but for feeling the music, the T1 doesn’t nearly have the rumble and the three dimensionality of the HD800. Okay, the clarity of the T1 is superb, but if I have to choose, the HD800 lets me feel the music better.
- Movement 4 – Presto, >>O Freunde, nicht diese Tӧne!<<
Primarily, the same comments from Movement 1 applies here. Timbre of the wind instruments and rendition of the timpani beats is very important, and the HD800 is better in reproducing a more natural sound of both instruments. During the solo vocal passages, the presence is quite spot on through both headphones. I do like the fact that the HD800 is able to present a weightier vocal than what I hear on the T1. The choir parts are actually quite hot on both headphones, as it’s definitely mixed to give a full force choir effect when played through speakers. Although the choir is equally forward on both headphones (far too forward), on the T1, there is more treble emphasis and the choir sounds even hotter than through the HD800.
During the solo vocal passages, the HD800 is able to maintain a more distinct vocal when the soloists goes from solo to duet, trio, and finally to quartet. The T1 gets a bit lost here, and the faster transients doesn’t seem to help as when the soloist comes to sing together in unison, the tone is very high and the treble of the T1 at that point becomes too hot to be discernible. The HD800 was able to maintain a wonderful unison, while at the same time maintaining a clear focus on each soloist. It’s quite the same as on the Mozart Quartet, but this time we have singers instead of instruments.
Although the T1 is great with the bass, but it doesn’t nearly have the same layering and the thunderous effect of the HD800’s bass, and that is critical for the last movement.
The T1 was great, but I find the HD800 to take home the trophy for this recording.