Another comparison that I’d like to make is to the HD650 that we’re all so familiar with. Though both headphones would be categorized as dark sounding, that’s as far as the similarity goes. The HD650 is not exactly known for its clarity, while the HD700 shines at that. The HD650’s bass often is too thick and muddy on anything short of a top-end system. The HD700 from an Ipod’s headphone out still gives me a much better bass clarity than the HD650 on the RSA Dark Star, so it’s not even a close comparison.
The HD650 is often described as smooth, and that’s correct, but more of the lush and tubey smooth kind. The HD700 on the other hand has a smooth sound that sounds more like electrostatic driver smooth. Smooth from the precise transients. The pace, the precision, the speed of the HD700 is so much faster than the HD650, and even the HD800 (it is more comparable to the Beyerdynamic T1).
As you can see, a lot of these descriptions break the usual conventions of the typical character of a Sennheiser, but also the typical character of a dynamic driver. The HD700 is crystal clear and clean, more than any other dynamic headphones I’ve listened to. There is absolutely no grain in the sound. The transients are crisp and fast, and everytime I listen to it, I get an impression that I’m listening to an electrostat-type driver, only this time with better frequency extension than the typical Stax headphones.
One thing that I do lament is how the HD650 still has a much better bass impact than the HD700 is. With the HD650 you just get that addictive, slamming bass, and it’s still the number one reason people stick with the HD650 even now. The HD700 tremendously improves on the bass impact of the HD800, but just not quite a HD650 bass.
Of course the obvious comparison is to the HD800, now priced at $1499 which means it’s $500 more than the $999 HD700.
First thing first: The HD700 is in no way going to replace the HD800 as the flagship model. Early in this article I’ve talked about how the HD800 is currently the king of the headphone technology. The HD800 driver just oozes with resolution, micro detail, and three dimensional layering. With the HD800, you hear multiple layers just on the bass region alone. It’s just so rich with information, the driver scales up so much higher, and the build quality is still unmatched. For this reason, I think that the HD800 will still remain the proper flagship for Sennheiser.
The most noticeable difference between the quality of the two driver is on the layering capability. The HD700 is quite below the HD800 especially on the layering capability, and more around the level of the HE-6 and the LCD-2. The soundstage is the next thing that needs a comparison. The HD800 is much wider, but the HD700 is still relatively wide and actually has a better depth than the HD800’s. Center image is also more distinct with the HD700, making for a much better headphone for long term listening sessions. With the HD800 on some system I still like wish I had a good cross feed system. Not so with the HD700, it blends very well both the left and right soundstage areas. Overall the HD700 is very spacious, more than the LCD-2 and the T1.
The issue with the HD800 as we all know is its tonality. It’s highly resolving, but it is very easy to sound dull. It needs an über high-end system to shine. This is why I said “I wish my HD800 sounds like the HD700”. The HD700 has the most likable tonality I’ve ever listened to in any headphone to this day. The wow factor is incredibly high, it’s hard not to be impressed by it, even with a simple DACPort + O2 amp pairing. The clarity coming out of that dark tonality is really a magical combination. The first time I heard the Stax O2, I was impressed simply for the same reason: dark tonality yet still sounding very clear. The thing is, the HD700 is even clearer and also far more spacious than the O2. My jaws dropped when I listened to the HD700 the first time (I was using the RSA Dark Star system). It was just unbelievably good.
On the more practical aspects, I think the HD700 is going to be easier to enjoy due to these three points:
- No more glaring low treble. The HD700 is totally smooth on the frequency where the HD800 glare is. There is a top treble peak which pronounces sibilance, but I hope that the production units will be free of this.
- Much punchier bass. The HD700’s bass has some real punch. Tight and punchy, focused and fast. Brilliant bass, though not as technically capable as the HD800’s bass.
- The PRaT factor is awesome. This is not a laid back headphone. It’s spacious, yet it can deliver an energetic and focused sound. With some fast Rock music, you are getting all that energy, as good as if you were listening from the HD25-1. And that’s remarkable, given the fact that the HD700 is a far more spacious headphone.
- It is oh-so-easy to drive. I can listen to it straight from my Ipod.
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