If you like listening to high-quality music or if you like to be called an audiophile, you’d probably have heard about Sennheiser. If you’re even more enthusiastic, you’d also have read about the HD650 and the HD800. The HD650 has been a legendary pair of headphones. After a long time, Sennheiser upped its game and showed the world that it could do better. It released the HD800, but then it was expensive and priced at something on the lines of Rs. 80,000 or more. Now, that’s a lot of money, but then, you get what you pay for. And now, we have with us the HD700, a model that’s priced a bit under the HD800 but supposed to be a lot better than the HD650. Let’s take a look at what you get with these still rather expensive headphones.
Design and build quality
The packaging of the HD700 is modest. You don’t get fancy leather accessories and pouches or any kind of superficial goodies that make you feel special. There’s a plain looking box with the rather futuristic looking HD700 headphones sitting all pretty. Get them out of the box and you realise that the headphones themselves aren’t made of any exotic materials. Unlike some Grados, you don’t get wooden cans. There’s no leather or exotic materials used in the construction of the headphones.
Branding and models along the headband
The Sennheiser HD700 is predominantly made of plastic, but of good quality. You don’t notice any flexing or squeaking sounds when you put pressure on them. The cable on the headphones is sheathed with a fine fabric, which ensures you won’t snap them if you run your chair on them or step on them by mistake. The cable then splits into a Y-connector which then goes into each can. There’s a 3.5m detachable jack too, so you can disconnect the cable from the headphones if you want to; it helps reduce the cable mess when you’re not using them, and also when you want to pack them up and carry them in your bag. It also gives you a certain peace of mind, knowing that you could make your own cables and replace these in case something goes wrong.
The large 6.3mm connector
The design is pretty impressive too. The headphones have a slightly futuristic look to them. They look like something straight out of a Star Wars movie. The sides, as you can see from the images, have a sequence of bands running to the sides and the frame of the headphones. The centre has a circular netting, under which lie the drivers for these headphones. These are open headphones, so you can actually see through these headphones through this netting.
The hinges are strong and so is the band. There’s not much play but just enough so they sit comfortably around your head, putting as little pressure as possible. The padding that goes around your ears and the top of your headphones is similar. It’s a soft foam padding minus the felt or synthetic film over it, which can be found on some of the cheaper headphones. The film and felt usually wear out and make the headphones look ugly, but you don’t have any of those issues here. The upper band feels rubberised so you won’t have scratches on them nor will the headphones scratch anything you place them on.
Simple design but they make the headphones comfortable to wear
When it comes to weight, the HD700 headphones might sound heavy in the spec sheet as they weigh close to 1.6 kg. However, wear them and you’ll realise that they really aren’t that heavy at all. The insides of the cans are extremely spacious so there’s never any pressure on your years. The foam we just spoke of, is very comfortable and doesn't make your ears sweat. There’s a decent amount of sealing but you can’t help notice the external noise leaking into the headphones.
Performance is just what you want the most from any headphones. The Sennheiser HD700 headphones are driven by 40mm drivers. They are rated to generate frequencies between 10 to 42,000Hz, way more than the human ear can hear. This number is, of course, vague and it’s common to see headphone manufacturers sport this number across their models, so don’t be fooled into thinking that these are as good as any other headphones that sport this specification. When it comes to driving these headphones, you’ll need a sound card or amplifier capable of handling headphones with impedance of 150 Ohms.
Head hugging earpads
The headphones come with a 6.3mm (1/4th-inch) jack so you can’t even plug them into any phone or PMP of your choice. These are meant and made to be used with very good quality audio source equipment, typically high-quality CD players, sound card or DAC-amplifiers. In this case, as with any high-end headphones, we asked ASUS to send us its Xonar Essence One DAC-amplifier. It’s also one of the more mainstream audio sources you can find in the Indian market. You can find the review of the ASUS Xonar Essence One here.
The Sennheiser HD700 impresses you from the moment you start playing music. Our setup included the ASUS Xonar Essence One connected to a PC over USB. The media player used was the latest version of foobar2000 using WASAPI as the output interface. All of the music used was lossless to keep quality at maximum. The ASUS Xonar Essence One has no fancy effects as such, as we didn’t have to turn any of those off.
The ASUS Xonar Essence One - our source for this test
To start with, the HD700 doesn’t sound too close or congested. There’s an airy feel to the headphones that makes the soundstaging feel wider and not like you have speakers placed a centimetre away from your ears. The open design also helps this characteristic. But there’s a downside to the open design; if you live in a place with traffic and background noises, you’ll be surprised to hear a lot of those even with the headphones playing at a pretty high volume. The other downside is that people around you can hear what you’re listening to. This can be annoying for people around you.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the HD700 headphones aren’t at all a bass-heavy pair of headphones. There is just a nominal amount of bass so if you live off techno and dubstep, you might find the bass-drops to be lacking a bit.
Sturdy hinge on the HD700
When it comes to detail, the HD700 is spectacular. There’s a certain clinical precision to the sound and the HD700 is able to handle multiple instruments flawlessly. There’s hardly any overlap and isolating instruments in your head is really simple. Tracks that don’t have too many instruments sound really detailed; typically, pop music and electronica (without the bass) sound very well detailed. The HD700 is versatile in the more complex metal and rock genres of music. The tone is normal but with a hint of brightness to it. Those used to Grados will find the performance to be very ‘cold’ in nature as compared to the typical Grado sound.
Our testing of sound quality was done using a number of tracks spanning all sorts of genres. Starting with the pop genre, we experimented with some of Michael Jackson’s later works such as ‘Black or White’. Most pop tracks tend to have a mix of several instruments and it differs from one artist to another for each and every album. Once again, the precision of the headphones is clear. Beats and bass used across the track are tight, accurate and as precise as they can get. Most cheaper headphones tend to get all wobbly and flabby with the sound, but there’s none of that here. In other tracks such as ‘Stranger in Moscow’, the track starts with beats alternating from one side to another and a slow guitar playing, which is rarely heard in most headphones till the song fades in.
Fancy shapes, both functional and futuristic in design
When it comes to metal tracks from bands such as Insomnium and Between the Buried and Me, things get a bit better. Both bands have a heavy mix of two guitars, both playing heavy gain and distortion guitars with fast, relentless double-bass drumming. The emphasis on very low-end bass from the bass guitar isn’t as prominent, so the HD700 tends to shine in this sort of music. Guitars sound shrill and harsh, but in a good way. There’s no disturbance between instruments either. Less heavy, but more melodic tracks by bands such as Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment are a pure joy to listen to. Live recordings done at high quality are even more impressive with the dynamics of the environment at each venue coming into the picture. All branches based on the metal and rock genre, such as Industrial and Djent, tend to benefit too.
Lighter, soothing music by Cinematic Orchestra is very enjoyable too. There are no fast, high-hitting instruments; just a very smooth rendition powered by choirs, violins, cellos and such, with an underlining of maybe a piano or acoustic guitar. Most headphones tend to mess up this smooth rendition in areas that can’t be rendered clearly and you typically hear distortion, but this isn’t the case with the HD700. There’s never ever a second of cracking or vibrations in such tracks.
Audio jacks that disconnect from the headphone
Hip hop tracks such as Outkast’s Ms. Jackson and The Roots' You Got Me sound great as well. They’re comparatively less intensive than some of the metal tracks, but there are some really fine details in them. Both these tracks have simple, but strong basslines; something that the HD700 produces just fine, though you’ll probably find them more prominent on more bass-heavy headphones.
Verdict and Price in India
The Sennheiser HD700 is truly among some of the best pair of headphones. The big downside is that they’re not cheap, not even close. They’re priced at a crazy Rs. 54,990 here in India. Of course, the question that comes to mind is whether the HD700 headphones are truly worth the money spent. They are, if you consider the fact that you pay much more for the tiny bits as you approach perfection in a particular area. If you aren’t looking for this level of precision, you’ll easily find headphones that are priced at half this sum and offer most of what the HD700 has to offer. It’s just a matter of choice whether you want that extra level of precision or not, and there’s no doubting it – the HD700 does have that extra bit.
The Sennheiser HD700 - one the most expensive headphones around
If you spend an incredible amount of time each day listening to music, something like 4 hours at least, then this would be a good long-term investment. Of course, if this is your first high-end headphone purchase, you’ll also need to invest in a good headphone-amplifier and DAC, or a combination of the two. That typically means an investment of at least Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 20,000. In short, buy these if listening to music is your primary hobby!
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